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, November 6, 2014

Day 237: The Book With No Pictures

A few weeks ago, we saw a video clip of B.J. Novak reading his new book to a class of elementary students.  It only took about 30 seconds of listening to him read to know that was a book we needed -- just needed! -- to get our hands on. Last weekend, we were lucky enough to get our very own copy, and the laughs and giggles haven't stopped since!

Obviously, if you read this blog, you share my belief that reading with our kids is important. (Really, really important! And fun!) And if you follow this blog, you also know that while I think reading anything with our children is valuable, reading high quality books makes it even more so.  

Let's be honest. There are a lot of mediocre (and sometimes downright bad) children's books out there. We have all read them, right? Fortunately, there are a lot of gems out there, too -- and those are the books I am eager to share with you here.  Books that draw us in, make us fall in love with their characters, teach us new things, and leave us wanting more. What we read is so influential in fostering a love of reading and learning. That is true for our kids and it is true for us as adults, too. But when it comes to children's books, I am also of the belief that how we read those books is equally important. Be loud and animated and excited. Change your voice, tone, and inflection. Give pause. Give characters different voices. Read with emotion, whatever it might be in the story. It makes the book more fun for our kids and infinitely more fun for us as the readers. Yes, reading any book to our children is valuable. But reading a great book in a great voice? Nothing beats that.

It is this very idea of how we read that makes The Book With No Pictures so brilliant.  After all, when it comes to books, the person reading the book has to say whatever the words say. No matter what! "That's the deal. That's the rule. So that means... Even if the words say... BLORK!" or Bluurf! We have to say them. This story is silly and fun and destined to bring fits of laughter to any child that reads it. I guarantee it. Watch the video clip below to see what I mean!

Thank you, Mr. Novak, for providing us with such a fabulously fun book. My kids have been singing, "glug, glug, glug, my face is a bug... I eat ants for breakfast right off the ruuuuuuuuuuug!" all morning long. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Day 236: Fancy Nancy

I was never a fancy girl.  (I'm still not.) My mom fondly remembers me proudly dressing myself in purple sweatpants and a Gonzo football sweatshirt. I was one of those children for whom it was strikingly obvious that I had dressed myself -- and fancy, frilly things were never a part of my attire.  My daughter is much like I was in some ways -- fiercely independent, outgoing, silly and fun -- but unlike me, she has a fancy side, too.  She loves to dress up in her princess costumes or the tutus at her school, though sometimes she wears those along with her Patriots jersey, or while working at the tool bench, or while playing outside in the mud.  Love that girl! I had heard of the Fancy Nancy books but had never managed to remember to look them up while at the library until recently.  This one is such fun!

Nancy just LOVES being fancy. Her room is fancy. Her clothes are fancy. She even loves to use fancy words! The problem is, her family isn't fancy at all. They don't even like sprinkles on their ice cream! They just don't seem to understand that lace-trimmed socks do make Nancy play soccer better, and sandwiches definitely taste better with frilly toothpicks in them!  One day, Nancy decides to offer her family fancy lessons, and to her delight, they are eager to attend. She dresses them up in -- "what's that fancy word? Oh yes, accessories!" -- and they head out to a fancy dinner at their favorite restaurant. Her dad acts as the chauffeur -- "that's a fancy work for driver" -- and everyone else at the restaurant must think they are movie stars!  A little misshap with their dessert parfaits leaves Nancy feeling rather unfancy, but it's no matter.  She is thrilled to have had a fancy night out with her family and goes to bed knowing just how much she is loved.

Both of my kids adore this story, and while my daughter has requested it at bedtime each night for over a week now, my son finds it very silly and fun, as well.  It would certainly be a hit with all of the "fancy Nancies" of the world, but I highly recommend it even if you don't have fancy types in your family.  The illustrations are delightful and the "fancy" vocabulary used within the book is excellent, too!  The whole story is charming and sweet, but most of all, I love the message that it's important to love and embrace our children's personalities and passions, even (and especially) if they differ from our own.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Day 235: Animalogy - Animal Analogies

When I was a kid, my dad used to play an analogies game with me while we were driving in the car. He'd start the analogy, and I'd have to complete it, figuring out the relationship between whatever pairs he threw my way. I absolutely loved it, though how my dad managed to think up so many analogies on his own is beyond me. As I got older, of course, analogies were just a thing to learn for the SAT, but I was excited to find this book at the library a few weeks back. My kids are all about animals and love solving puzzles, so to me, this book seemed like the perfect way to introduce them to analogies. We also love some of Marianne Berkes' other works (especially Over in the Jungle and Over in the Ocean), so I was confident this book would fun and much enjoyed.

As you can guess, Animalogy's analogies all have to do with animals, and my kids loved it -- especially my 6 year old son. Here are a few examples:

"Bat is to flit as eagle is to soar.
Dog is to bark as lion is to roar.
Robin is to wing as goldfish is to fin.
Beaver is to build as spider is to spin.
Amphibian is to frog as mammal is to moose.
Fish is to flounder as bird is to goose."

See what I mean?  The comparisons are simple, yet offer a perfect introduction to analogies. My son loved trying to figure out the relationship between the two things (the bridge, as it's sometimes called), and immediately asked to "play some more" when we were done reading.  I came up with as many others as I could think of (though mine didn't rhyme!), and he did, too:

Bear is to den as bird is to ________ (nest)
Cygnet is to swan as gosling is to ___________ (goose)
Lion is to pride as jellyfish is to __________ (smack) -- that's one of our favorite 
names for a group of animals!

