My Favorite Picture Books of 2016

It’s that time of year again.  The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) will be announcing their Book and Media Awards on Monday, January 23 at 8am EST (5am, my time, unfortunately).

I’m very excited this year because my friend and former coworker, Ashley Waring is on the Caldecott Committee, although she doesn’t know who the winner is yet, and has been sworn to secrecy anyway.  So until the 23rd, I just have to look at my own favorite picture books published in 2016, and try to guess which one might win.

Admittedly, I have a different criteria for picture books than the Caldecott Committee.  As a children’s librarian, I tend to prefer books that lend themselves well to being read aloud to a large group of kids, so many of the beautiful wordless books or very wordy picture books don’t work as well for me.  There are also a few books on some of the Mock Caldecott lists that I haven’t been able to get hold of yet. But these are my personal favorites so far:


Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat

This is one of the most unusual picture books I’ve seen this year, and one that works well both as a read-aloud and a book for kids to pore over on their own.  The text is fairly simple, but describe a feeling that most kids can identify with: the endless tedium of a long car trip.  As the trip progresses though, the book flips upside down and backwards, and the scenery outside the car shifts, travelling back in time to the age of pirates, ancient Egypt and all the way back to the dinosaurs.  It then jumps forward into the far future, and the boy wonders if they missed Grandma’s birthday party altogether.  Santat already won the 2014 Caldecott for The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, so it would be surprising if he won one again so soon, but between the two books, this one is my favorite.


King Baby by Kate Beaton

This one is fairly simple, and unlikely to win the Caldecott, but it’s been one of my favorite books to read aloud this year, because the kids love it.  Cartoony illustrations capture the pride and frustration of a baby who is King of all he surveys.  His parents are his loyal subjects, waiting on his every need and whim, although they don’t always understand what he is asking for.  So King Baby has to learn to do things for himself by growing into a Big Kid.  Whenever I read this one, the kids laugh out loud at the diaper change, the burping, and especially the last page, when King Baby is replaced by a new ruler, Queen Baby.


Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Compoy and Theresa Howell; illustrated by Rafael Lopez.

I can think of several picture books about kids who have transformed a bleak city landscape into something beautiful that brings the community together (including City Green by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan and The Curious Garden by Peter Brown), but this is notable for being based on a true story.  A little girl who lives in a gray city hands out colorful pictures to her friends and neighbors.  Her drawings make people smile, and inspire a muralist, who picks up a paintbrush and begins to transform the walls into bright, beautiful paintings bursting with color.  The story is based on the Urban Art Trail Project in the East Village of San Diego.  The illustrations are truly vibrant and joyful, and the book as a whole is a wonderful testament to the power of art.

schoolSchool’s First Day of School by Adam Rex; illustrated by Christian Robinson

Adam Rex is one of my favorite children’s author/illustrators, and, although I haven’t had a chance to share this one at storytime yet, I am looking forward to it.  There are hundreds of books about kids facing the anxiety of the first of school, and even books about teachers being nervous, but this is the first book I’ve seen that personifies the feelings of the school building itself.  Embarrassed by the fire drill that empties the building, hurt by the kid who says, “I hate school!” and seeking reassurance from the school janitor, the school becomes a character that you immediately like.  Christian Robinson’s whimsical, colorful illustrations add to the humor and endearing nature of the story.  I expect to be reading this one a lot in the future.


They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

This is the picture book that has gotten the most buzz this year.  As a cat walked through the world, he is seen by different people and animals in wildly different ways.  Each page is vivid and thought-provoking.  The dog sees the cat as a skinny creature with a giant bell.  The bees sees it as a collection of multicolored dots.  This is one I would have spent a long time looking at as a child, and one I could see having lots of uses for art lessons or themes about different points of view.  Mostly though, it’s a fun and beautiful, unusual book, and I can see why it’s at the top of most of the Mock Caldecott lists this year.


Thunder Boy, Jr. by Sherman Alexie; illustrated by Yuyi Morales

As someone who hated her name as a kid (growing up with the name “Ashley” in Gone With the Wind country was no picnic), I identified with this book’s main character, a boy who hates being named Thunder Boy, Jr., after his dad.  Thunder Boy proposes several names he would rather have, including Mud in His Ears, Can’t Run Fast While Laughing, and Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth.  Finally, he and his dad come up with a name that works for both of them.  This is a great, funny read-aloud with large, striking illustrations by Yuyi Morales.


Any other picture books I should have included?  Please share your favorites in the comments.



Finding Winnie: My Favorite Picture Books of 2015

Somehow it’s already mid-December, the time of year when I start thinking about the upcoming Caldecott Award announcement.  Every year, in January, I like to do Mock Caldecott storytimes, where I share several picture books and ask the kids to guess which one they think will win.  Here’s my list of favorite picture books published in 2015.  I’m basing it mostly on the reactions I’ve gotten from reading these aloud, either at storytimes, or with my 6 year-old daughter.


I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty; illustrated by Mike Boldt

When a young frog complains that he’d like to be some other animal, because frogs are too slimy, and wet, and eat too many bugs, an older frog tries to counter all of his arguments.  The young frog isn’t convinced though, until a wolf tells him that he likes to eat every other animal, except slimy, wet, bug-eating frogs.  My daughter asked for this book several times, and it got laughs from both kids and parents at storytime.


Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry; illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

A stick and a stone are both lonely, until they meet and become friends.  When Pinecone picks on Stone, Stick sticks up for him because “that’s just what sticks do.” And when Stick gets stuck in a puddle, Stone rescues him.  This book reminds me of Kathryn Otoshi’s One, although it is a much simpler, lighter story that nicely summarizes what it means to be a good friend.  I haven’t shared this one at storytime yet, but my daughter loved it.


How to Share with a Bear by Eric Pinder; illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

A boy builds a cozy fort out of blankets, only to find it constantly being taken over by a small bear.  He tries everything he can think of to lure the bear away from the fort– blueberries, honey, and a sink full of water and toys– and finally gets the fort to himself.  But then the bear is revealed to be his tearful little brother in a bear suit, and the boy rebuilds the fort so they can share.  A super sweet sibling story that was a hit at storytime.


Little Tree by Loren Long

A little tree is afraid to let go of his leaves, even as all the trees around him shed theirs and grow new ones.  Over time, he is overshadowed by all of trees around him, until he can no longer see the sky, and is finally convinced to let go and grow.  I haven’t read this one at storytime yet, but when I brought home a stack of picture books to read to my daughter, she said it was her favorite.  It would work well for a theme about the seasons, but on a deeper level it’s a wonderful story about the pains of growing up.


The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

Princess Pinecone wants a big, strong, fast, warrior horse befitting a warrior princess.  Instead she gets a small, chubby, gassy pony.  But her disappointing pony ends up turning the battle around in a surprising way.  This one was a big hit both with my daughter, and with the kids at storytime.


Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood; illustrated by Meg Hunt

Although there are lots of picture book variations on the Cinderella story, this one stands out because of its plucky, mechanically-inclined heroine.  In this story, Cinderella not only has to devise her own transportation to get to the Royal Space Parade, she also rescues the Prince when his ship breaks down.  I love the ending, where Cinderella declines to marry the Prince, and instead becomes his chief mechanic.  My daughter and I had fun reading this one together.


