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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | gifts

The Gift of Books:
Terrific Titles for the Classroom Library

As teachers across the country take to the streets to push for adequate compensation and work conditions, it’s a wonder we still have young people entering this noble profession. And yet, at college and university graduation ceremonies everywhere, new teachers will be receiving their credentials as they embark on what will likely be one of the most challenging and rewarding career choices possible. Thank goodness we still have people who are brave enough, smart enough, strong enough, and kind enough to become teachers. Where would we be without the next generation of educators (aka heroes)?

If you know of someone who is just joining the ranks, the titles on this list of treasured books in my personal library might be just what he/she needs to start things off in the classroom. Or maybe you know of a teacher who is finishing up their first or second year in the classroom, what a lovely “you survived so far” gift one of these books would be. Or perhaps you should treat yourself to your own “Teacher Appreciation Day” gift? Regardless of the reason, I am convinced any or all of these books would be a delightful addition to anyone’s collection. Be sure to check out the links provided for terrific resources related to each title.

Be Who You Are!  

Be Who You Are!
written and illustrated by Todd Parr
Little, Brown, 2016

With colorful, charming illustrations, Parr reminds us that celebrating and embracing our unique selves is the ticket to a happy life. Share this book on the very first day of school to create a climate of acceptance and community.

Resources

Duck! Rabbit!  

Duck! Rabbit!
written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

An abstract concept made simple for kids of all ages to grasp … the witty visuals clearly support the notion that accepting and honoring multiple perspectives is an important and wise idea. Share this book to help kids see things from another person’s point of view, promoting empathy and understanding. 

Resources

Let Me Finish!  

Let Me Finish!
written by Minh Lê
illustrated by Isabel Roxas
Disney Hyperion, 2016

Who would have thought that a simple desire to read without interruptions could turn into such an adventure? This sweet story not only tells the tale of an avid reader, it also offers up illustrations that will generate plenty of predictions, oohs and ahs! Share this story early on in the school year to establish successful expectations and shared agreements for independent reading time.   

Resources

 

The Word Collector

 

The Word Collector
written and illustrated by Peter Reynolds
Orchard Books, 2018

A perfect pick for fostering a love of words. Share this book to celebrate the joy of discovering new words and expanding one’s vocabulary. Jerome will delight readers with his penchant for collecting words. Chances are he will also inspire at least a few logophiles along the way. 

Resources

Beautiful  

Beautiful
written by Stacy McAnulty
illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
Running Press Kids, 2016

A playful book about girls, however it’s definitely not just for girls. In addition to some fun, it presents plenty of wise words to consider. Share this book to reinforce the beautiful message to all children that girls can be and do anything. Also a great choice for teaching the comprehension strategy of visualizing. The mental imagery that is generated from a text-only read-aloud will likely be different from the illustrations when revealed.

Resources

Elephant & Piggie Biggie!  

An Elephant and Piggie Biggie
written and illustrated by Mo Willems
Disney Hyperion, 2017

A collection of five favorite titles featuring the endearing duo created by Mo. Two lovable best friends help kids learn a lot about life and important themes including facing fears, perseverance, sharing, adventure and so much more. Share this book to encourage fluency practice with partner reading or perhaps some readers theater performances.

Resources

 

Shaking Things Up  

Shaking Things Up:
14 Young Women Who Changed the World
written by Susan Hood
illustrated by Sophie Blackall, Emily Winfield Martin, Shadra Strickland, Melissa Sweet, LeUyen Pham, Oge Mora, Julie Morstad, Lisa Brown, Selina Alko, Hadley Hooper, Isabel Roxas, Erin Robinson, and Sara Palacios
HarperCollins, 2018

A wonderful collection of poems and stunning illustrations, featuring diverse trailblazers who will inspire a new generation of girls to change the world for the better. Share this book to teach biographies and connect to a variety of social studies, math, art and science topics including prehistoric animals, WWI and WWII, school integration, medical discoveries, and space exploration.

Resources

The Important Book  

The Important Book
written by Margaret Wise Brown
illustrated by Leonard Weisgard
HarperCollins, 1949

An exceptional mentor text for inspiring young writers. Following a simple pattern and featuring everyday objects, this classic title demonstrates how to create a poem or paragraph focused on what matters most to the writer. Share this book in a lesson to launch writer’s workshop, teach determining importance or as a clever way for new classmates to introduce themselves with a class book entitled “The Important Book about Our Class.”

Resources

 

Ideas Are All Around
written and illustrated by Phillip Stead
Roaring Brook Press, 2016

A perfect choice for helping children reflect on the wonders and ideas that fill each day. Overflowing with possibilities for extending the story, this first-person narrative from the author, reminds us that small moments can truly become big inspirations. Share this book and its mixed media illustrations to offer an engaging art and writing lesson.

Resources

Jabari Jumps  

Jabari Jumps
written and illustrated by Gaia Cornwall
Candlewick Press, 2017

Everyone needs a bit of encouragement now and then. Kids will easily relate to Jabari, brave on the outside, a bit nervous on the inside, as he prepares to jump off the diving board for the first time. With support from his patient dad, Jabari shows readers how to be a risk taker and achieve success. Share this book to introduce or reinforce what it means to have a growth mindset and overcome one’s fears.

