Tuesday, September 29, 2015

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

Cybils News

If you enjoy these round-ups, or have been included in them, you probably have plenty of favorite titles in the easy reader and early chapter book categories. If you have discovered a new favorite since last October, please consider nominating it for Cybils. Nominations open on October 1st, and everyone is entitled to submit one nominee per category. To learn more about the types of books we're looking for in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category, check out the official category description.

Also, please congratulate these lovely bloggers, who have been selected to judge the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book Category this year:

Round 1:

Round 2:
Now, on to the reviews!

Easy Readers

As so many blogs did over the summer, Jean Little Library weighed in on What This Story Needs is a Pig in a Wig. (Her verdict is similar to mine, though I have yet to write a review!)

Also getting attention from multiple blogs are new Toon Books, such as Written and Drawn by Henrietta by Liniers (reviewed both here and at Waking Brain Cells) and Flop to the Top by Eleanor Davis, reviewed at Books 4 Your Kids, as well as Bob Shea's latest,  Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret, which appeared at both Miss Mary Liberry and One Great Book this month.
Some blogs dug up some oldies but goodies this month as well. At Becky's Book Reviews, there is a review of Pizza Pat, originally published in 1999. Literary Hoots reviewed Eric Carle's Have You Seen My Cat? and in honor of Cybils, Family Bookshelf resurrected a 2010 easy reader nominee, Wolf Pie, for its Throwback Thursday Book Review.

Finally, Mom Read It rounds out the list with an easy reader non-fiction title: A Visit to the Library by Mary Lindeed.

Chapter Books

While the easy reader reviews were relatively few and far between this month, it seems like everyone has been reviewing beginning chapter books!

Scholastic's various Branches series have been popular. Literary Hoots reviewed Dragon Masters: Rise of the Earth Dragon, Great Kid Books reviewed the first two Owl Diaries titles, Mom Read It reviewed Olive & Beatrix: The Not-So Itty-Bitty Spiders, and Kids Book a Day reviewed Olive & Beatrix: The Not-So Itty-Bitty Spiders, and Silver Pony Ranch: Sparkling Jewel.

Also popular is Kate DiCamillo's second installment in her Tales from Deckawoo Drive series, Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon, which was reviewed by Books 4 Your Kids, Kids Book a Day, Randomly Reading, and Unleashing Readers. (In the same post Unleashing Readers also reviewed The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party, which appeared here at Story Time Secrets this month as well.)

The rest of the chapter book reviews I found this month can be read below: 
If you find a review I missed, let me know in comments, and I'll do my best to add it in. Thanks for visiting this month's round-up! 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Reading with Little Miss Muffet, September 2015

This month's edition of Reading with Little Miss Muffet is a few days earlier than usual, because I expect to be in labor near the end of the month and I didn't want to miss my chance to post it! (Beginning next month, I'll be reading with Little Miss Muffet and a newborn, which will be really exciting.) Here is what Miss Muffet has been up to in September. 

New Book Behaviors

  • "Upside down!" Little Miss Muffet recently acquired Rain by Manya Stojic from a used book store. A few pages into the story, the baboons appear, one of whom is hanging upside down. If she is reading this book on her own, she immediately announces "Upside down baboon!" and turns the book over so that the baboon is facing the right direction. She then keeps the book upside down and turns the page, thereby ending up on the previous page of the story, which is now upside down. She announces "Upside down!" again, flips it over, turns the page, and winds up once again with an upside down baboon. Eventually, she either skips a page by accident or I take pity on her and step in to help, but it is fascinating to me how many times she will flip between those two pages, just turning the book again and again. I was talking about her understanding of the orientation of a book all the way back in February, but somehow this is more intense! 
  • Asking friends' moms to read aloud.  As we have been awaiting the arrival of Miss Muffet's sibling, we have been hosting more playdates at home and going out less and less often. The result of this is that Miss Muffet has access to all of her books and to an unsuspecting reader (usually another mom) at the same time. One of my mom friends does voices when she reads (something I have never been able to pull off effectively), and this has prompted Miss Muffet to bring her story after story during our visits, until finally we have to say that books are closed so we can actually have time to chat! 

