Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Can't Sleep Without Sheep by Susanna Leonard Hill

A while back, Hubs was out of town to ComicCon and Sprout was having trouble getting to sleep. It was the first time he'd been without Daddy at bedtime, plus we'd had a very full day of activities, and I think he was just finding it difficult to wind down. I was snuggling him, trying to get him to key down, but nothing was working. "I can't go to sleep, Mommy," he said, and in my half-asleep state I suggested, "Why don't you count sheep?"

Big mistake.

Thus ensued a huge round of questioning. Suddenly Sprout was wide awake and buzzing with queries. Who were these sheep, and where did they come from, and why were we counting them, and where would they go after we counted them, and were they sheep from a farm or what. . . you get the idea. Yeesh, make one off-the-cuff suggestion and there goes any hope of shut-eye!



But it got me thinking about the phrase and how honestly bizarre it really is. So when I came across today's pick, I knew I had to bring it home for Sprout pronto. Can't Sleep Without Sheep by Susanna Leonard Hill is the perfect blend of silly and sweet, a great selection for bedtime or anytime a dose of fun is in order. When Ava can't fall asleep, her mom does exactly what I did to Sprout, suggests Ava count sheep. But the sheep in Ava's room are totally worn out, and they want a night off. So they offer to find a replacement animal for our heroine to count. Unfortunately, nothing's quite right - the horses are too graceful, the pigs too slow, the cows too clumsy. Then even non-barnyard animals are getting into the action, as penguins, hippos and even buffalo take a crack at jumping over Ava's fence. It's all kind of a disaster, but a really hilarious one!

Mike Wohnoutka did the illustrations for this little beauty, and they are a whole lot of fun. The night sky is populated with twinkling stars and wispy clouds, the perfect setting for all of this animal craziness. Sprout likes the chickens - cross-eyed and chubby, trying to cram themselves between the boards of the fence. And   the sheep are everywhere in the background, trying mightily to orchestrate a suitable replacement for themselves so they can have one -- just one! -- night to themselves. (Spoiler alert: it never quite materializes.)

Hill's story is one tailor-made for preschoolers who love a good bit of zaniness at storytime or on the way to dreamland. And believe me when I tell you that after this one, you'll never count sheep in quite the same way!

Can't Sleep Without Sheep by Susanna Leonard Hill, published by Walker & Company
Ages 3-6
Source: Library
Sample: "The pigs were not in any hurry. 'One pig over the fence," said Ava. Then she had to wait while the others stopped to snack. 'Pigs are too slow,' decided the sheep."
Recommended


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Wind Flyers by Angela Johnson {The Children's Bookshelf}

Three years ago next month, I flew home from Ethiopia with a chubby-cheeked baby boy that had just joined our family. I was so worried before the trip about how he would react to the air travel, but I needn't have been - he settled right in like he was born to cruise through the clouds.

And thus began a love affair between my son and airplanes. He just adores them. We live quite near a regional airport, and for a long time now, just about every time a plane goes over, Sprout rushes to the window to see if he can catch a glimpse. We've been on a couple of family vacations since he came along, and Sprout's favorite destinations are "fly-away" ones -- sometimes I think he likes the airplane part better than the actual vacation!



So it's no surprise that a recent library find, Wind Flyers,  was a huge hit with him. Honestly, even if it wasn't about air travel I think it would have been a winner, seeing that it was created by two award-winning kidlit luminaries: author Angela Johnson and illustrator Loren Long. But the fact that the cover features a young boy and his dog climbing aboard a yellow-and-red barnstormer? That just put Sprout over the top.

Johnson adopts an introspective tone with this tale, narrated by a boy who is telling the story of his great-great-uncle, who all his life wanted to fly. As a lad Uncle would do just about anything to try to touch the clouds, including jumping out of a barn window (don't worry, he landed safely in a mound of hay). When he grew up, Uncle enlisted as a Tuskegee Airman, flying missions in World War II in the famous squad of African American pilots. "We were something." Uncle tells his young nephew. "Some of us didn't come back, but we never lost a plane we protected." And Uncle still flies now, mostly just to keep the feeling of the wind, but also, we learn, to pass that feeling on to a new generation.

