Tag Archives: toddlers

Appreciating Arnosky

Today I dug into our October basket (yes, our “seasonal” rotation of picture books has now grown into a “monthly” rotation of books!! I include all our picture books in this rotation (excepting non-fiction) so as to ensure we are getting a chance to read and appreciate all the good ones we have.  Otherwise, treasures get buried and forgotten in the surplus.) and pulled out Every Autumn Comes the Bear by Jim Arnosky.

I was reminded again of how much we love this author.  Is it the brilliance of the text?  Not so much.  The glory of the illustrations?  Not exactly.  I think what it is has to do with the perfect marriage of text and imagery Arnosky offers in all of his books.  He writes simple story lines… easy enough for a 2 year old to sit through, yet engaging enough for an 8 year old to appreciate.  And he doesn’t fictionalize things or  indulge in anthropomorphism like so many other popular kiddy books do— I have no problem with talking animals, believe you me… but all things have their place.  And animals in Arnosky’s books are simply stars in the natural history story he has to tell. And they are excellent.

Tom Bombadil

We own Grandfather Buffalo and Coyote Raid In Cactus Canyon also but I’m starting to get the itch that tells me I need to purchase more of his titles… so loved they are and so seasonally appropriate they can be.  On my shortlist are Rabbits & Raindrops or Raccoons and Ripe Corn and Armadillo’s Orange (get a load of those used prices! Ha!). And we can’t forget Crinkleroot and his series… which are very basic primers to different aspects of nature; kids love them. As a side-note, Crinkleroot reminds me of how I envision a simpler version of Tom Bombadil. If you get that reference, it’s a strong indication you might be awesome.

Anyway, Jim Arnosky provides good stuff all around!  Go get some books!


Board Book Puzzles!

Folks it doesn’t get much easier than this when it comes to upcycling ruined books!


Beaten up board book
Scissors or Exacto knife


Cut out page and cut it into as many pieces as you want.

I’m making a whole bunch of these for toddler busy bags! The double sided effect makes it both more challenging and two puzzles in one.  The kids love them… (even my 11 year old got caught doing these puzzles!)


Best Upcycling Idea Yet!

I had a post about what to do with ruined picture books.  There are many, many more ideas floating around in the e-world… most of them have to do with decorating or some such. But this activity is what I think is my new favorite because it is fun and functional!

What does one do with those board books that get all beat up and the spine falls apart?  Toss ’em?  No! Turn them into lacing cards!  Here is my very quick initial trial. I just need to get a slightly smaller hole punch now for perfection! I could barely take a picture before it was immediately requested for play.  😀


Accidentally Thrifty

We didn’t mean to actually BUY anything at this particular thrift store; we always pass it up to go to the one in the next town over which has a much better selection.  But we had a few minutes to kill and oops, $90 later… 10 of those dollars were spent on these 13 books. (The other 80 went toward two pairs of winter boots, a maternity shirt, dress shoes, shirts, a rockin’ Burl Ives record, three games, a skirt, building/shop books, gloves and a bike helmet if you must know)

So surprised and pleased at this happy handful of children’s books.  Just posting this picture to inspire and remind you all to seek out picture books second hand: 90% of my ‘healthy’ library are now thrift store/garage sale finds… less than a buck a piece usually. I’m not going to add many notes except I already had some of these so I either saw they were in excellent shape and bought them as gifts or I wanted to replace my beat-up paperback versions. Super excited especially to find the Poetry for Young People series book for Kipling, whom we are studying next term, a mint hardback of James and the Giant Peach, which will be gifted to my almost 7 year old on his birthday in a couple weeks, another Billy and Blaze book, which are the best books for horse loving BOYS, and a fresh replacement copy of our well-loved board book, Harry the Dirty Dog.



A few weeks ago I went to a baby shower where the new mom was gifted with a couple Indestructables.  Well, me being the kind of woman I am, I was immediately intrigued by its claims to withstand baby trauma and wanted to sink my teeth into the pages.  For the sake of propriety, I refrained, but I did discreetly tug and pull on the pages as I examined this breakthrough in children’s books.  They’ve apparently been around a few years now but this was rocket science to me.

See, board books are the standby classic for babies.  And most babies do fine with board books.  My children, however, manage to soak or rip the cardboard eventually, and while they’ll last longer than our paper books, the board books are indeed mortal. Plus, this genre is very often older children’s books, reprinted on cardboard and then marketed to babies.  (Don’t get me wrong, I love board books… for about 18 months up to 4)  But indestructables are specifically made for BABIES.

Indestructables promises the fountain of youth in picture book world. They can be eaten and bent and disheveled in every which way, only to come out just as loved and bright as before.  They even promise to be machine washable!  Wowzas!

I personally wasn’t in love with the way the books felt… they are paper thin (made of a strange, vinyl-esque material) and would fit nicely into a purse (folded up!!!) or diaper bag, but I can absolutely appreciate what they offer… a pre-literacy inclusion for our youngest of bibliozealots.  The books are wordless, designed to just stimulate baby’s mind with the way a book “works” without ruining said book.