Resources

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Gifts from the Trenches

Gifts from the TrenchesLife in the trenches, a/k/a the classroom, is not for the faint of heart. In previous Bookology articles I’ve shared my take on many of the challenges faced by teachers in today’s educational climate. Lack of meaningful opportunities for the teacher’s voice to be heard, mounting pressure to produce students who perform well on high stakes tests, district mandates to teach from a scripted curriculum, a desire to be all and do all for students, the list goes on and on. And that list can be exhausting. Yet so many of us continue to pursue the sometimes elusive and ultimate goal; to make a positive difference in the lives of our students. At times, it feels like the balance between give and take is incredibly lopsided.

Yes, lopsided. Completely disproportionate. It’s not even a contest when I compare how much my bucket has been filled to the number of buckets I may have filled. You see, in my 30 years as a teacher, the gifts I have received far outnumber those I have been lucky enough to share with others. And so, in the spirit of the season, rather than share a list of what I wish for this Christmas, I invite you to take a peek at the treasures that have been bestowed upon me. The highlights that have inspired me over the years and have kept me going. My gifts from the trenches.   

The Kids

The first category of gifts comes from the reason we all entered the honorable profession of teaching in the first place. The kids. Every single cherub that I’ve encountered on my teaching and learning journey has a place in my heart. However, despite my desire to never play favorites when surrounded by kids in the classroom, I must confess that when I look back, there are some that stand out just a bit more. These kids have provided some of my greatest gifts, my proudest moments and memories as a teacher.

First, there was the sad little guy who had lost his mother as a kindergartener and was often in a fight or flight mode. Yet thanks to a class read-aloud of The Lemonade Club by Patricia Polacco, he became the driving force behind the “Lemonade Stand Project” my group of first graders launched in an effort to raise money for a very sick boy in our community. Whenever I think back to those busy days with six- and seven-year-olds who were so intent on doing a good deed for someone they didn’t even knows, my heart melts. This extraordinary experience reminds me that when magic happens in the classroom, it most likely does not come from a textbook or piece of curriculum. It comes from the heart and usually the heart of a kid.

The Lemonade Club

The Lemonade Club

Then there was a quiet, freckle-faced, second-grade girl who shined with creativity and kindness yet struggled to read with success. I didn’t know much about dyslexia at the time but my instincts told me I needed to learn more so I could help figure out the source of her difficulties. I found and read the book Overcoming Dyslexia by Yale neuroscientist Sally Shaywitz. I shared the book and my concerns with this bright young lady’s parents who were eager to do whatever they could to help her. That conversation led them to lots of research, a formal diagnosis, and enrollment in a school that specialized in working with dyslexic students. Over the next decade we stayed in touch and I was thrilled to hear of my former student’s continued success. The best gift came when I received this message last spring from that creative and kind young woman:

Hi Mrs. Rome! I hope all is well with you! I just wanted to share some exciting news with you. I have been accepted into a few different graduate schools to earn my Educational Psychology license to become a school psychologist … I think of you and how fortunate I was to have you as my second-grade teacher, and how different my life would have been had I never met you. You changed my life. I don’t think I would be pursuing graduate school, let alone be attending college, had you not suggested that I might be dyslexic …

Words cannot express how much a message like this means to a teacher. Goosebumps and a lump in my throat instantly materialize every time I re-read this message. What a life-changer this future school psychologist and her family were for me. No question that the balance between give and take is lopsided, and this story illustrates just how much one student can give to a teacher.

The Colleagues

In addition to gifts from many special kids, I have also been blessed with some of the finest colleagues anyone could ask for. I was a member of one particularly special team that will always have elite status in my book. We dubbed ourselves The Dream Team, not because we wanted to be boastful, but because it was like a dream come true for each of us, to feel such a sense of harmony and collaboration.

The Dream Team

The Dream Team

Although our time together was far too short, just one school year, it was like nothing I had ever experienced in all my years of teaching. I marvel at the engagement and inspiration our joint efforts created for our students as well for each other. The many gifts that I enjoyed with my Dream Team included:

  • a shared commitment to putting kids first
  • a mutual love of literacy
  • daily “collab time” to share ideas, questions, and concerns
  • honest communication
  • an abundance of vulnerability and trust
  • a desire to learn and grow together

I honestly don’t know if these attributes can be cultivated or if they simply happen when the stars are aligned just so. I do know that it is a rare and beautiful thing to love not only the work you do, but also the people you get to do it with. What a gift these ladies were!

The Authors and their Books

The last of my gifts from the trenches is a tribute to the literacy heroes that have impacted me, both personally and professionally. Much more than just a list of favorite authors and books, these writers and their characters have had a profound effect on my teaching and learning:

  • Mo Willems, author of Piggy and Elephant books, changed the way I help kids build foundational skills like decoding and fluency but, more importantly, these playful gems teach us lessons about friendship, loyalty, courage, and fun.