There's a fabulous section at the end of the book called "For Creative Minds," which offers all kinds of other ways to apply the thinking necessary for solving analogies.  Even grammar comes in to play, challenging readers to think about other verbs, adjectives, and synonyms they might be able to use when it comes to animal analogies. For example, "Which of these analogies uses action words (verbs) to compare what the animals are doing?", and "Which of these analogies uses skin coverings to compare or contrast the two animals?"  There is even a section on animal classification. So great!! I absolutely LOVE Berkes' additional educational activities at the back of the book, and think this would make a fabulous addition to any classroom library. In fact, I might need to get a copy of this book for my son's first grade teacher this year. 

Now that I've gotten around to featuring this fun, educational book, I suppose I can return it to the library and pay off my overdue fines.  We highly encourage you to check it out, enjoy solving the "Animalogies," and then come up with some of your own! 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Day 234: Owl Babies

My cousin passed this book along to us a few years back, but for some reason, we didn't read it much until recently.  My daughter pulled if off her shelf a few weeks ago, and it's been one of her most requested bedtime stories ever since.

Three owl siblings, Sarah, Percy, and Bill, awake one night to discover that their mother is gone. Sarah thinks their mother must have gone off hunting ("To get us food!" Percy adds), while Bill, the youngest, simply cries, "I want my mommy!"  Together, the three owlets watch and wait, hoping and wishing that their mother will return.  Sarah remains the reassuring optimist (at one point suggesting that they all sit on her branch), Percy seems to follow Sarah's lead (I love when he reaches out to hold Bill's wing!), and poor, worried Bill continues to cry, "I want my mommy!" In the end, of course, the mother owl does return to the sheer delight of her little ones, comforting them with the knowledge that she will always come back. I love the way the owls' personalities show through in Martin Waddell's charming story, and Patrick Benson's illustrations are remarkably expressive.  I adore listening to my daughter chime in as Bill each time we read, too.  It's natural for children to feel a little separation anxiety from time to time, so they will likely find both comfort and humor in this sweet, lovely bedtime story.  

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Day 233: The Salamander Room

I bought this gem of a book for only 50 cents at our last library book sale, and it has since become one of my children's favorites.  I bought it based on only two things: the fact that it was a Reading Rainbow book, and that it is about salamanders. My little naturalist of a son is always out in the yard digging a hole with the hope of creating a salamander pond, so I had a feeling he would love this book no matter what.

What a lovely story this is!  A little boy finds a salamander in the woods and decides to bring it home with him. The dialogue consists of the subsequent narrative between the boy and his mother: the boy naturally wants to keep the salamander in his room, and the mother naturally tries to convince him that perhaps that isn't the best of ideas.  Instead of simply telling him no, however, she asks a series of gentle questions -- Where will he sleep? What will eat? -- and encourages him to think about what such a decision would mean to the little creature. The boy, of course, always has a logical answer, and I can't help but picture my son as the boy in this story when we read.

    "And when he wakes up, where will he play?"

          "I will carpet my room with shiny wet leaves and water them so he can slide around and play. I will bring tree stumps into my room so he can climb up the bark and sun himself on top. And I will bring boulders that he can creep over"

    "He will miss his friends in the forest."

          "I will bring salamander friends to play with him."

    "They will be hungry. How will you feed them?"

          "I will bring insects to live in my room. And every day I will catch some and feed the
          salamanders. And I will make little pools of water on top of the boulders so they can drink
          whenever they are thirsty."

In the end, the boy has dreamed up the perfect woodland paradise for his little friend and himself. The way the story depicts a child's imagination and love of nature is simply fabulous, and the illustrations portray the magical wonder of the salamander room perfectly. I have no doubt this is one story we will always remember.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Day 232: Animal Infographics

If your kids are like mine, they are incredibly inquisitive and ask more questions than I can count in a day.  (More than I can usually answer, too.)  I just love seeing how much information their amazing little minds can hold and how much they love learning new things. And their capacity to remember it all simply astounds me, especially since my memory is like that of a goldfish these days.  My kids also love animals -- my son, especially -- and we've learned so much together about the world's amazing creatures.  I wasn't surprised, then, when he brought this book home from his last visit to the library.  We renewed it in order to bring it on vacation with us, and have enjoyed learning some great animal facts along the way. While the parent in me thinks that this book is one worth featuring here on the blog, it's the teacher in me who really thinks it's post-worthy.

If you are unfamiliar with infographics, they are pictures that give you information in a very visual way. They can take the form of maps, graphs, or charts, among other things, and aim to make information easy to understand. I'm sure you've seen them everywhere: in magazines, ads, newspapers, etc. As a geography teacher, I can honestly admit that I love a good infographic! Here's an example, courtesy of PBS:

Source: PBS Nature

I realized once I became a teacher that as an adult, it is easy to assume that children know how to make sense of this type of visual information; after all, we can look at such pictures and understand them (and probably don't remember ever learning how to do that in school.) Interpreting this kind of data, though, is really its own literacy skill; one which we can help our children learn and which will, in turn, nourish their growth as thinkers and readers.

Animal Infographics is a perfect first book for this very thing, featuring plenty of fun animal facts in a visually simple way.  (I would have featured a page from the book itself, but couldn't find any examples online and didn't want to risk violating any copyright rules or anything.) It starts out with a simple pie chart about the number of different types of pets in the United States, and goes on to show all kinds of other information: a comparison of the weights of different animals (for example, that 1 blue whale = 22 African elephants), the world's biggest and smallest animals (compared to a human), food chains, food webs, life cycles, life spans, you name it.  There is even a page that shows a timeline of prehistoric animals, easily demonstrating, for example, the fact that Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus Rex did not live in the same time period.  There is a short glossary at the end, as well as other sources for learning more about the topics in the book.  The only thing that seemed a little confusing to my kids was that things are not pictured in their actual size, but rather in comparative scale to one another.  (We have and love Steve Jenkins' book Actual Size, which might account for some of their initial confusion.)  But that's the whole point, really; to teach them how to interpret visual information in a new way so that it makes sense! There is a series of these books featuring other topics such as population and the environment, as well, so I'm sure we'll be bringing home some of the others in the months to come.

