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, August 25, 2011

Day 99: Starlight Sailor

"Star light, star bright, First star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.  I wish I had a little boat!  Far away I'd drift and float, Where the great blue whales leap, And pirate ships lie sunken deep."  So begins the incredibly beautiful Starlight Sailor, a magical bedtime story of imagination and adventure.  Join a little boy and his dog as they set sail across the ocean blue to a distant dreamland, where unicorns prance, dragons fly, and mermaids swim.   James Mayhew's gentle lyrics are complemented by the gorgeous artwork of Jackie Morris, whose soothing illustrations are perfectly described as ethereal.  I feel calmer and sleepier just looking at the pictures alone.  I also loved Morris's dedication to her daughter (I presume), who happens to share the same birthday as my own little girl.  (Not that I needed another reason to love or want this book!)  Starlight Sailor is simply beautiful:  a lovely bedtime read that has quickly become one of my recent favorites.  It would also make a perfect baby or birthday gift.  Older children will love the instructions at the back of the book for how to make their own paper boat, as well.  "Star light, star bright, First star I see tonight, I follow you across the night, through my dreams 'til morning light."  Wishing you all sweet dreams tonight!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day 98: Bedtime for Mommy

I think it's safe to say that we've all had those days where bedtime finally rolls around and we would give anything to switch places with our little one.  If only we could be the ones taking a nice bath, getting tucked in, and snuggling up to have a bedtime story read to us!  In Bedtime for Mommy, Amy Krouse Rosenthal does just that, telling the adorable story of the little girl who struggles to get her mommy into bed and asleep. Children and parents, alike, will be amused by this cute role reversal, complete with the classic requests for five more minutes to play (work in her office) before going upstairs and one more bedtime story.  I love LeUyen Pham's charming illustrations, as well, especially the look of amusement on the mommy's face as she takes her bath.  The daughter makes sure her mommy has her bath toys (a bottle of bubble bath, bath salts, and a razor), helps her pick out the perfect outfit for the next day (after several attempts), and finally snuggles up to read Mommy's bedtime book of choice, Anna Karenina.  Finally, after lights-out requests for a drink of water and leaving the door open a little more, Mommy is down for the night.  "Phew!" the tired girl sighs.  "One down, one to go." Now it's Daddy's turn!  My son can't help but giggle at the thought of putting me to bed when we read this story.  Now if only we could really switch places sometime.  If bedtime seems like a run-around in your house like it so often does in ours, this story will be sure to make you and your child smile. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Day 97: Toot & Puddle

Toot and Puddle have to be one of the cutest, most endearing pairs of friends in all of children's literature.  They are the porcine version Frog and Toad; the best of friends with personalities as different as night and day.  Puddle is a homebody who is most content enjoying the simple pleasures of his life in Woodcock Pocket.  Toot loves travel and adventure.  In the first book of this delightful series, Toot sets off to travel the world, sending postcards home to Puddle to share his adventures along the way.   In the year he is away, Toot visits such exotic locations as Egypt, Paris, India, the Alps, Antarctica, and the Solomon Islands, to name a few.  Each turn of the page features a delightful juxtaposition of Toot's postcard to Puddle (with accompanying illustration) and Puddle's own adventures back home.  In March, Toot writes from Egypt -- "The pyramids are the greatest.  Wish you could meet me at the oasis." -- while Puddle is home tapping maple syrup, wishing Toot were there to taste the pancakes.  While Toot is busy diving with schools of fish in the Pacific in April, Puddle is home diving into the baths of mud season.  Finally, by year's end, Toot returns home and the two friends reunite to celebrate each other's adventures: Toot's around the world, and Puddle's right at home.  There are just so many things that I love about this story, and about Toot and Puddle's friendship, in general.  First, of course, there is the travel element:  I love any book that whisks its readers away to different parts of the world.  (We like to look at a map of the world after reading this story to track Toot's route.)  Then, of course, there are Holly Hobbie's magical illustrations, which somehow manage to make me feel happy and warm and cozy just by looking at them.  The details in the images are fabulous, too, from Toot's pastry shop in Italy to Puddle's silly self-portrait with sunflowers.  Most of all, I love everything about Toot and Puddle's friendship.  To me, these charming pigs represent friendship and love at its finest.  Despite having very different interests and personalities, they are still the closest of friends.  They do not try to change to be more like the other, but rather are quite happy being themselves.  They embrace each other's differences and unique qualities, and show that two people (or pigs) do not have to be alike in order to be friends.  The message of this story is one that can be appreciated by children of all ages, and hopefully adults, as well.  This book makes a wonderful gift, too, especially if you know a child whose good friend has moved away.  If you have yet to befriend Toot and Puddle, please do.  Their stories of enduring friendship are simply wonderful in every way. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Day 96: Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site

