Monday, December 28, 2009

No Storytime this week

I'm having a holiday rest, eating mince pies and going to the zoo with my little boy.

We'll be back next week Monday January 4th.

Friday, December 18, 2009


The Gruffalo's Child by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
The Gruffalo's child is pretty certain that the big bad mouse is just a fairy tale, he sets out through the snow to try and find some answers. Instead he meets a mouse and a big bad one at that. A charming follow up to the classic Gruffalo story, all set in snowy woods.

Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Peter wakes up one day to find everything covered in snow, then he has a lot of snow based adventures on his city block. My favourite thing about this 1960s classic is the way the narrative collapses from time to time, it reminds me of the way my son retells events. Also the pocket full of snowball is a brilliant illustration.

One Year With Kipper by Mick Inkpen
Kipper documents his whole year with his new camera then makes the photos into a poster for a Christmas present for his friend Tiger.

Santa's Twinkly Christmas Eve by Janine Amos and Lucy Pearce
Although not a great work of children's literature this little board book has a special feature, it is studded with lights that twinkle when you press the button. Absolutely captivating for the under 3s.

The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
There are so many excellent illustrated versions of this poem, I like the Jan Brett one or the newish one by Matt Tavares. The poem itself is a little archaic in parts, but the naming of the reindeer is essential Christmas stuff.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Storytime is cancelled on Monday 14th December due to illness.

We'll be back next week with a Christmas storytime.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Monsters and Dinosaurs

Bootsie Barker Bites
by Barbara Bottner.

Sometimes, people are not very nice. And sometimes children are downright monstrous (even girls). Bootsie Barker Bites addresses this issue with style. Wit, wisdom, dinosaurs, a rocket, chocolate donuts and a salamander all make an appearance in an ideal book for kindergardeners who are just discovering the meaner side of their sweet little friends.

Horns to Toes and Inbetween by Sandra Boynton.

A simple board book with catchy rhymes about parts of the body. I ask the children to point to the part we're talking about, someone always laughs when I ask where their tail is.

Dinosaur Roar by Paul & Henrietta Strickland.

A great opposites book with some happy friendly dinosaurs in it. I love the unconventional opposites too, like "clean and slimy" or "spiky and lumpy". It makes a nice change from "up and down".

The Wild Things by Maurice Sendak.

A classic in which Max becomes the King of All the Wild Things but gets lonely and goes home for his still warm supper. Cover to Cover has a resident Wild Thing, he's about the size of a toddler and a bit dogeared, he often gets sat on. He's stuffed, of course.

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson.

"there's no such thing as a Gruffal...oh". A clever little mouse talks his way out of trouble with the unwitting help of a creature he thought he'd invented. I love this book, it's smart and funny and a real example of how not to be scared of monsters.

We'll sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" (including the verse "if you see the Wild Things don't forget to scream"), "Heads and Shoulders, Knees and Toes" and "There's a Monster in my Closet" which is to the tune of "If you're happy and you know it" where we get to choose what colour it is and what noise it makes before we finally get to meet it. And the poem will be "the Dark" by Carol-Ann Duffy.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Things That Go

Yes, we'll be reading stories as usual on Monday morning at 10.30am.

This week we're doing an old favorite. Things That Go.

Smash Crash by Jon Scieszka, David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon
The first of the excellent Trucktown series by Scieszka and what can only be described as contemporary children's illustrator royalty. These books are intened to interest young boys in reading. As such, some parents find them a little difficult to sanction. As the title suggests, two trucks, who are best friends, ride around the town smashing and crashing, sometimes this is helpful and sometimes it isn't. They try to avoid the adult presence in the book, but they can't zoom away forever.

The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper and Loren Long
his 1950s classic is seen throughout the world as a truly American tale. A struggle over adversity and a triumph for the little engine who wants to be helpful and try her best. I read from a version with the original text and modern illustrations by Loren Long, but I edit as I read. The idea of giving a child a "jack knife" now seems too odd to read aloud. I also edit the mean-spiritedness of the unhelpful trains, although mostly because my audience is normally 3 years and under and expecting them to sit still for the full length of the original text is a little unreasonable.

Machines go to Work by William Low
One of those beautiful books which is more about the illustration than the story. A series of machines at work and some whole page flaps make this a very popular one with the under 3s.

B is for Bulldozer by June Sobel and Melissa Iwai
We can find all the letters of the alphabet on this construction site and the last page gives us a great and eXciting surprise.

