Friday, January 28, 2011

Audrey Wood & Don Wood

Audrey and Don Wood totally get it!  This author / illustrator duo understand what kids want when they open up a book.  Not only that, they both cater to a child's quirky sense of humor.  One of the greatest pleasures in reading to children is that they so readily suspend their disbelief.  And a willing suspension of disbelief comes in quite handy with Don and Audrey Wood's books, making their absurd story line down-right riotous!

The Napping House (c. 1991) plays on the rhyme, rhythm, and repetition similar to This is the House that Jack Built while describing the sleeping arrangement of those in the household as they take their cozy, afternoon nap -- that's to say: how they're cuddled up upon "the snoring granny."  The illustrations first depict the circumstances under the shadow of a dark, rainy day.  Gradually each page becomes a touch more illuminated as the images brighten with the sun's arrival.  Additionally, The Napping House remains one of our Nana's favorite stories.  She uses it in her kindergarten classroom as a fun teaching tool for sequencing skills, vocabulary words (i.e. slumbering, snoozing, and dozing), and language arts activities (i.e. building the story with illustrated activity blocks, building words with the movable alphabet, and creating words by substituting the letters with another letter sound).

In King Bidgood's in the Bathtub (c. 1985), Audrey Wood presents the problem in the opening line:
                "Help! Help!" cried the Page when the sun came up.  
                "King Bidgood's in the bathtub, and he won't get out!  
                 Oh, who knows what to do?"
Several in the Elizabethan kingdom try to coax the king out of the bathtub . . . to no avail.  What's a page to do?  Find out in this delightfully comical story.  The kids feed off the hilarity of the storyline and have self-memorized the lines to recite whenever then need a good laugh.  It comes as no surprise that Don Wood received a Caldecott honor for King Bidgood's in the Bathtub in 1986 since the kids enjoy pouring over his brilliant oil paintings as much as they enjoy repeating the story.  Once again, Wood illuminates his illustrations in relation to the sun and moon's course. 

Don't let your kid's childhood slip away without introducing them to King Bidgood's in the Bathtub and The Napping House.  We've heard from Solomon that laughter is the best medicine; give your family their fill with these two titles.  So before the weekend begins, pick up at least one of these titles from your local library to take home and share with your family.  I guarantee you, you'll be glad you did (even those older ones will sneak in the room to hear King Bidgood's antics)!

If you'd like to discover more about Don and Audrey Wood, check out their website here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Biggest, Best Snowman

The kids love The Biggest, Best Snowman written by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand.  What can I say of this fun story that begs to be read aloud . . . it is a HOOT!

Kids really identify with the character Little Nell because the "BIG" people in her life refuse to let her perform certain tasks due to her small stature.  Little Nell sets out to the forest to prove that she can perform the large task of building a ginormous snowman.  I won't tell you the ending, but I will tell you that the kids really bask in the gratification Cuyler provides.  And this story rings timely as my own baby is increasingly asserting her independence and continuing to prove her capability.

Friday, January 21, 2011

more by Don Freeman

Okay, folks, I've discovered many of you out there who are pretty wild about Don Freeman.  Who isn't?!  All at our house have really enjoyed your recommendations!  And since we've had so much fun reading more Don Freeman stories, I wanted to pass them along to you, my readers.  Our favorite is still Dandelion, kindly recommended by Tarin Lewis, with a close runner-up of Mop Top.  And who doesn't have a copy of Corduroy?  But lately, we've read and re-read Norman the Doorman and Pet of the Met many, many thanks to Sarah Ellison Murray's recommendations.

Let's begin with Norman the Doorman, isn't that just a fun title to say aloud?!  Norman the mouse serves as an incognito doorman for the Majestic Museum of Art where he doubles as tour guide of the art pieces hidden away in storage.  He dreams of touring the upstairs floors of the art museum.  Meanwhile, he paints in his free time.

Similarly, in Pet of the Met by both Lydia and Don Freeman Maestro Petrini (also a mouse) serves as page turner for the prompter of the Metropolitan Opera House.  "During his spare time Maestro Petrini would put on his own opera performances with his family as the cast.  Of all the operas their favorite was The Magic Flute by Mozart."  Petrini's family dreams of seeing a live performance.

Freeman captivates his audience's attention in both stories by presenting characters with both a passion and a dream.  Then he inserts a hindrance to that dream, which in both books heightens the action and adventure.  As he captivates his young audience through his storyline, Freeman also exposes the arts in such a way that fosters intrigue -- the best way for cultivating arts interest/appreciation.  So check out Norman the Doorman and Pet of the Met and re-discover why we love Don Freeman.  To discover more about Don Freeman: check out the Don Freeman website.