Current Favorites

  • Rain by Manya Stojic
    I have always liked this book as a story time option because it is so versatile. It can fit into a variety of themes, including weather, summer, the five senses, rainy days, and wild animals, and it has really bright and appealing illustrations. Miss Muffet seems to like it mainly because of the baboon on the front cover, but also because the story includes zebras, lions, and porcupines, all animals which she can readily identify and loves to talk about. She also really likes the page where the rain falls and falls - she can basically "read" it word for word.
  • When You Were Inside Mommy by Joanna Cole
    We are borrowing this book from a mom friend who has three kids and has therefore been through the "bringing home a new sibling" experience twice. I was commenting on the fact that we didn't have a book that talked about babies being born in a hospital, and this one, while not explicitly about welcoming a sibling, has a great illustration of exactly what I had in mind. It's also not as explicit as some of the other books I've seen. It does include the word "uterus," but the creation of the baby is not explained as anything more than cells coming together, and the image to accompany it is a mom and dad holding two halves of a Valentine together, which is kind of sweet. Miss Muffet's favorite part of this book is the moment where the parents hear the baby's heartbeat - probably because she has been to all of my appointments and has had the experience herself! 
  • Three Ducks Went Wandering by Ron Roy
    This is another used bookstore find that has fallen in and out of favor of the past few months. There is lots of suspense in the story, as three unsuspecting ducks wander in and out of danger from creatures such as  a bull, a family of foxes, a hawk, and a snake. Each time the ducklings encounter a new predator, Miss Muffet raises her eyebrows in anticipation, and then laughs when the ducks escape. I chose the book originally for the illustrations (we enjoy Paul Galdone) but the appeal now is mainly in the plot. 

One Tip from Mom

  • Connect books to real life experiences. As Little Miss Muffet becomes more and more verbal, she is able to tell us exactly what catches her attention when we are out and about in the world. When she expresses interest in subjects like birds, dogs, trees, leaves, acorns, squirrels, groundhogs, warm weather, ponds, etc., we try to look for a book, either in our personal collection, or on our next trip to the library, that can provide her with more information connected to these points of interest. This seems to help her remember her experiences, and it increases her vocabulary for talking about specific incidents. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Early Literacy Around the House: The Washing Machine

One of the best ways to promote literacy skills in young kids, even before they can talk, is to narrate what you do as you go about your ordinary everyday activities. Whether you wash clothes at home or at the laundromat, the work you do at the washing machine lends itself nicely to many opportunities to introduce novel vocabulary and reinforce important concepts that lead to strong reading skills in older children. Here are some suggestions for ways to focus on early literacy when doing the laundry.
  • Read washing instructions on clothing tags. By reading aloud the instructions for washing given articles of clothing, you show your kids that print has significance to even the simplest jobs. Show your kids the connection between what is recommended on the label and how you actually sort, wash, and dry your clothes. 
  • Teach vocabulary for different wash and rinse cycles. Wash and rinse cycles usually have both speeds and sizes. What better way to make these concepts more concrete for your kids than to show the differences between a small and extra large load, or to take note of how much more slowly the agitator moves in the gentle versus regular cycles. 
  • Identify detergents by their labels. Even before they know their letter names and sounds, kids can begin to associate particular symbols with their meanings. Save old detergent bottles and cut off the labels from fabric softener boxes and allow your child to play with them. Soon, the images on the packages will become so familiar, your child will be able to hand you the item you need on request. 
  • Sort clothing into given categories. Young kids love to play in baskets of clothing. Make this fascination work to your advantage by showing your child how to separate out different types of clothing - socks, underwear, pants, etc.  For an added challenge for slightly older kids, have them sort the clothing by color before you wash, or sort clean clothing according to the family member who owns it. 
Bonus idea! Hesitant to let your kids near the actual washing machine? With a printer, paper, and a few baskets, you can make a simple Silly Sentence Sort set that allows kids to have fun with words and laundry without messing up your housework. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Learning Activities for Favorite Children's Books: 25 Ways to Play With Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle, originally published in 1967, is a perennial story time favorite which has taken on new significance for me since I now have a toddler old enough to appreciate it. Though the concept of the book is simple, it is amazing how much kids connect with it, and how they never tire of hearing the same repeated phrases. Because the way young children experience the world is through play, today I am sharing a list of 25 ways you can play with your child using the text, pictures, and themes of this book as inspiration.

