Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Picture Book Review - Baby Bear Counts One

Kids and animals are a natural match, aren't they? Sprout's been fascinated by animals almost from the first day we met, quickly getting over his hesitations with our dog Maxie to the point that within a few days of coming home, he was imitating her behavior. Our early days as a family were cemented by trips to the zoo and watching squirrels out our dining room window. Once we started visiting the library, the animal books came home in droves - we went through obsessions with dogs, cats, sea creatures and now dinosaurs. Lately Sprout's become a collector of animal-related trivia; spend much time with him, and you're bound to learn all kinds of facts about peregrine falcons and even, as I recently found out, the African crested porcupine (yep, it's a real animal).

And I know Sprout's not alone in his love for critters, which is why I tend to share so many of them here on the blog. (Also, I really like them - and it's my blog, so there.) Today's pick is one that will be a huge hit with the youngest kiddos, because it marries a concept and adorable animals. Honestly, take a look at the cover for Ashley Wolff's Baby Bear Counts One -- can you even stand the cuteness??

This title's a follow-up to Wolff's Baby Bear Sees Blue, which as you might expect was all about colors. With this outing, Baby Bear is watching some strange things happen in the forest around him. The animals are preparing for winter, and Baby Bear is noticing what they're up to -- and counting as he goes. Squirrels drop acorns on him, prompting Baby Bear to count how many of the quick gray critters are cavorting around (two, as it happens). Turkeys are filling up on grapes before the cold weather moves in, and Baby Bear counts six of them. And the geese are flying way in search of warmer climes -- this flock is nine strong, by Baby Bear's reckoning. Fortunately, everyone accomplishes what they need to before the snowflakes fly. And of course, Baby Bear counts those too!

Wolff uses linoblock techniques for the striking images throughout Baby Bear Counts One. I'm not sure how the illustrations could be better - drenched in color, strong graphics, and plenty of little visual surprises that kids can pore over. This would absolutely work for babies and toddlers too. Best of all, there's such a lovely sense of fall running throughout. I'm fully aware that it's spring now, and we should be reading about bunnies and chicks and all things vernal, but Baby Bear is just too cute to resist. Reading this one, you'll be so drawn into the fall preparations that you'll probably want to do what we did and snuggle up in the blankets to share this book one more time through.

For creature-minded kiddos, for talking about seasons, or for just sharing a concept book that gives even more than just one-two-three, Baby Bear Counts One is a charming addition to any kid's bookshelf!

Baby Bear Counts One by Ashley Wolff, published by Beach Lane Books
Ages 1-3
Source: Library
Sample: "Deep down in the den, Baby Bear perks his furry ears. Thockthockthockthockthock! 'Mama, who woke me?' he asks. 'That is the woodpecker,' says Mama, 'hunting beetles before winter comes.' / Baby Bear counts 1."

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Picture Book Review - Where Do You Look? by Marthe & Nell Jocelyn

Wow! It's awesome to have had such a positive response to my last post, which was a brim-ful list of terrific diverse board books for babies and toddlers. Thanks to all who shared this list. Stay tuned for more such lists in the weeks and months to come, to help all of us color our bookshelves just a little more deeply.

Tonight's pick, while not a board book, is similarly pitched for the younger kiddos in the bunch. I've blogged before about concept books, and about how hard it can be to find unique titles in this area of kidlit. (Not to mention that it's downright impossible to find diverse concept books!) Granted, concepts by their very nature are building blocks of larger life, so right there you have a basically elemental nature. But for kids who are ready to move on beyond colors and numbers, well, it can be tough to find books that are less than didactic. Which is strange when you think of it, because there's plenty of room for humor where things like the English language are concerned.

Take homonyms, for instance -- the subject of today's pick, Where Do You Look? by Marthe & Nell Jocelyn. I mean, homonyms are arguably the biggest troublemakers of spoken word in America. Having no facility for languages at all myself, I can't imagine how much confusion these sound-alike, mean-different words cause to non-native English speakers. The mother-daughter Jocelyn team have taken a really fun approach to this topic, by posing questions: Where do you look for a tongue? for instance (Answers: In a shoe? Or in your mouth?). The dichotomies posed here are all kinds of silly, and kids who might be picturing one thing will laugh when they see the other, like Sprout, who was absolutely picturing ocean beaches rather than departing passengers for the keyword "wave".