If you're looking for a great non-fiction book to add to your little one's library or if you are an elementary teacher, be sure to check out this book.  The more we can expose our kids to a range of reading materials, the better!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Day 231: Sophie Scott Goes South

We discovered this lovely gem at our library a few weeks ago, and with two fresh hardcovers side by side on the library shelf, I had a good feeling about it.  (I don't know if that's really a sign that a book is great, but I figure if a librarian orders more than one copy of a brand new book, it must be worth reading.)  We have long loved Alison Lester's Imagine and have enjoyed several of her other geography-minded books, as well, so were eager to get home and read about Sophie Scott's adventures in Antarctica.

Sophie Scott Goes South tells the story of a 9 year old girl's journey to Antarctica on the Aurora Australis, an ice breaker captained by her father.  Over the course of her month-long trip, Sophie keeps a diary and takes pictures of her adventures, from being stranded in a blizzard and enduring rough seas on the ship to seeing penguins, whales, icebergs, and even the southern lights after which their ship was named.  The story is based on Lester's own journey to Antarctica as an Antarctic Arts Fellow, so it's no wonder that her descriptions are so wonderfully vivid and informative.  The scientific, historical, and geographic facts scattered throughout the story are fascinating, and the combination of actual photos, diagrams, maps, and drawings are bound to appeal to curious readers.  My 6 year old son loves this book (and is now ready to head off to Antarctica!), though it is a bit lengthy to hold the full attention of my 3 year old daughter (though she does love all of the pictures of the animals and reads alongside of us for most of the time.)  I love this book, too, especially Lester's little details that paint a picture of what such a journey is really like.  I'll include a few at the end of this post so you can see what I mean.

If your child loves learning about new places or is the adventurous, explorer type, this is one book you won't want to miss.

"Last night, the ship was rocking and rolling like crazy.  Anything that's not tied down goes flying and I have to hold on al the time. Sometimes a wave bashes the ship so hard that it feels as though we've hit a rock. The dining room portholes go underwater every time the ship does a big roll. It's like we're eating inside a washing machine."

"She welcomed everybody and told us the station rules, then we helped put away supplies.  There were huge boxes of toothpaste, toilet paper, coal and shampoo, and massive amounts of food, like 5400 eggs and 165 tubs of ice cream!" 

"The ground was rough and rocky, with patches of snow. Thick ropes linked all the buildings and Sarah told me this is to stop you from getting lost in a blizzard."

"Before we got out, we hooked spiky chains under our boots because the ice was as slippery as glass."

"The ice has been so thick it's taken us three days to get this far. This morning at sunrise we saw some killer whales beside the ship. Their shiny black bodies stood out against the golden seas.  Some were putting their heads right out of the water as we went past. This is called spy-hopping."

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A very Happy Father's Day post

Life has been crazy here lately as we near the end of the school year, but I'd like to take a moment to send love and gratitude to all of the wonderful dads, grandfathers, and father figures out there.  I'd like to wish an especially happy Father's Day to my amazing husband, for there is no one else with whom I'd rather be on this crazy, love-filled journey called parenthood.  And of course, we're also sending some Father's Day love out to my dad (Grandpa), Pops, and Grampy.  My kids are lucky to have so much love in their lives!

I realize in looking at my featured books that I don't have many daddy books on my list.  (I'll have to get on the ball for my next Father's Day post!)  Until then, though, and in honor of this Father's Day, I'm happy to feature a recommendation from my first guest blogger, Angela from Kidsbook Friends!  Angela featured A Perfect Father's Day, written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Susan Meddaugh, on her blog this past week, and I'm looking forward to finding it at an upcoming library visit.

Thanks Angela, and enjoy, everyone!

~ Lauren

Our Featured Friend: A Perfect Father’s Day
Written by Eve Bunting, Illustrated by Susan Meddaugh
With Father’s Day coming on Sunday, you may be in the midst of planning what to do for dad. This cute book puts a twist on the selection of events for the day. Another fitting title for this book may be, “Daughter’s Day Out on Father’s Day”! The story captures the special relationship that can exist between Fathers and their children, and how a Dad’s attention, perspective and love make all the difference.
Introducing Susie and Dad and their “Perfect Father’s Day:
Father’s Day Morning: Susie, Daddy’s little girl, sneaks up on him while he’s resting in his chair after reading his morning paper. She has a day planned out for dad, beginning with lunch . . . at her favorite place.
” ‘This is your favorite food, isn’t it, Dad?’ she asked.
‘Sure is,’ Dad said. ‘May I pay?’
‘Certainly,’ Susie said.”
Next she takes him to the duck pond, where dad buys Susie food for the ducks.
Then off to the park, where dad pushes her on the swings, climbs the monkey bars, and pays for her to ride the merry-go-round. Susie suggests a red balloon for a gift, so dad buys two, one for Susie and one to take home to mom.
” ‘Are you having a good Father’s Day, so far?’ Susie asked.
Dad smiled. ‘Perfect’.”
They make it home for dinner with Mom, and enjoy her homemade Father’s Day cake with four candles on it, one for each year he has been Susie’s Dad.
Susie is quite proud to tell her mom all about their day out doing  all of Dad’s favorite things and going to Dad’s favorite places“! Dad closes the day with a hug.
Inviting You To Become Friends with “A Perfect Father’s Day”
Feel, RelateImagineExploreNavigateDevelopShare
From the 7 suggestions, select the ones that will help your kids decide what their dad, grandfather, or the “father-figure” in their lives will enjoy this Father’s Day.
F- What will make your dad feel loved and special this Father’s Day?
R- Which activity from this story can you most relate to doing with your dad?
I- Imagine that you could plan a day for Dad doing anything you wanted to do with him. What would you plan?
E- Explore some cool cards to make for dad: (Featured on Happy Hooligans)
N- Navigate your Father’s Day plans for Dad by making a map of where you are going to take him or by creating a treasure map with clues leading to his gift.
D- Develop another page in the book by adding an activity for Susie and her Dad to do together.
S- Share the greatest gift with you dad on Father’s Day, LOVE.
*Eve Bunting also wrote The Mother’s Day Mice that I featured for Mother’s Day. Her 2 books are a great pair to buy to celebrate these 2 special days!
Susie & Dad On Their Day Out:
2014-06-11 11.01.54