The New Small Person by Lauren Child

Elmore Green enjoys being an only child, and having his own room, where no one ever moves his things or eats his favorite jelly beans.  But then a new small person arrives, and Elmore worries that people seem to like him more than they do Elmore.  Plus the new small person moves his things, cries during his favorite television shows, and even licks his jelly beans.  But over time, Elmore learns that younger brothers can be fun, helpful, and even comforting.  My boss read this one at a storytime recently, and it was met with lots of laughs and “Aww’s.”


Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman; illustrated by Zachariah OHora

One of my daughter’s favorite books of the year, this one’s about a family of bunnies who adopt an abandoned wolf pup.  Although her parents think that Wolfie is absolutely wonderful, little Dot is convinced he is going to eat them all up, until one day she and Wolfie have a run in with a hungry bear, and have to save each other.  Funny and adorable.


Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

Red has a big problem.  Even though his label clearly says he is a red crayon, he only seems to be able to color things blue.  Everyone says he just needs to try harder, until one day a new friend asks him to color a blue ocean, and he finally discovers what he is meant to be.  This is wonderful allegory for anyone who’s ever felt forced to try and be something they’re not, but beyond that, my daughter was so taken with the story that she went on to write her own versions with different colors of crayons.


Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick; illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Before there was Winnie the Pooh, there was a man named Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian who bought a bear cub from a hunter at a train station in Canada.  He took the cub along with him to England, and named her Winnie, after his hometown of Winnipeg.  Winnie became the mascot of his military unit, but when Harry learned that he would have to go to France to help on the front lines, he brought her to the London Zoo, where she became a favorite among the visitors, especially a small boy named Christopher Robin.  When I was reading this book with my daughter, at first I found it jarring that it begins with a mother telling the story to her son.  But in end, the son is revealed to be the great-great-great-grandson of Harry Colebourn, and the woman telling the story is his great-great-granddaughter, the author of the book.  A lovely story, both for animal lovers and fans of Winnie the Pooh.  Funnily enough, there’s another new picture book out about this same story called Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss.  I enjoyed that one too–it has a lot more details about the antics of the bear, and the illustrations are darling– but it didn’t give me the chills the way Finding Winnie did on discovering the connections between the book’s subject and its author.  I’m looking forward to sharing this book with the second graders I read to in the New Year.

What are your favorite picture books of the year?

We Are in a Book: Storytime with Elephant and Piggie


Paper Bag Gerald and Piggie Puppets by Nina

A few weeks ago, one of my storytime Dads asked if his son could come with his Boy Scout troop for a tour of the library and to read books at storytime (it happened to be the night that one of the Kindergarten girls read a book to the group at the beginning of storytime, and inspired several other kids to want to do the same). We arranged for the troop to come to Family Storytime this week, and I pulled a bunch of Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books for them to read.

Elephant and Piggie books are perfect for kids (or adults) to read in pairs, because the text is simple, and usually involves a conversation between the two main characters, Gerald (the elephant) and Piggie (sometimes other characters have a few lines too). The parts are color-coded, making it easy to figure out who is speaking. The stories and illustrations are hilarious, and entertain everyone from toddlers to adults. Plus the kids love looking for the pigeon from Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, who always shows up somewhere on the end pages at the back of the book.

We ended up with six Scouts, who read three books. I made simple pig and elephant noses out of paper and taped them onto the boys’ noses to indicate which part they were reading. In order to keep the rest of the kids engaged, I also made a few cue cards for some of the words or phrases that were repeated a lot in each book, so they could join in on those. The boys did a wonderful job reading, and didn’t seem to have any qualms about having an audience. Some of them even took on different voices for Elephant and Piggie. The hardest part was getting them to remember to hold up each page slowly for the audience to see, but then I’ve seen adults who struggle with that too. Here is what they read:


I Am Going! by Mo Willems ( link) Gerald is horrified when Piggie says she is going, and begs her to stay, until he finds out she is only going to lunch. This book has a page where Gerald chants, “Why?” and I wrote that word on a cue card that I held up on that page so the other kids could join in.


I am Invited to a Party! by Mo Willems ( link)

Piggie is excited to receive an invitation to her very first party. Gerald wonders what kind of party it is: a fancy party? A fancy pool party? A fancy costume pool party? They must come prepared! The cue card I made for this one was the word, “PARTY!” which both characters chant together throughout the book. The kids really liked that.


I’m a Frog by Mo Willems ( link)

Gerald is shocked when Piggie says that she is a frog, until she explains she is only pretending. I wrote the word “Ribbit!” on a cue card because Piggie says that throughout the book. There’s also a page where Gerald and Piggie get into an argument consisting solely of: “No I can’t!” and “Yes you can!” I made cue cards for those two phrases too, and the kids enjoyed chanting them back and forth. The adults liked the part where Gerald asks if even grown-ups pretend to be something they’re not, and Piggie says, “All the time,” with a knowing look.


My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems ( link)

I got to read this one myself, which I was happy about because it was the first Gerald and Piggie book I ever read, and it will always be one of my favorites. When Piggie sees that Gerald is sad, she tries to cheer him up by disguising herself as a cowboy, a clown, and a robot. But Gerald seems sadder than ever. For this one, I made a cue card for Gerald’s repeated, “Ohhh…’s”


Elephants Have Wrinkles

After each verse of this song, I ask the kids where else elephants have wrinkles and we add in a new body part, while singing the song faster and faster. This time the kids suggested teeth (we clicked our teeth together), feet (we stomped our feet), and faces (we patted our cheeks). Click on the triangle for the tune:

Elephants have (pat legs on each syllable)
Wrinkles, Wrinkles, Wrinkles (clap hands on each syllable)
Elephants have (pat legs on each syllable)
Wrinkles (clap hands on each syllable)
Everywhere! (stomp feet on each syllable)
On their nose! Oh-oh! (touch your nose, and mime a trunk)


Elephants have wrinkles…

On their legs! On their nose! Oh-oh!

I Bought Me a Rooster

We have a variety of stuffed animals in the children’s area, so I passed those out, and we sang a verse of the song about each one. I play it on the ukulele in C.

I bought me a rooster and the rooster pleased me
C G7
I fed my rooster on the bayberry tree
My little rooster goes, “Cock-a-doodle doo!
C F G7 C
Dee Doodle, Dee Doodle, Dee Doodle, Dee Doo!”

No No No No No! I think this song is also called The Argument. It’s basically the tune to Reverie, but you sing, “No, no, no, no, no” all the way through the first half, while shaking your head, then “yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,” for the second half while nodding. If you have an older group, you can divide them up and have them sing both parts at the same time.

INSTRUMENT PLAYALONG WITH A CD: Old MacDonald Had a Farm by Rufus Thomas, from Sing Along with Putumayo.

