Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Running List of Song Books: Christmas Edition

There are a ton of great Christmas songs that have also been turned into picture books to share.

Again, I will add to this as I find or remember them, so please feel free to remind me of any I have missed in the comments!

Deck the Halls, by Norman Rockwell
Here Comes Santa Claus, by Gene Autry
The Huron Carol, Brebeuf, Father Jean de, eng. lyrics by Jesse Edgar Middleton, ill Ian Wallace
Santa Baby - by Janie Bynum
- a reworking to celebrate sharing xmas with a baby, quite cute
Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town, by Steven Kellogg
- this is the full version
The Twelve Days of Christmas - there are lot of versions of this. Jan Brett's is quite nice, and
Robert Sabuda's pop-up is stunning.

Running List of Song Books

I love book versions of songs for kids. They give the kids something to look at and focus on when you use them with a group. They can add a new dimension to an old favourite, tucking humour or beauty into the pictures in greater detail. They are great for building phonetic awareness skills. Kids will sit still for a song or join in singing along, so they are great for a group. And of course, they help me remember the words!

This list will be added to as I find or remember new versions, so please add any favourites I may have missed in the comments!

Kids' Favourites:

Baby Beluga, by Raffi
Down By The Bay, by Raffi
Eensy Weensy Spider, by Nadine Bernard Westcott
I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, by Nadine Bernard Westcott
*note, she doesn't die here
also: There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, by Simms Taback
If You're Happy and You Know It, by Raffi
Lady With The Alligator Purse, by Nadine Bernard Westcott
Little White Duck, by Walt Whippo
Miss Mary Mack, by Nadine Bernard Westcott
Old McDonald, by Jane Cabrera
On Top of Spaghetti, by Paul Brett Johnson
* melding of story and song
Puff the Magic Dragon, by Pete Yarrow
The Seals on the Bus, by Lenny Hort
Shake Your Sillies Out, by Raffi
She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain, by Jonathan Emmett
Skip To My Lou, by Nadine Bernard Westcott
Spider on the Floor, by Raffi
The Teddy Bears' Picnic, by Jimmi Kennedy
This Little Light of Mine, by Raffi
The Wheels on the Bus, by Raffi
The Wheels on the Bus, by Paul O Zelinsky

Other Great Song Books:

A-tisket, A-tasket, by Ella Fitzgerald
Let It Shine, [ill.] by Ashley Bryan
Summertime, by George Gershwin
Turn! Turn! Turn!, by Pete Seeger
What a Wonderful World, by George Weiss
Rodgers and Hammerstein's My Favorite Things, by Oscar Hammerstein, ill. James Warhola

Sunday, June 14, 2009


This past week, the decision was made to stop publishing on Better Than a Playdate - that is, all columns, not just Pick of the Litter. Because it's a project that I enjoy and the lists are ones I use for my work at times, I've decided to recreate the column here, on a site of my own. Everything posted before today was found first on either Playdate or the earlier site MommyBlogsToronto, which I think is important to say because I have so enjoyed being a part of those projects.

As far as this site is concerned, having no schedule to hold to now means my posts will be less regular, to be sure, and less frequent, but I plan to continue posting as I have ideas and time to fill them out a bit. It also means that I may be slightly less rigorous - I have always felt I needed at least 4 good titles to make an idea worth posting, but I may, here, sometimes post with less if it's something I would like to put out there or titles that I think go well together.

I hope that if you were a reader on Playdate, you will continue to enjoy the lists here, as well.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Community Helpers: Where Do We Get It?

Daily, we eat. We buy groceries - canned goods, produce, baking supplies, and more. We cook them, often keeping children busy in another room, though we occasionally involve them. the whole business is a little removed from them. We sometimes go to restaurants, where someone else cooks behind closed doors, food appearing even more mysteriously than at home. So how to lead them to understanding and appreciating all the hard work behind these meals they eat (or refuse)? How to explain the logisitics, the late-night shelf-stocking, the care and pride that goes into supplying food for us?