Tractor Trouble
A little board book about a cow who thinks she can drive a tractor and the chaos that ensues. This one is not available to buy, unfortunately as it is published by UK retailer Marks & Spencer. Good old M&S :)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

You, Me and Everyone

(This is a slightly nebulous theme which allows me to include some great new books. Although it could also be titled "being ourselves and being together")

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee

A brand new book with warm illustrations and a simple rhyming scheme which links together everything and everyone in the world. It's an inspirational read, just in time for the holidays.

Jeremy Draws a Monster by Peter McCarty

Jeremy never plays outside with the other children from the neighborhood, so when he draws a very demanding monster who comes to life, he has to rely on his own wits to get it out of the house. A book about tackling your inner demons and about joining the group to save yourself, from yourself. I also think that this book gives children the opportunity to see an abusive relationship where one party is unequivocally monstrous.

On a lighter note, that's the funniest hat I've ever seen a monster wear.

My Truck is Stuck by Kevin Lewis and Daniel Kirk

From the dream team that brought us the classic Chugga Chugga Choo Choo is a truck related story with some sneaky counting and off kilter rhythms. Fun all round.

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

A little boy discovers a small patch of green growing in the city and helps it along until the city is full of garden and gardeners. Crisp modern illustration, with a fantastical twist and a simple storyline make this one of my favorite new books of 2009. It's actually the story of the Highlands railway, a disused railway track in NYC which has been converted to a community garden.

Duck on a Bike by David Shannon

Duck decides to ride a bike and show off to all the other farm animals. Their responses are complex, they say moo, or squeak, or oink or maaa, but they think something different and then they do something else entirely! It's difficult to know what other people really think, but it's easy to have fun playing together.

The songs will be “This is Me” by Laurie Berkner, "Heads, Shoulders Knees and Toes" and "Old Macdonald"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

In the City

Noisy City Night by Sara Anderson. There are lots of good noises in this excellent board book, the weeeeee you of firetrucks the rumble of underground trains and the old man muttering. It's a delight to read aloud and always catches the toddler's attention. The book is also made of cityscape cut outs and has a number of jokes for the grown ups, take a look at the wording on the billboards, my favourite is "you never did like peas".

Block City by Robert Louis Stevenson and Daniel Kirk. That's right, that Stevenson. It's a great little poem about a boy building a city from blocks and then laying waste to it. Daniel Kirk is an expert illustrator and he really brings the poem and the city to life.

Corduroy by Don Freeman. There are many department stores in the city, just like the one that Corduroy the bear lives in. A charming children's classic which stands the test of time. A small bear really wants someone to take him home, but he needs to find his missing button first, he has quite an adventure looking for the button. In the end though, he doesn't need it for someone to love him and take him home.

The Adventures of Taxi Dog by Debra Barracca, Sal Barracca, and Mark Buehner. A stray dog is adopted by a taxi driver in New York and together they meet lots of new faces. Just like the other Barracca and Buehner books there are lots of things to see in the illustrations. I always skip the page with the pregnant woman thought, she's not "sick", she's having a baby, a strange association to make in a modern book.

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems. A fantastic little book about the perils of taking a beloved toy to the laundrette. I love it when the Dad is about to give up looking for Knuffle Bunny, takes one look at his daughter and decides to look harder.

We'll be singing "The Wheels on the Bus", "Train is a-Coming" and "My Dog" and the poem will be Julia Bird's "Picture Book for Urban Babies".

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


So Much! by Trish Cooke and Helen Oxenbury

This is a beautiful big book, with a wonderful warm heart. It's the story of the gradual gathering of a large family, through the eyes of the baby. Helen Oxenbury's illustrations are as emotive as ever and Trish Cooke's lyrical words are a delight to read aloud.

Where's My Mom? by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

A poor lost monkey is befriended by a mother butterfly who has a little difficulty in understanding that he looks just like his Mom. The story may be about tramping through the jungle looking for your parents, but the page to page hilarity of the butterfly getting it wrong always amuses the preschoolers, especially when she mistakes the Mom for the "elephant, again!".

Ben and Gran and the Whole Wide Wonderful World by Gillian Shields.

This one may be difficult to source in America, but try your local bookstore, they'll certainly try to find a supplier for you. Ben lives on one side of the world and Gran lives on the other side, although sending messages is fun, it's no substitute for seeing your favourite person. So Gran goes on an epic journey to get to Ben whilst Ben prepares for her arrival. This is a great book to read to a transportation loving toddler, as Gran uses any means necessary, including camel and high speed express train to get to Ben.

Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen.

Sometimes families go on adventures together and in this popular version of the traditional story it's the Dad who takes the lead. It's illustrated by Helen Oxenbury who apparently enjoyed the subject matter being people and not anthropomorphic animals. There is a real sense of family adventure here and we can all understand why the bear looks so sad and lonely on the last page.

Mama Do You Love Me? by Barbara M Joose.

Toddler's love to push their parents and test the limits of the love. This charming book with an Innuit theme, calmly explains that Mama's love knows no limits, even if you turn into the meanest polar bear there ever was.

The songs will be This Train is going to Grandma's and will visit the grandparents of everyone who wants to tell me where they live, Deep Down in My Heart and Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. The poem will be Everybody Says by Dorothy Aldis.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara
This is a beautifully illustrated book. The pictures are all made from cut outs of orange, black and white paper and they look great. But this is also a great story, with just the no-nonsense approach to the spooky scary that I really appreciate. I mean if you had ghosts in your house you'd catch them and put them in the washing machine, right?

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler do it again with a cumulative tale about a helpful witch who gets into trouble after giving too many stray animals a ride on her broom. There is also a swamp monster and a dragon. Very Halloween-y.

The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle
This spider is not very scary, in fact she's much more industrious than your average Halloween arachnid. All the animals on the farm ask if she wants to come and play, but she's busy spinning her web, so that when night time comes all the animals can admire her handywork (picked out in florescent ink in the book).

Bats in the Library by Brian Lies
The bats find an open window into the library and an open window into their imaginations too. I am not massively convinced by this book. It's beautifully illustrated, but I often feel myself stumbling over the text, which is not a good sign. Nevertheless the atmospheric nature of the book is perfect for a Halloween read aloud.

Where the Wild Things Are by by Maurice Sendak
At the moment, it seems this book needs no introduction. But when it comes to not-too-scary monsters, the Wild Things will always win hands down. Remember when you read this one aloud to roar your terrible roar, roll your terrible eyes, gnash your terrible teeth and show your terrible claws.

We'll be singing In the Dark, Dark Street, Row Row Row Your Boat (If you see the Wild Things, don't forget to scream) and Incy Wincy Spider

Friday, October 2, 2009

In Flight

Sadie the Airmail Pilot by Kellie Strom. I love this book. It has so much detail, both in the illustrations and the story telling. Sadie the pilot has a huge adventure when her plane goes down after a delivery to Knuckle Peak weather station. Will she make it back? Is that a monster? Will her stomach ever stop growling? "Things look grim, but don't get nervous, nothing scares the airmail service".

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell. A modern classic about young owls with abandonment issues, don't worry it has a very happy ending.

Blue Balloon by Mick Inkpen. This was one of the first proper storybooks that my son really enjoyed and he still likes it now. It has some very clever folded pages and flaps which never distract from the story, which is simply that of a boy's imagination running wild with the help of a blue balloon. Kipper the cartoon dog makes his first literary appearance in this book too.

Lisa's Airplane Trip by Anne Gutman. Lisa has never been on an airplane before, which is not surprising as she is a cuddly rabbit. This translated French travelogue is really charming and has lots of jokes for the grown ups. I would highly recommend this as a storybook to introduce toddlers to the concept of air travel, if you're about to take a trip yourself.

The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle. He didn't just write The Very Hungry Catterpillar you know, in fact Carle has quite an opus of colourful children's books. This one has a good selection of flying bugs, mosquitoes, a cicada, a bee, a dragonfly and a lunar moth. Oh and there's a surprise noise at the end, which is always popular.

I'll be singing I'm a little Airplane, The Up and Down song and Yellow Bird (although not all of it) And the poem is I Am Flying by Jack Prelutsky.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Storytime is now on Monday mornings at 10.30am.

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion

Harry comes from a 1950's perfect household, which is probably why he's even more endearingly naughty. Harry runs away from home, just to avoid a bath, but when he returns he's too dirty for his family to recognise. He'll have to think fast. This book has been a favourite of mine ever since I was a child and I still love it now.

Dogfish by Gillian Shields

Sometimes, you find a book that reads like a child thinks. Where "we'll see" really means "no" and there's a chance that maybe, just maybe your hypnotising eyes will work on a grown up and you'll get what you want. What this little boy wants is a puppy, but it's the goldfish who has mastered the hypnosis, and more besides.

Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie Flack

This book was written in America in the 1930s and tells the cautionary tale of a curious little dog who upsets a couple of ducks. It hasn't dated badly, although I'm not sure any "gentlemen" would wear "suspenders" any more.

Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell

"I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet, they sent me a..." so begins this classic board book with little flaps to open the packages from the zoo. None of the animals that come from the zoo are good pets, except for the last one. A puppy!

Hondo and Fabian by Peter McCarty

The illustrations in this book are subtle and beautiful. The story compares the day had by hondo the dog and Fabian the cat, as Hondo goes to the beach and Fabian tries to avoid playing with the baby.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Storytime at Cover to Cover bookstore is about to change from Friday to Monday mornings.

This week we will still be there on Friday at 10.30am, then we will have a week off and return on Monday September 28th at 10.30am. I hope we'll see you there.

This week, instead of a theme, I'll just be reading some favourites.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
This is a classic, with a caterpillar so hungry he eats through pages of fruits and then moves on to cake and sausage, which gives him a tummy ache. There are many different editions of this book, including a beautiful pop up version, which I'll be reading from.

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham
Yes it's very old and contains a coal chute. But it's also the story of a naughty dog and it's crammed with opposites (black and white, clean and dirty, fast and slow, sad and happy, awake and asleep) and contains the words "flip-flopped and flop-flipped" which many preschoolers find simply hilarious.

Ben and Gran and the Whole Wide Wonderful World by Gillian Shields and Katharine McEwen
Ben lives on one side of the world and Gran lives on the other, but there is no stopping this Gran as she uses every possible method of transport (yes, including a camel) to get to Ben, who is her favourite person in all the world.

My Truck is Stuck by Kevin Lewis and Daniel Kirk
This is a strange book, the meter is complicated and the rhymes are seemingly random. But the subject matter and bright illustrations, make it a really popular choice. It also has some sneaky counting in it.

Melvin Might by Jon Scieszka, David Shannon, David Gordon, and Loren Long
Jon Scieszka has just finished his term as the Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Melvin Might was one of his projects, designed to interest young boys in reading, the whole Truck Town series is about trucks who get into trouble and do daring and dangerous things, which they shouldn't be doing. In this particular Truck Town book, Melvin the cement mixer finds he has to be brave to save his friend.

Friday, September 11, 2009

An Extra Cat!

I've just received this cat/monkey book as a gift and it was so good I read it this morning at storytime:

Little Beauty by Anthony Browne

Anthony Browne is the UK Children's Laureate and this is one of many of his books. Little Beauty is a tiny kitten who is a companion to a gorilla who can use sign language. The illustrations are incredibly beautiful and emotive. This is definitely a new favourite.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Slinky Malinki
by Lynley Dodd
A cat of dubious character spends his nights collecting interesting things from around the neighbourhood. It ends in disgrace. This book reads like a real action adventure story, lots of building tension and intrigue.

Grumpy Cat by Britta Teckentrup
I love this author/illustrator, she also gave us Smelly Bear and because I'm a bit of an art snob I love the fact that she studied at St Martin's in London. All this aside this is a lovely book about making friends and how sometimes lonely and grumpy look the same. I've got the large format hardback for storytime and I've been practicing my plaintive mewing.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr
A strange English 1960s classic in which a tiger pops round for a snack and eats everything in the house. The little girl in the story loves the tiger, although he seems somewhat aloof throughout. I've often wondered if it's a metaphor for class conflict. In any case it's very exciting to see a tiger eating all the food and drinking all Daddy's beer.

Hondo and Fabian by Peter McCarty
Hondo is a dog and Fabian is a cat, they live together in the same house, but they have very different lives. This is a beautifully illustrated book, the pictures seem so soft and calm, yes even the one where the little girl is playing with Fabian against his will.

Sugar Would Not Eat It by Emily Jenkins and Giselle Potter
One of the dafter books I've read, this is a story about a little boy who finds a kitten and attempts to make it eat chocolate cake. There are a number of grown ups who weigh in with some of the arguments used against children who are fussy eaters, they all sound very stupid in this context. You'll be pleased to hear that the kitten gets milk and chicken in the end.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


A Visitor for Bear - Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton.

