Tumford the Terrible

By Nancy Tillman

If I had a nickel for every time I told my kids, “Tell your brother (or sister) you’re sorry!”, I’d be a wealthy woman! But on those occasions, the apology often came out as a whiny “So-o-o-rry”. Heartfelt it wasn’t. And if I were totally honest, I’d have to admit that I’ve also had a hard time saying those words, even knowing how much they needed to be said. Which brings me to Tumford. He isn’t really a terrible cat.

“But oh dear, and oh my, there was one small pity.  Tumford, it seems, was a most stubborn kitty.  In spite of the manners he often forgot, he would not say, “I’m sorry.”
Oh no, he would not.”

With each spill, crash and mishap, Tumford manages to hide, thus avoiding an apology. But when his enthusiasm causes a crash with the Village Fair Queen, Tumford gets a new thought that warms up his tummy and toes. His courage is sweetly rewarded.  Tillman has exquisitely captured “Tummy’s” feelings in her illustrations throughout this book. You’ll almost forget you’re looking at a cat as Tumford peers wide-eyed from his hiding places.

There is indeed a wondrous effect that takes place when “I’m sorry” is spoken from the heart – love and trust deepen to a new level of understanding.  Just like Tumford, spills, crashes and mishaps will continue to happen, but…to each of you, our precious children, you are loved…and that’s what matters.

Mary Kline
1.  Retell or read a child’s version of The Prodigal Son. What lesson did the son learn?
What lesson did Tumford learn?
2.  Why did the father forgive his prodigal son? Why do you think God forgives us?
3.  How did the son ask for forgiveness? Why is it important to ask for forgiveness?
4.  When someone asks us to forgive them, what should our response be?
5.  If someone says, “I’m sorry” but doesn’t change their behavior…were they really sorry?

Hans Brinker

Retold by:  Bruce Coville
Illustrated by:  Laurel Long


I was delighted to find this charming classic reintroduced in a glorious picture book version for young readers.  Coville has masterfully adapted and interwoven three tales involving young Hans and his sister, Gretel, in this story of a family sticking together through hardship, and wondering if wishes will come true.

The first tale revolves around Hans and Gretel desiring to compete in an important ice-skating race on a Holland canal.  They, however, are too poor to afford anything but wooden skates, knowing they won’t be fast enough to win. How they wish they could win the prize of the new silver skates!


Then there is the mystery of the loss of the family’s savings, which occurred at the same time Han’s father had a serious accident at work years earlier.  Hans finds a capable Doctor, but will he be willing to help the family?  They’ve wished for years for the renewed health of their father.

The Dutch doctor who Hans brings to help his ailing father has a burden of his own.  It seems that his hard and rough exterior is due to a heart that is full of loneliness.  What secret wish does the Doctor keep?

Acts of generosity are woven throughout these  intertwining tales, including the efforts of Hans and Gretel’s friends to help them upgrade from their wooden skates to faster, newer skates.  Will all of these wishes come true?  Are the wishes somehow related to each other?


This is the best kind of fairy tale, when we realize that being selfless often sets a miraculous series of events in motion.  And wishes have a way of coming true – just in the nick of time!

The  illustrations are breathtaking and luminous.  They also provide visual features of Dutch architecture, culture, and society.

HANS BRINKERMary Byrne Kline

1.  What was the reason for Annie asking Hans to carve her a wooden chain?

2.  How did the case holding the silver skates lead to solving Dr. Boekman’s wish?

3.  What facts in the story prove that Hans was selfless, and put others ahead of himself?





Testing the Ice

Author:  Sharon Robinson
Illustrator:  Kadir Nelson

6a00d834518cc969e2012875bf8537970c-800wiJackie Robinson is known for breaking the color barrier in  Major League Baseball.   His daughter, Sharon, honors her father’s memory as she weaves a tender metaphor of his life.  She shares the dramatic story of the family’s first winter in Connecticut.  The lake the kids swam in during the summer was now freezing over and Sharon, her brothers, and the neighbor children were all excited about ice skating, but someone must test the ice depth for safety.

As we lined up along the lake’s edge, Dad eased onto the snow-covered ice. 

The ice crackled beneath his feet.  Before he placed one big foot in front of the other, he tapped the ice with his broomstick, testing it for weaknesses or cracks. Tap, tap, tap.

Only when Jackie is sure that he has tested for any danger, does he turn and announce to the children that it is safe for them to proceed.

On other occasions, the children question Jackie about his historic entry into Major League Baseball, about his trophies, numerous plaques, and awards.  Wide-eyed, they listen to the stories of the difficult early years for a black player breaking into the sport.   No one knew what would happen,  just as when he ventured out onto the ice. But he felt his way along an untried and unknown path – like a blind man tapping for clues.  Jackie Robinson – one of America’s finest heroes.

Mary Byrne Kline

1.  How is the title “Testing the Ice” a metaphor?
2.  Why didn’t Jackie ever go into the water?
3.  What Major League team did Jackie Robinson play for?





Clap Your Paws

Author:  Kim Norman
Illustrator:  Liza Woodruff


Winter doldrums got you down?   Having dreary days of being stuck indoors?  Feeling snarly when you think of snow?

WELL – warm up your vocal cords and prepare yourself for a rollicking, hilarious good time!  By the end of the first page, you just might feel like “tumbling on the tundra” with the polar bears, seals, and moose!

If it’s snowy and you know it, clap your paws.
You can tumble on the tundra,  just because.
If it’s snowy and you know it,
roll a snowball up and throw it.
If it’s snowy and you know it…
… clap your paws!

You’ll also learn how to taste a flake, grab your skis, sculpt a friend, build a fort, give a roar, blow a kiss, share a meal, and soak your toes.   But after a long day filled with these amazing and exciting adventures,  our animal friends grow weary from their icy sports.   Hm-m-m,  I wonder what they will think of next.   I think it’s something we all like to do.

If it’s wintry and youre weary, read a book that’s warm and cheery. 

YES! I am sure doing some clapping over this book! No more winter doldrums around here!

Mary Byrne Kline

Pair with Ten on a Sled (2010) [Chasing Fireflies REVIEW], also by this talented author-illustrator team.”