Monday, July 6, 2009

Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy – History, Jewish History, ages 10-16

I just read this story. I found it on the shelves as I hunted for books for my son to read. I am fascinated with this time and a proponent that all the Holocaust stories should be heard and remembered. This story is set down in free-verse prose by the author and it is the author’s Aunt’s story. The little girl in this story was one of only 12 children to survive the Lodz ghetto in Poland. It portrays the suffering, the injustice and the humanity of the Jews. A family’s love for their daughter holds them together and gives them courage to hide and work to Sylvia. The father’s quick thinking and bravery keep not only his child safe but 11 others. Eventually it takes 800 adults to save the remaining 12 children in the Lodz ghetto. Holocaust survivors are reluctant to share their stories because of the guilt of surviving or the terrible loss and pain suffered but every story is a treasure. This story keeps the horrors to a minimum, focusing on the love of family.

Are we there yet, Daddy? By Virginia Walters

This question becomes the bane of all parents driving down the freeway. Often this question is asked minutes after leaving the driveway and repeated for the many hundreds of miles that must be covered. The father in this book gives his son a map which he can read and mark as they travel to Grandma’s house. Every child can relate to the tedium of a long drive and each parent knows the reality of this situation all too well. It’s also a fun way to introduce maps and math to children.

Please Do Not Open This Book! by Jon Stone

If you are looking for a way to keep a small child engaged and giggling, pick up this book. Grover, from Sesame Street, entertains us with his antics as he tries to get us to stop turning pages. He is afraid of the monster that is at the end of the book. He uses all sorts of tactics, from pleading, to rope, to bricks and just old fashioned begging. The end of the book comes and the children giggle as the monster at the end of the book is none else than loveable, furry old Grover himself. No matter if they’ve read it before, it never stops the little ones from giggling as you keep turning pages and Grover’s anxiety increases. I often stop reading and close the book in the middle because I’m too scared to go on and don’t want to stress Grover. This elicits the children’s pleas for the book to continue to be read. My mom read this to us over and over as children and we recently discovered it at the library and in a pop-up format.

Anno's Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno

This wordless book allows you and your child to explore numbers. Each page adds one of something, whether it is a bird, a house or a person. Children love to explore each page to find the new additions and you can take time to count something on each page, so as you sit together you learn to not only count but to figure out amounts. It’s a brilliant book for beginning the journey of mathematics with your child.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

This is not just a book about a boy and his dogs but a way to bolster the faith of your children that there is a God. Billy early on in the story prays fervently that he might find a way to get the dogs he so desperately wants. With some hard work on Billy's part he saves $50 over two years during a time when $50 was a fortune. He traverses miles to pick his pups up from the train station and takes them home to carefully train them. The dogs and Billy develop a relationship of such deep friendship that in the end the dogs give their lives for the pups. I read this as a child more than once but it was as an adult that the teachings of faith, hard work and reliance on God surfaced. The story delicately but purposefully teaches the message that God is watching over all of us, even when suffering occurs and that He will help us. I read this to my 3, 5 and 8 year old children and my two oldest hung on every word of every hunt. They even endured their mother's tears as she struggled to read about the death of Billy's dogs. This treasure will be read over and over by your children.

If You're Happy and You Know It by David A. Carter

If you struggle reading to a young child and really want to hook them on reading, pick up this book. It is a pop-up book that you sing. The book features a variety of animals who not only clap their hands, but wag their tails and even flap their wings. My daughter became enraptured with this book to the point that I could not find it to return to the library. She had hidden it in her bed so that she could have it at all times. Even my older children wanted their chance to read this book. This is a sure fire way to hook a child on reading and one you would want for your collection.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Giraffes can’t Dance by Giles Andrede, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees

This story of learning to love yourself starts when a giraffe tries to enter the annual dance contest in the jungle and the animals laugh him off the floor. Saddened, the giraffe leaves the party and walks through the jungle where a cricket tells him that anyone can dance if they find the right music. As the giraffe finds his music, he transforms into the best dancer and mesmerizes the crowd. We all need to learn to love ourselves and I wish it was a simple a process as the giraffe had, but our inner music is there if we take time to listen to it. Teaching self-esteem through story gives opportunities to point out to children their inner music.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

This delightful yet simple tale almost seems boring on the surface. Four siblings are orphaned and fearful of their new guardian, their grandfather, whom they have never met. They decide to run away together instead of facing the unknown. The children work to stay together with the two oldest siblings acting as mother and father. Henry, the oldest brother, works at odd jobs to provide food and money for his siblings. Jessie, works at home to make dinner and keep order. The other two help as they can. The siblings do not fight but aid each other with whatever tasks they may have, never shirking from work. In the end, their grandfather turns out to be a charming man and they find happiness together. I enjoyed the sense of family and love that permeated the book. I found it refreshing to hear children showing true love, kindness, family togetherness and the ability to work hard.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Woolbur by Leslie Helakoski, illustrated by Lee Harper

There is one in every crowd, the child marching to the beat of his or her own drum. This uniqueness is what makes life spectacular. Woolbur in this story simply refuses to follow the crowd, being the trendsetter of the herd. He refuses to be sheared, dyes his wool before it is sheared, cards his own wool and runs with the dogs. Grandfather wisely tells the parents that all will be well but the parents fret and fuss until in the end they insist on Woolbur doing as the other sheep. Woolbur goes along with this but to his parent’s consternation moving with the crowd means moving as Woolbur does. It’s good to learn to stand alone and Woolbur certainly finds his own path through the herd.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Bad Beginning: A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book One by Lemony Snicket

This tale is as the author reminds us through the book a tale with no happy ending. We listened to it on our trip recently and the children appeared to enjoy it. Three children are suddenly orphaned, leaving no one behind who has their best interests at heart. The children must learn to work together to survive in horrific circumstances. Their new guardian, Count Olaf, is terrible and cares for the orphans only because of their significant fortune. My five year old was able to understand how Count Olaf was trying to win the fortune away from the children. I personally have never been able to sit and read these stories. I am afraid I am one of those who would like a happy ending but the story is well written and interesting. The children are intelligent, polite and caring. It teaches one to look for the silver lining even in a dark moment and to cling to family in difficult times. We enjoyed the story and didn’t hear a peep from the back while it was playing.

The Ants go Marching by Ann Owen, illustrated by Sanda D’Antonio

Small children love music and this story marches its way into their hearts. The children pick up the rhyme easily and by the second or third time they often attempt to say the words with you. My children will throw their fist into the air when we sing “Hurrah, Hurrah” as part of this song. Working to help your child find familiarity with words and rhyme is fulfilled in this story of marching ants, where the little one stops to rhyme with a number. Trust me, it’ll be a favorite. The pictures are not engaging but the song is.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl

This story charms the listener because once again in the world of Mr. Dahl, the person most likely to fail succeeds. Mr. Fox, cunning breadwinner that he is, must get past three nasty farmers to secure food for his family. The farmers, tired of his raids, decide to eliminate him once and for all. Mr. Fox desperate to save his family comes up with a scheme that allows him to feed not only his family but all the families of the underground dwellers. The farmers, clearly outwitted, were last seen still guarding the hole where the fox was sure to emerge. Children love hearing of those who can outwit adults and Dahl’s humor shows itself well in the description of the characters. It’s a simple but delightful read.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dex: the Heart of a Hero by Caralyn Beuhner, illustrated by Mark Beuhner

Do you have a child running around in a cape, looking for someone to save? Then he or she can relate to Dex, a small wiener dog, who seems to have no powers but works diligently to obtain them. Dex, constantly ridiculed by the cats in the neighborhood, decides to make himself stronger. Daily Dex adds to his workout until he can easily clear the trash pile, run around the neighborhood and complete his push-ups. Finally, Dex discovers that he has muscles. Thrilled with his new physique, all he needs now is his uniform so that he can go about doing service for others. Then his nemesis runs into trouble and only Dex can save him. Much to Dex’s delight after rescuing the cat, the crowd chants “Super Dog! Super Dog!”, fulfilling his dreams. In the end, Dex and his new friend, ex-nemesis, decide to work together to be heroes in the neighborhood.