Mo Willems

  • Patricia Polacco, master storyteller, offers rich tapestries of family traditions, struggles and celebrations, year after year. Thank you, Mr. Falker captures Polacco’s agonizing efforts to learn to read. It is a story that resonates deeply with teachers and is one many kids can relate to.
Patricia Polacco

Patricia Polacco

  • Kwame Alexander, legendary poet and wordsmith, brings a level of passion and excitement to a day at school that is beyond one’s wildest expectations. Thanks to a generous grant I received from Penguin Random House and dozens of copies of Crossover donated by Scholastic, my Dream Team and I witnessed the transformative power of a great book, one that actually can change lives.
Kwame Alexander and the Dream Team

Kwame Alexander and the Dream Team

I must admit that there is one thing that remains on my Christmas wish list. That wish is for every teacher reading this essay to receive his or her own gifts from the trenches. May your kids, your colleagues, and your favorite authors and books, bring you the contentment that comes from knowing you make a difference every single day!

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Essential Holiday Giving: Books

Hands down, there is no better gift for holidays or birthdays than a book. You can find a book to suit every interest, every taste, and your budget. You can always feel good about giving a book (unless you’re giving a gift to someone who lives in a Tiny House … ask first). 

pl_books_best_gifts

Here’s my list of suggestions for the holidays. It’s filled with books that are informative, beautifully illustrated or photographed, useful, well-written, but mostly books that can be savored or cherished, with uplifting stories.

And if you’d like more suggestions, my best advice is to walk into your public library and talk to the children’s librarians there. Tell them about the children in your lives, their interests, the kind of books they like to read, or if they haven’t yet met the right book to turn them on to reading. You’ll be amazed by the good suggestions these library angels will give you.

I’m going to break these out into the type of reader I think will be most appreciative. You’ll find links to longer reviews scattered throughout. And I’m going to keep adding to this list up until the end of the year. People are celebrating holidays at many different times.

In love with picture books

Before MorningBefore Morning
written by Joyce Sidman
illustrated by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

I think this ranks up there in my list of favorite picture books of all time. It works on so many levels, but mostly it speaks of love and yearning and beauty and grace. It is a simple story of a little girl who wishes for a snow day so her family can be together. Joyce Sidman’s story is exquisite. Beth Krommes creates a winter everyone can love and appreciate with her scratchboard illustrations. The color palette, the texture on the page, and the snow! Has there ever been such glorious snow? A perfect gift book for young and old.

Frank and LuckyFrank and Lucky Get Schooled
written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins
Greenwillow Books, 2016

“One day when Frank could not win for losing, he got Lucky. And one day when Lucky was lost and found, he got Frank. Both of them were just pups. They had a lot to learn.” Life, at its best, is one big learning adventure. Frank and Lucky grow together, each teaching the other. We hear the story in both of their voices. Life is explore through learning: Chemistry, Taxonomy, Reading, Math. So many questions and so little time. Learning follows these two wherever they go. They have fun. But how does it all fit together? Ah, that’s the adventure. There is so much to look at and think about in this book … and Lucky makes the adventure fun. A great book for exploring together as the first step in planning your own learning adventures. Inspired!

Henry & LeoHenry & Leo
written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016 

This is such a wonderland of a book. I finished it and immediately started again at the beginning. And yet again. The pages are filled with details that are irresistible, inciting curiosity and storytelling. The story is a comforting one about a young boy, Henry, who ferociously loves his stuffed lion, Leo. The family goes for a walk in the Nearby Woods and … Leo is lost. Henry is beside himself, worried about Leo alone in the woods. His family comforts him by saying that Leo isn’t real, which is no comfort at all of course. But something very real and mystical happens in those Woods and Leo finds his way back to Henry. Pamela Zagarenski paints this book with lucious foresty and night-time colors, with pages so soft and textured you know you can walk into the scene. She includes her trademark crowns, critters large and small, windows, and those teacups. What does it all mean? As our brains look for answers, we create our own stories. It’s magical.

Ganesha's Sweet ToothGanesha’s Sweet Tooth
written by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes
illustrated by Sanjay Patel
Chronicle Books, 2012

A story based on Hindu mythology, an adorable Ganesha and his friend Mr. Mouse are all about the candy. In particular, Ganesha wants a Super Jumbo Jawbreaker Ladoo (candy) and he wants to bite down on it. Mr. Mouse warns him that it’s a jawbreaker. And soon Ganesha has broken his tusk. Luckily, he happens upon a poet who advises him to use his tusk to write down the Mahabharata, a long, ancient, Sanskrit poem about the beginning of things. Ganesha is described as a “Hindu god. He’s very important and powerful. And a tad chubby.” And that sets the tone of the book. Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth is a feast for eyes, mind, and imagination. Patel, an artist and animator with Pixar, creates illustrations unlike anything I’ve ever seen before … you’ll enjoy poring over them.

