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!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Day 155: Ish

I love drawing and doing any kind of art.  My daughter does, too.  She'll sit and color for ages, or at least  until I take her crayons away because she is trying to eat them.  My son, on the other hand, has never cared much for coloring.  He'll do it for a few minutes if the materials are out and available, but usually after a few scribbles he's off and running to the next thing.  I've long suspected that part of his reluctance to draw comes from a sort of perfectionism, though I don't know whether or not that is really the case.  He's a stickler for details, and if his picture isn't going to look just like he wants it to (which would be virtually impossible), he doesn't even want to try.  He does like painting -- especially rocks outside -- so I just keep making art accessible and encouraging him to try it out with us.  I was thrilled to find this fabulous book a few weeks ago and honestly think he enjoys drawing more now that we've read it several times.  The other day, for example, we made our own animal ABCs book and he excitedly drew a picture for each animal he had chosen.  All 26 of them.  In one sitting!  I was beyond amazed.  Several times, when part of his drawing didn't look the way he wanted to, he'd say something like, "Well, it might not look just like a frog, but it's frog-ish!"  And then he'd happily continue scribbling and drawing.  It was awesome.  He's made similar "ish" comments while drawing on other occasions, too, and I love that this book seems to have encouraged him to take chances and not worry so much about whether his work looks "right."  I just want him to have fun and enjoy the process along the way.  It's funny, too, because no matter how many times I have encouraged him to draw without worrying about it looking perfect, the message never really seemed to stick until we read this book.  Here's a little taste of what Ish all about:

Ramon loves to draw more than anything in the whole world.  Anytime, anything, anywhere.  One day, as he is drawing a vase of flowers, his older brother walks up behind him and laughs, "What is THAT?"  With those three words, Ramon's whole attitude towards his art changes.  He keeps trying to make his art look "right," but it never does.  After months of frustration and countless crumpled papers, Ramon gives up.  Fortunately for Ramon, his younger sister sees things differently.  When he sees his vase drawing and other castaways proudly displayed on the wall of her room, Ramon begins to realize that perhaps art doesn't have to be perfect to be just right.  It might not look like a vase, but it is "vase-ish," and that, it turns out, is good enough.

Children needn't be reluctant artists or perfectionists to enjoy this book, though I especially recommend it if your child is like mine.  This would be a great book to share in classrooms, too.  More than anything, I just love the way Ish encourages children to let their ideas flow freely and appreciate the individuality of their work.  Thank you, Peter Reynolds, for inspiring us to "live ishfully ever after."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mother's Day Favorites

In honor of Mother's Day this coming Sunday, I thought I'd share a list of some of my favorite books about mothers.  Some of these are your traditional "Mommy and me" stories that I posted last year around this time, but others I simply find to be particularly touching as a mother.  Hint, hint, dads... these make great gifts from your little one!

Do you have a favorite mothering book that should be on this list?  Please share in the comments.  Thanks!

Someday by Alison McGhee:  A beautiful story that makes me cry every single time I read it.  In fact, I got teary just re-reading my post about it.  This is a must read for any mother, especially if she has a daughter.  Love, love, love this book.

I Love My Mommy Because by Laurel Porter-Gaylord:  Both of my children love this book and have for quite some time.  Ashley's Wolff's illustrations of animal mothers caring for their young are gorgeous, and the board book version is perfect for even the littlest of readers.  A great gift for baby to give to mom this Mother's Day.

On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman:  I'm not sure which is more of a tear-jerker for me:  this, or Someday.  If there is a mom out there who can read this without crying, I'll be impressed!  This gorgeous book always reminds me of how I felt the very first time I held my newborn children in my arms.  Beautiful and touching in every way.

A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza:  An adorable story about motherly love, diversity, and acceptance, this book delivers the important message that the only thing children and their parents need to have in common to be a family is love.

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn:  This is a great book to read with your children before they head off to school for the first time, but its reminder that   our love will always be with them wherever they go makes it perfect for Mother's Day or any time of year.

Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney:  This is probably not your typical Mother's Day book, but it might make a cute gift for the mom who finds herself routinely wanting to say, "Please stop all this llama drama and be patient for your mama!"

Friday, May 4, 2012

Dinosaur story time fun

My four year old son is obsessed with dinosaurs at the moment, and we've been having so much fun reading about and researching these incredible creatures over the past few weeks.  I thought I'd compile a list of some of our favorite dinosaur books and activities to share with anyone out there whose child is as dino-crazed as mine.

Dinosaurumpus:  "Shake, shake, shudder near the sludgy old swamp.  The dinosaurs are coming. Get ready to romp!"

How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?  This is just one of many books in this fabulous series by Jane Yolen.  Other titles include How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Dogs?, How Do Dinosaurs Learn to Read?, and How Do Dinosaurs Go to School?, among others.

Flip-O-Saurus: Read all about ten different types of dinosaurs or create up to 1,000 combinations of your own!

My First Dinsoaur Board Book:  We have several of the books in the DK My First Board book series, and all of them are fantastic.  There is nothing fancy about them, but they are great learning tools and are read quite often in our house.  They are small board books, so are perfect for throwing in a bag when you are on the go.