Here are a handful of books of community helpers that illuminate the goings-on in stores, groceries, and restaurants, a great way to show kids what it takes to get a dinner on their table. Not only will you bring them to greater understanding of the world around them, but you will expand their vocabulary and maybe - just maybe - even get a little appreciation at mealtime. Maybe.


The Candystore Man, by Jonathan London, ill. Kevin O'Malley

This book is more ode to a superpopular neighbourhood character than it is a look at how the man runs his store, but part of what makes him so special is his engagement with his community. He treats the winning football team to milkshakes and pinball, takes a blind boy to a basketball game, and shells out on Hallowe'en, not to mention being on cool cat. The story is written in a be-bop beat, as if in tribute to the candy store man's obvious love for all things jazzy, and O'Mally's illustrations would add fun to a funeral, so while a bit slight on the actual job involved, it's a winner for sharing at storytime.

A Fruit & Vegetable Man, by Roni Schotter, ill. Jeanette Winter

Ruby is a greengrocder who takes great pride in his work, choosing the best produce, stacking it artistically, and serving his customers well. New arrival Sun Ho soon becomes a young admirer of Ruby, who is much beloved in the neighbourhood, and asks Ruby to show him how he does it. Ruby takes him along on a day, teaching him how to choose, haggle, stack, and serve, all of which pays off when he for the first time becomes to sick to open the store for a few days. When he returns, he finds that Sun Ho and his family have been taking care of business for him, and decides that he can at last retire, leaving the community in good hands. This is a nice bok about taking pride in your work and serving your customers with integrity, and it really shows the dedication in some of those mainstays of the world around us.

The Storekeeper, by Tracey Campbell Pearson

This homey book follows the day of a general store proprieter who opens early, orders new stock, sorts mail, shelves product, and serves donuts while she helps out pretty much everyone in town wanting one thing or another. It is simply told, with some detail added in the cute drawings, but shows how busy it is to keep a small business running. There may not be too many small general stores left in the world, but I think it can translate to many a small business owner!


Market Day, by Lois Ehlert

This book shows a farming family loading up and going into town for market day, and is told in rhyme. The illustrations are a bit strange, but really interesting - a collage of folk art items that give the whole thing a sort of Central or South American feel. While this is not how a lot of North America has ben typically buying its food, the farmer's market is on the rise, and families who frequent them might really enjoy this relatable glimpse into their food's suppliers.

Feast For 10, by Cathryn Falwell

A family gets ready for a big family dinner in this cute counting book, starting with a trip to the grocery store, and continuing with the preparation of the meal. The paper-and-cloth collage illustrations are terrific, and I love the level of detail. It feels jut like any family outing to the grocer's, with one of the five children riding on the cart, others helping gather the ingredients for dinner. I also love it when a picture book features of family of colour without the story being about that, and this family is a good-looking one, to be sure.

The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza), by Philemon Sturges, ill. Amy Walrod

This urban take on the familiar tale of the little red hen is a winner. In it, the hen decides to make a pizza, and as she discovers the many things she will need and doesn't have, she is, as expected, given no help by her friends, who are out playing in the street. Instead, she runs out to the hardware store, the supermarkt, and the delicatessen to get what she neds, cooks it up herself, and in the end, breaks with th traditional tale and shares it with her shiftless friends. They repay her kindness by helping with th dishes, showing that they are no complete do-nothings after all. The story is definitely a fun retelling, but what pushes it into fantastic trritory is the comedic details in the paper collage illustrations - the selections and labels of the food in her pantry alone make it worth taking this treat home to share.


Piggy's Pancake Parlour, by David McPhail

This is found in the picture book section, but it is sort of a picture-early chapter hybrid, as it is much more text-heavy than you average picture, and divided into chapters for easily reading it over a few nights of storytime, if you wish. In it we meet piggy, and discover how he learned to cook pancakes, how he met fox, and how the two of them went on to open a pancake restaurant together, including the story of how they experimented with having a model train deliver the pancakes to customers, but found it easier to do by hand in the end. It's a lovely book, a tale of friendship and work paying off in something wonderful, and a good story overall. McPhail's typically beautiful and finely detailed illustrations make the whole thing sing.

