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, January 29, 2013

Day 188: Storytime

Books on CD are positively brilliant.  I have fond memories of falling asleep each night to the Velveteen Rabbit when I was a child, and I listened to the Fox and the Hound on tape so many times that my mom could probably still recite the whole story if you asked her to.  They make road trips with children infinitely more enjoyable for everyone, are great for entertaining an older sibling while a younger one goes down for a nap, and are a perfect way to end the day at bedtime.  Each night when we put our son to bed, my husband or I read him a few stories, shut off the light and either tell him another story (daddy's specialty) or sing songs (my specialty), and then turn on one of his favorite books on CD so that he can listen to more stories as he drifts off to sleep.  Storytime has been on heavy rotation in our house lately, both in the car and at bedtime.  My son has also been asking me to read it to him during our afternoon story time, as well, and I have to say, it is a fabulous book all around!

Storytime is a collection of traditional folk tales containing some of the most well-known classics in children's literature:  The Gingerbread Man, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, and The Ugly Duckling.  Also included in this awesome anthology are The Cock, the Mouse, and the Little Red Hen, The Timid Hare (perhaps our favorite of all), and Stone Soup.  As a child, I don't remember reading these stories, specifically, but somehow I grew up knowing most of them.  This book is the perfect way to introduce these traditional tales to young children.  The pictures are colorful and entertaining, narrator Jim Broadbent's voice is fantastic, and the stories are told in a way that is very appealing and accessible to young children.  Some versions of these stories seem kind of violent to me -- the Three Little Pigs being eaten by the big, bad, wolf, for example, can be a bit traumatic --  but in this book, they are not at all scary or disturbing.  They're not too long, either.  As Goldilocks would say, they're just right.  If you're looking for a way to introduce your little one to these classics, you're bound to love Storytime.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Day 187: Me... Jane

"There are so many people who have dreamed seemingly unattainable dreams 
and, because they never gave up, achieved their goals against all the odds, 
or blazed a path along which other could follow... 
They inspire me.  They inspire those around them."
~ Dr. Jane Goodall

This beautiful book has been on my "must-find" list for quite some time, and I finally got a hold of it at one of our local libraries a few weeks ago.  Me . . . Jane tells the story of a young Jane Goodall and the beginnings of her lifelong dream to study, understand, and protect chimpanzees.  I remember learning about Jane Goodall as a child and thinking that she had one of the coolest jobs on earth.  Fortunately, both of my children love the natural world as much as I do, so I knew this book would be right up their alley.  

As so often happens when I write about a book I love, I'm having a hard time knowing just where to start.  There are just so many fabulous things about it!  The story about Jane and her stuffed chimpanzee Jubilee is as endearing as it is inspiring.  In it, we learn about Jane's early love of animals and innate curiosity about nature, and see how her dream to go to Africa and live among the chimps became a reality.  As a young girl, "Jane had a stuffed toy chimpanzee named Jubilee.  She cherished Jubilee and took him everywhere she went.  And Jane loved to be outside."  She learned all she could about the plants and animals in her backyard and immersed herself in the natural world.  "It was a magical world full of joy and wonder, and Jane felt very much a part of it."  As she got older, Jane "read and reread the books about Tarzan of the Apes, in which another girl, also named Jane, lived in the jungles of Africa.  Jane dreamed of a life in Africa, too..." I find this story so inspiring because it shows children that their dreams, however far fetched they might seem to others, are still worth pursuing. 

The illustrations throughout the book are equally wonderful.  The soft, watercolor (I think) images of young Jane and Jubilee are lovely, and I especially love Jane's actual sketches that are scattered throughout the book.  The seamless combination of McDonnell's illustrations, Jane's sketches, vintage-style pages, and unique engravings adds a fabulous artistic element to this book.  Be sure to read the "Art Notes" at the very end, which explain how "the ornamental engravings from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are included, collectively evoking Jane's lifelong passion for detailed, scientific observation of nature."  

While I'm mentioning the end notes, be sure to read the short biography "About Jane Goodall," as well as the "Message from Jane."  I particularly love her reminder that "Each one of us makes a difference.  We cannot live through a single day without making an impact on the world around us -- and we have a choice as to what sort of difference we make."  And the picture of her and the real Jubilee when Jane must be about 2 years old?  Adorable!  But back to the making a difference thing.  It's so true, isn't it? Whether it's something as simple as smiling at someone and saying hello or turning off a light, the little things we do every day can make a bigger difference than we realize.  I don't know who gave Jubilee to Jane when she was a baby, but I'm sure he or she could never have envisioned how much that little stuffed animal would influence Jane's life, not to mention the difference she would go on to make in the world.  

