Take Me Out to the Ball Game: Baseball for All

 

There’s a lot out there about baseball. There are baseball books, baseball poems, baseball songs, baseball movies, baseball science experiments, baseball math challenges, baseball arts and crafts, and baseball philosophy. Yes, really. Baseball philosophy.

Check it all out:

BASEBALL STORIES

  In Curious George at the Baseball Game by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), George and the Man in the Yellow Hat go to watch the Mudville Miners play ball and the well-meaning but inquisitive little monkey – as always – manages to get in trouble. For ages 3-7.
  To Bats at the Beach and Bats at the Library, Brian Lies now adds the equally adorable Bats at the Ballgame (Houghton Mifflin, 2010), a delightfully illustrated account of bat-style baseball, complete with mothdogs, Cricket Jack, and fans hanging upside-down in the stands. For ages 4-8.
  For accompanying activities (and a recipe for bugmallows), see Brian Lies’s Bat Activities
  The baseball-playing title character of Rachel Isadora’s Max (Aladdin, 1984), en route to baseball practice, walks his sister Lisa to her ballet lesson, is invited to join the class, and discovers that he loves to dance. Soon he finds that he can happily participate in both worlds – baseball and ballet. A nice anti-stereotype picture book for ages 4-8.
  Randy Riley, the title character of Chris Van Dusen’s Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit (Candlewick, 2012), isn’t much good at baseball, but he’s a whizz at science and math. When he spots an Earth-heading meteor through his telescope, he saves the day by cleverly calculating trajectories and building an enormous robot who smacks the fireball back into space with a smokestack baseball bat. For additional oomph, the story is told in the rhyme and rhythm of “Casey at the Bat” (see below). For ages 5-9.
  Matt Tavares has written and illustrated several superb baseball picture books, among them Zachary’s Ball (Candlewick, 2012), in which Zachary’s father catches a foul ball at Fenway Park, which magically causes Zachary’s baseball fantasies to come true. The story is enchanting and the illustrations are marvelous. Other titles include Mudball and Oliver’s Game. For ages 6-9.
  Zachary’s Ball is a reading and activity guide to accompany the book, with discussion questions and activities.
  In David A. Kelly’s Ballpark Mysteries series – beginning with The Fenway Foul-Up (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2011), Mike and Kate – nine-year-old cousins with a knack for detective work – solve baseball-related mysteries. Each book manages to work in a bit of baseball history along with the action. For ages 6-9.
  In David A. Adler’s The Babe and I (Sandpiper, 2004), set in 1932 in the Bronx at the height of the Great Depression, the young narrator and his best friend Jacob struggle to earn money by selling newspapers near Yankee Stadium, and shouting out the latest about the famous Babe Ruth. The business takes off, with a boost from the Babe himself – but the real message of the book is that working together as a team is the best way to get through hard times. For ages 5-9.
  Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars (Overlook Juvenile, 2011) is one of Walter R. Brooks’s hilarious Freddy the Pig series, starring the ever-inventive Freddy and all his animal friends on the Bean farm. For ages 5 and up.
  Become a Friend of Freddy and learn more about his books and escapades at Freddy the Pig’s Home Page
  In Matt Christopher’s The Lucky Baseball Bat (Little, Brown, 2004), originally published in 1954, Martin, new in town, is anxious to do well on the baseball field – and he does, until his lucky baseball bat breaks. Predictably, he eventually discovers that ability really comes from within himself. Christopher is the author of over 100 books with sports themes, many about baseball, for ages 7-10.
  In Bette Bao Lord’s In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson (HarperCollins, 1986), ten-year-old Bandit leaves China with her mother to join her father in New York City. Excited, she adopts the new American name of Shirley Temple Wong – but America isn’t quite what she had expected, and Shirley struggles with a new language, new customs, and the difficulty of fitting in. Then she discovers baseball – and what’s more, the year is 1947 and Jackie Robinson has just become the first black player to join a white major-league team. Inspired by his example, Shirley discovers that for her, too, America can truly be a land of opportunity. For ages 8-12.
  From Scholastic, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson Extension Activities has the script of a play about Jackie Robinson, a supplementary reading list, discussion questions, and activities.
  In John H. Ritter’s The Boy Who Saved Baseball (Puffin, 2005), there’s a lot riding on a baseball game. Set in rural California, Doc Altenheimer, an elderly apple rancher, is preparing to sell his land – which makes up most of the little town of Dillontown – to developers. Unless, that is, the scruffy town baseball team can manage to defeat the team of the well-equipped suburbanites who live down the road. Twelve-year-old Tom helps recruit the reclusive Dante Del Gato, an old baseball legend, to coach the home team, and the contest is on. For ages 10-13.
Ritter has written several other baseball-themed books for the same age group, among them Over the Wall, Choosing Up Sides, Under the Baseball Moon, and The Desperado Who Stole Baseball.
  In Stumptown Kid by Carol Gorman and Ron Findlay (Peachtree Publishers, 2007), it’s 1952 and 11-year-old Charlie is mourning his father, killed in the Korean War, resenting his mother’s thuggish boyfriend, and loving baseball – though he’s not good enough to play on the Wildcats, the prime local team. Then he meets Luther Peale, an ex-Negro League pitcher, on the run after pitching a ball that killed a drunken white batter. With the help of Luther, Charlie and friends forge a team capable of beating the Wildcats – though meanwhile around town, racial tensions rise, and the vengeful brother of the dead batter is on Luther’s trail. For ages 10-13.
  Joe Shostack, the 12-year-old hero of Dan Gutman’s Baseball Card Adventure series, is able to travel through time with the help of vintage baseball cards. In the first book of the series, Honus and Me (HarperCollins, 1998), Joe finds a rare Honus Wagner baseball card (see Baseball Biographies, below) while cleaning out a neighbor’s attic which enables him to travel back to the 1909 World Series. In other volumes, Joe meets such baseball greats as Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and – this time by means of a photograph – Civil War General Abner Doubleday, who may or may not have invented the game of baseball. A nice combination of real history, adventure, human relationships, and – of course – baseball. For ages 10 and up.
  Baseball Card Adventure books has a complete list of titles, with descriptions.
  Michael Chabon’s Summerland (Hyperion Books, 2011) is fantasy baseball, and I mean fantasy baseball. Eleven-year-old Ethan – a lousy ballplayer – and his father have moved to an island off the coast of Washington, whose westernmost tip, called the Summerland, is known for its perfect sunny weather. The Summerland is also a portal to other worlds, and there a mysterious and ancient baseball scout recruits Ethan and friends to save both our world and the world of the fairy-like ferishers from the evil trickster Coyote and his warriors. Giants, legendary liars, a depressed Sasquatch, a werefox – and some truly high-stakes baseball. For ages 11 and up.
  Alan Gratz’s The Brooklyn Nine (Puffin, 2010) traces the generations of a Brooklyn family and its ties to baseball through nine sequential historical “innings.” The book begins with ten-year-old Felix Schneider who arrives in America from Germany and encounters Alexander Cartwright, possibly the founder of modern baseball, during the Manhattan fire of 1845. Subsequent chapters deal with the Civil War, the years of the Negro Leagues and struggles with racial prejudice, the All-American Girls League, and the Cold War era. Wonderful characters (both male and female), discussion-worthy themes, and compelling stories. For ages 10 and up.
  Also see The Brooklyn Nine Webquest. The premise: you have just found an old cardboard box in a back room of your uncle’s antique shop that turns out to be full of baseball memorabilia. Your mission: find the story behind this stuff. (Along the way kids learn to make idea maps and to design their own baseball cards.)
  Steve Kluger’s Last Days of Summer (William Morrow, 2008) is funny, sad, uplifting, and a gem. The protagonist is twelve-year-old Joey Margolis, a brilliant loudmouth Jewish kid from Brooklyn in the 1940s. Joey, who lives with his divorced mother, is a victim of neighborhood bullies – in part because he has (a lie) boasted that he is a friend of Charlie Banks, a player for the New York Giants. Eventually, by dint of sheer persistence, he does become friends with Charlie, and it’s a wonderful, funny, and ultimately bittersweet relationship, when Charlie goes to war. The book is told entirely in letters, interviews, memos, newspaper clippings, and Top Secret messages between Joey and his best friend Craig Nakamura (a.k.a. The Green Hornet) who lives in the apartment downstairs. Highly recommended for teenagers and adults.
  American journalist and short-story writer Ring Lardner’s You Know Me Al (Touchstone, 1991), originally published in 1914, is a baseball classic, written in the form of letters from Jack Keefe, a pitcher with the Chicago White Sox, to Al, his buddy back home in Indiana. Jack is vain, clueless, poignant, and inadvertently hilarious. For high-school-level students and up.
You Know Me Al is a free audio version from Books Should Be Free.
  For more on Ring Lardner, including a biography, lists and excerpts of his writings, articles and books about Lardner, and reader’s guides to his works, see Lardnermania.
  The book behind the popular movie Field of Dreams, W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe (Mariner Books, 1999) uses baseball as a means of fulfilling dreams, healing wounds, and celebrating love, family, and the miracles of the everyday. Spurred by a mysterious voice saying “If you build it, he will come,” Ray Kinsella builds a baseball diamond in the middle of his Iowa cornfield. Wonderful and evocative. For teenagers and adults.
  The 1989 movie Field of Dreams, stars Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, and Burt Lancaster. Rated PG.
  Bernard Malamud’s The Natural (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), originally published in 1952, overlays baseball with Arthurian legend in the tale of a tragic hero, the supremely talented, but ultimately flawed, Roy Hobbs. Deservedly on many high-school reading lists.
  The 1984 movie The Natural, starring Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs, takes liberties with Malamud’s plot and is a far sunnier and more sentimental story than the author intended. Rated PG; available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
  Baseball: A Literary Anthology (Library of America, 2002), edited by Nicholas Dawidoff, is a wonderful (and enormous, over 700 pages long) collection of short stories, essays, profile pieces, and poems – all on baseball or baseball players – by such writers as Ring Lardner, Roger Angell, John Updike, Damon Runyon, James Thurber, William Carlos Williams, and Marianne Moore. First selection in the book – naturally – is Ernest Thayer’s classic poem “Casey at the Bat.” For teenagers and adults.

POEMS AND SONGS

  By Douglas Florian, famed for his picture-book poetry collections, Poem Runs (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2012) is a wonderful illustrated collection of baseball poems for ages 4 and up.
  “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” it turns out, is the third most frequently sung song in America, topped only by “Happy Birthday to You” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” See Ben Nussbaum’s Take Me Out to the Ball Game (Soundprints Audio, 2006) in the Smithsonian American Favorites series for illustrated lyrics to the song, background information, a sing-along music sheet, and an audio CD. For ages 3-7.
  Baseball’s Greatest Hit by Andy Strasberg, Robert Thompson, and Tim Wiles (Hal Leonard Corporation, 2008), illustrated with period prints, photos, and newspaper clippings, is a 200+-page history of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” with accompanying CD. For teenagers and adults.
  Who doesn’t know these lines?: But there is no joy in Mudville/Mighty Casey has struck out. Ernest L. Thayer’s immortal Casey at the Bat is available in many editions – of which one of the best is the version “copiously and faithfully illustrated” by Christopher Bing and published by Chronicle Books (2000). Bing’s version of Thayer’s famous poem is designed to look like a vintage scrapbook, stuffed with newspaper clippings and pasted-in memorabilia. For all ages.
Hear James Earl Jones recite Casey at the Bat.
  Dan Gutman – in Thayer-esque rhyme – continues the saga of Casey in his picture-book Casey Back at Bat (HarperCollins, 2009). Casey, given a second chance, slams the ball out of the park, sending it off around the Earth, when it knocks the Leaning Tower of Pisa askew, takes the nose off the Sphinx, and does in the dinosaurs. For ages 5-9.
  A long list of baseball poems and songs can be found at the Baseball Almanac. Included is an entire “Casey Collection” (among the contributors is Garrison Keillor) and lyrics to dozens of baseball songs by such performers as Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Rogers, and Bob Dylan.

WHAT ABOUT THE GIRLS?

  In David A. Adler’s Mama Played Baseball (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2003), set in the days of World War II, Amy’s father has gone to war and her mother, who needs a job, decides to become a professional baseball player. (But “baseball is just a game,” Amy thought.) She changes her mind, however, when her mother joins the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League. For ages 4-8.
  Shana Corey’s Players in Pigtails (Scholastic Press, 2003) is the story of feisty Katie Casey who, though a disaster at dancing and baking,  could “catch any ball with any mitt with her eyes closed” and “hit any ball with any bat with one hand behind her back.” She comes into her own in 1942, when she tries out for the newly formed all-girls team, the Kenosha Comets. For ages 5-9.
  Marissa Moss’s Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen (Simon & Schuster, 2004) is the picture-book story of Jackie Mitchell, 17-year-old pitcher for the Chattanooga Lookouts, who – in an exhibition game in 1931 – struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. (She won the day, but women were still banned from professional baseball.) For ages 5-9.
  Deborah Hopkinson’s Girl Wonder (Aladdin, 2006) is the picture-book story of Alta Weiss who – despite many objections – wangled a place as pitcher for the all-male Vermilion Independents in 1907. Soon she was the star of the team and people flocked to see the “Girl Wonder.” Told in the first person, this is a delightful read. An appendix includes a biography of Weiss and a timeline of women in baseball. For ages 5-9.
  Dirt on Their Skirts: The Story of the Young Women Who Won the World Championship by Doreen Rappaport and Lyndall Callan (Dial, 2000) is the story of the famous 1946 game between the Racine Belles and the Rockford Peaches, as seen through the eyes of Margaret, a young baseball fan. Included are period photos of the players and the original scorecard of the game. For ages 6-10.
  The All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League is also the subject of the 1992 movie A League of Their Own, in which washed-up ex-player Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) takes a job coaching the Rockford Peaches and takes them all the way to the World Series. Rated PG.
  Audrey Vernick’s She Loved Baseball (Collins, 2010) is the picture-book story of African-American civil-rights activist (and baseball lover) Effa Manley, who founded the Negro League team the Newark Eagles and became the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. For ages 5-9.
  From the National Baseball Hall of Fame, see Women’s History: Dirt on Their Skirts for a series of lesson plans on women in baseball (categorized under Rookie, Intermediate, and Advanced) and an extensive book list.

