Thursday, November 29, 2012

Picture Books to Give for the Holidays

Well, picture book month has been fun!  I have to say that my kids loved all the picture books that crossed our threshold and have gotten a little spoiled by the wealth of titles they have had to pick from.  But all good things must come to an end, so I will conclude this month by giving you my best picture gift book recommendations for the holidays.

For younger kids, I like to pair a book with a gift, so I will be including my recommendations for things that work with these titles.  Books are gifts that will continue to give back, long after the holidays are over.  So don't despair if it is a gift that is overlooked in the excitement of the day.  Know that when the hullabolu is over, you can steal some quiet time away with your child and enjoy a wonderful new adventure together!

If I Built a House by Chris Van Dusen is an inventive story about a boy with an active imagination.  Jack imagines his perfect house which includes a racetrack, giant slide and trampolines built in the floor.  The illustrations are retro but with a thoroughly modern feel.  There isn't a kid out there who wont want the house of Jack's imagination, and they will imagine their own versions just as lavish.  This is a great book to pair with a set of Duplo building blocks to help them actually create the house of their dreams!  To purchase the book on Amazon, click here: If I Built a House  For the duple blocks, click here: LEGO Duplo My First Set (5416)

Crafty Chloe by Kelly DiPucchio is a delightful book with absolutely adorable illustrations.  Chloe is as crafty as can be, and her skills are put to the test when another girl buys the perfect birthday gift for Chloe's best friend.  Can handmade still be good enough?  Well, as it turns out, Chloe's handmade gifts save the day!  I would pair this with Klutz's Super Simple Sewing, which is just right for little girl hands.  To purchase the book on Amazon, click here: Crafty Chloe  For the sewing kit, click here: Super Simple Sewing (Chicken Socks)

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems is one of those books that every child should own. If they already have it than they need his latest in the series, The Duckling Gets a Cookie.  In Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, the bus driver is on a break and asks the reader to watch his bus while he is gone and specifically not let the pigeon drive it!  Well the next thing you know, pigeon is begging the reader to let him drive the bus.  He will try every trick in the book ... can our reader stay strong?  I would pair this with Don't Let the Pigeon Finish This Activity Book!  It is a wonderfully interactive design that has the reader playing games, coloring and even creating an airport with pigeon.  The activities are all geared for younger kids, making it a nice match.  To purchase the book from Amazon, click here: Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (Big Book Edition) (Pigeon Series)  For the activity book, click here: Don't Let the Pigeon Finish This Activity Book!

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen is a wickedly funny book.  Our little fish (with a hat that fits perfectly) knows that the big fish he took it from will never wake up and figure out what happened.  Or will he?  With few words and suspenseful visuals, Klassen manages to take us on a very funny journey with deadpan humor.  I would pair this with ... surprise surprise ... a fun hat.  In our house a viking hat is the go to, but any winter chapeau is a great addition to gift with this book.  Couldn't resist putting in this picture of a little viking!  To purchase the book from Amazon, click here: This Is Not My Hat

As always, any purchase you make through the website goes back to support one great book.  My next post will look at gift books for middle grade readers, so check back on Monday for more great holiday ideas.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pop-up Gift Books

Well, the holidays are upon us!  Books are a hard gift during the holidays.  They lack the flash and wow factor of many presents they are sitting next to.  However ... it has come to my attention that many of you will give them anyway.  So my job is to give you some selections that won't get lost next to a PS3 game, a Barbie Dream House or an iTunes gift card.  It isn't easy but I am up for the challenge.  So give the gift of a book for Christmas ... if you must!

I will post twice a week during the holidays and will include gift selections for Picture Books, Early Readers, Middle Grade Chapter Books, Teen/Tween as well as Gift Books.

This post I am focusing on Pop-up books  Pop-up books, by their very nature, feel like a little present every time you turn the page.  Some have gotten so artistic that they are better suited for adults than kids.  However, these selections are squarely in the kid camp and are meant to be enjoyed, not displayed on a shelf. So pop open a few - here are some of my favorites!

blog imageHide and Seek by David A. Carter is a wonderful 3D pop up book in the vein of the Can You Find It? books.  A wonderful sculpture pops up on every page and readers are encouraged to find "A fish and a teardrop.  Five black spots, four blossoms blue and a T that is white."  These are just a few of the items readers can hunt for.  There is something new to discover each time you read the book.  To purchase this book from Amazon click here: Hide and Seek blog image

Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-Up Adventure
Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-up Adventure by Matthew Reinhart is a must have for your Star Wars fan!  Change Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader, and come face to face with some of the biggest villains in the galaxy!  This book explores the three prequel movies as well as the Clone Wars and is just fun!  To purchase this book from Amazon, click here: Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-up Adventure

