Monday, June 25, 2007

Hot in the City

We felt it just last week. The thick, oppressive heat of summer weighing on us, the sun beating down on us, the wondering if we were in for months of this, wondering when we might have a little relief. We found some ways to get that, which was good. But even better, then came the glory of a hard summer rain washing the haze of out the air, a cooler wind whipping the hanging clouds of heat away. It's a cycle that repeats through summer, that defines those months as surely as skipping feet and sprinklers and popsicles. And it's a feature of lots of great books about weathering the warm months in the heart of the urban jungle (although one or two end with some other cooling). Here are a few hot picks to remind you: a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse, ill. Jon J. Muth

A drought has everyone drooping, even the garden, when little Tess starts to feel rain coming. She and her friends don their swimsuits, get permission to go out under the "swollen sky," and run, "squealing and whooping" up the block with such glee that even the mamas join in, shedding hose and shoes and lifting their skirts. Wonderful.

Hot Day on Abbott Avenue, by Karen English, ill. Javaka Steptoe

A good story for older children, this hot day is made even worse by the fact that friends Renee and Kishi have had a falling out over the last blue popsicle. Eventually, though, they are both drawn into skipping games, and when the ice cream truck comes by, they split the last blue treat and forget all about the fight and the heat.

Silver Rain Brown, by M.C. Helldorfer, ill. Teresa Flavin

This book features a child and his very pregnant mother trying to get through the hot days and nights. A rain brings welcome relief, and all the children in the neighbourhood run in it, drinking it from the sky, and even the boy's mother joins in. In that rainfall, later that night, the boy and his mother take a taxi to the hospital, where the baby is born and named Silver Rain Brown for her coming with the change in weather.

Hot City, by Barbara Joosse, ill. R. Gregory Christie

A quirkily-painted-but-fun pair of children inhabit an urban landcape rendered in the kind of cornea-searing yellows, oranges, and fuschias that scream HOT! in this simple story of seeking cool. After enjoying snow cones, they find cool and a pleasant way to pass the time getting lost in the land of imagination to be found in the library. (Yes, I know. But I love this one.)

One Hot Summer Day, by Nina Crews

One of the simpler books, this one shows a cute young girl in Crews's funky photo collage trying to find cool activities, and then, at last, singing and dancing in the cooling rain.

How Hot Was It? by Jane Barclay, ill. Janice Donato

This book is full of fun, bouncy rhymes that play with the sounds of language. Want a sample?

It was a sizzling, fizzling, record-breaking, belly-aching, faces-red-as-beets, shorts-stuck-to-our-seats kind of hot.

The illustrations, too, capture perfectly the postures and actions of children slouching around on a hot day. In this book, it's a hose that beats the heat in the end, though I'm not sure spraying his suit-clad dad was necessarily a prudent move... At least he seems to take it with a smile!

For these and other great hot-weather stories, visit your (air-conditioned!) local library!

(Your libraries are, in fact, designated cooling centres during open hours.)

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

One of the skills that children need as a foundation for literacy learning is what is known as "print awareness," or seeing words in print and understanding that letters and words have meaning that can be decoded through reading. Parents who are looking to foster this skill in their children can help by pointing out print all around them and noting what it says and what it means for us. Particularly in an urban environment, signs are a great opportunity to talk about words. They are designed to be simple and clear, and to say what they need to say in a minimal number of words. They are all around us, so we can seize any moment to talk about words. And, with the right storybook, we can continue the conversation at home, consolidating what we have seen on our daily travels. Here are a few that I have recently enjoyed.

Once Upon a Banana, by Jennifer Armstrong, ill. David Small

This nearly wordless picture book begins with the classic slapstick move: slipping on a banana peel. A chain reaction follows, drawing in person after person as the action moves around the block, winding up right back where it started. Funny rhyming signs throughout add another layer of humour, as they relate directly to the action, making them worth noting as you share this with your wee one. Fans of physical humour will fall down laughing over this gem.