THE NEGRO LEAGUES AND JACKIE ROBINSON

  Kadir Nelson’s We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball (Hyperion, 2008) takes its title from a quote by the League’s founder: “We are the ship; all else is the sea.” The book, gorgeously illustrated with paintings, is divided into nine “innings,” beginning with the formation of the League in 1920 and ending with Jackie Robinson’s historic entry into white major league baseball. For ages 8 and up.
  Patricia and Fredrick McKissack’s Black Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues (Scholastic, 1998) is an excellent history emphasizing the role of baseball in the quest for racial equality, illustrated with period photographs. For ages 10-14.
  Targeted at grades 9-12, lesson plans on the Negro Leagues, covering the period from the Civil War to the present day, are available from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
  Marybeth Lorbiecki’s Jackie’s Bat (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2006) is a fictionalized account of Jackie Robinson’s first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, as told by the young batboy, Joey, whose father insists that a white boy has no business serving a black man. Increasingly impressed by Robinson’s behavior, talent, and fortitude, however, Joey eventually learns the error of his ways. For ages 5-9.
Beyond Baseball, a lesson plan to accompany Jackie’s Bat, has discussion questions, instructions for a game of “Fact Baseball,” a bibliography, and activities, among them writing a letter to Jackie Robinson and making a Robinson-related collage.
  Margaret Davidson’s The Story of Jackie Robinson: Bravest Man in Baseball (Yearling, 1987) is a chatty and interesting 96-page biography for ages 8-11.
  Barry Denenberg’s Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson (Scholastic, 1990) is a 128-page biography, illustrated with black-and-white photographs, for ages 9-12.
  From Scholastic, Breaking Barriers is a five-part study unit on Jackie Robinson’s career, accomplishments, and impact on life in America. A prime feature is an annual essay contest for grades 4-8.
  Baseball, Race Relations, and Jackie Robinson is a lesson plan based on primary sources from the Library of Congress American Memory collection, targeted at grades 9-12.
Also from the Library of Congress, see Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson.
  Crayola’s Jackie Robinson at Bat has instructions for making a papercraft “triarama.”

MORE BASEBALL HISTORY

Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.

                             Jacques Barzun

  Frank Murphy’s How Babe Ruth Saved Baseball (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2005) is the charmingly presented story of how Babe Ruth – with his prodigious talent for hitting home runs – managed to redeem baseball following the Black Sox scandal during the World Series of 1919. For ages 5-8.
See The Black Sox Scandal for more information on the 1919 debacle.
  Audrey Vernick’s Brothers at Bat (Clarion Books, 2012) is the (true) picture-book story of the Acerra family who lived in Long Branch, New Jersey, in the 1930s – and who had sixteen children, twelve of them boys who loved to play baseball.  With the help of their father, the boys formed an all-brother baseball team that went on to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. For ages 5-8.
  In Ken Mochizuki’s Baseball Saved Us (Lee & Low Books, 1995), a Japanese-American boy in an internment camp during World War II finds that his skill at baseball helps him cope with captivity and prejudice. For ages 6-10.
Baseball Saved Us is a guide to accompany the book, with background information, discussion questions, research projects, and a supplementary reading list.
  Hey Batta Batta Swing! by Sally Cook and James Charlton (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2007) is a fascinating history of early baseball and baseball players, illustrated with vintage-cartoon-style drawings by Ross MacDonald, and peppered with intriguing trivia and a terrific array of early baseball slang. (Discover the meaning of crank, Uncle Charlie, can of corn, gapper, and frozen rope.) For ages 7-12.
  From the National Baseball Hall of Fame and National Geographic, Baseball As America (National Geographic, 2005) is a photo-packed survey of baseball in American history and culture. See pictures of the famous Honus Wagner T206 baseball card, Shoeless Joe Jackson’s shoes, a Barnum & Bailey circus poster of baseball-playing elephants, and much much more. For all ages.
  Zack Hample’s The Baseball (Anchor Books, 2011) is a collection of ball-related history, lore, trivia, and disasters. Did you know, for example, that Babe Ruth once tried to catch a ball dropped from an airplane? That there’s a thousand feet of yarn inside every ball? There’s even (for the morbid) a chapter on “Death by Baseball.” Hample – who is a master of the art of ball-snagging – also includes helpful hints for snagging baseballs of your own to take home from the game. For teenagers and adults.
  For everything you could possibly want to know about the baseball bat, see Stuart Miller’s Good Wood: The Story of the Baseball Bat (ACTA Publications, 2011). For teenagers and adults.
  Sports writer Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1996) is a memoir of Kahn’s life with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the historic years of Jackie Robinson. Often cited as the best baseball book ever. For teenagers and adults.
  For baseball- and history-lovers – either or both – Ken Burns’s acclaimed PBS series Baseball, originally presented in nine (now updated to ten) innings/episodes, traces baseball from its origins in the 1840s to the present day. The website has episode descriptions, biographies of famous ballplayers, a baseball timeline, a multiple-choice quiz, a resource list, and a terrific list of associated lesson plans, most targeted at middle-grade-level students. (Available on DVD or as an instant download from http://www.amazon.com.)
  The Library of Congress American Memory collection includes over 2000 vintage baseball cards.
  The National Baseball Museum in Cooperstown, NY, has a “This Day in Baseball History” feature, a list of the members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and more.
  Teacher Vision’s Baseball Teaching Resources has a list of baseball-related lesson plans, book summaries, and printable activity sheets, variously covering baseball in history, literature, biography, math, and social studies. (Some features available only to subscribers.)

MORE BASEBALL BIOGRAPHIES

  Richard Michelson’s Lipman Pike: America’s First Home Run King (Sleeping Bear Press, 2011), a National Jewish Book Award finalist, is a beautifully illustrated (by Zachary Pullen) slice of little-known baseball history. Lip, the son of an immigrant shopkeeper in Brooklyn in the mid-1800s, is known as the first “professional” baseball player. The book combines an account of Lip’s life and career with stories of the early days of baseball and the often difficult Jewish immigrant experience. For ages 5-8.
  Jonah Winter’s You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? (Schwartz & Wade, 2009) is the picture-book story of the extraordinary pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers who struggled with discrimination because he was a Jew. For ages 5-9.
  David A. Adler’s Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man (Sandpiper, 2001), with wonderful illustrations by Terry Widener, is a simple biography of the indomitable baseball player who came to be nicknamed the “Iron Horse.” For ages 5-9.
  Phil Bildner’s Shoeless Joe & Black Betsy (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2006) is the picture-book story of how baseball player Joe Jackson – stuck in a hitting slump – goes to the “finest bat smith in South Carolina” for the wonderful bat he names Betsy, made of hickory and rubbed down with tobacco juice. An afterword has a more detailed biography of Jackson, including a brief account of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. For ages 5-9.
  Jane Yolen’s All Star! Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever (Philomel, 2010) is a picture-book biography in verse of the famous Pittsburgh Pirates player who began his career shoveling coal in the Pennsylvania mines. His rare baseball card sold for three million dollars at an auction in 2007. For ages 6-11.
  By Matt Tavares, There Goes Ted Williams (Candlewick, 2012) is a terrific picture-book biography of “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived” with beautiful illustrations. For ages 6-11.
  Also by Tavares, Henry Aaron’s Dream (Candlewick, 2012) traces Aaron’s days from his boyhood in Alabama, playing in the yard with a broomstick bat – the baseball field was for whites only – through his years with the Negro Leagues and his debut with the Milwaukee Braves. For ages 6-11.
  Robert Burleigh’s Home Run: The Story of Babe Ruth (Sandpiper, 2003) is a lovely free-verse-style biography of Babe Ruth – a.k.a. the Sultan of Swat – illustrated with impressive oil paintings by Mike Wimmer. For ages 6-10.
  The Childhood of Famous American series (Aladdin), a collection of short chapter biographies for ages 8-11, includes several biographies of famous baseball players. Titles include Babe Ruth: One of Baseball’s Greatest (Guernsey Van Riper, 1986), Joe DiMaggio: Young Sports Hero (Herb Dunn, 1999), Lou Gehrig: One of Baseball’s Greatest (Guernsey Van Riper, 1986), Jackie Robinson: Young Sports Trailblazer (Herb Dunn, 1999), and Roberto Clemente: Young Ball Player (Montrew Dunham, 1997).
  Nelson Yomtov’s The Bambino (Capstone, 2011) in the American Graphic Novel series is a comic-book-style account of Babe Ruth and the fabulous baseball season of 1927. For ages 8-12.

PLAYING THE GAME

  Margaret Blackstone’s This Is Baseball (Henry Holt and Company, 1997) is a simple and charmingly illustrated introduction to baseball for beginners. (“This is a stadium…and this is a baseball diamond.”) For ages 3-6.
  Gail Gibbons’s My Baseball Book (HarperCollins, 2000) is a straightforward introduction to baseball with a simple text and big bright illustrations (among them a nice diagram of a baseball diamond). For ages 4-7.
  Brad Herzog’s H is for Home Run (Sleeping Bear Press, 2004) has a (somewhat labored) rhyming scrap of baseball information for each letter of the alphabet, beginning with “A is for all stars/baseball’s acrobatic aces/who throw and catch and hit/and run around the bases.” One of a series of sports-themed alphabet books for ages 4-8. Other titles include T is for Touchdown, J is for Jumpshot, and K is for Kick.
  Michael P. Spradlin’s Baseball from A to Z (HarperCollins, 2010) is a wittier approach to the baseball alphabet, largely due to Macky Pamintuan’s exaggerated and comical illustrations. Each letter is accompanied by a baseball factoid. For ages 4-8.
  Greg Jacobs’s The Everything Kids’ Baseball Book (Adams Media, 2010) is a nicely designed, 176-page compendium of all things baseball, from the rules of the game through baseball history, team-by-team tours of the National and American Leagues, biographies of famous players, statistics and records, and instructions for keeping score. Included are “Words to Know” and “Fun Facts” in sidebars and boxes. For ages 9 and up.
  How Baseball Works covers the rules of the game, baseball equipment, the layout of the baseball diamond, the roles of the players, and more. Illustrated with photographs and diagrams.

THE SCIENCE OF BASEBALL

  Home Run! The Science of Baseball and Softball by Robert Bonnet and Dan Keen (Enslow Publishers, 2010) has 100+ pages of information and experiments, variously dealing with environmental factors, energy transfer, friction and pressure, and statistics, as well as a list of supplementary reading suggestions and Internet addresses. Challenges include “Does rain affect a ball’s bounce?” and “How does the weight of a bat affect a hit?” For ages 10 and up.
  David Dreier’s Baseball: How It Works (Capstone Press, 2010) in the Science of Sports series, illustrated with color photos, diagrams, and sidebars, is an overview of the physics of baseball for ages 11-14, covering such concepts as velocity, inertia, gravity, acceleration, and torque.
  Robert Kemp Adair’s The Physics of Baseball (Harper Perennial, 2002) is an absorbing overview of the science behind balls, bats, pitching, catching, and throwing, illustrated with charts, diagrams, and graphs. It’s reader-friendly and studded with analogies and anecdotes, but it’s physics. Best for high-school-level physics students and up.
  From the San Francisco Exploratorium, Science of Baseball has online experiments and demonstrations, instructions for hands-on activities, background information on baseball biology, physics, and statistics, an illustrated history of women’s baseball, and resource lists of books and interesting links.
  From the Event-Based Science Institute, Cover Your Bases has baseball-based biology, physics, and math activities using real-world information and data, targeted at grades 6-8. For example, kids determine times to heart-rate recovery after exercise, assess how temperature affects batting distance, and calculate and compare base-running speeds.
  Younger brothers try to steal more bases than older brothers. Find out why here.

BASEBALL AND MATH

  Christopher Jennison’s Baseball Math (Good Year Books, 2005) is an arithmetic workbook for grades 4-8 in which all the problems have baseball themes. Topics include basic arithmetical operations, decimals, percents, and ratios, and reading charts and graphs.
  Math professor and baseball fan Ken Ross’s A Mathematician at the Ballpark (Plume, 2007) first shows readers how to calculate a batting average (though he prefers the more informative “slugging percentage”), and then spins off into a discussion of the strategy, tactics, and probabilities of the game. (Appendices include both “Binomial Theorem” and “Fantasy Baseball.” Go figure.) For teenagers and adults.
  From Prongo, Batter’s Up Baseball is a Flash game in which players score hits and runs by solving addition or multiplication problems. (Get a right answer and the crowd cheers.)
  Baseball Multiplication is an online game in which players circle the bases by solving multiplication problems.
  Fantasy Baseball is a middle-school-level math project on statistics. Included are complete instructions and printable student materials.
  What’s the chance of your team winning the World Series? Find out at mathematician Ivars Petersen’s Seven-Game World Series.
  Fun With Baseball Stats is a lesson plan from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), with instructions and printable activity sheets, intended for grades 6-8.
  Does baseball pay? Find out, from the Council for Economic Education’s  Baseball Economics 101, targeted at grades 6 and up.
  From the same source, see Was Babe Ruth Underpaid?

ART, CRAFTS, PUZZLES, AND PROJECTS

  E. Lisle Reedstrom’s The Story of Baseball Coloring Book (Dover Publications, 1991) features 45 black-line ready-to-color pictures of famous baseball players, with brief biographies. $3.95.
  Also from Dover, see Tom Tierney’s Legendary Baseball Stars Paper Dolls – a Baseball Hall of Fame dream team, with 16 famous players, each with two uniforms apiece. $9.99.
  Brad Herzog’s I Spy With My Little Eye: Baseball (Sleeping Bear Press, 2011) is visual puzzle book in which readers are challenged to find differences in nearly identical, crammed-full color photographs of balls, bats, mitts, and players. For ages 6-8.
  From Artists Helping Children, Baseball Crafts for Kids has instructions and patterns for a long and varied list of baseball crafts, among them a pumpkin ballplayer, a moving Rollo-the-Rookie papercraft toy, a baseball piñata, a wearable paper baseball cap, and a baseball bookmark.
  From the Kennedy Center’s ArtsEdge, in the multifaceted lesson plan All Around the Baseball Field, kids build a model baseball diamond using  tiles or pattern blocks, then explore the game of baseball through art, movement, and sound, creating skits, dances, audiotapes, and collages. For ages 5-10.
  Make your own personal baseball cards! For instructions, see Teacher Vision’s Student Baseball Cards.
Make your own baseball cap! Instructions for a very professional version – you’ll need a sewing machine – can be found at How to Make the Perfect Baseball Cap
  Or decorate your own baseball cap. Inexpensive plain white ready-to-decorate caps are available from the Oriental Trading Company or from Discount School Supply. Average cost: about $15 per dozen.
  See the Recipe Girl for illustrated step-by-step instructions for making baseball cookies.