Luis Paints the WorldLuis Paints the World
written by Terry Farish
illustrated by Oliver Dominguez
Carolrhoda Books, 2016

When an older brother enlists in the army to “see the world,” young Luis is uncertain. How could his brother want to leave their family and their neighborhood? How could he want to leave Luis? Will he come back again to play baseball and eat his Mama’s flan? Luis begins painting a mural on a wall in their neighborhood, hoping to paint the world so Nico won’t need to leave home. He paints and paints with a good deal of skill. Yet Nico does leave home. Missing his brother, Luis continues to paint his heart onto the wall. Soon his friends, family, and neighbors join him in painting. Will Nico come home again? The author, Terry Farish, based her story in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where she was a public librarian. The city is famous for the murals and outdoor art found throughout the town. For a heartwarming story of love and artistic expression, this is the right choice.

Monster & SonMonster & Son
written by David LaRochelle
illustrated by Joey Chou

This is an ideal book for dads to read aloud to their little sons. Yetis, werewolves, monsters of every shape and shiver, this is a bedtime story in spite of the subject matter. The illustrations are calming and detailed, even sparkling, yet perfectly suited to the monster fan. David LaRochelle’s text is fun to read out loud and Joey Chou’s artwork is painted with calm blues and purples and sleepy monsters.

NorNorth Woods Girl
written Aimée Bissonette
illustrated by Claudia McGehee
Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2015

For anyone who loves the North Woods, no matter where those woods may be, this is a heart-calling tale of a grandmother who knows she belongs in the woods and a granddaughter who is fascinated by what her grandmother knows and how she lives. Aimée Bissonette’s story is so well told that it feels universal. We all know someone like this girl and her grandmother. We hope we understand what it means to be so connected to place. Claudia McGehee’s scratchboard illustrations are an integral part of the experience of this book. The animals, trees, plants, the boundless night sky, the warm fire … there’s so much to love here. North Woods Girl will lead to good inter-generational discussions and foster good memories of your own special places.

On One Foot

On One Foot
written by Linda Glaser
illustrated by Nuria Balaguer
Kar-Ben Publishing, 2016

A familiar tale to many Jews, this story of the not-quite-a-fool who seeks a rabbi (teacher) who can teach him while standing on one foot (I’m guessing because the student would like the teaching to be short, even though he says it’s because he wants his teacher to be the best) is an active parable for the most important lesson in the world. Each successive teacher derides the student for asking them to teach the Torah on one foot, telling him that not even the famous Rabbi Hillel could do such a thing. When the student finally meets Rabbi Hillel, he is astounded by the simplicity of the lesson, one that each of us can live and share. The cut paper and mixed media illustrations are fitting for long-ago Jerusalem, showing both wit and empathy.

A Poem for PeterA Poem for Peter
written by Andrea Davis Pinkney
illustrated by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson
Viking, 2016

Probably my favorite picture book of 2016, A Poem for Peter tells the story of the growing up and older of Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz, who is “Born under Hardship’s Hand, into a land filled with impossible odds.” He began paintings signs for stores when he was eight years old. An introduction to the Brooklyn Public Library opened the world to him. It’s a biography written poetically and every word is worth savoring. We know him now as Ezra Jack Keats and he created A Snowy Day, which is one of the most beloved books of all time. His life is painted here by Fancher & Johnson, who small touches on each page of their illustrations that remind us of Keats’ genius, his work with collage and color and shapes and textures. It’s a lovely, beautiful, magical book. It should be on your family’s bookshelf, ready for reading again and again.

Storm's Coming!Storm’s Coming!
written by Margi Preus
illustrated by David Geister
Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2016

The weather! In many parts of the country, it is increasingly a factor in our everyday life. Here in Minnesota, it is what strangers talk about before anything else. Friends exclaim in e-mail and by phone about the effect weather has on their lives. When family gathers, the first topic of conversation is the weather (and how they drove to the gathering place). Margi Preus tells the story of a storm approaching with traditional weather signs and folk sayings. Bees flying in large numbers into their hive? “Look at those busy bees,” Sophie exclaimed. “They know it’s going to storm.” Dan watched the bees flying into their hive. “That’s true,” he said. “You know what they say: A bees was never caught in a shower.” All kinds of intriguing tidbits are woven into this weather story, set at Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior at the beginning of the twentieth century. David Geister’s oil paintings are suffused with light, family love, the varying moods of the Lake, and the final, satisfying storm scene. You know the weather-watchers in your family. This will make a welcome gift.

savors poetry

Emily Dickinson: Poetry for KidsEmily Dickinson: Poetry for Kids
edited by Susan Snively, PhD
illustrated by Christine Davenier
MoonDance Press, Quarto Publishing Group, 2016

For a beautiful introduction to the poems of Emily Dickinson, this book invites reading out loud, discussion, and turning the pages in appreciation of Christine Davenier’s art. The poems are accessible by children and their adults. Arranged by the seasons of the year, the pages offer commentary and definitions for important words to aid in your conversations about the poems. It’s a book that will be read and re-read in your home.

