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!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Day 219: On a Beam of Light

"The important thing is not to stop questioning.  
Curiosity has its own reason for existing."
~Albert Einstein

I've been on a bit of a "new books" kick lately, having discovered some fabulous new titles at our local library that I was lucky enough to snatch up and bring home.  In fact, later this morning, I need to make a library run to return them, since they are on hold by other eager readers and I'm unable to renew them.  
On a Beam of Light is one of these books, so I figure I'd better write about now while I can.

I have heard great things about this story, which was published a few months ago in April, 2013, so I was excited to finally track down a copy and read it.  It's a lovely, informative, and inspiring book about the life and work of Albert Einstein.  Author Jennifer Berne manages to tell his story in a way that is interesting and accessible to children; not easy, given that so many of his discoveries and theories baffle even adults.  Vladimir Radunsky's illustrations are a lovely match for the story, as well, especially those that accompany the thoughts of one of the most creative and brilliant minds the world has ever known.

Berne begins the story by telling us about the early life of young Albert:  about how he turned a year old and didn't say a word.  How he turned two and didn't say a word.  And how he turned three, and hardly spoke at all.  "He just looked around with his big, curious eyes.  Looked and wondered.  Looked and wondered."  We follow along as Albert grows older and begins asking questions; so many, in fact, that his teachers criticize him for being too disruptive and not behaving like all the other students.  "But Albert didn't want to be like the other students.  He wanted to discover the hidden mysteries of the world."

From there, we learn about Albert's quest to learn and understand, and the many ways in which his ideas forever changed science and the what we know about the world.  He asked questions about simple things like why sugar dissolves in hot tea, and set out to find answers by doing what he loved best -- "imagining, wondering, figuring, and thinking."

While the story starts out telling us about Einstein's young life and progresses to teach us about his work and discoveries, I love that it also explains about what he was like as a person, as well.  So often, we learn about important historical figures in a factual, contextual way, so I enjoyed learning about the more ordinary traits of such an extraordinary man.  For example, Albert did some of his best thinking in his sailboat or while playing his violin, or while wearing his favorite combination of baggy sweaters, comfy pants, and shoes without socks.  I just love that!

Most importantly, though, I love the way this story encourages children to ask questions, imagine, and dream.  The book ends by reminding young readers that while Einstein found many answers, there are still many unanswered questions about our world... questions that someday they may go on to answer.

On a Beam of Light is a wonderful way to bring science and biography into your child's reading repertoire. My 5 1/2 year old son enjoys this book, though it didn't quite capture the attention of my 3 year old daughter.  I think she's still a bit young to fully appreciate this story.  In my opinion, this is a perfect book to use in early elementary classrooms to get children excited about science and physics and introduce them to one of the world's most brilliant thinkers.  Curiosity is a wonderful thing, and this book celebrates that in the most marvelous of ways.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Day 218: Journey

I took one look at this book in a bookstore the other week and was instantly drawn in.  And really, who wouldn't be?  Just look at that cover illustration!  I was fascinated by the artwork and immediately curious about the adventures awaiting the young girl in the red boat.  Fortunately, our local library had this on its new arrival shelf, so I excitedly snatched it up and couldn't wait to read it with my kids.  What an enchanting, magical book!

Journey is a stunning, wordless picture book that is sure to captivate imaginations of all ages.  In it, we meet a lonely, young girl who ventures through a magic door she has drawn on her bedroom wall.   I absolutely love the illustration below, which shows what she sees upon leaving her room:
Armed only with her red marker, our brave heroine sets out on a journey full of wonder, adventure, suspense, danger, and finally, friendship.  Journey is similar to Harold and the Purple Crayon in many ways (which isn't a bad thing), yet the detailed illustrations are a striking contrast to the simplicity of those in Harold and the story is uniquely its own.  
I love the way wordless picture books tell stories and the way my children notice details in the illustrations that I so often miss.  They are also a great way to empower children who can't yet read to be the storytellers.  I'm sure people read wordless picture books in different ways; I know I do.  Sometimes, I tell the story out loud as we point out different details in the illustrations together.  Other times, I let my children do the story telling and I just sit and listen.  And some times, we don't try to tell a story per se, but rather study the illustrations and simply talk about what we see.  Wordless picture books are an art form all their own, and Journey is not to be missed.

Journey is Aaron Becker's first book, and what an exceptional debut it is!  I'll be surprised if it doesn't end up on the Caldecott committee's list of honorees for this year, for it's a definite contender, in my opinion.  Journey is certainly one of our favorite books of 2013.  I look forward to seeing what Becker dreams up next!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Day 217: Extra Yarn

I first discovered Extra Yarn a few weeks ago when I spent my heavenly solo afternoon browsing children's books in a local bookshop.  It was one of several books that I read through that day and added to my "library list" as a must find to bring home and read with my kids.  What I really wanted to do was buy my own copy right then and there, but I already had three other books in my purchase pile that would use up my gift card so I had to cut myself off somewhere.  Fortunately, my local library had it when we went last week, and my children and I have loved reading it (multiple times) every day since.

Extra Yarn is a charming, fairy tale-ish story of a young girl, Annabelle, and her magical box of yarn. The beauty of Mac Barnett's words and the brilliance of Jon Klassen's illustrations is obvious from the very first page:

"On a cold afternoon, in a cold little town, where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow or the black of soot from chimneys, Annabelle found a box filled with yarn of every color." She knits herself a sweater, and when she still has yarn left over, makes one for her dog, too.  But even then, she has extra yarn.  Annabelle proceeds to knit sweaters for everyone and everything in town -- even things that don't wear sweaters, like mailboxes, houses, and birds! -- and soon, she and her magic box of yarn have completely transformed the town.  News of Annabelle and her yarn spreads far and wide, and one day, a fashion-loving archduke arrives wanting only one thing:  the magical box of yarn.  He offers her millions of dollars in exchange, but Annabelle always politely refuses.  Furious, he steals her box of yarn and sails back to his castle, only to discover the magic box of yarn empty!   In one last act of magic, Annabelle's box of yarn makes it way across the sea and back to her.

