Friday, September 30, 2011

Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes

Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes
Sally Mavor, illustrator
Boston Globe-Hornbook Winner

Back in graduate school--well, the first time around--my fellow blogger, Megan, and I created lavish spreads for the story of Cinderella. We enlisted the help of some young grade school students and together crafted the scenes from found objects. It took quite a bit of work for an even remotely presentable final product.

Since those days, Megan and I both have worked on various sewing projects and the like for our homes and children. And we know how much time and effort goes into those endeavors as well.

That is why I am amazed at this book, truly amazed. Mavor has taken well known nursery rhymes and illustrated them by sewing/creating scenes out of fabric and small objects; the scenes are photographs of her creations. This is a book to pour over, to examine closely. The illustration for "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary" is one of my favorites because there are actual little bells sewn into the "picture." Both boys and girls will enjoy this one; the "illustrations" are not girly. They celebrate the beauty that textiles bring to our lives and also to the beauty one can create when creativity goes hand in hand with skill. The characters for each nursery rhyme are small dolls that are begging to be picked up and played with--facial expressions are painted on and each one has an appropriate costume.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Brian Selznik
Caldecott Medal

If you are unfamiliar with The Invention of Hugo Cabret, you might be tempted to reserve this at your local library for your 5 year old. After all, it won a Caldecott and that cover looks intriguing, doesn't it? And there you would be disappointed (for your 5-year-old's sake). Because this is a book the size and heft of a later Harry Potter volume.

And there, the similarities end. Can't judge a book by its cover, can you? The Invention of Hugo Cabret is getting lots of renewed press these days because the author/illustrator has contributed another gigantic words-and-pictures novel to the children's literary scene. Will the next one (Wonderstruck) be a medal contender for Caldecott or Newbery? That is the question.

Where's Walrus

Where's Walrus
Stephen Savage, illusrator

I spoke too soon when I discussed my favorite wordless books! This one is a gem. The bright, clean illustrations are perfect for toddlers and young preschoolers. Each page features the walrus in "disguise"--all because he's on the hunt for the perfect swimming pool. Older children will spot the walrus effortlessly, but younger children will enjoy the challenge.

Check it out from your local library! This would also make a fun baby shower gift.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Published Paper and Tooting My Own Horn

Years ago, I wrote a paper that actually won a student award at a Christianity and Literature Conference! I was thrilled--I was in my final semester in college and this paper came out of some of the research I did for my senior thesis. An online journal published the paper a year later; that online journal no longer exists from what I can tell, but I recently found the paper in full on someone else's blog (thankfully, I was given credit). Megan and I have not given our full names on this blog, so I will resist adding my married name to the paper. However, I am staking my claim to my original paper! Feel free to skim or skip; it's long and academic. But I do want to stake my official claim to this since apparently people are still citing it. (Who knew!?). I should also point out two facts: (1) this was BEFORE the LoTR movies and recent buzz. (2) This was also before there was much available/easily accessed scholarly content via the web. After all, this paper was published online--ONLINE, mind you--in 1998! (the Dark Ages for the internet!)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Big Thoughts, Wise Words, and Giant Steps

Kenneth Taylor has a knack for knowing how to communicate with the youngest children. These three books are all sets of verses laid out for Scripture memory: a short (VERY) synopsis/explanation of the verse alongside an illustration form each "lesson." There are also review and application questions--which I really love. For instance, the verse might be about loving your neighbor. The questions will be along the lines of, "Do you see someone in the picture who is loving his or her neighbor?" In addition, each illustration has ladybugs hidden throughout--finding the ladybugs is a hugely enjoyable pastime for toddlers and preschoolers.

My only complaint about these books is that the verses are often paraphrased--and I would prefer a translation. That's a simple matter to fix, though, and I just typed up the verses in the translation we preferred. This even works with the ABC volume (Big Thoughts) because the ABC letters relate to a concept, not the first letter of the verse.

The first book has been updated--you see the updated cover in that image--but I don't believe the other two have. Nevertheless, our children haven't minded the somewhat dated illustrations. These are readily available used--so snap them up!

Big Thoughts for Little People: ABC Concepts with coordinating verses (i.e. "I" is Illness)
Wise Words for Little People: verses from Proverbs
Giant Steps for Little People: 10 Commandments and Beattitudes

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Library Activism: Check Out Books!

Our friends over at Redeemed Reader have been mulling over the hype and melodrama of Banned Books Week. The discussions have reminded me of a little known fact: you can advocate for your chosen books, your most cherished book "friends", the kinds of books you think people should be reading by a very unobtrusive type of library activism: CHECK OUT THE BOOKS.

