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.