I always love getting great book recommendations from friends.  Our good friend Melinda (who, in addition to being generally fabulous, is also a children's librarian) emailed me the other week to tell me about a great new book she thought my son would love:  Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site.  Sounding right up his alley, I made a mental note to look for it the next time we visited our library.  Lo and behold, the next time we went, there it was on the new books shelf, right in front.  My son immediately picked up the book and excitedly ran to the couch to read it with me.  If you know a child who is as obsessed with construction trucks as mine is, this book is a must read!  "Down in the big construction site, the tough trucks work with all their might.  To build a building, make a road, To get the job done -- load by load!"  Follow along as a truck crane, cement mixer, dump truck, bulldozer, and excavator work the day away, then finally settle down to rest after a hard day's work.  The cute, rhyming verses are fun to read, and I love that we are able to say goodnight to each vehicle along the way, slowly winding down a bit more with each turn of the page. My son might display the horsepower and destructive capabilities of a bulldozer some days, but even he will settle down a bit more when reading this before bed.  It's really a perfect bedtime story in our house:  my little guy always loves a good trucks book, and I'm always looking for a great bedtime read.  So snuggle up with your little one and give this book a go. "Turn off your engines, stop your tracks, Relax your wheels, your stacks, and backs.  No more huffing and puffing, team: It's time to rest your heads and dream.  Construction site, all tucked in tight.  The day is done, turn off the light.  Great work today!  Now... shhh... goodnight." 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Day 95: The Please and Thank You Book

My son received this as a gift from his grandmother when he was two and it was an immediate hit!  The Little Golden Please and Thank You Book contains fifteen little tales about manners that are perfect for preschoolers.  The rhymes are short -- more like poems, at times -- so are quick and fun to read.  They also address topics that are particularly relevant to the preschool demographic, such as sharing, playing fair, and how to be a polite guest. Ironically, none of the verses is specifically about saying "please" or "thank you," but the book does a great job of reminding children of the proper ways to (and not to!) behave.  Ricky Raccoon provides a perfect example of how to act when playing at a friend's house, "the Ox always knocks before opening a door," and "thoughtful elephants always remember to wipe their muddy feet" before coming inside. Leopards always wait for the light and stay to right when crossing the street. Then there is my son's favorite, "Don't Be Grabby, Gorilla," a title we find ourselves repeating to our son when he forgets to ask politely for something.  Of course, we also encourage him to be like the rabbit twins and try new foods when he is at the table -- "Funny or runny or something new, they try at least a bite or two" -- though he is not always as adventurous.  Does your little one have the tendency to slam doors?  You'll love "Not So Wild, Cats!"  "Wildcats make their mother roar, the way they slam the kitchen door.  If they would close it quietly, they'd see how pleased their mom would be."  Now that I think about it, my son actually likes the stories about how not to act the most ("Terrible Tigers" is another favorite.)  Hmm..... Regardless, this cute collection is a great way to remind our little ones about the importance of good manners while making them smile in the process.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Day 94: Frog and Toad are Friends

Oh, how I love Frog and Toad!  These books are some of my absolute favorites from my childhood, and I love reading them to my own children as much as I loved listening to them as a little girl.  Arnold Lobel's classic Frog and Toad books are part of the "I Can Read" series, though I have found my son has enjoyed them since he was about two years old.  We also recently got a cd read-along version of this out from the library, which has been fabulous for summer trips in the car. (We definitely need to get some more audio books!)  We love all of the Frog and Toad books, but this particular one, Frog and Toad are Friends, contains one of my all-time favorite stories of friendship, "The Letter."  Toad is feeling particularly sad one day because he never gets any mail.  Frog visits with him for a while trying to cheer him up, but they spend most of their time just sitting on the porch feeling sad together.  Suddenly, Frog has the perfect idea.  He rushes home to write his dear friend, Toad, a letter.  When he is done, he happily addresses the envelope and asks a neighborhood snail to deliver it for him.  Then he rushes back to Toad's house to wait for the mail.  Of course, snail mail takes a rather long time -- 4 days, in fact -- but Frog's simple act of friendship is enough to make anyone smile... especially Toad.  And I just love what his letter says: "Dear Toad, I am glad that you are my best friend.  Your best friend, Frog."  It's a wonderful story that captures the true spirit of friendship, and offers the gentle reminder to all of us that the world can always use more random acts of kindness, even towards our closest of friends.  Other stories in this collection include "Spring," "The Story," "A Lost Button" (another favorite), and "A Swim."  If Frog and Toad have not yet made their way into your reading rotation, look for them the next time you are at the library.  Their stories are true classics in every meaning of the word. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day 93: A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee

