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”