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Your Storybook Suggestions
Monthly Archives: February 2016
I was always a big fan of lovable, furry old Grover when I was a kid – the flailing arms, the frantic behavior, the goofy voice, his breathless performance of “Upstairs, Downstairs” (on “Monsterpiece Theater – hosted by “Alistair Cookie”), and his fearless crash landings as “Super Grover”. He is also the star of my favorite Golden Book of all time, which we read together tonight: “The Monster at the End of this Book” by Jon Stone.
The plot of this simple but brilliant piece of literature centers on the fact that Grover has read the title and is terrified of meeting the monster at the end of the book. With each turn of the page, the reader, and Grover, get closer to meeting the monster…and Grover becomes increasingly hysterical. He begs and pleads, and even attempts to physically bar the reader from continuing by “nailing” pages together and building a brick wall. Alas, all of his efforts are to no avail, and at last he comes to the end of the book and discovers…well, I guess you have to read it yourself to see!
I love this book, although reading it aloud can result in coughing fits if you actually try to read it as Grover; I did that for a few pages tonight and was rewarded with some priceless giggles. The book invites interaction as Grover pleads with the reader (“should we stop reading now?”…”do you want to go on?”) or erects obstacles (“are you strong enough to turn the page?”…”can you help me, this page is really heavy”). If you read the reviews at Amazon you will find several that talk about the deeper meaning of the book – post-modern angst, we have seen the enemy and it is us, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – but for me it’s just flat-out fun to read and it always makes me laugh. If you find a deeper meaning that resonates with you amid the laughter, so much the better.
Tonight’s book – “Harry the Dirty Dog” by Gene Zion – has been a hit with both of our girls; it never seems to get old. The story and illustrations make it easy to engage young listeners as you follow Harry on his escapades: “can you find Harry playing in this picture?”, “what on earth is Harry doing now?”, “what do you think these people are saying to themselves as they watch such a dirty dog pass by?”, “how do you think Harry feels as he walks by the restaurant with the ‘No Dogs’ sign?”. I also think Harry’s plight – having fun getting dirty and not wanting to take a bath – resonates with young listeners.
From our Favorites page:
Originally published in 1956, Harry the Dirty Dog is about the adventures of a family dog who hides the scrubbing brush and then runs away in order to avoid being given a bath. On his adventure, Harry takes part in a series of increasingly dirty activities, and eventually gets so dirty that he turns from a white dog with black spots into a black dog with white spots. Tired and hungry, Harry decides to return home – but he is so dirty his family doesn’t recognize him! Harry tries all of his old tricks – flip-flopping, flop-flipping, rolling over, playing dead – but his family still doesn’t realize it’s their lost dog Harry. In the end, it’s a brand new “trick” that saves the day for Harry. Dejected and seemingly resigned to his fate, Harry has an epiphany, digs up the scrubbing brush from its hiding place, and asks for a bath! I guess old dogs can learn new tricks.
Aided by the magic of a soapy bath (“It’s Harry! It’s Harry! It’s Harry!”) our canine hero is back home with the family who loves him. However, we’re not sure what lesson Harry has learned as he snuggles in to his bed and dreams of how much fun he had getting dirty. We have enjoyed discussing the ending with our kids, and you may with your kids as well: “why do YOU think the scrubbing brush was hidden under his bed?”
We are big fans of Robert McCloskey. Several of the books on our favorites list are McCloskey books, including tonight’s selection: “One Morning in Maine”. In fact, this story about Sal and her loose tooth may be tops on my McCloskey list – not just because of his always-excellent illustrations but for the way in which he lets us in on the inner workings of a little girl’s mind – as we have noted on our Favorites page. Since reading the book tonight, inspired by Sal, our youngest has continued to regale us with questions about which animals do or don’t have teeth (…”do loons have teeth, mama?”…”do seals have teeth?”)
