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, April 24, 2013

Day 204: Andrew Henry's Meadow

Before I go on and on about how amazingly fabulous this book is, I have to give a big thank you shout out to my fellow picture book lover and blogger, Read Aloud Dad, who first introduced me to this book a month or two ago when I read his review of it here.  As soon as I read his glowing review, I logged on to my library system's website and set out to find a copy that we could borrow.  Surprisingly, there were only 3 copies of Andrew Henry's Meadow in the whole system.  Only 3!  Why every library in the world doesn't own this book, I have no idea.  It is truly one of the most wonderful stories I have read in a long time, and I'm so happy to have discovered it. Thank you, Read Aloud Dad!

Andrew Henry Thatcher lives with his family in the small town of Stubbsville.  He has two younger brothers who are always playing with each other, and two older sisters who are always with each other, leaving Andrew Henry alone most of the time.  Fortunately, he doesn't much seem to mind, happily passing the time creating clever new inventions.  He makes a helicopter in the kitchen, an eagle cage in the living room, and a merry-go-round from his sisters' sewing machine.  Unfortunately, though, Andrew Henry's inventions aren't exactly appreciate by his family.  

One day, after thinking about it for some time, Andrew Henry packs up his tools and runs away, setting off through the woods to build a house of his own.  He soon finds the perfect place for his house -- a lovely meadow, complete with a stream and a tall, strong fir tree.  "He set to work, and before long the house was finished.  The walls were made of clay and rocks and poles.  The roof was made of fir boughs, and outside one window there was a fine landing field for dragonflies.  But Andrew Henry wasn't alone long..."  

Soon, other children from the town, with unique qualities and interests of their own, are eager to join him.  Andrew Henry sets to work building the children their own customized houses, perfectly suited to their tastes and talents.  Alice Burdock's house was just right for a person who loved birds, high up in a tree with birdbaths, feeding stations, and "even a hand rest for Alice's binoculars when she wasn't using them."  George Turner's house is perfect for fishing, Joe Polasky's underground quarters are ideal for him and his many pets, and Margot LaPorte's house is well-suited for her music rehearsals.  The children all live quite happily in their meadow for a few days and nights, but back home, their families are frantically searching for them.  Where could they have gone?  Finally, of course, everyone is reunited, and the families are more accepting of their children in the end.  It's sad, in a way, that it took the children running away for this to be the case, but without doing so, we'd have missed out on all of the wonderful magic of that meadow.  

The little details throughout this book are simply perfect, in both the illustrations and the story, itself.  I love Doris Burn's descriptions of the houses, and her black and white sketches are even more wonderful and clever.  My son gets such a kick out of the different houses Andrew Henry builds for the other kids in the meadow, and it's always fun to brainstorm what type of house we would want to live in there.  I love the way this story inspires creativity and imagination, for Andrew Henry's inventions and houses are truly fantastic.  More than anything, though, I love the way this story reminds us all to appreciate our children's unique gifts and talents and love them exactly for who they are. 

Andrew Henry's Meadow was first published in 1965, with its most recent edition coming out last year in 2012.  It's a longer than your average picture book -- more like a chapter book, but without the chapters -- so probably better suited for children ages 4 and up.  That said, though, my 2 1/2 year old is quite content to sit and read this with me and my 5 year old.  This is one book that has certainly made itself on to our "must own" list, and is one that I'm sure we will treasure for years to come.  If you can manage to get your hands on a copy of this amazing book, please do.  I promise you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Day 203: My Heart Is Like a Zoo

My son picked this book up off the "New Arrivals" shelf at our last library visit, excitedly showed it to me, then immediately ran over to a chair to sit down and read it.  Needless to say, we checked it out and brought it home, and have read it many times since then.  Michael Hall's illustrations are colorful, creative, and engaging, and his short, well-rhyming text makes this book a wonderful one to read with your little one.

As you can probably guess from the cover illustration, the pictures of zoo animals in this book are made up almost exclusively of heart shapes.  The bold, simple design is very clever, and the text includes some great adjectives, as well.
My heart is like a zoo --
Eager as a beaver, 
Steady as a yak,
Hopeful as a hungry heron fishing for a snack...
See how cute these are?

