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, 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?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Day 106: Your Big Backyard

Okay, so I know this isn't technically a book, but I LOVE the National Wildlife Foundation's magazine Your Big Backyard.  Reading different types of media with your children is an invaluable way to improve their reading and literacy skills, and how fun is it for them to receive their very own magazine in the mail?!   My son always gets so excited when his new Big Backyard arrives!  Most of our old editions are taped together from having received so much love. Thanks to the NWF, there are three levels of nature publications you can read with your child:  Wild Animal Baby (for ages 2-4), Your Big Backyard (ages 4-7) and Ranger Rick  (ages 7 to 14.)  My son first received Wild Animal Baby as a birthday gift when he turned one, and we upgraded to the preschool publication earlier this year.  Subscriptions cost only $15 a year, but many local libraries get these great magazines, as well.  If you do subscribe, it's quick and easy to upgrade your status when you feel as though your child is ready for the next level, which is just one of many reasons to love this wonderful series.  These magazines are so  fabulous and provide a wealth of learning opportunities, from cool and interesting animal facts and amazing photography to art activities and singalongs.  Your Big Backyard, for example, features a family fun guide at the back of each edition with a new song, book of the month, "crafty creation," and "cooking together" activity based on the theme each month.  August's edition featured seahorses (did you know they are actually a species of of fish?), so we learned to sing "Pretty Little Seahorse" (to the tune of I've Been Working on the Railroad), how to make seahorse art out of rolled up paper strips, and how to make sand dollar pancakes with cream cheese.  So fun!  What's more, the book of the month was Over in the Ocean, one of our favorites from back on Day 82.  Need a great gift idea?  Consider a subscription!  This is truly a gift that keeps on giving all year long.  If you haven't checked out these fantastic publications, please do.  We promise you won't be disappointed! 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Day 105: We All Went on Safari

I LOVE books that teach children about other people and places around the world.  To me, this is one of the most important things we can do for our children.  The more they are exposed to other cultures and people who are different than they are, the more tolerant and respectful of those differences they will be.  As a teacher, I have three major goals for all of my seventh grade geography students at the beginning of the year:  1.  To become curious about our beautiful world and its people; 2.  To respect and appreciate the diversity of other cultures, particularly those that are most different than our own; and 3.  To become well-informed, empathetic citizens who will try their best to make the world a better place.   As a parent, my goals are very similar.  I hope to raise my children to be curious, passionate learners who are loving, thoughtful, and kind.  Goodness knows today's world could use more tolerance, love, and understanding.  One of my favorite new multicultural reads is We All Went on Safari:  A Counting Journey through Tanzania.  Written by Laurie Krebs and illustrated by Julia Cairns, We All Went on Safari takes us on a stunning journey through the savanna of Tanzania with members of the Maasai tribe.  Along the way, we encounter majestic wildlife -- lions, ostriches, hippos, wildebeests, and more -- while learning to count from one to ten in both English and Swahili.  Cairns' illustrations are simply gorgeous and provide the perfect background for Krebs' soothing, rhythmic verse.  "We all went on safari, past an old acacia tree.  Nearby giraffes were grazing, so Tumpe counted three."  And, like so many other wonderful Barefoot publications, there is a wealth of fabulous information at the back of the book:  a double-page spread devoted to the animals of Tanzania, including their Swahili names, a page about the Maasai people, meanings of the Swahili names used throughout the book, facts and map of Tanzania and its neighboring countries,  and a page on how to count from (and pronounce) one to ten in Swahili.  There are so many things I love about this book, and there are countless other ways to keep the learning going after we have finished reading.  Find Tanzania and Africa on a map, pretend to go on your own safari, look up the meaning of your child's name, look up how to count to ten in other languages... the possibilities for extended learning are virtually endless!  Based on the Swahili names used in the book, I think my daughter would be named Arusha (independent, creative, ambitious) and my son would be Suhuba (clever, talented, affectionate.)  Whether you're looking for a great book about animals, other cultures, or counting, this is one that is bound to captivate both you and your child.  Kufurahia!  (Enjoy!)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Day 104: The Old Woman Who Named Things

