The Gruffalo

A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood.
A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.
“Where are you going to, little brown mouse?
Come and have lunch in my underground house.”

A simple stroll through the deep dark wood quickly becomes a perilous journey for a little brown mouse in Julia Donaldson’s outstanding read-aloud classic, The Gruffalo. Not to worry, however! The protagonist of this thoroughly delightful picture book may be small, but he is daring and clever in the face of danger…even when his story takes an unexpected twist.

As he proceeds on his way, the audacious mouse is invited to lunch with a fox in his den, to have tea with an owl in his treetop house, and to a feast with a snake in his cozy log-pile home. Faced with these unattractive alternatives, what can a little brown mouse do to tactfully avoid becoming someone else’s meal? Ms. Donaldson’s protagonist declines each invitation, confessing to a prior engagement with a formidable creature called a Gruffalo who is due to arrive at any moment, and whose description becomes increasingly fearsome with every encounter. As each would-be host flees in terror, the mouse chuckles to himself…don’t they know? There’s no such thing as a Gruffalo!

Or is there?

When the mouse is unexpectedly confronted with the living, breathing, real-life version of his imaginary beast (who happens to particularly like the taste of mouse!), our little hero promptly turns the tables one more time, and comes out on top.

With the help of Ms. Donaldson’s rhythmic, rhyming prose and with characters brought so humorously to life by Axel Scheffler’s colorful illustrations, this book instantly became a favorite of reader and listener alike in our home. The cover illustration alone was enough to make our youngest pick this book over a stuffed Paddington bear.

As with several of Ms. Donaldson and Mr. Scheffler’s collaborations, The Gruffalo is available in a Scots “translation” for anyone interested in a challenging but entertaining read-aloud – just be sure to bring your best Scottish brogue.

Also, if you enjoy The Gruffalo as much as we do, we heartily recommend the sequel: The Gruffalo’s Child!

The Road Home

‘This road is hard, this road is long,
but we are not alone.
For you are here, and I’m with you,
and so this road is home.’

Among the many wonderful books we read during November this Storybook Year, one in particular stood out to us for its elegant combination of poetic, comforting prose and exquisite watercolor landscapes. Released in the UK on September 8, 2016 “The Road Home” by Katie Cotton with illustrations by Sarah Jacoby is a beautiful meditation on the connection between parent and child which reminds us that no matter how challenging the road to our destination, as long as we are together we are home.

In the book we see woodland animals preparing their young for the approaching winter: the soreness in your wings from the long and tiring flight south to warmer climes, the burning hunger that settles like a stone as you hunt for prey, or the aching in your paws as you gather straw and leaves to build a safe place to rest until spring. Throughout, Ms. Cotton’s rhyming, rhythmic text makes for a particularly pleasing read aloud experience, and her message is a timeless and reassuring one which may be particularly well suited to bed time. Meanwhile, Ms. Jacoby’s muted, dreamlike paintings do an outstanding job of not only conveying the difficulty of the “road ahead” but also the connection between parent and child that makes that road home.

While not yet available in the US (at least at the time of this post), “The Road Home” can be found on Amazon UK or can be acquired at The Book Depository…or through our Instagram giveaway. I think it is a book you that you will treasure and will want to have as part of your collection forever.

Celebrating a Storybook Year – December

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – welcome to December. This month we have a very carefully curated list of our favorite Christmas and winter books to share. Our Christmas picture books are some of our very favorite, and reading them together is the best part of the holidays. We usually wrap our Advent books but this year we decided to just put them in a basket unwrapped so that we can enjoy them over and over again throughout the month.

We have several familiar and heartwarming stories for December, but as with every other month this year we have discovered some brand new favorites as well. We watched papa turn tragedy to joy by re-purposing an apple tree felled by a blizzard in “Apple Tree Christmas” and read about how the spirit of the season can help mend heartache and bring families together in “Holly & Ivy” and “The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey”. We saw kindness repaid with kindness in “Silver Packages”, “The Carpenter’s Gift” and “An Orange for Frankie.” We sat out in the forest drinking hot chocolate and singing Christmas carols with the family in “The Night Tree” and witnessed a miraculous real-life Christmas celebration in the midst of the Great War in “Christmas in the Trenches.” We sang our way through a Winter Wonderland and the Twelve Days of Christmas, fought the fearsome Mouse King in “The Nutcracker”, celebrated Christmas Eve with old friends Frog and Toad, and smiled to see the heart of the Grinch grow a full three sizes on Christmas morning…and that’s not even the half of it.

