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!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 88: Potty Animals

Now that my son is successfully potty trained, I can breathe a big sigh of relief.  I was really hoping he would be comfortable and confident about using the potty before beginning preschool this fall, but there is another whole element to potty training that I never thought of before finding this great book on the library shelf:  public potty etiquette.  Sure, we've got him pretty well trained to wash his hands and turn off the bathroom light when he is done, but what about all of the other potty manners he'll be expected to practice at school and elsewhere?  There's an awful lot to remember!  Knock first, shut the door, be sure to flush, know that others might be waiting for their turn... Fortunately, there's a great book to help with all of this.  Potty Animals:  What to Know When You've Gotta Go! is a fun, informative, age appropriate way to teach and reinforce proper potty etiquette to young children.  Hope Vestergaard was brilliant to write this kind of story, and I would imagine it is a favorite of preschools everywhere.  Her rhyming, rolling lyrics and Valeria Petrone's cute illustrations combine to create a charming, practical potty book.  My son loves all the of the animals at Sycamore Preschool, and more importantly, has learned a lot about their all-too-common potty mistakes.  Freddy is afraid to flush.   Helga lollygags.  Ziggy forgets to do up his zipper.  Farley doesn't close the door.  Arnold's aim could use a little work.  Benji is a barger.  The characters' forgetfulness offers friendly reminders about the right thing to do in a way that is cute and informative, not punitive or accusatory.  The many lessons taught throughout are all reviewed at the end of the book: "Plan ahead.  Don't wait too long.  Go potty before you sleep.  Excuse yourself.  Knock first.  Be sure to lift up the seat.  Close the door.  Don't lollygag. Never forget to wipe.  Wash your hands.  Zip and flush.  Always turn out the light!"  If you're looking for a fun way to teach these manners that will really resonate with your child, we highly recommend Potty Animals.  There's a lot to know when you've got to go, and this book definitely helps!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 87: Once Upon a Potty

We have been potty training my son for a looooong time now, but, at the risk of jinxing it, I think it's finally safe to say that he's bought into the whole idea and is officially potty trained.  Hooray!  To celebrate this momentous occasion, I thought I'd feature a few of the stories that helped us get there.  There seem to be many different potty books out there, so odds are there are others that are even better than those we have relied on, but the first story that really seemed to encourage my son to say goodbye to diapers was Once Upon a Potty.  I'll start by saying that I think this book is probably one that falls into the "love it or hate it" category, at least from a parent's perspective.  There are definitely strange elements to the story that might turn some people off:  the narrative tone of the mother ("and I, Joshua's mother") used repeatedly through the book, the fact that the potty doesn't look anything like the potty chairs our children are used to seeing (it's really more of a pitcher), or the use of the terms "wee wee and poo poo" (which are intended to be substituted with your family's words of choice.)  I'll admit that I wasn't quite sure what to think of it the first time I read it, but for only $.25 at our library's book sale, I figured I had nothing to lose.  I brought it home and my son was intrigued by it from the start.  It soon became a regular fixture in our bathroom, and my son would sit and read the story over and over while he sat on the potty.   He especially loved saying, "He sat and sat and sat and sat and sat and sat..."  One day he even came running out to say, "I used the potty just like Joshua!"  So rather than critique the book's quirks, I'll let my son's love of the book be our testament to the story.  Now, don't get me wrong.  It's not like he read this and was potty trained by the next day, but I think he liked the simple explanations and straightforward manner in which Joshua learns to use the potty.  And I definitely think it helped encourage him to use the potty.  This book comes in two versions -- one for boys and one for girls -- so when it comes time for my daughter to be potty trained, I'll be sure to look for the girl's version at our next library book sale.  To those of you potty training now, I wish you much luck and speedy success!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 86: We Are in a Book!

Mo Willems has to be one of my absolute favorite children's book authors.  His books are clever, witty, silly, fun and a HUGE hit here in our household.  I'm not always sure who laughs louder when we read them, my son or us!  I received a Borders gift card as a birthday present recently, and used it to order a few of the many titles on our "must own" list.  Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie books were buy one, get one 50% off, so I ordered four of them.  We gave my son We Are in a Book! yesterday and to say he loved it is an understatement.  He and my husband laughed their way through the whole story, and were only a few pages in when my son said, in between giggles, "This is such a silly book!"  Then, of course, came "Bananas!" said over and over again to fits of hysterical laughter.  "I have more to give!  More words!  More jokes!  More 'bananas!'"  Mo Willems is a master of taking incredibly simple illustrations and bringing them to life to tell a wonderful story.  He is also a master of engaging his readers.  Just like in the Pigeon books, he makes the reader part of the story.  This kind of audience interaction is sheer brilliance.  We especially love the way Piggie comes forward to the edge of the page to see us.  This is another series that is perfect for preschoolers and emerging readers.  And not to worry, Gerald.  Your books are sure to be read over and over again in our house. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Day 85: How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?

