Tag Archives: books

Turn to an Old Custom for a New Tradition on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day has never really been my favorite.  I’m no Valentine’s Grinch, I’ve just always been stumped by the traditional gift choices.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy chocolate, but there’s only so much a body can take. Flowers are nice, but I always prefer to get them as a surprise rather than an obligatory bouquet.  Neither of those really works for my husband, and while marketers have assured me nothing would say “I love you” like a new iPad, that’s not exactly in the budget.   And what do you get for the kids?   There’s not much room left in their junk drawer to accommodate another googly-eyed pencil topper or plastic trinket.
  Then a friend of mine shared a fantastic family tradition.  Apparently, in Spain (where she lived for a time), the holiday for lovers is known as the day of the book and the rose.  Though held in April, this holiday is similar to Valentine’s Day, in that it is set-aside for expressing love.  But as the name implies, the custom on this holiday is for couples to exchange flowers and books.  BOOKS!  Now there’s something meaningful I can get behind!  Not only is it something within a manageable price range and something worth keeping around for more than a few days, it’s also a gift that feels much more personal than something cliché from the seasonal aisle of the nearest store.


Since my husband and I both love books, a love we’ve worked to share with our children, we’ve decided to make this a tradition in our own home as well.  So now, each Valentine’s Day, we select a book for each other, as well as books for each of our children. Sometimes the book choice expresses love (I Love You Stinky Face is one of my favorites for kids), reflects an interest the recipient is passionate about (our three boys are getting books about ninjas, dinosaurs, and outer space this year), or it may be a way of recognizing and supporting someone’s goals (my husband is often keen to tie my book in with one of my New Year’s resolutions). And of course, there’s always room for books that are just plain fun to read!

We serve up our books alongside a special breakfast like toast cut in heart shapes and topped with raspberry jam, a simple treat my boys go crazy for.  If you’re feeling more gourmet, try out something like Cinnamon Baked French Toast or Homemade Cinnamon Bread served with a breakfast smoothie, all from the Pioneer Woman.

Try out this old custom as a new tradition at your house! 

What other Valentine’s Day traditions are among your favorites?

Top photo by Piotr Bizior.
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Author Study: Robert Munsch

Robert Munsch grew up in Pennsylvania, in a big family with nine kids.  Well, to be more accurate, Munsch specifies that he lived in Pennsylvania when he was young, and that he never really did grow up at all.  The prolific author struggled through most of his schooling, but always had a passion for writing.  He particularly enjoyed writing poetry, both the serious and silly varieties.  But writing was his past time, not something he, or anyone else, really valued at the time.

Fast forward a few decades, and you find Robert Munsch working in day cares and preschools, captivating children with his storytelling.   On his official website, Munsch recalls,For ten years I did this without thinking I had any special skill. After all, while I made the best stories in the daycare centre, most of the other teachers made better play doh. I eventually got a long list of stories I told, but I never wrote them down.”

Eventually, Munsch found himself working in the lab preschool at the University of Guelph  in Ontario, Canada, his boss (with some prompting from his wife, a children’s librarian) gave Munsch two months off to write down some of his stories and send them off to ten publishers.  One accepted his manuscript and an author was born.

Robert Munsch enjoys connecting with kids and often draws his stories out of experiences and conversations with some of his smallest fans.  It’s this connection that makes his stories so authentic and appealing to kids of all ages.  His child-like imagination and sense of humor combined with his storytelling style make his books some of the best on the bookshelf.

With over 25 books to choose from, picking the best titles by Robert Munsch is not an easy task.  Between my own children and those I’ve worked with, I think I’ve narrowed it down to my three picks.

The Paper Bag Princess (Classic Munsch)

The Paper Bag Princess.  Who doesn’t love a good story about a princess who saves herself and calls the superficial prince a “bum”?  At least that’s what I like about it.  My boys just love the dragon and the way he gets tricked into using all his fire and all his energy, causing him to be anything but fierce.  It’s a unique story and a clever plot.

