Saturday, October 31, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 31: Conclusion!

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Conclusion @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

31 Days, oh my!

I’m slightly shocked that I made it to the end, since I’m not all that great at follow-through.

I hope that these Book Detectives posts have been helpful for a few of you. If nothing else, I hope it has taken a little of the intimidation out of analyzing picture books.

Remember, I don’t have the “right” answers. Literary analysis is not about right and wrong but about exploring the ideas in a book. You may come up with different conclusions about the conflict or the climax or the themes in a story, and that’s okay. I could be way off base on a few of these. [grin] The most important thing is that you go back to the text to support your ideas.

I tried to share a wide variety of styles and stories. In the coming year, I will try to share more chapter books as well as analysis using the 5 Common Topics and an ANI chart.

Did you have a favorite book that I shared? Did you try to go through the story and come up with your own analysis? I’d love to hear about it, especially if we have different ideas about the book!

Be sure you caught the introduction in which I share my resources and inspiration. In the first analysis post I also gave more details about how we discuss each element in a book club setting.

Here is a list of all the posts in the series for reference.

We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programing tomorrow, November 1st. [So glad to be gaining an hour tonight. Whew!]

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Introduction @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Friday, October 30, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 30: The Mystery of the Missing Lion

Book Detectives ~ The Mystery of the Missing Lion @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

Our last book of the series! Tomorrow I’ll share a wrap-up post. I can’t believe the month is coming to an end.

Have you read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency? It’s honestly one of the most delightful modern series for adults that I’ve ever read. Set in Botswana, the series chronicles the creation and continuation of Precious Ramotswe’s detective agency. Now, the author, Alexander McCall Smith, has given us a way to include our children in the fun. He’s created an early chapter book series for kids based on the childhood of his fictional heroine, Precious.

Not only are the stories charming and adventurous, but they are a fascinating look into the culture and geography of Botswana. Did you know that Botswana, located just above the country of South Africa, is roughly the size of Texas?! It is so easy to forget just how large and diverse the continent of Africa is! And did you know that the Okavango River flows backward—away from the sea—and eventually spreads out and disappears into the sands of the desert?

Three books in the series are available so far, beginning with The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe’s Very First Case. I think my favorite of the three is The Mystery of Meerkat Hill, but today we will be discussing The Mystery of the Missing Lion. Our protagonist, Precious, is a strong female role model, but all three books include a boy character. If you are interested in a series with a boy protagonist, try McCall Smith’s early chapter book series Akimbo.

The illustrations by Iain McIntosh are bold and fun and each book contains additional geographical, cultural, and educational information at the end.

Crime Scene [Setting]


Botswana in southern Africa

The Kalahari Desert

The Okavango Delta in northern Botswana

Eagle Island Camp


Modern Day

A few days

Precious’s childhood

Suspects [Characters]


Precious Ramotswe—a nine year old girl who lives in Botswana, wants to be a detective, pays attention to detail, smart, great problem solver, asks questions, very intuitive about people, kind, adventurous and brave

Aunty Bee—Precious’s aunt, creative, story teller, fun, generous, works at a safari camp

Obed Ramotswe—Precious’s father, kind

Khumo—boy, about 9 years old, friendly

Filmmakers [Tom]—Nice to children

Teddy—tame lion, actor, obedient, playful

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ The Mystery of the Missing Lion @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 29: Dominic

Book Detectives ~ Dominic @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

Ah, I’ve been waiting for this day. I hope my life never depends on my choosing a single most favorite children’s chapter book, but if it ever does, Dominic will be in the running for the prestigious position.

This is our second book by William Steig, and one of three fabulous simple chapter books by the author. I previously shared notes from The Real Thief. Don’t miss out on Abel’s Island, as well.

Dominic is adventurous. He is indomitable. He is cheerful. He is dashing. He is courageous. He is kind. He is curious. He is selfless. He is wise. He is high-spirited. He is philosophical. He is the personification of joie de vivre.

He is a Renaissance Man Dog.

Dominic—the story—is illustrated with quirky drawings and bursting at the seams with adventure, buried treasure, and brilliant vocabulary.


He owned an assortment of hats which he liked to wear, not for warmth or for shade or to shield him from rain, but for their various effects—rakish, dashing, solemn, or martial.


“What a wonderful world!” thought Dominic. “How perfect!” Had it been up to him when things were first made, he wouldn’t have made them a whit different. Every leaf was in its proper place. Pebbles, stones, flowers, all were just as they ought to be. Water ran where water should run. They sky was properly blue. All sounds were in tune. Everything had its appropriate smell. Dominic was master of himself and in accord with the world. He was perfectly happy.


Dominic went out for a long walk and did a lot of thinking. He was still walking when the stars came out. Mournful, he lay down on the ground and looked at the stars. Life was mysterious…

He fell asleep under the vast dome of quivering stars, and just as he was falling asleep, passing over into the phase of dreams, he felt he understood the secret of life. But in the light of morning, when he woke up, his understanding of the secret had disappeared with the stars. The mystery was still there, inspiring his wonder…

Then he leaned on the shovel to rest, the wooden handle warm with his work. The moment he stopped being busy, he felt his heart quake. He had to cry. Life was suddenly too sad. And yet it was beautiful.The beauty was dimmed when the sadness welled up. And the beauty would be there again when the sadness went. So the beauty and the sadness belonged together somehow, though they were not the same at all.