BASEBALL IN THE MOVIES

  See BaseballMovie.com for lists of Baseball Movies, Baseball Movies for Kids, and Baseball Documentaries, with descriptions and reviews.
  Among the recommendations for kids is Everyone’s Hero (2006), the first computer-animated movie devoted to baseball. Young Yankee Irving’s father, a janitor at Yankee Stadium, has been accused of stealing Babe Ruth’s bat, so Yankee, after retrieving the bat from the real thief, sets off on a cross-country trek to return it to Babe Ruth at the World Series and redeem his father’s reputation. He’s accompanied by a talking baseball who bickers continually with the (also talking) Babe Ruth bat.
  Baseball Movies has an annotated list in reverse chronological order, from the 2011 Moneyball to the 1942 Pride of the Yankees.

BASEBALL AND PHILOSOPHY

  In the Popular Culture and Philosophy series – which also features such volumes as Harry Potter and Philosophy, The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and PhilosophyBaseball and Philosophy, edited by Erin Bronson (Open Court, 2004) includes essays on a wide range of topics by 18 different philosophers. Sample titles include “Socrates at the Ballpark,” “Democracy and Dissent: Why America Needs Reggie Jackson,” “Baseball, Cheating, and Tradition: Would Kant Cork His Bat?,” “The Zen of Hitting,” and “Should Cubs Fans Be Committed? What Bleacher Bums Have to Teach Us About the Nature of Faith.” For teenagers and adults.
In the same series, see The Red Sox and Philosophy (Open Court, 2010), edited by Michael Macomber. Thirty different philosophers discuss the Red Sox as they relate to everything from Aristotle to Sartre.
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Dragons! Rampaging, Reluctant, Poetic, and Mathematical

 

Dragons come in all shapes and sizes, and run the gamut when it comes to personality, philosophy, civility, and attitude toward humans. Beowulf, Siegfried, and Saint George all killed dragons; so did Cadmus, the prince of Greek mythology, who planted the dragon’s teeth, from which sprang up a race of fierce warriors.

Famous dragons include Smaug, the greedy dragon of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Falkor the Luck Dragon of Michael Ende’s Neverending Story, and Norbert, Hagrid’s obstreperous (and illegal) pet in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. In C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the Chronicles of Narnia series, the obnoxious Eustace Scrubb is turned into a dragon and emerges from the experience a wiser, better boy.

Investigating dragons is fun anytime – but it’s particularly appropriate on April 23rd. Which is St. George’s Day.

THE DRAGON OF LONELY ISLAND

  My first children’s book was about a dragon. In The Dragon of Lonely Island (Candlewick, 1998), three children – Hannah, Zachary, and Sarah Emily – spend the summer on Lonely Island off the coast of Maine where, with the help of a mysterious map, they discover a wonderful golden three-headed dragon. The dragon tells them three magical tales from its past – one set in ancient China, one about a boy on board a pirate ship, and the last about two children who must survive on a desert island after a plane crash. For ages 6-11.
  In a sequel, Return of the Dragon (Candlewick, 2005), the children return to the island where, through the dragon’s stories, they visit ancient Greece, a castle in the Middle Ages, and a southern plantation in the days before the Civil War, learning lessons along the way. They also solve a mystery and struggle to protect the dragon from a terrible danger. For ages 6-11.

EVEN MORE DRAGONS

  Jackie Morris’s Tell Me a Dragon (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2009) is an exquisitely illustrated collection of dragons, from the huge to the tiny: “My dragon is made from the sun and the stars.” “My dragon is snaggle-toothed, fierce and brave.” (On the cover, a glorious lavender dragon plucks a cupcake from a platter.) The book ends with “Tell me about your dragon.” For ages 4 and up.
  In Tomie de Paola’s The Knight and the Dragon (Putnam Publishing Group, 1980), both knight and dragon realize that they’re supposed to fight – but neither knows how to go about it. They do their best to find out (the knight resorts to the castle library; the dragon delves through his ancestor’s artifacts) – but with the help of a canny princess, they eventually realize that they’re better off just being themselves. For ages 4-8.
  In Timothy Knapman’s Guess What I Found in Dragon Wood (Bloomsbury USA, 2007), an excited young dragon finds a Benjamin – a goggle-eyed little boy in striped boots – in the woods and brings him home to keep as a pet. For ages 4-8.
  In Demi’s exquisitely illustrated Liang and the Magic Paintbrush (Henry Holt, 1988), everything that Liang paints with his magical paintbrush comes alive. When confronted with an evil emperor, Liang paints a dragon. For ages 4-8.
  In Jay Williams’s lovely picture book Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like (Aladdin, 1980), it turns out that everyone doesn’t. Only the little orphan boy Han believes that a dragon could look like a little fat old man. For ages 4-8.
  In M.P. Robertson’s The Egg (Puffin, 2004), George discovers an enormous golden-brown egg in the family henhouse from which hatches a baby dragon. Even though George doesn’t speak Dragon, he manages to “teach the dragon dragony ways,” and help it find its way home. The illustrations are wonderful: one painting shows the armchair-sized egg perched on George’s quilt-covered bed, while George sits on top of it, reading. For ages 4-8.
George’s dragon returns for another adventure in The Great Dragon Rescue (Frances Lincoln Books, 2009).
  Christoph Niemann’s The Pet Dragon (Greenwillow Books, 2008) is a clever introduction to Chinese characters through the story of a little girl, Lin, who receives a little red dragon as a present. The characters are integrated into the pictures, which works as a memory aid. For ages 4-8.
  In Carmen Agra Deedy’s The Library Dragon (Peachtree Publishers, 1994), Sunrise Elementary School’s new librarian is a dragon – who refuses to let children (with their sticky little fingers) near the library books. Nothing will convince her otherwise, until a myopic little girl wanders into the library and begins reading a story about a dragon out loud. Children gather to listen and the library dragon has a change of heart. For ages 4-8.
  Mi Fei, a humble scroll painter, is the hero of Marguerite W. Davol’s The Paper Dragon (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1997). When the terrible dragon Sui Jen awakes from his long sleep and begins trampling rice fields and destroying villages, Mi Fei goes out to stop him. The dragon strikes a bargain, challenging Mi Fei to bring him fire, wind, and the strongest thing in the world – all wrapped in paper. Mi Fei responds with a paper lantern, a paper fan, and a paper painting of all the people in his village – since the strongest thing in the world is love. Naturally he saves the day. Illustrated with lovely tissue-paper collages by Robert Sabuda. For ages 4-9.
  Gorgeous gold, red, and purple Chinese dragons fill Demi’s The Boy Who Painted Dragons (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2007). The painter, young Ping, is visited by the Heavenly Dragon, who discovers that the painted dragons really represent Ping’s fears. He gives the boy three pearls of wisdom, which he can only earn by confronting four dragons: Water Dragon, Fire Dragon, Earth Dragon, and Wind Dragon. For ages 5-9.
  Caldecott winner David Wiesner’s The Loathsome Dragon (Clarion Books, 2005) is a retelling of a traditional English fairytale in which a widowed king falls in love with a wicked enchantress, who – jealous – turns his lovely daughter, the Princess Margaret, into a terrible dragon. Margaret’s brother Richard eventually manages to reverse the spell and – with the help of a magic rowan twig – the enchantress is turned into a Loathsome Toad. For ages 5-9.
  In Ruth Stiles Gannett’s My Father’s Dragon (Alfred A. Knopf, 1988) (a Newbery Award winner from 1948), the animals of Wild Island have captured a baby dragon and young Elmer Elevator, with a knapsack full of lollipops and hair ribbons, sets off to rescue it. Sequels are Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland. For ages 5-10.
Read My Father’s Dragon online.
  Kate McMullen’s Dragon Slayers’ Academy series begins with The New Kid at School (Grosset & Dunlap, 2003) in which carroty-headed Wiglaf, the smallest and most put-upon of an enormous peasant family, has his fortune told by a traveling minstrel and finds that he is destined to be a hero. Off he goes with his pet pig Daisy to the Dragon Slayers’ Academy to learn his future trade – despite the fact that he can’t stand the sight of blood. Many sequels, all with the same slapsticky humor. For ages 6-10.
  Edith Nesbit’s The Book of Dragons (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2010), originally published in 1900, is a wonderful collection of eight dragon tales, among them “The Book of Beasts,” “The Deliverers of Their Country,” and “Uncle James, or the Purple Stranger.” For ages 8-12.
Nesbit’s Book of Dragons is online here or here
  In Sarah L. Thomson’s Dragon’s Egg (Greenwillow Books, 2007), young Mella is a dragonkeeper – but the dragons she tends are small friendly farm animals, not the fire-breathing monsters of the old myths. Then Mella comes upon a dragon’s egg in the forest, guarded by a truly terrifying dragon – and with the help of Roger, a squire to a Knight of the Order of Defenders, sets out to transport it safely to the ancestral Hatching Grounds. For ages 8-12.
  Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider (Chicken House, 2011) features an orphan boy, a feisty brownie, a brave young dragon, and a quest to return the dragons to their ancestral home – in the teeth of multitudinous enemies, among them the vicious dragon-exterminating Nettlebrand. For ages 8-12.
  Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010) is the first of a humorous series starring the hapless young Viking Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III who – as a warrior-in-training – must (somehow) capture and train a dragon. Many sequels. For ages 8-12.
  For information on the Dreamworks animated movie (loosely) based on the book, see the Internet Movie Database.
  Dragonology by Ernest Drake and Duglad Steer (Candlewick, 2003) is a purported nonfiction guide to dragons by 19th-century “dragonologist” Ernest Drake. Included are explanations of the taxonomy and anatomy of dragons (with diagrams), a dragon alphabet, instructions for tracking and taming dragons, and a fold-out map of “Dragons of the World.” For ages 8 and up.
  In Bruce Coville’s Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher (Sandpiper, 2007), Jeremy stumbles into a mysterious shop and comes home with an egg from which hatches a tiny dragon, Tiamat, visible only to Jeremy and his nemesis, Mary Lou Hutton. With the help of Tiamat, Jeremy gains confidence and perspective – which survive even after Tiamat returns to her own world, where she belongs. For ages 9-12.
  Patricia Wrede’s four-book Enchanted Forest Chronicles series begins with Dealing with Dragons (Sandpiper, 2002), in which the strong-minded Princess Cimorene, who prefers fencing to embroidery, deals with wizards, witches, and an enchanted stone prince, and finally ends up as Chief Cook and Librarian to Kazul, the (female) King of the Dragons. Sequels are Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons. For ages 9-12.
  In Susan Fletcher’s Dragon’s Milk (Aladdin, 1996), Kaeldra’s little sister is dying of vermilion fever, for which the only cure is dragon’s milk. Kaeldra sets out to find some and ends up saving a litter of draclings. Sequels are Flight of the Dragon Kyn and The Sign of the Dove. For ages 9-12.
  In Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers (Bloomsbury USA, 2008), Creel’s aunt – she’s not evil, just “dumber than two turnips in a rain barrel” – sends Creel to the dragon in hopes that a wealthy knight will rescue and marry her. Instead Creel makes friends with the dragon, who gives her a strange pair of blue shoes. Wearing them, she travels to the city to work as a seamstress – Creel is a talented embroiderer – where the plot thickens and Creel’s slippers turn out to hold the key to saving both the kingdom and its resident dragons. Sequels are Dragon Flight and Dragon Spear. For ages 10 and up.
  Dragon Slippers has a pattern and tutorial for making your own dragon slippers.
  My all-time dragon favorite is Heywood Broun’s The Fifty-First Dragon, originally published in 1919.  Gawaine le Coeur-Hardy – one of the least promising pupils at knight school – is given a magic word that allows him to kill fifty dragons. Then he discovers that the magic word is a fake. It all makes for some great discussions. For ages 11 and up.
  Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series began in 1968 with Dragonflight, and now comprises some 22 volumes, and any number of Pern-related supplements. The planet of Pern, every 200 years, is endangered by the fall of Thread, silvery filaments that destroy everything they touch. To combat the Thread, a new breed of the native dragons has been developed – capable of burning the Thread out of the sky before it touches down and of bonding telepathically to a chosen human partner, the dragonrider. For ages 13 and up.
See Sariel’s Guide to Pern for a chronological book list and background information.
Dragonriders of Pern is an online fantasy-fiction writing club for Pern fans. Invent your own Pern characters and stories.

SAINT GEORGE AND THE DRAGON

  In Margaret Hodges’s picture book St. George and the Dragon (Little, Brown, 1990), the dragon is thoroughly bad, and St. George definitively does him in after a three-day battle. The story is adapted from Spenser’s “The Faerie Queen” and has beautiful illustrations in the style of illuminated medieval manuscripts. For ages 7-11.
  In Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon (Square Fish, 1988), the dragon would much prefer to stay in his cave writing poetry – but the upset populace recruits Saint George and demands a showdown. Saint George, with the help of the boy who has become the dragon’s friend, comes up with a neat solution. For all ages.
Read (or listen to) The Reluctant Dragon online.
  Tony DiTerlizzi’s Kenny & the Dragon (Simon & Schuster, 2012) is a riff on Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon (see above). Kenny is a young rabbit whose two friends – George, a retired dragon slayer (now bookseller) and Grahame, a peaceful and highly sophisticated dragon – are being forced to fight by overwrought townspeople. Clever and satisfying. For ages 8 and up.
  The Saint George and the Dragon Education Pack, intended to supplement a mummers’ performance at the British Warwick Arts Centre, has many suggestions for discussions and activities.
Versions of the mummers’ folk-play of Saint George can be found here or here

POETIC DRAGONS

  Jack Prelutsky’s The Dragons Are Singing Tonight! (Greenwillow, 1998) is a collection of 17 clever poems about dragons, among them “I Have a Dozen Dragons,” “Nasty Little Dragonsong,” and “I am Boom!” Gorgeously illustrated by Peter Sis. For ages 4-8.
  Dragon Poems by John Foster and Korky Paul (Oxford University Press, 2004) is a marvelously illustrated collection of 23 poems by many different poets, among them X.J. Kennedy, Lilian Moore, and William Jay Smith. For ages 5-11.
  Ogden Nash’s classic The Tale of Custard the Dragon (Little, Brown, 1998) is the rhyming tale of Belinda and Custard, her “realio, trulio, little pet dragon.” Custard is a coward, but he saves the day when Belinda (“brave as a barrel of bears”) is threatened by a pirate. In the sequel Custard the Dragon and the Wicked Knight, Custard saves Belinda from the wicked Sir Garagoyle.
The text of both poems is online at Two Adventures of Custard the Dragon
A musical version of Custard is sung by Dennis Massa.
  Custard the Dragon and the Wicked Knight Lesson Plan includes  a recipe for Dragon Custard.
  Dragon Poem is a lesson plan from the Denver Art Museum in which students learn about Chinese dragons and then write poems inspired by the Summer Dragon Robe from the museum’s collection. Pair this one with Create a Chinese Dragon, a complementary lesson plan from the Chicago Art Institute.
  Puff the Magic Dragon – surely the world’s best-known dragon song – is from Peter, Paul, and Mary’s Peter, Paul, and Mommy album (Warner Brothers), available on audio CD.

