Saturday, August 29, 2015

Reading with Little Miss Muffet, August 2015

New Book Behaviors

Every month when I sit down to write about Miss Muffet's latest book-related activities, I am always surprised by how many new things she is always doing. This month I've noticed three new behaviors:

  • Identifying books by title. For a while, Miss Muffet would request her books based on the characters. "Read Stanley book." "Read Gumpy book." But within the past couple of weeks, she has suddenly become aware of titles. Now she brings the books over and presents them by name: "Stanley the Farmer," "Mr. Gumpy's Outing," etc. (Incidentally, she has also started requesting specific songs instead of just demanding loudly that somebody sing.)
  • Pointing out the author's photo. Earlier this month, Miss Muffet was constantly pointing to author photos on the back flaps of picture books and saying, "Man," or "Lady." Each time, I off-handedly mentioned that the man or lady she was talking about was the person who wrote the book, or the author. All of a sudden, one day, she stopped saying man or lady, and started saying, "Aw ther." (Now to teach her to say illustrator...) 
  • Reading aloud to herself. Miss Muffet has been "reading" independently for months, but usually not aloud. Now, though, she has started repeating to herself certain words and phrases as she flips through the pages of her favorite books. In just the past week or so, I have seen her "read" the entire last page of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and perfectly imitate my reading of several of the board books we received in the mail from Little Bee Books. 

Current Favorites

Here are Miss Muffet's latest favorite books, which are read at least daily in our house.

  • You're a Big Sister by David Bedford, illustrated by Susie Poole
    We have less than five weeks until Miss Muffet's official promotion to big sister, so we are talking a lot about babies. My mom sent her this book, which focuses on what new babies do, and how big sisters can participate, without going into too many details about how babies get here. I do wish it talked some about mommy going to the hospital and the big sister getting to visit, but even without that information, it's one of the better sibling picture books I've seen. 
  • My Best Ever: ABC Alphabet Book 
    My mom also bought this book, which she was hoping would keep Miss Muffet busy. It has worked for the most part, as there are lots of little doors to open and textures to explore. The favorite word Miss Muffet has learned from this book is "iguana," which she pronounces "all gone-a." 
  • Peter Rabbit's ColorsThis book was mine as a child and it came home with us after our recent visit to New York. Miss Muffet has just started learning her colors, so this book gives her some good practice, but more than that, I think she just really likes Beatrix Potter's animal illustrations. 
  • Imogene's Antlers by David Small
    This book is also mine from childhood, and I didn't anticipate that Miss Muffet would take any interest in it at all. Strangely, though, she keeps bringing it to the couch whenever anyone is sitting there and saying, "Read!" The surprise ending (spoiler alert) has also really gotten her interested in peacocks.
  • More More More said the Baby by Vera B. Williams
    I have always enjoyed reading this book aloud, but my husband and I have both now read it so many times that we had to finally put it away for a little while. Miss Muffet really loves to point out the different characters and call them by name, however, and she is especially fascinated by Little Pumpkin and her grandma.

One Tip from Mom

  • Don't automatically rule out longer books. Though it might not happen often, there are occasions when a toddler can actually sit for the length of a longer story. For weeks, Miss Muffet kept bringing me The Happy Lion, and I would avoid reading it to her because I knew there was no way she would sit for such a long story with so many words per page. Then, one day, she was particularly insistent, and to my surprise, not only did she sit for the whole story, but she also started repeating the word "Bonjour" over and over again. She wound up getting quite a bit out of the listening experience, and I realized that perhaps my refusal to read her a title I consider a "preschool" book was a bit short-sighted after all. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

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

As August comes to a close, it's time for another round-up of easy reader and chapter book reviews from around the blogs! If I have missed your review, please comment below, and I will gladly add it to the list. (Also, if you love books for beginning readers, please consider applying for the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category of the Cybils Awards. Newbies and veterans welcome!)

Easy Readers 

Becky's Book Reviews continues to review Dr. Seuss books every Saturday. Three recent posts focused on books for beginning readers: Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now?, In a People House, and The Shape of Me and Other Stuff.

Family Bookshelf also shines a weekly spotlight on some of the older titles that still appeal to today's beginning readers with the #TBT Book Review. This month, one of the featured books was a perfect back to school title, Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia

Also focusing on back to school is Great Kid Books, with a review of The First Day of School from the Robin Hill School series by Margaret McNamara. 

Books4Your published two reviews of easy readers this month: The Meanest Birthday Girl by Geisel Award winning author Josh Schneider and A Pig, a Fox, and a Box by Jonathan Fenske. Another pig-themed title, What This Story Needs is a Pig in a Wig, was reviewed by Sal's Fiction Addiction, Literary Hoots, and Kids Book a Day.