The Happy Little Yellow Box: A Pop-Up Book of Opposites by David Carter is a delightful book for preschool children.  Each opposite, such as high and low or near and far, includes an interactive pop up or pull tab experience for the child.  Graphically this book is so engaging it can stand alone, even without the hands on features, but those serve to make it all the more fun!  To purchase this book from Amazon, click here: The Happy Little Yellow Box: A Pop-Up Book of Opposites

Friday, November 23, 2012

Picture Books of Note

Well, by now I hope you all know how much I love a book with humor at the heart.  I have shared quite a few funny ones over this picture book month, so this feels like the right time to take a little break from the laugh out loud picture books and share some of the quieter fare.

There are a lot of books being bandied around for Caldecott or "best of" lists.  These tend to be picture books that lean a little more towards the sentimental.  I have read most of them and I have to say that only a few worked for me.  I am one of those people who is never really a fan of the Caldecott winner, because while a book may be distinguished, it doesn't always mean that my kids will want to read it over and over.  And at the end of the day, all I really want is a book that will bring out delight and joy in my kids.

So these are the books on that "distinguished" list that touched our family.  They are the ones my kids actually enjoyed and wanted to hear again.  They may not end up winning any awards, but they resonated with my children, and for a parent that may the biggest win!

Title:        Extra Yarn

Author:    Mac Barnett

Target:     Preschool - Grade 2

Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Winner

What this book is about:
Annabelle finds a box of yarn and begins to knit.  After finishing a sweater for herself, her dog, her friend Nate and his dog, the house, the mailbox and most of the town, she finds that she still has yarn left.  An evil archduke gets wind of her miraculous box of yarn and steals it from her, but finds that when he opens it, the box is empty!  Will Annabelle ever be reunited with her box, or is this the end of an endless supply of hand knit goods?

Why I love this book:
This is a charming story.  I love that one little girl can bring magic and color into her world.  It is also infused with clever humor that isn’t necessarily laugh out loud, but just when you don’t expect it, it puts a smile on your face.  

The illustrations by Jon Klassen are also wonderful.  There are so many fun little things like the thread to each person’s sweater that is connected to the other person.  And let’s not forget the sweaters on trucks, birdhouses and mailboxes.

Who this book is for:
Most kids should enjoy this story!

Final thoughts:
Don’t forget to ask your kids why the box was empty for the archduke.  Great opportunity to see how they interpreted the story!

To purchase this book, click here to connect to Amazon: Extra Yarn  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:        Oh, No!

Authors:   Candace Fleming & Eric Rohmann

Target:      Preschool - Grade 1

What this book is about:
Tiger has his eye on several forest animals, for a tasty snack.  As these creatures get trapped in a hole in the forest, they feel that perhaps their fate is doomed, but then elephant comes along.  He is able to rescue the trapped group from the tiger licking his chops, and the elephant’s rumbling walk sends tiger sailing helplessly into the now empty hole.

Why I love this book:
The illustrations are beautiful and funny, without being over the top.  They also have little touches that make the story feel continuous and not like each page is its own panel.  I love it when the illustrator carries the story over to the inside cover and in this case the front and back inside covers are just as much fun, and apart of the story, as the pages in the book.  

I appreciated the repetitive nature of the book and it will encourage kids to become part of telling the story as they predict the next line.  Kids will be happy to repeat the books title, Oh, NO!  throughout the story.

Who this book is for:
This book will appeal to a younger audience so I think preschool and kindergarten are the ideal ages for this book.

Final thoughts:
A lovely story with rich illustrations.

To purchase this book, click here to connect to Amazon: Oh, No!  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:        Baby Bear Sees Blue

Author:    Ashley Wolff

Target:     Preschool - Kindergarten

What this book is about:
At its core, this book is about identifying colors, but really it is so much more than that.  In the book, a bear cub spends the day with his mother, asking question after question, does that sound familiar?  For example, baby bear asks his mother, “Who tickled me, Mama?” and she answers “That is a butterfly.”  We then see baby bear surrounded by beautiful orange butterflies with the text “Baby Bear sees orange.”  The day continues that way until it is time to go to sleep.

Why I love this book:
Ok, when it comes to sappy books I have a very low threshold, and I mean low.  If something is too cutesy or formulaic, well, lets just say that book doesn’t last long in this house.  But there is something about this book that crosses the threshold from cute to enchanting.  Perhaps it is the text which is straightforward, but still loving.  Perhaps it is the illustrations with mama bear's watchful eyes always on her son, which are also gorgeous in a way I can’t quite put my finger on.  Perhaps it is the mix of experiences they have throughout the day, which are playful and cautious.  But whatever the reason, this book is a winner.

