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, April 27, 2012

Day 152: Flip-O-Saurus

My son is fascinated by dinosaurs. He seriously can not get enough of them.  He has memorized his DK My First Dinosaurs board book, loves reading from the National Geographic Dinopedia on the iPad, and can tell us about (and correctly pronounce) all kinds of dinosaurs that I never even knew existed.  Sure, I remember the classics like T-Rex, Stegosaurus, and Triceratops, but I've never heard of some of his favorites like the Archaeopteryx or the Deinonychus.  (And as it turns out, there is no such thing as a Brontosaurus anymore because it was really just an Apatosaurus.)  I've really enjoyed learning more about these amazing creatures with (and from) my little guy.  He still loves trucks and animals, of course, but anything with dinosaurs grabs his attention right away now, too.

When we were at the library for story time last week, a friend found this book on the shelf and handed it to me to bring home for W.  She knew he would love it, and boy was she right!  One look and it was an instant hit.  Let me tell you, if your child likes dinosaurs, Flip-O-Saurus is a must read.  Here's what is so awesome about it:

Flip-o-Saurus features ten different dinosaurs with fun facts and information about what they ate, how big they were, and how some of their unique features helped them defend themselves.  This information is broken up into three parts on the page (generally, about its head and features, body size, and tail functions and features) that corresponds with a big illustration of each dinosaur.  Not sure how to pronounce those tricky names?  Not to worry.  The inside cover features a chart showing each dinosaur's name, pronunciation (phew!), meaning, and size relative to a human being.  Very cool.

The best thing about this book, of course, is suggested in its name.  Since each page of this large board book format is divided into three parts, you can flip each section as you choose to make hundreds of your own dinosaur creations, such as an Ichsaurex, Tyrannothyotor, or a Diplorapcephalus!  W loves making up all kinds of silly looking dinosaurs, and we can even read about what they might be like based on the accompanying text.  One of my other favorite things is listening to him sound out each one -- such a fun and interactive way for early readers to practice their phonics.

Needless to say, my little paleontologist absolutely loves this book (and it has been added to our ever-growing must-own-someday list.)  The author/illustrator pair of Britta Drehen and Sara Ball has also created a Flip-a-Storic, featuring 10 different prehistoric creatures.  If your little one loves learning about dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, you've simply got to check these out.  

Curious about some of our other favorite dinosaur books?  Look for Jane Yolen's How Do Dinosaurs... series or the foot-stomping Dinosaurumpus!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Earth Day favorites

In honor of Earth Day this month, I thought I'd put together a list of some of our favorite Earth Day books.  While none of them is specifically about Earth Day itself, each reflects a respect for, appreciation of, and/or connectedness to our beautiful planet its creatures.  To me, those are messages worth sharing with our children every day of the year.

To read my full review of each title, please click the links below.  What will you be reading this Earth Day?

For the littlest of readers (babies and up):

Listen, Listen by Phyllis Gershator:  A lovely book about the sights and sounds of the changing seasons.  Great for babies and preschoolers, alike.  
Baby Beluga by Raffi, illustrated by Ashley Wolff:  A perfect book to share and sing with even the very youngest of readers. 

Age 1 and up:

We're Roaming in the Rainforest by Laurie Krebs and Anne Wilson:  A wonderful tribute to one of our planet's most magical places:  The Amazon Rainforest.

Slowly, Slowly, Slowly Said the Sloth by Eric Carle:  Another fabulous rainforest book, complete with an informational foreword by the one and only Jane Goodall.

Over in the Jungle:  A Rainforest Rhyme:  Author Maryanne Berkes and illustrator Jeanette Canyon combined to create a brilliant singalong book about some of the incredible creatures that call the rainforest home.  

Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef by Maryanne Berkes: Join parrotfish, stingrays, seahorses, and more on an amazing journey through a coral reef.  Set to the same tune as Over in the Jungle (and equally as awesome), this is a long-time favorite in our house.

We're Sailing to Galapagos by Laurie Krebs:  This fabulous story is bursting with fun information about this unique part of the world and the creatures who live there.  Restelli's collage artwork is bold, colorful, and wonderfully intricate, and is the perfect accompaniment to Krebs' rollicking story.  A favorite in our house.

Preschool and up:

Me... Jane:  We love this beautiful story by Patrick McDonnell about the life of a young Jane Goodall.  Perfect for any animal or nature lover, this book reminds us that we each have the power to make a difference in the world.  Not to be missed.

A Leaf Can Be... In this lovely book, Author Laura Purdie Solas takes us on a "poetic exploration of leaves throughout the year," from the gently unfurling new leaves of spring to the frost-tipped leaves of winter.  Creative, beautifully illustrated, and informative, this is a wonderful book to read as part of Poetry Month, as well!

