Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Apple Farmer Annie

"The breath of autumn is a whisper to the soul."

As Emmy and I explore a New England autumn, we are in awe of the magic that seems to occur overnight. We like to think that it is the fairies with tiny pots of paint and paint brushes that create such magnificent colored leaves in the trees.

Emmy's favorite fall activity is apple picking. She delights in finding the most perfect apple to add to her bag. I must say I agree, it is so peaceful in an apple orchard. And what delight I have watching my daughter actually eat an apple down to its core.

And if the juicy apples aren't enough, just wait for the cider donuts - DELICIOUS! Just made, hot-out-of-the-oil apple cider donuts are, without a doubt, one of the guilty pleasures of the season. Coupled with freshly pressed apple cider and you are in heaven.

A wonderful book to share during this season is Apple Farmer Annie by Monica Wellington. Follow along as Annie harvests her apples and uses them to make a variety of tasty items such as apple cider, applesauce, muffins, candied apples, cakes and pies. Annie takes her apples and apple products to "The Big Apple" where she is part of a farmers market. Annie's produce, pies and the rest, are a big hit! Wellington has added information and lessons in many of the bright cheery pictures. beginning with the life cycle of an apple, apples arranged in groups from one to ten which provides an opportunity to practice counting and another page showing apples sorted according to variety. The author concludes the story by sharing recipes for applesauce, apple muffins and applesauce cake with butter frosting.

Which recipe does Emmy want to try...Applesauce Cake! With apples collected from today's field trip, we are ready to make this delicious treat. If you'd like to do the same, here's the recipe:

Applesauce Cake
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
1/2 teaspoon allspice (optional)
1 cup applesauce
2/3 cup raisins

*Cream together butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.
*Add eggs and beat well.
*In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.
*Add to creamed mixture alternately with applesauce, beating after each addition and blending well.
*Stir in raisins.
*Pour batter into 9-inch greased tube pan.
*Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until browned. (toothpick inserted into cake should come out clean.)
*Cool, then spread with Butter Frosting (see recipe below).

Butter Frosting
2 tablespoons softened butter
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk

*Cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla extract.
*Add milk and stir well.
*The frosting should be smooth and easy to spread.

Since we love Apple Farmer Annie, Emmy and I will be going to the library to check out a few more Monica Wellington books. Perhaps we'll start with these: Pizza at Sally's and Mr. Cookie Baker.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Strega Nona's Harvest

Ah yes, Strega Nona! A beloved character from children book author and illustrator - Tomie dePaola. Tomie's tenth book in the Strega Nona series, Strega Nona's Harvest, is another huge hit with fans young and old. I had the pleasure of attending a book signing recently where I had the opportunity to meet Tomie dePaola. He is exactly how you might expect him to be with a twinkle in his eye and a smile that reveals slight dimples. Tomie shared a bit about how this story came to be...His editor suggested a book about Thanksgiving. After giving this topic much thought, not a single idea came to him. He was discussing his writing struggles with his art director when she looked at him and said, of course you can't write about Thanksgiving. You hate Thanksgiving! She was right! He hates turkey. He liked it as a kid, but now all that food just makes him feel miserable. With this thought came this realization - how can he write about something that he does not care about. I thought this was such an important message!!! Especially since much of the writing done in today's schools is focused on writing to a prompt and not individual writing choice. Well, Tomie still had to hustle to come up with an idea for a book that could be published in the Fall. As was her way, Strega Nona whispered in his ear...write about me and the harvest. Tomie came across a Martha Stewart Living magazine and was intrigued by the center photo which was an aerial view of Martha Stewart's vegetable garden. He had never seen anything like it before. It was huge and beautifully arranged. A-ha, Tomie thought, Strega Nona taught Martha how to plant a garden! With this idea in mind, Tomie began researching the folklore behind planting fruits and vegetables such as the idea of scheduling the planting according to the phases of the moon. He also liked the idea of promoting sustainable agriculture and buying fresh food grown by local farmers. And so he set about writing a story showing how Strega Nona creates her annual garden using her magic touch and how Big Anthony tries to make a garden as well, but ends up with a jungle on his hands. Strega Nona's Harvest accomplishes both of these ideas. It is a perfect story to share for Thanksgiving as it ends with an amazing Harvest Feast. This book is certainly going to become a favorite in our house. Emmy enjoys watching both gardens grow and laughs when Big Anthony piles his vegetables outside of Strega Nona's door. We now enjoy blowing three kisses, Strega Nona's signature move, to the moon which, along with her song, is her secret ingredient to a successful garden.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fairy Houses

A whimsical series of books that are truly delightful to share with children of all ages is Tracy Kane's Fairy House Series. The series began when the author visited an island off of the coast of Maine where she discovered fairy houses built among the trees and bushes. She was immediately taken back to childhood where collecting items from nature was a favorite pasttime. A video was then produced titled Kristen's Fairy House. The video was a grass roots production where Tracy Kane played an artist creating a children's picture book and a friend's daughter played her niece, who was building the fairy house that inspired the artist to create a picture book. The success of this video allowed Tracy to get her creative juices flowing and publish the Fairy Houses Series: Fairy Houses, Fairy Boat, Fairy Flight and coming soon Forest Secrets.

