Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fairy Tales

Fairy tales originated in cultures and times long forgotten when stories and folktales were orally passed down from one generation to the next.  We can give huge thanks to Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm (otherwise known as the brothers Grimm), Charles Perrault, and Hans Christian Andersen for researching and recording the oral stories that transport us into those ancient and fantastical worlds.

I grew up pouring over the stories and various illustrations from large edition called The Giant All-Color Book of Fairy Tales: 50 Best Loved Stories retold by Jane Carruth and published by Golden Press.  We're all familiar with Walt Disney's version of fairy tales.  The volume I grew up with related the unsaccharined version of fairy tale stories.  Likewise, I've exposed my kids to unedited stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, The Princess and the Pea, and Cinderella quite early.  And while my kids aren't too fearful of the dark or storms, they're terrified of wolves!  They always cast the "bad guy" as a wolf or dragon in their pretend play.  So, I would encourage you to preselect the volume you chose to introduce to your family. 

My favorite volume is Classic Fairy Tales.  The talented animator and illustrator Scott Gustafson does a beautiful job with the illustrations of his compilation.  Take notice of his hearty, rosy-cheeked children.  His illustrations soften any "scare" factor in the folktales.

Look for books with individual stories.  We love:
  • The individual tales retold and illustrated by Paul Galdone!
  • The Princess and the Pea illustrated by Dorothee Duntze
  • Cinderella illustrated by Hilary Knight
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears published by Hart Publishing Company

Also, research other culture's versions of familiar stories.  Take the Cinderella story, for instance, just about every culture or nation has a retelling of the Cinderella story, and it's fun to read the different ones!  Start with Tomie dePaola's Adelita: a Mexican Cinderella story, The way meat loves salt: a Cinderella tale from the Jewish tradition by Nina Jaffe, and Yeh-Shen: a Cinderella story from China by Ai-Ling Louie.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Form: Limericks are a type of poetic verse with specific rhythm and rhyme.  They're usually five lines long where the 1st, 2nd, and 5th lines' rhyme alter from the 3rd and 4th lines' rhyme.

Limericks make for quite amusing reads.  Most subject matter typically leans to an exhibition of the ridiculous, making these the perfect poetical material for tweens.  Break out some Edward Lear to your elementary and middle school son's delight!  When you find your tweens on a critical streak, encourage them to place their complaint in the form of a limerick.  The humor will be a welcome relief! 

Where do I find limericks?  Shel Silverstein writes some catchy ones in Where the Sidewalk Ends, Falling Up, and A Light in the Attic.  Edgar A. Guest and Edward Lear are know for some ridiculous rhymes.  And Poetry for young People has a special volume devoted solely to Limericks.

Here's one by Edward Lear for your enjoyment:

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, "It is just as I feared!
     Two Owls and a Hen,
     Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!

Monday, September 27, 2010


We're so happy that it rained non-stop for the past two days!  We haven't had a decent puddle jumping, no lightning rain all summer.  Lately we've had 90 degree weather and dry, dry, dry. Finally, it's beginning to feel like fall might actually be around the corner.  So we did a little rain dance yesterday morning and pulled out our long sleeved shirts with great delight!

Our very, very favorite book to read when it rains is The Rain Came Down by David Shannon.  It's such a fun book to read aloud that I don't even mind reading it over and over and over.  First of all, the kids get quite a kick out of me making the animal sounds instead of just reading them.  Before you think this is another farm book (it's not), what we have in this story is a comedy of errors, all to be "blamed" on the rain.  Think of falling dominoes . . . one mishap leads to the next.  With all best rains, there's evidence of a rainbow at the end.  Rush to your library and read this to your children, even if it's not raining!

 In addition, our very, very favorite poem to say when it rains:

by Robert Louis Stevenson

The rain is raining all around,
  It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
  And on the ships at sea.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Nursery Rhymes

And now we come to nursery rhymes.  This is probably where I should have started from the very beginning since rhymes are where the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends to start reading aloud to your infants.  According to the professionals, rhymes help develop a young child's "ear for language," "stimulate brain development," and encourage "Phonological awareness" by identifying and connecting different sounds with written words.  In fact, leave out last words on a line while you read a rhyme and encourage your child to fill in the missing word.  Many rhymes are set to music, making it fun to sing the rhymes too.

