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, December 22, 2011

Day 131: The Polar Express

Chris Van Allsburg's classic, The Polar Express, is always at the top of my Christmas reading list.  I actually just read it with my son for the first time this year, but I remember reading it with my brothers each year when they were younger.  It is a beautiful story that captures the magic and wonder of Christmas; one that is bound to bring you back to your own childhood every time you read it.  I still remember lying in bed at my grandmother's house on Christmas Eve, knowing that I should fall asleep, but determined to hear Santa's sleigh land on the roof above me.  One year, I was convinced I heard the pitter patter of hooves up there.  I still feel that same sense of wonder each Christmas Eve, even though now I have little ones of my own who can't fall asleep in that same room of my grandmother's farm house.  Van Allsburg's classic tells the story of a young boy who is magically transported to the North Pole one Christmas Eve aboard the Polar Express.  If you're at all familiar with Van Allsburg's work, you know that his illustrations are gorgeous.  In the Polar Express, I love the contrast between the cold, dark images of the winter night and the warmth within the train.  But I also love the timelessness of the story itself.  Upon arriving at the North Pole, our young narrator is chosen by Santa to be the lucky recipient of the first gift of Christmas.  His request?  A silver bell from Santa's sleigh.  Once back on the train, the other children are eager to see the bell, but our poor narrator realizes he has lost it.  All that lies in his robe pocket is a hole.  Christmas morning, however, he opens a tiny box to find the bell, along with a note from "Mr. C" himself.  Overwhelmed with joy, he shakes the bell, which makes the most beautiful sound he and his sister have ever heard.  "Oh, that's too bad," said his mother.  "Yes," said his father, "it's broken."  When he'd shaken the bell, his parents had not heard a sound.   I'll admit that I'm overly sentimental, but the last page sometimes brings a tear to my eye:  "At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them.  Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound.  Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe."  If I were with the narrator, I know I would hear the bell.  I believe.  But I know that someday, my children will question whether Santa is real.  I hope they always believe in the magic and wonder of the season as I do, and that they, too, would hear the bell ringing.  This beautiful book makes a wonderful Christmas gift for children of all ages, and I know it is one we will read and enjoy in my family for years to come.  May your holiday be filled with all the wonder, magic, and love of the season.  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Day 130: Owl Moon

Owl Moon is one of our favorite wintertime reads.  Together, author Jane Yolen and illustrator John Schoenherr have created a beautiful masterpiece about a young girl's owling adventure with her father.  "It was late one winter night, long past my bedtime, when Pa and I went owling.  There was no wind.  The trees stood still as giant statues.  And the moon was so bright the sky seemed to shine."  Father and daughter head into the cold, wintry woods in search of a great horned owl.  Throughout the story, Yolen's descriptive verse enables us to feel the girl's growing anticipation and excitement at the prospect of finally seeing one, the way her brothers have before her.  I also love the way we can feel the cold of the night throughout the book, and I am always reminded me of how my cousins and I used to cross-country ski in the moonlight on my grandmother's farm when we were younger.  Anyone who has taken a walk on a cold winter night will appreciate such descriptions as, "I could feel the cold, as if someone's icy hand was palm-down on my back.  And my nose and the tops of my cheeks felt cold and hot at the same time."  Or, "My mouth felt furry, for the scarf over it was wet and warm."  I just love that particular line for some reason.  Schoenherr's illustrations, which earned the book the Caldecott Medal in 1988, are a stunning complement to Yolen's story, as well.  From the darkness of the woods to the blue light cast by moonlight on the snow, his watercolor illustrations are simply gorgeous.  If you haven't yet discovered this wonderful winter tale (or other books by Jane Yolen), look for it the next time you are at your library.  It is perfect for reading on a cold winter night or at any time of year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 129: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

There are so many classic books to read at this time of year.  I always love story time, but for some reason, snuggling up to read bedtime stories before Christmas feels (as my son would say) "the coziest of all."  I've already featured some of the books that are on heavy rotation at our house in December, but this is one of our favorites!  We love Dr. Seuss' books and his whimsically wonderful style, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas is no exception.   Like many people, I would imagine, I grew up looking forward to watching the Grinch on television each Christmas season, but I actually never had the book until I had children.  The classic movie, of course, is essentially an animated recitation of the book, with a few songs added in for good measure.  I have always loved the message of the story, so I was thrilled to get the book as a hand-me-down from a relative a few years back.  I always make it a point to emphasize my favorite lines when I'm reading this with my son, which, in my opinion, are increasingly more relevant in this era of over-the-top Christmas commercialism.   If you've read the book or seen the movie, you must know the part.  (And if you haven't, my apologies for not giving a synopsis here -- but you must read it!)  "Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, was singing!  Without any presents at all!  He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming!  It came!  Somehow or other, it came just the same!  And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling:  "How could it be so?  It came without ribbons!  It came without tags!  It came without packages, boxes or bags!"  And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.  Then the Grinch though of something he hadn't before. "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.  Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more!"  I hope my children always understand the true meaning and magic of Christmas, and feel the joy, love, and wonder of the season the way the Whos do.  And while the book doesn't contain the closing lines from the movie, I think they are well worth repeating here, too:  "Welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer. Cheer to all Whos far and near.  Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp.  Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we.  Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Day 128: The Night Before Christmas

We have many favorite stories here in our house, but the list of those we read most often changes throughout the year.  All of our winter and Christmas books live together on my son's bookshelf, but once December rolls around, they take their place in a big pile on his bedside table.  One my children's favorites that we read every night at this time of year is Clement Clarke Moore's classic, The Night Before Christmas.   Originally entitled "A Visit from St. Nicholas," Moore's poem was written as a Christmas gift for his wife and six children in 1822.  My son received a lift the flap hardcover board book edition of this poem for his very first Christmas when he was only nine days old, and I have loved reading it to him ever since.  I actually saw our version (shown above) on the bargain bookshelf at Barnes and Noble the other day for only $7.98, in case you're interested.  There are many different versions of this book, some of which are simply gorgeous, but with two eager young ones who love peeking under the flaps, I'm glad we have the one we do.  The board book pages are incredibly sturdy, and we love the advent-style of of the lift the flap feature.   My son particularly loves seeing what is inside some of the presents, and the snowball-making bunnies are pretty cute, as well.  We have read this story so many times that I have the whole thing memorized, and my son loves when I turn out the light and tell it to him again as he is falling asleep.  (And I'll admit, I love curling up next to him and reciting it to him, too.)  "Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.  The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there..."  I considered waiting to post this story until the actual night before Christmas, but decided to share it now since we actually read it all month long.  This poem has already created so many wonderful memories for me of reading with my children, especially at this magical time of year.  As winter draws nearer, I wish you and your children many cozy evenings spent with a great book!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide (and why books make the best gifts!)