If you don’t love life after reading this book, I don’t know what to do with you. [grin]

[FYI: There is a witch-alligator in this story just in case that is a deal-breaker for anyone. There is also a jackass.]

Steig uses many literary devices such as alliteration:

“But soon his legs began to weaken and wobble, and he wished that wealth didn’t weight so much.”

And the characters names are ironic: Bartholomew Badger the pig, Elijah Hogg the jackass, Lemuel Wallaby the turtle, Matilda Fox the goose, and Manfred Lyon the mouse.

Crime Scene [Setting]


Fantasy/fairytale world of talking animals

Forest, cottages, Crystal Ballroom, enchanted palace


A timeless fantasy world

Suspects [Characters]


Dominic—dog, adventurous, indomitable, cheerful, dashing, courageous, kind, curious, selfless, wise, high-spirited, philosophical, joyful

Witch-alligator—friendly, tells fortunes

The Doomsday Gang—fox, ferret and weasel; they rob, ravage, cheat, and attack innocent creatures and travelers; full of damaging mischief; evil villains

Bartholomew Badger—pig, 100 years old, dying, kind, appreciative

Elijah Hogg—jackass, kind, lazy, likes a simple life

Lemuel Wallaby—turtle, 158 years old, likes to exaggerate, very slow

Barney Swain—wild boar, about to be married

Matilda Fox—goose, a widow with children to look after, great cook

Manfred Lyon—mouse, artist

Rabbits—incapable of inflicting harm, somewhat cowardly

Phineas Matterhorn—sleepwalking goat

Mwana Bhomba—magic pygmy elephant

Evelyn—sleeping beauty dog

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Dominic @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 28: The Family Under the Bridge

Book Detectives ~ The Family Under the Bridge @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

For our second simple chapter book of this series, we head back to Christmas with The Family Under the Bridge, written by Natalie Savage Carlson and published in 1958.

Christmas, Paris, homeless children, and a charming old hobo—what more could you ask for? [grin] This book is a quick, uplifting story with delightful pictures by Garth Williams. It is available inexpensively at Amazon and most libraries should have it, so it makes a great book club selection, particularly in December when the book takes place.

The Family Under the Bridge may be a good example of multiple protagonists in a story. Armand needs some self-respect and a family to love (man vs. self) and the Calcet family needs a home and a grandfather after their father died (man vs. fate). Madame Calcet also needs to overcome her prejudice (man vs. self).

Crime Scene [Setting]


Paris (all over as they walk through the city)—cold and gray, but not cheerless

Under a Parisian bridge

In a gypsy camp

Real world


One late morning in December, cold day, gray sky

Through Christmas until New Year’s Eve

1900s (maybe 1950s according to the style of cars in illustrations and publication date)

Suspects [Characters]


Armand—old hobo with all his belongings in a baby buggy, ragged clothing, lives under bridge, cheerful, polite, ready for adventure, relishes freedom and lack of responsibilities, no pride, hides his heart under a gruff exterior

Children—fatherless, poor, homeless, redheads: Suzy, Paul (has a bit of a swagger), and Evelyne; Armand calls them “starlings”


Madame Calcet—“Mama,” widow, proud, hard worker, prejudiced

Gypsies—kind, generous, free-spirited

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ The Family Under the Bridge @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 27: The 13 Clocks

Book Detectives ~ 13 Clocks @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

I promised we’d get back to James Thurber, and here we are with our first short, illustrated chapter book of this 31 Days series, The 13 Clocks.

The 13 Clocks is a Gothic-style fairytale with dark humor, so choose your audience wisely. Thurber writes, however, with an immense vocabulary, a wild imagination, and a brilliant, biting wit, and adults should find this story highly entertaining.

Wickedly scheming, he would limp and cackle through the cold corridors of the castle, planning new impossible feats for the suitors of Saralinda to perform. He did not wish to give her hand in marriage, since her hand was the only warm hand in the castle. Even the hands of his watch and the hands of all the thirteen clocks were frozen…

The cold Duke was afraid of Now, for Now has warmth and urgency, and Then is dead and buried..The Duke was afraid of Now, but he tampered with the clocks to see if they would go, out of a strange perversity, praying that they wouldn’t.

Tinkers and tinkerers and a few wizards who happened by tried to start the clocks with tools or magic words, or by shaking them and cursing, but nothing whirred or ticked. The clocks were dead, and in the end, brooding on it, the Duke decided he had murdered time, slain it with his sword, and wiped his bloody blade upon its beard and left it lying there, bleeding hours and minutes, its springs uncoiled and sprawling, its pendulum disintegrating.

Thurber also invents words with a Seuss-like proficiency.

“Come on, you blob of glup,” the cold Duke roared. “You may frighten octopi to death, you gibbous spawn of hate and thunder, but not the Duke of Coffin Castle!” He sneered. “Now that my precious gems have turned to thlup, living on, alone and cold, is not my fondest wish! On guard, you musty sofa!” The Todal gleeped. There was a stifled shriek and silence.

Students should be able to point out many instances of alliteration and other literary devices, which Thurber employs liberally.

The brambles and the thorns grew thick and thicker in a ticking thicket of bickering crickets. Farther along and stronger, bonged the gongs of a throng of frogs, green and vivid on their lily pads. From the sky came the crying of flies, and the pilgrims leaped over a bleating sheep creeping knee-deep in a sleepy stream in which swift and slippery snakes slid and slithered silkily, whispering sinful secrets.