CRAFT: Gerald and Piggie Paper Bag Puppets

Gerald Paper Bag Puppet by Chloe

Gerald Paper Bag Puppet by Chloe

Piggie Paper Bag Puppet by Chloe

Piggie Paper Bag Puppet by Chloe

I got this idea and the templates from Three Little Birds: I copied and pasted the picture of their template into a blank Word file, then printed it out, and made copies. The Gerald one worked out well just on white paper, because it ended up looking gray in the copies. For Piggie, I copied it onto pink paper. I did all the cutting ahead of time, so the kids just had to glue the pieces onto paper bags.

OTHER BOOKS BY MO WILLEMS: Okay, so I have a huge librarian crush on Mo Willems. He’s definitely one of my favorite children’s authors, and although he has an astounding number of books, they are all perfect for storytime. Here are some of my other favorites:

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems ( link)

Before Trixie has learned to talk, she goes with her Dad to the laundromat along with her beloved stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny. But on the way home, she realizes that Knuffle Bunny is missing. She tries everything she can to tell her Dad, but he just doesn’t understand. Of course, as soon as Trixie’s mom opens the door, she says, “Where’s Knuffle Bunny?” The whole family races back to the laundromat to look. A book that resonates with both kids and parents. I love Trixie’s attempts to communicate, including going boneless (a phenomenon familiar to anyone with a toddler). The illustrations are equally hilarious. Followed by two sequels: Knuffle Bunny Too and Knuffle Bunny Free (this one makes me cry).

City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems; illustrated by Jon J. Muth ( link)

A departure from Willems’ usual funny, cartoonish style, featuring paintings by Jon J. Muth. When a city dog visits the country, he meets a frog who teaches him to play frog games. The two have a wonderful time throughout City Dog’s visits in Spring and Summer. By Autumn Country Frog has grown tired, and in Winter, when City Dog comes, he can’t find his friend, but ends up making a new one. A lovely and bittersweet story about the seasons and friendship.

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs as Retold by Mo Willems ( link)

Hilariously dark take on Goldilocks and the Three Bears. In this one, three dinosaurs prepare bowls of chocolate pudding at varying temperatures and go…uh…someplace else, where they are definitely not lying in wait for brazen little girls. The kids love to spot the Pigeon hidden in the cookie jar, and the rejected title ideas on the back, including Goldilocks and the Three Major Networks, Goldilocks and the Three-Foot-Long Hoagies and more.

Cat the Cat, Who is That? by Mo Willems ( link)

Very simple easy reader that introduces Cat the Cat and her friends Fish the Fish, Duck the Duck, Mouse the Mouse. But then she meets someone entirely new: a strange creature who says, “Blargie! Blargie!” This is a fun read-aloud for toddlers, and a great book for beginning readers. Followed by several sequels.

The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog by Mo Willems ( link)

I like the Pigeon, but I love the clever, manipulative Duckling even more. Pigeon is excited to find a hot dog, until a wistful Duckling who claims to have never tried a hot dog asks him to share. There are lots of great Pigeon books, and a fun iPhone/iPad app as well, which allows kids to create their own Pigeon story and learn how to draw the Pigeon (both my kids love it).

What are your favorite Mo Willems books?



Reading the 2014-15 California Young Reader Medal Nominees

Twice a month, I get to read to two groups of second graders at a local school.   It’s so much fun to share books with them, especially since I get to explore longer stories, and talk about connections between books and authors that I don’t usually get to cover in my library storytimes.  They love to jump in with things they notice about the story: “This one rhymes!” or “This is a circle story!”  And they often catch things in the illustrations that I never noticed.

One of my favorite things to do with them is to read the Primary level picture books that are nominated for the California Young Reader Medal, and have them vote for the one they want to win (unfortunately, I just realized that I will have to wait until April to submit their votes to the CYRM committee).   The nominees are announced every February, and the winning books are announced on May 1.   I had already shared the 2013-2014 nominees with them earlier in the year (here’s my post from the storytime I did based on those).  This week I shared the nominees for next year.

The rules specify that in order to be eligible to vote, students have to first read or listen to all of the books nominated in a particular category.  Here are the Primary Level books for this year:


Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit by Chris Van Dusen ( link)

Last year’s nominees included Bats at the Ballgame by Brian Lies, so it was funny to find yet another rhyming baseball book in this year’s batch.  I hadn’t run across this one before the nominees were announced, but I can see why it was chosen.  The kids loved it.  It’s the story of Randy Riley, a kid genius who is terrible at baseball, but great at astronomy.  One night he sees a massive fireball barreling towards his hometown.  No one believes him.  It is up to Randy to save the day by building a giant robot, who hits the biggest home run ever.   This is a fun read-aloud in solid rhymed verse with a lot of dramatic build-up.  A number of the kids recognized Van Dusen’s distinctive illustration style from the Mercy Watson series (several of them also said his drawings reminded them of the movie Meet the Robinsons, which is actually based on a picture book by William Joyce.)  This book got 7 votes from the first class, and 5 from the second.


Exclamation Mark by Amy Rosenthal Krouse and Tom Lichtenheld

This was one of my favorite books published in 2013.  I loved it so much that I gave it as a end-of-year-gift to my son’s third grade teacher.  I was happy to see it in the list of nominees, and many of the kids, having heard it read by their own teacher, were excited to see it as well.   It’s the story of an exclamation mark in a world full of periods.  No matter how much he tries to blend in, he always stands out.  One day he meets a question mark, who asks him so many questions that he shocks them both by shouting, “STOP!”  And he realizes he has a gift.  This is such a clever and perfectly executed metaphor about celebrating our differences, and a great punctuation lesson as well.  The illustrations are whimsical and simple, and drawn on the kind of lined paper that kids use for learning how to write.  Although the second class didn’t vote for it, this book got 6 votes from the first class.


Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don’t) by Barbara Bottner; illustrated by Michael Emberley ( link)

A librarian book!  A little girl is bothered by her school librarian’s boundless (and often goofy) enthusiasm for books, especially when she is asked to share a favorite book of her own.  The girl is convinced that she will never love a book as much as Miss Brooks does, until she reads Shrek.   I had fun sharing this one (especially reading all the girl’s complaints about the librarian), and the kids enjoyed pointing out characters from books they recognized, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  This book got 3 votes from the first class, and 4 from the second.


Too Tall Houses by Gianna Marino ( link)

I hadn’t seen this book before the nominee announcement either, but the kids loved it!   Before I read it, I asked them what the word “Too” in the title meant, and we talked briefly about the meanings of too, to, and two.  The title is actually a pun, because there are two too tall houses in the story.  The book is about a rabbit and an owl who live side-by-side until one day they get in a private war to build the tallest house.  Soon their two houses are towering high above the earth, making them both unhappy until the wind blows them down.  The illustrations are gorgeous and funny, and got a number of laughs from the kids.  This book got 8 votes in both classes, which made it the favorite in the first, tied for first in the second, and was the clear favorite overall.  It was my daughter’s favorite as well.


