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“Back to school!” These words can evoke a variety of emotions in the hearts of children everywhere. For some, this time can be full of anxiety and concerns over making friends, fitting in, and finding their way around a new school or classroom. Even self-directed learners and homeschool families can feel the jitters associated with a new year of learning. Stories are a great way to prepare for what’s to come and to soothe worries about the new school year. Children will feel more confident when they see characters in books thriving in new learning environments. Here are 25 titles selected by Western MA mom, Lisa Woods, just in time for the new school year.

Late summer means thunderstorms and, sometimes, hurricanes, too. Our collection of storm-themed books can be used to learn courage in the face of bad weather and to find resilience in times of change that we cannot control.

Summer is here, and kids are looking forward to playing outside and enjoying the warm weather while swimming, riding their bikes and exploring. It’s also an excellent time for reading. Even though school is out, kids can still keep learning by reading over the summer. Public libraries make that more fun with their summer reading programs. Anyone can go online or head down to their local library to check out what’s going on for children this summer.

There are so many great books about camp that it’s hard to choose just a few, so here are twenty books that are great for kids who are about to go to summer camp or to bring along to read before bed or on a rainy day. Even if your kids aren’t going to camp, these book featured by Western MA mom, Lisa Woods, are all fantastic summer stories!

18 Story Books on Weather for Kids There’s a riotous energy this time of year: the mad leafing out of plants and trees, crazy bird song at dawn, unruly swarms of biting insects, the palpable freedom of school letting out for summer, and wild weather that can change from snow squalls to thunderstorms within hours. Those first spring storms are greeted with a mixture of excitement and nervousness in our home. Thunder… Read More

Thanksgiving is a national holiday that ties us back nearly 400 years to a time when the Wampanoag Indians were vital in helping the Pilgrims survive their new world. This year along with your harvest feast, go ahead and have a slice of history too! Here are four non-fiction books that give interesting perspectives about our national holiday, dispelling some of the more romantic myths and introducing some fascinating facts…

A Bushel of Books about Apples ‘Tis the season when orchards bear autumn fruit, and cider is poured into eager cups, and the smell of pie beckons from the oven. ‘Tis the season for apples. Hand-picked from dozens of titles, here’s a bushel of picture books that celebrate the apple. There are a few new books, books about the life cycle of apples, apple–picking, and America’s mythic hero, Johnny Appleseed, plus some… Read More

Ringing in the Chinese New Year! By exploring Chinese art, food, music, and traditions, families can gain background knowledge to support participation in regional celebrations of the lunar holiday. Read more in our post, Chinese New Year Brings Opportunities for Cultural Studies.

It’s almost officially summer! The perfect time to get away with a great book. Whether relaxing at the beach or the park, chilling in a tent or a hammock, traveling by car or plane, or even standing in line at the amusement park, here are a dozen quick picks for middle graders, all with the common thread of taking place during summer. These books are so good, some of you grown-ups may enjoy reading them as well

One of our readers is looking for a book recommendation written from the perspective of a child with Asperger’s syndrome or autism for their preteen reader. Here are eight recommended title made by Hilltown Families readers. Add a title to the list!

The winter months are a great opportunity for kids to cozy up on the couch and read on a wintery day. This month in “Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings & Reviews,” Cheli provides a fantastic roadmap to some enriching and diverse reading experiences, with a rich list of book recommendations. Read on to see what your kids might enjoy reading this winter…

Eight picture books capture the adventures of some canny turkeys plotting to avoid the center of the Thanksgiving table! This diverse collection brings your children into the zany world of crazy turkey-led plots and adventures. A nice twist for Thankgiving!

Some books flourish, aided by a strong main character- and they don’t come stronger than the eccentric and smooth Skink in Carl Hiaasen’s new teen novel “Skink – No Surrender.” It’s an all-action, swampy and engrossing read…but yet written with a smooth hand, like the main character himself. Is it for you? Read on and see…

“Just look to the trees, the lure of leaves, where autumn’s paintbox hangs on every deciduous limb.” It sounds beautiful and that is fall in Western Mass. Such visual exquisiteness is universally loved. It makes sense that the season should stimulate some excellent picture books. It also stimulates a great community pride in seeing fall so lavishly captured, while being surrounded by the wonderful Western Mass landscape. Read on for some great selection of picture books from Hilltown Families contributing writer, Cheli Mennella…you’ll find something for everyone!

