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, August 30, 2012

Child author at play

There's no doubt about it.  My son loves reading.  Drawing and writing, on the other hand... not so much.  I love doing artistic things, so have always tried to find ways to get my little guy more engaged with arts and crafts.  He loves painting the most (especially if we're outside), followed by drawing with sidewalk chalk and coloring with crayons on big sheets of paper.  For a long time, though, I felt like he was always hesitant to do any kind of drawing or art because he knew he couldn't make his picture look as good as he wanted it to.  (More on that in my post about the wonderful book, Ish.)  My husband and I have also been encouraging him to work on some of the classic preschool skills, like holding his pencil correctly and writing his letters.  As so many parents and teachers know, the trick is trying to find ways to make this type of learning more fun.  One of the best ways I've found to do this is to have him create his own books.  He absolutely loves doing this, and I love seeing his little creative mind at work.  Plus, it holds his attention forever! (Okay, maybe not forever.  But far longer than any other kind of drawing or writing activity he has ever done.)  Given how much my son loves writing his own books, I thought I'd share a little more about some of his recent creations.  After all, they are some of his favorite books to read!
A few months ago, when my son was really into all things A to Z, I decided to create our own A to Z animal book.  I made a blank book for him to write in, and drew in little dotted lines so that he could practice writing each letter of the alphabet on its own page.  Then, we went through the alphabet together and he named an animal for each letter.  I wrote its name on the page as we went, and later he went back through the book, traced each letter, and drew a picture of each animal he chose.  Every. Single. One.  In one sitting!  I couldn't believe it!  He sat there and drew in that book for almost an hour straight and loved it.  That's about 50 minutes longer than any other drawing activity he has ever done.  I thought for sure he would do a few letters and come back to the book another time, but he was so into it and proud of his final product.  He stills likes to go through and read it from time to time, and I know this will be one of his childhood creations that I keep forever.

Yesterday, we had a Mo Willems' Pigeon reading marathon, and at the end were inspired to create our own Pigeon book.  It was my son's idea, really, since we finished reading The Pigeon Wants a Puppy and he said, "There should be another book called The Pigeon Wants a Walrus!"  I told him he should write it since Mo Willems hadn't yet, and then his little mind was off and running.  He wanted to read one more book before he got started, so next we read The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog.  As soon as we were done, he settled on his own title:  Don't Let the Pigeon Have a Hot Dog Party!
I made another book out of blank paper, and he had started narrating before I had even finished folding the pages and putting them together.  I wrote the story as he told it to me, and then he went back to illustrate each page.  Once again, I was impressed at how long it held his attention and how much he enjoyed creating his book!

I just loved hearing him tell his story, which was a cute combination of his own thoughts and things he knew the Pigeon would (or does) say.  I was careful not to say a word or offer my thoughts on how the story should go.  He only got stuck about what to say once, at which point my question of, "What do you think the Pigeon would say next?" got him back on track.

(That cookie-looking thing is a hot dog.  Or maybe a plate of hot dogs?  
Artistic license at work!)

I love that he said cheese and mustard and forgot all about his all time favorite condiment -- ketchup!  This is also where he remembered the Pigeon has a little collar and a wing and added them to his drawing.  Then he went back and added them to all of his previous pictures.

(Those are hearts leading up to the bubble.)


So there you have it.  His artistic masterpiece.  We have read it no fewer than 10 times since he made it yesterday, and he couldn't wait to read it to Daddy when he got home last night.  The look of pure joy and satisfaction on my son's face when he reads his book to us is priceless.  Reading stories has always been one of his favorite things to do.  Now he's discovered that making his own is pretty fun, too.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Day 168: Your own story

I have been thinking about writing this post for quite some time now, but wasn't sure whether it was really an appropriate one given the purpose of this blog.  The thing is, this isn't a review of an actual book... But it is a review of a story, and a very meaningful one, at that.