Note: last fall, I had to sneak Norman the Doorman into my bag and back to the library to avoid any further late fees before the children discovered it missing.  We just checked it out again, and the children reacted as though they were reuniting with a long, lost friend.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Owl Moon

If you haven't read Owl Moon yet, then you're in for a real treat!  I just finished reading it for the first time this year.  The kids were clinging to me with anticipation for the next line.  They were silently mesmerized, even though they've heard it before.  Once we reached "the end" the children begged me to go"owling."  Then they started scheming when and where we could make this "owling" trip actually happen.

In Owl Moon (c. 1987), by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr, Yolen writes about a father taking his little child into the late winter night to hunt for a Great Horned Owl.  A full moon lights their path through the great wood, casting long dark shadows in their tracks.

Schoenherr's inspiration for his intricate illustrations derive from his own owling expeditions and landmarks on his family farm.  Take note: Owl Moon won the Caldecott Medal in 1988 due to Schoenherr's hauntingly beautiful illustrations.

Yolen is known for her poetic language, and Owl Moon is no exception.  I especially like that last page of lines about "hope"!  If you'd like to discover Yolen's story behind her story, click here.

I hadn't heard of owling before reading Owl Moon.  So I'm quite curious: how many of you have been owling?  I'd love to hear your experience.

Friday, January 14, 2011

more snow

I guess you've noticed that I've been rather focused on the snow theme recently.  Well, the kids are rather taken with these books, most likely because we've been experiencing an unusual amount of snow and ice.  In fact, we've been home for a whole week thanks to the beautiful winter precipitation.  And the kids just can't get enough of it!  I have to bribe them with hot cocoa and popcorn to come inside (which I need to restock).

Snow by Uri Shulevitz (c. 1998) received a Caldecott Honor in 1999.  Here's a book that's a study in contrasts.  With surprisingly few words, the illustrations drive the story, beginning with the cover.  The kids also enjoy the whimsical in the fairy tale bookstore characters floating down to join the boy's snow celebration.  They also rush to be the first to count those first falling snowflakes.  What's your favorite part of Uri Shulevitz's Snow?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Snowy Day

This is one of those books that the kids beg to be read over and over again, but I have to honestly say, I haven't tired of it yet.  How's that for a recommendation?  Ezra Jack Keats received the Caldecott Medal for The Snowy Day in 1963.  Meet Peter, and enjoy the beautiful language of this simple story of Peter navigating his snowy world.  Also, check out Keats' masterful illustrations, a combination of cut-outs and watercolors presented in a softened, snowy collage. I especially appreciate The Snowy Day because it "broke the color barrier in mainstream children's publishing" in 1962 when Keats first introduced his character, Peter, who would go on to appear in six additional books.  If you'd like to discover more about Ezra Jack Keats and his books, please check out the website

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Snowflake Bentley

Dear reader, this is the time of year to check out the 1999 Caldecott Medal book Snowflake Bentley (c 1998), not only for Mary Azarian's award winning woodcuts "handtinted with watercolors" but also for the intriguing history lesson / biography by Jacqueline Briggs Martin of the man who gave us the first close-ups of a snowflake.  Find out about Wilson Bentley's passion for snow and perseverance to discover a way to photograph snowflakes.

Here's a portion of the publisher's book review:
"Often misunderstood in his time, Wilson Bentley took pictures that even today reveal two important truths about snowflakes: first, that no two are alike, and second, that each one is startlingly beautiful."

And while the publishers recommend this particular picture book to ages 4-8, the history lesson is presented in such a beautiful way that you really should have your eldest children read it to their younger siblings.  Then, for those older siblings, check out Snow Crystals and/or Snowflakes in Photographs both by W. A. Bentley himself.

All ages will especially like looking through the original photographs of MANY individual snowflakes.  Afterwards, feel free to make your own snowflakes, as we did, using Lauren Stringer's tutorial (in correlation to her previously posted book, Snow).

Happy snow day!

Friday, January 7, 2011


There's a book that's several weeks overdue at the library.  So why don't I just renew it?  It's on a long waiting list because many, many readers have requested it in their que.  Meanwhile, the kids are so taken with it, that they're still not ready to depart from it.  [Another post, another time: how to separate the kids from a beloved book when it's due back at the library.]  Right now, it's worth the 80 cents total late fee.  Don't worry, I intend to return it tomorrow . . . or the next day. 

