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Your Storybook Suggestions
Category Archives: Rhyming
Day 62 of our Storybook Year fell on Dr. Seuss’ birthday; he would have been 112 years old yesterday. In his honor, we had a monstrous pile of Seuss books ready to go; it was actually fairly impressive how many of his books we already had on our shelves, but we supplemented with a trip to the bookstore as well. We read “Green Eggs and Ham”, “Ten Apples Up on Top”, “Too Many Daves” (from “The Sneetches”) and “The Cat in the Hat” – which we were able to find in a bilingual edition (“El Gato Ensombrerado”!). We also read “Fox in Sox” back on day 28, and I am sure we will be seeing the good Doctor again at some point (or at several points) during our Storybook Year.
Nothing I can say in one blog post is going to entirely do justice to Dr. Seuss; there were doubtless thousands upon thousands of better, more thoughtful, and more complete tributes to his impact on children’s literature published yesterday. I will simply say “Happy Birthday” to one of the most prolific and talented storybook writers and illustrators of all time, and “Thank You.”
Our read-aloud book this evening, “Dig!” by husband-and-wife team Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemensha, is a great book for beginning readers. The book stars Mr. Rally, his backhoe, and his dog, Lightning. Mr. Rally and Lightning love to dig – which is a good thing, because that’s their job. They start off the day with five big jobs to do: a bridge on a ridge, a drain for the rain, a load on the road, a pool for the school, and a zoo all brand new – and end the day by continuing to dig…in their own garden at home.
There are several characteristics of “Dig!” that help to engage little listeners. The pages are filled with simple but playful illustrations that have thick, black outlines and a muted earth-tone color scheme in keeping with the subject matter – and within each picture you can have fun trying to spot Lightning, who finds a new bone at each job site. The prose is occasionally rhyming (see the names of each job above), and there is a rhythm and repetition which is great for aspiring readers and for read-aloud narrators alike. And, of course, we can’t forget the undeniable allure of construction equipment for young boys and girls alike! We have two girls, and both have gone through stages where they have been fascinated with construction equipment – a fact which probably contributed to the popularity of this book in our house; there were days with our youngest where we were asked to read this book over and over again.
“Water Can Be…” by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Violeta Dabija is a poetic paean to what may be our most essential natural resource. Ms. Salas’ rhyming prose is sparse but in the flow of the book it is also soothing, and through it she manages to impart quite a bit of information about all the ways in which we use, or see, or benefit from water. As the book moves from season to season, we are shown how water can be a “thirst quencher,” a “kid drencher,” a “cloud fluffer,” and a “fire snuffer,” among other things.
Adding to the comforting feeling of the book are Ms. Dabija’s dreamy illustrations, which fill each page with color and often make the reader feel as though she is viewing the scene through a watery mist. The scenes laid out on each page are wonderful sources for interaction, as you can discuss with younger children how it is that water is playing a role in each picture (why do you think water is a “decorator” in this picture?…a “ship breaker” in this picture?).
As anyone who follows our blog knows, we are fans of picture books that can blend entertainment with information about how the real world around us works. Ms. Salas’ book certainly fits that bill. We especially like the pages at the end of the book (“more about water”) that provide further explanation for each of the illustrations – for example, talking about how the water that forms snow can be a “woodchuck warmer” by providing a soft blanket to cover his burrow and keep out the cold air as he hibernates. There is also a glossary of water-related terms, and some suggested “further reading”.
Ms. Salas actually has quite a few picture books about nature, including “A Leaf Can Be…” and “A Rock Can Be…”. For anyone interested in hearing more about her work from the author herself, we suggest checking out her upcoming online Author Event in March, hosted by Read Aloud Revival. They do a great job with these events, as we have mentioned here before when discussing Jonathan Bean and Anne Ursu.
“I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love” is one of many tremendously popular picture books by author and illustrator Nancy Tillman – books which stress the uniqueness of each individual child and how much each individual child is loved. It is a theme that resonates with parent and child alike – an observation supported by the multitude of positive reviews for her work.
We have read several of Ms. Tillman’s stories ourselves, and I think it is safe to say that “I’d Know You Anywhere…” is our favorite. The rhyming prose is narrated by a mother telling her child that no matter how many different animals he might choose to be, she will always be able to recognize him by some unique characteristic that will give him away (the gleam in his eyes, his grin, the way he moves). The book appeals to children on at least two levels that I can see. First, pretending to be an animal is a well-loved pastime for children everywhere; our oldest went through stages where she wanted to be, variously, a dog, a wolf, a deer, or a dinosaur (specifically a “diplodocus”, as I was just reminded). Second, the book reminds young children of the magical connection between themselves and their mother: no matter where you are or how you are disguised, mommy will always be able to find you and will always love you.
The book tends toward the syrupy, which is not my usual preference. However, this book still works for me – for the reasons discussed above and because of the vibrant and playful illustrations, each of which spans two pages. Ms. Tillman’s renderings include a bear cub riding a bicycle, a raccoon caught in a candid moment playing with his feet, a blue-footed booby dancing on the beach, and a giraffe doling out a kiss – and in each painting you can find mom somewhere sporting a splash of red. The artwork facilitates engagement, as you can ask what each of the animals might be thinking, and where mom might be in the picture. Another potentially valuable conversation that the book invites is a discussion of your child’s unique characteristics – personality traits, behaviors, etc. – by which you would be able to recognize him or her when in disguise…or, conversely, what characteristics do your children think you would recognize? For our oldest, a kind heart and a passionate soul would shine through any disguise, and for our youngest it would be an irresistible affection and a mischievous twinkle in her eye that would give her away.
