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, February 24, 2012

Our day at the beach (rainy day style)

It was cold and rainy here today, and although this winter has been quite mild, I can't seem to stop dreaming about summer days at the beach.  I was tired and in a bit of a funk this morning, and needed to snap myself out of it -- and fast.  I decided that if my kids and I couldn't go to the beach, we'd make our own day at the beach right here at home.  Throughout the day, we did a wide variety of summery-feeling activities that made the day feel quite warm and sunny in spite of the rain, and of course, read some of our favorite beachy books, as well.  Read on to find out more about our featured stories and activities!
Beach tent picnic:  I've tried setting up our tent in our living room before, but it proved to be a total disaster.  Our tent apparently needs to be staked into the ground to be able to stand up on its own, and stakes don't exactly go into rugs very well.  Then, a few weeks ago, I got the idea to try our sun shelter instead -- you know, one of those little tent-type structures that people set up to have a little shade at the beach?  It's much bigger than I remembered, but boy does it make a perfect little indoor play space!  And, though it assembles just like a tent, it doesn't require any stakes to stand up on its own.  It was a huge hit, and my kids and I played in it all afternoon.  We laid out one of our beach towels, then filled the tent with pillows and some of our favorite summertime books about oceans and the beach.  We worked up an appetite setting up our beach-side spot, so we started out with a picnic lunch in our tent.  Then, we got to reading.  Among our featured titles were:

Over In the Ocean: In a Coral Reef by Maryanne Berkes
Henry and Mudge and the Forever Sea by Cynthia Rylant
A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle
The Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen

Who doesn't love to read at the beach??

Ocean Painting:  As we were reading Over in the Ocean (one of our absolute favorites!), I thought it might be fun to do our own ocean paintings using shimmery aluminum foil as a canvas.  I had seen a post about painting on foil on the blog Picklebums, and thought this would be the perfect time to try it out.  I added a little dish detergent to the paint as suggested, and taped sheets of foil to some cardboard to make it a little more sturdy.  (I used the top of a take-out pizza box for the cardboard base -- worked like a charm! Little yogurt cups make perfect paint containers, too, I might add.)  I gave both kids their shiny canvas and let them go at it.
I was curious to see how sponge dabber paints might work with the foil, so I gave those to little E and she had a ball.  Turns out, they work quite well.  They are more watery than the tempera paint I gave W, which made for a great ocean effect.

W loved the way his paint seemed to shine on the foil, and once he had his ocean painted on, decided to add some green seaweed and yellow seahorses.  Eventually, as their fingers and hands got covered in paint, they moved on to making hand prints on other paper... but the foil paintings were so much fun while they lasted!  I just love those little seahorses.

Water table play:  To help get cleaned up after our painting, we decided to do a little fishing in our water table.  W and E love any excuse to play in water and thorough soak themselves, so today we got out our fishing set and splashed away.  You can't go to the beach without playing in the water and getting wet, right?

Oh, and I almost forgot our theme music for the day!  We needed some good tunes to make the day feel truly summery. While we painted and fished, we listened to Putamayo's Caribbean Playground album.  If you haven't yet discovered this world music series, you've got to check it out. I used to play Putamayo's albums from around the world in my 7th grade geography classroom, but now my kids and I listen to them all the time.  I love that it exposes them to the music of different cultures, and they love the funky beats. Caribbean Playground was the perfect soundtrack for our day at the beach!

Bath time stories, anglerfish, and bioluminescence:  After getting a little (or in E's case, very) soaked and chilly fishing in the water table, we decided to take our beach party upstairs to the bath to warm up.  And this time, we took our stories with us!  I started out by reading The Pout Pout Fish in the Big Big Dark as they played in the tub.  W always loves the anglerfish in this story, and is fascinated by fish that glow in the dark.  I am, too, for that matter.  Animals are just so cool sometimes, aren't they?  I thought it would be fun to make our own glow in the dark ocean using glow sticks, so after we finished reading, we cracked some on, turned off the lights, and pretended we were Mr. Fish and Miss Shimmer exploring the dark ocean depths with only the glowing lights of the anglerfish to guide our way.  W and E had so much fun swirling the glow sticks around.  They really were very cool!
Eventually, W decided that he wanted to read another ocean story while they played, so the lights went back on and we read Imagine (a fabulous little story by Alison Lester) naming every sea creature on the ocean page as we went.  I have to say, it was one of the most fun bath times we've ever had!

