Tag Archives: toddlers

Springtime with Kevin Henkes

In the same way that Jan Brett shines best in winter, Kevin Henkes was made for springtime.  While he is now a prolific picture book author/illustrator, it seems that all his best works embody spring somehow. Maybe it’s his color palette… simple but strong colors in very restrained but delightful shapes. Whatever the case may be, his books are always strong favorites in my house for the younger set… so I wanted to highlight his best of spring themes. I’ve always thought it would be fun to gift a certain THEME of books among my children— I’m thinking Easter baskets here; certain author themes would fit this well too!

Brand new this year and nearly wordless… four eggs hatch and an unexpected friendship ensues.

Last year, this book stole my heart for its burst of color and sweet text. A wonderful primary-age celebration of spring.

The sweet little “Mama loves you” story… also available as a board book!

Let the birding season begin! This is my very favorite *early* bird book.

A board book perfect for a toddler’s Easter basket… an ode to candy basically. 😀

A potentially bad day… reframed. Not just for kids.

Gardening season is beginnning! Kick it off with this imaginative girl…

All Things Folk Tales

What is a folk tale?

folk tales

*   *   *

I just wanted to take some time to celebrate how much I love folk tales in our home. I don’t fully understand why, but stories like The Three Little Pigs or Henny Penny are just timeless and my children love them in the same way I loved them when I was a child.

We always enjoy new library books we find with fun stories or beautiful illustrations (Honestly my favorite genre to enjoy ‘new’ is picture book biographies; the most brilliant books in this area have all tended to be published in the last 15-20 years and they are often only getting better!) but there is something about classic, simple stories that have been told for centuries to America’s children.

I often use folk tales to practice my oral storytelling skills to my children. I know most of them by heart and find it fairly easy to tell them from memory, with a few colorful details and voices, at times when oral stories want to be told. My children find it incredibly entertaining/impressive if I can whip out a story from my head at bedtime. I love being able to switch things up and embellish characters and practice excellent eye contact and facial expressions that my kids wouldn’t get in the standard written story.  Something about storytelling… I feel like different parts of the brain and heart are engaged when I do this and folk tales allow me to have an instant stock of base material from which I can draw.

I wanted to share one very awesome book with you that we recently discovered: The Folk Tale Classics Treasury  is brought to you by my favorite folk teller: Paul Galdone. The reason we love Galdone is that he is no-nonsense. He tells the story perfectly and faithful to tradition and he illustrates them simply. Now, I’m someone whose heart rate speeds up and practically salivates when she sees glorious, intricate illustrations like those done by Bimba Landmann or Kinuko Craft.  But those would not be fitting for the golden simplicity of The Three Billy Goats Gruff. I mean, it’d probably look brilliant. But I wonder if it would just be too distracting from the story. Not all picture books need to be a six course, high feast… sometimes a simple bowl of oatmeal is perfectly satisfying in and of themselves.  Anyway, this treasury by Galdone is a gem because the stories are the originals that can be found in his stand-alone books and the illustrations are a generous full page, unlike the squished format found in so many picture book anthologies or treasuries.  The book would be an exquisite gift to anyone looking to kickstart a beautiful library for a child.

Another way to get your hands on some of the best folk tales (for cheap!) is to look at some of the classic Golden Books like The Little Red Hen, The Three Bears, or The Saggy Baggy Elephant.

Lastly, it’s such a fantastic experience to expose our kids to the folk traditions of other cultures. We adore Erik Kimmel’s treatment of Anansi the Spider the most in his books like this and subsequent titles.  And Isaac Bashevis Singer is another international storyteller favorite around here. And I would be remiss if I forgot to mention The Story of Little Babaji which my own mother read to me a hundred times and I loved it every, single time.

In subsequent posts, I’ll talk about fairy tales, fables, myths, etc… but for now, I hope you all take a minute to read (or tell!) a folk tale to your child today and appreciate their place in our cultural traditions. The simplicity and goodness of these stories are things that will stay with your child for their entire lives. Happy storytelling!

