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, February 28, 2013

Day 192: Jack and the Beanstalk

We all remember some of the classic fairy tales from our childhood:  Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Ugly Duckling, Jack and the Beanstalk.  It's funny, though, because for some reason, I don't remember how I actually learned these stories.  Did my mom sit and read them to me?  I don't think we had them as actual books, but maybe I'm just forgetting.  Or maybe she just told them to me.  Did my teachers read them to me in school?  I honestly can't remember.  Somehow, though, I grew up knowing all of these traditional tales.  In a way, it's essential childhood knowledge, don't you think?  Growing up not knowing these classics would be like growing up not knowing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star or Mary Had a Little Lamb.  It's part of our childhood vernacular.  When I began reading to my children, I knew these tales would be on our reading list someday.  The trick was going to be finding versions of some of them that were slightly less graphic than the originals.  Call me over-protective, but some of these stories are really kind of horrifying.  I mean, I'm okay with the wolf swallowing Granny whole and all, but the woodcutter slashing him open with an axe?  That seems a bit gory for three year old, if you ask me.  I know some people would disagree, but if I can minimize the violence, tragedy, and death a bit for now by reading a slightly less graphic version, I will.   But I digress...  

What I really want to talk about here is how much I love this version of Jack and the Beanstalk!  If you've followed this blog for a while, you know how much I love the publishing company Barefoot Books.  Their stories are always beautiful, both in message and illustration.  More than anything, I love the comfort of knowing that I can pick up any book from this publisher and know that it's going to be of the highest quality.  They feature many original stories, as well as traditional fables and fairy tales from cultures around the world.  I was thrilled to add their rendition of Jack and the Beanstalk to our home library, particularly because it also came with a fabulous audio version that quickly took up residence in our permanent car rotation.  My kids and I both adore this story, and while we do read it aloud ourselves from time to time, I find we listen to the audio version more.  (Mostly, this is because they love reading along with the cd so much, the book is always in the car.)  The classic elements of the tale are all here, with just the right amount of humor mixed in to keep things from being too violent or scary.  Rather than being killed in the end, for example, the giant gets flung far off into space, never to be seen again.  (The "BOING!!!" that happens then is always my kids' favorite part of the story.)  There's no talk about the giant having Jack's bones to grind his bread, which I find kind of nice, and while he still says the famed, "Fee, fi, fo fum!," it is followed by, "I smell the blood of a stinky man!" (which my daughter finds particularly hilarious.)  If you're looking to introduce your little one to this traditional fairy tale, we highly recommend this version.  Thanks, Barefoot Books, for bringing us another great childhood classic!  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Day 191: Should I Share My Ice Cream?

Mo Willems might just be our household's favorite children's author.  Whether it's Gerald and Piggie, the beloved bus-obsessed Pigeon, Knuffle Bunny and Trixie, or Leonardo the Terrible Monster, we just can't get enough of Mo's characters.  I thought about saving this book until we're having more ice cream friendly weather, but we've been loving this story so much lately that I just couldn't wait!  

If you know Elephant and Piggie, you know how fabulous and funny their books are.  If you don't, you need to go to the library and get some of them immediately.  Seriously.  They are an absolute must for any preschooler's collection.  Mo Willems has the amazing ability to draw simple, yet wonderfully expressive characters while telling fabulously funny stories with easy-to-read text.  These were some of the very first books my son ever read on his own, and while we loved these books long before he could read, I appreciate their brilliance even more now.  We love all of the tales in the Elephant and Piggie series, but this is among our favorites.  It's one of my daughter's most requested stories at the moment, despite the fact that it's silliness always gets her more excited than sleepy at bedtime and naptime.  On second thought, maybe that's why she likes it so much...  

Gerald loves ice cream, and in this fantastically fun story, he is trying to decide whether to share his delicious treat with his best friend, Piggie.  It's so yummy, Piggie will be sure to love it, too... But wait!  Piggie is not there!  She'll never know he had the ice cream... But it would make her so happy to have some.  Should Gerald share his ice cream with her??  We've all been there before, haven't we?  I know my kids can certainly relate.  They know it's nice and polite to share with others, but as we all know, sometimes that's easier said than done... especially when it comes to something as delicious as ice cream!  The silly series of events throughout this story is bound to make your little ones laugh out loud, and my guess is you'll think this book is pretty hilarious, too.  And don't be afraid to get silly and carried away while you read it aloud.  It's much more fun that way!  While the ensuing giggle-fests might not be the most conducive to sleep at bedtime, this story is an all-around awesome read at any time of day.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Day 190: Splat the Cat

We recently discovered Splat the Cat on the shelf of new arrivals at our local library. I instantly recognized the artistic style of author and illustrator Rob Scotton, and the silly title in itself made my kids want to bring it home.  We did, and we've been reading it just about every day since.  My daughter is particularly enamored by Splat, and it never fails to make her and my son laugh with delight.  