My children repeat their favorite rhymes throughout the week:
~ One misty, moisty morning . . .
~ Sing a song of sixpence . . .
~ Three little kittens . . .
~ Wee Willie Winkie . . .
~ Blow wind blow! And go mill go! . . .
~ Good night! Sleep tight . . .
~ Baa, baa, black sheep . . .
~ Diddle, diddle dumpling, my son John . . .
Which lines can you complete?

"One misty, moisty morning" is especially applicable for today's weather; it also remains one of my children's favorites.  There are different versions of it, but here's our favorite:
One misty, moisty morning,
When cloudy was the weather,
I chanced to meet an old man,
Dressed all in leather.
He began to compliment,
And I began to grin
How do you do?  And how do you do?
And how do you do again?

And then there's "Diddle, diddle dumpling, my son John."  You know, he's the one who went to bed with "one shoe off and one shoe on."  I attribute this rhyme to my daughter's (who at the time was only three) unwavering resolve to put only one sock on each day, no matter where we were going.  I insisted that she had to at least wear both shoes.  It was late fall and winter, and I had stake in my image as her caring mother after all!  Otherwise, I allowed the quirky behavior.  And did we receive some memorable comments and stares!  But, oh the laughs we indulged!

Needless to say, I strongly recommend owning a collection of nursery rhymes!  I'm the nerd who likes to collect different volumes.  So here are my top recommendations:

1st prize: Richard Scarry's Best Mother Goose Ever (not to be confused with his much smaller Mother Goose).  The kids adore this version.  We ALL pull it out several times weekly!

1st runners up, coming in oh so closely behind: Tomie dePaola's My First Mother Goose or his board book Tomie's Little Mother Goose and Scott Gustafson's Favorite Nursery Rhymes from Mother Goose.  Once again, Gustafson "Wows!" us with his beautiful illustrations.

Honorable mentions: I hold a special place in my heart for the iconic black and white checkerboard covered The Real Mother Goose, which was my very first childhood volume.  It's arguably the most recognized volume.  For some reason, my children didn't attach themselves to this one as readily.  My eldest wanted illustrations for each rhyme.  However, I would recommend this most thorough collection illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright in 1916.  The publishers have also issued friendlier versions for young children in board books and "touch and feel" books and cards.  You can't go wrong with this classic.

For you Beatrix Potter book lovers out there, I would strongly recommend her charmingly illustrated and original Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes and Appley Dapply's Nursery Rhymes.  These sweet little volumes make excellent gifts.

Also, for you researchers, Michael Montgomery does an excellent, and humorous, job of exploring the stories behind nursery rhymes in his book Over the Candlestick: Classic Nursery Rhymes and the Real Stories Behind Them.

In conclusion, there are many amazing artists with very good illustrated editions of nursery rhymes out there.  I encourage you to find your favorite and read them enough to laugh over your own kids quirky ways of applying rhyme to their everyday lives.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


From time to time, I'd like to share some of our favorite poems with you.

Helen Hunt Jackson

The goldenrod is yellow;
    The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
    With fruit are bending down;

The gentian's bluest fringes
    Are curling in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed
    Its hidden silk has spun;

The sedges flaunt their harvest
    In every meadow nook,
And asters by the brookside
    Make asters in the brook.

From dewy lanes at morning
    The grapes' sweet odors rise;
At noon the roads all flutter
    With yellow butterflies --

By all these lovely tokens
    September days are here,
With summer's best of weather
    And autumn's best of cheer.

 Buell, Ellen.  Read Me a Poem: Children's Favorite Poetry.  New York: Grossett & Dunlap, 1965.