“For most of human history, ‘literature,’ both fiction and poetry, has been narrated, not written — heard, not read. So fairy tales, folk tales, stories from the oral tradition, are all of them the most vital connection we have with the imaginations of the ordinary men and women whose labor created our world.”
― Angela Carter

 

 

Top 10 Little Books

Beatrix Potter knew what she was doing as she created the world of Peter Rabbit. When she turned down initial publisher’s offers (due to their requests to modify her books in length and size), she went ahead and self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit on her own at first, because she had a very specific vision for her work. Namely, she wanted her books to be small enough to fit in a small child’s hands… and her illustrations were designed to fill the page of one small book.

To this day, while there are many compilations and anthologies of the Peter Rabbit series, nothing… NOTHING compares to the magic of the small, hardback set of single, independent, tiny volumes. If your home library of picture books consists of nothing other than this set, you’ll be leagues ahead of 90% of your parenting peers in the sheer quality of what you’re offering.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the awesomeness of tiny books in general. What child doesn’t love miniature things designed just for their size? Especially when the miniatures are real, be it functional tea cups, utensils, brooms, aprons etc. So it is with books. There is something special about volumes published under 7 inches tall. And the only thing I love more than reading tiny books to my children, is seeing my young ones sprawled out in the grass on their own with a little book of their own fitting so nicely in their little hands.

Little books pack into diaper bags well, fit into stockings, Easter baskets and everyday baskets, and make fantastic little bonus gifts to accompany other items.  Here is my pick of the 10 best little books on the market today:

 The Peter Rabbit books. Of course. Just go ahead and throw all 23 titles into one listing here. Each is excellent.

 The Story of Little Black Sambo. Okay, so all the modern parents prefer The Story of Little Babaji (also on the small side) because it is more PC, but I love the original myself. I have both books and my children like both equally but I have a nostalgic spot for the old one because my mother read it to me so many times…

 The Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak. Alligators All Around is the standout book in this 4-volume set but they are so well priced as a collection, I’d go ahead and purchase the others with that title.

 Pelle’s New Suit (mini edition). I normally prefer my full-sized Elsa Beskow books, but this one in particular works as a mini because it doesn’t have as much text as most of her other titles.  For that, and the fact that it is the perfect springtime book, it’s on the list.

 A Hole Is to Dig is perhaps my very favorite “nonsensically profound” books (I made that category up; nice eh?). From the silly to the thought provoking, Ruth Krauss found magic in pairing with Sendak on this title.  The hardback is out of print, but worth finding…

 A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog is the first in the series and my favorite Mercer Mayer books by far. They are wordless but tell a lovely story… don’t forget the equally excellent sequels Frog Goes to Dinner,  Frog, Where Are You? and others.

 The Brave Cowboy. My three year old fell in love with the Brave Cowboy when he first met him and it’s still one of his favorite books to call his own and to be found curled up with in a corner somewhere. That’s enough to merit a spot on this list.

 Alphabet of Boats. Linocuts. Boats. Education. Beauty. Simplicity. All under 5 square inches.  I can’t help that so many of the books I love are out of print— sorry!  Just keep your eyes peeled for this little gem.  (Which reminds me… I’ve seen enough good stuff now to warrant “Volume 3” version of Top Ten Alphabet books… hmm, will attend to that soon hopefully.)

 Let’s Be Enemies. Sendak illustrating again!  He excelled at the tiny books. Janice May Undry created a lovely little tale of making and breaking friendships. It’s very fun to read with a 5 year old…

 The Little Train… or really, any Lois Lenski books. All are small. My favorite ones are his seasonal books which are a bit spendy OOP, but any of his occupational books like this one or Policeman Small or The Little Airplane, etc are vintage winners as well.

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And now, some qualifying remarks:


I would’ve included the gorgeous Flower Fairies Alphabet, but I’m mad that they skipped the letter X. You can cheat a little or work around it… but don’t skip the letter altogether!


Also, these are slightly larger than ‘tiny’, but of immense importance in the picture book collector’s world: The Year in Brambly Hedge Set and Adventures in Brambly Hedge Set. Unfortunately these books are long out of print but they are really wonderful to own and cherish… in the same botanical goodness vein as one would find the Beatrix Potter books.


And lastly, I’ve requested an inter-library loan to get my eyes on The Treehorn Trilogy. It looks fabulous. Edward Gorey is not everyone’s cup of pictorial tea but I like him and am eager to see these books!

Easter Basket Board Books…

Eloise Wilkins. Garth Williams. Tibor Gergely. The Provensens. These are the names of some of the best illustrators in Golden Books history.  Some of the old Golden Books are superb. And publishers are now waking up to the fact that we MISS those books, so they are slowly bringing back into print some of the nostalgic pieces of yesteryear. We are happy.