City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems; illustrated by Jon Muth ( link)

Before I read this one, I asked the kids what other books they knew by Mo Willems.  Many of them recognized his name from the Gerald and Piggie series, Knuffle Bunny, and the Pigeon books.   I pointed out that this book, although written by Mo Willems, was illustrated by someone with a completely different art style.  The text is a departure from Willems’ other books too.  It’s a bittersweet story about a dog and a frog who play together during different seasons.  In Spring they play Country Frog games like splashing and croaking.  In Summer they play City Dog games like sniffing and barking.  In Fall Frog is tired, so they remember the fun times of the past.  In Winter, when City Dog rushes to the frog’s rock, he finds himself all alone.  Then in Spring, while he waits sadly for his friend, he meets a chipmunk, and makes a new friend.  This was a somber book compared to the others, but it’s subtle and sweet nonetheless.  When I asked the kids what they thought happened to the frog, most of them said that he probably died, but some thought he might be hibernating.  I appreciate that Willems leaves that ambiguous.  I wasn’t sure how this book would go over, given the more serious tone, but it got 6 votes from the first class, and 8 from the second (tying with Too Tall Houses for that class).

Overall, I was pleased with the CYRM book selection this year.  There was a nice variety to the books, and they were all fun to read aloud.   The kids seemed to genuinely enjoy all of them.   Too Tall Houses was the clear favorite, followed by City Dog, Country Frog, Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit, Miss Brooks Loves Books, and Exclamation Mark.

Which book would you vote for?  And what would you nominate for next year?  The guidelines specify that the books have to be written by a living author and published within the past four years, which is pretty broad.  At the end of this school year, I think I’ll ask the second graders which books they would like to see in next year’s nominee list.

Confessions of a Library Thief


When I was 12 years-old, I stole a book from the middle school library.

It wasn’t a grand heist.  I didn’t shove it under a heavy sweater and scale the electronic gates like a ninja.  I doubt the library even had electronic gates.  I simply never returned the book, and when the school librarian asked about it, I swore up and down that I had brought it back.  And maybe because I was a good student, or maybe because my mother was a teacher, or maybe because she was tired of nagging students about overdue books: whatever the reason, she chose to believe me, and took it off my record.

The book was Beauty, a first person retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley.  I couldn’t bear to return it.  It was my favorite book.

Thirteen years later, as a newly-minted children’s librarian in a public library, I was anxious to add Beauty to our juvenile fiction collection.  Since I was new and the branch was small, all of my purchases were screened, and I was not allowed to purchase an older title like Beauty.  Instead I bought a copy with my own money and sneaked it surreptitiously onto the shelves.  I then proceeded to rave about it to every middle grade girl who walked in the door.  It was like introducing an old friend.  I was so happy to see it getting checked out to this whole new generation of girls.

And then one of the little stinkers stole it.

One day it simply wasn’t there.    I hope whoever took it loved it as much as I did.  Maybe she became a librarian.  Karma truly is a bitch.

In any case, I now have my own copy (another one I bought for myself many years ago).  I’m saving it to give to my daughter when she’s old enough.  Already she asks me, whenever I read her a book, “Is this from the library?”  She hates returning books.  I know she’s not going to want to let this one go either.

There are many other books I am saving for her.   When I think about them as a group, I realize they are all about girls, and each of those girls became part of the girl I was hoping to be: part Pippi Longstocking (by Astrid Lindgren), strong and unflappable (the bag full of gold would also be nice); part Sara Crewe of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, kind and stoical with a story for every situation; part Alanna of Trebond from the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce, a girl brave enough to disguise her identity in order to pursue her dream of becoming a knight.

I am sincerely enjoying my daughter’s preschool years, and dreading some of the times ahead that I know may be hard for both of us.  But I am itching to introduce her to my favorite books.  I hope that she loves and lives in them the way that I did.   Here are just a few:

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

I loved the movie The Wizard of Oz so much that in Kindergarten I told the teacher my name was Dorothy, and for a day or so (so I’m told) I refused to answer to any other name.   I blew through this whole series a few years later, and although I’ve forgotten a lot, I’ll never forget the startling ending of The Marvelous Land of Oz, the princess with thirty interchangeable heads in Ozma of Oz,  or Polychromethe, The Rainbow’s Daughter from The Road to Oz (I insisted on dressing as her for Halloween one year.  There was definitely no commercial costume available for that, but my mom kindly made me one.)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Another fantasy world I spent a lot of time in as a child was Narnia.  I loved the idea that the time spent there was like no time at all in our world, making it the best kind of escape.  Although the series has been rearranged since then, and now starts with The Magician’s Nephew, to me the wardrobe will always be the best way in.

Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery

I will probably read Anne of Green Gables with my daughter first, because it’s so much funnier, and was definitely one of my favorite books too.  But I loved Emily Starr, a more serious, dreamy orphan who lives in her own stories, and has a mystical attachment to the natural world around her.  I wonder if my daughter will identify with her as much as I did, but I suspect she’ll be drawn more to fiery, spirited Anne, with her hilarious mishaps and rich imagination.

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

Winner of the 1985 Newbery Medal.  An unforgettable fantasy novel about Aerin Firehair, a king’s daughter who battles a dragon.  I loved this one almost as much as Beauty, and I had a crush on the the character of Luthe (one of the many fictional characters I pined after).

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

The Wizard Howl was another one of my literary crushes.  Plus this book made me laugh out loud.   A fairy tale about Sophie, the eldest of three daughters, who enrages the Witch of the Waste and is turned into an old woman.  I can’t tell you how many times I read this. I know it was a lot.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

I always loved mousy, brilliant Meg, and her genius brother Charles Wallace.  I was terrified by IT, the evil pulsating brain, and fascinated by the idea of the tesseract.  I think this was probably the first science fiction novel I read as I child.  It was a wonderful gateway into the genre, and one I will never forget.

These are just a few of the books that I read and reread and dreamed about. I don’t know if my daughter will have the same tastes in books that I do, and of course, there’s a whole world of new books out there to feed her imagination. But I’m hoping as she gets older she will love at least a few of my old friends, although I hope she is never compelled to steal one.

The Results Are In! Reading the 2014 Caldecott Award Winners


This past Monday, I woke up early to catch the ALA Youth Media Awards online.  I was most curious about the Caldecott Medal because I had promised to read the medal winner and the Caldecott honor books to two classes of third graders later that morning.

I’ll confess that I was a little dismayed by the results.  Yes, they were all wonderful choices, but the winning book was extremely wordy, and all three of the honor books were wordless, or nearly wordless.  Sharing wordless books with a large group is a bit of a challenge. But a promise is a promise, so I shared all four books with both classes that day, and with two classes of second graders later that week.

I was especially nervous about reading the Medal winner, Locomotive by Brian Floca.  It’s a mini-history lesson that recreates a trip from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California by train in the 19th century.  Floca packs an enormous amount of detail into the text, including how the railroad was built, how the train was operated, and the range of landscapes it passed through.  It’s too long to share with the toddler and preschool groups I usually read to, so I had never read it aloud to a group, and wasn’t sure if it would hold the kids’ interest.  I was relieved to find that it did.

Floca knows his audience well.  Amid all the facts about the train and the railroad, he throws in little details to grab kids’ attention.  All four classes were gleefully disgusted by the idea that the toilet dumped out onto the tracks, and that you could tell if a switchman (the man responsible for hitching the engine to the train) was new to his job if he still had all his fingers.  Floca also portrays visually the rickety terror of the narrow wooden trestles, the darkness of the rough-hewn mountain tunnels, and the dangers that could befall a train with a careless engineer.

