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).