The Water Hole by Graeme Base:  An all-around amazing book that introduces children to animals and habitats around the world, as well as the delicate balance of nature and the crucial role that water plays in supporting all life.  Don't be fooled into thinking this is simply a counting book full of beautiful creatures; it's so much more than that.  Proof that a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr. (formerly Your Big Backyard):  Not a book, I know, but this series of magazines is awesome!  Always full of fabulous ideas and information about animals and our planet, my son can't wait to read each new edition.  Most libraries subscribe to these, too.  Check them out!  

The Beeman by Laurie Krebs and Valeria Cis:  A fantastic story that teaches all kinds of great facts about bees, beekeeping, and making honey.  

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney:  What could be more relevant to Earth Day than reading a story that encourages each of us to make the world a more beautiful place?  One of my all-time, absolute favorite picture books.  Hands down.

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown:  A gorgeous story about the difference each of us can make in the world.  One of our favorites.
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen:  This is probably not on many other Earth Day reading lists, but I love the way this story makes me feel what it's like to be out in the woods on a cold winter night.  This falls under my Earth Day "connecting with nature" category.

The Barefoot Books World Atlas:  If you want to spark your child's curiosity about the diversity and wonder of our amazing planet, take a look at this world atlas.  It's loaded with information and fabulous illustrations and is bound to appeal to children (and adults) of all ages.  While the amount of text might be too much for preschoolers, they will certainly be drawn to the maps and illustrations.  The iPad app for it is pretty incredible, too!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Day 151: We're Roaming in the Rainforest

Looking for a fabulous Earth Day book?  Check out the beautifully illustrated and fantastically educational We're Roaming in the Rainforest by Laurie Krebs and Anne Wilson.  Follow along from sunrise to sunset as parrots squawk, monkeys chatter, sloths doze, caimans snap, and jaguars growl in one of the most magical places on earth:  the Amazon Rainforest!  We've had this book for a few months now, and my son absolutely loves it.  He is obsessed with animals at the moment, so loves learning about some of the exotic creatures that call the Amazon home.  My daughter is always fascinated by the bold, colorful illustrations and can't wait to spot the animals on each page.  Among (many) other things, I love that she and my son are both so engaged while we read it.  (It's not always easy to find books that appeal equally to 4 year olds and 20 month olds!)  We especially love learning about some of the lesser known rainforest animals that are featured in this book, such as pink river dolphins and giant river otters.  Did you know that poison dart frogs are smaller than your thumb nail, or that green iguanas can grow to be six feet long?  I didn't, either, until I read this story.  Like so many of our favorite books, We're Roaming in the Rainforest features all kinds of fabulous educational extras once the story itself has ended.  The endnotes cover a range of topics, including the peoples and native tribes of the Amazon, the role of the rainforest as a vital global resource, conservation efforts, and interesting facts about each of the animals featured in the book.  And, of course, there is a map!  You can see why this book is so great now, right?  It's fun to read, teaches us all kinds of new things, and appeals to kids of all ages.  What's not to love?  If you're looking for a book to read with your child or class this Earth Day, this is one we highly recommend.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Day 150: If I Built a Car

This fabulous book came in my son's Easter basket this past weekend and I think it's safe to say it has already become a family favorite.  We first discovered Chris Van Dusen when we picked up The Circus Ship at our local library a while back, and have loved every book of his we've read since.  If you haven't heard of Chris Van Dusen or read any of his books, you should!  I feel like he is one of those authors who doesn't have nearly the fame and huge fan base he deserves, though hopefully I'm wrong.  His rhymes are clever, fun, and downright impeccable -- right up there with Dr. Seuss and Bill Peet, in my opinion.  In fact, I just noticed that If I Built a Car won the E.B. White Read Aloud Award in 2006.  Most well-deserved!  This book is so much fun to read aloud, and the pictures make it even more fun to look at as you listen.  His illustrations are brilliant, with bright, bold colors that jump out of the page and a unique retro style that I just love.

Most of all, though, I love the way this book highlights the wonderful creativity and imagination of childhood.  Drawing inspiration from zeppelins, trains, jet engines, and even the Weinermobile, our young narrator's car is fantastically awesome in every way.  Complete with old Cadillac-style fins, a pool, snack bar, fireplace, couch robot auto-pilot and more, this car can do it all:  become a boat, cruise underwater like a submarine, even blast off and fly in the sky!  "My car will be cool!  My car will be keen!  My car will be one big fantastic machine!  The toast of the town! The cream of the crop! The belle of the ball and the tip of the top!  My car will be famous from here to Peru... If I built a car, that's just what I'd do."  Be sure to check out Jack's drawings and plans inside the front and back covers of the book.  I love Van Dusen's dedication, too.  (I guess we just love this book from cover to cover!)  Cuddle up and read this fabulous story with your child and then let your own imaginations run wild.  What kind of car would you build?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Day 149: Driving My Tractor

We have thoroughly been enjoying the spring weather we've been having lately, and one of our favorite new places to visit is a community organic farm that is just a few towns away.  They have all sorts of adorable animals to see (including, at the moment, 2 week old piglets!), trails to explore, log bridges to cross, and even a child's nature center hidden away in the woods.  Both of my kids love visiting there, and I am always so thankful for places like this farm who open their doors so graciously and offer such fabulous learning opportunities for children.