King Bidgood by Don and Audry Woods

This story is remarkable for its illustrations. The story is simply that a King will not get out of the tub and nothing can persuade him. As each person tries, he or she ends up entering the pool either for a battle, a ball, lunch or perhaps even fishing. The illustrations are rich in color and detail, making the clothing so real that you think you can feel the fabrics. The battle illustrations come alive in the details of soldiers, ships and weapons, which appear to be more than just the bath toys they are. The simplicity of the story coupled with the pictures keeps children engaged as they try to see what will eventually get the king out of the tub. Surprisingly it is the page who finally finds the simple answer, pulling the plug.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Just Grandma and Me by Mercer Mayer

Mercer Mayer captures the magical moments you have when you are with a grandparent. The little boy travels to the beach with just his grandma. It’s a special day out where he builds a sandcastle, buys hot dogs on his own, snorkels, and discovers crabs. There is nothing better than receiving one on one time from a special person in your life who makes you feel like you are in charge. There is also the challenge of finding the spider and grasshopper on each page of this story.

Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings by Matthew Van Fleet

This board book captures the attention of children because it is not only touchable but the pages have a flap to turn on each page. This book teaches both colors and shapes. The first page writes Fuzzy yellow circle where there is a yellow circle with yellow fur to touch. Then you open the flap and there are ducklings under the page to count and touch. Each page reveals a new color, touch and animal. The kids love this tactile book and I love that it teaches. Once my children can identify color and shapes I have them identify them on each page.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Henny Penny By Paul Galdone

This story is not my personal favorite but it has some qualities that enable children to gain reading skills. Since all the names of the characters rhyme it enables the kids to repeat phrases for you and grasp the concept of rhyme which is a necessary reading skill. My three year old invariably picks this one up for me to read aloud. The story is one heard for years about a chicken hit on the head by an acorn who then runs around telling everyone that the sky is falling. The story is supposed to reach the king but the fox outwits the animals and is well fed while the king never finds out that the sky is falling. There are multiple renditions of this one and all of them are enjoyed by children. The character names are Henny Penny, Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky, Cocky Locky, and Turkey Lurkey, which for some reason is funny when you are three. For the reading skills alone this book is a treasure; the laughter over the names is simply a bonus and if you find a rhyme for their name the giggles enlarge.

Pause When Reading

When you read aloud to little children they want the same book daily and while this is extremely boring for the adult the child is picking up language, cadence and vocabulary. Each time you read it they comprehend the vocabulary a little better. I have found that a good reading tip is to pause while reading because often you will find that your child can fill in the next words. This allows them build their vocabulary and memorization skills. Sometimes you need to let them “read” to you. The best books to use this tactic with are ones that repeat phrases. I recommend The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle as one to use for experimenting with this tactic. It repeats the phrase “she had a very busy day” on each page. My 2 year old children began interrupting me to say the words. Any book that repeats phrases or rhymes is good for this activity.

Other books are:
Drummer Hoff by Ed Emberley
I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More by Karen Beaumont, Illustrated by David Katz
The Napping House by Don and Audry Woods
There used to be Nightmare in my Closet by Mercer Mayer
Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney

Saturday, May 2, 2009

take me out of the bathtub by Alan Katz illustrated by David Catrow

This hilarious book takes songs you know and twists the words to things children deal with on a regular basis as in cleaning your room, tying your laces, and stinky diapers. Since the poems can be sung after a few times through the book you will find that your children are singing with you. David Catrow knows how to illustrate for children and he makes the words more hilarious through his pictorial interpretation. I promise that your children will beg to have this read to them over and over again. It’s one to include in the home library. Some title in the book are I’ve Been Cleaning Up my Bedroom sung to I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, Stinky Stinky Diaper Change sung to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Go Go Go to Bed sung to Row Row Row your Boat, and Cranky Poodle sung to Yankee Doodle.

Tough Boris by Mem Fox

This pirate is mean but all pirates are mean. This pirate steals but all pirates steal. That’s why when the pirate’s parrot dies we are surprised to learn that all pirates cry. Rich illustrations combined with simple words teach the reality that everyone grieves.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Eric Carle - Author and Illustrator

Eric Carle is a master storyteller and illustrator. His artistic technique is collage. I have read every Eric Carle book I find at the library to my children and purchased as many as I can afford. Why do I like them so much?

Many of his stories are interactive. For example, Eric Carle wrote From Head to Toe, which introduces all the body parts to the children and has them move them. So, while you are reading your child gets up and does the actions mimicked in the pictures. Any small child would love this.

Another of his stories, The Very Busy Spider is touchable. This story is about a spider that lands on a fence post and begins to spin a web. In fact those words I just wrote are the primary text of the story. The web and the fly illustrated in the book are prepared with raised print and as the story progresses the area of raised print is enlarged as the web enlarges. This story is not only interesting because of the raised print but because it allows the child to “read” the story. The words are simple and repeat on each page, allowing the child to help you read the story when you pause and let them fill in the next words. Children adore being allowed to participate.

The Very Clumsy Click Beetle is enjoyed by my children who cannot wait to arrive on the page that makes the click. They sit breathlessly waiting for the moment when they turn the page and the beetle clicks, flying through the air. No matter how many times we do this they become excited.

The Very Lonely Firefly is loved because on the last page, the fireflies light the sky where there are cut outs and lights on their bodies. These small touches display how in touch Eric Carle is with children and what interests them. Children want to be trusted with the ability to participate and Eric Carle’s books not only allow but encourage participation.

Eric Carle and Bill Martin Jr. have also collaborated on some books that are adored by children. Perhaps it is the simplicity or again, the repetition of phrases that facilitates that love but enjoy them they do. Even very small children, one year old, will enjoy these books. I believe in these stories Eric Carle demonstrates his love for animals and his concern for those that are facing imminent extinction. They are:
Polar Bear, Polar Bear what do you hear?
Brown Bear Brown Bear what do you see?
Baby Bear, Baby Bear what do you see?
Panda Bear, Panda Bear what do you see?

One of our favorite books that may probably over look is a collection of poems that he illustrated. The title is Animals, Animals. The poets range from Emily Bronte to children’s poet Jack Prelutsky. I have worn this book out reading it to my babies. My children are now able to quote poems they may not have ever loved without the beautiful pictures that accompany the words.

The range of books that Eric Carle has written or illustrated is quite varied in their formats. He has board books for young children to teach first words. He has books that are fables. He illustrates poems. Diversity is not something that frightens him but that which he embraces. Often his stories teach us to trust ourselves or to love the diversity around us as in A House for Hermit Crab. His books are published in Spanish, English and Braille. He just wants children to enjoy art and stories and this desire translated into the various formats, I find admirable.

This love for picture books as the jumping point for reading has translated into a museum I wish I could visit. He and his wife have created a museum dedicated to picture book art. There are interactive programs there for children and best of all, a library with stories parents can pick up and then sit and read with their children. I cannot imagine a better setting for introducing children to both art and reading.

One of his books can be used to introduce the art of collage to your children; You can make a collage – A very simple how to book by Eric Carle. When you purchase this book and I am not sure you can anymore, it comes with tissue paper designed by Eric Carle to use for your creations, but even without that part of the book, you can still use the instructions to make your own creations with tissue paper you purchase. This is a great rainy day activity to perform with your child, introducing them to art and creation.

Eric Carle has a blog. It allows us access to his human side and puts a face to this author/illustrator that we’ve gotten to know through his stories. It’s also somewhere to go to say thanks for the hours of joy his books have brought the world. The web address is:

His official website is:

As Eric Carle has written over 70 books, I will not attempt to list them all here. Look for them in future blog entries as I will try to include them as I go. I would recommend checking them out from your library. His books will charm your children.