As you probably know, I began writing this blog to have a place to share some of our favorite children's books with friends, family, and anyone else out there who might be looking for fabulous stories to read with their kids.  My goal is to share a year's worth of books, since no day should be without a great story.  It was this last point that convinced me that it is perfectly legitimate to feature "Your own story" here on the blog.  We read lots of books in our house, and I have shared many of the ones we think are wonderful on here with all of you.  But the reality is, some of my children's favorite stories -- the ones they request night and night again -- are the ones my husband and I make up after we've turned off the light and are lying in bed next to them.  My mom and dad used to do the same for me, and I always wondered how they were able to make up such fun, silly stories off the top of their heads.  (My favorite was one about how my cat Harvey would go windsurfing.)  Now, of course, I know it's really not all that difficult, and I love seeing the look of anticipation and wonder on my children's faces as we tell them these stories.  The protagonists in our stories vary -- from our kids, to ourselves as kids, to our childhood pets -- and oftentimes, we simply make up new stories about our children's favorite literary characters.  I can't tell you how many Curious George and Thomas the Tank engine stories we've made up, but certainly enough to fill several anthologies.  Usually, my son will make up the title of the story he wants to hear, and then it's up to us to "write" the rest.  "This one is called... Curious George Goes to the Playground," or, "Thomas and the Fun Parade."  The only problem with doing this is that sometimes he gets so into the story, completing our sentences or saying what happens next (as he imagines it), that it doesn't actually help him fall asleep at all.  But that's okay.  There's tremendous value in encouraging our kids to use their imaginations, and modeling this kind of creativity for them is wonderful and important.

There are other types of stories you can tell, too.  My daughter likes to request ones about Buzz Lightyear and Woody or Wall-E.  These are especially great when we're tired and don't have the mental capacity to make up a brand new story, as we can just re-tell scenes from the movie.  Other times, we use our stories as a way to reinforce a lesson that our children learned that day or to help prepare them for something that is about to happen.  Or, if we really just want them to hurry up and fall asleep, we tell them a story that feels very calming, like about Curious George listening to all of the sounds of the night while he is falling asleep.

If you're feeling a little hesitant about making up stories, please don't.  It's really not as hard as you might think.  Base them on your own childhood experiences, or simply re-tell story lines from your child's favorite book or movie.  It's a great compromise when it's time to turn out the light but they really want one more story, too.  You don't have to be a Mo Willems or a Kevin Henkes or a Barbara Cooney to tell a great story.  The possibilities are endless, and all that really matters is that you and your child are snuggled up sharing some quality time together.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Day 167: The Carrot Seed

The Carrot Seed is another one of those classic books that I have heard about for a long time, but never managed to actually bring home from the library until recently.  I absolutely love Harold and the Purple Crayon (by Crockett Johnson), and am amazed by its simple brilliance every time I read it.  The Carrot Seed, like Harold, demonstrates the beauty and power of children's literature to tell a great story in very few words.  Everything about The Carrot Seed is simple, from the text to the illustrations, but there is something wonderful about this story of a little boy who plants a carrot seed and patiently waits for it to grow.  Everyone tells him it won't; his mother, his father, his brother.  But every day, the little boy pulls up the weeds around his seed and sprinkles the ground with water.  Nothing comes up.  And nothing comes up.  And people keep telling him his seed will not grow.  But the boy still pulls up the weeds and waters his seed every day.  And then, sure enough, one day... a carrot comes up, "just as the little boy had known it would."  Nothing fancy.  Nothing grand.  But there is something about this book that I adore. Perhaps it is the simple message about the value of persistence and perseverance, or the importance of believing in yourself even when no one else does.  Or perhaps it is the simply the way this story reminds me about the wonderful way in which children view the world differently than adults.  I think the editors put it best on the back cover of the book when they write, "When you are very young, there are some things that you just know..."  The simplicity and repetition of the story makes it a great book for beginning readers, too.  I still love Harold and the Purple Crayon more, but any book that is republished in a special 60th anniversary edition must have staying power for a reason, right?  Short and sweet, The Carrot Seed is worth a read.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Day 166: Hottest Coldest Highest Deepest

