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Friday, November 28, 2014

Classic Bedtime Stories: a perfect book for families, an illustrated collection

Hello there! I thought I'd take a break from the Cybils reviews for a moment to tell you about a book I'm enchanted by.

I've been thinking a lot about bedtime stories, as I've been working on Story Club, so when I was contacted about this book I couldn't resist it. I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Classic Bedtime Stories
Scott Gustafson

So here is my honest review: I loved this book!

1. The illustrations are gorgeous. I think they fit right in with the "golden age of illustrating" that is mentioned on the back flap. Scott Gustafson's art reminds me of some of my favorite picture books from when I was a child. It is fully painted, with deep colors and intricate details. The art isn't paneled, sometimes it's on the same page as the text and sometimes it takes up the whole glorious page. (See below.)

Levi shows off his favorite page in the book.
Check out all those pancakes!
2. The stories vary widely in length, which surprised me at first, but I like it! Some of them only take up a two page spread, and others go on for a while. You know sometimes you go to do a bedtime story and you're like, "Let's make this quick." Other times you're like, "If I try to turn out the lights right now, they're just going to be hopping out of bed before I can even shut the door. Let's take our time with the stories tonight." That flexibility was great.

3. I loved the stories that were chosen. Little Sambha and the Tigers was included! Grandpa Craig is always making up variations on this story and so it was cool to have an illustrated version to read to the kids. In the endnotes, Scott Gustafson explains whe he chose to include the story, and how he did so thoughtfully.

The Bremen Town Musicians was also included and Benjamin did his 1st grade program around that story just last week. So it was cool to be able to read the story beforehand. Because you know on the actual night we were mostly just laughing at the kids who were misbehaving.


What stories are included in Classic Bedtime Stories?
  • The Country Mouse and the City Mouse
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • The Tortoise and the Hare 
  • The Story of Little Sambha and the Tigers 
  • The Bremen Town Musicians
  • The Three Billy Goats Gruff
  • The Lion and the Mouse
  • Jack and the Beanstalk

So here's the final word: 

I'm thrilled to have this book in our collection. So thrilled that I'm going to be giving it to some of the cousins for Christmas this year. (Shh! Maybe they won't read this review.)
I was pleasantly surprised to find that this big gorgeous book is reasonably priced -- under $20. And I feel like it is the sort of gift that the whole family can enjoy. I don't feel like I'll be disappointing anybody, any age, with this book. Solid.

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Which of these stories would you be most excited to read? Or, which one do you *wish* was in the collection?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Armchair Cybils November check-in

It's time for the Armchair Cybils November check-in! Tonight I curled up by the fire (Literally! So fun to have a wood-burning stove.) and read a couple more books, just for good measure. So here's what we've got so far.

Cybils 2014 Graphic Novels

Books I have read and reviewed: 
(Follow a link to my review!)





Books I have read but not yet reviewed*:

  • Tomboy by Liz Prince
  • In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang
  • Happy Birthday, Babymouse! by Jennifer & Matthew Holm
  • Ariol: A Beautiful Cow by Emmanuel Guibert and Marc Boutavant
  • Hidden by Loïc Dauvillier, Marc Lizano, Greg Salsedo
  • This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
  • Julia's House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke
  • In the Shadows by Kristen White and Jim DiBartolo
  • Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
  • Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner
  • How To Be Happy by Eleanor Davis
  • Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History by Joel Christian Gill (in the middle of this one!) 
  • Cleopatra in Space #1:Target Practice by Mike Maihack
  • The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy Gownley

I think I'm fairly dying to tell you about Through the Woods (pun intended, because that book is super creepy, in the best way). And I'm still in the middle of it, but Strange Fruit is a wonderful surprise. I hadn't heard anything about it before it arrived in my mailbox (thanks to all the wonderful publishers for sending review copies to us panelists!) and I'm really digging it.

Have you read any of these? Any requests for which one I should review next?

In other news, progress on Story Club continues at a slower pace than before, but I think that's what's best for my sanity. :) Feel free to kick me in the pants, though! :D

Monday, November 17, 2014

Not a Holiday Gift Guide: Books to give in 2014

For a full explanation of this post, read this!

Alysa, give me a book recommendation for _________!

A "six-year-old boy who reads at probably a sixth-grade level but like short, simple books like Magic Tree House." Submitted by Amy.