A very grumpy bear finds that he can't do without an initially unwanted visitor. The bear is a real drama queen and so it's great to read aloud his protestations of "I am undone!" as he throws himself to the ground. And his visitor, a small gray mouse is as cheeky as can be, another fun character.

Hooray for Fish - Lucy Cousins.

Bright colours and a large format book, make this one very popular with toddlers. A little fish introduces us to his friends, saving his best friend for last. Although my secret favourites are the Twin Fin Fin fish. (This one may be difficult to get hold of outside the UK, ask your local book store if they can find one for you).

How do Dinosaurs Play with Their Friends? - Jane Yolen and Mark Teague.

This is one of a series of books about how dinosaurs would behave if they were children. It's a really fun concept and the dinosaur's scientific name is always hidden somewhere in the illustrations. And the answer to the question in the title is "surprisingly nicely".

Duck on a Bike - David Shannon.

I love this book, there's plenty of opportunity for making animal noises and the illustrations are actually better (in my opinion) than the books that shannon is more famous for (No, David and Good Boy Fergus). It's a fable that a child will never grow out of. I think it's profound that each of these farm animals could hold three opposing opinions at the same time, just like people.

Froggy Plays Soccer - Jonathan London and Frank Remkiewicz.

The kids go crazy for Froggy, he jumps a lot, flops around, picks his nose, doesn't listen to grown ups and can't follow instructions. No wonder he's so popular! This is a good story about teamwork and a rare book about sport.

We'll be singing "5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed", "The More we get Together" and "Slippery Fish" which is actually about the foodchain and not friendship, but I think it's important to know your predator from your prey. The poem is "Some People" by Charlotte Zolotow.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


The Little Engine that Could
by Watty Piper

This 1950s classic is seen throughout the world as a truly American tale. A struggle over adversity and a triumph for the little engine who wants to be helpful and try her best. But let's not forget those big unhelpful engines who think they're too important, too exclusive or just too weak. They don't disappear just because the little blue engine makes it to the top of the mountain. I'm sure many hours have been spent discussing the political ramifications of this book, but this is not the place to do it.
I read from a version with the original text and modern illustrations by Loren Long, but I edit as I read. The idea of giving a child a "jack knife" now seems too odd to read aloud. I also edit the mean-spiritedness of the unhelpful trains, although mostly because my audience is normally 3 years and under and expecting them to sit still for the full length of the original text is a little unreasonable.

Chugga Chugga Choo Choo
by Kevin Lewis

This train is a toy, but it still has a very busy day loading toy freight and crossing fish tank river. The primary coloured illustrations give you a real sense of a toy's eye view and the creative use of props to make landscape is refreshing. One of the best things about this book though is the lovely change of pace at the end of the book as the train gets more tired and eventually goes to sleep. It makes it a perfect bedtime story.

Bebop Express
by H. L. Panahi, Steve Johnson, and Lou Fancher
This is a new discovery for me and an instant hit in our house. The train runs from New York to New Orleans, picking up jazz musicians along the way. The text is full of tongue twisting scat style rhymes and the illustrations are collage using real photographs of real people. So much more than a train book, this is a history of jazz; an introduction to stand up bass, saxophone, drums and voice and a proud fanfare for the "American jazz symphony".

A Train Goes Clickety-Clack
by Jonathan London and Denis Roche
A more conventional book which lists different types of train as cartoon family rides the rails.

Freight Train by Donald Crews
This board book is incredibly simple and massively effective. Each type of train car is a different colour and they all run together as the train picks up speed and finally disappears off the last page.

I'll be singing The Runaway Train, Train is a Comin' and This Train is Going to Grandma's.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How Does Your Garden Grow?

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

A small boy singlehandedly turns a drab town into a beautiful colourful garden. This is a new book which has received rave reviews. The illustrations are crisp without being sharp and the words are simple and honest. It's an amazing book to describe the power of nature and how the choices we make can shape our environment.

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson

This book is 65 years old and is interesting not only because it has stood the test of time, but also because it makes us more aware of shifting attitudes. The little boy who plants and waters his seed does so in the face of the dismissive ignorance of his family and friends, but we are now living in a world with a vegetable garden in the grounds of The Whitehouse and it would be hard to find a parent who wouldn't encourage growing a carrots. Meanwhile the book still encourages children to want to grow something, especially if it proves those fictional grown-ups were wrong.

