Tag Archives: classic lit

For Mama: Books for Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day and what better way to celebrate than through all of the literature the celebrates mothers. Moms appear in a lot of children’s literature as they are primary caretakers for so many children. What got me thinking about this post, other than it being Mother’s Day, is the classic book by Robert Munsch – Love You Forever. We had two copies of this on our house because moms love it and kids like to hear about how much they are loved. This story still brings a tear to my eye.

Not all stories about moms are the same because not all moms are the same. Some of the best stories about moms talk about all the different moms about there and how they love us, no matter who they are and no matter if we try to flush their keys down the toilet. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Mom and Me by Marla Konrad. For very little ones, this picture books shows moms and kids from all over the world and the love that they share. Though it does not identify location or culture, the photos show children how different moms still do many of the same things.
  • Mama’s Kiss by Jane Yolen. The always fantastic Yolen shares the hilarious tale of what happens when Mama’s kiss does hit its target and instead starts to travel the world.
  • Mother Number Zero by Marjolijn Hof. A recent chapter book for older readers, Mother Number Zero explores the issues of adoption and wanting to know all of ones mothers.
  • Brushing Mom’s Hair by Andrea Cheng. Another chapter book for older readers, this verse novel explores the emotions of Ann as her mother deals with breast cancer.
  • I have already mentioned the fabulous Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman in my post about GLBTQ lit, but Mother’s Day means it deserves another mention. Along the same lines check out Molly’s Family by Nancy Garden about drawing exactly what your family is to you and In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco, which deals with adoption as well as same sex parenting and the love and challenges that go with both.

There are almost as many stories about moms as there are moms. No matter what form your family takes – happy Mother’s Day and happy reading!

Focus on the Illustrator: Eric Carle

I’ve realized that throughout this blog, I’ve mentioned Eric Carle a number of times. When talking about children’s literature with non-librarians, when I mention him, all I have to say is The Very Hungry Caterpillar and they know who I am talking about. His style is written in the memories of many children and his dedication to children’s learning is impressive.

Like many of my favorite illustrators, Carle is also an author. He has, through writing and illustrating, been involved in more than 70 different books and his stories have been translated into dozens of languages.

What makes Carle such an important influence of children’s literature? In my opinion, it’s how he writes for children and, more importantly in this blog post, how he illustrates. Using a unique collage style, his illustrations are always very colorful and very interesting to look at. His focus on nature, as seen through The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Tiny Seed, The Mixed-Up Chameleon, and The Very Lonely Firefly, among many others, is something that children love to read about.

Carle is not something new to most readers, but he is someone to pay attention to. Through his many board books, he has taught many children about concepts such as shapes, colors, sounds, and the alphabet. His legacy is so great that he has a museum dedicated to his work. Another great part of Carle’s style is how children love to emulate it. An idea for a lesson plan is to read some of his works and then try to make collages using his hand painted paper style. It’s another way to connect kids to literature and make them a part of it.

Board Books: Solid Reading

Often when we talk about children’s literature and reading, we’re talking about readers from ages 4 or 5 and up, but attention should be paid to our younger readers, or pre-readers as they are often called. These little ones get a special section of books that tell simple stories in a solid format. I’m talking about board books.

Board books are often made from cardboard, though some use other soft materials, and deal with easy concepts, like colors, numbers, or shapes, or are adapted versions of picture books. The idea is that babies can turn the pages themselves and be read to or “read” a book from a very early age. The cardboard and soft materials are used because babies are still learning about themselves and are tactile learners. This can mean that pages end up in their mouths, but this is all a part of the reading and learning process.These small size books are designed to be handled by babies and give them a head start in learning to read.

Some of the best board books have other tactile learning opportunities, such as through the classic Pat the Bunny, which uses soft fur, mirrors, and pop-ups to create an interactive reading experience for babies.

Other great board books to consider are:

  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. This classic goodnight story is perfect as a board book as there are things to spy and a loving poem to read.
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle. Using Carle’s distinctive style, babies can learn to identify colors through repetitive language.
  • Animals (Baby Touch and Feel) by Dorling Kindersley. DK publishers know a lot about teaching children and this fun board book uses different textures to teach babies about animals, which is always a fun subject for little ones.
  • Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by Grace Lin. This book does double duty in teaching children about Chinese culture and shapes at the same time. The illustrations by Lin are beautiful and even if baby ends up chewing on them, they will get a lot out of this book.

When looking at board books, look for bright colors, conceptual ideas, and tactile learning opportunities. And don’t forget your favorite authors – many classic stories have been made into board books.

Favorite Childhood Authors

Yesterday’s post got me thinking about my childhood favorite authors. Though some of them may be obvious, they include:

  • Roald Dahl
  • Dr. Seuss
  • Jon Scieszka
  • Eric Kimmel
  • Beverly Cleary
  • Judy Blume
  • E.B. White
  • Eric Carle

As I mentioned yesterday, Roald Dahl continues to be a favorite of mine. As much as I loved any other author, he was always first. His putting children first as the hero is part of what has made him an enduring figure in the children’s literature canon. He has an entire month (it’s Scrumdiddlyumptious September) dedicated to him! He also recognizes that children love silly things. Who else would come up with a word like scrumdiddlyumptious? And what are snozzcumbers? If you’ve read The BFG, you know!