An Undone Fairy Tale by Ian Lendler

The illustrator in this story cannot keep pace with the narration, causing all sorts of hilarity to ensue. Ned, the illustrator begs the children on each page to just wait because he needs more time to get the illustrations in order. Since the children never do wait to turn the page then you end up with fish for horses, banana equipped monkey soldiers and an army of pickles. As the palace made of popsicles melts away and the princess must rescue herself on a snail, the children dissolve into laughter. Since you have to pause so often to have Ned explain things, little ones often get restless with the story if used at story time but for normal read aloud it is perfect.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd

My son died too soon and would have had his birthday today. I’ve been thinking about what I would read to him first if I could hold him in my arms today. I would read The Runaway Bunny to him so that he could learn early and in a vivid manner that no matter where he went or what he did that I would love, support and help him find his way. The small bunny in this story wants to run away but no matter what he tries, from being a sailing ship or a flower, his mother finds a way to be near. My favorite scenario is when the bunny decides to be a bird and his mother says that she’ll be a tree for him to come home to. Every mother wants to create a safe harbor for their child so that they can fly and then have a soft landing when necessary. In the end, the bunny decides to not run away because he realizes that his mom would always be there anyway. I would buy this story for him in the board book form so that he could carry it around and eat the edges as all little ones do. Hopefully the message of unconditional love would seep deep into his soul cementing the knowledge of his mother’s love. Children love the hide and seek this book provides in illustration as the mom and bunny warp into different objects to tell the story. The Runaway Bunny is a timeless classic creating comfort for over 60 years.

Fluffy, Scourge of the Seas by Teresa Bateman, illustrated by Mark Chesworth,

Fluffy, a white and pampered poodle, sails on his yacht when one day overcome by pirates he must prove that he is the scourge of the sea. How does a white poodle, dressed in ruffles and lace and named Fluffy, prove that he is the scourge of the sea? Fluffy demonstrates for the pirates his better skills by bringing in better food, clothes and a life of leisure. Anything the pirate captain can do, like Annie Oakley, Fluffy can do better. The illustrations captivate and the words sing; combined no one can resist the wiles of Fluffy. Fluffy demonstrates that ingenuity can triumph over fear.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Melinda Mae by Shel Silverstein

Have you heard of tiny Melinda Mae,
Who ate a monstrous whale?
She thought she could,
She said she would,
So she started in right at the tail.
And everyone said,"You're much too small,"
But that didn't bother Melinda at all,
She took little bites and she chewed very slow,
Just like a good girl should...
...and in eighty-nine years she ate that whale
Because she said she would!

This poem depicts my personality. I believe that we can find ourselves in poems and even laugh at ourselves. In this poem, young Melinda Mae is depicted eating a whale, an enormous task from which she does not flinch. To see her finish the whale you turn the page where an old woman sits with just the bones left. I believe in starting tasks and finishing them, firmly trusting that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to understanding that while it may be a long and difficult journey it can be completed.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillof

I just finished reading this aloud to my children and discrepancies between the movie and book exist. I recommend your child read the book before watching the movie, which is quite charming. The Preacher, as she calls her father in the book, actually loves Winn-Dixie from the start and there is no landlord in the book that hates the dog. The rest of the story is followed well in the movie. I enjoyed this book as did my children. It is a simple tale and teaches about learning to see the heart of the person and “loving what you have while you’ve got it”. My children laughed out loud at parts signaling their enjoyment and now as my boy’s have shaved heads we call them “bald headed babies” just as Opal taunts the Dewberry brothers in the book. I love it when phrases from books we read become part of our daily vernacular. When you need a simple bedtime read aloud you could pull this delightful tale off the shelf.

Paper Parade by Sarah Weeks

There is a parade today and the little girl in this story desperately wants to go but her brother is ready for a nap and she is denied the pleasure of going to the parade. She contents herself with seeing the parade from her window, which inspires her to create her own paper parade. Crafting a mobile for her brother so that he too might enjoy the parade provides the girl much pleasure. The words sound like music, making a parade with words.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer, illustrated by LeRoy Neiman

This classic poem that paints hope and courage so brilliantly and then lets it end in failure will captivate your imagination. Everyone who tries, fails and Mighty Casey tries with such flair and ends with great despair. LeRoy Neiman illustrated the poem in a fashion that aids suspense building and allows the children to determine the ending in advance. The drawings are done in charcoal and enliven Casey, making him larger than life. My children have been begging for multiple readings since we checked it out, rapidly making a favorite.

That Book Woman by Heather Henson, illustrated by David Small

This story is for all the librarians out there who feel unappreciated and wonder if their work is accomplishing anything at all. In this story the family lives in a remote area and the only way the family receives any books is by a horse riding, book carrying librarian. The boy thinks reading is stupid and cannot understand his sister’s preoccupation with books until one day the librarian leaves a book he loves and reads over and over. Eventually he looks forward to her visits and his love of reading becomes forever cemented and all because a librarian cared enough to keep trying.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Rotten and Rascal by Paul Geraghty

Do your children fight? Well it cannot be worse than these two pterodactyls! They are outrageous in their antagonizing of each other but eventually learn that it is better to help one another and be friends. Instead of preaching brotherly love, just read it to them.

Oliver K. Woodman by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Joe Cepeda

Sometimes you live far away from someone you love and wish you could visit them. Tamika in this story misses her Uncle and begs to either visit him or have her uncle visit her, neither of which is an option. Her uncle devises a way to send a visitor to her and so begins the adventures of Oliver K. Woodman, a life size man made of wood. Her uncle sets him outside his door with Tamika’s address and hopes that someone will take Oliver along for the ride and eventually allow him to make his way to Tamika. Oliver embarks on a trip narrated by postcards that people send to the Uncle detailing where they met him and their experiences together. Poor Oliver is even abandoned at one point but thankfully many people allow this unusual hitchhiker to come along for the ride. Oliver finds his way to Tamika and then Tamika and Oliver find their way to her Uncle.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What are you reading?

Having your kids see you read is almost as important as reading to them. So, what did you read this month?

I read Walden by Henry David Thoreau, finished Harry Truman by David McCullough, Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo and read Eleanor's Story by Eleanor Ramrath Garner.

My husband and I read constantly and usually read while eating at breakfast and then any spare second we can find. Kids need to know that you enjoy reading too. Let me know what you are reading.

Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh

This book is delightful not only for its illustrations but the intuitive method which teaches children the magic of mixing colors. Three white mice stumble across jars of paint and paint themselves yellow, blue and red. Puddles form at their feet and the mice dance in them mixing the colors green, orange and purple, a discovery extraordinaire which they put to use painting walls. The paint makes their fur sticky requiring a bath in the cat’s water dish and necessitates leaving some walls white so they can hide from the cat. Read this and then go play with colors together and discover the joy of mixing first hand as did these mice.


I failed to understand how different boys are in their selection of books until I attempted to find interesting books for my own sons. Amazingly, my boys enjoy non-fiction books where they desire to know everything about a topic. The Eyewitness books are encyclopedias for children. I never would have selected an encyclopedia for my children for read aloud but I have spent many hours reading all the details about insect wings, knights and their armor, football equipment, fish, and many other topics. I think if your child wants to learn about a topic then it can be found in the Eye Witness Books. If money allowed, I would house them all on my shelves. As is, we have a few, have checked out many and the Insects one our treasure.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, illustrated by George Ford

I just brought this one home from the library and read it to my son. It is a thoughtful story about Ruby Bridges who had to attend school alone and face an angry mob for months before any white children would join her. I learned more about her story and was impressed that Ruby prayed for those tormenting her. What a powerful lesson to us as adults who often forget to include God in our daily dealings and who often do not pray to forgive and taught by a child. Ruby’s mother writes about her the following and that is probably all that needs to be said about this remarkable child.

“Our Ruby taught us a lot. She became someone who helped change our country. She was part of history, just like generals and presidents are part of history. They’re leaders, and so was Ruby. She led us away from hate, and she led us nearer to knowing each other, the white folks and the black folks.”