DRAGONS IN THE MOVIES, DRAGONS ON TV

  From Animal Planet, Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real, narrated by Patrick Stewart, is a fascinating look at how dragons might have lived and how they might have evolved, with incredible computer-graphic imagery (from the company that created Walking With Dinosaurs).
Animal Planet’s Dragons website has previews, educational resources, puzzles, and dragon e-cards.
  In the popular BBC series Merlin, now headed for its fifth season, the key Arthurian characters are all teenagers and Camelot is under the thumb of the despotic Uther Pendragon, who has banned magic from the realm and imprisoned the Great Dragon, Kilgarrah (voiced by John Hurt). The young wizard Merlin, sent to Camelot to study with Gaius, the court physician, is mentored by the dragon, who tells him that his destiny is to protect Arthur, the future king. Many exciting episodes. Available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
See BBC: Merlin for episode summaries, a character list, video clips, games, and quizzes.
  In the 1977 Disney movie Pete’s Dragon, nine-year-old orphan Pete has run away from his awful guardians in company with Elliott, a huge (invisible) green cartoon dragon. They end up in Passamaquody, Maine, where Pete is taken in by Nora (Helen Reddy) and her father Lampie (Mickey Rooney), the lighthouse keepers. Then a nefarious snake-oil salesman arrives in town, determined to capture the dragon and use him for making medicine. All ends happily, with Elliott a hero and Pete settled in a good home. And there’s some great music. Rated G.
  In the film Dragonheart (1996), Draco, the last of the dragons (voiced by Sean Connery), and Bowen, a disillusioned dragon slayer, join forces and inspire the people to overthrow their evil king, Einon. Rated PG-13 for violence.

DRAGON ACTIVITIES

  See Activity Village’s Dragons! has dragon crafts and printables, including a video tutorial for making an origami dragon and instructions for making dragon puppets, egg-carton dragons, handprint dragons, and more.
  Enchanted Learning’s Dragons has instructions for making a dancing paper dragon toy, coloring pages, and information about such dragon-related topics as Komodo dragons, the constellation Draco, dinosaur fossils, the flag of Wales, and Sir Francis (“the Dragon”) Drake.
  Chinese Dragon Puppet has illustrated instructions for making a wonderful puppet with a folding spring center. 
  Dragon Hat has instructions for making a fantastic dragon hat from newspaper. 
  Paper Plate Dragon Crafts for Kids has instructions for a particularly nice paper-plate dragon.
  Seven Dragons is a domino-like card game from Looney Labs in which players compete to connect the seven panels representing their color-coded dragon (red, gold, green, blue, or black). The cards are illustrated with paintings by fantasy artist Larry Elmore. For 2-5 players ages 6 and up. About $15.
  We started playing the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons with our kids when they were 5, 7, and 8 – and found, just like the website says, that it was a wonderful experience of imaginative, shared storytelling and social interaction.  (It’s also good for geometry, since sooner or later you have to learn the names for all those polyhedral dice.)
  Best for beginners is the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set, also known as the “classic red box.” About $20.
  Dragon Cave is an online interactive adventure in which kids find and hatch a dragon egg and then raise a dragon.
  With David Kawami’s Cut & Assemble Paper Dragons That Fly (Dover Publications, 1987), plus scissors, paper clips, glue, and a straight edge, kids can made eight colorful (flying) paper dragon models. $6.95.
  Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals (Little, Brown, 2006) uses step-by-step instructions and a library of simple shapes to show kids how to draw dozens of animals, among them a wonderful dragon. For ages 7 and up.
  How to Draw Dragons is a humorous tutorial on how to draw a particularly adorable dragon (Cedric) by award-winning author/illustrator Emily Gravett.
  Sandra Staples’s 160-page Drawing Dragons (“Learn to Create Fantastic Fire-Breathing Dragons!” (Ulysses Press, 2008) has detailed instructions for making pencil drawings of truly wonderful (and elaborate) dragons. For ages 10 and up.
  Build a 3-D Chinese dragon from a Woodcraft construction kit. The dragon, assembled, is about a foot long, and consists of 62 interlocking pieces. All the pieces are pre-cut; no glue or tools needed. About $9; available from http://www.amazon.com.

(Mostly) Real Dragons

  From the American Museum of Natural History, Mythic Creatures has information about dragons and other mythical creatures, and accounts of the living animals or fossils that may have inspired their stories. Included at the site are educational resources, projects for kids, and illustrations, video clips, and podcasts.
  Marty Crump’s Mysteries of the Komodo Dragon (Boyds Mills Press, 2010) is a fascinating 40-page account of the world’s largest lizard, the ten-foot-long Indonesian Komodo dragon, whose deadly saliva (“dragon drool”) is a current subject of scientific research. Illustrated with maps and color photographs. For ages 8-13.
  The scoop on Komodo Dragons (the national animal of Indonesia).
  Sheila Cole’s The Dragon in the Cliffs (Backinprint, 2005) is a novel based on the life of fossil-hunter Mary Anning, who began her career with the discovery of an ichthyosaur skeleton in a cliff along the beach in 1811, when she was just 13. For ages 10 and up.
  From Biologica, Dragon Genetics is a lesson plan in which kids explore the difference between genotype and phenotype with dragons.

MATHEMATICAL DRAGONS

  The Dragon’s Eggs is an interactive game for early elementary students featuring a flying dragon that teaches odd and even number concepts.
  Dragon Curve (also known as a Jurassic Park Fractal) has instructions for making one by paperfolding. (See the Table of Contents at the site for background information on fractals, Java applets, and other examples of fractals.)
  In Cindy Neuschwander’s Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi (Charlesbridge Publishing, 1999), Sir Cumference gulps down a potion that turns him into a dragon and his son Radius must find the magic number (pi) to restore him to human shape. For ages 7-11.
  At the Magical Math-ical Dragon Project, kids invent their own dragonish math stories and make a papercraft foil-scaled dragon.

DRAGON IN THE SKY

  Draco the Dragon has myths based on the constellation Draco, a list of the stars that make up Draco (including Thuban that, 5000 years ago, was the North Star), and helpful instructions for finding Draco in the night sky.
  For more information and help on locating Draco and dozens of other constellations, a helpful book for beginners is H.A. Rey’s now-updated Find the Constellations (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), filled with accessible information and lots of clever kid-friendly diagrams.

 

 

 

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Rabbits!

 

Rabbit books and rabbit resources seem to proliferate like…well, rabbits. Famous rabbits include the fussy and opinionated Rabbit of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, the pocket-watch-toting White Rabbit of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Bambi’s friend Thumper, and Harvey, the giant invisible pooka rabbit in the 1950 James Stewart movie of the same name. And there are many many more.

According to a Chinese legend, there’s even a rabbit in the Moon.

Imaginary Rabbits

  First book for a lot of babies is a bunny book. Dorothy Kunhardt’s furry and pattable Pat the Bunny (Golden Books, 2001), originally published in 1940, is now the best-selling interactive book of all time. (“Judy can pat the bunny. Can YOU pat the bunny?”) It makes for a great baby present, featuring six other appealing activities along with bunny-patting.
Visit Pat the Bunny for the story behind the books, a complete list of Pat the Bunny products (including such sequels as Pat the Cat, Pat the Pony, and Tickle the Pig), and printable coloring pages.
  Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon (HarperCollins, 2005), first published in 1947, is the enchanting now-classic bedtime story of the sleepy little bunny in the great green room (with a telephone, a red balloon, and a picture of a cow jumping over the moon). For ages 2-6.
  Also by Brown, see The Runaway Bunny (HarperCollins, 2005), an imaginative tale of running away, with a comforting background of maternal reassurance. The little bunny comes up with any number of run-away scenarios – he’ll become a fish, a rock on a mountain, a flower, a bird. His mother counters that she will always come and find him: she’ll be a fisherman, a mountain climber, a gardener, or the sheltering tree that he flies home to. For ages 2-6.
  The protagonist of Kevin Henkes’s Little White Rabbit (Greenwillow, 2011) bounds off on a bright spring day, adventurously imagining himself green as the grass, tall as a tree, or flying with the butterflies. Then he encounters a cat – and is happy to scamper home to his mother. For ages 2-5.
  A.A. Milne’s “Market Square” is a wonderful poem about rabbits: “…I wanted a rabbit/A little brown rabbit/And I looked for a rabbit/’Most everywhere.” The poem originally appeared in Milne’s When We Were Very Young (Puffin, 1992).
  In Sam McBratney’s Guess How Much I Love You? (Candlewick, 2008), Little Nutbrown Hare and his much larger parent vie to see who loves the other best.  (“I love you as high as I can hop.” “I love you right up to the moon.”) A charmer for ages 2-6.
  Peter McCarty’s Little Bunny on the Move (Owlet Paperbacks, 2003), illustrated with luminous pencil-and-watercolor drawings, is the story of a long journey home for ages 3-6.
  White Rabbit’s Color Book by Alan Baker (Kingfisher, 1999) won’t tell you much about rabbits, but it’s a charmingly illustrated picture-book account of colors and color mixing for ages 2-5. Similar in concept is Ellen Stoll Walsh’s Mouse Paint (Sandpiper, 1995).
imgres In Philippa Leathers’s The Black Rabbit (Candlewick, 2013), a little white rabbit is pursued wherever he goes by a looming black rabbit. (Readers can see that it’s his shadow.) He does everything he can think of to get rid of it, but nothing works – until finally he plunges into a shady forest. Where he runs into a wolf. For ages 3-7.
  In Charlotte Zolotow’s Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present (HarperCollins, 1977), illustrated by the incomparable Maurice Sendak, a little girl enlists Mr. Rabbit’s help to find the perfect birthday gift for her mother, who loves colors. Red underwear, yellow taxicabs, green caterpillars, and blue lakes all seem like bad ideas – but Mr. Rabbit manages to find a perfect solution. For ages 4-8.
  Rabbits turn white in winter – but what do other animals do? Il Sung Na’s charmingly illustrated Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2011) describes animal adaptions to the changing seasons for ages 3-6.
  Rosemary Wells’s endearing Max and Ruby characters – featured in many books – are bunnies. In Bunny Cakes (Puffin, 2000) – one of my favorites – it’s time to bake a cake for Grandma’s birthday. Max is making an earthworm cake; big sister Ruby (“Don’t touch anything, Max”) is making an angel surprise cake with raspberry-fluff icing. Funny and priceless. For ages 3-6.
  In Mo Willem’s Knuffle Bunny (Hyperion, 2004), Trixie – a toddler who is too young to talk – goes to the Laundromat with her father, taking along her stuffed bunny. The bunny is left behind, and Trixie, unable to explain what has happened, struggles, fusses, and finally melts down into an over-the-top tantrum. Her mother realizes what’s wrong and back to the Laundromat they go to retrieve the lost toy, upon which Trixie says her very first words: “Knuffle Bunny!” Illustrated in a mix of black-and-white photographs and bright cartoon drawings. For ages 3-6.
  Rabbit’s Gift by George Shannon (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2007) is a lovely adaptation of a Chinese folktale. It’s cold and snowy, but Rabbit manages to find two turnips. Since one is plenty for him, he leaves the second for his friend Donkey. Donkey has found a potato, so he passes the turnip on to Goat – who has a cabbage, so he gives the turnip to Deer. On it goes until the turnip finally returns to Rabbit, who shares with all. The illustrations are great, including wonderful borders of stylized purple turnips. Included are Chinese ideograms for animal names. For ages 4-8.
  In Marilyn Sadler’s It’s Not Easy Being A Bunny (Random House Books for Young Readers, 1983), P.J. – unhappy with his large family, oversized ears, and diet of carrots – decides to be something else. Perhaps a bear – but hibernation is no fun. After many disappointing experiments, P.J. decides that bunnyhood is the best for him after all. For ages 4-8.
imgres-1 In Aaron Reynolds’s Creepy Carrots (Simon & Schuster, 2012), Jasper Rabbit is mad for carrots – especially the scrumptious carrots of Crackenhopper Field. Then greedy Jasper discovers that the carrots are following him. (Behind him: “the soft…sinister…tunktunktunk of carrots creeping.”) A hilarious just-creepy-enough horror story for ages 4-8.
  The Rabbits’ Wedding by Garth Williams (HarperCollins, 1958) – best-known for his illustrations of the Little House books – is a gentle story of a black rabbit and a white rabbit who want to be together “forever and ever.” Illustrations are almost entirely black and white, except for some glorious bright-yellow wedding dandelions. For ages 3-7.
  Annette Cate’s The Magic Rabbit (Candlewick, 2007) is the tale of a street magician and his beloved rabbit assistant who suddenly find themselves separated after a performance disaster. All looks bleak until a passion for popcorn (and a magical trail of gold stars) bring the two together again. For ages 4-8.
  In Eric Rohmann’s My Friend Rabbit (Roaring Brook Press, 2011), Rabbit – as described by his friend Mouse – “means well. But whatever he does, wherever he goes, trouble follows.” Rabbit has pitched Mouse’s airplane into a tree, but – never at a loss (“Not to worry, Mouse. I’ve got an idea.”) – he organizes a pyramid of animals to reach the stuck plane. Just as all topple furiously to the ground, the plane is freed, and Mouse and Rabbit soar off, disturbingly off-course. To which Rabbit announces buoyantly: “Not to worry, Mouse. I’ve got an idea.” For ages 4-8.
  Verna Aardema’s Who’s in Rabbit’s House? (Puffin, 1992) is set in an African village where performers are donning fantastic animal masks in preparation for a play based on the folktale “Who’s in Rabbit’s House?” The story is told through the performance.  Rabbit cannot get into her house because a horrible monster is inside, bellowing “I am the Long One. I eat trees and trample on elephants. Go away! Or I will trample on you!” The problem is finally solved by Frog, and the monster turns out to be a tiny caterpillar. For ages 5-9.
  Susan Seale’s Make Me Musical! blog has a wonderful account of a children’s performance of “Who’s in Rabbit’s House?” with pictures of homemade animal masks. (Make some and try a performance of your own.)
  In Sarah Klise’s Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2010), Little Rabbit’s mother has told him that he can go to the circus – but only after he’s cleaned up his truly disastrous playroom. Instead, Little Rabbit sneaks off to the circus and offers the ringmaster a “Mysterious Marvel of Maternal Monstrosity” – the Meanest Mother on Earth, who has two heads, green teeth, and enjoys punishing the small and innocent. His mother turns the tables by showing the crowd the playroom (an “Emporium of Odiferous Oddities”). For ages 5-9.
  The collected stories in Robert Garis’s Uncle Wiggily’s Story Book (Grosset & Dunlap, 1987) were first published in 1921. All feature the kindly bunny gentleman, Uncle Wiggily Longears, who wears a top hat, carries a striped cane, and devotes himself to solving children’s problems. Problems, circa 1921, were things like toothaches and freckles. For ages 5-10.
  The Uncle Wiggily Game (Winning Moves Games) is available from Amazon  ($15.95). Players race their rabbits along a winding path from Uncle Wiggily’s Hollow Stump Bungalow to Dr. Possum’s office. For 2-4 players, ages 4 and up.
  What eats rabbits? In Emily Gravett’s Wolves (Simon & Schuster, 2006), Rabbit has borrowed a book on wolves from the library and is so absorbed in it that he fails to notice the real-live wolf following him home. Readers learn about wolves along with the reading Rabbit, but they also – unlike the oblivious Rabbit – can see the stalking wolf. The final pages show a tattered book and no rabbit, but the author neatly provides reassurance. For ages 6-9.
  Margery Williams’s The Velveteen Rabbit, first published in 1922, is now available in many editions, though my favorite remains the original with illustrations by William Nicholson (Doubleday, 1958). This is a lovely short chapter book about how beloved toys become real. It begins when the Boy gets the Rabbit as a Christmas gift – “fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen.” For all ages.
See The Velveteen Rabbit online with the original text and illustrations.
  The Rabbit Ears Library version of The Velveteen Rabbit, beautifully narrated by Meryl Streep, is available on DVD from the Discovery Education Store or as an animated story app from the Ruckus Media Group. (For a short sample, see here.)
  A 2009 movie version of The Velveteen Rabbit, directed by Michael Landon, combines live-action and cartoon animation in a story that has at best a vague connection to the book. (First hint here is the summary from the Internet Movie Database, which reads “A lonely boy wins over his distant father and strict grandmother with help from a brave velveteen rabbit whose one wish is to become a real rabbit someday.”)
  The Velveteen Rabbit Teacher Guide has activity suggestions and resources for early-elementary-level students. For example, kids compare living and non-living things and build a TerrAqua column from plastic soda bottles, write a story about a favorite toy, and make a toy-based puppet.
  Robert Lawson’s Newbery-winning Rabbit Hill (Puffin, 2007), originally published in 1944, is the story of what happens when new people move into the long-empty Big House and how they react with the animal residents (many of them rabbits) of Rabbit Hill. A gentle 128-page classic for ages 6-11.
Design a Rabbit Hill Garden has instructions and a lesson plan.
  In a wheat field on her father’s farm, lonely eight-year-old Harriet of Dick King-Smith’s Harriet’s Hare (Yearling, 1997) meets Wiz – a talking hare who is actually a shape-shifting alien from the planet Pars. Unfortunately her new friend has to return home when the full moon rises. For ages 6-10.
  The hero of Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (Candlewick, 2009) is a self-satisfied china rabbit, possessor of a huge wardrobe of silk suits, owned and adored by a little girl named Abilene. Then Abilene and her parents embark on a sea voyage and disaster strikes: Edward is hurled overboard. So begins his journey. He is dredged up from the ocean and brought home by a fisherman, and then passes on to a succession of caretakers, who – collectively – help him come to understand love, loss, and hope. For ages 7-12.
The Edward Tulane website has an overview of the book, a detailed teacher’s guide, and a Reader’s Theater script.
  James Thurber’s Fables for Our Time (HarperPerennial, 1983) includes the story of “The Rabbits Who Caused All the Trouble,” a sobering (though darkly funny) fable, the moral of which is “Run, don’t walk, to the nearest desert island.”
   “The Rabbits Who Caused All the Trouble” has the text of Thurber’s fable, a short description of fables in general, and several alternative interpretations,
  Richard Adams’s rabbit world of Watership Down (Scribner, 2005) is now a staple of high-school reading lists – and deservedly. The plot centers around a small band of rabbits – Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, Bluebell, and Dandelion – who leave their home warren after a warning from the clairvoyant Fiver that destruction (land developers) is imminent, looking for a new and safer home. Adams creates a complex and believable culture of rabbits, with social structure, language, customs, and religion.
An excellent animated version of Watership Down was released in 1978. Despite the cartoon format, it is not recommended for young children – this is a serious drama and there are some frightening and bloody scenes. Available on DVD from http://www.amazon.com.