The first day of school is a huge leap for many young children. The world of school is different than the world of home. Excitement, anxiety, curiosity, fear, and uncertainty are feelings shared by all petite pioneers as they head into the big, new territory of school. Sometimes a good story is all that’s needed to calm a fear, tickle a nerve, boost confidence, and generate joy.

Here are five new picture books for young adventurers getting ready to explore school for the first time. You’ll find an astronaut, a cat, a panda, monsters, and even a Norse goddess, venturing into the unknown, finding fun, friends, and their own brand of special.

Summer is a great time for leisurely reading for mom and dad on the beach or in the hammock, but don’t forget about the kids! Picture books communicate so many themes across multiple layers and can be time well spent together between parents and children on the living room couch or in a tent on warm summer evening. When picture books good, they can be extremely stimulating and instructive, where complex themes are broken down into accessible story-lines.

Read our monthly column, “Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings & Reviews,” for eight mini reviews of some great picture books for your children to enjoy and to learn from!

Summer reading starts here for young adults. There is nothing as enriching as a well crafted graphic novel with its well paced storyboarding, illustrations and storytelling. They are a fantastic source of learning inspiration for young adults as it exposes them to a wide range of narrative structures and form. Read Cheli’s review of the graphic novel, “This One Summer,” in her monthly column, “Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings & Reviews.”

A beautiful and sensitive novel, emotionally wrought and rendered in stunning graphics, “This One Summer” is a top pick for young adult readers!

In a nod to National Poetry Month and to kids that love things that go go go, Cheli features a new book filled with humorous rhymes and fantastically bizarre cars. Read her post, Crazy Car Poems, in this month’s “Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings & Reviews.”

This month in “Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review,” Cheli shares seven new children’s picture books that feature birds… a perfect theme of titles to usher in spring!

This month in “Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings & Reviews,” Cheli shares five new kids’ books that bring history alive in honor of Black History Month. Courageous individuals, unsung heroes, and influential (but little-known) events, reach through pages of text, photos, art, and poetry, and connect young readers to the struggles and achievements of the civil rights movement… she also shares a special pick just for grown-ups too!

As the Year of the Water Snake slithers away, the Lucky Chinese Year of the Wood Horse comes galloping in… In searching for books to coincide with the marking of the new year, Cheli discovered three picture books that portray ancient China through folktale and fantasy and feature magnificent, powerful horses. Check out her review this month in “Open Seasome: Kid Lit Musings & Reviews.”

Four new picture books capture a bit of that snowflake magic – the quiet, the impermanence, the beauty, the thrill. This month in “Open Sesame: Kit Lit Musings & Reviews,” Cheli shares her review…

This month in “Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings & Reviews,” Cheli shares a new title on gratitude and thanks that serves up universal principles from across cultural and religious traditions… a Vietnamese farmers’ prayer, an ancient haiku, a Shaker song, a Pueblo blessing, poems from Emily Dickinson, the words of Hildegard of Bingen… read Cheli’s review and discover a new book with which to share with the whole family, not just during the Thanksgiving, but any day of the year…

Coming down the tracks and headed straight into the hands of young enthusiasts, are three new picture books about trains. If you have little engineers in your life, the ones who sleep with trains under their pillows, who hear the whistle from miles away, who build tracks from one end of the house to the other, then check out these exciting books…

This month in “Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings & Reviews,” Hilltown Families Contributing Writer, Cheli Mennella, shares a pair of picture book she comes back to again and again when the weather starts to turn and the leaves begin to fall…

Cheli shares five books she currently has at her bedside – a wild assortment of fiction and nonfiction, with a handful of kids’ books thrown in the mix! All have captured her attention and praise, and this month she shares them with you…

This month in “Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings & Reviews,” Hilltown Families Contributing Writer, Cheli Mennella, reviews 5 new picture books featuring watery landscapes… refreshing titles for cooling down this summer!

A Dozen Quick Picks for Middle Grade Summer Reading It’s summer! The perfect time to get away with a great book. Whether relaxing at the beach or the park, chilling in a tent or a hammock, traveling by car or plane, or even standing in line at the amusement park, here are a dozen quick picks for middle graders, all with the common thread of taking place during summer. These books are… Read More

Blessed are the Peacemakers Now more than ever it seems imperative that we engage and embody and choose peace. From events that hit close to home like the Newtown tragedy and the Boston Marathon bombings, to our sisters and brothers all over the world who undergo daily violence, to the violent destruction of our very planet by over-consumption and abuse… it is essential to our future that we ignite change through peaceful… Read More

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