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!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bringing books to life!

My son has been very into acting out stories lately, particularly with his stuffed Elephant Gerald and Piggie from Mo Willems' ever-fabulous Elephant and Piggie series.  My brother-in-law gave W the plush versions of some of his favorite characters for Christmas -- Gerald, Piggie, and the Pigeon (who even yells, "Let me drive the bus!!" when you squeeze him) -- and my daughter got a little Knuffle Bunny.  We LOVE Mo Willems' stories, and acting them out has been the source of endless entertainment lately.  I hadn't been planning on writing a post about our newest source of story time fun, but after reading about Day 14 of the 30 Days to Hands On Play Challenge (over at hands on: as we grow and The Imagination Tree), I decided I'd share more of what we've been up to.  Here are some of our ideas for helping to bring books to life:

Act it out with stuffed animals, puppets, or costumes.  Usually, when we act out our Elephant and Piggie stories, W assumes the role of Piggie while my husband or I become Gerald.  W emphatically reads all of Piggie's lines and acts out every movement and emotion with his plush Piggie along the way.  At first, I thought most of W's "reading" was simply reciting the words from memory, but more and more I'm beginning to think that he is starting to do a lot of actual reading on his own now, too.  It's so much fun to watch!  But back to our little skits. I will say that reading this way is not the best pre-bedtime ritual, as we can't help but get a bit (okay, very) silly when it comes to reading Elephant and Piggie.  Happy Pig Day! is a favorite act-out and read-aloud at the moment, along with There is a Bird On Your Head.  I'm sure the enactments will spread to the Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny series soon, too, though for now it's all about Gerald and Piggie.  I just love the giggle fest that inevitably ensues!

Read the story as you would a play, with each of you reading different characters' lines.  Stories are more fun when characters have different voices, don't you think?  My husband and I both love reading books aloud this way, and our kids just love it when we do.  There are some books that are more conducive to this than others, of course (including the fabulous Elephant Piggie we talk so much about), but one of our other favorite series for this kind of reading is Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel. This is another one of our all-time favorite friendships, and I absolutely love these stories.  Frog and Toad's personalities are so different that I just can't imagine them being read in the same voice.  Frog always ends up sounding a bit like Kermit, and Toad always sounds a little more raspy and gruff.  My son just loves being Toad, and has listened to the stories so many times that he has most of them memorized.  I just love hearing his silly little Toad "accent" as we read the stories together.  It's also quite common for him to quote lines from various stories as he is going about his day, and it's always fun to see what lines have stuck in his head.  Children needn't be independent readers to take part in this kind of story reading duet.  Read any favorite book enough times and they'll be bound to learn their lines along the way.

Draw it, build it, act it out!  After reading Jamie's post at hands on: as we grow about acting out Little Blue Truck, I realized that we could be doing even more to bring our favorite stories to life.  This is one of the things I love most about blogging:  becoming connected to so many other people and their brilliant ideas.  Why not tape a huge roll of paper down on to the floor (love that blue painter's tape!) and draw out a landscape or scene?  Bust out the blocks, the trucks, the animals, the Playmobil figures, the Duplos and let those little minds go to work!  I'll sometimes let my son watch Cars just so he can line up all of his cars and act it all out.  We make up Thomas the tank engine stories as we play with our trains on a daily basis.  I don't know why I never thought to do this with more of our books!

Have other ideas that you're willing to share?  I'd love to hear them!  Feel free to post ideas or links to your blog in the comments below.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Day 137: The Goat Lady

One of our local libraries has the cutest, coziest little children's room around.  It also has a nice little section of staff recommended books.  I like to browse through its titles whenever we visit, and try to check out at least one or two each time.  (I'll admit, too -- the more I write this blog and the more great books we find, the more I want to make a recommendations shelf of my own!)  Last time we visited, I brought home The Goat Lady by Jane Bregoli.  I'm so glad I did.  What a surprisingly touching and wonderful story!  