As you might expect, coming from two such gifted artists, this is an incredible book. First and foremost it serves as an important introduction to a group of heroes whose contribution to our nation's history must never be forgotten. And it's also just a beautiful book to share with a young child. Johnson's narration is spare and perfect, each word set precisely as a stone in a beautiful mosaic. Long's paintings capture the elegance of the prose in visual form, lifting the viewer up into the wind that Uncle loves, the smooth wind, the magic wind of the Tuskegee wind flyers. This is the sort of book you read through several times just for the experience of it. Sprout can never get enough on just one reading, and often asks us to stop on one page or another, drinking in the heady mixture of poetry and light that is word and picture combined.

Whether you read it for the history, for the airplanes, or just for the lyricism, make sure you add Wind Flyers to your reading list soon. It's a piece of art as smooth as the wind that carries it.

Wind Flyers by Angela Johnson, published by Simon and Schuster
Ages 4-6
Source: Library
First lines: "Great-great-uncle was a wind flyer. A smooth wind flyer. A Tuskegee wind flyer. . . . "
Highly recommended

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This post is part of The Children’s Bookshelf, a weekly linky party with the goal of connecting parents with great books for their kids. Do you have a book review, literacy or book-related post that you think will be helpful for parents? If so, please add your link below.

NOTE: By linking up you are giving permission for any of the co-hosts to pin and/or feature a your photo on a future The Children’s Bookshelf post. Kindly link up to an individual post, not your blog’s homepage. The hosts reserve the right to delete any links to homepages, commercial links, repeat links or otherwise inappropriate links. Thank you for your understanding.

You can also follow The Children’s Bookshelf on Pinterest or visit TCB’s co-hosts: Sprout’s Bookshelf, What Do We Do All Day?, No Twiddle Twaddle, Smiling Like Sunshine, My Little Bookcase, The Picture Book ReviewMemeTales and Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns. You can find more details here.



Friday, April 26, 2013

Series Spotlight - Shanna's First Readers by Jean Marzollo

I've mentioned before that I'm always on the hunt for series that have diverse characters. A similar hunt is for diverse reads for beginners - it seems like there are plenty of picture books, and novels for middle grade and teen readers, but where the multicultural children's literature field falls short is in board books (more on that another time) and books for beginners. Beginning readers are tough because they already have to accomplish so much: be readable for those just starting to decode the written word, but at the same time be colorful and inviting, have plots that are easily understood, and be interesting enough to compel those beginners to pull them off the shelf. Tall order indeed!

But there are choices out there, if you're willing to look. Libraries are one of the best places, as are used bookstores, for the simple fact that some of these series start out strong and then don't get the backing from their publishing houses that one might hope. (Lots of thoughts on that, again, for another time.) Today's pick is a series that I unearthed by rooting around in the library catalog. It's one I hope will stick around for a while on our library shelves because Sprout loves them now, and I know he'll be thrilled to read them on his own one day.



The series in question is Jean Marzollo's Shanna's First Readers. We've read three of the titles: Shanna's Hip, Hop, Hooray!; Shanna's Bear Hunt; and Shanna's Party Surprise. Each of the books is fairly shimmering with energy and excitement, from the cover right on through, which makes them a perfect selection for catching and keeping a beginner's attention. They're also fairly simple, so perfect for low level readers, and make use of speech bubbles and other comic-inspired devices. There's so much going on here, but each spread is carefully constructed to move beginners sequentially through the story.



And the plots, while easy to follow, are fun too. In Shanna's Hip, Hop, Hooray!, Shanna and her brother Shane are putting on a show with their animal friends. Everybody's dancing and moving to the beat, which readers can't fail to catch on to - it's infectious, to say the least! Illustrators Maryn Roos and Shane Evans keep the backgrounds uncluttered so the focus is on the characters and the action, just as it should be. At the end of each story, Marzollo gives kids a fun word game to help reinforce the skills learned in the book. For Shanna's Bear Hunt, for example, the game is matching up rhyming words, underscoring the rhyme scheme occurring in the text -- just what a beginner needs to succeed.

Sadly this series is out of print (come on, Jump at the Sun, bring it back, will you?) but you can find used copies if you hunt around. Our library copies have seen better days, but I'm hoping they can hold on a bit. Fun, engaging titles just right for a beginner, featuring an adorable girl and her equally cute little brother? What's not to love?!



