This past week the weather has been dreary, damp, and in the words of the famous red t-shirt wearing book bear, Winnie-the-Pooh – blustery. It is just this sort of fall weather that makes me want to curl up and read books with the kids all day long.
    If we are planting the garden, I want to read and laugh at Tops and Bottoms. If the sky looks like a storm is coming, I want to read Thunder Cake and bake one up. If there are worms popping out and the mud is lovely to play in, I yearn to find Split, Splat. When the late summer monarch chrysalises start hatching and flying south, I dig on the shelf for the catchy Gotta Go, Gotta Go. When the spring birds are singing and filling their nests with eggs, the exquisite An Egg is Quiet gets pulled off the shelf, quickly followed by A Nest is Noisy.
    There are books for every occasion, every season, every stage of life. The world has been in a whirlwind for months now, and many people have made the decision to homeschool their children, or perhaps your school is entirely virtual. Reading to your children, with your children, or listening to books – all of these things can help calm them down, and by default, usually you calm down as well. If you feel as though your kids are spending too much time staring at a screen, find them something with pages to turn during their downtime. Are you homeschooling for the first time? You have so many more opportunities in the day to fill their brains with words and connect to characters in books.
    Here are some of the books we’re pulling off the shelf this fall, and ideas to enrich the reading experience with your children.
    The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams is a wonderful book with the repetition that small children adore. I read this to Ira’s class in Kindergarten and had them build their scarecrow with snack items as it progressed: a cheese slice shirt, Ritz cracker head, raisin shoes, and yogurt covered raisin gloves. Search your cupboards – your little ones will love it. Another favorite book with repetition, rhyming, and great read aloud rhythm is a witchy classic by the author of The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson. Room on the Broom is great fun to do with flannel board pieces. Her website has graphics you can print out, then attach them to magnets, glue onto flannel, or even tape to spoons. Little ones will benefit from practicing retelling the story themselves.
    Miss Maple’s Seeds is written and illustrated by Wisconsin-born Eliza Wheeler. It is so beautiful and tells of sweet Miss Maple traveling on the backs of birds to rescue seeds that didn’t find the best place to be planted. She cares for them until they are properly ready to be released into the world. It even has a whole page with pictures of seeds for easy identification to help as you and your family peruse the woods for treasures. Her newest book, Home in the Woods, tells the true story of her grandmother’s childhood in Wisconsin during the Great Depression. Her illustrations are gorgeous and the colors on the pages increase as the story becomes happier and less bleak.
    Another Wisconsin author whose books highlight our autumn page turning is Lois Ehlert. Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf is great to read, then follow with a painting project. Paint leaves red or yellow then press them on paper for leaf printing. For added fun – and a bit more mess – roll a corn cob in paint then roll it across paper. It makes an interesting pattern, and kids love it. Nuts to You is about a clever squirrel and could be a good precursor to a walk in the woods to identify nuts or search out squirrels and observe their antics. Our favorite, hands down, is Leaf Man. All the illustrations in this book are done by using only leaves. Cows, fish, trees loaded with apples, mice sneaking about a garden with leaf pumpkins, and of course, a man all grace the pages of this bright book. We have been collecting leaves and pressing them the past week so we can make our own leaf men, or in the case of my children, leaf moose, leaf cow and such. I’m pondering a leaf rooster after collecting some bright red sumac leaves. Dry, flat leaves work the best to glue to paper. Leaf art may not last forever, but it is a clever project for all ages to be creative with.
    Beth Ferry collaborated with the phenomenal illustrators, The Fan Brothers, to bring The Scarecrow to life. What a lonely life the poor scarecrow leads until he befriends a crow. He thinks all hope is lost, until his friend returns to him, with a need for a nest. Most of our farms have a plentiful amount of straw, old hay and a surplus of old clothes needed for building even the most rudimentary scarecrow. Another book written and illustrated by The Fan Brothers is The Night Gardener. It, like Home in the Woods, uses the colors in the book to show how the plot of the story is growing happier. The trees go through the seasons and show the beauty in the changing. It may inspire some creative pruning in your yard, so hide your shears.
    In the van on our nightly ride home from the farm, we have been listening to Roald Dahl reading some of his works. We’ve made it through Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Magic Finger, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Enormous Crocodile, and just started James and the Giant Peach. I wish I would have thought to play these earlier. The end-of-the-day fighting from being tired has ceased, and I don’t spend the drive lecturing them. From Cora to Ira, they all enjoy them, and I will admit, I love being read to as well.  
    Get the pages turning as the leaves turn colors.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (3), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.