Miss Muffet, or What Came AfterMiss Muffet, or What Came After
written by Marilyn Singer
illustrated by David Litchfield
Clarion Books, 2016

Think you know all about Miss Muffet? That tuffet? That spider? Think again, mes amis!

This oh-so-delightful book will have you smiling, laughing, heart filling with awe at the poet’s and illustrator’s mastery … but most of all falling in love with a story you never knew. That short nursery rhyme? Pull back from the scene (I easily see this as a staged play, readers theater or with props and costumes) and realize that Miss Muffet (Patience Muffet) and the spider (Webster) live in a larger world of sister, mother, rooster, fiddlers, a king, and many lively neighbors. These are easily understandable poems and poetry that is fun to say out loud and poems that tickle our funny bones. David Litchfield manages to use mixed media in a way that pulls us into the story and has us touring Pat Muffet’s world. Just gorgeous. It’s all so satisfying. Children will enjoy reading this themselves, with friends, acting it out, and taking part in a classroom performance. Such possibilities!

good family read-alouds

Garvey's ChoiceGarvey’s Choice
written by Nikki Grimes
WordSong, 2016

Garvey feels as though he’s constantly disappointing his father. Sports are his dad’s way of relating and he has high hopes for Garvey becoming a football player or a baseball player or … something in a sport uniform. Garvey, on the other hand, enjoys reading and music and science. How does he show his dad what matters to him? This is a book that is optimistic and funny and hopeful. Even though Garvey consoles himself with food, becoming heavier and heavier, he is drawn outside of his funk by his interests. He can’t resist. And his father finally sees what’s important to his son. A novel written in verse, this makes a good book for the family to read out loud. 

Making Friends with Billy WongMaking Friends with Billy Wong
written by Augusta Scattergood
Scholastic Press, 2016

When Azalea’s mother and father drive her to Arkansas to help her injured grandmother, Azalea is not thrilled. She contemplates being lonely for an entire summer and having nothing to do … and her grandmother, whom she hardly knows, is cranky. Even though she yearns to go home, she is drawn into the neighborhood by a boy with a boundless spirit and a curiosity to match her own. There is a mystery to solve and the two kids become friends while they’re figuring things out. It’s a heartwarming book and one that brings to light an immigrant story that isn’t well-known. 

Saving WonderSaving Wonder
written by Mary Knight
Scholastic Press, 2016

Curley Hines lives with his grandpa in Wonder Gap, Kentucky, settled in the Appalachian Mountains. His Papaw gives him a word each week to learn and decide where it fits into his life. For people who love words, this is a book that enchants with its word choices. Curley has a best friend. He believes he’s in love with Jules but at 15 it might be a little early to know. And then Jules is entranced with the new kid in town, an urban kid, J.D., and Curley’s life is taking an unexpected turn. Even these changes pale in the face of a more threatening change: the coal company that employs so many of Wonder Gap’s residents wants to tear down Curley and Papaw’s mountain in order to get at the coal inside cheaply. All three of the kids get involved in Saving Wonder. This is an uplifting story that will have you cheering while you’re reading.

WishWish
written by Barbara O’Connor
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016

Charlie Reese is a girl whose parents have abandoned her. Her father is in jail and her mother suffers from a depression that has her forgetting about Charlie for days on end. Child Protection Services sends Charlie to live with her Uncle Gus and Aunt Bertha who are as nice and loving as any kid could want. But Charlie wants to go home. She wants a family who loves her. In fact, she searches every day for something lucky that allows her to make that wish. She’s angry about her new home. She hopes it’s temporary. So she’s resistant when Howard, a kid with an up-and-down walk, does his best to reach her, to make her his friend. And she’s a little resistant when a stray dog, who she names Wishbone is as hard to reach as she is. It’s a wonderful story of a group of people coming together to form a family that’s made with love. These characters will take up a place in your mind and your heart for a very long time. And isn’t that a magical book cover?

can’t get enough of biographies

Let Your Voice Be HeardLet Your Voice Be Heard:
The Life and Times of Pete Seeger

written by Anita Silvey
Clarion Books, 2016

At this very moment, many of us, children and adults alike, are looking for a way to make a difference in our world. We’d like to show that love is stronger than any talk or action done in hatred. Young and old, we’d like to show that we are willing to stand up and let our voices be heard. There is no better example than the life of Pete Seeger. Anita Silvey writes this book in a way that shows how hard it was for him to perservere but he stood by his principles for nearly nine decades! Even when he was beaten down by the government, he was resolute. And he sang songs by the people, for the people, to inspire the people and bring them together. This book is written so it can be read by anyone ages 9 and older (adults will find this book worthwhile, too). I highly recommend it as a family read-aloud and discussion starter but it’s so good that reading it individually works, too.