  1. Sing the story. Each page of text in this book matches up to the first part of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." Change up your read-aloud style a little bit by singing each page, instead of simply speaking the words. 
  2. Hear the author chant the book. Bill Martin, Jr. died in 2004, but there is a video onYouTube featuring his own unique reading of the text. Have fun chanting along with the familiar words. 
  3. Sing "Colorful Morning." The clever librarians in the King County Library System have written a piggyback song based on When Ducks Get Up in the Morning that focuses on colors. Once you've read the book, reinforce your child's knowledge of colors by singing and acting out this fun song. 
  4. Clap, tap, or shake to the rhythm of the text. As Bill Martin Jr.'s reading above demonstrates, the text of this book has a great, consistent rhythm. Help your child feel the beat by encouraging him to clap his hands, tap on a drum, or shake a maraca or shaker egg as you read the text.
  5. Sing "I Can Sing a Rainbow." This song celebrates both colors and imagination, just like Eric Carle's illustrations. Play the song on the ukulele, or look for the Fred Penner recording. 
  6. Act out "Rainbow Over the Waterfall." Take a break between readings of the book for your child to move her body like a rainbow following the directions in this action rhyme by Jean Warren. 
  7. Play Fill-in-the-Blanks.  Pause periodically as you read the story and allow your child to fill in a missing word or two. This is a great way to help pre-readers begin to understand how sentences are constructed and how rhyme works.
  8. Tell your own version of the book personalized to your child. Line up your child's favorite colorful toys (animals, shapes, peg dolls, etc.) and ask each one what it sees. At the end, repeat everything in the line-up, just as the author does on the final page of the story. 
  9. Play I Spy and talk about what you can see. After asking each of the animals in the book what it sees, turn the tables and ask your child. Give as many clues as necessary to help your little one figure out what you're looking at, then invite him or her to spy his own object for you to guess.
  10. Play Brown Bear Bingo. Use these printable templates from Making Learning Fun to create a set of Bingo cards.  As you read the story, have your children mark the squares on their cards for each animal as it is named. Alternatively, call out the names of the animals independently of reading the book and award a prize to the first child who calls out Bingo. (This would be a great birthday party game!) 
  11. Read and color. Some kids listen better when they have something to do with their hands. Lay out some crayons and provide your child with a copy of DLTK's printable Brown Bear coloring pages. As you identify each animal by color, have your child color the appropriate page with the correct color.
  12. Draw or paint a favorite animal from the story. Is your child especially attached to one specific animal named in the book? Encourage her fascination with this animal by inviting her to create her own using art supplies.
  13. Draw or paint an animal using an unusual color. Eric Carle's illustrations include a purple cat and a blue horse. Encourage your child to think outside of the box and reimagine an animal in a different color or pattern, then have them put the idea to paper.
  14. Share "The Artist's Crayons" on the flannel board. Celebrate the creativity of a true artist by singing my piggyback song based on "Mary Wore Her Red Dress," in which an artist creates a rainbow over the course of several days. 
  15. Use masks to dress up as each of the story's animals. Using paper plates, brown paper bags, or other simple supplies, make a mask to represent each animal named in the story. Then read the story as your child acts out the role of each animal. (Or, invite over a few friends and put the story on as a skit!)
  16. Make different-colored glasses. Allow your child to see the world in different hues by creating pairs of silly glasses with pieces of colored cellophane as the lenses. There are wonderful printable templates for making glasses at First Palette. A similar activity has also been posted by What Do We Do All Day?
  17. Practice naming colors on the end papers. The end papers of the book show all the colors featured in the story. After a few readings, test your child's color knowledge by seeing how many he can name.
  18. Use colored strips of paper to recall and retell the story. Hold up strips of colored construction paper and ask your child to name the animal that goes with that color. Then check the book to see how many she gets right! 
  19. Make the sounds of the animals. Though this is one of the few animal books for toddlers that doesn't focus on animal sounds, it is still fun to add them in. (It's also funny to hear kids' interpretation of what they think a goldfish might say!)
  20. Act out the story by moving like the animals. Most of the animals in this book have a distinctive motion that sets them apart from the others. As you read the story, invite your child to pretend to be each of the animals. 
  21. Tell the story with stick puppets. Because this story is so simple and easy to memorize, it is a great one to act out and retell. Using the same coloring pages from DLTK (also linked above) create some popsicle stick puppets and tell the story in a new way.  
  22. Play Brown Bear charades. Have your child act out an animal from the story without using words and see if you can guess which animal he is meant to be. Then switch roles and allow him to guess! 
  23. Paint like Eric Carle. Eric Carle has a very distinct artistic style that you can recreate with your kids using basic art supplies. See one librarian's approach to this project at In Short, I Am Busy
  24. Name colored objects to match each animal. Pause after reading each page and see how many objects of the same color your child can name. When she runs out of ideas, move onto the next page. 
  25. Imagine changes to the story. On his blog, back in 2010, Eric Carle talked about the different changes this book has undergone since its original publication, including some  versions where the teacher is replaced by a mother, or even a monkey! Encourage your child to reimagine the book in different ways and discuss how this might change how they feel about it. 
Do you and your kids enjoy classic children's books? Also check out my learning activities to accompany Caps for Sale, May I Bring a Friend?, and Where the Wild Things Are