We first discovered this magnificent and magical picture book many years ago when looking for reality-based stories we could read with our first daughter. We have read it countless times since then. Whether you are looking for a reality-based story, a story that conveys a sense of wonder, or simply a book with beautiful artwork, “One Morning in Maine” is an excellent choice, and a book any family with young children should have in their home library.
We encountered Curious George again this evening. Guess what? He is still a good little monkey, and he is still very curious, and the man with the yellow hat is still an absentee “parent”. George is left to his own devices until the very end by which time George’s mischief has already been put right. In our story tonight, George’s mischief starts with getting overly excited at all the amazing books available to him at the local library, and ends with him crashing a library cart full of books.
In all seriousness, “Curious George and the Library” may be just as formulaic as any other Curious George book, but it’s a formula that works. Also, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone familiar with this blog, this story holds particular interest for us. Our entire family identified with George’s sense of wonder at all the different kinds of books available to be checked out from the local library. It’s a giant (free!!) toy store for readers – the library, that is. Our downtown library is one of our favorite places. It really is amazing. But I digress…
I think this is our favorite Curious George story; our youngest went through a stage recently where she wanted to hear this story over and over again. This is also one of the bilingual books in our library; we have cited the advantages of these books previously, including Day 44 – Are You My Mother. Personally, if I were George, I’d go by my Spanish name all the time. I ask you: would you rather be “Curious George” or “Jorge el curioso”? It’s a rhetorical question. I already know the answer.
Like many parents, we began to focus more on healthy eating after the birth of our first child. Unfortunately, at the same time we noticed that junk food played a role (sometimes the primary role) in many of the board books and story books we found to read together, and we became interested in finding books that would help to normalize the idea of eating fresh, healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. Tonight’s book was one we discovered back then and have kept in our collection ever since.
“The Fruit Bowl/Vegetable Soup” by Dianne Warren and Susan Smith Jones is a two-for-one collection of short poems about fruits and vegetables. I say two-for-one because it really is two books bound together in one volume; “The Fruit Bowl” begins on one side and ends near the middle of the book – at which point you can flip the book around and read “Vegetable Soup” from the other side back toward the middle as well. Both collections of poems are alphabetized – “Vegetable Soup” actually walks through the entire alphabet – and the poems are frequently filled with alliteration (which can be helpful for beginning readers as well).
What we particularly like about this book is that it is a simple introduction to all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables in a format that is attractive to young children. It is not preachy, nor does it push or denigrate any particular dietary choice. I also recommend perusing the “To The Reader” page in the middle of the book before reading aloud. In this section, the authors provide some insight into the time and care they took putting this book together – time and care intended to help make the book more interactive. They suggest opportunities for discussion (e.g., “Broccoli begins with “B”, can you think of any other fruits or vegetables that begin with “B”?, or “How many peas can we count in this pod?”), and point out the extra details provided in the illustrations on each page (e.g., the pictures in the margins of “The Fruit Bowl” show the growth cycle for the fruit in question).
I will admit that the illustrations on the cover of the book don’t look quite as polished as some children’s fare, but the drawings and poems in the book caught the attention of our youngest, and we think it is a worthy addition to our 365 storybook reading list.
Disclaimer: please note that, the importance of healthy eating notwithstanding, we do have plans to enjoy Chocolate Mint Day to its fullest this Friday. We hope you do too.
Our holiday bundle for Presidents’ Day included three books about George Washington that we really enjoyed. All three included varying degrees of detail regarding the life of our first president, and all of them provided that detail in a way that was easy to follow and accessible to young listeners.
Our favorite was “A Picture Book of George Washington” by David Adler, and illustrated by John & Alexandra Wallner. The book spans George’s entire life from his birth on February 22, 1732 to his death in 1799, discussing key events and developments that are important to understanding who he was and why he was such an important historical figure. The brief but informative text is nicely complimented by the colorful and inviting illustrations, each of which covers two full pages in the book. Mr. Adler actually has several “A Picture Book of…” biographies – one of which we “watched” being read on Reading Rainbow for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and one of which we wanted to have for Lincoln’s birthday but could not find at the local library in time. I expect we will be reading his work again, particularly if we can find some more books where he is paired with these illustrators.