2014-06-11 11.05.18

2014-06-11 11.03.22

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Day 230: Hug

My son found this book when we were at the library last week and both of my children fell in love with it instantly.  It reminds me of another one of my childrens' favorite board books, Goodnight Gorilla, in that it contains only a few words (hug, Bobo, and Mommy) but still tells a sweet, charming story that even the youngest readers are bound to love.

Young Bobo the chimp is wandering through the jungle, admiring the various ways that his animal friends and their parents give each other hugs.  At first, he happily calls out, "Hug!," but it doesn't take long for Bobo to long for a hug of his own.  A pair of elephants set out to help him find his mommy, and along the way, we see even more cute creature parents and their young embracing each other.  Just when Bobo thinks all hope is lost, his Mommy calls out, "Bobo!", and all is right with his world.  Alborough's illustrations are wonderfully expressive, and I love the way the changing emotions of the story can be expressed with the same word.  We have yet to read this book fewer than three times in a sitting, and my 3 year old daughter loves that she can read it herself. (She even changes her voice accordingly to reflect the joy or sadness of little Bobo's refrain. It's adorable.)  It's also a story to which all children can easily relate, for sometimes we all just need a hug.

We found this story in a large board book format, though I think it comes in a smaller board book format, too.  Published by Candlewick Press (one of my favorite publishers), Hug has won an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Best Book Award, as well as a Parenting Reading Magic Award.  I wish we had discovered this book when my kids were babies, since I know it would have been one of their favorites all along.  I'd recommend this story for newborns on up, especially when accompanied by a big, loving hug.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Summer Reading Resources

We're still a few weeks away from summer vacation, but are already thinking about our summer reading!  Schools, libraries, and book stores offer all kinds of programs and incentives to make reading a fun and important part of your child's summer.  Check them out and get started today!

Summer Reading Book Lists and Activity Ideas

This year, the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP) has selected the science-inspired reading theme, "Fizz, Boom, Read!"  (Teens' theme this year is "Spark a Reaction!")  You can click here to check out some suggested titles and resources from, or visit your local library to learn more.

You can find more great book lists for grades K-8 from the American Library Association here.  

Scholastic's Summer Reading Challenge is a "free online program designed to motivate and excite kids around reading this summer.  Kids can log the minutes they spend reading, earn virtual rewards and prizes, and enter sweepstakes, all in an effort to set a new reading world record for summer 2014." 

If you don't want to bother signing up for the challenge but are looking for some great book lists, you can check out Scholastic's Summer Reading Resource page.  Their booklists are convenient to print and bring to the library!  You can easily find them by clicking the link above, but I'll  include the individual pages by age range here, too:

The New York Libraries have a fantastic website full of summer reading resources, including book lists for all ages, coloring pages, word games and puzzles, and more.  

Calling all fellow Pinterest lovers! There is a Summer Reading Board for the science-themed Fizz, Boom, Read!  Follow along to see what great activities people are doing to accompany their favorite books.  

Incentive Programs
Earn free stuff just for reading?  Sign us up!!

Earn a FREE BOOK from Barnes and Noble!  Here's all you need to do:

  • Step 1:  Read any 8 books and record them in B&N's Reading Journal (PDF)
  • Step 2:  Bring the completed Reading Journal to your local B&N store
  • Step 3:  Choose a FREE BOOK from their selection on the Reading Journal list at the store.  How great is that?!

Showcase Cinemas Bookworm Wednesdays:  Bring a book report with you to the select Bookworm Wednesdays movie and that's your price of admission!  Showcase Cinemas will be playing these feature films every Wednesday at 10:00am from July 9th to August 13th. 

TD Bank's Summer Reading Program rewards young readers in grades K-5 by contributing $10 into their Young Saver account just for reading 10 books!  Click here to learn more.

Pottery Barn Kids' Summer Reading Challenge offers kids another way to earn a free book. Going on now through August 26.  

Don't forget to see what reading programs are going on at your local library, too!

I'll keep looking to see what other great reading resources I can find and update this page along the way.  Feel free to share any of your suggestions with me in the comments.  Thanks and happy reading!!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Day 229: The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark

The original Pout-Pout Fish was one of the very first books I featured on this blog, and my kids and I love it just as much now as we did then.  I've given copies to several friends over the years, and just gave a copy to my son's teacher to add to the classroom library.  It's just such a fun, wonderful story!  Somehow, even though we got the sequel shortly thereafter, I haven't written about it until now. I mistakenly assumed that I had, so without further ado, here you go!

