This year, Chinese New Year begins on January 31, and it’s the year of the Horse (you can find a list of all the animal signs and dates on TravelChinaGuide.com).
I didn’t know much about Chinese New Year until we moved to the Bay Area, but it’s such a fun and colorful celebration. At my son’s school, each Kindergartner decorates a box in bright colors, with holes in the front so they can wear the box on their heads and still see out. One of the teachers wears a big dragon’s head, and the kids line up behind her, making a huge 60-person dragon that winds around the play-yard, while the first graders pop big sheets of bubblewrap behind them. It’s something the whole school looks forward to every year.
For storytime this week, I read books about horses and Chinese New Year.
This one was new to me, but the kids always love Lift-the-Flaps (although they argue over who is going to get to open them). It’s a simple rhyming book that explains the different parts of the New Year celebration: sweeping away the old year, buying fish and flowers at the market, getting red envelopes, and of course, enjoying the big dragon parade. The illustrations are warm and colorful. A good introduction to the holiday for toddlers on up.
This is actually a board book, and unfortunately out of print, but it’s a great horse book, especially for younger kids (I read it again today to both a preschool class, and a toddler storytime, and they all loved it). Mr. Horse offers a cat, a dog, a pig and a duck a ride on his back, but when he gallops too fast, and then stops suddenly, they all fly off into a haystack. The kids enjoy saying the repeated, “Clip Clop! Clippety Clop” lines.
Okay, I know unicorns are not horses, but I thought the kids would love this one, and they did. It was the clear favorite of the evening, for the 5 year-olds especially. Goat is jealous of Unicorn, and why wouldn’t he be? Not only can Unicorn fly, he makes it rain cupcakes! But when Goat finally meets Unicorn, he finds that he’s got some special talents of his own that Unicorn admires, and to Goat’s surprise, they end up becoming friends. I love all of Bob Shea’s books, especially I’m a Shark and Oh, Daddy!
This is the book for little girls who love horses. I would have been all over it as a kid. The little girl in this story wants a pony more than anything else in the world, but her parents say a pony is too expensive, and they don’t have room for it. So she draws a pony instead, a beautiful dapple-gray she calls Silver, and together they fly through the sky and meet lots of other ponies. The illustrations are gorgeous.
I do this one often as a bouncing rhyme for babies and toddlers. This time I had the kids gallop in a line around one of the bookshelves. They especially liked the sudden “Whoa!” when we would all stop short. You sing it to the tune of The William Tell Overture:
I adapted this craft from AHC Arts & Crafts, which has a tremendous number of craft ideas. I printed their template, but since I wanted the kids to be able to color their rocking horses however they liked, I traced the template onto white card stock and cut it out (I had to redraw the lines for the base). I folded the paper in half before I cut it, so it would make a mirror image of the horse. Then I folded it over, so the two horse shapes lined up.
I gave each child a pre-folded horse to color in with markers on both sides, and a paperclip to put on the back, clipping the two horse shapes together. If you bend the bottom of the two horses slightly apart, it will stand up. If you touch the tail lightly, it will rock just like a real rocking horse.
This is the book I usually read for Chinese New Year, and I still love it. It’s shows a family preparing for the New Year by sweeping their house, making get-rich dumplings, getting haircuts, and looking forward to seeing the dragon, which is presented on pages that fold out into a big spread at the end. In the past, I’ve brought bubblewrap for the kids to pop on the page with the firecrackers. Simple enough to work for toddlers as well as preschoolers and older kids.
I didn’t get this book in time for my storytime, but it’s a good one. A Chinese-Korean boy shares what the New Year means to him and his friends from other cultural backgrounds. I like that the story gives a sense of having a fresh start: a chance to clear away all the mistakes of the past and look forward to the future. A little too lengthy for toddlers, but I think this would work well for preschoolers and elementary school kids.
Sapphira writes, “Our daughter is a dragon, but this book describes a child who has a good trait from each of the signs. Then at the end it says how lucky the reader is to have this particular baby, and there’s a heart-shaped mirror on the last page, which is always a big hit.”
When Roy gets a saddle for his birthday, he sets out to find a horse. The problem is, he doesn’t know what a horse looks like. Kids like shouting out the names of the other animals he thinks might be a horse, including a snake, a crab, a lion, and a zebra. Plus it has a funny surprise ending.
What are your favorite horse or Chinese New Year picture books?