What is even happier is when the Golden Books upgrade from their fairly fragile spines to the sturdiness of board books! Here is a list of some of these board books that are the best of that grouping… the ones that are readily available to arrive in prompt shipping style for a certain upcoming holiday (other little treasures can, of course, be found and patiently waited for from third party sellers…)

The most basic of living books

 

2014 passed by my attention without me noticing this very fun, very engaging new book: Some Bugs.   There is a very happy area between “stories” and “educational content” that has to be very artfully done in the picture book world, especially when the audience is Pre-K.  It’s one of my favorite little niches to explore because I find it very challenging to do well.  Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi nails it.  It’s a very, very simple primer for the pre-school set that is just fun to sit and delight over with a child.  Not only does it keep the text in very simple rhymes, it doesn’t make the mistake that many “edu-stories” make in overloading the child with text and information. This “early living book” technique is perfectly executed here, just like it is in my favorite beginner bird book by Kevin Henkes: Birds. The goal is simply to meet bugs, giggle at the pictures and be inspired to do some hunting in your own front yard.  Education to light a fire, not fill a bucket. Mixed media illustrations by Brendan Wenzel are a positive delight, refreshingly original and quirky.

Simple pleasures like these kinds of books really remind to stop and take an important five minutes in my day to engage with my little ones in a beautiful way… it’s the little things in life.

The Best Treasuries, Sets and Collections

This is the time of year to be thinking about meaningful gifts. Perhaps even heirloom gifts!  Each Christmas, one of the gifts our kids receive are books… often picked up throughout the year at a thrift store and saved, but sometimes a special title I’ve been eyeing a while and know a particular child would love. Sometimes, we gift a set or deluxe collection of something to a child and these have become treasured components of their personal growing libraries.  You have to be a little bit careful when buying “sets” of books because a couple mistakes are often made:  1- the set is incomplete of what you consider to be essential favorites.  2- The set includes abridged versions of stories. Or the biggest grievance I have: the set includes illustrations that have been truncated, altered or deleted to the point of ruining a good story. (Don’t mess with McCloskey!) But sometimes, despite some of these mistakes, the collection can still be an wonderful investment and treasured gift. Here are a few of what I think are the best of the best offered right now.

BOARD BOOK SETS

 

Gyo Fujikawa’s Little Library. What a deal!  Happy art. Simple text. Tiny books. Perfect for a two year old maybe…

Jan Brett’s Little Library. Contains three of her must have board books: The Mitten, The Hat, and The Gingerbread Baby.

Brown Bear & Friends Board Book Gift Set. All three of the infectious rhyme books that get read over and over again in our home…

Margaret Wise Brown’s: Baby’s First Library A perfect gift for new babies!

The Little Red Box of Bright and Early Board Books. I love P. D. Eastman and my three year old does too.  I don’t mind that these are abridged versions of the classic books (in fact I welcome the shortening since I am currently asked to read Go, Dog Go twice a day, every day.)

 

PICTURE BOOK SETS or ANTHOLOGIES

 

Mad about Madeline. Doesn’t every girl between 5-8 need this collection (and not the later, added on versions…)?!

Frederick and His Friends: Four Favorite Fables. There is another one by the same author but I prefer the titles in the first set if I had to choose just one.

The Complete Adventures of Curious George. Again… the original tales are so beloved! No need to scramble after the dozens of after-tales by other authors. They aren’t “bad”… just not quite as charming as the original.

Once There Was a Boy… Boxed Set. Delighted to find this new this year!!!  I have a son who loves Oliver Jeffers and this just may go under our tree next month!

Eloise Wilkin Stories: Little Golden Book Treasury. For nostalgic mothers who love Wilkin’s work and want to pass the beauty onto their daughters…

Mike Mulligan and More: Four Classic Stories by Virginia Lee Burton. Unabridged and complete illustrations!

Lois Ehlert’s Growing Garden Gift Set. A lovely collection for budding gardeners.

Jan Brett’s Snowy Treasury. Four of her best, snowy books!

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile Storybook Treasury. Lyle is an odd one. Some children don’t really fall in love with him. Others engage and won’t let go. To those children, this is a wonderful collection.