By the time I read to the second grade, I was actually looking forward to sharing the journey.  I told the kids we were going to go on a train ride.  I showed them the map on the inside cover, illustrating how the track was built in two parts that met in Promontory Summit in Utah.  And then I read the book.  Along the way, we talked about the different landscapes, and what it would have been like to travel them by wagon before the railroad was built.  We talked about the telegraph, and what it meant to be able to send messages quickly across the country.

The kids seemed truly engaged by the book, exclaiming over the details, and asking questions about the illustrations and the current state of the railroad (I just read that most of the original track is gone, but parts of it are still in use.  Here’s a wikipedia article with a lot more detail).  But I wasn’t sure how the book had gone over until yesterday, when I ran into the mother of one of the second grade boys.  She said, “My son said you read the best book to his class!  Something about a locomotive.  He never tells me anything that happens in school, so it must have really made an impression on him.”

So kudos to Brian Floca for making history so exciting that kids even want to talk about it after school!


I did “read” the Caldecott Honor books to the classes as well, and they loved them.  They exclaimed over every page of Journey by Aaron Becker, a beautiful wordless story about a girl’s adventure with a magical red crayon.  I loved that in every class, around the fourth or fifth page, the light would dawn across the group, and they’d all start saying things like: “This is like…” “This reminds me of…”  “That book!”  “The kid with the purple crayon!”  And I’d have to stop while they put the pieces together, until finally someone would shout out, “Harold and the Purple Crayon!”  It was so much fun to see them making connections, and getting excited about the story as it unfolded.

My favorite part was when the bird brings the captured girl her red crayon, and she draws a rectangle on the floor of her cage.  “What is she drawing?” I asked.  “An escape hatch!” someone would shout.  “A door!” And then I’d turn the page, and as a class they would exclaim, “A flying carpet!” and you could hear the wonder and excitement in their voices.  Sharing this book made me feel like a magician.  I loved every minute of it.


Since the kids had been sitting for a while by now, for Molly Idle’s Flora and the Flamingo I had them stand up and try to emulate the motions of the flamingo, the way the little girl in the book does.  This got lots of giggles, especially when they had to put their heads between their legs, the part that makes the little girl fall down. This is a charming book, especially for fans of ballet, and several kids (admittedly mostly girls) said it was their favorite.


All four classes loved Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner.  I explained that David Wiesner had won the Caldecott Medal three times already (for Tuesday, The Three Pigs, and Flotsam) and a Caldecott Honor for Sector 9.  Clearly he knows what he’s doing.  Mr. Wuffles is a comic book-style story about a spaceship full of tiny green aliens who nearly fall prey to a big black-and-white cat named Mr. Wuffles.  The portrayal of the cat, who disdains all of his actual toys, but torments the poor aliens, is spot on.  The kids loved the confab between the aliens and the ants, who plot out an escape plan together.  And it’s fascinating to think about an ant civilization, complete with history that they record on the walls.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to convey the story to such a large group, since there is so much tiny detail in the illustrations, but they loved it.

At the end of the classes, I asked them to vote on the book they liked the best.  All the books had several votes, but Mr. Wuffles was the clear winner.  Granted, I had read that one last, so it was freshest in their memories.  But I figure David Wiesner is kind of the Meryl Streep of the Caldecott Awards.  We all know everything he does is award-worthy, but they can’t give him the award every year.

Anyway, in spite of my trepidation at sharing what seemed like four challenging books, the kids loved all of them, and I ended up having a blast.  Many thanks to the members of this year’s Caldecott Award Selection Committee!

Who Will Win the 2014 Caldecott Medal?

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:


Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld ( link)

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.


Count the Monkeys by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Kevin Cornell ( link)

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.


The Dark by Lemony Snicket; illustrated by Jon Klassen ( link)

“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.


That is NOT a Good Idea by Mo Willems ( link)

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.


The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig; illustrated by Patrice Barton ( link)

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:


Journey by Aaron Becker ( link)

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.

Other books that I loved were:

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle ( link)

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!

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt; illustrated by Oliver Jeffers ( link)

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.

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub and Melissa Sweet ( link)

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.

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman and LeUyen Pham ( link)

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?

Read to Me: The Read-Alouds You Will Never Forget


I was prompted to write this post by an article shared by a friend on Facebook called 50 Books Every Parent Should Read to Their Child from  The article claims that bedtime reading is a dying practice, and that a quarter of a million households in the UK don’t own a single book.

My husband and I still read at night to both of our kids, although our fourth grader sometimes prefers to read on his own if he’s in the middle of something good.  It’s my favorite time of day.  Between the obligatory brushing of teeth, and the inevitable cry of “I’m thirsty!” the instant the bedroom light goes out, I get to snuggle down under the covers with one of my kids, and share some old favorite from my own childhood, or something completely new.

With my son, I’ve enjoyed reliving The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Half Magic by Edward Eager, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume, Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary, My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, Bunnicula by James Howe, and so many more.  My daughter still prefers picture books, like Corduroy by Don Freeman (my husband and I both have of our personal copies from childhood).

When I reposted the 50 Books article on Facebook, a number of my friends wrote about books they remembered their teachers reading aloud in school.  I have vivid memories of my first grade teacher reading The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, and my fourth grade teacher sharing the deliciously scary View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts, and the unforgettable James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.  In fact, those are some of my strongest and happiest memories from school.  I’ve been happy to hear my son talk excitedly about the books his own teachers have read aloud: Jigsaw Jones mysteries by James Preller, The Witches by Roald Dahl, and the Hank Zipzer books by Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler (the Fonz!).

Before I had my own kids, I dutifully shared with parents at the library the recommendation that you should read with your children for at least 20 minutes a day.   There were studies and statistics and a multitude of different reasons to validate the importance.  In fact, this page from The Children’s Reading Foundation proclaims, “For every year you read with your child, average lifetime earnings increase by $50,000. You make a $250,000 gift to your child by reading aloud just 20 minutes a day!”

To be honest, though, I didn’t really understand exactly why reading aloud was important.  I read to my son because I loved it and he loved it, and it was the one precious peaceful, happy moment of the day we could both count on.  He was not some reading prodigy, consuming The Aeneid in Latin at age 3.  He did well in Kindergarten, but didn’t express any particular interest in reading on his own, beyond what his teacher expected.

Then, in first grade, he fell in love with Sonic the Hedgehog comics and Garfield, and off he went.  And THAT’S where all those years of reading aloud came in.  You’d be surprised how difficult the vocabulary in Garfield is.   Just flipping through a copy of Garfield’s 56th book (How DOES Jim Davis do it??), Caution Wide Load, there are words like disputes, attempt, translate, atomic (actually “atomic wedgie”), instincts, obsessive-compulsive, guaranteed, and lederhosen, just to name a few.   Because my son had listened to so many books for those first six years, he knew those words, or most of them, and was able to decode and understand them.  After that, the reading came easy. Now he reads whatever he likes, which is still a lot of Garfield, but also lengthy novels like Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief.