Dinosaur Activities:

Dinosaur A to Z game:  In addition to loving dinosaurs, my son also loves coming up with lists of things for each letter of the alphabet.  It's a perfect game to play while driving in the car, but he also loves to play while we're having breakfast (try naming foods for each letter), out on a walk (try finding things for each letter along the way), or anytime, really.  We had come to learn a lot of different dinosaurs, but were still stuck on some of the harder letters such as q, x, and z.  A little online research, though, and we found a perfect list, along with a song and youtube video clip.  (The song has been stuck in my head for days, probably because my son keeps singing it and trying to memorize the "Dinosaurs A to Z.")

To print out a full A to Z list of dinosaurs (including pronunciations), click here.  Thanks, PBS!

Click the link to watch the accompanying Dinosaur Train YouTube video.

Dino Dig Sensory Box:  I haven't yet acquired the supplies for this, but it's on my to-do list.  Fill a box with sand, a few little digging tools, and bury some of those little plastic dinosaur figurines to go on your own little archaeological dig!

Do you have a favorite dinosaur book or activity to share?  I'd love to hear about it!  I'll be sure to update this list as we continue to play and learn more about these amazing prehistoric creatures.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Day 154: One

I love it when friends and fellow readers recommend a fabulous book to me, and when it comes to One, I have to give a big thank you and shout out to Marlene Chiasson, who suggested I check out this story a few weeks ago.  Marlene, I'm so glad you told me about this amazing story!  One is incredibly powerful and clever, and the parent and teacher in me highly recommend this book to parents and children of all ages.  The brilliance of this book lies in its message and the creative way in which it is delivered.  Using colors as metaphors for personalities, Author Kathryn Otoshi tells an all-too-common tale of bullying in a  clever and unique way.

"Blue was a quiet color... Every once in a while he wished he could be more sunny like Yellow.  Or bright like Green.  More regal like Purple. Or outgoing like Orange.  But overall, he liked being blue... except when he was with Red."  Red is a hot head; an unmistakeable bully who gets bigger each time he puts down others and goes unchallenged.  The other colors are always too scared of Red to stick up for themselves and each other... until One comes along.  He is funny, self-confident, and not afraid to stand up to Red and simply say, "No."  Drawing off One's confidence, the other colors join in -- "Me TWO!" says Yellow.  "Me THREE!" proclaims Green -- ultimately standing up to Red and showing us how "everyone counts."  Like so many others who have read this story, I love its anti-bullying message of tolerance and diversity, and most of all, its important reminder that sometimes "it just takes one" to make a difference.

Like many great books, I think One resonates with children of different ages in different ways.  My daughter, not yet two, simply likes pointing to the different colors and numbers as we read aloud.  My son, even at age 4, knows that there are certain kids out there who are simply not nice, and I'm sure that this book feels even more relevant to elementary aged children.  Unfortunately, our children will inevitably encounter bullies throughout their lives; hopefully not as victims, but most certainly as bystanders.  Part of our job as parents and educators is to help them learn how to deal with bullies and feel confident enough to be the One who can stand up and say, "No."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Day 153: Not A Box

We have had a huge cardboard box set up in our living room for a good five months now.  Maybe even longer.  It came with my son's new car seat and has been the source of hours of entertainment for him and   little sister ever since. Our box, like the one in this great story, can be many things.  Usually, it is Mater's garage (my son loves to pretend to be Mater while racing around with one of his favorite trucks), but it has also been a dinosaur cave, house, hide-and-seek hiding place, and safari train, among other things.  If you've ever been the recipient of a giant box, you know how much fun it can be to a child.  And, if you've been brave enough to keep that box for the sake of play and let it take up living space in your house for far longer than your organization-yearning self would otherwise allow, you know how many awesome things that box can be!

If your child has ever loved playing with a box far more than its contents (and really, what child hasn't?), you've simply got to check out this book.  Dedicated "to children everywhere sitting in cardboard boxes", Not A Box is a delightful tribute to the simple joy of childhood creativity and imagination.  The sketches on each page show a rabbit in/on/playing with a box, with an accompanying question from a clueless inquisitor as to why he is doing that.  We all know it's not just a box, of course.   As the rabbit goes on to show us, it's a race car, a mountain, a building, a robot, a hot air balloon, a rocket ship... anything but a box.  I love the way the cover is made to feel and look like a cardboard box, too.  The whole story is so simple, yet so clever, and both of my kids just love it.  The simplicity of the text makes it great for emerging readers, and I know I'll be hearing my son reading this story to himself many times before it is due back at the library. Be sure to be on the lookout for the companion book, Not A Stick, too!  It was out of the library the last time we went, but I would imagine it is equally as fabulous.

Our beloved box has seen better days and probably won't last much longer, but I always love seeing what it is going to become next.  A box doesn't need to be big to be fun, of course.  Any size box has countless possibilities.  (We made my son's Halloween costume out of a cardboard box last year.)  What is your child's favorite "not-a-box"?