What We’re Reading


History is Bella’s great love right now. She begs to read another chapter and then another one. Story of the World is our basic spine. We’re really enjoying the brief biographies in People in History, which covers British history. And the Samurai stories have been a big hit with Ben and Sophie too. In the past few months Ben has really moved to taking an active interest in participating in our afternoon story time. He and Sophie don’t listen to everything I read with Bella, but they get a substantial portion. It is fun to see how what we’re reading influences their play. Recent birthday toy requests from Ben include a castle with a king and a throne and princes and knights and warriors. (But no queens and princesses.)


The Arabian Nights This is hands down everyone’s favorite read aloud right now. Anthony, Ben, Sophie, Bella all love these stories. And many of them are new to me, so I’m having fun with it too. I’m especially intrigued by the role King Solomon plays in the backstory of many of the tales. I had never heard that it was supposed to have been Solomon who trapped the jinn in bottles.

The Prince and the Mermaid a retelling of the French tale of Melusine. I didn’t hear this tale until I encountered it in Byatt’s Possession. This telling is beautifully illustrated. Like all mermaid tales, it’s bittersweet. The tale reminds me of The Crane Wife, the curious husband who just can’t stop himself from discovering his wife’s secret.

Favorite Medieval Tales A nice selection of stories including Roland, Sir Gawain, Beowulf, Chanticleer…

The Duke and the Peasant: Life in the Middle Ages. Sister Wendy Beckett examines the images in the Tres Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry. Her usual idiosyncratic look at the pictures. I don’t always agree with her interpretations, but appreciate the fresh look. Beautiful full page illustrations.

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves This is a gorgeously illustrated version of the story from the 1001 Nights. Bella and Sophie love it. Though Bella calls it “the Morgiana book” after the beautiful and wise maidservant who saves Ali Baba’s life by outwitting the bandit chief.

Forest Has a Song: Poems. Bella got this poetry collection for her birthday last year. I was glad she pulled it out for her bedtime story the other night.

Katie and the Spanish Princess We’ve been having fun exploring art with Katie. It was especially fun that the kids recognized the Goya painting of the couple with the umbrella from our art postcard game.

A Life of Our Lord for Children I really like this retelling of the Gospel story that frames it as part of the larger story, in continuity with the Old Testament. It’s very chatty with interesting asides and has led to some good discussions and to our opening up the actual Bible to read various passages. Bella isn’t as thrilled about it as I am–mostly she’d rather just read the Bible without the framing– but this is part of our Lenten reading and I think it’s good for her.

If All the Swords in England: A Story of Thomas Becket (Living History Library). We really enjoyed Augustine Came to Kent and didn’t realize until we discovered this book on the shelf that it was by the same author. Bella really really loves reading saint stories and it’s fun to find ones that fit in with our history timeline. Next up is going to be St Louis. And then maybe Margaret of Scotland.

The Light Princess. Simcha mentioned this one in her Lent reading suggestions and I realized I’d never read the kids any George MacDonald. This book is mine from when I was a kid, but I don’t think I read any of them more than once. I was never a really big fan. But I know he’s highly regarded and so I’ll see if my girls don’t think differently. I have no memory of this story at all and it’s been interesting for me to read.

Not pictured: We’re also still working our way through D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths. Most of these are also stories I don’t know and the ones I do know I mostly encountered as an adult. Ben and Sophie like this one too.

For science we’ve been reading about snowflake formation. I think the book we’re using is Ken Libbrecht’s Field Guide to Snowflakes. We’ve certainly had enough snow this winter for the subject to have some traction. The book is probably going to be a bit over Bella’s head, but that’s fine with me. I believe in letting her be exposed to ideas that are a little out of her grasp so that she can have something to stretch her and keep her wondering and asking questions. It’s definitely on her list of books that she requests. Today she asked for it during our read aloud time: “Let’s do science next.”


Lucia and Anthony like the books too. Lucia flips through them, stands on them, chews on them. Anthony loves to sit and turn the pages and always demands that I read him his own story. Right now favorites are Frog and Toad– the kite story– and Owl at Home. Also The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Nursery Rhymes. At bedtime, it’s usually whatever random book is at hand, but for his afternoon story he can be a bit choosier, looking for a particular book.

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Sophie's new books.
Sophie’s new books.

This week we haven’t done anything with the Barefoot Book of poetry, but we’ve been enjoying Owl at Home and Anno’s Counting House. The Barefoot Boot is definitely one we’ll be coming back to again and again, though.

Bella listens to Narnia on the iPod
Bella listens to Narnia on the iPod

Also, Bella and Sophie have both been listening to the The Chronicles of Narnia on their iPods. I let them listen to a disc a day after they’ve done math and reading and picked up any mess they’ve made. Bella is really inhabiting that world. And this morning Bella was pretending to be Queen Susan of the Horn while helping Sophie to find a Queen Lucy costume. I think Ben was supposed to be High King Peter and then wandered off after breakfast to play (or fight) with Anthony. Bella wore her costume to do math and reading. Today Bella announced that she’d figured out the Tash was like the devil and Aslan is like Christ. And the Calormenes are like Muslims and Narnia is medieval, she’s also informed me.

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  • Try The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes (preferably one illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, one of my all time favorite illustrators) as a read-aloud chapter book. I adore that one. We recently picked it up again.

  • Great list of books! Any comments on the potential concerns you mentioned a while back about Story of the World 2? Would very much like to hear your view on that.

  • I love your book posts.

    Sam is really enjoying the St. George book he got for Christmas. He doesn’t quite get it though because he keeps talking about the Red Knight winning a championship. You know, like football.

    • Well, Bella and I were just talking the other day about how medieval tournaments were the equivalent of football games or NASCAR races, people cheering for their favorite knights and the colorful uniforms and so forth…

  • +JMJ+

    I love how Bella is appreciating the Narnia books! =D

    And how interesting to think of the story of Ali Baba told from the perspective of Morgiana! What do you suppose would motivate a slave to be so incredibly loyal to her master?

    • An interesting question. Her reward is getting to marry Ali Baba’s son, which isn’t a bad deal at all. Perhaps she’d been with them since childhood and felt like they were already family? The story does make a point that Ali Baba and his wife are kind but poor while his brother is rich but not very nice. So perhaps she feels loyalty to them for their kindness. Perhaps her loyalty is meant to underscore Ali Baba’s goodness?