Holiday Gift Guide 2013: Bedtime Stories for the “Goodnight Gorilla”-Obsessed

December 12, 2013 § 1 Comment

Mem Fox's Good Night Sleep Tight“How do I break the addiction to Goodnight Gorilla?!” a friend texted me the other day. Whether it’s Goodnight Gorilla, Goodnight Moon, or (my preference) Time for Bed, the lulling, reassuring refrains in these books become quick obsessions with little ones getting ready to tuck in for the night. And, let’s be honest, it can grow a wee bit tedious for the one doing the actual reading.

The good news is that, as your child’s attention span develops, you can start incorporating more involved bedtime stories into the mix. I’m not promising it will be love at first sight, and you may have to be a little sneaky (I’ve had great success with the “you pick one and I’ll pick one” approach as a way to introduce new titles). But help is on the way. 2013 has been a rich year for bedtime stories, beginning with Mem Fox’s Good Night, Sleep Tight (Ages 1-4), a small square hardcover illustrated by Judy Horacek—and an instant, no-tricks-necessary favorite with my Emily (the same team created the equally fabulous Where is the Green Sheep?). « Read the rest of this entry »

Rethinking Mother Goose

April 30, 2013 § 3 Comments

Mother GooseA customer once said to me, “Nursery rhymes are what parents used to have to read before better books were written.” A bit harsh, maybe, but there was a time when I could very much relate to this sentiment. With my firstborn, I quickly passed up Mother Goose in favor of reading him plot-driven stories featuring animals (my choice) or construction vehicles (his choice) or Richard Scarry (our compromise).

But then my daughter was born and my opinion of these verses—albeit old-fashioned, nonsensical, and odd—changed. Emily was born with an ear for music; she hears a song once and weeks later she’s belting out a bastardized version from her bed. Early on, her musical predisposition translated to reading material. The two Mother Goose board books on our shelves, whose spines were barely cracked by her brother, became Emily’s prized possessions (the better of the two being Tomie dePaola’s Tomie’s Little Mother Goose).

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With Babies, It’s All in the Delivery

June 22, 2012 § 1 Comment

When you’re reading aloud to babies and toddlers, never discount the Performance Factor. I’ve always considered myself a fairly compelling read-aloud-er when it comes to young audiences (I’ve presided over my fair share of story times at my old store in Chicago), but I’ll admit to being humbled the first time I attended story time with my infant daughter at Hooray for Books!, our fabulous independent bookstore here in Alexandria, VA. These bookstore gals can really hold their own against a crowd of antsy toddlers—and they do so by throwing their own inhibitions to the wind, while invoking no shortage of funny voices, animated gestures, and ad lib phrases.

Before I became a regular at these events, I had never given much thought to Lucy Cousins’ Hooray For Fish! (Ages 6 mos-2 yrs), a board book about a Little Fish who meets and greets all kinds of crazy-looking fish before swimming back to his Mommy Fish. Sure, I’ve always appreciated Cousins’ child-accessible art style: her colorful, loosely-decorated fish, coarsely outlined in black, look as if they came from the hand of a child. But, if I’m honest, the subject of fish doesn’t rank terribly high on my excitement meter (give me a farm animal any day); and I can’t say my son ever cared much for Hooray for Fish! when I read it to him on a plane trip down to Florida when he was one.

But now, four years later, listening to it being read aloud by a bookseller who has obvious passion for made-up fish names like “gripy fish” and “ele-fish” and “twin fin-fin fish,” I realize that it’s all in the delivery. And, being the mindful student that I am, I’m proud to say that I have now adopted the necessary flair this book requires; lo and behold, it is now one of my daughter’s favorites. We both wave enthusiastically each time Little Fish says “Hello” to a new fish; we take our fingers and trace the spiral that is “shelly fish”; we make our scariest faces for “scary fish”; we cover our heads for “shy fish” and flap our fins like “fly fish.”