So there you have it -- our story-inspired, beach-craving adventures of this dreary February day.  I've decided to try and share some of the other book-related activities that we do from time to time on here, as well, and will post them on the "Storytime Activities" page I've created above.  I hope to feature other fabulous ideas from you and fellow bloggers as I find them, so please feel free to comment and share any of your favorite ways to bring stories to life.  Happy reading, and happy playing!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Day 141: Of Thee I Sing

I can't think of a better book to feature this President's Day that Barack Obama's Of Thee I Sing.  Before I go any further, however, I first have to ask that people put all of their political leanings aside and consider the book for what it is: a letter from a father to his daughters that highlights the accomplishments of thirteen Americans whose ideals and actions helped shape America.  The book starts off with a sentiment that I feel every day when I look at my children; one to which I hope every parent can relate:  "Have I told you lately how wonderful you are?  How the sound of your feet running from afar brings dancing rhythms to my day?  How you laugh and sunshine spills into the room?"  We are then introduced to the notable historical figures by a question that begins, "Have I told you that you are..." followed by an adjective or characteristic that describes their influence and accomplishments.  Before introducing Georgia O'Keefe, he poses the question "Have I told you that you are creative?"  Before Jackie Robinson, we are asked, "Have I told you that you are brave?" With each short biography, we are introduced to some of America's most influential men and women in a way that is informative yet accessible even to preschoolers.  "Have I told you that you are strong?  A woman named Helen Keller fought her way through long, silent darkness. Though she could not see or hear, she taught us to look at and listen to each other.  Never waiting for life to get easier, she gave others courage to face their challenges."  Among the other thirteen historical figures featured in this book are the two presidents for whom we observe this national holiday, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, as well as Albert Einstein, Sitting Bull, Billie Holiday, Maya Lin (who designed the Vietnam Veterans and Civil Rights Memorials), Jane Addams, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Neil Armstrong.  The heroes featured in this book were chosen because their strength, courage, and determination are traits that Obama sees not just in his own children, but in all children.  Additional information about each of the thirteen people appears at the back of the book, as well, making it a perfect little introduction to biographies for young readers.

The jacket cover describes this as a beautiful book "about the potential within each of us to pursue our dreams and forge our own paths.  It celebrates the characteristics that unite all Americans, from our nation's founders to the generations to come."  In today's divisive political climate, I think we could all take more time to recognize and appreciate what unites us.  And besides, don't we all, as parents, hope to see our children grow up feeling empowered, confident, inspired, and unafraid develop their own inner talents? And oh, the illustrations!  Loren Long's imagery is absolutely stunning, and I just love the way he captures the spirit and personalities of the children and the notable Americans they admire.  Seriously, the book is worth reading just to see his illustrations alone.  I'll definitely have to go out and find some of his other works.

This book has no political agenda, and one needn't agree with the President's policies to appreciate the beautiful message that it conveys.  Let me also just say now that this book was written before Obama became President, and 100% of the proceeds are donated to a scholarship fund for children of fallen and disabled soldiers through the Fisher House Foundation, a charity that works with veterans.  If you are looking to read a book in honor of President's Day, this is one we highly recommend.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Day 140: Katy and the Big Snow

Much to my delight, this winter is proving to be one of the warmest on record here in New England.  We haven't had snow on the ground for more than a few days all season, and one of those storms was back in October.  Usually, I love a good snow storm and am happy have a white winter (at least for a little while), but not this year.  I think Mother Nature must be seeking forgiveness from last year's brutal winter, and I'll admit I'm appreciative of the gesture.  I've been waiting to feature one of our favorite winter reads for a day when we're getting a big storm, but with temperatures looking like they'll stay in the 40s (~ 5C), no snow in sight, and March just two weeks away, I'm just going to feature this wonderful book now and hope that spring is just around the corner.

Virginia Lee Burton has written some absolutely fabulous books for children, and Katy and the Big Snow is one of our favorites.  If you are unfamiliar with her stories, you really must look for them the next time you are at the library.  I promise you won't be disappointed.  Katy and the Big Snow was first published in 1943 and has been a classic ever since. "Katy was a beautiful red crawler tractor.  She was very big and very strong and she could do a lot of things."  Serving as tractor and bulldozer in summer and a plow in winter, Katy works hard for the highway department of the City of Geoppolis.  One winter, a big snow falls upon the city, and it's up to Katy to plow everyone out.  Each time someone new calls for help, Katy is there with her plow and a happy, helpful, "Follow me!"  Thanks to Katy, the police can get out to protect the city, the postman can get out to deliver the mail, the doctor can get to his patient, and the fire department can get to a fire.  The story line might be simple -- the town gets snowed in and Katy saves the day -- but it somehow never gets old.  In some ways, I feel the illustrations surrounding the text are what really make the story.  There are just so many fabulous little details in these images that bring such life to the book!  I just love Burton's border drawings of all the different trucks that make up the highway department's fleet, and my son always studies each one carefully.  I'm sure the fact that the story features plows and trucks and trains only makes him love the book all the more.  And the map of Geoppolis?!  Don't get my geography teacher self started on how much I love that!  What a fabulous way to introduce the concept of maps to young children!  Complete with a compass rose and a key of all of the buildings in town, this map is revisited throughout the story as Katy plows each building out, one by one.  It makes me want to find a big map of our town and show my son where are all of these buildings are near us, too.  Better yet, maybe we'll have to draw our own!  My son is begging me to read this him now as I write, so I suppose I'll wrap things up here.  But you see where I'm going with this.  Katy and the Big Snow is a must read, whether there's snow where you are or not.  This is one book I'm happy to curl up in the sunshine and read on this warm February day.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Day 139: Press Here