Jack's Garden by Henry Cole

The text is based on the nursery rhyme "The House That Jack Built" and describes the way that a garden is planted an grows. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The book is also what we call a "whatthatthere" book, named after what my some used to say when he found something he couldn't identify in a picture book. Intricate labeled drawings of tools, plants, bugs and flowers make this a book to linger over.

The Happy Bee by Ian Beck

This very colourful book for the babies is very simply a close up look at some well known types of flowers, Daisy, Poppy, Rose and Lily. The bee flies from one to another in all kinds of weather and is happiest when there is a rainbow. Extremely simple and continually popular.

Fletcher and the Falling Leaves - by Julia Rawlinson

Fletcher is a fox, who takes life a little too seriously. He has a favourite tree which as the weather gets colder is starting to lose its leaves. Fletcher is distraught and wants to help the tree keep hold of its leaves, of course he doesn't succeed, but he does learn something about the changes in the seasons. This is a beautifully poetic book and the illustrations are soft and colourful. I understand that there will be a Fletcher for all seasons, we already have Fletcher and the Springtime Blossoms and eagerly await the next installment.

We will be singing "Mr Sun", "I can sing a Rainbow" and I'll be looking through a Ted Hughes for children collection for a good growing things poem.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


And how not to be scared of them

Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley
Cleverly made cutouts create this monster in all his sharp teethed glory, but he can easily be uncreated if you tell him to go away.

Bootsie Barker Bites by Barbara Bottner
Children can be monstrous. I know, it's not going to make me Mum of the Year, but really, they can. Bootsie Barker is a bully, she pulls hair, destroys property and intimidates our heroine and her pet salamander. Thankfully, this is a brains over brawn story and when the tables are turned and "Bootsie throws a tantrum on the sidewalk." the balance of power is rightfully adjusted.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Here we are again with monstrous children, but then if Max hadn't been a Wild Thing he probably wouldn't have been King of the Wild Things. The illustrations are dynamic and timeless. It's a classic for a reason.

Horns to Toes and Inbetween by Sandra Boynton
This is a little board book with big personality. It's a simple "parts of the body" book, but because we're learning with monsters there are also tails and horns in the picture. I love reading this to preschoolers and asking them to point to their body parts, when it gets to their tails, they always laugh.

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
This author and illustrator are my dream team for read aloud children's books. And The Gruffalo is the best of their great work. Refusing to shy away from a concept as gruesome as the food chain, this book follows the adventures of an extremely fast thinking and fast talking mouse who lives to eat nuts another day.

We'll be singing "There's a Monster in My Closet", "Row Your Boat" and "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes". The poem will be "A Little Grue" by Roger McGough (which for some strange reason, I know by heart).

Thursday, July 30, 2009

On the Farm

Cock-a-Doodle Quack Quack
by Ivor Baddiel, Sophie Jubb, and Ailie Busby
A young rooster has trouble with waking up the farm, luckily there's a wise old owl in the barn, with a few words of advice. This is a simple book, with a nice underlying theme about how you should be yourself, it's what you're best at.

Serious Farm
by Tim Egan
Farmer Fred is very serious "nothin' funny about corn" he deadpans. However his animals disagree and after various attempts to make farmer Fred laugh, they finally give up and run away. What happens next is a bit silly, but it all ends well. This is a great read-aloud book for funny voices. Especially Farmer Fred, who needs a serious drawl. I would also add that this is a good book for slightly older pre-schoolers as it deals with animals doing things they just don't do.

The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle
The hero of this book is too busy to play with all the other animals on the farm, but he makes a beautiful web. Just what you'd expect from Carle, who also wrote The Very Hungry Caterpillar this book is simple with beautiful collage illustration.

Duck on a Bike
by David Shannon
I love this book. I think it's one of the best children's picture books ever published. The text is structured without being repetitious, there's plenty of opportunity to make animal noises and it features a creature on wheels. But that's not all, the story actually deals with the distance between what the farm animals say, what they think and what they feel. A hugely intellectual concept, fundamental to successful social interaction and dealt with effortlessly in a great story. David Shannon is also an amazing illustrator who's chaotic paintings are seemingly always in motion.

Say Hello to the Animals
by Ian Whybrow and Tim Warnes
A baby book about animal noises, once again it's a fun read aloud option because the text asks questions with obvious answers "Look who's hiding under those sticks? Say hello to the fluffy...Chicks". The children love to shout out the answers and then we can all make the noises at the end of the book.