You may also want to draw the students’ attention to the end of the book where Thurber writes:

The Duke’s…eye moved glassily around and saw the Golux. “You mere Device!” he gnarled. “You platitude! You Golux ex machina!”

This is a great opportunity to teach the literary device Deus ex machina. Not many authors will blatantly identify their “Device” with such wit.

Crime Scene [Setting]


Coffin Castle—a cold, gloomy castle on a lonely hill

A fairytale world


Once upon a time

Time frozen at 10 minutes to 5

Always Then, never Now

Suspects [Characters]


Duke—cold, aggressive, evil, wicked, cruel, limping, 6 foot 4 inches, 46 years old, wears a velvet patch on one eye and a monocle on the other, afraid of Now

Princess Saralinda—warm, nearly 21, “loveliest princess on all the 1,000 islands of the ocean seas”

Prince Zorn of Zorna—disguised as a minstrel named Xingu--a “thing of rags and tatters,” youngest son of a powerful king

Golux (“Listener”)—little man, hat, wide eyes, beard, magical, invisible

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ 13 Clocks @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Monday, October 26, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 26: The Story of Holly & Ivy

Book Detectives ~ Holly & Ivy @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

I had to sneak in one more Barbara Cooney book before our series came to an end. In The Story of Holly & Ivy, a doll wishes for a girl, an orphan girl wishes for a doll and a grandmother, and a woman wishes for a girl. Fate brings them together on Christmas day. Cooney’s illustrations are a delight paired with the lengthy text.

“This is a story about wishing. It is also about a doll and a little girl. It begins with the doll.”

Crime Scene [Setting]


Mr. Blossom’s toy shop—window was lit and warm and decorated, in a little country town

St. Agnes’s—big house in the city, where 30 boys and girls had to live together

Mrs. Jones’s home


Christmas Eve

1930s? (Judging by clothing)

Suspects [Characters]


Holly—doll, dressed for Christmas, 12 inches high, real gold hair, brown eyes that could open and shut, teeth like tiny china pearls, newest toy in toy shop, lonely

The other toys: Mallow and Wallow the baby hippopotamuses, Abracadabra the owl, Crumple the elephant, other dolls

Mr. Blossom—toy shop owner

Peter—shop boy, fifteen, red cheeks and a wide smile; he took good care of the toys; helpful

Ivy—little girl six years old with straight hair cut in a fringe, blue-gray eyes, and a turned-up nose; lonely, orphan

Mrs. Jones—woman, married, childless, sad

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ The Story of Holly and Ivy @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Sunday, October 25, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 25: The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

Book Detectives ~ The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

I cannot complete a series of picture books without including a book illustrated by Barbara Cooney. Not only is Barbara Cooney my favorite children’s book author-illustrator, but The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story is my favorite Christmas book. (And clearly I have a thing for books about Christmas trees!)

If Ruthie is the protagonist in this story, I think the conflict would be man vs. fate because she is praying and hoping her wishes come true (and Papa coming home is her biggest wish). Mama certainly is the one driving the action forward, though. Other than Papa’s homecoming, she works hard to meet everyone’s expectations. So is it man vs. self and Mama is the protagonist? I chose the moment they found the balsam tree on the ridge as the climax because the book is titled “The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree.”

Crime Scene [Setting]


Valley of Pine Grove, Appalachian Mountains—snowy

Ruthie’s home

Pine Grove Church

High on a rocky craig up near heaven


From spring time to Christmas time

End of the Great War (WWI—1918)

Suspects [Characters]


Ruthie—young girl, poor

Mama—frugal, kind and loving, honors commitments

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Saturday, October 24, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 24: Christmas Farm

Book Detectives ~ Christmas Farm @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

Last year I added Christmas Farm to our gigantic Christmas book collection, and it is now one of my favorites. I want to hop right into the dreamy world the illustrator has created, and the friendship between Wilma and her five-year-old neighbor, Parker, is absolutely lovely. Using the comparison in age between Parker and the trees is a brilliant way to illustrate the passage of time, and I love watching the tree farm grow through the various seasons.

This is a wonderful Book Detectives selection for younger kids during the holiday season, and evergreen seedlings would make a fantastic Christmas gift!

Crime Scene [Setting]


Wilma’s back hill

Charming countryside in northern USA (somewhere with four seasons and fireflies, whip-poor-wills, deer, bobolinks, and moose)

Real world—dreamy, cheerful, idealistic


Modern world

Five years, through each season

The childhood of Parker (adulthood of Wilma)

Suspects [Characters]


Wilma—adult woman, doesn’t seem to have a family but looks older with her hair and clothing, kind, loves to garden, entrepreneur, enjoys celebrating

Parker—five year old boy (to ten years old), hard worker, patient, enjoys being and working outside

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Christmas Farm @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Friday, October 23, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 23: Tree of Cranes

Book Detectives ~ Tree of Cranes @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

Yesterday I introduced author and illustrator Allen Say. Today we’ll explore his picture book Tree of Cranes as we segue into a few Christmas-themed picture books before ending this 31 Days series with a few simple chapter books.

This story is told in the 1st person, and we assume that the author is telling a story from his childhood. The scenery of a traditional Japanese home may fascinate children.

Origami cranes are an obvious craft to pair with this story, and children may be interested to know the 1000 Cranes Legend.

Is the protagonist the son or is it the mother? I think the mother needs to share her memories with her son.

Are traditions and memories important? Are they important to share with our children?