Books are some of my favorite things to give as gifts, especially when it comes to my children.  They really are just the best!  Think about it.  Books last far longer than clothes, can be personalized for free, and fit children (and adults) of all shapes and sizes.  They don't require batteries, assembly, or frequent washings.  They don't make noise or need to be fed.  You can pretty much guarantee that you can find a great one for under $10, and they are very easy to wrap.  They inspire imagination, curiosity, and endless learning, and can take anyone anywhere in the world without ever leaving home.  See what I mean?  So, in honor of the upcoming holidays, I thought I’d share some of our favorite books that would make great gifts for the children in your life.  You can also see a complete list of our featured titles by clicking on the "Bookstore" tab above or the "Bookshelf Favorites" to the right. Enjoy, and feel free to share some of your favorites, as well!

For baby: 

For the new mommy and baby:

For your preschooler:

For the cars and trucks obsessed (like my son):

For the dog lover:

For the animal lover:

For the little traveler:

The gift that keeps on giving all year: 
Your Big Backyard magazine (or Wild Animal Baby or Ranger Rick)

Beautiful classics:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Day 127: Bear On a Bike

Books are some of my favorite things to give and receive as gifts.  With both Christmas and my son's birthday coming up, I have been trying to put together a list of gift ideas for him and my daughter.  We are fortunate to have many family members who love giving our children gifts, and this year, as in the past, I am putting many books at the top of that list.  I, of course, always like to get them each a few books, too.  One story that I am excited to give them this Christmas is Bear On a Bike by Stella Blackstone.  There are several books in the Bear series, but this one is our favorite.  In fact, when we were reading it today, my son said, "I want to jump in that book!"  Can't ask for a better endorsement than that!  My children just love following Bear as he travels around on various vehicles -- a bike, raft, steam train, boat, carriage, and rocket ship -- to different magical places.  For a book so simple, it is wonderfully descriptive, and the repetition and rhyming prose make it a wonderful read aloud for even the youngest readers.  "Bear on a bike, as happy as can be.  Where are you going, Bear?  Please wait for me!  I'm going to the market, where fruit and flowers are sold.  Where people buy fresh oranges and pots of marigold."  Then there is my favorite (the page my son wanted to jump into):  "I'm going to an island, where magic star fruits grow.  Where herons fish in secret groves and sparkling rivers flow."  Making the book even more engaging and fun to read are Debbie Harter's illustrations.  Bright, bold colors jump out of the page, instantly capturing kids' attention, and I love the way she incorporates black and white stripes and shapes into her pictures, as well.  Between Harter's striking illustrations and Blackstone's repetitive verse, this is one of those rare books that is equally appealing to babies and preschoolers.  I just love watching my son and daughter read it together!   Many of the Bear books are also available in foreign language versions, with the English words on one side of the page and French or Spanish on the other.  Bear books make great baby gifts and are fabulous additions to any child's library.  I can't wait to add them to ours!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Day 126: Winter's Gift

I absolutely love this time of year.  The twinkling lights, the smell of gingerbread baking, the decked halls, the coziness of our house, spending time with family and friends, the spirit of giving… All of these things make me feel warm and happy and festive all over.  There is a special place on my son's book shelf for our winter and holiday books, and I have been eager to share some of these here on the blog for months.  One of my favorites is Winter's Gift by Jane Monroe Donovan, a beautifully touching story of love, companionship, and hope.  My mom gave this to my son for his first Christmas little more than a week after he was born with the inscription, "For W, a Christmas gift to our family.  We love you."  I didn't read the book right away, but as soon as I did, I knew it would be a story we will cherish for years to come.   It also instantly earned itself a spot on my list of books that make me cry.  The story of the recently widowed old man and the lost, exhausted mare he rescues from a blizzard is heartbreaking and heartwarming all at once.  When my son picks up this book, he says, "I should read this book with Daddy.  This book always makes you cry, Mum Mum."  While the beginning of the story is sad  -- it is the old man's first Christmas alone since losing his wife a few months earlier -- the ending is uplifting and lovely.  The illustrations throughout the story are gorgeous, as well; I can feel the cold wind of the storm and the glowing warmth of the man's barn.  I'm always impressed when books are illustrated and written by the same person, too.  I was first struck by the cover illustration of a mare walking alone through the woods in a snow storm, but now I am continually moved by the emotion of the story.  I loved horses as a girl, so I think that makes the natural beauty of this book resonate with me even more.  Winter's Gift takes place on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, but I don't necessarily consider it to be a Christmas story.  To me, its message of enduring hope transcends the holiday, though I can see why it might be categorized as such.   I have yet to see this story in book stores or the library, but I'm sure it's out there if you look for it.  Winter's Gift is one of those timeless books that is appropriate for children of all ages, and would make a perfect gift for kids from one to ninety-two. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day 125: Bear Snores On