I Read Signs and I Read Symbols, by Tana Hoban

Tana Hoban is a classic, timeless choice for concept books of all varieties (shapes, opposites, etc.), and here she lends her photographic skills to the study of signs around us. I Read Signs features a variety of print signs (Stop, Exit, Beware of Dog, and so on) found on the street and in buildings, and offers a great opportunity to connect print and meaning, and to start showing children the many places where words are found when we go out into the real world with them. In I Read Symbols, she introduces the idea that an image can hold meaning in place of words - an arrow, stoplight, or red cross, for example.

Alphabeep: A Zipping, Zooming ABC, by Debora Pearson, ill. Edward Miller

This fun, boldly coloured alphabet book is a winner for the truck-obssessed, but adds in other aspects of life on the road, too, including a few road signs. Y, for example, is for Yield. A great way to talk about those signs with a youngster who likes some movement in their storytime!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Tales of Friendship

I love a story about friendship, and there are plenty of great ones around for young children, who are busy learning the ins and outs of this kind of social interaction. Myself, I particularly like stories of sticking together through thick and thin, and that involve acceptance of the quirks of our friends because, let’s face it, people are quirky. Here are a few of my favourite kinds of stories – sweet, but not sappy.

Bravo, Mildred and Ed!
Karen Wagner, ill. Janet Pedersen

When Mildred and Ed have competing engagements on Saturday, each wishes the other could be there, but they find a solution. They practice being alone together all week, and each has a little piece of the other with them. When they get together again after their week of solitude, they are that much stronger, and their reunion all the sweeter.

Horace and Morris But Mostly Dolores
Horace and Morris Join the Chorus (But What About Dolores?)

James Howe, ill. Amy Walrod

Horace, Morris, and Dolores are three of a kind, until the boys decide to join a club that doesn’t admit girls. Dolores, however, isn’t all that suited to the girly-girl Cheese Puffs club, and quits, along another adventurous young mouse, Chloris. They swing by the boys club and pick up both Dolores’s other friends, as well as a fifth to round out their group: Boris, and they build a clubhouse of their own. I love this tale of bucking the established order of things and finding a way to do what they really love together.
In the second story, the trio plan to join the choir but Dolores, who loves singing, doesn’t make the cut. She finds her own way to become part of the show, in the end, and becomes a star. Older kids love these (6-9 or so), for they can relate to the situations well.

Chester’s Way
Kevin Henkes

Chester and Wilson are best friends. They are a strange pair, but they are two peas in a pod. When Lilly moves into the neighbourhood, she "has her own way of doing things," and the boys avoid her until the day she saves them. The three of them teach each other new things, and soon they are always together. A wonderful story about finding out what someone is really about.
And because I love Kevin Henkes so (seriously, I made an ass of myself when he came to visit my library once. Like meeting-a-rock-star-type behaviour.), I would suggest also two of his books about younger children making friends that help them with the transition to kindergarten:
Wemberly Worried

George and Martha

George and Martha, Best Friends

(and more)

James Marshall

This hippo pair by the famously goofy Marshall crack me up every time, playing silly tricks on each other and testing the boundaries of their freindship in ridiculous ways. They sort it out by explaining what they didn't like and apologizing, just like we tell our kids, without ever seeming "message-y."

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Meet Bill Martin!

What do picture books Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Barn Dance, and Old Devil Wind have in common? They are all by the incredibly prolific but oddly low-profile author Bill Martin, Jr. Martin has often written with partners, and has been illustrated by a wide-ranging variety of artists, meaning that his books do not have the kind of instant recognizability that a partnership like the Munsch-Martchenko pairing breeds. He has, certainly, had a few books that have turned into a series of well-known spin-offs, but many stand alone. With some 30 titles published in the last 25 years, though, it would be an unfortunate oversight not to introduce you to a few of my favourites.