Finally, rounding out the easy reader list this month are three reviews of books in graphic format. Jean Little Library's Small Readers feature included posts about The Boulder Brothers: Meet Mo and Jo and Mr. Ball: An Egg-Cellent Adventure and Kids Book a Day reviewed Benjamin Bear in Brain Storms

Chapter Books

Ellen Potter's new Piper Green series continued to be popular among bloggers this month. Reviews appeared at Jean Little Library,, Randomly Reading, and Ms. Yingling Reads.

Dory and the Real True Friend, another popular title from last month, got some more attention as well, from Geo Librarian, A Bookshelf Monstrosity, and Kids Book a Day.

Kids Book a Day also reviewed the first book in the new Backyard Witch series, entitled Sadie's Story, which was also one of the six chapter books I reviewed here at Story Time Secrets. The others were Pool Party Puzzler by Carolyn Keene, Lost in NYC by Nadja Spiegelman, Lulu and the Hamster in the Night by Hilary McKay, Merlin by Cynthia Lord, and Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon by Kate DiCamillo.

Other chapter book reviews posted in August are listed below: 

Read last month's review round-up here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Early Literacy in Everyday Places: The Zoo

One of our favorite warm weather activities is visiting the zoo! Engage your kids with the zoo experience and practice early literacy skills at the same time with these simple activities.
  • Sing a song as you travel to the zoo. Channel your kids' excitement about going to the zoo by singing a cheerful song in the car on the way there. Some suggestions:
  • Practice making the sounds of the animals you see. Often, kids learn animal sounds before they learn to say the names of the animals themselves. What better location to practice than in a place where you're surrounded by animals all day long? (For suggestions on sounds to make for some of the trickier animals, try Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Eric Carle. For animals that don't make a particular sound, you can act out their movements instead.) 
  • Use signs and maps to find your child’s favorite animals. The zoo is a great place to practice map skills, and to begin to understand the importance of signs. Many zoo maps use icons and symbols in addition to words, making it easy for even pre-readers to locate the animals they want to see most. Using a map is also a great way to prioritize your zoo trip, as it is rare that you would be able to see everything in one visit. 
  • Try to see an animal for each letter of the alphabet. Keep your kids engaged throughout your visit by making it into a game. Keep a list of the animals you see, and aim to find one for each letter of the alphabet. (If finding 26 animals is too daunting, you might also try finding one for each vowel, letter of your last name, or letter of your children's first names.)  
  • Narrate the animals’ behavior. Animals do lots of interesting things that we don't always talk about in everyday conversation. Give your kids a vocabulary boost by describing what the animals are up to, then ask them for their observations, too. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

5 Things I Love About Judging the Cybils

Today is the day! The official call for 2015 Cybils judges has been announced! I'm very excited to be returning as the organizer for easy readers and early chapter books, and I am looking forward to working with a great group of judges this season.

For those who don't know, the Cybils are the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards, given annually in a whole host of categories to kids' books that have both high literary merit and great kid appeal. There are two judging phases. Beginning in October, round one judges read every nominated book in their category, and then present a short list in January. Between New Year's Day and Valentine's Day, round two judges read every book on their category's short list and choose the winner. (To serve as judge, you must be a blogger who meets the eligibility requirements.)

With the exception of 2013 (when I was a brand-new mom), I have participated in Cybils every year since I started blogging, and I look forward to it at the end of every summer. Today, in the hopes of inspiring potential judges to submit their applications ASAP, I want to share with you just five of the many reasons I love judging the Cybils.

