Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gift Giving

Still trying to tie up some loose ends, holiday wise! Here's one more title I received this year that probably had the most impact on me and that I think will make kids really appreciate the giving aspect of Christmas!

Oman, Karen Boes.
Gifts of the Heart.
December 2009.
Review copy provided courtesy of: CreateSpace.

Eight grandchildren are looking forward to a visit from their distant grandparents. However, their poor grandparents face a fury of a snowstorm that leads them to arrive at their grandchildrens' house with no gifts, as all the gifts were blown away. While trying to collect the strewn gifts, these grandparents quickly realize that there are people in greater need of the gifts than their own grandchildren are, and opt to share with the grandchildren one of the most important messages of the Christmas season -the best gift is learning that giving makes hearts feel just right.

Many kids are already familiar with this concept as they are taught to share from an early age. Sharing is one way in which children are able to display their kindness towards others. The rhyming, sing-songy text will help children be almost immediately drawn to the story. Add to that, the gorgeous, yet simple illustrations, and you have a winning combination in my mind!

Learning/Reading Activities:
  • While it may be too late to make much of a difference before Christmas, involve your kids in planning a Mitten, Book, Coat, Book or even Used Toy Drive. So many children in the United States and beyond today are less fortunate than your own likely are. Encourage the spirit and joy in giving by involving your child in planning a "Giving Drive." Allow them to choose what item(s) they wish to collect for the less fortunate. Even better, include them in the delivering of the goods, so they can see just how good it feels to give!
  • Once the drive has been planned, perhaps you can even get some press (newspaper, television) coverage of the event to expand the efforts to ensure more of a success. Maybe your child could even write a letter to the editor of the paper, reaching out for participation in their drive!
If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to Amazon.com.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Elfing Around!

This year, I've been introduced to an old, long-standing Christmas character that I never paid much attention to... but the more I think about *him,* the more I think that he could make Christmas a lot of fun! So, today, we're "Elf"ing around!

Randall, Marilyn.
Elmer the Christmas Elf.
November 2009.
Review Copy Provided Courtesy of: Lulu Publishing.

A new author to, Marilyn Randall, is reaching out to children in hopes of instilling in them, the values that were instilled upon her as a child. Many of these values appear to be forgotten about as times have greatly changed... even over the course of just a few short years.

A big theme, central to Christmas is repeated several times throughout this unique story.
To give at Christmas with a joyous heart
Is to share the love of God
And there is no greater gift from Him
Than His love, of which you've got.
As I child, I always believed it was the elves making the toys that Santa then gave as gifts through the chimney during the late hours of Christmas Eve. I guess that makes it only appropriate that is an Elf teaching this message to children! To encourage children to enjoy giving as much, if not more than receiving gifts, will help you raise a well-rounded child who will quickly learn that what you have to offer is much more important than anything you could ever receive.

While the story is somewhat lengthy, I do believe they'll be able to take a great deal away from it, especially if you accompany the story with an appropriate craft (which I have provided for you below).

Learning/Reading Activities
  • Work with your child(ren) to construct the Cinnamon Elf craft, directions found here. The idea of using cinnamon sticks is a gift in itself from the aroma that it offers.
  • With your Cinnamon Elf, enclose the following saying, hand written from your child, "Have your ELF a Merry Little Christmas!"
If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to Amazon.com.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Christmas Poinsettia

Over the years, Poinsettias have become known as the "Christmas Flower." Why is this, you're probably asking yourself. Even I wasn't sure... but I remember stumbling upon this book earlier in the year when I've researched the works of Tomie dePaola and decided to feature it as one of my Christmas titles. I think it's important to introduce children to different aspects of Christmas, and this book certainly does that!

dePaola, Tomie.
The Legend of the Poinsettia.
Penguin Group (USA).
Guided Reading Level: O

The poinsettia, known as flor de la Nochebuena in Mexico, has, for many years become known as a symbol of Christmas, due to the red blooming flowers that bloom at this time of the year. Children, especially, tend to question how such symbols and traditions began, and The Legend of the Poinsettia will answer their questions about this particular Christmas symbol, especially if you have them spread throughout your house this season!

During the Christmas season all of the residents of Mexican villages (children and adults alike) come together and join forces, creating gifts to leave at the manger of Baby Jesus at their church on Christmas Eve. One family's misfortune (a sick mother, who was working alongside her daughter to create a new blanket for Baby Jesus' manger) leads a little girl to believe that because of her inability to finish weaving the blanket alone, she is unwelcome at the Christmas Eve services. However, an old woman quickly convinces the young girl that any gift she were to give Baby Jesus would be beautiful because it is a gift that is being given. As Lucida, the little girl, looks around, all that she is able to find is a tangle of green weeds. Little does she know, the tall green weeds are ready to bloom, and do so just as she places them beside Baby Jesus' manger. As the congregation leaves the service that night, they discover that all of the green weeds have blossomed and are offering the same glow and shimmer that they offered at Baby Jesus' manger, showing that a
simple gift had indeed become beautiful.
Not only does The Legend of the Poinsettia teach children about the poinsettia's place in the Christmas season, it also teaches a very valuable lesson - it's the thought of a gift that counts, not the price tag! I think this is something we can all take away a little something from this holiday season, as many families are facing uncertain times!

Crafts to Coincide with The Legend of the Poinsettia:
Free or Cost-Friendly Christmas Gifts Your Child(ren) Can Make:

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to Amazon.com.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Some of Our Favorite Characters Return... Ready for Christmas!

Book series seem to be a favorite among children - I think mostly due to the nature of returning characters that you are already familiar with and story content that is very similar from book-to-book! Today, I have two returning characters, Fancy Nancy and Mouse (from If You Give a Mouse...). I think you'll find that your child(ren) would be more than content to have these read as a bedtime story sometime between now and Christmas!