Today was one of those days where I looked out the window and could just feel winter approaching.  The leaves were fluttering steadily down from the trees, which are just about bare now, and the sky was a chilly shade of gray.   We've reached that point in the season where we need hats and mittens to play outside, and I feel the need to eat chocolate even more than usual.  (That must mean winter is coming.)  A steady rain was falling all afternoon, too, making me want to start a fire in the fireplace, make some hot chocolate, and curl up with a good book!  I like winter -- in limited amounts, at least -- but I am not ready for it yet.  In fact, there are many times when I feel like bears are really on to something by hibernating the cold weather away.  What better book to feature then today, I thought, than one of our favorites, Bear Snores On.  We already featured the second book in the Bear series, Bear Wants More, back on Day 1, but have been waiting to share this one until the weather seemed a bit more fitting.  My mom gave us Bear Wants More as one of my son's first books before he was even born, and we loved it so much that we needed to get some of Karma Wilson's other Bear books, too.  Bear Snores On is where we first meet our beloved Bear and his host of friends:  Mouse, Hare, Gopher, Mole, Badger, Raven, and Wren.  I absolutely love these characters and never get tired of reading this story.  In fact, I read it so often to my son when he was two, that I can still recite the whole story from memory. "In a cave in the woods in his deep, dark lair, through the long cold winter sleeps a great brown bear.  Cuddled in a heap with his eyes shut tight, he sleeps through the day, he sleeps through the night.  The cold winds howl and the night sounds growl but the bear snores on."   One by one, new friends begin to enter Bear's den seeking shelter from the winter storm raging outside.   As they make themselves at home popping corn, brewing tea, and chit-chatting the evening away, Bear's den grows cozier and more lively until there is an all-out party going on!   When Bear finally wakes up and sees all of the fun he has been missing, he is not a happy camper... but leave it to his woodland friends to save the day!  Wilson's rhymes are flawless, fabulous, and so much fun to read, and Jane Chapman's illustrations could not be any cuter.   I especially love the picture of the animals dancing around the fire in Bear's den while the storm rages outside.  The whole scene just looks so cozy and inviting!  This is another one of my favorite books to give as a baby gift, particularly the board book version.  If you haven't discovered this fantastic series, look for Bear the next time you are at the library or your local book store.  Bear Snores On is a perfect book to read with your little one during any kind of weather at any time of year. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why I Read To My Children

I love reading to my children.  There is something truly magical about snuggling up next to my little ones with a good book in our hands.  No matter how hectic things feel or how close to insanity I might have been driven during the day, story time brings a certain serenity to our house.  It doesn't matter if my daughter has just dumped out an entire basket of newly folded laundry, or my son has just drawn with marker on the bathroom wall, or every puzzle on the shelf has just been dumped on to the floor.  When I sit down to read with my children, the chaos of life just melts away.  It is so, so nice.  I think my children often feel the same way.  I love feeling their little bodies relax as they lie next to me or sit on my lap while we read, and there is no doubt in my mind that reading brings us even closer in that moment.  I love the way my daughter fits perfectly on my lap as we rock in her chair reading stories before bed, her soft, sweet-smelling head resting right under my chin, in perfect kissing distance.  As I read and she turns the pages, I soak everything in, wishing I could capture and keep these moments of her childhood forever.  I love watching my son get completely drawn into a story, anticipating what will happen with each turn of the page and noticing small details in the illustrations that I often miss.  I love the questions he asks about new things he has learned, and the way he is sometimes able to connect stories we have read to things we do or see or experience in real life.  I love the way he assumes the identity of some of his favorite story characters on a daily basis, going from Curious George to Tigger to Mudge and back to George in a single afternoon.  And I have discovered that few things make me happier than seeing my children cuddled up on the couch reading a book together.  I read to my children because I love moments like these.  Sure, I read to them because I know of its myriad of educational benefits -- improved language acquisition and communication skills, increased vocabulary, higher academic performance, overall -- but to me, reading is so much more than that.  Stories inspire endless imagination in our children, and I love being the narrator that helps set those playful, creative wheels in motion. I read to my children because I want them to feel inspired. Curious. Safe.  Loved.  Alive.  I read to my children because I love books, and want them to grow up loving reading as much as I always have. I read to my children because books open doors to places and worlds we might otherwise never explore. But most of all, right here, right now, I read to my children because I love any excuse to snuggle up next to them and show them just how much I love them.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Day 124: Baby Beluga

A few weeks ago, I took my children to the fabulous Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, CT.  If you ever get a chance to go, you must!  It is such a gorgeous facility and both my son and daughter loved everything about it.  We also had the pleasure of going on a Friday in October, so there were no crowds whatsoever.  Some of the first marine animals you see when you enter the complex are the beluga whales.  Their tank is right inside the entrance, and you can watch them from above or below, through underwater viewing windows.  As soon as she saw a beautiful white whale swim by, my daughter was obsessed!  She LOVED those whales (as did I -- they are just so gorgeous), and would point enthusiastically toward them anytime she saw them that day, even if they were only in a photograph.  When I saw that the gift shop sold a Baby Beluga board book, I knew I had to get it for her.  It has been one of her favorite books ever since!  She held on to the book our whole ride home, and asks to read it whenever she sees it.  I knew the song before I realized that there was a book to go along with it, having first gotten it on cd when my son was my daughter's age.  We LOVE singalong stories, and Baby Beluga is a perfect book to read and sing along to at bedtime.  I usually find myself still singing the song to my daughter even after we've shut out the light.  The verses are soothing and simple, and the lyrics are accompanied by lovely illustrations of the baby beluga and his Arctic friends.  "Baby Beluga in the deep blue sea.  Swim so wild, and you swim so free.  Heaven above, and the sea below.  And a little white whale on the go."  My son usually comes running in to read with us if he hears us singing the song, too.  I particularly love the page that shows the baby belugas hugging fish under their flippers as night time draws near.  It's just so cute!  With soft, gentle lyrics and engaging illustrations to match, Baby Beluga is a wonderful singalong story that your baby is bound to love.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Day 123: Magnus Maximus, A Marvelous Measurer