Big Jimmy's Kum Kau Chinese Take Out, by Ted Lewin

A young boy takes us with him as he spends the day helping out at his dad's chinese takeout restaurant. We see the ingredients delivered, the kitchen cleaned and the cooking stations prepared, the meat and vegetables chopped, and huge bowls of rice and noodles made ready. The boy folds menus while he waits for opening time, and once they do open up, the rush begins. Phones ring and woks sizzle as the boy helps stuff bags with orders, bringing them out to customers, and taking a moment to eat after the lunch rush. At the end of the day, though, he eats his favourite - pizza! Lewin's incredibly gorgeous watercolours bring this work to life, and in an artis's note at the end he notes that the restaurant is a real place in Brooklyn, and that the paintings were done from photographs he took, though the people are fictional and added in from other sources. It is, in a word, a prfect look into the running of a busy chinese restaurant.

Originally posted on Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, May 4, 2009

National Treasure: Barbara Reid

Barbara Reid is another one of Canada's great children's authors, and may be familiar to many of you, whether you know of her full range of books or not. Many of her books are favourites, but only one small and lesser-known set have gone into a series, making her somewhat less well-known than she ought to be. She is an illustrator of other people's books as well as an author/illustrator, so you may even have seen her art without ever having read what she has written herself. Either way, you should just make sure you know she has a good handful of wonderful books to be discovered.

What's so special about her, that I should call her a national treasure? I first became aware of her for her illustrations, which are phenomenal. A master of plastiscine, she shapes, blends, and texturizes with more detail than anyone I have seen in this medium, and even, sometimes, incorporates little bits of found stuff into the images, giving them an extra dimension of real life. Not only are her details incredible, but she has a gift for faces, something I always appreciate in an artist. So after enjoying her work on Jo Ellen Bogart's Gifts and Beverley Allinson's Effie, most notably, I began to notice her own work, and loved it even more. It turns out that as great as her genius for the image, her skill as a storyteller matches it. She uses lovely storytellerly details that give her stories a feel of modern fairy tales, and when she uses rhyme, she does it with skill and a nice, readable metre. Treasure, indeed. Here are some of my favourites:

Subway Mouse

This is one of her tales that is at once thoroughly modern, taking place in a subway system inhabited by a gang of tattooed mice, yet retains something of the air of a classic tale in its journey and its delightfully satisfying ending. Toronto readers will recognize a lot of details, and this work is an example of her incorporating lots of scraps of real objects that work perfectly to bring her already nicely detailed world that much closer to perfection.

The Golden Goose

I adore this twist on fairy tales and their often-spoiled princesses. Here, a pragmatic and earth-loving girl is completely misunderstood by her loving but status-conscious father, who wants to buy her some happiness and in his attempts, destroys the very things that she loves. In the end, her story fortunately intersects with that of a young man who has found a golden goose and is being tailed by a gaggle of greedy townspeople. The two hit it off perfectly, and are able to return her favourite places to the little patch of what they consider heaven. Her father may be left scratching his head, but he's happy she's happy, and all is well with a nice, modest couple. Sweet, full of great values without talking about them, and charming in its execution, I have given this as a gift more than once.

The Party

Anyone who has attended a big family party will appreciate how well she picks up on what goes on, from an aunt's big smooch to chasing around with cousins to the sleepy ride home later than usual. it's note perfect, and the rhyming works nicely, something I always watch for.

Zoe's Sunny Day / Rainy Day / Windy Day / Snowy Day

This set of simple books tells about what Zoe gets up to in different types of weather, and make a great introduction to talking about weather. Perfect for toddlers and early preschoolers, they are short and capture what it's like to be a young kid at the mercy of the outdoors and your mother's dictates.

Sing a Song of Mother Goose

She may not be an author in the truest sense of the word here, but she has put together one of my favourite collections of nursery rhymes, right up there with those illustrated by Rosemary Wells and by Kady MacDonald Denton, some illustrious (ha!) company, if ever there was.