Shanna's First Readers:

Shanna's Animal Riddles
Shanna's Bear Hunt
Shanna's Hip, Hop, Hooray!
Shanna's Lost Shoe
Shanna's Party Surprise
Shanna's Pizza Parlor


also look for the Shanna's Show titles:

Shanna's Princess Show
Shanna's Doctor Show
Shanna's Teacher Show
Shanna's Ballerina Show

Monday, April 22, 2013

Wild About You by Judy Sierra {The Children's Bookshelf}

It's been awhile since I wrote about any adoption-themed titles here. Although I used to spotlight these quite frequently, I haven't run across any lately that we just loved. That is, until we came across the newest effort by author Judy Sierra and illustrator Marc Brown, Wild About You. And this is one, my friends, that we truly are wild about!



The story is quite similar to their earlier effort, Wild About Books, in that it is set in a zoo that's populated by some quite inventive animals. This time around, it seems that everybody's having babies -- except for the tree kangaroo and a pair of pandas, who unfortunately seem to be lacking the little additions they are longing for. The pandas in fact are so upset that they are "black, white, and . . . BLUE." (A nice bit of punny humor for you there.)

Then a rescue truck pulls into the zoo, carrying a mysterious foundling egg. Of course the zookeeper asks all the birds if they can foster the little one, but everyone has some complaint. So the tree kangaroo steps right up to pouch-sit, and once the egg hatches, she's thrilled with her unexpected surprise. She's now the mommy to an adorable little penguin! Luckily the other animals pitch in to help out, supplying fresh fish and avian role models. Similarly, the pandas find themselves parenting a little kitten, and the zoo community rallies around them as well. The most terrific part is the final spread, where the entire menagerie gathers together -- those who have keen eyes will pick out other trans-species families in addition to the pandacat and the pengaroo.

We love this title for plenty of reasons: its subtle message (you don't have to "match" in order to be a family), its upbeat tone and positive take on adoption, and of course its infectious rhyme scheme. Brown has pulled out all the stops with these illustrations, utilizing geometric shapes, dots and bold primary colors to bring a warm, cheerful feel to this warm, cheerful story. Families who read this one will be strengthened in all kinds of ways, and foster or adoptive families in particular will find the positive message very reassuring.

This is a gentle treasure, perfect for introducing the topic of adoption in a classroom or home setting. And the next time your kiddos ask about a family that doesn't look alike, just reassure them that "to bring up a baby. . . it takes a whole zoo!".

Wild About You by Judy Sierra, published by Alfred A. Knopf
Ages 3-6
Source: Library
Sample: "So the puffins delivered fresh fish every day. / The flamingos invited her over to play. / And one happy day, she hopped her first hop -- A super-sensational pengaroo bop."
Highly recommended
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This post is part of The Children’s Bookshelf, a weekly linky party with the goal of connecting parents with great books for their kids. Do you have a book review, literacy or book-related post that you think will be helpful for parents? If so, please add your link below.

NOTE: By linking up you are giving permission for any of the co-hosts to pin and/or feature a your photo on a future The Children’s Bookshelf post. Kindly link up to an individual post, not your blog’s homepage. The hosts reserve the right to delete any links to homepages, commercial links, repeat links or otherwise inappropriate links. Thank you for your understanding.

You can also follow The Children’s Bookshelf on Pinterest or visit TCB’s co-hosts: Sprout’s Bookshelf, What Do We Do All Day?, No Twiddle Twaddle, Smiling Like Sunshine, My Little Bookcase, The Picture Book ReviewMemeTales and Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns. You can find more details here.



Thursday, April 18, 2013

Moving Day - 6 Sensational Picture Books to Help Kids Adjust to a Move


A few weeks ago, a friend contacted us asking about our favorite titles about moving to a new home. Honestly, I was stumped for a minute. Aside from Judith Viorst's classic Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move (my love for Alexander could take up a whole post all on its own), I couldn't think of a single one. We haven't had occasion to seek this topic out yet with Sprout, so off to the library catalog I went to search for some titles. In short order I had a big ol' stack, all of which we read as a family.

And without further ado, here are our favorites!



First up is Bandit, written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber and illustrated by Vincent Nguyen. The main character in this title is a somewhat snarky housecat, Bandit, who is shocked when movers show up and then he's taken to a new house. No way is Bandit taking that lying down, so he high-tails it to his old place, but someone else is already there. Fortunately his owner shows up to claim him, and Bandit discovers that the new place is just fine - with all his things in it! The retro illustrations and comic-inspired format make this lots of fun, and kids will identify with Bandit's feelings when a move seems to come up out of nowhere.