Children are naturally curious.  That is one of the things I love most about them, both as a parent and a teacher.  Along with kindness, compassion, and empathy, I think that curiosity about the world in which we live is one of the most valuable qualities we can instill in our children.  Our planet is as beautiful and diverse as the people who call it home, and teaching our kids to respect both is vital to their future and ours.  But of course, if children are to appreciate and respect the earth and its inhabitants, they first need to learn about them! I love finding a fabulous reference book for kids almost as much as I love watching my son soak up all of the knowledge inside.  If your children have ever asked about which river is the longest, which mountain is the highest, or what place is the hottest, this is the book for them!  (And if they haven't, this is sure to capture their interest.)  I was so excited to find this book the last time we were at the library.  I was drawn to it by its title and cover alone, and knew that its beautiful presentation of facts inside would be right up my son's alley.

In Hottest Coldest Highest Deepest, author and artist Steve Jenkins gives us a fantastic look at some of the most extreme places on earth: hottest and coldest, wettest and driest, windiest, snowiest, rainiest, and more.  The text itself is generally short and factual, but Jenkins includes other relevant and contextual information for each location, as well.  Each page contains a small insert map showing the location of the place in the world, as well as a comparative diagram that enables the reader to better visualize just how extreme the place really is.  (Can you sense my geography-teacher-self's excitement here?)  The longest river page, for example, shows the length of the world's four longest rivers compared to the width of the entire United States.  It's one thing to know that the Nile is 4,145 miles long, but that fact means something far greater when you realize it is the same as traveling all the way across the U.S. and then half way back again.  The page dedicated to Mount Rainer, the snowiest place on earth, shows the comparative heights of an average New York City snowfall (3 ft.), an adult man (6 ft.), and the record one year snowfall for Mr. Rainier (100 ft.)  There are other little gems of information that I love throughout the book, as well, such as Jenkins' distinction between the world's highest mountain (Everest, with the highest height above sea level) and the world's tallest mountain (Mauna Kea, in Hawaii, which is taller than Everest from base to summit, though is not as high above sea level.)

Now on to the the illustrations!  Jenkins' textured paper collages are gorgeous (I particularly love the one for the world's most active volcano in Sangay, Ecuador), and I can't help but want to do more collage art with my kids after reading it.  This would be a fabulous book to have in any elementary classroom library, or any child's library, for that matter.  I feel like I've been going on about this book for too long now, so I'll just wrap things up by saying this book is excellent!  Readers of all ages, parents included, are bound to learn something new, and hopefully be inspired to learn more about our amazing planet.  I wish you and your children a fun journey as you set out to learn more about the world together.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Day 165: Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack

The name Hairy Maclary has been familiar to me for quite some time now, as it comes up again and again when I ask friends of the blog what their children are reading (and loving!) at the moment.  I also knew there was a series of books about him which are apparently rather popular, so I thought it kind of strange that I had never heard of or seen his stories before.  In fact, I thought that perhaps maybe this series was for older readers, which would explain why I had never come across it.  But no.  Hairy Maclary is a fabulously fun series of picture books from famed New Zealand author Lynley Dodd.  Why her books aren't more popular in the U.S., I have no idea.  Hairy Maclary is fantastic!  I finally remembered to look for one of his stories when we were at the library a while back, and lo and behold, there was one:  Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack.  Both of my children instantly loved this story, and I couldn't help but get a little carried away as I read it.  And really, how could I help it?  The rhymes are delightful -- I'm reminded of Dr. Seuss and Chris Van Dusen, at times -- and Dodd's use of onomatopoeia helps build energy and excitement in all the right ways throughout the story.   "It was drowsily warm, with dozens of bees lazily buzzing through flowers and trees.  Hairy Maclary decided to choose a space in the shade for his afternoon snooze. He dozily dreamed as he lay on his back when... pittery pattery, skittery scattery, ZIP round the corner came Zachary Quack."  This charming story of an unlikely (and at first, unrequited) friendship is great fun to read aloud and sure to delight young audiences.  I look forward to finding more of Dodd's books, though I might have my work cut out for me a bit.  There are only a handful of her stories in my greater library system, but we're looking forward to tracking them down and enjoying more of Hairy Maclary's adventures!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Day 164: Frederick

