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!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Day 182: Z is for Moose

I love finding books that make my children giggle hysterically.  They might not always make the best stories for bedtime, but they are usually some of our favorites.  When we received this book as a gift a few months ago, my son was immediately drawn in by the silly cover.  "Z is not for Moose!" he giggled.  "M is for moose!"  The first page we see upon opening the book shows a host of animals lined up, peeking out from under a curtain as if they are waiting behind stage for their performance to begin.  The title page shows the zebra as the referree, lining the animals up alphabetically, with the moose patiently waiting his turn in his place mid-way through the alphabet.  The story itself starts as most alphabet books do, with a simple picture for each letter:  "A is for apple.  B is for ball.  C is for cat."  But after only three letters, moose is getting anxious!  Isn't it his turn yet?  The zebra sends him back to wait his turn, but moose is impatient.  He barges in on several of the other letters, asking, "Now?  Now?"  When we finally get to L, moose can barely contain his excitement.  "Here it comes!" But wait!  M is for mouse??  The tantrum that follows is ridiculously silly (and oh-so-toddler like), and always has my kids in fits of giggles.  Zebra tries his best to control the situation, while moose attempts to finagle his way into the other letters' scenes before finally breaking down into tears.  With only one letter left, isn't it too late?  How can moose be in the book now?  The ending is a cute as the book is fun.  If you're looking for an ABC book to help teach your children the alphabet, you might want to keep looking.  But, if you're looking for a silly book that is bound to make your children laugh, Z is for Moose is a sure bet.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Day 181: Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee

Chris Van Dusen is one of our favorite authors.  The first book of his that we read was The Circus Ship, and we soon fell in love with several of this other stories, as well.  (A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee and If I Built a Car have both been featured on here in the past.)  Sometimes I worry about posting too many books by the same author, but when we love a book and read it as often as we read this one, I figure it is well worth sharing.  Chris Van Dusen is a fantastic author and illustrator whose rhymes place him among the ranks of masters like Dr. Seuss and whose illustrations always have a colorful, unique, retro feel to them.  We just love the Mr. Magee books, and I'm not kidding when I say that we have probably read this book 100 times since getting it as a gift last Christmas.  Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee is Van Dusen's first book, and was inspired by his desire to write a story about a boat that gets stuck in a tree.  It's silly and fun and my kids always enjoy reading it.

"Mr. Magee and his little dog Dee loved spending time in their boat on the sea.  So early one morning at 6:32, they made a decision.  That's just what they'd do... With plans for the day and enough lunch for three, they hopped in the car and drove down to the sea."  But their little outing quickly becomes a big adventure when a curious whale decides to play... and soon they are sailing high over the bay to the top of an island spruce!  The whole story is endlessly entertaining and makes a fabulous read aloud.  I don't know how well-known Van Dusen is outside of New England, but a great book is a great book no matter where you are! If you haven't yet discovered his wonderful work, look for his books the next time you are at the library.  If they make your children laugh and smile even half as much as they do mine, you are bound to love them.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Day 180: This First Thanksgiving Day

I love to find good seasonal or holiday books throughout the year, and this was a cute little story we found this year among the Thanksgiving titles at our local library.  Thanksgiving is one of my absolute favorite holidays, second only to Christmas.  I often feel incredibly grateful for many things in my life, but it's always nice to have a special occasion that reminds me to do just that.  It's usually a rather busy weekend spent visiting family here and there, but I love being able to spend time with so many people that I love.  My children are two and and four and a half now, and at their age, let's be honest:  Thanksgiving isn't really all that exciting.  Some day, I know that they, too, will get excited about seeing lots of family, watching football, and eating a delicious meal, but for now they just love having four "daddy days" in a row and getting to see some of their favorite relatives.  Like many parents, I've been looking for ways to help them grow to love the spirit of Thanksgiving and learn how we came to celebrate this holiday.  We've done turkey crafts, talked about different things for which we are thankful every day, and picked out a big turkey to donate to our local food pantry, but I was still looking for a good book about the history of Thanksgiving.  This First Thanksgiving Day does a nice job of introducing little readers to the story behind this special day.  It's a simple counting book that juxtaposes the daily lives of Pilgrim children and their Native American counterparts page by page until the groups are all seated together at the first Thanksgiving meal.  "1 dressed in linen, sitting in a tree, dreaming of the tall, strong ship on which he crossed the sea.  2 dressed in deerskin, gathering nuts below, giggling as they tiptoe by, too shy to say hello."  The illustrations are charming, and my little ones enjoy finding the turkey and rabbit that are hiding on many of the pages.  I also like that the story mentions Squanto and the Wampanoag by name, setting up further learning opportunities about some of our local New England history.  I'd say this book is best suited to children in the 2-6 age range.  It's cute, simple, and does a great job of introducing the story behind this celebrated American holiday.  We'll be sure to look for this one again at our library next November.