We have many outstanding selections in our basket this month, but what you see here are those we’ve picked these as our favorites. It wasn’t easy to narrow the list down, but we couldn’t have had more fun trying each book on for size…who knows, some of the books that didn’t make this list may show up at A Storybook Year in 2017.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Celebrating a Storybook Year – November

November, as you might expect, was mostly about celebrating family and giving thanks. However, we weren’t quite finished yet with falling leaves, forests, or pumpkins. How could we be?

We saw Rebecca Estelle make a celebration out of a calamity in “Too many pumpkins” and ran an inspiring pumpkin-laden race from Melbourne to Sydney in “The Pumpkin Runner” We read about feeling thankful and giving thanks – for friends, for family, for simple joys – in wonderful and warm-hearted books like “Bear Says Thanks”, “A Hat for Mrs. Goldman”, “Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed”, “Thankful” and “The Secret of Saying Thanks.”

We celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday along with “Goody O’Grumpity, “A Cranberry Thanksgiving”, “Sharing the Bread”, and “The Memory Cupboard”…and we were caught off guard by a whimsical and thoroughly delightful twist on the holiday in “Turkey for Thanksgiving”. We also learned a bit more about the history of the holiday – not the story of the pilgrims, but more recent developments. We read “Thank you, Sarah” about Sarah Josepha Hale whose tireless efforts over five presidential administrations eventually convinced Abraham Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday, and “Balloons Over Broadway” about how puppeteer Tony Sarg’s helium balloons forever changed the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

There were other notable selection this month as well, as there always are. There was “Passing the Music Down” about preserving Appalachian folk music traditions (based on the lives of fiddlers Melvin Wine and Jake Krack), “Strictly No Elephants” – a charming story about celebrating differences, and “Before Morning” which is a sweet and comforting story about a mother and airline pilot who gets a free weekend home with her family because of a surprise snow storm.

As we worked our way through the month, we were also reminded by author and illustrator Jim LaMarche that “Winter is Coming”. And on that note, we look ahead to December…


Celebrating a Storybook Year – October

October was about harvest time, woodland animals, and falling leaves at a Storybook Year. We had a plethora of pumpkins with “Strega Nona’s Harvest”, “County Fair”, “Pumpkin Moonshine”, and “The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything” – which was a particularly entertaining read aloud with plenty of repetition, onomatopoeia, and chutzpah. We also traveled the countryside planting trees with Johnny Appleseed, in two different and equally entertaining versions of his story.

We visited “A House in the Woods” and waited anxiously with “Owl Babies” for their mother’s return, saw the nighttime forest come alive as we flew through “Little Owl’s Night”, and read about friendship and patience in another touching collaboration from Phillip and Erin Stead, “Bear Has a Story to Tell”.  There were plenty of moose to go around this month, and there was a particularly popular (in our house) little toad whose ingenuity and perseverance saved her mother and brothers from an uncertain fate in “Teeny Tiny Toadie”.

We were reminded of the timeless appeal of classics like “Harold and the Purple Crayon”, Margaret and H.A. Rey’s “Pretzel”, and Don Freeman’s “Earl the Squirrel”, and in “Penguin Problems” we were (humorously) introduced to the idea that penguins are individuals and it may be that not all of them are necessarily jazzed about their lot in life.

By the end of the month we could tell that fall was here in earnest, and the holiday season was upon us…onward to November!


Celebrating a Storybook Year – September

Goodbye summer and hello autumn! September started out being all about balloons – and why not? Frankly, as popular as balloons are in this house, it’s surprising it took us this long to get around to them. It made for some colorful – and inspirational – reading. We chased a Red Balloon, read about dealing with loss in “my Yellow Balloon”, tried to track down a Monkey Balloon, and learned how to balloon-proof a hedgehog from Percy the Park Keeper. We went on fantastical adventures with Sebastian and his balloon, took a high-altitude joy ride with a load of barnyard animals in “Hot Air” (the “mostly true” story of the first hot air balloon ride), and discovered one possible answer to the timeless question “Where do Balloons Go?”. We were also reminded that we can find happiness in the little things (like colorful balloons) with “Pass it On.”