Is Christmas about more than trees and lights and gifts and love and peace?

Crime Scene [Setting]



The boy’s home

Real world (true story?)


A single gray winter day, snowy and cold


Suspects [Characters]


Young boy—mischievous

Mama—worried, quiet, sad

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Tree of Cranes @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Thursday, October 22, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 22: The Sign Painter

Book Detectives ~ The Sign Painter @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

Ah, Allen Say—yet another favorite picture book author and illustrator. He is best known and loved for his Caldecott Medal winner, Grandfather’s Journey. Say’s stories draw heavily from his own family background and childhood, which he shares in his mesmerizing illustrated autobiography, Drawing from Memory. As a child, he was shunned by his parents for following his dream of becoming an artist. This artistic tension is felt in each of his stories but perhaps most of all in The Sign Painter.

All of Allen Say’s picture books have a certain spare, quiet, mysterious, haunting, transient atmosphere, and The Sign Painter exhibits all of these qualities.

Who is the boy, where did he come from, and how old is he? Who is the sign painter? Where are they? Where are all the people? Who is the man who has hired them? Who is the woman? What is ArrowStar? Who will see the billboards? What is that strange construction in the desert? What is the mysterious man’s dream and will he succeed? Where is the boy going next?

We never know.

And we wonder, does an artist sacrifice his dream when he must answer to another man?

In Say’s books, characters often feel out of place, yearning for another home. In The Sign Painter we have the juxtaposition of two Japanese men in a remote Texas-like desert, billboards where no one will see them, a massive construction project (seemingly abandoned) where no one will travel, and a final scene from Edward Hopper’s famous painting Nighthawks (inspired by a diner in Manhattan).

I’d love to have a discussion with older students about the placement of the Edward Hopper painting at the end of the book.

Crime Scene [Setting]


Bus station, empty street, dark storefronts, sign shop

Remote desert (Texas? The sign painter wears a cowboy hat, belt buckle, denim jacket, and red scarf around his neck.)

A construction project in the middle of the desert—empty

Real world


1900s (the truck and car are old-fashioned, Nighthawks was painted in 1942)

Suspects [Characters]


Young man/boy—Japanese, artist, painter, quiet

Sign painter—Japanese, quiet, minds his own business, kind

Mysterious man

ArrowStar woman

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ The Sign Painter @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 21: The Boy Who Loved to Draw

Book Detectives ~ The Boy Who Loved to Draw @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

The Boy Who Loved to Draw is a picture book biography of the very first world-famous American artist, Benjamin West. Children who enjoy this story may enjoy the longer entertaining biography Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin by Marguerite Henry, acclaimed author of Misty of Chincoteague.

Benjamin West has a talent and a deep desire for drawing and painting, but the Quaker family and society into which he is born is very practical and Benjamin’s drawing leads him into mischief! Will they come to understand and value his abilities?

[This picture book includes three small reproductions of Benjamin West’s art, including his first painting, painted at age ten!]

Crime Scene [Setting]



West household

Real world, true story


Colonial America

Mid-1700s, before the Revolutionary War

Benjamin’s whole boyhood

Suspects [Characters]


Benjamin West—young boy, loved to draw and paint, very talented, a little mischievous

The West family (Mama, Papa, John, Thomas, Samuel, Joseph, Rachel, Sarah, Hannah, Mary, and Elizabeth)—Quakers, stern

Baby Sally

Gray Wolf—Lanape “Indian,” lived in wigwam, sold baskets, kind and helpful

Grimalkin the cat

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ The Boy Who Loved to Draw @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 20: The Memory Coat

Book Detectives ~ The Memory Coat @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

The Memory Coat by Elvira Woodruff tells the story of two young Jewish cousins, best friends and co-storytellers, who escape persecution in Russia by traveling to America with their family in the early 1900s.

I’m not at all certain I have the conflict correct. The family needs to pass inspection in America, and Grisha’s coat seems to be holding them back. But maybe I have it all backwards. Maybe Grisha is the protagonist and he needs to keep his coat (and with it, his memories to comfort him). However you look at it, Rachel propels the story forward and saves the day with her keen imagination. Her stories comfort friends, her stories solve conflicts, and her stories preserve memories. And yet, these stories seem to be made manifest in Grisha’s coat.

Crime Scene [Setting]


Russia, Jewish village (shtetl) with cobblestone streets and cold wooden houses


America, Ellis Island, NY—Inspection station

Real world



During reign of Nicholas I

Immigration to America

Months, winter?

On the ship for 14 days

Suspects [Characters]


Rachel—girl who loved to tell stories

Grisha—boy; cousin and friend to Rachel, adopted into her family; liked to draw pictures; quiet, sad; parents died



31 Days of Book Detectives ~ The Memory Coat @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Monday, October 19, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 19: The Treasure

Book Detectives ~ The Treasure @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

In our third book by Uri Shulevitz, The Treasure, a man named Isaac travels far only to find his treasure close to home. This brief, simple picture book is accessible for young children but deep enough for discussion with older students and adults.

Not only are the greatest treasures found where we least expect them, but how do we respond? In faith? With perseverance? In gratitude? Even towards those who seemed to stand in the way of the treasure we thought we wanted?

The repetition of words for his journey to the city and back home is lovely.

I’m not sure of the antagonist in this story. Is it man vs. fate (the voice in the dream and the unexpected messenger)? Is it man vs. self (believing in the dream and persevering to find the treasure)? You read it and decide.