The Goat Lady, based on true people and events, tells the story of Noelie Houle, an elderly woman who lives in a run-down, old farmhouse with her family of goats.  All of the other homes in the neighborhood are newer, freshly painted, with neatly mowed lawns, but not the goat lady's house.  To many neighbors, it stuck out like a sore thumb with its peeling paint, crooked door, and a yard full of goats.  Some people complained about the unkempt nature of the property and considered the goats to be a public nuisance, but our young narrators are intrigued.  They like to watch the frisky goats and can't help but wonder about who takes care of them.  Finally, one day, they see her -- "a slightly bent, but still rather tall woman" with mismatched clothes, a warm smile, and a twinkle in her eye.  She invites them to come meet her goats and kindly introduces herself.  It is the start of a wonderful friendship, and in the weeks and months to come, the children return to Noelie's house often, learning all about how to care for the goats and helping Noelie with her chores.  They learn more and more about her life, too -- how she moved there from Canada to work in a factory but became ill with arthritis.  How goat's milk gradually cured her, and how she set out to raise goats so that other people could be helped by drinking their milk.  How she eventually had so many goats, she gave some away to an organization (Heifer International) that sent them to people in poor countries, "so that those people would have fresh milk to drink, too."  Perhaps the most important thing the children learn from their friendship with Noelie, though, is tolerance.  Unlike their neighbors, they don't judge Noelie by her outward appearance.  In taking the time to get to know her, they see the kind, compassionate woman that she is, and that is a beautiful thing.

The children soon ask their mother, a portrait artist, if she might like to paint a picture of their friend Noelie and her goats.  She happily agrees, and eventually goes on to create enough paintings for an art show at the town hall.  (Some of Jane Bregoli's actual paintings from the real Dartmouth Town Hall art show about Noelie are featured in the book.)  As word gets out about the show and more and more people begin to learn more about Noelie, people's attitudes about her start to change.  "The neighbors became more accepting of Noelie's way of life.  The yard didn't seem quite as messy, the old house didn't look so rundown, and the animals didn't appear to be as unruly as before."  Soon, those neighbors that used to complain about her ways are stopping by to help Noelie, too.

The message of acceptance and tolerance that pervades this book is inspiring and refreshing.  I love the way it shows the incredible difference children can make in the life of an adult, and in some cases, an entire community.  Everyone knows people who are different, eccentric, "strange," and it is easy to judge them or cast them aside without taking the time to get to know them or their circumstances.  The fact that Noelie is elderly and impoverished is subtle but relevant, and although it might not be immediately noticed by children, it can certainly be discussion worthy.

The Goat Lady is beautifully written and a wonderful story in every way.  My son is just as engrossed by this story as he is with much sillier ones, which just goes to show that a book needn't be funny or fictional to be fully appreciated by a child.  The fact that it is a true story makes it all the more wonderful.  The real Noelie and Bregoli lived in Dartmouth, MA, so I hope that this book is easy to find outside of Massachusetts.  With its many important lessons about kindness and compassion, we highly recommend the Goat Lady for children in preschool and beyond.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Day 136: The Snowy Day

