The other night I attended a homeschool planning meeting and happily it was held at a local Barnes & Noble. I say happily because as we chatted and strategized, I sipped an orange mocha latte (delish!), and because I got there early, I did a little shopping. ;)
I must mention a book I picked up that evening, Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant.
I was specifically looking for good reads for our book group, when I spied this book on the shelf. I'm a big fan of Cynthia Rylant (Thimbleberry Stories, Mr. Putter & Tabby, Poppleton in Fall) and the title intrigued me. A quick page-through told me it was a larger-font, shorter chapter book, and it might be just right for Crackerjack.
Then I read the back cover and I was sold:
"When Kona, a Labrador retriever, meets Stumpy, the squirrel in Gooseberry Park, it's best friends at first sight. But after Stumpy's children are born, disaster strikes in the form of a violent ice storm.
"Kona is not a fair-weather friend; he's worried sick! How will Stumpy and her babies survive? With the help of Murray, a hilarious bat, and Gwendolyn, a wise hermit crab, Kona shows just how true - and heroic - a friend can be."
Oh, and did I mention Stumpy is a red squirrel? Well, you know how we feel about red squirrels. :)
Back at home, I read this book in an hour or so (to myself) and could not help chuckling aloud now and then. The boys wanted to know just what was so funny, so I read a quick passage and had them in hysterics, eager for more. We'll start the book soon, and I'm going to propose it for Crackerjack's book group (ages 7-10) this November. (Each family must volunteer to host one month's discussion.) I'm still looking for a title for Bookworm's group (ages 10-14); that's proving a bit trickier to nail down.
Ms. Rylant's charming story is really well told and in a way that's appealing to both children and adults. It's a neat little adventure with just enough suspense and plenty of lovable, memorable characters. Themes of friendship, loyalty, tolerance and self-sacrifice make for thoughtful discussion.
You know, I think I will build a little rabbit (er, squirrel) trail around this book come November. We could ...
- visit a local park on a chilly day
- take a walk to look for squirrel dreys (visible in fall)
- make up our own cozy "nests" back at home (winter beds)
- what would our treasures be?
- create a squirrel fact sheet to pass out at book group
- investigate animals that live in the trees:
- read about a woman who lived in a tree
- survey other books and discuss red squirrel behavior
- tell nature puppet stories
- (possibly) order a squirrel bark call
- bake squirrel cookies as described in A Blessing of Toads
- finally, make a squirrel lapbook
Now I can't wait for November! For the time being though, we'll keep feeding and watching the three little red squirrels who visit our trees regularly. They are rare, funny and downright adorable, and though decidedly hot-tempered, do co-exist fairly well with the larger grays, smaller chipmunks and various birds who also call our woods home.
Well, I bought one more book that night I'd like to recommend - a wonderful chemistry resource - but I've run out of computer time this morning. I'll be back soon wth more on that. :)