Who this book is for:
Beautiful book for kids learning to identify colors.  This learning lesson is embedded seamlessly into a charming story.

Final thoughts:
Even this hard hearted mom found the book absolutely adorable!

To purchase this book, click here to connect to Amazon: Baby Bear Sees Blue  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Books for Kids that Pack an Emotional Punch

This week I am going for the three hanky read!  There are a few books recently that are beautifully written, but have had me balling my eyes out halfway through.

I kept putting this post off, because there never seems to be a right time to recommend the tear jerkers.  But maybe with the holidays approaching, these books will serve to remind us how lucky we are.  And while these books are emotionally charged, they always end with a sense of hope and understanding - something we can't get enough of during the holiday season.

So get your child a box of Kleenex and a comfy reading spot, because these books will stay with them long after the last page is read.

Title:        One for the Murphys

Author:    Lynda Mullely Hunt

Target:     Grades 5-8

Series:      No

What this book is about:
Carly Connors is being placed in foster care while her mother recovers in the hospital.  She has had a tough childhood.  Her mother loves her, but has had her own issues to deal with.  Carly has become tough and street smart to protect herself from the world her mother inhabits.  When she gets placed with the Murphys, her eyes are opened to a new way of life and love.  When Carly’s mother recovers, her future becomes unclear.  Will she ever be a Murphy?

Why I love this book:
I cried, and not once but three times, while reading this book - and I am not a crier!  The surprising thing is that this is not a sad story per say.  Carly finally breaks down her walls and opens herself up, and she sees what her life could be like, no matter where she came from.  But when you learn how she got there and what she still must overcome, it really breaks your heart.  And as much as I wanted the ending to be different, it really couldn’t end any other way (notice I am not spoiling the ending.  Bravo for me because it is really hard not to tell!)

This book is beautifully written, and I appreciated that I had never before read a book about a child in the foster care system (No.. A Series of Unfortunate Events doesn’t count.)  The story is a bit rushed at the end, but other than that I loved it.

Who this book is for:
Ok, this is the area that is concerning me.  I read this book as a mother, and it touched me that way.  I hope that kids will relate to Carly, and her issues, with the same empathy.  This book will definitely be too slow for some readers.  The impact of the book is in the development of the relationships and not any big action sequences.  For older kids who like a quieter book, which packs an emotional punch, this is the one.  For kids who like action, this book will not fit the bill.

Final thoughts:
One for the Murphys is a story that will just tug at you, and if it doesn’t you are already dead and buried!

To purchase this book, click here to connect to Amazon: One for the Murphys  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:        Bigger than a Bread Box

Author:    Laurel Snyder

Target:     Grades 4-8

Series:      No

What this book is about:
Rebecca is struggling.  Her mother has left her father and moved Rebecca to another state.  They move in with her grandmother as her mother tries to figure things out.  When Rebecca discovers a magical breadbox in the attic, which appears to grant wishes, she thinks she has found the key to make things better.   However, she finally discovers that everything she wishes for has to come from somewhere and as she begins to make amends, she figures out want she really needs.

Why I love this book:
This book turned out to be heavier than I originally anticipated, however I don’t want to make it sound dark because it isn’t, it is just real.  Rebecca is dealing with issues of separation and moving.  However, she is also facing things all tweens deal with, such as fitting in, and being yourself.  The magical element of the breadbox is just a tool in the book to highlight Rebecca’s issues and I think girls will easily relate to the feelings in the book.

Who this book is for:
Girls will enjoy this book and I think that they will appreciate the real emotions that Rebecca is going through.  This is also a wonderful book for girls struggling with the breakup of their parents.

Final thoughts:
Most problems cannot be solved by a breadbox of magical wishes.

To purchase this book, click here to connect to Amazon: Bigger than a Bread Box  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:        See You at Harry’s

Author:    Jo Knowles

Target:     Grades 6 and up

Series:      No

What this book is about:
This book is about Fern, a twelve year girl, and how she handles tragedy, her place in the family, her maybe crush on her best friend and a brother who is probably gay.

Why I love this book:
Ok, this book really threw me for a loop.  When I started it, I thought the heart of the story would be Fern helping her brother Holden deal with the bullying he was experiencing and his coming out to his family.  The book then takes an unexpected turn with a extreme family tragedy that rocks their world as they try to figure out how to assuage their guilt, and realize if they will ever find happiness again.  I know you are wondering why I am being vague about this tragedy, but it truly is a surprise element in the story and I don’t want this review to be a spoiler.

