Secrets and playing catch-up

I can’t believe it is already May and nearly two months since my last post. In addition to keeping busy with part-time jobs, toddlers, travel, etc., I have been working on a couple of secret projects. One of these two projects I am now at liberty to share. I am cooking up baby #2, due in October! Ha, that counts as a project, right?

Photo of son on play structure smiling at mother who smiles back

Pregnancy takes up a whole lot of energy. Naps have reentered my life (although they seem to be slowly drifting out again). Thinking about our life a few months from now, I’ve decided to let myself enjoy the occasional nap at present. I mean, all that well intended advice to sleep when the baby sleeps is really only applicable the first time around. Once there are two or more kiddos in the household, will anybody be sleeping, ever? A fierce internal voice says, YES! The mama in me chuckles and sighs, Sometime, someday.

I will leave you in suspense about the second project. I promise it is more of a traditional project, though.

We have been reading a lot, as always. I even had put an Off the Shelf series together back in March but for some reason never posted it. Better late than never?

off_the_shelf_3-6-14

Here was the March roundup of books:

  • Ten Terrible Dinosaurs by Paul Stickland — counting and dinosaurs. Two of my little guy’s favorite things right now.
  • I Love to Sleep by Amélie Graux — this one I catch the boy reading on his own a lot lately. I like to think he is studying up.
  • Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell — oldie but goodie. This one makes me hungry.
  • The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson and Beth Krommes — just lovely. I was so happy when my son got hooked on this!
  • Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss — I am still surprised that my son has the attention span for this or Go, Dog. Go!
  • Noisy Way to Bed by Ian Whybrow and Tiphanie Beeke — this was a major hit. My son loves to make the animal sounds that interrupt the boy on his way to bed.
  • Snow by Manya Stojic — yes we were still reading snow books all through March. I stubbornly returned them before April even though the snow had not ended.

Books and babies

When I began to think about the phrase “books and babies,” it immediately reconfigured in my head to the tune of “love and marriage.” “Books and babies, books and babies…” It got stuck in my head, which was unfortunate, because the next line to come to mind was “go together like a bat and rabies.” I’m not sure Frank Sinatra would approve. At any rate, when the lovely and witty mama writer Katey of Kateywrites asked me to do a guest post for her series Raising Readers Monday, I knew exactly what I wanted to explore as my topic: books and babies.

Image of mother and her infant son sitting in a chair reading

Reading with my son when he was 2.5 months old

Below is a snippet from my post:

It is never too early to begin reading to babies. Even newborns. They benefit from the visual stimulation of the pictures before them, the rhythms of the words and narrative, the act of being held and cuddled, the sound of a parent or caretaker’s voice. As far as literacy goes, babies begin to learn about the orientation of a book, the way the pages turn, and that books have particular sound patterns that go along with them, long before they can even fully absorb a story.

Enjoy the cuddles, and don’t worry if your baby wants you to turn the pages quickly. Just because they are speeding through doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoying it, as well. It might mean exactly the opposite, in fact! My son loved the collages and rhythms of Dancing Feet! by Lindsey Craig and Marc Brown long before he had the patience to listen to every word. But that didn’t matter. Eventually he wanted to hear all the words, too, but in the meantime we skipped around or did a speed reading version, which made me laugh. It remains one of his favorite stories. Above all, have fun when you’re reading together with your baby. Have fun watching them read with others, too. Have fun watching them decide story time isn’t for them on a particular day and crawl or scoot or squawk at the library instead. Parenting a baby…it’s a precious time, an anxiety-ridden time, a time that I wanted to speed read on some days, and on other days to linger on each page, each word, each image.

Read the full article, which includes suggestions for making book selections for the youngest readers, interpreting your baby’s opinions on books, and ways to incorporate story into your child’s life. Take some time to explore Katey’s blog! I have already learned so much from her, and am honored to share a small corner of her online thought space.
Image of a toddler sitting on his mother on a couch while they read together

The second I lay down on the couch, my 18-month-old toddler, rocking some stylish bed head, runs over with one of his favorite books and climbs up.

Off the Shelf: 2/17/14

My son loves books. Now, at almost 18 months, he will sit on the floor for 15 minutes or so reading to himself (and longer if someone reads to him!), flipping through page after page and reciting words and lines he knows. It can be a challenge sometimes to get a new book through the pile of tried and true. However, when a book is in, it’s in.

