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!

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