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

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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 flavorwire.com.  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 Amazon.com.  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  (Amazon.com 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.

Stories

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!

What Books Are You Thankful For?

In honor of Thanksgiving, I sent an email to the Pacifica Mother’s Club, asking members to send me the titles of books they are thankful for.  I picked a few of them to read at my storytimes this week.  I have included all of the titles at the bottom of this post, with links to both the Peninsula Library System catalog and Amazon.

The books I read for my Family Storytime were:

bored

I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black; illustrated by Debbie Ohi  (Recommended by Sarah Coffey) Amazon.com link

This is such a fun read-aloud.  A bored little girl gets in an argument with a potato, who claims that kids are boring.   Kids love joining in on the potato’s repeated reply, “Boring!”  This one got snatched up immediately.

corduroy

Corduroy by Don Freeman (Recommended by Liz Vaisben) Amazon.com link

I have really fond memories of this story myself, and would definitely include it in my own list of books I am thankful for.  Not only is it a sweet, happy story about a teddy bear searching a department store for his lost button, but it was the first book I remember reading that featured an African American girl, who is beautiful, and also more or less the hero of the story.  (Interestingly, I just found this post by a woman who claims to have been the inspiration for that character).   As soon as I pulled the book out at storytime, all the kids yelled, “Oh, I love that one!”

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Jingle All the Way by Tom Shay-Zapien (Shared by Lisa Ottati and Family) Amazon.com link

This was a fun surprise.  One of my storytime regulars brought this book, along with the plush dog who makes sounds in response to certain words in the story.  I hadn’t read the book before (I think it’s only available as part of the Hallmark dog-and-book set), but it was a cute story about a homeless dog, and I enjoyed putting the dog on my lap and having him bark and whine at the end of each page.   I may get this one as a Christmas gift for my daughter.  I could see how it might be a good reading tool too, since kids will probably learn to recognize the words that make Jingle bark.

knight

Good Night, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas; illustrated by Jennifer Plecas (Recommended by Lisa Ottati) Amazon.com link

This is a longish story (an early chapter book), but it has enough action, repetition, and charming illustrations to hold the interest of preschoolers.   A knight standing on watch at a castle hears a loud roar.  Rushing to investigate, he comes to a cave where three little dragons are getting ready for bed.  The first dragon asks for a drink of water, but naturally that’s not the end of the story…  This book is always a hit.  The kids love joining in on the loud roars, and they were all begging to check it out afterwards.  There are several sequels, both picture books and chapter books. My daughter has been requesting to hear Get Well, Good Knight every night this week at bedtime.

CRAFT: Crepe Paper Dragons

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Crepe Paper Dragon by Claire

I printed out this dragon head template from Sparklebox, then gave the kids crepe paper streamers, googly eyes, crayons, straws, and plastic gems.  They had fun coloring and decorating the paper head, then taping on the streamers.  We taped the straws on the back of the head to make a handle.

One creative dad stuck several straws together so his daughter could hold her dragon high above her head.

BOOKS YOU ARE THANKFUL FOR (from members of the Pacifica Mother’s Club)

These are all of the titles I received over email.  Please send me any others you would like to add:

Baby/Toddler Books

Todd Parr books (Recommended by Erika Patterson).
Todd Parr is a San Francisco author/illustrator who writes bright, colorful, funny but thoughtful little books like Underwear Dos and Don’ts and Otto Goes to School.  Click here for the Todd Parr page on Amazon.com.  My friend Lindsey Tear, a librarian in Virginia, also recommends The Family Book, a simple book that celebrates all the different types of families.  It’s the perfect book for All About Me units or preschool and elementary school classes looking for books about families.

A Good Day by Kevin Henkes (Recommended by Angie Major) Amazon.com link
I read this at my toddler and preschool storytimes this week.  It’s one of my daughter’s favorites, and I love to share it because it is so simple, and has such a satisfying ending.  Bad things happen to four different animals, but they all turn out for the best.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Recommended by Angie Major).  Amazon.com link
Talk about a classic!  Great book for teaching about butterflies and the days of the week, with large, engaging illustrations.

Chugga Chugga Choo Choo by Kevin Lewis (Recommended by Allison Tungseth) Amazon.com link
Sweet, rhyming story about a  little boy’s toy train and the world of toys it travels through.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker; illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld  (Recommended by Allison Tungseth) Amazon.com link
Wonderful rhyming bedtime story for kids who love big machines and construction equipment.

