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!

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!