Well, it's finally here.  Our first real snow of the season.  I've been quite happy about its absence up until now (in some ways, I think I'm still recovering from last winter), but it sure does look pretty covering all of the trees and branches outside.  Early this morning, long before the sun came up in the sky, I woke to the sound of the snow plow going down our street.  As I looked toward our windows, I could see the faint orange flashing of the plow's lights passing by, then again a few minutes later as it returned to plow the other side of the street.  Although still half asleep, I was reminded about how much I loved hearing that sound as a child, and how upon hearing it, I would immediately turn on the radio to listen for school closings and delays.  I'd stay snuggled up under my covers with the lights off, admiring the snow on the rhododendron bush outside my window and anxiously waiting to hear my town's name on the list. These days, we get a phone call if there is no school, though given that my husband and I are both teachers, we still get excited about the possibility of a snow day every once in a while.  We only got a few inches of snow over the night -- not enough to cancel or delay school -- but the kids and I have been enjoying a cozy morning inside.  When we cuddled up on the couch to read stories, I reached first for Ezra Jack Keats' classic, The Snowy Day.  This wonderful story, perhaps more than any other, perfectly captures the childhood bliss of waking up to a fresh snow fall.  Putting on your snow suit right after breakfast and heading out into the cold.  Crunching through the snow, making all kinds of footprints and tracks along the way.  Snow angels!  Smiling snow men!  Snow balls!  Who hasn't smacked a snow-covered tree, only to have a huge pile of snow plop down on his head?  And I'm pretty sure I tried to sneak snow balls into the house a few times.  I love Keats' descriptions of Peter's adventures that day, for although they are simple, they ring so true to all of my childhood memories of winter, such as the feeling of walking into my warm house and having my mom help me take off my wet socks.  His illustrations are brilliant, too, and earned this book the Caldecott Medal in 1963.  I just love the cutout collage-style, the contrast of the colors, the swirling clouds in the sky as Peter slides down a mountain of snow.  Somehow, when I read this story, I feel warm and happy and cozy all over, even though I'm thinking about how much fun it is to play in the snow.  I'm sure later, we'll be doing much the same thing as Peter, bundling up to go explore and enjoying the excitement of the year's first proper snowfall.  If you've ever experienced snow yourself, you'll immediately appreciate and love this book.  If you haven't, reading it will give you a glimpse of what it is like to wake up to snowy day.  I have a feeling we'll be reading this book even more now that a white winter has officially arrived.  The Snowy Day is one classic that is not to be missed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Making our own books!

I meant to post about this before Christmas when we were in full-on gift making mode, but never managed to get around to it.  With Valentine's Day coming up, however, I thought I'd share a little project that my son and I did together that is an easy, fun, heartfelt way to tell someone how much you love them.  W and I love reading stories together, and sometimes story time with Daddy is even more special.  W also wanted to make a special gift for Daddy for Christmas, so we came up with the idea of writing our own "Daddy and Me" story.  We set out to make Daddy his very own book, written by W himself, that would document some of the fun things they like to do together.  You could certainly do this for anyone -- mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, a sibling -- and have multiple children take part in writing the story.  Whether you're looking for a personalized gift for Valentine's Day, a birthday, Father's Day, Mother's Day, or any special day in between, making your own book is so much fun!  Here's what we did:

First, we sat down at my computer and went through some of our favorite pictures from the past year.  I confess: I take A LOT of pictures.  I can't help it.  I just love capturing all of the fun, silly, crazy moments that make up our day to day life as a family.  If I didn't take pictures, who knows how many of those moments I would one day forget?  But I digress.  Back to making our book.  As we looked through the photos, W picked out his favorite Daddy pictures like the ones below.  As he chose his favorites, I cut and pasted them into a word document so that they could be easily printed out all at once.

Once we had all of our photos in a Word document, we looked at them again and W came up with something to say about each one.  I typed as he narrated.  Most of his story had to do with the pictures, but there were some random thoughts along the way, too.  Under the picture of them riding the train at the zoo, for example, W (who prefers to go by his nickname, Bugga) wrote:  "Bugga likes riding the train with Daddy and seeing the animals at the zoo.  Bugga also loves running around the track with Daddy and sitting on the couch reading stories.  Playing the Curious George game is fun, too.  Bugga loves Daddy!" I just let him roll with it.  After all, it's his story!

When we had finished writing the text of our story, we printed everything out, cut out the text and pictures, and were ready to get gluing.

I made a quick book by folding three pages of 8 1/2" by 11" card stock in half, snipping three small triangular cuts in the fold, and binding it all together with ribbon.  We did a practice layout of the story and pictures to make sure everything would fit before we glued it all on, but then I let W get to work.

We left enough blank space under the last part of the story for W to sign his name, and he added some foam Christmas stickers for good measure.  

Finally, it was time to put a title on our finished masterpiece.  We used some scrapbooking letter stickers that I had on hand, which worked perfectly.  Add the date and occasion as your copyright on the back, and voila!  You've got a fabulous hand-made book.  W is so proud of his masterpiece and still loves reading it aloud to us.  Needless to say, it was one of Daddy's favorite presents and is something we will keep forever.  Here's to another year of wonderful memories!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

World Read Aloud Day is coming!