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I have read this classic to my children when they were but five years old. The language is rich but the story fascinating, capturing their imaginations and hearts. When read to young children, the story often needs explanation but is worth the effort. I have read this one multiple times and find it is requested again. Stories where good triumphs over evil are always popular but when the characters are children then it becomes something even more special as children are often the powerless ones in this world. C.S. Lewis is a Christian writer and there is much symbolism that even the children can comprehend. My son, when I read this last was 7 and he understood and recognized by himself the lion as a symbol for Christ, enabling one to teach literary terms easily and at an early age using this selection

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Katie and the Sunflowers by James Mayhew

A rainy day drives a grandmother and her granddaughter into an art museum, where Katie embarks on an adventure started by her spotting some good seeds in the painting, Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh. Katie is unable to stem her desire for the seeds but when she reaches for the seeds the entire vase falls over, as she picks up the tipped over vase she hears giggling from another picture by Paul Gauguin and she enters that picture to dance with them. One thing leads to another and she ends up sprinting through the museum trying to fix the messes she has made in the pictures. Finally, she corrects her mistakes and finds her grandmother. Luckily, clutched in her hand are the precious sunflower seeds she originally sought. A charming walk through the masters introduces art to children in a way that is vibrant and real. No longer will a trip to the museum be quite the same because who knows what adventures might be found within the frames.

Tanka Tanka Skunk! By Steve Webb

This charming story is read by using the syllables in the words to create rhythm. The pictures are simple but the sound attracts the attention of the children and they love this book. I use it in my music story time where the children attempt to join in the rhythm. It is a good book to help beginning learners work on hearing syllables which they eventually require them to pick out at school.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater

Read to me as a child, I believe I internalized the value of being myself and it stood me well through those teenage years. In this story, the houses on the street are all the same and everyone likes that until one day a seagull drops a bucket of orange paint on one man’s home. Everyone feels sorry for him but he takes this as an opportunity to create his home after himself. One by one the people come to visit him and after a night of discussion return home to make their homes after themselves, reinforcing the idea that we are all wonderful just the way we are. I have used this story many times on the first day of school to get to know my students, when I ask them to design their home. As a parent it fascinates me to see what my children select as their house after we read the book.

The Wide Mouthed Frog by Keith Faulkner

This pop-up book teaches the effects of bragging in a manner illustrated visually for the child. The wide mouthed frog is so proud of what he can eat that he goes around asking everyone else what they eat and then explaining that he eats flies. Eventually he comes across the crocodile that eats wide mouthed frogs. At this point the frog is no longer so proud of his wide mouth and splashes off. Pop-up books always fascinate children and this one remained in good condition for a long time until my daughter somehow managed to take it to bed with her.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Catalina Magdalena, Hoopensteiner Wallendiner Hogan Logan Bogan was her Name by Tedd Arnold

This hilariously illustrated campfire song by Tedd Arnold is a classic to get giggles and participation while reading. It’s about a girl with some peculiar qualities and how she is successful anyway. It’s the tune that makes this book fun and the kids will be singing it so often it will drive you nuts!

Maximize the Tub

Maximize the Tub

Since my children were infants, I have read aloud poems to them while they bathe. I believe that due to this constant inundation with words, repetition and rhyme, my children have developed over time a knack for memorization which served them well in oral presentations at school and talks at church. We read a vast amount of poetry but I have found that poems with illustrations work best. Reading even the masters works if the illustrations are done well. The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems by Jackie Morris is well illustrated and includes many of the great poems by Lewis Carroll, William Shakespeare, Lord Bryon, and John Milton. I love sharing beautiful messages through poetry with my children. We also enjoy laughing and the books by Alan Katz are favorites with my small children because they are poems written to familiar song tunes. Shel Silverstein is a stable in our household, where we use his poems in preschool for monthly memorization. Animals Animals is the same as the Barefoot Book, wherein they have complied famous poems and then Eric Carle, master illustrator creates a story to match the words. Since bathing children are a captive audience take advantage of that time and they will improve their vocabularies and memorization skills. It’s worth a try. In fact, my children will not come out of the tub until you have read them some poems. Here is a list of my favorite poetry books.

Antarctic Antics by Judy Sierra
A Family of Poems by Caroline Kennedy
The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems by Jackie Morris
Animals Animals by Eric Carle
Take me out of the bathtub by Alan Katz, illustrated by David Catrow
I'm still here in the bathtub by Alan Katz, illustrated by David Catrow
Smelly Locker by Alan Katz, illustrated by David Catrow
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Falling Up by Shel Silverstein

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Eleanor’s Story – An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany by Eleanor Ramrath Garner

Coming from German descent myself, this dark mark in the history of Germany has always fascinated me as I’ve wondered what I would have done had I lived in Germany at that time. I found myself drawn to this Teacher’s Choice Award book. In this story, Eleanor, an American girl of recent German immigrants and her family find themselves sailing across the sea in order that her father might take a good job in Berlin, Germany. While crossing the news comes that Germany has declared war on many more countries and now her family realizes that they may have made a mistake in crossing the sea. Eleanor and her family suffer as much as the rest of the German people but somehow their family stays intact through the entire war. They deal with bombings, threat of rape, starvation, having to flee to other areas, scavenging for food, and the deaths of many they love. Eleanor’s mother is the glue holding them together as they deal with one heart-wrenching blow after another. Her mother at one point, when life looks bleakest says, “It isn’t enough to feed the stomach. You also have to feed the soul with something beautiful.” Then her mother placed flowers she found somewhere in the ruins of Berlin on the table. This book teaches topics ranging from food storage, to survival, to compassion, to love, to forgiveness, to education that it would be worth reading. Eleanor’s story will require discussion on sex and rape as both are topics that Eleanor faces. In war, people die and Eleanor speaks of seeing dead bodies, suicides, and senseless death of children. These topics were real in Berlin at the time and cannot be avoided but if your child reads this story, be prepared to discuss them. It is a tale of survival and with spring comes hope for the people of Berlin and Eleanor as they struggle to rise above circumstances none of them wanted but must handle nonetheless.

How I Spent my Summer Vacation by Mark Teague

Amazingly our summer vacations never live up to the expectation teachers place on that first essay of the year, but in this story it not only lives up to the expectation but exceeds it. This boy sets off on his summer vacation to visit his Aunt Fern by train but is waylaid by cowboys who need another hand. He agrees to help and soon learns that there is more to a cowboy than boots and pants. Read well, this book has a twang to it that any true cowboy would love and in the end, the boy saves the day with his new cowhand abilities.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bad Habits! By Babette Cole

Do you have an unruly child who refuses to mind their manners? Then read this one aloud to them. Delicious in just the character’s name, Lucretzia Crum, this story highlights the naughty behavior of a daughter and the extreme measures her parents have to take to curb those bad behaviors, like burping, farting, being loud and disrespectful to her teachers. Lucretzia has a terrible influence on the children around her and so all the parents combine their resources to stop this willful girl. Just when all the parents reach the point of despair that nothing will work to curb her willful disobedience, a birthday party is interrupted by even worse monsters than the little children at the party. Reform of bad manners is the order of the day and peace is restored in this delightful story with illustrations worthy of the wit.

Wave by Suzy Lee

We stumbled upon this story in the library’s new arrival section and being lovers of stories with no words brought it home. Sitting side by side with your child and imagining the pages is one of the most wonderful experiences. The vivacious illustrations allowed us to see the emotions of the girl as she experiences the vast power and joy of an ocean swell. Rapture on her face, the girl shows her mother all she’s experienced. Anyone who has kicked at the waves will understand the joy this girl has in splashing for what appears the first time. This is a lovely book to expand the imagination and pleasure of the ocean.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small

This story, told though letters from a girl to her relatives is a touching portrayal of life during the depression. Lydia Grace is sent to live with her Uncle because her father has lost his job and no one seems to want dresses sewed by her mother anymore. Lydia Grace schooled in the art of gardening by her grandmother transforms not only the outside with flowers but through her zeal for life, her Uncle’s love she captures. In the end, Lydia Grace is able to return home and be with her mother, father and beloved Grandmother where in the final picture the pair are shown walking side-by-side out to the garden because “we gardeners never retire”. I cry when I read this book and it’s because I love gardening and learned from my grandfather. Perhaps there is a love you share with a grandparent, relative or friend and this story would spark that memory. Sometimes this story just reminds me that there is hope for tomorrow in the plants we grow and the people we love and we can never retire from that work. It’s a personal favorite and while not easily read aloud to a group, certainly one to snuggle up with on the couch with your kids. Maybe, like Lydia Grace you too could send a letter and thank the one who has taught you.

