Friday, December 28, 2007

Pumpkinpie's Picks

I haven't shared our reading list for a while now, so what better way to celebrate the sharing and the warmth of the season than by inviting you to join us in our Story Chair? Here are some of the top picks from our December storytimes.

We have been, for one thing, really into the Christmas books, which are found on this list. But we have also been reading some standards, some old favourites of mine, and a few newer hits.

Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, by Mo Willems
Along with his earlier two pigeon books (Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!), Mo Wilems has the market cornered on silly and interactive, in the vein of my old favourite The Monster at the End of This Book. Which is fitting, since he was a sesame Street animator before becoming the darling of the kidslit world a few years back. These are, taken all together, a little formulaic, but kids love them. Pumpkinpie is no exception. (We are also loving his "Elephant & Piggie" books - beginning readers, including Today I Will Fly! I bought her a couple of these for Christmas and they were immediate favourites.)

Officer Buckle and Gloria, by Peggy Rathmann
Officer Buckle loved safety tips. He was always thinking up new ones and each year, would share them with the students of Napville School. No one ever really payed attention... until Gloria came along. The new police dog has a remarkable talent for making safety speeches interesting, but officer Buckle isn't aware of the source of his newfound popularity - until he watches himself on the news one night. In the end, though, he realizes that they make a good team. Rathmann is a genius for the unsaid detail, making this book work right up to about grade 3, but the visual jokes make it accessible for younger kids. A real treasure, this is a longtime favourite of mine.

Grover and the Everything In The Whole Wide World Museum (Sesame Street)
This is one I remember from my own childhood, and it still cracks me up because, well, Grover is fun-nee. Blundering through rooms like "The Things You See On The wall Room" and the collection of "All The Vegetables in the Whole Wide World Besides Carrots," he also manages to return a few things to their proper places, check out the Small Hall and the Tall Hall, and even star in the "Things That Are Cute and Furry" collection. In the end, a big door out leads to "everything Else." Cute, fun, and lots of grouping to talk about.

Danny and the Dinosaur, by Syd Hoff
This is an old standby in the way of beginning readers, an area we have been moving into more and more on our way to chapters. In it, Danny meets a dinosaur in the museum, and the dinosaur takes the day off to have adventures and play with Danny and his friends. At the end of the day, though, he has to go back to the museum. It's a simple, but enjoyable story for the little ones, with illustrations to match.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Joffe Numeroff, ill. Felicia Bond
This, and its companions (If You Give a Pig a Pancake and If You Give a Moose a Muffin), are fairly formulaic, but follow a circuitous route back to the start that kids seem to really enjoy. They are fairly predictable, which makes them nice for talking through and letting the child guess what might come next, yet have enough quirky details to make the first ten reading or so fun. (After that, well parents, all I can say is: repetition is good for them and their preliteracy skills.)

The Subway Mouse, by Barbara Reid
This is a newer favourite of mine, from Canadian kidslit star Barbara Reid. In this tale, a mouse who hates the drudgery and noise of subway station life decides to strike out in search of the mythical Tunnel's End. Along the way, he meets a mouse who joins his quest, faces bullies, and becomes tired and hungry. Still, they press on until they find a new life in the roofless world outside the subway system. This has all the qualities of a fairy tale or quest story, yet is told simply enough to appeal to younger children, too. Reid's true genius, though, lies in her stunningly detailed plastiscene illustrations. This gorgeous book is no exception, and the fact that her storytelling skills are starting to match her artistic skills is no small feat, indeed.

Find these and other storytime favourites at your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Imaginary Friends

Like Calvin has Hobbes, children sometimes have imaginary friends. It can freak parents out, a child talking about someone who isn't there, about things their "friend" said, because let's face it - we want our children to have imagination, but where is the line between that and, say, voices? Relax, it's pretty common. And a helpful tool for them, too - I had imaginary friends to play games with, as an only child, and I turned out okay (hush up, you over there!).

But how do we handle it? Indulge them? Ignore it? Tell them not to be silly? How about asking them to let us in on their imaginary world, so we can get a sense of what's going on in there? After all, their minds are pretty interesting. You will, no doubt, be shocked to hear I have a few stories about imaginary friends that might be nice shared reading, but also just might open up the discussion for you.

Jessica, by Kevin Henkes

(Hey, I haven't had a Kevin Henkes on here for a while, plus, it's a good one about Just This Thing. Be quiet. Or should I say - Shhh!) Ruthie Simms has a best friend Jessica. She may be imaginary, but she's a terrific companion (and occasional scapegoat). Even though Ruthie's parents insist she's not real, she is to Ruthie. And so she goes to kindergarten with her, where Ruthie is suddenly faced with a dilemma. The problem is solved, however, when the real live girl in front of her introduces herself - as Jessica. And now she really does have a best friend.

My Dinosaur, by Mark Alan Weatherby

A young girl waits for her dinosaur at night and has a wild and magical romp through the forest, dipping into the river, reaching past the treetops, and playing games of hide-and-seek. As day breaks, she returns to bed, and morning finds her yawning over her Cheerios. The pictures in this book are just wonderful, suffused with moonlight, the dinosaur just gentle enough not to frighten, and the girl's face alive with joy.

Clara and Asha, by Eric Rohmann

Clara's imaginary friend Asha plays with her in a range of scenarios, including in the bathtub, at Hallowe'en, and at her tea parties. She is just the friend a girl needs, though we learn at the end that she is not Asha's only pretend friend... Gorgeously illustrated and sweetly low-key in tone.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Holiday Stories to Share

I love a good holiday book. What makes a good holiday book for me? Well, I am not into sharing religious stories at the library, so if the rare occasion arises for me to read a holiday book, I like to keep it as secular as I can. It's the same at home, really, because I'm just not ready to discuss the other business with Pumpkinpie quite yet. So for me, I like stories about sharing and giving and goodwill, or else fun, silly stuff. I enjoy a classic Santa tale, too. And as always, I love illustrated books of songs to sing with her.

For those that would like a nativity story, there are lots of lovely ones around. There is a beautiful, simple one by Dick Bruna, an old standby by Tomi DePaola, and a new one out last year that was simple enough that even I took it home. (Room for a Little One, by Martin Waddell, with gorgeous, luminous illustrations by Jason Cockcroft. It tells the tale of the animals coming to the barn and welcoming the title's "little one.")

I would also note that yes, I am sticking to Christmas here. While I put out a nice selection of many holidays at the library, I don't think I'm really qualified to talk about which stories are good ones for lots of holidays. For starters, I will leave Hannukah to Mamaleh, who has a nice post up to start the celebrating. Shalom, Mamaleh!

Santa Comes This Time Each Year

Santa Baby, by Janie Bynum

This book could easily have been overly cute, moving into icky, but instead, it's a sweet, jaunty reworking of one of my favourite Christmas songs, featuring all the highlights of a baby's first Christmas.

Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town, by Fred J. Coots and Haven Gillespie, ill. Steven Kellogg

This book is the full version of the song - if you don't know all of it, you are not alone. Ella Fitzgerald sings the whole thing in her rendition, so I if you don't read music (provided at the back), try listening to her to pick it up. And, of course, everything steven Kellogg touches is genius, and this is no exception. It's filled with detail and his trademark warm colours and broad, smiling faces.

The Christmas Orange, by Don Gillmor, ill. Marie-Louise Gay

This is the tale of spoiled Anton Stingley, and what happened when he teamed up with lawyer Wiley Studpustle to sue Santa for breach of promise. Promise? Why, he didn't bring him the things on his lengthy and imaginative Christmas list. Instead, he brought him an orange. A stunned courtroom full of people discover that Santa's job isn't to bring what we want, but what we need. And when he quits, it's up to Anton to fix things. This book is hilarious, if a bit sophisticated, but Pumpkinpie gets it, so I think it's not too far above the heads of the young. Plus, I always love this author/illustrator pairing.

Here Comes Santa Claus, by Gene Autry, ill. Bruce Whatley

This is another illustrated version of a standard Christams song, but beautifully wrought in Whatley's rich painting style. One note: I was surprised to find allusions to god and peace in what sounded like quite a secular song, but I suppose Autry was writing at a time when every family was going to church. While my own feelings on this would make me uncomfortable with much religion in the song to start talking about with Pumpkinpie, this is not too much, even for someone as squeamish about it as myself.

The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore, ill. Bruce Whatley

This being a major classic, there are dozens of versions by dozens of illustrators. While Anita Lobel's has been called a classic for the city child for it's illustrations of Brooklyn-esque townhouses, I like Bruce Whatley's best.

The Spirit of Giving, The Season of Goodwill

Franklin's Christmas Gift, by Paulette Bourgeois, ill. Brenda Clark

I am not generally a fan of serialized storybooks, but I must admit to really liking this story of Christmas and a spirit of generous giving. In it, Franklin's class is collecting for a Christmas toy drive, and Franklin doesn't have anything he wants to part with. Once he starts thinking about how little others have and how much he loves his aunt's meaningful, thoguhtful gifts, he reaches deep and gives a treasured toy to the drive. Pumpkinpie has added the word "generous" to her vocabulary thanks to this new favourite.

Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski, ill. P.J. Lynch

This gorgeous book opens with Mr. Toomey as a gloomy, grumpy recluse who happens to be a gifted woodcarver. A new mother and son in town ask him to carve them a nativity scene to replace one they once had, and the son asks if he can watch and learn how to carve. The mother, meanwhile, brings treats each day. Their relationship warms gradually, and we learn about Toomey's past, which haunts him. By the end of the tale, they have grown together. It's a beautiful tale that could have been sappy if told differently, but is simply heartwarming instead.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss

I know, this is obvious. But really, it's one of the greatest stories of Christmas spirit around, still, and I'm not about to exclude it because it's not new and hip! It's a real treasure, and I'm considering buying the old animated movie version this year.

And a decidedly odd but very funny one that I just had to add in somewhere...

The Christmas Crocodile, by Bonny Becker, ill. David Small

The Christmas crocodile didn't mean to be bad, not really... But he just can't stop himself from eating everything. and once he nibbles on a relative's toes, he is banished to the basement firmly by the youngest girl, who is much more sensible than anyone else in the house. Gradually, each person in the full house sneaks down to the basement with something warm for him, feeling badly about his exile. In the end though, there is still the problem of what to do with him - until the right people show up to claim the misdelivered gift.

Find these and other great holiday stories at your local library!

Libraries in Toronto will close at 1:00 pm on Dec. 24th. They are closed on Dec. 25th and 26th. For New Years' Eve, libraries will close at 1:00 pm on Dec. 31st and remain closed on Jan. 1st.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Holiday Gifting: Advice on Giving and Getting

On The Getting of Gifts

Brace yourself – it’s holiday season. Or more to the point, prepare yourself to get busy with the gifting and then the writing of thank you cards for tacky socks and stinky candles. Unless. Unless! Unless you plan ahead – and there’s still time.

It might seem like this should come after the gifts, but if you want to launch a preemptive strike against the gloppy, unwanted preserves, awful recall-pending toys, and regifted needlepoint bookmarks, you have to do it before the shopping starts for the others. Tell them what you want before they buy you what you don’t!

My husband’s family has a tradition that I hated at first because it took all the element of surprise out of getting gifts. They exchange lists of what they want, and for the most part, shop from them. But the upside is that I no longer get Body Shop gift baskets, horrid old-lady slippers, or picture frames I wouldn’t put in the back of my closet. So try this on with your family.

Even better is the advent of the online wish list. Oh yes, I am a big fan. If you’re a reader (and I know you are), then you are likely aware of the wish list function at Amazon and Indigo. The great news is that Indigo also carries toys, and they too can be added to the wish list! This means you can send this wish list to your family members and they can shop with ease for stuff you’ve already handpicked for yourself and your kids. Indigo even offers their usual fantastic (and much-used, ahem) incentive of free shipping over $39 for toys, too. You bet I’ve sent this list out to everyone. No singing reindeer sweater for me.

On The Giving of Gifts

I am, of course, a huge proponent of giving books as gifts (see my list from last week as an example). But I’d also like to give you some hints about the other stuff. What other stuff? The toys, silly! Yes, I play with kids too. It’s a good job I have.

My first hint, when people ask me for help buying gifts (as they often do, actually), is to think of things that you know about the person. My friend, for example, is bought my daughter some Dora stuff for Christmas last year because she knews Pumpkinpie loved Dora and I am unlikely to be buying her any. That’s a great gift because it’s something she’ll like. I’m getting her Madeline’s dog and a game about adopting a puppy because she loves dogs. See how that works? But perhaps you don’t see this kid much, or you know their parent better than them, so this avenue is not really an option. Okay. Let’s look at some possibilities by age, shall we?

The baby. I am all for board books here, but I also love the classic toys. Blocks, shape sorters, soft rolling balls about 6” in diameter. I love chunky, round-edged Viking Toys cars, trains, and planes. Stacking rings and nesting boxes. Sophie the giraffe, a chewy toy made of natural rubber and painted with non-toxic vegetable paints (most good toy stores carry this, since it's a big hit with parents). Musical instruments of varying types are always fun for kids, even if the parents won’t necessarily love you for buying their little tyke a drum (hey, who’s the gift for, anyhow?). I also love plastic shopping baskets for them to stash their treasures in as they become mobile, to be pushed or carried with them. Older, walking babies almost uniformly love carts or baby strollers to push around with their newfound ambulatory abilities. And yes, Whoozits and other stuffed whatsits work too, though I’m not usually such a fan of the stuffies, as they are sure to get a ton without my help.

The toddler. I love that they enter the age of imaginative play as toddlers. For toddlers, I love play food and plastic or tin tea sets, small rubber animals (like Schleich's), toy machines, trucks, and trains. Accessories start to become interesting additions to play as they observe more too, so that a doll might start to require clothes or bottles, a toy dog might need a bone, and those play tools might really cry out for a hard hat to be worn with them. Doctor’s kits, vet kits, kitchen sets, and tool sets all play into this nicely and can encourage playing together. Puppets can be fun, too, but a fearful child may find them a bit freaky (also beware the spider puppet, which caused Pumpkinpie to lose it on my birthday, though I love Folkmanis’ other puppets). Puzzles are another great toy at this age, with complexity increasing as they get older so that a year-old child might enjoy wooden puzzles with knobs, while a two-year old can move onto wooden puzzles with more and smaller and knob-free pieces (an alphabet is great), and a two-and-a-half- or three-year old is likely ready for large floor puzzles with big, jigsaw-cut pieces. And, um, picture books, of course.

The preschooler. Many of the same toys that are good for toddlers still apply here, with greater variety and complexity. They have better coordination and an even greater imagination, so dress-up is getting easier to do and more appealing. Many children are learning more about gender roles and trying to fit in with peers at this time, so girls may gravitate towards more girly things and want jewelry, fancy crowns and princess dresses, and dolls, while boys may reach for trucks and dinosaurs, though I in no way believe toys need to be so gender-fied. I’m a big believer in Lego, puzzles, trains, Playmobil, and animals being treated as gender-neutral so there’s more common ground. These also happen to be some of my favourite toys. I also love art supplies for this age – crayons, stickers, large plastic beads with plastic lace to string them on, coloured papers, stamps, cookie cutters, playdough, and washable markers.

The school-ager. It gets trickier as they get older to get what they want (and it matters more and more each year that it be what they want!). If you can ask a parent what they’re into, it sure helps. If not, there is still hope. Many of them still enjoy Lego and Playmobil, as they are complex enough systems to bring imaginative play into a much higher level. Kits abound for this age, too. Klutz kits (found in most book and toy stores) can teach kids everything from cool crafts to juggling and playing the harmonica, and are nice and simple to follow. Art supplies are still a hit, for the most part, too, and science kits are great for the right kid. This age is also the beginning of the awareness of what’s cool, so consider gear with cartoon or movie tie-ins, where they don’t turn your stomach. As to books, these kids are into series, so even a non-reader is likely to be somewhat into receiving the newest in a hot series or a flashy movie tie-in for the “in” factor, if nothing else.

The teen. Cool rules here, but what’s cool varies a lot, and nothing is more grating than a teen’s eyeroll, so this is usually the toughest age to shop for. Crafty stuff can still be cool for many teen girls, as well as journals, while art supplies and sketchbooks are good for an artsy kid of either sex. If they have a hobby, it’s great to show that grownups do pay attention and get them something related, as long as it’s not, you know, lame (like, say, stationery or a cheesy mug or T-shirt). A safe bet, though, is the gift certificate. I know, I know, they feel like a copout. But teens love to control their own world as much as they can, so giving them the choice can be a nice thing, too. Try big music stores, movie certificates, big electronics stores, or, if the kid’s a reader, a big bookstore. Yes, I know it’s nice to support smaller independent stores, but they’ll have a better shot at getting what they want at a bigger store, and you want them to use it, right? So you may have to just grit your teeth this once. Sorry.

A final note about ages on toys

I was surprised to find out that the "age 3+" cutoff that is applied to the vast majority of toys in the world is not so much about the appropriateness of the toy as the standards that the manufacturers must meet. This means that last year I did, for example, buy Pumpkinpie trains and play food and rubber animals that were not technically approved for her age yet, but for her, they were okay. This will of course, depend on the kid. A child who is in fact likely to break a toy so that its small parts separate and could be swallowed might not be a good bet for this, nor is one who is likely to chew off the paint, which may not be non-toxic. If the kid’s not yours, I’d go with the safe bet.

Want more inspiration? Check out Becks’ great ideas from last Christmas or Indigo’s searches for toys by age or type of play (no, they are not paying me! I just find these sort options pretty helpful and fun to browse.).