Crime Scene [Setting]


A European village?

Countryside, forests, mountains

The capital city


Long ago

Over a period of weeks?

Suspects [Characters]


Isaac—a poor man, hungry; full of faith, perseverance, and gratitude

Captain of the Guard—disbelieving


31 Days of Book Detectives ~ The Treasure @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Sunday, October 18, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 18: How I Learned Geography

Book Detectives ~ How I Learned Geography @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

Yesterday I shared a book illustrated by Uri Shulevitz. Today’s Book Detectives selection, How I Learned Geography, is illustrated and written by Shulevitz.

I love this one. I really do.

It’s brightly-colored. It’s short.

It’s profound and inspiring.

And it’s a true story of a little boy torn from his home by the devastation of war—a true story about a hunger that bread cannot satisfy.

The best part is the final page of the book where the author tells his history, of fleeing Poland in 1939 and moving all over the world. He tells us that the story takes place when he is four or five years old and living in Turkestan. He also shares a picture of himself in Turkestan at the age of seven, a beautiful map of Africa that he drew at the age of ten, and a drawing of the marketplace in Turkestan that he drew from memory at the age of thirteen (while living in Paris).

Readers discover that Uri knows, from personal experience, that knowledge feeds the imagination for a lifetime. He grew up to become an award-winning author and artist.

Few picture books are written in 1st person, so this may be a good book to use for a point of view discussion.

Crime Scene [Setting]


“Far, far east, where summers were hot and winters were cold, to a city of houses made of clay, straw, and camel dung, surrounded by dusty steppes, burned by the sun.”

(City of Turkestan, in what is now Kazakhstan)

Small room, dirt floor, with strangers and no toys or books.


Real world

Imagination—burning deserts, sandy beaches, snowy mountains, wondrous temples, fruit groves, cities)


1939, after Hitler invaded Poland (the Warsaw blitz), at the beginning of WWII before the U.S. entered the war.

Suspects [Characters]



Mother—Hungry, worried, bitter about the map

Uri—Hungry, curious, imaginative, artistic


31 Days of Book Detectives ~ How I Learned Geography @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Saturday, October 17, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 17: The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship

Book Detectives ~ Fool of the World and the Flying Ship @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

Arthur Ransome (author of the delightful Swallows and Amazons series) retells this outlandish Russian (tall) tale. The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship is illustrated by Uri Shulevitz and is the winner of the 1969 Caldecott Medal. [I’ll be sharing two more books written and illustrated by Shulevitz in the following days.]

Children may be interested to know that Arthur Ransome was an English author and journalist who travelled to Russia to study Russian folklore. He became a foreign correspondent during WWI and witnessed the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.

If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch the Rabbit Ears production of The Fool and the Flying Ship (the version retold by Eric Metaxas) on Amazon streaming for free. It is read by Robin Williams and the voices are fantastic, as you can well imagine.

Older children could compare this folktale to other stories about “fools” who aren’t as foolish as others might think, such as Many Moons.

The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship tips its hand on the very first page:

“But however it was with his father and mother, this is a story that shows that God loves simple folk, and turns things to their advantage in the end.”

Much happens after the first page, however, and the long narrative of comical events may cause kids to forget the moral of the story by the time they reach the end.

Crime Scene [Setting]



Countryside—lots of fields full of crops

The Czar’s Palace—ornate, colorful

Clearly a fairy tale world where characters have supernatural abilities


Long ago?

Summer? (the fields look ready to harvest)

Over a period of days?

Suspects [Characters]


Old peasant and his wife—showed favoritism to clever sons, ignored or were unkind to “foolish” simple son

Two clever brothers—obviously not so clever since they were never heard of again

The Fool of the World—simple, never did harm, cheerful, didn’t complain, followed instructions, merry, friendly

Czar—a bit foolish to offer his daughter for a flying ship, didn’t have integrity to honor his promise, prejudiced

Ancient man








31 Days of Book Detectives ~ The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Friday, October 16, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 16: The Kitchen Knight

Book Detectives ~ The Kitchen Knight @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

Past the half-way mark and on the downhill slope! Whew! Anyone still with me?

I fell in love with King Arthur legends while devouring The Squire’s Tales YA series by Gerald Morris. In one of my favorite books of the whole series, The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf, Morris puts his own spin on Sir Thomas Malory’s story of Sir Beaumains and Dame Lyonesse from Book VII of Le Morte D’Arthur.

Many of you may be familiar with the gorgeous picture book Saint George and the Dragon, an adaptation of a story from Edward Spencer’s The Fairie Queen, retold by Margaret Hodges and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, but you may not know that this author and illustrator pair also collaborated on an equally lovely version of Sir Beaumains and Dame Lyonesse, The Kitchen Knight: A Tale of King Arthur.

The illustrations are rich, detailed, and beautiful, as is the writing.

“Then the knight of the blue pavilions clad all in blue armor came against Gareth, and Gareth rode against him with such force that their spears broke in pieces and their horses fell to the earth. But the two knights sprang to their feet and drew their swords and gave many great strokes until their shields and their armor were hewn to bits. At last, Sir Gareth gave such a blow that the blue knight begged for mercy, saying, ‘I and my five hundred knights shall always be at your command.’”

King Arthur legends are full of adventure, action, and romance. This picture book is one of the few King Arthur retellings that is completely appropriate for all ages. It also contains a short historical note on the original tale.

