Many people find wintertime brings on more time to read; those cold nights lend themselves to being curled up in a blanket with a book that takes them somewhere else. Generally somewhere that doesn’t involve trying to stay upright on the ice or shovel snow. I’m always searching for a book for a new reading program, so I read a variety of genres and levels. Here are some of our favorites as of late, from books for the young ones to books for the parents and grandparents.
“Otis and the Kittens” by Loren Long. “Tractor Mac and the Family Reunion” by Billy Steers. These two series of books both star a red tractor as their main character. Tractor Mac is definitely a Farmall tractor, while Otis doesn’t specify. These are the red tractor lovers alternative to Johnny Tractor (John Deere’s book series); they are wonderfully written and illustrated. The inside cover of all Tractor Mac books shows a detailed drawing of all the parts of the beloved tractor and one of his friends – the airplane, the steam engine, any number of other ones. Otis’ adventures usually involve saving one of his animal friends; a calf that loved his putt-puff-puttedy-chuff noise or a stuck kitten. Sure winners for a farm kid for Christmas.
“Escape from Baxters’ Barn” by Rebecca Bond. This book is an amazing read-aloud for children as young as 3 or 4, and could be read aloud or by themselves for an older child. It would be a perfect book for families that loved “Charlotte’s Web,” or books with farm animals in them. It begins when the one-eyed cat aptly named Burdock (seriously, how can you not want to read about a cat named Burdock?) is warming up under the stove in the house and overhears the two Baxter brothers fighting. The end result is hearing that Dewey plans to burn down the barn. Burdock takes it upon himself to warn the other animals, and they must hatch a plan. Tug and Pull, the work horses, Fluff, the sheep, Mrs. Brown, the milk cow, Figgy, the pig, and others devise an admirable plan to save themselves. The illustrations are beautiful, the wording describes the animals’ personalities in depth; the boys in my house all loved this book.  I can’t wait to read it again to Cora.
“An Elephant in the Garden” by Michael Morpurgo. I tend to read a lot of different WWII books, and this one caught my eye. It’s a young adult read, but I also read quite a few of those to be able to recommend them to teachers and other children. It is based on two actual true accounts, and a worthwhile read to share with a child (fourth grade and up) or just read by yourself. In 1945, in Dresden, Germany, Lizzie and Karli’s mother worked at the zoo. The director of the zoo gave the orders that all large animals were to be shot if they were in danger of getting bombed. This was an effort to keep the animals from harming people on the streets (one of the true parts).  Marlene, the baby elephant that their mother had raised since birth was in danger. Their mother convinces the director to let her take Marlene home to live in their garden, and she becomes part of their family. When the bombs do start coming, their adventures traveling to safer ground become more interesting with their elephant family member. The sweetest part of this book is that it’s told as a story to a little boy named Karl and his mother at the nursing home where Lizzie now lives. A very different kind of war story, and a very beautiful one; just try and not get attached to the elephant.
“Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan. Another young adult novel, Ira’s teacher had read it aloud in class and Ira really enjoyed it, so I wanted to know what it was all about so we could start reading the entire series at home. It’s action packed, loaded with Greek Mythology references, and written well enough that it leaves you wanting to know what will happen next. The series itself has spawned a few movies, but like most adaptations of books, the book has more details and things were changed in the movies. Percy is labeled as a troublemaker by his schools, and finally his mother takes him to Camp Half-Blood, where he discovers that his dad is none other than Poseidon, the God of the Sea. His adventures are just beginning – being accused of stealing the very important Lightning Bolt, he and his friends must embark upon a quest to return it.
“Call of the Wild (Can You Survive?)” by Jack London, adapted by Ryan Jacobson. Most of us remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books from our youth – this is whole new kind. In this version of “Call of the Wild,” you become Buck, the dog, and must make decisions throughout to survive. Dad got this for the boys for Christmas, they loved it; but turns out that thinking like a human when you are a dog is dangerous. A great read for boys.
“A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman. Every one of us has a person like Ove in our lives. A curmudgeon that never appears to smile or enjoy life, Ove has a very sad past and you can’t help but want to love him. He appreciates order in his life and has very little tolerance for ignorant humans, much less an aggravating cat. Published first in Sweden, it has moved here, and well worth the read. It will have you laughing hysterically one chapter, and the next will move you to tears. I promise you will relate Ove to a person in your own life and enjoy this book.
“Lilac Girls” by Martha Hall Kelly. For those of you who’ve read “The Nightingale,” this book is a great addition to your WWII reading repertoire. Based on the lives of three women (two of which were actually real), it takes you from the French consulate in New York, to Poland as a young girl being drawn into the resistance, to Germany to see the world through the eyes of a young female doctor. Eventually their paths cross, and what happens will have you shaking your heads in utter disbelief as you remember that those things did indeed happen during the war. It will keep you awake and will definitely find a place on your shelf next to “The Nightingale.”    
Stay warm and keep on reading.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (toddler), 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.