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Books for Breakfast

by Lisa Ripperton
​May 2, 2019

​In an earlier post Not Just at Bedtime we ​suggested reading aloud at meal-time. In this post we present the possibility of ​reading independently at some of your family meals.

​When I was growing up in the 1950s as the middle child of five, our family breakfast was definitely not a formal affair. We all walked to public schools in different directions that had staggered starting times, so our breakfasts were staggered too. Choice of cold cereal with topping of fruit was what was typically set out for us on the counter separating the kitchen from the dining room. With only four stools, we had to take turns. Eating breakfast in that way, I read the backs of more cereal boxes than I care to count. How I wish there had been some more interesting reading material laid out next to the boxes of cereal! 

​What my younger self would have appreciated

  • ​A small stack of books ​in a basket on the counter that we could choose from, and then ​pass to the left.
  • Books in a variety of genres so I could ​select ​a title that matched my mood.
  • Books of short readings ​that I could finish in the time it took me to eat my breakfast.
  • Something that would gladden my heart or give me food for thought as I was filling my belly.
  • ​Something humorous or uplifting to start the day on a positive note.​

An assortment of books for different reading levels

If you want to try this out with your family, I suggest you gather a few books at the right reading level for each of your children, books that they can read easily and will especially appreciate. Hardbacks work best because they are more likely to lie flat when open. But don't offer up your prized books for breakfast reading. Expect that cereal and milk will find their way onto the pages, so worn copies from a thrift shop will be a better fit. Only put a few out at a time and rotate them regularly so there is always something new on the "menu."

Below are some ideas for types of books that you might use in this context. I purposely chose books from a variety of genres to get you thinking about the possibilities.

Dolch folk tales for emerging readers

In the Dolch Basic Vocabulary Series the emphasis is on presenting interesting subject matter in a literary way, all the while employing a simple vocabulary with an average of less than one new word per page. The pages, which feature large text and spacious margins, do not have the look of a "school reader," so they are a good match for students just beginning to read independently at home. Stories vary in length but most are five pages, and typically take less than five minutes to read. Sample pages from the three titles pictured above appear below, followed by a graphic showing a list of all the titles in the series.

STEP-UP books for the next level

The STEP-UP books are fine choices for children once they are comfortable with reading and are ​​ready to explore on their own. According to the publisher, in the STEP-UP series,

  • ​THE WORDS ARE HARDER (but not too hard)
  • ​THERE'S A LOT MORE TEXT (but it's in bigger print)
  • ​THERE ARE PLENTY OF ILLUSTRATIONS (but they are not just picture books)
  • ​And the subject matter has been carefully chosen to appeal to young readers who want to find out about the world for themselves.

​Below is a list of the books in ​two categories of STEP-UP books: Nature Library and the Story of America. Then sample covers are displayed for three of the titles in the Nature Library and one in Story of America, followed by sample page spreads from these same ​volumes.

Minute biographies for older readers

I have long been a fan of the minute biographies illustrated by Samuel Nisenson with text written by others. Each biography spans one or at most two  8 1/2 x 11 pages. There is an illustration by Nisenson at the top of each biography that draws ​the reader in and sets the stage for the story that follows. While each biography includes an outline of the individual's life, the focus is on the major impact that he had in his field of endeavour, whether for good or ill. ​The stories are interestingly told with enough detail to ​fix the ​reader's attention, but with more to discover upon further inquiry.

Below are sample covers for three books in this series along with sample page spreads.

Here is a list of all the books I know about in this series. If you know of others, please let me know. For all titles Samuel Nisenson is the Illustrator.

     100 Greatest Sports Heroes by Mac Davis

     History's 100 Greatest Composers by Helen L. Kaufman

     History's 100 Greatest Events by William A. Dewitt

     Illustrated Minute Biographies by William A. Dewitt

     Minute Biographies by Alfred Parker

     More Minute Biographies by Alfred Parker​

Joke books offer something for all ages

​Last, but not least, a set of riddle books, enjoyed by everyone! Zany illustrations and easy to read text in Bennett Cerf's Book of Riddles, More Riddles, and Animal Riddles will have your young reader in stitches.

Let children sort out who reads what book

Some days a child may want to read a book at their reading level, but other days they may want to read an easier book, or one that particularly catches their eye, regardless of reading level. Let them decide!

​Where to get these books

​Sad to say, I strongly suspect that all the books featured in this post are no longer in print. Most, if not all, can be purchased relatively reasonably, though, at used books sites such as bookfinder.com. You may also want to keep an eye out for them at library sales or thrift shops. To preview titles at Internet Archive click on the text links above, the page spreads of the STEP-UP Books, and the covers of the riddle books. ​When you arrive at Internet Archive you will be able either to Borrow the book immediately or join a Waitlist to access it at a later time. ​Examining the full text at Internet Archive can help you decide what books might be worth purchasing for your family.

Share your experience

​If you are inspired to try serving books for breakfast, please let us know in the comments how it goes! Do you have suggestions for other books that would be good to ​offer for morning fare?

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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!

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