Maeve Visser Knoth: 09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006

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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Books for Babies and Toddlers

Babies and toddlers need lots and lots of books. They need to own books (see my previous post about gift books for babies) and they need to have books borrowed from the library so they enjoy more kinds of books than any one family can afford to own. Try some of these:

Each Peach Pear Plum by Ahlberg
Number Nine Duckling by Akass
Bunny Story by Anderson
Ten Nine Eight by Bang
Baboon Banks
Machines at Work by Barton
Tractor by C. Brown
The Sailor Dog by M. W. Brown
Baby-O by Carlstrom
Noah's Ark by Cousins
One Hot Summer Day by N. Crews
Color Zoo by Ehlert
In the Tall Tall Grass by Fleming
Good Morning Chick by Ginsburg
In the Rain With Baby Duck by Hest
Construction Zone by Hoban
Giving by Hughes
Round Trip by Jonas
Mommy Go Away by Jonell
A Hole is to Dig by Krauss
Johnny Appleseed by Lindbergh
Cowboy Bunnies by Loomis
Happy Adoption Day by McCutcheon
Rachel Fister's Blister by MacDonald
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (not the board book version!) by Martin
Bam Bam Bam by Merriam
Now I'm Big by Miller
A Kiss For Little Bear by Minarik
To Market To Market by Miranda
Five Little Piggies by Martin
Sunflakes by Moore
I Hear by Oxenbury
Mother Mother I Want Another by Polushkin
Can't Sleep by Raschka
We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Rosen
Fire Truck by Sis
Old MacDonald by Souhami
Gobble Growl Grunt by Spier
Baby Says by Steptoe
A Hat For Minerva Louise by Stoeke
There Was An Old Lady by Tabak
Have You Seen My Duckling? by Tafuri
Do You See a Mouse? by Waber
Do Pigs Have Stripes? by Walsh
How Do I Put it On? by Watanabe
Catch Me and Kiss Me and Say It Again by Watson
Max's First Word by Wells
More More More Said the Baby by Williams
Zoom Zoom Zoom I'm Off to the Moon by Yaccarino

Friday, September 29, 2006

Audio Books Worth Memorizing

A friend asked me this week about listening to audio books as a family. She mentioned that for the moment her family is listening to Tom Sawyer but that if they are going to purchase any more books on CD, they want to make sure that they are worth listening to again and again. She figures her boys will know large portions of the books by heart after a couple of years. So...what is worth listening to again and again?

First, I have to confess that we don't listen to many audio books. We read aloud almost daily and we all spend a good amount of time reading alone. When we take long car rides, I usually read aloud and my husband drives (unless we are driving into the Sierra mountains in which case we all try to keep our stomachs still). When I read aloud, I try to choose books that sound good. Not all the books I love are as lovely to listen to as they are to read. Which writers have a storyteller's ear for the sound of words? Which writers put together sentences that roll off the tongue? Those are the writers that I want to listen to. I long to hear Richard Peck, Margaret Mahy and Brian Jacques read aloud. I want to hear E.B. White. So here are my examples for the beginning of a family audio book collection:

Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. There are few books for children that are so beautifully written. Every sentence, every paragraph, ever chapter is a joy to read and a joy to hear. You will miss the beautiful drawings by Garth Williams so I encourage you to have a copy of the book handy but listen closely to the ways in which E.B. White uses sentence structure and voice to convey meaning.

Redwall by Brian Jacques. This British animal fantasy has great characters, lots of adventure and enough battle scenes to get your young listeners up and waving their toy swords and sticks about. Each of the different species of animal has a different speech pattern and the audio version of this book does a marvelous job giving voice to these many animals. Few parents will ahve the skills to try so many dialects. Take a seat on the rug with your kids and enjoy the audio reasing instead of struggling.

Margaret Mahy has an ear for storytelling and uses wonderfully wacky and sometimes invented language to tell her stories. Her fantasies are particularly well-suited as audio books. Try either The Birthday Burglar and a Very Wicked Headmistress or The Pirates Mixed-up Voyage. Both are extremely silly and over-the-top. Both will have children and adults laughing aloud and both have enough ghosts, pirates and bumbling villains to satisfy all ages. If The Great Piratical Rumbustification every becomes available again, snatch that up too.

