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!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Day 147: Barnyard Dance!

"Stomp your feet!  Clap your hands! Everybody ready for a barnyard dance!"  It would be an understatement to say that my daughter (now 20 months -- I can't believe it!) is obsessed with Sandra Boynton books at the moment.  We have a dozen or so of Boynton's books, all of which have taken up a permanent residence next to our reading chair in little E's room.  If a book is not on the table there, it's inevitably in her crib, as she routinely insists on bringing one of them into bed with her.  My daughter insists on reading each one before her afternoon nap and bedtime each night.  And I mean every. single. one.  Fortunately, I don't mind, since I happen to like all of Boynton books that we own (and they're quick reads.)  When we finish a story, E will flip the book over to look at the pictures of the other books on the back, pointing to the one she wants to read next.  It's really quite cute!

Sandra Boynton has to be one of the most well-known authors of children's books, and with good reason.  She has written over forty board books for young children, and her cute rhymes and colorful, playful illustrations make them fast favorites of babies and toddlers everywhere.  We've already featured a few of our other favorites (Moo, Baa, La La La, Snuggle Puppy, and Blue Hat, Green Hat), but I couldn't resist writing about Barnyard Dance, too.  It's definitely one of our favorites.  My daughter loves the way the animals play and frolic about, and my son loves to act out the story as we read.  "Trot with the turkey.  Leap with the frog!  Take another spin with the barnyard dog."  It's fun and interactive, with rollicking rhymes that make it read more like a song than a story.  Both of my kids just love the window feature of the book's cover, too.  After four years and hundreds of readings, I still enjoy snuggling up to read this book with my kids.  If that isn't a sign of a great book, I don't know what is.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Day 146: Leonardo the Terrible Monster

My son has officially entered the "afraid of monsters" phase of childhood.  Every night before bed, we do a thorough monster check in his room, looking under the bed, in the closet, behind the curtains, and anywhere one might be hiding.  We reassure him, of course, that there is no such thing as monsters (and that even if there was, we would certainly never let them in the house), but still recognize that his fear is real and shouldn't be dismissed with this response alone.  He finds some comfort in the fact that we used to be afraid of monsters when we were little, too, but he still has his doubts.  (I don't tell him that to this day, I won't sleep with an arm hanging off of the bed.)  Fortunately, W now has a new friend to help keep the monsters away at night:  Leonardo the Terrible Monster!  We received this book along with a plush Leonardo the other day from the oh-so-generous Uncle Jeff.  A big thanks also needs to go out to friend of the blog Sharon Cerasoli, who recommended this book to us in the first place when she heard about our monster-fearing phase.   Leonardo is a TERRIBLE monster... terrible at being a monster, that is.  Try as he might, he simply cannot scare anyone.  He doesn't have 1,642 teeth like Tony, and isn't just plain weird like Hector.  Then one day, Leonardo gets an idea.  "He would find the most scaredy-cat kind in the whole world... and scare the tuna salad out of him!"  When he sneaks up on the unsuspecting Sam and the boy begins to cry, Leonardo is ecstatic.  He has finally scared the tuna salad out of someone!  Or did he?  When Sam launches into the list of things he is sad about, Leonardo makes a big decision and decides that perhaps being a wonderful friend is more important than being a terrible monster.  This story is cute, silly, and kind of heart-warming all at the same time, and we just love it!

Leonardo the Terrible Monster is classic Mo Willems, with simple, expressive illustrations and enough silliness to keep little readers giggling out loud even after the book has ended.  I love the way Willems uses empty space, font styles, and image scale on each page to help create the emotion of the story, and the subtle message about understanding in this book is wonderful, too.  It's the humor in his stories that we love most, though.  My son thinks scaring the tuna salad out of someone is one of the most hilarious things he has ever heard, and his fits of laughter that accompany each reading of this book make my heart happy.  He's been reciting the silliest parts of the story aloud to himself a lot while playing lately, too, which is always a sign that a book is hit.  My little girl adores this story, as well, and just loves to say, "Boo!... Aaahhh!!" over and over when she plays with the plush Leonardo. We still have to do our nightly monster checks, but I think we've managed to convince W that Leonardo will keep any other monsters away while he sleeps.  Whether your little reader is afraid of monsters or simply loves a silly story, this is one you will want to look for on your next trip to the library.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Day 145: Barefoot Books World Atlas