It is Splat's first day of Cat School, and he is nervous. He can't stop his tail from wiggling wildly with worry.  He tries every excuse he can think of to put off going until tomorrow, but to no avail.  "If I hide from the day, maybe it'll go away, he thought.  It didn't."  He doesn't have any clean socks (even though he doesn't wear socks), he's having a bad hair day, the front door won't let him out, the gate won't let go of his fingers... even the lamppost won't get out of his way.  (That page always evokes the most giggles.)  Knowing he'll need a friend, he packs his pet mouse Seymour into his lunchbox and heads reluctantly to school.  His classmates and teacher are more than welcoming, and after a silly series of events, Splat returns home at the end of the day excited and eager to go back.  While there are a few quick jumps from one thing to another in the story, my kids never question them.  The story itself is cute and a great back-to-school read, but the illustrations are really what make it for me.  Scotton has such a unique style, and I love all of the little things in his illustrations that really bring a clever humor to the book:  Splat's mouse slippers, the books on his shelf (such as Dogs are from Mars, Cats are from Venus), his alarm clock that points to "too early," Seymour's eyes peeking out of Splat's lunch bag.  Splat the Cat was first published in 2008, and now there are several sequels in the Splat series.  We'll definitely be looking for them at our next library visit!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Book inspired art

Much to my surprise and delight, my son has really taken to art lately.  It's as though a switch flipped and now, all of a sudden, he'll spend hours coloring and drawing.  It's awesome.  I've always exposed him to different kinds of art projects and creative endeavors, and while he has enjoyed doing them, he's usually ready to move on to something else after about 5 minutes.  Not anymore!  One of his favorite activities at the moment is drawing animals from different places around the world.  We've learned about so many kinds of animals together, especially from his much-loved Animal Atlas.  I love any way to take learning and a love of reading beyond the pages of a book itself, and our Animal Atlas inspired art has been one of our favorite activities lately.

With the hope it might inspire your little ones, too, here's what we've been up to:
Cover your table with butcher paper and let your kids go to town with their crayons!  Seriously, if you've never done this before, you've got to try it!  It's SO much fun and has provided us with hours of entertainment recently.  This is my little guy starting on his "African Animals picture."  
A monkey runs away from a leopard in a tree while a rhino looks on.
(He's so funny about wanting me to label everything in his picture.)
The peregrine falcon -- my son's favorite, cut off on the top right -- was the first animal he drew.  Next came his sister's favorite:  the cheetah.  I just love his bat-eared fox eating the termite!  The aardwolf is trying to break open the termite mound, too.
A flamingo and crowned crane by the river
 When he had drawn every African animal he could think of, he turned to -- you guessed it! -- his Animal Atlas.  He decided to leave out the Saharan animals and stick to the ones of the savanna and rainforest, instead.  He had already drawn every one on the savanna page except the one he is pointing to here -- the red headed weaver bird. 
The final masterpiece! 

My son has decided that he wants to do a different big drawing every day, so today, we took Africa down and started over with the rainforest.  Tomorrow, he says, he'll do "Antarctica, then a bug's world,  and then desert creatures." 

Here's what I think is so cool about this whole thing and how it relates to literacy.  It might seem like a reach, but I still think it is relevant.  My son loves animals.  He found the Animal Atlas at the library on his own and fell in love with it.  I can't tell you how many days we've sat down to read and he has declared, "I want to read the whole thing!" (which we've never actually done in one sitting, because it would probably take us about 4 to 5 hours.)  He's always been a hesitant artist, but he has taken something he loves and has learned a lot about from books (animals), and made that his artistic hook.  His enthusiasm for animals and his favorite book about creatures around the world has inspired him not just to draw, but to love creating art.  That certainly works for me.  

There are all kinds of fabulous story-inspired art activities out there, and hopefully I'll share some of our other favorites with you soon.  In the meantime, check out the Mommy and Me Book Club for more inspiration.  It is one of my favorite blogs when it comes to story-related arts and crafts.  And please, if you have a favorite book related activity, share it in the comments below!

A Read-Aloud Bedtime Rhyme

One of the things I love most about this blog is the way it has connected me to other parents and educators who share my passion for early childhood literacy and reading aloud.  I recently received this poem from Susan Marx, co-author of "Help Me Get Ready to Read," and wanted to share it with you.   Reading with my children at bedtime is always one of my favorite times of day, so I hope this makes you want to grab a great book and snuggle up to read it with your little one.    