Six DotsSix Dots: a Story of Young Louis Braille
written by Jen Bryant
illustrated by Boris 
Random House, 2016

When a terrible accident blinds him as a child, Louis Braille’s world turns dark. He sets out to get along in the world. “My family did what they could. Papa made a wooden cane. … My brother taught me to whistle … My sisters made a straw alphabet. Papa made letters with wooden strips or by pounding round-topped nails into boards” With his mother, he played dominoes. But he wanted to read books. Six Dots is the story of Braille’s journey to create a code that the blind could read. Louis Braille was a child inventor and this biography leads us to appreciate how significant his invention was and how much it continues to matter in the world today. Bryant’s text, written in free verse, makes the reading lyrical. Kulikov’s illustrations give an understanding of the darkness and the light in this blind inventor’s world. Six Dots fits well into our list of uplifting gifts. [Hidden Giveaway: the first person to send us an e-mail requesting this book will receive a copy of Six Dots, signed by the author. Be sure to include your mailing address so we can send you the book.]

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. WhiteSome Writer! The Story of E.B. White
written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

Are you a fan of Charlotte’s Web? Stuart Little? The Trumpet of the Swan? One Man’s Meat? Here is New York? E.B. White wrote books that are considered classics today, loved with a fierce wonder for their characters and emotions. In a work of love and art, Melissa Sweet shares the story of his life from childhood through adulthood as he learned to love books and writing. It’s the story of a man of words who lives so closely with them that he co-authors Elements of Style, a standard reference. There are details here that every fan of his books will want to know. Best of all, the book is done as perhaps only Melissa Sweet could, making collages out of found objects, White’s papers, and original (and charming) drawings. There are Garth Williams’ original sketches and photos of the people in E.B. White’s life. This book is a treasure, one you can share with many people on your gift list. Perhaps you can bundle it up with a copy of one of his books listed earlier, choices for both children and adults.

just the facts, please

Science EncyclopediaScience Encylopedia: Atom Smashing,
Food Chemistry, Animals, Space, and More!

National Geographic, 2016

I think every person on your gift list should get one of these! Seriously, whether you love science or don’t want anything to do with it, you will like this book. You will dip into the book somewhere and then you’ll find yourself thumbing through, being caught by this and that tidbit. Here’s my full review of this encyclopedia.

How Things WorkHow Things Work
T.J. Resler
National Geographic, 2016

As if the Science Encyclopedia isn’t cool enough, this book, also published by National Geographic, has astounding information in it. This quote from the beginning of the book wraps things up so well and tempts you to pull at the tail of the bow: “PUT THIS BOOK DOWN NOW. It’s dangerous. It might make you think you can do impossible things.” Followed closely by “You must be one of those. The kind of kid who thinks ‘just because’ isn’t a real answer.” Read the full review and buy this book for every kid (and maybe an adult or two) who love to know how things work. Because this book reveals all.

adults who breathe more fully around children’s literature

Comics ConfidentialComics Confidential: Thirteen Novelists Talk
Story, Craft, and Life Outside the Box

interviews by Leonard S. Marcus
Candlewick Press, 2016

If you have the smallest bit of interest in comic books and graphic novels, you will find yourself drawn in by the interviews in this book. Marcus is a veteran at asking the right questions and his chosen subjects are the people who create books that kids and adults stand in line to read. You’ll hear from Harry Bliss, Catia Chien, Geoffrey Hayes, Kazu Kibuishi, Hope Larson, Danica Novgorodoff, Matt Phelan, Dave Roman, Mark and Siena Cherson Siegel, James Sturm, Sara Varon, Gene Luen Yang. Each one of them contributes a self-portrait, a comic written and drawn especially for this book, and there are sketches that accompany the interview. It’s a visual book about a visual medium created by visual artists who know how to tell exceptional stories.

Picture This: How Pictures WorkPicture This (25th anniversary edition)
Molly Bang
Chronicle Books, 2016

If you’ve ever felt that you like the art in a book but you don’t know why, this is the book for you. If you know teachers who regularly read out loud to children, this is the book for them. First written 25 years ago, Molly Bang has revised her guide to show us in clear language and pictures how the art in our favorite books works its magic. The way a page is arranged, the perspective, the focal point, the emotion, the mood, all of these can change the way we experience a book. We can understand what it is that we’re looking at in ways we never understood before. This is a very special book to give as a gift to someone you love or to yourself.

cook it up!

Betty Crocker's Cooky BookBetty Crocker’s Cooky Book
by Betty Crocker (!)
illustrated by Eric Mulvaney
Hungry Minds, 2002

I received this book in 1964 with an inscription from my grandmother, who wanted me to have “the gift of cooking food everyone will love.” It’s hard to go wrong serving cookies and the recipes in this book are classics. You’ll find Chocolate Chip Cookies, Toffee Squares, Krumkake, and Sugar Cookies. Good photographs show you how to decorate them and suggest how to serve them. Your burgeoning baker will spend hours planning, considering which cookies to make, and mixing things up in the kitchen!

Kids in the Holiday KitchenKids in the Holiday Kitchen
by Jessica Strand and Tammy Massman-Johnson
photographs by James Baigrie
Chronicle Books, 2008

For those who celebrate Christmas, this book has loads of recipes that are fun to decorate, good to give as gifts, and will help to keep the holiday buffet well-supplied. And it’s not just food. There are crafts included to decorate a soap bar for a gift or dress up gift tins. A good idea for the cooking-inspired child on your gift list.