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

7+ Kids' Books Illustrated by Tuesday Mourning

Tuesday Mourning is a native of Colorado and a graduate of Brigham Young University. She is the illustrator of many book covers as well as a few picture books. Today's post highlights some of her work.

Jake Maddox Girl Sports Stories

These books published by Capstone tell sports stories starring female main characters. The titles in this series that Tuesday Mourning has illustrated include: 

Kylie Jean Series

Also published by Capstone, the Kylie Jean series by Marci Peschke follows a spunky young girl on her mission to become a beauty queen - and queen of lots of other things as well. (Starred links are to my reviews.) 

Maggie Brooklyn Mystery Series

Leslie Margolis is the author of these dog-themed mysteries starring amateur dogwalker Maggie Brooklyn. This series currently has three titles: 

Suddenly Supernatural Series 

This fantasy series by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel tells what happens to Kat, the daughter of a medium, when she discovers that she also has psychic powers. There are four books in the series: 

Stand-Alone Titles


  • The Two and Only Kelly Twins by Johanna Hurwitz
    Arlene and Ilene Kelly are identical twins, born just before and just after midnight on two consecutive June days. In this book, the girls take care of ferrets, fool new classmates into believing they're actually triplets, accidentally upset their neighbors during trick-or-treat and endure their first separation when one must spend the night in the hospital.
  • Ten Ways To Make My Sister Disappear by Norma Fox Mazer
    Sprig is jealous of her older sister Dakota, who seems to have everything Sprig wants and calls her a baby on top of it. When Sprig finds herself in a difficult situation, though, she realizes she might be able to count on her sister after all.
  • Eggs Over Evie by Alison Jackson
    In this middle grade novel, Evie, a young aspiring chef, strives to overcome her negative feelings about her parents' divorce and the relationships her mom and dad have started with new partners. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

6 Multicultural Easy Reader Series

Expand your beginning readers' cultural horizons with these multicultural easy reader series.

Katie Woo

by Fran Manushkin

Katie Woo is a Chinese-American girl based on the author's great-niece, Katherine Anne. Her stories involve everyday activities and adventures, including caring for a class pet, losing a tooth, and dealing with teasing. Each book is illustrated in full color by Tammie Lyon and divided into short chapters for easier reading. The Katie Woo books are listed below: 

  • Best Season Ever
  • The Big Lie 
  • Boo, Katie Woo!
  • Boss of the World
  • Cartwheel Katie
  • Cowgirl Katie
  • Don't Be Blue
  • Every Day's an Adventure
  • Fly High, Katie
  • Goodbye to Goldie
  • A Happy Day
  • It Doesn't Need to Rhyme, Katie
  • Katie and the Class Pet
  • Katie and the Fancy Substitute
  • Katie Finds a Job
  • Katie Goes Camping
  • Katie in the Kitchen
  • Katie Saves Thanksgiving
  • Katie Saves the Earth
  • Katie Woo and Her Big Ideas
  • Katie Woo Celebrates
  • Katie Woo Has the Flu
  • Katie Woo Loves School
  • Katie Woo Rules the School
  • Katie Woo Tries Something New
  • Katie Woo, Super Scout
  • Katie Woo, Where Are You?
  • Katie's Happy Mother's Day
  • Katie's Lucky Birthday
  • Katie's New Shoes
  • Katie's Noisy Music
  • Keep Dancing, Katie
  • Look at You, Katie Woo!
  • Make-Believe Class
  • Moo, Katie Woo!
  • Moving Day
  • A Nervous Night
  • No More Teasing
  • No Valentines for Katie
  • Piggy Bank Problems
  • Red, White, and Blue and Katie Woo!
  • Star of the Show
  • Stick to the Facts, Katie
  • Too Much Rain
  • The Tricky Tooth
  • What Do You Think, Katie?
  • What Happens Next, Katie?
  • What's in Your Heart, Katie?
  • Who Needs Glasses?