When I was teaching second grade in Laconia, New Hampshire, I had the opportunity to meet Tracy Kane when she participated in an author visit at our school. She was simply delightful. She engaged the students in a reading of her first book Fairy Houses, shared some of her story boards, encouraged the students to build their own fairy houses and autographed books. My students brought in many fantastic items found in nature and set to work immediately on creating the most fanciful fairy houses ever. This experience stuck with me and I've been waiting for that just right moment to engage Emmy in this experience. Today was that day! She is always busy collecting things from nature, but today she was creating a pile out of the sticks she had picked up. The sticks were looking very much like little houses and so we began our journey into the world of fairies!

As soon as we got home, I brought out my signed copy of Fairy Houses. Since Emmy wanted to know where the fairies were and when they would visit her house, I knew I had better share this book right away. As the main character, Kristen, builds her fairy house, many forest creatures visit from a bird helping himself to the berries carefully placed around the front, to a frog frolicking in the rock pond, to a deer licking the salt from the carefully placed seashells. Finally, a visit from the fairies........or were they just beautiful butterflies. It's for the reader to decide. Emmy and I know for a fact that the fairies will visit her house! And I'm sure we will be checking this special house out tomorrow to look for any signs of visitors.

If you would like to build your own fairy house, keep these rules in mind:
1. Fairy Houses should look so natural they are almost hidden. A location close to the ground is best.
2. You should use only natural materials. Dry grasses, leaves, sticks, pebbles and pinecones are just a few examples of materials to choose.
3. Be careful not to use or disturb any of nature's materials that are still living, especially flowers, ferns, mosses and lichen. Fairies do not like to disturb or destroy anything that is growing in nature.

Check out Tracy Kane's website for more information along with some pretty amazing photographs of fairy houses that are sure to inspire.

I can't think of any better way to spend a morning, then out in nature with your child(ren).

Monday, September 7, 2009

Baby Loves Jazz

Any Duke Ellington fans out there? Emmy is definitely a fan....well a fan of Duck Ellington. The Baby Loves Jazz series is some serious fun especially for those that love jazz. These books highlight some of jazz's greatest musicians/singers with wonderful CD's full of that jazzy sound. As I was researching the roots of jazz, I came across this interesting fact:
In 1987, the US House of Representatives and Senate passed a bill proposed by Democratic Representative John Conyers, Jr. to define jazz as a unique form of American music stating, among other things, "...that jazz is hereby designated as a rare and valuable national American treasure to which we should devote our attention, support and resources to make certain it is preserved, understood and promulgated."

As jazz is such an important part of our American history, take this opportunity to introduce this sound to your child through the Baby Loves Jazz Series! I guarantee that he or she will be groovin' to some wonderful music as well as enjoying some wonderful books. By the way the name Baby Loves Jazz is misleading. These books are great for all ages!

Mile Davis
Louis Armstrong

Ella Fitzgerald

Charlie "Bird" Parker

Philly Joe Jones

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Pancakes, Pancakes!

As mentioned in my last post, Emmy LOVES pancakes for breakfast, lunch or dinner. This photograph shows the particular way that Emmy wants her pancake to be served - cut into triangles with 100% maple syrup on the side for dipping.

With our recent move, I have been finding the most amazing books that I had completely forgotten about. Pancakes, Pancakes! by Eric Carle is one of those books. With bright collage illustrations, the story allows the reader to tag along with Jack as he gathers all of the things that his mother will need to make his requested breakfast of pancakes: flour, an egg, milk, and butter. What delights Emmy and me about this story is that it shows the process by which the flour, egg, milk and butter must be obtained. Jack must go to the wheat field and cut the wheat then take it to the miller where he has to thresh the wheat to separate the grain from the chaff and then grind the grain into flour. Jack must go to the hen house to gather the egg and find the cow in order to milk her. The cream from the milk needs to be churned to make it into butter.

This process is a bit foreign to this family of boxed mixes so being able to show Emmy where each ingredient of her pancake batter came from is intriguing to all of us. It's also great to see the old fashioned tools and supplies that are used. And the best surprise of all is a photograph of Eric Carle on the inside of the back cover wearing a chef's outfit. Apparently, Mr. Carle's secret wish (if not writing and illustrating books for children) is to be an executive chef at a large, renowned hotel kitchen. He admits to not being a great cook, but can prepare a few dishes when called upon like his delicious pancakes that his mother showed him how to make when he was a boy. The recipe is included with a few tips to make the pancakes the best ever. Emmy loves to help in the kitchen and always mixes the pancake batter herself. She will be delighted to try this recipe by one of her favorite authors and illustrators. Bon appetit!