Even better, the collage style illustrations by Nell Jocelyn add a sense of whimsy to the word pairings. I'm a big fan of collage for picture books - I love the depth that the varying textures and layers add to the pictures. I also think it encourages kids to look at materials (fabrics, papers, yarn, etc.) in their world and consider adding such items to their own artwork. The pictures in Where Do You Look? are pitch-perfect for the text, and best of all they are very inclusive. Most of the word-pairing elements are woven into the final spreads, which gives a nice sense of tying everything together. Plus, not only are there lots of people of color here, there are quite a few wearing glasses, which makes me happy. :)

Add this to the shelf in your classroom or library and prepare for some awesome discussions about sound-alikes coming your way. Then you'll have to ask yourself, Where Do You Look?!

Where Do You Look? by Marthe & Nell Jocelyn, published by Tundra Books
Ages 4-6
Source: Library

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Color Your Bookshelf: 39 Diverse Board Books to Give a Baby or Toddler

I'm of the strong opinion that books are some of the best gifts to give families adding a new member. Onesies and diaper bags are all fine, of course, but books lay the foundation of early learning that rewards a child for his or her entire life. Also, books are a great choice if the child isn't a newborn. Sprout came into our family at 12 months old, and so it was hard to judge just what he needed, but the board books we got as gifts still occupy a prominent place on his bookshelf.

Generally I just do single-title reviews here on the Bookshelf, because I think each title is a gem and should shine all on its own. But I'm breaking with tradition to come up with this list of titles that make a perfect gift for anyone adding a baby or toddler to their family. Please note: these are NOT book recommendations solely for children of color. White kids need these books too. I cannot stress this enough. If we're going to raise global citizens, if we're going to foster inclusion and tolerance, we've got to start diversifying every single child's bookshelf. And we need to do that from day one.

So - on to the list!

First up is one Sprout adored as a baby himself, and which we've given to several families -- Global Babies by the Global Fund for Children. Babies love to look at other babies, so this is a sure-fire hit. We received two copies of this when Sprout came home, and it's a good thing because we've worn both out! Also look for other Global Fund for Children titles: Global Baby Girls and American Babies.

Another pair of titles Sprout read a lot as a toddler are the board books Whose Knees Are These? and Whose Toes Are Those? by Jabari Asim. Bright and cheerful, with colorful graphics, these simple titles speak directly to a young child's interest in his/her own person. And, they are super fun to boot. I can still quote chunks of this: "knees like these don't grow on trees!" Also fun are Asim's Girl of Mine and Boy of Mine -- all are illustrated by the incomparable LeUyen Pham.

We recently read Anna McQuinn's new book Leo Loves Baby Time, the companion to her series featuring African American toddler Lola and her little brother Leo. (It isn't a board book, but does have reinforced pages for small kiddos.) Though he's a little old for it now, Sprout loved revisiting these favorite characters and seeing Leo in the starring role in McQuinn's comforting and happy title. Lola at the Library is available in board book form, and we read it nearly every week, either before or after our Friday visit to stock up on books.

Cheryl Willis Hudson did a few terrific board books several years ago, and I'm glad to see they are still in print for families and libraries to add to their collections. Good Morning, Baby and Good Night, Baby deal with routines familiar to any little one, and it's nice to see African American kids in the main roles here. These are solid stories likely to earn a central place in your read-aloud routine. Also look for Let's Count, Baby and Animal Sounds for Baby, in the same series but maybe a little harder to find.

Two new books that are widely available, and which we just adore, are both written by Mary Brigid Barrett. Pat-A-Cake and All Fall Down sound like they are based on the familiar rhymes, and while there are some similarities, Barrett has put an entirely new spin on things. These are breezy, easy reads, bound to capture -- and keep -- the attention of a toddler. Oh, and if those illustrations look familiar, it's because the artist probably is: LeUyen Pham, whose work I was just raving about a little bit ago.

Another recent title that is a real visual treat is Julie Morstad's take on the poem The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson. I have a soft spot for this poem, it being my particular childhood favorite from Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. Morstad has reimagined this verse and set it in a classic format, depicting a gaggle of children experiencing the swing in various venues. I love that the diversity is woven so seamlessly into this quietly striking title, never feeling forced or premeditated, just natural, as all kinds of kids do love to swing!

