Story time is the best time of the day. Whether we're snuggled up on the couch or cozy in our pjs before bed, reading stories with my little ones is one of my favorite things to do. Everyone has a favorite book they remember from their childhood, and every day, parents and kids are discovering new classics of their own. There are many fabulous children's books out there, some of which everyone knows about and others we would have never discovered had my son not simply pulled a random book off a library shelf. I created this blog to share some of these wonderful stories with you. Think of it as a year's worth of the best children's books around, since no day should be without a great story. In the end, I hope we'll all have discovered at least a few new titles that will have made their way onto our list of family favorites. Enjoy!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Day 234: Owl Babies

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

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

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Day 233: The Salamander Room

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

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

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

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

    "He will miss his friends in the forest."

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Day 232: Animal Infographics

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

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

Source: PBS Nature

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

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

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

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Day 231: Sophie Scott Goes South

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A very Happy Father's Day post

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

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

Thanks Angela, and enjoy, everyone!

~ Lauren

Our Featured Friend: A Perfect Father’s Day
Written by Eve Bunting, Illustrated by Susan Meddaugh
With Father’s Day coming on Sunday, you may be in the midst of planning what to do for dad. This cute book puts a twist on the selection of events for the day. Another fitting title for this book may be, “Daughter’s Day Out on Father’s Day”! The story captures the special relationship that can exist between Fathers and their children, and how a Dad’s attention, perspective and love make all the difference.
Introducing Susie and Dad and their “Perfect Father’s Day:
Father’s Day Morning: Susie, Daddy’s little girl, sneaks up on him while he’s resting in his chair after reading his morning paper. She has a day planned out for dad, beginning with lunch . . . at her favorite place.
” ‘This is your favorite food, isn’t it, Dad?’ she asked.
‘Sure is,’ Dad said. ‘May I pay?’
‘Certainly,’ Susie said.”
Next she takes him to the duck pond, where dad buys Susie food for the ducks.
Then off to the park, where dad pushes her on the swings, climbs the monkey bars, and pays for her to ride the merry-go-round. Susie suggests a red balloon for a gift, so dad buys two, one for Susie and one to take home to mom.
” ‘Are you having a good Father’s Day, so far?’ Susie asked.
Dad smiled. ‘Perfect’.”
They make it home for dinner with Mom, and enjoy her homemade Father’s Day cake with four candles on it, one for each year he has been Susie’s Dad.
Susie is quite proud to tell her mom all about their day out doing  all of Dad’s favorite things and going to Dad’s favorite places“! Dad closes the day with a hug.
Inviting You To Become Friends with “A Perfect Father’s Day”
Feel, RelateImagineExploreNavigateDevelopShare
From the 7 suggestions, select the ones that will help your kids decide what their dad, grandfather, or the “father-figure” in their lives will enjoy this Father’s Day.
F- What will make your dad feel loved and special this Father’s Day?
R- Which activity from this story can you most relate to doing with your dad?
I- Imagine that you could plan a day for Dad doing anything you wanted to do with him. What would you plan?
E- Explore some cool cards to make for dad: (Featured on Happy Hooligans)
N- Navigate your Father’s Day plans for Dad by making a map of where you are going to take him or by creating a treasure map with clues leading to his gift.
D- Develop another page in the book by adding an activity for Susie and her Dad to do together.
S- Share the greatest gift with you dad on Father’s Day, LOVE.
*Eve Bunting also wrote The Mother’s Day Mice that I featured for Mother’s Day. Her 2 books are a great pair to buy to celebrate these 2 special days!
Susie & Dad On Their Day Out:
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2014-06-11 11.05.18

2014-06-11 11.03.22

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Day 230: Hug

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

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

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

Monday, June 2, 2014

Summer Reading Resources

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

Summer Reading Book Lists and Activity Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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