If your house is anything like ours, bedtime sometimes manages to be the most hectic time of the day.   I don't know where my son gets his energy bursts right before bed, but I would pay a lot of money to be able to harness even a fraction of that energy into myself at the end of a long day.  Perhaps in some households, children go calmly from bath, into pajamas and then bed to read stories.  But not here!  Baths are usually followed by raucous silliness, jumping on the bed, twirling around the room, and finally settling down with a few good bedtime books.  One of our favorites is How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by the fabulous Jane Yolen.  If you haven't seen this book yet (or any others in the How Do Dinosaurs series), I highly recommend it!  Mark Teague's pictures are sure to delight both you and your child, and the story is bedtime reading perfection.  It's funny, cute, and conveniently on the shorter side -- excellent for when your little one is requesting just one more story before you turn out the light.  Your child will certainly be able to relate to the dinosaurs' desire to stay up and play a little longer, and you'll love the expressions of parents as they try to cajole their beloved creatures into bed.  The names and pictures of the different dinosaur species appear on the inside covers of the book, and each creatively appears somewhere in the illustrations, as well.  I also love that it features some less well-known species, such as the Corythosaurus, Trachodon, and Apatosaurus.  Of course, there is also the wonderful message of how to get ready for bed without a fuss.  After all, if dinosaurs can do it, so can our rowdy little monsters, right?  So how does a dinosaur say goodnight?  Does he "slam his tail and pout?  Does he throw his teddy bear all about?... No, dinosaurs don't.   They don't even try. They give a big kiss.  They turn out the light.  They tuck in their tails.  They whisper, 'Good night!'"  In my opinion, this book is a must for any preschooler.  But be warned: it might result in lots of giggles, hugs, and bedtime kisses from your own little dinosaur! 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Day 84: Where's the Cat?

Every once in a while we come across a new book that I just know I'm going to have to share on here right away.  Where's the Cat? is one such book.  It's been ridiculously sticky and hot here this week, so we've made several trips to the library in our effort to beat the heat.  My son was looking through the shelves of board books to find a cute story for his little sister when I noticed one that was a Barefoot Book.  Having loved every Barefoot Book we've ever read and wanting to discover more of their fabulous titles, I picked it up and handed it to him.  "What about Where's the Cat?" I suggested.  "There's a silly cat on there!" he said.  "Let's go read it!"  My daughter continued to play while he climbed into my lap with a big smile on his face, eager to begin the story.  The pictures are bold, and the short, rhyming text is silly, simple, and repetitive, making this a perfect book for infants and emerging readers, alike.  Each pair of pages begins, "Where's the Cat?" and features a bright, cheerfully colored illustration of a cat hiding somewhere in the scene.  With only his ears, nose, or the tip of his tail visible, that pesky cat can be hard to find!  Once you think you've found him, turn the page to see if you're right.  "Where's the cat?  Up the tree.  Where's the cat?  By the sea."  Debbie Harter's illustrations are wonderful (I just love the cat's playful expressions!) and to me, are what really make the book fun.  Our favorite picture is of the cat "up the stair," as he hangs mischieviously off the step.  The first time we read it, my son was incredibly focused on finding the cat in each picture.  Once we had finished the story, he immediately asked to read it again.  This time, he was in a fit of giggles by page two ("up the stair") that lasted throughout the end of the book.  After reading it five times in a row right there in the library, I suggested we take it home with us.  We've since read it at least twenty times, and while I thought finding the cat might get old once my son knew where it was on each page, he continues to laugh his way through the book each time we read it.  He loves to read it by himself and to his sister now, too, which is always fun to see.  I find this story to be brilliant in both its appeal and accessibility.  With only three words per page and bright, bold pictures, it is perfect for babies.  Yet it's equally perfect for preschoolers, who will love looking for the cat and remembering the rhymes.  And hey, maybe they'll even learn some prepositions while they're at it!  I have no doubt this story will be a welcomed addition to our home library someday. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day 83: Stella, Star of the Sea

