By Angela Verges
The Holiday season is upon us. It’s the time of year where folks all around the world celebrate in their special way. At our house it is a time where aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents and friends feast together.
My boys look forward to our Holiday gathering because they know something wacky is sure to happen. Although we don’t have antlers, my family members resemble the characters in the picture book Uncles and antlers by Lisa Wheeler. This holiday themed picture book uses rhyme and counting as we are introduced to a family of wacky reindeer.
Uncle Uno had one hat. Uncle Duce who wore two wigs and bellowed out a tune, reminded me of myself singing at our annual Christmas dinner (off key). My brother could fill the role of Uncle Quint who is long and tall and shoots basketball.
Add uncles and antlers to your reading list and see if you can find any comparisons to your family. Uncle and antlers had their wacky side and so does my family. No matter how silly our family Christmas dinner becomes, it’s always just right.
As I searched for more books to add to my holiday reading list, I came across Just Right for Christmas by Birdie Black. The story begins with the king buying a bright red cloth from the market. The cloth was used to make a gift for the princess. Once the gift was complete, the leftover scraps were placed outside the back door of the castle.
The story continued with someone finding the scraps and taking them home to make an item for a family member. Each time the scraps were placed outside a door and another person received a gift. By the end of the story, the smallest animal around received a gift from the last piece of red cloth.
Just Right for Christmas was a heartwarming tale of giving during the Christmas season. This book can be used to begin a discussion about the joy of giving or helping, not just during the Holidays, but at other times of the year.
The next time you get together with the uncles and antlers in your family, turn it into a wacky celebration. Make it a joyous, just right occasion.
What’s on your reading list for the upcoming Holiday season?
by Wendy Lawrence
I have a gorgeous book for you today, a story of a girl and a penguin told entirely in whites, blues, and yellows. White mostly for the snow, blues for the penguin and the girl’s snowsuit, yellows for her hat, his feet.
Title: Flora and the Penguin
Author/Illustrator: Molly Idle
Genre: Picture Book
Ages: 0 – 6 (I usually think kids need to be a little older to get books without words, but this is a story anyone, even the youngest, would love to look at.)
There are no words, and I have mixed feelings about books without words. On the one had, I love them. The illustrations tend to be powerful and emotional. The stories tend to be mixed with a certain kind of humor that can only be told without words. (Remember Flashlight and the raccoon pointing the light back at the boy?) On the other hand, when I’m “reading” them to my kids, which is clearly the wrong verb, I’m sometimes at a loss.
Do I describe the pictures? But if I do that, which sometimes I do, then I’m just writing the words myself, and that seems lame, because even though I call myself a writer, I don’t think that the words I’m using would be any better than the words the author might have used and, in the end, decided not to.
Or do I remain quiet and just flip the pages, letting my mind and my son’s mind wander through the story? But then sometimes he gets mad, and doesn’t believe me when I say there are no words.
Or do I ask him to tell the story? Ask him what he sees? Ask him to describe?
Usually, I settle for a mix of all three. Which is probably what the authors intend. Plus, it has the added benefit of forcing interaction with the book! Which is why I started this blog in the first place! So bring it on, books that demand me to do more than think about the laundry while reciting words my brain has long since memorized!
Flora and the Penguin is a great one for this because the story is told so obviously. Also, it adds to the interactive nature of the book with tabs that your kids can flip. Flora starts ice skating, she finds a penguin. She ice skates with the penguin. The penguin disappears. She is a little sad. Penguin brings her a fish. She throws it back in the water. The penguin is a little sad. There is resolution and love in the end. It’s a super sweet book with beautiful colors and lines and surprise. With the snow on its way, it would make a great fall or winter birthday present or a gift for the winter holidays!
By Angela Verges
Do you have a child who likes to collect…stuff? Over the years my son has collected football trading cards, Yu-gi-oh cards and a bunch of other things. A couple of times a year I would encourage him give away some of the things he no longer played with. The task was anything but pleasant.
