Monday, July 28, 2008

Pumpkinpie's Picks

Some months, I am loving everything we are reading, other months, the requests are not what I would pick. Still, I believe in letting Pumpkinpie choose her own bedtime material. Reading time, after all, should be fun and enjoyable for children - it's not really teaching time or good-for-you time, though it is indeed good for them. In fact, it's best for them if they do enjoy it, and by the time you are into toddler and preschool territory, enjoying it goes hand in hand with having some say in it, as we all know only too well. The thing of it is, it's worth enduring a few clunkers and letting them steer a bit, since their enjoyment is a key part of the preliteracy skill we refer to as "print motivation," or simply put, the desire to pick up a book.

So yes, even professional story ladies sometimes put up with some books that feed into their children's interests rather than our own sense of quality literature. This month was like that. I've only been loving about half of her picks. Perhaps next month will be better...

Here's what she's asking for lately, like it or not:

Baby BeeBee Bird, by Diane Redfield Massie, ill. Steven Kellogg

A favourite of mine from long ago, I had a copy on my shelf a good five years before I had a child of my own - it's an occupational hazard. So when I noticed it sitting on the shelf one day when I was cobbling together some stories for a daycare, I was reminded that I should share it at home, too. I've never really met a preschooler who didn't enjoy the story, especially as I encourage them to join in the beebee bird's song, which carries throughout the book on nearly every page. (A tip - I count off three repetitions on my fingers to keep them from running away with it!) It is a bit raucous for a bedtime story, perhaps, but ends on a quiet note, and is a great one for sharing and reading aloud together at the beginning of storytime.

I Am Snow, by Jean Marzollo, ill. Judith Moffatt

This is a super-simple book for beginning readers, so not really a great one for sharing in terms of good stories, but has a strong repetitious rhythm good for reading and for early readers. Pumpkinpie seems to like that about it, and has memorized it, so this is one that she reads to me. The bold collage illustrations add a nice touch.

Angelina Ballerina series, by Katharine Holabird, ill. Helen Craig

As Pumpkinpie becomes consumed with all things girly, I am looking for things that hook into that without making me cringe. Angelina on TV is a bit saccharine, but I find it mostly the voices that do it. In book form, I don't mind them. The illustrations have a ncie level of detail, and the stories teach small life lessons in the way so many series of books for young children do, some set in the dance world, and some not. I pciked up a few of these a while back on a closeout table, and so far, both of the ones I've introduced have been hits with Pumpkinpie, and acceptable to me, which for girly fare, is pretty win-win.

Dahlia, by Barbara McClintock

Charlotte is something of a tomboy, so when she receives a perfect, frilly china doll from her aunt, she is totally unimpressed, but decides the doll will have to get used to her way of doing things, so she takes her along to make mud pies, race soapbox cars, and climb trees. By the time her aunt comes by for dinner and asks to see the doll, she has been thoroughly transformed by her day of mud and sunshine. I love the contrast of the very old-fashioned, Victorian illustrations with the actual sentiments of the book, for the very proper-looking aunt, it turns out, wishes she could have joined in the puddle-jumping herself. It is just terrific how this book is at once sweet and traditional and yet subverts that very thing. What a great example of how kids can have great fun and break the mold without having to be the kind of horrible precocious brats some books model!

Horton Hears a Who, by Dr. Seuss

When Hroton the big-hearted elephant hears a small voice drifting by, he is certain that there must be a tiny person of some sort of the speck of dust he spies. Others are not convinced. They don't stop at teasing him or ignoring him, however, but these uniquely mean-spirited meighbours decide they must STOP HIM from taking care of this dust-mote world. It's tough to explain why that is to a child, but they have probably seen a bit of that in action among other kids, and Pumpkinpie seems to just get that it is mean, without worryign the why to heavily. In any case, Horton is one devoted caregiver, and hunts up the flower among a field of them until her finds it and encourages the Who's on the speck to make enough noise that those others can hear them, too. Panic ensues, but eventually, with every tiny one working together, they make themselves heard, and Horton is vindicated, the Whoville residents saved. Next up, I will have to lay hands on Horton Hatches the Egg.

