Tag Archives: picture book

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 – 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.


Day 179 – Island Boy

island-boy

“Island Boy” is another charming tale of historical fiction from one of our favorite author/illustrators, Barbara Cooney.

Matthais is born on Tibbets Island, Maine and his life is inextricably tied to the sea. After traveling the world as a young man, he returns to the island to marry his sweetheart and raise a family. The story crosses generations, sprinkles in some Maine history, and also includes a fascinating map in the back for children and parents alike to pore over. The ending is a little bit sad, but the book is as charming and beautiful as you would expect from Ms. Cooney. We thoroughly enjoyed it.


Day 162 – if you want to see a whale

When you think about heading out to the beach, perhaps you imagine building a sand castle, splashing in the waves, or tossing a Frisbee on the sea breeze. These pursuits all seem fairly straightforward, and I’m not sure you need any special instructions for any of them. However, if you plan to set your sights a little higher, and what you really want to do at the beach is to see a whale…well, we may have found just the book for you! “if you want to see a whale” by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner Erin E. Stead is a whimsical and poetic how-to guide with just the right amount of silly to make it a thoroughly entertaining read aloud experience.

whaleThe book begins with the bare essentials required for whale spotting: a window…and an ocean…and time for wondering…AND time for realizing. You will need a not-so-comfy-chair and a not-too-cozy-blanket, because you can’t watch for whales when you are sleeping (me: good point!). While watching you must make sure NOT to notice certain other things that might be intriguing: the color pink, sweet roses, possible pirates on the horizon, perching pelicans, small inching things…and clouds. You must watch the sea and wait…wait…wait…
Eventually, after much waiting, payoff (in this book, at least)! A whale does appear, and we are left to playfully imagine all the many adventures a child and his dog will have (conversing? exploring? sitting quietly?) with their new-found whale…but this is not a book about what to do with whales – it is strictly a book about what to do if you want to see one.

We love the poetic prose, the childlike observations, and the humorous illustrations of a child and his dog waiting patiently and forgoing all other distractions in pursuit of their singular goal. We also got a kick out of the idea of a child sitting and waiting for something fun to happen…it’s a theme that we saw previously in another Fogliano-Stead collaboration: “and then its spring”…and we enjoyed it just as much here as we did there. As with the prior book, patience is eventually rewarded – but, goodness, that waiting is hard work!

Day 159 – Seashore

It’s summer time – time to head to the beach! What better time to read a book called “Seashore” by Alain Greé. “Seashore” is a captivating book with pages packed full of lovely, vintage (60s & 70s) illustrations. It’s a stunning picture book, and the production quality is excellent.

seashoreThe book includes examples of things you might pack to take to the beach, games you might play at the beach, animals you might see there, food you might eat there, and so on. It’s not really a story book, although there is a bit of narrative flow to it. It is a great book for teaching little listeners sea- and beach-related vocabulary. What makes this book so great, though – and what makes me so happy to have it in our collection – is Mr. Greé’s artwork. This is exactly the kind of book that little readers (and parents) want to pick up page through again and again.


Day 142 – Kitten’s First Full Moon

In celebration of this year’s latest full moon (a Blue Moon, no less), this evening we read what has become one of the most request read-aloud selections in our home: “Kitten’s First Full Moon” by Kevin Henkes.  A Caldecott Medal winner (2005), “Kitten’s First Full Moon” is a dazzling and wonderfully engaging book that is short on words but long on humor.

kittenKitten has never experienced a full moon before, and when she sees one for the first time she is convinced that it is a bowl of milk…meant for her, of course! Hungry and determined, she makes one unsuccessful and entertaining attempt after another to get a taste of the elusive celestial saucer, until at last she returns home, exhausted and discouraged, to find…a bowl of milk waiting for her on the porch! What a night!

This charming story of a hard-luck kitten who lucks out in the end is sure to grab the attention of little listeners…it certainly grabbed the attention of our youngest! The story is simple and easy to follow, and the bold black-and-white drawings are captivating. If the idea of a little kitten thinking the moon is a bowl of milk isn’t enough to get a smile (what a silly kitten!), then the picture of a startled kitten with a bug on her tongue…or any number of other amusing illustrations…ought to do the trick.