In a similar vein, Jessica Harper's I Like Where I Am is also about a boy who isn't thrilled to be moving house. "I've got trouble," he tells us, "I've got BIG TROUBLE." And it certainly seems that he does, because he's got to leave behind his house, his room, and even his friends to move to a place called Little Rock. But the narrator eventually changes his tune, because in Little Rock, he not only finds a new friend (with a swimming pool!), he also gets his own kitten. G. Brian Karas illustrated this spunky title, and as usual he mixes in a nice bit of diversity, a clear bonus in our book.



Apprehension about a new place is a familiar theme in Anika and Christopher Denise's Bella and Stella Come Home. Bella and her stuffed elephant Stella enjoy a relationship similar to that of Calvin and Hobbes, where Stella is alive, but only to her owner. Bella's glad to have her friend along to explore the new house, where everything seems just wrong, from the color of the kitchen to the lack of a tree in the back yard. Resigned to their fate, the friends settle in for the night - and in the morning, with all their toys and furniture around, things start looking up. The soothing text pairs nicely with the soft palette and cozy pictures - a great choice for bedtime, even if you're not moving house.



Sprout was especially excited about this next pick, A Brave Spaceboy by Dana Kessimakis Smith, with pictures by Laura Freeman. He had really enjoyed the pair's other title, A Wild Cowboy, and I love that these books both feature a multiracial family (African American and Asian American). The moving theme in this title is conveyed very subtly, almost entirely through the pictures, while the text centers around space exploration. That makes for a great opportunity to talk about words and images working together to tell a story. As with their other outing, this one is colorful and high energy, a great book for emphasizing the fun part of moving to a new place.



For another series title, we also read Niki Daly's Where's Jamela?, a book set in South Africa and featuring Daly's recurring character. The vivacious Jamela is not so thrilled about her Mama getting a new job, which means moving to a new place. Everything about their old place is just right, from the smell of cooking to the familiar neighbors nearby. So Jamela does what any sensible girl would - she hides out in a moving box! Naturally that causes quite the ruckus, but it all ends well in Daly's capable hands. This title fairly bursts with life, and readers will love seeing Jamela settle in to what will, we know, be a great place to live.



The last title in our list is a quieter one, perfect for winding down the evening or bringing a thoughtful tone to a  story session. Clancy & Millie and the Very Fine House, by Libby Gleeson, echoes the tone of many other titles. Clancy's not happy about his new home, which seems all wrong to him, though his parents love it. Depressed about the whole situation, he ventures outside, where the huge stack of moving boxes towers to the sky. As Clancy begins to explore, he meets Millie, whose idea of fun is much the same as Clancy's, and the two happily build cardboard trains and crazy houses. And then, suddenly, the house that wasn't so terrific, seems great after all. I love the sketchy quality of Freya Blackwood's illustrations, as well as her deft portrayal of Clancy's eye-view of the first very-wrong, then very-fine house he now calls home.

With these titles, the intense emotions that can arise due to a move are explored through humor, sensitivity and lots of great pictures. Whether you're planning a move or simply want a moving reading experience, add these titles to your library list today!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore {The Children's Bookshelf}

To Eva Moore, author and Nancy Carpenter, illustrator:

You are both responsible for my early wake-up call the other day -- 4:30 a.m., to be exact.


Let me explain. Your picture book, Lucky Ducklings, so captivated my young Sprout that after we read this  delightful tome at bedtime, he apparently thought about it all night long. Then at 4:30 in the morning, he came and woke me up, saying, "We need to read this again, Mama. Right now, okay?". I was able to forestall him until 5:15, but no longer. And that was only accomplished because he parked himself on the floor next to my bed and paged through the book, examining each of Ms. Carpenter's engaging illustrations in detail and repeating the names of the ducklings in question ("Pippin, Bippin, Tippin, Dippin and last of all - Little Joe").