Calling all campers!  This book is a must for you!  We first fell in love with Chris Van Duzen when we read The Circus Ship back on Day 61.  He is a master of fun, rhythmic verse (much like Bill Peet, in my opinion) and his illustrations have that certain je ne sais quoi.  I particularly love the way he is able to depict light and water in his art, with beautifully bold colors and a nuanced touch that bring his animated images to life.  A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee has a fabulously cool retro feel to it, too, from the style of the car and camper to Mr. Magee's glasses.   I just love it!  In this playful tale, Mr. Magee and his little dog, Dee, head out to the mountains for some good ol' camping fun.  They find the perfect spot -- high on a hill overlooking the mountains and a beautiful waterfall -- and settle in for the evening.  "Dee gathered pine cones and branches and logs.  Magee made a campfire and cooked some hot dogs.  And as the sun set behind far distant knolls, they sat roasting marshmallows over the coals."  But as Dee and Magee drift off to sleep, a marshmallow hungry bear comes along... setting them off on a silly, wild, precarious ride!  Having survived several different camping comedies of error myself, I can't help but be amused by this story; especially the very end.  I usually find myself craving s'mores after reading it, too.  Whether your idea of camping is pitching your tent after a long backwoods hike or checking in at the Marriot,  A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee is sure to delight you and your child.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Day 92: Animalia

Magnificently marvelous menagerie makes a masterful, meticulous monograph.  Base's beautiful book of beasts bestows brilliance beyond belief.  Without a doubt, Animalia will be one of the most beautiful books you ever read with your child.  Ever.  "Within the pages of this book, You may discover, if you look, Beyond the spell of written words, A hidden land of beasts and birds.  For many things are 'of a kind', And those with keenest eyes will find, A thousand things, or maybe more -- It's up to you to keep the score."   This is not your ordinary alphabet book.  On every page from A to Z, Graeme Base creates an amazingly intricate illustration, complete with an alliterative tongue-twister that will test even some adult's vocabulary.  A few examples include "Crafty crimson cats carefully catching crusty crayfish," and "Ingenious iguanas improvising intricate impromptu on impossibly impractical instruments." Or perhaps the biggest tongue-twister of all, "Victor V. Vulture the vaudeville ventriloquist:  versatile virtuoso of vociferous verbosity, vexatiously vocalizing at the Valhalla Variety Venue."  Of course, it is the illustrations that truly make this book amazing.  They are beautifully detailed, exceptionally clever, and masterfully done.  I read in an interesting interview of his that it took Base months to complete each drawing.  I can certainly believe it!  Each incredible picture is full of things that begin with that letter of the alphabet.  You could literally look at some of them for an hour and not find everything.  As my son loves playing alphabet games, this book is a huge hit with him lately.  He loves looking for everything hidden in the pictures, including a small boy who appears in each one (intended to be Graeme when he was a child.  As he points out in the interview, this was even before "Where's Waldo?" came to be.)  This book can certainly be enjoyed by the older child, as well, and in fact might even be intended for a more sophisticated audience.  We especially love the lions on the L page.  My son always calls them the "library lions", after another one of our favorite books, featured back on Day 34. (One little warning to parents of very young children:  the "K" page features a picture of "Kid Kookaburra and Kelly Kangaroo kidnapping Kitty Koala," with some type of gun in their hands.  My son doesn't even seem to notice and loves looking for all of the other "K" things, plus it is illustrated in a cool, 1930's style, but some people might be turned off by the gun.  Just throwing that out there.)  We've had hours of fun with this book, and I love that it is the type of story that can grow along with your child.  There are so many other things you can do after reading this, too.  Make your own alphabet letter pictures, or see how many words you and your child can name that begin with one letter (my son loves doing this!)  We also happen to have an Animalia puzzle, which he loves doing, too.  Animalia is a beautiful work of art that is bound to captivate minds both young and old. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Day 91: My Granny Went to Market

I'm SO excited to begin my journey as an ambassador with Barefoot Books!  I just hosted my first book party yesterday and can't wait to share these wonderful stories with my friends and family.  We have yet to pick up a Barefoot Book that we didn't like!  In honor of my book party yesterday, I wanted to feature one of our favorite Barefoot stories at the moment, My Granny Went to Market: A Round the World Counting Rhyme.  Of course, the geography teacher in me LOVES this book, too.  It's never too early to introduce children to other countries and cultures, and this book does just that.  Fly around the world with Granny on her magic carpet, stopping to buy all kinds of fun things from different countries along the way:  two temple cats from Thailand, three masks from Mexico, four paper lanterns from China, and more!  We love the maps on the inside cover, as well, which show Granny's route around the globe.  The full page illustrations are bright, fun, and colorful; I especially love the one from Kenya with its wildlife meandering in the shadows of Kilimanjaro.  Also available in a Spanish language version, My Granny Went to Market is a fabulous addition to any classroom or home library.  Where would YOU go if you had a magic carpet?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Day 90: A House for Hermit Crab