Mama and Baby!  and Plip-Plop, Pond! were the two books I examined closely. I was quite impressed and think these would make excellent baby shower gifts… who doesn’t love the irony of a baby product that is baby proof?!


The NEXT Top Ten Alphabet Books

I can’t help it; there are so many good ones!  Whether it’s lovely alphabet books that tell a story or clever ones that explore a concept or theme, the genre is loaded with many books that are much better than any disconnected alphabet books that may exist. So, here is my Top 10 NEXT best Alphabet Books… to be taken as a follow-up to the first titles that made the cut.

 Alligators All Around by Maurice Sendak is one title I can’t believe I forgot on the first list! Maurice Sendak at his best and I really love the size of this book. This is an important piece of psychological consideration authors and publishers have to make.

ABC Bunny by Wanda Gag. Here is a sweet, simple story (decked out in Gag’s wonderfully folksy illustrations) that just happens to be an alphabet book.

 The Z Was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg.  The man who thrives in the “books noir” category has given us a clever little treat detailing the demise of all the letters of the alphabet.  Whether the B gets bitten or the K gets kidnapped, this is a fun book for kids just past the toddler stage.

 On Market Street by Arnold Lobel.  There is nothing super clever about the text in this book, it’s the illustrations that make it shine.  Watching the man get smothered by his purchases on market street will be sure to evoke giggles from all.

 The Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni.  Now this is an unusual alphabet book.  Rather it’s a story about phonics and literacy and team-building.  Don’t expect the typical “A is for…” Instead it’s a learning adventure, good for slow-to-start readers perhaps.

 The Alphabet Game by Trina Schart Hyman.  No story here, just pictures filled with words beginning with each letter of the alphabet.  I am a fan of Schart-Hyman’s work in the fairy tale genre and this came as a refreshing addition to her opus. It’s another small book for small hands… I love those.

 Anno’s Alphabet.  Who doesn’t love Anno?!  Each page spread features a letter and an accompanying picture of something starting with that letter.  It works the brain though too; there are hidden images in the border… lovely all around.

 The Hidden Alphabet by Laura Vacarro Seeger.  A truly clever book. Each letter contains the shape somehow of objects beginning with that letter.  A fun exercise for kids to figure out what it’s trying to detail.  Check out the product video on Amazon.

 Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks From A to Z.  The classic.  All homes should have this in their baby basket.  It’s one of the best, simple and most engaging books for toddlers ever.  Get it now.

 ABC3D by Marion Bataille.  I love this book even though I won’t own it.  See, it’s a pop-up and we have a volatile relationship with pop-ups here in this house.  But I see it’s tremendous benefits especially for kids who may struggle with dyslexia or other learning issues.  It offers a tangible, tactile presence of the letter and that is valuable for many, many learners.


More Wintry Titles

Aside from the titles, on my Top Ten Winter Book list, we’ve gone on another library binge of snowy titles in a desperate attempt to will some snow to come before spring!  So here I’m just throwing out some collected seasonal picks as we round out our wintertime.

Snow by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Lauren Stringer. A completely evocative book, slow and deliberate, with a delicious, stunning spread of a pink sunset reflecting on the snow. I’ve never seen THAT moment captured in an illustration before this… lovely all around.

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner and Christopher Silas. An easy, living book if there ever was one. Contemporary, clean illustrations.

Over the snow, the fire crackles, and parks shoot up to the stars.  I lick sticky marshmallow from my lips and lean back with heavy eyes. Shadows dance in the flames.  Under the snow, a queen bumblebee drowses away December, all alone.  She’ll rule a new colony in spring.

Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen. I’ve been thinking on Van Dusen for some time… just how I want to pinpoint him as an author/illustrator and decided he deserves his own post quite soon.  So look for that. Until then, suffice it to say, we are big fans of Mr. Magee in this house!

The Snow Globe Family. A novel little story that will make you wish you had your own living snow globe family.

Snowmen at Night by Carolyn and Mark Buehner. Rhyme time!  Best enjoyed by the younger crew and recommended as a board book!

Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Yellow Sled by the one and only Maj Lindman.  As a child, I couldn’t get enough of these Swedish triplet boys and their female counterparts Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka. I know the 1940s innocence of these stories are a bit contrived but I can’t help loving them nonetheless. Such sweet morals and goodness in these series.

Winter Shoes for Shadow Horse by Linda Oatman High and Ted Lewin.  I was surprised that this book had no written reviews on Amazon, so I had to make one. It isn’t really snow focused. It’s just a lovely, well written book about a young boy learning to do a man’s work under the watchful eye of his father.

I pry, and salve, and whisper, and tap and nip and rasp and clinch, Papa’s hand on my shoulder. Shadow Horses’s back ripples and I flinch, scared. “Go on,” Papa whispers, his hand heavy and strong.

Cold Snap by Eileen Spinelli and Marjorie Priceman. New in 2012, this book is bright and vividly illustrated; the ultimate snow storm picture book emphasizing community! Includes simple and yummy recipe at the end. Now all we need is some snow to make it happen!