The winners of the 2014 Caldecott Medal (along with the other ALA Youth Medal Media Awards, including the Newbery) will be announced on Monday morning at 8am. You can watch a live webcast of it here: ALA – Webcast 2014. The fashions are a little different than the Academy Awards, but I’m looking forward to it.
As I gaze into my crystal ball, I predict that my favorite books of the year won’t be in the winner’s list. But here they are anyway:
The story of an exclamation mark in a world of periods. No matter how hard he tries to fit in, he always stands out. Then one day, he meets a new punctuation mark, who asks him LOTS of questions. He is so overwhelmed by her, he shouts, “STOP!” He didn’t know he had it in him. After that, he discovers he has a whole range of abilities, and goes off to make his mark. The illustrations, set against a background of elementary school writing paper, are simple, funny, and whimsical. I loved this book so much I gave it to my son’s third grade teacher at the end of the school year, because she is one of those amazing people who celebrates each student’s unique personality and talents. Of course, it also works brilliantly as a lesson in punctuation.
If my four-year-old were on the Caldecott Committee, this book would win hands down. I can’t tell you how many times she’s begged me to read it. It’s also the book I’ve read the most for storytimes. It’s time to count the monkeys. The trouble is, the monkeys have been scared away by 1 King Cobra. More and more animals and odd characters (6 beekeepers, 8 lumberjacks) appear on every page. The narrator’s asides are hilarious, and so are the bright, colorful illustrations. This is an ideal book for storytime.
“You might be afraid of the dark, but the dark is not afraid of you. That’s why the dark is always close by.” Laszlo is afraid of the dark, until the dark calls to him, and summons him down into the basement. I love the deliciously creepy language of this book, and the idea of the dark being alive. Jon Klassen won the Caldecott last year for This is Not My Hat, so I doubt this book will win, but it was one I personally savored.
Mo Willems is a picture book rock star. He has a genius for writing books that are perfect for sharing with kids of almost any age. This one is about a sly fox who invites a demure goose to dinner. Kids love joining in on the repeated chorus, “That is NOT a good idea!” And there is a surprising twist at the end.
My daughter loves this book, and it’s been a great tool for discussing how different things that come up at her preschool (not including someone in a game, talking about an upcoming birthday party with a child who wasn’t invited) might make people feel. Brian feels invisible. When kids in his class choose teams, he is left out. When kids talk about the fun party they went to, he was never invited. But then a new boy arrives in school, and Brian makes a shy effort at friendship. And when the new boy is accepted as part of the class, he reaches out to Brian, and makes him no longer invisible. The beauty of this book is in the artwork. Brian is drawn in black-in-white, with small hints of color whenever he feels “seen.” A lovely book.
This year, there were a number of wonderful wordless, or nearly wordless picture books, several of which are top contenders on several of the Best of the Year lists. These books are hard to share at storytime, but they are still great adventures for kids to enjoy on their own. The one that seems most likely to win is:
If Hiyao Miyazaki (the filmmaker behind My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away) were to make a movie of Harold and the Purple Crayon, it would resemble this book. A girl with a red marker draws a door on her bedroom wall, and escapes into a beautiful world of lights and castles. The girl draws a boat, a balloon, and a magic carpet, but then she is captured. She is rescued by the creations of a boy with a purple crayon, and the two set off together. A magical book for kids (and adults) of any age.
A wordless lift-the-flap ballet between a flamingo and a little girl who tries to emulate him. I shared this with a group of preschoolers and had them try to do the motions along with the girl. They had a blast!
Duncan’s crayons are unhappy, and jealous of each other. They have each written him a letter complaining that he uses them too much, or too little. A brilliant story idea that would also be a wonderful intro to a lesson on letter-writing.
Terrific lesson on the elements of story, with lots of tips on writing, all packed into a fun story. This is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, about a pencil who has to take on a dangerous pencil sharpener, called the Wolf 3000. My daughter loves this book too.
My favorite nonfiction picture book of the year is this biography of quirky genius Paul Erdos. As a boy Paul loved numbers. At age four, he would ask people what day they were born, then calculate how many seconds they had been alive. Since he never learned how to cook or do laundry, as an adult, he travelled around the world living out of hotels and working with other mathematicians. Fascinating and fun.
So there you have it. My favorite picture books of 2013. What are yours, and which book do you think will win the Caldecott Medal?
Every January, I try to do a series of storytimes related to the upcoming announcement of the newest winner of the Caldecott Medal. This year’s winner will be announced on Monday, January 27 at the Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association.