Everyday Kitchen for KidsEveryday Kitchen for Kids: 100 Amazing Savory and Sweet Recipes Your Children Can Really Make
by Jennifer Low
Whitecap Books, Ltd.

If your child’s wish is to appear on Food Network, here’s a head start.  In addition to being delicious and easy to make, these 100 recipes are all about safety. None of the methods call for sharp knives, stovetop cooking,  or small motorized appliances. All the recipes are kid tested and each one is accompanied by a full-color photograph.

crafts are the stuff of life

Ed Emberley's Book of Trucks and TrainsEd Emberley’s Drawing Book of Trucks and Trains
Ed Emberley
LB Kids, 2005

Using simple shapes and lines and putting them together in thousands of different ways, anyone can draw. And in constructing these pictures out of those shapes and lines, they will find confidence in creating their own drawings. A part of it is practice, but a part of it is seeing how things are put together and Ed Emberley is a master at this. He is a Caldecott Medal winner and the author of many fine picture books, but it is his drawing books that many children cherish because that’s how they learned to draw! It’s an ideal book for a gift because with a pack of colored pencils and paper the fun can begin immediately!

51 Things to Make with Cardboard Boxes51 Things to Make with Cardboard Boxes
Fiona Hayes
Quarto Publishing Group, 2016

Gather up cereal boxes and chocolate boxes and match boxes and large boxes and small boxes and paint and googly eyes … to create dinosaurs, chickens, houses, and robots. Then make a giraffe and a hippopotamus and a construction crane … all out of boxes! The book has step-by-step instructions in both words and pictures that will help you and your children create fifty-one different projects. My only quibble with this book is that I would like measurements so I know which kind of boxes will work best … but perhaps the author wanted the size to be variable. I would have loved this book as a child. I suspect there’s crafty and building children in your life as well. There’s hours and hours of fun (and cereal-eating) ahead.

Look for this company’s 51 Things to Make with Paper Plates as well. Using paper plates and paper bowls (and googly eyes) there are many more creatures to be brought to life with these inexpensive construction tools.

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Books for My Grandbaby and Me

Reading to my GrandbabyIt’s no secret that I am a big fan of books and reading. I am actually an even bigger fan of babies. I am instantly smitten. I can think of nothing better than cuddling an infant, blanketed by that new baby smell, reading to an audience of one. You can imagine how thrilled I am to announce that there’s a new baby in town! My incredible daughter-in-law and son are celebrating the joy of transitioning from loving couple to loving family and I am a first-time grandma.

A sweet, little baby boy (well actually, not so little, with a birth weight of 11 lbs. 12 oz. and length of 24”) to bounce on my knee as we create reading memories together! I’ve looked forward to sharing my passion for literacy with a precious grandbaby for a very long time. And so, with my heart full of  more love than I ever thought possible, I will settle into this esteemed and honorable role as grandma by reaching for a treasured stack of books. Carefully selected books that will begin a lifelong adventure of discovery, wonder, snuggles, and joy. Books filled with lessons for my grandbaby and me!   

Book and Lesson #1: On The Day You Were Born
Books help us celebrate and learn.

On tThe perfect first book to share with my grandbaby offers this sweet greeting: “Welcome to the spinning world… We are so glad you’ve come.” Debra Frasier’s lovely picture book will, without a doubt, become a tradition for us. The miracle of nature explains the miracle of a very special baby’s entrance into the world. Each year on the anniversary of his birth, we will marvel at the universe as it is depicted in page after page of charming nature collages. An extraordinary book to commemorate an extraordinary event in our lives!   

Book and Lesson #2: More! More! More! Said the Baby
Books help us cherish memories from the past and create new ones.

More! More! More! Said the BabyLittle Guy, Little Pumpkin and Little Bird, toddlers from More! More! More! Said the Baby, by Vera B. Williams, bring out the silliness and playful fun that are essential qualities for grandmas and grandpas. After reading this delightful story to my grandson, I will share another story, one about his own dad that I will call “Little Fish.”  Centered on the memory of an energetic, not quite two- year- old, I’ll reminisce and recall the giggles and squealing “I do gan, I do gan” as my son jumped off the dock into the lake, again and again. You can bet that each time I read this book it will be grandma who pleads for “more, more, more” tummy kisses and toe tickles!

Book and Lesson #3: Snowy Day
Books help us find new friends.

The Snowy DayIntroducing my grandson to a curious little boy named Peter will be the beginning of what I hope will be many friendships sprouting from the pages of a good book. While reading Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, we will get to know an adventurer who loves building smiling snowmen and making snow angels. It won’t be long before my grandson and I enjoy winter days doing the same. And though he will be too young to understand the historical significance of this book (considered to be the first full color picture book featuring a child of color as the main character), it will always be a reminder to me about the importance of providing a plethora of books with diverse characters, books that offer “windows and mirrors,” books filled with friends my grandbaby has yet to meet.

Book and Lesson #4: Four Puppies
Books help us understand life and the world around us.