Moo, Baa, La, La, La by Sandra Boynton (Recommended by Teri Tosspon) Amazon.com link
This was a favorite of both my kids when they were toddlers.  Funny, easy, rhyming book about animals.   Sandra Boynton has lots of great books for toddlers.  There are a number of iPhone and iPad apps based on her books as well.  My daughter loves the Blue Hat, Green Hat one, and there’s a good one for this book as well.

Llama Llama books by Anna Dewdney (Recommended by Teri Tosspon) Amazon.com link
Adorable rhyming stories about Llama Llama and his Mama that portray kids’ emotions in a way that parents of toddlers will identify with.  My favorite is Llama Llama Red Pajama.

Yummy Yucky by Leslie Patricelli (Recommended by Jessica Ellison) Amazon.com link
Another must-read for both of my kids when they were babies and toddlers.   My daughter still goes around saying, “Burgers are Yummy.  Boogers are Yucky.”  (Valuable lesson!)  Jessica also recommends Quiet Loud (Amazon.com link) and No No Yes Yes (Amazon.com link).

Preschool/Early Elementary Books

I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black; illustrated by Debbie Ohi  (Recommended by Sarah Coffey) Amazon.com link
Great book to read when your kids complain about being bored.  (See above for a longer description).

The Teeny Tiny Woman (Recommended by Sarah Coffey) Amazon.com link
There are several different versions of this story, but the classic is this one by Paul Galdone.  A simple ghost story about a teeny tiny woman who finds a teeny tiny bone.  Creepy without being too scary for little guys.

The Big Orange Splot (Recommended by Sarah Coffey) Amazon.com link
Terrific story about a peaceful neighborhood that is shaken when a seagull drops a big splot of orange paint on Mr. Plumbean’s roof.  All of the neighbor’s complain, until Mr. Plumbean helps them learn to be brave enough to be different and express themselves in their own way.

I Miss You Every Day by Simm Taback (Recommended by Liz Vaisben) Amazon.com link
Charming, touching poem about a little girl who misses someone so much, she wraps herself up and mails herself to them.  Great book for young kids who miss a friend or relative.

A Treasury of Curious George (Recommended by Liz Vaisben) Amazon.com link
Perfect for fans of Curious George, this book features eight of his stories.

Corduroy by Don Freeman (Recommended by Liz Vaisben) Amazon.com link
The classic, sweet story about a bear and his lost button.  (See above for a longer description).

Press Here by Herve Tullet (Recommended by Janell Jones) Amazon.com link
This book reads like an iPad app, asking kids to interact with the illustrations by touching colored dots, shaking the book, blowing on it, and clapping.  I’ve shared it with a wide range of ages, including two second grade classes, and the kids always love it.

Good Night, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas; illustrated by Jennifer Plecas (Recommended by Lisa Ottati) Amazon.com link
A beginning chapter book that also works well as a read-aloud, about a knight and three very cute dragons.  (See above for a longer description).

Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that Go by Richard Scarry (Recommended by Lisa Ottati) Amazon.com link.  Angie Major also recommended Richard Scarry Books, and I remember loving them as a kid too (Lowly Worm was my favorite).  So much detail for kids to pore over.  Here’s the Amazon.com link for all the Richard Scarry books.

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka (Recommended by Dorit Betschart) Amazon.com link
You may think you know the story of the The Three Little Pigs, but wait until you hear the wolf’s side of the story!  This is an excellent book for fairy tale units, and so much fun to read.

Pigs Love Potatoes by Anika Denise; illustrated by Christopher Denise (Recommended by Dorit Betschart) Amazon.com link
I don’t know this one, but it looks adorable, and I can’t wait to read it.  A counting book about a bunch of pigs who have a potato party.  Dorit also recommends Bella and Stella Come Home (Amazon.com link) by the same authors, about a little girl and her stuffed elephant who move to a new home.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (Recommended by Dorit Betschart) Amazon.com link
Winner of the 1963 Caldecott Award, and one I remember loving as kid.  The story of a boy’s adventures on a beautiful snowy day.   This was considered groundbreaking when it came out because of its African American main character.  It’s a wonderful book for anyone who loves snow.

Duck on a Bike by David Shannon (Recommended by Jessica Ellison) Amazon.com link
When a little boy leaves his bike unguarded, Duck takes it for a spin.  The other farm animals are jealous, until a large group of kids leaves their bikes outside.  I love to do this one for storytime.  The picture of all the animals on bikes is hilarious!

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Betsy Lewin (Recommended by Jessica Ellison) Amazon.com
Hilarious story about a farm strike mediated by a duck.  The cows won’t give milk until they get electric blankets.  What is Farmer Brown to do?  I love all of Cronin’s books, especially this series and Diary of a Worm (Amazon.com link).