Little Bill 

by Bill Cosby

Little Bill is an African-American boy who, in each book, learns an important lesson about the difference between right and wrong. There are a dozen books in the series, and the stories deal with everything from bullying to finding valuable treasure.

  • The Best Way to Play
  • The Day I Saw My Father Cry
  • The Day I Was Rich
  • Hooray for the Dandelion Warriors!
  • The Meanest Thing to Say
  • Money Troubles
  • My Big Lie
  • One Dark and Scary Night
  • Shipwreck Saturday
  • Super-Fine Valentine
  • Treasure Hunt
  • The Worst Day of My Life

Robin Hill School 

by Margaret McNamara

A culturally diverse group of children experience each season of the year in their classroom at Robin Hill School. There are over two dozen books in the series, and they cover everyday experiences as well as celebrations like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Earth Day.

  • All Year Round 
  • The Class Mom
  • Counting Race
  • Dad Goes to School
  • Earth Day
  • Election Day
  • Fall Leaf Project
  • The First Day of School
  • First-Grade Bunny
  • The Garden Project
  • Groundhog Day
  • Halloween Fun
  • Happy Graduation!
  • Happy Thanksgiving
  • The Luck of the Irish
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • One Hundred Days (Plus One)
  • Picking Apples
  • The Playground Problem
  • President's Day 
  • The Pumpkin Patch
  • Smile! It's Picture Day
  • Snow Day
  • Too Many Valentines
  • A Tooth Story
  • Wash Your Hands!

Life of Max 

by Adria F. Klein

In this series, Max, a young black boy, celebrates various holidays with his friends, including Chinese New Year, Ramadan, Cinco de Mayo, Martin Luther King Day, and even one friend's Adoption Day. He also has everyday experiences, such as getting his haircut, visiting the doctor, and staying overnight at a friend's house.
  • Max and Buddy Go to the Vet
  • Max and the Adoption Day Party
  • Max Celebrates Chinese New Year
  • Max Celebrates Cinco de Mayo
  • Max Celebrates Groundhog Day 
  • Max Celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 
  • Max Celebrates Ramadan 
  • Max Goes on the Bus
  • Max Goes Shopping
  • Max Goes to a Cookout
  • Max Goes to School
  • Max Goes to the Barber
  • Max Goes to the Dentist
  • Max Goes to the Doctor
  • Max Goes to the Farm
  • Max Goes to the Farmers' Market
  • Max Goes to the Fire Station
  • Max Goes to the Grocery Store
  • Max Goes to the Nature Center
  • Max Goes to the Playground
  • Max Goes to the Recycling Center
  • Max Goes to the Zoo
  • Max Learns Sign Language
  • Max Stays Overnight
  • Max's Fun Day

Ling and Ting 

by Grace Lin

Chinese-American twins Ling and Ting might look a lot alike, but at heart, they are very different. In three books, these two girls celebrate their differences while also highlighting what makes each girl unique. (The stories are inspired in part by real-life twins Blossom and Fern.) A fourth book is due out in November.

  • Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same 
  • Ling and Ting Share a Birthday 
  • Ling and Ting Twice as Silly 
  • Ling and Ting: Together in All Weather 

Ezra Jack Keats Series 

by Anastasia Suen

These books use characters created by Ezra Jack Keats in his popular picture books to tell new stories appropriate for newly independent readers. Peter and his friends deal with a loose tooth, build a clubhouse from a pile of wood, and chase down a runaway hamster in these four books:

  • The Clubhouse 
  • Hamster Chase 
  • Loose Tooth
  • Willie's Birthday

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