But the finale is where we break out all the stops: “Where’s the one I love the best, even more than all the rest? [turn page with exaggerated suspense] Hello, Mom. Hello, Little Fish. [more excited waving] Kiss, kiss, kiss, hooray for fish! [throw arms up in air and cover each other with kisses].” Hooray for books that make us adults remember that being silly is a sure way to get undivided attention from our little ones.

Other Favorites That Can Be Dramatically Read Aloud to Little Ones:
Cows in the Kitchen, by Arlie Anderson (Ages 6 mos-2 yrs)
Clip-Clop, by Nikola Smee (Ages 9 mos-2 yrs)
What Shall We Do with the Boo Hoo Baby?, by Cressida Cowell & Ingrid Godon (Ages 9 mos-2 yrs)
Barnyard Dance!, by Sandra Boynton (Ages 9 mos-2 yrs)
Dinosaur vs. Bedtime, by Bob Shea (Ages 1-3)
Little Blue Truck, by Alice Schertle & Jill McElmurry (Ages 1-3)
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, by Helen Oxenbury (Ages 1-4)

Make Way for “Hippopposites”

June 13, 2012 Comments Off on Make Way for “Hippopposites”

If there was ever a children’s book destined for the Museum of Modern Art, this would be it. Until then, Janik Coat’s newly published Hippopposites (Ages 18 mos-5 yrs) will find a perfect home alongside the Oeuf cribs and Tripp Trapp Chairs of today’s urban nurseries. From the thick oversized board pages, finished in an ultra high gloss, to the bold die-cut silhouettes, this book is a tour de force in graphic design. But artistic achievement aside, what impressed me most when I encountered this gem on the shelves of my local bookstore is: FINALLY, a book that actually teaches the concept of opposites. There are lots of fun rhyming read-alouds that make use of opposites to tell their stories (see my list below), but they’re equal part silliness. Until now, I’m going to bet that kids have never mastered their opposites from reading books. Enter Hippopposites, where on each double spread, two hippos are contrasted with a simple text word beneath each one; props and background scenery are used sparingly, providing just the right amount of detail to get the point across. The usual suspects are touched on in the early pages: “small” versus “large” (with the first hippo miniaturized next to a skyscraper); and “light” versus “dark” (with the second almost completely obscured by a black background). But we quickly advance into more exciting territory, with “thin” versus “thick” (denoted by the width of the silhouetted line), “opaque” versus “transparent,” “dotted” versus “striped,” “invisible” versus “visible,” and “alone” versus “together” (in this last pairing, the only difference is that the hippo in the second picture has a bird perched on its back). The book’s artsy publisher, Abrams, doesn’t miss an opportunity for some seriously cool touch-and-feel action: the “soft” versus “rough” page makes use of delicate pink chenille and a woven burlap sack. Don’t let the board book format fool you: this book will hold its own with older preschoolers, introducing concepts like “squared” versus “rounded,” as well as “left” versus “right.” Now if I could only pry the book out of my husband’s hands, I could actually read it to my children…

Other Favorites With Opposites (albeit of the goofier, less educational sort):
Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox (Ages 1-3)
Big Little and Quiet Loud, by Leslie Patricelli (Ages 1-3)
Go Dog Go, by P.D. Eastman (Ages 2-4)