The Pout-Pout Fish and the Big-Big Dark is back on heavy rotation here in our house, and for good reason.  It's silly, sweet, and an all-around great read!  In this charming sequel, Mr. Pout sets out to help his friend Ms. Clam retrieve her lost pearl.  As we follow him in his quest, we learn that although he has many talents that will help him succeed, there is one problem. "I'm fast as a sailfish, I'm strong as a shark, I'm smart as a dolphin… But I'm scared of the dark!"  He grows increasingly more nervous as he swims deeper, but is cheered on by a sweet, hidden voice that encourages him along the way.  When it finally gets too dark and he decides to turn back, Miss Shimmer reveals herself and joins him so that they may continue on together.  "Two are faster than a sailfish, two are stronger than a shark, two are smarter than a dolphin, two are BIGGER than the dark!"  With the help of Mr. Lantern, the pair finds the pearl, happily returning it to their friend.

Deborah Diesen's rhymes make the story easy and fun to read aloud, and Dan Hanna's illustrations are simply fantastic!  We just love his subtle humor and clever drawings, so be sure to look closely as you read.  You might even find a lantern fish reading a copy of The Pout-Pout Fish!  We especially love the drawings that accompany Mr. Pout's refrain, as well as the silly signs hanging on the angler fish on the page below.  My son always stops and grabs the book out of my hand to read these closely each time, giggling as he reads: "Fun and games in here!  Famous cave of mystery!  Suckers here!" So fun!

The message of the story is wonderful, too, of course, for aren't we all a little stronger and braver sometimes thanks to the support and encouragement of our friends?

When I gave this book to my son for his fourth birthday, he tore off the wrapping paper and we had to stop and read it right then and there, even with a bigger present waiting to be opened right next to him.  My husband snapped a picture of us reading it together, and I shared it on this blog's facebook page.  Imagine my surprise and delight when I saw that both Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna had seen and liked the picture!  I hadn't even mentioned the title in the photo -- only the back cover was visible -- but I hope that they see this post, as well, and know just how much we love their stories.  Word has it that another Pout-Pout story is coming out in June:  The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School.  You can bet we'll be looking out for it when it is released.  In the meantime, if you haven't yet discovered these stories, look for them the next time you visit your library.  Hopefully, you and your children will enjoy them as much as we do.  Keep up the great work, Deborah and Dan!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Story-inspired decor: Using book jacket covers as art!

There's nothing like getting a new book.  The way the binding cracks a bit when you open it for the first time, the crispness of the pages, the excitement of a new story… I just love it!  My children are very fortunate to receive many books as gifts and never fail to light up when a new story is added to our collection. One of their uncles gives them fabulous new books regularly, and without fail, they excitedly rip open the package, take out the book, remove the jacket cover and toss it aside, and dive into the story.  It's wonderful.

But this brings me to my jacket cover dilemma.  Once we started reading hardcover books with our son, we quickly realized that jacket covers had to go.  They were always getting crumpled or taken off or bent or otherwise ruined, so it just seemed easier to remove them from the beginning.  Not knowing what to do with them, I kept them in a small stack on a closet shelf.  Should I just recycle them?  Keep them to put back on the book someday when the kids got a little older?  Many of the hand-me-down books we received from family members still had the covers on, which amazed me somewhat.  I kept them, thinking I'd put them back on the books someday, but then I had an idea for how to use some of them.

As our library of children's books has grown, we have developed many family favorites.  It has become clear that, while there are many books we love and enjoy, some stories will always hold a particularly special place in our hearts.  (Or maybe just my heart, I don't know.)  My children definitely have certain favorites that we've read countless times, and I know that twenty years from now, they will remember these stories fondly.  As I was thinking about how to create a little reading corner in my daughter's room one day, I thought, "Wouldn't it be cute if I could put some art up on the wall from her favorite stories?" Jacket covers would be the perfect thing!

It took me a while to find frames that I liked (and that weren't crazy expensive), but, as it so often does, Target came to the rescue.  I got several frames on sale for about $2 a piece and love them (especially because the piece on the back that can be used to stand the frame up rests inside the back of the frame, not on top of it.  This makes it hang on the wall so much better.)  I pulled out some of our favorite book covers and got to work.

Can you tell which of our favorite books are featured here, besides the Curious Garden?

I have several other story book covers that I'd like to frame, too, and think the wall would look even better that way.  A few of our favorite books are paperbacks so we don't have jacket covers to frame, but that's okay.  I think I'll just print some images from those books on our color printer and frame those, instead.  Hopefully Target will have more of these frames in stock the next time I go so I can stock up on a few more!  I'd love to hang some in my son's room, too.   I still have a big stack of jacket covers in a pile in the closet, but some of them, at least, have now been put to good use.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day 228: The Pigeon Needs a Bath

We LOVE Mo Willems in our house, and we were thrilled to get a copy of his latest book last week. (Thanks, Uncle Jeff!)  Since then, we've read the book I don't even know how many times, shared it with my son's kindergarten class and my daughter's preschool class, and laughed our way through countless fits of giggles.  I'm pretty sure my daughter has memorized it already, as well, since when we were reading it at bedtime last night, she insisted on saying all of the Pigeon's lines herself.  I told myself that I would stop featuring Mo Willems' books on this blog because I've already written about so many of them, but when a book is this fun and silly and wonderful, it simply must be shared!

If you aren't familiar with the Pigeon series, you need to get yourself to the library right now and take out one of these books immediately! Seriously. Go now. Read the rest of this post later. You're missing out!!  These books are absolutely hilarious and my children and I can't help but smile and laugh out loud at the Pigeon's antics each time we read them.  The Pigeon Needs a Bath is the most recent in the series, and might just be one of my favorites yet.