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Magical Tales for a Magical Time

Pumpkinpie and I are reading more complex tales these days, longer stories and classic fairy tales being favourite picks more and more often. These are things I'd like to have more of on our shelves, so I have a bunch of this stuff on my Christmas wishlist for her, and have bought a handful of them in paperback myself - a nice benefit of classics. (I am , in general, a snob about hardcover picture books, but the $10 each that I save by starting to get over it means I can have more books, so I'm getting there! The smaller price could also make them nice for stocking items or daily Hannukah gifties.) Some are favourite takes on standard tales, some are newer stories with a fairy-tale quality to them, but are are wonderful for sharing. Here are some of our recent favourites that we hope to find in Santa's bag!

The Little Red Hen, by Jerry Pinkney

In his usual manner, Pinkney renders the most beautiful red hen I've ever seen, making a fairly straightforward telling into a picture book gem.

The Gingerbread Boy, by Richard Egielski

This is a fairly simple version, but it is made fun and fresh by way of being relocated in modern New York and inhabited by construction workers and subway buskers. This makes it reall accessible to a city kid, but it's Egielski's gorgeous pictures that make the book. I also like that yes, the gingerbread boy DOES get eaten by the fox crossing the lake because honestly, I think it's kind of wimping out when he doesn't get eaten - I think kids get that he's a cookie. Best served with hot chocolate and a gingerbread man on a cold, snowy day.

Tikki Tikki Tembo, by Arlene Mosel, ill. Blair Lent

Remember this one from childhood? Can you still say his name? This story is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, and kids take great pleasure in learning that looong name. This is also one of the few older stories about other cultures that doesn't make me squirm a bit today.

Caps for Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina

Another old chestnut that you might have read as a child yourself, this one is another that kids still love every time. There is something about naughty monkeys tricking grownups that is still irresistible.

Epposumundas, by Colleen Salley, ill. Janet Stevens

This retelling of an old silly tale is great fun set in the south. In it, Epossumundas, who "doesn't have the sense he was born with" keeps ruinging everything his auntie sends home with him by way of following the wrong instructions. It's funny, and Stevens' great illustrations give it extra kick, including the visual joke of making the character an actual possum, albeit a cute one in diapers.

Tops and Bottoms, by Janet Stevens

This is a great trickster tale, in which a hare bests a bear for three straight planting season, making deals that give him the edible part of the crops he plants. By the end, the lazy bear is fed up and has learned his lesson, but by that time, Hare is ready to go out on his own, anyhow. Fantastic illustrations make the characters come to life.

The Subway Mouse, by Barbara Reid

This tale of a restless mouse who dreams of something better has a lovely, wistful, classic feel about it. In it, a mouse who just doesn't fit in decides to find out whether the rumours of an end to the tunnel are true, and follows his heart. Along the way, he meets a girl mouse who joins him, and they seek out the sweeter air and green grasses of out-of-tunnel life. Reid, of course, is also known for her amazingly detailed plastiscene illustrations, and these are even more stunning then usual, incorporating little found items that you might really see in a tunnel where mice make use of the detritus of humans.

Bruna, by Anne Cottringer, ill. Gillian McClure

This gorgeous book grabbed me right away, being about a girl who could not keep warm. She tried everything, but it wasn't until she found a friend and began to help him out that she could take off her extra layers. Beautiful in its simple telling and charming illustrations.

I'd add to this a handful of William Steig's perfectly-wrought fairy tales (which I wrote about here), and both Strega Nona and Kiss the Cow from this list of foodie fairy tales.

Up Next Week, a departure: Holiday Gifting Edition - not all of them books! I know! Would you believe I buy toys, too?! Plus, ideas on how not to get crummy gifts you want to throw out. You are totally welcome. After all, we're green around this webzine.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Good 'n' Plenty

Have you ever been reading a fairy tale, and noticed that the story seemed... familiar?

I have been noticing a few of these themes among folk and fairy tales, as you might imagine - they are, after all, rife with archetype and deeply rooted cultural lore. One that I've been finding attractive in many forms lately is one that seems to speak to the idea of magical freedom from want. Certainly, at any time in history, the idea of bounty without burden has been a dream for many, and these tales, along with such symbols as the cornucopia bear that out. Along with this, though, comes a distrust of such luxury, of not paying the way, and in fairy tales, it comes out as a cautionary moral about the dangers of misusing magic. Each of these stories follows this up-and-down path, but each comes, too, to its own satisfactory conclusion. Eat up, me hearties.

Strega Nona, by Tomie De Paola

This old favourite is a take on the story of the Magician's Apprentice, starring the round, charming witch Strega Nona and her assistant, Big Anthony. When Strega Nona is out of the house, he fires up her magic pasta pot, which soon overwhelms the town, because he does not know how to stop it. Luckily Strega Nona's trip was not a long one, and she gets back in time to save the day. She even makes Big Anthony clean up the mess, and he eats until it hurts. Talk about punishment fitting the crime!

The Magic Porridge Pot, by Paul Galdone

An older precursor to Strega Nona, this tale by a master teller of fairy tales sees a town swamped in porridge when the pot won't stop overflowing. As in the Sorceror's Apprentice tale it is modeled on, the correct magic would stop it, but by the time the pot's owner arrives to perform that spell, there is a huge mess for the townspeople to eat their way out of.

The Full Belly Bowl, by Jim Aylesworth, ill. Wendy Anderson Halperin

When an old man does a favour for a tiny man, saving him, he receives as a gift a Full Belly Bowl, along with a note explaining its use. While he enjoyed some of the riches it brought him, he also causes himself some mischief by forgetting to use it properly a couple of times. In the end, after the bowl is broken and can help or hurt no more, he is not much better off than he started, but was content enough for all that.

Two Of Everything, by Lily Toy Hong

This retelling of a chinese folktale is a favourite of mine, and begins with the finding of an old pot. Quickly, it is discovered that the pot doubles anything that is put in it. The first problem starts when one of them falls into the giant vessel... They sort things out soon enough, though, and lives happily and prosperously ever after alongside their new twins.

Kiss the Cow, by Phyllis Root, ill. Will Hillenbrand

This story by the inimitable Root turns the formula on its ear a bit. Annalisa isn't supposed to try to milk the magic cow that feeds all those hungry children, but she is curious, and she does it anyhow, but she does not kiss the cow after singing for her to stop. Instead of creating more and more milk, though, Luella stops producing any, and the house is soon filled with crying children. It isn't until the stubborn Annalisa gets curious about what it would be like to kiss a cow that she does, and order is restored. Instead of suspicion of magic, this story seems to address a gratitude for bounty that seems magical, and it is a really charming take on the topic (made all the more so by wonderful illustrations).

For more classic food-themed tales, consider also The Gingerbread Man (or Boy or Girl or Baby, depending on the version), The Enormous Turnip (or Carrot, or Potato, again, according to version), or Stone Soup (I love the Jon Muth version).

For these and more magical tales, visit your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fall in Love With Stories

Crisp, clear days. Crunchy leaves underfoot. The tisk tisk tisk of skipping ropes hitting pavement. Wind blowing leaves, rakes scraping sidewalks. Kids talking and laughing as they jump in piles of leaves or head down the block to school. The first smells of smoky fireplaces and warm cocoa. Fall has a great many delights, and has, it's no surprise, inspired a few picture books of its own.

Just the Facts Books

When Autumn Falls, by Kelli Nidey, ill. Susan Swan

This book talks about some of the things we can expect when fall arrives: colourful, falling leaves, festivals like Hallowe'en, fall produce like apples, cooler weather, earlier evenings, and so on. Bold collage images make this a standout - in fact, the same artist is featured in the next book, below, but this one is simpler and aimed for younger children.

It's Fall! by Linda Glaser, ill. Susan Swan

The vibrant collage-art in this book makes it a treat to read, illustrating text that informs about many aspects of fall. This book is fairly comprehensive, covering not only leaves, but also hibernation and migration, fall clothing, and the way different vegetation (and gardeners) prepares for the next year. It also includes some fall nature activities for families at the end.

I Know It's Autumn, by Eileen Spinelli, ill. Nancy Hayashi

A young girl tells, in rhyme, what signs point to autumn for her. This seems to be set in a small town, as some of the things she enjoys in autumn are pretty rural delights. It's a nice, simple book, told from the perspective of things a child would notice, which I like.

In November, by Cynthia Rylant, ill. Jill Kastner

This gorgeous book tells about the turning of fall into winter in November, and the preparations made by people and animals as the world tucks "her children in, with a kiss on their heads, till spring." This book does reveal its American origins in the page about Thanksgiving, but it is so beautiful that I think this shouldn't be a major deterrant.