Peter Rabbit and Company

As classic rabbit tales go, the best-known of all is surely Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which first appeared in 1902, and since has sold over 150 million copies in 35 different languages. If you have not yet acquired one of these, my only advice is that when you do, get an edition with the original Potter illustrations. For reasons that pass understanding, a scattering of publishers have produced Peters illustrated by other people. Don’t fall for it.

  Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit has the original text and illustrations online.
  Peter Rabbit has an account of Beatrix Potter’s life and work, illustrated with period photos and drawings, Peter Rabbit e-cards and coloring pages, puzzles, online games, and crafts for kids.
  From First School, The Tale of Peter Rabbit has activities for preschoolers to accompany a reading of Potter’s Peter Rabbit. Included are printable paper crafts and an “R is for Rabbit” project.
  See Dover Publications for Mr. McGregor’s Garden Sticker Activity Book, which comes equipped with many vegetables and rabbits. Also from Dover is The Tale of Peter Rabbit Coloring Book, with black-line illustrations and text from the book.
  Alma Flor Ada’s picture book Dear Peter Rabbit (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1997) is a series of letters among favorite picture-book characters, among them Peter Rabbit, the Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and Baby Bear, and Red Riding Hood.  For ages 4-9.
  Jane Johnson’s The True Story of Peter Rabbit: How a Letter Became a Beloved Children’s Classic (Puffin, 2006) is a picture-book account of how Potter’s clever illustrated letter to a young friend grew into the first of 23 wonderful children’s books – which, incidentally, include several others featuring rabbits, among them The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, and The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit. Infuriatingly, it is out of print, but used copies are cheap and available. (Check it out, for example, at http://www.amazon.com.)
  Miss Potter is a 2006 movie about Beatrix Potter’s life and work, with Renee Zellweger as Beatrix Potter and Ewan McGregor as Norman Warne, her publisher, with whom she fell in love. It’s rated PG for “mild language.” For more information, see the Internet Movie Database.
  Linda Lear’s Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008) is a comprehensive biography for older teenagers and adults.
  Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit isn’t the only one. Author/naturalist Thornton Burgess wrote over 150 animal books for children, starring such characters as Peter Rabbit, Reddy Fox, Little Joe Otter, Jimmy Skunk, and Johnny Chuck. Intended for ages 5-10, these short chapter books combine story and personality – the animals talk – with realistic depictions of animal behaviors and habitats. For more on Burgess and a complete list of book titles, see the Thornton Burgess Society website.

Tricky Rabbits

  Zomo, the too-clever-for-his-own-good black rabbit in Gerald McDermott’s Zomo the Rabbit: A Trickster Tale from West Africa (Sandpiper, 1996), has asked the Sky God for wisdom, in exchange for which he must deliver the scales of the Big Fish of the sea, the milk of the Wild Cow, and the tooth of the Leopard. He manages, through outrageous trickery, to obtain all three – and then learns that wisdom sometimes consists of knowing when to run away fast. A brilliantly illustrated picture book for ages 4-8.
  Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus stories are collections of African-American folktales – starring the tricky and irrepressible Brer Rabbit – first published in book form in 1881. I’ve always found the originals heavy going, since Chandler’s books are written in a form of Deep-South slave dialect. (“’Mawnin’!’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee – ‘nice wedder dis mawnin’, sezee.”) Check out Chandler’s Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings online.
  Uncle Remus: The Complete Tales, adapted by Julius Lester (Dial, 1999) is a modernized version of the stories – there’s an occasional jarring reference to shopping malls and jogging suits – but by and large it keeps the flavor of the originals, while making them more accessible to children. The short stories – of which there are many in this book; it’s nearly 700 pages long – are appropriate for ages 4 and up.
  The Adventures of Brer Rabbit and Friends, adapted by Karima Amin (Dorling Kindersley, 1999) is a 64-page collection of ten popular Harris tales, along with background information on the African storytelling tradition and a wonderful picture map of “Brer Rabbit’s World.” For ages 6 and up.
  The Wren’s Nest, Joel Chandler Harris’s home in Atlanta, Georgia, is now a museum. Also, from the National Park Service, see the Joel Chandler Harris Home.

Racing Rabbits, Dancing Bunnies

  Brian Wildsmith’s The Hare and the Tortoise (Oxford University Press, 1966) is a great retelling of the story of the famous race, with wonderful crayon-bright illustrations. For ages 4-8.
  Eric Carle’s The Rabbit and the Turtle (Orchard Books, 2008) is a collection of eleven of Aesop’s fables, among them the title tale, all illustrated with Carle’s signature paper collages.
 The Tortoise and the Hare has several versions of the story, along with many multicultural stories about races between unequal contestants (frog and snail, hare and hedgehog, frog and antelope, mole and hawk). (It’s an easy jump from here to inventing race stories of your own.)
Aesop’s Fables has illustrated versions of several of Aesop’s fables with accompanying coloring pages, puzzles, and craft projects.
Interactivate has an interactive mathematical race between tortoise and hare, printable worksheets, and helpful information on Zeno’s paradox.
  This puppet performance of “The Tortoise and the Hare” can be downloaded as an app for iPhone or iPad.
  From Zoom, “The Tortoise and the Hare” has the script of a shadow puppet play, along with instructions for making your own shadow puppet theater.
From the Boston Museum of Science, study static electricity with a Dancing Paper Bunnies experiment.

Real Rabbits

  Bunny in the “See How They Grow” series from DK Publishing (2007) follows the life of a bunny from birth to adulthood. The simple text is paired with great color photographs. For ages 3-6.
  The star of Judy Dunn’s The Little Rabbit (Random House Books for Young Readers, 1980) is a real rabbit, found by Sarah in her Easter basket and named Buttercup. The book, illustrated with color photographs, is an introduction to the habits and behaviors of rabbits. For ages 4-8.
  Gail Gibbons’s Rabbits, Rabbits, & More Rabbits (Holiday House, 2000) is a non-fiction introduction to rabbits for ages 4-8. As with all Gibbons’s books, the illustrations are bright and appealing, and the text is informative, but dry.
  Mel Boring’s Rabbits, Squirrels, and Chipmunks (NorthWord Books, 1996) is a beginner’s field guide in the “Take Along Guide” series, nicely designed, with reader-friendly information (“What It Looks Like,” “What It Eats,” “Where to Find It”) and a scattering of projects. For example, kids make a rabbit refuge, a squirrel nut-ball, and a chipmunk tightrope (hung with peanuts). For ages 4-9.
  By Susan E. Davis and Margo DeMello, Stories Rabbits Tell: A Natural and Cultural History of a Misunderstood Creature (Lantern Books, 2003) covers the mythology, symbology, and biology of rabbits.  A wealth of information for teenagers and adults.
  Your Rabbit by Nancy Searle (Storey Publishing, 1992) is a helpful guide to the practical aspects of rabbit owning for ages 9 and up.
  Enchanted Learning has labeled print-outs of lagomorphs (including rabbits and hares) and a rabbit quiz.
  Rabbit? Or hare? The Difference Between website explains which is which.
  The House Rabbit Society has detailed information about rabbit care and behavior, rabbit booklists, and a selection of free rabbit e-postcards.
  Supersized Superbunny is an account of the giant fossil rabbit recently discovered on the Mediterranean island of Minorca.
  The oldest ancestor of modern rabbits may have been a hamster-sized bunny who lived 53 million years ago in India. Read about it at Live Science.

Strange Rabbits?

  In Deborah and James Howe’s Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Mystery (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006), the Monroe family goes to the movies to see Dracula and brings home a suspiciously vampiric baby rabbit, duly named Bunnicula. The story is told from the point of view of the patient family dog, Harold, who has to deal not only with Bunnicula and a lot of drained white vegetables, but with Chester, the overwrought family cat. An hilarious short chapter book for ages 8-12. Luckily there are several sequels.
  Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot is the first of many evilly hilarious card games in which players compete to keep their own bunnies alive, while eliminating their opponents’ bunnies. For ages 10 and up. For more information, see the Killer Bunnies website.
  In Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the riotous 2005 film by Claymation wizards Steve Box and Nick Park, Wallace and his trusty dog, Gromit – now operating a humane pest-control business called Anti-Pesto – are attempting to nab the huge night-prowling saboteur who is threatening the village Giant Vegetable Competition. It’s 85 minutes long and rated G.

