Book review: Can pirates be farmers?

“When you plant love, it grows.”

-Pirates on the Farm


I bought this quirky little title, Pirates on the Farm, on a whim at a children’s consignment shop and gave it to Mon Cœur for Christmas. It was pretty unassuming and I wasn’t really sure what the story would be about, other than the obvious.

The story is interesting, providing many opportunities for discussion, and the illustrations are delightfully playful.

The story unfolds as a little girl explains how the pirates came to be their neighbors, and as they do certain very piratey things (like looting), how different people in the community react.

Her younger brother is an admirer – he loves everything pirate. He has found an eye patch and starts calling his sister “Matey.”

Her mother is beside herself with shock, and does everything she can to try to remove them from the neighborhood. She meets with the Sheriff, then bands together with the women of the church to try to kick them out of the community.

But the dad, he’s a gracious guest of the pirates, a helping hand, and a friend to his new neighbors. As the pirates navigate their new life on land, the dad helps to make repairs to their barn/ship, he sits with them at church, even though they don’t sing the correct words, and they steal from the offering plate, and he sits down to dinner and eats (by any non-pirate standards) an unappealing meal and asks for seconds.


This book allowed us to see some of the many tasks a farmer has – planting, watering, harvesting, milking, shearing, and even branding. These tasks are hilariously illustrated with the pirates’ faux pas – prancing through the cornfield, swinging their swords to harvest corn? Dumping whole bags of seeds in one very large, and very deep hole?

It allowed us to see how various people can react differently to the same situation: with enthusiasm, with shock and dismay, with just the facts, and with encouragement and without judgement. What a spectrum of reactions!

This reminds me of the quote that we have no control over other peoples actions, all we can do is control our own. And how one reacts to a situation can be just as powerful to determining the outcome of an event. We always have the power to change things for better or worse. I’ve learned this the hard way, and still stumble more often than I wish, when patience is waning and emotions are high.

We all have our own prejudgements of what pirates are supposed to be and do, and so some of the things they do in the book are no surprise – stealing, eating hardtack, and sword fighting.

And then there are moments that show them in a completely unexpected and even endearing light – singing in church, bringing gifts to a dinner party, and “saving” baby Jesus from the manger, because they didn’t “understand why anyone would put a baby in a trough.”

This is a new favorite of MC’s and we read it pretty much every evening before bed. The illustrations are funny, and it’s a quick, lighthearted read that you can dive deep into and discuss as much as you want.

Questions that kept the conversation going well after turning the last page:

What does it mean to be a neighbor?

Are we planting love? (On specific occasions when we need to step back, look at what we did, and retry)

How could we react differently to — ?

Can we look for and appreciate unexpected actions from others?

Pirates on the Farm written by Dennette Fretz and illustrated by Gene Barretta


Falling for all things Fall: Apples, Leaves, and Pumpkins!

I really feel this year (especially) that fall is a new beginning for us.  I am super grateful for the cooler weather and the extra time spent outdoors.   

Last week we went apple picking at our local orchard, Carter’s Mountain.  While it was a different experience with “the Virus” this year: “Mommy, where’s the tractor for the [hay] ride?”  “Sorry Love, because of the Virus, they won’t be doing hay rides.” – it was still a fun and enriching experience for the whole family.

We picked three different types of apple: Jonagold, Granny Smith, and Golden Delicious.  The Jonagold we learned should be more red than green and are good as is (so don’t bake with them!). The other two are great for cooking and our family loves a good crisp.  In fact, I believe a good crisp is a suitable meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and snack time in between.  But…that’s just me.

Apple books we read and enjoyed:

Curious George: Apple Harvest

Mon Cœur (MC) loves Curious George, so naturally, we read Curious George: Apple Harvest adapted by Lynne Polvino.  We’ve read other Curious George books and I really enjoy the playful, childlike aspect George brings to a theme and how he discovers different ways that the world works.  

In this particular book, he helps to harvest and sort the apples, and also discovers how a cider machine works.  I appreciate how there’s more than just a main picture to explain information.  For example, with the cider machine, there are three different mini-pictures that sequentially explain the process of making cider. It makes for vocabulary building with sequence words as well as conversation and curious questioning throughout the book.