I wish you and your families and wonderful Thanksgiving, and no matter where you are, hope that you can be surrounded by those you love today.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Navigating the library: helpful hints for making the most of your library visit

  • Recently, a friend of mine e-mailed me seeking library guidance.  She likes to take her kids to the library regularly, but often feels as though she is just aimlessly looking and has trouble finding good books to bring home.  I wrote back to her with my self-admittedly nerdy approach, which in turn got us thinking that perhaps this might be a worthwhile blog topic.  Because let's face it: going to the children's section of the library is not exactly the quiet, peaceful, book-browsing experience that other patrons enjoy.  No, if your library experience is anything like mine, it usually involves frequent reminders to use library voices, putting countless books back on the shelves that have been pulled down by curious hands, and grabbing a few books here and there while peeking over the bookcases to make sure that your children are still playing calmly and not chasing each other through the rows of books. Don't get me wrong.  I love going to the library with my kids.  But given that a primary purpose of our visit is to actually come away with some great new books to read, it's not always easy.  

    So how does one successfully navigate a library, especially with little ones in tow?  There are many ways to do this, but I figured I'd share mine here in the event that my strategy might help others improve their library experience.  (Yes, I have a library strategy.  And a notebook.  And even a spreadsheet.  A bit over the top?  Perhaps.  But for me, it works.  Because hey, if it helps me avoid the "coming home from the library with 10 books only to realize I never want to read any of them again" syndrome, I'll do it.)

    Helpful hints for making the most of your library visit:

    1.  Keep a list.  I keep a running list of books I want to look for in a little notebook in my purse.  This way, when we go to one of our local libraries, I have a place to start.  Sometimes, I even look up the books I know I want to find on our library system's online catalog ahead of time to see which libraries have them in their collections.  (This is where my spreadsheet comes in.)  Then, I make a note of it in my book so I don't waste time looking for a book in a library that they don't even have.  For me, it's all about efficiency here.  

    2.  Get to know your library's set up.  One local library has a "staff picks" shelf, while another puts all of the new titles up on the top of the shelves with a red dot on the binding.  I love knowing just where to find any new books that they have gotten in recently.  Yet another local library has a featured shelf for seasonal titles, while another keeps them all sorted by holiday in the same section of the room (though not put out in separate displays.)  Every library is a little different, so if you're not sure where to find things, just ask your librarian.  Which brings me to my next piece of advice...

    3.  Ask your librarian!  She will probably be happy to suggest some of her favorites or some of the new titles in the collection.  This can be especially helpful if you're looking for books on a particular topic, such as the circus, dogs, construction trucks, dinosaurs, you name it.  

    4. Set a magic number.  Mine is 10.  I like to take out 10 books at a time so that I always know how many to look for when it's time to return them.  Of course, sometimes I have multiple books out from multiple libraries so that doesn't always work, but I try.  I usually try to bring home 5 or 6 that I know I want to read or have heard good things about, and let the kids pick out 4 or 5 of their own.  Usually the ones they pick aren't really worth reading more than once, but we have definitely found some real gems that way, too.  I want my kids to get excited about picking out their own library books (and they do), but at this point in their lives, they prefer to spend a bulk of their library time playing with the trains, puppets, and puzzles.  If we're alone we can sometimes sit and read some stories together, but if there are other kids there, too, they usually just want to play together.  My kids will pick out a book or two, run it over to me to put in our book bag, and then go back to playing some more.  When I choose some and they choose some, we usually can guarantee that we come home with at least a few books that we'll want to read again and again.