I've been the happy owner of this glorious book for several months now, and I just can't wait to share it with you anymore.  Now, I'll be honest from the start and offering the following disclaimer:  I am a huge map nerd who loves learning facts about our incredible planet and its people, so I'm naturally going to be drawn to this kind of book.  You needn't be a geography teacher like me, however, to appreciate and love this book.  The Barefoot Books World Atlas is a visually stunning treasure trove of geographic facts, and I just can't get enough of it!  I originally ordered it thinking it would make a great gift for my son's 4th birthday, but once I started to read through it, I knew he was still a bit too young for this book.  He is definitely intrigued by the pictures and some of the fabulous information within, but if I had to place an age range on it, I think this book is better suited for children ages 7 and up.  This is not to say that younger children shouldn't be exposed to this book -- I'm sure many, like my son, will enjoy flipping through its pages and studying the incredible maps and pictures, not to mention lifting the "Did you know?" flaps -- but the amount of detailed content on each page will likely feel too overwhelming to younger children.  I  think this book belongs in every elementary school classroom, and I would definitely use this book in my middle school social studies classroom, as well.  Here are just a few of the things I absolutely love about it:

1. The illustrations are AMAZING.  Not only are David Dean's images bright, colorful, and vibrant, but they are full of information in and of themselves.  Some pages and maps even fold out for even more detailed viewing, and the combination of animals, transportation, and cultural icons featured on each picture is perfect for engaging curious young minds.

2.  The text is loaded with fun and interesting facts about our planet.  From climate and weather to land use and natural resources, this atlas gives an incredible overview of earth's continents, oceans, and regions, as well as the people and creatures who live there.  I love books that are educational and relevant in this way, and I can guarantee you that you'll learn something new when you read it.

3.  The world is broken up not just by continents but by regions within those continents to maximize learning.  For example, Southeast Asia, East Asia, North Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, and Southwest Asia all have their own pages and maps.  This might not seem that important, but I think it is incredibly helpful to show just how varied and unique different parts of continents can be.  It also allows for greater exploration of each place, which to me, makes it even more fun!

4.  It makes connections between people and places; culture and history; how where we live affects how we live.  It goes beyond teaching about the world and its people to show just how interconnected we all are.  Whether we realize it or not, people, wildlife, and the environment affect one another in a myriad of ways every day, and this book aims to inform readers about the importance of having such an understanding.  After all, that's what geography is really all about.  Isn't it wonderful?!

5.  It comes with a big, fold-out map!

You can obviously see how fabulous I think this World Atlas is, so I'll stop raving about it now and let you go out to try and find a copy for yourself.  Before I wrap up, though, I just have to add one more thing.  There is also a new app for the Barefoot Books World Atlas, and it might even be more awesome than the book itself.  It is hands down one of the coolest apps I've seen, and my son is completely obsessed with it. It features almanac-style facts about each country, but a wealth of other fascinating information, too.  My son mostly just wants to travel all around the world and learn about every animal he sees, so fortunately, there are all kinds of cool creatures featured.  We've learned some really cool things with him recently while playing with this app.  Did you know that orcas aren't actually whales but the largest species of dolphin?  Or that poison dart frogs are not poisonous in captivity, only in the wild?  We didn't either.  My husband and I have thoroughly enjoyed playing with this app, too.  If you have an iPad, you've simply got to check it out.  I know this is a book blog, but when a book this great is made into an equally fun and educational app, I just have to share about it, too. While I think the book is better suited for slightly older children, the app is great for preschoolers and adults, alike.  Happy learning!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Day 144: Where Is the Green Sheep?

Where Is the Green Sheep? is a book I have heard a lot about from other readers in the blogosphere, and today I finally brought it home from the library.  What a fun, cute read!  My son asked to read it four times in a row once we snuggled up for story time this afternoon, giggling more and more each time through. The story is simple -- somewhere, there is a green sheep, and we are trying to find him -- but the book is remarkably entertaining.  My son gets such a kick out of seeing a sheep sunbathing, reading a book in bed, and, my favorite, diving off a high-dive board.  My daughter was delighted by this book, too, happily pointing to the silly sheep on every page along the way.  To me, Where Is the Green Sheep? has all of the characteristics that make a picture book equally appealing to babies and preschoolers:  short, simple, rhyming text with repetitive phrases ("But where is the green sheep?"), and playful, colorful (yet not overly stimulating) illustrations.  Throw in some educational tidbits such as colors and opposites ("Here is the thin sheep, and here is the wide sheep... Here is the scared sheep, and here is the brave sheep"), and the adorable silliness of sheep doing all kinds of un-ovinely things (bathing in a tub full of bubbles, skiing down a slide, surfing, snorkeling), and we've got a real winner on our hands.  We just love Horacek's pen and watercolor illustrations, too, which I think are the perfect compliment to Fox's rhythmic text.  I can already tell that my son will soon be reading this book to us, and I have a feeling we'll borrow this one from the library enough times that we'll eventually just need to get our own copy.  I highly recommend this book for any child's library, especially if he or she is between the ages of one and four.  So where IS the green sheep?  You'll just have to read it for yourself to find out!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Day 143: Bats at the Library

