You may have heard of it before, but in case you missed it… March is Reading Month! While I personally celebrate reading year round, I think it’s appropriate that we give some special recognition to one of the most famous authors of all time during his birthday month. To kick of the month, I decided to share one of my favorites from Dr. Seuss: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
Dr. Seuss is known for clever rhymes for beginning readers, and adding in a bit of weird silliness. I love weird silliness. While many of his books are built around simplicity (did you know the Cat in the Hat uses only 220 different words?), this is not one of those books. It holds true to the verse and rhyme characteristic of Seuss, and is extra heavy on the silliness, including a huge variety of nonsense words. There is a loose plot through the book (description of all the things that the narrator is seeing), but the focus is more on the rhyme and some fun play in the verses. There are opposites with illustrations, rhymes, tongue twisters, and some other structurally interesting verses tied in. One of my favorites is a page spread that has a poem on opposing pages, told in reverse order with accompanying upside down illustrations.
I see this is the perfect book to read aloud with early readers, and to encourage them to take a turn in the reading. The rhymes are silly and fun, and most of the book is decodable (i.e., you can sound it out). The rhyming makes it somewhat predictable, but there is still a variety in the structure of the verses that keeps it interesting. I especially like the nonsense words– one of the strategies we often teach kids is to look at the sounds, and think about the words that they know. While this can be a good strategy, it doesn’t always work. It relies on a strong vocabulary. I love the opportunity for kids to practice a skill, but to learn that sometimes things that sound silly or wrong, might actually be right. Oh, and what a perfect ending for a bedtime story– on the very last page of the story, it is time to go to sleep!
Boris’s thoughts: “I think you’re over-analyzing this, but I can get behind these rhymes. 4 paws.”
Something that I could not quite put my finger on has drawn me to this book a few times when I have perused the children’s section of my local bookstore. I suppose it is most likely the beautiful cover, combined with an affinity for Neil Gaiman’s work in general. Despite picking it up a few times, I never actually read through the book until recently.
I always buy a book for each of the kids at our extended family’s Christmas party, and finally decided to pick this one up while shopping for them. I loved the simplicity of this book. It has the feeling of a folktale, although I am not sure if it has any basis in the actual mythology of India. Cinnamon is a princess who is blind and also does not speak. Her parents have offered many riches to anyone who is able to get her to speak, but all have failed. A tiger steps in to do the work that humans have failed to complete. In addition to an enjoyable story, I find Divya Srinivasan’s illustrations striking. The colors are bright and bold; the style is simplistic but full of detail.
Boris’s thoughts: “I could be a tiger. Majestic and all. Roar. Although I don’t know why the tiger would WANT more humans to talk. 3 paws.”
While I have written about Dragon before, I could not let the holiday season pass without a mention of my favorite Christmas book: Dragon’s Merry Christmas. (And it’s a day early!) Dragon is up to his normal mis-adventurous antics, but with a bit of a heart-warming Christmas twist.
Dragon finds the perfect Christmas tree, decorates his house, and goes out shopping for all the things that he wants for Christmas. All, of course, with that little extra Dragon twist of silliness: it would be a shame to cut down the perfect tree, and we can all guess how things might turn out when you make Christmas decorations out of chocolate! The final story really pulls it all together as a Christmas tale, where Dragon learns a lesson about the spirit of giving.
As usual, I love the extras that Pilkey adds to the story with the illustrations. Each section of the book adds something into the illustrations, that make appearances throughout the rest of the story: the lengthy extension cord to light up Dragon’s perfect tree in the forest, the devastated chocolate candy wreath. In true Dragon fashion, he improvises when he runs out of room to write out “Christmas” in lights on the front of his house.
Boris’s thoughts: “Aww, warm fuzzies. I’m warm and fuzzy too! 4 paws. Oh, and Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”
While this one is not strictly a Christmas story, there is something about Jan Brett that just feels Christmasy to me. This book is a follow up to her telling of a more traditional Gingerbread Man. In this case, it is a Gingerbread Baby. After running of on his initial adventure, the Gingerbread Baby has made his way back home. The story starts with him living contentedly in a gingerbread home with Mattie, although feeling terribly lonely when Mattie goes off to school or out to play with his friends. The Gingerbread Baby goes off on a second adventure in search of friends.
Unfortunately, he goes looking for friends in a plain, normal bakery… where none of the other cookie creatures can talk or play! He is perplexed and decides to rest while he thinks about what to do next. Of course, resting turns into sleep, which is interrupted by a hungry mouse! The Gingerbread Baby decides that this friendship search is not working out for him, and dashes back home– leading to the chase scene that we expect from Gingerbread characters. While he is discouraged from his journey, he does find a nice surprise waiting for him when he gets home, which folds out into an extra large pop-up picture for the end in the hardcover edition.