To me, the beach and summer go hand in hand.  I can't imagine a better way to spend a summer day than strolling along the shore, feeling the sand between my toes, and taking a swim in the cool ocean waves.  I also realized recently that few things make me happier than watching my children play together along the water's edge.  When I asked some friends of the blog about their favorite summer reads, Sharon Cerasoli recommended Stella, Star of the Sea.  I love suggestions from fellow book lovers so couldn't wait to check it out.  We borrowed it from our local library the other day and my son and I both love it!  Thank you so much for sharing, Sharon!  Stella and her brother Sam are spending a day at the seashore.  It is Sam's very first time, and he's a bit nervous.  The sea is big and noisy.  The water is cold.  He's quite hesitant to go in, but not Stella!  She loves the sea!  "She had seen the sea once, before Sam was born," so of course, "She knew all its secrets."  Worrywart Sam asks his sister question after question, and each time, Stella has a delightful reply that is sure to bring a smile to your face.  "Where do starfish come from?" asked Sam.  "From the sky," answered Stella.  "Starfish are shooting stars that fell in love with the sea."  They find shells of all kinds, dig a hole to China, and fish from the pier, little brother asking questions all the while.  "Do you think there are sharks in the sea?...  Does a seahorse neigh?... Does a parrotfish swim? Or does it fly and squawk?"  Stella continues to reply with her matter-of-fact simplicity, until finally, her carefree nature and zest rub off on Sam and he takes the plunge!  I love the relationship between these two siblings and the illustrations are as fabulous as the story itself.  I especially love the kids' cute, round bellies and Stella's flaming red hair.  If you're looking for another great summertime read, I highly recommend this book.  There are others in the Stella series, too.  I can't wait to look them up!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 82: Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef

Over in the Ocean is fabulous in so many ways!  This is definitely one of our favorite books to read and sing -- perfect for a summery beach day!  There are so many things we love about this book that I hardly know where to begin.  First, the artwork by Jeanette Canyon is FANTASTIC!  All of the beautiful illustrations are crafted out of colorful polymer clay, which makes for a spectacular and unique style that is unlike any other I've seen.  Her work is truly amazing.  Second, it's a wonderful sing-along put to the classic tune of "Over in the Meadow," and I just love any book that gets us singing and moving! (Don't worry if you don't know the tune -- the words and music are featured at the back of the book.)  We read this story so many times when we first brought it home from the library that I very quickly had the whole thing memorized.  My son was only about 18 months old at the time, and even now, two years later, he still asks to read it all the time.  I find that we sing the song quite often, as well, when driving in the car, playing in the bath, or even as a lullaby.  It's also a counting book that tells about some of the many wondrous species that make our ocean's coral reefs their home.  Count your way from one to ten, meeting angel fish, clown fish, stingrays, puffer fish, seahorses and others along the way.  "Over in the ocean far away from the sun, lived a mother octopus and her octopus one.  "Squirt," said the mother.  "I squirt," said the one.  So they squirted in the reef far away from the sun."  I also love that the animals' actions in the book are true to their actions in real life.  An octopus really does squirt ink, parrot fish grind on coral, and clown fish dart among anemones.  It's educational, engaging, fun, colorful, and fantastically creative!  Maryann Berkes also includes great supplemental information at the back of the story, including more detail about the featured species, how the illustrations were made, and suggestions for ways children can move about to the song.  There are others in Berkes' series, as well, such as another family favorite, Over in the Jungle (featured back on Day 5.)  We absolutely love this book, and find that it makes a wonderful birthday gift for young children.  If you're headed to the beach at all this summer, be sure to check this one out.  You just might find yourself singing the song the whole way there!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Day 81: Little Cloud

Anyone who has ever gazed up at the clouds and seen different shapes and creatures among them is sure to adore this book.   We just love it!  Like so many wonderful Eric Carle stories, Little Cloud excites the imagination while teaching us a little lesson in the process.  The curious little cloud ventures away from his friends, touching the tops of the houses and trees, then turning into all sorts of shapes -- a sheep, a plane, a shark, trees, a rabbit, a hat, a clown -- before finally joining his friends to do what all clouds are supposed to do... rain!  I love Carle's choice of objects the cloud becomes and its reasons for doing so.  ("Little Cloud changed into an airplane.  Little Cloud often saw airplanes flying through the clouds.")  It's a simple, lovely story that intrigues young minds and is a perfect book to read on a summer day.  After reading it, of course, you'll have to go out and do some cloud gazing yourself!  Be sure to read Carle's letter to the reader on the inside cover, as well.  I always love when authors do this, especially when it provides a bigger sense of why they wrote the story and what they hope the reader takes away from the book.   Happy cloud watching!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Day 80: Henry and Mudge in the Green Time

