Thursday, December 31, 2015

Favorite Children's Books of 2015 (Plus My Top 5 Old School and Historical Fiction Titles!)

It's the last day of the year, so in keeping with tradition, I'm sharing my favorite books of the year. These are all titles which were published during 2015 that I read and reviewed. Links are to my posts.

Board Books and Picture Books

Board books and picture books are favorites in our house, since we have a 2-year-old and a new baby, but we have pretty high standards. These are the ones that made the cut this year!

Easy Readers and Beginning Chapter Books

Because I chair the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category of the Cybils, I read a lot of beginning reader books. There were lots of good ones this year, but these are the ones I reviewed that I enjoyed the most.

Middle Grade

I read middle grade as much for my own pleasure as I do to keep up professionally. There were plenty of disappointing reads early in 2015, but later on, I discovered some new favorites, which appear below:

“Old School” Favorites


Every Sunday for years now I have been reviewing vintage kids' books. This year,  I discovered the following five old/new favorites:

Reading Through History Favorites

In 2015, I challenged myself to read 52 historical fiction novels for kids in chronological order based on setting. The full challenge list can be found here, but the books below are titles I really loved that I can't wait to share with my own kids.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Bout of Books Read-a-Thon, January 2016

Bout of Books

When Little Miss Muffet was born two years ago, I fell behind on my reading. With a second little one in the house now, I still haven't caught up. I know that I tend to read more when I have a challenge to which I must be accountable, so I was hoping to find a read-a-thon or other event to help me kick off my reading for 2016. A quick Google search led me to exactly what I was looking for: The Bout of Books! Here is a description from the official website: 

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 4th and runs through Sunday, January 10th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 15 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

Consider this post my official announcement of participation. I am not setting any official goals for myself, since I know my life will be as unpredictable next week as it is during any other, but my hope is to read through as many of the ARCs that I have requested from NetGalley and Edelweiss as possible in the week of the Bout. Getting that backlog taken care of, and getting back to the point where I'm actually reviewing advance copies in advance of the books' publication dates would be really helpful. We'll see how it goes! Check here and on my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts the week of January 4th to see my progress.

Review Round-Up: Books for Beginning Readers, December 2015

Here are this month's reviews of easy readers and beginning chapter books, collected from around the blogs! I'm always looking for links, so if you post a review of a book for beginning readers during January, email me and let me know. Thanks!

Easy Readers

Chapter Books

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Reading with Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep: December 2015

Miss Muffet's ABCs

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Miss Muffet can recite the entire alphabet. She doesn't do it on demand, and she instantly stops if you catch her, but I often see her poring over an alphabet book, carefully saying the names of the letters. She does not yet associate the letter names with their shapes, but I suspect it won't be long. Some of her recent favorite alphabet books are:

She is also really into the African Alphabet song from Sesame Street, which I used to sing to her a cappella, and which we now sometimes watch together on YouTube. She can sing almost the entire thing word for word, except that she calls the Zulu chief a "Zuzu chief."

Bo Peep's Taste in Books

Bo Peep is quickly approaching the end of that tricky newborn stage and showing much more of her personality. This, of course, includes the emergence of her taste in books. On a recent trip to the library, I parked her stroller in the board book area and just began showing her the covers of different books. Some made her fuss, or turn away, or squirm in disgust, but others caused her to smile and coo. The first one to get a real reaction was What? by Leo Lionni. Other books that make her smile so far are Big Fat Hen by Keith Baker and Big Bear Little Chair by Lizi Boyd. It seems that the simpler the color scheme and the cleaner the lines, the more Bo Peep enjoys it. Pages that are too busy or have too much detail overwhelm her and make her cry. I am so looking forward to reading to her more over the next few months.

Reading Together 

We have a couple of very simple Christmas board books hanging around the house right now, which I chose for Little Bo Peep, but which are just as interesting to Miss Muffet. After going through the books with me to make sure she can identify what is on each page, Miss Muffet likes to bring the books to Bo Peep and read them to her. Bo Peep thinks this is the greatest thing going and listens with rapt attention and a big baby smile on her face. There is nothing that warms my librarian heart more than having kids who read together!