Given our love of the Henry and Mudge series, we have taken to reading some of Cynthia Rylant's other fabulous children's books.  She is such a talented author and is a master of telling stories that are loved and appreciated by children and parents on different levels for different reasons.  The Old Woman Who Named Things is a beautiful story about love, friendship, aging, and the fear of loss.  Once there was an old woman who loved to name things.  She had outlived all of her friends and worried about this, for she didn't want to become lonely without any friends she could call by name.  So, she named things around her; but only those things she knew should she could never outlive. "She named the old car she drove "Betsy."  She names the old chair she sat in "Fred."  She names the old bed she slept on "Roxanne."  And she named her old house "Franklin."... The old woman never worried about outliving any of them, and her days were happy."  One day, the old woman finds a shy brown puppy at her gate.  He looks hungry, so the old woman feeds him some ham and sends him on his way.  Every day, the puppy returns to her gate, happily wagging his tail, and every day, the old woman feeds him and tells him to go home.  It is not long, of course, before the woman starts thinking of letting the puppy stay, but he can't.  She doesn't want to risk outliving any more friends.  When the dog fails to show up at her gate one day, the woman sets off to find him, and in the process finds herself facing the classic challenge of risking loss in order to love and be happy.  It should come as no surprise that this is another wonderful story that makes me tear up every time I read it.  My son, being only 3, loves this story at face value.  He thinks it is so silly that the woman names everything from her bed to her car, and he loves the adorable puppy.  On some level, I think children can appreciate this as a book about friendship, but for adults, of course, the meaning and message of the story is far deeper, making this one of those rare books that is perfect for people of all ages.  This would also be a great book for anyone looking to address those tricky topics of aging and dying with children.  Oh, and did I mention that the illustrations are just as wonderful as the story itself?  The Old Woman Who Named Things is a lovely read that reminds us of the universal importance of taking chances on love, loss and friendship in order to find true happiness. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Day 103: Slowly, Slowly, Slowly Said the Sloth

We love Eric Carle here in our house, and this book has to be one of my son's favorites at the moment.  He's been fascinated by sloths since seeing them in Marianne Berkes' Over in the Jungle, and this book gives all kinds of interesting information about these peaceful creatures in a forward by Jane Goodall.  Did you know sloths sleep 15 to 19 hours a day and are so inactive that algae grows on their fur?  Can't say that would be my camouflage of choice, but it works for them!  Eric Carle has created another artistic masterpiece, this time full of colorful images and animals from the rain forest.  The sloth's fellow jungle friends wonder about the quiet creature who hangs upside down in the tree all day and night, and begin to ask him questions:  "Why are you so slow?  Why are you so boring?  Why are you so lazy?"  After listening and thinking for a long time, the sloth finally replies in a fabulously articulate fashion.  In what other children's book can you find such fantastic vocabulary words as lackadaisical, unflappable, languid, stoic, impassive, lethargic, placid, and mellow?   I love the educational elements of Carle's stories, and my son loves finding the rain forest creatures on each page.  Be sure to check out the complete list of rain forest animals that appear in the book on the inside back cover, including a peccary, puma, anaconda, caiman, coati, howler monkey, and more!  My son also loves to quote this book:  whenever I ask him to hurry up to do something, he almost inevitably replies (going as slowly as he can), "I'm going sloooowly, like a sloth."  (It's the only time he doesn't move at top speed!)  Carle created this book to celebrate the beauty of the Amazon rain forest, and Goodall's foreward further calls upon readers to help protect and conserve rain forest habitats and species such as the sloth around the world.  Perhaps most importantly, it reminds us of the importance of slowing down to enjoy our world every once in a while.  If your child loves animals or the colorful work of Eric Carle, add this great book to your library list.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!  

Monday, September 5, 2011

Day 102: Ruby's School Walk

Looking for a great book to help ease those back-to-school jitters?  Check out Ruby's School Walk!  We recently checked this adventure of a tale out of the library and my son has asked to read it multiple times a day ever since.  Follow Ruby and her mom as they walk to school, letting Ruby's wild imagination lead the way.  Ruby's mom, of course, sees nothing out of the ordinary along the way, but not Ruby!  She sees a rushing river full of crocodiles, a haunted house full of ghosts, a tiger hiding behind a wall, and an enchanted forest where mighty beasts loom and lurk.  Fortunately for Ruby, she manages to successfully ward off all of these fears on her walk to school... but will she be able to muster up the courage to walk through her classroom door?  With fabulous illustrations by Miriam Latimer, Ruby's School Walk is reassuring to children who are nervous about starting school and an all-around fun read for any child.  We especially love the map of Ruby's walk on the inside covers of the book, and just might have to make our own map of the things we pass on our way to school next week!  I also love the way Ruby's mom reassures her about the adventures she will have in school that day and the closing illustration of Ruby sitting amongst her "classmates."   The text has some good vocabulary words for preschoolers, too, such as my son's favorites, crouch and prowl.  (We can't get through a reading of the book without him jumping off the couch to leap and bound like Ruby chasing away the tiger.)  And parents, definitely check out the accompanying parent's guide created by author Kathryn White entitled, "Packing Backpack, Lunchbox, and Confidence: Tips for Sending Children Off to School."  According to an interview with White, "Every child experiences some trepidation about starting a new chapter of their lives, and beginning school is no exception. When you encourage children to use their imaginations to face their fears, they can overcome them and look forward to a new adventure, such as starting school. The tips in the guide are based on my own experience raising five children and creating imaginative stories that turn worries into fun."  White's guide offers some valuable advice and great ideas for applying the story to your own school experiences.  Good luck heading back to school, everyone!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Day 101: Wemberly Worried