I blame myself, really. I should have known better than to bring home a book that fairly drips with charm, through both its simple yet stirring text, courtesy of Ms. Moore, and of course those darling pictures. I should have known that a book so reminiscent of other classics (Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey being the obvious, yet unavoidable, parallel), would be bound to seize hold in Sprout's imagination. When we first read through your book -- a tale set in an idyllic little town, of a mama duck and her five babies, who are placed in danger when they fall through a storm drain -- I could have guessed that the story would be the kind that would linger in my boy's mind. And the rescue of the ducklings, by the city firefighters and an enterprising citizen, is the stuff of little boy's dreams. But an early morning request to read it "one more time"? That didn't figure into my plans.

And, I should note that we've read Lucky Ducklings every evening since, and that each time I forget to add it to the book stack I am roundly chided by Sprout for the oversight. I should also note that it's quite clear we need to return this to our library and buy a copy for ourselves post-haste, as this is the sort of book Sprout will remember and want for his own little ones some day.

Not only has your book resulted in my own lack of sleep (and the need for a little extra caffeine that morning), but it's also responsible for some of the sweetest storytimes we've had together in recent memory, as our whole family pores over this enchanting title together.

I hope you are both happy.

Sincerely,
Mary Kinser

P.S. - Of course now I'll have to seek out more work by each one of you, because Sprout is completely won over by both Ms. Moore's text and Ms. Carpenter's lovely drawings. But you better believe I'll plan an earlier bedtime first.

Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore, published by Scholastic Press
All ages
Source: Library
First lines: "The Duck family lived in a pretty pond in a green, green park, in a sunlit little town at the end of a long, long island."
Highly recommended
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This post is part of The Children’s Bookshelf, a weekly linky party with the goal of connecting parents with great books for their kids. Do you have a book review, literacy or book-related post that you think will be helpful for parents? If so, please add your link below.

NOTE: By linking up you are giving permission for any of the co-hosts to pin and/or feature a your photo on a future The Children’s Bookshelf post. Kindly link up to an individual post, not your blog’s homepage. The hosts reserve the right to delete any links to homepages, commercial links, repeat links or otherwise inappropriate links. Thank you for your understanding.

You can also follow The Children’s Bookshelf on Pinterest or visit TCB’s co-hosts: Sprout’s Bookshelf, What Do We Do All Day?, No Twiddle Twaddle, Smiling Like Sunshine, My Little Bookcase, The Picture Book ReviewMemeTales and Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns. You can find more details here.



Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Guest Post - Gregor the Overlander (The Underland Chronicles) by Suzanne Collins

Eeeek! I'm in the throes of my final semester in grad school and things are getting a little, well, nuts. So my sweet husband Jacob took pity on me and wrote me this guest post, about a series he's just finished reading and which he cannot WAIT to share with Sprout.




In my lifetime of reading experience I have found that when a book gets turned into a series the sequels are usually never as strong or compelling as the first book. That however is not the case in the Underland Chronicles series of books. I tried to separate each book to review it on its own, but Suzanne Collins wrote this series so seamlessly it feels like one large continuous book (in a very good way).
In the first book, Gregor the Overlander, we are introduced to Gregor, a typical 12 year old boy who lives with his mom (Grace), and two younger sisters Lizzy and Boots, and his ailing grandmother. They live in a small apartment in a low income area of New York, where they struggle to make ends meet. The adventure begins when Gregor is not able to go to camp because he has to watch his grandmother and younger sister because his mother has to go to work. When Gregor goes to do a load of laundry, his sister falls through a grate. Gregor goes after her and quickly discovers himself surrounded by giant talking rats, bats, cockroaches, spiders, and a strange race of underground humans called Regalians
He is befriended by the humans who believe that he is the “Warrior” of several ancient prophecies (written by Bartholomew of Sandwich, the leader of the Overlanders who came to live in the underworld). This puts his and Boots' lives in peril as they travel through this fascinating and dangerous underground world. They fight rats, carnivorous plants, dangerous ants, and lots of other things. They also make friends with some unlikely Underworld creatures on their mad rush to try to get back to their Overland lives, and their family.
The supporting characters are a wonderful hodgepodge of underworld creatures, which include the harsh future queen Luxa and her bat/bond Aurora; the precocious Boots, who is three and believes that this is a great game as she befriends the “Crawlers and Nibblers”; Tic and Temp, the two cockroaches who befriend Boots as a very strange set of nannies; Ripred a surly “rager” rat who is an outcast of the rat community; Howard, cousin to the future queen; Ares the giant bat; and Vikus who is Luxa’s grandfather. They are believably flawed and great fun to read as they react to fights and down time of this series. During the series these characters are revealed more and more, so that you discover why they are how they are. Just like in life you start liking some of them despite their short comings.
A nice plus about this series is that Gregor is African American. It's wonderful to find a series that is action-packed and full of fantasy, but that also has a main character and supporting cast with diversity. Gregor is your average city kid who is thrust into a world most unlike his own, and there is a lot of relevance to the experience of people of color who may be struggling to find their place.
This is a great book series for anyone to read. It has the perfect amount of action and mystery that is revealed at a great pace for the reader to potentially figure out things on their own. (Don't skip around though, you need to read these in series order! And for those who enjoy audiobooks, the narrator of this series is excellent - this would be a terrific series to listen to on a family road trip.) It is a rare thing that I mourn the end of a book series - but as I was nearing the end of this one, I found myself regretting the fact that I read the books so fast. If you have a tween or teen that likes adventure books this is a must-read, and you'll enjoy them too, I promise.
The Underland Chronicles series by Suzanne Collins:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