It seems I'm gone on about this great book for far too long, so I'll wrap things up here.  Although my son never wants to sit through my reading of the whole bio, I make it a point to at least read him the part about how, at age 10, Jane decided that "when she grew up she would go to Africa, live with the animals, and write about them.  Almost everyone told her this goal was impossible. Her family had little money, and she was a girl in a time when girls were not encouraged to pursue adventurous careers.  But her mother encouraged her to follow her dream." I hope my children always know that no matter what, I will always be their biggest supporter and champion.  I can't help but wonder what they will grow up to be, and which of their passions might steer their hopes and dreams along the way.  Will my son grow up to be a paleontologist?  Or perhaps a zoologist?  I don't know, and it's easy, I think, as parents to dismiss childhood obsessions as merely that.  But sometimes, as in the case of Jane Goodall, they are signs of amazing things to come. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Day 186: King Arthur's Very Great Grandson

I love any good story, any time, anywhere.  But when I find one that is about something one of my kids is particularly into at the time, it's even better.  When my son was one, he was obsessed with all things wheeled.  Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go was loved so much that we ended up having to get a second copy.  When he was son 2, he still loved cars and trucks, but also adored monkeys.  I found Cha Cha Chimps at the library and we've loved it ever since.  Other recent favorites include animals and dinosaurs (still ongoing), and now that he has turned 5, we've moved into the fabulous, magical world of pirates, knights, and dragons.  Funny how that happens, isn't it?  My son got some awesome pirate and knight Playmobil sets for his birthday and Christmas, as well as the movie How to Train Your Dragon, so we've been in all-out medieval mode for a few weeks now.  So fun!  I never know when one of my own dragons is going to go zooming past me in the kitchen, and I love listening in while they play with Toothless, Nightwing, and Googily (their plush and Playmobil dragons) in the living room.  Needless to say, when I saw this book out on the "New Arrivals" shelf at our local library, I snatched it right up.  I found the cover illustration inexplicably appealing, too, and couldn't wait to read it.  One read through King Arthur's Very Great Grandson and I knew I had to share it here!

Henry Alfred Grummorson is the great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson of the brave King Arthur, "the noblest knight to ever wield a sword."  On the morning of his 6th birthday, Henry wakes up, mounts his trusty donkey steed, Knuckles, and sets out in search of great adventure.  Along the way, he encounters a Dragon, Cyclops, and Griffin, but much to his growing dismay, none of them wishes to take him on in battle.  The dragon simply blows smoke rings, the cyclops wants only to have a staring contest, and the griffin challenges Henry to a ferocious battle of... chess.  Determined, Henry decides to seek out the Leviathan, fearsome creature of the deep sea.  "There in the roiling waters, Henry caught a glimpse of a truly enormous beast just below the surface.  He cleared his throat, gathered together his six years of manhood, and shouted: "READY YOURSELF, MONSTER, AND I SHALL HAVE ADO WITH YOU!"  Has Henry finally met his match?

The ending of this fun, clever story will leaving you giggling and smiling; don't be surprised if you're asked to read it again as soon as you've finished!  I love some of the great vocabulary words scattered throughout the story (uttermost, peril, unsheathe, formidable, and Leviathan, to name a few), and Henry's invitations to "ado" are oh-so-fun to read aloud.  My son breaks into fits of laughter each time we read them.  As for the illustrations, I can't quite put my finger on why I like them so much, but it probably has to do with the contrasting colors and combination of intricate details and subtle, empty space.  I'm even more impressed with the fact that creator Kenneth Kraegel is a self-taught artist and author.  Way to knock your first book out of the park, Mr. Kraegel!  As described on the book's jacket cover, Kraegel "draws from myth and legend to craft a wonderfully inventive tale that is sure to delight adventurers of all ages."  We couldn't agree more.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Day 185: Bear Has a Story To Tell

I fell in love with the work of Philip and Erin Stead as soon as I read their first masterpiece, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, the much-deserving winner of the 2011 Caldecott Medal.  In Bear Has a Story to Tell, the dynamic husband and wife duo is back with another wonderfully sweet story.  "It was almost winter, and Bear was getting sleepy.  But first, Bear had a story to tell."  He visits his woodland friends, hoping one of them will want to listen to his story, but they are all busy readying themselves for winter. Kind and understanding, Bear helps Mouse gather seeds, checks the direction of the wind for Duck before he takes flight south, and digs Frog a hole in which he can cozy up and stay warm for the cold winter months ahead.  Dear Mole is already sound asleep underground.  Finally, as the first snowflakes start to fall, Bear settles himself in and drifts off to sleep for the winter.  When he awakes in the spring, he is excited to tell his story!  One by one, his friends return... but so many months have passed that by the time they all gather to hear Bear's tale, he can't remember what it was!  Erin Stead's illustrations are gorgeous, as usual, and I love the way this sweet, gentle story exudes friendship, patience, and kindness throughout.  It makes for a lovely bedtime read, and is one story we are thrilled to have recently added to our home library.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Day 184: See Me Run

We looked for this book at our local library after seeing it was a Theodore Seuss Geisel honoree winner for 2012.  If you've never heard of the Geisel award, it is given annually to the author and illustrator of the "most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English" (according to the
ALA's website.)  It is no surprise that the best early reader books would be honored in the name of the great Dr. Seuss, and we have a few other previous winners on our bookshelves that we absolutely love:  Mo Willems' Are You Ready to Play Outside (2009) and There is a Bird on Your Head! (2008), and Cynthia Rylant's Henry and Mudge and the Great Grandpas (2006.)  Now, some people probably won't be impressed with this book because at a quick glance, it might not seem like anything special.  There are only a few words on each page with some silly pictures of dogs.  But let me assure you:  if you have a child who is just learning to read, this is the perfect book!