Crime Scene [Setting]


Medieval England

King Arthur’s stately castle


Castle Perilous


When the Round Table was in its glory (Medieval times)

Begins in springtime

Young man works in kitchen for a year before setting off on his adventure (which seems to take place over a week or so, but it could be much longer)

Suspects [Characters]


King Arthur—Loves feasts and hearing about adventures, a good sport

Stranger/(Sir) Gareth of Orkney—Goodly young fellow, friendly, modest, mild, big, broad, handsome, humble, compliant, kitchen boy, strong and capable, nephew to King Arthur, brave

(Dwarf—Stranger’s squire?)

Sir Lancelot—Kind and helpful, gentle, courteous

Sir Kay—Rude, angry, ill-mannered, Knight of the Round Table

Lady Linette—Proud, rude

Lady Linesse—Beautiful

Black Knight, Blue Knight

Red Knight—Evil, as strong as seven men

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ The Kitchen Knight @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Thursday, October 15, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 15: The Gardener

Book Detectives ~ The Gardener @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

David Small and Sarah Stewart are a phenomenal husband-wife team. [You can learn more about them here, as well as see them on video.] Their collaborative picture books are treasures. The Gardener was my first introduction to the pair years ago, and I instantly fell in love. Who wouldn’t?

The Gardener has a theme similar to Miss Rumphius, another favorite, and they would be well-paired in a Book Detectives setting along with any flower or gardening activity that can be shared with others. Spread beauty and joy!

Written in the form of letters by Lydia Grace to loved ones, The Gardener shares life from the perspective of a cheerful young country girl living in the city with her solemn uncle.

In many children’s books, the protagonist achieves the thing that he needs or wants. The Gardener causes us to consider whether Lydia Grace failed her mission.

Crime Scene [Setting]


(Country, train station)

The City (USA)

Bakery—undecorated, a little dreary, but the sun shines on it

Roof of the bakery—empty, ugly space

Real world


August 27, 1935-July 11, 1936 (almost a whole year, all four seasons)

During The Great Depression

Suspects [Characters]


Lydia Grace Finch—girl, cheerful, optimistic, kind, gardener, hard worker, thoughtful, smart, patient

Uncle Jim—man with a big nose and black mustache, somber, quiet, unsmiling, doesn’t seem to have a sense of humor, kind

Ed and Emma Beech—Uncle Jim’s friends, work at bakery, kind, helpful, supportive

(Grandma—Lydia Grace’s namesake and fellow gardener)

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ The Gardener @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 14: The Yellow Star

Book Detectives ~ The Yellow Star @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark is only a legend, but it is a powerful one. Beautifully written and illustrated, this tale of courage and honor and ingenuity inspires any reader, child or adult, to ask what if? The author includes helpful notes at the back of the book regarding the veracity of the legend as well as historical information about the Nazi occupation of Denmark during World War II. The Yellow Star could serve as an introduction to the excellent middle grade fiction story Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Children may be inspired to create their own yellow stars.

Crime Scene [Setting]


Copenhagen, Denmark, Europe


During the reign of King Christian X


During the Nazi occupation of Denmark during World War II

(Before the U.S. entered WWII)

Suspects [Characters]


King Christian X—honored and beloved by the people of Denmark, courageous, honorable, kind, wise

Danes—loyal to their king and to their fellow countrymen, united

Nazis—full of war and hate


31 Days of Book Detectives ~ The Yellow Star @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 13: Ming Lo Moves the Mountain

Book Detectives ~ Ming Lo Moves the Mountain @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

And then there is Arnold Lobel. I think the great children’s book authors are the best philosophers, and Arnold Lobel is up there with the best of them.

Ming Lo Moves the Mountain is a simple, short, humorous folktale, but as I consider the theme maybe I need to read it as much or more than young children do! How often do we as adults waste energy trying to change what cannot be changed?

Crime Scene [Setting]



Village, near a mountain


Possibly long ago

Seems to happen all in one day

Suspects [Characters]


Ming Lo and wife—adults, not very wise

Wise Man—wise, but did not make advice easy for Ming Lo and his wife

[Maybe older students could discuss why the wise man might have given such poor advice the first three times. Did Ming Lo and his wife need to know that the mountain could not be moved?]

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Ming Lo Moves the Mountain @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Monday, October 12, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 12: Andrew Henry’s Meadow

Book Detectives ~ Andrew Henry's Meadow @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

Andrew Henry’s Meadow is a picture book I would have loved as a kid, and it was published in 1965, almost a decade before I was born! I had a slight obsession with books about kids who run away, and I would have pored over the illustrations of each unique house Andrew Henry created for the other kids (a tree house for the bird-enthusiast, a bridge house for the fisherman, a dugout house for the boy who had underground pets, a castle for the girl who loved to dress up…). The black and white illustrations are charming.

Crime Scene [Setting]


Town of Stubbsville (Small Town, USA)

Andrew Henry’s home (All-American)

The countryside—pasture, hill, swamp, deep woods

A meadow—delightful, with a stream wandering through it, a tall fir tree on one side


One spring

Sometime around 1965?