I'll admit it.  I sometimes judge a book by its cover.  Or at least, I decide to pick it up based on its cover.  Such was the case the other day when I saw Magnus Maximus, A Marvelous Measurer, standing along the top of the library bookshelves in the new titles section.  There was something wonderfully intriguing about the cover illustration, and I added it to our pile of books to check out without even opening it or reading a few pages.  Another reason I picked up this book is that my son loves to measure things around our house with a tape measure -- his trucks, the couch, his arm, his sister -- so I naturally thought of my own little marvelous measurer when I saw it.  I read this book for the first time by myself later that evening after my son had gone to sleep, since he had chosen other titles to read at bedtime that night.  As soon as I finished the story, I loved it.  I couldn't wait to read it with my son the next day.  (He now loves it, too.)  I secretly hoped there would be more.  It's not that the book is incomplete or ends abruptly, but because I wanted more lovely images in my mind of Magnus Maximus appreciating the beauty of the world around him.  Magnus Maximus is indeed a marvelous measurer.  He particularly loves to measure extraordinary things: "wetness and dryness, nearness and farness, and everything else in between." He loves to count things, too, from the clouds in the sky to the petals on a geranium.  When the town makes Magnus its official measurer, he finds himself measuring even more things.  The wobbliness of a jellyfish.  The itchiness of an itch.  The stinkiest socks.  In fact, Magnus is so consumed by his daily (and nightly) measurements, that he misses much of what is going on around him.  "Whenever his friends invited him over to dinner, he was so busy counting the number of peas in the stew or cherries in the pie, that he never noticed the smiles in their eyes, or the tears in their voices."  When Magnus accidentally breaks his glasses and is unable to measure anything, he doesn't know what to do... until a young boy takes his hand and shows him there is far more to life than that which can be measured.  There are so many things I love about this story.  Most of all, I love its message that no matter how busy life can get, we must never forget to slow down and take time to appreciate the simple things in life that make the world so beautiful.   Feel the icy cold of the ocean on our feet.  Build a sandcastle.  Watch the sun set.  Gaze at the stars.  I love that it is the innocent, joyful nature of a child that first changes Magnus' perspective on the world, and that this all begins by the sea, a place which, to me, is inherently rejuvenating and peaceful.  There are some gorgeous descriptions throughout this book, such as "the butterfly that danced by on apricot wings," and "the snugness of a hand in a hand," which only add to the overall beauty of this story.   And of course, there are the amazing illustrations, which led me to pick up this book in the first place.  S.D. Schindler's artwork is masterfully detailed, and I am reminded of Erin Stead's illustrations that I love so much in A Sick Day for Amos McGee.  (This book is Caldecott-nominee-worthy, too, in my opinion.)  If you are looking for a fabulous new story to read with your child, this is one you will not want to miss.   

Friday, November 4, 2011

Day 122: Room on the Broom

There have been several times where I have tried to borrow this book from the library, but every time I have tried, it has been out.   I suppose that's always a good sign that a story is worth reading!  We've enjoyed several of Julia Donaldson's other books, but I have to say this one might be our favorite so far.  The first time we read it, my son immediately asked to read it again... and again... and again.  I suppose many people think of Room on the Broom as a Halloween story given the whole witch-and-her-cat-on-a-broom thing, but I think it is great reading for any time of year.  A witch and her cat fly about on her broom, losing her hat, bow, and wand along the way.  Each time the witch drops something, an animal friend finds it and returns it to her, then asks to come along for the ride.  Of course there is always room on the broom for a helpful friend!  When the broom suddenly breaks and the witch is captured by a hungry dragon, the friends come to her rescue once again, this time, together.   The magical ending will leave you and your child smiling with delight and wishing there was room on the broom for you, too!   The story line is as clever as it is fun, with fabulous, easy-flowing rhymes and a great combination of repetitive verses and curious moments of anticipation; perfect for young readers.  And of course, what parent won't love the story's underlying message about the value of friendship, sharing, and cooperation?  Axel Scheffler's bold, colorful illustrations bring the characters to life in a lively, happy fashion, making this book an all-around great read.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Day 121: John Pig's Halloween

Halloween has come and gone, and with all of the festive excitement here in our house, I wasn't able to get this post out in time for the big day.  I know I'm a day late now, but I still thought I'd share what has been our favorite Halloween book of the season.  My friend and co-worker, Julie, recommended this book to me, saying that she and her boys (the eldest of whom is in middle school) still make it a point to read this every year.  That's a ringing endorsement to me, so I just had to check it out.  Not many libraries around here have John Pig's Halloween, but I was able to borrow it through our inter-library loan system.  What a cute, fun, entertaining story!  We just love it!  Little John Pig is too nervous and scared to go out trick or treating with his housemates, so decides to spend the evening alone at home.  He thinks he's in for a long, lonely night... until a witch and her cat crash into his door and show him how to celebrate Halloween in style!  Jan L. Waldron's rhyme and meter make this book wonderfully fun to read aloud, and we are always left wanting to join in the fun (especially the baking part!):  "John and the witch began sifting and stirring.  She cracked the eggs as the blender was whirring.  He scooped out pumpkin and mashed it all up.  She mixed heaps of sugar and cream in a cup.  He rolled out the dough for the tarts and the pies, While the witch made witch cookies with raisins for eyes.  "Now we are cookin'," she said with a grin.  "Open the oven, we've got food to put in."  Soon more trick-or-treaters began to stop by.  They seen the lit pumpkin and smelled the warm pie..."  John Pig's evening grows more festive by the minute, and when his friends finally return home from their own night of fun, they can't believe their eyes!  I love the clever rhymes and the ease with which they flow from one page to the next, and there is some fabulous vocabulary in this book, as well.  How often do we see words like chic, chapeau, boisterous, gussied-up, and wavering all in the same book?  My son loves the illustrations, too, and is always looking for silly details, especially in the characters' costumes.  I have a feeling that he will keep wanting to read this even though Halloween is over, and I've already decided I want to get this story for my kids for Halloween next year... If I can wait that long, that is.  I hope you and your little pumpkins all had a wonderful Halloween! 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Day 120: Ox-Cart Man

I've been waiting to write about this book since the day I started this blog.  Now that fall is in full swing and it is October, I just can't wait any more!  The Ox Cart Man has long been one of my absolute favorite picture books.  There are so many things that I love about this story that I hardly know where to begin.  From its very first line, the Ox Cart Man takes us into the life of a family in early nineteenth century New England: "In October he backed his ox into his cart and he and his family filled it up with everything they made or grew all year long that was left over.  He packed a bag of wool he sheared from the sheep in April.  He packed a shawl his wife wove on a loom from yarn spun at the spinning wheel from sheep sheared in April.  He packed five pairs of mittens his daughter knit from yarn spun at the spinning wheel from sheep sheared in April."  And so it goes.  We follow the ox cart man as packs up the things his family has worked so hard to make and grow throughout the year and brings to Portsmouth Market to sell:  birch brooms, woven linen, candles, potatoes, apples, goose feathers, maple sugar.  He proceeds to sell everything he has brought with him, including the wooden box he carried the maple sugar in, the barrel he carried the apples in, the bag he carried the potatoes in, his ox cart... even his beloved ox.  (I'll admit that part makes me a tear up sometimes.  I know.  I'm a sap.)  When he has nothing left but a pocketful of coins, the ox cart man wanders through the market himself, buying new things for his family to get them through the year ahead.  An embroidery needle for his daughter that had come all the way from England on a boat.  A Barlow knife for his son for carving birch brooms.  An iron kettle to hang over the stove.  Two pounds of wintergreen peppermint candies.  And when he finally returns home to family, we see the whole cycle begin once again.  "His daughter took her needle and began stitching, and his son took his Barlow knife and began whittling, and they cooked dinner in their new kettle... and that night the ox-cart man sat in front of his fire stitching new harness for the young ox in the barn..."  

