What We’re Reading This Spring

by Rebecca Ripperton
April 29, 2019

We thought we’d write a shorter post today just letting you all know what we’ve been reading lately, and also asking our readers about what books you’ve been reading this spring.

“The Enchanted Hour” by Meghan Cox Gurdon

From HarperCollins: “A Wall Street Journal writer’s conversation-changing look at how reading aloud makes adults and children smarter, happier, healthier, more successful and more closely attached, even as technology pulls in the other direction.
A miraculous alchemy occurs when one person reads to another, transforming the simple stuff of a book, a voice, and a bit of time into complex and powerful fuel for the heart, brain, and imagination. Grounded in the latest neuroscience and behavioral research, and drawing widely from literature, The Enchanted Hour explains the dazzling cognitive and social-emotional benefits that await children, whatever their class, nationality or family background. But it’s not just about bedtime stories for little kids: Reading aloud consoles, uplifts and invigorates at every age, deepening the intellectual lives and emotional well-being of teenagers and adults, too.”

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My interest in reading aloud was sparked decades ago by the first edition of The Read Aloud Handbook. Ever since, I have been a sucker for any book that had "read aloud" in the title. The Enchanted Hour promised not only to discuss reading aloud, but to put it in the context of the latest neurological research. And how it did deliver! Written in an engaging narrative style, it can't help but resonate with parents, the primary audience for the book, as it did with me. I have just gotten a second copy so I can annotate it, as Rebecca suggested in her Shakespeare post last week. Now I am going to read the book a second time, looking up the notes in the back and marking in the text the lines of inquiry I would like to pursue. Perhaps some may surface in upcoming blog posts! — Lisa

The “Kristin Lavransdatter” trilogy by Sigrid Undset

From Penguin Classics: “In her great historical epic Kristin Lavransdatter, set in fourteenth-century Norway, Nobel laureate Sigrid Undset tells the life story of one passionate and headstrong woman. Painting a richly detailed backdrop, Undset immerses readers in the day-to-day life, social conventions, and political and religious undercurrents of the period. Now in one volume, Tiina Nunnally’s award-winning definitive translation brings this remarkable work to life with clarity and lyrical beauty.
As a young girl, Kristin is deeply devoted to her father, a kind and courageous man. But when as a student in a convent school she meets the charming and impetuous Erlend Nikulaussøn, she defies her parents in pursuit of her own desires. Her saga continues through her marriage to Erlend, their tumultuous life together raising seven sons as Erlend seeks to strengthen his political influence, and finally their estrangement as the world around them tumbles into uncertainty.
With its captivating heroine and emotional potency, Kristin Lavransdatter is the masterwork of Norway’s most beloved author—one of the twentieth century’s most prodigious and engaged literary minds—and, in Nunnally’s exquisite translation, a story that continues to enthrall.”

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My mom gave me a beautiful old set of these books for Christmas this past year, and I've just begun to read the first book of the series, The Wreath. My interest in Scandinavian literature has developed significantly over the past year, so I was especially excited to receive these as a gift. I haven’t gotten very far into the first book yet, but the setting and Undset’s writing are both beautiful, and I’m looking forward to reading more! — Rebecca

“Trees of Power” by Akiva Silver

From the Twisted Tree Farm website: Trees of Power is written by Akiva Silver, owner and operator of Twisted Tree Farm. This in depth book covers the propagation, cultivation, uses, and ecology of trees. It is a catalyst and a guide for those of us who already work with trees or those who want to start.

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A year ago this weekend I was involved with launching a farming enterprise with two of my neighbors on 24 acres of land. Mark Shepard, author of Restoration Agriculture, led the workshop here to build earthworks and plant 1000 chestnuts and 1500 hazelnuts over the course of three days. But Akiva Silver, author of Trees of Power, was the inspiration for it all. Every spring and fall for a half dozen years, he visited our neighborhood, bringing trees to plant and stories about them to share. Because of his enthusiasm for trees we became passionate as well. We were delighted when Trees of Power came out this spring. It included some of the stories we had heard, but so much more too, especially about the importance of each tree in its ecological niche and how best to propagate and care for them, empowering us as planters of trees. — Lisa

The Kitchen as Laboratory: Reflections on the Science of Food and Cooking

From Columbia University Press: “From the seemingly mundane to the food fantastic—from grilled cheese sandwiches, pizzas, and soft-boiled eggs to Turkish ice cream, sugar glasses, and jellified beads—the essays in The Kitchen as Laboratory cover a range of creations and their history and culture. They consider the significance of an eater's background and dining atmosphere and the importance of a chef's methods, as well as the strategies used to create a great diversity of foods and dishes. This collection will delight experts and amateurs alike, especially as restaurants rely more on science-based cooking and recreational cooks increasingly explore the physics and chemistry behind their art. Contributors end each essay with their personal thoughts on food, cooking, and science, offering rare insight into a professional's passion for playing with food.”