Fern’s voice is lovely, and while she deals with quite a bit, it never feels forced or victimized.  Her brother Holden’s challenges feel real, and her big sister Sara turns into such a stronger character than I expected.  Her younger brother Charlie is written just as lovable and annoying as little brothers can be.  I loved seeing the parents through Fern’s eyes and made me think about how my kids view my own actions.

Who this book is for:
This is not a book for every child.  It is quite introspective, so I imagine it appealing more to girls who like books about emotions and feelings.

Final thoughts:
See You at Harry’s turned out to be a much weightier book than its cover would suggest!

To purchase this book, click here to connect to Amazon: See You at Harry's  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thanksgiving Picture Books

So are you up for some Thanksgiving picture books?  I decided to shake things up this year with some books that may be new to you.  Do you want to know about the woman who saved Thanksgiving, or perhaps you may be wondering how the tradition of big balloons began at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade?  Well, wonder no longer!  There is a picture book for that.

And of course, being the traditionalist that I am, I have included one book about the poor turkey who finds himself the source of diner on Thanksgiving day - if I had a nickel for every one of those!   But they continue to delight my kids and it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without seeing how our poor turkey finds his way out of his predicament, with great humor and silliness.

Since it is Picture Book Month I have included an adorable video produced by the lovely women who are responsible for this event.  The tune is quite catchy, so be prepared!  Hope you enjoy it and it inspires you to continue to push picture books on your unsuspecting children!

Title:        Thank You, Sarah

Author:     Laurie Halse Anderson

Target:      Preschool - Grade 2

What this book is about:
You think you know everything about Thanksgiving!  Well do you know about Sarah Hale - because she is the women who saved Thanksgiving.  Not so sure of yourself now are you.  Well this book profiles Sarah, and when she saw Thanksgiving disappearing, especially with the dawn of Civil War, she fought to preserve it.  Did she call out the troops?  No! Did she load the cannons?  Of course not, she used her secret weapon .... a pen.  In this story Sarah shows us how the power of writing and perseverance can help us accomplish almost anything - even saving Thanksgiving for a nation!

Why I love this book:
Not only is this book inspirational, it is also funny with some over the top illustrations by Matt Faulkner.  While the story never takes itself too seriously, the message is clear - that one person can make a difference, with nothing mightier than a pen.  It is also a nice little history lesson, because it takes Sarah a longggg time to get Thanksgiving declared a national holiday!

Who this book is for:
Great story for kids and for parents who want a different take on the history of Thanksgiving.  It can also be used anytime during the year when you are teaching kids about how powerful their written word can be!

Final thoughts:
Even dainty little ladies can be superheroes!

To purchase this book, click here to connect to Amazon: Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:        Balloons Over Broadway

Author:    Melissa Sweet

Target:     Preschool - Grade 2

What this book is about:
This is the story of Tony Sarg (rhymes with aargh) who designed the balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.  The book shares the ingenuity of Sarg at a young age, the origins of the parade, and how and why Sarg developed his large balloon creations to wow and amaze the parade goers.  

Why I love this book:
The topic of this book didn’t appeal to me much so I put off reading it for quite some time, despite some lovely picture book awards it garnered last year.  However, once I gave it a shot, I understood why the reviews have been so good.  My bad.

To begin with, the artwork is playful and inspired, by toys no less.  I was immediately drawn right into the visuals, which are watercolors and mixed media collages.  The story is also a good length for the target audience.  There is just enough information so that kids will feel that they have learned something without being overwhelmed.  

Who this book is for:
Kids who enjoy watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, to give them a sense of the history of the event.

Final thoughts:
This is just a fun, playful book with a sense of history and appreciation for the work of Tony Sarg.

To purchase this book, click here to connect to Amazon: Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade (Bank Street College of Education Flora Stieglitz Straus Award (Awards))  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:        Turkey Trouble

Author:    Wendi Silvano

Target:      Preschool - Grade 1

What this book is about:
Turkey has the same trouble every Thanksgiving - he’s the main course!  But what if this year he didn’t look like a turkey, instead he looked like another one of Farmer Jake’s animals?  As he tries to disguise himself as anything but a turkey, it is his final inspiration that makes this the best Thanksgiving ever!

Why I love this book:
The illustrations are fabulous, as turkey tries many disguises which are laugh out loud funny.  The author also uses some fun play on words, “Holy cow!” and “Quit being a ham” when turkey is dressed as a cow and pig respectively!

Who this book is for:
Fun Thanksgiving book for all kids.

Final thoughts:
Pizza really does go with everything!

To purchase this book, click here to connect to Amazon: Turkey Trouble  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

And here is the video I promised you!  Check out their website: to see why pictures books are so important for kids - as if you needed more convincing!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Give This Stand Alone Book a Try!