Applesauce Season

Applesauce Season written by Eden Ross Lipson and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein is a wonderful book exploring different apple varieties and recounting the story of three generations of a family who come together each year to make applesauce.  It is beautifully illustrated, and reads like an interactive, family souvenir recipe narrated by the grandson.  

At the end is a sweet surprise of a recipe for the applesauce made in the book.  I love how this book shows where applesauce comes from (not just a can in the store), and the different variations of taste that applesauce can have (depending on the varieties in season and used).  

After reading this book, it’s easy to see what “eating in season” is all about, and I love how the book begins:

“My grandmother says there’s no reason to start eating apples when peaches are perfect.  So we don’t eat the ones ready in August.”

Applesauce Season

The family lives in the city, so although the book doesn’t include a trip to the apple orchard, MC saw illustrations of a farmer’s market, and added that concept to her concept bank.

Seed by Seed 

What apple themed reading selection would be complete without a book about Johnny Appleseed?  Seed by Seed, written by Esmé Raji Codell and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins takes the reader back in time, away from the hustle bustle of the city to simpler, slower times.  

Although much of what we may have heard about Johnny Appleseed is legend, Codell focuses on five lessons we could learn from him:

  1. Use what you have.
  2. Share what you have.
  3. Respect nature.
  4. Try to make peace where there is war.
  5. You can reach your destination by taking small steps.

This was a fabulous non-fiction read to introduce MC to Appleseed and how he led by example. I love that these five lessons are simply taught for little readers and serve as a reminder for adults, too.

Apple Activities:

As we read these books, we completed various activities involving apples, including:

  • A visit to an apple orchard.  We try to visit the orchard each year, and especially this year, we wanted to get out and enjoy the fresh air and get some apples.  I was impressed that MC remembered the orchard – when we arrived she asked, “Is this the orchard we visit last year with O?” and “Where is the tractor? I want to ride!”

It was a great experience to get out as a family, pick apples, and see how they grow.  

  •  Apple washing:  Yes.  This sounds silly, but those apples needed to get washed before they were eaten or cooked.  I could have done it by myself, but that would have taken less time, made less mess, and been less fun and educational! So I cleaned the sink and MC pulled up a chair to stand on. For the next fifteen minutes, she enjoyed splashing around and using a rag to wash the apples.
  • Apple sorting:  We bought three different kinds (all fairly easy to distinguish – red, green and golden varieties), so I decided MC could complete a breakfast invitation where she sorted the apples by kind and counted.  I counted to see what was the largest quantity of apple we had, then I created a graph that went as high as that quantity.  In the morning, MC took each apple out of the bag and began sorting it into the graph.  Afterwards we counted each kind to practice one to one counting.
  • Apple cake and apple crisp:  MC loves to bake, so naturally we had to make some fall treats to eat. A friend shared her family’s apple cake recipe (delicious!) and an apple crisp is a Fall tradition in our house- one sweet treat that all of us enjoy!

RELATED:  Apple craft: Last year, we ended up with some apples that weren’t quite ready….what to do? We cut them up and did some apple stamping.

RELATED: What’s a breakfast invitation?  Read this related post about our new morning activities we do that are either created or inspired by Days with Grey.

Fall books we read and enjoyed:

Hocus Pocus, It’s Fall

Written by Anne Sibley O’Brien and illustrated by Susan Gal, this was a fun little book to get in the mood for Fall.  MC loved the “magic words” Alakazam, Abracadabra, Shazam, among others, as well as the fold out pages.  We loved reading and relating to all the fall fun festivities – back to school, milkweed seeds floating away, changing and falling leaves, apple picking, and pumpkin patches.  The rhyming and spellbinding words kept MC tapping her hand and smiling as I read. it was a great book to remind us of all the enchanting changes happening as one season ends and another makes its dramatic entrance.

My Leaf Book

This was the perfect book for providing general leaf and tree identification information.  Written and illustrated by Monica Wellington, it provides just enough information about trees to spark a kid’s curiosity and interest in identification. The simple shapes and illustrations together with a “think aloud” show readers how easy it is to identify trees.  Many of the various trees mentioned in the book- sweet gum, honey locust, oak, cherry, sassafras- are trees that we have at our house, so it gave us a springboard for scavenger hunting.

Scattered on each page is a quick, fun fact about each different tree, and at the back there are many different suggestions for leaf projects involving leaf rubbings and prints.