My Granny Went to Market by Stella Blackstone {The Children's Bookshelf}

What is it about rhyme that's so appealing? I'm not sure, but you can't argue the fact that books that rhyme are not only more fun for kids to listen to, but also a lot more fun to read. Rhyme is one of the cornerstones of early literacy, as it helps kids begin to isolate and identify the individual phonemes, or sounds, that comprise words. As kids become aware of sounds, and start to associate them with letter groupings, they are that much further along the road to reading. So rhyming books are more than just cute, they are educational too!

I can still recite from memory a few of the early rhyming books we read with Sprout when he first joined our family. Recently he's begun to experiment when we read a rhyming story, trying to guess from the context and from the sounds what word might be next. It's so incredible to see these pieces of the literacy puzzle sliding into place for him, and as a a result I've begun to keep my eyes open for even more library picks that incorporate a strong rhyme scheme.



Today's pick does just that, besides being a great one for developing global citizenship. In My Granny Went to Market, renowned Barefoot Books author Stella Blackstone teams up with illustrator Christopher Corr to present a colorful excursion to marketplaces all around the globe. Readers jump right into the action on the first page, when Granny buys a flying carpet to sail around the world doing her marketing. (How much do you wish you had one of those to do your errands with?)

And believe you me, Granny is getting around - Thailand, Switzerland, China, Australia and more. Each spread is bursting with Corr's folk-art infused illustrations, so vivid they'll capture the attention of anyone who picks up this title. The rhyme scheme is great here, keeping the pace moving just as quickly as Granny, who jets off somewhere new with each turn of a page. For kids who are working on their counting, Blackstone adds a nice device wherein Granny buys a increasing number of things at each stop -- the entire list is repeated at the end of the story for a great skills review. And the endpapers are also part of the fun. Kids can trace Granny's route from country to country, following the trail of colored dots as she picks up each new item.

You'll find yourself flipping back through this title when the reading is done, too. Sprout likes all the small details included in the pictures, which really add a sense of depth and texture to the story. Last time we read this, he spent quite a bit of time examining Granny's carpet in the different frames, which I couldn't quite figure out -- until he pointed out that Granny's stash of goods grows in each new picture. Smart kid, that one, but it just goes to show that kids pick up on so much more than we adults.

Next time you head out the door to market, ask your kiddos what you should bring back on your flying carpet. I'm willing to bet at least a few of Granny's goodies make it onto your list too! :)

My Granny Went to Market by Stella Blackstone, published by Barefoot Books
All ages
Source: Library
Sample: "She bought the flying carpet from a man in Istanbul, it was trimmed with yellow tassels, and made of knotted wool."
Recommended

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This post is part of The Children’s Bookshelf, a weekly linky party with the goal of connecting parents with great books for their kids. Do you have a book review, literacy or book-related post that you think will be helpful for parents? If so, please add your link below.

NOTE: By linking up you are giving permission for any of the co-hosts to pin and/or feature a your photo on a future The Children’s Bookshelf post. Kindly link up to an individual post, not your blog’s homepage. The hosts reserve the right to delete any links to homepages, commercial links, repeat links or otherwise inappropriate links. Thank you for your understanding.

You can also follow The Children’s Bookshelf on Pinterest or visit TCB’s co-hosts: Sprout’s Bookshelf, What Do We Do All Day?, No Twiddle Twaddle, Smiling Like Sunshine, My Little Bookcase, The Picture Book ReviewMemeTales and Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns. You can find more details here.



Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Spring Ahead! Four Picture Books to Plant Some New Ideas

It's spring! Lovely, glorious spring! We had a terrific time over Easter weekend, playing outside, going for bike rides, and just generally enjoying the feeling of not being bundled up in raincoats and boots. While we're not silly enough to think that the rain is gone yet -- after all, we do live in the Pacific Northwest -- it was wonderful to have a bit of spring idyll.

And of course that spring weather means that we're in the mood to read about all things growing. Spring provides a host of excellent topics for children's books, providing an introduction into the growth cycle and the rhythm of the seasons. All the aspects of spring are so much fun, aren't they? Planting, watching flowers bloom, seeing butterflies and birds, getting outside and becoming more connected to the earth. Can't wait to do more of that this year with Sprout, now that he's getting old enough to do more than just eat handfuls of dirt. :)



We brought home a ton of great spring-themed reads from the library, and sorting through to find the best was no mean feat. I took my cue from Sprout on this one, as he once again has some very definite preferences among the titles we read together. His most favorite was a title that I added as an afterthought, and I'm glad I did: City Green by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan. This book has an urban setting, so it's perfect for kids who maybe won't be sowing seeds in their own backyards. When an old building is knocked down in Marcy's neighborhood, all the neighbors work together to turn the patch of land into something beautiful -- all but Old Man Hammer, who is nothing but unpleasant about the whole thing. But Marcy stumbles on Old Man Hammer's secret, and soon discovers that, just like with the earth, when you scratch the surface of someone, there are hidden places underneath. This is a lovely story of community involvement and intergenerational relationships, and the diversity included is definitely an added bonus.




A friendship between young and old also forms the basis for George Shannon's SeedsIllustrated by Steve Bj√∂rkman, the pictures capture the spirit of Shannon's story perfectly, lending a slightly impressionist feel that's energetic at the same time. Warren and Bill are friends -- Warren helps Bill in his yard, and the older man draws or plays games with Warren. But then Warren's family moves away, and he misses his friend terribly. So Warren writes Bill a letter, and Bill writes back, with a surprise that makes Warren's loneliness -- and his yard -- much brighter. Not only does this book touch on the themes of loss and connection, it also provides a great example of the notion that friendship, like a beautiful garden, blooms in unexpected places. (Check your library or used bookstore for this older title.)



One of my favorite things about spring is the blossoming of the flowering cherry trees. Sprout knows this, and so every time we see one when we're out and about, he yells, "There's your pink trees again, Mama!". And so the fact that Diane Muldrow's We Planted a Tree features a spread with pink cherry blossoms just delighted him, enough that we read this one several times together. This is definitely an eye-popper, with retro-vibed illustrations by the delightfully quirky Bob Staake. Honestly, I could look at his work forever, it's that fun and full of life, as is Muldrow's poem about the growth of trees and their connection to humans. The book shows people from all corners of the globe experiencing the joy of trees - from their leaves to their shade, from fruit and flower to maple syrup and beyond. The message, that as trees grow and thrive, so do we, is timely and spot-on. Best of all, there's a reference to the Green Belt Movement of Kenya's Dr. Wangari Maathai, a connection to East Africa that seals this one as a winner in our book.


Last but not least is Butterflies for Kiri, a book about art and perseverance, that wraps its message in the beauty of a spring day. Cathryn Falwell's previous books have been favorites of ours, and this one's no exception, both intriguing to the mind and to the eye. When Kiri's Auntie Lu sends her a book of origami for her birthday, Kiri sets out at once to make a beautiful origami butterfly. But the paper folding is much harder than Kiri bargains for, and she soon gets frustrated. Still, she's determined, so every day she practices making a butterfly with scrap paper. And then one day, inspired by the gorgeous spring weather, Kiri decides to capture her feelings with an art project. At first things don't turn out how she intended them to, but this time Kiri's not giving up -- and all that practice pays off as she completes her piece with a perfectly folded butterfly. I love the message here, that difficult things take practice and patience, and I especially love the smile on Kiri's face as she shows off her completed masterpiece.

As the days get longer, there's more light for reading just one more bedtime pick. If you're squeezing in one of these springtime favorites, you may want to leave time for a reread (or two!).