Hall's prose is beautifully written, and I can't help but feel like I am a part of the story while I am reading it.  Each time, I am overwhelmed by a sense of what life was like in those days gone by, and am in awe of its simplicity and difficulty all at the same time.  The gorgeous illustrations, done by the amazingly talented Barbara Cooney, earned this book the Caldecott Medal in 1980, and they are the perfect accompaniment to Hall's story.  Simple, soothing, telling, and beautiful.  At first, I was worried that my son might find this book boring, but he never has.  I think he, too, is fascinated by how our ancestors lived and the ways they depended on nature and the land for their survival.  Seasons change, years pass, and life goes on, but this book will always be one of my favorites. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Day 119: Where's My Mom?

We first checked this delightful story out of the library several months ago after we fell in love with Julia Donaldson's The Gruffalo.  Given that I had just featured one of her books, though, I decided to wait and come back to Where's My Mom? another time.   My son happened to notice this book again the last time we were at the library, so we brought it home and have read it several times since.  I am happy to report that he loves it just as much now as he did a few months ago, and I'm glad to have been reminded to feature this adorable story here on our blog.  A little monkey is lost in the jungle and unable to find his mom.  A friendly butterfly eagerly sets out to help him, asking questions about his mom's appearance along the way.  "Hush, little monkey, don't you cry.  I'll help you find her," said butterfly. "Let's have a think.  How big is she?"  "She's big!" said the monkey.  "Bigger than me."  "Bigger than you?  Then I've seen your mom.  Come, little monkey, come, come, come."  Excitedly, we turn the page, only to find that the butterfly has led the little monkey to... an elephant!  Each time the monkey describes some other feature of his mother -- her tail that coils around trees, or the fact that she leaps and springs and lives high in the treetops -- the butterfly is convinced she knows where to find her.  And each time, the poor monkey is brought to the wrong animal mother.  We love anticipating what animal the butterfly might take us to next, and my son finds the whole series of mistaken identities to be incredibly silly.  When the monkey is brought back to the elephant again, we can't help but laugh and feel sorry for him, not to mention wonder why on earth the butterfly keeps leading him so astray!  Donaldson has a clever reason why, of course, and once we find out what it is, the story becomes even more charming.  Finally, our little monkey friend is happily reunited with his parents, at which point my son usually requests to go back and read the story again.  The illustrations are cute and colorful, and the verse flows easily and well, overall.  At first I wondered, though, why some of the rhyme schemes seemed a bit off ("Come little monkey, come, come, come.  It's time I took you home to mom.")  "Come" and "mom" clearly don't rhyme...  But then I learned that the American version of the book has been changed ("Mum" is the original word in the British version, which flows much better), as has the title.  In the U.S., this book is called "Where's My Mom?", but in the U.K., it is called "Monkey Puzzle."  I'm not sure why publishers felt the need to change the title and some of the words, but there you go.  My little guy calls me "Mum Mum" anyway, so I just change "Mom" to "Mum" as we read so it sounds nicer.  Either way, we both thoroughly enjoy this book and think that you will, too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Day 118: Flotsam

This book has caught my eye several times at the library before (perhaps because it looks like there is a big eye staring at me from the cover), but I always told myself I would save it for another visit.  Finally, the other week, we got around to checking this one out.  I'm so glad we did!   This has to be one of my favorite wordless picture books out there.  David Wiesner's illustrations are impeccably detailed, and I am amazed by the elaborate story they are able to tell in and of themselves.  Flotsam takes us on a fabulous journey through magical undersea worlds, imagination, and adventure as a young boy discovers an old, underwater camera washed up on the shore as he is playing on the beach one day.  After confirming that no one on the beach has lost it, he opens it up and finds a roll of film inside.  Curious about where this camera might have been, the boy takes the film to a one-hour photo shop to be developed, being sure to replace the film with a new roll while he is there.  Upon viewing the photos, he is fascinated by what he sees:  a magical underwater civilization where mechanical fish roam, sea turtles swim among seashell palaces, and giant starfish islands play.  The most curious image of all, however, shows a girl his age holding a photo of another child, who is holding a photo of another child, who is holding a photo of another child... and so on and so on, around the world and back in time.  Of course, in the end, the boy takes his own photo in a similar fashion and casts the camera back into the waves.  Unlike him, though, we are lucky enough to see where it travels before being discovered by another child in a land far away.  Flotsam is brilliantly creative and such fun to read to children of all ages.  What I love most about this book is the sense of wonder and imagination it instill in its readers, and the way it encourages anyone, child or parent, to be their own storyteller.   Each image is truly worth a thousand words in this book, and the endless details found within the story allow to it to be told and retold time and again.   Flotsam is also one of those rare books that is truly appropriate and enjoyable for a wide range of audiences.  As a middle school teacher, I can imagine my students loving this book just as much as my preschooler does.  I love the photo on the back jacket cover of Wiesner on the beach at age 5, too.  My son loves playing on the beach more than just about anything, and I'm sure we'll think of this book the next time we are playing in the waves and exploring our own undersea worlds. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Day 117: The Beeman

I was thrilled to spend a gorgeous autumn afternoon at our local community farm's Fall Festival yesterday!  There were great activities for kids, hayrides, a chili cook-off, a little petting zoo (my son was so excited to pet "Sally" the chicken), music, farm tours, and of course, delicious home-grown veggies.  The weather could not have been more perfect; it was truly a quintessential New England fall day.  One of my son's favorite books we've been reading this past week is Laurie Krebs' The Beeman.  I knew he would be able to check out the bee hives and beekeeping display at the Festival, so I thought this book would be the perfect way to introduce him to the amazing world of bees before we went.  Plus, he asks to eat yogurt with honey for at least one meal a day, so our honey bear is a permanent fixture on our kitchen table.  Learning opportunities all around! 