Numeroff, Laura.
If You Take a Mouse to the Movies: A Special Christmas Edition.
September 2009.
Review Copy Provided Courtesy of: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Guided Reading Level: K

The original If You Give a Mouse a Cookie was published back in 1985. I was two at the time, but it was several years later before I was introduced to it. Ever since, I've been a huge fan of the series, and they're still hugely popular today! Earlier this year (in September), If You Take a Mouse to the Movies was reprinted as a special Christmas edition... and understandably so, as it his a certain Christmas-y ring to it!

For those of you unfamiliar with this particular topic, a little boy takes "his" mouse to the movies. Who ever knew seeing a movie could set off such a string of events that leads to mess involved in decorating a Christmas tree before needing to return to the movies! This book is perfect for beginning readers, with the simple text, and a likely familiar story line. Not only will this make a wonderful Christmas story, it'd also be great to read all winter long, as much of it is also winter-y and not entirely Christmas-y!

Learning/Reading Activities:
  • Build Your Own Snowman (use any miscellaneous items from your craft cupboard)
  • Christmas Tree Decorating (have your child use bingo daubers to create a pattern colored dots as garland on the tree)
  • String your own popcorn chain to decorate your tree!
  • Work together as a family to create your own unique version of the series... For example, If You Give a Mouse Hot Chocolate, If You Take a Mouse Christmas Caroling, or If You Take a Mouse to See Santa Claus!
O'Connor, Jane.
Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas.
November 2009.
Review Copy Provided Courtesy of: HarperCollins

Readers embark on yet another journey with Fancy Nancy, who's quickly becoming a staple of almost every little girl's bookshelf! In Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas, Nancy sets out to share with readers some magically fancy language related to the Christmas season! I love that heirlooms are introduced to children in this book, as (at least in my own family) heirlooms make up a huge portion of our own Christmas decorations and allow my family the opportunity to remember the loved ones who are no longer with us this holiday season.
On Christmas Eve, we get out the
ornaments. Some were Grandpa's when he was a little boy.
"These are heirlooms," my mom says.
"That's fancy for things that are old and valuable."
Nancy's own excitement about decorating the tree with heirlooms ultimately results in a mishap that breaks the family's new treetopper. However, this only leaves room for the family to create an heirloom all their own, an important aspect of making the holidays unique to your own family!

Learning/Reading Activity:

The idea of heirlooms came into play several times throughout the reading of Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas. Christmastime is a time when heirlooms are typically broken out of their safe holdings as a way to connect with family and loved ones. Take the time this holiday season to share your family heirlooms or create heirlooms unique to your family with the help of your child(ren). Below, are a few idea if you need some help to get started!
If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to Amazon.com.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mischievous Monday: Christmas Kitties

For some reason, children love Christmas books that include animals... here are two of the latest Christmas books featuring kitties!

Brown, Margaret Wise.
A Pussycat's Christmas.
September 2009.
Review Copy Provided Courtesy of: HarperCollins Publishers

In this delightful tale, a young pussycat experiences the joys and wonders of Winter and the Christmas season, by examining the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of this wonderful time of the year. Upon reading, children will likely look at entirely new side of the holiday season, stopping to take in the beauty that they have not previously recognized. Added to the story are beautiful illustrations that allow Pussycat to appear in a life-like manner, almost asking reader to reach out and pet the delicate looking fur!

Learning/Reading Activity:

Use this book to help your child explore the ways in which each of their five senses come into play during the Christmas/Winter season.
  1. Read the story together.
  2. Discuss the different things that Pussycat hears, sees, smells, tastes, and touches.
  3. Then, using the following worksheet (save and then print as a full page image), ask your child to determine how their five senses are put to use. For example, he/she may taste Christmas cookies, so list that under "I Can Taste..." or he/she may tell you they hear Christmas carols. Place that under the label "I Can Hear..."
  4. Finally, ask your child which of their five senses they like to use best at Christmas. On a sheet of lined paper, ask him/her to write a few sentences describing why. For example, My favorite sense to use at Christmas time is my sense of taste. I like to eat the sweet Christmas cookies, drink the warm hot chocolate, and taste the honey-glazed ham.
Scotton, Rob.
Merry Christmas, Splat.
September 2009.
Review Copy Provided Courtesy of: HarperCollins Publishers

All of a sudden, it's dawned on Splat that it's the night before Christmas... has he been naughty or nice? He's certainly tried to behave himself, but was it enough? Splat isn't sure, so he decides to spend Christmas Eve day helping out his mom just to be sure Santa comes to visit him. Afterall, he has been hoping for a really big present. He even stays up almost all night to catch Santa in the act, but happened to somehow fall asleep. When his little sister wakes him up on Christmas Day, Splat is disappointed... it looks like his efforts weren't enough... However, his family was just looking to have a little fun with him... Santa did make it after all!

Children are likely to love Splat's added efforts on Christmas Eve to make sure Santa will visit... they'll be chuckling at his failed attempts, but will feel at ease to see that Santa did still visit! It will allow them a bit of a confident feeling if they've been struggling to make the "nice list" this year.

Learning/Reading Activity:

Readers never truly learn what it was inside that "really big present" that Splat was looking for. Encourage your child(ren) to use their imagination to determine what Splat received for Christmas. A coloring page of an open package can be downloaded here. Just print out the picture and ask your child(ren) to draw Splat's present and then color the entire page! If you're looking to improve/practice writing skills, ask him/her to rewrite Splat's letter to Santa using specific details about what he's hoping for inside his "really big present."