I love the classic feel of this tale and the way the story and the illustrations bring the magic to life on each page, but for a long time, I couldn't quite describe just why I love this book so much.  There is something more to it than simply the fabulous illustrations -- which are truly unique and lovely -- and the wonderful story, itself.  I've since come to realize that what I also love about this book is the warm feeling of optimism that I get when I read it; the idea that one young person and her sweet, quiet determination has the wondrous power to bring happiness and color to an otherwise cold place.  Yes, this book is truly something special.

When I looked up this book so that I could add its picture to this post, I saw that I wasn't the only one who thinks it is really great.  Turns out it is a 2013 Caldecott Honor Book, the winner of the 2013 E.B. White Read-Aloud Award, and the winner of the 2012 Boston Globe - Horn Book Award for Picture Books.  So there you go!  (My local library must have gotten their copy before the awards were given, for no Caldecott sticker graces its cover.)  Needless to say, Extra Yarn quickly moved from our "library list" to our "must own" list.  Now my daughter is asking me to read it to her -- for the third time today -- which I am always more than happy to do.  Enjoy!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Day 216: The Day the Crayons Quit

Last weekend, I had the immense pleasure of browsing in a bookstore all by myself.  I immediately went to the children's section, of course, and spent over an hour picking books off the shelf and reading them at my leisure.  It was wonderful.  I had a gift card to this fabulous little independent bookstore, and I was eager to bring home a few new books for my kids.  I was tempted to get The Circus Ship and a few other titles that are on our "must own"list, but I decided instead to bring home a few fabulous books that we had never read or seen before.  I had heard about The Day the Crayons Quit, and knew as soon as I read it that my kids would absolutely love it.  I could hear my kids giggling as I sat reading this delightful story written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, and couldn't wait to get home and read it to them.  It was as big a hit as I thought it would be!

In The Day the Crayons Quit, Duncan opens his box of crayons to color one day and is greeted by a pile of letters, one from each crayon.  Each crayon has taken a moment to tell Duncan how they really feel, and their personalities and voices are fantastic. Red is tired of never having holidays off, orange and yellow aren't speaking to each other because each is convinced he is the true color of the sun, and blue has been used so much he is too stubby to see over the railing of the crayon box anymore.  Black is sick of always being an outline -- is it too much to ask for a black beach ball sometime? -- gray is exhausted from always coloring huge animals like elephants and hippos and humpback whales, and peach crayon has lost all of his paper and is embarrassed to leave the box because he's naked!  Only green seems happy about coloring all of those dinosaurs and trees, though he can't wait for yellow and orange to finally settle their dispute.  All Duncan wants to do is color, but he wants his crayons to be happy.  What can he do?  The story has an adorable ending and I just love the creativity it inspires.  My husband and I enjoy reading it just as much as our children do, and we have yet to read it just once in a sitting.

If you're looking for a great, fun new story to read with your child, this one won't disappoint.  Teachers might find reading this story is a great way to introduce voice, point of view, and persuasion in children's writing, not to mention encouraging them to think outside the box with their art and creativity.  This story is definitely going to rank among our favorite books published in 2013, and I'm thrilled it now has a place in our home library.

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Day 215: The Day the Babies Crawled Away

The first time we saw this book at the library, we took it home based on the title alone.  My son thought the idea of babies running away was hilarious, and given how much we love one of Rathmann's other books, Goodnight Gorilla, we figured it was a safe bet.  We read it several times once we got home and were not disappointed.  It was silly and fun, and it I knew I wanted to feature it here on the blog.  Alas, as so often happens, the library due date came before I had a chance to write about it, so I added the title to my running list of books we need to find again.

Last week, we borrowed it from my sister in law, who had gotten some of her daughter's old books out for my kids to read while we were at their house.  My son was excited to read it again, and my daughter, now 3 and old enough to appreciate it, has asked to read it no fewer than four times a day ever since.  Needless to say, its time has come!

The Day the Babies Crawled Away is a delightful little story that my whole family loves.  While grown ups are busy having a pie eating contest at the fair, their curious little babies crawl away!  They are immediately followed by the hero of the story, a little boy in a fireman's hat, who keeps them safe as they chase butterflies, explore the forest, crawl through caves, and chase frogs through bogs.  The babies find themselves in some rather precarious situations along the way, but the little boy is always there to save the day!

The rhyme scheme of the story makes it fun to read aloud, though the tempo and meter changes sometimes, so it's not as perfectly fluent a read as some stories.  That certainly doesn't seem to affect my kids' enjoyment of the story, however.  What really makes this book for me are the illustrations!  As you can see from looking at the book cover above, the illustrations are done in a unique, silhouette style.  I absolutely love the way the colors in the sky change behind the black silhouettes throughout the day, with the sunset and fireworks pages being my favorites.  There is an incredible amount of detail in the illustrations, as well, from the tiny caterpillar who follows our hero to my children's favorite:  the baby who is always hanging upside down!  My kids and I have enjoyed discovering new little details each time we read the story, and I love seeing what they notice on their own.

The silly nature of the story and the subtle intricacies of the illustrations make this a fabulous little story.  I have a feeling this will be a frequent request of my daughter's for a while, so I'm grateful it's on loan from family and not the library.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!