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The Kitchen as Laboratory is a collection of 33 essays written by different gastronomists, chefs, and scientists about the chemistry of cooking. And it’s just as quirky and technical as I wanted it to be. The essays themselves are fairly scientific, with hypotheses, experiments, data and interpretation, etc. However, the question that each essay addresses is relevant to both cooks and eaters, and the writing is clear and compelling. If you love cooking and also chemistry, this makes for a really fun read! — Rebecca

Share your experience

What about you all? What have you been reading lately? What book is up next on your “to read” stack? Please share any recent recommendations you may have in a comment below!


Selecting Nursery Tales

by Lisa Ripperton
April 25, 2019

Recently I read that a good number of children are arriving at kindergarten having never heard of stories such as The Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, and The Three Billy Goats Gruff – nursery tales that have delighted generations of children. I was surprised and saddened to read this, as nursery tales play an important role in a child’s development, particularly in terms of pattern awareness and language acquisition. So, in hopes of encouraging more parents to read nursery ​tales to their children on a consistent basis, this post is all about the benefits of reading nursery tales, as well as criteria to use in selecting them. It also includes reviews of eight different illustrated nursery tale collections that we wholeheartedly recommend for parents and their young listeners (and one collection that we have reservations ​about).

The benefits of reading nursery tales

As mentioned above, nursery tales do make significant contributions to a child's cognitive development. The repetition of incidents and rhymes draws children into the story, encouraging them to anticipate what will happen next and begin to chime in on the rhymes. Since the patterns in these tales are clearly recognizable, children can easily become active participants in the reading process.

The rhymes in nursery tales also strengthen a child’s memory and help them to acquire new vocabulary. Hearing the same words or phrases repeated over and over helps to ingrain them in a child’s mind. And after hearing them spoken aloud several times, children then have multiple opportunities to try saying them aloud themselves.

Lastly, very young children crave consistency in all aspects of their life, and repetition and rhymes meet this need by offering a sense of security. In rhyming nursery tales, children quickly learn what what to anticipate from the text and their expectations are largely met, with subtle changes introduced through plot developments or simple word substitutions. Nursery rhymes thus introduce new ideas and words by couching them in more familiar language and patterns, a strategy that allows children to more easily assimilate them into their understanding.

​What to look for in collection of nursery tales

​First of all, make your life easier by choosing a collection of nursery tales all of which are suitable for use with your three to five year old child. Just because a book has the words "Nursery Tales" in the title does not mean that all tales in the book are appropriate for use with young children. Publishers may include stories such as Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White, and Rumpelstiltskin which require an emotional response beyond their years. Here is a list of the most popular nursery tales and some less familiar ones that are perfect to use with this age.

  • The Thre​e Bears or Goldilocks and the Three Bears
  • ​The Three Little Pigs
  • ​The Three Billy Goats Gruff
  • ​The Little Red Hen
  • Henny Penny or Chicken Licken or Chicken Little
  • ​The Gingerbread Boy
  • ​Little Red Riding Hood
  • ​The Old Woman and Her Pig
  • ​Lambikin
  • ​The Turnip
  • The Cock, the Mouse, and the Little Red Hen
  • ​Lazy Jack
  • Teeny-Tiny or The Little Wee Woman
  • ​The Wolf and the Kids
  • ​The Three Sillies
  • ​The Elves and the Shoemaker
  • ​The Bremen Town Musicians
  • ​The Little Porridge Pot
  • ​The House on the Hill
  • ​The Three Wishes

Secondly, look for satisfactory endings! This is especially a concern with the stories of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. You may have a sensitive child who will be devastated to hear that the wolf gobbled up the young lass even if she is disgorged whole later. Or you may be uncomfortable with that yourself. In either case, choose a version of the story that matches your sensibilities. Similarly with The Three Little Pigs. I prefer the version in which the wolf eats both the first and second little pigs and then is eaten in turn by the third little pig. After all, it is in the nature of wolves to eat little pigs, and the wolf who has done so deserves his come-uppance. But you may prefer to have the pigs and wolf simply run away. So preread each story to make sure you are satisfied with its ending. 

​Lastly, I have a strong preference for nursery tales with the traditional language and ​arresting turns of phrase, as in these lines at the end of The Gingerbread Boy:

Presently the gingerbread boy said: "Oh, dear! I'm quarter gone!" And then: "Oh, I'm half gone!" And soon: "I'm three-quarters gone!" And at last: "I'm all gone!" and never spoke again.

or these at the conclusion of Henny Penny. 

