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, September 19, 2012

Day 171: Who Loves You, Baby?

This book might be one of the most well-loved, chewed-upon books in our entire house.  Who Loves You, Baby? is a great little board book for babies and toddlers, with cute, simple sayings and colorful illustrations.  Each page features a different animal that fits an endearing phrase:  "You are my little lamb... You are my funny bunny... You are my busy bee." The most entertaining part for little ones, of course, is the mirror that shows through the peek-a-boo window on each page that allows them to see themselves.  Mirrors and peek-a-boo windows are always fun on their own, but together they are even better!  Both of my children loved this book as babies and would ask to read it again and again.  Even now, at 2, my daughter loves reading it and looking at herself in the mirror on each page.  Usually, she will be the one to do the "reading" now, and I love how she always holds the mirror up so that she can see both of us when she gets to the last page.  This was always a go-to book for me when my little ones were getting restless in the car, or when we were going to be out and about and I wanted to stash a book for them in my purse, just in case.  (It's the perfect size for on-the-go!)  If you're looking for a fun book for your baby that is bound to provide him with hours of entertainment, we highly recommend this one.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Day 170: Wheels on the Bus

I just love listening to my daughter sing.  I wish there was a way to bottle up her sweet little voice and save it forever and ever.  Sure, I bust out the camcorder now and again in my best attempt to do so, but I know watching it years from now, I'll still miss her sitting in my lap, singing and clapping and dancing to the music.  She has really gotten into sing-alongs lately, and the Wheels on the Bus is one of her favorites.  As she requested to read and sing this book for the umpteenth time this week, I realized that I hadn't yet written about it here on the blog... So here it is!  I'm sure you know the tune to "The Wheels on the Bus," but if you don't, I promise it will be stuck in your head after just one listen.  Sometimes, with classic songs such as this one, I think it's a little silly to put it in book form -- I mean, can't you just sing the song on its own and have just as much fun? -- but there is something really engaging to little ones about reading along while you sing.  There are several book versions of the Wheels on the Bus, but this is the one that we have:  a sturdy little Raffi board book that I got at our local library book sale for $.25.  I've heard good things about some of the more interactive versions of the book where the wheels actually turn and the doors open and shut, but to be honest, I don't think those fun features would last more than a week in my house.  For now, the board book version is just perfect.  The illustrations are simple and colorful with a quaint European flair, and the music to the song appears at the back of the book.  Baby Beluga is another of our favorite "Raffi Songs to Read,"and both books get my two year old's ultimate seal of approval.

Animal Playtime!

As some of you might already know, my son is really into animals.  He can tell you about cool and unique creatures from every continent of the world, and has told me about all kinds of animals that I have never even heard of.  Colugos, hog-nosed bats, tarsiers, you name it.  We love his Animal Atlas, and I can honestly say that I have learned a lot reading it with him.  Don't you just love children's books that teach you something new, too?
The other day, it was disgustingly humid and swampy outside, so I was looking for things to do that would keep my children entertained inside.  My daughter requested play dough after breakfast, so I whipped up a batch of homemade "Pumpkin Spice Play Dough" (see recipe below), and she and my son set to work.  My son wandered off after half an hour or so (which is still pretty good for him), but my daughter sat there cutting and sculpting and creating for almost two hours.  I kid you not.  I kept debating whether or not to redirect her to something else, but she was so content and I just loved watching her experiment with everything that I just let her play on.  I jumped on the opportunity to clean my kitchen while they played, and came across a little plastic frog on the counter.  (Obviously.  Doesn't everyone have plastic frogs on their kitchen counter?  And tractor trailer trucks in their bathroom?)  I handed the frog to my daughter, who delightedly started hopping it all around and studying the tracks it made in the play dough.  My son heard her "ribbits" and came to see what she was doing.  Fortunately (and amazingly), I remembered that we had another whole collection of little hand-me-down plastic animals stored away upstairs.  Well, if those weren't the coolest, most exciting things my kids have played with in weeks, I don't know what was.  I'm not joking when I say that the combination of animals and play dough kept my kids entertained and playing for hours that day.  We're talking all morning, after lunch, and before and after dinner.  It was amazing!