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to Amazon.com.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas and the Holidays

After much deliberation, I've decided to put my "Weekly Blog Plan" on hold for the next several weeks... through Christmas. There are so many great Christmas/Holiday books that I want to be able to share and provide learning activities to go along with that I've chosen to change things up a bit... Following Christmas, I'll be taking a portion of the week to finish up 2009 reviews and then take the remaining time off to get the 2010 blog plans in place!

The next few weeks bring lots to look forward to! However, in the meantime, I'll start you out with one title tonight! Hope you enjoy!

Simon, Francesca.
Horrid Henry's Christmas.
September 2009.
Review Copy Provided Courtesy of: Sourcebooks, Incorporated.

Horrid Henry, originally from the UK, has now spread in popularity across the United States. I have seen many a children checking these books out from local library systems and they seem to be in high demand among school libraries, as well. Henry is really and truly horrid... and through use of his horridness, your child(ren) will be drawn in and giggling in no time!

Horrid Henry's Christmas is compiled of four stories: Horrid Henry's Christmas Play, Horrid Henry's Christmas Presents, Horrid Henry's Ambush, and Horrid Henry's Christmas Lunch, each of which is unique in it's own way.

In Horrid Henry's Christmas Play, Henry is determined to make himself into the star of the showing after being given position of Innkeeper, rather than Joseph. The lengths in which he goes to just may put some ideas into your own child(ren)'s head, as he takes Miss Battle-Axe's words,
Now remember, don't worry if you make a little mistake: just carry on and no one will notice,
literally and is determined to make sure that he becomes the true star of the show!

Horrid Henry's Christmas Presents is not much better as far as Henry's behavior. Horrid Henry has either eaten or forgotten to purchase a Christmas present for each member of his family that will be at their house on Christmas Day... he doesn't want to spend his money on gifts, as that he can buy himself. Instead, Henry comes up with an idea of giving away something he already has or making a Christmas present for members of his family. This story holds potential for teaching children about giving as well as receiving for Christmas and about how meaningful homemade Christmas gifts can me, provided they are not just used as a "way out"...

Henry is truly horrid, as revealed in Horrid Henry's Christmas Ambush. Rather than being grateful for the gifts he's received at Christmas past, Henry is upset that Santa didn't bring all of the items he requested in his letter and decides to ambush him this year, to be sure he receives all that he wants... even though Henry's behavior leads us to believe Santa ought to be leaving several, large lumps of coal! Children need to learn that although Santa is magical, he can't provide everything on everyone's Christmas list!

Just when you might think Horrid Henry can't be any more misbehaved, he proves you wrong in Horrid Henry's Christmas Lunch! Henry just isn't thankful for anything... not even the fact that his mother is busting her chops to cook a Christmas lunch for the family. Unfortunately, the Christmas lunch turns into the Christmas dinner than never is... as the meal eventually ends up crawling with spiders. Kids will likely find a great deal of humor in this last of the four mini-stories!

Learning/Reading Activities:
  • Discuss with your child the ways in which Horrid Henry shows just how ungrateful he really is.
  • Encourage your child to write a fifth story in the Horrid Henry's Christmas quartet. Ask them to imagine another way in which Henry can display his horridness during the Christmas season!
For more information, or to purchase the books above, click on the image for a link to Amazon.com!

Cybils Post #7

17 more of the 176 books nominated for the Fiction Picture Book award for you today and my total reading count ended up at 168/176! I have been unable to locate the final 8 books and therefore will not be reading them... unless they show up in the mail between now and the end of Round I judging!

The Cybils committee has described an award-winning Fiction Picture Book as "a celebration of story and illustration, with lasting appeal for kids and/or adults. The best picture books completely excel in art, story, kid-friendliness, and adult appeal. A Cybils-winning picture book adds that special "It Factor." In message, in world-view, in connection, in humor, in reach, a book with "It Factor" rises to a higher level." (Cybils: 2009 Nominations Fiction Picture Books).

Rosenthal, Amy Krouse.
Little Oink.
February 2009.
Chronicle Books.

Little Oink is very different from other pigs - rather than appreciating messiness as a pig should, Little Oink prefers cleanliness. Here, readers watch as he comes to terms of living like a "pig." Although there is no moral to be learned here, I could definitely see this book being used as an inspiration during clean-up time. Children will be chuckling at the story of the little pig who seeks cleanliness in his "sty" of a world and will quickly be appreciative of their own clean house at the end of the day!

Arrou-Vignod, Jean Philippe.
Rita and Whatsit.
April 2009.
Chronicle Books.

It's Rita's birthday and she's in a bad mood... just when she thinks it can't get any worse, Rita spots a gift moving across the floor. Inside, she discovers a dog, whom she names Whatsit because he responds to no other name. I found the story a little weird as I don't think too many children wake up gumpy on their birthday, however, the unique illustrations and the tenderness shared between Rita and Whatsit at the end of the book made it a worthy read!

Palatini, Margie.
Lousy, Rotten, Stinkin' Grapes.
August 2009.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Fox learns a slow lesson that he's not always the sliest, smartest, most clever animal as each of his attempts to retrieve a bundle of grapes fails. However, even after his friends help him in using their skills to retrieve the grapes, Fox won't thank them or even accept their offering, instead calling them "lousy, rotten, stinkin' grapes. An important message is to be learned here (even though fox doesn't quite catch on)... it is important to accept that someone may be more capable of doing something than you and accept that everyone has different capability levels... this is what makes us each unique!

Burgess, Mark.
Where Teddy Bears Come From.
August 2009.
Peach Tree.

When Little Wolf spends a night unable to sleep, he sets out in search of a teddy bear, in hopes that one will be the answer to his sleepless nights. However, he must first determine where Teddy Bears come from - and asks a variety of fairy tale characcters before discovering that they come from Santa! Children who "believe" will love this new, unique take on a Christmas story!