Year in Review

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Advent Reading Round-Up: Week Four

This is the last part of our Advent reading list for 2015. If you missed them, here are weeks one, two, and three. A Christmas reading round-up will follow after January 6, The Epiphany, which will mark the end of our Christmas celebration, though not necessarily the end of the Christmas season.

Day 21 (12/19/15)

Duck and Goose: It's Time for Christmasby Tad Hills

This board was a gift for Little Miss Muffet last Christmas, but we didn't spend much time with it. This year, though, it was an instant hit, and she asked for multiple re-readings throughout the week. The story is simple enough for her  to remember and retell to herself, which is nice, and she gets the biggest kick out of the line: "Come on, Goose!" which she has been saying to everyone. I think we still prefer Gossie and Gertie, but this one is fun, too.

Day 22 (12/20/15)

Counting Christmas by Karen Katz

We have a lot of Karen Katz books, but not many without flaps, so this was a good change of pace. The objects to be counted are pretty obvious on each page, so we did use the book for actual counting practice, and Miss Muffet has gone back to it a few times throughout the week. It's not my favorite, but it's definitely very toddler-friendly.

Day 23 (12/21/15)

Who is Coming to Our House?
by Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff 

I have some problems with the rhyming in this book, but the illustrations of the animals preparing their "house" for the arrival of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Christ really resonated with Little Miss Muffet. Some of the lines of dialogue are not assigned a speaker in the text, which makes it feel awkward to read even with the support of the pictures, but that did not bother my little listener in the least. I explained to her that the animals live in a stable in Bethlehem, and now she calls this the "Beth-hem book." We have read it every day since Monday!

Day  24 (12/22/15)

Silent Night
by Susan Jeffers
I was trying to save most of our books about the birth of baby Jesus until after Christmas, but we had been singing this song a lot and my husband found this book at the library, so we decided to read it at bedtime. The lyrics to the last verse were different in this edition than the ones I know, but Miss Muffet loved hearing it sung, and she got very excited about all the sheep and angels.

Day 25 (12/23/15)

The Sweet Smell of Christmasby Patricia Scarry
This was a childhood favorite of both mine and my husband's, and Little Miss Muffet's grandma bought a new copy for her last year. Last year, she loved the scratch and sniff aspect so much that for weeks after we read it, she was trying to sniff all of her books. This year, she seemed to have forgotten how they work and was very nervous about the sniffing. In fact, she was more excited about the bear characters than the smells themselves. For me, though, the smells take me right back to 1985 and this was one of my favorite Advent reads!

Our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day read-alouds, as well as everything we read during the Twelve Days of Christmas will be rounded up in a post on January 7th. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night! 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Third Grade CCD 2015-2016: Christmas (12/21/15)

This post has moved:

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Advent Reading Round-Up: Week Three

Advent is going by so quickly! Here is everything we read during week three.  

Day 14 (12/12/15)

David and Goliath
by Jean Marzollo

This is a great adaptation of a Bible story to the picture book format. The text is straightforward and easy to understand and the illustrations are appealing. Along the bottom of each page is a border filled with tiny black sheep who comment on the events of the story, helping young readers to consider the implications of each event in the plot. I only read the story to Miss Muffet, as it was pretty long and her attention span can often be quite short, but I could see a four or five year old really enjoying that extra content along the bottom of each page. Jean Marzollo has done a few others of these, and I will be on the lookout for them!

Day 15 (12/13/15)

The Wisest Man in the World
by Benjamin Elkin and Anita Lobel

I liked this story, which is a legend about King Solomon. Miss Muffet did not, even though she will typically sit and listen to any Anita Lobel book. A bee figures heavily into the plot, and she was happy to identify the bee and make its signature buzzing sound. She was not, however, interested in hearing about how he had to prove his wisdom to the Queen of Sheba, probably because it all went over her head. This is a great read-aloud for older kids, though. I would definitely use it in a CCD class if I had the chance. 