This week, I read some of my favorite Caldecott Medal Winners from previous years, both for my Family Storytime, and to two classes of second graders. But before I get to those, it occurred to me that I had never thought to wonder who Randolph Caldecott was, and how the award came to be named after him. So I looked him up.
According to the Randolph Caldecott Society UK web page, Caldecott was a British artist, who lived from 1846-1886, and was known for his children’s book illustrations. Every year, he would select or write a collection of stories and rhymes, which he would illustrate and publish at Christmastime. The books were enormously popular, and brought him international fame. Like many of the best children’s authors and illustrators (Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Margaret Wise Brown, and Beatrix Potter to name a few), Caldecott never had children of his own. Sadly, he suffered from heart problems and gastritis, and died a few weeks before his 40th birthday, while traveling in St. Augustine, Florida.
I haven’t been able to find an explanation for why the American Library Association in 1937 decided to name the medal after Randolph Caldecott. After all, according to the guidelines, the award-winning artist “must be a citizen or resident of the United States,” and Caldecott was British. Why not name it after an American illustrator like Johnny Gruelle, Wanda Gág or N.C. Wyeth? My only guess is that it had to do with the quality of Caldecott’s illustrations, and the seamless way he integrated them with the text. Maurice Sendak is quoted as saying, “Caldecott’s work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book. He devised an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that never happened before. Words are left out—but the picture says it. Pictures are left out—but the word says it.” And that is the quality that defines the best picture books.
It amazing the range of reactions I get whenever I read this book aloud. I remember sharing it with some second grade classes last year where some of the kids were very nervous. In one class, every time the little fish bragged about his certainty that the big fish whose hat he stole would never find him, this one boy would say, “No! Don’t say that! He’s going to eat you!” This year, though, all the second graders laughed. The Kindergartners at storytime, however, looked concerned. The fish is so shockingly naughty and brazen (although, of course, most of the best and most memorable children’s book heroes are naughty). The beauty of the book, though, is that the ending is unspoken. Klassen leaves you with the image of the big fish wearing his hat, and leaves the rest to your imagination. So when I asked my storytime group what happened at the end, they said, “The big fish got his hat back.” The second graders, on the other hand, said, “The little fish got eaten.”
I think about this book every time I stand on a swivel chair, which I do often, in spite of this being in part a cautionary tale about that very thing. My only complaint about this book is that it’s really one you want to sit down with and pore over by yourself, to enjoy all the humor in the illustrations, and some of that gets lost in a storytime setting. But the kids love it anyway. At my family storytime, many of them exclaimed over it when they first saw me pull it out of the stack, so clearly they had heard it before (and hopefully had a chance to look at it up close). Officer Buckle’s safety speeches suddenly become a big hit at schools when he is partnered up with a new police dog named Gloria, until Officer Buckle discovers why. This is a wonderful story about a friendship and the importance of working together, and it has great safety tips besides.
I remember being surprised the first time I saw this book, because the style was so drastically different from Henkes’ other books like Chysanthemum and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. But since then, this has become one of my favorite read-alouds (along with A Good Day, which is perfect for toddlers). The language in this book is so simple, and compelling: ”It was Kitten’s first full moon. When she saw it, she thought, there’s a little bowl of milk in the sky. And she wanted it.” The story is funny because of all of Kitten’s mistakes and accidents, but you also feel her frustration, so it is deeply satisfying when she comes home wet and exhausted to find her own bowl of milk on the porch. There was a little tussle over who was going to get to check this one out after I read it.
I’ll admit, I hadn’t ever noticed the mouse and the red balloon that appear several times throughout this book, until one of the second graders pointed them out. And then I was instantly transported back to reading Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann with my son when he was small, and trying to find the red balloon and mouse on every page. It’s a subtle reference, but I loved it. The kids loved the pictures of the zoo animals packed into the bus to visit their sick zookeeper friend, and the idea of the owl being afraid of the dark.
1,2,3,4,5, I Caught I Fish Alive
B-I-N-G-O To go along with Officer Buckle and Gloria, I brought out the library’s St. Bernard hand puppet (who likes to lick people’s faces), and we barked the missing letters.
For this craft, I cut out pieces for the kids to color and assemble the little fish from This is Not My Hat, and brought some plants from my yard for them to glue down.
I originally had a crazy idea for taping the fish to a piece of yarn, and cutting a slit in the paper, so it would look like the fish was disappearing behind the plants when you pulled the yarn. But I would have needed thicker paper, and it seemed to complicated for the short time the kids had to assemble the craft. Still, I mocked it up with my daughter, and even though we tried it with construction paper, which is flimsy, she still had a lot of fun playing with it.