The children were gone for four long days and four very long nights

Suspects [Characters]


Andrew Henry—boy, middle child, liked to build things, creative

Thatcher Family:

Mrs. Thatcher—mother, usually busy in kitchen

Mr. Thatcher—tired when he came home from work, liked to read the paper and have things quiet

Marian and Martha—older sisters, liked to sew or fix their hair

Robert and Ronald—younger brothers, liked to play with toy cars and coloring books

Eight other kids from town who had various hobbies and activities and parents who didn’t appreciate them

Sam—dog who loved Andrew Henry and was lonesome without him

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Andrew Henry's Meadow @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Sunday, October 11, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 11: Many Moons

Book Detectives ~ Many Moons @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

If there is another children’s book author who loves words as much as William Steig, it must be James Thurber. His books read like an ode to language, particularly his short chapter book The Wonderful O. I will be sharing notes from another short chapter book by Thurber, The 13 Clocks, later in this series. Thurber’s life story is quite interesting, particularly the William Tell story (which I shared with my wide-eyed Book Detectives). He is possibly most famous for his very short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (click on link to read the whole story), which was published in The New Yorker in 1939 and recently turned into a full-length movie (both fantastic discussion material for slightly older students).

If you are new to James Thurber, start with the picture book Many Moons, published in 1943. It is a longer picture book easily enjoyed by older students and adults due to the humor and the subtly profound ideas. It’s also a blast to read aloud. Many Moons is a great choice if you are using picture books with middle school or high school students to introduce them to literary analysis. Yes, it’s a fairytale about a princess, but it’s also great fun. The conflict and the theme are more complex, as well. I’m still not sure I have it “right.”

“The moon?” exclaimed the Lord High Chamberlain, his eyes widening. This made him look four times as wise as he really was.

“Yes, the moon,” said the King. “M-o-o-n, moon. Get it tonight, tomorrow at the latest.”

The Lord High Chamberlain wiped his forehead with a handkerchief and then blew his nose loudly. “I have got a great many things for you in my time, your Majesty,” he said. “It just happens that I have with me a list of the things I have got for you in my time.” He pulled a long scroll of parchment out of his pocket. “Let me see, now.” He glanced at this list, frowning. “I have got ivory, apes, and peacocks, rubies, opals, and emeralds, black orchids, pink elephants, and blue poodles, gold bugs, scarabs, and flies in amber, hummingbirds’ tongues, angels’ feathers, and unicorns’ horns, giants, midgets, and mermaids, frankincense, ambergris, and myrrh, troubadors, minstrels, and dancing women, a pound of butter, two dozen eggs, and a sack of sugar—sorry, my wife wrote that in there.”

“I don’t remember any blue poodles,” said the King.

“It says blue poodles right here on the list, and they are checked off with a little check mark,” said the Lord High Chamberlain…

“Never mind the blue poodles,” said the King. “What I want now is the moon.”

“…[T]he moon is out of the question. It is 35,000 miles away and it is bigger than the room the Princess lies in. Furthermore, it is made of molten copper. I cannot get the moon for you. Blue poodles, yes; the moon, no.”

Crime Scene [Setting]


A kingdom by the sea

Fairytale world


“Once upon a time…”

The story happens over the course of a day or two.

Suspects [Characters]


Princess Lenore—girl, ten years old, going on eleven; likes raspberry tarts; wise

King—demanding, loves his daughter

Royal Physician—couldn’t heal the princess

Lord High Chamberlain—large, fat man; wore thick glasses; good at getting things but not very wise

Royal Wizard—little, thin man with a long face; wore a high red peaked hat covered with silver stars and a blue robe; good at magic but not very wise

Royal Mathematician—bald-headed, nearsighted man, with a skullcap on his head and a pencil behind each ear; wore a black suit with white numbers on it; good with facts but not very wise

Royal Goldsmith—talented with gold, but no imagination

Court Jester—man wearing motley and cap and bells; sat at the foot of the throne; “What can I do for you, your Majesty?”; did not look wise but was; humble; kind

[Older kids could possibly dig deeper at the end of the discussion and consider whether the characters (particularly the Chamberlain, Wizard, and Mathematician) each represent a larger idea.]

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Many Moons @ Mt. Hope Chronicles 

[I was incorrect about at least one thing in the chart above. The King did not ask for the Court Jester to help him get the moon for his daughter; he only asked for comfort. And that’s important!]

Other possible themes/morals:

Arrogant, self-important government, superstition, facts, and even productivity (and medicine?) fail when child-like understanding and faith is needed.

Wisdom can be found in unexpected places and in unexpected people.

Looks can be deceiving.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 10: One Grain of Rice

Book Detectives ~ One Grain of Rice @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale by Demi blends math and literature in a story from India. [Similar tales can be found in other cultures such as China, retold in A Grain of Rice by Helena Clare Pittman, just as many cultures have their own version of Cinderella.]

Purchase a bag of rice so that kids can see for themselves how quickly one grain of rice grows when doubled each time!

Crime Scene [Setting]


Asia, India

Province, village, rice farms

Palace, royal storehouses

Could be real world


A long time ago

Suspects [Characters]


Raja—man, ruler, rich with lots of elephants, greedy, selfish, thought he was wise and fair, ended up keeping his promise to girl

Rani—village girl, nice, clever, generous [the name means “queen” in India]

Villagers—poor, hungry

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ One Grain of Rice @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Friday, October 9, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 9: Amos & Boris

Book Detectives ~ Amos and Boris @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

William Steig is in my top ten list of children’s book authors. He is most famous for his picture book Doctor De Soto as well as the character Shrek, but Amos and Boris is my favorite of his picture books. [We previously discussed Brave Irene, another favorite.] Though his picture books are wonderful, he really shines in chapter-book form. I hope to share notes from Dominic, my favorite children’s chapter book, later this month. [We previously discussed The Real Thief, as well.]

