A First Grade Read Aloud Banquet

by Lisa Ripperton
January ​​8, 20​20

​It has long been my mission to make it possible for every child ​to have ​the opportunity to hear a story and a song, a poem and a rhyme every day of the year. With the ​First Grade Read Aloud Banquet now available at Gateway to the Classics, ​anyone with a phone or a tablet can make that happen for the six year olds in their care.

Note: While the First Grade Read Aloud Banquet is similar in many respects to the Kindergarten Read Aloud Banquet introduced in January, 2019, there are significant differences which will be highlighted below.

​​Upon first arriving at the Read Aloud Banquet, you are greeted by a brightly illustrated rhyme and a ​poem from ​a collection especially chosen for six year olds. ​Refresh​ the screen, and a new rhyme and a new poem ​are displayed for your enjoyment.

​Scroll down and you encounter a set of ​songs for the current month with sound controls so you can start and stop them. These songs come from The Baby's Bouquet and The Baby's Opera, selected and illustrated by Walter Crane. Click on the song title and you will see illustrated sheet music for the song, often followed by a full page color illustration, like the one pictured below. According to Frances Epps, "The Baby's Opera and The Baby's Bouquet are perfect feasts of delight to little people of two years old and upwards; the picture and music alike fascinate them." ("Song for the Nursery," Parents' Review, Volume 1, pp. 144-164). Every month automatically brings a new set of songs fitting for the season.

​​While ​the First Grade Read Aloud Banquet includes many of the same songs featured in the Kindergarten Read Aloud Banquet, over one third of them are new.  ​

​​Now, scroll down to the bottom ​to find an animal tale on view. With each refresh of the screen a new animal tale is displayed. It may be a fable from Aesop or one of the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. It might be one of the richly illustrated tales from ​Beatrix Potter that are more appreciated by older children. A ​Brer Rabbit tale from Uncle Remus ​will appear from time to time, complete with a sound option so that as you listen to the story you can begin to make sense of the dialect in which the tales are recounted. A few of the folk tales illustrated and retold by Frederick Richardson that comprise the whole of the tales in the Kindergarten Read Aloud Banquet also show up occasionally. ​​Keep an eye out for my favorites in this collection, A Roundabout Turn by Robert Charles and The Bojabi Tree by Edith Rickert, ​that are sure to tickle the funny bone!

​In scrolling to the bottom we passed over a schedule of readings for every day in the week. The week displayed corresponds to the week of the year. In this plan there is a story and a ​poem to read each day. Click on the week number in the lefthand column to display all the readings for the week that you can then copy into a file for offline reading, if need be.

This reading plan is the heart of the First Grade Read Aloud Banquet. By proceeding leisurely ─ ​reading a chapter each week from ​a variety of books in different genres, instead of reading a single book straight through  children have the opportunity to ponder what they hear and wonder what might come next. Prompted the next week to recall where they left off, their memory of the ​story is strengthened, not just in the immediate future, but for all time.

The ​Books ​in the Plan

On Mondays we delve into imaginative fiction with three books of fantastical journeys: My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, The Story of Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, and The Wizard of Oz, all calculated to stretch children’s imaginations.

​​With biography, we begin to become familiar with the lives of some famous Americans on Tuesdays through short anecdotes about them by Edward Eggleston ​from his Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans.

​In the Wednesday reading we continue with more nature books by Clara Dillingham Pierson: Among the Farmyard People and Among the Pond People. Two of Pierson’s books were included in the Kindergarten Read Aloud Banquet, but in our experience once children are exposed to one of her books, they typically want to hear them all! Rounding out the nature offerings is Seed Babies by Margaret Morley, another fine nature writer we will meet again.

​We ​​continue with Fairy Tales Too Good to Miss on Thursdays when we read selections from the two anthologies of fairy tales for six year olds compiled by yours truly: Fairy Tales Too Good To Miss—Around the Fire and Fairy Tales Too Good To Miss—Up the Stairs. A variety of fine illustrators are represented in the collection.

M. B. Synge wrote a series of five books in her Story of the World ​series to introduce children to world history. We begin with On the Shores of the Great Sea, the first book in the series, ​on Fridays this year and plan to continue with subsequent volumes in the years to come. Should we find, though, that these stories do not resonate with six year olds, we have the option of substituting A Child’s History of the World by V. M. Hillyer in its place.

​On Saturdays we further our understanding of geography by continuing with the much loved Twins series by Lucy Fitch Perkins (started in the Kindergarten Read Aloud Banquet)​ with the reading this year of The Swiss Twins, The Filipino Twins, The Irish Twins, and The Mexican Twins.