The Beeman is an absolutely fabulous story about a little boy and his grandfather (The Beeman), who takes his young grandson out to his hives to learn all about beekeeping.  From the protective clothing they need to wear and the inner workings of the hive, to extracting the honey and caring for the bees all winter, we are given an incredible glimpse into this fascinating process.  The verses of the story are incredibly informative while flowing beautifully from page to page, and the illustrations are equally as enjoyable.  My favorite features of this book, however, are the comprehensive endnotes that are full of fun and unique facts about bees and the vital role they play in the natural world.  Even after this wonderful story has ended, you and your child can learn about pollination, the different types of bees and their varying responsibilities within the hive, how honey is made and processed, and even how honeybees dance to communicate with one another!  And as if that wasn't enough, the Beeman also includes a recipe for Grandma's Apple and Honey Muffins.  Reading and baking are two of my favorite things to do with my kids... I mean, really, what could be better?  I absolutely love stories that are not only beautiful and fun to read, but that also teach me and my children something new.  If you're looking for a great book that is as educational as it is entertaining, be sure to check out The Beeman.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Day 116: Ten Little Ladybugs

For some unknown reason, my son was obsessed with ladybugs when he was around two years old.  His grandmother gave him this book after seeing it in a bookshop in North Carolina, and it was an instant hit!  Now, almost two years later, he still enjoys reading it, and it has lived in his bedside bin of books all this time... until his sister (14 months) recently found it, that is.  As soon as she laid eyes on the colorful cover and saw the three dimensional ladybugs on the vine, she claimed that book as her own, dragging it with her into her room and sitting herself down on the floor to read it.  Fortunately, my son didn't seem to mind, and this is another one of those books that he can read to her, which is always incredibly cute.  Ten Little Ladybugs is a fabulous story for babies and toddlers, alike.  It's colorful, engaging, has fun, rollicking rhymes, and the little ladybugs sticking up off each page just begged to be touched by little hands.  It also teaches children to count down from ten to one, with a clever design that captivates little readers from beginning to end.  What child can resist the ladybugs sticking up off the right-hand page or the opposing holes that await them after the page turn?  I know mine certainly can't.  As far as my daughter is concerned, this book doesn't even need words.  Just give her the ladybugs to play with and the holes to stick her fingers through and she would be perfectly content.  The simple, rhythmic verse makes this story even more appealing to her, though, and the accompanying illustrations are captivating without being too busy.  "Ten little ladybugs sitting on a vine, along came a butterfly -- then there were... (turn the page) NINE little ladybugs skipping on a gate, along came a caterpillar -- then there were... EIGHT..."  You get the idea.  My daughter is quite picky about her books these days, but this is one that she wants to read over and over every time we pick it up.  I've been impressed, too, at how well this book has held up.  After many, many reads, the ladybugs are still holding on strong and showing no signs of falling off.  If you're looking for a fun, interactive story that will grow with your child from infancy and beyond, my little ladybug highly recommends this book.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Day 115: Big Red Barn

This was one of the first books my mom gave to my son after he was born.  The way I saw it, any book picked out by someone who had raised three kids over twenty years and read hundreds of children's stories along the way just had to be good.  It took a while for this story to become one of my son's favorites, but as he neared his first birthday, he fell in love with it!  Thank goodness it comes in board book form, as it wouldn't have lasted two days otherwise.  This is definitely my favorite of Margaret Wise Brown's books, and I only recently made the connection that illustrator Felicia Bond is the same artist for the "If You Give a Mouse" series. Big Red Barn is a perfect story for toddlers, telling the story of the animals' day on the farm in gentle, rolling verse with cute, charming illustrations.  "By the big red barn in the great green field, there was a pink pig who was learning to squeal.  There was a great big horse and a very little horse.  And on every barn is a weathervane, of course... a golden flying horse."  My son used to ask me to read it to him over and over in the car as he turned the pages, and he just loved all the sounds the animals made on the farm.  I think there must have been at least a two-month period in which he wanted to read this several times a day.  (My daughter is just now starting to love this book, as well.)  My two favorite pages show the animals playing together in the field, then later seeking the warm shelter of their barn to settle in and sleep for the night.  It's a wonderful bedtime story, and although I think the meter could be a little better at times, it is soothing and perfect for lulling little ones to sleep. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Day 114: The Pigeon Wants a Puppy

If you have a preschooler and have not yet discovered Mo Willems' Pigeon books (or any books by him, really), you must go to your local library immediately and find one!  Seriously, you are missing out and need to read one of his fabulous stories as soon as possible.  You won't be disappointed, I promise.  We LOVE Mo Willems here in our house, and he is one of the few authors for whom I feel the need to own every single one of his books.  We featured one of all time favorites Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus back on Day 64, but felt we just had to share one of the equally hilarious sequels, The Pigeon Wants a Puppy.  If you're familiar with the Pigeon, you know that he pretty much is a preschooler in bird form:  he is funny, independent, charming, cute, clever, and wants what he wants when he wants it (which is usually NOW!)  He can go from endearingly sweet to tantrum mode in about .5 seconds, and doesn't like taking "No" for an answer.  The story begins in Willems' classic conversational form, with the Pigeon greeting us with a friendly, "Oh, hello.  How are you?  I'm fine.  Thanks for asking."  And then, as would any three year old intent on getting something he wants, he gets right to his point.  "By the way, do you know what I want?  What I've wanted forever...? [and then, in more of a secret whisper] At least since last Tuesday...?  A PUPPY!!"   He promises to take care of it and water it once a month (insert fits of child giggles here), only to then get mopey and defensive that we don't seem to be buying it. "Oh... I get it.  You don't want me to be happy, do you?  You don't want me to take a piggyback ride on my puppy!  Or play tennis with it!"  Just as his fit reaches its peak, we hear a "Woof!" off in the distance... and the pigeon gets his wish!  The comedy ensues as the pigeon meets the puppy (who is much bigger and slobbery than expected) and ultimately decides that he has changed his mind:  what he really wants is a walrus!  I'm always amazed at how much emotion Willems can convey in such simple drawings, and love the way he uses the text to emphasize the Pigeon's mood.  The font gets smaller when the pigeon is feeling sad, and bigger as his intensity and volume increase.  Be sure to read the pigeon's list of "Things I Want" on the title page; it is positively hilarious!  I know the day will come when my children are begging and pleading for a puppy in their own pigeon-style, but until then, I can simply sit back and enjoy reading this delightfully silly and engaging story.  Enjoy! 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Day 113: Mouse Soup