I know not every kid loves reading, even children of voracious readers who have been read to constantly, and I was ready to accept that possibility, but it is a joy to hear him laughing hysterically at the latest Wimpy Kid book, and saying, “Listen to this!”

So yes, parents and teachers, please read aloud to your kids.  Read them the stories and books you love, and the ones they love.  I can’t guarantee that they will turn into bookworms, but the reading will build their vocabularies and their understanding of language, as well as their understanding of stories, and people, and the world around them.  But most importantly, it will build memories of cozy moments sharing wild adventures with you that they will never forget.

I did a little Facebook poll, asking my friends to tell me what books they remembered hearing read aloud when they were kids.  There were lots of votes for Dr. Seuss and Bill Peet, and a wide range of other titles, both novels and picture books.  Here is the list:

Note: the titles of the books link to  If you’d like to check your local library for any of the titles, a great resource is OCLC World Cat.  Once you input your zip code, any title search you do will tell you which libraries near you own that book.  My husband and I have also been reading some novels aloud as Kindle books, which have the advantage that you can read with the bedroom light off, and you don’t have to remember your place.  Many library systems now provide free ebook collections for Kindle and other devices through Overdrive and similar ebook collections.   I’ve also included a few links to OpenLibrary, which lets you borrow some ebooks that are out of print and hard to find.  

Picture Books

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (submitted by Laura Hoffmann).  We have my husband’s childhood copy of this, and it’s been a favorite of both our kids.  There’s also a really nice animated series on DVD called the The World of Peter Rabbit, voiced by popular British actors, and based on the illustrations from the books.  Perfect for a rainy afternoon.

The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle by Beatrix Potter (submitted by Ashley Carter).  Ashley has fond memories of her mother reading this story, about a hedgehog who does the laundry for all the animals in the other Beatrix Potter tales.  This story is also featured in The World of Peter Rabbit.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (submitted by Joshua Adler).  Josh says he thinks it shaped his life, and I think it did mine as well.  I remember obsessing over it as a kid.   There are many different interpretations, both positive and negative, that have been put on it over the years, but I prefer to think of it as a story of unconditional love.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.  (submitted by Joshua Adler, who says he enjoys doing the voices).  I’m still amazed by Dr. Seuss’ ability to create such an unforgettable story in verse using the same 50 words.

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton (submitted by Lindsey Tear).  Sweet story about a little house in the country, who becomes engulfed by the city as the year pass, but finally gets to return to her happy rural life.  Winner of the 1942 Caldecott Award.

And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss (submitted by Sue Beckmeyer).  Dr. Seuss’ first book for children.  A little boy sees a horse pulling a wagon on Mulberry Street, and imagines all the ways he could make the story more interesting.

Cookie Monster and the Cookie Tree by David Korr, illustrated by Joseph Mathieu (submitted by Monica Bejarano).  Some of the old Sesame Street books were amazingly good, and this was one of my childhood favorites.  A greedy witch puts a spell on her cookie tree to keep Cookie Monster from stealing her cookies.  The trouble is that the tree will only give cookies to people who share, which means the witch can’t have them either.  Large colorful picture book featuring all the Sesame Street characters.  This book is out of print, but available to read for free through Open Library.

The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone and Michael Smolin (submitted by Jonathan Strickland).  Another great Sesame Street book (a Little Golden book actually), this time featuring Grover, who begs the reader not to turn the pages.  There are two great iPad apps based on this book, including Another Monster at the End of This Book, featuring Elmo and Grover.

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans (submitted by Neeru Penumella).   I still have the copy of this book that my grandmother gave me when I was four, and I remember her reading it to me.  Definitely a favorite, although as Abbey Sparrow points out, Madeline is actually kind of an entitled brat.  Poor Miss Clavel.

Goodnight Moon by Margeret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd (submitted by Ellyn Moore).  This was the first book I remember reading regularly to my son when he was a baby.  My husband and I used to recite it to him line by line in the car when he was fussy.  My daughter still loves looking for that tricky mouse on every page.  Definitely a classic.

Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss (submitted by Abbey Sparrow).   Oh, so tricky to read aloud.  This book is full of impossible tongue twisters that get harder on every page, and of course, kids love hearing you mess them up.  (Although he insisted on reading them himself instead of listening to them, Abbey also remembers enjoying the art in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi and Ron Barrett, and the Little Monster books by Mercer Mayer).

Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell (submitted by Kim Day).  Who doesn’t want a giant red dog they can ride on?   I read this at a Preschool Storytime a few weeks ago, and the kids were as excited about it as I was as a kid.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch (submitted by Peter Selkin, who says it is a current favorite of his daughter).  Great twist on traditional fairy tales.  In this story, the Princess saves the day and the Prince, as Pete says, is a bum.

The Wump World by Bill Peet (submitted by Neeru Penumella).  The poor peaceful grass-eating Wumps are happy until they are invaded by the Pollutians from planet Pollutus.  Timeless environmental story.  Bill Peet was also mentioned as a favorite author by Kim Day and Sue Beckmeyer.

Flutterby by Stephen Cosgrove and Robin James (submitted by Noelle D’Amato).  One of the Serendipity books, with their adorable big-eyed animal characters, this one’s about a baby pegasus trying to find out who she is.  This book is out of print, but available to borrow for free on Open Library.

Beginning Reader/Early Chapter Books

Morris the Moose by B. Wiseman (submitted by Tina Williams).  These books about a mixed-up moose are hilarious and so much fun to read aloud.

Frog and Toad  by Arnold Lobel (submitted by Laura Hoffmann).  Classic, both as early readers and read-alouds for younger kids.  Frog and Toad are the children’s book version of The Odd Couple.

Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish (submitted by Ashley Carter).  These books about a maid who takes everything literally are just as funny and popular today as they were when I was a kid.

Chapter Books

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (submitted by Maria Kurland).  Oh, how I longed to be Pippi Longstocking, with her superhuman strength and her collection of gold coins.  Fantastic, whimsical adventure stories, especially for girls.

Karlsson on the Roof by Astrid Lindgren (submitted by Maria Kurland).  I have not read this book, but it looks hilarious, about a little man with a propeller on his back, who lives on the roof of a little boy’s house.

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlof (submitted by Maria Kurland).  Another one I’m not familiar with, but it has phenomenal reviews on Amazon, where it is described as “one of Sweden’s best-loved books.”  It’s also available for free on Kindle.

Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne (submitted by Maria Kurland).  I picked up an audio version of these several years ago, read by British actor Jim Broadbent, and the whole family loved them.  I loved the stories as a kid, but I don’t think I realized back then the subtlety and humor of Milne’s writing.  They are truly hilarious.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (submitted by Maria Kurland).  My husband is currently reading this with our son.  It’s longer than I remember, with a lot more adventures,  but it’s amazing how timeless and funny the story is.  Maria also recommended  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, which of course has a heavier storyline because of its treatment of slavery, but is definitely an essential classic of American literature.

