Tag: james witmer (page 1 of 1)

4 Short Read-Alouds

Sometimes, you need a short read-aloud, one you can pick up and read here and there—at the park, say, or on a trip. You can’t commit months of your family’s life to reading it, and you need to be able to put it down for a few days or even a few weeks. Or you just need a book you can finish quickly. What I’m saying is: there’s a time for reading all seven Narnia books aloud, and there’s a time for reading a collection of Father Brown stories.

For us, this is lunchtime on the weekends, when I like to read to my daughters something different—something short that we can pick up and put down during the week without losing our place. And so we’ve found a few short read-alouds worth sharing, gems that are fun to return to when we can return to them but that don’t shame us if we miss a few days here and there. Without further ado:

4 Short Read-Alouds | Little Book, Big Story

A Father Brown Reader, adapted by Nancy Carpentier Brown

The Father Brown Reader, by Nancy Carpentier Brown | Little Book, Big Story

These adaptations of some of G.K. Chesterton’s best-known Father Brown stories are beautifully written and a delight to read aloud. My daughters loved the mystery of each one, as well as the clever illustrations, and they belly-laughed in all the right places.

Junction Tales, by Glenn McCarty

Set in the world of Tumbleweed Thompson, these historical fiction tales will make you laugh and—well, mostly laugh. Really hard. Beloved characters from The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson surface here and there throughout the stories, and while each story is different, they’re all an awful lot of fun. (McCarty’s Dead-Eye Dan and the Cimarron Kid is also a great, short read-aloud.)

Beside the Pond, by James Witmer

James Witmer’s sweet stories of backyard life have long been a favorite around our lunch table. Beside the Pond follows his A Year in the Big Old Garden and centers on Ferdinand the smallest bullfrog in the world, who watches the happenings in and around his pond. These are delightful, lightly illustrated stories that will have kids looking under leaves and into puddles for new friends like Ferdinand.

James Herriot’s Treasury for Children

James Herriot's Treasury for Children | Little Book, Big Story

Speaking of enchanting animals stories, this one is just about perfect. An anthology of Herriot’s tales of veterinary practice adapted for young readers and illustrated with gorgeous watercolors, this book tells a handful of stories about Herriot’s life as a country vet in the 1930s. Whatever the age of your readers, there’s something in this book for everyone to love. (Read the full review.)

A Year in the Big Old Garden

After a good rain, we traipse through the backyard, my youngest daughters and I. We are hunting for snails.

We find one! A massive snail, the length of my six-year-old’s hand, glides across the path, his eye-stalks quest this way, then that. He is clearly driven by some sense of purpose—but where is he going? Where has he just been?

My daughter can’t help herself—she taps his shell, and the snail folds abruptly inward. He waits. Have we gone away yet? One stalk emerges, questing this way and that. The second emerges. Then he cautiously, patiently, he unrolls the rest of his slippery self and proceeds onward.

A Year in the Big Old Garden, by James Witmer | Little Book, Big Story

Our backyard is full of characters like this snail—chickadees sassing cats from the top of the fence, squirrels shimmying along the power line, roly-polys somehow always underfoot. And I can imagine James Witmer, author of A Year in the Big Old Garden, looking out at the inhabitants of his own backyard—sitting on a porch maybe, with his own kids—and asking these questions: Where is that cardinal going? Where does it live? I can see him inventing backstories for his nearest neighbors.

A Year in the Big Old Garden, by James Witmer | Little Book, Big Story

Because that is what A Year in the Big Old Garden is: a collection of sweet stories that revolve around those everyday backyard adventures of cardinals, rabbits, cats, and squirrels. The personality Witmer grants each animal feels accurate—a squirrel, though able to talk and have aspirations for his squirrel life, behaves the way any squirrel skittering through my own backyard does. The birds are birdlike, the bunnies behave like bunnies.

Through these lovable and believable characters, Witmer tells stories that feel at once old and new. I sense in them a hat-tip to Aesop, a wave to Thornton Burgess, and a respectful nod to Beatrix Potter. Witmer is clearly writing as part of an older tradition, and yet these stories feel as inventive and original as they do welcoming and familiar. Joseph Sutphin’s black-and-white illustrations carry on this pleasant tension between old and new as well.

A Year in the Big Old Garden, by James Witmer | Little Book, Big Story

Right now, when our yard is our world, these stories remind us how populated and colorful it is: we have our own family of chickadees living in a backyard birdhouse, and a neighborhood cat that—to our chagrin—SCHWALUMPs her way through our garden beds. We have the snails, congregating along the edge of the house, enjoying one another’s company in silence. A Year in the Big Old Garden gives us eyes to see the stories each of these creatures might live out around us. (And it makes us giggle as we read, which is always a plus.)

A Year in the Big Old Garden
James Witmer (2019)