Day 16 (12/14/15)

All I Want for Christmas
by Kate Merritt 

I reviewed this board book earlier this week. (See the post here.) Miss Muffet mostly read this one independently ("by self"). It was not quite the favorite I expected it to be, but I showed the cover to Bo Peep and she broke out in a huge smile. This is the ideal book for a one-year-old, so we'll hang onto it for next year.

Day  17 (12/15/15)

Mary, the Mother of Jesus
by Tomie dePaola

We didn't make it all the way through this book because it tells Mary's entire life story, and I really just wanted to focus on helping Miss Muffet understand the Nativity story. I'm also not sure how I feel about some of the information dePaola presents. The author's note explains his sources, but Miss Muffet certainly isn't old enough to figure out what is known and what is speculation. This would be perfect for an older audience, though, and I'll keep it in mind for future homeschooling purposes.

Day 18 (12/16/15)

Christmas is Coming 
by Hannah Wood

This one was also reviewed on the blog this week. Because it involves counting and each page introduces a different holiday concept, Miss Muffet was very into it, and she kept returning to it on her own during the week. It's a good one to read when there are ten days left until Christmas - unfortunately, we didn't time it exactly right. Oh well.

Day 19 (12/17/15)

Olive, the Other Reindeer
by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh

This strange little book was part of my personal collection before I had kids. The punny title is what first made me interested in it, but I had never really read it until this week. Strangely, Miss Muffet was very into, despite not having an appropriate frame of reference to get the joke. When we finished the story, though, I sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to her and it made such an impression, she kept asking me to repeat it. She will appreciate this one more in a couple of years, I think.

Day 20 (12/18/15)

Where is Baby's Christmas Present? 
by Karen Katz

Miss Muffet was very excited to read this book, and she was thrilled to lift the flaps and name the Christmas-related objects underneath. Holiday vocabulary is all new to her this year, so any opportunity to talk about ornaments, gingerbread men, candy canes, or Santa Claus is always welcome. All the Karen Katz board books are basically the same, and there's nothing remarkable about this one, but it was still a big hit!

Baby's First Christmasby Silvana Paolini

I took this book out for Little Bo Peep, but Miss Muffet snatched it up before it got anywhere near her baby sister. I read it to her once, but after that, she realized there was only one word per page and she preferred to read it herself. I asked her to read it to Bo Peep, but she went and hid it in her book box instead, so it looks like she might not be quite ready to share yet. Despite the title, it seems this book is ideal for second and third Christmases, too!

Less than a week to go! Our last Advent Reading Round-Up will be posted on Christmas Eve. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Advent Reading Round-Up: Week Two

Our second week of Advent reading is complete! See below for this week's titles and our reactions! 

Day 7 (12/5/15)

Sarah Laughs 
by Jacqueline Jules

Our Jesse Tree ornament for this day featured Abraham, so we read this kid-friendly version of his story. It was a bit much for Little Miss Muffet, but she seemed to like the pictures. There aren't many picture book versions of Bible stories, so I don't really have anything to compare this to, but I liked it and would use it again.

Day 8 (12/6/15)

by C. Nash

Little Miss Muffet got this book for Christmas last year, and since this was St. Nicholas Day, we brought it out again. There's not much to the story, but she loves that you can "clack" the book and she seems to be a fan of the illustrations. There's also some good onomatopoeia in the text that she likes to repeat. We continued reading this one on and off all week. 
Santa Claus Forever 
by Carolyn Haywood

We bought this book at the library's used bookstore based solely on the author. It's pretty wordy for a toddler, so Miss Muffet didn't pay a lot of attention to it. The story is about Santa Claus deciding to retire and then changing his mind when he meets the greasy salesman who wants to replace him. I didn't like the artwork very much

Day 9 (12/7/15)

Jacob and Esau
by Mary Auld

We added Jacob to the Jesse tree on this day, which is why we read this book, which we got from the library on the recommendation of The Bleeding Pelican. The content of the story probably went over Miss Muffet's head, but I was impressed by how preschool-friendly the writing was. The art was somewhat generic, but Miss Muffet was willing to sit for almost the entire story, mostly because the pictures kept her interest, so that was a plus. I would be interested in seeing how she reacts to this story in a few years.