Because of privacy concerns, most circulation records are not identified by person anymore--no one will pull your particular circulation history. But they will be able to see which books have been checked out and how frequently. Every single library must go through a weeding/culling/deselecting (aka "throwing away books") process on a regular basis. Some titles are obviously out of date (any computer manual pre-2000 is definitely obsolete). Some books are simply falling apart. Sometimes more shelf space is needed. Guess which books make the cut? Those that have been checked out in the past few years. If a book hasn't been checked out in the past few years, it will be on the chopping block before a hot "checkout."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Scripture Memory: Hide 'em In Your Heart

There are some great books for Scripture memory--and I fully plan on highlighting our favorites. But nothing, and I mean nothing, beats these Hide 'em In Your Heart CD's from Steve Green for Scripture memory with young children!

 I could go on and on, folks. Suffice it to say that Mommy needs the verses on these CD's as much as the kiddos. The range of verses is terrific--alternating between verses that instruct us in how to act (i.e. "Do everything without complaining or arguing") and those which inform us of who God is/what He has done (i.e. "For God so loved the world..."). Before each verse, there is a very short introduction/explanation by Steve Green. Then, the entire verse is sung--no mere snippets or phrases here (i.e. "Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God."). The songs are original compositions and are sung by Steve with a kids' choir. Our kids have loved listening to these CD's, and Scripture memory has followed effortlessly. The verses themselves have become part of our everyday conversation. If someone is misbehaving, I can ask him or her, "What are your actions saying about you? Remember our verse? "Even a child is..." and the child will fill in the rest of the verse. Or, if someone is cranky, we might sing "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones."

We have volumes 1 and 2. Both volumes are available as a set on amazon I believe. You can also check out the resources on Steve Green's website.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Teaching Discernment to Wee Ones

Ideally, teaching discernment to our children begins at birth! Everything we do and say instructs and models something--whether we're aware of it or not.

But there are more formal methods out there for teaching discernment--as soon as your young child can talk. What are these methods? Very simply: instruction in Biblical literacy! What better way to teach discernment to our children? After all, bank tellers learn the real money in order to better spot the fake money. The same principle holds true here--our children will learn truth in order to better evaluate and spot potential falsehoods.

I'd love to start a mini-series on this idea and highlight some resources that have aided us. Our children are still quite young (4-year-old twins and an almost-6-year-old; Megan's oldest is 4) so I/we don't have much experience with the resources out there for older children. Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments! I'm sure Megan will contribute, too, but she and I have used many of the same resources--so rest assured that much of this content is coming from both of us even if I am the "poster."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Elephant and Piggie

Elephant and Piggie Series
Mo Willems
200--'s (still in process!)
Geisel Award (several)

How in the world have we managed to ignore these guys on our blog???? Megan told me of them a while ago, and we have read EVERY ONE multiple times (well, all the ones in our local library--they are still being published and not all have trickled down yet). We LOVE Elephant and Piggie around here. I must have written this post a thousand times mentally, but, since I can't seem to locate it on our blog, I must not have actually typed it up. Shame on me.

Elephant and Piggie are best friends along the lines of Frog and Toad. Truly, they represent one of the best literary friendships. Elephant is a boy (Gerald) and Piggie is a girl (Piggie), and their personalities are very distinct (and oh, so lovable).

Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back Again
Thanha Lai
National Book Award Winner*
Newbery Honor*

I'm fully expecting to update this in a few months when more awards are announced.... (I've had to update Chime  to reflect its recent Boston Globe-Hornbook Honor status--announced in June). Inside Out and Back Again is beautiful.  *Yep... I'm editing as we hear awards announced!!

I've read a few novels in verse this year and have been pleasantly surprised at how effortless they are to read; don't let the verse format put you off. One of the authors of this format has described it as "intentional line breaks" more than "poetry"  (wish I could give credit for that--but I can't remember!).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Anna Hibiscus

Anna Hibiscus
Atinuke, author
Lauren Tobia, illustrator
Boston Globe-Hornbook Honor

This is another of those books that I could have sworn I'd already reviewed for this blog.... But, no, sadly I've been remiss! I must credit Betsy Bird over at Fuse #8 Production for first drawing my attention to this little gem. We are big Anna Hibiscus fans over here. This is an early chapter book that is wonderfully illustrated. It doesn't hurt that Anna is probably only a year or so older than my kindergartener nor that she also has twin brothers.

And there the similarities abruptly halt. Anna lives in Africa, Amazing Africa. Atinuke is originally from West Africa and now lives in Wales, I believe. She is a storyteller by trade, and this book simply begs to be read aloud. The rhythm is unmistakably that of a true storyteller. Anna's family is a middle-upper class family in some unnamed African country. Her mother is Canadian and her father African. They live in a large family compound near a big city. Much of Anna's extended family lives with them.