My son, 5, loves the different animals and counting all of the heart shapes he can find within their designs, while my daughter, 2 1/2, loves the animals and pointing to the hearts, too.  My son also loves being able to read it to my daughter himself, which is always cute to see.  The bold, colorful designs and rhyming text would make this a great book to read with babies, as well.  It's currently only available in hardcover from what I can tell, but I wouldn't be surprised if a board book version will be in the works sometime in the future.

I especially love the way this book inspires creativity.  After reading it for the first time, my son said, "We should make our own animals out of hearts!"  He was so excited to create his own creatures using shapes once we got home, and couldn't wait to get started on a peregrine falcon picture.  He told me which animals he wanted to make, and then we brainstormed together about what colors to use and what size hearts we might need.  I just loved watching his creative little mind work!  I include a few pictures of his creations below.

Whether you're a teacher looking for a great art-inspiring book to share with your class or a parent looking for a fun, easy story-themed craft to do with your child, My Heart Is Like a Zoo is the perfect book.  We hope you love it as much as we do!
My son's favorite animal, the peregrine falcon
A butterfly
Poison Dart Frog (inspired by the frog in the book)
Yeti Crab, inspired by Wild Kratts (our favorite show)
 * the red dots on the claws are the bacteria it collects and eats - fascinating!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Day 202: Grandpa Green

We've gotten this gorgeous story out of the library several times now, and each time, I've vowed that I'm going to go home and blog about it.  Grandpa Green is an absolutely beautiful book, brought to life by some of the loveliest, most creative illustrations I've ever seen. 

In this heartfelt, poignant story, a young boy recounts the life of his great-grandfather, a remarkable man whose experiences and memories have been magically preserved in his garden.  As we wander among Grandpa Green's topiary trees, we learn of his childhood on a farm, time as a soldier in a world war, how he met his wife in a French cafe, and of the family they went on to create together.  Along the way, the great-grandson is seen admiring the memories so beautifully sculpted for him.  If you look closely, you'll also notice that he is gradually collecting gardening tools that have been left behind, as if to reassure us that his great-grandfather's memories and talents will live on long after he is gone.   
Grandpa Green is definitely the type of book that kids and adults of all ages will love for different reasons.  My children love studying the illustrations and quietly observing new details each time we read it, especially given their love of nature.  In many ways, though, I think this book is one that I love and appreciate far more than they do.  There are so many clever little things within the story that might be missed by kids but exhibit exactly why this book is so brilliant, such as the topiary sculpture of an elephant on the page that tells us how the great-grandpa sometimes "forgets things like his favorite floppy straw hat," or the way that the leaves on the tree gradually fade from green to brown when we learn that now Grandpa Green is pretty old.  I feel like we could read this story 100 times and discover something new each time.  

Grandpa Green was a Caldecott Honor Book in 2012, and deservedly so.  The text is brief, but the illustrations add volumes to this touching, whimsical story.  The description on the jacket cover describes this lovely book as exploring "aging, memory, and the bonds of family history and love."  The New York Times Book Review calls it "an unassuming little masterpiece" whose "power lies in its rich, allusive artistry."  I couldn't agree more.  

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Day 201: Sky Color

I have always loved art and being creative.  I was disappointed not to have a chance to take art in high school, but I loved music, too, and there just weren't enough classes in the day for me to take band, chorus, and art at the same time.  By my junior year of college, I was feeling a need to let my inner artist come out to play a bit more, so I signed up for a drawing class.  I absolutely loved it, and my final project hangs framed (thanks, Mom!) in my living room to this day.  