I like this story as a read aloud. It’s a nice traditional type story, and has a combination of normal storytelling, as well as some verse in the Gingerbread Baby’s speech. The pictures are great: large and with tons of details to look through with kids. One of the compliments of Jan Brett’s books I have heard is about the beautiful borders around the pages of her stories, and this is no exception. I like in this one that the borders serve a dual purpose– there is a recipe for gingerbread cookies included, while we also get to see what Mattie has been up to while the Gingerbread Baby has been away.
Boris’s thoughts: “I think the real lesson here is that I don’t ever need to leave my comfy home. Sounds good– it’s time for a nap.”
I stumbled upon this one while browsing the Christmas section in one of my favorite bookstores. (Short digression: I love The Book Loft of German Village in Columbus, OH even though I live nowhere near there. I make a point to stop in every time I have the opportunity!) Of course, with a cat and a cute cover like that, I had to read it. So happy that I found this one!
Cat is getting ready for Christmas. However, he has come to a sad realization: he’s been pretty naughty this year. What’s the best solution? To become Santa so that he can give a present to himself, of course! With a little help from the narrator, Cat realizes that this might be a little misguided. He tries to make up for his prior naughtiness with some good deeds– but ends up just causing some more trouble. In the end, Cat performs a good deed without even thinking about it, earning him some credit with the REAL Santa.
The set up and illustrations in this book were cute. It is staged as a conversation between an unseen narrator and the character, Cat. As a cat, of course, Cat cannot talk. He communicates with various signs and uses gestures to get his point across. This could be fun as a read aloud, with children old enough to talk through some interpretation of the drawings. Of course, this could be a good read aloud for younger children too, to talk through the drawings and help them make the connection between the text and the illustrations. Kids will find Cats antics enjoyable, and there’s a nice lesson to point out at the end, when Cat ends up succeeded with “being good” when he stops trying so hard!
Boris’s thoughts: “Hmm. I could be Santa. But I don’t need to be, because I’m definitely on the Nice list. Right?”
It’s December! Do you know what that means? (Of course not, I have never done this before.) It’s Children’s Christmas Book Month!!!
Let me explain: In addition to the holidays and a busy month at work, I have quite a few other things going on that are keeping me EXTRA busy. It’s impacting both my time to blog, and keep up with my reading. I did not want to put the blog on hold for the month, but I need to pause a bit. And so, I introduce to you: Children’s Christmas Book Month! For the month of December I will be sharing some fun holiday themed Children’s Books.
First up, there is Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner. I actually bought this book as a pre-Christmas gift for my nephew– he is two, and while he obviously cannot read yet, he enjoys a good story and loves to turn the pages himself. This one pictured is a board book with him in mind, but this book can also be found in hardcover and paperback.
This is a cute, fun story told in verse. It begins with a boy building a snowman on Christmas Eve, and then imagining how snowmen might celebrate the holiday. Their celebration is full of all the traditional holiday events: treats, singing, and even a Snowman Kris Kringle! I love the imaginative aspect of the book, and think it can be a great jumping off point to get kids thinking creatively. Have you ever built a snowman? How do you celebrate the holidays? How do you think a snowman might celebrate?
Although it may be a bit late for the traditional Thanksgiving, I could not let November end without a nod to a seasonal children’s book. This is a fun little story from Eve Bunting, which sees several animals preparing for a Thanksgiving feast, hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Moose. Although Mrs. Moose has hosted many parties, she has never had one very traditional thing: a turkey for Thanksgiving. It is something she has always wanted, and Mr. Moose sets out to make it happen. Along his way to find a turkey, Mr. Moose encounters several of their planned dinner guests, some of whom join him in his search: Rabbit, Goat, Sheep, and Porcupine (notice a trend?). Turkey, of course, is not thrilled with the idea of anyone having him for Thanksgiving, and tries to escape the group coming to fetch him. Alas, Turkey cannot fly away, and is pushed along to join the Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, the fun twist at the end, being that this group of herbivores is looking to have a turkey AT their table, rather than ON their table.
I have heard this used as a read aloud leading up to the holiday, and the groups I have seen tend to enjoy the story. It can be a good story to talk about predictions and make kids thing about what could happen next, or using the pictures to as clues to the story. For students who are a bit older, the play on words is fun and could spark some good conversation and creative thinking.