It is hard to choose one title by Richard Peck since he has such a great storytelling voice. Try listening to Long Way From Chicago. Richard Peck gives his characters very distinct voices and uses wonderful expressions. When I am reading it aloud I can't help but give my voice a little bit of a rural Illinois accent. The audio version makes this middle grade novel accessible to younger siblings and appealing to parents as well.

Friday, September 22, 2006

It's a Jungle Out There: Picture Books About the Trip To and From School

There are plenty of good lists of books that are set in schools. This is such a fertile topic. I could happily list books about starting a new school, negotiating with friends at school, dealing with teachers and the like, but I was recently inspired to pair up books about the trip to and from school.

Why are those students always late? What happened to them on the way? How about the trip home? Did the kids just walk quickly from school to home, or did something happen along the way?

John Patrick Norman McHennessy: The Boy Who Was Always Late by John Burningham is a very funny, sly look at tardiness. John Patrick Norman McHennessy is late day after day because he meets a lion, is stopped by an alligator and is almost washed off a bridge by a tidal wave. His fierce, old-fashioned schoolmaster refuses to accept the boy's excuses insisting "there are no (lions/tidal waves/etc...) around here..." and punishes him each day with increasingly onerous tasks. The boy gets the last word when he finds his teacher swinging in the classroom rafters in the arms of a gorilla. In spite of the teacher's demands that John Patrick Norman McHennessy rescue him, the child refuses...using the teacher's own excuse: "But sir, there are no hairy gorillas around here." Burningham's story is subversive and wicked. The adult is the buffoon and the child is the truth-teller. What a breath of fresh air to children who are regularly told that they are imagining things!

The Boy Who Was Followed Home by Margaret Mahy covers the other end of the trip. A boy is "surprised and pleased" to find that he is followed home by a hippopotamus. Each subsequent day he is followed home by more and more hippos until there are 42 hippos lounging on his lawn. His sedate, formal parents solve the problem by hiring a witch to make the child unattractive to hippos. The solution works, but Mahy throws the reader a life-saving ending: the boy is no longer followed by hippos, but discovers that he is newly attractive to giraffes. Steven Kellogg's illustrations are perfect for the story. The child lives in a mansion and his father dresses in a smoking jacket. The juxtaposition of hippos on the lawn of just such a house is wonderfully funny.

These two titles make for a great storytime, but if you have more time you can add Kevin Henkes' wonderful story Sheila Rae the Brave and Mark Teague's The Secret Shortcut. You might send your listeners off to ask the school secretary about the very best excuse he or she has ever heard from a child arriving late to school.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tomie DePaola and his chicken feet

Tomie DePaola writes and illustrates different kinds of picture books but many are based on episodes from his own childhood. Since the book Tom was published in 1993 I have been curious about chicken feet. In the very funny picture book Tommy is given chicken feet by his grandfather, a butcher. Tommy scrubs the feet, paints the claws with red polish, and brings them to school to scare his classmates and teacher. Tommy loves the feet since he can pull a tendon on each and make the toes open and close.

The image of those scrubbed chicken feet has stayed with me and I have been on an on-and-off search for chicken feet ever since. How fun, I thought, to read the book and pull out a pair of real chicken feet to show the listeners. None of the grocery stores in our suburb have any spare chicken feet...

And of course Tomie DePaola has written another book featuring chicken feet Watch Out For Chicken Feet in Your Soup so my storyhour could be even more complete if only I could find chicken feet.

Well, this summer my children raised meat chickens for 4H and we were lucky enough to end the summer with eight chicken feet (and one spare turkey foot) wrapped in plastic in our freezer. Yesterday, with the permission of the 2nd and 3rd grade teachers who will soon be teaching an anatomy unit, I lived my dream. I read both of Tomie DePaola's picture books three times to three different classrooms full of kids. I showed the children how a chicken foot really does go "garunge-runge" when you pull the right tendon, just like DePaola describes. It was fabulous. I was right, the kids loved the chicken feet and won't soon forget that writing stories about things you know can be as exciting as writing completely from your imagination!

Now I can start fielding questions from the parents..."You showed what during library time???"

Friday, September 15, 2006

Lesson plan for "The Egypt Game"

Here are some thoughts I've had on one lesson plan for a fifth and sixth grade class beginning The Egypt Game by Zipha Keatley Snyder.