  • Connecting with the blogging community. Blogging, like any type of writing, can be very isolating if you are not connected to a network. Cybils has helped me discover not just other book bloggers, but other book bloggers who are interested in the same very specific types of books that I prefer to read and review. I still follow many of the bloggers with whom I have connected through Cybils, and each year, I find new blogs to add to my RSS subscriptions. Cybils is a great opportunity for new and experienced bloggers to branch out, make friends, and enrich the blogging experience.
  • Deep discussions. Chances are, if you blog about books, you like to talk about books. But how often do you have the opportunity in your everyday life to engage in deep conversation about what makes a great book work? During Cybils season, judges have these conversations on an ongoing basis, from their preliminary discussions about the judging criteria, to those final decision-making moments at the end of each round. Not only have these discussions helped me to look at books in new ways, they have also made me much more skilled at expressing and defending my own point of view. 
  • Having a reason to look forward to Fall and Winter. I love summer, and it is a disappointment every year to see the weather turn cold, the daylight grow short, and the winter coats come out of the closet. Knowing that Cybils will run from October to February makes the transition into this time of year seem much more bearable. 
  • The thrill of the hunt. There is nothing I love more than tracking down a long list of titles to read. I use Cybils as an excuse to visit as many different local libraries and bookstores as I can, in the hopes of finding and reading all those obscure and hard-to-find nominees. Review copies are nice, too, but there is something so satisfying (at least for my librarian's soul) about finding each book on my own. 
  • Professional development. As a stay-at-home mom, I really enjoy professional projects that can help me stay connected to the fields of librarianship and children's literature without requiring me to travel for conferences or take on a part-time job. Cybils is the ideal way to participate because I can do the reading during nap time, write reviews on the weekends, and save the discussions for the evenings when my daughter is in bed. No matter how many books I read in a given year, there are always new ones I learn about come Cybils time, and sometimes these previously unknown titles end up becoming new favorites! 
Have I convinced you to apply? Click here for the application. Good luck and happy Cybils! 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

16 Picture Books About Writing

The books on this list are all about writing! They are organized into four categories: What Writers Do (books about authorship and types of writing), Writing Your Name (books about kids learning to write their own names), Creative Writing (stories about the creative process of writing a story or essay), and Writing Implements (books starring pens and pencils as characters.)

What Writers Do

  • Written Anything Good Lately? by Susan Allen and Jane Lindaman, illustrated by Vicky Enright
    This alphabet book provides young readers with a great foundation in the many different types of writing they can do, from telling their autobiographies to giving directions to their houses. 
  • Author: A True Story by Helen Lester
    In this light-hearted picture book biography Helen Lester traces her writing career from the scribbles of toddlerhood through her struggle with "mirror writing" in school, and on toward adulthood, where she is the creator of beloved stories such as Hooway for Wodney Wat and Tacky the Penguin
  • If You Were a Writer by Joan Lowery Nixon, illustrated by Bruce Degen
    In this fictional story, Melia wants to be an author just like her mother. Though this book could use some modernizing (few authors, aside from possibly Kevin Henkes, work with typewriters these days), but the advice to show rather than tell and the family's enjoyment of words and wordplay still makes it a worthwhile read. 
  • What Do Authors Do? by Eileen Christelow
    This non-fiction picture book tells what writers do, from the beginning brainstorming stages of a story, all the way up through the publication phase. The informational text is accompanied by a fictional narrative told in comic book panels, in which two authors are inspired to write a story by a funny interaction between their pets.  

Writing Your Name

  • Yoko Writes Her Name by Rosemary Wells
    Yoko, a young Japanese cat, writes her name perfectly in Japanese, but she is teased by her classmates, who believe she is just scribbling and therefore won't be allowed to graduate from kindergarten. 
  • The Day of Ahmed’s Secret by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland, illustrated by Ted Lewin
    Ahmed hides the happy secret of his newfound ability all day while he travels the streets of Cairo delivering fuel to help his family earn money.
  • Write on, Carlos! by Stuart J. Murphy
    In this book from the I See I Learn series, Carlos wants to learn to write his name like his friends can. As Carlos's mother helps him identify each of the letters of his name, readers are also shown the letters on an alphabet strip at the bottom of the page, which reinforces their own letter knowledge. 
  • My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
    When Yoon and her family move to the U.S. from Korea, it takes her a little while to accept how her name is written in English, and to want to write it herself. 

Creative Writing

  • Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills
    Rocket the dog wants to tell a story of his own, but finds himself dealing with writer's block until his friend the yellow bird encourages him to go out and gain some life experience. 
  • Poppy’s Best Paper by Susan Eaddy, illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet
    A young rabbit named Poppy thinks she wants to be a writer when she grows up, but when it comes time to write papers for school, she becomes overconfident and rushes through her work. Finally, after getting into trouble for outbursts at school and at home, she finds a topic she is passionate about and hands in her very best paper. (I recently received a digital ARC of this book from Charlesbridge Publishing via NetGalley.) 
  • Arthur Writes a Story by Marc Brown
    When Arthur is given an assignment to write a story, he worries that the topic he chooses will be boring in comparison to what his classmates decide to write about. 
  • Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk
    Sam, a mouse who lives in a library, begins to write and illustrate his own stories and leave them for the kids who use the library to find. 