The Twelve Days of Christmas
by Jane Cabrera

Cabrera's books are hit or miss, and this was a big miss. She has rewritten the words to this traditional carol so that they make even less sense, and the illustrations are generic animal scenes in her usual style. I read this with Miss Muffet only once and told her she would have to just look at the pictures. (This was a library book and a late addition to our reading list. I have another version of the actual song to share later in the season, after Christmas Day.)

Day  10 (12/8/15)

by Brian Wildsmith

Wildsmith occasionally takes artistic liberties with his Bible stories, but this one doesn't seem that far off from what the Bible says. It's the story of Jacob's son, Joseph, who has the coat of many colors, and who was on our Jesse Tree ornament for this date. The book is long and the illustrations are really intricate, so I tried to just read a little bit to Miss Muffet, but she insisted on finishing the whole book, so we did. I think it will be a good resource for learning about this Bible story when my kids are in elementary school. We may not look at it again until then.

Day 11 (12/9/15)

by Maud and Miska Petersham

This book is very wordy, but it's an excellent telling of the life of Moses, especially for early elementary audiences. Had I realized this sooner, I would have brought it to read to my 3rd grade CCD class instead of their textbook. I knew it would be asking way too much to expect Miss Muffet to sit for this one, so I read the first part of it to her as she ate her lunch, stopping before the parting of the Red Sea. I don't think she got much out of it at all this year, but I'm glad to own this one for future use.

Day 12 (12/10/15)

Merry Christmas, Ollie!
by Olivier Dunrea

Little Miss Muffet is a huge Gossie fan, so when we saw this at the library, I knew we absolutely had to borrow it. We did read about Samuel (our Jesse Tree figure for today) from The Catholic Children's Bible before settling down with this one, but this book made much more of an impression than any of the others we've been reading this week. It has a simple plot - all the goslings are waiting for Father Christmas Goose to arrive - but the pictures are charming and Ollie's impatience and loud expressions of frustration make me laugh every time.

Day 13 (12/11/15)

Morris's Disappearing Bag 
by Rosemary Wells 

This is a book I owned as a child - and it was my childhood copy that I read to Little Miss Muffet. I don't have any real memories of it - and I had a really negative experience meeting Rosemary Wells that has colored my reading of her books ever since - but Miss Muffet was a big fan. She kept saying, "Morris hiding!" and wanting to flip through the book on her own to try and find him. It's a strange book, in the sense that it introduces a magical element more than halfway through the text, but it's a great wish fulfillment tale for youngest kids who feel overshadowed by older siblings. (It's basically a holiday-themed Noisy Nora.)

We're only halfway through Advent! Check back next Saturday for more of our reading list!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Early Literacy Around the House: The Living Room

Your living room (or family room, or den, or whatever you prefer to call it) is a great place to engage the entire family in fun early literacy activities and habits. Today's post provides a few suggestions.

  • Read aloud as a family. My husband and I began a practice of reading aloud together before we were even married, and it is a tradition we continue now that we have children. Though our kids are small, we don't just read picture books, but poetry, articles, essays, interesting quotations, as well as children's novels, classics, and anything else we think is worth hearing. Sometimes our audience is our daughter (age 2), but other times, we are reading just for the sake of it, knowing that some of it goes over her head, but that some of it sinks in too. By reading aloud as a family in full hearing of all family members you demonstrate very strongly that reading is an important part of your family life.  
  • Look at magazines and point out familiar objects, words and letters. Little Miss Muffet is obsessed with magazines. She does often prefer to rip them, but she has also learned a variety of vocabulary from pointing out different things to me in Parents magazine, or in catalogs we receive in the mail. When she was really little, she liked to look at pictures of babies, but more and more, she is interested in knowing the names of household objects, or of letters in different typefaces. If you have a basket of magazines near your couch, or a stack on your coffee table, don't hesitate to let your kids enjoy them. As long as there isn't any objectionable content, these can be a great way to incorporate novel language into your everyday lives.
  • Tell stories about family photos on the wall and in albums. Kids love hearing stories about the people in their family. Use family photos as jumping off points for telling tales about your own life before your kids were born, and your kids' own experiences at ages they were too little to remember. If you have long-distance relatives, a photo album is also a great way to teach kids their names so they won't be total strangers each time you get together. Older photographs of grandparents or great-grandparents are also often very interesting to kids, for whom the 20th century feels like ancient history.
  • Put together an alphabet puzzle. A table or space on the living room floor is a perfect place to put together an alphabet puzzle. Make it an interactive family experience by dividing up the letters so that everyone is responsible for a certain few. Have your children figure out whose turn it is based on which letter comes next. 
Will you have a Christmas tree in your living room this holiday season? If so, you might also enjoy this post!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Advent Reading Round-Up: Week One