I was recently excited to learn of a global literacy initiative known as World Read Aloud Day.  I am sharing information from their website below with the hope that you will take a moment to visit their site, read about their mission, and join in the power of story taking place this year on March 7, 2012.  

Reading is a right.  Reading is knowledge.  Reading is power.  Join us to promote global literacy today, March 7th, and everyday.

Celebrate the Power of Words and Stories and Take Action for Global Literacy with LitWorld.  Worldwide, at least 793 million people remain illiterate. Imagine a world where everyone can read... 

On March 7, 2012, LitWorld, a global literacy organization based in New York City, will be celebrating World Read Aloud Day. World Read Aloud Day is about taking action to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people. World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another, and creates a community of readers advocating for every child’s right to a safe education and access to books and technology. By raising our voices together on this day we show the world’s children that we support their future: that they have the right to read, to write, and to share their words to change the world.

To learn more about LitWorld and to register to participate in World Read Aloud Day, please visit:

Day 135: I Can't Talk Yet, but When I Do...

We brought this adorable book home from the library last week and it is so sweet that I just had to write about it.  Told from the perspective of a baby brother to his older sister, it tells of all the things he would say to her if he could.  "I can't talk yet, but when I do, I'll say thank you for helping to take care of me... for sharing your toys and making me laugh, and for helping me when I was learning to walk."  The little brother can't wait to be able to tell his big sister how much he loves it when she sings him songs, or that he is sorry about the time he tore the painting she brought home from school.  He'll let her know that when he grows up, he wants to be just like her, and he'll finally be able to say the one thing he wants to tell her most of all: "I love you."  The illustrations are darling, and I just love the different scenes and interactions between the two siblings throughout the book.  My favorite is the one of the brother and sister snuggling together in her bed while she reads him a story by flashlight.  The whole book seems to capture the relationship between my two little ones perfectly, which is why I think I love it so much.  My daughter is starting to be able to say some words, and my son loves asking her to repeat them as often as possible:  "Can you say Ma Ma?  Can you say Da Da?  Can you say Ba Ba?" (which is what he tries to get her to call him.)  I always feel so incredibly fortunate that my children absolutely adore each other, and I know that my daughter idolizes my son in every way.  There is no doubt in my mind that she wants to be just like him, but I know it can still sometimes be hard for my son to understand why my daughter does some of the things she does.  If you have or know a child who has recently become a big brother or sister,  read him or her this book, especially if they are having trouble adjusting to their new role as an older sibling.  It is a charming, sweet, and funny story about the love siblings have for one another, and is a wonderful reminder to all of the big brothers and sisters out there just how much they are looked-up-to, appreciated and loved.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Day 134: The Story Tree

Books on cd are my newest obsession.  I keep a collection of some of our favorites in the console of my car, and listening to them makes any road trip infinitely more fun and enjoyable for all of us.  Books on cd have also proven to be a lifesaver for me at bedtime, as I now have a fun, easy way to help my son wind down and relax while I put my daughter to bed.  He'll lie on his bed with a favorite book and just snuggle up and listen to the story on cd while I put little E down in the next room.  Then, I'll come in and we'll read a few stories together before I shut off the light and let him listen to another story.  Up until recently, my husband or I would lie next to W while he fell asleep, telling him stories that we made up along the way. (We've come up with many new tales of Curious George and Thomas the Tank Engine over the years!)  Now, we have happily added books on cd to our nighttime routine.  I vividly remember listening to the Velveteen Rabbit as I fell asleep each night when I was a little girl.  There is something so soothing about falling asleep to a story, isn't there?  We were lucky to get a few of his favorite stories on cd this past Christmas, but his favorite at the moment (which he has listened to every night for two weeks now) is The Story Tree, a gorgeous anthology collection of traditional folk tales from around the world.  There are seven stories in all, some of which we were happy to discover we already knew from other stories we have read.  Monkey See, Monkey Do, a classic tale from India, is the storyline for the beloved Caps for Sale.  The Blue Coat, a Jewish story, must be the basis for Simms Taback's Caldecott winning Joseph Had a Little Overcoat.  Other stories with which you are probably already familiar include The Little Red Hen (English) and the Three Billy Goats Gruff (Norwegian).  The three remaining tales that make up the Story Tree are The Magic Porridge Pot (German), The Sweetest Song (African-American), and my son's favorite, Little Lord Feather-Frock, a Russian story about a cunning fox, a not-so cunning rooster, and an out-witting duo of a cat and blackbird.  I just love that this book calls attention to the culture or country of origin of each story along the way, and my son loves finding them all on a map. Fortunately, W loves snuggling up and having me read the stories to him just as much as he loves listening them on the cd, though I have to say, I quite enjoy listening to the fabulous narrator Hugh Lipton's lovely British accent.  Sophie Fatus' colorful illustrations are playful and fun, as well, making this story as much fun to see as it is to hear.  I have no doubt that The Story Tree will be read, listened to, and enjoyed many times over in our family in the months and years to come.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