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.
Every now and then I run into a storybook that causes me to step back and wonder how, exactly, the author got to this point. Equal parts silliness and outright absurdity, seasoned with a dash of gross-out, “My Little Sister Hugged an Ape” falls into this perplexing category. In the book, the little sister of the title is enthusiastically – even recklessly – hugging her way through the alphabet in rhyming fashion. Along the way, she has a bug crawl up her nose, she inadvertently squeezes milk in her face while hugging a cow, an eel hangs from her nose “like a big glob of snot”, a newt crawls in her mouth, and a moose’s rear end falls off while she is hugging his neck. You see what I mean?
The rhymes do make it fun to read (and listen to), and the illustrations are colorful, goofy and appropriately hyperbolic. When she was younger, our oldest was a big fan of this book – which we checked out from the library multiple times. Our youngest now does not seem quite as enthralled. I think this book is an acquired taste…and I mean that in only the best way possible (bless it’s heart).
Less a storybook than it is a collection of short poems, “Rumble in the Jungle” by Giles Andreae is a fabulous read-aloud selection. There are poems about snakes, zebras, giraffes, leopards, elephants, and many other jungle animals – each one with just the right amount of silly: elephants are “big and fat and round” and “just elephing around”…the zebra has “stripes, which his lady friend likes”, and the crocodile enjoys watching the animals at the river “for a minute or two” and “can’t resist chomping a few”.
The pages in the paperback version we have were large enough to allow everyone to get a good look at the colorful illustrations, even from a distance. Switching from one animal to another on each page also presented the opportunity to use a variety of silly voices, something which I think helped to keep our youngest listener (and our reader) fully engaged.
You can take the piggy out of the middle of the muddy little puddle, but you can’t take the muddy little puddle out of the piggy. At least, that’s what we learned from “The Piggy in the Puddle” by Charlotte Pomerantz.
We originally flagged this book for Global Belly Laugh Day – but didn’t obtain a copy in time. We’re very glad we inserted it in our 365 list, though. It was ooooooh so fun to read:
- See the piggy
- See the puddle
- See the muddy little puddle
- See the piggy in the middle
- Of the muddy little puddle
- See her dawdle, see her diddle
- In the muddy, muddy middle.
- See her waddle, plump and little,
- In the very merry middle.
You see what I mean? And that’s just the first page! It’s a veritable party for your mouth.
After gleefully diving in, the little piggy is scolded by her mother, father, and brother about getting in the “muddy little puddle”…but one-by-one they each give in to their base urges and join her:
- So they all dove way down derry
- And were very, very merry.
And so shall you be – if you dare to add this book to YOUR read-aloud list.
We enjoy reading Sally Sutton’s construction-themed books. We first discovered her with the book “Road Work” which our youngest wanted to read over and over again. Similar to “Road Work” and “Demolition” (our Day 9 book), “Construction”is a rhyming book with a pleasing rhythm that uses onomatopoeia as a sort of exclamation point to end each page.
Storybook time was really gratifying tonight, because our youngest was help rapt by the book; she stared intently at each page. And after all the construction was finished? They had built a library! Especially appropriate – not only because the book is part of our read-aloud project, but because tonight was a library night!
Our Day 9 book, “Demolition” by Sally Sutton, is another rhyming book with a catchy hook; every rhyme ends with a three-word onomatopoeia for the activity taking place on the page. “Demolition” is actually one of three construction books by Sally Sutton – all of which follow the same rhyme-scheme and rhythm. Her storybook “Road Work” was a favorite of our youngest for a while. The title of tonight’s book was a little bit deceptive (but not in a bad way) – Ms. Sutton does show construction equipment tearing down a building, but her book is almost as much about recycling materials and building something new as it is about tearing things down.
In our extended read aloud time we began “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. Honestly, while Tom Sawyer was a fun read, we really read that book so that we could read this one. The first chapter of “Huckleberry Finn” is a continuation of the last chapter of Tom Sawyer – except that while “Tom Sawyer” was told from a third-person point of view (Mark Twain narrating), “Huckleberry Finn” is narrated in the first person by Huck himself. This evening, we met a new and thoroughly unpleasant character in the world of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn: Huck’s good-for-nothing father. Huck’s father is an abusive alcoholic who, while unsuccessful in wresting Huck’s fortune away for himself, has now kidnapped Huck and is holding him prisoner in a cabin several miles up the river from town. We have also met the other major character in the book – besides Huck: Jim, an adult slave who lives in Huck’s town, and who will be spending much of the book travelling along the Mississippi river with Huck.
We can already tell that “Huckleberry Finn” will present some challenges for read-aloud. The first is that the first-person perspective means that I am reading in a southern accent through the entire book – both narration and dialogue. The second, and perhaps more challenging, is the increased frequency of the “n” word. This word, while an accurate representation of how people talked in the antebellum South, is jarring to say and hear; I will admit to having inserted alternate phrasing several times already. However, one of the reasons we like to read aloud as a family is so that we can talk together about some of the heavier subjects that come up in good books. Tom Sawyer spurred a discussion about the death penalty last night, and I am sure Huckleberry Finn will present an invitation to discuss slavery and racism – even if I continue to make substitutions for that particular word.