Author Study Archives - Eva Varga

December 2, 20131

Jan Brett is one of my favorite children’s authors.  I love not only her amazing illustrations and the intricate and intriguing borders she is so well known for, but I also love her stories.  She is an amazing story teller – both in print and in person.  We had the wonderful opportunity to hear her speak earlier this year while she was on a book tour to promote Mossy (you can read about our experience in my post, Meeting Jan Brett).

Jan Brett is a best-selling American author/illustrator of children’s books. Her books are known for colorful, detailed depictions of a wide variety of animals and human cultures ranging from Scandinavia to Asia. Today, I share with you a number of her books that share the spirit of Christmas in the north woods.

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jan brett author study

I have written a lot about Scandinavian Christmas traditions here at Academia Celestia.  It is during the Christmas season that the culture and traditions of our ancestors have been most obvious. In addition, we enjoy reading a variety of traditional Christmas stories.  This year, we will be incorporating an author study as well.  I’ve compiled here a number of literature connections and activities that you can also use to experience the spirit of Christmas in the North Woods with your children.

Christmas Trolls

  • Explore the prevalence of trolls in Norwegian literature; consider reading tales by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, and Jørgen Engebretsen Moe.
  • Draw your own trolls and make up your own stories describing their mischief.
  • Compare trolls and nisse – How are they the same?  How are they different?

The Night Before Christmas

  • Watch Jan Brett’s All About The Night Before Christmas movie
  • Create handmade ornaments to decorate your tree. Jan shares a few on her website.
  • Put on a short play to act out this delightful story for your family.

Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve?

  • Make a list of the traditional foods you eat on Christmas
  • Learn how to make one new traditional holiday recipe – consider Seven Sorts: Traditional Norwegian Christmas Cookies
  • Teach your children how to prepare a favorite family recipe
  • Write about the traditions in your home. Research the cultural significance of one (or more)

The Three Snow Bears

  • Visit a zoo to observe live polar bears
  • Consider doing a nature journal entry on bears
  • Learn How to Draw a Baby Polar Bear
  • Watch a documentary on polar bears
  • Research the arctic tundra biome. What is the average yearly precipitation here? Is this trend changing?

The Wild Christmas Reindeer

  • Research the arctic tundra biome. What other animals live here? What adaptations do they have to survive this cold climate?
  • Enjoy the story The Christmas Wish by Lori Evert – a delightful Nordic tale of a little girl who wants to help Santa’s elves.  From a red bird to a polar bear to a reindeer, a menagerie of winter animals help Anja make her way to Santa
  • Research the Sami culture of Scandinavia and Russia.  What are their customs and beliefs?

Gingerbread Baby

  • Bake and decorate your own gingerbread cookies or a gingerbread house, if you are ambitious
  • Visit (at least virtually) the world’s largest gingerbread city in Bergen, Norway – Pepperkakebyen

Home for Christmas

  • Write a letter to a someone serving in the military who is away from home during the holidays.
  • Learn How to Draw a Moose


This post is iHomeschool Network’s A Book & Big Idea: Winter & Christmas series.

June 28, 20102

I love quality children’s literature. Living books that captivate their readers and cast a spell over them. A Nest for Celeste is one such book – inviting young readers into a fascinating story of a young boy as he begins an apprenticeship.

A Nest for Celeste: A Story of About Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of Home is Henry Cole’s first book for older readers.  Beautiful drawings accompany the text in a style that is sure to engage young readers and encourage them that the 352 pages is not as daunting as it appears.

Celeste is a lonely little mouse in search of a home. She has lost her family and has found a new home inside a plantation house where she must watch out for the family cat and two nasty rats. Her life truly changes when she is caught by John James Audubon’s new apprentice Joseph. He, too, is lonely and looking for a friend, and he finds that in the mouse he names “Little One”.

Celeste has several adventures on the Louisiana plantation. Here she learns about friendship and what truly makes a home.  While this is a simple story, Celeste is an engaging character who has some human characteristics. At one point Cole refers to Celeste using her hands instead of her paws, but for the most part the reader believes that she is a mouse. The drawings are soft and do much to further the emotion of the story.

A Nest for Celeste charcoal art

Sensitive readers are forewarned that there is some violence in the book, but it is brief and not at all gratuitous.  After all, it is a story about a little mouse who is looking for a home.  You can imagine what happens when she meets up with cats and other predators.

While Celeste loves watching Joseph draw and being carried around in his pocked they are both horrified by the ways Audubon collects the birds that he is drawing.  This is one aspect of the book that I loved; how Joseph and Celeste address the notion of having to kill animals to be able to paint or draw them.

The story is compelling and the characters, both animal and human, are multi-dimensional and interesting.  Henry Cole is a talented illustrator whose charming charcoal drawings bring the story to life.

January 3, 20092

Earlier this week, the kiddos and I cuddled up in bed and read numerous books by one of my favorite authors, Jean Craighead George. Before we began, I reminded them of the chapter book I read aloud to them during the summer, My Side of the Mountain. I asked them to tell me a few things they could remember. I was pleased with how much they could recall. It was certainly a book that we all enjoyed.

I then showed them the stack of books that I had checked out from the library, “All of these books were written by the same author. Would you be interested in listening to me read these books right now?” They replied with an exhuberant, “Yeah!”

  • To Climb a Waterfall
  • Firestorm
  • Nutik, the Wolf Pup
  • Snow Bear
  • Morning, Noon and Night

Before we began each new title, I asked each of them, “What do you think this book is going to be about? Use the picture on the cover and the title to help you.” This really helped to set the tone and build anticipation for the book. We also read more about the author on her website. When we finished we took a vote and we all agreed that Fire Storm was our favorite. I believe this is partly due to the fact that the kids have had experience white water rafting AND we live in Central Oregon and have seen the damage of recent forest fires. The first year we moved here, in fact, the area we live in now was on alert for evacuation.

The author study has been a great way to diverge from our current studies. We will definitely continue to do this regularly. My plan is to alternate with author and illustrator studies. I’m very excited about the possibilities that this opens up. In fact, I have also created a Squidoo Lens in an effort to encourage other families to do the same.

September 25, 2008

Without any advance planning or intentions on my part, I came across several books by Jim Arnosky that were set up on display at our library. It was a light-bulb moment and I immediately thought to myself, wouldn’t it be fun to read numerous books by the same author? Jim Arnosky is perhaps my favorite children’s book author ~ so he is the perfect author with which to begin.
The kids enjoyed his writing style and were even more impressed that he did all the illustrations as well. The titles we read were: Crinkleroot’s Guide to Animal Habitats, Crinkleroot’s Guide to Knowing the Trees, Following the Coast, Drawing from Nature and Freshwater Fish & Fishing.

Sweetie, was particularly interested in Freshwater Fish & Fishing due to her recent fly fishing experiences. We were also inspired by a recent post by Serendipity to print our own Crinkleroot friend to join us on our nature outings.

For more information about Arnosky, visit his website Jim Arnosky’s Nature Journal. You’ll find coloring sheets, fact sheets, video links, drawing lessons and Crinkleroot!