This year, during Advent, I am attempting to expose Little Miss Muffet (age 2) to both secular and religious Christmas music and stories. We have a Jesse tree  - a branch I found outside, decorated with these printable ornaments - and we are reading picture books based on the Bible stories that inspire each ornament, as well as other books about Christmas trees, waiting for Santa, etc. Below is this week's reading list, with summaries of each book and my comments about how we liked them.

Day 1 (11/29/15)

A New Coat for Anna
by Harriet Ziefert and Anita Lobel

In this book, set in the aftermath of World War II, Anna's mother has no money to afford a new coat, so she barters various valuables to obtain the wool, and to have it spun into yarn, woven into cloth, and sewed into a coat. The story culminates at Christmas, with a thank you party for all those made it possible for Anna to have her warm, red coat.

This was a childhood favorite of mine - I was around six years old when I first read it, and I can remember taking it down from the bookshelf to read over and over again. Miss Muffet is a bit young for it, and she didn't really sit and listen to it the first time through. She was mostly interested in Anna (she kept repeating her name) and the sheep. I left the book out for her to enjoy during the rest of the week, however, and we did read it an additional time, and she also spent a fair amount of time looking at the pictures on her own. I hope she will enjoy it as much as I do as she gets older!

Day 2 (11/30/15)

The Poky Little Puppy's First Christmas
by Adelaide Holl and Florence Sarah Winship 

I was a huge fan of the original Poky Little Puppy story when I was a toddler, and my husband had a copy of this book from his own childhood, so I decided to put it on our list. It's by a different author than the original, so the writing is somewhat different (and possibly better...) but the overall story is still a didactic message about listening to one's mother. But if you've ever had a two-year-old, you know this lesson cannot be repeated too many times, so we have read it at least twice, with heavy emphasis on the rules the puppies are given for good behavior.

Day 3 (12/1/15)

Let There Be Light 
by Pauline Baynes

We began our Jesse tree on the first, rather than on the first Sunday of Advent, when our reading project started, because our ornament set only includes 24 days. The first ornament is of The Creation, so we read this picture book version of the King James translation of the story. Much of the language went over Miss Muffet's head, but she was still happy to listen, and she really got interested in the page showing all the animals God made. We are working on teaching her that God made us and all things, so of course this book also prompted her to start making a list. "God made Mama. God made Dada. God made monkeys." Overall, though, I think this book will have more meaning to her in a couple of years.

Day 4 (12/2/15)

by Fiona French

The purpose of doing this project this year is really just to begin the habit, not necessarily to teach Miss Muffet every detail of every Bible story. I included this book, which matches the Jesse Tree ornament for both the second and third days of Advent: Adam and Eve, and The Fall, respectively, knowing that she would understand very little of it. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, when after reading the book only once, she was able to tell me, "Adam and Eve not listen to God." The art in this book is really abstract, and there are naked breasts near the end, so I'm not sure I will want to use it at certain developmental stages, but it worked fine for this year. In the future, though, I may just read the story from a children's Bible.