First, I want to say that regardless of reading level and comprehension abilities, there is something very appealing about the Magic Tree House books. And it is 100% great for a kid to prefer books written for kids his age, even if his reading abilities are above average. Reading is about so much more than your reading level. (I should know. I'm a college grad who reads children's literature, always.)

Second, I want to say "You are in luck, Amy!" My son Benjamin is a strong reader and a six-year-old at this very moment! Let the recommendations begin!


I love Alvin Ho by Lenore Look, and so does anybody I've ever heard back from after I've recommended these books to them. (There are six in the series now.) In book one, Alvin is a first grader who can't utter a word at school, thanks to his performance anxiety disorder. He is hilarious and mischevious. The books are perfectly illustrated by LeUyen Pham, and probably just a touch longer than your average Magic Tree House. As Benjamin says, "Alvin is allergic to everything except explosions and superheroes." (My reviews here and here)

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke came to mind and I asked Benjamin what he liked about the books. "I like that sometimes [the characters] are helpful, sometimes they're fighting, sometimes they are nice." I hadn't really thought about it before but the Zita series really does have particularly deep characters. Emotional complexity. And now I'm proud of my six-year-old for recognizing that and appreciating it in literature. The books follow Zita on her adventures in alien worlds and the grand adventure of trying to get home. There are three books in this series.

"Which is better, Zita or Sidekicks?" I asked Benjamin. 
"Hmm, I don't know . . . "

Benjamin recommends Sidekicks by Dan Santat because it has a good mix of "peaceful times and fighting times." The book follows a superhero in search of a new sidekick and his pets, who want the job.



I was wondering this morning if The Phantom Tollbooth would be a good one to try. . . I haven't given it to Benjamin yet. He read the brand new graphic novel Muddy Max yesterday and said it was good. (Max gets superpowers when covered in mud. How cool is that?) I admit I haven't read it yet, so I can't personally vouch for it. If you wanted a book to read and discuss together, I'll jump at the chance to recommend the picture book The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman (my review here).


Good luck on your search, Amy! Hopefully there is something here that your six-year-old can sink his teeth into!

Alysa, give me a book recommendation for . . .

"My mom, who loves to read and seems to prefer Christian Fiction." Submitted by Amy.

Ok Amy. I will admit that this is not my strong suit. Your mother may have read both of these already, but if she hasn't, they're ones I can recommend wholeheartedly knowing that all the grown-up ladies who love Christian Fiction of my acquaintance loved these:

I still think about Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas with surprising regularity, considering it's been years since my book club read it.


If your mom hasn't read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society yet, I will be shocked. Shocked! But it's great. So, just in case, I will stick it in here. 

Alysa, give me a book recommendation for . . .

A "series appropriate for 8 year olds that read at about 7th or 8th grade levels that have appropriate content (and that we haven't read)." Submitted by Debra:

After hearing that her son rips through books like crazy (and has already read Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Kane Chronicles, Gregor and the Overlander, and Alatraz books) I thought, "Either we've got to get this kid a really long book, or a book that he can go back to over and over again.
Because you just can't keep up with that.
On that note I thought of The Skull in the Rock which I mentioned over here, and Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World which I reviewed in this post. Skull has lots of awesome science to wrap your brain around, and photos that you can study and dive into. Shipwreck has more adventure packed into it than many a fantasy novel (and it's all true).


Since he likes fantasy, you might look into the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi, if he hasn't already found those.

I also thought that it would be great to pull in some of the series my siblings and I read when we were kids, so that all the books would be available for immediate consumption. The Hobbit (and Lord of the Rings) came to mind. Also I think my brother was about 8 when he first read Ender's Game (though subsequent readings added more depth to his understanding.

When I was 8 I loved The Babysitter's Club by Ann M. Martin and all of Madeline L'Engle's books. When I was in 7th or 8th Grade, I loved reading Holes by Louis Sachar.

Good luck on your search, Debra! I've heard good things about Fablehaven, but I wanted to give you some more to look at. Let me know if I can be of more help and/or what you think of these suggestions.

This post is still open! Fill in the blank!

Alysa, give me a book recommendation for _________!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Why I'm not making a Holiday Gift Guide

'Tis the season for Holiday Gift Guides! And maybe you would think I would make up a nice little book guide for you, and then you could shop from it (using my affiliate links, of course!) and it would be a win-win, right?