Wolf Island by Celia Godkin

Food Webs challenge understanding for some children. If your teacher is providing lessons on food webs, this book will reinforce the concept in a very real way. This story focuses on an island and how the wolves accidentally leave the island and return remains seemingly impossible. Without the wolves the deer run rampant, over producing and eating up the vegetation, which denies it to the smaller animals. The impact results in a sick island, unable to maintain balance. In the end the wolves return over frozen ice and restore balance to the island. My children enjoyed the pictures and while they may be too young, 3 and 5 to truly understand the concept, it is one I will keep in mind for future use.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Freight Train by Donald Crews

This simple book can be used for small children for many purposes, the first being to discover color. Each part of the train from the engine to the caboose has a different color and is introduced alone. The second purpose is to explore the majesty of a train leaving its station and traveling over bridges, through the country and into the city. I read this so many times that the pages of our book fell apart and we no longer have this one. As my first two were boys, this small and simple transportation book became a well loved favorite. Allow your child to take a journey on a train and through this book feel the wind, hear the noise of train tracks and experience the exhilaration of a train ride.

My Little Brother by David McPhail

Every oldest child discovers at one time or another that their young siblings are a pain. In this story the oldest brother recounts how miserable it is to have a younger brother. He details the trials he must endure. In the end though, the older brother also finds the good his brother does and finds a simple way to let his brother know how much he loves him. Sometimes all you have to do is hand a book to a child to read and they will comprehend the message.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Googies are Coming by Shel Silverstein in Where the Sidewalk Ends

The googies are coming, the old people say,
To buy little children and take them away.
Fifty cents for lean ones,
Fifteen cents for dirty ones,
Thirty cents for clean ones,
A nickel each for mean ones.

The googies are coming, and maybe tonight,
To buy little children and lock them up tight.
Eighty cents for husky ones,
Quarter for the weak ones,
Penny each for noisy ones,
A dollar for the meek ones.

Forty cents for happy ones,
Eleven cents for sad ones.
And, kiddies,when they come to buy,
It won’t do any good to cry.
But—just between yourselves and I—
They never buy the bad ones!

It’s a tradition spoken of in each generation where the parents use some fable to terrorize the children into good behavior. This is the poem I use at my house. We have to of course make sure it’s not too scary but we do on occasion throw out the threat that if they don’t change their behavior then we’ll sell them to the googies. I have been known on occasion to offer to just give them away to the googies. This poem is found on page 52 in Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.

Oscar and the Bat – a book about sound by Geoff Waring

This book is fascinating because it introduces science at a young age. Children love the world around them and if their curiosity is fostered, they are able to advance and explore even deeper. These books explain simple concepts from science in a way that interests children. In this book, Oscar, a cat, learns to listen to the world. He hears birds, grasshoppers, crickets and learns about how dolphins and snakes and hummingbirds communicate. This book can be read to small children and then for adventure, go outside and listen for sounds in your yard and try to figure out how those animals produce them. To apply these concepts make a book of sounds with your preschool children.

Monday, April 13, 2009

I Stink by Kate and Jim McMullan

This book teaches about garbage trucks in a way that few could imagine, allowing us to make alphabet soup out of our trash, understand the mechanisms of the truck and know why it sometimes wakes us up at night. The illustrator brings the truck to life by giving it personality. The words in the story are awesome but again, sometimes it is in the reading that makes it fun. When the truck blasts its back-up rap it needs to be read as a rap. When the words make it seem like the truck is bragging then your voice needs to brag. My kids love this story but perhaps it is in the way it is read more than the story itself. We own this one and read it regularly. For boys there is nothing better than stinky trash trucks and if your boys are like mine, the highlight of the week was watching the trash truck pick up our garbage.

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain

Known at least by mention to most, Mark Twain weaves a brilliant story of learning what is right and wrong in the Prince and the Pauper. The prince with all his training becomes unable to navigate the real world while the street urchin is stymied by royal trappings when because of appearance they accidentally switch roles. The tale speaks of righting a wrong and becoming wise. Both the Prince and the street lad change in the story so that they understand the world better but have kindled love, justice and mercy more in their hearts. A ruler filled with wisdom must have the advantage of experiencing vast situations and enduring hardship. I attempted to read this aloud to my 6 year old but the language Twain uses defied his understanding. I think it would be better for an older audience, say 10-16. Teaching a child to see the other side of a situation is an invaluable lesson because they will often come across a person they fail to understand and taking the time to listen, learn and love that other person creates an environment where true compromise take place. A story with a lesson for both the old and the young.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Peekaboo Bugs by David A. Carter

If you have a small child these books will engage them like no others. David A. Carter has created multiple pop-up books, many of which are now out of print but can be found online. For Easter my mother gave my daughter Peek-a-boo Bugs. This is probably my favorite in his collection having read them all. This book tackles colors in an interactive fashion. Each page has a color and you have to find the same colored bug on that page; the hitch being that the bug is hidden behind the flaps. Now, this book would become tiresome quickly if not for the fact that the bug is placed on a wheel that you spin each time you read the story, hiding the bug in a different spot. To keep this book in good condition longer, simply put a piece of tape on the fold of each flap. This book is a treasure.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

I love how Shel Silverstein invites children into his books. This poem collection begins with the following poem.

If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a prayer-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fier
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

Once Shel Silverstein has welcomed you to his book then he then opens a world of fancy for the child. How I love these poems! If you want to get your child to take out the garbage, read pages 70-71. If you want them to behave, read pages 50-51. If you want them to laugh read page 43.Have one that hates a sibling? Try page 141. If your child loves Band-Aids work on page 140. There is magic in his poems. I love children’s laughter and his poems bring it out. We have read these aloud at bath time for years until now my children know many of them by heart. Shel Silverstein weaves magic words onto paper.

Friday, April 10, 2009

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

This timeless classic that many will remember having read to them when they were a child is perfect for both bedtime read aloud and car travel, our family has done both, enjoying it each time. Again, Roald Dahl has the ability to capture the imagination of children and play on the powerlessness they feel in regards to their situation with adults. Dahl makes his child characters the champion by the end of the story. This story of course involves a giant peach, but along with that there are bugs transformed by magic and everyone must use their skills to survive. It’s quite the adventure and a perfect bedtime read aloud.

The Time Warp Trio – Knights of the Kitchen Table by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith

Jon Scieszka, former elementary school teacher understood the need for books for boys and wrote them, even dedicating a website to books for guys ( These books are ones I stumbled upon at the library while searching for interesting books for a beginning boy reader. My son quickly devoured all of them and if there were more we’d read them. The premise is that one of the boys gets a book from his magician uncle. Unfortunately they don’t take the time to understand its powers and it transports them to the past. They have to find the book to get home and along the way all they have are their wits to defeat terrors of the era, like a huge black knight. My son found these humorous and I too caught myself laughing out loud. We read them aloud sometimes and used them as beginning chapter books. There are at least 14 of them. Check them out!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

All Afloat on Noah’s Boat! By Tony Mitton, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees

Diving in the car one day, all of the sudden my son started to quote this book. It is a book that is read in rhythm and he memorized it. Sometimes he needed a word to start him on the storyline but once given a word he took off with the rest of the story and all this when only 4. Since I had checked it out over and over from the library and my kids begged for it, we asked for it for Christmas. Since then it is a story that is pulled off the shelf on a regular basis. The story is not all that fascinating, a retelling of Noah’s Ark and while the pictures are fun, it is the way the story is read that makes it awesome. If you read it aloud a few times you will pick up on the rhythm. I try to exaggerate it. Perhaps I will be able to get an audio up so that it is easier to understand what I mean. This book will be adored by babies on up. My 8 year old looked up from the book he was reading to pause and listen because the story’s sound is so much fun.