The cover itself lets you know just where this story is headed.  The Pigeon is filthy and needs a bath, but he insists he does not.  After all, he just took a bath last month! "'Clean.' 'Dirty.' They're just words, right?" He feels clean! As for those flies that are swarming around him? "Purely coincidental."  In true Pigeon form, he finally agrees -- reluctantly, of course -- to get into the bath, but not without one of Mo's classic multi-framed page spreads of Pigeon banter.  "The water is too hot… Too cold… Too deep!  Not deep enough… Too lukewarm… Too cold… Too hot again!… Not enough toys… Too many toys… Still too hot…"  And once he finally gets in (as I have experienced with my own children time and again), he naturally changes his mind and doesn't want to get out!  Right. On. In every way. So fun!

I suppose really needn't say anything else, other than that I hope you are able to get your hands on a copy of this fabulous book as soon as possible! Mo Willems, thank you for creating so many fantastic stories that we will remember fondly for years to come.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Day 227: Not Your Typical Dragon

My son is still in a huge dragon phase, so naturally, I set out to see if I could find any good stories about his favorite creatures.  I came across this one while searching on Amazon, and was happy to be able to request it through our inter-library loan service.  Now that we've read it (many times), I think it should have a place in every library, everywhere!  What a cute story!

Crispin Blaze comes from a long line of fire-breathing dragons.  When he turns 7, he'll breathe fire, too!  Crispin can't wait to make his family proud.  "The little dragon imagined all the forests he would burn down.  He dreamed of all the castles he would destroy.  He also considered boiling water to make tea, but he didn't tell his father that."  When his birthday arrives, he takes a deep breath and prepares to light his candles, but all that comes out is whipped cream!  His father is shocked.  His mother worries what the neighbors will think (though his sister is excited to have whipped cream on the cake.)  Crispin's father rushes him to the doctor, but when he attempts to breathe fire again, Band-aids come out, instead!  He takes medicine, hoping it will help turn him into a real dragon, but when he attends his first fire-breathing practice at school, he breathes marshmallows, not fire!  Poor Crispin just doesn't fit in.  Worried that he'll disappoint his family and convinced he's not a real dragon, he decides to run away.   In a sweet and silly turn of events, Crispin and his family learn that his gifts are something to be celebrated, not ashamed of, and that the things that make us unique are the most special of all.

Not Your Typical Dragon is silly, sweet, and fun to read, with a simply fabulous message.  Be proud of who you are, embrace what makes you different, and appreciate the unique gifts that people have to share with the world.  After all, the world would be a pretty boring place if we were all the same!  My kids just can't get enough of this wonderful story, and I'm sure yours will love it, too.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Day 226: The Monsters' Monster

We picked up this gem the last time we were at the library in yet another attempt to beat the lousy weather blues.  (Thank you, local libraries, for being such a great source of sanity throughout this never-ending winter!)  I was actually looking for a different Patrick McDonnell book, but saw this one and remembered how I had wanted to get my hands on a copy of it last fall.  Given the monster theme of this story, I had been looking to add it to our list of Halloween reading, but had since forgotten about it. We absolutely love Me… Jane, McDonnell's wonderful tale about the young Jane Goodall, and the Monsters' Monster, while a very different kind of story, was also a instant hit with my children.

Three silly monsters named Grouch, Grump, and Gloom 'n' Doom love being their rowdy, destructive, monster selves, but whenever they try to agree upon who is the most monster-y monster, they end up in a brawl.  To settle the argument once and for all, they decide to build the biggest, baddest monster ever -- a MONSTER monster!  They create their monster Frankenstein-style, only to be completely shocked at the result.  Their monster isn't scary or bad or monster-like at all; in fact, he's quite the opposite!  After letting out a resounding "DANK YOU!", his first actions are to hug his creators, open the windows, breathe in the fresh, dewy morning air, and savor the sweet, warm sunlight.  At first Grouch, Grump, and Gloom n' Doom are beside themselves -- how could this happen?? -- but eventually, they begin to appreciate their monster for who he is and try to be more like him:  grateful, kind beings who are simply happy to be alive.

As often happens, my kids and I enjoy this book for different reasons.  They find the little monsters' antics to be quite hilarious and giggle every time the big monster says, "Dank you!" For them, the story is an all-around fun, silly read that never fails to make them laugh.  I find the story really fun to read, too, but more than that, I love its simple messages.  Its important to be true to yourself, and equally important to be accepting of other people, particularly those who are different than you.  Similarly, we should all be able to slow down, appreciate what we have, and savor life's simple pleasures (such as enjoying a warm, powdered jelly donut while watching the sunrise.)

The Monsters' Monster would be a great Halloween read and is not at all scary, but it's a fun, sweet story for any time of year.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Day 225: Whoever You Are

The last time we went to the library, I thought it would be fun to find a book that would tie in nicely to the Olympics.  I didn't have anything particular in mind and I certainly wasn't expecting to find an Olympic type book when I went to see what Mem Fox books were on the shelf, but as soon as I saw this story, I knew this would be just the thing.  The Olympics are inspiring in so many ways, but the thing I love most about them is the way they unite people from all over the world.  It's awesome, isn't it?  As a geography teacher, I was always hoping to instill in my students an appreciation and respect for other cultures and people. As a parent, I do the same, hoping that my children will always know that we have far more in common as humankind than we might always be able to see.  Although we might seem very different from other people around the world, deep down, we are the same. 

