Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Favorite Children's and YA Books of 2014

As it is the last day of the year, it is time to share my favorite books from 2014. These are my top 25 titles for kids of all ages, sorted by level. Links are to my reviews.

Board Books & Picture Books

Early Elementary (Grades Pre-K to 2)

Upper Elementary (Grades 3 to 6)

Middle & High School (Grades 7 to 12)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Little Miss Muffet's Favorites: Great Books for 0-12 Month Olds

Little Miss Muffet turned one a few weeks ago. I kept a Goodreads shelf of the books we read to her during her first year, and today I wanted to share some of her favorites, since I think many other families would enjoy them as well. Unlike my favorite books of the year, which were all published in 2014, hers are a mix of old and new titles. 

The very first book Little Miss Muffet owned was Black and White by Tana Hoban, and it is also the very first book I showed her when she came home from the hospital. Before she could do anything else, she spent a lot of time simply staring at the different images. As early as six weeks old, I could tell that the butterfly was her favorite. She would quickly lose interest in the other pictures, but would happily stare and stare at that butterfly. (This led to me singing a lot of butterfly songs such as Flutter Flutter Butterfly and Fly Like a Butterfly.)

Big Fat Hen by Keith Baker is one of the first books we borrowed from the library, and the first book at which Little Miss Muffet ever smiled. We ended up buying a copy because she liked it so much. She has since outgrown her fascination with the little chicks but from ages 4 to 6 months, she just couldn't get enough.

Ten Little Babies by Gyo Fujikawa is proof that it's not just photos of  baby faces that intrigue babies. Little Miss Muffet loves to pore over the pictures of these ten babies getting up to all kinds of fun and mischief. Though this is a board book and theoretically unlikely to be destroyed, it had to be taken out of Miss Muffet's toybox and put on a shelf because she began nibbling at the corners and choking on the pieces of cardboard that came loose.

Honey Bear is a favorite from my husband's childhood. The original book is rare and quite expensive, but we were able to purchase a reprint edition. It's kind of a long text, and the storyline, where a bear kidnaps a baby from her crib is somewhat unsettling on the first read-through, but it has a wonderful rhythm that is completely soothing to Little Miss Muffet. We also borrowed the phrase "pinky winky baby" from the story and used it describe Miss Muffet when she was very small.

The main character in Monkey See, Look at Me! just happens to look like Miss Muffet's favorite stuffed monkey, which is how we decided to pick it up at the library in the first place. The illustrations are wonderfully bright and colorful and the repetitive story and all-animal cast make it an ideal read-aloud for babies and toddlers. This is one of the only books we have ever renewed because we wanted to keep it longer and not because we just couldn't make it to the library on time.

Night Light is a book we looked at in the library that I remembered from my children's librarian days. I had no idea Miss Muffet would be so taken with it, but she was very interested in the tiny holes in the black pages and in the different vehicles to whom the various headlights belonged. For the entire time we had it out of the library, this was the book Miss Muffet consistently pulled out of the box to flip through - and somehow, though it's a picture book and therefore subject to tearing and bending, she was always very careful with it.

I am grateful to Jennifer from Jean Little Library for tipping me off to Hide and Seek Harry. When I came across Hide and Seek Harry Around the House by Kenny Harrison at the library, I remembered that she liked the books and checked it out for Miss Muffet. She loves Harry and occasionally (at 11 months) could even point him out to me on the page. I suspect it is his big eyes that draw her in, but the book overall is just really well done.

Baby Pig Pig Walks by David McPhail is  a board book spin-off of the Pig Pig books, such as one of my childhood favorites, Pig Pig Grows Up. Miss Muffet had just started walking (at about 10.5 months) when we brought this one home from the library, and that was really the only reason I chose it. She, on the other hand, became obsessed with the cat who follows Pig Pig around in the story, and would point and loudly say, "Ooooh!" every time she saw him.

DK's My First Word Board Book and Bright Baby's First 100 Animals were both gifts from family members. These are the books that inspired me to set aside a "book time" for Miss Muffet every day. She would spend time flipping through these books again and again on her own while I showered, threw in some laundry, or prepared her lunch. Sometimes they relaxed her so much that she fell asleep. Though it is obviously important to read with children every day, these books taught me how much babies can also enjoy exploring books independently.