The Very Hungary Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Eric Carle created this masterpiece that will be around for generations to come. Every child loves to watch the caterpillar eat itself sick, touching the holes left behind and then turn into a beautiful butterfly. There is something about nature which draws not only children in but adults. We love creation and the beauty it provides our world and in this story how it teaches us that change can be okay. For the 40th celebration, Eric Carle has created a pop-up book that I know children will love and the Easter Bunny is bringing to my shelf. Perhaps when my children are older and faced with a change they will remember from the days they were tiny the story I read to them over and over about a little caterpillar that makes his way in the world and then accepts the change to a beautiful butterfly. This book is found in many formats from board book style for babies, to hardback editions, scholastic has a paperback edition, and now the pop-up style. It can truly be enjoyed at any level your child reaches.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lights Out by Arthur Geisert

This is another example of a book with no words that captivates children. My son and I looked for books at the library one week and he became frustrated. He said, “I want a book that lets me use my imagination.” I immediately thought of these books. The story requires the children to make the connections. Arthur Gisert has created many of these stories. This one tells the tale of how a child figures out how he can get enough light after his parents tell him to turn off the light so that he isn’t afraid to go to sleep. He pulls his switch and the time it takes to turn his light off through an elaborate process allows him to fall asleep with the light on but then have it go off as his parent’s desire. It’s the dream of every child to be able to accomplish a feat like this and they love looking at the details to figure out exactly how the child accomplished each step. This truly is a book for the imagination.

Don't take your snake for a stroll by Karin Ireland, illustrated by David Catrow

This hilarious read aloud for children is illustrated once again by David Catrow. His pictures themselves tell a story but the words of this book bring sparkle too. Here you will find out all the reasons why you should not take various animals into public places. I use this in my animal day story time and it never fails to captivate children. Everyone needs to laugh and remember it is the laughter of children that gives rise to new fairies.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter

Elnora Comstock is a young girl raised by a mother whom she believes doesn’t love her. The mother is holds back love because of the death of her husband many years ago, the truth of which she doesn’t really know. Elnora wants to go to school and be like the other girls but her mother refuses to give her any money or even moral support. Resourceful, Elnora finds a way to attend school and buy books and appropriate clothing through selling the treasures of the Limberlost, the land on which she and her mother live. Elnora is a bright, beautiful, intelligent girl who becomes friends with many in the town. Still, she aches for her mother’s love. I love this story. I have read it many times and it is battered and bruised on my shelf. Probably a long forgotten tale, girls will love it and mothers will find hope at forgiveness from their mistakes. If only all our girls could be as resourceful, forgiving and strong as Elnora.

For Sale by Shel Silverstein found in Where the Sidewalk Ends on pages 52-53

For Sale

One sister for sale!
One sister for sale!
One crying and spying young sister for sale!
I’m really not kidding,
So who’ll start the bidding?
Do I hear a dollar?
A nickel?
A penny?
Oh, isn’t there, isn’t there isn’t there any
One kid who will buy this old sister for sale,
This crying and spying young sister for sale?

I believe in having children memorize poems and this one my 2 year old memorized. I think she liked this one because we changed it from sister to brother and she thought that was hilarious. Since I read this as a child too, I know that the thought of being able to sell off my younger brothers appealed. The words are simple and they repeat. I have found that by reading it aloud to my kids multiple times that they will be able to repeat the words. We learn a few lines a day, perhaps only adding one more, until they are able to repeat it completely. Memorization is an important skill. My children pick up a knack for memorization early and I believe it is due to the poems we read. I will post some of our favorites and the books in which they can be found periodically. If you give them a chance I believe most children can memorize anything and the earlier they are taught this skill the better they will do in school.

Books as Gifts

I am unable to resist this topic as we approach Easter. The Easter Bunny will arrive with all his sugar and leave behind nothing but chaos. At our home though the candy is almost non-existent and the most sought after gift is the book in the basket. Yes, the Easter Bunny brings books to our house. I find that any holiday is an excuse to bring a book into the house. The more books I have on my shelves and the more access my kids have to them, the more likely they will want to be readers in the future. Let the Easter Bunny bring a favorite story or introduce a new topic, it will be much better than candy, last longer and provide less sugar induced behavior.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Superhero Storytime

Superhero Day

This story time is the favorite of the neighborhood. We have done it twice, though I try to switch things up, because the children requested it. The beauty of this story time is that the heroes come to story time instead of your regular children. I have had all sorts of heroes arrive, from ones that are created by the children to popular ones like Jedi, Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman and the like. Children love to dress up and this gives them an excuse to create costumes on a day besides Halloween.

The stories I use for this neighborhood story time are listed below.
Poem: Listen to the Mustn’ts by Shel Silverstein, found in Where the Sidewalk Ends on page 27
KaPow by George O’Conner
KerSplash by George O’Conner
Dex: the Heart of a Hero by Caralyn Beuhner, illustrated by Mark Beuhner
Super Sam by Lori Reis
Just a Day Dream by Mercer Mayer
Dinofours I’m Super Dino by Steve Metzger
Atomic Ace and the Robot Rampage by Jeff Weigel

I believe in poetry for children. I think it helps them learn to rhyme, develop rhythm and familiarity with words. The love for words and play on words comes from poetry. Plus poetry gives powerful messages in small packages and children’s’ poetry is packed with giggles. To be a Superhero, you need to believe in yourself. This poem states:

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me—
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.

When I repeat this poem to the children I emphasize the obvious word and when I get to the part that says, Then listen close to me – I begin to whisper and I lean in close to them to give them the next words, the words which empower them, Anything can be. I love that poem. My kids hear me quote it to them on a regular basis.

KaPow and KerSplash are two books that I found in the last few years. Unfortunately they were not around when my mom read to us because my brothers would have adored them. Even my daughter loves them. They are fabulous stories about a boy who has turned himself into the Hero, American Eagle. He and his best friend, Bug Lady, have created their own costumes. The younger brother is usually cast as the bad guy but invariably they end up working together to solve the scrapes in which they find themselves.

Dex: The Heart of a Hero needs to be read correctly for it to be a hit with the kids. Dex, a wimpy dog at the start of the story, works diligently to transform himself into a Super Hero, the kind who helps ladies cross the street and clean up neighborhoods. When called upon to help his enemy, Dex doesn’t hesitate but rushes onto the scene. As he saves his enemy the audience chants, “Super Dog, Super Dog”. I request the kids chant with me and warn them in advance of their need to cheer. We separate it by syllables. Su Per Dog Su Per Dog. The kids love this and request this book just to participate.

The rest of the books are good but not great books. They are ones that I read but wouldn’t necessarily purchase for my bookshelf, as kids enjoy them but fail to adore them. Atomic Ace is long and can lose the interest of younger children. Super Sam is simple and loses your older audience. Since I am reading to a variety of ages I have to be careful in my selection but when I have these checked out for story time, I find my kids getting into my stash to read them all. Just a Day Dream by Mercer Mayer is fabulous for teaching about working problems out with friends. I have used all of them in my story times and I read aloud from infants to 12 year olds.

Once we finish reading we move into the activity phase of our adventures. We head out back to run ourselves through our obstacle/training course that I create using what I have at home. It may involve moving marbles from one bucket to another, diving under chairs, jumping through hoops, maneuvering through cones, jumping over small boxes or balancing on boards. Whatever it is that you create the children will love it. We usually find a way to army crawl too as that provides giggles. Remember your superheroes are in costume and so the whole obstacle course is their training course and when approached that way, taken very seriously.

After all that work, your superheroes will need refreshment and an Otter Pop goes a long way to reviving their exhausted powers.

If I was doing this for a story time, I would advertise in advance that they should come dressed as a Superhero. I would make up my own Superhero, like Book Lady and design a costume that has all sorts of pockets where I can hide poems, stories and a way cool backpack in bright colors that contains all my stories.

As an activity, I would do one of the following. I believe children need to do something after you’ve read stories to use the imagination that has just been stimulated.

1. Belt Buckles – You could cut out buckles of all shapes (ovals, triangles, rectangles, squares, stars, and hearts) and colors for them to design their own symbol on. Then have strips of paper for them to staple together to make their own Superhero belt buckle.
Materials: glues, pre-cut shapes, pre-cut strips of paper (3 inches wide by 11 inches long), staplers, crayons

2. Superhero Identity Cards: Go to the Family Fun website and find their printable Superhero Identity Card. Allow the children with a parent to design their own card and fill in their super powers.
Materials: Printable Sheet, Pencils/pens

3. Superhero Parade: Find some cool music and allow the children to march in a line showing off their costumes for everyone. At the end of the parade have them pose as Superheroes, changing their pose when you yell “Superheroes!” (Our library has a separate room for story time, so this may not work if your room is not contained. As an alternative, just let them pose and use a hand signal to get them to shift their pose.)
Materials: Radio, Music

4. Obstacle Course: Some libraries are attached to parks. Why not take advantage of that and let the kids really practice what they’ve seen in books.

