March 2012

Dragons are one of those magical creatures that I think just about every kid finds fascinating. When I was young, we watched that Disney classic, Pete’s Dragon, about a million times. Anyone else remember that one? Well, my pick for Perfect Picture Book Friday reminds me of it, as Pete and the main character in this book have something very unique in common. They both have a dragon that no one else can see.


    • Published By: Flashlight Press, (May 1, 2011)
    • Suitable For: 5 and up
    • Topics/Themes: Imagination, friendship, family, beach, dragons!
    • Opening/Synopsis:If you build a perfect sandcastle, a dragon will move in. He’ll settle in all cozy and peep at you from inside… and you’ll wonder how you ever got so lucky.”
    • One day at the beach, a dragon takes up residence in this young boy’s perfect sandcastle. At first it seems the boy has found the perfect pal! But as the day progresses, so does the dragon’s mischief.
    • Links to Resources: Flashlight Press has an activity page for this book, and it includes mazes, puzzles, and drawing pages. There is also a parent/teacher guide to use with the book to talk about the components of a story. I also found this really cute dragon craft that would be fun to make with your kids.
    • Why I like this book: My favorite thing about this adorable book is that we are left to decide on our own what is really happening. Is there a dragon living in his sandcastle? Is it his imagination? Did a dragon’s breath just toast his marshmallow? Or is he pretending? What really happened to those brownies? Who is the actual mischief-maker in this story? The boy, or the dragon? And I just love the large, colorful illustrations of Howard McWilliam. They bring this playful story to life!

Be sure to check out the other choices for Perfect Picture Book Friday over at Susanna Leonard Hill’s amazing blog! 0

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Monday is one of the busiest days of our week. We go from school, to homework, to soccer practice, to guitar practice, and then collapse into bed. Phew! So imagine our dismay when we realized that it was today, a MONDAY, that our special guest Phyllis was going to arrive. It was a slightly breezy 62 degrees when she was plopped onto our doorstep, and we took her out to gently break the news to her…we were not going to be able to see the sights of our lovely town of Clovis, California. Thankfully, Phyllis confessed to us that she was rather exhausted from her whirlwind tour, and would be happy to spend a quiet evening at home with us. We nodded and smiled, not letting on that with four kids, nothing in the Dixon home is ever done quietly. After reading her book, we realized that Phyllis was quite comfortable in the chaos of our home, since she has all kinds of groundhog family that live with her!


When we got home from our busy day, we cleaned up, got in our jammies and spent some quality time with Phyllis. She was a gracious guest, and we enjoyed hosting her. Check out the video below to see what The Dixon family liked best about, APRIL FOOL, PHYLLIS!



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I have had trees on the brain lately. Probably because this was my backyard a few months ago:

A huge windstorm blew down the one and only tree in our backyard. We were grateful that it didn’t hit the house on its way down, but were sad to lose our source of shade, especially considering how hot it gets here in the summer. So we have spent the last few months procrastinating researching the types of trees that we might want to replace it with. When we moved here almost 8 years ago, we talked about planting other trees, but never did. We considered planting an avocado tree, but were told it takes seven years to produce fruit. I thought that surely we would have moved on by the time SEVEN WHOLE YEARS! had rolled around. But life happened, the housing market did what it did, and we are still here. I can’t help but think of all the guacamole I could be enjoying if we had just planted that tree.

So that leads me to this week’s Perfect Picture Book about guacamole. Wait. I mean, TREES!


    • Published By: Albert Whitman & Company (March 1, 2010)
    • Suitable For: Pre-K and up
    • Topics/Themes: Caring for the Environment, Community, Cooperation, Counting
    • Opening/Synopsis:  “Only one tree stood behind Oak Lane School. It needed friends. So Mr. Tate’s class decided to plant more trees. The children got ready to dig. Mr. Tate said, ‘Wait! Our big tree has a story to tell.'”
    • from jacketflap: “If you listen carefully to the lone tree behind Oak Lane School, it has a story to tell, about… one owl, two spiders, three squirrels, four robins, five caterpillars, six ants, seven crickets, eight flies, nine ladybugs, and ten earthworms, all living safe and free in their tree home. What does this tree need? The children know-it needs friends!”
    • Links to Resources: Ashley Formento has a beautiful, 18-page Teacher’s Guide for this book on her website. The Arbor Day Foundation also has an amazing website with lots of ideas on how to connect kids to nature. Or you could just take your kids outside to observe the things they can count on the trees in your yard!
    • What I like about this book: The double meaning of the word “counts” in this book’s title is so clever. You get a book that expresses how much trees matter and their importance to our environment. But you also get a counting book, and my kids enjoyed finding each of the creatures that call this tree home. I am also a fan of the cooperative nature of the story, with the class working together to plant some “friends” for the lone oak tree. There are so many educational nuggets in this book, and combined with the wonderful collage art of Sara Snow, it is a winner!

Now hop on over to Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog and check out the other choices for Perfect Picture Book Friday! 0

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I don’t usually watch the Grammys. I just wait for the next day to see who won what, who snubbed who onstage, and who had the most outrageous wardrobe malfunction. But this year, I heard that Paul McCartney was performing, and I knew I had to watch. Some may wonder why, since Sir Paul is not really the music of my generation. I should have been more compelled by the Whitney tributes. But I wasn’t. As I watched the Grammys, it became clear to me how much of a product of my musical upbringing I was. I knew every word of that Abbey Road medley, and wasn’t afraid to sing it out. And I was delighted by the collaboration of legendary guitarists that followed. All of it got me thinking about my musical roots.