Stories for the Season

Mouse's First Fall, by Lauren Thompson, ill. Buket Erdogan

The mouse series covers pretty much every season and major holiday nicely for preschoolers. Cute, simple, and featuring great boldly-painted illustrations, they fall just the right side of cutesy. This one about fall is no exception, and the vibrant oranges against blue skies make it a visual treat.

Fletcher and the Falling Leaves, by Julia Rawlinson, ill. Tiphanie Beeke

Fletcher the fox has never seen autumn before, so when his favourite tree starts to turn brown and lose its leaves, he is worried. He tries to fix it or stop it, to no avail, and as the other animals take the leaves for their own purposes (like nesting), he feels terrible. In the end though, the tree is covered in icicles that seem to tell him everything is just fine. The vision of sparkling beauty that accompanies this ending never fails to elicit some big eyes and the kind of gasp usually heard at a fireworks display.

The Stranger, by Chris van Allsburg

An abstract advanced picture book, in which a mysterious visitor stays a touch too long, and summer seems to stay with him until he leaves, and the wind sweeps in behind him. Beautiful, a mite haunting, a lovely book for sharing with a slightly older child, maybe 5 or 6 or more.

Wild Child, by Lynne Plourde, ill. Greg Couch

A lovely allegorical take on autumn as a child going to bed, and Mother Earth giving the child a song of crackling leaves, a snack of apples, a flaming red nightgown, and a cool, frosty hug. In the end, as Autumn drops off to sleep, her child Winter wakes... This is beautiful, but sophisticated, and maybe best appreciated by a little bit older child, too.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Beginning Chapters Without Tears (of boredom)

Overheard at a blogger party last weekend: "We are starting to read those easy chapter books, you know the ones? And oh my god, I hate them, they are sooooo boooooring!" Save the yawns for your long-winded neighbour's latest ramblings, parents. There are better things out there.

First off, I would like to point out that picture books run such a large gamut of simple to sophisticated that you can skip these beginning-to-read books entirely if you are so inclined, without worrying that you are missing a step. That said, they are a nice introduction to the chapter format for a reader who might not yet be up to some longer readings. They also often come in series, making it easy to find more of something you and your child have enjoyed. So if you are looking for some fun stuff, here are a fistful of suggestions that are a little more fun or substantial that the early readers you might have been encountering.

Friendship Stories:

This is a major theme among this level of book, because they are aimed at kids whose main concern at that point is about leaning to navigate social relationships at school, in daycare, and in other settings where they might run into other children. A few great series are:

  • Houndsley and Catina and Houndsley and Catina and the Birthday Surprise, by Marie-Louise Gay
  • Frog and Toad Are Friends (and many others in the series), by Arnold Lobel
  • Poppleton (and others in the series), by Cynthia Rylant, ill. Mark Teague. Cynthia Rylant also writes Beginning-to-read series Mr. Putter and Tabby and Henry and Mudge, both of which are also friend-themed.
  • Big Dog, Little Dog (and other "Fred and Ted" books), by P.D. Eastman. He is hilarious, and I love all his stuff, but these have more story than the popular Go Dogs Go and so on.

***I would also like to add in James Marshall's George and Martha stories here, even though they are picture books. Hey, it's my column. You'll forgive me when you read them. They are hilarious.

Early Mysteries:

  • "Young Cam Jansen" series, by David Adler
  • Nate the Great (and others in series), by Marjorie Sharmat, ill. Marc Simont
  • "High Rise Private Eyes" series, by Cynthia Rylant

Funny Ones:

  • Amelia Bedelia (and others in series), by Peggy Parish. I know, I know, there are people who think these are stupid, but there is something about the long windup for a bad pun that cracks me up.
  • "Elephant and Piggie" series, by Mo Willems. These feature the same kind of light-on-text cartoon-y style as his famous pigeon books, drawing on his animation background.
  • Harry and the Lady Next Door, by Gene Zion, ill. Margaret Bloy Graham. The other Harry stories are, oddly enough, in picture book format.

Dr. Seuss has, of course, a million offerings in this category of book. Some are crazy-making, but some are truly great. Green Eggs and Ham is a perennial favourite, for example. These are best for true fans of silliness.

Everyday Adventures:

  • Little Bear (and others in series), by Else Minarik, ill. Maurice Sendak. I hope the TV show hasn't ruined these for you quite yet, because the books have an old-fashioned, sweet charm to them.
  • Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
  • Owl at Home, by Arnold Lobel

Wild Imaginings:

  • Danny and the Dinosaur, by Syd Hoff.
  • Mouse Soup and Mouse Tales, by Arnold Lobel (collections of crazy little tales)
  • Commander Toad in Space (and others in series), by Jane Yolen, ill. Bruce Degen Ridiculous, funny, and pun-ny adventures in outer space.

For these titles and more, check out the "Beginning To Read" section in your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bullies, Bossies, and Other Pests

It surprising to parents of three-year-olds that bullying and bossing and social games start early. Preschoolers are beginning to navigate this stuff, even before they get to kindergarten, and it can be painful to watch, even in the early stages. There is, however, more and more interest and awareness around bullying now than ever before, and with that comes a handful of picture books. Myself, I look for light-hearted, story-based, not-too-earnest ways of talking about bullying and being a good friend. These stories really don't talk in a direct way about what bullying is and how to deal with it, but rather offer a little tale, and in reading, I take the opportunity to comment on what is happening and ask questions of Pumpkinpie. "How do you think she feels right now?" "What do you think she could do?" Talking early and often is a great way to start the discussion and keep it going, and a book is always a nice, non-threatening place to begin.

This crop should open discussion with kids who still enjoy picture books, say from ages 3 to 8 or so, pretty easily. For early readers (about grades 2-3) who may want to read books on this theme by themselves, try simple chapter books Super Emma by Sally Warner or Jake Drake, Bully Buster, by Andrew Clements. (For more serious cases, though, there are books in the parenting section to help parents deal with the situation, especially for parents of older children, who may be facing more extreme degrees of bullying.)

Clara and The Bossy, by Ruth Ohi

Clara is happy to have a new friend, until Madison begins to criticize everything she does, and hurts another kid's feelings. She thinks about this one night, and decides that she needs to be herself more than she needs one more friend. She goes her own way, and soon enough, Madison follows, reformed.

A Weekend With Wendell, by Kevin Henkes

When Wendell shows up and spends the weekend terrorizing Sophie, she is at her wit's end. Finally, antagonism turns to friendship after Sophie gives him a taste of his own medicine. Once she gets her own back, the two find themselves having a great time together, and a whole new dynamic is in place.

Hooway for Wodney Wat, by Helen Lester, ill. Lynn Munsinger

The new rodent in class, Camilla Capybara is horrible. A know-it-all and a bully, she intimidates every other creature in class. When Rodney, who cannot say his R's, has to take a turn leading Simon Says, he totally defeats camilla, who doesn't understand his directions, not knowing about his speech. In the end, she disappears into the sunset, going "west" (instead of going to rest). What I love in particular about this book is that his weakness, for which he was teased at first, is the thing that makes him a hero to the others in the end, and his victory is not born of any bad behaviour on his part. It is a little simple, of course, and doesn't offer a solution per se, but it is nice for the underdog to be a hero and show her up.

Goggles, by Ezra Jack Keats

Proving that bullying is certainly nothing new, this classic title from Keats shows two young boys tricking a groups of bigger boys to avoid them when the bigger boys are picking on them. Features Keats' trademark urban setting and Peter, his frequent main character.

Is It Because?, by Tony Ross

One that promotes thinking about the root of bullying, and why the bully acts as he does. It is a tiny bit silly, to encourage a laugh and lighten the mood as you talk about something frightening. This encouraging empathy is a nice approach, though I think a child might want it paired with a book where the underdog triumphs, as well, to give a little lift of spirits and so that all the attention is not on the attention-seeking bully, as usual.

Duck, Duck, Goose, by Tad Hills

When Thistle, a new duck, moves into the neighbourhood, Duck is pretty excited - until he and Goose try to play with Thistle and discover that Thistle is pushy and bossy and overly competitive and in general, no fun to play with. While Goose tries to be a good sport for a while, eventually he and Duck give up, and fool the little duck into napping while they play their own games. (This is a followup to Duck & Goose, one of my favourite picture books of last year's crop.)

Ker-Splash!, by George O'Connor

This junior graphic book makes liberal use of the comic format and the superhero fantasies of the young to take on the topic of bullying. Set at the beach, a pair of kids pick on the younger brother of one of them, and then find themselves the target of a bigger bully. Seeing the parallel, they apologize the the little guy, and the three of them team up to defeat the big boy by distraction and teamwork. While the bully is avoided and doesn't get official comeuppance, the crab inching towards his sand-seated bottom in the last frame Delivers a snide and satisfying snicker.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Witches Are Coming! The Witches Are Coming!