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (Recommended by Jessica Ellison) Amazon.com link
As a children’s librarian and a parent, I am SO grateful for Mo Willems.  This book puts kids in charge of a begging, wheedling, tricky pigeon.  My kids love the iPad app based on this book too, where they get to create their own pigeon stories.

Nightsong by Ari Berk; illustrated by Loren Long (Recommended by Jessica Ellison) Amazon.com link
Beautiful book about an adorable bat who has to venture out into the night on his own to find food, using his song and his good sense.

Elementary School Books

Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Recommended by Angie Major) Amazon.com link
These are definitely in my own list of books I am thankful for.  They are amazing, both for the detail they provide about life on the American frontier  as well as for their beautiful writing.  I read the first two with my son last year, and I got choke up reading about the Christmas where Laura and Mary were astounded and grateful to receive their own tin cup and a penny.  The next day, I was astonished when my son announced that he wanted to give some of his toys away to kids who didn’t have any.  (I wrote another post about it here.)

Adult Books

Mary Doria Russell books  (Recommended by Angie Major) Amazon.com link
I have not read these, but Angie has me intrigued.  She writes, “I really enjoy her writing style and that she writes so many different genres.  But be careful – the only thing that’s hard for me is she gets you to really really like her characters and then they get killed.  Have a box of Kleenex, especially for A Thread of Grace.

What books are you thankful for?  Write your titles in the comments below, and I’ll be happy to add them to the list.  Thank you to everyone who sent me the recommendations above!

Long Ago and Far Away

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I just finished reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie with my eight-year-old son.  I was hesitant to share these books with him before, even though they were among my favorites when I was a child.  On his own, he tends to gravitate towards funny books like the Dragonbreath series by Ursula Vernon, and the Geronimo Stilton books, as well as graphic novels like Tintin and Bone.  So I wasn’t sure if he would enjoy what I remembered as being mostly quiet stories of a little girl growing up a long time ago.

Boy, was I wrong about them being quiet stories!  Before this book, we had read Little House in the Big Woods, which was full of lots of peaceful, happy family times, interspersed with some exciting family stories, and incredible detail about their day-to-day life in the woods of Wisconsin.  But Little House on the Prairie was, literally, a whole other story.  In almost every chapter, the family is faced with some new potentially deadly challenge: the river rising while they are crossing in the covered wagon; a prairie fire; malaria; a congregation of angry Native American tribes who want to kill them.  How had I forgotten all of that?

What I had also forgotten, or perhaps never noticed as a child, is that Wilder’s writing is absolutely stunning.  Interspersed with all the dangers, she fills each chapter with lyrical passages about the beauty of the prairie, or the feeling of being safe with her family around her.  Here’s just one example:

Everything was safe and quiet.  Only the owls called “Who-oo? Whoo-oo?” in the woods along the creek, while the great moon sailed slowly over the curve of the sky above the endless prairie.

I don’t know if my son noticed the beauty of the language, but he was enormously impressed by her memory for detail.  Several times throughout the book, he asked, “How on earth did she remember all of that?”  And it’s true.  I don’t know how much of she actually remembered, and how much she extrapolated or re-imagined (after all, the books were marketed as fiction, giving her a lot of freedom to improvise).  But some of the descriptions are detailed enough to practically serve as a guide on how to, say, build a door without nails, or, for that matter, build an entire house complete with hardwood floors and a fireplace.  It’s also rich with emotional details of how Laura felt at any given moment, as well as touching moments between her parents, and times when she resented her seemingly perfect older sister.

I was amazed by her father.   I don’t know how much Wilder idealized him in the books, but he comes across as incredibly resourceful and practical, even though you have to wonder why he chose to move his wife and three very young children literally out to the middle of nowhere.  It’s unimaginable now, the idea of being forty miles (on horseback!) to the nearest place where you could even mail a letter, much less buy any food or supplies or find a doctor.  But then I can’t think of many people now who would have any idea how to build a house out of nothing but some nearby trees, make their own bullets, and dig a working well, all without any modern machinery.  Apart from his knowledge of survival skills, Pa also comes across as a caring father and loving (and surprisingly romantic) husband.  He plays the fiddle (the book is peppered throughout with the lyrics of the old songs he sings).  And even though he clearly believes he has a right to live within the boundaries of the Kansas Indian territory, he is the only one of the settlers who never speaks badly of the Native Americans.