November 15th is America Recycles Day. If you have a child who likes to hold onto things forever, this is a great time to introduce the concept of recycling. This task may require you to use creativity. When I attempted to help my son part with some of his old toys, he responded with, “Don’t throw that away, I still play with that.”
If you have a little pack rat who likes to keep everything, he might enjoy reading Stuff! Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This is a story about a little pack rat named Pinch who keeps everything from magazines to toy cars, boats and games. Pinch had so much stuff that it was spilling onto the street.
You will have to read the story to find out what Pinch does to reduce, reuse and recycle. Expand your child’s knowledge of recycling by creating green crafts. You can find a variety of projects in the book Cool Crafts with old Wrappers, Cans, and Bottles by Carol Sirrine.
Cool Crafts tells you how to make projects reusing items you already have. Did you know you could make Itty Bitty Frames using metal bottle caps? It’s as simple as gluing a magazine a small picture into the cap and adding a magnet strip.
Do you have a suggestion of things to do for America Recycles Day or a favorite book related to recycling?
by Wendy Lawrence
The illustrations in this book are stunning. Junzo Terada is the celebrated artist behind them. They are full of retro-gorgeous colors like real red, a soft blue, yellows, and greens and browns. The images are slightly splotched (that’s a terrible description from someone who is obviously NOT an artist) with patches of white and gold, making them even appear old.
The story is a little bit retro, too. It’s a toy store story. And a forgotten toy, kind of like Corduroy. Tabi the mouse cleans the store at night and loves Max more than anything, but tried to make the very serious dog with a somewhat unhappy face more likable so he will get taken home, too. The story is simple and predictable with a happy ending, which is pleasantly old-fashioned. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the new things going on in picture books these days, but sometimes you don’t feel like a zombie robot or a creepy carrot or using all your energy mixing pretend paints.
Sometimes you just want a nice story. With nice characters. And undescribably nice–beautiful, too, and poignant–illustrations.
I think the title of this book Robot Burb Head Smartypants, pretty much says all you need to know. Our favorite robots from the totally awesome Robot Zombie Frankenstein book by Annette Simon are back. Only this time they are trying to teach you things. Like counting. And saying the alphabet. But, inevitably, burping gets in the way. So as you can see, there is NOTHING NOT to like about this book! It’s phenomenally awesome.
Here’s a sample page:
Seriously. If you need more than that, I can’t help you. Well, okay, I can give you one more reason to get this book. The illustrations–digital images made of geometric shapes mixed with real photographic images–are as awesome as the text. So there. And check out Robot Zombie Frankenstein too!
by Wendy Lawrence
I was super excited when this book landed on my doorstep. Its predecessor, Press Here is one of our longtime family favorites. (If you don’t know that one, and unexpectedly interactive book of colors, definitely check out the link above.)
Mix it Up! uses the same principles of Press Here, but adds a whole dimension of colors and how they are made. Kids mix their fingers on the paint illustrations and make their own colors as if they were mixing paints themselves. What happens when you rub your finger on the blue then dip it in the yellow? Turn the pages to find out! What about if one page has a red dot and the opposite page has a yellow dot and you close them together? Turn the page again! What about if you mix a bunch of colors with white? Or with black?
Kids will love playing with this book. And when you are done, they will love playing with paint! You could even really easily let your kids recreate this whole book with a simple supply of finger paints. How much fun would that be?
by Wendy Lawrence
It starts with a mother bird who says “Tell Peter: Fly home for dinner.” But the youngest only remembers “Tell Peter: Hit pop flies and homers.” That changes to “Tell Peter: Prop planes are for fliers.”
The game of telephone, played by birds on a telephone wire, appropriately enough, gets out of hand at one point:
Tell Peter: There’s a giant monster lobster named Homer! He smells like socks and he breathes red fire! His eyes blaze like stars and he rides a crocodile that flies and he’s coming to this wire! Tell Peter to fly! Fly far far away! He’s too young to be somebody’s dinner!
Then there is one of those beautifully brilliant pages with no words. Where an older owl gives this latest message the kind of look that parents sometimes give the younger set. And he turns and says “Hey, Peter.” Which is another of my favorite pages. I love that it slows down a little. Then he straightens his glasses and says “You mom says fly home for dinner.”