In this sweet, simple story, beloved Australian author Mem Fox celebrates the diversity of our beautiful planet, reminding young readers that every day, all over the world, children are smiling, playing, laughing, crying, and learning, just like them.  "Their schools may be different from yours, and their lands may be different from yours.  Their lives may be different than yours, and their words may be very different from yours.  But inside, their hearts are just like yours, whoever they are, wherever they are, all over the world." Leslie Staub's colorful illustrations and Fox's gentle, repetitive verse make this story perfect for even the youngest readers, though its message is an important one for readers of all ages.  No matter how different we might seem on the outside, the things that unite us will always be far greater than those that divide us.  

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Curious George birthday party!

One of my dearest friends just threw a Curious George themed party for her son's 3rd birthday.  Actually, it was a Curious George the Fireman birthday party, since the birthday boy couldn't quite decide on one theme or the other.  (Fortunately, the two were easy to combine!)  As we were driving home from the party today, I started thinking about how some picture book characters like Curious George are just so lovable and have such staying power among children throughout the years.  Granted, Curious George now has a show on PBS and I'm sure that has a lot to do with his current popularity among the preschool demographic, but his books are awfully popular, too.  After all, his mischievous ways have been entertaining kids since Margret and H.A. Rey published the first book back in 1941.  Still, I just love a character-themed birthday party!

Cake I made for the birthday boy :)

I was also inspired to write a quick post about this after seeing our fabulous party favors:  paperback copies of Curious George and the Firefighters and Curious George and the Birthday Surprise!  How cool is that?  My kids also came home with plastic fire chief's hats and chocolate fire trucks, but I just love the idea of giving each child a book as a party favor.  Fantastic!
Books for party favors!  Brilliant!

Have you ever been to a book or character themed party?  If so, I'd love to hear about it!

Thanks for a super fun day, Wong family!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Day 224: Pictures From Our Vacation

It's February:  that ironic month in New England that seems oh-so-long, despite being the year's shortest.  Naturally, given the weeks of sub-freezing temperatures and sicknesses that always grace our household at this time of year, I'm dreaming of summer.  Sweet, sweet summer, with days spent playing on the beach and swimming in the lake and hiking in the mountains of New Hampshire.  Ahhh….. Alas, warm weather is still a few months away, so I'll have to settle for looking at pictures of sunny places, dreaming about vacation, and drinking coconut coffee.

When we went to the library last week and my children happily picked random books from the shelves, I turned to my trusty list of books to find, hoping to bring home a few new titles I've been wanting to read for a while.  Pictures From Our Vacation was one such title on that list, having been recommended by my fabulous friend Melinda, children's librarian extraordinaire, who hailed it as one of her kids' favorite books last summer.  I was thrilled to find that our library had it available and added it to our pile, eager to bring it home.  Thanks, as always, Melinda, for the fabulous recommendation!

I absolutely love this story! I've never read anything by Lynne Rae Perkins before, but there are many Cynthia-Ryland-esque qualities about this book that I just love.  It's a wonderfully sweet story about a family's vacation to visit relatives and the memories they make along the way.  At the start of the trip, the mother gives each of the children a Polaroid camera and a scrapbook in which to place their pictures so that they can have a nice souvenirs from their vacation.  The kids snap pictures along the way -- of hillsides, the sky, the back of their dad's head as he drives -- but as they are returning home, they realize that the photographs hardly remind them of their vacation at all.  Rather, it's the time spent with family, the laughter, the stories, the cool feel of the water in the lake -- all of the things that they couldn't capture on film -- that were the most memorable. The snapshots, images, and maps with which Perkins illustrates the book are perfect, and I couldn't love the message of this story any more.  This will definitely be a book that we add to our summer vacation collection.

I'll end this post with my favorite excerpt from the book. While I will always take pictures to capture the moments that we spend together as a family, I hope that my children will believe, as I do, that it is the time we spend doing those things together that is the most wonderful of all.

"I looked out the window.  There were big electrical towers alongside the highway.  I took a picture of them.  In my mind they looked like giant robots marching across the earth, carrying the electricity along in their hands.  It's probably hard to take a picture that shows that, even with a really good camera. And it's hard to take a picture of a story someone tells, or what it feels like when you're rolling down a hill or falling asleep in a house full of cousins and uncles and aunts.  There are a lot of things like that.  But those kinds of pictures I can keep in my mind."

Monday, January 27, 2014

2014 Caldecott Awards

The American Library Association (ALA) announced its winners today of the 2014 Randolph Caldecott Medal for "the most distinguished American picture book for children."  Congratulations to all of this year's winners!  Now to get my hands on these books...

Winner:  Locomotive, illustrated and written by Brian Floca

Honor Books:

Journey, illustrated and written by Aaron Becker

Flora and the Flamingo, illustrated and written by Molly Idle

Mr. Wuffles, illustrated and written by David Weisner

For a complete list of other award winners, including the Newbery, Coretta Scott King, Printz, and Theodore Seuss Geisel Awards, visit the ALA's website here.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Day 223: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

I've been eager to get my hands on a copy of this book since I heard of its release last fall.  Fortunately, my children get lots of books for Christmas, and this was one of them.  Hooray!  I fell in love with Peter Brown's work when we got Curious Garden a few years back, and it remains one of my favorite stories in our collection.  Mr. Tiger Goes Wild has only been a part of our home library for a few days, but we have already read it multiple times.  My 3 year old daughter is absolutely delighted by Mr. Tiger and his wild ways, and my 6 year old son finds the story equally fun.  It's a sweet, charming story with amazing illustrations that I know we will be reading again and again.