In the faith genre, Hurlbuts’s Story of the Bible, comprising over 168 stories, will be read on Sundays over four years, starting with the First Grade Read Aloud Banquet. In this year as in the ones to come, six stories of saints from Amy Steedman’s In God’s Garden and Our Island Saints, will be included at intervals throughout the year. If you harbor doubts about reading Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible to six year olds, read our blog post Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible.

The ​Poetry in the Plan

​One way the first grade plan differs from the kindergarten plan is in the reading of a poem every day instead of a nursery rhyme. And what a rich collection of poems we have in store for you!

First off, we are delighted to bring to you poetry of three outstanding poets for children, each on their own day. On Tuesdays we are excited to offer all the poems from A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young, just days after its entering the public domain on January 1, 2020. Thursday features a selection of poems from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, arranged to follow the seasons. Sing-Song by Christina Georgina Rossetti is the source of the poems for Sunday reading, also arranged in accordance with the seasons. In contrast, the Milne poems are presented in the order they were originally published in When We Were Very Young.

On the other four days of the week we offer seasonally arranged poems that were carefully selected a century ago by authorities in children’s literature who were well attuned to what poetry appeals to children at each age. On Mondays and Wednesdays the poems come from A Child's Own Book of Verse, Book One, compiled by Ada M. Skinner and Frances Gillespy Wickes. Three Years with the Poets, compiled by Bertha Hazard, is the source for the poems read on Fridays. For Saturdays the poetry selections come from Graded Poetry Readers, First Year compiled by Katherine D. Blake and Georgia Alexander. From the preface of this last book comes the following: “Poetry is the chosen language of childhood and youth...Not until youth approaches maturity is there an equal pleasure in the rounded periods of elegant prose. It is in childhood therefore that the young mind should be stored with poems whose rhythm will be a present delight and whose beautiful thoughts will not lose their charm in later years.” They further advise: “The best way to teach children to love a poem is to read it inspiringly to them. The French say, ‘The ear is the pathway to the heart.’ A poem should be so read that it will sing itself in the hearts of listening children.”

NOTE: The ​First Grade Read Aloud Banquet is NOT meant as a replacement for the reading of ​other books, including picture books. Nor is it meant as a substitute for participating in whole family read aloud time. Young children gain more than you might imagine from listening to books well above their comprehension level.

The Power of Reading Every Day

The selections for a given day can typically be read in under 15 minutes, assuming no interruptions. With interruptions, of course, it will take longer. In the course of a year, if you read all the selections, you will complete the reading of several hundred poems, as well as ​thirteen books in their entirety, and substantial portions from a handful of others.

Spreading a Broad Feast

​In offering the ​First Grade Read Aloud Banquet we are spreading a broad feast. Children who partake ​​are likely to show ​greater awareness and appreciation in a variety of spheres, with ​new trains of thought and interest awakening and increasing capacity for memory and verbal expression. Take a look at the First Grade Read Aloud Banquet now, try it out with your child, then share your thoughts with us by adding a comment below.

“The Birchbark House” Series by Louise Erdrich

November 7, 2019

Both this post and another in the upcoming months will be dedicated to contemporary author Louise Erdrich’s The Birchbark House series. The Birchbark House books center around a young girl named Omakayas (whose name is an Ojibwe word meaning “little frog”), and her family’s experiences in the 1840s and 1850s living near what is now known as Lake Superior. The first three books follow Omakayas throughout her childhood, while the latter two are set later and written from the perspective of her twin sons, although Omakayas still features prominently.

In these posts, our plan is to write about the series as a whole and to discuss themes that occur across all five books, although we will focus slightly more on the first three books in this post and then on the later books in the second. We will also include discussion questions for the entire series in the second post.

All five books in the series are recommended for readers ages 8-12, and unlike many other children’s book series, there aren’t significant changes in the level of reading difficulty as the series progresses. As a result, the books would be appropriate to read within the span of a year or two, depending on the degree of the reader’s interest. As the beginning of the series is somewhat slow, I would recommend reading at least the first book aloud, but after that, the books are suitable for a child to either read independently or aloud with their family or in a class setting.

An Excerpt from “The Porcupine Year”

“And we will live here,” said Omakayas, “won’t we? For a long time to come?”

Nothing would ever take the place of her original home, but Omakayas also loved this place. She loved this lake with its magical islands, each so different. […] She loved the mist and rocks, the reefs with their hordes of pelicans, the dark pines with the vast nests of eagles in their branches.

“Yes, we will live here,” said Nokomis, “and I’ll make certain that you know everything that I know.”