​He hadn't got far when "Hrumph," Foxy-woxy snapped off Turkey-lurkey's head and threw his body over his left shoulder. Then Goosey-poosey went in, and "Hrumph," off went her head and Goosey-poosey was thrown beside Turkey-lurkey....

Some versions omit them.

​The Helen Oxenbury Nursery Story Book
by Helen Oxenbury

The Helen Oxenbury Nursery Story Book (1985) invites children into the world of nursery tales with its appealing cover of bears, wolves, pigs, and children circling round. Inside await ten well-chosen tales, all suitable for children as young as three. The pages are attractively formatted with text of pleasing proportions and color illustrations throughout. The illustrations vary in size, with the full page illustrations capturing the dramatic action and the smaller illustrations setting the scene (as in the sample page spread below). The retellings of the stories are well done, the one exception being the story of The Three Little Pigs which is shortened by omitting the events in the turnip field, the apple orchard, and the fair. The children for whom this book is an introduction to nursery tales will relish those scenes when they encounter them later on in other editions. By the way, this ​title can be previewed in its entirety at Internet Archive.

​The ​Three Little Pigs and Other Favorite Nursery Stories
by ​Charlotte Voake

Charlotte Voake's The Three Little Pigs and Other Favorite Nursery Stories  (1991) is an exuberant presentation of ten nursery tales with both the text and the illustrations fairly dancing across the page. Large print and wide spaces between lines make this book especially suitable for emerging readers. The careful insertion of pictures at just the right point in the text support the reader and non-reader alike in following the story (see page spread below). Voake sticks to the traditional language for the most part. She includes the vivid endings for The Gingerbread Boy and Henny Penny, but uses different comparisons (hot/salty for porridge and high/lumpy for bed) than are customary in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Of the ten stories in the book, ​nine are on our list of must-read nursery tales. The other ​one (Mr. Vinegar) also comes highly recommended for five year olds. All in all, a fine book that will find years of service in a family setting.

​The ​Orchard Book of Nursery Stories
by ​Sophie Windham

Stunning illustrations adorn Sophie Windham's The Orchard Book of Nursery Stories (1991). Each story opens with a carefully crafted illustration above the title, many with a decorative border. Many details await discovery by the observant eye, not only in the eight full page color illustrations, but also in the smaller pictures pleasingly placed throughout. Large bold text, well-spaced, will ​delight the emerging reader in your family. The traditional language is followed in all cases. Of the fifteen stories in the book, ten can be used with children as young as three. The others — The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Musicians of Bremen, Country Mouse and Town Mouse, The Hedgehog and the Hare, and The Ugly Duckling — will be ​more appreciated by those five and up.

​The ​Three Bears & 15 Other Stories
by ​Anne Rockwell

Anne Rockwell's The Three Bears & 15 Other Stories (1975) is the edition of nursery tales nearest and dearest to us because of the role it played in our family life. I first heard about it from Dorothy Butler's Babies Need Books decades ago when my oldest son was three. She characterizes it as "a collection which can be acquired with confidence for three-year-olds. Several stories will be usable from two onwards if their babyhood has been bookish, and several might be left until four, but Anne Rockwell's The Three Bears and 15 Other Stories will be in daily use for years. This book is actually the equivalent of sixteen picture books. No page is without an expressive colour picture, and every single story is usable. There is something especially satisfying about a book which can be taken along on any expedition — a picnic, a trip to the doctor, a long car or train journey — with a guarantee of stories for all moods and moments. The Three Bears and 15 Other Stories is a treasure trove; sturdy, not too big, thoroughly companionable." With a billing like that, how could I resist? I was pleasantly surprised that it lived up to its expectations, not only with my oldest son but also with his two younger siblings a decade later! There is not much to add to Butler's thorough review, but I do want to call your attention to the ingenious pictorial table of contents (shown above) that might well be used to introduce children to the idea of a table of contents. By the way, this edition can be previewed in its entirety at Internet Archive.

​The ​Old Woman and Her Pig and 10 Other Stories
by ​Anne Rockwell

Anne Rockwell's The Old Woman and Her Pig and 10 Other Stories makes a great addition to your collection of nursery tales if you already have The Three Bears & 15 Other Stories. It features five more nursery tales, two of which are not to be missed  —  Lambikin and The Travels of a Fox. Also included are four fables suitable for this age and two folk tales better saved for ages six and up  — The Lad Who Went to the North Wind and The Shepherd Boy. As in the earlier book, the illustrations in this book are striking both in number and in artistry! They tend toward the whimsical with figures that have definite personalities that are sure to engage your youngsters. ​By the way, this edition can be previewed in its entirety at Internet Archive.