See Me Run is an "I Like to Read" book, published by Holiday House and written by Paul Meisel.  The award winning books I mentioned above are all considered "Early Readers," though I have learned that there is a great deal of variety when it comes to this genre.  For example, "I Like to Read" books are different from "I Can Read!" books, such as those in the Frog and Toad, Little Critter, and Amelia Bedelia series. I'll have to do a little research on this to find out more about specific reading levels within the broad category called "Early Readers," but from what I can tell about the "I Like to Read" books by Holiday House, they are a great starting point for beginning -- and I mean just beginning -- readers.  (To learn more about the "I Like to Read" series, visit the Holiday House brochure about them here.)

As soon as we got this book home, my son took it out and we sat down to read it together.  I started to read it to him, but he immediately stopped me and said, "No, no, I can read it myself!"  And he did.  Pretty effortlessly.  I watched his face as he read, and with each turn of the page, his smile got a little bigger. Part of this was due to the silly story itself, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that this was a story he could easily and comfortably read all by himself.  For a beginning reader, this is a powerful thing.  This is what I think makes this book so great.  We love the Frog and Toad and Henry and Mudge series, and those are considered "Early Readers," too, but they are several steps and reading levels above See Me Run.  I am extremely lucky in that reading appears to be something that has come quite easily to my son, but I would imagine that this book will provide many struggling or emerging readers with the boost of confidence they need to feel successful and good about reading.  The text is short, there are familiar sight words, and there is just the right amount of repetition to make kids' reading become more fluid as they go along.  I even caught my 2 year old daughter "reading" this book by herself this morning, which made her quite proud.  ("I can read it all by myselfs!")  Plus, the pictures of the dogs are cute and fun, and the ending is even sillier.  If your child is just starting to read or you are having trouble finding a good, true "Early Reader," we highly recommend this book.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

2012 Picture Book Award Winners

Need some inspiration the next time you visit the library?  Check out some of last year's notable award winners, along with a few of our personal favorites that were published in 2012:

2012 Caldecott Medal Winner:

A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka

2012 Caldecott Honor Winners:

Blackout, by John Rocco

Grandpa Green, by Lane Smith

Me.... Jane, by Patrick McDonald

2012 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award (given to the most distinguished contribution to beginning reader book genre):

Tales for Very Picky Eaters, by Josh Schneider

2012 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honors Books:

I Broke My Trunk, by Mo Willems

I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen

See Me Run, by Paul Meisel

2012 E.B. White Read-Aloud Award Winner:

I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen

2012 Picture Book Hall of Fame Inductees:

Curious George, by H.A. Rey
The Little Engine that Could, by Watty Piper
Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney (one of my favorite picture books of all time!!)

Some of our personal favorites published in 2012:

The Duckling Gets a Cookie?!  (Mo Willems)
Let's Go for a Drive!  (Mo Willems)
Listen to My Trumpet!  (Mo Willems)
Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons (Eric Litwin, James Dean)

A Leaf Can Be (Laura Purdie Salas, Violeta Dabija)

Z Is for Moose (Kelly Bingham, Paul Zelinsky)

And Then It's Spring (Julie Fogliano, Erin Stead)

Which books would be on your "Best of 2012" list?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Day 183: Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons

Pete the Cat is one fun feline.  We first heard this story at a library story time a few months back, and it was an instant hit with all of the kids in the room.  There are several books in the Pete the Cat series, but I've only had the privilege of reading two of them so far.  They always seem to be checked out of the library, which is always a good sign that a book is awesome.   In Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons, the ever-fabulous Pete is just rolling along, loving life, when one of the buttons pops off his favorite shirt.  But does he cry?  "Goodness, no!  Buttons come and buttons go!"  He just keeps on singing his song.  One by one, Pete's buttons pop off, until there are none left.  Even so, happy ol' Pete still finds something to sing about.  I just love Pete's attitude, and the funky, colorful illustrations and catchy little tune make the book fantastically fun to read.  Be sure to let yourself really get into the groove while you're reading it, too.  It's much more fun that way!  Pete gives us all a good reminder about not sweating the small stuff, and your children might even find that they learn some subtraction facts along the way, as well.  My kids love everything about this book, and given how many times they have been asking to read it lately, it's a good thing I do, too.