Story time is the best time of the day. Whether we're snuggled up on the couch or cozy in our pjs before bed, reading stories with my little ones is one of my favorite things to do. Everyone has a favorite book they remember from their childhood, and every day, parents and kids are discovering new classics of their own. There are many fabulous children's books out there, some of which everyone knows about and others we would have never discovered had my son not simply pulled a random book off a library shelf. I created this blog to share some of these wonderful stories with you. Think of it as a year's worth of the best children's books around, since no day should be without a great story. In the end, I hope we'll all have discovered at least a few new titles that will have made their way onto our list of family favorites. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day 228: The Pigeon Needs a Bath

We LOVE Mo Willems in our house, and we were thrilled to get a copy of his latest book last week. (Thanks, Uncle Jeff!)  Since then, we've read the book I don't even know how many times, shared it with my son's kindergarten class and my daughter's preschool class, and laughed our way through countless fits of giggles.  I'm pretty sure my daughter has memorized it already, as well, since when we were reading it at bedtime last night, she insisted on saying all of the Pigeon's lines herself.  I told myself that I would stop featuring Mo Willems' books on this blog because I've already written about so many of them, but when a book is this fun and silly and wonderful, it simply must be shared!

If you aren't familiar with the Pigeon series, you need to get yourself to the library right now and take out one of these books immediately! Seriously. Go now. Read the rest of this post later. You're missing out!!  These books are absolutely hilarious and my children and I can't help but smile and laugh out loud at the Pigeon's antics each time we read them.  The Pigeon Needs a Bath is the most recent in the series, and might just be one of my favorites yet.

The cover itself lets you know just where this story is headed.  The Pigeon is filthy and needs a bath, but he insists he does not.  After all, he just took a bath last month! "'Clean.' 'Dirty.' They're just words, right?" He feels clean! As for those flies that are swarming around him? "Purely coincidental."  In true Pigeon form, he finally agrees -- reluctantly, of course -- to get into the bath, but not without one of Mo's classic multi-framed page spreads of Pigeon banter.  "The water is too hot… Too cold… Too deep!  Not deep enough… Too lukewarm… Too cold… Too hot again!… Not enough toys… Too many toys… Still too hot…"  And once he finally gets in (as I have experienced with my own children time and again), he naturally changes his mind and doesn't want to get out!  Right. On. In every way. So fun!

I suppose really needn't say anything else, other than that I hope you are able to get your hands on a copy of this fabulous book as soon as possible! Mo Willems, thank you for creating so many fantastic stories that we will remember fondly for years to come.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Day 227: Not Your Typical Dragon

My son is still in a huge dragon phase, so naturally, I set out to see if I could find any good stories about his favorite creatures.  I came across this one while searching on Amazon, and was happy to be able to request it through our inter-library loan service.  Now that we've read it (many times), I think it should have a place in every library, everywhere!  What a cute story!

Crispin Blaze comes from a long line of fire-breathing dragons.  When he turns 7, he'll breathe fire, too!  Crispin can't wait to make his family proud.  "The little dragon imagined all the forests he would burn down.  He dreamed of all the castles he would destroy.  He also considered boiling water to make tea, but he didn't tell his father that."  When his birthday arrives, he takes a deep breath and prepares to light his candles, but all that comes out is whipped cream!  His father is shocked.  His mother worries what the neighbors will think (though his sister is excited to have whipped cream on the cake.)  Crispin's father rushes him to the doctor, but when he attempts to breathe fire again, Band-aids come out, instead!  He takes medicine, hoping it will help turn him into a real dragon, but when he attends his first fire-breathing practice at school, he breathes marshmallows, not fire!  Poor Crispin just doesn't fit in.  Worried that he'll disappoint his family and convinced he's not a real dragon, he decides to run away.   In a sweet and silly turn of events, Crispin and his family learn that his gifts are something to be celebrated, not ashamed of, and that the things that make us unique are the most special of all.