Cohn, Scotti.
One Wolf Howls.
March 2009.
Sylvan Dell Publishing.

Readers venture throughout the twelve months of the year, watching (through text and very realistic illustrations) how wolves interact with their environment throughout the different seasons. Also combined with the teaching of months of the year and seasons, is the practice of counting from one to twelve (for example, in January, one wolf explores the forest... in December, there are twelve wolves exploring the forest). There is no actual moral, but there's plenty to be learned!

Crow, Marilee.
March 2008.
Guardian Angel Publishing.

A lonely alleycat sets out in search of a new, better life outside of the alley. Just when he's ready to head back to life as an alleycat (and ultimately give up on his dream), a family in need readily accepts him... as long as he can be a mouser - which should be no problem for a cat! The message to be taken away from this unique story is that dreams can be achieved if you're willing to chase them!

Chatel, Kim.
A Talent for Quiet.
February 2009.
Guardian Angel Publications.

Reanie seems almost afraid of her setpfather - as though he'll cause a problem with her mother if she dares speak. However, a "photo safari" and Reanie's "talent for quiet" allow them the connection they need to reach a new level in their relationship - acceptance of each other in their lives. This book would be an important read for children who are or have struggled with accepting stepparents into the home, as they'll immediately develop a personal connection with Reanie's story.

Bloom, Suzanne.
A Mighty Fine Time Machine.
March 2009.
Boyds Mills Press.

When an armadillo and aardvark trade their meals for a time machine, Samantha the anteater thinks they're crazy - that is, until she discovers how to really put the time machine to work, using her own love of books as inspiration. The real message to be taken away from this story is that with a little creativity, books have the possibility of becoming a "time machine" all on their own! I think children will find the mishaps of armadillo and aardvark to be humorous and will enjoy reading this story! One activity to use in collaboration with this book would be to discuss the ways in which books could be considered time machines, then pose the question, "If you had the chance to travel back in time, where would you go?" Write down each child's response and then have them research a book on that given topic during their next visit to the library, allowing them to time travel!

McAllister, Angela.
Leon and the Place Between.
August 2009.
Templar Books (Candlewick Press).

Leon's family attends a local magiv show. His brother Tom does't believe in the magic - that is, until Leon visits the "place between," there and back again where magic sends you and returns with a white bunny and a very important message for Tom and little sister, Jo. Things can happen, if you just believe (reminds me of Polar Express)! Self taught illustrator, Grahame Baker-Smith's use of different styles/media remind me of digital scrapbook - adding in the glitz and glitter to make the illustrations feel as though they have come alive (almost as though you're watching a movie as you turn the pages)! This is a great book to keep children believing in the fantasy of magic.

Krasnesky, Thad.
I Always, ALWAYS Get My Way!
September 2009.
Flash Light Press.

Little Emmy always gets her way - after all... she's only three! However, this family finally has the opportunity to see the real suspect at work and decides to teach her a lesson of her own (gently, of course). Older siblings and parents will totally connect with little Emmy's behavior and the feelings that coincide with her always having her own way about things. However, hopefully, they'll be learning the all too important message that this book portrays - don't give in to to your little ones (or big ones for that matter) and let them get away with things because of that oh-so-cute face... they'll quickly learn to milk you for all you're worth!

Alko, Selina.
I'm Your Peanut Butter Big Brother.
March 2009.
Alfred A. Knopf.

A bi-racial child is curious what his sibling-to-be will look like and explores the different skin tones through familiar foods that nearly all children can relate to. The artwork itself does a beautiful job depicting the explored skin tones, while also portraying that love can exist between all, despite anyone's skin color! The book is very multi-cultural, as it depicts many different races while showing human acceptance throughout. The obvious message here is that despite our appearances, we are all (virtually) the same and deserve the same love and respect, not to mention acceptance!

Kogawa, Joy.
Naomi's Tree.
March 2009.
Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

The cherry tree, planted by Naomi's grandmother years earlier becomes a memorial to the life that once existed, deemed the "Friendship Tree," as the world was created for friendship. This tree in particular, marked a place where years of lasting frienship developed. Throughout the world, the songs of the friendship trees (which represent memories), and the songs of those who love us, will forever fill the air like cherry blossoms in the spring. This would be a wonderful book to help heal children dealing with the grieving process.

Rockliff, Mara.
The Busiest Street in Town.
October 2009.
Alfred A. Knopf.

Agatha May Walker is tired of the everyday rush on (ironically named) Rushmore Boulevard and decide to do something about it. Risking the cars, motorcycles and trucks, Agatha is determined to slow down this busy world and encourage everyone to take time to smell the roses! Adults will enjoy the easy to reach message along with the humor... children, too, should quickly catch on to the message - in a busy world where (in many cases) we lead chaotic lives, it's important to:
stop and smell the honeysuckle,
listen to the mariachi band,
and best of all, sample the sweet and spicy gingersnaps.
Rosenthal, Amy Krouse.
April 2009.
Disney*Hyperion Books.

Using a simple, bit of everyday equipment, Rosenthal teaches children a big lesson in a simple way - celebrate the things that make you special, rather than dwelling on what you wish you had that others have. Spoon dwells on the fact that he's borting - he never gets to cut or spread, go stir-crazy like fork, or even be cool and exotic like chopsticks. However, with a gentle reminder from his mother, he soon realizes he's just as special as his friends - just in different ways... after all, no knife, fork or chopsticks will ever see the likes of ice cream!

Shulevitz, Uri.
When I Wore My Sailor Suit.
September 2009.
Farra, Straus & Giroux.