Over the past few months, I have been thinking about starting a feature of what the boy’s favorite books are each week or two weeks, however time allows, since they do change. These are the books that I can hardly get put away during the week, let alone during the day because he wants to read them over and over and over, often three times per sitting, and usually two to three sittings a day. And so they stay off the shelf until he has quenched his thirst and is ready to move on to the next love, visiting these established loves between times.

Without further ado, here is the first installment of Off the Shelf.

Image of ten picture books laid out on a coffee table

Over the last two weeks my son’s favorite books have been:

  • Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler and R. Gregory Christie
  • Goodnight Wisconsin by Adam Gamble and Mark Jasper
  • Hello Baby by Mem Fox and Steve Jenkins
  • Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry
  • Lulu’s Busy Day by Caroline Uff
  • Oscar Otter and the Goldfish by Maurice Pledger
  • Balancing Act by Ellen Stoll Walsh
  • Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman
  • Goodnight Kisses by Barney Saltzberg
  • My First ABC Book Board Book by DK Publishing, Inc.

Jazz Baby is still at the top of his list, and I will write a review later this week.

My Heart Is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall

Hall, Michael. My Heart Is Like a ZooNew York: Greenwillow Books, 2010. Cover of My Heart Is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall

Plot:  A heart can hold so many feelings, so many animals.

Setting: a child’s bedroom

Point of View: 3rd person

Theme: hearts, emotions, feelings, animals, imagination, bedtime, shapes, counting

Literary Quality: “My heart is like a zoo– eager as a beaver, steady as a yak, hopeful as a hungry heron fishing for a snack.” Thus begins a fun and silly exploration of the heart and all its feelings, and the animals it resembles in each state. A mix of the expected and unexpected (my heart is…”crafty as a fox, quiet as a caterpillar wearing knitted socks”), the text will delight readers and listeners. If Hall’s writing were not enough to draw children in, the bright, bold and colors of his illustrations would do so in a jiffy. Each animal is composed of a collage of hearts, perfectly complementing and paralleling the text (and offering inspiration for a post-reading craft!). When the story ends, “tired as a zookeeper who’s had a busy day,” the illustration reveals that the animals are actually in a child’s bedroom, a child who sleeps. A lovely reflection on emotions and art, this book will help children express themselves in myriad ways. Plus, children will enjoy counting all of the hearts they can find!

Audience: I would recommend this book to readers ages 0-5. A wonderful way to help young readers think about their feelings. 

Personal reaction: I gave My Heart Is Like a Zoo to my son as a little Valentine’s Day gift this year. I love the use of the heart as the central theme of the story and as the mode of composition for the illustrations! This is the kind of book my boy would have loved from day one, when he only liked books with big blocks of color. I immediately picked up a copy to send along to a friend’s new baby, as well.

Snowballs by Lois Ehlert

Cover Image of Snowballs by Louis EhlertEhlert, Lois. SnowballsOrlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995.

Plot:  It’s a snowball day, the perfect kind of day to make a snow family! But it only lasts until the sun comes out…

Setting: A snowy winter day

Point of View: 1st person

Theme: snow, snowballs, snowmen, nature, creativity, play, winter, family, birds, seeds, materials, textures,

Literary Quality: In Snowballs, a child describes waiting for the perfect snow day and the process of creating a snow family, including the family pets. From the opening page, which asks, “Do you think birds know when it’s going to snow?” Ehlert’s large-print text is conversational, and her collages are big and colorful. The collages also change orientation, using full two-page spreads vertically to depict a single snowman. When the sun comes out, the background changes from grey to bright orange. The the story and illustrations combine to make a great read-aloud where children are viewing the book from a distance and ready to respond to the narrator’s questions and observations. Kids will especially enjoy Ehlert’s edgy, funny snowmen. In addition to snowman supplies such as hats, scarves, sticks, and pinecones, the narrator has saved objects like seeds, nuts, fruit, popcorn and dried corn kernels, washers, compares, toy car wheels, plastic fish, and a necktie. Readers will have fun recognizing the every-day materials, and find great inspiration for either their own collages or snowmen! The picture book includes a visual index of the “good stuff” to save for snowmen as well as information about snow and photographs of snowmen. In these final pages we see supplies, mittens, and gloves from all over the world. The board book edition does not have these fabulous appendices.