Those who know me well know that I have a particular affinity toward poetry.  So naturally, I think children should be introduced to poetry at an early age.  Yikes!  I know this is an alienating statement.  Stick with me, now!  Of course, a great precursor to poetry is nursery rhymes, which I'll discuss in length at a later date.  Not only do I think children should have early introduction to poetry, I think they should be exposed to it regularly.  I understand that many claim to be "afraid" of poetry, insisting that poems have mysterious and hidden meanings.  These people read a poem like they walk through a haunted house, timidly shirking away from the questionable corners, fearful that something spooky might jump out at them and, finally, relieved when they reach the end, surmising that it's all summed up as dark blur anyway.  Have you experienced that?  I'm not quite sure how poetry gained such an infamous reputation; although, I do have a few ideas.

I want to REALLY encourage you to rediscover poetry!  It's going to be exciting!  Start reading poetry aloud to your kids.  Join your children in memorizing a poem from time to time (hey, you'll be warding off Alzheimer's too!).  Hear me out on this one: if you expose your children to poetry now, they won't be intimidated by it later on. 

Before you get squeamish, you've all read Sandra Boynton, right?!  Come on . . . you can say Moo Baa La La La in your sleep!  That's poetry!  I don't claim to have exhausted children's' poetry anthologies.  But please allow me to share a few children's books of poetry that we've tried out.  I encourage you to pick a book to try out for yourself!

For the tots:
  • Sandra Boynton books
  • Animal Crackers by Jane Dyer
  • Shirley Hughes Nursery Collection, which includes the five individual titles: Bathwater's Hot, When We Went to the Park, Colors, All Shapes and Sizes, and Noisy.
  • Eloise Wilkin's Poems to Read to the Very Young
  • Eloise Wilkin's A Child's Garden of Verses
  • Golden Book's My Little Book of Poems selected by Rebecca Heller

As the children grow older:
  • I think everyone should own a copy of A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson.  We have several copies floating around our house.  My only suggestion is to find an illustrated copy that you like.
  • Favorite Poems for Children an anthology put out by Barnes & Noble
  • If you can find an old Childcraft volume, look into it!  Childcraft anthologies are treasure troves of poetry!
  • Caroline Kennedy has put together a good and easily accessible anthology called A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children.
  • I really like the collection of Winter Poems selected by Barbara Rogasky and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.
  • If you can access a volume of Kate Greenaway's work, do check it out!  One of the very few female illustrators of the late Victorian Age (a contemporary of Randolph Caldecott), Greenaway's illustrations remain timeless.  I especially like her illustrated book of Robert Browning's poem The Pied Piper of Hamlin.
  • There's an extensive series of poetry books underneath the common title Poetry for Young People that I highly recommend.  To search, type in "Poetry for Young People" on Amazon's or your local library's database.  Then I would start off with Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, William Blake, etc.  These books have lovely illustrations, and the poems are well chosen.  They make wonderful gifts for adults and children alike.  I will point out that they're more age appropriate for older elementary children than younger tots.
  • Stories and poems for extremely intelligent children of all ages by Harold Bloom (I don't actually own this volume, but I'd like to.  Harold Bloom is an extremely well respected and knowledgeable literary critic, academic, and writer.)

Readers, weigh in!  Please recommend your favorite poetry books / anthologies for children!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Jerry Pinkney

You MUST check out Jerry Pinkney's books.  This is a non-negotiable.  You're going to fall in love with his illustrations.  The cover jackets do not begin to give this artist credit.  His illustrations are haunting in that they remain imprinted in your mind.

For the pure enjoyment of illustration, try The Lion and the Mouse.  Since it doesn't contain any text, it's a fun book to have your children narrate to you.  Enjoy what they come up with!

I would also suggest the book entitled God Bless the Child.  You'll be intrigued by Pinkney's interpretation of Billie Holiday's song.  Don't neglect to listen to a recording of Holiday singing "God Bless the Child."

My kids liked The Ugly Duckling, Little Red Riding Hood, The Little Red Hen, and Noah's Ark; yes, honestly, the list could go on and on (for a complete listing, refer to the website below)Look into what your library or bookstore (because you will want to own a Pinkney) has available.  I would love to hear your feedback about which ones are your family's favorite!