My senior year, I took Painting I.  I had never really had much specific instruction in painting techniques, and it ended up being one of my favorite courses of my college career.  My final project for that class was a landscape portrait of Milford Sound in New Zealand, to which I had been the year before while studying abroad.  (It also hangs in my living room. Again, thanks for framing it and convincing me I'd want to keep it forever, Mom!)  It was a beautiful image that depicted streams of sunlight shining through gray clouds on to the towering fjords of the sound.  I remember my professor showing us all, earlier in the semester, about how to blend colors when painting the sky, and depicting the light and warmth and color of that cold, New Zealand sky was my favorite, most challenging part of my final piece.  We've all seen it before; the way the sky looks as storm clouds are gradually being burned off by the sun, whose rays are desperately trying to make their way to the earth below.  It's cold and warm at the same time, with hints of gray and blue and pink and yellow mixing together in an unlikely harmony.  To this day, each time I see a particularly beautiful sunset or color in the sky, I think about how I would paint it.  What colors would I mix to get those hues just right?  How would I create that sky color?
I love all of the books in Peter Reynolds' cleverly titled Creatrilogy:  The Dot, Ish, and now, Sky Color.  My son got this beautiful book in his Easter basket this year, and we absolutely love it.  Like the other books in Reynolds' series, Sky Color inspires all children to embrace their inner artist, be freely and fabulously creative, and to think outside the box.  

If you remember Ish, you'll remember Marisol, the younger sister who saves all of her brother's rejected drawings, cherishing them instead as beautiful works of art.  When she and her classmates set out to paint a mural in the library, Marisol is responsible for painting the sky.  But how can she do that without any blue paint?  

I just love the message of Peter Reynolds' books, and Sky Color is a wonderful story that encourages us to think creatively, appreciate the beauty of the world around us, and view the world from a different perspective.  After you've read it, sit  down with your kids and some paints and challenge yourselves to make your own sky colors.  You might never look at the sky the same way again.  

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Day 200: The Magic Tree House Series

Our 200th book feels like a big milestone, even though we still have many more to go!  In honor of the occasion, I wanted to feature a book that is especially fabulous and amazing and well-loved in our house.  Actually, it's a whole series of books:  The Magic Treehouse by Mary Pope Osborne.

This is our first foray into the world of what I will call "real" chapter books with our 5 year old son.  Not the early reader kind like Henry and Mudge that we love so much, but paperbacks with illustrations only every few pages.  I can't imagine a better series of books with which to start this grand adventure.  They are amazing!!  Creative, educational, historical, entertaining, and all-around fantastic!  We still read plenty of picture books and will for some time, but if you're looking to start introducing your young reader to chapter books, this series is the perfect place to start. 

In these stories, brother and sister duo Jack and Annie travel through time in a magical treehouse (filled with books!), visiting famous places and people, solving riddles, and going on incredible adventures.   Whether it's to the moon, ancient Egypt, the Great Wall of China, Ancient Greece, or to meet William Shakespeare, each story takes us to a new time and place, and I just love the way history is brought alive along the way. 

I have to say, though, that while I've had the pleasure of reading a few of these wonderful books with my son, they have been in daddy's domain from the beginning.  My husband is usually the one who reads our little guy at bedtime, and I absolutely love that they have this tradition now.  It makes me so happy to know that someday they will both look back so fondly on reading these stories together.  

To say that my son loves these books is an understatement.  He can't get enough of them! We've been flying through the series incredibly quickly, taking 5 or 6 books out from the library at a time and reading one almost every night.  Thank goodness there are 49 books in the series! (with a 50th slated to come out this July.)  Most local libraries seem to have the whole series, though we've had to make the rounds a bit to get the exact one we need.  (Although there is a prologue at the beginning of each book to explain the background of the story, the series is most enjoyable if read in order.)  Each book has 10 chapters, is about 75 pages, and takes us about 45 minutes to read aloud.  It makes for longer bedtime reading than usual, but the books are simply too exciting to be read over multiple nights!  

Here's what my little guy has to say about the Magic Treehouse books:  

"My favorite thing about the Magic Tree House books is that we get to read new ones all the time!  Annie is silly and can make friends with animals.  Jack loves notebooks and writes about animals and other things that they see.  There is Morgan La Fey living in the treehouse.  She is an enchanted librarian.  Jack and Annie take the treehouse to all kinds of places -- like under the sea, to see the dinosaurs, on ships, and to visit the moon.  They also get to go on the Titanic!  Jack and Annie have to get a gift from someone or something and they free Morgan and Teddy from spells.  There's a dog named Teddy.  The dinosaur one is my favorite because I love dinosaurs.  But I love all of them!"

We hope you do, too!