My mom’s dad was known for his songs. He was always singing, and got us to sing, too. We joined in with gusto, asking, “Who’s gonna fix that whistle?” We wondered what was inside that mysterious box when we belted out, “I discovered a boom boom boom, right before my eyes!” And we “mm-hmmm”ed with Miss Mousie as she was courted by ‘ol Froggie. Grandpa’s songs were sung when we were together, and when we were apart. His songs were sung in the car, in the bathtub, and as we snuggled down to sleep at night. And I will never forget, not too long ago, watching my mom sing those very songs back to him when he couldn’t sing them anymore. He was known for and is still loved and remembered for his songs.

So we grew up singing. Our repertoire expanded to include my mom’s most beloved musicals. We marched along with Harold Hill and his 76 trombones, we danced the night away with Eliza Doolittle, and we bid each other, “Adeiu,” as we said So Long, Farewell, with the Von Trapps. As we got older, we added our own favorites. My older sister and I would spend hours trying to perfect the harmonies from the Les Miserables soundtrack. I can’t help but think of her every time I hear “Castle on a Cloud.” (We never did get that one quite right, did we Jen?) With my younger siblings, we would push in a taped-off-of-TV copy of The Newsies, and sing longingly with Christian Bale about Santa Fe. “Dreams come true, yes they do, in Santa Feeeeeeeee!” (Yes, The Newsies. Totally panned by every critic, but a steadfast favorite in our house.)

And in the backdrop of all of this, there was my dad and his guitar.


Some of my earliest memories are of him sitting in the hallway, playing songs like, “The Girl from Ipanema,” for us until we went to sleep. As we got older, he would take out his Beatles playbooks and pluck the strings, while teaching us different singing parts. I can sing the “do do do do dos” in “Girl,” from the album Rubber Soul, like nobody’s business. He would play weddings too, and I would bet that any member of my family can recite the lyrics to “Annie’s Song,” or “The Wedding Song (There is Love),” in a blink. As he got more into classical guitar, the notes of, “Moonlight Sonata,” and “Recuerdos de la Alhambra,” would float out from behind his office door. It wasn’t until I got to college that I finally realized that not everyone grew up with classical guitar as the soundtrack of their life. It’s sad, but I didn’t know how beautiful and unique it was, until I left.

Now that I am a parent, it is such a joy to see my kids getting to benefit from the gift of my dad and his guitar. Whenever they hear guitar music, they ask, “Is that Grandpa?” To them, guitar and Grandpa are synonymous. And because my dad has since become a Suzuki-trained guitar instructor, they even get to learn how to play.


One of the best things about watching Paul McCartney on the Grammys this year was that I got to watch it at my parents’ house. While my Dad and I marveled at the musical genius of, “The End,” my Mom tucked the kids into bed with a verse or two of, “The Five O’Clock Whistle.” My musical roots have become my kids’ musical roots. And as I sit here now, listening to Josh pluck his guitar strings while Lily belts out, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” I can be sure that they are mine.

And now, for my contribution to their musical upbringing, I go in search of that copy of The Newsies…

What about you? What are your musical roots?


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Growing up, I read a lot of Nancy Drew. She was always finding cool stuff like secret diaries, antique jewel boxes, and dusty old maps. I would imagine myself in the passenger seat of her blue convertible, taking in the clues as they came, and solving the mystery alongside my best pal, Nancy. So when I read this week’s Perfect Picture book, ONE DARK NIGHT, I found myself putting on my detective hat, and trying to crack the case. I don’t come across too many mysteries in the picture book world, so I was delighted by the feel of this book, and found the twist of an ending a clever finish!


    • Illustrated By: Ivan Bates
    • Published By: Harcourt, Inc., 2003
    • Suitable for: Ages 3 and up
    • Topics/Themes: Mystery, Friendship
    • Opening/Synopsis:

“In a wee little house,
In a wee little hole,
Lived a wee little mouse
And a wee little mole
They munched tiny crackers.
They served tiny teas.
Filled wee tiny smackers
With wee tiny cheese

    • Evenings at home with Mouse and Mole are always safe and cozy, until one dark night they venture outside for a moonlit walk and find something waiting for them. (from Amazon)
    • Links to Resources:  Lisa Wheeler has some great resources on her website, including a downloadable activity guide for ONE DARK NIGHT. You could also take the opportunity to learn about the real life animals that star in this book, as they do on the Kid’s Wings website.
    • Why I Like this Book: This book is another great read-aloud. Lisa Wheeler creates a story with a bit of a spook factor, but because of the lively rhyme, it just doesn’t feel that scary. My kids do snuggle deeper into my arms as we read it and they think about the unknown in that dark night. But then they laugh at the end when they realize that there wasn’t anything to worry about. So when it’s Mom’s turn to pick the story at night, you’ll often see me choosing this one…because you’re not going to catch this mama turning down extra cuddles during story time!

Don’t forget to check out the other picks for Perfect Picture Book Friday on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog! 0

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