It's Labor Day weekend, which sadly marks the end of summer as we know it.  School has already started up again around here, and my little guy will be off to preschool in less than two weeks.  I can't believe it!  He seems to be excited about his new school, but I have a feeling we'll definitely experience a few tears on those first few days.  We've been talking about how fun it will be to play and make new friends, and have been reading some good books about starting school to get ready, as well.  I've already featured one of our favorites, The Kissing Hand, back on Day 48, but we found another great story at our last visit to the library by the always fabulous Kevin Henkes.  Wemberly Worried is an adorable tale that is one of my son's favorite books to read at the moment.  Wemberly, the sweet little lovable mouse, is a worrier.  She worries, and worries and worries, about big things, little things, and everything in between:  the crack in the wall, the noise of the radiators, her doll Petal, even that there wouldn't be enough cake for her friends at her birthday party.  Her mother, father, and flower-child, rollerblade-wearing grandmother try to help ease her worries, but Wemberly manages to find things to be nervous about anyway.  As Wemberly gets ready to start at her new nursery school, she is faced with her biggest worry of all!  I'll admit that I worried this book might make my son nervous about things he otherwise wouldn't have thought of, but fortunately he reacted the way I hoped he would and found Wemberly's worries to be silly.  "What if no one else has spots?  What if no one else wears stripes?  What if no one else brings a doll?  What if the teacher is mean?  What if the room smells bad?  What if they make fun of my name?  What if I can't find the bathroom?" and my son's favorite of all, "What if I hate the snack?"  Fortunately for Wemberly, her understanding teacher Mrs. Peachum introduces her to a new friend, and by day's end, Wemberly realizes that perhaps there isn't as much to worry about as she thought.  Henkes' delightful mouse characters are charming (look for Lilly of Purple Plastic Purse fame to make an appearance) and I think the story does a great job of addressing children's fears and feelings about starting school in a way that is both realistic and reassuring.   Henkes' illustrations are wonderfully expressive, as usual, and we love looking for fun, silly details on each page.  We highly recommend this book, especially if you have a worried Wemberly of your own.  Wishing you all a smooth transition back to school and a year full of new and wonderful things!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Day 100: Where the Wild Things Are

Our 100th book!  Hooray!  It feels like quite a milestone, even though we have many more great books to read and share before having a whole year's worth.  For our 100th book, I wanted to feature one of our all-time favorites and a must-have in any child's collection:  Where the Wild Things Are.  I doubt there are many people out there who have not heard of this book, and there are many reasons why it has been a classic since its publication in 1963.  Maurice Sendak's story about the fiercely independent and mischievous Max is a fabulous tribute to imagination, adventure, and love.  If you are unfamiliar with the story, young Max gets sent to his room without any supper one night, only to have his imagination take him on a wonderful journey to a faraway land.  "That very night in Max's room a forest grew and grew -- and grew until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around and an ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max and he sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are."  Max soon becomes their king, proclaiming what has become perhaps the book's most famous line, "Let the wild rumpus start!"  He and his fellow wild things romp and roar and play and dance the nights away, but soon Max finds himself longing for the comforts of home.  I never get tired of reading this book with my little wild thing and love everything about it.  The illustrations are beautiful, the story is a joy to read, and I like that the wild things don't look too scary (despite roaring their terrible roars and gnashing their terrible teeth.)  In fact, I find they usually look rather silly and impish rather than fierce and frightening.  Some of our favorite pages are the three in the middle without any words, and my son loves to say, "What does that wild thing say?  What does that wild thing say?" as he points to the different beasts and we make up more of the story in the middle.  I can't help but smile when we read the line about Max being lonely and wanting to be "where someone loved him best of all" and my little monster says, "That's his Mum Mum."  As Max sails back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day, he arrives back at his room to find his dinner waiting for him... "and it was still hot."  Where the Wild Things Are captures everything that is fun and wonderful and challenging about childhood for both parents and children.  The feelings and emotions Max experiences throughout the book are universal for children -- who hasn't, at one time or another, wanted to escape from household rules and be king for a day? -- and Sendak portrays this desire for independence wonderfully.  Most of all, I love the message that no matter how much trouble our wild things might get into, as parents, we will always love them.  If you haven't shared this classic with your own wild thing, please do!  This is one book that no child or parent should go without.