Fox Walked Alone and Two By Two

These stories are both about Noah's Ark, but the Fox version is told from the point of view of the fox. Reid has said that she wrote it partly to try to answer some of the many questions the story had raised for her. If you are planning to introduce a child to this tale, one or both of these would be a wonderful way to do it.

Fun With Modeling Clay

In this how-to art book, Reid shares some of her tips and tricks to teach kids how to play with clay. Imagine, lessons from the master... A great way to extend her stories, to bring the concept of illustration home more fully to children, or add an extra dimension to an author study.

Originally posted on Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pumpkinpie's Picks

I haven't mentioned for a while now what my Pumpkinpie has been enjoying, which I think is a good window into what she and I like, so I think it's about time I pull back the curtain on bedtime at our house once again, especially since I've been buying new books like a mad thing lately. (That's what happens when you have time to browse bookstores while on mat leave...) She's also taken very strongly to some good stuff, surprising even me a little, given that this child has had some dubious favourites in the past. New on the playlist are:

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, by Judi Barrett, ill. Ron Barrett

This old classic was a surprise hit with Pumpkinpie! I thought it might hit her funny bone, but it is a slightly more sophisticated humour than I quite expected from a girl who still loves a good fart joke more than anything. Okay, so her favourite part is the man with a noodle stuck over his head, but still, I'm delighted to have her enjoying this amusing tall-tale of weather gone weird. Being more sophisticated also means that this would work for a child a year or two older till, too. (I'm not sure the forthcoming movie will work, though, depending on how muich they focus on the danger of the storms getting out of control. Will have to preview that one.)

Watch Me Throw The Ball! and I Will Surprise My Friend! (Elephant & Piggie books), by Mo Willems

The Elephant & Piggie series by kidlit superstar Mo Willems is fantastic, and so far all of them have been hits with her. These are the latest two we have been reading, and they crack both of us up every time. The serious and slightly stressed Gerald is balanced nicely by his light-hearted friend, Piggie, and Willems' signature cartoon style makes them quick and easy reads for parent and for emerging readers. We have on occasion taken turns reading parts, which works well with the colour-coded speech bubbles, the two characters, and the simple, short phrases. Yes, I'm fooling my child into reading to me, at least a little. What's not to love?

Pirate Pete's Talk Like a Pirate, by Kim Kennedy, ill. Doug Kennedy

Pirate Pete is looking for some rascals to crew his ship, and when he interviews a few, he finds that while they may be dirty and ready to steal and plunder, might swab the deck and fire a cannon like a pro, it is still hard to find a mate who can talk like a pirate, his prime criterion. After sending all the prospective pirates over the plank, he discovers that he had the prfect crew member on board the whole time - his parrot, who apparently has picked up his speech habits. This one is really funny, but be prepared to have a sore throat from growling in pirate speak night after night after night. (Yes, it was in heavy rotation.)

The Cow That Laid An Egg, by Andy Cutbill, ill. Russell Ayto

Marjorie the cow did not feel special, living with cows that seemed to do circus tricks, so her friends the chickens take matters into their own hands. Things get a little out of control, and it looks like the game is about to be up, when a surprise twist melts Marjorie's heart and makes the silly story sweet. The story and resolution remind me of Dr. Seuss's Horton Hatches An Egg, rendered in a simpler barnyard tale and illustrated in a style that brings to mind Lauren Child, of Charlie and Lola fame. Overall, a fun read with a cute ending that manages not to leave a sappy aftertaste.

Originally posted on Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, April 6, 2009

'Pie on Pie

As the weather grows warmer (well, okay, not today, but on the whole, we're getting there...), my thoughts turn to summer. yes, I love spring, but I dream of summer. The warm weather, the carefree feeling in the air - and the fruit. And, of course, because I have a sweet tooth, the fruit pies. Well who doesn't love pie? Since I'm not alone, there are some terrific picture books that pay tribute to the wonders of pie. You just might want to make sure you have some on hand if you are going to make these part of your reading, because you know they are going to want some...