Richard Scarry’s Best Little Golden Books Ever!  A collection of just plain, old fashioned good stories illustrated by the incomparable Scarry.

Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library. My favorite… everybody needs Alligators All Around!

Dr. Seuss’s Beginner Book Collection. Pares down the vast Dr. Seuss collection to just the must-have classics.

Babar’s Anniversary Album: 6 Favorite Books. Originals only!

Joy to the World: Tomie’s Christmas Stories. Worth the collection for the Three Kings book alone in it…

The Paddington Treasury: Six Classic Bedtime Stories. Good old Paddington, delighting British children for ages now.  Let’s reignite love for him on this side of the water!

The World of Peter Rabbit: Books 1-23, Presentation Box. Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without this:  the pièce de résistance‘!

CHAPTER BOOK SETS

Pooh’s Library. Individually bound.  Or in one volume if you prefer.

Mercy Watson Boxed Set: Adventures of a Porcine Wonder.  Let’s be honest. These are barely chapter books.  Indeed, I give them to my eager 8 year old who still stumbles to read independently.  But he feels such a mastery at reading these “official big kid” books… Mercy Watson is a great bridge to real chapter book reading.

Little House Nine-Book Box Set. C’mon. Every home needs this.

Favorite Thornton Burgess Animal Stories Boxed Set . Lots of bang for your buck with the Dover produced classics here!

Old Mother West Wind and 6 Other Stories. Same great bargain, but different titles as above.

Anne of Green Gables, Complete 8-Book Box Set. Because I have a ginger-haired girl who will love this someday.  Well, she acts more cayenne than ginger!

The Chronicles of Narnia. Please, please be certain to buy a version of these books WITHOUT the movie tie-in photographs on the covers!!!  Let imaginations come alive before putting real actor images in their minds!

The Chronicles of Narnia Complete 7 Volume CD Box Set (Unabridged). Audio book to own and play in the car!!! I’ve had my finger hovering over “Buy Now” on this for a couple years now!

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: Deluxe Pocket Boxed Set. This set is leather bound. Are you kidding me?!  I might buy it for MYSELF since it lends itself so well to re-reading.  And these books do need to be reread many times through one’s life.

Celebrating Gyo

Gyo Fujikawa is recognized for being the first mainstream illustrator to show children of many different races in her books. She does so in a beautiful, natural way—not a “trying-to-be-politically-correct” way.  Gyo was an author/illustrator that I never fully appreciated until I had my daughter.  As an adult, I’m captivated by both the beauty of pictures and the storyline; my boys are too.  But Gyo’s books dwell happily in the beautiful world with just a quirky amount of prose. Her books are perfect “looking books.”  And they lend themselves well to children finding and identifying themselves (and siblings… and every friend they have… ahem) with someone on the page.  This is especially important for my four year old who squeals in delight at the abundance of red-heads in her books. (She especially sees herself as the messy-haired girl holding a brush with a sassy look in Are You My Friend Today?)  Then she yells “There’s Henry, holding a dog!” and “Here’s Leo making cookies!” And people of all age regress into babies in her favorite title: Ten Little Babies.

I for one just enjoy the art: such detailed, vintage imagery (and for the record, my favorite title of hers is Oh, What a Busy Day) …

7 Princess Stories Not To Miss

This was going to be an official “Top Ten” list but without going too deeply into the abundant fairy tale realm (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty etc…) I found myself stretching to fill out the last three titles.  Furthermore, some of these titles are simply worth mentioning for reasons other than the fact that they are the “best in their class.” So I’m calling it simply “stories not to miss”. You can read about some more of the fairy tale princesses however, in my Top Ten Disney Alternatives post.

In the meantime though, our testosterone heavy home is still drinking at the oasis of Newborn-Baby-Girl and all the delights that brings.  There are a gazillion crummy princess books out there. (Generally a good indicator of crumminess is if there is a trademark symbol somewhere on the cover.)  There are plenty of okay, non-commercialized princess stories too—some traditional and some a bit more contemporary/unconventional.  But in the search for perfectly satisfying, girly books, here are some not to miss!

 The Paper Princess by Elisa Kleven.  There is no better, dreamy, whimsical artist for little girls than Elisa Kleven.  I have a post coming up soon on some of her newer titles… but this is one of her classics.  It’s a very sweet story of a girl’s creation coming to life, getting lost and found again.  Be sure to check out The Paper Princess Finds Her Way and The Paper Princess Flies Again: With Her Dog! also.