Jacob Have I Loved By Katherine Paterson

Children often find themselves in a situation where they feel like they are less than another sibling. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of parenting as one child may demand more attention because of illness or abilities and thus seem the favorite while they really are loved as dearly. This is the story of Louise and Caroline, twins where one feels that the other receives everything. No one even remembers holding Louise then night of their birth because Caroline was sick. This fact haunts her. Yet, as Louise finds her way through life she realizes that she is loved and valued. She finds her place in the world and makes a difference. Louise finds peace amidst the storms of her life. I have also read this one more than once and will probably do so again. I can’t wait until my children are ready to read this story and can already hear the comments, “You do the same thing to …” Perhaps this book will help me ward those comments off more easily. This story does deal with more adult concepts and I believe in previewing books to decide for yourself if a child is ready but I read this 6th grade and again in middle school and again in high school and enjoyed it each time, gleaning new insights as I went.

Ed Emberley’s Great Thumbprint Drawing Book

It has been snowing or raining at our house for the past two weeks and my children are starting to climb the walls in their anxiety for something to do. We happened to have checked out this book from the library and so today, when it snowed again, we had an activity handy. Ed Emberly takes the thumb and transforms it into a multitude of animals, people, expressions and activities. It’s truly amazing what your thumb can become. My kids created Jedi in battle and pictures of themselves playing with the cat. This art activity entertained but alas the rainy gloom overwhelmed us and we had to do chores too when after the art there was still nothing to do. (Imagine the whine in there.) Still, it did help bring some smiles on a dull day and even my little 5 year old could make his picture match what he wanted out of the book. The art is that simple.

Esio Trot by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Roald Dahl is probably the master for getting children to laugh out loud. This story creates laughter through the explanation of how a man tricks a woman into thinking her turtle is growing larger. He has her speak in “turtle” language, which is really just English backwards. He wants to get to know this woman better because he loves her but she only loves her turtle. Mr. Hoppy goes to the pet store and buys many turtles and then devises a way to pluck his love’s turtle from the balcony below. He has her say the magic words to her turtle and the next day the turtle is larger because her turtle has been replaced by a turtle from the pet store. In the end they find true love and all because of a turtle. This is a simple read for children who are just beginning to read chapter books and while it is not technically a chapter book it is a longer story. The illustrations are quite amusing and add to the humor in the story.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

No Promises in the Wind by Irene Hunt

Sometimes you read a book and it changes you. This is the first book I remember doing that for me. This book is a good challenge for a young reader who reads well. This book weaves the story of a young 15 year old boy who struggles with his father and those struggles only worsen as the depression hits and there is never enough food for an adolescent boy. Josh decides to leave home and his only real asset is his ability to play the piano. His younger, sickly brother decides to leave home with his him despite his brother’s protests. This is a book that hits hard topics, such as death, hunger, abandonment and destitution. Yet, the story also creates the idea that love and family is stronger than anything and if you work hard the challenges can be overcome. I have read this book many times and story gives me new insights each time and I am better for having read it. This story allows for wonderful conversations with your children and crucial conversations early on may save them from harm later.

Your Bones by Terri DeGezelle

Currently I have a broken wrist, which led my children to wonder about bones and how they work. I find that when something interests your children that you should leap at the chance to teach them before the moment passes. We scoured the library for books about bones and this one, written on a very simple level, has allowed the scientists in my children to emerge. The text is simple. There are fun facts on every page. Do you know which bone is the largest or smallest in your body? The pictures help explain the texts. If you have a scientist, I suggest that you engage them by reading fact books instead of just fictional books. A good reader could read this as early as first grade. Your Bones is a research book for a young child and new reader working on a science fair report. I believe they should be able to read the information they are going to teach. The cool thing is that the back of the book contains an experiment a 3 year old could build and places to go for more information. Who wouldn’t want to learn more?

17 Things I’m not allowed to do anymore by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

If you have a child that seems to find their way into wild scrapes then they will laugh out loud as they identify with this child. She seems to find a way to upset everyone. If you get in trouble for walking backwards to school, why not walk forwards to school but then backwards to home? Somewhere there is logic in that kind of thinking and every five year old can relate. The illustrations are fabulous because the girl looks like an every day child. This kind of humor is rare and for making kids laugh at what sometimes feels like the end of the world, being in trouble, it goes a long way to bringing peace to the troublemaker.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lily and the Paper Man by Rebecca Upjohn

I often read aloud to the children in my neighborhood during the summer months because the library cancels story time. We do all sorts of activities and have a wonderful time, usually culminating in a big water party on the last day. I felt last year that we needed to do something more. I challenged the children to save their pennies and donate them. We would be making school kits to donate to other children. By the end of summer we had collected enough money to make 35 school kits. I read the children stories about others who had served. This story is about a girl who is afraid of a homeless man until she starts noticing how cold he is. She asks her mother if she can use her money to buy gloves for the man and then they go through their closets to find items he could use to stay warm. Lily eventually gives the man warmth that cannot be measured as she places the special baby blanket her grandma gave her around his shoulders.

Not a box by Antionette Portis

This book has simple line drawings but the imagination that tags along captures children. This story of a box takes us back to when we ourselves played in a box and it was NOT a box. The favorite toy for children the world over is still a box. That’s because it’s a rocket ship, a pirate ship, a burning house or something else that is simply wonderful. I have found my children pulling this book off the shelf on a regular basis and bringing it to me to read. Imagination is a wonderful thing.

Island of the Skog by Steven Kellogg

Interestingly enough when I saw this book I thought my kids would hate it, but it has since become a favorite leaving the library shelves to come to our house often and in various formats. We first found this book on tape at the library. My kids love to listen to books read in different formats. They love to turn the pages themselves when the bell dings because then they are reading it on their own. This is a story about courage, friendship and adventure. The mice flee the cats to try and find a place they can live in peace. They end up being the torturers in the end and find that a little communication goes a long way. Steven Kellogg is the kind of illustrator to whom kids relate. His pictures draw them in and I believe any story illustrated by him can be read aloud to children. The cassette reader does a fabulous job coming up with different voices for all the characters and it engages the kids. This book also comes just as a book but both versions are worth sharing with your kids.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Monkey Among Us by Dave Horowitz

The simplicity of this book is what makes it pleasurable. Rhyme makes reading aloud a delight. Children love rhyme because it allows them to memorize books. I find it amusing to watch my children pick up a book when they are 3 and “read” the book to a stuffed animal or a sibling. After being read the same story multiple times children are often able to say the words and they love that independence. This book contains few words and the pictures are basic but for read aloud it is great and the straightforwardness of the trick the monkey plays on everyone makes the children smile.

Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle

Eric Carle is a master story teller as proved by the countless readers who have bought and read his books over and over. Eric Carle can illustrate like no other. The simplicity of his pictures combined with the pastel colors that he often uses make his stories peaceful, especially this one that takes place in the sea. The wonder of this book is that children can search through the pictures for hidden animals, essentially playing hide and seek within their book. The overall theme of the book enchants, detailing how important fathers are to their children and as an often neglected subject, fathers are celebrated here. This one on our shelf has been taped as use over time wore the pages down.

I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by David Catrow

We have purchased this book twice due to the fact that it wore out because of incessant use. David Catrow is the most amazing illustrator because of the vivacity of his pictures. The characters written by the author become alive with colors that literally splash the entire page. Every child can identify with this character because all of us have done something we were told not to by our mothers. This book is also one that you can sing or at least read in rhythm. That makes it a perfect read for small children up to older Encountering an audience failing to be spellbound by this book would prove difficult; often the children laugh out loud.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Take it with you!