“George Washington” by Wil Mara was more of a textbook that our first selection – but once again geared toward very young readers. Of our three Washington books, “George Washington” included the most historical information – with call-outs and “fast fact” bubbles to supplement the text on every page. The book is also built for small hands – just the kind of book that invites aspiring readers to sit and flip through it on their own if it is left within reach.
One key concept which was hinted at but not called out explicitly here or in Mr. Adler’s book was just how important George Washington’s standards of leadership and character while president were to the development and sustainability of our fledgling nation; had he been anyone other than who he was, the United States may never have survived in its current form. However, I can not find fault with either book on this score – that concept, which incorporates some opinion as well as fact, may be added in if the reader believes it is appropriate. I would not have changed the way either book went about telling their stories.
Our third book about “the father of our nation” was more whimsical than the non-fiction works above. It was also a tad unsettling for those of us with tooth issues. “George Washington’s Teeth” by Deborah Chandra & Madeleine Comora is a rhyming book about George’s famously fake teeth. The rhyming text makes the book particularly attractive for read aloud, and Brock Cole’s watercolor illustrations are full of interest and not a little comedy (look closely at all the funny facial expressions). The authors walk through key events in George’s adult life, events with which many of us are already familiar – or should be after reading our first two books – but which now take on additional depth and color as we see George losing teeth and suffering through toothaches…until at last he is toothless. Fortunately, his dentist saves the day with a mouth full of false teeth made of ivory (I had always thought they were wooden myself!)
Hope your Presidents’ Day was a happy one one. See you tomorrow!
It was Valentine’s Day today! How appropriate that out of our sizable bundle of holiday books we found so many to love (check out our Instagram page here and here)! We enjoyed all of our books this evening, but in the end there were four that we felt compelled to list here, starting with everyone’s favorite: “Valentine” by Carol Carrick.
“Valentine” tells the story of a very special Valentine’s Day experience for little Heather, who lives on a farm with her mama and grandma. After unsuccessfully pleading with her mama to stay home from work for the holiday, Heather makes Valentine cookies with grandma, including a heart-shaped cookie just for mama. The real adventure begins, however, when Heather and grandma go out to check on grandma’s favorite sheep, Clover, who has just given birth to three baby lambs, one of which is only barely alive. Heather and grandma work diligently to revive the little lamb, and by the time mama gets home the little lamb is safe and resting by the fire and Heather has christened him “Valentine”. We all loved this book with it’s heartwarming story and joyful watercolor illustrations. We thought it was particularly cute how Heather is cared for by her grandma while her mama is busy at work, and that she in turn cares for the little lamb whose own mother is too busy with two other newborns to give him the special attention he needs. It also reminded us of some of the James Herriot stories that are already on our Favorites list.
Our second book, “I Like You” by Sandol Stoddard Warburg, is a tribute to deep and abiding friendship. It is a very funny little book, its pages filled with whimsical illustrations. Each little vignette looks at the connection between friends from a slightly different angle, some of the which sound nonsensical at first, but all of which ring true. Although a very different type of book from “Valentine”, “I Like You” is heartfelt in its own way, and every single page made us smile.
The other two books tonight that we particularly liked were “Hug Time” by Patrick McDonnell, and “The Very Special Valentine” by Maggie Kneen. “Hug Time” is a spare but charming little story with rhyming prose and adorable illustrations about a little cat named Jules who is trying the make the world a better place by hugging everyone. We liked “The Very Special Valentine” because it was interactive – with sparkly inserts and flaps to pull back as Bunny Gray searches for the perfect Valentine.
All in all it was a pretty special Valentine’s Day around our house, I hope the same is true for you.