 Many Moons by James Thurber.  The classic story of a sick little girl who simply wants the moon in the sky and outwits all the experts to figure out how to get it. Many reviewers comment on the weird, watery illustrations… and I agree that they are perfect for this tale.

 The Princess in the Forest by Sibylle Von Olfers.  My very favorite princess book for the five and under crowd. This one doesn’t take us through extravagant legends or rich plots.  It is very simply a day in the life of a princess. Gorgeous, botanically rich drawings… very simple text… yet high on the whimsy factor.  A must have.

 Princess Aasta by Stina Langlo Ordal.  This book is part of the reason I can’t make this an official Top Ten post. See, this isn’t one of the best princess stories ever written.  Not at all.  But there is something satisfyingly quirky and strange about this tale.  A girl advertises for a bear to be her friend.  The chosen bear and she go on adventures to the North Pole.  It’s quite strange and the art is different.  But I find these novelties rather refreshing in a genre where the traditions and proper roles are usually quite predictable.

 Princess and Fairy by Anna Pignataro.  Another book here that will never be a hall-of-fame candidate.  But this book probably has the highest satisfaction factor for little girls out of all of them which is why I included it on this list.  It is bright, colorful, bubbly and it rhymes.  Most of all… there is a page with sparkles!  My daughter adores poring over this book finding items on the very detailed pages.  It is absolutely the girliest of girly books.

 The Apple-Pip Princess by Jane Ray.  I am happy to have a Jane Ray title in this list; she is an extraordinary artist.  And here is a lovely tale of a sweet princess who restores the beauty and grandeur of her kingdom.

 The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Marianna Mayer and K.Y. Craft.  This Grimm fairy tale has always been my very favorite… always.  And this gorgeously illustrated version is  does it justice. The pictures and tale are lavishly done. There is another beautiful one by Ruth Sanderson with its own flavor and style all its own.  You can’t go wrong with either one.

The First Christmas: An Angel Came to Nazareth

I just picked up my copy of The First Christmas: An Angel Came to Nazareth today at the library.  I didn’t realize it was the mini edition (which is also what that link goes to) but am very glad it is.  There is something to be said for all the considerations publishers/writers/illustrators must make when producing a picture book.  Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit books for example, were always meant to be small— perfect for little hands to hold. And while many editions now exist of those stories, the original, small sized ones are still best.

I haven’t seen the original edition of The First Christmas but I can tell you that this book is excellent in it’s small size!  Not only would it make for a great stocking stuffer, but it’s printed in such a way to beg little hands to run over each of the thick, textured pages (thinner than a board book, but thicker than regular pages; like a really sturdy card-stock) which are bright, vibrant and gilded with gold accents.  The story is very basic (animals have to choose one traveller to bear and all want to carry the greatest of all… but a donkey is the one who makes the greatest choice), just an ode to Christmas in a simplistic way but really it’s just books like these that add a little special something to holiday celebrations.  Highly recommended.

Top Ten Classic Golden Book/Gift Combos

The best thing about Golden Books is that they are cheap!  The other excellent thing about Golden Books is that many of their classics are still in print. You have to look past much of the commercial titles at a store to find them, but they are readily available online. Books make excellent gifts for Christmas or birthdays… and children like them even better if they are accompanied by an actual toy. (For what it’s worth, I feel just the same about toys as I do about books—looking for ones that inspire play, not ones that play for them—sturdy, excellent materials that’ll last—quality over quantity). Having affordable, hardback books like the Golden ones, makes this a doable goal and here are some obvious and fun pairings I really like:

   with      
                                              The best first bath-time toy ever!

   with    
                                                  A real metal dump truck!

    with   
                                                   A high quality baby doll!

    with   
                                               Three bears wooden dress up!

   with    
                                               The plush Poky Little Puppy!

   with    
                                              Three pigs and a wolf finger puppets!

   with     
                                                 A lovely wooden animal train!

    with    
                                              Tawny Scrawny Lion cube puzzle!

    with   
                                                  A real, working stethoscope!

and the ultimate for firefighters everywhere:

   with    and
                                                     Fire chief dress up!                   The coolest ride-on toy ever!