The book I'm referring is Snow, a rather new book (c. 2008) by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Lauren Stringer.  Rylant's characteristically lyrical voice transports her reader into the first moments of freshly falling snow.  Her manipulation of text slows down the day's pace just as falling snow draws things to a halt.  Here's one of my favorite lines:

Some snows fall only lightly,
just enough
to make you notice
the delicate limbs of trees,
the light falling
from the lamppost,
a sparrow's small feet.

Stringer illustrates this book beautifully.  In fact, of all her illustrated children's books, I think Snow to be her best work.  Her approach seems different from her other books.  She cleverly contrasts cold against cozy with the whites and blues painted in her outdoor scenes juxtaposed against the warm hues of her indoor scenes.  If you'd like to read Stringer's discussion of her process in illustrating snow, click here.

Let me know what you think about Snow's poetical text and beautiful snowflaked illustrations.  (Yep, that's a word I just made up ~ "snowflaked.")

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Twelve Days of Christmas

In closing out the Christmas season in true traditional form, and since it's the eve of the 5th, Twelfth Night, and most likely you'll be reading this close to January 6th, Twelfth Day, I'd like to share with you our latest.  This year, Nana gifted The Twelve Days of Christmas, and I'm just wild about the edition she chose, the most beautiful one out there, by Gennady Spirin.  Now what I find most fascinating about illustrator Gennady Spirin is not that he grew up near Moscow nor that he received five golden medals (sorry, I just had to) from various artistic societies nor that he is now a U.S. citizen.  Indeed, I find most interesting that Spirin was born on Christmas Day.  Now do you think this detail lends to the brilliant composition of his Christmas books?  I can't help but attribute the likelihood.

What also came as a surprise to me was Spirin's medium: watercolor and colored pencil.  His illustrations reflect the boldness and brilliance of the Renaissance, not at all reflective of typical watercolor scenes.  Unbeknowst to Nana, I had checked out all the editions of The Twelve Days of Christmas that our library offered, without finding a copy that met my expectations.  Gennady Spirin presented a pleasant surprise because what I like best about this edition is that it's how I envision the carol to be illustrated in accordance with it's history.  Thank you Mr. Spirin!  I'm discovering Gennady Spirin's books to be rare gems with illustrations to feast your eyes upon.

Now for a little history on this "Twelve Days of Christmas" song that the kids beg to be repeated but that we parents would personally rather hit "skip" for the rest of our lives.  Hold that impulse!  Before you hit "skip" for the up-teenth time, be forewarned: it appears our predecessors understood the importance of repetition and memory games long before medical research journals informed us of modern day benefits.
  • Yes, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" seems to have originated as a memory game that children played on Twelfth Night, wherein whoever forgot the line that fell to them had to forfeit a possession.
  • In 1780, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" manifested in print for the first time in an English children's book entitled Mirth Without Mischief.
  • Twelfth Night traditionally occurred on the night of December 5th with Twelfth Day following on December 6th.  
  • The twelve days following Christmas Day held great festivities during the Middle Ages up until the nineteenth century, with the grand celebration on Twelfth Night serving as the culmination of all preceding revelry (further construing the title of Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night, wherein the festivity serves as a springboard for a comedy aimed at merrymaking, folly, and masquerade).  
  • In historical church order, Twelfth Day marks the Epiphany, the day marking when the Magi offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ child.  
Whew! and to think I cut out much, much more historical information from that summary, which is clearly more for you parents' benefit.

So the next time the kids want to listen to "The Twelve Days of Christmas" over and over, just plop them down with Spirin's book and consider the activity as memory and counting enhancement without any work on your part.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Elves and The Shoemaker

This book left my Mom's kindergarten class in wonder more than any other book of the season!  If you're going to check out a copy of The Elves and the Shoemaker, this retelling from the Brothers Grimm illustrated by Jim LaMarche (c. 2003) is the one to get -- hands down.  You know the story: a couple fallen on tough times sets out their final piece of leather to cobble into shoes the next morning.  Only the next morning they're surprised to find beautifully handcrafted shoes that instantly sell.

My children were especially drawn to the elves and the shoes -- the elves because they've cleverly been depicted as children and the shoes because, well, just wait until you see them for yourself.