I received a finished copy of Counting on Fall by Lizann Flatt from Owl Kids for review and kept it after the review was done because I liked the illustrations and thought it might come in handy for a math lesson if we homeschool in the future. One day, I brought it out and Little Miss Muffet went crazy pointing at the squirrel on the cover and squealing with delight. The text is way too much for a baby, but we have spent a lot of time just looking at the pictures, as I label everything she points at.

Ever since Little Miss Muffet spontaneously said "Quack" when we took her to a duck pond at 10 months old, we have been working on introducing other animal sounds. Though My Farm Friends by Wendell Minor is not an animal sounds book, it has some of the best animal illustrations so I like to use it to help her identify the animals. (The only bummer is that it does not have a page just about ducks.)

We found a copy of Titch by Pat Hutchins at a Friends of the Library bookstore. Little Miss Muffet loves to point to each character and ask, "Who's that?" Titch seems to be her favorite, possibly because his hair is so bright. The story is also really short so her attention span usually sticks with it to the end, even when there are other distractions in the room. 

Row, Row, Row, Your Boat is the only song Little Miss Muffet asks for by name so far, so we snatched up this picture book adaptation at the library just before she turned one. Interestingly, her favorite part of the book is the front cover. We could easily spend 20 minutes at a time just talking about the animals on the cover and what they are doing.

In 2015, I hope to write a monthly "Reading with Little Miss Muffet" post. Look for the first edition at the end of January! Check back tomorrow for my favorite books of 2014. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

10 YA Novels for Fans of Serial

I was very late to get into Serial, but finally binge-listened to a bunch of episodes this past week. The appeal of it, for me, is strong, because the key players in the situation are my age, and I was in high school myself at the time of Hae Min Lee’s murder. Though I’m not sure teens are generally that aware of what’s being aired on NPR, this is something that could easily appeal to them, and which also lends itself nicely to a YA reading list. Below are some recommended YA novels for Serial fans. (Links are to my reviews, when available.)

  • Holdup by Terri Fields
    Nine different voices narrate the robbery of a Burger Heaven restaurant, telling what happened before, during, and after the incident, and shedding light on the motivations of the perpetrators, as well as the reactions of the witnesses.
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
    Before Hannah Baker takes her own life, she records thirteen cassette tapes explaining the thirteen reasons for her suicide. Because he is one of the reasons, Clay Baker receives the tapes, and as he listens, he and the reader must try to piece together Hannah's motivation.
  • Paper Towns by John Green
    When his captivating neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, goes missing, Quentin Jacobsen becomes obsessed with following the clues she left behind and learning what has become of her.
  • Every You, Every Me by David Levithan
    Ever since Ariel went away, Evan can't stop thinking of her - and then the photographs start to arrive. The photos include images of Ariel and seem to be taunting him. Plagued by paranoia and insomnia, Evan becomes obsessed with finding out the identity of the photographer and the reasons for his or her mysterious behavior.
  • The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney
    When Janie sees her own face on a milk carton, her entire life as she knows it begins to unravel. Though she finds it hard to believe that she was kidnapped, there are suddenly many things that don't add up, and many clues that suggest her whole life has been a lie.
  • The Secrets of Lily Graves by Sarah Strohmeyer
    Lily Graves, the daughter of a mortician, has never gotten along with her popular classmate, Erin Donohue, but she has a close friendship with Erin's boyfriend, Matt. When Erin is found murdered, and Matt named as a suspect, Lily works to piece together the clues in the hopes of clearing his name and uncovering the identity of the true killer.
  • Shine by Lauren Myracle
    When her one-time best friend Patrick becomes the victim of an unspeakable hate crime, Cat is frustrated by the the unwillingness of her small town's local authorities to conduct a thorough investigation. Taking matters into her own hands, Cat starts asking questions of the people she most strongly suspects in the hopes of uncovering the truth and finding justice for her friend.
  • The River by Mary Jane Beaufrand
    When Ronnie finds her young babysitting charge dead on the shore of the Santiam river, she ignores warnings about her safety and begins to investigate the case anyway, uncovering more secrets than she bargained for in the process.
  • Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman
    Shawn McDaniel is a smart kid, but no one in his family knows it. In fact, because Shawn is so severely disabled, no one is even sure he can understand what is happening around him. This becomes especially problematic when Shawn begins to suspect that his father may be plotting to kill him.
  • First Shot by Walter Sorrells
    High school senior David Crandall is certain that someone must know the truth about his mother's murder two years ago, which is still unsolved. With the help of the new girl at his strict military academy, he seeks to uncover the clues necessary to prove what really happened. 