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (submitted by Maria Kurland).   Kipling’s writing is so much fun to read aloud.  The Elephant’s Child and Rikki Tikki Tavi were two of my favorite stories to hear as a child.  The Jungle Book is full of the same rich, rhythmic language and wonderful detail, and is very different from the Disney movie.

Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten (submitted by Maria Kurland).  There are lots of abridgments and picture book versions of this book, and it’s hard to find the original novel, except as an ebook.   It’s a beautiful novel full of rich descriptions of the realities of life in the forest.

Mary Poppins  ( link) by P.L. Travers (submitted by Maria Kurland and Lynn Williamson).  I wish someone had read this one aloud to me, but I do have a very clear memory of hiding behind our living room sofa so I could read it in peace.   The book describes a lot more adventures than the Disney movie, which I also love.

Paulus and the Acornmen by Jean Dulieu (submitted by Abbey Sparrow).  I’m not familiar with this book, but Abbey remembers his whole family fighting over it when he was a kid.  Unfortunately, it’s out of print and hard to find now, but the copies that are out there sell for $250+, so it must be good!  According to WorldCat, there are 28 copies left in US libraries, so you may be able to get it through Interlibrary Loan.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle (submitted by Abbey Sparrow).  Another strong childhood memory is hearing my third grade teacher read this aloud to the class.  It was so mesmerizing, with the mysterious Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatzit, the whole idea of the tesseract, and the terrifying IT.   I agreed to let my husband read this one to our son, on the condition that I got to read him the sequel A Wind in the Door, a book I found truly mind-blowing as a child.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (submitted by Abbey Sparrow).  What is it about animal stories that make them so timeless?  Classic, funny stories about Rat, Mole, Toad, and Badger that Kenneth Grahame used to tell to his own son, Alistair.

Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry and Wesley Dennis (submitted by Teri Tosspon).  Teri remembers her teacher reading this aloud to the class.  Based on an actual burro who used to carry visitors down into the Grand Canyon, this is a great animal adventure story.  It would the perfect book to read before visiting the Grand Canyon.  Marguerite Henry also wrote Misty of Chincoteague and King of the Wind, two of my other favorite books from childhood.

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (submitted by Teri Tosspon).  Another one Teri remembers her teacher reading.  Newbery Award winning historical fiction novel about a boy living in Boston just before the American Revolution.  I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t read it yet, but I think it will be one of the next books I read with my son.

Alexander and the Magic Mouse by Philippe Fix and Martha Sanders (submitted by Anne McArthur).  I’m not familiar with this book, about an old lady and the animals she lived with, but Anne says she read it until it was literally falling to pieces.   It has rave reviews on Amazon as well.  Unfortunately, it’s out of print, but you can borrow it for free through Open Library.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein (submitted by Jonathan Strickland).  Hobbits, dwarves, a magic ring, a scary dragon.  What more could you ask for from an adventure story.  My husband got to read this one to our son, so I call dibs on reading it to our daughter when she’s older.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (submitted by Jonathan Strickland, who requested that his Dad read it immediately after The Hobbit).  Funny that I never thought of reading Shakespeare at bedtime, but he is, after all, the master storyteller, and it would be great fun to try to read all the parts.

Lad, a Dog by Albert Payson Terhune (submitted by Lynn Williamson).  Lynn remembers looking forward to her teacher reading a chapter of this every day.  It’s a dramatic series of stories about a collie named Lad.  I had a picture book version of the stories “Lost” and “A Miracle or Two” as a child, and I used to read them over and over.

Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight (submitted by Jerry Williamson).  Jerry remembers his teacher reading this book aloud.   Nothing tugs at the heartstrings like dog stories, but at least this one has a happy ending.  The inspiration for the TV show and a wonderful movie adaptation starring Elizabeth Taylor, this book tells the story of a boy’s beloved collie, who has to be sold when the family falls on hard times.  You can figure out the rest from the title, but it’s quite an adventure.

Noddy books by Enid Blyton (submitted by Neeru Penumella).  I didn’t have access to Enid Blyton growing up, but she seems to have had a tremendous influence on a lot of my friends from overseas.   The Noddy books are about a wooden boy and his adventures in Toyland.  There have been several stage productions and a TV series based on them in the UK.   Unfortunately the books are out of print in the US, but you can borrow several of them for free through Open Library.

Asterix and Obelix books by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uberzo. (submitted by Neeru Penumella).  I didn’t grow up with these either, but they have been popular in every library where I’ve worked.   A series of graphic novels about a village of Gauls in 50 BC, whose residents have managed to fight off the Roman invaders by drinking a magic potion that gives them superhuman strength.  The books are full of word play, and a number of my friends credit them for teaching them about the history of the Roman Empire.

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett; illustrated by Ruth Chrismas Gannett (submitted by Thomas Moore).  Whimsical adventure story about a boy who sets out for Wild Island in order to rescue a baby dragon who has been enslaved by the animals there.  The short chapters, and black-and-white illustrations on almost every page make it a good introductory chapter book for younger kids.

Ida Early Comes Over the Hill by Robert Burch (submitted by Kerri Meeks Hall).  Kerri remembers her fifth grade teacher reading this to the class, and also reading it herself when she was student teaching.   Although I haven’t read this one, I remember reading Burch’s Queenie Peavy over and over when I was a kid.  This book is about a family of four kids in Depression Era rural Georgia, whose lives are changed when a tall, ugly woman with a wonderful sense of humor comes to help them out.  Kerri says her own copy is now held together with a rubber band, and she is looking forward to reading it to her daughter when she is bit older.


The Monkey’s Paw  by W.W. Jacobs (submitted by Tina Williams).  Tina says Ms. Delman was her favorite teacher, because she read great books.  The Monkey’s Paw is a fantastically creepy classic about the dangers of getting what you wish for.  I read it in my ninth grade English (thank you, Ms. Pogue!) and it was definitely unforgettable.  The story is available for free as a Kindle book.   (As an aside, Tina remembers her teacher reading a book about a kid who travels through time by way of a spinning thing on his hat.  She would love to find out the title.  Anyone?)

Animal stories by Ernest Thompson Seton and Gerald Durrell (submitted by Maria Kurland).  I’m not familiar with Ernest Thompson Seton, who was one of the founders of the Boy Scouts and also sported a fabulous mustache, but his collection of stories about wild animals gets wonderful reviews and is available for free as a Kindle book.   I do know Gerald Durrell, and remember laughing hysterically as a child over Menagerie Manor, about his adventures running a private zoo on the Isle of Jersey.

Mai Kulkarni remembers hearing her dad tell stories from the Ramayana.  Neeru Penumella remembers hearing them from her grandmother, who also shared stories from the Mahabarata, and brought Amar Chitra Katha comics.

A hearty thank you to everyone who sent me their favorite read-alouds.  Please send me the titles of other books you remember, and I’ll be happy to add them to my list.   The books we share with kids have their own immortality.  Let’s keep them alive!

Second Grade Caldecott Committee, Part 2

A week after challenging two second grade classes at a local elementary school to pick their favorite book out of four picture books published in the past year, I read them four more. Here they are:


Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Adam Rex

This is one of those books where the author and illustrator enter the story, this time to get in an argument about whether Chloe, the protagonist, encounters a lion or a dragon. In a fit of egotistical rage, the author, Mac, fires Adam, has him eaten by the lion, and hires a new artist. But he isn’t happy with the results.