“Are You My Mother?” by P.D. Eastman is an old standby and was quite popular with our oldest when she was a little girl. When we pulled that title from the envelope tonight, we were reminded of a happy byproduct of our 365 project – it has prompted us to hunt down some of our old favorites, so that we can share them all over again.
Just like her sister before her, our youngest was enthralled by this story of a newborn bird who, upon hatching from his egg in an empty nest, embarks on a quest to find his mother. The text presents multiple invitations to interact with the listeners as the little bird stops to question a kitten, a chicken, a dog, a cow, and even himself as he passes an old car…”Could that…be his mother?” Eventually, he lands on an excavator which, to the delight of young and old alike, he refers to as a “snort”. The “snort” deposits him safely back in his nest, just in time for his mother to return with his first meal. Our youngest was visibly happy for our fine feathered hero when he finally found his mother; she asked to read it again, and then just took the book and started “reading” it herself.
The version we shared tonight was bilingual – written in English and Spanish. We have quite a few of these books around the house, and have found that they have a shelf life several years longer than the English-only version. They are great for young learners as they take a familiar story and put the English and Spanish words right next to each other – it’s a welcoming, familiar way to practice a new language.
Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday – and in his honor we had a holiday bundle tonight: three books about the life of our sixteenth president. Of the three, the consensus favorite was “Abe Lincoln – the Boy Who Loved Books” by Kay Winters. The stories in each book overlapped each other to a certain extent, and all were full of anecdotes about “Honest Abe”. The thing that took the day for Ms. Winters’ storybook was the illustrations – which were quaint and colorful oil paintings in an old-fashioned style. It also had the biggest pages of our three books tonight, which made it easier to share the illustrations with everyone around the table.
Each selection this evening was geared toward a younger audience – with the focus on Abe’s childhood and formative years. Each emphasized the importance of books in his life, talked about how Abe was mostly self-taught (he only attended school for one year!), and how he was awakened as a young man to the evils of slavery. Our favorite book did not discuss the Civil War, although that subject was covered, however briefly, in our other two books. None mentioned his assassination by John Wilkes Booth, but all three stressed how he understood and harnessed the power of words to inspire people in his time, and still today.
The other two books this evening, while not favorites, are still worth checking out – and we will be reading them again:
- “I Am Abraham Lincoln” by Brad Meltzer is one of many biographies for children by this author. The book’s size makes it just right for smaller hands and the narrative is simple and direct. These facts along with illustrations – reminiscent of Calvin & Hobbes – which portray the subject as a small boy throughout may make this storybook particularly attractive to little ones…if they can get past Abe Lincoln presented as a toddler with a beard.
- “My Best Friend, Abe Lincoln” by Robert L. Bloch provides an account of many of the same events covered in tonight’s other storybooks, but the story is told from the point of view of a fictional best friend. It was a different sort of angle, and the idea of being best friends with a young Abe Lincoln may be compelling to some readers or listeners. We enjoyed the change of pace…and our little one has asked to read this particular book several times now.
Bill Peet’s “Huge Harold” starts out as a very small rabbit with feet that are two times too big for a rabbit of his size – a “sign” says his father, that Harold will grow to “great height”…and boy, does he! Based on the illustrations, Harold appears to be all of ten feet tall and about as awkward as can be. Now, it ain’t easy for a rabbit of this size to hide out…from hungry predators or from well-armed farmers. However, in the end, Harold finds his true calling as a carriage horse – and eventually champion trotter – in the stables of the kind Orville B. Croft.
Although it took a few pages, our youngest did eventually get sucked into the story. Your friendly neighborhood narrator was into it from page one, but I’m a sucker for Bill Peet books – especially the ones that rhyme. We didn’t love seeing the gun-toting farmers in a children’s book (there are a few in the Whingdingdilly as well), but only one of the farmers actually takes a shot at Harold – and the rest of the book, including the ending, is entertaining and heartwarming enough to get past it.