Mathematical Rabbits

  Alan Baker’s Gray Rabbit’s Odd One Out (Kingfisher, 1999) is a sorting book. Gray Rabbit, looking for a book, is trying to organize his belongings. Things fall in place, two by two – except that there’s always one odd thing out. For ages 2-5.
  In Anita Lobel’s gorgeously illustrated 10 Hungry Rabbits (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012), ten hungry bunnies find colorful vegetables for the family soup pot, starting with one purple cabbage, two white onions, and three yellow peppers. For ages 2-5.
  Virginia Grossman’s Ten Little Rabbits (Chronicle Books, 1995) is a rhyming counting book with a native American theme. The rabbits, from one to ten, wear gorgeously patterned blankets, and are shown performing a rain dance, sending smoke signals, tracking a bear with bows and arrows. For ages 2-5.
  Ann McCallum’s Rabbits, Rabbits Everywhere (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2007) is a picture-book fable set in the little town of Chee, famous for its gardens, its Pied Piper, and its ravenous and rapidly multiplying rabbits. It’s a Fibonacci problem. For ages 6-10.
For related lesson plans and activities, see the Ann McCallum author website.
  Emily Gravett’s The Rabbit Problem (Simon & Schuster, 2010) is a delightful month-by-month take on the Fibonacci series – which is named for the mathematician who first described it in the 13th century, while solving a problem about multiplying rabbits. First there’s one lonely rabbit (an invitation stuck to the page reads “Join me”); subsequent months feature baby rabbit record books, rabbit newspapers, carrot recipes, and – by November – wildly overcrowded rabbits. For ages 6-11.
Joy N. Hulme’s Wild Fibonacci (Tricycle Press, 2010) – via a  somewhat awkward rhyming text – introduces the Fibonacci sequence and its prevalence in nature to ages 7-10.
  Sarah C. Campbell’s Growing Patterns (Boyds Mills Press, 2010) introduces Fibonacci numbers in nature through gorgeous color photographs of flowers, pinecones, pineapples,  and a cutaway nautilus shell. For ages 6-12.
Fibonacci Numbers in Nature has photographs and animations demonstrating the Fibonacci series is nature (in flowers, leaves, pinecones, pineapples).
  Joseph D’Agnese’s Blockhead: A Life of Fibonacci (Henry Holt and Company, 2010) is a picture-book biography of the famous medieval mathematician. For ages 6-11.
  In 1979, then-president Jimmy Carter made national news by fending off a marauding rabbit when on a fishing trip. Check out the mathematical Carter-based Killer Rabbit Puzzle.

Artful Bunnies, Crafty Bunnies, Film-Star Bunnies

  The Arty Factory has information on 15th-century artist Albrecht Durer’s animal drawings and paintings and examples of his work, including his famous portrait of a hare.
  Rabbits on Stamps is a cool gallery of rabbits on postage stamps.
  Robert Sabuda’s website has instructions and a pattern for making a rabbit pop-up card.
  The Growing Up Creative website has photograph-illustrated instructions for making a rabbit doll that pops up out of a hat. The doll itself is a simple sewing project; the site has a printable pattern.
  Check these sites for a short history of Bugs Bunny, possibly the world’s most recognized bunny; and for everything you ever wanted to know about The Bugs Bunny Show, including summaries of all the Bugs cartoons.
  Watch legendary animator Chuck Jones draw Bugs Bunny at How to Draw Bugs Bunny.
For step-by-step instructions for drawing your own Bugs Bunny, visit How to Draw Cartoons Online.
  Draw a very different bunny with comic-book artist Simone Lia via The Guardian.
  Make a blow-up origami bunny. For step-by-step instructions, see Origami USA.
  Rabbit Crafts for Kids has a long list of rabbit crafts for elementary-level kids, among them a rocking rabbit, paper-plate rabbits, a paper-bag rabbit puppet, and more.
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Origami: Cranes, Frogs, Kaleidocycles, and Robots

 

There’s more to origami these days than merely folding paper pigeons, penguins, and bunny rabbits. Biologists now use origami to study folding in DNA and protein molecules. Physicists used it in the design of the space telescope; architects use it to model earthquake-resistant buildings. Mathematicians use it to explore geometry. Roboticists use it to build robots.

Educators have been touting the benefits of origami since the early 19th century, when Friedrich Frobel started the kindergarten movement in Germany. Paper-folding was an integral part of his original early-childhood curriculum, intended to teach kids essential principles of math and art.

And some of it is easy. Even I can make a pigeon.

BOOKS: BIRDS, BUTTERFLIES, AND FOLDED POEMS

  In Yoko’s Paper Cranes by Rosemary Wells (Hyperion, 2009), Yoko, who lives with her parents in the United States, misses Japan, where she remembers feeding the cranes in her grandparents’ garden. She was so unhappy when the cranes left on their seasonal migration that her grandmother taught her how to make paper cranes – to remind her that the cranes would always return. Now, from across the ocean, Yoko sends her grandmother a birthday gift of paper cranes as a token that soon she too will return for a visit to Japan. Illustrated with lovely collages. The characters are all cats (in Yoko’s case, a kitten) who wear gorgeously patterned kimonos. For ages 3-7.
  Molly Bangs’s The Paper Crane (Greenwillow Books, 1987) is the story of a restaurant owner and his little son who lose their business when a new highway is built. Nevertheless, they give a free meal to an old man who, in return for their kindness, makes an origami crane from a table napkin – which comes to life at the clap of their hands. People pour into the restaurant to see the magical crane and soon business is booming once more. Finally, the old man returns and – after the crane dances to his flute – he flies away on the crane’s back. For ages 4-8.
  In David Small’s Paper John (Live Oak Media, 1998), John makes his living as a peddler, selling paper toys. He lives in a paper house by the sea (a wonderful illustration shows a row of colored pinwheels on the roof) and he folds paper boats for all the town’s children. When an angry imp blows the town out to sea, John, unfazed, folds his paper house into a ship and saves the day. For ages 4-8.
  Cathryn Falwell’s Butterflies for Kiri (Lee & Low, 2008) is a good pick for frustrated paper-folding beginners. Kiri is thrilled to get an origami kit for her birthday – but  it doesn’t live up to her expectations; the instructions are difficult, the paper tears, and she gives up in disappointment. Instead, she paints a picture, then returns to the kit to add some paper flowers to her watercolor – and finally succeeds in folding an origami butterfly. The encouraging message, of course, is “Try, try again.” For ages 4-8.
  In Barbara Pearl’s picture book Whale of a Tale (Crane Books, 2005), a versatile square of paper turns itself into a kite, a whale, and a penguin. (Instructions are included so that kids can fold along with the story.) For ages 4-8.
From Math in Motion: Origami in the K-8 Classroom, the Whale Lesson Plan has instructions for a simple origami whate with supplementary resource suggestions.
  In Nathaniel Lachenmeyer’s picture book The Origami Master (Albert Whitman & Company, 2008), Shima the Origami Master lives alone high in the mountains, with only his paper animals to keep him company. A bird who lives in a nearby tree watches him work, and then – while Shima is asleep – flies in the window and makes animals of its own, far better than Shima’s creations. Shima captures the bird and locks it in a cage with some origami paper, hoping to discover its secrets. The captive bird refuses to make anything – and the next morning Shima finds that it has escaped from the cage, leaving behind an origami key. Shima, ashamed, then makes a beautiful origami nest that he leaves in the tree “for the friend he almost lost.” Included are instructions for folding an origami bird. For ages 4-9.
  In Kristine O’Connell George’s Fold Me a Poem (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2005), a little boy spends a day folding origami animals, each of which is accompanied by a clever poem and a colorful acrylic illustration. (“All afternoon/the paper cows/have been eyeing/the green paper. Oh!/Grass.”) There are 32 poems in all. A great kick-off for making origami-and-poetry books of your own. For ages 5-9.

ONE THOUSAND PAPER CRANES

  Eleanor Coerr’s Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (Puffin, 2004) is the story of a young girl who contracted leukemia – “atom bomb disease” – after exposure to radiation in the wake of the World War II Hiroshima bombing. Having heard the legend that anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes will have good fortune, Sadako begins to make origami cranes. She dies before achieving her goal, but her classmates complete the project for her – and ever since children worldwide have folded paper cranes in her memory as a symbol of global peace. For ages 8-13.
  Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is an eight-page reading guide and student journal to accompany the book, with fill-in charts and discussion questions.
Fold a Paper Crane has step-by-step instructions, nicely illustrated with photographs.
  Origami.org has animated instructions for making a peace crane.
  Ishii Takayuki’s One Thousand Cranes: The Story of Sadako and the Children’s Peace Statue (Laurel Leaf, 2001) is a 112-page history, illustrated with period photos, on the bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath, the experiences of Sadako and her family, Sadako’s death from leukemia, and the establishment of the Hiroshima Peace Park with its Children’s Peace Statue. For ages 10 and up.

HANDS-ON ORIGAMI

  Margaret Van Sicklen’s Origami on the Go (Workman, 2009) is a multifaceted book of information and origami projects, intended to occupy, amuse, and educate squirmy kids on trips. There are 40 different folding projects, each paired with a little something extra: instructions for an origami fan are accompanied by an explanation of the difference between Fahrenheit and Celsius temperature scales; a paper stunt plane is paired with an account of the “World’s Biggest Flyby” and pictures (on postage stamps) of the Wright brothers.  Also included are finger puppets, a fortune teller, a jumping frog (made from a business card), and a bowtie (made from a dollar bill). The book is illustrated with color photographs, and comes with 100 sheets of origami paper and two sheets of decorative stickers. For ages 8 and up.
  Origami Kit for Dummies by Nick Robinson (Wiley, 2008) consists of a 292-page book and a packet of origami paper. The book includes basic instructions, techniques for designing your own origami shapes, step-by-step folding diagrams for 75 projects (from the simple to the challenging), a description of ten different styles of origami, and profiles of “Ten Incredible Folders.”
  Jeremy Shafer’s Origami to Astonish and Amuse (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2001) is a clever and hilarious guide to action origami, featuring instructions for paper action models for – among others – a working Swiss army knife, a pair of paper nail clippers, a cheeping bird, a darting Frog Tongue. Inevitably, my favorite section of the book is “Origami for the Almost Deranged,” which includes an Unopenable Envelope, a carbon atom, and a car that runs on four legs rather than wheels.
  Also by Shafer is Origami Ooh La La! (CreateSpace, 2010), “137 Original Models that Chomp, Spin, Flap, Transform, and Amaze!”
  Robert J. Lang’s Origami in Action (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997) has instructions for 39 different action models, with photographs of the finished product, which yours, hopefully, will look like. Among the projects are a flapping bird and fluttering butterfly, a dog that wags its tail, a kicking otter, a blow-up bunny, a fiddling bassist and an Indian paddling a canoe.
  Origami Club has dozens of themed origami projects (categories include Animals, Paper Planes, Newspaper and Big Size Origami, and much more). For each there are both diagrammatic and animated instructions. The site also has printable origami paper.
  Origami-Instructions.com has a brief history of origami and a long list of projects for which the instructions are presented with helpful color photographs. Among the categories are “Origami for Kids” (very easy), “Holiday Origami,” and “Origami Toys,” among these last the ever-popular water balloon.
  The Origami Resource Center has dozens of creative projects, among them a series of month-by-month “Classroom Projects” for kids, teaching tips, a “Kirigami for Kids” page, Star Wars origami (make Yoda and the Millennium Falcon), and information on tea-bag folding, pop-up projects, and 3-D origami.
  The Exploring Origami issue of the San Francisco Exploratorium’s online magazine is devoted to the art and science of paperfolding. Included are informational illustrated articles and instructions for making folded paper airplanes and your own handmade paper.
  Origami Surprise has instructions for folding what turns out to be a cute little jumping toy. There are no pictures of the toy (it’s a surprise) and the instructions (which involve getting matching letters to “kiss” each other) are a bit confusing, but I – feeble as I am at origami – managed to make two of them, so it’s do-able. The site includes suggestions for a couple of tiddly-winks-ish games to play with the toys.
  The Origami Jumpin’ Frog is a much more straightforward downloadable (green) jumping frog pattern.
The World of Geometric Toy[s] has some spectacular geometric toys, among them an origami spring, a rotating ring of tetrahedrons (that is, a kaleidocycle) and a pop-up paper spinner, all with instructions.
  M.C. Escher Kaleidocycles by Doris Schattsschneider and Wallace Walker (Pomegranate, 2005) has 17 ready-to-assemble 3-D models of (gorgeous) paper kaleidocycles and polyhedrons, printed with Escher designs.
  Dover Publications is a terrific (and inexpensive) source for  origami paper, kits, and project books for all ages, variously featuring birds, bugs, dinosaurs, sea animals, geometric shapes, airplanes, spaceships, and more.
  Paper Jade sells many kinds of origami paper, from the large to the tiny, as well as project books and kits for folders of all ages.
Paper Mojo sells art papers of all kinds – printed, solid, textured, marbled, sheer, embossed, iridescent – plus tools and supplies for papercrafters and artists.

ON BEYOND PAPER

  Brian Sawyer’s Napkin Origami (Sterling/Hollan, 2008) has instructions for folding dinner napkins into 25 different creative shapes, including hearts, rabbits, swans, ships, and ice-cream cones.
  Alison Jenkins’s The Lost Art of Towel Origami (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2005) has instructions for turning an ordinary bath towel (or towels) into everything from a birthday cake to an elephant.
  Michael LaFosse’s Money Origami (Tuttle Publishing, 2009) has 21 origami projects that can be made from a dollar bill (or bills), among them a star, a butterfly, a jumping frog, a wheel of fortune, and an airplane. The book comes with dollar-like practice sheets.

MATHEMATICAL ORIGAMI: MAPS, MENGER SPONGES, AND A CUCKOO CLOCK

  Barbara Pearl’s Math in Motion: Origami in the Classroom (Crane Books, 2008) is a 120-page resource guide for grades K-8, stuffed with approaches and activities for teaching math through origami. Included are basic instructions, lesson plans, and cross-cultural enrichment activities (bake fortune cookies, write haikus, learn to count in Japanese).
  From the PBS Independent Lens series, Between the Folds, directed by Vanessa Gould, is a one-hour documentary about modern scientists, artists, and mathematicians using origami in new and incredible ways. The website has information about the film, a history of origami, and a folding game.
“Between the Folds” is available for purchase on DVD (2010) or can be rented from Netflix or from Amazon Instant Video.
  Once you’ve seen the show, Netflix Origami shows movie-viewers how to fold those tear-off Netflix flaps into frogs, swans, crabs, hearts, boxes, T-shirts, and tiny little envelopes.
  Mathematician Ivars Peterson’s Folding Maps is a short interesting article on origami and the infuriating un-fold-back-up-able paper road map.
  Six business cards + five minutes = a cube. See How to Make Business Card Cubes for instructions.
  Assemble 66,048 business-card cubes and you can make the spectacular 3-D fractal known as a Menger Sponge. Read about it (and see one) at the Institute for Figuring’s Fractal Fragments.
  See a fabulous sixth-grade Menger Sponge project using folded paper cubes.
Easy Origami Cube has a nice set of instructions for making paper cubes of your own. 
  The website of physicist/master origami artist Robert J. Lang has an art gallery, information on uses of origami in math and science, and a publications list. Works include Lang’s famous Black Forest cuckoo clock, a 16-foot Pteranodon, a musician playing the organ, and much more, all mindboggling.
Also see Lang’s 18-minute TED talk on origami.
  For more on Robert Lang and his sophisticated origami, see Susan Orlean’s The Origami Lab in the New Yorker.
From Smithsonian magazine, see Beth Jensen’s account of origami, Into the Fold.
  Akira Yoshizawa: Why Origami Matters is a short article on the scientific and mathematical uses of origami, with information on Japanese origami artist Akira Yoshizawa who invented the notation system of lines, dashes, and arrows commonly used for origami instructions.
  Doodle is a descriptive computer language for generating origami paper-folding diagrams. (Invent your own!) Available for Windows, Linux, or Solaris.