A Chomp Through Berryland

May 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

Today’s excursion to pick strawberries at Shlagel Farm in Maryland was the perfect excuse to break out an old favorite: Jamberry (Ages 1-3), by Bruce Degen. Not that we need an excuse to read this rollicking rhyme of a boy and a bear romping through fields and down streams on a quest for every kind of berry. But as the kids and I were filling our buckets with the plumpest, juiciest strawberries I’ve ever tasted, our fingers and shirts and mouths stained red, I couldn’t help but hear in my head: “Three berry/ Four berry/ Hayberry/ Strawberry/ Finger and pawberry/ My berry, your berry/ Strawberry ponies/ Strawberry lambs/ Dancing in meadows/ Of strawberry jam.” We didn’t encounter any strawberry lambs (although there were goats and some very vocal chickens), and my children are likely to eat all the strawberries before I get a chance to make them into jam, but the spirit of the book was very much alive as we chomped our way through the farm. Our excitement continued to build, as we got deeper into the patch, launching ourselves into uncharted territory wherein (as we imagined it) lay the biggest berries. Bruce Degen escalates his rhyme, too, taking it further into the realm of the fantastical and the silly: the boy and the bear fill a train with blackberries, then ride it to Berryland, where they dance alongside a jazz band of rabbits, watch elephants skate on raspberry jam, and finally lift off in a hot air balloon propelled by a giant boysenberry. “Mountains and fountains/ Rain down on me/ Buried in berries/ What a jam jamboree!” Indeed.
Don’t Miss My Other Favorite Berry-Picking Book:
Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey

How do I get my squirmy-wormy baby to love books?

May 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’ve been fortunate that my kids have loved books from the very beginning. I’ll admit that part of my design was purely selfish: I’d rather read to my children than do almost anything else with them (read: sitting for hours on the floor making train sounds). So they quickly learned that Quality Time With Mom meant listening to stories.

During the years that I worked in retail, I was always surprised when a customer, shopping for a baby gift, would say, “I’m not going to buy a book for someone who can’t even talk! How would they understand it?” Who said anything about understanding?! In the beginning, books are simply stimuli: things to touch, to feel, to explore, to eat. They present an opportunity for little ones to listen uninterrupted to a parent’s voice, a sound babies are born loving. And they make for the best snuggle time EVER.

But don’t be fooled: the past decade of child development research tells us that, even while they’re hanging out of drooling mouths, books are wielding their magic on babies’ brains, laying the groundwork for early language development and, yes, even lifelong intelligence. So how do you get your squirmy-wormy baby to love books?

1. Start with board books: they fit in Baby’s hands and hold up to copious drooling.

2. Surround Baby’s environment with books from Day One, so they don’t know any different.

3. Store books at Baby’s eye level (baskets work great) so they can dump them out, spread them around, and (my personal favorite) “read them” upside down.

4. Not all books are created equal! When they’re newborns, they might sit through anything, but by the time they’re five or six months old, they’re only going to sit still for Certain Books.

5. What Works for the Under One Set: Anything that invites physical interaction, like a finger puppet that pops through each page, flaps that open and shut, anything with a mirror, or touch-and-feel pages. Bright, simple illustrations (or photographs) with clear, high contrast. Sing-songy rhymes that make your voice interesting; same goes with text that encourages you to be loud then quiet, or make animal sounds, or just-plain-silly noises. Books that you can sing. Also books with photographs of babies (before she ever said “mommy,” my daughter said “baby”).

6. What’s Out for Under One: Illustrations heavy in pastels or cartoonish drawings. Books where the pictures look the same on every page. Books with more than a single sentence or phrase on each page. Books that don’t excite YOU (because, yes, your enthusiasm is a big part in all this).

7. Don’t shelve a book for too long. Babies under two are incredibly fickle: what they push away one week becomes their Obsession the next. Keep trying!

Some Favorite Board Books for the First Year:
Hello, Animals: Black & White Sparklers, by Smriti Prasadam (Ages 0-6 mos)
In My Tree, by Sara Gillingham (Ages 0-1 yrs)
Where is Baby’s Belly Button?, by Karen Katz (Ages 0-2 yrs)
This Little Chick, by John Lawrence (Ages 0-2 yrs)
Quiet Loud, by Leslie Patricelli (Ages 0-2 yrs)
I Went Walking, by Sue Williams & Julie Vivas (Ages 0-2 yrs)
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, by Bill Martin Jr. & Eric Carle (Ages 0-2 yrs)

Emily and her Books (at 12 mos)

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