While we were reading this book, I happened upon a commentary online by someone who was upset about the way Native Americans were depicted in the book.  I could understand her concern, because several people throughout the story say, “There’s no good Indian but a dead Indian,” which is a pretty horrifying thing for a child to hear.  My son was appropriately appalled, and the book led us to lots of discussions about the not-so-nice parts of American history.

But I thought Wilder’s portrayal of the people and events were believable and balanced.  She does describe the family’s terror when members of the nearby tribes barge into the house demanding food, and she captures the obvious racism of the other settlers, including her own mother.  But she also describes how one remarkable leader of the Osage rode in to a massive congregation of tribes, and argued all night to convince them to spare the lives of her family and the other people who had settled illegally on their land.

And they are there illegally.  At the end of the book, the father tells a neighbor that he moved to the prairie because some government official had said it would be okay for people to settle within the border of the Indian territory.  But there are clear hints throughout the book that the law is not on their side. Eventually (spoiler alert!) the Ingalls family has to flee the territory before soldiers come to force them out.  And yes, it is sad that they have to leave everything that they had built over the past year, but Wilder never betrays any resentment towards the Native Americans for this.  It is, after all, their land.   She actually ends the book on a surprisingly positive, hopeful note: she and her parents and two sisters are all together in the wagon again, just as they were in the beginning, looking forward to new adventures ahead.

Not only am I glad that I read this book to my son, I wish every American child (and adult) could read it.  It’s incredible to look back on how different our country was, less than a century and half ago (the book was set in 1869).  I know people often complain these days that we don’t know how easy we have it, but these books make it clear exactly what we take for granted: hospitals, cars, roads, 24-hour grocery stores, washing machines, running water, and on and on and on.  One of the most startling, and moving chapters in the book describes the Christmas where Laura and Mary are overwhelmed and overjoyed to find, in each of their stockings, a new tin cup (they always had to share a cup before) and a penny!  Even the adults in the story tear up at their astonishment and pleasure, and I admit I got choked up while reading it aloud.  I think it had an impact on my son as well.  A few days later he suddenly decided to go through his toys and give some that he no longer played with away so other kids could enjoy them, something he had always been reluctant to do before.

I enjoyed this book on so many levels: as a piece of eyewitness American history; an adventure story; a touching family portrait; and a remarkable, and beautifully written work of literature.  I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to share it with my son, and I hope other parents will keep it alive for their children as well.

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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13 Words by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Maria Kalman

How can I not love a book that begins:

Word Number 1:

Bird

The bird sits on the table

Word Number 2:

Despondent

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.

The Second Grade Caldecott Committee

Today I read four recently published picture books to two separate classes of second graders, and asked them to choose which one they would award the Caldecott Medal if they were on the selection committee.

The four books were:

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Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds; illustrated by Peter Brown
Jasper Rabbit loves to munch the carrots of Crackenhopper Field, until they start to follow him. The large glossy black and white (and orange) illustrated panels in this book were just creepy enough to keep the kids uncertain about whether they should be frightened or amused. Still, they were riveted all the way through to the surprise ending.

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This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
A tiny fish boldly steals the hat of a sleeping fish many times his size. He is sure he will get away with it… The fun of this book is in the contrast between the little fish’s boasts, and the illustrations of the big fish hunting him. Younger children may not get the joke, but may not pick up on the implied ending either (let’s just say the little fish gets what’s coming to him). The second graders all knew what was coming though. One boy kept shouting, “No, don’t keep saying things like that. The big fish is going to eat you!” This one got quite a few votes from both classes.

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The Day Louis Got Eaten by John Fardell
The overwhelming favorite book for both classes. When her little brother Louis is eaten by a Gulper, Sarah knows just what to do. Unfortunately the Gulper is eaten by a Grabular, who is eaten by an Undersnatch…well, you get the picture. The kids LOVED this book, especially the colorful, cartoon-like illustrations of Sarah, whose bicycle magically transforms to carry her across water, underwater, and anywhere else she needs to go.

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I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black; illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

The second-most popular book for both classes. A little girl complains about being bored, until she meets a potato who thinks kids are boring (and would much rather play with a flamingo). Trying to convince the potato that kids are far from boring leads the girl to demonstrate just how many amazing things kids can do. Another great read-aloud, with large, clear, funny illustrations on lots of white space. The kids liked chiming in whenever the potato said “Boring!”

The kids were excited about all of the books, and begged to have a chance to see them up close afterwards. I had chosen these out of several lists of the best picture published in 2012. It was interesting that there didn’t seem to be much consistency between the lists, and there didn’t seem to be any one clear favorite among professional reviewers. I’m just as anxious as the kids were to know which book actually will win the Caldecott this year!