Lauren, the Puppy Fairy

This early chapter book is one of a massive series of fairy books. Colour fairies, gem fairies, weather fairies, pet fairies... anything a fairy-fascinated young thing could want. They are pure fluff, as many series are, simple for the early reader and too sweet for my taste, but they are a huge hit, particularly among young girls. Pumpkinpie is puppy-mad, and newly interested in fairies, and I am trying to move her into chapter books among her bedtime reading. Some chapters have been hits, others not, but this one was a great success, having the right ingredients to tap into her obsessions du jour. It's a prime example of how sometimes you have to go with what works for them, and trust that it's a gateway drug to better stuff, like some Beverly Cleary, which we will start next.

Swing by your local public library to find books of all stripes for your shared reading times!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Re-Visiting Picks Past

After quite some time writing Pick of the Litter columns, first for MommyBlogsToronto, and now for the awesome new Playdate, I have covered a fair bit of territory, topic-wise. Every once in a while, now, I run into a book that makes me think, Oh! I wish I has seen that one when I wrote about... Well, there are always new things to write about, so I hate to reprint the whole column with the new additions, but I thought I'd refer back and offer up a few of the things that would make good add-ons to some picks of the past.


This is the Sunflower, by Lola M. Schaefer, ill. Donald Crews

This cumulative, rhyming story about a sunflower that feeds the birds, who then spill some seeds, which in turn grow into a patch of sunflowers in the same garden that grew the first flower. A note at the back identifies a host of songbirds, as well as giving some sunflower facts, while Crews' trademark bold illustrations make the whole thing a great book for sharing with kids of a wide range of ages.

The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss, ill. Crockett Johnson

A little boy planted a carrot seed. His mother said, "I'm afraid it won't come up." His father and brother doubt it, too, but he has a quiet faith in his seed, and waters and weeds it anyhow until one day, his patience is rewarded. This book is simple as simple can be, featuring drawings by the fabulous illustrator of Harold and the Purple Crayon, and is a great way to remind kids that patience may be tough, but it is worth it, and is especially necessary in gardens.

See more great gardening books in the original post, here.


Hello, Twins!, by Charlotte Voake

Voake, herself a twin, writes a simple and cute book about herself and her brother as children, though it is not told quite that way. Instead, she introduces us to Charlotte and Simon, who are not alike at all. Despite their very different ways of doing things (which read almost like a book of opposites), the twins love each other as they are. I have been a fan of Voake's for some time, and while this book is even sparser than most of hers, it has the same breezy, slightly sweet style that I love in her work.

Find other titles for two in this post.

All That Jazz

This Jazz Man, by Karen Ehrhardt, ill. R. G. Roth

Set to the tune of This Old Man, this fun and funky counting book highlights the sounds of jazz, and many ways that music can be made, from the snapping of fingers, through numerous instruments, and right up to the conductor. By the time we have met all ten, "these jazz men make one great band!" Notes at the end introduce the jazz legend associated with each of the players, for those who want to tie this to real-life musicians.

Find other swinging titles in this post, from deep in the archives.


I Wished for a Unicorn and

A Sea-Wishing Day, by Robert Heidbreder, ill. Kady McDonald Denton

I love a good example of children playing games of the imagination, losing themselves in a world of their own making, rather than surrendering to manufactured realms of television of being entertained by electronic toys. It's a great thing for a child to build that creativity! This pair of books features of child of ambiguous gender who goes on adventures in her (?) own backyard with her dog - exploring fairy tale worlds in one, and going to sea (running into pirates, even!) in the other. It's a bit like Backyardigans without the commercialness, in fact, in the fact that the backyard disappears, and other surroundings take shape, only to melt away at the end, as the child returns. Wonderfully fun romps, these books are given great shape with Denton's typically jaunty illustrations.

Find more great flights of fancy in this post from last summer, here.


The Purple Balloon, by Chris Raschka

This simple, lovely book is specifically written for terminally ill children and the friends and family who love them. It is based on an observation by psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross that across many cultures and faiths, children who draw their feelings about their impending death often draw a free-floating purple or blue balloon. Working from this point, Raschka has illustrated the ill child as the purple balloon, and the others around him or her as balloons of other colours. The extremely simple text addresses how difficult it is to talk about dying, the many people who try to make dying easier, the support to be found among family and friends. Good help can make it easier. There are also some short notes for children about how they can help a friend who is dying in simple ways by continuing to be a friend, for those children who are reading this book to understand another's illness better. I love the simplicity of this book, a little gem that addresses a tough topic with sympathy, but without overexplaining.

Find more books on this topic in this post, from deep in the archives - my very first Pick.

There are always new titles to find, even for us pros!

Check your local library often for treasures new and newly discovered.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.