Mmm, Cookies!

Mmm, Cookies!  This story really lends itself to Munsch’s storytelling style.  It includes sound effects (which I always add actions to) and it’s an easy one to get the kids to join in.  You can read a full summary and story activity for this book here.

Alligator Baby

Alligator Baby.  Kids love this book!  It’s a silly story (of course) about Kristen’s parents who accidentally go to the zoo instead of the hospital to have their baby.  Exhausted, they make several trips between their home and the zoo, trying to bring home the right baby.  By the end, their home is full of baby animals, and Kristen saves the day by retrieving her baby brother from the zoo.  The story is hilarious and the pattern in the text keeps kids engaged.

What’s your favorite book by Robert Munsch?
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Too Many Toys











Spencer has too many toys!  He gets them from his parents, his friends, his Auntie Mim and Uncle Fred, Grandma Bobo, Poppy and Grandiddy.  He gets them at school, at the dentist, at the doctor, and at the drive-thru. 

The Spencer I’m talking about is the character in David Shannon’s fantastic read, Too Many Toys .  Though the similarities between the Spencer in the book and my own little guy with the same name is so eerie, there are times I wondered if David Shannon might have been in our home recently as part of an undercover research mission.  This might as well have been a custom-made book!

Spencer’s mom (both the real one and the fictional one) finally has had enough with all those toys!  But when she suggests getting rid of a few, Spencer (both the real one and the fictional one) resists, hesitates, and negotiates.  Finally, they whittle down the toy supply, which is when Spencer discovers that the very best toy he has is his own imagination.

I picked up this book as I was shopping for the “something to read” portion of our kids’ Christmas list.  Our family has been David Shannon fans for a while now, reveling in the David series as well as Alice the Fairy and the Trucktown series he collaborates on.  His stories are always clever, funny, and portray childhood in a way few can.  So the familiar cover illustrations staring up from the bookshelf were quick to catch my eye.  A few page flips in and I was sold!

It helped that just a few days before picking up this book, I was having a very serious discussion with my boys about why no one could actually get every single toy in the world for Christmas…even if they were the very most well-behaved children in the history of mankind.  Couple that with the main character’s name and the all-too-familiar request to thin out the toy collection, and this book buy was a no-brainer.  This one will certainly be sitting under the tree at our house this Christmas, and I’m quite sure it will be a frequent favorite at storytime as well. 

If you too can relate a little too well with Spencer’s mom and dad (both the real ones and the fictional ones)  Check out this guestpost by Mandi Ehman of Life…Your Way at Blissfully Domestic for Decluttering and Organizing Children’s ToysThinning the toys before Christmas can be helpful.  I have friends who have had great success with their children sorting out their toys to make donations to those less fortunate and others who finally had success only when they promised their children all procedes from their contributions to the family yard sale.  At my house….for now we operate on the “hide it in the trunk of the car for a few weeks, and if no one asks for it, drive it on down to the donation center” method.  It may not be perfect, but it seems to maintain everyone’s sanity.

How do you keep from having too many toys? 

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The Best Books are Ageless

About seven years ago, as a first grade teacher, I attended a workshop featuring Dr. Jean Feldman.  There were many things she shared that influenced me as a teacher, but there was one thing she said that I have thought back on many times:

“We are often so eager to give children all the things we didn’t have, that we forget to give them the things we did have.”

She was referring to the importance of Nursery Rhymes in building phonological awareness, and the tendency of many teachers and parents to neglect these classics in favor of the newest, coolest, and latest gadgets, gizmos, and doo-dads.  While nursery rhymes originate as far back as the 16th or 17th century, they are still one of the most effective tools for teaching children.

Lately, I’ve thought back on this quote again, as I’ve noticed some of my boys’ favorite stories were some of my favorites as a child as well.  As I pull some of our very favorite stories from the shelves and page through to the copyright, I’m often surprised to see how long some of these fantastic books have been around! 

And so, in spite of the fact that there are some truly fabulous new books out, I wanted to focus today on some of the classics that every child should get the chance to enjoy!