Not Your Typical Dragon is silly, sweet, and fun to read, with a simply fabulous message.  Be proud of who you are, embrace what makes you different, and appreciate the unique gifts that people have to share with the world.  After all, the world would be a pretty boring place if we were all the same!  My kids just can't get enough of this wonderful story, and I'm sure yours will love it, too.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Day 226: The Monsters' Monster

We picked up this gem the last time we were at the library in yet another attempt to beat the lousy weather blues.  (Thank you, local libraries, for being such a great source of sanity throughout this never-ending winter!)  I was actually looking for a different Patrick McDonnell book, but saw this one and remembered how I had wanted to get my hands on a copy of it last fall.  Given the monster theme of this story, I had been looking to add it to our list of Halloween reading, but had since forgotten about it. We absolutely love Me… Jane, McDonnell's wonderful tale about the young Jane Goodall, and the Monsters' Monster, while a very different kind of story, was also a instant hit with my children.

Three silly monsters named Grouch, Grump, and Gloom 'n' Doom love being their rowdy, destructive, monster selves, but whenever they try to agree upon who is the most monster-y monster, they end up in a brawl.  To settle the argument once and for all, they decide to build the biggest, baddest monster ever -- a MONSTER monster!  They create their monster Frankenstein-style, only to be completely shocked at the result.  Their monster isn't scary or bad or monster-like at all; in fact, he's quite the opposite!  After letting out a resounding "DANK YOU!", his first actions are to hug his creators, open the windows, breathe in the fresh, dewy morning air, and savor the sweet, warm sunlight.  At first Grouch, Grump, and Gloom n' Doom are beside themselves -- how could this happen?? -- but eventually, they begin to appreciate their monster for who he is and try to be more like him:  grateful, kind beings who are simply happy to be alive.

As often happens, my kids and I enjoy this book for different reasons.  They find the little monsters' antics to be quite hilarious and giggle every time the big monster says, "Dank you!" For them, the story is an all-around fun, silly read that never fails to make them laugh.  I find the story really fun to read, too, but more than that, I love its simple messages.  Its important to be true to yourself, and equally important to be accepting of other people, particularly those who are different than you.  Similarly, we should all be able to slow down, appreciate what we have, and savor life's simple pleasures (such as enjoying a warm, powdered jelly donut while watching the sunrise.)

The Monsters' Monster would be a great Halloween read and is not at all scary, but it's a fun, sweet story for any time of year.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Day 225: Whoever You Are

The last time we went to the library, I thought it would be fun to find a book that would tie in nicely to the Olympics.  I didn't have anything particular in mind and I certainly wasn't expecting to find an Olympic type book when I went to see what Mem Fox books were on the shelf, but as soon as I saw this story, I knew this would be just the thing.  The Olympics are inspiring in so many ways, but the thing I love most about them is the way they unite people from all over the world.  It's awesome, isn't it?  As a geography teacher, I was always hoping to instill in my students an appreciation and respect for other cultures and people. As a parent, I do the same, hoping that my children will always know that we have far more in common as humankind than we might always be able to see.  Although we might seem very different from other people around the world, deep down, we are the same. 

In this sweet, simple story, beloved Australian author Mem Fox celebrates the diversity of our beautiful planet, reminding young readers that every day, all over the world, children are smiling, playing, laughing, crying, and learning, just like them.  "Their schools may be different from yours, and their lands may be different from yours.  Their lives may be different than yours, and their words may be very different from yours.  But inside, their hearts are just like yours, whoever they are, wherever they are, all over the world." Leslie Staub's colorful illustrations and Fox's gentle, repetitive verse make this story perfect for even the youngest readers, though its message is an important one for readers of all ages.  No matter how different we might seem on the outside, the things that unite us will always be far greater than those that divide us.  

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Curious George birthday party!

One of my dearest friends just threw a Curious George themed party for her son's 3rd birthday.  Actually, it was a Curious George the Fireman birthday party, since the birthday boy couldn't quite decide on one theme or the other.  (Fortunately, the two were easy to combine!)  As we were driving home from the party today, I started thinking about how some picture book characters like Curious George are just so lovable and have such staying power among children throughout the years.  Granted, Curious George now has a show on PBS and I'm sure that has a lot to do with his current popularity among the preschool demographic, but his books are awfully popular, too.  After all, his mischievous ways have been entertaining kids since Margret and H.A. Rey published the first book back in 1941.  Still, I just love a character-themed birthday party!