They had so much fun and came up with so many creative ways to play with their animals and play dough that I thought I should share some of our "Animal Playtime" games with you.  Enjoy!

Guess That Footprint:
We love finding animal tracks when we are out and about exploring nature, so my son loved playing our own guessing game right here at home!  We took turns making the tracks and guessing which animal had left them. 
Fossil Finders:
After playing "Guess That Footprint" for a little while, I mentioned that some of the prints -- like that of the alligator whose body lies closer to the ground -- looked more like fossils than footprints.  With that, our game turned to "Fossil Finders."  I think my son liked this game even more than the first, but he had lots of fun playing both.  
(His zebra, cheetah, and alligator "fossils")
Animal Magic Squares:
My son loves doing a type of magic square puzzle on one of our dinosaur iPad apps (sometimes known as a "Fifteen puzzle.")  This puzzle consists of a 4x4 grid of 16 squares, where only one square of the puzzle is empty.  The other 15 squares contain pieces of a picture puzzle that has been shuffled up.  In order to solve it and finish the puzzle, the player must slide all of the pieces back to their proper location, one at a time, using the empty square.  The empty square strategically changes location around the board as the other pieces are moved back into their correct positions.  It's a little like chess, in that you sometimes have to think ahead a few moves to figure out how best to move your pieces.  (I feel like I'm not doing a very good job of explaining it.  It is much easier to understand if you can see it in action, so I'll try to explain a bit under the picture below.)  Anyway, as I was tending to my daughter and her activities at one point, I looked over to see my son setting up the animals and making up his own little version of a magic square puzzle.  "See," he said, "It's just like my dinosaur game!" He took two tigers and lined them up on opposite sides, then proceeded to slide the animals around until the two tigers were right next to each other.  I would have never thought to do that.  Don't you just love what those little minds can think up?
(The top four animals slide right one space starting with the cheetah, then the elephant slides down to where the tiger was, the other cheetah slides over, the tiger slides up, etc.  I'm not sure how he moved them from there, but after several moves, tiger one was a little bit closer to tiger two. 
A few more moves, and he was there!)

Animal Classification Game:
While my son was busy with his animal magic squares, I decided to set up another game for him to play.  I sorted the animals into two groups and, once he was ready to play something else, asked my him to figure out what the two groups had in common and how they were different from each other.  There were several possible answers with the setup I had, but the one I had in mind was carnivores vs. herbivores.  
I loved seeing what ideas my son had and how he sorted it out along the way.  At first he said, "Well, they all live in Africa... so that's not it.  And these ones all like to play in the mud... But I don't know if zebras really like to play in the mud.  (Pausing.)  (Thinking.)  These ones (the other group) all have fur... (Thinking.) But so does the zebra..." And so it went.  Eventually, he correctly observed that one group was all cats, and after I told him there was even something else they all had in common that had to do with what they ate, he figured it out.  He then set off sorting them by color, where they lived, their size... There are all kinds of fun possibilities!
Animals Around the World:
When he had moved on from our sorting game, my son went back to making footprints in the play dough.  As he was pressing on one bit of dough and shaping it a bit, he stopped, looked down, and said, "Hey!  This looks like Australia!" (And then he promptly broke off a little piece to be Tasmania down off the bottom.  That's my boy!)  We started to look around to see if we had any Australian animals in our little collection.  He decided to pretend that the black bear was a Tasmanian Devil, a little gray cat was a koala, an ostrich was an emu, and a skunk was a dingo.  He even tried to put some animals where they geographically belong, like the crocodile up in the north and a snake in the outback desert. 
While he set up Australia, I made a little play dough Africa.  He couldn't wait to set up his savanna, as we have a good number of African creatures in our plastic animal set.
He was so excited to put his pair of lemurs on Madagascar!
 Next up, South America!
(That orange cat is very versatile.  On Africa, it was a hyena.  On South America, it was an ocelot.  
The antelope there is posing as a llama.)
Above is our final set up, including tigers and elephants on India and one of his personal favorites, two orangutans on the island of Borneo.  (We have Wild Kratts to thank for that little tidbit of knowledge.)

