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!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Day 177: The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything

I'm always looking for fun seasonal or holiday books when we go to the library.  On a recent visit, I was simply running inside to get a specific dvd while my husband and kids waited in the car.  It was a gorgeous fall day and we were eager to explore a new hiking trail at a nearby preservation, so we didn't want to take the time for all of us to go inside.  As I quickly passed by the lovely display of Halloween books, I grabbed two without looking at anything more than their covers so that I'd have some new books for the kids to look at in the car.  The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything was one of them.

The first time I read it, I thought it was cute, but nothing worth blogging about it.  My kids really seemed to like it, though, and I listened as my husband read it to them again and they laughed and giggled their way through the story. That was two weeks ago, and my 2 year old daughter has asked to read this story at both naptime and bedtime every day since.  She can't get enough of it!  When she doesn't want to go upstairs for her nap, all I have to do is tell her that we can go up and read The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything and she says, "Okay!" and races up the stairs.  My son loves reading it, too, and he and my daughter both find it incredibly fun and silly.  A little old lady goes for a walk in the woods, and meets one haunted piece of clothing after another on her way home.  Two shoes that go "Clomp! Clomp!"  One pair of pants that goes "Wiggle! Wiggle!"  A shirt that goes "Shake! Shake!"  Two gloves that go "Clap! Clap!" One hat that goes "Nod! Nod!" and one pumpkin head that goes "Boo!  Boo!"  As the little old lady hurries home, the clothes and pumpkin follow her, making their silly noises all the while.  It's got a cute little ending, and the pictures manage to show that she is scared without being scary.  I'll admit that in some ways, this book does not meet all of my usual requirements for a blog-worthy book.  I wouldn't say that it is particularly well-written, but it is written in a way that is incredibly appealing to children.  The anticipation and repetition of the verses is always fun for them, and they just love wiggling and shaking and clapping along to the actions in the story.  This book would make a great preschool or kindergarten read-aloud for Halloween; you could even build your own scarecrow afterward for even more fun.  When a book earns as many reading requests as this one does, there is something special about it.

The more I read this story with my kids and see how it never fails to make them laugh and smile, the more I realize that this is a story worth sharing here.  I don't love it, but my kids do.  Sometimes, when it comes to what makes a great book, that is all that matters.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Day 176: Swimmy

After falling in love with Leo Lionni's classic story Frederick, I knew I had to read more of his books.  We've read a few others since then, and Swimmy is definitely among our favorites.  I was thrilled to find a copy at our local library's book sale recently, and both of my children request it frequently. Swimmy tells the story of a little fish who is different from all the rest.  After he finds himself all alone in the sea, Swimmy discovers some of the ocean's most magnificent and beautiful creatures.  "A medusa made of rainbow jelly... an eel whose tail was almost too far away to remember..." and sea anemones who look like "pink palm trees swaying in the wind."  Finally, Swimmy discovers another group of little fish and invites them to come out and explore the ocean with him.  When they are too scared to leave the safety of their crevice for fear of being eaten by bigger fish, Swimmy comes up with the perfect plan; one that empowers them all, while at the same time celebrating his uniqueness and individuality.  I don't want to give away the ending, but it's sweet, clever, and bound to feel empowering to young children.  Lionni's descriptions throughout the story are gorgeous, and I love the way his simple words are so vivid and rich in detail.  To me, Swimmy is about the importance of always being yourself, and the power one individual has to inspire others and bring about change.  At the same time, it's also about the collective power of teamwork; a wonderful reminder that we are far more influential together than we are on our own.  If you have not yet discovered the fabulous and beautiful works of Leo Lionni, be sure to look for them the next time you are at your local library.  Swimmy, among others, is a classic that is sure to delight you and your child.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Day 175: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I remember reading this story when I was a child, probably in elementary school sometime.  It's one of those classic childhood titles that I have always remembered, though admittedly more for the title itself than the actual story.  The library in our town has just one copy, the original 1972 publication, so every time we read it we can see how well loved it has been by children over the past 40 years.  The first time we read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, my son and daughter instantly loved it.  They have asked to read it several times a day since we checked it out last week, and even just now while I was trying to write this post, I had to stop and read it to my daughter because she saw the book on the table next to me.