Kids (and parents!) may be interested to know that William Steig did not begin writing children’s books until the age of 61. He then went on to write more than 30!

In this book, Amos and Boris (a mouse and a whale, respectively) ask some deep questions about the nature of life and death and friendship (Steig doesn’t hold much back). They may not have anything in common other than mammal-hood, but they develop a heart-warming relationship.

All of William Steig’s books are a blast to read aloud due to the high quality vocabulary.

“One night, in a phosphorescent sea, he marveled at the sight of some whales spouting luminous water; and later, lying on the deck of his boat gazing at the immense, starry sky, the tiny mouse, Amos, a little speck of a living thing in the vast living universe, felt thoroughly akin to it all. Overwhelmed by the beauty and mystery of everything, he rolled over and over and right off the deck of his boat and into the sea.”

And later…

“Swimming along, sometimes at great speed, sometimes slowly and leisurely, sometimes resting and exchanging ideas, sometimes stopping to sleep, it took them a week to reach Amos’s home shore. During that time, they developed a deep admiration for one another. Boris admired the delicacy, the quivering daintiness, the light touch, the small voice, the gemlike radiance of the mouse. Amos admired the bulk, the grandeur, the power, the purpose, the rich voice, and the abounding friendliness of the whale. They became the closest possible friends. They told each other about their lives, their ambitions.”

Students should be able to spot various literary devices.


He loved to hear the surf sounds—the bursting breakers, the backwashes with rolling pebbles.

Savage strength.

Said the mountain of a whale to the mote of a mouse.

Boris was already in the water, with waves washing at him, and he was feeling the wonderful wetness.


On waves as big as mountains.

Crime Scene [Setting]


The beach and the ocean

Fairytale world


Amos sails on the sixth of September

A week to return to his home shore with Boris

Amos and Boris are very young when the story begins and old when the meet again, many years later.

(A timeless setting)

Suspects [Characters]


Amos—an enterprising, capable, cheerful young mouse who loves life and adventure

Boris—a kind, strong, enormous whale

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Amos and Boris @ Mt. Hope Chronicles 

Students could also compare Amos and Boris to the well-known fable of The Lion and the Mouse or to this animated short film, The Girl and the Fox.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 8: Lentil

Book Detectives ~ Lentil @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

Let’s try something a little different today and discuss a classic children’s picture book.

I adore Robert McCloskey. He’s the Normal Rockwell of children’s literature. His books are filled with cheerfulness, ingenuity, mischievous kids, Main Street America, and illustrations full of life and personality.

Lentil is a short, entertaining picture book. It could serve as a lead-in to McCloskey’s chapter book Homer Price (which in turn serves as a great lead-in to analyzing chapter books, since each chapter contains stand-alone stories and can be discussed individually).

Serve a big picture of lemonade for this Book Detectives meeting. Even better, have harmonicas for the kids (and ear plugs for the adults).

Man vs. man conflicts are hard to find in children’s literature, so if you are trying to find a picture book for each type of conflict—man vs. self, man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. nature, man vs. fate/God, man vs. machine/alien/supernatural—this is a good place to start.

Crime Scene [Setting]


Town of Alto, Ohio—cheerful, lovely, friendly, old-fashioned (fictional town but could be real)

Small Town, USA

Main Street, Train Station

A safe, happy world full of kind citizens, parades, and ice cream


Published in 1940

Beginning of WWII (just after Hitler invaded Poland, just before Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor)

A short time in a boy’s life (the main action happens in a single afternoon)

Suspects [Characters]


Lentil—boy (9-12 years old?), positive, cheerful, kind, persistent, carefree

Old Sneep—man, grumpy grumbler, wants others to be as unhappy as he is

Townspeople—friendly, cheerful

Colonel Carter—important, generous

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Lentil @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 7: The Language of Birds

Book Detectives ~ The Language of Birds @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Click here to read other posts in the series.]

The Language of Birds is a retelling of a Russian fairytale, each page filled to the brim with text and illustration.

The conflict seems to be the most difficult story element to identify. In The Language of Birds, we’re not sure that Ivan wants or needs his father to believe him or that he is working toward getting his father to believe the truth, but the first hint of discord is when his father doesn’t believe the truth and yells at him, “Wretch! To invent such a tale! Serve you, indeed! You can spend this night with your friends, the birds. Let them serve you!” Ivan is punished, even though he tells the truth. And then, when he finds out that his brother’s story (which their father had believed) was a lie, he seems upset. “But my story is true!” protests Ivan. Other characters end up believing him (though not at first) during the story, so it seems that the actual resolution comes when his prophecy regarding his father serving him comes true.

With older children, it might be interesting to compare this story to the Biblical stories of Joseph and His Dreams in Genesis 37 or the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25.

Crime Scene [Setting]



Fairy tale world

forest—green and mysterious



1700s or earlier, old-fashioned, time of pirates

The story must cover a long period of time because the father says “Long ago, before I lost my fortune, I was a rich merchant.”

Suspects [Characters]


Ivan—truthful, kindhearted, not greedy, humble

Vasilii—liar, greedy, boastful, dishonest

Ivan and Vasilii are brothers, young men

Merchant—father, wealthy, values $ above all else, judges by outward appearance

Sailors on boat

Czar Demyan

Princess—beautiful and smart


31 Days of Book Detectives ~ The Language of Birds @ Mt. Hope Chronicles