One of our earliests posts (Day 3) was about the beloved boy and dog duo of Henry and Mudge, who have long been regular favorites in our household.  We are fond of Cynthia Rylant's books, in general, but Henry and Mudge will forever hold a very special place in our hearts.  I just love these stories about the big drooly dog and his best friend, Henry.  Sucie Stevenson's illustrations are wonderfully charming, and I love the way Rylant describes the things Mudge does and the love Henry's family has for one another.  There are 28 books in the series, and I think we've read just about all of them at one time or another.  Henry and Mudge in the Green Time is definitely among my favorites.   It takes place in the summer, and the three chapter stories are "The Picnic," in which Henry gets stung by a bee, "The Bath," in which Mudge endures a much-hated bath, and "The Green Time," my favorite of the three.   I think I love the Green Time so much because it captures the wonderful imagination of Henry, an only child, and the bliss and innocence of childhood.  Henry and Mudge spend lots of time on the green hill near their house, Henry pretending to be a king and Mudge, his dragon.  "The met monsters.  Mudge ate them.  They marched and marched till they could march no more.  Then they found a magic tree on the green hill.  It was a tree for kings and dragons who were tired.  Henry and Mudge sat down under the tree.  Henry put his arms around Mudge.  They were glad for a magic tree.  They closed their eyes.  And a boy and his dog slept, together, on the green hill in their green time."   Just wonderful, isn't it?  Henry and Mudge can usually be found in the early reader section of your library.  No need to wait until your child can actually read, though, before checking out this fabulous series.  These books are wonderful additions to any preschoolers library.  Be warned, though:  this series is addictive!  Don't be surprised if your little one asks to bring home the library's entire collection all at once.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day 79: Eating the Alphabet

My son loves playing the game where you take a letter of the alphabet and think of as many things as you can that begin with that letter.  Sometimes we name only animals (his favorite "Q" animal that he's learned about is the quokka), but other times it can be just about anything.  He likes to play while we're in the car, eating lunch, doing puzzles, or just playing.  Out of nowhere he'll suddenly say, "Let's start with R.  Rabbit, rhinocerous, race, rocket..." I love hearing what he comes up with as play, alternating back and forth.  Another great book I found at our last library book sale was Lois Ehlert's Eating the Alphabet.  It's a simple alphabet book, with the names and colorful watercolor collage illustrations of fruits and vegetables for each letter of the alphabet (shown with both lower and uppercase letters.)  My son loves reading it, and it has given him some great new words to add to his vocabulary and use during our words game:  kumquat, currant, endive, huckleberry, persimmon, quince, rutabega, ugli fruit.  I also have learned some new things from reading it, as well, thanks to the fabulous glossary at the back that gives some fun and interesting facts about each food.  Who knew "xigua" is the chinese name for watermelon?  If your child loves learning fun, new words, this book is bound to be a hit.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day 78: Roadwork

Roadwork is one of my son's favorite books to read right now.  We have taken it out of the library several times at his request, and even had to bring it on vacation with us.  (Miraculously, I even managed to not leave it behind.)  It actually was a fun book to have on hand as we passed by countless construction trucks on the highways during our vacation, and even more so as we sat in the traffic they created.  But really, I'm featuring this book today because it is one of the few times in my life that I can honestly say I have used the word onomatopoeia in a sentence.  I think the last time was probably in my 6th grade English class.  (I hope you're not offended, Mrs. Gianokis.) There are many cool things about Roadwork, but my son's favorite has to be the (wait for it...) onomatopoeia!, the fancy Greek grammatical term for words that sound like what they mean.  "Plan the road.  Plan the road.  Mark in on the map.  Hammer in the marking pegs.  PING!  BANG!  TAP!"  Or one of my son's favorite verses, "Load the dirt.  Load the dirt.  Scoop and swing and drop.  Slam it down into the truck.  BUMP!  WHUMP!  WHOP!"  He has memorized all of these fun sound effects and looks forward to saying them as we turn each page.  But aside from being colorful, lyrical, and extremely fun to read, Roadwork is also educational; it outlines the process of how a road is built from start to finish, from clearing away the earth to sealing the road and putting up the lights.  If you have a truck lover in your house, this book is a must-read, but even if you don't, I encourage you to check it out.  Any child will love saying the sounds along with you.  While you're at it, tell them all those fun words have a name: onomatopoeia. That's one word they'll definitely have fun trying to say! 