Retro Reads: Pollyanna

Eleanor F. Porter

Just the mention of the name "Pollyanna" is liable to create one of two reactions in many readers (some may have both!): an image of a cute, young Hayley Mills and/or the word "glad."

Both are appropriate! I remember the Hayley Mills movie from when I was a kid, but I'd never actually read Pollyanna until just recently. I'm so glad I did! This book has become such a part of our cultural heritage that people even use the term "pollyanna-ish" or "pollyanna spirit."

Friday, September 9, 2011


Suzy Lee

Our latest discovery--and one that my children have fought over. Each one covets the chance to take it to bed with him/her (yes, I do let them do that--even with library books!).

If you're longing for the beach now that school has started, pick up this little gem from your local library. I don't know how such seemingly simple illustrations can capture so much of the salt spray and the delight of waves crashing on the shore--not the mention the sheer movement of the water, but they do. Even my children picked up on it and none of them have any memories of actually standing on the shore. A wonderful recent addition to the wordless book scene.

What are YOUR favorite wordless books?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Noah's Ark

Noah's Ark
Peter Spier
Caldecott Medal

There are some really great Noah's Ark retellings and illustrations out there (someday, I'll review Jerry Pinkney's amazing version). But Spier's version is my all-time favorite. Aside from the image of him shutting the ark's door (the Lord does that in Genesis), this version could very well have happened. Spier fills each page with myriad details, inviting--no, demanding--one to take a closer look. Since Noah and company were on the ark a very long time, Spier allows the animal population to grow. (Watch for the hoard of bunnies leaving the ark!). He also gives clues as to the potential chaos on board, the mess generated by that many animals, and the relief all must have felt when the waters began to recede.

This is not technically a wordless book since the first page or two contains a line from Scripture and a centuries-old poem. Lest you are tempted to skip the poem, I should point out that my children request it! The rest of the book is word free, though. Spier's illustrations are so detailed that my children love to pore over the pictures again and again--each time they notice something new. Unfortunately, this book is out of print. However, since it is a Caldecott winner, you're likely to find it at your local library since they tend to hang onto those!

The Carl Books

Good Dog, Carl
Alexandra Day

This series of wordless books about a lovable Rottweiler named Carl are charming and young children seem to really resonate with them. Imagine having a large dog looking after you! As an owner of a Labrador/Rott mix, I can tell you that Carl's expressions are quite genuine. He has various adventures with the young girl in the family (Madeleine--she's a baby initially). After you become a fan of Carl, check out Carl's website.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Boy, A Dog, and a Frog

A Boy, A Dog, and a Frog (mini boxed set of 4 books)
Mercer Mayer
1976 (the boxed set)

I still have the little set of mini books I was given as a child. Oh, how I poured over these illustrations with my mom and sister. The expressions on the frog's face are priceless. A particular favorite is the scene in which frog realizes he's left all alone. For a couple of pages, he gets smaller and smaller until he's really quite tiny--yet you can still see his sad little expression. These little books are a true gem. If you can't get the mini books, the bigger ones will do. But there's something about the small size that makes them extra inviting to little hands. I find them in my children's beds all the time--evidence that some little person couldn't resist Frog's siren call for help.

Worldless Books

The best wordless books invite continual exploration of their visual elements--images that provide enjoyment for both non readers and expert readers. You can come back to them again and again. Children, especially, delight in telling and retelling the stories. This week I'm going to highlight some personal favorites. Friday's book is our latest discovery and so much fun.... Stay tuned!

Friday, September 2, 2011

New Readers

It's so exciting to have a reader in the house! I mean, another reader. After all, her daddy and I are avid readers--welcome to the family, little girl!

My daughter has just started kindergarten but, as is expected in a home where she has grown up hearing books read aloud, she is already reading without much official instruction on my part. We dabbled in The Ordinary Parent's Guide (and it was GREAT), but I laid off once we decided to send her a school rather than homeschool. She has managed to keep it up on her own quite successfully and is voraciously gobbling up early readers.

Good news for anyone out there in cyber space who wants some reviews of early readers! Get ready. We're reading lots of them around here.

Bink and Gollie

Bink and Gollie
Kate DiCamillo, author
Alison McGhee, author
Tony  Fucile, illustrator
multiple "best books..." lists
Geisel Award Winner

DiCamillo has done it again! We are HUGE fans of the Mercy Watson books in this household, and my daughter has fallen in love with Bink and Gollie (the boys will, too, once I introduce them). In a new early chapter book series, DiCamillo (and team) give us two seemingly opposite girls: short, crazy-haired Bink and tall, tidy Gollie. Best friends who love to roller skate, they must compromise for nearly everything else. Even their houses are completely different. While Bink and Gollie are girls, they are not princess-y; they make a nice change of pace and boys will enjoy them, too.