Enemy Pie, by Derek Munson, ill. Tara Calahan King

This young boy has never had an enemy before, but now he does, and he doesn't know what to do. But his dad (who, oddly, looks a little like Richard Nixon...) does: you make enemy pie. Must be full of groos things, he decides, and offers some up, btu they aren't what his dad needs for the pie. As his dad mixes and bakes the pie, the kid tries to dream up the horrible stuff that must be in it, and is a little confused by the good smells wafting from the ktichen. (If it smelled bad, explains dad, your enemy wouldn't eat it. Sneaky!) So does it do bad things to your enemy instead? Dad keeps quiet, but tells him that the delivery is tricky - you have to spend a day with your enemy being nice to him. Of course, by the end of it, the two have become friends and the delicious pie is simply dessert. Funny and clever, I like this take on how to handle an enemy without ever teaching.

Sweet Dream Pie, by Audrey Wood, ill Mark Teague

A special pie is made on this street, but only now and then. When it seems time again, candies and all things sweet are baked into a massive mountain of gooey goodness, and everyone wants some. The smell is overwhelming, and all the neighbours partake, but when they overeat, things begin to get weird, and the dreams begin to get out of hand. By Wood, a master of silly, and Teague, whose illustrations are a marvel, this combination makes for some magic of its own in the form of a great book, though I think it works better for slightly older kids.

How To Make An Apple Pie and See The World, by Marjorie Priceman

If you want to make the perfect pie, you need the finest of ingredients, right? So in true over-the-top foodie style, you might want to travel the world to fetch the freshest, most exotic spices, for a start... This is a fun story of an around-the-globe trip, a sort of Amazing Race for pie, even if it is ludicrous. because really, isn't ludicrous one of the best ingredients for a kids' book? (See what I did there? Ingredient? Heh?) If your child is curious about voyages, why not take a fun one like this, and end on a note of dessert?

Pie in the Sky, by Lois Ehlert

This simple, wonderfully illustrated book is typical of Ehlert's, and reminds me quite a bit of her Growing Vegetable Soup. In both, a father tells a child that they are growing a foodstuff, and the child is then involved in the growing of the ingredients. They emphasize not only where food comes from and the cycles of growth, but also the patience required. As the tree goes through its growth cycle and birds and raccoons eat from the cherry crop, excitement grows, until it is time to pick cherries and make them into pie. The making of the pie is part of the story, and could serve as instructions if you wanted to try it out at home, as well. Cooking is, in fact, a great activity to share with children, not only teaching them about the reading and following of instructions, but also some rudimentary math and science skills. In the end, though? Oh come on - cherry pie, people! Yum.

The Apple Pie Tree, by Zoe Hall, ill. Shari Halpern

This book is another one about the tree in the backyard, this time an apple tree. This book is also aimed at young children, with lovely but simple collage illustrations, however this book does a pretty good job of walking quickly through the seasons and cycles of the tree and the robins it houses. In the end, though, apples are harvested and added to apple pie. A recipe at the end adds a nice element for extending the story if you are inclined towards baking with your child, and is joined by a bit of information on bees and pollination. The focus here is less on the pie, but the book is a great one for sharing with a child where fruit comes from. (Life cycles are also a kindergarten curriculum element, so it's a good way to bring some of that home.)

Original posted on Better Than a Playdate.

The Apple Pie That Papa Baked, by Lauren Thompson

This is a riff on the familiar cumulative rhyme "this is the house that Jack built," this time celebrating where the apples came from. The art in this book takes up the neo-retro trend seen in Chris Wormell's gorgeous woodcuts, in Cynthia Rylant and Nikki McClure's new All in a Day, and even to some degree in Kevin Henke's A Good Day. The ivory pages and black, red, and brown colour scheme further the older feel of the book and work well for the rural setting. A nice simple intro to apples for the young.

All for Pie, Pie for All, by David Martin, ill. Valeri Gorbachev

Five cats all eat a slice of pie, which leaves one slice sitting while they nap. Five mice all eat some of that, which leaves six crumbs sitting while they nap. The ants eat those, and then they, too, nap. When everyone wakes up hungry, the Grandma cat suggests they bake another pie, and everyone pitches in. It's cute, and makes a sort of interesting turnaround of the Little Red Hen story.