Once we gain knowledge or humor or anything really from a book we should take it with us and incorporate it into our lives and the world around us. I found after reading the book, Monet and the Impressionists for Kids by Carol Sabbeth, that we found art in everything. As my children and I sat at the Gardens at Thanksgiving Point, we looked to see the flowers, trees and light as Monet did. I asked them during lunch if all the leaves on the tree were the same color. As we looked at one tree we found an array of colors ranging from deep green to a sliver hue cast by the light. Then we wandered through the gardens, finding the Monet garden created there and talked about what we would paint. Perhaps next time we could take our pallets with us and create art there in the garden. The trick is to engage your children and let their imaginations, coupled with knowledge expand their world. Now, I often hear my children talking about colors and light when that thought would never have entered if not for our application of a story.

Monet and the Impressionists for Kids by Carol Sabbeth

Falling in love with art after a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I came home wondering how to teach my children and I more about art. I started scouring the shelves of the library and found this book, which is a jewel. I love the simplicity of the text as it tackles the Impressionist Era, Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, and Georges Seurat. Since it includes pictures of their art on every page the child’s imagination is captured as you read the text to them. I found that studying one artist at a time works best for my kids. The trick is that this book not only teaches you of the artist but also engages the reader by challenging you to be an impressionist. The activities in this book are fabulous in that they mirror an aspect of the impressionist and allow you to create your own art, some of it edible. We loved creating our own Monet garden by planting flowers in a pot to look at, admire and paint at home. We also painted cookies in the style of Seurat by using food coloring. What child wouldn’t love creating art like the masters?

Surviving Hitler by Andrea Warren

Historian by nature and knowing that our past shapes our future, I keep many history books on my shelves. This is one that can be read by excelled young readers and can help shape their views of humanity and the importance of loving each person as an individual. It is the story of boy, Jack Mandelbaum, who at 15 has to find a way to survive on his own when he is torn from his family and thrown into concentration camps. Since the story is true and the difficulties harsh this is one you may really want to read aloud and perhaps not at bedtime. Truth opens the path for discussions that are frank with your children and can be used to remind them of the importance of kindness at school and play with siblings and friends in the attempt to leave the world better than you found it. I am always looking for ways to open the doors of communication with my children and this one opens many topics.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

If I could select a story for every 13 year old girl to read, it would be this book. I love how Stargirl finds her way through those awful years where every teenage girl wonders about her choice of clothing, attitude, friends and path. Stargirl doesn’t let anyone, not even the boy she loves; stand in the way of her doing what she feels is right and good. Honestly, this story made me want to be a Stargirl, someone who goes about doing simple kindness to strangers and friends alike; finding a way to leave the world better than I found it today. Learning to stand alone is difficult and even adults struggle but Stargirl lights our path and shows us a way to accomplish it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Using Song in Reading

I have found that with small children you can engage them more readily if you are using rhyme, rhythm or song. Froggie Went A-Courtin’ by Iza Trapani is a delight for our family not because the story is amazing or powerful but because you sing the story. I have read this book over and over and checked it out from the library so many times I should have purchased it by now. The children love it because when you sing a song it makes it easier to memorize and then they feel like they too can read the book. Little children love song and learn through song and so reading a book that you can sing is a valuable reading tool. Iza Trapani has written many other stories you can sing too, for example The Itsy Bitsy Spider and Row Row Row your boat. Find stories you can sing and your children will sit to listen. It’s a way of holding the attention of those whose attention span rivals that of a gnat.

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks, illustrated by Brock Cole

If I had to select one book to use to start reading aloud with, it would be this book. Innumerable times I have read this book to my children not only at bedtime but when they want something fun read to them. This story captivates their minds and holds on tight. I even find myself becoming lost amongst the characters. Omri, a young boy, receives a gift of a plastic Indian and while he loves plastic figures this one is not very interesting. He also receives an old cupboard from his brother for his birthday. With a key from his mother, these two gifts bring the plastic figure to life and the chaos that ensues brings so much joy and hassle to the boy. Life lessons are learned through the adventures the boy and his plastic or should I say, real Indian have together. Truly though, what child wouldn’t want to have just one of his toys become real?

Travel and Books on Tape

We have found that traveling is much easier if you take a book on tape. You also have a captive audience because they have nowhere else to go. I just make sure that I select books that most of the group will enjoy. They should be full of humor and have an excellent reader. Some of our favorites are books by Eoin Colfer, the Harry Potter Series, Roald Dahl, and The Spiderwick Chronicles. These are all read well, often with someone using different voices for different characters. Still, most any book is good to listen to if you are traveling. Amazingly, while the book is playing you will cease hearing things like "Are we there yet?” or “How much longer?” Then at the end of the day you have not only covered miles but created memories of conjoined laughter.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dirty Bertie by David Roberts

We love this story so much that when someone is being gross we call them “Dirty Bertie”. Bertie in this story behaves in many disgusting ways. He likes to lick lollipops when picked up of the floor, pee in the garden, and especially pick boogers. Along the way, Bertie learns some hard lessons about doing things that are gross. Bertie in the end reverts to good habits, well all except one and that one he just can’t resist! The pictures in this book? Fabulous!

Sector 7 by David Wiesner

Take a trip through the world without using words. If you want to stimulate imagination in kids give them a book without words and let them help you create the story. This book is about a boy who meets a cloud. The cloud takes the boy to the cloud factory and there he helps the clouds find better shapes. There are no words in this book but the illustrations are out of this world! David Wiesner inspires us to see the world in better shape and children thrive on turning the world on its head. This jewel among books should be “read” to every child. Within the pages there is much humor to be discovered as you sit side-by-side navigating this world of fiction with your child.

Jimmy Zangwow’s Out of this World Moon Pie Adventure by Tony DiTerlizzi

When reading aloud you need a story that captures their imagination with awesome words. Zip Pip Kaboodle! This is the cheer that the aliens on Mars give Jimmy when he saves them from the Grimble Grinder. What an adventure! Jimmy’s mom denies him a moon pie because it is too close to dinner time. So, Jimmy leaves and goes to the moon in a contraption he has created himself in search of those coveted Moon Pies. Along the way he comes face to face with the Grimble Grinder and he must find a way back home in time for dinner too. The pictures in this book are fabulous and if the words somehow fail to hold their interest then the pictures will keep them captivated. Take the kids on an adventure with this book.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Teaching History Through Story

I believe in using books to teach about history. A story coupled with pictures goes farther to instill in the minds of children the importance of a subject. I believe we should teach about injustice and it will inspire our children to live against injustice. This book is about Rosa Parks and it speaks not just of her act but the act of the hundreds of African Americans who refused to ride the bus because of the terrible treatment they received. I love history and taught history but until this book I misunderstood the act Rosa Parks inspired. Hundreds of men, women, and children refused to ride the busses and walked. This boycott lasted a year. They walked in rain, snow, and heat. Tired and exhausted from work they walked home. The vocabulary and cadence in this book captures the children’s attention and the pictures hold it. A must read for history lovers and those who want to teach.

Creating Character: Agate by Joy Morgan Dey, illustrated by Nikki Johnson

We are what we read and I believe we can influence children for good if we show them through books strengths we desire them to acquire. One of my favorite story times is when I get to explain to children through stories just how wonderful they truly are. I just found a new book called Agate written by Joy Morgan Dey and illustrated by Nikki Johnson. It’s about a moose that sees his friends as precious jewels but cannot see his own beauty because it is hidden deep inside and needs to be polished to be found. My children loved it. Finding their own color, as it is based on birthstones, became a joy for them. The alligator was a garnet and the lion an emerald. There is power in the colors, drawings and words.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

I just finished reading Peter Pan to my boys ages 8 and 5. I fell in love with the language in this book immediately. It uses a rich vocabulary throughout the text. I thrilled when my oldest son grasped the concept of clapping to keep Tinker Bell alive without my having to explain it to him. Who wouldn’t love a story filled with pirates, flying children, hideouts and fairies? I recommend this as a bedtime read aloud for ages 5-10. Then keep it on your shelf because they will want to read it themselves later. Don’t let the language daunt you from reading it to them because when you read aloud they grasp the subject more easily.