I drew the fish shapes freehand, and they’re not great, but if you’d like the template, you can print it out here: fishtemplate
Along with A Sick Day for Amos McGee and This is Not My Hat, I read these four books to some second grade classes this week:
This is one of my absolutely favorite Caldecott winners to read aloud, although I usually share it with older kids. In 1974, Philippe Petit walked, danced, ran, and lay on a tightrope across the Twin Towers. It was an illegal act, so he and some friends disguised themselves as construction workers, then carried the 400 pound cable up the elevator, and then up ten flights of stairs to the roof. Getting the wire across the gap was a harrowing experience all its own, and at one point, the cable fell, pulling Petit’s friends in the other tower to the edge of the roof. And then he stepped out onto the wire, a quarter of a mile above the ground. The illustrations in this book are dizzying. The kids are always transfixed. And even though Petit broke the law (yes, another naughty character, but a real one!), he did so ready to face the consequences. After he stepped off the wire, he held out his hands for the cuffs. He was sentenced to perform in Central Park for free. There is one line at the end of the book that says, “Now the towers are gone,” and always, always the kids ask why. The first year I read it, I wasn’t prepared, and in the pause while I tried to frame my answer, I could hear a bunch of kids exclaiming to each other the bits of information they knew. Fortunately, I knew that this year on September 11 the principal at the school had spoken to all of the classes in the school, explaining about the tragedy, and telling the kids that they should “remember the heroes.” So this time, when the question came, I was able to remind them of that, and, while I’m sure they still had questions, they seemed to accept that. That question is the only reason I haven’t read this book at my regular storytime, since I’m not sure how comfortable my storytime parents will be with whatever explanation I give, and the inevitable questions that will follow. But otherwise, this is an exhilarating book, and one of the best examples of a nonfiction picture book I know.
I shared this book with the second grade because I wanted to show them that they all knew at least one Caldecott winner. This book is so much a part of our popular children’s culture now (most of the kids had seen the movie too), but I also wanted them to stop and think about how revolutionary the book and the art were when it first came out. Max is the ultimate naughty character, fulfilling that fantasy all kids probably have of running away and going wild. I like to mention how controversial this story was, even down to the last line. In an interview, Sendak once talked about an argument he had with his editor, Ursula Nordstrom, “One of the fights I had with Ursula—and her whole office—though it seems silly now, was with the last line of the book [about Max’s dinner]: “and it was still hot.” It bothered a lot of people, and they wanted me to change it to “and it was still warm.” Warm doesn’t burn your tongue. There is something dangerous in “hot.” It does burn your tongue. Hot is the trouble you can get into. But I won.” We were lucky Sendak was always a bit like Max.
This was one of my favorite books as a child, and I still love it. Sylvester the donkey is thrilled to find a pebble that makes wishes come true, until he has a run-in with a dangerous lion, and accidentally wishes he were a rock. Steig really draws out the drama of Sylvester, helpless and alone on the hill as the seasons pass, while his parents worry and mourn. Of course, it has a joyfully happy ending, where the family is reunited, and they decide to lock the magic pebble away, at least for a while, realizing that now that they were together again, “they all had all that they wanted.” Before I read this book, I usually tell the kids that William Steig wrote the picture book Shrek, which, oddly, most of them have never seen, although most of them have seen the movies.
I made the mistake of reading this book last to one of the classes, and it was a bit too long. Still, it’s a fun collection of facts about the presidents, both the traits that many of them shared, as well as the things that made each one unique. The illustrations by David Small are colorful and funny, and there are some great quotes scattered throughout the text. My favorite is from Ulysses S. Grant, about his own musical ability, “I know only two tunes: one of them is Yankee Doodle, and the other isn’t.” This is a great book to share on President’s Day or around Election time.
You can find the complete list of Caldecott Medal winners here. Please tell me your favorites, and more importantly, who do you think will win this year?
I had so much fun at this week’s storytime, seeing most of my regular families, and some I hadn’t seen in a long time. Auld Acquaintances! But if there are any publishers, children’s authors, or aspiring children’s authors reading this, please take note: there is a desperate shortage of books about New Year’s.
I had pulled or ordered over every book I could find in our system on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. There weren’t many, not even on Amazon, and the ones I found were mostly too long to read at story time. There are LOTS of books on Chinese New Year, which I’m looking forward to covering in a few weeks. But publishers appear to have dropped the ball on New Year’s Eve, and I don’t mean the one in Times Square.