I love the feeling of reading a book for the first time and being immediately captivated by the language.  Some authors are truly gifted in their ability to create vivid pictures and evoke tremendous emotion and feeling in their writing, even when using the simplest of language.  They craft their words so beautifully on the page that every once in a while, I almost get choked up reading a line or two.  For me, Barbara Cooney, Donald Hall, and Cynthia Rylant are some such authors that come to mind.  After reading Frederick, I have added Leo Lionni to this list, too.

Frederick tells the story of a family of mice diligently preparing for the winter ahead.  The mice busy themselves collecting corn, nuts, wheat, and straw so that their winter supplies will be plenty.  They work hard day and night -- everyone, that is, except Frederick.  While his frustrated siblings accuse Frederick of being lazy, he assures them that he is actually quite busy doing work of his own.  While the other mice scurry about collecting their necessities, Frederick collects essentials of his own:  sun rays and colors for the cold dark winter days, and perhaps most importantly, words.  "The winter days are long and many," he reminds them, "and we'll run out of things to say."  Time goes by and the snow starts to fall, and although the mice live quite contentedly for awhile, their corn and nuts and berries are soon gone.  They no longer feel like chatting and the mood in the wall has grown sullen.  It is only then that the other mice learn to see and appreciate the value of Frederick's work.  As they close their eyes and listen to him tell about the golden glow of the sun's rays and the bold colors of the red poppies among the yellow wheat, they begin to feel warmer.  Happier.  More alive.  Only then do they truly come to appreciate Frederick for the who he is.  It is sweet and beautiful and heart warming all at once.  The illustrations are wonderful, too! My son loves picking out Frederick on each page, and I love how Lionni was able to create such emotion in the eyes of his collage-crafted mice.  This story is simply beautiful in every way.

Everyone knows a Frederick:  someone whose true gifts all too often go unnoticed or unappreciated.  And let's be honest.  The world needs Fredericks.  We need dreamers and artists and people who aren't afraid to be themselves, even when others might be critical of their differences.  We need people who are willing to take time to stop and smell the flowers, even as the rest of the world rushes by.  No matter what path they ultimately pursue, I hope that my children are always able to see the beauty in the world like Frederick.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Day 163: Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!

When I saw this book on the shelf at the library the other week, I just knew we had to read it.  How could I resist a silly sounding title like Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!?  One read through and I knew we had made a good choice.  Mr. McGreely has long dreamed of having a garden, so he is naturally quite excited about the prospect of eating his own yummy lettuce, carrots, peas, and tomatoes.  He gets to work planting, thrilled to watch his garden grow.  But as the sun goes down and the moon comes up, three crafty little bunnies are eager to taste Mr. McGreely's vegetables, too.  "Tippy - tippy - tippy, pat!  Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!"  Furious that his veggies have been nibbled in the night, Mr. McGreely plants a wire fence around his garden.  Surely that will keep the bunnies away.  Or will it?  Each night, the bunnies manage to sneak their way into the garden, and each day, Mr. McGreely devises a more elaborate plan to try to keep them out.  My son was consumed by fits of giggles the first time we read about the silly bunnies' antics, and now he and my daughter can't wait to shout out, "Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!" each time they succeed in breaking into Mr. McGreely's garden.  The ending is quite cute and clever, and the build up of the story and repetition of certain phrases throughout makes it a fun read aloud for all ages.  I was even able to use this book as a way to convince my kids to munch some fresh vegetables, too!  We've been having fun reading this story this summer, especially after making a trip to our local farmers market.  We hope you love it as much as we do.  Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!