I'll be singing Old MacDonald, Mary Had a Little Lamb and the Tractor Song and the poem will be the William Carlos Williams poem which begins "so much depends".

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How Do You Feel?

This week's storytime theme is How do you Feel? Or books about feelings and how to spot them in the facial expression, tone of voice and body language of others.

Funny Face - Nicola Smee.

This bright board book uses extremely clear images of facial expressions. Each two page spread has a narrative image on one side and a close up of the hero's facial expression on the other. So we can find out how you look when you're happy, sad, angry, frightened or when a family of bears steals your ball.

Dogfish - Gillian Shields

When did you work out that if your Mum says "we'll see" she really means "no"? The little boy in this story really, really, really wants a dog. But his Mum won't let him, not even when he uses his hypnotising eyes. Thankfully there's a talented goldfish on hand to sort out this emotional tangle.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt - Michael Rosen

This is a pretty strange book if you think about it too hard. I mean, taking a baby through a snowstorm in it's PJs seems wrong to me. But like most traditional stories it does have a good strong moral, in this case, don't go looking for danger. I love the Helen Oxenbury illustrations, especially the sad bear at the end.

How Do You Feel? - Mandy Stanley

All the animals in this book have very strong feelings, the illustrations are great and the idea is brilliantly simple. The cat eating out of the dog's bowl is pretty funny. I've seen this book on both sides of the Atlantic, in Britain the cat is feeling cheeky and in America, he's feeling bold.

Llama Llama Mad at Mama - Anna Dewdney

Our red pajama wearing llama friend is back and this time he's off to shop-o-rama. As with all toddlers, he starts off quite excited and gets steadily more bored and frustrated. It all ends with ice cream, but there has to be some negotiation first.

I'll be singing "If you're hapy and you know it", "In a dark, dark room" and one I wrote called "Wear your boogie pants". The poem will be "I'm in a Rotton Mood Today" by Jack Prelutsky.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sailing on the Sea

The Snail and the Whale
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

The Gruffalo dream team do it again! A great book to read aloud with soaring descriptions in bouncy rhyming couplets and illustrations both detailed and cartoonlike. The snail wants to get away from the flock on the rock and decides to hitch a ride with a friendly whale, but when the whale gets frightened by some speedboats and is beached, the snail cannot fail to save his friend.

Pirate Gran - Geraldine Durrant and Rose Forshall

This is the inspiration for this week’s theme. Pirate Gran is published by the National Maritime Museum in the UK, but it’s available in America too. She’s a salty old sea dog who makes ice cream bombes with real gunpowder but thinks it’s more ladylike to drink sherry than rum. One of those great books which will grow with your child’s understanding of the world and consequently it’s fun for grown ups to read too.

Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken – Kate Dicamillo and Harry Bliss

Kate Dicamillo is causing quite a stir in children’s literature at the moment, she won a Newberry medal a few years ago for her young reader’s book “The Tale of Despereux” which has recently been turned into a movie and her newest book in that genre is receiving rave reviews everywhere. Louise is her offering for younger children and does not disappoint. The book is split into three chapters in which Louise goes to sea, joins a circus and leads a mass breakout from a Turkish prison. Yes, I really did just type that (the prison is actually a factory farm and it is this adventure which she feels she must share with her free range friends, back in the henhouse). I will only be reading the first chapter, but all three could be read together if your toddler has good concentration. It’s beautifully written and comically dark in a way that children often really appreciate.

Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

A classic tale of Max who sails “in and out of weeks and almost over a year, to where the wild things are”. As the mother of a toddler deep in the terrible twos I know that there’s a little bit of Max in all of us. It’s nice to know that the same fierceness that makes you chase a dog with a fork also guarantees not being scared of monsters.

Harold and the Purple Crayon – Crockett Johnson

Another classic story about how far you can go with your imagination and a crayon. The deserving porcupine is probably one of the best character concepts in children’s literature. Of course Harold travels by many means but he does sail in a boat and “made land without much trouble”.

We’ll be singing “Row Your Boat”, “A Sailor Went to Sea” and “The Day I went to Sea” and we’ll read the picture poem “Bitter Winds” by Tim Pointon.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


The Family Book - Todd Parr.

Everyone is different and so are our families. This is a very simple list book with illustrations in primary colours (the illustrator's style will be familiar to anyone who's seen the author's TV show "Todd's World"). But the most refreshing thing here is that there is no family set-up left unlisted. Single parent families, two Mums, two Dads, adoption and even communal style living are all part of the Family package. I love reading this to children and knowing that they accept it as fact.