I ended up resorting to an odd mix of books about babies (in honor of Baby New Year) and parties and the year in general. Luckily there are a fair number of these. These were the ones I ended up reading:
The only actual New Year’s book I read. It’s a rhymed book, and the meter is awkward in some places, but overall it meets my requirements for a good holiday book: it covers the major traditions without being dry, and tells a story in the process. In this case, it’s about a girl and her brother who want to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, but don’t quite make it. The kids enjoyed this one, and it was eagerly snatched up at the end. After the book, we all counted down from 10 and yelled, “Happy New Year!” It would have been fun to throw confetti too, except for the inevitable clean-up.
Okay, this was a stretch, but I justified it by mentioning Baby New Year. I had originally pulled this one because it was on a list of best picture books published in 2013 (a topic I will be covering soon). And the kids loved it! There was even a minor brawl over it at the end. When a baby is born with a mustache, the delivery nurse tells his startled family that they need to find out if it’s a good guy mustache or a bad guy mustache. The baby starts out taking on all kinds of good mustachioed roles: cowboy, Spanish painter, sword fighter, and man of the law. But then the mustache begins to curl on the ends… The illustrations are very funny.
I read the first story in this early chapter book, partly because it fit the theme of a new year, and partly because there’s an Arnold Lobel exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, including a concert of songs based on his works on January 12. I also thought it would fun for some of the Kindergartners in my storytime to get to know Frog and Toad, who were favorite characters from my old childhood. In the story I read, Frog drags Toad out on a cold winter day, and gets him to go sledding.
Another stretch, but I justified it because it was about a party. Xander wants to throw a panda party, but since he’s the only panda at the zoo, he reconsiders and invites all the bears. When he finds out the koala isn’t really a bear, he extends his invitation to mammals, but rhinoceros insists on bringing his bird. In the end, of course, he ends up inviting every creature at the zoo, including the people. Cute rhyming story that the kids seemed to enjoy. It got checked out immediately too.
CRAFT: Decorated Calendars
Calendars decorated by Alyssa, Jonas and Sarah
I happened to be at Michael’s the other day, and picked up a bunch of small picture frame calendars for 60 cents each. The kids had fun drawing, stickering, and collaging on them with pictures I cut from magazines. A cheaper way to go would be to print out calendars (or even just the month of January) from CalendarLabs.com and have the kids decorate those.
This is actually a really sweet book, that would work well for New Year’s, even for toddlers. It’s a lovely poem about all the nice things that will remain the same: “…this new year/the sky will still be there/the stars will still shine/birds will fly over us/church bells will chime…we shall have peaches/we shall have pie/we shall have ice cream three scoops high” The illustrations are soft, colorful, and peaceful.
This one was a bit too long for my storytime, but I liked that it addresses the idea of writing New Year’s Resolutions, which might have been a fun craft idea too. Squirrel is frustrated that she can’t come up with any resolutions of her own, but she ends up helping each of her friends keep theirs.
Shanté Keys and the New Year Peas by Gail Piernas-Davenport; illustrated by Marian Eldridge (Amazon.com link) Submitted by Lindsey Tear
Grandma has made all the lucky foods for New Year’s Day, but she forgot the black-eyed peas. So Shanté Keys sets out to find some. I haven’t seen this one yet, but I’ve requested a copy for our library system. As a kid, we always had kidney beans, cornbread, and collard greens for New Year’s Day, a tradition that I miss, so I can empathize with Shanté Keys.
This book is out of print, unfortunately, but it looks sweet. Winnie the Pooh and his friends are sad to see that the calendar has come to an end, until Christopher Robin tells them they have a whole new year ahead.
Another Frog and Toad book, but one that may be even more appropriate for New Year’s. It’s even referenced in this article on keeping your New Year’s resolutions. The two stories that fit best are “A List,” where Toad makes a list of things he plans to do, and “Cookies,” where Frog and Toad try to find the willpower not to eat all the cookies.
P. Bear’s New Year’s Eve Party by Paul Owen Lewis (Amazon.com link) Submitted by Neeru Penumella
This one isn’t in our library system either, probably because it’s only available in paperback, but it looks like fun. The book uses the arrival of each of P. Bear’s friends to demonstrate counting and telling time.
Are there any great New Year’s books I’m missing out on? Please share them in the comments.