The story itself is fairly simple:  Mr. Tiger, sick of feeling confined by the expectations of society around him, decides to leave his conservative life behind and go a little wild.  First, he reverts to walking on all fours.  Enough of this two-legged nonsense!  Next go his clothes, portrayed in an adorable two-page spread.  So cute.  Appalled, some of his peers encourage him to take his nonsense to the wilderness, which he naturally thinks is a brilliant idea.  Once there, Mr. Tiger is free to be as wild as he wants, romping and roaring to his heart's desire.  Eventually, though, he begins to miss his friends and the city and decides to return.  Upon doing so, he is thrilled to discover that things have begun to change in his absence, leaving him -- and his fellow critters -- free to be himself.

I think my children and I love this book equally, though for different reasons.  My kids love the way Mr. Tiger busts out and just goes wild -- particularly because they love to be wild themselves -- and find his antics hilariously fun.  They also love the illustrations, and I'm always careful to give sufficient pause before turning the page so that they have time to study and enjoy them.  

As for me, I have found that this story grows on me more and more each time I read it.  The first time we read it together, I thought, "Okay, well, that was cute," but I wasn't blown away.  I liked it, to be sure, but it wasn't a story that immediately jumped out and grabbed me.  Then we read it again, at my kids' request, and I found myself trying to find a deeper meaning within its pages.  The overall message about the importance of being oneself (and feeling free to do so) is obviously a valuable one, but was there more that I was missing?  We read it a third time later that day, and I stopped reading as an (over-analyzing) adult and just let myself enjoy it the way my children do.  I studied the illustrations and details, and marveled at Brown's artistic style and artwork.  (I've never worked with ink and gouache, but now I'm dying to.)  Reading it again (and again… and again), I've come to the conclusion that while I find the story sweet and cute, what I really love is the way this book comes together as a whole.  The artwork is fabulous, especially the colors, and I love the emotion that Peter Brown is able to convey on the faces of Mr. Tiger and his fellow creatures.  Study their faces closely, and the story could tell itself without any words at all.  I even love the book's layout and feel of the pages.  (Be sure to take a look at the cover without the jacket on, too -- my daughter particularly loves the design!)  If I were on the Caldecott committee, I would certainly put Peter Brown and this beautiful book on my list of nominees! 

So, if you see this book on the new arrivals shelf at your local library, bring it home with you and see what you think.  Your children will likely love it, and there's a good chance you will, too.   

Friday, January 3, 2014

Day 222: The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest--and Most Surprising--Animals on Earth

Steve Jenkins has become one of our favorite non-fiction authors since we first read Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest two summers ago.  We've read many of his books ever since, loving each one and learning all kinds of new animal facts and scientific tidbits along the way.  (Actual Size is a particular favorite of my kids!)  My children both love learning about nature, and my son is particularly obsessed with animals:  big ones, small ones, exotic ones, extinct ones -- you name it, he can probably tell you about it.  (And if he can't, he'll want to learn all about it.)  When my husband saw that Steve Jenkins was releasing The Animal Book this past fall, he knew just what to get our son for his 6th birthday.  What a fabulous book!

If your child loves learning about animals, this book is a must read.  It provides hours of educational entertainment and Jenkins' paper collage artwork is simply exquisite.  I can't imagine how many hours it must have taken him to create this book!  We recognized some of the artwork from other works (such as Prehistoric Actual Size -- another recent birthday book), and there are many fabulous diagrams throughout the book, as well:  an ecological pyramid (from producers up through apex predators), a comparison of animal sizes (both modern and extinct), and a timeline of animal lifespans, to name just a few.  I particularly love the pages about the forest food web (which inspired my son to draw his own food web the other day), comparative pie chart of types of species, and the timeline of life, including a history of the earth in 24 hours.  If the earth was formed at 12:00am, the first single-cellular life appeared around 5:00am, dinosaurs appeared around 10:50pm, and modern humans didn't enter the picture until 4 seconds before midnight.  Pretty cool, isn't it?

Just to clarify, The Animal Book isn't an animal encyclopedia, per se, but there are over 300 animals featured within its pages.  There is a glossary at the back and additional facts about all of the creatures mentioned, along with the pages on which they can be found.  I could go on and on about this amazing book, so to help wrap things up here, I'll highlight a few of my other favorite features about this book below:

  • Its contents are sorted by themes rather than particular species or types of animals.  Categories include family, animal senses, predators, defenses, animal extremes, and the story of life.  I challenge anyone to pick up this book and not learn something new and amazing.
  • Jenkins starts off by telling us about how his love of animals and art was formed.  He includes a picture of the first animal book he created -- 103 Favorite Animals -- on graph paper when he was 6 years old.  My son gets such a kick out of this, and I love that it lets him see that even famous animal artists once drew the way he does.
  • The section at the back of the book about the history of life on earth, which includes simple yet thorough explanations and diagrams of such topics as natural selection and variation and mutation.  This would be great to use in an elementary school science class.
  • The fabulous chapter at the end of the book about making books.  Here, we get to see how Jenkins creates his books, from how his initial ideas are formed, the research process, design stages, and ultimate publication.  Really interesting stuff, especially for aspiring young artists and illustrators!

It's obviously clear that we love this book and think you'd love it, too.  I'd say it's great for any animal lovers ages 5 and up.  I'll leave you with a few examples of some of the amazing animal facts we've learned while reading this book, many of which completely blow my mind.  We hope you love this book as much as we do!

  • 97 out of every 100 known species of animals are invertebrates
  • One out of every 4 living things is a beetle -- there are over 350,000 species of beetles out there!
  • A termite queen may produce as many as 1,200 eggs an hour, laying them around the clock for 30 years or more
  • Giant clams have 100s, even 1000s, of eyes
  • For every species alive today, there are probably 1,000 that have died out or gone extinct