    5.  Speed read on site if possible.  Sometimes while my kids are playing at the library, I'll read through a few of the books we've chosen to see if they are any good before checking them out.  If they are not, I put them right back on the shelf.  Honestly, we don't have the space in our house for a bunch of library books that we're not going to read more than once.  And why risk paying overdue fines for a book that is just going to sit there anyway?  I've found that I can usually tell if a book is lousy pretty quickly.  And yes, sometimes I judge a book by it's cover (or at least, its illustrations.)  I feel badly saying that, but it's true.  

    6.  Find your favorite authors.  When I don't have my list with me or feel like being so specific, I just look for books by different authors that we always tend to love:  Mo Willems, Jane Yolen, Karma Wilson, Leo Lionni, Oliver Jeffers, Cynthia Rylant, Peter Brown... You can always ask your librarian which authors are her favorite, too.  

    Given the nature and purpose of my blog, I'm sure I go into a library with a different mission than the average person.  I'm looking for great books to read with my kids that I will then love enough to blog about and share with you.  But doesn't everyone go into a library hoping to come out with a great book?  Shouldn't that really be pretty easy?  That's how this whole blog came to be, really.  The shelves at the library are full of books, and yet it often seems as though the ones worth reading repeatedly are few and far between.  I hope this blog has helped you discover some wonderful new stories to read with your children, and that this post has given you some helpful hints for making the most of your library experience.  Happy reading!

    How do you make the most of your library visit?  Please feel free to share your ideas and helpful hints in the comments.  I'd love to hear them!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Win a free library of books!

I'm not usually one to post things like this, but when an opportunity to win over $1000 of gorgeous books comes along, I can't help but share it with you!  Barefoot Books is sponsoring a Storytime Sweepstakes now through December 31st.  Each week, one winner will be selected from North America and Europe to win a $500 library of some of Barefoot's most beloved titles, while  another $500 library will be donated to the school or charity of the winner's choice.  Six weeks of the contest means there will be 12 winners in all.  How amazing is that?!  Now, I'm not usually the winning type when it comes to contests like this, but a girl can dream, can't she?  I can't even begin to describe how excited I would be to win this.  And to be able to donate a beautiful collection of books to my wonderful (and severely fund deprived) local library?  That would be fabulous.

If you're interested in learning more, here's how it works:

To enter, simply click on the picture above or the link provided here.  You will need to 'like' Barefoot Books on facebook and provide your email address.  I know, I know.  I tend to be skeptical of contests that ask for my email address, too, but seeing as I already like Barefoot Books on facebook and they have my email, I certainly have nothing to lose.  Besides, they give you the handy option to uncheck the box that says something to the effect of, "Please send me emails and updates about sales and special offers."   (I always uncheck that box.)  You can also earn additional entries by sharing the contest with friends.  The more you share, the more chances you have to win!

And the best part of all?  When you enter the sweepstakes, you get a unique, one-time coupon code for 30% off your next Barefoot Books order.  What's not to love about that?!

I can't wait to hear about the lucky winners of this incredible contest and hope that you and I are among them!  Good luck to all of you who enter!!

Full disclosure:  I am a Barefoot Books Ambassador, which means that I love these books so much that I decided to sign up to sell them to my friends, family, and neighbors.  Some people make a living selling Barefoot Books and have wonderful small businesses as a result, but that was never my intention when I signed on with Barefoot.  I simply thought it would be a fun little side project to do while I am a stay at home mom that would introduce my kids and me to some fabulous stories.  I loved the idea of sharing these books with other people who love reading with their children, and hoped to be able to connect and fundraise with some of my favorite community groups and organizations.  So far, I have organized fundraisers for my son's preschool and our town's local community farm, and donated a bunch of board books to one of my favorite literacy charities, Reach Out and Read.  I've also been able to help some friends and local families earn free books for their children by hosting book parties at their homes.  Overall, it's been wonderful.  Maybe someday, I'll actually make a tiny little profit off of my Barefoot endeavor, but for now, I'm happy getting a free book to read with my kids every now and then and helping others discover the beautiful world of Barefoot Books.  If you ever want to learn more about them, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email at and I'd be happy to get back to you.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Day 179: Where's Spot?