Recommended Reading:
We have several books to thank for my son's fascination with and knowledge of so many of the world's animals.  As I mentioned above, the Animal Atlas is definitely his favorite, but these others are also fabulous:
Happy reading and playing!

Pumpkin Spice Play Dough: 
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
  • generous sprinkle of cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 cup water
  • orange food coloring (I've heard sugar-free kool-aid packets also work well for this)

Mix dry ingredients in a pan.  Add water and oil and mix well. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for two minutes or until the dough has formed into a big ball.  Remove from stove and knead for 5 minutes or so, adding food coloring or kool aid as you go.  Cool, play and enjoy!

Dough is best stored in a ziploc bag or covered plastic container.  

Thanks to Mommyfootprint for the dough recipe!

Another one of our favorite play dough recipes is here, if you prefer a no-cook version.  I highly recommend adding the food coloring to the water to help avoid staining your hands as you knead.  I also suggest adding a little bit of water at a time until you have the right consistency.  I added the whole two cups right away and ended up needing to add a lot more flour, oil, and salt to get it right.  Thanks, The Imagination Tree, for another great recipe!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Day 169: Hondo & Fabian

Hondo & Fabian was a gift from the ever-generous Uncle Jeff, whom we have to thank for many of the favorites that make up our home library.  He also got us the equally wonderful sequel, Fabian Escapes, at the same time, so I figured it made sense to recommend both in the same post.  I was immediately struck by the books' beautiful illustrations, and knew that both my son and daughter would love reading about these adorable, soft, portly pets.  The story in Hondo & Fabian is sweet and simple:  Hondo, the dog, goes on an adventure to the beach with his friend, while Fabian, the cat, stays home.  In Fabian Escapes, the roles are reversed and Fabian spends the day exploring his neighborhood while Hondo relaxes at home.  In both stories, we also meet the baby of the household, who loves to play dress up with the pets (much to their dismay) and feed crackers to Hondo from her high chair.
I've actually been having a hard time figuring out just how to describe these books and why we enjoy them so much, since the stories are so simple in and of themselves.  There is no fancy language or descriptive details; just a gently playful story with gorgeous illustrations.  The illustrations are really what make the book for me.  I have no idea how Peter McCarty manages to create such a soft, beautiful effect using only colored pencils on watercolor paper, but his artwork is amazing.  (Definitely Caldecott-honor-worthy, if you ask me.)

The other thing I love most about this story is the way it portrays the charming antics of those cute, carefree pets.  I had a cat and a dog growing up, and I can't help but think of them every time I read these stories.  My dog, also a retriever, loved playing in the waves and stealing butter off the counter like Hondo.  My cat loved exploring the outdoors and getting into mischief like Fabian.  I think my kids love these stories mostly because they love animals, especially dogs and cats, but also because they find the simple pleasures Hondo and Fabian enjoy throughout the book to be rather silly.  My son loves how Fabian lies on the windowsill, and how he stops to smell the flowers in the garden... and eats them.   Perhaps this is really why I love these books. Their plots are based around the little things in life -- playing in the waves, exploring the backyard, unrolling a roll of toilet paper -- in which children (and pets) find so much joy.

These books are probably best suited to toddlers and preschoolers, but emerging readers might enjoy reading them on their own, as well.  I also think these stories would be great in board book form for the littlest of readers.  We love curling up to read Hondo & Fabian and Fabian Escapes before bed, and hope that you will, too.