Caps for Sale Big Book (Reading Rainbow Book)

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina was first published in 1940, but its charming patterned story will always be one of my favorites!  Even though it was written before their grandpa was born, my boys love it too!

Goodnight Moon

What parent doesn’t have the words to Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown forever memorized?  I would love to see a counter displaying how many times this story simple story, first published in 1947, has sent children off to slumber.

 Image of Theodor Geisel - Dr. Seuss

All Things Seuss!  While the works of Dr. Seuss have been around since the late 50s, I’m often surprised to find children who have never actually heard the stories of a persistent boy named Sam-I-Am, one mischievous cat, or the Sneetches on beaches.  (Familiarity through cinema doesn’t quite countNo offense, Jim Carrey.  You make a great Horton, but as with most based-on-the-book movies, you just have to read the book!

(Find Seuss activities here.)

Very Hungry Caterpillar

  The Very Hungry Caterpillar , written by Eric Carle and published in1969, is another book that has aged incredibly well.  Despite the fact that this op-ed writer finds the text lacking in “narrative creativity” and “devoid of surprise” those who love and teach young children know that the repetition and pattern of text is instrumental in building new readers.  Besides that, kids love it!

 The Monster at the End of this Book (Sesame Street) (Big Little Golden Book)

As a shout-out to the children of the 70s, I have to add The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone.  It was one of my very favorites growing up!  I thought it was just a trendy book, lost in the past, until one of my first grade students brought it to school on the day the children were asked to bring one favorite book.  Soon after that, I bought a new copy for my own library while pregnant with my first son.  Six years later it is still getting good miles around our house!

I could go on and on….but I want to hear what you have to say!

What are some of the ageless books at the top of your “favorites” list?

Top photo by Horton Group.
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How to Improve Your Read-Alouds with Young Children


It’s hard to disagree with the evidence that reading aloud to young children yields great benefits throughout life.  And that’s just the factors that are easily tested – language skills, reading readiness, comprehension, and so on.  Add to that the relationship building aspect that comes along with a positive shared experience.  I still remember snuggling up in my dad’s lap and listening to him read some of my favorite stories and the “funny page” in the Sunday paper.  It was a real treat to get that one-on-one time, not to mention getting to hear his hilariously animated voices as well.

We can all agree that reading with children has substantial benefits, but here are some resources I recently found that will help to make that reading time really great.

Ten Times Two

Mem Fox is a delightful author and proponent of childhood literacy.  Here she gives her own “Ten Read-Aloud Commandments”.  I love that the Second Commandment is to read three stories a day.  I like that the emphasis is on the story – that’s what it’s really about – and less about a precise time limit.  Likewise, I appreciate that the majority of her “Commandments” are about making it fun and enjoyable.  That is key in getting the most out of your reading time with children.

Last year, I made my own list of 10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Story Time With Your Preschooler.  Check that out for an idea or two to implement next time.

How to Read a Book

As I mentioned before, part of what made my own childhood memories of reading so salient, was the way my dad would read to me.  Mem Fox has an outstanding clip on her site where she explains, and models good read-aloud skills.  Her animation, coupled with her fantastic accent makes for an enchanting example.  (You don’t have to read with the accent of course….unless you already have one, and then I suppose it’s not an accent at all!)

Think about readers you have enjoyed, either from your own childhood or possibly a book on tape you enjoyed.  Try to sound like a professional storyteller, rather than rushing through the book.  Using your voice to tell the story increases enjoyment as well as comprehension.

So take some time and check out Mem’s site – and then take some time and snuggle in with a great book and your own little ones!

What are some of the favorite read-alouds in your home?

Top photo by bjearwicke.

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A Book Like Me

In case you didn’t know it, February is Black History Month.  Seeing many of the books and articles marketed toward this time of year has caused me to think a bit about the  use of ethnicity in children’s books.  I really am a big fan of ethnic books for children….and I’m not.  Let me explain. 