Hallowe'en is closing in fast this year, and it seems even faster than usual, with the unseasonably mild weather. So rather than let it sneak up on me (and you) entirely, I'm giving you a week's head start on it! And rather than fiddle with loading pictures and Odeo players here (which, frankly, took me so long to get all together and working at the same time last year, I refuse to try again, sorry), I'm giving you a link to my list, chez Life of 'Pie, of favourite Hallowe'en stories for the young.

These Picks from the Pumpkin Patch, which include me reading two of the stories, are mostly quite gentle and younger-child-appropriate, but I've noted the two that I think are better for somewhat older kids. Enjoy, and happy spooking!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pumpkinpie's Picks

A new crop of books has come around, and a few of them have stuck.
Here's the handful that are keeping Pumpkinpie's attention these days.

Wynken, Blynken and Nod, by Eugene W. Field, ill. David McPhail

I was so happy to find that she loves this wonderful poem about sleep, a favourite of mine when I was a child. It has a dreamy quality of its own, and McPhail's stunning deep-blue nighttime scenes only add to its charm.

The Cat and the Wizard, by Dennis Lee, ill. Gillian Johnson
This story poem about two outcasts who find in each other great friendship is a real treat. It has silly bits and sweet bits, and it's told in lee's fun rhyming style. Even better, it is set in Toronto's own Casa Loma, the cat's home in this tale. The illustrations are a bit cartoony and whimsical, and hit a nice note for the story they accompany.

Up, Up, Down, by Robert Munsch, ill. Michael Martchenko
This might be my favourite Munsch story, as it lends itself so well to sharing with a group, complete with actions. And while the story does hinge on Anna not listening, she is not totally bratty, nor is the teaching-the-parents-their-own-lesson twist at the end of a really obnoxious variety. A cute and silly starter Munsch.

Boo and Baa Have Company, by Lena and Olof Landstrom
Boo and Baa are sheep, so for me, this starts out funny before I even open the cover. Luckily, the inside lives up to that expectation by being funny by way of dry understatements and leaving some things to be said by the terrific, graphically pleasing illustrations. In this tale (It turns out there are others! Must find them.), Boo and Baa find a cat stuck in their tree, and try to rescue it, with less-than-stellar results. Really, really cute, even if you are not a sheep freak.

What Will We Do With the Baby-O?, sel. by Theo Heras, ill. Jennifer Herbert
Compiled by a Toronto librarian (and sung by her on the accompanying CD, packaged separately), this collection contains a few less-common songs, including Pumpkinpie's current fave, Ally Bally Bee and the fabulous Jig Along Home, to which I could never remember all the words without a book like this one. I am, to be honest, not in love with the illustrations, but a volume of rhymes and songs does not depend on illustrations to interplay with text the way a story book does, so it is not a major flaw, and they are kind of fun and jaunty, after all.

Find these and more great reads at your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Ten Fidgety Fingers

Rhymes and fingerplays are a staple of library and daycare programming for young kids. They are great for children - they encourage remembering, small motor skills, and rhyming skills (connected to early phonics). They are great for grownups, too, as they can provide a brief diversion without any props, and can help smoothe along events like getting dressed, eating, bathing, and so on. They provide a backdrop for bouncing activities, for babies who like to bounce, and can even teach vocabulary in naming body parts and animals. Some of these can be learned in circle times at libraries and otherwise, if you can attend them. But how else can you find some to use with your baby? Here are a few starter resources for parents, some of which even make for fun storytime sharing.

Hand Rhymes, by Marc Brown

This small collection (and its companion, Finger Rhymes) is illustrated by Arthur author Brown in his quirky, recognizable style. There is a nice selection in these books, including some nice seasonal rhymes. Each line of a rhyme has a small box beside it showing the accompanying action. This makes it more awkward to use on the fly, but with many of these rhymes being a bit more involved, it could be well used with a slightly older child at a table or on the floor together so that you and your child both have your hands free.

Knock at the Door, by Kay Chorao

This sweet and gentle book is aimed at babies. Each line is accompanied by a small square illustration of the actions. This is useful for learning them, but the small size does make it more difficult to use at the same moment that you are holding a wiggly baby. I still recommend it for some lovely, cute content, however I would use this either to learn some rhymes yourself, or with a small table nearby that you could place the book on while you perform the rhyme and actions with your child.

Hippety-Hop, Hippety-Hay, by Opal Dunn, ill. Sally Anne Lambert

This book is arranged in sections according to age (birth to age 3), each started with a brief rundown of what your child can do and tips on how to use rhymes with them. There are several rhymes arranged on a page around a themed illustration, and in this case, the actions are described underneath in italics, as well as ideas on extending the rhyme. Music for a few is provided at the end, as is an index of first lines that eases the finding of favourite rhymes.

The Eentsy-Weentsy Spider, by Joanna Cole and Stephanie Calmenson, ill. Alan Tiegreen

This fun book of familiar rhymes (and it's companion, Pat-a-Cake) is made priceless by the quirky and slightly comic illustrations of Alan Tiegreen, best known for his work as the man who brought Ramona Quimby to life. Each rhyme's action is illustrated with nice large illustrations of kids, complete with arrows to show movement when needed. For older kids, this team has also put together books of marble games, tongue twisters, street rhymes and jump-rope chants, card and party games, autograph rhymes, and travel games. I have this dream where they have fantastically fun meetings to brainstorm concepts and try out possible entries, and I get to join them!

For parents and caregivers looking for extra rhymes or new material, I would recommend either checking with your librarian for professional resources, or visiting Perpetural Preschool, which has a massive quantity of songs and rhymes by theme. They need some sifting, as they are not all excellent, but it is a good resource for themed ideas (also for art, science, and snacks!).

For parents who would like to hear them or see them in action, look for CDs by Kathy Reid-Naiman, or videos by Sally Jaeger, all available in Toronto's libraries. Or come and visit a storytime!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Get up get up get busy

Get up and move that body!

Let's face it, sometimes a kid likes to bust a move, not sit still for a story. And sometimes, let's say when it's not bedtime, it's great to just let the little wiggler hop down and go to it. Heck, you can even turn it into a game and direct it a bit. And if you're lacking inspiration? Hey, I always turn to a book... Here are a few titles to get you and your babe bending and stretching, hopping and twirling.

Teddy Bears, Teddy Bears, ill. William B. Winburn

My favourite version of this was always a simple Harper Growing Tree version by Steve Scott, but I am now also a fan of this newer version. It is illustrated with photos of real teddy bears posed to perform the actions of this classic skipping rhyme. They are cute, but not cutesy, and there are some new actions in this rendition that I quite like. (It is also nice for me that the "say your prayers" rhyme has been omitted, so it's more comfortable to use with our multicultural public.)

We've All Got Bellybuttons, by David Martin, ill. Randy Cecil

Animals lead the charge in this fun, colourful book about the parts of the body and what we can do with them. We've got hands, and you do too. We can clap them. Can you? And, like so many great rhymes to share with your child, it ends with a tickle and a giggle, which I love for parent-child combos.

From Head to Toe, by Eric Carle

This is a go-to book for body parts in motion. It works its way through a variety of actions by associating each with an animal and challenging the reader to see if they can do it, too. I am a buffalo, and I can raise me shoulders. Can you do it? Kids love pattern and repetition, and tend to enjoy professing that yes, they can do it, while Carle's signature style elevates the whole thing, as he tends to do.

Toddlerobics, by Zita Newcomb

This and it's followup Toddlerobics: Animal Fun are designed for actions that toddlers can perform, and the book is framed as a visit to the toddler gym. The toddler crew are introduced by name on endpapers, and add personality to the cute-but-not-quite-icky-cute illustrations. I also like the bouncy rhyme scheme. Of these, I prefer the animal version, myself.

For older children, you could also try some fun skipping rhymes, like those found in Anna Banana: 101 Jump-Rope Rhymes, by Joanna Cole. Happy hopping!

For these and more lively titles, hop on down to your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Read-Alouds for the Younger Listener

I have been thinking that Pumpkinpie ought to be old enough to read chapter books with me now, not just picture books. But what to read to a younger child? Something gentle, especially right before bedtime. It's a good time to share old favourites, classics that have endured. I would like some fun stories, something episodic that would be easier to follow, allowing for the reading of one chapter each night, with each being its own little story. These warmer tales I'm thinking of are often animal stories, and with so many children loving animals, those fit the bill perfectly, though not all of them fall into this category. Many of these beloved classic chapters books were developed into series, so I will try to note when that applies, but won't list each title in the series. Instead, I'll let you start with the first one and look further if you enjoyed it. Here's a starter list to remind you of some of those books you may have loved in your own childhood and relish sharing.

Paddington Bear, by Michael Bond (and others in the series)

Stuart Little, by E.B. White

Ralph S. Mouse (there are 3 of these), Ramona Quimby (several of these), Socks, by Beverley Cleary

Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne (and others in the series, plus his poetry for children is fantastic)

The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, Owls in the Family, by Farley Mowat for a bit of Canadiana

Babe, the Gallant Pig, by Dick King-Smith (he has about a thousand small chapter books of animal tales (not in series), if this is a hit. Hard-core animal fans might also try James Herriott's tales of life as a country vet.)