Writing Implements

  • The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingman
    A pencil begins to draw, and soon a whole world is born. Unfortunately, all the people and creatures created by the pencil soon begin to complain, and before too long, the pencil feels compelled to draw an eraser to rub them all out! 
  • The Obstinate Pen by Frank W. Dormer
    Horace's Uncle Flood knows just what he wants to write with his pen, but the pen has a mind of its own and instead writes silly insults directed at Uncle Flood himself! 
  • The Little Red Pen by Janet Stevens, illustrated by Susan Stevens Crummel
    The little red pen has lots of homework to correct, but neither the stapler, nor the eraser, nor the pushpin will help her in this school-centered retelling of The Little Red Hen. 
  • Little Red Writing by Joan Holub, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
    A little red pencil must make her way through the writing process while avoiding the Wolf 3000 pencil sharpener in this clever retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

10 Picture Books About Lions & Tigers

Kids love to read about the ferocious antics of lions and tigers. Indulge their interests with this list of books about these big, wild cats.


  • The Happy Lion by Louise Fatio, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
    Everyone loves the lion at the zoo, until one day, he wanders out of his cage, and suddenly his admirers all flee in terror.
  • Little Lions by Jim Arnosky
    Two mountain lion cubs play with their mother on a ledge, waiting for the day they are old enough to be taught how to hunt. This is a perfect nature picture book for toddlers.
  • Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex
    In this sophisticated picture book, author and illustrator appear in the story, arguing over whether Chloe should meet a lion or something much more sinister in the woods on her way home.
  • Pierre by Maurice Sendak
    A difficult, selfish child named Pierre only says one phrase: "I don't care." It is not until he is swallowed by a lion that he changes his attitude and learns to stop being so apathetic.
  • Lion by William Pene du Bois
    During the creation of the animals on Earth an angel works hard to perfect the lion, making lots of silly modifications before getting it just right.
  • We’re Going on a Lion Hunt by David Axtell
    Two sisters travel across the African savanna to hunt for a lion in this take-off on We're Going on a Bear Hunt.


  • Tiger Can’t Sleep by S.J. Fore, illustrated by R.W. Alley
    A little boy is kept awake by the noisy, but otherwise friendly, tiger who lives in his closet.
  • Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
    In a world where all civilized animals wear clothes, Mr. Tiger decides to shed all the finery and get back to his natural naked state.
  • Sam and the Tigers by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
    The tigers want to eat Sam, but he is smart enough to trick them instead. (This book is a retelling of The Story of Little Black Sambo.)
  • Who is the Beast? by Keith Baker
    The jungle animals flee from the frightening tiger until he explains how he is similar to each of them. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Moms Club Ukulele Sing-Along, 7/22/15

Instead of story time, this past month I performed a ukulele sing-along for my moms group. It was pretty well-attended, and there were a good number of kids ranging in age from a few months old to four years old. Below is my set list from the performance, along with the chords for each song in the key in which I played it.

Hello, How Are You?

  • Tune: Skip to My Lou 
  • Key: C
  • Chords: C, G7 

The Wheels on the Bus

  • Key:
  • Chords: D, A7 
  • Notes: For the first time ever, Little Miss Muffet did all the motions to this song! 

Bumpin' Up and Down in My Little Red Wagon 

Row Your Boat

  • Key:
  • Chords: F, C7

The Itsy Bitsy Spider 

  • Key:
  • Chords: A, E7

You Are My Sunshine

  • Key:
  • Chords: C, F, Am, G7
  • Notes: This is the song during which all the children old enough to walk got up and left the pavilion and headed for the playground. Apparently this is not that much of a favorite after all. 

Butterfly Gals

  • Tune: Buffalo Gals; also available on Spotify
  • Key: C
  • Chords: C, G7 
  • Notes: We acted this one out, and most of the kids did at least half of the motions. I was originally going to play this in G, but at the last minute decided to play it in a key I am more comfortable in. 


  • Tune: Available on Spotify.
  • Key:
  • Chords: A, E7 
  • Notes: I did this as a cumulative song, since I knew most of the kids wouldn't know it and wanted them to have enough repetitions of each verse that they could learn it quickly and start to sing along. Not all of the kids were into it, but the oldest among them were definitely with me until the end. 

ABCs / Twinkle Twinkle Little Star / Baa Baa Black Sheep

  • Key: G
  • Chords: G, C, D7 
  • Notes: One of the moms signed the alphabet and Twinkle Twinkle for her daughter, which I loved. 


  • Tune: Available on Spotify.  
  • Key:
  • Chords: C, F, G7 
  • Notes: This didn't work for me on ukulele, and had this not been a ukulele sing-along, I'd have preferred to sing it a cappella. One of the kids and his mom were really into it, but I had pretty much lost the other kids by this point. 
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