Four PuppiesThis grandma’s “must read to grandbaby booklist” would not be complete without the book that was my very first personal favorite. As a kindergartener, I fell in love with this classic Little Golden Book. My hope is that my grandson will delight in the antics of this rambunctious pack of pups as they learn about the changing seasons. Eventually my special reading buddy and I will talk about the wise red squirrel and the positive life lessons he passes on to his young protégés.    

Book and Lesson #5:
The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear
Books help us have a little fun.

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry BearThis delicious story by Don and Audrey Wood provides another walk down memory lane. It seems like just yesterday when my three-year old preschooler begged for another reading of this highly interactive tale. This time around, I plan to wear a pair of Groucho fuzzy nose and glasses as I read it with my grandbaby. The captivating tale that mixes a bit of fear, mystery, humor, sneakiness and, best of all, sharing with others, will likely find a spot on grandbaby’s “read it again” list!

Book and Lesson #6: The I LOVE YOU Book
Books help us express our feelings.

The I Love You BookUnconditional love is a natural phenomenon for parents and grandparents all over the world. The I Love You Book by Todd Parr describes the powerful, unwavering affection that I will forever feel for this child who has captured my heart. With bright, colorful illustrations, the message is simple: I love you whether silly, sad, scared, or brave. I love you whether sleeping or not sleeping. I love you and I always will, just the way you are!

Once Upon a Time BabyBooks for my grandbaby and me will offer a wide range of lessons on all sorts of topics. However, the greatest gift they will provide is a chance to share meaningful moments, a chance to relive fond memories, a chance to create new memories. Books for my grandbaby and me are a gift that will last a lifetime, a legacy of literacy and love, for my grandbaby and me.

Two of my favorite baby literacy gift sites:

I ordered a personalized copy of On the Day You Were Born with my grandbaby’s name printed on the cover and throughout the book.

Adorable t-shirts for my grandbaby, encouraging literacy and learning

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Reading Memories

bk_threelittlekittensMemories of my childhood are imperfect. Yours, too?

I don’t remember having a lot of books as a child. I remember The Poky Little Puppy and another dog book (title unknown) and Three Little Kittens (perhaps a reminder to me to keep track of my mittens).

I remember using the school library voraciously to read books. I had no access to the public library (too far away) so that school library was my lifeline. And our librarian understood what I was looking for before I did.

But back to the question of having books on our shelves. My mother had a Doubleday Book Club subscription so a new book arrived each month for the adult reader in our family. I saw To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, The Light in the Piazza, and The Sun Also Rises added to the shelves, but other than curiosity, I felt no interest in those books.

My mother also subscribed to Reader’s Digest. We had a lot of music in our house in the form of LPs. Some of my favorites were those Readers Digest collections, classics, folk songs, Broadway musicals. There was always music on the turntable. More importantly, Reader’s Digest published story collections and books for children.  

Yesterday, I was sorting through the three boxes that remain of my childhood toys and books. We’re downsizing, so the tough decisions have to be made. Do I keep my hand puppets of Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse, and Hush Puppy or let them go?

Reader's Digest Treasury for Young ReadersI know I’ve gone through these boxes since I was a kid but every ten years or so I’m surprised all over again by what I played with as a child and cared enough to pack in a box for remembrance.

I found two Reader’s Digest Treasuries for Young Readers and the three-volume Doubleday Family Treasury of Children’s Stories.  My mother also subscribed to the Reader’s Digest Best Loved Books for Young Readers. This is how I read Lorna Doone and Ivanhoe and Where the Red Fern Grows.

I was startled to realize that my familiarity with many of the classic poems, stories, and nonfiction articles came from these books. I was introduced to Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Elizabeth Janet Gray and Dr. George Washington Carver and Jules Verne and The Odyssey and NASA’s work and more than a hundred more stories and articles. I’d like to believe that I’m an omnivorous reader today because of the wide variety I encountered in these books.

The Family Treasury of Children's BooksThere’s a penchant for everything new right now. Grandparents pick up the latest Dora the Explorer or Where’s Waldo? book because they’ve heard of them and have a vague sense that kids like them. Or the bookstore clerk suggests a Caldecott or Newbery winner of recent vintage.

This is a plea to remember those classic books: the stories, the folk tales, the fables, the poetry. Children will read a lot that you wouldn’t expect them to read, especially if you give it to them. Those classics provide a common language for educated people.

Can’t find something suitable? Write to your favorite publisher and suggest that they print collections of classics, old and new. There are a few books published in the last 20 years that sort of approach these collections published in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Here are a few:

Story Collections

Perhaps 50 years from now your children and grandchildren will open their own box of childhood memories, being thankful that you gave them such a great gift.

Thanks, Mom. You gave me a gift that has sustained me all my life.

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Three Wise Women

Three Wise Women

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany. More than just an end to the season of Christmas, Epiphany is a Christian celebration all its own commemorating the revelation of God the Son in the humanity of Jesus Christ. There are various traditions observed around the world, but the story of the magi who came from […]

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