I've been wanting to write about this book since we brought it home from the library last week, but somehow the days keep getting away from me and the nights get too late too quickly, so now that I have a few minutes I'm just going to get right to it.  This book is fabulous in every way.  It's wonderfully clever, fun to read, and its illustrations are amazing!  Plus, it's also about the magic and wonder of one of our most beloved places: the local library.  If you love libraries and books as much as we do, you've got to check this one out.  "Can it be true?  Oh, can it be?  Yes! -- Bat Night at the library!"  We fell in love with Bats at the Beach a few months back, but had to return it to the library before I had a chance to feature it here. I made a mental note to check it out again sometime, but now I figure I can just rave about its equally wonderful sequel and you can be on the lookout for both.  (In fact, I think I love Bats at the Library even more, which is also partly why I'm writing about it, instead.  There is also Bats at the Ballgame, though I haven't read that one yet.)  In Bats at the Library, those curious little critters are back and looking for more adventure.  When word gets out that a window has been left open at the library, the bats fly off to one of their favorite places for a night of fun.  "For most old bats, this isn't new -- they've got lots of things to do.  They'll flutter off and lose themselves among the books lined up on shelves.  Other bats, in munchy moods, will study guides to fancy foods [bugs!] or hang out by a lamp instead to talk about the books they've read."  Young bats frolic about making shadows on the walls, splashing in the water fountain, and playing wing-tip tag as they flutter about the halls.  Eventually, they settle in for story time, and to me, this is where the book becomes even more brilliant.  Brian Lies' illustrations are so wonderfully clever and creative here, and I just love how he depicts the way good stories draw us in until we feel like we are a part of them. I also love so many of the little details in the pictures, such as how the books are upside down while the bats read.  My favorite pages in the whole book are the double-page spreads that feature different famous literary characters (as bats, of course):  McCloskey's Make Way for Batlings, Little Red Riding Bat, Winnie the Pooh Bat, Peter Rabbat, Mr. Bat's Wild Ride, even a family of bats cuddling together to read "Goodnight Sun," among others.  Delightful content of the illustrations aside, Lies' ability to paint nighttime scenes is simply stunning.  I'm talking truly amazing. If you have any painting or drawing experience yourself, you know how incredibly hard it is to create nighttime images, mostly because casting light and shadows and getting those tones to be just right can feel near impossible.  Lies' illustrations, however, shine the perfect light on our friends' nocturnal escapades.  Whether you love libraries, bats, or are just looking for an all around fun book to read with your little one, Bats at the Library is one that is sure to delight readers of all ages. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Day 142: Stars

I have always been fascinated by the night sky.  There is something so magical about gazing up at those little lights twinkling in the darkness.  When I look at the stars, I feel an overwhelming sense of wonder.  Beauty.  Serenity.  Timelessness.  How incredible to gaze upon the same stars that piqued the curiosity of Galileo and Aristotle, knowing they have been in the skies longer than life has existed on Earth?  Like finding shapes in the clouds, I love looking for constellations in the sky, too.  Just the other night, my son and I went on a night walk to see Venus and Jupiter, which were particularly brilliant with the new moon.  Orion was front and center in our sky, too, so we stood out in the cold as long as we could bear, pointing to the stars that make up his belt, telling the myth of the great hunter, and looking for other shapes and figures in the sky.  My son found his own snail constellation.  It was wonderful.

A good friend of mine recently recommended this book to me, and I was thrilled to find it at the library this past week.  I loved it from the moment I read it.  (Add another book to my ever-growing home library wish list!)  The book starts off talking about stars as we most commonly think of them -- celestial bodies glowing high above us in the night sky -- but then proceeds to feature different, yet perhaps equally powerful, types of stars. "A star is how you know it's almost night.  As soon as you see one, there's another, and another.  And the dark that comes doesn't feel so dark."  But what about the type of star you can cut out of shiny paper and keep in your pocket?  Or pin on your shirt as a sheriff badge?  Or place on a wand?  Or give to a friend?  Those kinds of stars can be magical, too.  "Some days you feel shiny as a star.  If you've done something important, people may call you a star.  But some days you don't feel shiny.  Those days, it's good to reach for the one in your pocket." Perhaps my favorite stars author Mary Lyn Ray mentions are those we can find in nature: "White stars in June grass become strawberries in July.  Yellow stars on pumpkin vines become October pumpkins." I love the gentle way in which this beautiful story encourages children to think about the many meanings and uses of stars, even their own inner star,  and Marla Frazee's illustrations are absolutely gorgeous.  I can't even describe how much I love the cover illustration, or the one of the dandelion being blown into a thousand stars in the sky, or of many families cuddled together on blankets stargazing on a stone wall at night.  I'm imagining all kinds of fun crafts and activities one could do with this book, too.  It was published in 2011, so you might find it, as I did, on your library's shelf of new books.  If you've never bundled up to go outside in your pajamas and look at the night sky with your own little star, I highly recommend it.  Then go get cozy and snuggle up together to read this great book.