A young boy starts out the day with his imagination fast at work, as he quickly changes into his sailor suits, ready for an adventure on the high seas. After capturing a pirate's treasure map, the young boy quickly discovers that his imagination just may have gotten the best of him for one day and decides to once again set sail - headed back home at last. This book is appropriate for an adventure, imagination or pirate themed read-aloud.

Nelson, Vaunda Micheaux.
Who Will I Be, Lord?
October 2009.
Random House Children's Books.

A young girl wonders who she will grow up to be as she explores the lives (and in some cases) career choices of her extended family members. All of the career choices are explored in a delicate fashion, which is extremely important in a world when we're often quick to judge people based on their field of work. The message is easy to take away and I'm sure children will easily understand that it's up to them who they will turn out to be and what they will do with their lives!

Esbaum, Jill.
April 2009.

Stanza, the poetry loving dog, is constantly teased by brothers who think poetry is weird. However, when his poetry lands him second place prize - a year's worth of biscuits, they're both quick to offer their support in eating the prize. Stanza quickly teaches them an important lesson - we all have different talents and we should appreciate each other's strengths as well as weaknesses! This book is important because it allows children to make a personal connection to the idea of writing poems, rather than just reading a book of poems for inspiration... they will be able to recognize parts of their life that would lead an open door to the world of poetry, while teaching a very important lesson at the same time!

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to Amazon.com.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Taking Back Tuesday: Mary Azarian's Birthday

This past Tuesday, December 8, Mary Azarian celebrated her 69th birthday. She is most notably known for her woodcut art in Snowflake Bentley, originally published in 1998, although she has illustrated numerous other books, one of which, a Christmas book, is up for review today.

Kinsey-Warnock, Natalie.
A Christmas Like Helen's.
October 2004.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Review copy obtained from local library.

Author, Natalie Kinsey-Warnock and illustrator, Mary Azarian, team together to bring readers an old-fashioned Christmas that successfully shows children Christmas isn't all about the gifts, but more so the appreciation for the life you have been given. Traveling back in time forty years, readers will exprience Christmas through the eyes of Helen, one of eight children growing up on a Vermont farm. The story told is insightful and has a great deal to offer, especially if you're trying to teach your children the true meaning of Christmas and not just the receiving of gifts that so many children take for granted nowadays (I was guilty of that as a child, too, though!).

Perhaps what I enjoyed about the book most is that it shares personal family memories with the world, as described by Kinsey-Warnock:
When Helen grew up she had eight children and thirty-two grandchildre,
and one of those grandchildren was me.
Our Christmases aren't exactly like Helen's,
but we spend them together as family:
mother and father, sister and brothers,
aunts and uncles,
and dozens of cousins.

Helen lived her whole long life
in the place she loved best,
and I will, too.
This is definitely a book I recommend be read as a Christmas bedtime story!

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to Amazon.com.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rewind to Monday: Meet Mr. and Mrs. Claus!

Both of these books arrived in my mailbox, awaiting the perfect opportunity, today! As Christmas approaches, so increases childrens' attention in Santa and Mrs. Claus! Hopefully these books can be enjoyed by your family!

Greven, Alec.
How to Talk to Santa.
September 2009.
Review Copy Provided Courtesy of: HarperCollins Publishers

If this book isn't inspirational for aspiring young writers everywhere, I don't know what is! How to Talk to Santa is the lasted book in ten-year-old Alec Greven's How to Talk to... series, and it's a perfect read for your middle-grade child (8-12 year old) this holiday season! Not only is the entire book chuck full of humor, it's also pretty educational in the topics Alec covers, teaching your children everything they'll need to know about Santa, starting with the countdown to Christmas. Other topics about Santa's impending arrive are: being naughty; being nice; making a list and checking it twice; cookies, carrots and Christmas Eve; and Santa's arrival. The (not so true) truth about Santa is also covered in the last topic, but not in the sense that it reveals the mystery of "Santa" that would likely have some devastating impact on your child who still believes... however, the way it is written, older children might begin to wonder...

This is definitely a book I will be sharing at Christmas time in a classroom of my own. I think it's important because it shows young children that their words are inspiring and meaningful to many more people that they might think... if they are able to see someone their own age as a successful writer, I think it will be easier to motivate the writing process in children!

Learning/Reading Activity:

Explain to children that this is really a book of tips... information that young Alec has learned through his years and picked up on without directly being told. Have each child create his/her own version of How to Talk to Santa, titled, ___________ Family/Class Tips on How to Talk to Santa. They should be creative in creating at least one tip for each of the seven chapters Alec included in his book:
  1. The Countdown
  2. Being Naughty
  3. Being Nice
  4. Making a List and Checking It Twice
  5. Cookies, Carrots, and Christmas Eve
  6. Santa is Here!
  7. The Truth About Santa
Have them create a comic-like illustration to accompany each tip. Combine all the tips according to chapter into a family or class book that can be shared for years to come!

Claus, Elsbeth.
Mrs. Claus Explains It All.
November 2008.
Review Copy Provided Courtesy of: Sourcebooks Jaberwocky

Sure, we all know that each year, Santa receives millions of letters from children beginning around the Thanksgiving holiday. However, here we learn that Santa isn't the only hero of the North Pole, as the answerer of all those letters from children is none other than Mrs. Elsbeth Claus herself! After revealing that she's the responder of childrens' letters to Santa, she goes on to explain that each year, alongside the wish lists, Mr. and Mrs. Claus also receive millions of questions from children all over the world. Here, she takes the time to answer many of those questions and let's out some of the mysterious secrets of life at the North Pole.

The book is somewhat lengthy in its repetitiveness with a question/answer format. However, it would be perfect to share as a daily question/answer period each day leading up to Christmas... read one, two, or even three of the questions and answers together with your children! It's definitely a different take on a Christmas picture book, but I think it's well worth sharing!