I've heard a lot of great things about this book, but it has been out of the library every time we have gone recently so I never had a chance to read it.  This past week, we got a surprise package in the mail from my incredibly generous brother-in-law (who loves getting my kids new books -- lucky us!), with three fabulous new stories inside.  One of them was the newest Elephant and Piggie book, Listen to My Trumpet (which, like all Mo Willems books, in my opinion, is worth a read) but Press Here was in there, too!  We were so excited!  The package came just as I was leaving to pick my son up at preschool, but he read Listen to My Trumpet in the car on the way home and Press Here as soon as we got inside.  It was love at first read!  Press Here is absolutely brilliant, a playfully interactive delight of a book that is perfect for children of all ages.  As you open it up to the first page, you see nothing but a lone yellow dot in the middle of the page with the words, "Ready?"  Turn the page and the same yellow dot is there:  "Press here and turn the page." The pages that follow contain a variety of simple instructions that get kids pressing, shaking, tapping, turning, and tilting the pages while the dots change color and size and dance around the page.  Its playful, engaging, interactive nature is reminiscent of some of our other favorite books, The Monster at the End of This Book or Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!  This book is a little different, though, in that it's not the narration that invites the reader into the story but the simple directions along the way.  It's kind of like an app in book form, as ironic as that sounds.  Every time we have read this fabulously fun story, both of my children crowd around the book to press the dots, shake the pages, and giggle along as we go.  It is SO much fun!  I also love the way the book is constructed, with a thick cardboard cover and sturdy, glossy pages that are clearly designed for lots of handling and enthusiastic turning.  If you ever see this book at your library, snatch up it quickly and read it as soon as possible.  This is one book you'll soon want to have in your home library collection.  Thinking of what to get your little Valentine?  Press Here makes a great gift.  My children and I can certainly attest to that.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Day 138: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

This rollicking alphabet chant has to be one of the popular ABC books out there for young children.  We were given a copy of one of the abridged versions, Chicka Chicka ABC, by one of my former students as a baby gift when my son was first born.  I'll admit that the first few times I read it, I thought it was a little annoying.  I wasn't always sure I had the tempo of the rhythm just right, and often found myself adding in a few words here and there to make it flow better as I was reading and singing it.  My son, on the other hand, LOVED it.  He was completely obsessed by Lois Ehlert's illustrations -- the simplicity of the design and the bright bold colors make it incredibly appealing to infants -- and wanted to read it over and over and over (which we did.... many times.)  Eventually, this book really grew on me, I think because my son loved it so much and I could see how educational it could be to a baby or young child.  To this day, I'm convinced it's part of the reason he learned his alphabet at such a young age (I was always sure to point out each letter on the page as we read), especially his lowercase letters. The lyrical rhythmic quality of the book is fabulous for kids, too.  It's the kind of book that you can't help but read with a little bounce.  I honesty can't imagine someone picking it up and just reading the words in prose.  In fact, our original ABC board book version came in a set with a little plastic maraca.  So fun!  My daughter (now 18 months) loves this book just as much as her brother did, and has for some time.  After many readings of Chicka Chicka ABC, we finally got the parent version, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, out of the library.  Naturally, it shares all of the fabulous qualities of our shorter ABC version ("A told B and B told C, I'll meet you at the top of the coconut tree") and goes on to make the story even more lively and fun ("Skit skat skoodle doot. Flip flop flee.  Everybody running to the coconut tree.")  Uppercase letters are introduced here, as well, and I love the way the "younger" lower case letters get into trouble along the way.  "Next from the pileup skinned-knee D, and stubbed-toe E, and patched up F.  Then comes G all out of breath."  With children who are two and a half years apart, it can be hard to find stories that they both love to read equally, but Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is one such book.  It's engaging, fun, and well worth a read whether you have a newborn or preschooler. And if, like me, you don't love it at first, give it another chance or two. Seeing your child light up when you read it is bound to change your mind.

Looking for some great activities to accompany reading this book?  Check out these fabulous ideas over at Mommy and Me Book Club!  I can't wait to crack open a real coconut with my little guy!