As I looked at this story sitting next to the rocking chair in my daughter's room today, I thought, "What a great book.  It's amazing how much my kids continue to love this story.  I mean, really, do lift the flap books ever get old?  No signs of that here yet, anyway.  This should be on my holiday gift guide for sure.  I've written about Where's Spot? already, right?  Surely I have."  But lo and behold, when I checked the blog, I haven't yet featured this fabulous book.  I can't believe it!  So without further ado, let me just say that this is one children's classic that belongs on every baby's bookshelf.  If your children are anything like mine, they will enjoy Where's Spot? from their first few months through their first few years.  Spot has long been a favorite of both of my kids in plain old board book form, but add in the endless fun that is lifting the flaps and we've got a definite winner on our hands.  Its bright, simple illustrations and short text make it appealing to babies, while it's flaps call out to those little ones who are becoming more dextrous.  My little girl is two, and loves reading this book just as much now as she did over a year ago.  I probably couldn't even count the number of times we've read this story, but believe me when I say that opening the wardrobe doors and finding Steve the monkey hiding inside still brings a smile to her face every time.  My son is almost 5 and he still loves reading this book, too... only now it's because he can read it to his little sister all by himself.  So there you have it.  Where's Spot? is just an all-around great book.  I highly recommend the board book version if you can get it.  Ours is really quite sturdy, and even the flaps have held up well after much lifting.  This book makes a great baby or first birthday gift, or could even be a nice stocking stuffer for a little one's first Christmas.  I hope Spot brings as much joy and entertainment to your house as he has to ours!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Day 178: We're Sailing to Galapagos

I think if my son could go anywhere in the world, he might choose the Galapagos.  Home to some of the world's most unique wildlife, the Galapagos Islands are truly amazing.  We love exploring and learning about the world through Laurie Krebs' books, and this has been a favorite of ours since the very first time we read it.  We're Sailing to Galapagos, like so many of Krebs' stories, is bursting with fun information about this unique part of the world and the animals who live there.  Grazia Restelli's collage artwork is bold, colorful, and wonderfully intricate, and is the perfect accompaniment to Krebs' rollicking story.  Both of my children love everything about the book, and once again, my geography teacher self is always more than happy to read it with them.

As we sail across the sea to visit the Galapagos, we meet a different species on each day of the week:  "On Monday, giant tortoises, With weathered shells of green, Plod past us while they munch their lunch of vegetable cuisine."  Each day ends with the same chorus, too, for which I made up my own little rhythm and song:  "We're sailing to Galapagos, Galapagos, Galapagos, We're sailing to Galapagos, I wonder who we'll see."  You can also sing the each verse to the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat, but I prefer to simply read the part about the animals and then sing the chorus.  Either one works, of course, or if singing is not your thing than just reading it all aloud works fine, too!  Along the way, we meet albatrosses, black iguanas, lava crabs, blue-footed boobies, sea lions, and frigate birds... and the learning doesn't stop there!  The back of the book features fabulous write ups about the Islands themselves, Charles Darwin, and 11 other Galapagos species.  I absolutely love the way Krebs' books grow with children and are appealing to such a wide age range.  The sing-songy verses and colorful illustrations make her books engaging for toddlers, while the additional information at the back is perfect for curious, older adventurers.  Someday, perhaps, we might even be able to go to the Galapagos... but until then, we'll just keep enjoying fabulous books like this one and imagining that we are there.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The joys of reading aloud

Story time with my children is always one of my favorite times of day.  I've written about why I read to my kids before, but I've been thinking about it a lot more lately for some reason.  I think this is in part because, as a teacher, I think a lot about the current state of education in our country and around the world and the critical role that literacy -- especially early childhood literacy -- plays in our overall success.  I also have found myself feeling very grateful for many things lately, particularly my ability to stay home with my children and (hopefully) help them become compassionate, independent, curious citizens of our world.  The Thanksgiving season obviously makes me reflect on all that I am thankful for, but the recent election has me thinking about social responsibility and the influence that each of us has on shaping our collective future.  I truly believe that one person has the power to make a difference and change the world, and I'm not talking about the President here.  I'm talking about each of us.  Sure, there is a lot we can't control, but there is plenty that we can do to make our children's future better.  One of the best, easiest, and most valuable things we can do for our kids is read with them.  Reach Out and Read has a fabulous write up on the "Importance of Reading Aloud," which I will share here.   I read with my children for all of those reasons, and then some.  The educator in me reads to my kids because I love broadening their horizons and helping them acquire the language and literacy skills that will set them up for a lifetime of learning and success.  The parent in me simply loves any excuse to snuggle up and share a quiet moment with my kids.  But I got to thinking... What do other people love most about reading to their children?  Wouldn't it be a fun way to celebrate reading aloud by sharing a list of reasons here on the blog?  I posed the question to our followers in the facebook world and will share what they said below.  I would love to know your reasons, too.  Please feel free to share in the comments!