These next few I might suggest for children slightly older, in that they might just appreciate them a little more. Many of them are also more wordy, and have a bit slower action, to be sure, though a few are just funnier for slightly older and more worldly kids.

Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia McLachlan

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, by Betty Bard MacDonald (and others in the series) (These are faster-paced, and very funny.)

Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren (and others in series) (also faster and funnier)

Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers (and others in series)

The Borrowers, by Mary Norton (and others in series)

Moominvalley in November, by Tove Jansson (and other Moomin books)

***Add your old favourites, too! It might be just the thing for another reader.***

Find these and other great books to share at your public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Swimming Upstream with Floaties

Some parents want to do things a different way, a way that feels more like them. Not with an OB and an epi and maybe a c-section, but with a home birth, perhaps. Some parents want not a bottle, but a breast. And sometimes, it can feel like swimming upstream, because while breastfeeding is more and more widely promoted and supported, it isn't considered mainstream by everyone just yet. So how do you talk about these things with your child, especially if you have a new one coming along? How do they see their family reflected in the picture books they read, if most don't show things this way? Indeed, most books don't really address these things one way or another, but I have tripped across a couple of books that don't skip over this stuff, and these can be used as a lovely support in your inevitable discussions to come. It's rare, still, to be sure, but here is a start.

Mama's Milk, by Michael Elsohn Ross, ill. Ashley Wolff

This gentle rhyming book shows mothers feeding their child as a natural thing, and one of the ways in which she both nourishes and nurtures. Many animals are shown in their nest and burrows as well as dining on the go, and families are shown feeding infants in cozy chairs, in bed, and on a park bench. Babywearers might also enjoy seeing one mother carrying her wee one in a sling, while I particularly enjoyed the mother asleep in a chair as her babe nursed. The classic patterned tale of The New Baby Calf (by Edith Newlin Chase, ill. Barbara Reid) also talks about how the baby calf drinks from his mother and grows fat, and though it does not talk about people, it could be a nice supplement to this.

Everywhere Babies, by Susan Meyers, ill. Marla Frazee

This book does not directly address any particular parenting technique, dilemma, or style, but I incude it rather for its message-free inclusiveness. This book is a cute and jaunty rhyme, illustrated to fun effect by the incomparable Frazee's detailed drawings. In it, readers are shown the many ways that babies eat, crawl, are carried and rocked and dressed, and more. What I love is that no judgment is made on how babies are fed, simply noting that they are fed "by bottle, by breast, with cups, and with spoons." Similarly, babies are carried not only in strollers, but also in slings and on shoulders. One of my favourite gifts for new moms, I might add.

Welcome With Love, by Jenni Overend, ill. Julie Vivas

This is the only story book I've seen that even comes close to talking about home birth, let alone with illustrations of a birth. These are not photos, nor are they overly graphic, but they are enough to help prepare a sibling who might attend a birth, as they do depict some of what a child might see if they were present. The family is preparing for the birth and waiting for the arrival of their midwife at the beginning of the book. The child narrator talks about the preparations and some of the midwife's equipment, as well as the mother's labouring and the emotions of the moment. After the birth, the mom is tucked into bed and puts the new babe to her breast while the placenta is delivered and the cord cut, and then the whole family sleeps together in the warm light of the fireplace. It's a lovely book, really, and one I would recommend as good preparation for anyone who might be considering sharing a birth experience with a sibling or having a child at home.

These and many non-fiction titles on parenting topics can be found at your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Pattern Language

We in library service to children are talking a lot these days about preliteracy skills, and I will start to post about them once in a while here, too, to share the information and some supporting titles with you online. Today I am talking about one of the types of books that can help support one of the six narrative skills. (For a quick and dirty rundown on them, see here. For a more formal version, see here or visit a local public library.)

I am talking about pattern stories. One of the things a child needs in order to get ready to learn to read is what we call narrative skills. This essentially means that a child understands how a story works. That a story has a certain structure, that events happen in a sequences, that there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. One of the types of stories we recommend for really highlighting a specific story structure is the patterned story. These have repetitions that create an obvious internal organization, an old storyteller's device. Encourage your child to chime in. Once the child is anticipating what comes next, you are seeing the growth of narrative skills, and it makes for a more fun and interactive storytime for you both, too.

Instead of a few titles with annotations, I will give you a few types of patterned stories, each with a few titles I like.

Folk and Fairy Tales

As repetition is an old trick used by storytellers to recall stories, to draw in an audience, and to emphasize important parts of the tale, it is found in many old stories. These also have a beginning, middle, and end, and the pattern helps draw the story along that path. A few examples are:

The Three Billy Goats Gruff (I like Janet Stevens' version, as well as the older version by Paul Galdone) ; The Little Red Hen (I also like Philemon Sturges' updated The Little Red Hen Makes A Pizza) ; The Gingerbread Man/Boy/Baby/Girl (My favourite is Egielski's boy, who romps through the city and does get eaten in the end, though some may prefer Jan Brett's baby, who does not) ; Too Much Noise (a great old tale that lends itself to silliness, by Ann McGovern) ; The Mitten, by Jan Brett ; and The Great Big Enormous Turnip (there are also versions with potatoes and carrots, but my favourite is a Hallowe'en adaptation, The Big Pumpkin, by Erica Silverman).

Eric Carle

Yes, this classic picture book master gets his own section for the simple reason that he has time and time again created beloved stories with strong patterns, while also having a flow from beginning to end, as with fairy tales. He also manages to imbed concepts like time, days, counting, and more without ever being obvious about it. Genius. Favourites include:

The Very Busy Caterpillar ; The Very Busy Spider ; The Very Lonely Firefly ; Pancakes, Pancakes ; The Grouchy Ladybug ; Rooster's Off To See The World.

Simple Rhyming Books

These are books that carry strong patterns, but less of a story. They may, in fact, be entirely about the pattern in some cases, but children do love that. In a bedtime book, it is soothing, while in other storytime favourites, it makes it easy for them to join in. A few treasures are among those must-have titles:

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (and the accompanying Polar Bear and Panda Bear titles) ; Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (and many other Bill Martin titles, but most notably the Chicka Chicka's) ; Time for Bed (my favourite bedtime book, one that every new mom I know gets) ; Goodnight Moon ; Goodnight, Goodnight, Sleepyhead (a new treat by Ruth Kraus and Jane Dyer) ; Gifts by Jo Ellen Bogart, ill. Barbara Reid ; The Deep Blue Sea, by Audrey Wood.

Song Books

Songs lend themselves naturally to patterns as well, with choruses and repetitious verses. More and more songs are being illustrated in book format, making it easier to find these for storytime sharing. I love to use these because they help me remember the words to less familiar songs, give visual cues to the child to help them join in, and ties words to pages more strongly. Look for Raffi's many books (Down By The Bay, etc.), a few by Nadine Bernard Westcott (Skip To My Lou, I love), and some old favourites that include:

Old MacDonald ; Three Little Kittens ; BINGO ; Little White Duck (I love the Joan Paley-illustrated version); The Wheels On The Bus (Zelinsky's is fun) ; Over in the Meadow (and luscious new versions for the ocean and rainforest by Marianne Collins Berkes) ; and so on.

Look for these and other patterned pages at your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

Emotions are a tough thing to explain sometimes, being so very intangible. An illustration of facial expression certainly helps, as do examples of when you might feel a certain way. These books have a few novel ways to address the discussion, and help children learn to identify and name their feelings.

My Many-Coloured Days, by Dr. Seuss, ill. Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

This book uses the idea of feeling like different animals and colours to talk about emotions, and the swirling paintings carry the mood even further. Example: When my days are happy pink, it's great to jump and just not think! He even mentions "mixed-up days" when a child might not know what they feel, which I haven't seen elsewhere. In the end though, the book reassures that no matter what our mood, we go back to being ourselves.

Walter Was Worried, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

This book uses a few devices to help bring forth and express different feelings. Each child has a different reaction to different types of weather, and both the weather and the face are illustrated. The fact that the letters of the emotion are painted into the form of the face is a bit gimmicky, but can be totally overlooked unless you have one of those children who likes to find things in pictures (as Pumpkinpie does). Example: Walter was worried when the sky grew dark. This book goes through a nice range of emotions as the weather grows first wilder, then clears up, and the chldren react accordingly.

How Are You Peeling?: Foods with Moods, by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers

Easily dismissed as a novelty item, I actually quite like this book, in which fruit and veg are turned into creatures with extremely communicative faces. I like the simplicity of the text, and the clarity of the facial expressions, and I like that the tone is light and there is some giggle factor. It's a great way to get kids trying out making those faces themselves, and seeing what they look like on you. The physicality of that exercise can really help make the connection between the face and the feeling.

Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day, by Jamie Lee Curtis, ill. Laura Cornell

As I've written before, Curtis is one of the celeb authors that gets it right for kids, and this book is a fun one. What I like most about it is that each mood - and there is a wide range - is illustrated with a jaunty rhyme about some of the things that might help create that mood or some of the kinds of reactions a kid might have while feeling that way.

Sometimes I Feel Awful, by Joan Singleton Prestine, ill. Virginia Kylberg

This story of a crummy day is told by a young girl who has trouble expressing her feelings. As she looks back on how her day went from good to bad to worse, she identifies in each episode what made her feel bad, how she reacted, and what she could have said to make the person involved understand her. It is a bit on the heavy-handed side in terms of the reptitive message that she was not making herself understood, something I normally hate in a picture book. In this case, though, I think it does something useful and tricky - models how a child might put feelings into words. This skill is so useful, I give the message-y aspect a pass here. (Also, I found myself extra touched by the expressiveness of the girl's face, as she looks quite a lot like my Pumkinpie. Aww.)

Sometimes I Feel Like a Mouse, by Jeanne Modesitt, ill. Robin Spowart

This simple book features a child noting how sometimes they feel like different animals, and then identifying the feeling. Sometimes I feel like a mouse hiding, Shy. The paintings in the books are soft-edged, boldly coloured, and nicely evocative.

Lots of Feelings, by Shelley Rotner

This book features Rotner's signature sunlit, bright photos, and has children showing the faces associated with a nice variety of feelings, some of which I have not seen in other books. There is a nice variety of faces, too, which I appreciate, though some of the faces look quite like the child is approximating, and the emotions then are not quite as clear. Mostly though, this is a nice one for teaching children about expression and how it reflects feelings.

Look for these and other books about feelings at your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pumpkinpie's Picks

Pumpkinpie has found a few new faves this month, and discovered some old classics that speak to her, too. I love a blend of old and new, because while children's literature has certainly taken off and produced some wonderful new stuff, the really good stuff from long ago has endured for very good reason, too. Here are some current bestsellers in our story chair.

McDuff and the Baby and McDuff's Wild Romp, by Rosemary Wells, ill. Susan Jeffers

Pumpkinpie loves dogs, and recently has been pretty nice to other people's babies, so I brought home McDuff and the Baby, which seemed a good combination. I really love the retro feeling of the illustrations (and totally covet all of Lucy's shoes!), and the story is sweet and simple. She loved it, too, and asked for more McDuff stories. I'll bring home more as I find them, but this second book, about McDuff and a cat tagnling over a dropped meatball, is pretty funny.

How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?, by Jane Yolen, ill. Mark Teague

I'll post about this whole series at some point, but this month we are loving this early etiquette book for its silliness. It's backfiring somewhat, because now she's trying to figure out just how one would bubble one's milk, but we never get past sticking beans up the dinosaur's nose without a good shared giggle. Which I love. (And, to be honest, kind of encourage with huge exaggeration and a funny voice. Shh! Don't tell Emily Post!)

Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans

Pumpkinpie has suddenly discovered the appeal of Madeline, perhaps because she is so into peers right now and it seems pretty neat to live with twelve little girls, even if it does mean being in two straight lines. She is also oddly fascinated by books that involve the hospital (Curious George, Miffy, and so on). I don't think she's connected it with the lovely, velvety My First Madeline doll that's been hovering around in her room since birth, though, strangely enough. For my part, I am happy enough to share the familiar pleasure of simpler pictures and the nice metre of the rhyming (although I admit, slightly stunted rhymes in spots) tale.

Pancakes, Pancakes, by Eric Carle

So Jack waked up and informs his mother that he would like a big pancake for breakfast. And she replies that she is busy and he has to help, and sends him on errand after errand, coincidentally showing us where all the ingredients come from. Finally, he has it all assembled and helps cook it. Pumpkinpie loves pancakes, and now Pancakes, Pancakes, too. (Plus I love how the mom shows Jack just exactly what is involved in his "simple" request and makes him do it himself!)

Clara and the Bossy, by Ruth Ohi

I brought this home after enjoying The Couch Was a Castle, by the same author. Truth be told, I don't love it, though I thought the theme would be a good one, with Pumpkinpie negotiating some new terrain in terms of friendships these days and trying out her own bossy voice, too. I think it kind of misses out on the bossiness, and goes more into mean girl territory, while neer really mentioning how the kids involved are feeling. don't get me wrong - I hate a book with an earnest, heavy-handed Message. But I do think if you are going to talk about being bossy... you might want to talk about being bossy. Still, Pumpkinpie picks it time after time. Perhaps she's getting the scenarios that are presented, perhaps she just likes Clara's purple dress. Whatever, right? She's into it.

Angus and the Cat, by Majorie Flack

Before Pumpkinpie was born, a friend threw a book shower for me, and everyone brought their favourite books from childhood. One of my best friends brought the Angus books, lovely old gems illustrated in a bold and slightly hallucinogenic style. They are funny in a very dry fasion, employing Upper Case Letters to great effect. In this one, Angus is affronted by a new member of the household, but comes to find it welcome in the end. As predictable as it might be, it's a storyline kids seem to love over and over again. The other Angus tales are pretty amusing, too.

Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes

Yes, I'm slowly feeding her the whole Henkes oeuvre as she grows into them. She's loved every one so far, though there are a few I think might be a little ways off, still. This book is especially near to my heart because I am obssessed with names, and this is all about a little girl who loves her name until she gets teased, and then learns to love it all over again. Sweet and sad and funny and just pitch-perfect in that familiar style that I love so very much. Sigh. Have I mentioned before that I heart Kevin Henkes. I think I may have...

Find these and other great story-chair reads at your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Fresh Fodder

Every week or two, a library receives a box of new materials. It will be a mix, containing books, DVDs, books on tape, CDs for children, teens, and adults. It's often taken a while to wind its way through the paths of pubisher to distributor to library, through processing, and out to the branch. But it is always a little thrill to see what's in there. Today, to atone for my scant blogging while on holiday recently, I share a few new finds with you, ones that have just hit the shelves and are still all fresh and shiny.

17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do any More, by Jenny Offill and Nancy Carpenter

This hilarious gem stars a kid full of creativity and bright ideas. Too bad they all get her into trouble. Was stapling her brother's hair to his pillow so wrong that she shouldn't be allowed to use a stapler anymore? In the course of one school day, she is disallowed from doing reports on beaver, dedicating reports to beavers, telling everyone she owns 100 beavers, setting Joey Whipple on fire and showing him her underpants, and walking backwards, either to or from school. Sheesh. This kid is totally being stifled by grownups lacking in imagination! (Probably for kids about 5-8 years old.)

My Book Box, by Will Hillenbrand

This simple, toddler-friendly book is great fun, and a terrific starting point for discussing possibilities and engaging in creative play. It asks, quite simply, "What can I do with a box?" A few fun possibilities are illustrated by an elephant and frog playing together, until they hit upon the idea of a book box, which they can take everywhere so they always have something to read.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? by various artists

The time-worn joke is answered by a stellar lineup of 14 children's authors/illustrators, each afforded their own two-page spread. Many answers are entirely visual, setting up a scene that makes one side clearly preferable for one reason or another, while a few have added a verbal answer as well (Because the light was green!). The whole colection is funny, and great to share with a child just getting into the age of jokes or one firmly in command of his comedy routine (say 4-8 years).

Belinda and the Glass Slipper, by Amy Young

Belinda, the ballerina with enormous feet, was introduced to us in Belinda the Ballerina, in which she overcame them to become a star. When Belinda wins the part of Cinderella from an ambitious new dancer, the younger, smaller-footed Lola is not amused. Lola, in fact, locks Belinda in a closet and takes to the stage in her role! A fellow dancer finds her, helps her get ready, and she comes on in time to steal the show at the ball. A fun book for fans of ballet, and a talking point for jealousy, if it happens to be rearing its ugly head.

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People To Freedom, by Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. Kadir Nelson

I am a sucker for tales of people with strong convictions and the courage to back them up, and Harriet Tubman is no exception, getting me right in the heart. In this version of events, Harriet converses with god, who guides her and lends her strength as she runs away, and helps others escape along the Underground Railroad. The language is poetic, the paintings stunning, and Harriet's faith deeply expressed. Absolutely lovely, and a powerful tale of courage for an older child (I'd say 7 or over).

Who Am I? Yoga for Children of All Ages, by Jane Lee Wiesner, ill. Annie White

I am someone who is skeptical of yoga for children, in general. Perhaps because yoga is a bit too crunchy for me, perhaps because it seems like putting an adult thing on children. Yet, for all my cynical nature, when I opened this book, I was delighted. Simple illustrations show a child in many basic yoga poses set against the object that inspires them. I reach like a giraffe. I point like a triangle. I grow like a tree. All of the poses and ideas are chosen to be accessible for children, and the book could be used as a game of imagining to make the forms fun for children. Further information is given in the endnotes for parents who want to explain in more depth, as well. I am in fact, to my surprise, liking this so much, I am going to take it home to Pumpkinpie this week!