I'm not the only one who had this idea. Check out Annie Cardi's post for a totally different set of recommended YA reads for Serial fans. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

10 Picture Books About the Calendar

As we enter a new year next week, enjoy these calendar-themed picture books.

  • Snowy Flowy Blowy by Nancy Tafuri
    In this baby-friendly book, Nancy Tafuri assigns one word to each month which evokes the weather conditions at that time of year. 
  • Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak
    In this rhyming classic, Sendak takes us through the year, sipping soup all the way. 
  • A Year of Beasts by Ashley Wolff
    Follow the animals through the calendar in this boldly illustrated book. 
  • A Child’s Calendar by John Updike, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
    A collection of poems for children - one per month. 
  • Calendar by Myra Cohn Livingston, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
    Simple sentences make up this poem celebrating the passing seasons. 
  • A Year with Friends by John Seven, illustrated by Jana Christy
    A boy, girl, cat, and dog do different activities in celebration of each month's special events.
  • One Lighthouse, One Moon by Anita Lobel
    In separate sections, this book teaches days of the week, months of the year, the four seasons, and the colors of the rainbow. 
  • How Do You Say It Today, Jesse Bear? by Nancy White Carlstrom, illustrated by Bruce Degen
    Jesse Bear spreads seasonally appropriate good wishes to his friends and family as he celebrates each month of the year.
  • Long Night Moon by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Mark Siegel
    This book teaches young readers the name given to the full moon in each of the twelve months. 
  • Around the Year by Tasha Tudor
    This vintage picture book highlights the special characteristics of each month in simple text and classic illustrations. 

Story time plans which complement these books can be found at the following links:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Early Literacy in Everyday Places: The Movie Theater

Taking preschoolers and elementary schoolers to the movie theater can be a great way to keep them warm and entertained on those cold afternoons during Winter Break. While you're there, try out some of these quick and easy early literacy activities.
  • Review size words at the concession stand.Popcorn and soda come in small, medium, large, and even extra large sizes. Point out these words on the menu board, and explain the differences between them. For added fun, connect these concepts to the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
  • Point out letters and sight words in the preshow reels.Many theaters project celebrity trivia and other information onto their screens even before the previews begin. Help your child find familiar letters and words by playing "I Spy" or another guessing game. See how many words you can read together before the lights go down. 
  • Guess at the plots for upcoming releases.Take a look at the posters for forthcoming films and have your child explain to you what is happening in each picture. When you see previews for these movies, your child will find out how close he came to figuring out their storylines. This activity also encourages kids to make predictions based on context clues, which is important for reading comprehension. 
  • On the way home, ask your child to recall his favorite parts of the film.By asking your child to tell you about his favorite scenes from the movie, you support his narrative skills. As he describes for you what he remembers about the movie, he is practicing expressing his thoughts in an organized and interesting way. You can help him further by asking leading questions to prompt him to develop his thoughts and explain them clearly. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Church Mothers Group Story Time, 11/19/14 (Thanksgiving Theme)

During the week before Thanksgiving, I did a story time for my church mothers group. Here, finally, is my write-up! 

Hello Song: Hello, how are you?
I don't like this song that much anymore, but it is such a security blanket, and I get nervous doing story time for my friends, so I decided not to change it.

Book: Bears Says Thanks by Karma Wilson & Jane Chapman
This is not my favorite of the Bear books - none lives up to Bear Snores On - but it was seasonally appropriate and well-received.