Learning/Reading Activity:

If you have are a parent or teacher of young children and are noticing them struggling with the concept of asking a question vs. telling, this book (and topic) will definitely help them distinguish the difference between the two... simply share the questions (tell the children, "Here's the next QUESTION...) and then say, (Mrs. Claus says...) After reviewing several of the questions/answers... prompt them to ask Mrs. Claus a question of their own! To make this even a more fun activity, collaborate with your school's older students to write answers in response to the children's questions! This will allow the use of Mrs. Claus Explains It All to be turned into a writing project!

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to Amazon.com.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

An Update...

So... I've failed miserably in preparing the scheduled posts for you this week! And that's upsetting to me, because I had a great bunch of Christmas books planned for the entire week that I really wanted to share! However, life has been life, and time has escaped me... but I promise to finish out 2009 on a better note!

So, tomorrow, I'm going in rewind - taking the week BACK to Monday, then on to Tuesday, replaying Wednesday and finally catching up with a Thursday post as planned! Hopefully you'll have the chance to read all of the reviews, as they are a great bunch of books!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cybils Post #6

18 more of the 176 books nominated for the Fiction Picture Book award for you today and the count is up to 90/176! The Cybils committee has described an award-winning Fiction Picture Book as "a celebration of story and illustration, with lasting appeal for kids and/or adults. The best picture books completely excel in art, story, kid-friendliness, and adult appeal. A Cybils-winning picture book adds that special "It Factor." In message, in world-view, in connection, in humor, in reach, a book with "It Factor" rises to a higher level." (Cybils: 2009 Nominations Fiction Picture Books).

Thomas, Jan.
Can You Make a Scary Face?

August 2009.
Review copy provided courtesy of: Beach Lane Books

Bold, colorful illustrations will quickly attract little eyes to humorous, engaging story. Ladybug invites readers on a game of "let's play pretend," as an imaginary bug suddenly lands on our noses and continues to tickle and tease. The interactive story allows the youngest of readers to become actively engaged by encouraging them to make the movements alongside ladybug as the little bug tickles and teases.

Brallier, Jess M.
Tess's Tree.

August 2009.

Review copy provided courtesy of: HarperCollins Publishers.

Tess suffers a big loss as her beloved tree must come down after a storm that makes it seem like a danger to Tess and her family home. Tess's Tree shares loss in a simple way that children will relate to as they watch Tess celebrate the life that her tree once had, rather than mourning all that it's not any longer. The book is perfect to show that despite loss, life will go on and will help them to experiencing the healing process by celebrating a lost one's life.

Manushkin, Fran.
The Tushy Book.

March 2009.
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Feiwel & Friends

Celebrating tushies, The Tushy Book, is ideal for young children who find humor in and have recently discovered that they ahve their own tushies! This hilarious picture book covering a taboo topic that kids so love, is illustrated by Tracy Dockray, illustrator of Beezus and Ramona, as well as several other books written by Beverly Cleary. This would make for a funny read aloud for a home or library story hour.

Gravett, Emily.
October 2009.
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

A little frog finds a book and wishes about all the things he could read about. However, this is only just a book of spells... until frog learns to put the spells to use to make magic happen! This interactive books allows readers to feel as though they're exploring the book of spells alongside frog, as they are encouraged to make words and the half-page illustrations promote the spells as they take place. While there is no moral, this book might be interesting to use in a classroom to teach children about making new words and word families, as it could easily inspire the entire concept to be taught as "magic" happening!

Phillips, J.C.
Wink: The Ninja Who Wanted to be Noticed.
March 2009.
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Viking

Ninjas are typically known for their stealthness. However, Wink's enthusiasm gets him in trouble as he finds himself unable to prove his stealthy ways. A little help for an unexpected friend finds him able to show off his enthusiasm and stealthiness in an entirely unexpected manner. The scrapbook paper-style collages will likely appeal to girls, while the story of the ninja will seem most appealing to boys.

Blue, Rose and Corrine J. Noden.
Ron's Big Mission.
January 2009.
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Dutton Children's Books.

Young Ron McNair dreamed about being able to check books out his local library. However, being African American, Ron faces discrimination that deems him unable to check out his own books. One day, he decides to "walk over the edge," as the message of the story is, "you can only be a winner if you are willing to walk over the edge," in attempt to make his dream come true. Interestingly enough, Ron McNair happened to be second African American astronaut to enter space, thanks in big part to his success in walking over the edge to check out those library books. Children will love learning how one astronaut came to be and will be even more inspired after learning how his childhood playing into his success later in life.

Beaty, Andrea.
Firefighter Ted.
September 2009.
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Ted's imagination allows him to education readers about fires in this latest book in the "Ted" series. This is a great book for teachers and parents wishing to introduce young children to fire safety as Firefighter Ted's closing reads, "There is so much to know about fire safety. A poster could help everyone understand. This book is mostly appropriate for younger children who will enjoy the though to f a bear teaching them about fire safety, as they will begin to feel comfortable with the concept of fire.

Robbins, Jackie and Matt Phelan.
Two of a Kind.
July 2009.
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Antheneum Books for Young Readers.

Anna ditches her friend Julisa (a very special friend) to spend time with Kayla and Melanie (popular girls). She quickly learns how little she has in common with her new friends, as they find it fun to pick on Julisa, her real friend. This is an important story to share with children who are struggling with feeling they don't have the "right" friends, as it teaches the message that true friends will bring out the best in you. This book also stood out to me because it includes a potential interesting science project, how colors mix to form new colors (using black markers and coffee filters). Books that kill two birds with one stone are great for teaching!