Pick of the Week: Mice on Ice


Mice on Ice by the Rebecca Emberley and her father Ed. This was a random grab at the library, chosen for its season appropriateness and because I am a big fan of Ed Emberley. I credit all his drawing books to really jumpstarting my boys with the confidence to become little artists of their own. We own several of his books and will happily check out more when given the opportunity!  Regarding this particular title, I love it for three main reasons.

1- The illustrations are fun, bright and engaging!
2- It’s a reader book with very basic wording, yet not boring.
3- There’s an unexpected and clever little “development” in the book that I appreciated very much and won’t spoil for you with details. Otherwise, you’re pretty much just enjoying pictures of mice on ice the whole book.

And it’s as simple as that folks!  Fun, easy reader book that is both wintry and engaging!  Readers usually suffer from one two problems: they are either commercialized character books (which annoy me aesthetically and concern me parentally, when fed in excess to children) or they are dry as dirt in their story lines (if you can call a cat sitting on a mat a story).  Usually they are both.  I understand that the stories HAVE to stay simple to some extent but this is proof that they don’t have to be banal.  A refreshing change up.


Apple by Nikki McClure

Washington State has produced a couple great children’s book author/illustrators (including my very, very favorite, Doris Burns), with the latest being from Olympia– the excellent Nikki McClure.  She is famous for her intricate, yet deceptively simple looking paper cut illustrations in her titles for very young children.  Her first attempts at paper cut illustrations gave birth to a little, homegrown book that was distributed locally in 1996. Apple is the new reprint of that effort, now available to the masses!  It is lovely, and begins with the play on words: “Fall”… as you see an apple falling from a tree.  The book continues with a single word on each page, documenting the life of the apple as it goes through autumn and is composted into the ground before giving new life the following spring.  The book would make a great springboard to inspire budding artists or writers with the art of paper-cutting.  Here is a great little tutorial on that. The little write ups in the back about the life of apples and about composting are just as excellent as this juicy, little morsel of a book itself and I highly recommend it for your early reading pleasure.


Top 10 Best Bedtime Stories

A good story is a good story.  And a good story is always a good choice for bedtime.  But some books are specifically about bedtime, sleep or goodnight rituals and are particularly dear to have on hand for toddler sets.  What makes a good bedtime book?  Excellent art.  A slow pace.  A lyrical cadence.  Or all of the above. Many of the titles below embody all of those qualities…  here is my personal Top 10 Goodnight/Sleep/Bedtime storybooks:

 A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na. Relatively new on the bedtime scene, this book is an instant classic. The illustrations are sublime. Period.

 Time for Bed by Mem Fox. This was the first, full price picture book I think I ever bought. And I bought it, interestingly for one of the same reasons that one reviewer on Amazon poo-poohed it: it’s size. You can get this as a board book and a smaller paperback, but I bought the large book edition. I loved the idea of having such large, lovely illustrations totally fill in a child’s line of vision before bedtime. Now, it’s not so big as to be awkward and unwieldy… it’s just a nice, jumbo size book. Many sleep books aren’t.

 Sailor Song by Nancy Jewell. I chose this for pure nostalgia’s sake. I read it often to my firstborn when his papa was overseas; it is a homecoming bedtime tale. Sweet and soft. The illustrations are done by Stefano Vitale, whose work I admire very much.

 Night Knight by Davey Owen. Just found and discovered and loved a few weeks ago. You can read more about that here.

 It’s Time to Sleep, My Love by Eric Metaxes. The rhyming on this is very much like Time for Bed. The artwork is surreal. There are elements of it that appear strange or eerie in a lovely, only-half-awake kind of way; my three year old daughter loves this one.

When the Wind Stops by Charlotte Zolotow.  “And where do clouds go when they move across the sky?”  “To make shade somewhere else.”  So goes this classic, gorgeous question and answer discussion between a young lad and his mother.  Stefano Vitale is featured again here in exquisite form. So it may or may not be a “must read” but if you do read it, When the Wind Stops is definitely a “must love.”

 Grandfather Twilight by Barbara Berger. The small pearl becomes the moon. A few, well placed words. I love Barbara Berger… and she does not disappoint with this one.

 A Mouse Told His Mother by Bethany Roberts. Excellent bedtime banter here not too unlike Runaway Bunny. The art is detailed and wonderful and as it should, the adventures end with young mouse falling asleep.

 If You’re Afraid of the Dark Remember the Night Rainbow by Cooper Edens. Perfect for children and teens and adults; this book was given to me on my 15th birthday and I treasure it’s strange, lovely quirkiness still.

 Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. Did you really think I’d forget this? As one of the bestselling children’s books of all time, even non-discerning parents often have this on their shelves. Their seems to be an unspoken code that this is a mandatory title. I held out for a long time just because things this popular spark the ‘go against the grain rebel’ in me.  But eventually, I caved and like so many others, can recite it practically by heart now.  That makes me happy.

“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.” 
Madeleine L’Engle