Cake I made for the birthday boy :)

I was also inspired to write a quick post about this after seeing our fabulous party favors:  paperback copies of Curious George and the Firefighters and Curious George and the Birthday Surprise!  How cool is that?  My kids also came home with plastic fire chief's hats and chocolate fire trucks, but I just love the idea of giving each child a book as a party favor.  Fantastic!
Books for party favors!  Brilliant!

Have you ever been to a book or character themed party?  If so, I'd love to hear about it!

Thanks for a super fun day, Wong family!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Day 224: Pictures From Our Vacation

It's February:  that ironic month in New England that seems oh-so-long, despite being the year's shortest.  Naturally, given the weeks of sub-freezing temperatures and sicknesses that always grace our household at this time of year, I'm dreaming of summer.  Sweet, sweet summer, with days spent playing on the beach and swimming in the lake and hiking in the mountains of New Hampshire.  Ahhh….. Alas, warm weather is still a few months away, so I'll have to settle for looking at pictures of sunny places, dreaming about vacation, and drinking coconut coffee.

When we went to the library last week and my children happily picked random books from the shelves, I turned to my trusty list of books to find, hoping to bring home a few new titles I've been wanting to read for a while.  Pictures From Our Vacation was one such title on that list, having been recommended by my fabulous friend Melinda, children's librarian extraordinaire, who hailed it as one of her kids' favorite books last summer.  I was thrilled to find that our library had it available and added it to our pile, eager to bring it home.  Thanks, as always, Melinda, for the fabulous recommendation!

I absolutely love this story! I've never read anything by Lynne Rae Perkins before, but there are many Cynthia-Ryland-esque qualities about this book that I just love.  It's a wonderfully sweet story about a family's vacation to visit relatives and the memories they make along the way.  At the start of the trip, the mother gives each of the children a Polaroid camera and a scrapbook in which to place their pictures so that they can have a nice souvenirs from their vacation.  The kids snap pictures along the way -- of hillsides, the sky, the back of their dad's head as he drives -- but as they are returning home, they realize that the photographs hardly remind them of their vacation at all.  Rather, it's the time spent with family, the laughter, the stories, the cool feel of the water in the lake -- all of the things that they couldn't capture on film -- that were the most memorable. The snapshots, images, and maps with which Perkins illustrates the book are perfect, and I couldn't love the message of this story any more.  This will definitely be a book that we add to our summer vacation collection.

I'll end this post with my favorite excerpt from the book. While I will always take pictures to capture the moments that we spend together as a family, I hope that my children will believe, as I do, that it is the time we spend doing those things together that is the most wonderful of all.

"I looked out the window.  There were big electrical towers alongside the highway.  I took a picture of them.  In my mind they looked like giant robots marching across the earth, carrying the electricity along in their hands.  It's probably hard to take a picture that shows that, even with a really good camera. And it's hard to take a picture of a story someone tells, or what it feels like when you're rolling down a hill or falling asleep in a house full of cousins and uncles and aunts.  There are a lot of things like that.  But those kinds of pictures I can keep in my mind."

Monday, January 27, 2014

2014 Caldecott Awards

The American Library Association (ALA) announced its winners today of the 2014 Randolph Caldecott Medal for "the most distinguished American picture book for children."  Congratulations to all of this year's winners!  Now to get my hands on these books...

Winner:  Locomotive, illustrated and written by Brian Floca

Honor Books:

Journey, illustrated and written by Aaron Becker

Flora and the Flamingo, illustrated and written by Molly Idle

Mr. Wuffles, illustrated and written by David Weisner

For a complete list of other award winners, including the Newbery, Coretta Scott King, Printz, and Theodore Seuss Geisel Awards, visit the ALA's website here.