J is for Jack-O’-Lantern, A Halloween Alphabet written by Denise Brennan-Nelson and Illustrated by Donald Wu

This was a great book for us to continue talking about letters and the alphabet in general.  It touches on many different Halloween topics – jack-o’-lanterns, witches, pumpkin patches, skeletons, and scarecrows.  

Although what I read to MC was just a four-line poem for each letter, in the margin of each page, the book included background information or an idea for a craft or a recipe for each Halloween word. Bobbing for donuts, ideas for unusual costumes, deviled egg eyeballs, popular symbols for Halloween were just a few of the margin notes that I found interesting.


This summer we had good luck with our citrouille (pumpkin) harvest, a French heirloom variety Rouge Vif d’Etamps, also commonly referred to as Cinderella’s pumpkin.

We planted them a little later, around the Fourth of July, and that ended up being perfect timing for harvesting early October.  We have enjoyed watching the vines sprawl across the yard, claiming ten, 15, 20 feet of land.  We’ve watched the blooms open, the fruit begin growing, and then change to a vibrant red-orange color.

Mon Cœur (MC) loves the pumpkin patch, and anything pumpkin…except jack-o-lanterns…There is something about a face on a pumpkin that she does not like…No, it’s not natural, but it’s classic Halloween…So we chose a couple of pumpkins to save and carve, hoping that will take any mystery out of jack-o-lanterns and making them a little less intimidating. The others we processed into a purée and canned for bread, pie, and soup.

Pumpkin books we read and enjoyed:

How Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow? 

Pumpkins as boats? Giant pumpkin balloons?  Seriously?  Yes!  Author Wendell Minor wrote the book, How Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow? around the theme of giant pumpkins and monumental American sites.  We learned that in Vermont, people actually carve out giant pumpkins to make boats for Regattas and festivals.  In Wisconsin, they hold giant pumpkin contests each year, where pumpkins weigh in around one ton each!  In New Mexico they host a hot air balloon festival where there are many amusing and non-traditional balloons in shapes of animals or insects, in Fall shaped themes, and even a Jack-O-Lantern balloon.

This was a fun, silly book to introduce the idea of giant pumpkins and to show them superimposed with scenic views across the United States, such as Mount Rushmore, Kennedy Space Center, the US Capitol, a Paul Bunyan statue, and the Grand Canyon.

I like how in the very back of the book, each place is labeled with the location (State) and a little history.  I really didn’t believe people made boats out of pumpkins until I saw the back of the book.  It was fun to discover these places, events, and facts with MC.


From a gardener’s perspective, I really enjoyed Pumpkins, written by Ken Robbins.  Beautiful photography accompanies the story of a pumpkin’s lifecycle from seed to farm stand or pumpkin patch.

Even though we had our own pumpkin patch to observe, it was nice to have a book that illustrated and narrated the growing cycle of the pumpkin.  

And at the end of the book, there is a quick jack-o-lantern how to. The different carvings allowed us to talk about the faces we liked the most and the faces we liked the least and why.

Pumpkin activities:

As we read these books, we completed various activities involving pumpkins, including:

  • Pumpkin faces:  We have been bouncing back and forth between fall and all about me themed activities.  One morning for her breakfast invitation, I cut out simple orange circles and some eyes and a mouth.  Before I could even get out of bed, she already had the top off of the glue stick and was making faces. Love!

RELATED: What’s a breakfast invitation?  Read this related post about our new morning activities we do that are either created or inspired by Days with Grey.

  • Pumpkin-themed oobleck:  Susie at Busy Toddler frequently posts pictures of oobleck on her Instagram.  I really loved her Halloween-themed oobleck, although our stash of holiday themed knick knacks was lacking…we used what we had on hand: pumpkin seeds, ping pong balls, orange dice, and googly eyes.

Oobleck is a “non-Newtonian” substance, meaning it’s neither solid nor liquid, and yet exhibits properties of both.  It is made by mixing two parts cornstarch to one part water.  You can use food coloring to dye the water and make your oobleck any color you want.  We made ours orange!

It took some getting used to at first- MC didn’t like the texture or the mess. I sat there scratching my fingers through it, picking it up, letting it ooze and drip from between my fingers…I was astounded…It eventually grew on MC, and we were able to save and reuse the oobleck for a few days before having to trash it. She experimented moving it around with a scoop, a ladle, and a funnel. It was so fascinating to see how differently the oobleck reacted to a scoop (it was more solid, and crumbled) versus moving through a funnel (it acted more like a liquid, dribbling out of the funnel).