Origami and Robots

  At Engines of Our Ingenuity: Paper Bags, John Lienhard discusses origami, robotics, and the history of the brown paper bag.
  Self-folding origami. Researchers at Harvard and MIT have devised a flat sheet of glass fiber and foil alloy that can fold into shapes on its own. Check it out here and here
  Carnegie Mellon robotics student Devin Balkcom has devised a robot capable of doing origami.
  Learn about air-powered origami “soft robots”.
  Robert Wood and co-workers at Harvard use origami techniques to make pop-up robotic bees.
  Watch a surgeon-operated medical robot fold a very tiny paper airplane.
  Paper Robots has downloadable patterns for 11 different paper robots. These are for older papercrafters. They look great, but the pieces – which have to be cut out – are small and assembling them is finicky.
  Build Your Own Paper Robots by  Julius Perdana and Josh Buczynski (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2009) is a book/CD combo with instructions and templates for building 12 different model robots. For older papercrafters.

MOLECULAR ORIGAMI: BUCKYBALLS TO DNA

  Origami DNA is an activity for ages 10 and up in which kids make paper models of the DNA double helix. Printable templates are available at the site.
  Buckyball Origami has background info on the fullerenes – the soccer-ball-shaped carbon molecules nicknamed “buckyballs” – and instructions for assembling a paper model.
  Race to Catch a Buckyball has instructions and a printable template for building a paper buckyball.
  For an illustrated account of the science of carbon nanotubes and buckyballs, see the University of Wisconsin’s Exploring the Nanoworld or visit Buckyballs: A New Sphere of Science.
  Robert Hanson’s Molecular Origami (University Science Books, 1996) has tear-out-and-assemble models for 124 different molecules, from ozone and water to buckyballs. It’s not origami precisely – there’s a lot of cutting and calls for tape – but it looks like an interesting activity for high-school-level chemistry students.
  Molecular Origami explains the new process by which molecules of DNA can be programmed to fold themselves into specific forms. The site includes an interactive feature with which visitors can try it for themselves.
Bioengineering: What to Make with DNA Origami is a reader-friendly account of the real possibilities for this new nanofolding technique.
  DNA origami is a little like…Legos. See Nanomanufacturing Using DNA Origami from Science Daily.
See DNA researcher Paul Rothemun’s TED talk on DNA origami.
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Pirates!

 

Few of us want our babies to grow up to be pirates. When it comes to social responsibility, compassion, and moral rectitude, practically anybody is a better role model. Pirates fight with cutlasses, use objectionable language, consume unhealthy foods and beverages, and steal stuff. They are totally reprehensible.

No wonder kids love them.

SCIENCE, MATH, AND PIRATES

  It is possible to become a certified pirate at MIT. (Yes, really. A certified pirate.) Students who take four physical education courses conferring piratical skills – pistol, archery, sailing, and fencing – are officially deemed pirates and given a printed certificate to that effect. Read about it here
  As well as athletic, pirates are also surprisingly scientific. (Well, sort of.) In Gideon Defoe’s clever and hysterically funny The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (Pantheon, 2004), the pirates – known only by descriptors (the pirate with gout, the pirate with the accordion, the pirate with a scarf) – under the command of their luxuriantly bearded, but somewhat dim, Captain, mistakenly board the H.M.S. Beagle, believing it to be loaded with gold. After sinking the ship, the shamefaced pirates transport Charles Darwin and Captain Fitzroy back to London, where they crash a meeting of the Royal Society, rescue a damsel in distress, and battle the evil Bishop of Oxford in the Mineral Room of the Museum of Natural History. (The Bishop and the Pirate Captain fling element samples at each other according to atomic weight.) There’s even a tongue-in-cheek list of Comprehension Questions at the back of the book. For ages 12 and up.
  Sequels, with similarly zany mixes of history and science, include The Pirates: In an Adventure with Ahab, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon, and The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists.
See science writer Jennifer Ouellette’s A Pirate’s Life for Me for a discussion of the real science connections in Defoe’s The Pirates!
How about pirates and math? Ian Stewart’s A Puzzle for Pirates from Scientific American’s Mathematical Recreations column is a strategic and logical challenge for high-school students and math buffs.
The Mystery of Pirate Ringold’s Lost Treasure is a fraction problem for treasure hunters on board the lost pirate ship Grand Looter.
Place Value Pirates is an interactive game in which kids identify decimal places by (bloodlessly) stabbing the proper pirate with a cutlass.
Walk the Plank is an exercise in adding and subtracting integers (negative and positive numbers to three places). Get the right answers and a professor goes in the drink.

(MOSTLY) IMAGINARY PIRATES

  In June Sobel’s Shiver Me Letters (Sandpiper, 2009), an animal pirate crew (captained by a crocodile with a hook) is out to capture all the letters of the alphabet. A clever alphabetical adventure with a simple rhyming text, punctuated with piratical roars of “R!” For ages 3-7.
  The masterpiece of alphabet-plundering piracy, however, is certainly James Thurber’s The Wonderful O, originally published in 1957. (It was reissued in a beautiful edition in 2009 as part of the NYR Children’s Collection.) A mix of marvelous word play, poetry, poignancy, and humor, this is the story of a pirate named Black who – ever since his mother was fatally stuck in a porthole – has despised the letter O. Landing on the island of Ooroo in search of treasure, Black and gang proceed to take over and to expunge the offensive letter from the language. Soon bakers have no dough; goldsmiths, no gold; blacksmiths, no forges; candymakers, no chocolate; and candlemakers, no tallow – and “A man named Otto Ott, when asked his name, could only stutter.” Still, the islanders are determined that four O words must not be lost: hope, love, valor, and – most important of all – freedom. For ages 8 and up.
  In Melinda Long’s How I Became a Pirate (Harcourt, 2003), Jeremy Jacobs is building a sandcastle at the beach when a shipload of pirates shows up, looking for the Spanish Main (“We must have taken a wrong turn at Bora Bora.”) Off Jeremy goes for a stint on board – which includes staying up late, never eating vegetables, and learning to say “Arrr!” However, there’s no tucking in at night and no bedtime story, so eventually Jeremy decides he’d be better off at home – though before he and the pirates part ways, he helps them find a perfect place to bury their treasure. For ages 3-8.
  There’s a sequel – Pirates Don’t Change Diapers (Harcourt, 2007) – in which pirate captain and crew return for their loot and disastrously wake up Jeremy’s baby sister, Bonney Anne.
  To accompany the books, see Long’s Pirate Activity Book (HMH Books, 2010), which includes instructions for making a newspaper pirate hat, a tea-dyed treasure map, and an eye patch, along with a pirate card game, tattoos, and drawing pages.
  In David McPhail’s Edward and the Pirates (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 1997), Edward – a bookworm who wears enormous glasses – is reading about pirate treasure when a crew of pirates bursts into his bedroom, insisting that Edward’s book shows where their treasure is buried. (It’s a nice plug for the benefits of reading: the pirates are in trouble because they can’t.) For ages 3-8.
  Mem Fox’s Tough Boris (Sandpiper, 1998) is the story of the fierce and evil-looking pirate Boris – who nonetheless cries when his pet parrot dies. For ages 3-7.
  Brett Helquist’s Roger, the Jolly Pirate (HarperCollins, 2007) is a zanily twisted account of how the skull-and-crossbones pirate flag came to be. Cheerful Roger – who grins instead of growling – is banished to the hold whenever there’s a battle. Hoping to ingratiate himself with his dismissive mates, Roger bakes them a cake – which promptly explodes, shooting a ghostly flour-covered Roger across the deck. The sight terrifies the enemy Admiral and his men into abandoning ship, and jolly Roger becomes a hero. In recognition of Roger and his cake, the grateful pirates stitch up a commemorative flag. For ages 3-7.
  Douglas Florian’s Shiver Me Timbers (Beach Lane Books, 2012) is a collection of 19 funny illustrated poems about pirates (“rude, crude dudes with attitude”). For ages 5 and up.
  Pete, of Kim Kennedy’s Pirate Pete (Harry N. Abrams, 2002), and his parrot pal steal the Queen’s treasure map and set off to look for gold, landing on island after island – and being foiled time and time again. (The hoped-for pot of leprechaun gold on Clover Island, for example, turns out to contain Irish stew.) They finally find genuine treasure on Mermaid Island, only to be caught in the act by the furious Queen, who takes the treasure and leaves Pete and parrot marooned. Luckily she forgets about Pete’s rowboat – which allows the piratical pair to paddle off into a couple of sequels. For ages 4-8.
  Rebecca Rupp’s Dragon of Lonely Island (Candlewick Press, 2002) – I can’t help but mention it – includes a pirate adventure. Dragon is set on an island off the coast of Maine, where three visiting children discover, in a cave on a hilltop, a three-headed dragon. The dragon has the ability to tell wonderful stories from its past that make listeners feel as though they were really there. One of these is the story of young Jamie Pritchett, kidnapped by a pirate crew and taken to sea as their cabin boy. When the pirates land on a desert island, Jamie runs away – and finds a treasure hoard, presided over by a dragon. For ages 5-11.
  In Jon Scieszka’s The Not-So-Jolly Roger (Puffin, 2004), second in the giggle-provoking Time Warp Trio series, Fred, Sam, and Joe – using the magical Book, the gift of Joe’s magician uncle – wish for buried treasure and end up in the 18th century as captives of Edward Teach, the formidable pirate known as Blackbeard. For ages 7-11.
Visit Time Warp Trio: Pirates for interactive games and activities to accompany The Not-So-Jolly Roger. 
See Pirates for a lesson plan with background information, hands-on activities, and a resource list for The Not-So-Jolly Roger.
  In Hergé’s The Secret of the Unicorn (Little, Brown and Company, 1974), boy reporter Tintin (always accompanied by his faithful dog, Snowy) attempts to buy a model sailing ship for his friend Captain Haddock – and promptly becomes entangled with thieves, secret treasure, and the exciting history of Captain Haddock’s ancestor, Sir Francis, and his encounter with the dread pirate Red Rackham. The story continues in Red Rackham’s Treasure. The Tintin books, written in comic-strip format, are great reads, with challenging (and funny) plots and dialogue.
  Richard Walker’s Barefoot Book of Pirates (Barefoot Books, 2008) is a gorgeously illustrated collection of seven multicultural pirate tales, among them “The Kobold and the Pirates” from Germany, “Music Charms the Pirates” from Japan, and “The Ship of Bones” from Morocco. For ages 8-12.
  Robert Lawson’s Captain Kidd’s Cat (Little, Brown and Company, 1984) – originally written in 1956 – is the story of “Wm. Kidd, Gent.” as told by his ship’s cat, McDermot, a jaunty type who wears a ruby earring in one ear. This is a clever tongue-in-cheek biography in the style of Lawson’s Ben and Me (the life of Benjamin Franklin, as related by his mouse, Amos) and Mr. Revere and I (the life of Paul Revere, as told by his horse, Scheherazade, late of the British army). Unfortunately – Arrr! – it’s out of print, but is still available from libraries and used-book suppliers. Well worth tracking down. For ages 8-12.
  Visit Captain William Kidd for biographical information on Kidd, maps, and treasure hunt stories.
  J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and Wendy (Sterling, 2010) is a reissue of Barrie’s original 1911 story – which I highly recommend in lieu of later adaptations. The story is deeper and more compelling, and the wording much richer. It’s also, however – be warned – politically incorrect: for example, it’s a hotbed of gender stereotypes (Wendy doesn’t get a cutlass) and Tiger Lily’s tribe is collectively referred to as “redskins.” Still, it would be a shame to miss a wonderful classic over this; and the questionable bits are great springboards for discussion.
The full text of Barrie’s Peter Pan is online here
The Peter Pan Lesson Plans website has discussion questions and extension activities categorized under English, Social Studies, Math, Science, and Character Education.
From the Birmingham Children’s Theater, the Peter Pan Study Guide has background information, a map of Neverland, questions and activities for grades 2-8, and interesting information on flying.
Design a flying human! See If Peter Pan Can Fly, Why Can’t I? for a multifaceted lesson plan on animal flight for grades 2-6.
From the Core Knowledge Foundation, click on “Core Knowledge Classic Lesson Plans” and “Second Grade” for a multidisciplinary 16-lesson unit study on Peter Pan.
  Finding Captain Hook’s Treasure is a map-based exercise for grades K-5,
  The 2004 film Finding Neverland with Johnny Depp (as Barrie) and Kate Winslet is the story of the family who inspired Barrie to create Peter Pan. Rated PG. For more information, see the Internet Movie Database.
  Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s Peter and the Starcatchers (Perfection Learning, 2006) is an explanatory prequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan for readers ages 10 and up. Fourteen-year-old Peter is one of several orphaned boys on board the ship Never Land, all destined for slavery on the island of Rundoon, ruled by evil King Zarboff. Also on board is young Molly Aster who proves to be a “Starcatcher,” traveling with a trunk filled with magical starstuff – a substance that confers, among other things, the ability to fly. When pirates, captained by the vicious Black Stache, get wind of the magical cargo, there’s a chase and a pitched battle that ends with the Never Land wrecked on a desert island. There the starstuff proceeds to do its magical stuff, and Peter (at least temporarily) defeats Black Stache by slashing off his hand (soon to be replaced with a hook). There are several sequels.
Public response indicates that the book is almost universally adored; it’s now a stage play in New York City and a movie version is scheduled to hit the theaters in 2014. That said, I – clearly in the minority – didn’t care for it much. (Some things you just don’t want explained.) But see what your kids think.
imgres I love this one! Hilary Westfield, the heroine of Caroline Carlson’s hilarious The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates (HarperCollins, 2013) is determine to become a pirate, even thought the VNHLP refuses to admit girls. Undaunted, Hilary runs away from Miss Pimm’s Finishing School for Delicate Ladies and – her talking gargoyle in tow – joins up with Jasper Fletcher, Terror of the Southlands. And off they go in search of magical buried treasure. For ages 8-12.
  In Sid Fleischman’s The Thirteenth Floor (Greenwillow Books, 2007), young orphan Buddy Stebbens and his attorney older sister Liz, struggling to save their family home, wish that they had the fabled treasure of their pirate ancestor, Captain Crackstone. Lured by a mysterious answering machine message, they take separate elevator trips to the thirteenth floor of an old building downtown – and find themselves transported to the 17th century. Buddy ends up on board Crackstone’s pirate ship, sailing toward Boston – where, upon arrival, he finds Liz embroiled in the Salem witchcraft trials. For ages 9-12.
  Also by Sid Fleischman, see The Ghost in the Noonday Sun (Greenwillow Books, 2007), the story of young Oliver Finch, born with the ability to see ghosts. Oliver is kidnapped by the notorious pirate Captain Scratch who plans to exploit Oliver’s strange talent to find buried treasure. For ages 9-12.
  Ted Bell’s Nick of Time (Square Fish, 2009) is the first of the Nick McIver Time Adventure series, in which 12-year-old Nick, son of a lighthouse keeper on an island in the English Channel in 1939, finds a sea chest on the beach containing what proves to be a time machine. Soon Nick and his sister Kate are players in parallel battles, one with German U-boats in the present, the other with the pirate Billy Blood over a hundred years in the past. For ages 11 and up.
  Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island – the all-time classic pirate book – was originally published in 1883 and is now available in any number of editions, including simplified versions for younger readers.
The original text of Treasure Island is available online here
  See Dover Publications for the Treasure Island Coloring Book, which has 34 black-line illustrations to color, plus an abbreviated text. $3.95.
Treasure Island Resources has a map of Treasure Island, a diagram and exercise sheet on the parts of a pirate ship, a pirate vocabulary list with crossword puzzles, and suggestions for celebrating Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19).
  Eve Bunting’s The Pirate Captain’s Daughter (Sleeping Bear Press, 2011) begins “I always knew my father was a pirate and I always knew I wanted to be one, too.” Fifteen-year-old Catherine disguises herself as a boy, adopts the name of Charlie, and joins her father on board the ship Reprisal. For ages 12 and up.
  Jack, of L.A. Meyers’s Bloody Jack (Graphia, 2010), is also a girl. Mary Faber, orphaned and left homeless on the streets of London, cuts off her hair and lands a job as ship’s boy on the H.M.S. Dolphin. Mary adapts to life on board, picks up the nickname “Bloody Jack” in a pirate skirmish, struggles to cope with her “Deception” as she increasingly matures, and falls in love. For ages 12 and up.
  In Tanith Lee’s Piratica: Being a Daring Tale of a Singular Girl’s Adventures Upon the High Seas (Dutton Children’s Books, 2003), Miss Artemisia Fitz-Willoughby Weatherhouse takes a tumble down the stairs at the Angels Academy for Young Maidens and suddenly remembers her past: she’s the daughter of the famous pirate captain Molly Faith (a.k.a. Piratica), with whom she spent her early childhood on the high seas. In truth, it turns out that Molly was an actress and Art’s memories are of stage performances – but Art, undeterred, hijacks a galleon and persuades her mother’s former stage crew to accompany her as genuine pirates, under a black-and-pink Jolly Roger. For ages 12 and up.
  William Goldman’s The Princess Bride (Harcourt, 2007) is a brilliant tongue-in-cheek fairy tale filled with “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants.” – and featuring an enchanting cast of characters, among them Westley, a stable boy turned hero, the beautiful princess Buttercup, the valiant swordsman Inigo Montoya, the evil prince Humperdinck, and the Dread Pirate Roberts. For teenagers and adults. This title appears on many high-school reading lists.
  Also see the 1987 movie version of The Princess Bride directed by Rob Reiner and starring Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, and Andre the Giant. Rated PG. (There’s kissing.)
Reading Group Guide: This Princess Bride has a list of discussion questions to accompany the book (or movie). 
  The Princess Bride website has a plot synopsis, trivia quizzes, video clips, and downloadable patterns for cut-and-fold Cubecraft Princess Bride characters. Find out if you could be the next Dread Pirate Roberts.