Ben and Gran and the Whole Wide Wonderful World - Gillian Shields.

This one may be difficult to source in America, but try your local bookstore, they'll certainly try to find a supplier for you. Ben lives on one side of the world and Gran lives on the other side, although sending messages is fun, it's no substitute for seeing your favourite person. So Gran goes on an epic journey to get to Ben whilst Ben prepares for her arrival. This is a great book to read to a transportation loving toddler, as Gran uses any means necessary, including camel and high speed express train to get to Ben.

Going on a Bear Hunt - Michael Rosen.

Sometimes families go on adventures together and in this popular version of the traditional story it's the Dad who takes the lead. It's illustrated by Helen Oxenbury who apparently enjoyed the subject matter being people and not anthropomorphic animals. There is a real sense of family adventure here and we can all understand why the bear looks so sad and lonely on the last page.

Mama Do You Love Me? - Barbara M Joose.

Toddler's love to push their parents and test the limits of the love. This charming book with an Innuit theme, calmly explains that Mama's love knows no limits, even if you turn into the meanest polar bear there ever was.

Harry the Dirty Dog - Gene Zion.

Back in the 1950s families were made up of one Mom (who cooked), one Dad (who went to work), one little girl (who liked dolls) and one little boy (who liked trains), they usually had a dog. This is nonsense of course, families have never been this way, but the Harry series of books gives us some interesting historical perspectives, not least into the way we used to think about family. Harry runs away from home to avoid taking a bath, but really misses his family and after getting very dirty he returns home to find that no-one recognises him. There's only one thing he can do. And yes, there is a coal chute in this book, you could use it as an opening gambit in a conversation about renewable energy sources!

We will be singing, "This Train is Going to Grandma's", "Splash, Splash, Bubble Bubble, Quack Quack" (one of mine...lyrics and music to come soon), and "I'm a Little Airplane" and the poem will be Seeing All My Family by Claire Salama.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Welcome to the Storytime Blog

It comes as no surprise to any parent when Educational Psychologists tell us we should read to our children for at least 20 minutes every day. Children love books and even before they can read they are learning so much from us when we read to them.

In this blog I hope to use my storytelling experience to suggest great books which you can read to your own children. I am not sentimental and I'm often highly opinionated about the books I choose to read, these are not exactly the average back cover blurbs. I've also grouped the books into themes, with songs and usually a poem. This can help you to explore a particular topic, or just when your toddler wants more books about trucks.

I have been reading to a group of under 5s at the local bookstore (Cover to Cover, San Francisco) for over a year, I have a two year old son and we read a lot.


A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker.

Bear is a grumpy drama queen and he doesn’t want any visitors. But a small gray mouse is persistent and eventually the bear realises that it’s great to have an audience. This is an awesome read aloud book, as the bear’s outrage gets worse you can really go to town on the drama! The illustrations are beautiful and detailed and it’s easy but fun to find where the mouse has appeared this time.

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear by Audrey Wood.

A sweet take on the modern archetype of the American con artist. Our smooth talking narrator manages to convince the mouse that there’s a big hungry bear coming and the best thing he can do to protect his strawberry is to share it with us and eat it. When you’ve finished the book, ask your toddler to find the picture of the bear in the book. Of course, there isn’t one.

Mousepaint by Ellen Stoll Walsh.

Three mice experiment with colour and discover the joys of camoflage.

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson.

My favourite read aloud author and this is one of her best. A cunning mouse manages to hold off being eaten by inventing a monster friend, but when the monster friend turns out to be real, the hero has to do some quick thinking.

Frederick by Leo Lionni.

This book is very popular, particularly in California and the illustrations are disarmingly similar to Eric Carle’s. However it’s a product of the Summer of Love and as such it leaves reality far far away. Frederick is a mouse who instead of gathering food for the winter, gathers, sunshine, colours and words. Surprisingly the other mice don’t leave him to starve and he manages to brighten their winter with stories and poetry. Even the most idealistic of post-beat poets would probably agree that maybe Frederick should have gathered some food as well as working on his magnum opus. Or maybe that’s my protestant work ethic shining through. In any case it certainly resonates with small children for whom the practicalities of life are dealt with by somebody else.

I’ll be singing “The Bear Went Over the Mountain”, “A Mouse in a Windmill” and “There’s a Monster in My Closet”