Balloons weren’t the only things soaring this month, though. We soared with inspiration in “The Darkest Dark” about Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, and “Fearless Flyer” which introduced us to daring pilot Ruth Law, whose exploits preceded Amelia Earhart by a generation. Then we soared with laughter along with Piggie and Elephant (twice!), Skippyjohn Jones (a long-time read-aloud favorite), the Gruffalo and his child, Elwood Bigfoot, and Ada Twist, Scientist (whose brother really needs to wash his socks).

As usual, we also discovered a number of beautifully illustrated, sweet and touching books to fill out the month – including discovering the joy of friendship in “The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles”, and finding comfort and reassurance in “You Belong Here” and “The Moon Inside”.



Celebrating a Storybook Year – August

We began the month of August with a night sky theme in mind. We read about the “Starry Messenger” Galileo Galilei, learned about the origins of Carl Sagan’s fascination with space in “Star Stuff”, and discovered a way to keep a star in your pocket for days when you don’t feel so shiny in Mary Lyn Ray’s “Stars”. We chased fireflies through the yard, soared into the night sky with a little girl who was determined to show the world she could fly, and went on an enchanting bed time journey in “The House in the Night”. We even found stars in places we didn’t expect, like on the cover of the book “The Wall” about growing up behind the Iron Curtain, or on the bellies of Dr. Seuss’ Sneetches.

Of course, there was plenty of other fun to go around this month. There were Morris Lessmore’s flying books, and historical tales about the Silk Road and the Nashua River. We took a timeless and familiar journey to Portsmouth Market with the Oxcart Man, and discovered a new and heartwarming journey on a “Train to Somewhere.” We ventured to London from darkest Peru, and our old friend Lentil reminded us that if we play the harmonica in the bathtub, the sound is improved 100 percent!

Taken as a whole, maybe you could call August our “Time of Wonder”, borrowing the title of an old favorite from Robert McCloskey about a family’s summer in Maine. I think that fits.

Celebrating a Storybook Year – July

In July we had a few more (literary) trips to the seashore, and we enjoyed some old favorites all over again. However, with Independence Day on the 4th, this month was mostly about history…especially the history of our country’s founding.

We read about the American revolution, the Declaration of Independence, our constitution, and our national anthem. We traveled around the country to find the ingredients for a cherry pie, crossed the great plains in a Conestoga wagon, went on an adventure in the Wild West, and delivered books to poor families in Depression-era Appalachia. We also met a boatload of fascinating women from American history, including some we might not otherwise have thought of, like Lizzie Murphy the “Queen of Baseball”, bicyclist Tillie “The Terrible Swede” Anderson, and modernist photographer Imogen Cunningham.

Meanwhile, the piles of amazing new books were overflowing our bookshelves and continuing to grow around us…

Celebrating a Storybook Year – June

June brought us the first days of summer and so we headed for the beach…figuratively, at least. We explored beach, ocean and sea creature themes in our books this month. We met Jacques Cousteau (the “Manfish”), Marie Tharp (the woman who first mapped the ocean floor), and plenty of other fascinating real life and imaginary characters. We also enjoyed a week of cute and funny books about Fathers’ Day, complete with bear hugs and goofy dad humor.

All-in-all it was a breezy, warm, and engaging month of reading in keeping with the summer season.

Celebrating a Storybook Year – May

After April Showers come…May flowers! For May we read more books about rain and the water cycle, but added in books on seeds, plants and flowers. We found several wonderful books for Mothers’ Day – some touching, some amusing, all great for read-aloud! We also read a powerful and poignant book for Memorial Day.

may2As you might imagine, given the subject matter, we found some beautifully illustrated selections this month. It’s fun to look at the collage and think about all the amazing books we have uncovered – or rediscovered – this year.

But I digress…we have seven more months to go!