Audience: 0-8. A great read for a snowy day, or a day stuck at home, as it provides activity ideas for both indoor and outdoor play! 

Personal reaction: Snowballs is a favorite winter story in our house. Even as a baby my son loved the book, I think because he found the stark contrast in the collages stimulating. The big white circles with bright splashes of color are appealing to little eyes! The story has good rhythm, too. Now, at a year and a half, my little guy still loves the book and we play outside in the snow whenever we can. Of course, he has more interest in sliding down a big snowball than continuing to build it into a snowman, but hey, a snowball is a snowball! We’ll get to the snowman stage eventually. 

Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw

Cover image for Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinnMcQuinn, Anna. Lola at the Library. Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2006.

Plot:  A little girl and her mother share a special routine on Tuesdays when they go to the library.

Setting: Modern-day town or city

Point of View: 3rd person

Theme: libraries, books, storytime, reading, routines, responsibility, librarians, mother-daughter relationships, parent-child relationships

Literary Quality: Lola at the Library describes a routine that many children and their parents or caretakers know in some variation. And hopefully it introduces a routine to many more! McQuinn’s simple text in large bold typeface is appealing to young readers. The bright acrylic illustrations bring us into Lola’s world at her perspective. We only see the upper half and faces of adults (and then only her mother) when they are at Lola’s level — waking her mother up in bed, sitting down for a treat at a cafe, and reading a bedtime story. The effect keeps the focus on Lola and a child’s worldview. This is a celebration of routines as much as it is of libraries, and should hit a chord with any child (or adult!) who loves the patterns of their days. It is worth noting that the board book edition of Lola at the Library lacks the complete story and is not nearly as rich as the picture book.

Audience: Ages 1-5. A great book for storytimes, bedtimes, and every time in-between.

Personal reaction: I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but it was the cover of this book that totally drew me in, so warm and inviting. But it was the cover of the board book I was looking at! After a bit more research I realized how much better the picture book was and I’m so glad that I got a hold of it. My son and I go to storytimes at different libraries multiple times a week most weeks (we are fortunate to have some wonderful libraries in the surrounding area!), it is my favorite part of our day-to-day routines, and it was exciting to find a book that captured that experience. I look forward to the day my little boy will pack his own library card and books into his bag just like Lola!

1 2 3: A Child’s First Counting Book by Alison Jay

Jay, Alison. 1 2 3: A Child’s First Counting Book. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2007.

Plot:  Count to ten and back again through the magic of fairytales. Cover of 1 2 3: A Counting Story by Alison Jay

Setting: Imaginary

Point of View: 3rd person

Theme: fairytales, counting, numbers, storytelling, reading, dreams

Literary Quality: “[O]ne little girl sleeping[,] two soaring wings[,] three little pigs…” Thus begins a counting story that takes readers through the fairytale dreamscape of a sleeping girl. The movement of the story peaks at ten in what what might be described as a fleeting nightmare with the “ten sharp teeth” of the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood. The next spread shows Beauty fleeing the Beast, who holds “nine perfect roses,” and from there eases into more calm and delightful moments of the fairytales. Whimsical oil paintings add to the enchantment of the journey, and a crackle varnish lends an antiqued appearance to the illustrations, perfect for these age-old stories. The little girl can be found in every illustration, as well as an element from the previous fairytale and the one to come. For example, while we count “seven marching dwarfs” we see the pumpkin carriage from Cinderella and the gingerbread house that Hansel and Gretel find on the horizon. The paintings also all contain other things to count in sets of the relevant number — the three little pigs are surrounded by three hats, three teacups, three umbrellas, three apples, and so forth. While counting stories and adaptations of fairytales abound, this is truly a gem, delivering all the allure, alarm, and adventure of a fairytale in a form even the youngest readers can appreciate. A final page acts as a form of index, matching each illustration to its respective fairytale. Alison Jay’s artful weaving of conceptual and traditional story frames creates something altogether new and lovely.

Audience: All ages. A book that can easily be used one-on-one, as a read-aloud, or in a classroom setting. 

Personal reaction: As soon as I opened this book and looked at just the first couple of pages, I knew it was something special. I (and my one-year-old) have been completely captivated by 1 2 3‘s charm. This is a story to read and read again. We always find something new.