The illustrations are breathtaking -- think fairy tale set in old world Europe.  Even the title and endpages are a delight.  That needle and thread ties the book together in more ways than one.  And if a classroom of kids and I haven't sold you on it, take a look at a few reviews:
  • "Jim LaMarche's paintings are extraordinarily beautiful.  . . . They indicate a deep kind of thinking about illustration in children's books." The New York Times
  • "This dazzling picture book is an artistic triumph." School Library Journal
  • "The luminous illustrations evoke a magical aura." The Horne Book

Index for 2010

To try to make the search a little easier for you, I've labored over creating an index of authors, books, and posts. 

Please, please forgive (and notify me of) any mistakes!  Also, I have no idea why I cannot seem to get the font colors to respond to one uniform color.  Oh, well!  :)

Anglund, Joan Walsh ~ A Child's Year

Bettoli, Delana ~ This is the Stable

Brink, Carol Ryrie
Caddie Woodlawn
Goody O'Grumpity

Carle, Eric ~ Dream Snow

Crews, Donald ~ Freight Train

Cotten, Cynthia ~ This is the Stable

Dalgliesh, Alice ~ The Thanksgiving Story

dePaola, Tomie
My First Mother Goose

Dotlich, Rebecca Kai ~ Mama Loves

Faulkner, Megan ~ A Day at the Pumpkin Patch

Freeman, Don
Earl the Squirrel
Mop Top

Robert Frost ~ "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"

Galdone, Paul
The Gingerbread Boy

Gerber, Carole ~ Leaf Jumpers

Goode, Diane
Thanksgiving Is Here!
Christmas in the Country 

Grace, Will ~ Red Train

Greene, Rhona Gowler ~ The Very First Thanksgiving Day

Gustafson, Scott
Favorite Nursery Rhymes from Mother Goose

Hall, Zoe
Apple Pie Tree

Hobbie, Holly
The Night Before Christmas

Hooper, Meredith ~ Dogs' Night

Hughes, Shirley
Out and About

Hutchins, Pat
The Wind Blew
Good-Night, Owl!

Jaffe, Nina ~ In the Month of Kislev

Jeffers, Susan
The Nutcracker
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Keats, Ezra Jack
The Little Drummer Boy

Kind, Elizabeth ~ The Pumpkin Patch

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth ~ "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"

Lovelace, Maud Hart
The Betsy-Tacy series
Winona's Pony Cart

Manson, Christopher ~ Over the River and Through the Wood

Mayhew, James
Katie Meets the Impressionists
Katie and the Sunflowers
Katie and the Mona Lisa
Katie's Sunday Afternoon

Melmed, Laura Krauss ~ This First Thanksgiving Day

Mosel, Arlene ~ Tikki Tikki Tembo

Nesbit, Edith ~ The Railway Children

O'Brien, Patrick ~ Steam, Smoke, and Steel:  Back in Time With Trains

Peet, Bill
The Caboose Who Got Loose
Farewell to Shady Glade

Pfeffer, Wendy ~ From Seed to Pumpkin

Pinkney, Jerry

Piper, Watty ~ The Little Engine that Could

Polacco, Patricia 
An Orange for Frankie
Emma Kate
G is for Goat
Oh, Look!
Thunder Cake
The Trees of the Dancing Goats

Potter, Marian ~ The Little Red Caboose

Provensen, Alice & Martin
A Book of Seasons
The Year at Maple Hill Farm

Purmell, Ann ~ Apple Cider Making Days

Puttapipat, Niroot ~ The Night Before Christmas

Rockwell, Anne & Lizzy ~ Apples and Pumpkins

Robbins, Ken

Rodgers & Hammerstein ~ My Favorite Things

Rylant, Cynthia
In November
Christmas in the Country

Sandburg, Carl

San Souci, Robert ~ N.C. Wyeth's Pilgrms

Scarry, Richard
Best Mother Goose Ever

Dr. Seuss
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Sewall, Marcia ~ The Pilgrims of Plimoth

Shannon, David ~ The Rain Came Down

Shefelman, Janice and Tom ~ I, Vivaldi

Thompson, Ruth ~ The Life Cycle of an Apple

Titherington, Jeanne ~ Pumpkin, Pumpkin

Tudor, Tasha
The Night Before Christmas

Turkle, Brinton ~ Over the River and Through the Wood

Weisgard, Leonard ~ The Plymouth Thanksgiving

Wellington, Monica ~ Apple Farmer Annie

Werner, Jane ~ The Christmas Story

Wilder, Laura Ingalls ~ Little House in the Big Woods

Wilkin, Eloise ~ The Christmas Story

Williams, Garth ~ Little House in the Big Woods

Wormell, Christopher ~ Puff-Puff, Chugga-Chugga

Yashima, Taro ~ Umbrella

Yolen, Jane
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