The kids got a kick out of this one, and it did get several votes. It’s a challenge to read aloud, because it reads more like a play or a comic, so I had to find really distinctive voices for each of the parts to convey who was speaking. I have to admit that even though it’s a funny book with a clever premise, I was uneasy about a couple of things. For one, the author says another character is “clearly an idiot,” which is something that I probably wouldn’t have even thought twice about when I was a kid, but the climate today, especially in schools, is really sensitive to words like “idiot” and “stupid.” The word did get a sort of surprised (and slightly delighted) reaction from some of the kids, as if I read the f-word out loud in class. But the author in the story is being a big jerk, so I guess it fits his character.

My other concern, which bothered me more, is that when the author draws his own pictures, the other characters go on and on about how horrible they are. This point is crucial to the plot, because it’s how the author gets his come-uppance and learns that the illustrator is important (it’s also how he gets the illustrator out of the lion). But the drawings that the other characters are insulting are still much better than anything I could draw, and probably better than the second graders I was reading to could draw as well, so it pained me a little to plant the idea that these were horrible drawings.

I don’t know. I’m probably being a bit too sensitive, which is unusual for me because I usually love the slightly edgy picture books. In any case, the book has gotten a lot of attention, and appeared on several Best of the Year lists, and the kids certainly did seem to like it. Plus it presented a fun challenge for me as a storyteller, and gave me a good opportunity to discuss the difference between authors and illustrators. Not my favorite of the year, but I can see why it is popular.


Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri

This was far and away the favorite in the first class I read to. It’s kind of a bizarre version of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” Apparently dragons LOVE tacos. AND parties. They especially love TACO PARTIES. But, the narrator warns, you must be very careful not to give them any spicy salsa, or terrible things will happen. Which of course, they do. The kids loved the pictures of the dragons breathing fire uncontrollably and burning the house down. And the book made both classes laugh out loud. Definitely one I will be reading again at storytimes.


A Gold Star for Zog by Julia Donaldson; illustrated by Axel Scheffler

By the author/illustrator team behind The Gruffalo this is another funny, colorful, rhyming tale, this time about a dragon who longs to earn a gold star at dragon school. Each year he gets injured in some way, and is rescued by a girl who turns out to be a princess. As the mother of a preschooler deep in the princess phase, I appreciate it because it is an “Anti-Princess” book. Or at least the princess declares she’d much rather be a doctor. I also like how she puts a stop to the near battle between the dragon and a knight by complaining that “the world’s already far to full of cuts and burns and bumps.”

Surprisingly, this one didn’t get many votes from either class. I think they all enjoyed listening to it, but it wasn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as some of the others, and it felt a bit long. I think it probably work better for kids to read one-on-one, because they’d have a better chance to take in the detailed, whimsical drawings.


Rabbit’s Snow Dance by James and Joseph Bruchac; illustrated by Jeff Newman

This was the top choice of the second class, and my favorite of all the books on the “Best of the Year” lists so far.

Joseph Bruchac is known for his versions of Native American folk tales (as well as his delightfully creepy novel Skeleton Man). This picture book is based on an Iroquois legend explaining why rabbits have short tails. The story goes that Rabbit once had a long, beautiful tail, but one summer he grew impatient with the weather and wanted it to snow, so he played his drum and sang his special song over and over again, until everything is covered with snow except for the highest branch of the tallest tree. And there Rabbit falls asleep, and well, let’s just say he learns his lesson.

Ever since I first read this book to my three year-old two weeks ago, she has been going around the house chanting, “I will make it snow. Azikanapo!” and “EE-OO! Thump! Thump! EE-OO! Thump! Thump! Yo Yo Yo! Yo Yo Yo!” The second graders were no different. Even though it was the last book I read on a glorious sunny Friday afternoon at the very end of the day, I could hear them in the halls after school singing, “EE-OO! Thump! Thump!” Even though it’s a bit lengthy for some of the age groups I usually read to, the chants are enough to hold their interest. This is a book that will probably become one of my all time favorite read-alouds.


The second graders are all anxious to know which picture book will win the real Caldecott Award tomorrow morning, and so am I. I’ve promised that I will do my best to try to bring the actual book in to read to them on Friday. I hope they won’t be disappointed in the result. Some Caldecott winners are definitely more readily appealing to kids than others, and I’m curious to know what this year’s committee decides.

No matter who wins, it’s been a fun and engaging exercise for both me and the kids to see which ones they liked the best. Even though there were clear favorites in both classes on both the days that I read to them, there were a lot of different opinions. And that was only with four books each week to choose from. I can’t even imagine how hard it must be for the Caldecott committee to choose one winner out of all of the hundreds of books that have been published this year!

13 Words by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Maria Kalman


13 Words by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Maria Kalman

How can I not love a book that begins:

Word Number 1:


The bird sits on the table

Word Number 2:


The bird is despondent.

It goes on from there, spinning a story that somehow weaves together words like “Cake,” “Dog” and “Goat” with words like “Panache” and “Haberdashery.”  It ends with a song, sung by a Mezzo-Soprano (Word 13), that ties everything together.  As my 8 year-old son said, “This book just gets more and more random with every page.”  And it does.  Admittedly the humor is definitely more for adults, but I think my 3 year-old still enjoyed the story of the dog and the goat trying to cheer up their sad friend with a new hat (“with panache, of course.”)  And my son loves new words (as a Kindergartner, he amused his teacher by complaining that his feet were “weary.”)  Plus, the illustrations by Maria Kalman are vibrant and offbeat, with wonderful expressions, especially on the poor despondent bird.

My favorite two pages come at the end, with a picture of everyone seated at a table covered with a colorful variety of cakes, the bird and dog wearing their new hats, the goat playing a clarinet, the mezzo-soprano poised to eat a cupcake.  And it reads, “It is a beautiful song.  It has been a good day.  Everyone, everyone, everyone, everyone has cake.”  As a librarian, I live to read a line like that out loud to a group of small children, who probably all long to sit at a table covered in cakes.  (So do I).   And then, of course, in typical Lemony Snicket style, we learn that the bird “to tell you the truth, is still a little despondent.”

If you haven’t read Lemony Snicket (who is really Daniel Handler, a San Francisco novelist), you should know that all of his books, especially his “Series of Unfortunate Events,” are filled with unlucky twists of fate and unusual vocabulary, which he usually defines in a wry way within the text.  My favorite of his is The Latke Who Wouldn’t Stop Screaming, which achieves something nearly impossible in the holiday genre: a book that explains the holiday without being dry, makes adults laugh, tells an entertaining story, and allows kids to scream very loudly over and over again.   It is a real treasure for a children’s librarian, especially around the holidays, when I’m often faced with a shelf full of Hanukkah books that are far too long and detailed to hold the interest of the 3 and 4 year-olds at my storytime.  I don’t know that I’d put 13 Words in the same category, but it did make me laugh, and I will probably try it out at a storytime soon.