McClements, George.
Dinosaur Woods: Can Seven Clever Critters Save Their Forest Home?
June 2009.
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Beach Lane Books

Seven endangered animals must work together to save their woods from being cleared for developers. Together, they come up wtih a plan to build a dinosaur to scare the developers away, ultimately accomplishing their goal - and founding Dinosaur Woods, a nature preserve. The message, if you put your heads together and cooperate you will likely come up wtih a successful solution to your problems, is a very useful one when trying to encourage children to work together cooperatively.

Darbyshire, Kristen.
Put It On the List.
February 2009.
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Dutton Children's Books.

No one in the Chicken family seems to remember to put their grocery needs on the list and instead remind Mom after she's done the weekly shopping. Together, they must come up with a plan to be sure all the purchases they need to make are made. Grocery shopping parents and children who have certain food needs will be chuckling at this one! And... it would make for a great book to introduce children to the concept of sorting, as a grocery list would make a perfect sorting activity to ensure that they get everything off the list without having to back track the aisles - sorting categories include: dairy, freezer, paper products, deli, fruit and veggies, etc.

VanDusen, Chris.
The Circus Ship.
September 2009.
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Candlewick Press.

Based on the events of October 25, 1836, when the Royal Tar (a side-wheel steamer) carrying 103 passengers and a complete circus, ran into a gale off the island of Vinalhaven. While intending to accurately retell the story of the Royal Tar, some details were changed to create a new adventure for children. The caricature-style illustratsions make the pictures funny for children, who will also love the animals and should enjoy seeing them "saved" in this story. The book also provides a fun activity for children, as one of the two-page illustrations encourages them to find all of the circus animals! I will definitley be sharing this at story-hour!

Dempsey, Kristy.
Me With You.
May 2009.
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Philomel Books

A little girl shares how much the time spend with her grandfather is treasured by sharing that her time with him brings out the best in her. Beautiful, captivating illustrations, coupled with a wonderful story make this book appropriate for children who treasure their time spent with grandparents. Not only is the story beautiful, it also shares a special message with children - time spent with someone you love and who loves you allows both parties to be completely themselves and make an even better twosome!

Seeger, Laura Vaccaro.
Dog and Bear: Three to Get Ready.
September 2009.
Roaring Brook Press.
Review Copy borrowed from: local library

Three more stories compressed into one book, shares with readers more adventures of Dog and Bear. Dog and Bear: Three to Get Ready, takes readers on an adventure with a troublesome bucket, a bouncy bed and a lost sock monkey. The series is perfect for beginning readers, as text is simple and repetititive. The bright, colorful illustrations allow the youngest of readers to create a story all their own, allowing them an instantaneous connection to the book!

Paul, Chris.
Long Shot: Never Too Small to Dream Big.
September 2009.
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Eight-year old Chris is smaller than everyone in his class. He doesn't let that discourage him from trying out for the basketball team. Thanks to the message everyone in his family gives him - you're never too small to dream big, as long as you're willing to work for what you want - Chris surprises only himself as he makes the basketball team as the smallest player! Boys and athletic girls will love the story here and will find Chris an inspiration to all!

Dokas, Dara.
Muriel's Red Sweater.
February 2009.
Review Copy provided by: Dutton Children's Books

Muriel the duck is excited to pass out invitations to her birthday party - in fact, she's so excited she doesn't even notice her red sweater shrinking as she goes about, passing out the invitations to each of her friends. Luckily, her friends took notice and because of that, were able to come up with the perfect birthday gift! Children will love reading a birthday themed story, especially if its their own birthday (I'll be adding this to my birthday shelf, which I'm sure I've mentioned on the blog somewhere before - on each student's birthday, he/she will be allowed to pick a birthday-themed read aloud for story time).

Walker, Anna.
I Love Christmas.
October 2009.
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Ollie loves Christmas for a whole slew of reasons, from stars to individual pieces of the nativity set. This book is perfect for young readers looking for simple, somewhat repetitive text. The illustrations, which provide ample context clues, also make this appropriate for young children. Families that celebrate Christmas will find this a pleasant read-aloud throughout the holidays, but those celebrating other holidays, not so much. An interesting activity to complete with children after reading I Love Christmas would be to have children write about the things they love about Christmas, but to discourage writing about the specific gifts they receive, as Christmas isn't truly about receiving gifts, but moreso making memories and thinking of the "reason for the season."

Fox, Mem.
The Goblin and the Empty Chair.
September 2009.
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Beach Lane Books

While many consider goblins almost creepy, this story will certainly change that thought! This lonesome goblin takes notice of a family in need after they've obviously suffered a loss and takes steps to help ease their burder, ultimately earning a warm welcome. While this may be obscure for children to understand, the message that I clearly noticed is that family, friendship and companionship has the ability to unite and help heal. I think this is an important read for families that have experienced such a loss. They will appreciate seeing what a huge difference simple gestures can make.

Kalz, Jill.
No Snow for Christmas.
August 2009.
Review Copy provided by: Picture Window Books

The people of Pfeffernut County are anxious for the arrival of snow to greet the Christmas holiday. However, despite all their efforts to have snow for Christmas, readers will quickly pick up on the message to be learned - sometimes, no amount of effort will make something happen, patience is just needed sometimes. Children who live in snowy areas know the anxious feeling of waiting for snow. This is a light-hearted read for all who enjoy celebrating the Christmas holiday!

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to Amazon.com.

Weekly Blog Plan - December 7-11

Here's the weekly blog plan! Again, please remember this is subject to change and is dependent upon whether or not my materials come in from the library as planned. I realize that this may fall too late for you to use in your classroom this year, but the activities will definitely swing from year-t0-year! If you see something you really want to incorporate into your classroom, leave me a comment on this post or send me an e-mail, kateh12783@hotmail.com. I'd be glad to provide you with the links I have, if nothing more!