Free Spirit Publishing has produced the "Happy Healthy Baby" series of board books by Elizabeth Verdick and Marjorie Lisovskis. Each one works well on its own, but giving the whole series to a family would be so much fun. Sprout and I read Reach, all about babies engaging with the world by reaching out. He liked seeing the pictures, which are striking black-and-white photos of babies of various ethnicities. The series also contains Eat, Move, and Cuddle, and every entry looks even cuter than the one before.

Little Scholastic did a line of board books a few years ago that are nicely diverse. We bought Welcome Fall for our bookshelf before Sprout joined our family, and he was pretty much obsessed with it for quite a long while. The series includes books for each season (Welcome Spring is a nice one too), books on manners like Please and Thank You and Uh-Oh! I'm Sorry and informative titles like My Body. There are interactive components in most of these titles, which really adds to the enjoyment for babies and toddlers.

A colleague recommended Karen Baicker's books to me, and they were among the first we checked out of the library, before Sprout was totally ready to handle books with paper pages. I Can Do It Too! and You Can Do It Too! stand alone just fine, but work quite nicely together. The illustrations by Ken Wilson-Max bring these titles to life, and the gentle reassurance of the message is a nice identity boost for all children.

Roberta Grobel Intrater wrote a series of board books called Baby Faces, and they are just about as cute as can be. The photos are gorgeous, clear and bold to draw the attention of little ones and keep it. Most libraries have these (or should - suggest if your library doesn't!) and I've seen them in many bookstores as well. We've read and loved several, including Splash!Smile!, and Peek-A-Boo!, and there are quite a few more. A couple of these books, plus some small toys and a onesie, would make a terrific basket for a new baby.

Rachel Fuller is another author/illustrator who has done several board books with diversity. Each title is bright and colorful, just the thing for stimulating a young child's curiosity in books. The stories are simple enough that kiddos won't get lost, which is a nice feature of books like these that truly are written to be board books. Most of the titles are geared around the addition of a new sibling, so they can work for kids of varying ages, something not all board books do well. Among the titles: Look at Me!Waiting for Baby (multiracial family in this one!), and You and Me.

We were fortunate to get some really terrific board books as shower gifts, some of which we still read together almost four years later. Among these was Susan Meyers' Everywhere Babies, illustrated by Marla Frazee. (This is available in a hardcover edition or board book - you can't go wrong either way, I promise you.) I adore the way Frazee incorporates diversity seamlessly into almost every one of her books, and this is no exception. Little ones will love looking at all the babies, and the sweetly sentimental text will appeal to their grownups as well.

No diverse bookshelf is complete without books by Helen Oxenbury. Her delightfully chubby babies and toddlers make the perfect complement to her simple phrases and plots. We loved so many of her board books when Sprout was younger, and even now I can quote large swatches of text from some of them. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes was a gift from a sweet friend, a total classic that we read every night during bathtime. Say Goodnight, Clap Hands, Tickle Tickle, All Fall Down-- all of these are fabulous and bound to become part of a baby's daily book time.

You can't go wrong with any of the titles we've compiled above, so add these and other diverse titles to your gift list for new families. What are your favorite multicultural books to read with a baby or toddler?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood by Tameka Fryer Brown

The other day, Sprout came home in a mood that was way out of sorts. He's usually pretty easy going, but this particular night he was grouchy in the extreme. Right from the get-go, he made it clear that life wasn't going his way -- by complaining about dinner, throwing his coat, stomping down the hall (because right off the bat, we advised him to spend some cooling-off time in his room).

The whole evening got me thinking about moods, and how outside circumstances can influence our outlook on life. Who among us hasn't had their whole day lifted by some unexpected good news, or ended up in a terrible frame of mind after being stuck in traffic? It happens to little guys too, let's not forget. . . I had to remind myself of that, once Sprout calmed down and was able to verbalize what was going on with him (a falling-out with one of his best buddies had put him in an instant funk). We've all been there.

Tameka Fryer Brown examines the changeability of moods within one single day in her recent picture book My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood. I'd seen this one being talked about on the blogosphere, and was anxious to review it, though I thought it would be pretty similar to this title that I reviewed just a couple of months ago. Happily, though the mood/color connection was reminiscent, Brown's book is a stand-out all on its own. And it features illustrations by Shane Evans, whose artistic style we really love, making Cold Plum all the more distinct in its own right.