Today, in what was probably just the first of many times this will happen, my son sat down to read a story and informed me that he wanted to read it all by himself.  I asked if I could just sit and listen to him while he read, and he said, "No… I just want to read it myself this time."  He proceeded to read the book carefully and slowly under his breath, while I pretended not to be paying attention from the other side of the room.  I loved it.  What made it even better was the fact that when he finally finished the book, he proudly came running over to me and said, "I read the whole book all by myself!  Now you read it to me, Mum Mum," and we snuggled up on the couch to do just that.  It was really the best of both worlds:  I got to hear my (fiercely independent) little guy read a book to himself, and then cozy up next to him to read it with him again.  The book was Mouse Soup, one of our other Arnold Lobel favorites.  We borrowed it from the library once a while back, and my son loved it so much that I was thrilled to find a copy at our last library book sale (and for only 50 cents!)  It's an early reader chapter book, but unlike the Frog and Toad series, is really one longer story broken up into separate chapters.  In this fun tale, an unsuspecting mouse is caught by a weasel, who threatens to make him into mouse soup.  The clever little mouse convinces his captor that the soup will not taste good without several stories added to it, and proceeds to tell four silly stories -- Bees and the Mud, Two Large Stones, The Crickets, and The Thorn Bush -- all of which are as delightfully entertaining as the end of the story itself.  Our favorite ingredient in the soup has to be "The Crickets," for neither my son nor I can make it through this chapter without giggling.  I love the creativity of the whole book and the silly events within, but I think what I love most about Mouse Soup is how it highlights and encourages the art of storytelling.   I also should add that this book lends itself quite well to reading in fun, different voices, and is far more enjoyable when read aloud this way.  (I just love hearing my son try to imitate my voices for the weasel, the crickets, and the old woman in "The Thorn Bush.")   While I don't love this book as much as Frog and Toad, it is still a great read that never fails to make us laugh.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Day 112: Listen, Listen

Fall has finally arrived here in New England and it is by far my favorite season of all!  It's why I love living here, and is what makes me tolerate the long, cold winters and those hot, humid summer days that can be so unbearable in a house without air conditioning.  The air turns crisp and the days, though growing shorter, are positively lovely.  I love the smell of the air as the nights get cooler and the leaves turn their gorgeous shades of yellow, orange, and red... even when I know that soon enough, we'll be spending countless hours raking them off of our lawn.  I love the sounds of leaves swishing and crunching under our feet, and the way the late-afternoon light hits the trees and makes those radiant colors glow.  The change in seasons can be magical, and I am always very happy to live in a place that has such variety among them.  Listen, Listen is a beautiful story that captures the wonderful sounds of the seasons as they gracefully turn from one to the next:  summer to autumn, winter to spring, and back to summer again.  Phillis Gershator's rhythmic verse and Alison Jay's beautiful illustrations complement each other perfectly, making Listen, Listen a delight to read, hear, and see.  "Listen, listen, what's that sound?  Insects singing all around! Chirp, chirp, churr, churr, buzz, buzz, whirr, whirr... Plop, plop, acorns drop.  Hurry, scurry, squirrels hop... Crunch, crunch, boots clomp.  Grown-ups shovel, children romp... Pop, pop, bulbs sprout.  Leaves grow, flowers shout."  The rolling verse is soothing and engaging to children at the same time, and Jay's crackle-varnish illustrations evoke a sense of timeless wonder and nostalgia.  Take your time to look at the pictures in this book, as well, for there are lovely little details to be found on each page.  Both my son and daughter love reading this story, and it is definitely one of our seasonal favorites.  My daughter loves hearing all of the different noises and sound effects throughout, and my son especially loves the hide and seek pages for each season that appear at the back of the book.  Available in both hardcover and a large board book format from Barefoot Books, Listen, Listen is a beautiful addition to any child's library.  What are your favorite sounds of the seasons?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Day 111: Chrysanthemum

Choosing what to name our children was always an exciting and important decision.  Both times I was pregnant, we found out what we were having -- the first time a boy, the second a girl -- and I loved knowing so that, among other reasons, I could start calling the baby by name.  My husband and I were very much on the same page when it came to selecting names, fortunately, both preferring classic names to trendy or unique ones.  Both of our children have very traditional English names:  Will and Emma.  I'll admit that as teachers, two other factors crossed our minds during our name selection process:  when our children's teachers looked at their class rosters someday, they would be able to pronounce their names properly and know whether they were looking for a boy or a girl.  Silly, perhaps, but true.  We also hoped that our children would love their names, since to us, they were as perfect as our little ones themselves.  Chrysanthemum's parents felt much the same way.  "Her name must be everything she is," said her mother.  "Her name must be absolutely perfect," said her father.  And it was."  Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum.  Kevin Henkes has created another masterpiece is this adorable and clever story.  Chrysanthemum loved every thing about her name -- the way it sounded when her mother woke her up or her father called her for dinner, the way it looked when she saw it written in ink on an envelope, in icing on her birthday cake, and when she wrote it herself with her fat orange crayon -- until she started school.  Other students laughed when the teacher read her name during roll call, and girls teased her:  "It's so long... It scarcely fits on your name tag... You're named after a flower!"  Each day after school, Chrysanthemum returns home feeling a bit sad and wilted, and each evening her parents manage to cheer her up.  Still, Chrysanthemum can't help but wish she had a different name... that is, until she meets the ever-so-fabulous music teacher, Mrs. Delphinium Twinkle.  Like so many of Henkes' books, this story is wonderful on many levels.  He is a master of addressing issues that are common among preschoolers and elementary aged children (in this case, teasing and wanting to fit in), while at the same time teaching children more appropriate ways to behave and treat one another.  In this case, he celebrates the beauty of being yourself and not only appreciating differences in one another, but celebrating them.  I also LOVE his illustrations and the way in which he portrays the unconditional love of his characters' parents.  There are so many clever little details in his drawings that are not to be missed:  the hilarious face on the very pregnant Mrs. Twinkle's dress, the map of Wisconsin and its cheese on the bulletin board, and especially the books Chrysanthemum's father can be seen reading throughout the story -- The Inner Mouse Vol. 1: Childhood Anxiety and A Rose by any Other Name... Understanding Identity.  We highly recommend this book to any young reader, particularly one whose name is different or who might be teased by her peers.  If you love Kevin Henkes as much as we do, you won't be disappointed. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Day 110: Blue Hat, Green Hat