Our visit to the farm got us thinking of (and singing) one of our favorite sing-along books, so I thought it only appropriate to feature it today.  I'm also excited because after borrowing it from the library on several occasions, watching its animated video on youtube repeatedly, and singing the song more times than I can count, I'm finally giving my son his own copy of Driving My Tractor as an Easter gift.  I can't tell you how many times I've had this song stuck in my head, and yet, I'm still happily willing to add this sing-along to our home library.  That's got to say something about how great it is, right?

Driving My Tractor is an upbeat, fun, toe-tapping sing-along that is a favorite of both my son and daughter.  Watch the video clip mentioned above and you'll immediately see what I mean. The colorful, bold illustrations are wonderfully appealing to toddlers and preschoolers, and the fact that is a counting book about animals makes it perfect for that age group, as well.  The end of the book also features some fabulous information about other types of farm machines (such as combine harvesters and balers) and a beautiful two-page spread about various types of crops that farmers grow (including at what times of the year they can be planted and harvested.)  I love books that include informational "extras" like this, and love watching my son soak up all of that knowledge even more.  The other thing that is so great about this book, as with so many others from this publisher, is that it truly grows with your child.  My daughter (20 months) loves the bold pictures and the silly sing-along song, just as my son (age 4) has for quite some time.  Now that he is a little older, though, he appreciates other things about the book, such as the information about the types of crops at the end.  Plus, the book comes with a cd featuring the vocal talents of Steve Songs, so you'll know just how the tune goes and be able to add the song to your child's music collection.  In fact, the tune is so catchy and easy to sing, I don't think I could read the book without singing it now even if I tried.  Driving My Tractor is a perfect book to have in the car for road trips, afternoon story time, or any time you simply want to stop what you're doing and sing and dance with your kids.

** One last little thing... Driving My Tractor was one of the first Barefoot Books we read and came to love, and was part of the reason why I became a Barefoot Ambassador last summer.  I am continually impressed by the quality of Barefoot Books and their passion for art and literacy, and I always find it refreshing to know that there is a publisher out there whose books I am pretty much guaranteed to love.  I felt I needed to add this disclaimer here because I don't want anyone reading this to think that I am only featuring this (or other Barefoot Books) out of possible personal gain.  On the contrary, I just want you to know about them because they are truly great books that I think everyone with children should know about!  Find them in your local library and see what I mean.  After all, this is the whole mission of my blog:  to share fabulous children's books that are well worth reading so that no day goes without a great story.  No pressure, just great books!  That's what it's all about.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Day 148: Where's Walrus?

When I first started delving into the wonderful world of children's literature with my first child, I lacked a proper appreciation for wordless picture books.  I don't know why, exactly, other than that perhaps my adult brain had simply grown accustomed to pictureless books and I was used to relying on words as they appeared on the page to tell the story.  I didn't take long, however, for me to realize that to young children, the story is told in the pictures, not in the words above or below them.  Sure, text is important and usually essential to a story, but I have come to learn that wonderful stories can also be told without any written words at all.

Where's Walrus? is one such story.  It's playful, fun, clever, and a recent favorite of my two children (ages 4 and 20 months).  They both love flipping through the pages on their own, and I love that we can not only read this together, but that my son can read this to my daughter all by himself.  (He loves that, too.)  The cover page of the book features a headshot of the soon-to-be-elusive walrus, giving us a sly little wink.  We know from the get-go, then, that this walrus has a definite plan in mind for what he is going to do today.  We then turn to see an overhead view of the zoo, where the other animals are lazing about and the zookeeper is caught taking a snooze at his post.   When the walrus decides to make a break for the exit, he leads the zookeeper on a chase throughout the city.  With each turn of the page, we see the walrus hiding in a new place or disguise -- in a fountain, helping construction workers, dancing the can-can -- but the puzzled zookeeper does not.  My kids delight in the simple fact that they can always spot the walrus but the zookeeper can't, and it naturally leads to an excited chorus of "Where's Walrus?" on each page.

The ending is quite clever (I won't give it away), and the illustrations throughout contain wonderful little subtleties that bring the story to life even more.  (My son noticed, for example, that at the beginning of the story when we first meet the walrus, the peacock's feathers are down, the other animals are sleeping, and there are no visitors at the zoo.  On the last page, though, the peacock's plumage is on full display, the other animals are awake, and the zoo is full of happy visitors.  I had noticed the addition of visitors, but I'm not sure I ever would have picked up on the change in the peacock's tail feathers.  I just love seeing what little details kids notice in books, don't you?)  The choice of bold colors on neutral backgrounds coupled with simple lines and shapes makes the book very visually appealing, too, especially for younger readers.  I'm not quite sure under what genre I should categorize the artistic style -- art deco, maybe? -- but whatever it is, I love its funky, retro feel.  (I also think the zookeeper looks just like the Monopoly guy.)  If you have a preschooler or younger child and are looking for a great wordless picture book, this is one you won't want to miss.