Note: take time to surf through Pinkney's website:   And when you do, please click on "Learning Differences" -- you'll be amazed!  Also, I think it's noteworthy that Pinkney has won several Caldecott Medals & Honors!


We're quickly approaching that time of year when we make our annual family trip to the apple orchard!  And boy, we can hardly wait!  We come back with bushels of apples to share with family and to hoard for ourselves while we're baking apple crisp, apple pie, apple muffins, and making ham apple sandwiches.  It's taken me many tries and many years, but I've finally found a good apple pie recipe.  I've also tweaked my very own apple crisp recipe, which the kids and I make several times a month during the fall.  My mother-in-law, Nancy, makes an incredible apple spice cake that my husband, especially, adores.  I have tried many a time to replicate that cake, but I've finally given up all disappointing attempts.  Last year, my mom tried a new recipe for apple bread that had a praline topping.  Yep, it was another winner.  But Kathy . . . Kathy made the ultimate apple dessert.  Let me set the stage: she invited us to her home outside of Asheville.  It's perched on a mountain, so as you're sitting on her porch, you're looking into these beautiful hardwood trees.  Did I mention the mountain stream winding it's way below?  As we're enjoying the scenery, Kathy pulls an amazing apple tart out of the oven.  I'm here to tell that this tart is a true rustic beauty, cooked to perfection on her baking stone.  But that's not the half of it!  When you pop a bite of that tart into your mouth . . . well, let's just say it's a little taste of heaven on earth!  But the best part is that she gave me her recipe.  Now we can enjoy that calorie stuffed apple goodness whenever we want!

Okay, so now that I'm salivating and wishing for a pastry, what does all this have to do with children's books?  Well, around here, we get ready for apple season before it even starts!

The kids' two favorite apple books are Apples and Pumpkins by Anne Rockwell and Apple Farmer Annie by Monica Wellington.  Quite honestly, I'm not exactly sure why these are such a hit.  Both books feature simple text and illustrations.  However, the kids request these two over and over and over again.  And we read them over and over and over again, right on up until Christmas.

I suggest picking up Apples and Pumpkins before you visit the apple orchard.  It sets the stage by chronicling a typical visit.  The type is large and easy to read, while the font mimics handwritten print, making this an excellent choice for those budding readers in your home who are ready to "spy" words.

One nice thing about Apple Farmer Annie, other than the name Annie, is that it's also available in a Spanish edition: Ana Cultiva Manzanas.  Wellington packs each illustration, making this a good book to count and "spy" items.  And here's where the baking comes in: the last two pages include recipes for applesauce, apple muffins, and applesauce cake.

Please note: we will be checking out more books on apples, pumpkins, and autumn in the coming months.  If you have any favorites, please share with us!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

more Holly Hobbie

We're still on our Toot & Puddle stint.  And now the girls are smitten by Fanny and Fanny & Annabelle, another recent series by Holly Hobbie.
What I love about Fanny is that she is a little girl trying to find her place among her "cool" friends.  It starts out when Fanny wants a doll, so she uses her creativity to make her very own doll, Annabelle.  When Fanny takes Annabelle to play at her friend's house, her friends ridicule Annabelle in favor of their "Connie" dolls.  Fanny then wrestles with her love for Annabelle and her desire to be accepted by her friends.  Who hasn't had these feelings before?

This book is for you too, parents!  Fanny brings out conversation starters for the topics of friendship, loyalty, problem solving, the rewards of hard work, etc.  My eldest daughter was fascinated by the way Fanny sews her own doll.  She's now asking for a sewing machine of her own.  Hmmm, maybe when she turns eight?

Next in the series is Fanny & Annabelle where Fanny returns, exercising her creativity by writing her own story.  Annabelle stars in Fanny's adventure story, which turns out to be another great lesson in doing the "right thing."  I especially like how Holly Hobbie displays Fanny's creativity through her watercolor artwork in both books.  The girls have requested the books as Christmas gifts.  I think we can accommodate!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Vivaldi's Four Seasons

The seasons tend to strongly impact my book choices.  I get all excited anticipating a season, and check out tons of books to bide the time of those few last weeks when the present season has exhausted all of its initial delights.