But here's the thing. I don't believe in Holiday Gift Guides.

Don't get me wrong, I celebrate Christmas with the best of 'em! But what ends up under my tree doesn't come from Holiday Gift Guides. Once, (once!) I bought something that I saw in the toy guide that Family Fun magazine put out right before the holidays -- but I bought it long after the season had passed.
I bought this game years ago and still love it.
I highly recommend it!
Perfect for preschoolers.
(A little younger or a little older is OK too.)
Tangent: It was the Richard Scarry's Busy Busy Airport Game, by the way. We like it so much that despite taking good care of it, the pieces have begun dying. When we played it last week, the little guys couldn't be put into the planes very well (two years of wear will do that to cardboard) and it was really getting in the way of the game. So, I emailed the manufacturer to ask if I could purchase replacement parts. Good news! They're complimentary, and they arrived today. I am one happy customer. :)


Anyway, if I'm going to go to the trouble of suggesting things for you to purchase this holiday season, I want it to actually be useful to you. So. I am not going to create a Holiday Gift Guide. I'm going to create a list of personalized book recommendations!

I did this on Facebook, quick and dirty, a while back, and it was great fun:

We'll do it like this, but with pictures of those beautiful book covers.
So, fill in the blank and I will recommend you a book, personally! And if you shop through links that I post, I get a small commission. (Even if you don't end up purchasing the item I post about, I can still benefit from those items you do purchase, if you get to the site through my links. Pretty cool, huh?)

I'm thinking I'll do this in a separate post, so that it doesn't have to have all of this explanation on top of it. I'll call it, Not a Holiday Gift Guide: Books to give in 2014.

You can leave your queries on this post or on the Not a Holiday Gift Guide post, I'll see them either place. I'll start adding recommendations Monday 11/17/14 call it quits on 12/18/14, or thereabouts, because after that shipping gets dicey.

So, who do YOU want to buy a book for? One person? A whole family? The same book for several people who will all like it? I'm up for a challenge.

Alysa, give me a book recommendation for __________!

p.s. If you want to include your budget or where online you like to shop, that's fine with me!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pass the Ketchup! The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth



  1. What is it about? All the animals in the Stratford Zoo like to have a little fun when the zoo guests are away. Tonight they're putting on an adaptation of Macbeth!
  2. Who would like it? My former English teacher Mrs. Holland, fans of Macbeth, those of us who need a little refresher on the story. 
  3. What is your favorite line from the book? I've returned it to the library now, but goodness sakes it was fun that Lady Macbeth was played by a leopard. :D 
  4. Who is your favorite character? Hmm, tough call! I liked MacDuff, and I liked the kids in the audience. 

The final word: This version has way more ketchup and a lot less blood than the real deal. I don't think you could pass your English test on Macbeth if you tried to read this version instead of the original.  So, don't even try it! Just read this version for fun -- because it's very very fun. Full color throughout. Can't wait for the next one! Romeo and Juliet debuts in Sept 2015.




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Did you read Macbeth in high school? Ever seen it live? I haven't but the Shakespeare that I have seen performed I've really loved!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Wordless Picture books: Suggestions for a 4-year-old?

Can I just say that I am loving the awesome discussion going on in the comments of the post about Diversifying Your Child's Bookshelf? Such fun! So many good ideas! Let's keep it going. :)

In fact, I liked the thread over there about wordless picture books so much that I want to bring it up here on the main page. I need more suggestions!

picture books for a four year old
Levi is dying for a book he can read all by himself
 My son Levi is four years old and just on the edge of being able to read on his own. He watches his older brother Benjamin come home from school and read voraciously. But when Levi asks Benjamin to read his books out loud, Benjamin often declines, saying, "I'm reading silently."

It won't surprise you, then, that the other day Levi asked me for some books that HE could read silently. When I suggested some of his favorites from our shelf, books that he knows well, he was distraught. "I can't read those!" See, he knows what reading is and he knows he's not quite there yet. But he wants so badly to be able to do what the rest of us do. What a painful stage!



I took him to the library the day after he asked for books to read silently, and we browsed as usual. Then I asked our librarian to recommend some wordless picture books. She came through with the adorable books about Carl by Alexandra Day. However, he rejected these once they got home, because Follow Carl! started with a few words. *augh*

picture books for a four year old

We've read Journey by Aaron Becker, and its sequel, Quest. I plan to revisit Tuesday and Flotsam by David Weisner.