*     *     *

Erdrich, Louise.  “The Woman Lodge.” The Porcupine Year House (181). New York, NY: HarperCollins Children’s Books. 2008. 181. Print.

About the author

Louise Erdrich is a modern day author whose work tends to focus on indigenous people, as well as the interactions between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. A Poetry Foundation biography for Erdrich notes that “As the daughter of a Chippewa Indian mother and a German-American father, Erdrich explores Native-American themes in her works, with major characters representing both sides of her heritage.” Although she also writes about the present day, a good portion of her work – like The Birchbark House series – is set during the era of westward expansion.

In all of her books, but in this series in particular, Louise Erdrich melds the Anishinaabe, or Ojibwe, language with the English language in her writing. Characters’ speech and thoughts are largely written in English, with many Ojibwe words and phrases woven in. Often the meaning of those words and phrases is evident from their context, but each book is accompanied by a thorough index of all the phrases and individual words used throughout the text. Despite the fact that I frequently found myself flipping to the back of the book to look up new words, I loved this blending of languages and the dimension it added to the narrative.

Reading this series was the first time that I had read any of Louise Erdrich’s children’s literature, and I was curious to see how it compared to the novels she has written for older readers. I found that I prefer the novels she has written for adults, but I greatly enjoyed this series, too. In all her works, Louise Erdrich is a vibrant storyteller, and an absolutely exquisite writer. Her writing is humorous, poignant, and just brimming full of life.  I really cannot recommend her adult fiction highly enough! The first book of hers I ever read was Love Medicine, and after that I was hooked. The Justice trilogy books (The Plague of Doves, The Roundhouse, and LaRose) would also be wonderful books for older readers to begin with.

About Omakayas and her family

Omakayas’ relationships with her family are one of the absolute best parts of these books.

Sadly, Omakayas’ own parents died of smallpox when she was still a baby, so a woman named Yellow Kettle, and a man whom Omakayas calls Deydey (meaning father) raise her as their own child. Yellow Kettle and Deydey treat Omakayas no differently than their other children, and for the first years of her life, Omakayas is unaware that they are not her birth parents and that her sister and two brothers are not her siblings by birth.

Other members of the family include Omakayas’ elegant older sister, Angeline, whom Omakayas longs to please, and a younger brother called Little Pinch who is the bane of her existence. In the first book, Omakayas also has a brand new baby brother who is still too small to be given a proper name, but whom she calls Chickadee. Two other vital members of her family are her grandmother, Nokomis, who lives with them, and Old Tallow, an older woman who lives in a home of her own and who is known in the village as a fierce hunter. Many of the village children are afraid of her, but she seems to be strangely fond of Omakayas. Later we learn that this is due to the fact that she was the brave person who rescued Omakayas from the island where her entire village had died of smallpox. Old Tallow acts as a second grandmother to Omakayas, and as a protector to her entire family.

Throughout all the books of this series, I particularly appreciated how Omakayas’ relationships with her siblings were presented. Her older sister is sometimes dismissive of her, sometimes generous, and Omakayas is always uncertain of how her sister will treat her, although she longs to be like her. Her little brother on the other hand is selfish, rude, and in Omakayas’ opinion, useless. In the early chapters of the first book, it’s hard to imagine Little Pinch and Omakayas ever getting along. But the relationships between Omakayas and both her two siblings develop tremendously over the series, which is moving to witness. Through shared experiences and suffering, the three are brought closer together and deep shifts occur in their relationships, as well as within their own characters.

An Excerpt from “The Porcupine Year”

Not long and the family was eating, dunking bannock in venison soup, talking, rehashing all that had happened to Omakayas and Quill. The porcupine was back on Quill’s head, in its accustomed spot. It was beginning to smell a little funny, and Mama said that Quill would have to sleep outside with it or wash.

“I will choose to live with my medicine,” said Quill. “Even though my family shuns me!”

Everyone agreed that Quill was the perfect name for him from then on.

*     *     *

Erdrich, Louise. “The Memegwesi.” The Porcupine Year (29-30). New York, NY: HarperCollins Children’s Books. 2008. 29-30. Print.

Communal living and intergenerational relationships

As much as anything else, these books are about family, and about community as an extension of the family.

Omakayas’ immediate family lives in a birchbark house, but her extended family members all live close by, as does Old Tallow. Intergenerational relationships are emphasized throughout the series, with Nokomis serving as a vital force within her family and the broader community. The same may also be said of Old Tallow. The villagers all live, travel, and work together in groups in order to serve the community as a whole, and they frequently share resources and labor with one another.