:) Which made me love the book. Because really, as parents, doesn’t that just sum up the whole job? Yes, it’s nice to have fun with the kids, but sometimes, when dinner is on the table and the craziness is out of hand, it’s up to us to cut out the monsters and the crocodiles and boil everything down to the main point.
That and the illustrations. Which are gorgeous.
By Angela Verges
When my boys were younger, they were always ready for an adventure. It didn’t take much to stir a little excitement in them. They especially liked preparing for Halloween, which meant pumpkin picking, pumpkin carving, reading books about Halloween and of course trick or treating.
Before you head out pumpkin picking, start your adventure by reading a couple of Halloween related stories. If your toddler enjoys rhyming silly stories, she will enjoy Plumply, Dumply Pumpkin by Mary Serfozo and Valeria Petrone.
Peter the cat is heads to the pumpkin patch in search of a pumpkin that is not lumpy, bumpy or stumpy. Why does Peter want a pumpkin? You’ll have to read the story to find out.
Peter the cat isn’t the only animal who appears in Halloween stories. Did you know that sheep trick or treat? In Nancy Shaw’s book Sheep Trick or Treat, that’s exactly what happens. The sheep prepare for trick or treating by making disguises. What disguise could they possibly wear?
As you read either of the above mentioned books, your child is sure to discover an adventure in the making. Add to your adventure by creating a sheep craft and a marshmallow snack. Click here for details and directions.
What will your Halloween adventure consist of this year?
by Wendy Lawrence
This book made me wish it was nighttime and I was camping. Well, actually, I usually wish I was camping. But just flip through a couple of pages of this wordless, black-yet-bright, night-inspired picture book and see if you don’t find yourself waiting for the sun to go down.
My kids are going to love this book. And as soon as it’s done they are going to look for their flashlights. The nighttime images are gorgeous, and the beam of light that finds bats, owls, sticks, and apples, is perfect. Even without words, the book manages to be funny. The boy trips at one point and finds the beam illuminating him–with a raccoon on the other end!
by Wendy Lawrence
I love a book that you can’t easily categorize, and this is one of them. At first glance, you think it’s a picture book, bright and boldly covered. But it’s also thick, almost like a middle grade book, and is 104 pages. When you look at the words, you realize it’s a kind of poem, the whole book written in beautiful language that mimics the dancing of its protagonist, Josephine Baker.
Title: Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
Author: Patricia Hruby Powell
Illustrator: Christian Robinson (who has worked for Pixar and Sesame Workshop)
Genre: Nonfiction, Poetry, Art, Dance, African-American
Ages: 7 – 10, but younger children could be read a few pages and older children could use as a research text
This book tells of the life of an amazing woman who ran away from the slums of St. Louis with a dance troupe and made her way to Carnegie Hall and theatres in Paris. She fought tremendous racism, performing at clubs where she wasn’t even allowed to walk through the front door, places she wouldn’t have been allowed to eat. Josephine Baker ended up leaving for Europe where she felt better received and found tremendous success. The book doesn’t dance around any issues: it talks about the Ku Klux Klan, World War II. It talks about how she bleached her skin with lemon juice and how, even after beings so well received in France, she was called a “savage” and a “devil” in Austria. Always wanting to please, she dressed the next night in all white and sang a gorgeous lullaby, a Negro Spiritual called “Pretty Little Baby”. It worked. They called her an “angel”.
Josephine Baker adopted twelve children throughout her life, her famous “Rainbow Tribe”. They came from eleven countries and Josephine brought each of them up celebrating their own religion–Buddhist, Shinto, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and animist. She had a gorgeous and interesting life. She was still performing in her seventies when she died in her sleep after a long night of dancing.
The press release that comes with the book dutifully mentions how it is perfect for February (African-American history month) and April (Poetry month), but seriously, let’s hope it’s read all year long. I love that you can use this book to introduce some very heavy topics to your child, but in a very colorful, happy, positive way, not only because of the colors in the book, but because of the colorful, energetic character who titles it.