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, July 31, 2013

Day 212: Penguin on Vacation

My daughter received this adorable book recently when we were on vacation with the ever-generous Uncle Jeff, and both she and my son have loved it ever since.  I found my son reading it on his bed many times throughout the week, and I loved listening in when he'd read it to my daughter as they snuggled up next to each other.  We all read it each night at bedtime, too -- usually twice.

The story is simple but sweet, with charming, colorful illustrations to match.  After growing tired of his cold climate living, Penguin decides to set off for warmer shores.  When he finally arrives on a tropical island, though, he's not so sure what to make of the place.  He can't do any of his usual vacation activities such as skiing, skating, or sledding, and starts feeling a bit lost and lonely.  Fortunately for Penguin, he is befriended by a fun-loving crab, who shows him that the best part about vacation isn't always what you do, but who you spend it with.

The first time I read this book, I thought it was cute and sweet.  The more I read it, though, the more I really came to love it.  As so often happens, this was partly because I saw how much my children love this book.  It was a gift for my daughter (who just turned 3), and given that my son has been really into reading the Magic Treehouse Series lately, I worried that perhaps it wouldn't hold his interest as much because it is shorter than most of the books he's been reading.  It only took one read through for me to realize that I needn't worry.  He's not too old to love this book at all; in fact, he might even love it more than his sister.

I had never read anything by Salina Yoon before this book, so I'm eager to check out some of her other work the next time we're at the library.  I've heard that another book in the series, Penguin and Pinecone, is quite endearing, too.  (And with a silly title about a pinecone, my kids can't wait to get their hands on it.)  If you're looking for a good pre-beach vacation story or just an all-around sweet book about friendship, Penguin On Vacation is a must for your book list.

Oh, and if you do go looking for it the next time you're at the library, you might need to check the new arrivals shelf as it just came out a few months ago (April 2013.)  Enjoy!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Day 211: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is one of those childhood classics that somehow has not yet made it into our home library (or on to this blog) until now.  I brought it home from the library once when my son was 2 or 3, but at the time, it was too long to sufficiently hold his interest.  Not anymore!  My mom recently gave us the copy that had been my brothers' when they were little, and my son (now 5) has requested it at bedtime every night for almost a week now.

If you are unfamiliar with this fantastical story, it's about the unique, faraway town of Chewandswallow.  It's a town like any other, for the most part, with lovely stores along its main street, houses with gardens and trees, a school.  "The only thing that was really different about Chewandswallow was its weather.  It came three times a day, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Everything that everyone ate came from the sky."  Imagine a world where you could wake up one morning and, "after a brief shower of orange juice, low clouds of sunny-side up eggs moved in, followed by pieces of toast.  Butter and jelly sprinkled down for the toast.  And most of the time it rained milk afterwards."  Hot dogs blown in from the northwest, mustard clouds, Jell-O sunsets.  Wouldn't that just be amazing?

Life went along happily in Chewandswallow, until one day, the weather took a turn for the worse.  A giant pancake fell on the school and couldn't be removed, and the maple syrup that rained down nearly flooded the town.  Other days saw only gorgonzola cheese, or overcooked broccoli, or pea soup fog so thick that no one could see anything.  Eventually, things got so bad that everyone had to abandon Chewandswallow and leave it behind forever.

It's a story that is as delightful as it is clever, with illustrations that are bound to captivate you read after read after read.  I personally find the coloring of the illustrations a little strange (maybe it's just our version), but the detail of the drawings is simply fantastic and we find something new and creative every time we read it.  One of my favorite pictures is that of the boat made of stale bread and peanut butter, with pizza and swiss cheese for sails and a bacon flag.  Ralph's Roofless Restaurant is pretty clever, too.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this story, though, is that it is presented in the form of a bedtime story told by a grandfather to his grandchildren at bedtime; or rather, a child's recollection of a story her grandfather told her at bedtime.  My favorite lines in the whole book are "Henry and I were awake until the very end of Grandpa's story.  I remember his goodnight kiss." This line always reminds me of the incredible significance of simple moments like these.  Moments that, in and of themselves, might not seem like anything particularly noteworthy or unique, but that can linger in our children's memories long after we've forgotten them.  Moments that I remind myself to take time to savor and appreciate while they are happening.  It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:  "Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."  I guess we should never underestimate the wonderful power of stories and goodnight kisses.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day 210: Actual Size

We're on a bit of a Steve Jenkins kick here in our house lately, so I thought I'd feature another one of his books that also happens to be my son's current favorite:  Actual Size.  We first came across Jenkins' work with Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest, and later discovered Living Color, both of which we all loved.  After renewing Living Color from the library 4 times, we finally returned it and brought home Actual Size, instead.  In this fun, informational book, Steve Jenkins uses his impressive paper collage art to show animal features in their real size:  the 2-inch-long pygmy shrew, the 12-inch-wide eye of a giant squid, and the 4-inch long tooth of a great white shark, to name a few.  My son particularly loves the 12-inch wide Goliath birdeater tarantula and 2-foot long giant anteater tongue.  (I love the fold-out picture of the saltwater crocodile's head and the African elephant's foot, myself.)  My little guy and I both love learning about animals, but what makes this book so great is that it depicts, in actual size, right there on the page, the very facts we are learning.  It's one thing for him know that an atlas moth has a 12 inch wing span, but another for him to see just how big that really is.  The back of the book contains additional information about each featured animal, as well, making this another fabulous read for any young animal lovers out there.

Oh, and if you're looking for a fun activity to do with your child after reading this book, trying having him create his own "Actual Size" book.  After reading this a few times, my son excitedly said, "Hey!  I have an idea!  Let's make an "Actual Size" book about dragons!"  And he got right to work.  He's invented many species of dragons in the past few months, so has had lots of fun drawing pictures of their claws, wings, teeth, footprints, and eyes in his art journal.  I just love it when my kids think up their own fun, creative activities!