​​Best Nursery Tales Ever
by ​Richard Scarry

​Richard Scarry's Best Nursery Tales Ever was originally published in 1975 as Animal Nursery Tales (with a yellow cover). A large format book, it includes ten stories and one nursery rhyme — a fine choice of stories, all well told. ​As in other Richard Scarry books, all characters are animals, even those that are traditionally people in other collections. Here cats play the parts of Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood, her mother, and grandmother, while a pair of pigs ​are featured as the little old man and little old man in The Gingerbread Man. Fittingly, the role of the teeny-tiny woman is assumed by a mouse! Also, as in other Richard Scarry books, the pages are "busy" with lots of illustrations and blocks of text. ​If your family enjoys other Richard Scarry books, this volume will be a fine one to add to your collection!

​The ​Tall Book of Nursery Tales
by Feodor Rojankovsky

​Having owned a copy of The Tall Book of Christmas when I was young, I know the hold that a volume in the Tall Book series can exert on a child. I loved that book, partly for its unusual shape, but partly for the way that the illustrations had to be designed to the space, serving up a different perspective. Feodor Rojankovsky in his The Tall Book of Nursery Tales ​ (1944) uses the space at his disposal in a masterful way. You can see that above in the cover of the book where the tall trees are towering over the children, as well as in the sample page below where you ​observe Goldilocks tasting the porridge from a different vantage point. Of the 24 stories in this book, 15 are nursery tales and 7 are fables, all well suited to this age. Two stories — The Ugly Duckling and The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean could be profitably put off for a couple of years. The text follows the traditional lines.​But the illustrations are extraordinary, evoking a magical place in an old world of long ago. Rojankovsky creates animals like no one else, his interest in drawing stemming from a childhood visit to a zoo and the gift of a set of crayons. A fine book for children to examine at their leisure!

​​Great Children's Stories
by ​Frederick Richardson

Great Children's Stories illustrated by Frederick Richardson is a compilation of two books originally published decades ago: Old Old Tales Retold (1923) and Frederick Richardson's Book for Children (1938). Both of these titles were published in landscape format, so the illustrations had to be adapted to fit the Classic Volland Edition of Great Children's Stories pictured above. The 17 stories in this book comprise a stellar collection of nursery tales, all attractively illustrated in great detail. You will note two different styles of illustrations in this ​volume depending upon which of the original titles the stories were sourced from. The pages are attractively formatted and could be used for independent reading later on. The text is sound. ​Do note though that in ​this version of The Three Little Pigs, the first and second pig run away, as does the wolf at the end. To get more of the flavor of Richardson's nursery tales, you can read the first couple of stories in both Old Old Tales Retold and Frederick Richardson's Book for Children at Gateway to the Classics. ​Or you can preview the volume in its entirety at Internet Archive.

​​Favorite Nursery Tales
by ​Tomie de Paola

​I was initially excited to discover that Tomie de Paola had illustrated an edition of nursery tales, Tomie de Paola's Favorite Nursery Tales. But ​when I examined the 30 entries listed in the Table of Contents, I was dismayed to find that only 11 qualified as nursery tales for ages 3 to 5. Seven stories ​were ones best used several years later. (The collection also contains four poems and eight fables which would be fine to use with younger children.) I also was disappointed by the excessive moralizing in The Three Bears and the nontraditional ending of The Three Little Pigs in which the pigs and wolf simply run away. If you already have this title, these are the nine​nursery tales I recommend you use with your little ones: Johnny Cake, The Little Red Hen, The Three Billy-Goats Gruff, Johnny and the Three Goats, The Straw Ox, The Elves and the Shoemaker, Chicken Licken, The Cat and the Mouse, and The House on the Hill. If you don't have this title yet, I recommend you choose instead one of the editions reviewed above. ​By the way, this edition can be previewed in its entirety at Internet Archive.

Final thoughts

Since many of these collections share the same classic stories, parents will want to look to the illustrations and aesthetic of each book in order to determine what might be the best fit for their family. That being said, we do always recommend exposing children to nursery tales from different sources. Reading different versions of the classic stories gives children the opportunity to compare illustrators, text variations, language choices, and so on. Besides, so many of these books are just too good to miss!

While most of these titles were published before 1995 and many are no longer in print, the stories and illustrations they contain are evergreen. We hope that readers will find at least one new title from the list of nursery tale collections given above that excites them! 

Share your experience

Do you have a favorite collection of nursery tales that we omitted? Please share in the comments below!

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