Day 5 (12/3/15)

Christmas Tree Memories 
by Aliki 

Since Adam and Eve are featured two days in a row on the Jesse Tree, I opted not to read a religious book again on this day. Instead, we read Christmas Tree Memories by Aliki, which was a recent library book sale find. In the story, a family - mom, dad, boy, and girl - sit by their tree on Christmas Eve and reminisce about the memories their Christmas ornaments bring to mind. Miss Muffet only vaguely remembers last year's Christmas tree, so I wasn't sure she would really get this book, but she was completely silent and still the entire time I was reading, and when the story was over, she immediately wanted a turn to "read" it herself. I think we will enjoy this book more as years go by and we build up our own collection of ornaments with stories behind them.

Day 6 (12/4/15)

Noah's Ark 
by Linda Falken

This book is illustrated using famous paintings depicting various scenes from the Noah's Ark story. The text is taken directly from the Bible. Though I don't think Miss Muffet understood a word of what I read, she was really drawn to the book and asked to hear it a second time. There didn't seem to be anything in particular that she liked; she was just very insistent that we repeat the story before she would take her nap. Personally, I didn't really like the disjointedness of seeing each moment of the story illustrated in a different style - but if I were teaching this story to an older child, I would appreciate having the paintings available to help me, so I'm glad to own this book for future years.

We Were There 
by Eve Bunting and Wendell Minor

This book really belongs later in the line-up, as it is a Nativity story, but I found it randomly at the library and didn't want to pass it up, so we snuck it in here since I will have to return it in a week or so. The story follows various animals and insects - a snake, a bat, a cockroach - as they follow the star to the stable where Jesus is born. Jesus is never named, but visual cues make it very clear - even to a two-year-old - that the creatures have come to witness the birth of Jesus. I found this book especially poignant because of its focus on the "undesirable" or "less significant" creatures  that will be forgotten by history, while the horses, lambs, and donkeys are praised for their accommodation of the infant Jesus. There is a definite parallel between this story and Jesus's teaching that "the last shall be first" that I found very satisfying. I might like to own this book in the future. Miss Muffet loved it, too, mainly for the paintings. (We are big Wendell Minor fans.)

There are more Advent reads to come! Check back next Saturday for Week Two's Round-Up!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Animal Sounds Board Books

As soon as young children begin to talk, adults start encouraging them to imitate animal sounds. There are many books to support this early learning experience; today's post highlights some of the best available in board book format. 

Mice Squeak, We Speak by Arnold L. Shapiro, illustrated by Tomie dePaola (ISBN: 9780399237980)
This illustrated poem compares animal behavior and communication to that of human kids. The warmly colored illustrations are appealing especially to toddlers, even if the book might be too long to read in one sitting.

Honk, Honk! Baa, Baa! by Petr Horacek (ISBN: 9780763667801)
The text of this book is suitably basic for children who are just learning to speak, but the appeal is in the vibrantly colored illustrations which perfectly portray the demeanor and behavior of each animal. A lift-the-flap component also invites babies to interact with the book.

Roar: A Big-Mouthed Book of Sounds by Jonathan Litton, illustrated by Fhiona Galloway (ISBN: 9781589255937)
This book features a hole down the center which represents the open mouth of a different animal on each page. Accompanying these engaging illustrations are the sounds made by the animals and invitations to guess which one is coming up next.

Can You Say It Too? series by Sebastien Braun 
Each volume of this series focuses on a different group of animals from a different environment (farm, jungle, pond, forest, etc.) Each animal is hidden behind a flap to be found by the young reader.

Animal Sounds by Aurelius Battaglia (ISBN: 9780375832789)
This vintage Golden book has very straightforward text which asks what each animal says and then provides the answer. The illustrations strike the perfect balance between realistic and cartoonish.

Who Says That, Cat the Cat? by Mo Willems (ISBN: 9780062306548)
This book is one of a series of "mini" books Willems has done based on his Cat the Cat series for beginning readers. In the book, each animal makes its familiar sound, except for Bunny the Bunny, who doesn't say anything.

For more animal books for babies and toddlers, see last week's list of Animal Traits Board Books.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...