Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Interactive History Adventures

If you have an elementary age child who loves history, they will be delighted with these Choose Your Own adventure type books which lead them as a historical figure through that period in time. If you have a child who is disinterested in reading much about history, these books might just be the catalyst by which they tolerate or even, dare I say it, enjoy learning a bit more about history.

I've read a few of these interactive history adventures as a read-aloud, and my kids have read many of them alone. The last couple of summers as we studied both Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt, I read the accompanying Interactive History Adventure books, several times actually, as we would choose different paths each time. While I wouldn't say they gained a depth of knowledge of those places and periods in history, they certainly covered a few basics, and the enjoyment factor was higher than with other presentations.

Before we went on our road trip last summer, when I knew we would be visiting several historical sights, I bought the Revolutionary War, Battle of the Bull RunColonial America, and Civil War adventures for the kids to read before we left. The older kids each took turns trading them around before bedtime, and all were read by each of them by the time we hit the road.

In addition to these, Elizabeth has the Titanic interactive history adventure that she read during her voracious obsession with all things Titanic. When Philip needed a book on the Great Depression, and I wanted him to enjoy his reading, we purchased the interactive history adventure about that topic. And I just purchased the Race to the Moon adventure for Finn to read this summer, now that he's reading chapter books and continues to be preoccupied with all things related to space. Thus far, we have been delighted with all of these books and the portrayal of history within. There are dozens more titles than the ones mentioned here, which means that many periods and events in history are available in this appealingly child-accessible form.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


As I mentioned yesterday, I'm in the process of reviewing the books I acquired at the Medal Winners book signing in NYC. The second book in my stack is the 2014 Caldecott Honor book, Journey. This book never made it onto my radar prior to the Caldecott list being publish in late January. I'm thrilled that it did; I think it's the family favorite of all the books I bought at the book signing. Even my teens are hooked, and just the other day, my oldest (14) brought it along on a car ride with us. 

At first glance, Journey hearkens back to the timeless classic Harold and the Purple Crayon. Aside from a writing apparatus creating an object with which the main character interacts, the connection quickly withers. Where Harold draws one-dimensional objects which comprise the only illustration, Journey's red drawings open a door to an odyssey in entirely new realm.

Although Journey contains no words, none are particularly needed as the red draws your eyes and imagination through the muted tones of the cities and landscapes on the adventure of this imaginative little girl. The architecture is decidedly amazing. The villains are fearsome, but not exactly nightmare-worthy. The forests have an idyllic path with whimsical lanterns floating overhead. A visual treat, to say the least.

Were it just the lovely pictures and expansive imaginary world this book would be quite enjoyable, but the truly distinguishing feature is the ending. I don't want to spoil the ending for others, but when the purple bird leads the little girl to a purple door, the book finds an enchanting ending to this remarkable Journey.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Paul and I were fortunate enough to spend the last weekend in March visiting NYC...without children. Although we traveled without the kids, that didn't mean that children's literature was very far from my mind, and as I made plans to visit a few local bookstores I discovered that the renowned Books of Wonder had scheduled a Medal Winners book signing for the very weekend we were in town. That's right...Medal Winners. As in, Caldecott and Geisel Medal Winners. I think it was my very favorite part of the entire weekend! Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to review each of the books I bought and had signed, beginning today with Locomotive, the 2014 Caldecott winner.

Just inside the front and back covers of Locomotive you will find depictions of the train parts (back) and the travel line depicted in the book (front). The information here lends itself well to children who are interested in the details and will soak up the background, maps, and history that led to the formation of the Transcontinental Railroad. Although this is a lovely picture book, it could also be a useful research tool for many children.

It goes without saying that the illustrations of Locomotive are amazing. What I truly appreciated about the artistic style of the book is that while the rendering of the locomotive itself is extremely detailed and full of life, the landscape scenery is more dreamy and ethereal, and the text is typically placed among a minimalist background. This style allows the reader to truly focus on the locomotive and the action depicted without being distracted by peripheral busyness.

One of the most remarkable feats of this book is the use of vintage typefaces and sound effects to draw the reader into the adventure aboard the locomotive. The hiss of the steam, the clang of the bell, the breath of the engine nearly jump off of each page as you move through the varying landscapes, heaving up mountains, barreling across deserts toward the West Coast.

Locomotive is sure to delight those with a childhood train obsession and enthrall those who never knew a train story could be quite so captivating.