  • Pumpkin baking:

It was a family effort to process two pumpkins, and we were able to purée and can 12 fifteen-ounce jars of pumpkin. That’s a pretty impressive quantity for us, and we’ve been sharing with friends and trying new recipes. We’ve tried a pumpkin bread and muffin recipe so far, and have pie and soup on the list to try next. The pumpkin muffin recipe came from Smitten Kitchen, and made me completely forget about the pumpkin bread we made the week before. It was perfect for a tray of 6 large muffins, and made a great breakfast treat for us…I found them to be so amazing that I ended up eating two this morning! The cinnamon sugar is a perfect topping for the muffins and gives it a satisfying crunch. I love that these can be frozen – I am going to try to make some and stash them for later, when I won’t have time to make them.

What is your favorite fall read or activity?


Continuing with the theme of “All about me,” we’ve been reading and expressing the emotions we see and feel.  Mon Cœur (MC) and I experience a range of feelings and moods throughout the day together, and I have always tried to express myself:

  • “I am so happy to see you cleaned your room like I asked.”
  • “I am so sad you did not take your nap.”
  • “I am frustrated you are not listening.”
  • “I am so excited to see you reading a book by yourself!”

And MC is practicing explaining her feelings too, when she is upset. Mostly I hear, “You hurt my feelings!” and I have to ask for a reason why.  I made her do something, I said something in a stern voice, I delivered a consequence that was promised if she did not change her behavior. “If you don’t stop drinking the bath water, then I will drain the tub for the evening…Okay, I’m draining the tub.”

Way Past Mad

Right before I snapped this photo, MC declared, “Nate messed up my room,” and gave her best sad face.

A recent library find, Way Past Mad, written by Hallee Adelman and illustrated by Sandra de la Prada allowed us to explore emotions some more, as well as have some meaningful conversations about emotions and how to handle them.  

RELATED:  I mentioned one conversation we had which stemmed indirectly from the book in this previous post.

The story is about an older sister who is upset by all of the things that her little brother messes up.  She finds herself way past mad.  So mad, that she lets it out and it rubs off on her friend who tries to help her.  

I love how Hallee describes the emotions as being contagious in a way – the mad is like a rash that spreads and swells.  Later when she is able to process her feelings and talk it out with the friend, she turns her emotions to happy, which is like a smile that spreads and swells.

It talks about our mad making us say things we don’t mean, how emotions can be contagious, and how we can turn around our mindset and our moods.

Happy Hippo, Angry Duck

Another emotions book we read is a fun little book by Sandra Boynton, which touches on a whole spectrum of moods, Happy Hippo, Angry Duck.  It gave us an opportunity to talk about synonyms (angry and mad), look at facial expressions to determine feelings, and talk about how feelings can change over time and day to day.

Feelings Activities:

Facial expression photos:  As a fun activity afterwards, we took pictures of our facial expressions for different moods.  At first, it was hard for her to show anger, although after a few moods, she got into making faces!  We could have made faces in the mirror, and she would have enjoyed it just as much.

Big feelings discussions:  I always try to take opportunities as they come, so whenever MC is having a moment and stuck in a (negative) feeling, we talk about it.  Likewise, if I am not happy, I like to express my feelings in the simplest way possible for her, so she understands.

Bedtime daily wrap up:  At the end of the day, I always like to ask MC, “What was the best part of your day?”  We are still working on the time parameters of a day, so sometimes she will tell me it was visiting or playing with family or friends that we saw weeks ago…So then I will tell her what my favorite part of the day was…If I ever forget to ask her, she will say to me, “What was the best part of your day, Mommy?”  which always makes my heart melt because a. she remembered; and b. this is important to her, too.

I stole this idea from Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, where they would go around the dinner table and ask what was the best and worst part of your day.  Since we spend our days together, we try to sort out the worst parts and talk through them as they come, and then accentuate the positives of the day right before bed.

Pumpkin faces:  We have been bouncing back and forth between fall and all about me themed activities.  One morning for her breakfast invitation, I cut out simple orange circles and some eyes and a mouth.  Before I could even get out of bed, she already had the top off of the glue stick and was making faces. Love!

What’s your favorite book for exploring emotions?