5-a-day Books

Last year, I read about this fun little idea on one of my favorite crafty, creative children's blogs, The Imagination Tree.  The idea, "5-a-day-books," is simple:  pick five of your favorite stories (either from home or the library) and read them with your child every day for at least a week.  The point is to help familiarize children with the words, rhythm, meter, inflection, and all of the other wonderful literacy skills that come from reading (and being read to) aloud.  Picture books with strong rhythm or repetitive verses tend to work best, since children can memorize and recall such stories more easily than others.  As mentioned on the Imagination Tree, reading books in this way empowers children "to be able to "read" and re-tell stories from a young age, and also makes them very fluent in a range of text types and literature styles."

I loved this idea, and have come back to it with my little ones from time to time.  If you're like we are, you'll probably realize that you already do this to some extent anyway, so it won't be hard to try.  I think most children go through phases of favorite books; I know mine certainly do.  I have had some of our favorite stories memorized for ages, as has my son, and I love when I hear him quoting books while he is playing.

A friend of mine heard about this today, too, and asked if I wanted to do it with her.  Of course, I said yes!  So, I figured I'd share a post about 5-a-day books on here today, as well, in case any of you would like to join in on the fun!  Feel free to post your list of five-a-day books in the comments below, or jump over to the Imagination Tree to share your books there.  While my son has been wanting to read some of the same books every night lately, I figured I'd start with my daughter's list, especially since her favorites at the moment have all been featured on the blog somewhere along the way.  Happy reading!

Book 1:  Listen, Listen by Phillis Gershator

Book 2:  Bear On a Bike by Stella Blackstone

Book 3:  Bear's Birthday by Stella Blackstone (little E is rather obsessed with Bear these days)

Book 4:  Spot Loves His Daddy by Eric Hill (my link is for Spot Loves His Mommy, but I figure it's close enough :)

Book 5:  From Head to Toe by Eric Carle

Enjoy, and please feel free to share your list below!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Day 133: How to Make an Apple Pie and see the world