Titles of some of Susan's favorite read-aloud books for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are shown in italics.  (I've included links to some of the books I've featured here in the past, as well.)  Information about the books, as well as parenting strategies and reading strategies to read aloud effectively, are provided in “Help Me Get Ready To Read: The Practical Guide For Reading Aloud To Children During Their First Five Years” by Susan and co-author Barbara Kasok. (

Bedtime Rhyme
by Susan Marx

Let’s read a book Together to settle you down,
Time for Bed in your cozy jammies or nightgown.
Sleep time for you and Dino-Pets that watch you grow,
Count along with me Ten, Nine, Eight and Off We Go!
Little one you might ask Where to Sleep?
For sure not with those Sheep in a Jeep.
Duck! Rabbit! Here’s a Kiss Kiss from Little Mo,
Stop your Dancing Feet, be still From Head To Toe.
Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed go Bumpety Bump on the floor,
OH! The Runaway Bunny calls for help from Sammy and the Dinosaur.
Chicken Bedtime is Really Early honks Blue Goose,
Mommies Say Shhh! to the Mother Goose on the Loose.
Here Comes the Night so quietly listen as Bear Snores On,
No more coloring for Harold and the Purple Crayon.
Good night to the dog in Whistle for Willie,
And good neigh to the horse in Silly Tilly.
Time To Say Goodnight to Corduroy, Miss Mary Mack, and Maisy,
Goodnight Moon, Noisy Nora, Oliviaand Titch and Daisy.
Good-night Owl and Good Night Gorilla in the Firehouse,
Sweet dreams to the teeny weeny Busy, Busy Mouse.
Hush Little Baby soon the sun will say Hello Day,
That’s the time when your book buddy Millie Wants to Play!
Soon Milton the Early Riser will head Down By the Bay,
Carrying his Umbrella on a Soggy Saturday.
Close Your Eyes to find A Rainbow All Around Me.
It’s Time To go to sleep as I sing a Lucky Song,
All the World will wait patiently for you all night long.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Valentine's Day Gift Ideas

Say "I Love You" with a book!

If you've been following this blog for a while, you know how much I love to give books as gifts.  I've mentioned some of the many reasons why in the past, but each time a holiday comes around -- especially one like Valentine's Day or Easter that otherwise tends to be celebrated with excessive amounts of candy -- I find myself getting excited to pick out a new book to give my kids in honor of the occasion.  (And don't worry. Chocolate is still involved.)  Fortunately, I can happily report that my kids get more excited about new books than any kind of candy or edible treat.  And by "new," I simply mean "new to them."  I pick up most of our books at the used book sales at our local library for about $.25 a piece, then hang on to them for future gifting.  I did splurge this year and buy brand new ones for my kids for Valentine's Day, but Barefoot Books was having such a fabulous sale recently that I couldn't resist.  (My daughter will be getting the singalong Up, Up, Up!, and my son will be getting Up and Down the Andes.)  While their new books have nothing at all to do with Valentine's Day, here are a few of our favorites that would make perfect gifts for your little Valentine:

 Snuggle Puppy by Sandra Boynton

 Guess How Much I Love You? by Sam McBratney

 On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman

 Someday by Alison McGhee

For Daddy:
 I Love My Daddy Because... by Laurel Porter-Gaylord 

For Mommy:  
 I Love My Mommy Because... by Laurel Porter-Gaylord

From a younger sibling to an older one:


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Day 189: King Jack and the Dragon

One evening last week, I had the pleasure of visiting the library alone.  Yes, alone!  Granted, it was 7:30pm and I was simply stopping by to return some books that were due that day, but even so, my brief visit was lovely.  Don't get me wrong, I love taking my kids to the library, but that night, I reveled in my opportunity to browse the shelves in uninterrupted silence.  Of course, I still spent my whole 15 minutes of solitude in the children's section.  Where else would I be?  I knew my kids would be excited to read some new books that night at bedtime, and with a big storm on the way, I knew I would be eager to have some new stories to snuggle up and read with them by the fire.  As I passed by the first shelf, this book instantly caught my eye.  Dragons?  I'll take it!  (We're in a huge dragon phase in my house right now.)  As I often do, I judged this book solely by its cover and title, though as soon as I saw that it was illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (of We're Going on a Bear Hunt fame), I felt confident that I wouldn't be disappointed. To the librarian who re-shelved this book right at the end of the row so that it happened to be in plain sight, thank you!!!  Both my children and I instantly fell in love with this adorable story, and my daughter (2.5) has asked to read it every night and naptime since.  (Ever the admiring little sister, she follows her brother's lead and loves knights and dragons, too.)

King Jack and the Dragon is a delightful story that is bound to remind you of your own childhood adventures.  The playful text rhymes wonderfully, and Helen Oxenbury's illustrations are beautifully charming, as always.  There is a certain Where the Wild Things Are quality about this book, too, which I just love.  "Jack, Zack, and Caspar were making a den -- a mighty great fort for King Jack and his men.  A big cardboard box, an old sheet and some sticks, a couple of trash bags, a few broken bricks, a fine royal throne from a ragged old quilt, a drawbridge, a flag -- and the castle was built."  The three valiant knights spend their day fighting dragons and protecting their stronghold, until, alas, giants (of the mommy and daddy variety) come to take the wee young knights home to bed.  I love the way this story captures the pure beauty of childhood creativity and imagination, and hope it inspires both children and their parents to get back to the basics and just play.  (Never underestimate the entertainment value of a cardboard box!)  We find it particularly perfect for bedtime, but it's a wonderful read at any time of day.  The next time you're at the library, take a look on the "B" shelf for King Jack and the Dragon.  It's one great story that you won't want to miss.