Fire! Fire! Said Mrs. McGuire, ill. Vladimir Radunsky

In much the same style as the classic Drummer Hoff, a team tackles a fire, each adding their own comment. This book was first illustrated by the Caldecott-winning Richard Egielski in 1996, and was last year re-issued with new illustrations by Vladimir Radunsky. I am a fan of Egielski’s style, which is bright and populated with humourous people, while Radunsky’s features a darker palette and some rather fetching mice.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?

Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?

ill. Eric Carle

The classic Brown Bear and its series are well-known favourites, featuring Carle’s distinctive collage art. Brown Bear focuses on common animals and colours, Polar Bear takes on more exotic animals and their sounds, and finally Panda Bear introduces a number of endangered animals. I find Panda Bear has lost some of the rhythm of the original, as the animals become more specific and their names more elaborate, but children love it all the same and it is a great way to introduce these animals and talk about the danger of their disappearing.

With Michael Sampson, his sometime collaborator, Martin has also produced Adam, Adam, What Do You See? (ill. Cathie Felstead), which uses the same rhythm to introduce bible stories, giving the bible verse that tells the full story for each couplet.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Chicka Chicka ABC (board book)

Chicka Chicka 123

with John Archambault / Michael Sampson, ill. Lois Ehlert

The well-known Chicka Chicka books (are a great introduction to the alphabet, with a fun rhythm and clear images of the letters. Kids love this! I like the abbreviated board book version for younger kids. I find the counting version charming until 20, however the jump to counting by tens seems abrupt and unexplained, so ultimately this is not my favourite book for numerals.

The Maestro Plays, ill. Vladimir Radunsky

This book is another fun play with language and rhythm, full of crazy words. It could be a great way to talk about music appreciation or about adverbs! Radunsky’s illustrations elevate it into a kinetic circus of playing, and help it over a few rough spots, but overall the pacing builds to a rousing crescendo that makes the whole thing exciting.

Swish!, with Michael Sampson, ill. Michael Chesworth

This great narrative of a basketball game works like few sports poems I’ve read. It builds excitement with perfect pacing and a moment of suspense at the last second. The illustrations are perfect, adding an element of cartoon movement and personality in the players’ faces. I have read this to large groups and had them on the edge of their seats. A sports fan of any age would love this one.

A Beasty Story, ill. Steven Kellogg

This funnier, cosier take on the classic Dark, Dark Room tale is a wonderful collaboration, starring Kellogg’s mischievous mice, who make the ending funny, rather than spooky. (And, you know, anything Kellogg touches turns to gold. The man’s a genius.)

I Love Our Earth, with Michael Sampson, ill. Dan Lipow

Slightly reminiscent of "America the Beautiful," this lovely verse highlights the colours, wonders, and seasons of the earth, all elevated by Lipow’s stunning photography. I love this book.

Here Are My Hands, with John Archambault, ill. Ted Rand

This classic is a great one for introducing body parts – I use it for class visits all the time. The illustrations are fun, and the lilting rhyme works well. My only complaint is that ears are,perhaps, occasionally used for more than “washing and drying.” But not always.

Listen to the Rain, with John Archambault, ill. James Endicott

This lovely book plays with language to suggest the sounds of rain. Pitter-patting, soft rain, roaring thunderstorming rain, and the “fresh wet silent after-time of rain.” The sounds drawn out of the words are beautiful and evocative, making this a perfect book for sharing in a rainy season.

Old Devil Wind, ill. Barry Root

A cumulative tale, in which a ghost wailing sets off a chain of noises that grows until the wind blows everyone away. A great not-so-spooky tale for Hallowe’en or a child who likes a little chill.

A Beautiful Feast for Big King Cat, with John Archambault, ill. Bruce Degen

A cute rhyming tale of a little mouse who teases a cat until the cat gets the better of him. Trapped, the mouse talks his way out of a bad situation, and learns “that teasing the cat is dangerous play.” Much as I tend not to like a moral, this one is a fun read, and not too heavy-handed.

The Turning of the Year, ill. Greg Shed

A quick romp through the delights of the year, made golden by the stunning paintings that accompany each month.

Find these and other wonderful stories at your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.