Rhyme: We Are Thankful 

Book:  How do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? by Jane Yolen & Mark Teague

Song with Ukulele: Stomp Like a Dinosaur (based on Fly Like a Butterfly)

Song with Flannel Board:  Five Little Pumpkins Round

Book: All for Pie, Pie for All by David Martin & Valeri Gorbachev

Rhyme: Alligator Pie
I had never done this one before, but I would definitely use it again. Easy motions, silly sense of humor, perfect all around.

Songs with Ukulele: Let's Be Thankful / Twinkle Twinkle Little Star / ABCs
The first part of this medley doesn't really work unless everyone has the words to follow along.

Rhyme:  My Hands Say Thank You

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Early Literacy Around the House: The Christmas Tree

I normally post about early literacy in everyday places, and I will continue to do so into the new year. Today, however, I'm sharing some early literacy ideas that stick a little bit closer to home and are perfect for families celebrating Christmas this time of year. These are literacy activities inspired by Christmas trees!

  • Talk about colors.My one-year-old is completely enthralled with the pre-strung colored lights on our artificial Christmas tree. She points at them all the time, looking for someone to label them for her. I use this as an opportunity to introduce color words. Each time she points to a light, I tell her what color it is, and name some other things that are also that color. She doesn't have many words yet, but she pays such close attention, I can tell she is filing information away for later. 
  • Sing Christmas tree songs. There are lots of Christmas tree songs, but the three that come to my mind most often are the traditional O Christmas Tree (or O Tannenbaum), Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, and My Christmas Tree (by John Williams, from the Home Alone 2 Soundtrack). Teach your children to sing these songs as you decorate and enjoy your tree.  
  • Tell the stories behind your Christmas ornaments.As you add ornaments to your tree, or even as you admire the ones you have already hung, tell your child the history behind them. I have lots of ornaments I made as a child or received as gifts from family members, and this is a great way to pass some of that history down to the next generation.
  • Play ornament I Spy. With preschoolers and older kids, you can practice using adjectives by playing a game of I Spy. Describe an ornament on the tree and have the kids guess which one it is, then ask them to describe an ornament for you to guess. This game also works on public Christmas trees, such as the ones you might see while standing in line to meet Santa, or in places where kids get easily bored, like banks and doctor's offices. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Third Grade CCD 2014-2015: We Believe in God (11/17/14)

This post has moved:

Friday, December 5, 2014

Picture Book Review: Little Green Peas by Keith Baker (2014)

 In this picture book, scenes populated by dozens of little green peas teach young readers about colors. Keith Baker's pictures are fabulously detailed, and kids could spend hours poring over each page and studying the activities of the busy little green peas. There is just so much to see, including a little green pea version of Rapunzel, peas taking ants and caterpillars for walks on leashes, and baby green peas sliding out of their pods into the arms of waiting parents. The book is formatted so that a given color appears on one two-page spread, featuring a few objects of that color as well as the word itself in big block letters. Then the reader turns the page to see the little green peas interacting in some way with the objects just introduced. 

This is definitely the most engaging of the peas books, which also include LMNO Peas and 123 Peas. My own daughter is just one, and she can't get enough of pointing at every pea on each page to ask me who it is and what it is doing. This is also one of those rare concept books that actually teaches the concept, but without becoming too boring and instructive.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

12 Literacy Activities About Cookies

One of the best things about the holiday season is baking cookies. Enjoy these fun literacy activities while you wait for the timer to go off on your next batch.

In the Kitchen

  • Write fortunes, them bake them into fortune cookies. (Nick Jr. has a recipe.)
  • Use alphabet cookie cutters to turn sugar cookies into initials, names, or other words.
  • Follow a recipe to bake your favorite cookies. 

For the Flannel Board

Picture Books

Songs & Rhymes

Wednesday, December 3, 2014 Meet Sharon Hrycewicz, Children's Reference and Technology Coordinator

Today, I'm over at The Library Adventure interviewing Sharon Hrycewicz, Children's Reference and Technology Coordinator at Downers Grove Public Library in Downers Grove, Illinois. Click on over to learn about Sharon's job and see pictures of her beautiful children's room!
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