Monday, December 7 - National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
  • The Bombing of Pearl Harbor, Sue Hamilton
  • Pearl Harbor, Stephen Krensky
  • Early Sunday Morning, Barry Deneberg
Tuesday, December 8 - Mary Azarian's Birthday
  • Here Comes Darrell
  • A Christmas Like Helen's
Wednesday, December 9 - Christmas Reads
  • Merry Christmas, Splat, Rob Scotton
  • How to Talk to Santa, Alec Greven
  • A Pussycat's Christmas, Margaret Wise Brown
  • Fancy Nancy's Splendiferous Christmas, Jane O'Connor
Thursday, December 10 - Mary Norton's Birth Anniversary
  • The Borrowers
Friday, December 11 - William Joyce's Birthday
  • Snowie Rolie
  • George Shrinks
  • Santa Calls

Friday, December 4, 2009

Freaky Friday

I've been trying to get through all of books for review courtesy of publishers before the year's end, so it's time for another Freaky Friday! Big selection today - hopefully you'll find something your family/classroom can enjoy!

The first two reviews today are both part of Sleeping Bear Press' new series, Tales of the World.
From ancient Japan to West Africa, this series brings the world home to young readers. Fictional tales from diverse cultures feature young characters and shared dreams.
-Audrey Mitnick, Sleeping Bear Press
Whelan, Gloria.
Waiting for the Owl's Call.
September 2009.
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Sleeping Bear Press

After reading Waiting for the Owl's Call children (especially those in America) will begin to realize how just how blessed and lucky they are in their lives. Here, eight-year old Zulviya introduces readers to her family (especially her sister, Aqbika and cousin, Aghabil) and their way of life as Turkmen, people located primarily in the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, northern Iraq and northeast Iran. For years, the women of Zulviya's family has earned money weaving rugs - these young girls who belong in school, instead belong to the loom, spending their days from sun-up waiting for the owl's call, which tells them they are finished with the loom for the day.

This book is incredibly moving, alerting children to the different lifestyles that Afghani children lead. While they may not understand what is "wrong" about children being prisoners of the loom with little time for school or play, they will certainly be able to tell that these children are leading an entirely different lifestyle and are not able to be "children." If you're looking to teach children about sympathizing with different cultures, this book is definitely one that you should consider adding to your reading list!

Ulmer, Mike.
The Gift of the Inuksuk.
September 2004.
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Sleeping Bear Press

Stone figures (Inuksuk) have played a huge role in the lives of the Inuit people of Nunavut, Canada for hundreds of years. The relationship between the "stone people" and the Inuit is shared with children through the eyes of Ukaliq, a young girl nicknamed by her father after the Artic hare, due to her small, inquisitive, always on-the-move personality. Much information about the culture of the Inuit people lead to the story that develops, in which, Ukaliq ends up building "friends" from stone in order to lead her father and brothers home after a big storm while they are hunting caribou.

This is a story, wonderfully written, that allows children to see the eyes of another child growing up in a very different world than their own! The story is also inspiring for children as it shows the how simple symbols in your life can represent great things - in Ukaliq's case, leadership, interdependence and friendship. This would make for a wonderful wintertime read aloud and discussion and will easily keep childrens' interest!

Sleeping Bear Press has also put out Teaching Guides for both of these titles, which can be downloaded below:

Waiting for the Owl's Call Teacher's Guide
The Gift of the Inuksuk Teacher's Guide

The next two titles, Skin Like Milk, Hair of Silk: What are Similies and Metaphors? and Quirky, Jerky, Extra Perky: More About Adjectives, came to me courtesy of Lerner Publishing Group and are just two of the wonderful titles in the Words are CATegorical series.

Cleary, Brian P.
Skin Like Milk, Hair of Silk.
September 2009.
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Lerner Publishing Group

Similies and metaphors have always been some of my favorites parts of speech! For whatever reason (that I can't really put a name to), I loved working with them as a child and even today, as an adult. So... that being said, I'm glad to have this book to add to my collection - as it's a simple way to introduce children to the idea of using both similies and metaphors to spruce up their writing and descriptions! Because the book itself and the story is so simple, it will definitely be an appropriate introduction to these two different types of figurative language.

Learning Activity:
  • Make up several sentences - some containing similies, some containing metaphors. Read the sentences aloud to your child(ren) and instruct them that when they hear a SIMILIE they are to clap their hands, when they hear a METAPHOR, they should snap their fingers.
  • To extend this activity throughout the year, encourage children to continue with this practice during random read-aloud times, to ensure that they are staying familiar with the concept of both usages.
Cleary, Brian P.
Quirky, Jerky, Extra Perky.
September 2009 (Paperback).
Review Copy provided courtesy of: Lerner Publishing Group

Brian P. Cleary returns after his adjective debut, Hairy, Scary, Ordinary: What's an Adjective? in Quirky, Jerky, Extra Perky: More about Adjectives, allowing readers to once again connect and familiarize themselves with the use of adjectives as a part of speech. I've always found adjectives to be seemingly endless - there are so many descriptive words out there available for use... not to mention the way in which adjectives spruce up writing! I'll definitely find a way to incorporate this book into writing assignments!

Learning Activity:
  • To show children just how many adjectives exist in the world, have each of them take out a sheet of paper and write a noun on the top (sun, snow, tree, dog, etc.). Then, ask them to pass the paper to the student at their right. The papers with nouns will make their way around the classroom while each child adds to the paper an adjective that describes the given noun. Each child will eventually end up with their own noun, full of many, many adjectives that describe it!
If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to Amazon.com.