I can’t recommend this book enough, although I probably don’t have to; if you have seen the cover, you have probably already decided that you need to read it. It’s one more counter-example that we have found this year to the old adage: “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. Au contraire, mon frere!

 


Day 139 – In Enzo’s Splendid Gardens

So far this year, books by Patricia Polacco have appeared twice on our reading list (“Fiona’s Lace” and “The Keeping Quilt”), and her tale “An Orange for Frankie” will absolutely be on the December list as it has been one of our favorite Christmas tales for several years running. In each of these books we found a heart-felt tale inspired by Ms. Polacco’s family history. Today’s story, another from Ms. Polacco’s vast literary canon, also draws on family for inspiration – and while it takes a different tack from her other books we have read, it is no less entertaining. “In Enzo’s Splendid Garden” takes the reader on an entertaining and increasingly chaotic ride. It is a rollicking and rhyming good time, and a delightful book for read-aloud.

enzo“In Enzo’s Splending Garden” introduces us to Ms. Polacco’s husband, Enzo, and the story takes place at his Italian restaurant in Oakland. The book begins with a little bee buzzing past the patrons in Enzo’s splendid garden. This is all fine and dandy until a boy, fascinated with bees, turns to look at the bee and drops his book. First a waiter trips on the book, then he flings a drink from his tray onto a “matron all dressed in pink”, and, well, things deteriorate quickly from there. At one point, Enzo’s cat Lettie takes off running up a palm tree wearing a pot full of spaghetti! On every page, the rhyming text builds, tossing a new “wrench” into the mix and building to complete pandemonium…until firemen arrive to rescue Lettie from her perch in the palm tree, and someone thinks to ask “how did this happen?”

This book was a lot of fun to read. It was almost like a game to see if I could read the ever-longer passages with only one breath…although that approach seemed to be a stressful experience for some listeners, so I had to let up. Ms. Polacco’s helter-skelter watercolor illustrations were a perfect complement, adding to the sense of disarray conveyed by the text. The emotive expressions on the faces of the patrons added to the humor. I think it’s safe to say that this departure from our typical Patricia Polacco experience was a very fun – and funny – detour. Now I want some spaghetti!


Day 138 – Did a Dinosaur Drink This Water?

In keeping with our seasonal theme, tonight it was water cycle time again. This evening’s book, “Did a Dinosaur Drink This Water?” by Robert E. Wells, was another great example of Storybook Year “info-tainment”: an engaging and accessible picture book that sheds a little more light on how the world really works. Laid out much more like a comic book than a science text, Mr. Wells’ book grabs your attention with an intriguing premise and then imparts a lot of great information about the water cycle and about conservation. It’s a message that would have fit quite well with Earth Day just two days ago, but we enjoyed it just as much today nevertheless.dino water

Now, I’m a sucker for a good (or even a mediocre) dinosaur storybook – but this particular volume isn’t really about dinosaurs. In truth, Mr Wells spends about one page talking about my favorite prehistoric creatures – but the book was entertaining enough that the dearth of dino-discussion didn’t bother me. The question on the cover actually refers to the fact that the Earth recycles water – meaning that the same water molecules we have today have been on the planet for millions and millions of years. It’s a fascinating concept to ponder.

The book follows two children who I presume are a brother and sister, travelling around the globe in what looks like an oversized, glass-domed drone. They stop along the way and learn about the water cycle, the way the earth recycles and cleans water (evaporation, running over rocks in streams, seeping through the soil to underground aquifers), the way that people use the movement of water from river to sea to help generate electricity, and plenty of other great facts. The message about conservation comes right at the end and is presented as a set of common-sense suggestions for using water mindfully.

With pages full of colorful and active illustrations, plenty of great knowledge about the real world, and a flow to the pictures that draws your eye around each page, this is a great book to read aloud or to have laying around for aspiring readers to pick up and peruse on their own.