(MOSTLY) REAL PIRATES

  A Year on a Pirate Ship (Millbrook Press, 2009) by Elizabeth Havercroft covers twelve months of pirate life with tiny detailed illustrations, made to be pored over. The pirates variously load their ship, set to sea, and tackle whales, enemies, weeds, and shipwreck. For ages 5 and up.
  Barry Clifford’s Real Pirates (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2008) is the picture-book history of the ship Whydah, first a slave ship, then a pirate ship, and finally a spectacular underwater archaeological find. For ages 9 and up.
  The Whydah Museum in Provincetown, Massachusetts, is dedicated to the recovery of the wreck of pirate “Black Sam” Bellamy’s treasure-laden Whydah, sunk in a storm in 1717.
  Richard Platt’s Pirate Diary: The Journal of Jake Carpenter (Candlewick Press, 2005), the fictional diary of a nine-year-old boy, is an historically accurate picture of 18th-century pirate life. Included are maps, a cutaway diagram of a pirate ship, a short history of piracy, and biographies of famous pirates. For ages 9 and up.
Pirate Diary has detailed instructions (with questions and resource links) for a journal-based project based on  the book.
  John Malam’s You Wouldn’t Want to be a Pirate’s Prisoner (Children’s Press, 2002) in the Horrible Things You’d Rather Not Know series, traces the pirate experience from “Treasure Fleet! Your Ship Sets Sail” through “Pirate’s Prize,” “In Irons! Shackled to the Deck,” “Flogged!,” “Diseased and Done For,” and “Marooned,” to “Saved! The Navy to the Rescue.” The not-so-nice side of piracy for ages 9 and up.
  Blackbeard (Running Press Kids, 2011) by Pat Croce is a 56-page biography of Edward Teach – a.k.a. Blackbeard, one of the most notorious pirates of all time. For ages 9-12.
Visit Blackbeard Lives for a video of the wreck site of what may be Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and background information on Blackbeard. (See Pirate Ships, below.)
  J. Patrick Lewis’s Blackbeard the Pirate King (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2006) is a collection of twelve illustrated poems about the wicked but ever-popular pirate. For ages 7 and up.
  Kathleen Krull’s Lives of the Pirates covers nineteen in chronological order, from Alvilda, Viking princess turned pirate circa 400, through Captain Kidd, William Dampier, Mary Read and Anne Bonney, and Black Sam Bellamy. Catchily written and informative for ages 9-14.
  Piracy: an equal-opportunity profession. Jane Yolen’s Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2010) is a reader-friendly survey of female pirates, from Artemisia, the Admiral-Queen of Persia, in the 5th century BCE, to the 18th century’s Anne Bonney and Mary Read and the 19th century’s Madame Chang.  For ages 9-13.
  By C.S. Forester – author of the Horatio Hornblower series – The Barbary Pirates (Sterling Point Books, 2007) is the story of America’s clash with the pirates off the shores of Tripoli in North Africa in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. For ages 12 and up.
  Benerson Little’s How History’s Greatest Pirates Pillaged, Plundered, and Got Away With It (Fair Winds Press, 2010) covers the exploits of thirteen famous pirates, among them Grace O’Malley, Francis Drake, Henry Morgan, Edward Teach (Blackbeard), and Jean Lafitte. For teenagers and adults.
  David Cordingly’s Under the Black Flag: The Romance and Reality of Life Among the Pirates (Random House, 2006) is a fascinating history of real and imaginary pirates – the romance, it turns out, was highly overrated – for teenagers and adults.
  The Pirate Hunter (Hyperion, 2003) by Richard Zacks is subtitled “The True Story of Captain Kidd.” In this detailed 400+-page biography, Zacks argues that Kidd was actually a privateer, hired by the British government to track down pirates and retrieve stolen goods. For teenagers and adults.
  Colin Woodard’s The Republic of Pirates (Mariner Books, 2008) is the story of the “Golden Age” of pirates in the early 18th century, when a consortium of pirates – among them “Black Sam” Bellamy and Edward “Blackbeard” Teach – set up a functioning government in the Bahamas. Pirates, perhaps, but also social revolutionaries. For teenagers and adults. 
  Stephan Talty’s Empire of Blue Water is the story of legendary pirate Henry Morgan and his (impressively influential) 17th-century career attacking Spaniards in the Caribbean. For teenagers and adults.

PIRATES ON STAGE AND SCREEN. PLUS COOKIES.

  Rob Ossian’s Pirate’s Cove claims to list every pirate movie ever made – and if you think Pirates of the Caribbean was it, this might be the site for you. The alphabetical list has descriptive synopses of over 300 pirate movies, among them six versions of Peter Pan, thirteen of Treasure Island, and such single gems as Disney’s Blackbeard’s Ghost (with Peter Ustinov in the title role), Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk (both starring a swashbuckling Errol Flynn), The Princess Bride, and The Swiss Family Robinson (who, in the grand finale, fend off marauding pirates).
See Pirates of the Caribbean: Fact, Myth, and Movie for a list of activity suggestions to accompany pirate movie viewings.
  Bake Jack Sparrow’s tricorn hat cookies.
  A terrific version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta The Pirates of Penzance is available on DVD from Universal Studios (1983), with Kevin Kline in fine form as the Pirate King, and Rex Smith and Linda Ronstadt as Frederic and Mabel, the unhappy young lovers. The premise: Frederic has been apprenticed to the pirates by mistake by his deaf nurse (she was supposed to link him up with a pilot), and must remain with them until his 21st birthday, which in Frederic’s case makes for a long apprenticeship, since he was born on February 29th, Leap Year. $13.99 at http://www.amazon.com.
From the San Francisco Opera Guild, The Pirates of Penzance is a detailed study guide, crammed with background information and related activities.

PIRATE ACTIVITIES

  Dugald Steer’s Pirateology (Candlewick Press, 2006) in the popular Ologies series, purports to be the ship’s log of 18th-century pirate hunter William Lubber. The log, written on parchment-type paper and crammed with creative illustrations, has information about everything from sailor’s knots and navigation to battle tactics, and a lot of appealing interactive elements, including fold-out maps and a working compass (set in the front cover). For ages 8-12.
  Pirate’s Log by Avery Monsen and Jory John (Chronicle Books, 2008) is a 172-page illustrated interactive “Handbook for Aspiring Swashbucklers.” Users pick their pirate name and the name of their ship, list the ten things – just ten – to pack to bring on board, determine (via eye test) which is the best eye over which to wear a piratical eyepatch, and learn the proper pronunciation of “Arrr!” – and there are games, puzzles, challenges, and information on essential pirate activities like swabbing the deck and walking the plank. Fun and funny for ages 8 and up.
   See National Geographic: Pirates for an interactive high-seas adventure, a list of Books for Buccaneers, and a short illustrated history of Blackbeard.
   Arrr! Say it like a pirate! See How a Pirate Would Say It translates text – even entire web pages – into piratese.
Put on a play! The Pirates’ Code is a short reader’s theater script, starring Captain Hook, Long John Silver, Blackbeard, Captain Calico Jack Rackham, and Smee. 
  DLTK’s Pirate Ideas for Children has pirate themed coloring pages, puzzles, games, and crafts, among them a milk-carton pirate ship, a paper-plate pirate mask, and a collapsible spyglass telescope.
  Pirate Poems has general instructions for making a pirate paper-bag puppet holding a pirate poetry book. You’ll need colored pencils, scissors, construction paper, a paper bag, and some poetic imagination.
  The Pirate Ship Art Lesson has instructions for making a construction-paper pirate ship on a wavy painted ocean. See the website for some great examples of student projects.
  See Busy Bee’s Pirate Crafts has many activities for preschoolers and early-elementary-level kids, among them a pirate map, pirate hook, newspaper pirate hat, a toilet-paper-roll parrot, and a simple catapult, capable of firing marshmallows and cotton balls.
Talk Like a Pirate Day Crafts has illustrated step-by-step instructions for a truly terrific rolled-newspaper pirate sword.
  From Artists Helping Children, Pirate Crafts for Kids has a long list of craft projects with instructions. Make pirate treasure chests, puppets, costumes, ships, and pirate-themed greeting cards. Some annoying advertising.
  Barbara Soloff Levy’s How to Draw Pirates (Dover Publications, 2008) includes step-by-step instructions for drawing captain, crew, ship, cannon, gold doubloons, and Jolly Roger. $4.99.
From Enchanted Learning, Pirates has printable worksheets, quizzes, puzzles, and instructions for making a treasure chest from a shoebox.

PIRATE SHIPS

  There are, of course, dozens of pirate ship toys, models, and kits for all ages. A particularly affordable version: American Science and Surplus sells a nice little wooden pirate ship kit for a mere $1.95, complete with black string rigging and paper sails.
  Box Creations has a folding cardboard pirate-ship playhouse, big (and tough) enough for two to three kids to board for the Spanish Main. Put the thing together and decorate it with colored markers or crayons. About $30.
  Build Jack Sparrow’s Black Pearl in Legos for just $99.99.
Need to name a pirate ship? Check the Pirate Ship Name Generator.
The New England Pirate Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, has a recreated dockside village, a replica pirate ship, a cave filled with pirate treasure, and a walking tour of buccaneers. It sounds cool. Also see the museum’s Education Curriculum page for projects, activities, and challenges for kids of all ages.
  From the Archaeological Institute of America, Loaded Guns, Barrels of Rum, and a Silk Ribbon is an interesting overview of the archaeology of pirate shipwrecks.
  From Smithsonian magazine, Did Archaeologists Uncover Blackbeard’s Treasure? is an account of the underwater exploration of the wreck that just might be the remains of Queen Anne’s Revenge.
From Ask magazine for ages 6-9, Ask an Underwater Archaeologist is an interview with archaeologist Wendy Walsh about the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
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3/14 = Pi Day + Albert Einstein’s Birthday

 

Pi. Almost everybody’s favorite irrational number – irrational meaning that it cannot be accurately expressed as a fraction since it never (ever) comes out even, but continues, without repeating, past its decimal point and on into infinity. Pi has been computed to over one trillion decimal places (and counting).

In 2009 the U.S. House of Representatives formally recognized March 14 as National Pi Day.

It shares the date with Albert Einstein, who was born on it in 1879.

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