If you're unfamiliar with the story, it's about a little boy who is having one of those days where nothing seems to go right.  From the minute he wakes up with gum in his hair, he can tell it's going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  As they so often do when we wake up on the wrong side of the bed, things just keep getting worse and worse.  Alexander has to sit in the middle seat on the way to school.  His mom forgets to pack dessert in his lunch.  The shoe store is sold out of the shoes he wants, and he has to have lima beans with dinner.  His bath is too hot, he doesn't like his pajamas, and the cat wants to sleep with his brother, not him!  In an attempt to escape his problems, he even threatens to move to Australia, which my kids think is hilarious.  They also love the refrain about having a "terrible, horrible, no good, VERY BAD DAY!!" (especially when I read it so that it gets faster, louder, and more exasperated toward the end.)  My daughter always turns and smiles in anticipation when we get to those lines in the story.  I love the fact that in and of themselves, none of the things that happens to Alexander that day is really all that bad.  And had they occurred in isolation, he probably wouldn't have thought they were all that horrible, either.  But of course, as we all know, things always seem to snowball and get blown out of proportion on days like that.  I know I can certainly relate!  I also love the way the text is written in the rambling, exaggerated way that is so typical among frustrated or excited children (and adults, too, I suppose!)  It reminds me of Sam's rant in Leonardo the Terrible Monster, which is so much fun to read aloud!

It's no wonder that this book has been in print for 40 years now, for the message is one that rings true to children and adults, alike.  We all have days like Alexander, even in Australia, and this story helps bring a bit of humor and clarity to those seemingly miserable situations.  I think it's good for kids to see that sometimes the things we get so upset about really aren't that big of a deal.  It's important for them to know that we're all bound to have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, and that that's okay, because we can go to bed knowing that tomorrow is a new day and we can start fresh in the morning.  The next time you or your child is having a particularly tough day, try reading this story together.  Hopefully it will help cheer you up and bring a smile to your face.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Day 174: Not All Princesses Dress in Pink

I was never a girly girl.  I never owned a doll or wore dresses, and I certainly never pretended I was a princess.  I was much happier wearing my Gonzo football sweatshirt and running around playing outside.  I did have a Cabbage Patch Kid and played with My Little Ponies, but that's about as girly as I got.  I'm not sure I ever even owned anything pink, unless you count my neon pink attire of the 80s.  I eventually grew out of my tom-boy phase, but I still can't be bothered to wear make up and am more comfortable in sweats than a dress.  I now own plenty of skirts and like wearing the color pink, and love buying adorable little outfits for my daughter.  She loves pink and purple, and can it really be true that I have a daughter who loves to play with dolls?  She has dresses that she loves to wear in the summer, and every time she puts one on, she says, "I'm a princess!"  Sometimes she even gives a little twirl.  It's very cute. We've never watched the classic princess movies so I don't know if she really knows what the traditional princess looks like, but she knows that my husband calls her his little princess, so I think that's where she got it from.

But don't let her pink-wearing, doll-playing, occasional dress-twirling fool you.  My little girl loves playing with dinosaurs, cars and trucks, digging in the mud, and getting dirty.  And boy is she tough!  A lot of this has to do with having (and idolizing) an older brother, but part of me also thinks she is a little like I was in that way.  I love many of Jane Yolen's books, so when I heard about this one, I knew I had to check it out.  It sounded just like the kind of book my kids would love!  We brought it home from the library the other day and it was an instant hit.  "Not all princesses dress in pink.  Some play in bright red socks that stink, blue team jerseys that don't quite fit, accessorized with a baseball mitt, and a sparkly crown!"  I loved the message of the book the minute I read the title, and think it is an important one for all girls (and boys) to hear.  Princesses come in all shapes and sizes and have a variety of interests and talents.  They can build things with tools, splash in mud puddles, climb trees, or play sports, all while being powerful, strong, and beautiful.  Some of them might wear their sparkly crowns all the while, but others won't.  Either way, it doesn't matter.  Our daughters can grow up to be anything they want to be, and I hope that's a message that they will always take to heart.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Day 173: The Water Hole

Graeme Base is one of the most amazing children's illustrators I know.  His artwork is simply stunning, with beautiful, intricate detail that gives his drawings a truly magical feel.  We love Animalia, and recently found The Water Hole at our local library.  We brought it home because my son wants to read any book about animals, but mostly because I'm always fascinated by Base's illustrations.  I briefly flipped through the pages and noticed that it was a counting book, and that each page had a cut-out area for a watering hole which kept getting smaller and smaller as the book went on.  Cute, I thought.  A nice little counting book about animals (with gorgeous illustrations, of course.)  My son took to the book immediately and enjoyed looking at it throughout the afternoon, but it wasn't until the next day that I really sat down to read the book with him.  We've read it many times since, including for an hour together this morning, and each time we pick it up we discover new gems hidden within its pages.