Reading The Twits, 1993

The author, age 10

Nonsense is part of what makes children’s literature so fun to read, even as an adult. Dr. Seuss is the all-time master of nonsense. The reason nonsense is so important is because it triggers the imagination. What kinds of words can you make up? What do they mean? Say something silly and then try to define it. By doing so, you’re working on literacy skills and vocabulary. Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelusky are favorites because of their awareness of the power of silly. Another silly favorite? Jon Scieszka. From The Stinky Cheese Man to The Frog Prince Continued to The Time Warp Trio series, everything I read by him was ridiculous and made me laugh.

Not everything I was a fan of as a child was silly. Like a lot of children from the 80s and becoming big readers in the 90s, I loved The Babysitter’s Club and The Boxcar Children. Series books are still popular with kids and it’s not hard to see why. You get to follow characters over a period of time and many adventures. These characters gain depth and you get to know them. It also makes the question “What do I read next?” very easy to answer.

I was also a fan of classic children’s literature. I tore through The Secret Garden, couldn’t get enough of Anne of Green Gables (and the rest of her stories), and loved Ramona. Obviously I was a fan of historical fiction and realistic fiction. I also loved folktales. Eric Kimmel is an astounding storyteller and very prolific. Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins was my absolute favorite Chanukah book growing up, so much so that I would take it out of my parent’s closet at random times of the year just to read it because I couldn’t wait until Chanukah rolled around again.

Another category I adored was fantasy. Though I wasn’t as into dragons and knights, I liked animal stories, particularly those by E.B. White. My copy of Stuart Little is falling apart, but that’s because it is so well loved. Recently, I picked up a copy of Charlotte’s Web, which is an enduring favorite of many children. Though not as fantastical as some, these both represent the breadth of fantasy novels.

And speaking of animals, the work of Eric Carle is beloved because of his artwork and representation of animals. Admittedly, I started reading him later on, when my younger brother was given The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This beautiful picture book drew me in and made me a lifelong fan. Picture books are wonderful for children of all ages and you never know what’s going to catch a child’s eye at any age.

Many children have a wide variety of interests and you never know what might snag them into reading and reading a lot. Though obviously anyone interested in working with children should attempt to keep up with the ever changing field of children’s literature, introducing a child to one of your childhood favorites is a great place to hook children in. Your passion for the text often translates into the way you talk about it. That enthusiasm is contagious. Shel Silverstein is still a favorite of children and it’s not just because he’s silly. It’s also because of the generations of children that loved him before and shared that love with the next group of kids.

Share the love. Share your favorites!

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

Today is Dr. Seuss’ birthday and for a blog named after one of his quotes, he must be honored. It would be hard not to anyway as Dr. Seuss colored my childhood much like he did to many others and as he continues to do today.

Dr. Seuss published over 60 books and is known as the creator of the easy reader (Random House, 2011). That first title? The Cat in the Hat, which he wrote in 1957 when asked to write a book for children using less than 300 words (Vardell, 2008, p. 46). These simple vocabulary books, many of which are easily found searching for Seuss’ Beginner Books series, often have chapters and are designed to help children develop the vocabulary and confidence in reading they need to transition from picture books to chapter books. Often silly, these books teach children a love of reading.  Seuss’ influence in this area is so profound that the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA) has named an award after him. The Geisel Award is given to “author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year” (ALSC, n.d.). You can see all of his early readers and ones inspired by him on the official Dr. Seuss Website, Seussville.

So how can we celebrate the birthday of the man that taught many children to love to read and still has an influence today? We can have special storytimes while wearing the Cat in the Hat hat (and there are a number of excellent books to choose from). Designed for teachers, A to Z Teacher Stuff has a list of lesson plans and activities for celebrating this special day. If you’re looking for a way to integrate electronic resources, there are a number of Seuss related apps available both for Apple products and Android based ones. You can try having a  writing day, employing the Seuss-ical style of anapestic tetrameter and silly, nonsense words. Or check out these amazing Dr. Seuss-inspired cakes!

The most important thing to remember is to have fun with whatever you do to celebrate this day. As the man himself said: “I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.” So do something silly, make up some words, plants, or animals, but do something. If you get into it, kids will too and that’s the best way to honor Dr, Seuss, the best reading teacher of all time.

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ALSC. (n.d.) Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/geiselaward/geiselabout/index.cfm

Random House. (2011). Seussville. Retrieved from http://www.seussville.com/#/home

Vardell, S. M. (2008). Children’s literature in action: A librarian’s guide. Westport, CN: Libraries Unlimited.

National Pancake Day

Though it seems weird to have my inaugural post be something other than “hi, welcome to the blog!”, today is National Pancake Day and that deserves some respect.

So what does National Pancake Day have to do with children’s literature? Well, a lot actually. My first thought after starting this blog and realizing the importance of today (because a day dedicated to pancakes cannot be anything other than important, right?), I thought of a very special book from my childhood. That book is, of course, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Book CoverThis was the book that I checked out from the library over and over again and part of that had to do with the pancake that lands on the school. How utterly ridiculous is that? That kind of nonsense is what draws some children in to read. Of course we know a pancake could never land on a school. But what if it did? What would a town like Chewandswallow actually be like? I think this book could be a part of a fun National Pancake Day lesson. Why not read it while eating pancakes? Or after teaching children to make pancakes?

There is a wide variety of cookbooks for kids. Everyone from high end cookware retailer Williams-Sonoma (The Cookbook for Kids: Great Recipes for Kids Who Love to Cook) to Nickelodeon (Dora and Diego – Let’s Cook) has come out with a cookbook that will help you teach kids how to cook. This kind of tactile learning is important for some children and can help connect the imaginary world of a book to real life.

So dig into a short stack of pancakes and books and celebrate National Pancake Day!