Jamie, the main character in Cold Plum, is having an up-and-down day. It starts off pretty good, in a "cold-plum eating / grape-juice drinking" purple kind of way. Then he runs into some trouble with his older brothers, and Jamie's day swings over to a stormy gray. It's better when he colors with his little sister ("Jell-O green"), worse when his brothers make fun of him ("brooding black mood"), and ends up being pretty okay, "cool, blue okay" as Jamie does the dishes after a really awesome dinner with his family.

Evans plays with Brown's vivid, snappy words -- poems really -- by creating spreads that are color-drenched and deep with tone and texture. Each page stands on its own as a representation of the specific mood Brown's getting at. I really like brown, the color that the author uses for Jamie's determination to stop being pushed around by his big brothers. "Planted. . . fierce. . ./ Not backing down -- Grrrrrrrr! / Big, strong brown / I win!". Love, love, love this image of brown as a strong, determined boy standing up for what he believes in. This is a terrific, subtle reinforcement for kiddos like Sprout, who not only have shared Jamie's feelings, but also share the same skin color.

Read My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood and enjoy the rhythm of the text as well as the images it evokes. Then take a break to talk with your kiddo about feelings, moods and the ways we choose to react to the happenings of our day. There's a lot of opportunity here, for discussion as well as expression.

My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood by Tameka Fryer Brown, published by Viking
Ages 3-6
Source: Library

Monday, March 17, 2014

Yes, Let's by Galen Goodwin Longstreth

One of the tasks that's been drawing my attention away from the blog these days is planning for our first family road trip. Travel is pretty important to our family life, and in fact we've figured out that we Kinsers get a bit itchy when we don't have a trip on the horizon. Hubs and I have been wanting to do a road trip for a while, but while Sprout was still pretty little it seemed like it would be more of a headache than anything. (Let's face it -- when your kiddo is potty training, even a trip to the grocery store can require an unplanned stop!) But now that he's almost five (FIVE??!??), it seems much more doable. And so we're planning to hit the road in early summer for a road trip to Utah to see (what else?) dinosaurs. :)

But though our summer trip is going to be several days, there's no substitution for a day heading off into the wilds to have an adventure. Living in the Pacific Northwest, there's a bounty of natural wilderness all around us, and we love to get out and explore. A recent read of ours -- Galen Goodwin Longstreth's Yes, Let's -- introduces kids to just how thrilling it can be to see what nature has in store. (I didn't know until I read her bio that Galen Longstreth is from Seattle, but it totally makes sense!) Right from the get-go, you know this is going to be a fun title; the endpapers are styled like the family's refrigerator, complete with trail map, photos from past outings, lists ("animals to look for") and a grocery list, helpfully amended by one of the young members of the party to include basic staples -- like chocolate chips.

And that's just the beginning of the delightful illustrations by Maris Wicks, who definitely knows how to capture family life. Here we have a family of seven: Mom, Dad and four children, plus their adorable scruffy puppy, and they are out for a day of exploration. "Let's wake up extra early, before the day gets hot. / Let's pack a picnic, hurry up -- ready or not." So begins the adventure, where we see the family cajoling Mom and Dad out of bed, then the whole crew packing lunch (the youngest pouring extra extra chocolate chips into the trail mix. . . hence the grocery list addition!).

The tone Longstreth strikes throughout this one-of-a-kind picture book is spot on. Yes, Let's is all happy excitement, the anticipation of the events buoying the family through. Even though some small mishaps do occur, nothing can deter from the pure delight of experience. The joy of dropping backpacks and shedding layers down to swimsuits, then jumping into the possibly-too-cold-at-first water; the hopefulness of making boats out of sticks and leaves; the laziness of lounging with a book on the riverbank -- it's all here, evoking memories of encounters past for parents, and building the thrill of future outings in the minds of kids. The day winds down as the book does, with a stop for dinner and then a parent toting in a sleeping child. It's a classic summer adventure, the kind captured in photos to remember afterward. Who among us hasn't had days much like this, and long for the same for our own children?

Yes, Let's is a terrific book that deserves a wide audience, because it's about nothing more than enjoying time together in nature, as a family. Read this one now, if you're itching for spring, and start to plan your own summer escapades. It's fun to have adventures together -- so let's!

Yes, Let's by Galen Goodwin Longstreth, published by Tanglewood Books
Ages 3-6
Source: Library
Sample: "Let's hike the trail, hop the stream, and duck the fallen logs. / Let's go this way, we've got all day -- someone call the dog."