If you’ve been following this blog for a while now, you know how much I love books that teach me (and my kids) new things.  Combine that with a book that takes us around the world, includes a map, and uses some fabulous new vocabulary words, and it’s pretty much guaranteed I will love it.  My sister-in-law gave us this book for Christmas (thanks, Kate!), and it was love at first read.  Not only does it have all of the amazing qualities mentioned above, but it's also about one of my children's other favorite things: baking!  How To Make an Apple Pie and see the world is a wonderful book for preschoolers, but I will definitely read it to my seventh grade geography students some day, too.  It starts out with a girl reading a list of apple pie’s ingredients:  apples, flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, butter, egg.  “Making an apple pie is really very easy.  First, get all the ingredients at the market.  Mix them well, bake, and serve.  Unless, of course, the market is closed.”  Then what?  Where do all of these yummy ingredients actually come from, anyway?  This fantastic story takes us on a journey to collect them all from various places around the world:  semolina wheat from Italy, a chicken and egg from France, cinnamon from the bark of Sri Lanka’s kurundu trees, milk from an English cow (“you’ll know she’s an English cow from her good manners and charming accent”), sea water and sugar cane from Jamaica, and apples from Vermont.  Once we’ve collected all the ingredients, we can easily make our pie, right?  Sure!  All we have to do now is “mill the wheat into flour, grind the kurundu bark into cinnamon, evaporate the sea water from the salt, boil the sugar cane, persuade the chicken to lay an egg, milk the cow, churn the milk into butter, slice the apples, mix the ingredients and bake the pie!”  Isn’t it wonderful?!  I love the way this story gets children thinking about where our food actually comes from, and how much we depend on other countries and people of the world every day.  We love tracing our route along the map in the book and remembering where we went to get what. Along the way, author Marjorie Price also teaches us some great new words, such as superb, acquaintance, elegant, and coax.  Be sure to check out the recipe at the end of the book, too.  Perhaps your little ones will even want to make their own pies after reading this great book!  While you may not be able to take them around the world to get the ingredients, talk about where different foods come from the next time you go to the store.  Take a look at the different items around your house that you use every day, too, while you’re at it.  Where were they made?  What countries do you depend on each day?  If your child loves baking, exploring, learning, dreaming, traveling, or even just reading a great new book, this one is bound to be a hit.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Day 132: The Curious Garden

We haven’t even had snow here yet this winter and I’m already thinking about spring!  The worst part is, it hasn’t even really been that cold here yet (though I hear it’s coming this week...)  In thinking about the chilly week that lies ahead, all I want to do is snuggle up on the couch with my little ones and a cup of tea and read some of the new (and wonderful!) books that they got for Christmas.  They got several stories we have been hoping to add to our personal collection for some time, as well as some other new titles I hadn’t heard of before.  One lovely new book my son got from his Uncle Jeff is Peter Brown’s The Curious Garden.  We’ve read it each night at bedtime for the past few days, as well as at some other times in between.  Each time we read it, I manage to love it even more, and I’m so happy that my son enjoys it as much as I do.  The book has a wonderfully soothing quality to it (hence why we love reading it at bedtime), and the subtle language Brown uses throughout is as beautiful as his illustrations.  The Curious Garden tells the story of a young boy named Liam, who stumbles upon a few plants growing in the unlikeliest of places:  a old, abandoned railway in the middle of the dreary, gray city he calls home.  Fortunately for the plants (and later, for the rest of the city), Liam is determined to help them grow.  “Most gardens stay in one place,” but as Liam soon learns, “this was no ordinary garden.  With miles of open railway ahead of it, the garden was growing restless.  It wanted to explore.  The tough little weeds and mosses were the first to move.  They popped up farther and farther down the tracks and were closely followed by the more delicate plants...”  By the end of the summer, Liam and his garden have made their way to every corner of the railway.  But then, as it does, winter arrives, and Liam can no longer spend his days exploring his garden.  Instead, he busies himself preparing for the next growing season ahead, and before he knows it, more than just new plants are popping up:  a whole community of new gardeners is popping up, too.  As the months and years pass, Liam’s garden and spirit grows, until the entire city has blossomed into one lovely arboretum.  It’s lovely to picture, isn’t it?  I just love Brown’s early juxtaposition of the beautiful, thriving plants and the city’s boarded-up windows and pollution-spewing smokestacks, and his pictures of the garden city in the final pages of the book are inspiring and wonderful.  I especially love reading the author’s note at the end.  If you ever read this book, don’t pass it by.  Turns out, Liam’s railway is based on Manhattan’s old elevated railway, the High Line, and the gardens which now grace its rails.  More importantly, though, you’ll share in Brown’s sense of wonder and curiosity about nature and our place in it.  The jacket cover describes The Curious Garden as “a magical story about a boy’s dream and how the efforts of one small person can help change the world.”  In the same vein as one of my all-time favorite stories, Miss Rumphius, The Curious Garden inspires me to make the world a more beautiful place, and give my children the tools, compassion, and desire to do the same.