It was a beautiful day here yesterday, so after breakfast we decided to drop everything we had planned at home for the day and head to the beach.  I don't think there is any place on the planet where I feel more relaxed and rejuvenated than by the ocean.  The salty air and smell of sea roses, the sound of lapping waves, gazing out at the water and wondering what other shores it has touched around the world... It's heavenly.  Fortunately, my children love the beach as much as I do.   My son loves exploring around the rocks, searching for crabs at low tide, and following the tiny hermit crabs as they scuttle about.  Yesterday, he even got to hold several baby jellyfish that were floating around, which he thought was exceptionally cool.  He has been pretending to be sea creatures ever since -- mainly hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs, and stingrays (though just now he seems to have moved on to being different dinosaurs. It's hard to keep up sometimes!)  What better book to feature today, I thought, than Eric Carle's A House for Hermit Crab?  Like so many of his books, this one is informative and fabulous in many ways.  In January, little hermit crab decides that he's grown a bit too big for his shell and it's time to move into a bigger one.  He's a bit hesitant to leave his old home behind as he's always felt so safe there, but in February he finds just the right shell to take its place.  It's a simple shell, though -- a bit too plain for his liking -- so he sets off to decorate it with new friends he meets along the way:  a sea anemone, starfish, coral, sea urchin, and snails, to name a few.  He carries on, making friends, exploring new places, and making his shell his own, until in November, he realizes he has continued to grow and will once again need to move on.  There are so many lessons to be learned from this book -- I just love it!!  Through his masterful storytelling and gorgeous illustrations, Eric Carle manages to teach us about the months of the year, habits and lifestyles of hermit crabs and other sea creatures, and perhaps most importantly, ways to adapt to and embrace change.  Rather than be scared of having to leave his comfortable, safe home behind, hermit crab is excited about the endless possibilities that await him as he moves on; a valuable lesson for all of us, I think.  Be sure to read the introductory information about hermit crabs on the dedication page, as well as the glossary of sea animals featured at the back of the book.   I think of this book every time we pick up little hermit crabs or empty shells, and wonder what creatures might have called those shells home over the years.  Heading to the beach soon?  Pick this wonderful book up before you go.  It's a perfect summer read!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Day 89: If Not for the Cat

I love, love, love haiku poetry.  Love it.  I can still remember writing and illustrating my own book of haiku when I was in third grade and dedicating it to one of the cool, young teachers in my after-school program named Rhonda.  As a kid, I found most poetry boring, unless it was written by Shel Silverstein.  There was something about haiku, though, that really grabbed me.  I think what I loved most about it was its accessibility.  If you're unfamiliar with haiku, it's a form of Japanese poetry consisting of three lines with a syllabic form of five/seven/five.  Seventeen syllables.  That's it.  As a student, knowing I only had to come up with seventeen syllables took a lot of the stress off of writing a poem.  Anyone can do that, right?  Sure.  But what is truly wonderful about haiku is how beautifully descriptive those few words strung together can be.  I teach my seventh grade students about haiku poetry during our unit on East Asia.  In what is one of my favorite events of the school year, students spend a few days writing and illustrating their own books of haiku, which they then read aloud and share with their peers during a class tea party.  I even invite their parents to come.  We drink tea, have snacks, and share poetry with one another.  It's wonderful.  I introduce our little project by reading Jack Prelutsky's If Not for the Cat.  After discussing the basics of haiku, I try to really emphasize that what makes it feel easy (it's brevity) is also what makes it so hard.  Whatever you're trying to say, whatever image you're trying to paint in your reader's mind, you've only got seventeen syllables in which to do it.  Word choice is everything.  When we read If Not for the Cat, I ask the students to close their eyes and listen carefully to what I am reading.  At the end of each haiku, they are to say outloud what type of animal they think the poem is about.  Once they guess, I turn the book around and show them the pictures.  Try it now and see if you can guess, too:

If not for the cat
And the scarcity of cheese,
I could be content.


We are wrinkled hulks
With astonishing noses,
Our ears block the sun.


Boneless, translucent,
We undulate, undulate;


Don't you wish you could see the pictures now?  I assure you, they are as wonderful as the poems themselves.  Now, I know this isn't my typical blog post, but I guess where I'm going with this is that this is a fabulous book to introduce children of any age to haiku poetry.  (I can safely say this after having successfully captured the attention of hundreds of 12 and 13 year olds in my classroom as well as my preschooler at home.) You could use it to expose your child to poetry, or Japanese culture, or in a tutorial about the power of descriptive writing.  Use it to help a child's listening skills by withholding the pictures until he's ventured a guess like I do with my students.  Or, just read it for fun and enjoy the wonderful poems and illustrations of various animals.  Whatever your reason, find a copy at your local library and read it with your child.  It's an absolutely fabulous book no matter how or why you read it.