So let me share with you the wonderful experience that presented itself last spring.  We discovered that musicians from our town's symphony/orchestra come monthly to our local library to introduce instruments from a different section of the symphony in correspondence with a book read by an artist from the children's theater.  Were we in for a treat!!!  We saw the stringed quintet playing selections from Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons Concerto while the book I, Vivaldi by Janice Shefelman, illustrated by Tom Shefelman was read.  I had chills just watching my children experience it all!

I strongly recommend you check out this book!  We were put on a waiting list for months before we were able to take it home.  The illustrations are beautiful and the story wonderful.  My mom had me come to her class and reenact the whole thing (with my trusty CD this time).  So when you check out I, Vivaldi, be sure to check out Vivaldi's Four Seasons to play in the background as you read.  You won't regret it!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Toot and Puddle

So the Toot and Puddle books by Holly Hobbie have been all the rave around here lately!  We've read just about all of them.  These are the ones we like best:

Toot & Puddle
Charming Opal
On Top of the World
A Present for Toot
Puddle's ABC
I'll Be Home for Christmas
Let It Snow

 My husband is wild about the watercolor illustrations!  And since design is what he does to put bread on the table, well, I figure he must know.  As for me, I think the illustrations and stories are delightful and cozy.  I don't know what a book has to do to be "cozy," but these books would certainly fall into that category.  They're perfect bedtime, naptime, or rainy day reading because they just make you want to curl up and have some sweet dreaming.  It's true!  Plus, the characters have a strong friendship; so much so, that my daughter wants a "Toot" and a "Puddle" and an "Opal" in her life.  Right now, we're stand ins.

I'm including a quick synopsis of each story:
  • Toot & Puddle -- Toot loves to travel and sends his homebody friend postcards of his adventures.
  • Charming Opal -- Puddle's cousin comes to visit.  She has a loose tooth.
  • On Top of the World -- Toot AND Puddle's adventure.
  • A Present for Toot -- Puddle looks for the perfect present for Toot's birthday.
  • Puddle's ABC -- Puddle teaches Otto turtle the ABCs.
  • I'll Be Home for Christmas -- Toot is stranded.  Will he get home in time for Christmas?
  • Let It Snow -- Puddle and Toot try to figure out what to make the other for a Christmas gift.
  • The New Friend -- Opal's friend can do everything well.  Or can she?
  • You are my Sunshine -- Pouting Toot
  • Wish You Were Here -- (waiting to check out)
  • The One and Only -- (not in our library)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Reading List

First of all, here's a few MUST reads.  The ol' tried and true are mixed in with the new in no specific order, just as they've come to mind.  It's certainly not an exhaustive list; we'll add to it as we go along.
  • Blueberries for Sal -- Robert McCloskey
  • Make way for Ducklings -- Robert Mc Closkey
  • One Morning in Maine -- Robert McCloskey
  • Dandelion -- Don Freeman (this is our personal favorite over Corduroy)
  • Happy Birthday Moon -- Frank Asch
  • Popcorn -- Frank Asch
  • The Relatives Came -- Cynthia Rylant (great children's author)
  • When I Was Young in the Mountains -- Cynthia Rylant, illus. Diane Goode
  • Harry the Dirty Dog -- Gene Zion
  • Miss Rumphius -- Barbara Cooney
  • The Little Engine that Could -- Watty Piper (a classic; be sure to get the original edition, as they've "updated" the illustrations, which I personally don't like as much)
  • Apples and Pumpkins -- Anne Rockwell
  • Thanksgiving is Here! -- Diane Goode (great illus.)
  • The Most Perfect Spot -- Diane Goode
  • Owl Moon -- Jane Yolen (famous children's author)
  • Honey Bear's Snowy Adventure -- Gillian Lobel, illus. Tim Warnes
  • The Elves and the Shoemaker -- retold by Jim LaMarche
  • Ox-Cart Man -- Barbara Cooney
  • Snowflake Bentley -- Mary Azarian
  • Kitten's First Full Moon -- Kevin Henkes
  • Freight Train -- Donald Crews
  • The Pokey Little Puppy -- Janette Sebring Lowrey
  • In the Small, Small Pond -- Denise Fleming
  • Jamberry -- Bruce Degen
  • Toot and Puddle books -- Holly Hobbie
  • Berenstain Bears books -- Stan & Jan Berenstain
  • Franklin books -- Paulette Bourgeois
  • Madeline books -- Ludwig Bemelmans
  • Fancy Nancy books -- Jane O'connor, illus. Robin Preiss Glasser
  • Angelina Ballerina books -- Katharine Holabaird, illus. Helen Craig
  • Curious George books -- H. A. Rey