In reading this series, I was struck by the expansive nature of many of these relationships. Although Omakayas’ own parents died when she was very young, her adopted parents treat her precisely as they do their own children. The family also takes in other children on more than one occasion, and treats them with that same care and compassion. Omakayas’ sister, Angeline, is not able to give birth to children of her own after surviving smallpox, but she nevertheless serves as a mother within the community. Even Omakayas takes her cousin’s daughter as her own, when it becomes clear in the later books that Two Strike is not meant to be a mother. In this world, parent is a verb, not a noun, and the role of guardian or caretaker is one that many characters gladly step into for strangers and for extended family members alike.

Within this community, children also act as necessary contributors. They are expected to perform daily chores and help their parents with arduous tasks. Omakayas, for instance, helps to scrape animal skins free of flesh, prepare food for each day as well as for the winter, and set traps for rabbits. These tasks are vital, and directly serve both their families and communities; any negligence could have serious consequences.

Living in unity with nature

By necessity, Omakayas and her village live in harmony with nature and in accordance with the seasons. They have different camps and food caches for different times of the year, and their activities are very much determined by their surroundings and the weather. But more than this, she and her family members have deep-seated respect and gratitude for the natural world, all of which they view as endowed with spirit. They certainly hunt, but never to excess, and they use each part of the animal’s body so that nothing is wasted. Without fail, they also express their thanks for all that the animal, and that nature itself, has given them.

Throughout the series, the family also goes through a sequence of unlikely pets, each of which stays with them for a time and then returns to its own kind. Omakayas has a beloved crow, Andeg, who speaks and even helps the entire family, Little Pinch befriends a porcupine who gives him a new name, and years later, Omakayas’ sons even adopt a buffalo calf for a brief period of time.

Even though much of their time is dedicated to ensuring their survival, and animals are a means to that end, the children still treat animals as their friends and playmates whenever possible.

An Excerpt from “The Birchbark House”

The bear cub took one berry, then jumped away in seeming fright at its own bold act. But the taste of the berry seemed to banish fear. The two now tumbled at her, growling, mock-ferocious. Their long pink tongues touched up every berry from her hands, eagerly flicking them from her fingers as fast as she could pick. They seemed to like the game. It could have gone on for hours, that is, until she stood upright. Then they tumbled backward in alarm. Their chubby bottoms rolled over them like playing balls, and she laughed out loud. She realized they had thought Omakayas was their own size. They were astonished the same way Omakayas had been the first time she saw the trader unfold a seeing glass, something he called a telescope, a long, shiny tube that grew in his hands.

*     *     *

Erdrich, Louise. (1999). Old Tallow. The Birchbark House (27-28). New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children.

A tradition of healing

It becomes clear to her family that Omakayas, even at her young age, has unusual gifts, both of healing and of prescience. She is able to understand the language of plants and many animals. And from a mix of her intuition and careful observation of Nokomis, she is instinctively able to treat and heal injuries without direction from others, which she does on more than one occasion. Omakayas is also able to save her own father’s life through a vision she has of him while he is traveling, and she works in tandem with her grandmother, who is also a healer, to save all of her other family members when another smallpox outbreak reaches their village.

Once her gifts become evident, Nokomis takes her granddaughter under her wing and slowly begins to teach her all that she knows about healing and about medicine. The special bond between the two is strengthened, and Nokomis helps guide Omakayas well into her adulthood.

A brief disclaimer

To be completely honest, I had a fairly difficult time getting into The Birchbark House, despite having read and loved numerous books by Louise Erdrich in the past. It took me several attempts to get past the first 50 or so pages, and I tried reading it to myself, as well as listening to it as an audiobook.

However, I was very glad that I kept going. While the first two books are good, I felt that the series really becomes outstanding around the third book and continues in that same vein through the final book, Makoons. Perhaps this is due to the age of the characters. As the series progresses, the characters grow older and become more fully developed as they are forced to grapple with more complex and nuanced situations. The first two books also very much set the stage for events that occur in the later books. It’s possible, too, that I just wasn’t as focused as I should have been at the beginning. Whatever the reason, I wanted to share that experience and to advise any readers who might struggle to get into the narrative to keep going!

Share your experience!

What about you all? Have you read The Birchbark House books, or any of Louise Erdrich’s other novels or stories, and if so, what did you think?

Please also let us know what questions you have about these books in the comments below! We will do our best to answer them in the next post.

Purchase Books at Amazon

The Birchbark House (Book 1)
by Louise Erdrich

The ​Game of Silence (Book 2)
by Louise Erdrich

The Porcupine Year (Book 3)
by Louise Erdrich

Chickadee (Book 4)
by Louise Erdrich

Makoons (Book 5)
by Louise Erdrich

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