Our educational system obviously isn't perfect, and we have a long way to go if we are going to truly educate all children and enable them to reach their full potential.  I know the vital role that teachers play in doing this, but I also know that it is us, the parents, that have the most important job of all.  No one -- and I mean no one -- has the power to influence, inspire, teach, and empower our children as much as we do.  So read on, friends, read on.  You are making a bigger difference than you know.

By the way, I'm working on creating a section of this blog that features helpful literacy articles and information with the hope that it will be a useful resource for people looking to find ways to help their children learn to read and develop literacy skills.  Stay tuned, and in the meantime, enjoy our post dedicated to the simple joys of reading aloud!

What do YOU love most about reading with your children?

"The snuggles that come along with reading to the kids."
 ~ Shauna R.

"The vocabulary building.  I try to choose books that are a little ahead of what's recommended for their age so they often have to ask, "What does that mean?"  Another thing I love is how their imagination is sparked and the next day they'll pretend to be a character from the book 
and act out scenes they remember." 
 ~ Marleen M. 

"The quiet time with them as well as sharing stories from when I was growing up." 
~ Nina M. K.

"The cuddle time... the glances in between us as I am reading, the laughter..." 
~ Amy G. H.

"That no matter how difficult our day might have been, we want to read together at the end of it, and in the rare instances when she's not into it, we just make the effort to pick a book that suits the moment better, so that we can have those few minutes to end the day just right."  
~ Kristi W. K. 

"Listening to him tell the story through his own eyes (he can't read yet). 
He points out the pictures and tells the story." 
~ Marlene C. 

"Opportunities to talk about what we're reading." 
~ Kelly R.

"The closeness engendered by a shared experience, the opportunity to explore his imagined worlds and to share mine. I love the chance to spend quiet time together...and to invite conversations... In a group situation I love taking children on a journey that is shared yet unique for each of them. I relish the chance to invite them to see into the imaginary worlds of others and to know that all ideas are welcome. I enjoy the sense of the unknown with each new page..and of the familiar with old, comfy, safe favourites that allow prediction and the power of knowledge of what is to come .
~ Sharon C. 

"My son is three, so we read a lot of picture books. I love the way his eyes light up when we pull a favorite book off the shelf at the library, the way it takes him longer to choose books at bedtime than it does to pick out his clothes, the way he can't contain himself from blurting out the ending to a perfect story like "Where the Wild Things Are" ("and it was still hot!"). Book time = perfect family time."  
~ Sprout's Bookshelf

"I love that my11 year old don still wants me to read aloud to him! 
We still cuddle up in bed and share that beautiful time together!" 
~ Sarah R. 

"Quiet together time at the end of whatever kind of crazy day you've had. 
Rich vocabulary, fun rhymes, wonderful stories. 
A time when you're focused just on your child and the story on the page. Snuggles." 
~ Heather M. W.

" I love that we can both just BE for a bit together. No other distractions. 
Just living, learning, and reading together to reconnect."  
~ Katie D. M.

"I love their reactions and how much it makes them think. If we read a book and they're relating to it the next day ("that's like what happened with Clifford!"). . . 
getting that glimpse into how they perceive the world. That's the best." 
~ Beth Z. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

November is Picture Book Month!

I was so excited to learn that November is Picture Book Month!  As explained on the website, "features essays from 'Picture Book Champions,' thought leaders in the children's literature community." A different author or illustrator will share an essay each day about their take on the wonderful world of picture books.  I can't wait to follow along and hear what they have to say about one of my favorite things!

To learn more about Picture Book Month and join in the celebration, please visit their website or find them on facebook at  You can also follow them on twitter @picturebookmonth or by using the hashtag #picturebookmonth.

Enjoy, and happy reading!!

“Picture books are the connective tissue between a parent and a child. …you stop everything, snuggle up on the couch or the floor and share a story.” 
– John Rocco, 2012 Caldecott Honor Winner, from his Picture Book Month Essay