This book is a classic example of a picture being worth a thousand words.  There are so many amazing things about this story that I really don't know where to begin.  You can tell just by looking at the cover illustration that the artwork in the book is incredible, but there is so much more to this wonderful book! Each page features wildlife from various parts of the world, such as India, Australia, South America, the Galapagos Islands, and the Himalayas.  Hidden within each drawing itself are a variety of other native creatures, whose silhouettes appear in the borders of each spread.  We love finding all of these hidden animals, and I am always blown away by the artistry and creativity involved in crafting such elaborate illustrations.  As more animals come to drink at the water hole (that's where the counting element comes in), the level of water gradually goes down... until there is none left!  By weaving in the themes of seasonal change and migration, Base creates wonderful opportunities for further learning and discussion within his pages, as well.  You can see why the geography teacher in me absolutely loves this book!

My son's favorite page is the one for Europe with all of the ladybugs, but I think my favorite is actually the one where, after the water hole has dried up, "All the animals went away."  This page features a beautifully eerie and desolate image of a barren land, with 10 extinct animals hidden within.  It is the least colorful image in the book, but is positively brilliant in every way.  I also love the page shortly thereafter where the rains come, forming shimmering puddles in the shapes of the earth's continents as the world slowly comes back to life.   Yes, I think it's safe to say we've added yet another book to our "Must own someday" list!

I suppose I've gone on enough about how fabulous a book I think this is, so I'll leave you with this tidbit from the author himself about the inspiration behind the story.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!  "The Water Hole was inspired by a four-week sight-seeing safari through Kenya and Tanzania.  I had in mind a simple story about the cycle of season on the African plains, but the idea gradually expanded to embrace other countries and their wildlife, in the process giving the central image of the water hole a certain metaphorical significance -- and, of course, providing me with the perfect excuse to draw lots of animals from other parts of the world, as well!"

Monday, October 1, 2012

Day 172: A Leaf Can Be...

We've reached that magical week in New England where, all of a sudden, I look around and realize that the leaves are turning vibrant shades of yellow, orange, and red.  I love summer as much as anyone, but fall is my favorite season.  It is the reason why I can't imagine living anywhere other than New England:  the crunch of leaves underfoot, cool days and even cooler nights, the crisp smell of the air, the crackle of the first fire in our fireplace.  I love experiencing four distinct seasons and seeing the natural world transform in all its wonder all around us... even when it means my husband and I spend hours raking thousands of oak leaves from our lawn.  Our kids are always more than happy to "help" us with this, jumping in and racing through the piles of leaves in a state of pure childhood bliss.  I raked our first official leaf pile today (solely for my son's jumping entertainment), and realized that it would be a perfect day to feature this wonderful book!

My children love nature, so when I saw this book on the "Staff Recommendation" shelf at the library a few weeks ago, I knew I had to bring it home.  Thank you, Fran the librarian, for introducing us to this beautiful story!  In A Leaf Can Be, 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.  In her lovely, lyrical way, Solas reminds us that leaves can be all kinds of things depending on the time and place:  "Sun taker.  Food maker...  Air cleaner.  Earth greener...  Wind rider.  Lake glider..."  And of course my son's favorite:  "Pile grower.  Hill glow-er."  The verses are simple but perfect, and Violeta Dabija's illustrations are gorgeous!  Her use of color and light magically brings the pages to life, and I always find myself stopping and staring at the pictures longer than usual before I turn to the next page.  We also love the additional information featured at the back of the book, which explains in more detail how leaves serve their many purposes highlighted throughout the story.  A Leaf Can Be... is a perfect book to share as part of a preschool or elementary nature unit, or simply to snuggle up and enjoy with your child at any time of year.