RELATED: What’s a breakfast invitation?  Read this related post about our new morning activities we do that are either created or inspired by Days with Grey.

Read our other book reviews and activities for the theme “All About Me” below:


Continuing with our theme “all about me,” Mon Cœur (MC) and I have read quite a few books around the hand.  I had found a really cute craft where kids painted and “stamped” one hand and then their other hand was traced in sharpie and then filled in with pastel.  I loved the trio of hand themed books that we had picked out, because even though they all talked about hands, they were all so different! Below are snapshots of each book.

Hands and Hearts by Donna Jo Napoli 

With beautiful illustrations by Amy Bates, this book tells the story about a day at the beach with a mom and daughter.  Simple prose with a corresponding illustration of sign language is on each page. 

As we read the first time, I made the signs as I read the word.  The next time we read, I encouraged MC to try the signs with me.  The following time we read, I explained that some people can’t hear or speak (or both) and so instead of talking with their voices like we do, they use their hands.

Simple signs such as “hands,” “run,” “dance,” “sun,” and “sunset” are taught with illustrations.  It’s easy enough to try on the fly as you read the book, and even simpler to demonstrate to little listeners after a little practice, or after the third time reading!

Hands to Heart by Alex Bauermeister

This was another excellent book to read over and over again, and explore in many different ways.  It has amusing animal illustrations by Flora Waycott to accompany the text.  Turns out, this book is more yoga based, and the title comes from the yoga pose where you bring your hands to your heart. 

The words in the book are simple and explain various yoga poses that are good for relaxing and boosting one’s mood – the cow, cat and downward dog among others.  I love how it shows and tells you to do the poses, yet the author isn’t preoccupied with teaching the name of the pose.

We both take the time to explore the words, the pictures, and try the poses as we read along.  MC’s favorite?  The cobra snake!

Stretch your legs long behind you like a cobra snake!  Lift and lower your chest.  Cobra is sleeping – then awake.

from Hands to Heart

My Hand by Satoshi Kitamura

It’s a quick read, with funny pictures and a little cat.  Hands can push, pull, tickle, walk, wave, point…and sometimes…when it’s bored…Mon Cœur’s favorite…pick your nose!  We’ve been laughing through this dirty little habit for the past few months (just so I don’t yell!).   At first, my initial reaction was, “No!” and then I started asking, “Do you need a tissue?”  The answer was always, “No!” So now I just hand her a tissue when I see her reaching for her nose, and say, “Tissue!”

Do you have a favorite book on the subject of hands?

I am Small – a book for many conversations

We just read Qin Leng’s I am Small.  It’s the perfect picture book for us right now!

“My name is Mimi. I am very small. I might as well be called Mini.”

from I am Small

It’s a story about Mimi, the youngest (and smallest!) in a family of five.  She laments that she is the smallest one in the family, smaller than the family dog even.  

She can’t touch the floor when seated on the school bus, she can’t see all the desserts at the bakery, and the giant fish of the day looks ready to gobble her up.

A change in perspective

Her friends remind her though, that there are many benefits to her size: being the first in the lunch line and getting the biggest slice of cake, having all the best hiding spots for hide & go seek, and always being in the front row for class pictures.

It’s easy for us to list all the things that we can’t do, or that we don’t like about ourselves.  It’s always nice to have friends and family remind us of what we can do, and the advantages of those character or physical traits that we sometimes complain about.

A sweet twist at the end

The end of the book is the sweetest, and caught me by surprise.  I wasn’t very observant at the beginning…The father picks Mimi up from school one day and tells her there’s a surprise at home.  It turns out to be a newborn brother, someone smaller than Mimi.

She notices how small and brand-new he is, and then whispers encouraging words, perhaps for her, just as much as him.  “Just be patient.  One day you’ll be big, too!”

Mon Cœur (MC) and I enjoyed reading this book, not only for the surprise ending, but also to talk about what we loved the most about ourselves.  

MC shared she loves her sparkling blue eyes, her strong legs, and her pink fingernails!

How tall?

Afterwards, we took the opportunity to measure our heights on the wall – MC, Baby Boy, Chouchou and me.  MC’s height tree is in the hallway, and we pass by it several times a day, allowing for opportunities in conversation.  We talk about each person’s height, and we compare heights.We have enjoyed reading and rereading this book as there are so many different topics that we can touch on each time we read.

What book have you enjoyed recently with your toddler?