My daughter (14 months) cannot get enough of this book lately, so I figured it was well-deserving of a post here this week.  Seriously, it is the first book she wants to find when we sit down to read stories, and she'll reach and squirm and fuss until she has it in her cute little hands.  I'd say we read it repeatedly for a good 5 to 10 minutes before she'll be content with moving on to another book.  That's how much she loves it!  Now, I'll admit that there are other Sandra Boynton books that I personally like better (Moo, Baa, La La La is one), but the simple silliness of Blue Hat, Green Hat makes it perfect for little readers.  There are four characters in this book -- a moose, a bear, an elephant, and a turkey -- and each page features them wearing an item of clothing in different colors.  Big as they are, the animals all seem to be able to manage getting hats on their heads and pants on their legs, but not the turkey!  Try as he might, he gets it wrong every time.  He stands in his hat, puts his pants on his head, wears his coat backwards... and when he finally does manage to dress himself properly, he commits the ultimate "oops" and jumps into the pool with all of his clothes on.  My daughter loves the simple, bold illustrations and the brevity of this book (she's a speedy page-turner), and my son finds the turkey to be simply hilarious.  In between the giggles and cries of "oops!", children also learn some of their colors and items of clothing, too.  Sandra Boynton has a seemingly endless collection of  board books that are particularly adored by toddlers, and this one gets an emphatic seal of approval from our littlest reader. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Day 109: Blueberries for Sal

We're heading to Maine for a wedding tomorrow, so got several books on cd out of the library today for my son to listen to on our roadtrip.  And, since we're going to Maine, I thought Blueberries for Sal would be a perfect story to take along with us!  I just love Robert McCloskey's timeless tales that are so beautifully and masterfully crafted, and Blueberries for Sal is no exception.  You might remember little Sal from One Morning in Maine.  This time, she is venturing off to Blueberry Hill to collect blueberries with her mother.  Tin pail in hand, Sal picks blueberries the way I always did as a child (and still do, sometimes,) eating three handfuls for every one berry that ends up in the pail.  Her mother, of course, is focused on the task at hand, picking as many berries as possible so that she can preserve them for the winter months ahead.  Sal snacks while her mother picks, eventually wandering off toward the other side of the Blueberry Hill, where we meet another mother/child pair intent on eating their share of berries and storing up for the upcoming winter:  a mama bear and her cub!  In a clever juxtaposition of motherly love, nature, and young curiosity, we follow Sal and the little bear as they stray from their mothers in search of berries of their own, only to end up with the mother of the other.  McCloskey's drawings are fabulous, as always -- this is another Caldecott Honor book -- and capture the wonder of that summer afternoon perfectly.  I particularly love the illustration that appears on both the first and last page of Sal "helping" her mom can the berries in their kitchen.  I think Sal and my son must have a lot in common.  I also can't help but be reminded of the many summer days I have been fortunate to spend in my grandmother's Maine field, sitting down in the middle of a large clump of wild, low-bush berries, picking to my heart's content, dreaming of the pie that we'll later make and knowing that what we don't pick today, the deer might eat tonight.  As with One Morning in Maine and Make Way for Ducklings, McCloskey captures the  essence of a time gone by, forever preserving it for future generations.  Fall might have officially arrived here in New England, but this is one book that will remind us of the simple joys of summer all throughout the year. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Day 108: We're Going On a Bear Hunt

"We're going on a bear hunt.  We're going to catch a big one.  What a beautiful day!  We're not scared."  Come along with a father, his four children, and their faithful border collie as they set out for an afternoon of adventure in Michael Rosen's fabulous version of the classic We're Going On a Bear Hunt.  My son has become quite fond of this story lately, and with good reason.  It's delightfully fun to read, and we can't help but feel the excitement building with each turn of the page.  Will they ever find a bear?  Once they do, will they be able to outrun it?  Will they shut their door in time??  The sound effects, of course, are my son's favorite part, and I always find my pace quickening along with the family's footsteps at the end of the book as they race towards home:  "Back through the cave!  Tip toe, tip toe!  Back through the snowstorm!  Hooo woooo, hoooo woooo!  Back through the forest!  Stumble trip, stumble trip!  Back through the mud!  Squelch squerch, squelch squerch!  Back through the river!  Splash splosh, splash splosh!  Back through the grass!  Swishy swashy, swishy swashy!" Never being one to go around, over or under things, my son also loves that the family has no choice but to boldly go through each obstacle they encounter.  Why go around the mud when you can squelch right though it?  Helen Oxenbury's illustrations are wonderful, and they do a great job of making the story come alive and feel exciting rather than scary.  One of my favorite images is the one on the last page, with the bear slowly heading home along the beach, hanging his head in defeat as the sun sets over the water.  As Rosen asks in his introduction, what is the bear thinking there?  This book is sure to make your child laugh with delight and ask to read it again and again.  I would prefer to stay snug under the covers, but perhaps after reading this story, your little adventurers will be asking to go out on a bear hunt of their own.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Day 107: Spot Loves His Mommy

No toddler's library is complete without at least one Spot book!  There is something universally loved about this cute yellow puppy and his day-in-the-life stories.  With bright, bold colors and simple illustrations, Spot has been delighting children since his very first publication, Where's Spot?, back in 1980.  We have several Spot books in our house, all of which have been well-loved by both of my children.  My daughter (13 months) particularly loves Spot Loves His Mommy and Spot Loves His Daddy (which were Mother's and Father's Day gifts, respectively.)  Just yesterday, I was reading stories with her in her room and couldn't figure out why she was fussing.  She kept squirming out of my arms and reaching for her bookshelf, even though I kept offering different books that I know she likes.  When I put her down and let her go, she pushed a few other books aside and reached for Spot Loves His Mommy.  Finally content, she returned to my lap with book in hand and a satisfied smile on her face.  What can I say, she makes her opinions known!  The language in Spot books is simple, making them great for emerging readers, as well.  My son just loves being able to read them to his little sister!  He also loves Spot's silly friends:  Steve the monkey, Helen the hippo, Tom the alligator, and others. Many of the Spot titles are lift-the-flap books, too, which are always a big hit.  Which Spot book is your favorite?