Books that my kids want read over and over and over again.  A GREAT activity for them to do with these books: as you are reading the book for the second or third time, leave out a rhyming word or a repetitve phrase for them to say (my Mom taught me that this is good preliteracy activity).
  • We're Going on a Bear Hunt -- retold by Michael Rosen, illus. Helen Oxenbury
  • Owl Babies -- Martin Waddell
  • Great Day for UP -- Dr. Seuss
  • Ask Mr. Bear -- Marjorie Flack
  • Better Not Get Wet, Jesse Bear -- Nancy Carlstron
  • The Napping House -- Audrey and Don Wood
  • Mr. Gumpy's Outing -- John Burningham
  • The Wind Blew -- Pat Hutchins
  • Caps for Sale --Esphyr Slobodkina
  • The Rain Came Down -- David Shannon
  • Duck on a Bike -- David Shannon
  • Tikki Tikki Tembo -- retold by Arlene Mosel, illus. Blair Lent
  • Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb -- Al Perkins
  • Bear books by Karma Wilson: Bear Feels Sick, Bear Stays Up, Bear Wants More, etc.

Authors and/or illustrators that you need to check out MANY of their books:
  • Beatrix Potter 
  • A. A. Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh books)
  • Jan Brett (our favorites are The Mitten, Hedgie's Surprise, Daisy Comes Home, Annie and the Wild Animals; however, I don't at all care for her interpretation of Noah's Ark.)
  • Virginia Lee Burton (especially The Little House)
  • Tasha Tudor (Pumpkin Moonshine is one of our all time favorites)
  • Ezra Jack Keats (check out Snowy Day and Little Drummer Boy first)
  • Leo Lionni (we like Inch By Inch best)
  • Jerry Pinkney (especially Noah's Ark, Aesop's Fables, and God Bless the Child)
  • Paul Galdone (especially The Little Red Hen, Gingerbread Man, and Three Billy Goats Gruff)
  • Richard Scarry
  • Patricia Polacco
  • Margaret Wise Brown
  • Kevin Henkes
  • Shirley Hughes
  • Eloise Wilkin
  • Eric Carle
  • Tomie de Paola
  • Charlotte Zolotow
  • Dr. Seuss (aka Theodor Geisel)

"I Can Read" series books that the kids love:
  • Frog and Toad -- Arnold Lobel (quite a hit in our home)
  • Little Bear -- Else Minarik
  • Amelia Bedelia -- Peggy Parish
  • Clifford -- Norman Bridwell
  • Arthur -- Marc Brown

How it all started:

I hear this request regularly, "Read me a story."  My kids have sharpened their debating techniques with this one plea, unfolding their reasons as to why they should have another book and another read to them, deliberating between themselves over whose turn it is to pick the next one out, contesting one story against the other.

Stories provide an interesting, unexplainable comfort for them.  One day, I found my youngest shimmied between the rocker and the wall.  A few dolls were lined up by her side as she thumbed through a pile of books toppling against the wall.  Minutes upon minutes passed as she lost herself in the many illustrated stories.  That's my girl!

My husband and I have read Tikki Tikki Tembo and Great Day for Up! until we recite them in our sleep.  Scary!  And still, we read them over and over and over again.  However, this mommy has had to discover many more titles to preserve my sanity!

So this blog is dedicated to covering the titles we can't live without.  I'll also share my impressions on the rare titles that didn't quite work out as well.  I would love and welcome any reading suggestions or thoughts.  But until then, happy reading!