Here's a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry, coll. Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters, ill. Polly Dunbar

This fantastic collection of first poems is 100 pages of fun for the very young. Poems are short and bouncy, and authors range from more classic (A.A. Milne, Hilaire Belloc) to more modern and silly (Colin McNaughton). The topics are pitch perfect for young kids - family, pets, seasons, nature, bedtime, eating, and more - and divided in the index into headings. The illustrations hit a fun, light note - sweet without being saccharine. This one I love so much I am planning to get my own copy.

These and other delightful new books are available through your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

It's Just My Imagination, Running Wild and Too Fast

I am a big fan of imaginative play for children, and I love to see it reflected in books for children. There is something fun and perfectly evocative of childhood to these titles about imagining games that just makes me smile.

The Couch Was A Castle, by Ruth Ohi

This is a recent favourite in the House of 'Pie. Each page shows a pair imagining a new scenario on the couch, with a small image of the reality and a larger contrasting image of the imaginary version. Great fun.

Toby, What Are You?, by William Steig, ill. Teryl Euvremer

William Steig is a great storyteller, but as it turns out, he also has a silly streak and completely understands the joy of imagining goofy things. In this book, Toby is pretending to be different things, and has his parents guessing. Sometimes they are right, sometimes not, but they have a fun running game right up until he is a cowboy and rides his horse to bed. (I also enjoy Steig's book Pete's a Pizza, in which Pete's parents pretend to make him into a pizza to cheer him up. Comes complete with tickles and silly jokes served deadpan.)

Imagine You Are a Dolphin, by Karen Wallace, ill. Mike Bostock

This book and its companion, Imagine You Are A Crocodile, are not so much books about games of imagination as they are jumping-off-points for such games. Beautiful, informative, and begging for children to run with the imagining they suggest. I could really see a child plunging into the land of make-believe armed with this good window into the lives of either animal.

Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak

The quintessential book about a child's imaginings, in which Max is sent to bed without any supper, imagines himself sailing far away, in and out of nights and days, until he reaches a land where he becomes the beloved king and has the wildest rumpus he could ever desire before finally returning to his home, where his dinner is waiting for him - and it was still hot. Wild, fantastical, and eminently quotable, this gem is a classic for a reason.

Find these and other books of the wild and wonderful at your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Twin Titles

Twins - are triplets, for that matter - are on the rise. Yes, there are more of us that are having, well, more of us. And I've found a few cute books about the joys of having more (at once).

Dee and Bee, by Robin Isabel Ahrens, ill. Amanda Haley

These twin girls like to play tricks by switching identities, and fool people throughout the day in harmless ways. A fun frolic à deux.

Twin to Twin, by Margaret O'Hair, ill. Thierry Courtin

A cute rhyming romp through the twin joys and double trouble of having two at once.

Jack and Jake, by Aliki

Through the years, people are always confusing these twins, exasperating their older sister. Even when the boys try to make themselves look different, people get confused. But their sister knows their personalities, and emphasizes that "Jack does thing and says things that only Jack could" and vice versa. A nice reinforcement of the notion that although twins certainly share many things, they are each their own person.

Sweet Jasmine, Nice Jackson, by Robie H. Harris, ill. Michael Emberley

The terrific team behind such older-kid non-fiction titles as It's So Amazing (about birthing babies) and It's Perfectly Normal (about puberty and sex) turn their attention to "What It's Like To Be 2 - And To Be Twins!" This book is also definitely aimed at an older audience - it's a long story with lots of little sidebars about toddler behaviour - and walks through the highs and lows (tantrums, potties, big beds, questions, and so on) of this pair's year until they turn three. It's certainly a nice introduction to toddlers, though, either single or twin, for an older child, especially one with younger kids about.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Pumpkinpie's Picks

My daughter, Pumpkinpie, chooses her books for storytime every night. We regularly bring home an armload from the library, read those a lot for a few nights, and then return to choosing from the large piles that grace our living room. Sometimes the "new" books make the cut, sometimes they reach the bottom of the heap in a hurry. But this made me think that while I can talk a lot about books that I like, and while I bring home books that I think she will like, it's ultimately up to the kids, isn't it? So maybe my three-year-old can help you find some things that your young one would like, too. Welcome to the first installment of Pumpkinpie's Picks, a new occasional feature here at Pick of the Litter.

A Beautiful Girl, by Amy Schwartz

I have not, generally, been a huge fan of Amy Schwartz, but this newest book is a fun one. In it, a girl encounters various animals, who tell her that she is, for example, a silly robin with a silly beak. She corrects them, explaining that it is a mouth, and they compare what they use their beaks and mouths for. It's a little bit silly, a little bit sweet, and offers lots of opportunity for kids to show off their knowledge, which they always enjoy.

Jessica, by Kevin Henkes

I may have mentioned before the absurd degree to which I adore Kevin Henkes? Well, apparently my girl's taste is just as good, because she has really enjoyed Chester's Way, Wemberley Worried, and now, Jessica. Ruthie is a girl with an imaginary friend, Jessica, who goes everywhere with her, despite her parents' protests. Even to kindergarten, where, to Ruthie's great surprise and delight, she meets a new - and even better - Jessica.

various Curious George books, by H.A. Rey

Pumpkinpie is fully on the Curious George bandwagon, where books are concerned. We don't watch the TV show, though, curiously enough. But about the books... The older ones are quite lengthy, and definitely require a chid who enjoys sitting for a longer story, but they have a nice depth to them. The newer ones - the ones that say they are illustrated "in the style of" are spinoffs that I must say, are insanely formulaic. Pumpkinpie enjoys them anyhow, and it at least gives me some greater variety, so I set aside my snobbery for this and go ahead and read the one about the puppies for the thousandth time because you know, she looooves puppies. Just so you know what you're getting into! You can make your own call on which ones you are willing to put up with. But I do have a question - why all the focus on the man's yellow hat, when the yellow suit is much, much weirder?

Red Is Best, by Kathy Stinson, ill. Robin Baird Lewis

This is classic Canadian children's fare, and it has in no way lost its appeal over the years. In this book, a mom tries to convince her daughter that items of different colours are better for various practical reasons ("Your white stockings look better with that dress."), while Kelly only wants red things because "red is best." The thing that I love best about it is the way it so perfectly captures a young child. The drawings are spot on, showing that rounded, chubby, clumsiness that is a child, and posing her in just the kind of attitudes you're likely seeing at home yourself. The feelings about her favourite clothes and objects, too, are perfection. "The red paint puts singing in my head." Could you say this any better?

Effie, by Beverley Allinson, ill. Barbara Reid

Pumpkinpie was having some issues with ants at the beginning of this summer. Reassurance and gentle cajoling was not helping. What to do? Finally we thought, "What about a nice story about a nice ant?" Oh yes, books for everything, that's what I say. And you know? It helped. But this is a great story in its own right. It's about Effie, the tiny ant with the thunderclap of a voice, who scares off everyone she tries to befriend around the tiny insect world. One day, though, she saves them all by warning an elephant not to step on them. And the elephant, of course, isn't bothered at all by her voice, and soon they become great friends. Barbara Reid's lovely plasticene illustrations make this a charmer, and turn the first line into one of my favourites: "Effie came from a long line of ants." (illustrated with a column of ants on the march. Funny, dry, perfect.)

The Elves and the Shoemaker

This is one of the gentler among classic fairy tales, and bears strong resemblance to the lovely Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter. In it, a shoemaker at the end of his funds suddenly finds himself on the receiving end of some help, decides to return the favour once he finds out the source, and has his fortune made. The copy we have is a simple Ladybird one, but as with any old tale, different versions abound.

Warner, Don't Forget, by Lynn Seligman and Geraldine Mabin, ill. Linda Hendry

This book is not my favourite, but she finds it pretty funny. Warner's mother is seriously afflicted with helicopteritis, and is always reminding and warning. When he goes on a class field trip, she can't take it, and finds a way to continue to hover and warn throughout the day, as we discover at the end. It is pretty silly, so she likes it. And, because I can't help myself if I can't get lost in a story, I do use it to point out the repeating words in Warner's speech bubbles, and to talk about how Warner's teacher will help him remember many of those things and how Warner is getting big enough to remember some things himself. Hey, storytime is a great springboard for discussion! Don't tell me you don't do these things, too...

Rolie Polie Olie, by William Joyce

This is an early example of computer illustration, yet retains Joyce's signature retro-futuristic feel to a tee. It is the origin of the TV show, which we do watch, and is full of wild, nonsensical fun. Just like we like it...

Find these and other great storytime treats at your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.