What else is there? I'd love more suggestions. I put Noah's Ark by Peter Spier on hold at my library. Also Where's Walrus? by Stephen Savage -- we all loved that one, but it has been long enough that Levi probably doesn't remember it.


Of course, if you have great suggestions that aren't wordless picture books, I am totally open to those, too. Please tell me what worked for your child at this tricky age. 
Thanks in advance! See you in the comments ;)

picture books for a four year old

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Diversify Your Child's Library: 15 Must-Have Books


Maybe your little ones have a bookshelf of their own, or maybe you've just got what I like to call "a home library." Either way, your child is influenced by the books on the shelf at home. What needs to be there?

You need both quality and quantity. I recently read a great Pacific Standard article about this (Thanks Rachel!) In many cases, quantity leads to diversity. We need diverse books. We need them so much that there is a whole internet movement about it going on right now. (More about that here, and if you search the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag.)

I did see a home library once that was large (yay, quantity!) but homogeneous. (Quality? Diversity?) It was strikingly odd, to me. Three or four whole shelves of little boxed sets of books with beloved characters on them, made to teach readers their numbers, shapes and colors. I was like, "Hey, this looks cute!" But when I looked closer I got bored just reading the spines of the books. I opened them up andyep! They were all alike inside.

Anyway, I wanted to write for you a list of 15 books you must have. But as I explored this idea I couldn't get on board. There aren't 15 specific children's books that your children really have to have, in order to be healthy, functional members of society. But I did come up with 15 types of books that ought to be on the shelf. Because the young learner needs quality, quantity, and diversity. We need diverse books.

15 must-have books for your child's home library

1. A book that is really special to you: I have the very first book that my dad ever read on his own: Dash & Dart. What a gem! And I hunted down my own copy of Chris Van Allsburg's Swan Lake because I have such fond memories of my parents reading it to me.

2. A book you never get tired of reading: Personally, I could read The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry out loud to my kids every day for the rest of my life.


3. A book your child loves, but you hate: Buttercup Petal Pixiesthis was a castoff from a friend and I was sorting through the box and totally going to donate this one, but then Benjamin wanted to read it (and read it again and again) and Levi did too, eventually. Maybe it's the glitter. Maybe it's something else? For me, the story limps along. The pictures are uninspiring. But the book is not pernicious in any way. For now, it stays.


4. A book that is fantasy: Don't stress, pretty much all of Dr. Seuss qualifies, here.


5. A book that is realistic fiction: I love Penny and Her Song by Kevin Henkes.


6. A graphic novel:  Nursery Rhyme Comics is like, the best pick ever. A graphic novel-style picture book my boys have been loving lately is Julia's House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke.

7. A book about the human body: Go check out the whole section at the library and pick the one you like best. Then buy it. I'd like to buy Who Has What? by Robie Harris which I read for the Cybils last year.

8. A book about your family or your child: A journal, a photo album, or something of the like.


9. A book with a protagonist of a different race: No, animals don't count as a different race from you. I love Alvin Ho, who is Chinese-American. He also has an anxiety disorder.

10. A book that makes you laugh: Petite Rouge Riding Hood always does it for me!

11. A book that is especially fun to read out loud: I made a list of 10 good ones, here.

12. A book popular culture loves: Part of reading is making cultural connections and the well-read kid is one who has read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, and more. Right now Pete the Cat is really big.

13. A book that's poetry: Poetry just deepens the soul, man. Try My Dog is a Carrot by John Hegley.

14. A book written in another time period: Because the time in which an author lives puts an indelible stamp on the book, and lends a new perspective. How about Betsy-Tacy?

15. A book published in the last two years: You'd only have to buy a new book once every two years to keep up with this requirement! You can handle that. Here are seven great places to buy books.

______________________
Do you know what book I need? A dictionary! I have realized this gap in my library for some years, butlet's be honestI just look things up on my phone. That works great for me personally, but now I have a reader! And he doesn't have a phone (and at age 6 I'm not going to give him one).  Right now he's dependent on me for definitions of words, and sometimes, we're both dependent on my phone. I think he would love a good children's dictionary. Do you have a recommendation?

What are some of the must-have books in your own library?
What type of book would you put at #16?
What has worked for you with your home library and what do you struggle with?

Let's talk in the comments, below. I'll meet you there.

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