While I think books that explain our differences (The Colors of Us and the like) are great resources, I worry that teachers sometimes rely too heavily on books like these as their basis for “diversity education”; books that point out ethnicity in that isolated context, emphasizing color as the most salient characteristic.  Their diversity education peaks there, at the “diverse” or “difference” aspect.  Children of different colors shown primarily only in comparison to other colors. 

I get just a little irked this time of year when I see a selection of “Black Books” for children and find only books cataloging the different shades of skin, explaining Kwanzaa, or telling the story of Martin Luther King.  Don’t mistake what I’m saying, books on these topics are all worthy reads, but they should not be the only opportunities a child has to see a Black character in a book. 

All children need the opportunity to see diverse characters in quality children’s literature.  They need to see lots of characters that look like themselves, and plenty of opportunities to see characters who don’t.  To truly appreciate diversity they also need to be able to relate to characters that are alike and different based on other factors like the characters’ experiences or aspirations, not just to see that they are alike or different based solely on their race. 

Additionally, children’s books that overtly try to define ethnicity and race for a child can end up simply propagating stereotypes and can make children feel uncomfortable if they belong to that race but don’t “fit the mold”.  One of my closest friends is Black and grew up in a predominantly white community.  She has mentioned that some of her most uncomfortable moments in school were when a teacher would point her out in particular situations, almost as a poster-child for “Blackness”, or would ask her to give her opinion to the class on a racial topic, insinuating that she spoke for all Black people.  She was a young child, but was sometimes treated as a representative to the United Nations.  I worry that this is what happens when we choose books that focus too much or too directly on ethnicity.  Or when a teacher essentially picks up a book and says, “Here’s a story with a girl that’s just like Jenny!”  Though the book is about Kwanzaa and Jenny’s never celebrated that holiday in her life.  But hey, their skin looks the same.

Children should get to see a rainbow of skin tones in children’s literature, without that always being the topic of the book.  Real, diverse literature has a variety of characters with a variety of skin tones.  But the themes of the books should not always be primarily about which color we’re each wrapped up in. 

Diverse characters should present a variety of themes that are relatable and transcend stereotypical, external categories.  I love Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day (and many others by him as well).  The character happens to be Black, but the theme is simply the magic of exploring a  snowy day.  Most children can relate to that!  That teaches the theme “We are all alike” more convincingly than a book that simply uses that line as a refrain throughout pages and pages of apparent differences. 

As another example, Spike Lee and his wife, Tonya Lewis Lee have a fabulous book called, Please, Puppy, Please that features two children who are trying to get an unruly puppy to obey.  Oh, and they are also Black, but that isn’t the theme of the story.  I’ve read that story countless times with children, and I don’t think I’ve even once had a child point out the characters’ skin.  It’s a fantastic example of literature for anti-bias or equality education.  To show diverse characters under the unifying theme of “childhood” not presenting stereotypes with racial labels.

When Black History month rolls around, or the theme “We’re all alike, we’re all different” takes hold of the curriculum, I worry that teachers grab  safe, albeit somewhat stereotypical “ethnic” reads, and then put them away for the rest of the year.  This doesn’t give our children true diversity in literature.  We need to find quality literature for  the everyday that reflects the melting pot that is America.  This isn’t always easy, but it seems that authors and illustrators are making strides on this front.

 So I guess in all of this rambling, I’m saying that I love diverse, ethnic books but particularly those that celebrate the unifying theme of childhood rather than the dividing theme of separating children into classifications.   I believe that my friend’s son should have more opportunities to see characters with his same gorgeous mocha brown skin than his mother did, and that he should see them engaged in the magic of childhood, not as color codes for filing people into their respective groups. 

I want that for my own boys- that they see characters in books that remind them of themselves, with big blue eyes and even bigger personalities.  But I also want them to read books where they can look into the green, black, and brown eyes that remind them of their friends.   All children deserve to be able to see themselves in a good book, and to see the rest of the world there as well. 

Top photo by bies.


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