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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Day 237: The Book With No Pictures

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Day 236: Fancy Nancy

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

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

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


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Day 235: Animalogy - Animal Analogies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Day 234: Owl Babies

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

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

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Day 233: The Salamander Room

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

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

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

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

    "He will miss his friends in the forest."

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Day 232: Animal Infographics

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

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

Source: PBS Nature

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

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

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

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Day 231: Sophie Scott Goes South

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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