We have the hardcover version from our local library, but I also just saw that it is available as a board book, too.  Excellent!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Day 77: One Morning In Maine

No trip to Maine is complete without reading a few Robert McCloskey books.  We arrived in Boothbay Harbor today, which is about as close to coastal perfection as any town gets.  What better book to share from such a glorious location than One Morning in Maine?  After all, the setting for this charming story couldn't be all that far from here.  I was so thrilled to find a copy of One Morning in Maine at our last local library book sale for only 50 cents.  I brought it home and wanted to read it to my son right away, though I was worried he might still be a bit young to fully appreciate it.  In some respects, he is – I think this wonderful story might be better suited for the kindergarten and elementary demographic – but he does seem to like it nonetheless.  One Morning in Maine is classic McCloskey:  beautifully illustrated in expressive detail, with a wonderfully descriptive story.  What I love most about One Morning in Maine is the way it captures the simple lifestyle of a time gone by.  I can’t help but imagine myself growing up the way Sal and her sister do on a beautiful, isolated Maine coastline, digging clams for lunch and having to take the motor boat across the bay to the general store for milk and groceries.  I also love the way McCloskey weaves subtle educational tidbits into his story along the way, such as that birds lose feathers only to have others grow in their place, much like Sal will when she loses her tooth.  One Morning in Maine tells the story of just that – one morning in Maine – in a way that is captivating, timeless, and beautifully simple.  It might just be a few hours, but that morning we spend with Sal and her family is one that we will remember and cherish for years to come.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Day 76: If You Give a Moose a Muffin

When we were packing up for our trip to Maine, we made sure to collect several of our favorite books about one of our all time favorite states.   If You Give a Moose a Muffin doesn’t necessarily take place here, but my son does always associate moose with Maine.  In fact, as we crossed over the Piscataqua River bridge and said, “Welcome to Maine!” he said, “Maybe we’ll see some moose in Maine!”  We did see a moose crossing sign or two, but despite keeping a very close eye out for moose in the woods, we have not seen any yet.  So for now, reading this story will have to do.  We’ve already featured another book in the If You Give series by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond back on Day 11, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, but this one is another favorite.  If you’re unfamiliar with these delightful books, we highly recommend that you check them out.  The illustrations are adorably clever, and the story lines about the silly animals and the havoc they innocently create throughout their days are wonderfully charming.  Do you know what happens if you give a moose a muffin?  He’ll want some jam to go with it, of course.  And then he’ll want more.  But watch out!  As innocent as it sounds, making more muffins will soon turn into making puppets, painting, and a slew of other creatively messy endeavors.  My son always finds these stories terrifically funny, and as a parent, I just love the way the beloved creatures zip from one activity to the next, exhausting their friends along the way.  I know our household can certainly relate!  We’ve read this story every night of our Maine vacation so far, and continue to keep a lookout for moose every day.  Maybe we’d have better luck if we made some muffins and blackberry jam.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Day 75: Goodnight Our World series

These adorable board books are a perfect way to introduce some of your favorite places to your little one.  My geography teacher self might be a bit biased towards these books, but I really think they are a great way to help teach children about the world and places around them.   There are over 30 titles to choose from in this series, many of which are based on various U.S. states or cities.  There are others that are more general, though, such as Goodnight World, Goodnight Lake, Goodnight Zoo and Goodnight Beach.  Each book brings its readers to various places in and around its title location throughout the course of a day, highlighting various landmarks and wildlife along the way.  The illustrations are colorful and cute but not too busy, making these stories appealing to even the youngest readers.  Whether they are about a place you or other family members call home or a favorite vacation spot, these books are a great way to reminisce about some of your favorite locations.  They are also great "preview" books:  if you're going someplace new, see if there is a Goodnight book about it.  It would be a great way to introduce that place to your child before you go!   I also find that even if we haven't gone anywhere special, it's nice to snuggle up and talk about all the fun things we did that day after we read these stories at bedtime.   For a complete list of available titles, you can visit the Goodnight Our World homepage at