I know that parents, and kids, love book series.  They take away the uncertainty and stress of what to read next.  They also allow the author to build on a bigger story line.

However, there are some really lovely books that are simply one shot wonders.  The story only needs one book to be told, and that book is thorough and well developed.  I worry that these books will get lost because they are not a part of something larger.  Can one gem stand out in a sea of series?  I hope so, and this week I will champion their cause.

So here are my books for the week.  When you are done, you will be satisfied and look back on the book with fondness.  But then it is time to move on - to the next book on the list!

Please follow one great book on Facebook or twitter for the latest news on great books for kids.

Title:        When Life Gives You O.J.

Author:    Erica S. Perl

Target:     Grades 4-6

Series:      No

What this book is about:
Zelly really really really wants a dog.  Did I mention she wants a dog?   However, her parents are not too keen on the idea.  In steps Ace (otherwise known as Grandpa) who gets Zelly to buy into his hair brained scheme of a “practice dog,” which is really just an OJ carton with a dog face drawn on it.  Zelly must treat this OJ carton like a real dog, taking it for walks/drags (lack of legs), scooping up its poop, making sure it is taken care of, in hopes that this may convince her parents to replace it with the real thing.

Why I love this book:
First of all the premise is wonderful.  I love the message in this book that sometimes you must commit all the way if you really want something.  Kids (and frankly adults) get so easily embarrassed to go for what they want, that I like telling kids if something is important to you, sometimes you have to take a risk.

I also loved the grandpa, Ace.  He is a larger than life character in this book, even the type on his dialogue is IN ALL CAPS.  He is a character that doesn’t disappoint.  

This book has a unique focus on Jewish culture.  Zelly is one of the only Jewish girls in her community, and she is both proud and challenged by this fact.  It is one of the few books I have read in recent memory (Beyond Lucky being the other) that focuses on this cultural diversity.  Plus this shiksa learned a lot of great yiddish phrases.

Who this book is for:
Anyone who really wants a dog! 

Final thoughts:
Families can really drive each other nuts!

To purchase this book, click here for a link to Amazon:  When Life Gives You O.J.  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:        Remarkable

Author:    Lizzie Foley

Target:     Grades 3 to 6

Series:      No

What this book is about:
What do you do if you live in a town called Remarkable where every person is talented and gifted but you?  When someone starts sabotaging the new bell tower in town, surprisingly it is the most unremarkable people who make the biggest difference in preserving the best things about the town.  And did I mention the pirates, the evil twins and the sea monster!

Why I love this book:
I zipped through this book and really enjoyed it,  but after I was done I was concerned that it might not play as well with its intended audience.  It is certainly quirky and hilarious, but in a more intelligent way.  I had my very picky ten year old read it.  He got off to a slow start, but then the story just took off for him and I found him reading it first thing in the morning because he couldn’t wait to see what would happen.  Well then I was sold!  The quirkiness of the story and characters, as well as the deadpan humor of our main character Jane Doe (she is the unremarkable one, get it) really does play with kids as much as adults.

Who this book is for:
Well if a picky ten year old enjoyed it, I would say give it try!

Final thoughts:
Those considered the least remarkable can do the most amazing things!

To purchase this book, click here for a link to Amazon: Remarkable  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:        The Secret Tree

Author:    Natalie Standiford

Target:    Grades 4 - 6

Series:     No

What this book is about:
Minty Mortimer is enjoying hanging out with her friends the summer before 6th grade.  One day she sees a flash in the woods next to her house and when she follows the boy who made the flash, she finds an unusual tree.  This tree holds the secrets of people who live in her town.  This boy and Minty end up spending the summer trying to find out who each secret belongs to, but will Minty ever find out the boy’s secret?

Why I love this book:
I just thought this was a lovely book.  What you find is that each secret can apply to so many people, and the message in the book feels like we all aren’t so different on the inside, even if it feels like it on the outside.  I also really liked the main character Minty.  She is struggling with friendships and popular girls, but she never forgets who she is at her core, which is a nice message for girls.

What will draw reader in is the guilty pleasure of learning other peoples inner most thoughts.   And the book reads like a mystery as Minty and Raymond hunt down which secret belongs to which person.  The writing is strong and while the mysteries seem obvious to an adult, I think kids will enjoy the hunt.

Who this book is for:
I would lean more towards a girl book simply because I think girls are more  interested in secret keeping.

Final thoughts:
We all have to be reminded sometimes that there is more going on in someones life than we are aware of.

To purchase this book, click here for a link to Amazon: The Secret Tree  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.