Start by asking the students to write down their expectations for the story as they look at the book itself. Will this be a funny book or a serious one? Can you tell anything about the characters? What do you expect to happen?

As the students write their predictions I would insist that they support each idea with examples from the book itself. Why do they think this will be a funny book? Is it because the children on the cover are smiling? In fact the important aspect of this assignment is not to make correct predictions, but to begin teaching the idea that when thinking about literature, students must back up their opinions with material from the book itself.

Once they have read the first 50 pages, there are lots of interesting issues ripe for discussion. If the group has some experience working in small groups, I would post several questions, ask groups to pick two to discuss, and set them off with the charge of coming back to the group with their opinions on the following topics:

*How are April and Melanie's lives different from yours? How are they the same?

*What do you know so far about the Professor? Why do you imagine that he is part of the story?

*What do you know about April's mother Dorothea? How does April feel about her? How do you know? How do you feel about her? Do you have different information than April?

*How does Mrs. Snyder create tension? How does she keep you turning the pages?

In every case I would insist that the students back up their thoughts with evidence from the text.

Once they have read through page 75 I would introduce point-of-view: Who is telling this story? How do you know? How does this inform the story?

To follow-up on this idea of "point-of-view" explore the issue of "prisoners of fear" in the recent chapter. When a murder takes place in the neighborhood, the parents react by keeping the children at home. April and Melanie are no longer able to play the Egypt Game since they have to stay home. They consider the murder something interesting but a nuisance since it interrupts their lives. They make costumes instead of playing outside.

I suggest having the students draw slips of paper out of a hat that will tell them which point of view they have to take: do they approach the question of safety from the parents' point-of-view or from the kids'? How would the parents argue their case? How would the kids argue for renewed freedom? How would the chapter change if this were a novel told from the parents' point-of-view? Even the title "Prisoners of Fear" might be different.

Depending on the tone in the classroom, the students could do this alone, in small groups or as a class.

Possible Homework: Finish reading through page 103. The kids should probably also have a vocabulary list from this book so for homework they could search the first half of the book for five words they do not know. They can collect the words, write down the page they found the word and look up the words. At the end of the week turn in the list of five words with definitions. In a week or two they can collect five more words and at the end of the book have individualized vocabulary tests.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The baby book-of-the-month club continued

Let me continue with my list of favorite baby gift suggestions. Some of the best books come in and out of print but many are readily available.

Month 4:
Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

This is a lovely little rhyming book that asks the young listener to look around the picture to find characters who are peeking out from the bushes of behind the stairs. The characters, as in many of the Ahlbergs' books, are familiar ones from folk literature. Cinderella, Tom Thumb and the Wicked Witch all make an appearance. of course our new baby won't recognize the names...but will have fun with a hide-and-seek story and begin her cultural literacy. If you find a used copy of the Ahlberg's Baby's Catalog pick that up as well. It is a gem.

Month 5:
In the Tall Tall Grass by Denise Fleming

My son used to laugh and laugh when I read Fleming's very colorful, lush story of the creatures who live in the tall grass. He loved to hear me say "zip, zap tongues snap!" so I would repeat that line over and over. The large bright art is right for babies and the words sound perfectly lovely.

Month 6:
Baby Says by John Steptoe

I very much like the shining bright faces of the baby and his older brother. Steptoe's baby almost climbs off the pages into the reader's lap as he tries to win over his grumpy older brother with his charming baby smile. There are very few words but oh so much story in Steptoe's lovely book.

Month 7:
My Very First Mother Goose by Ione Opie

I don't know how I could have gotten to the seventh month of this gift giving without including a Mother Goose collection. There are many great choices but the Opie collection with Rosemary Wells' illustrations is easy to find. Helen Oxenbury's collection is another good one, as are the collections illustrated by Tomie DePaola and Arnold Lobel. The important thing is to include a good Mother Goose collection in every baby's new library. Of course there are plenty of ugly, poorly designed Mother Goose collections also, so beware.

Month 8:
Of Colors and Things by Tana Hoban

Tana Hoban created such beautiful and thoughtful books for young children that most home libraries should have several of her books. I particularly like of Colors and Things for young children because the concepts are simple enough for babies, but will grow as the child grows. On first reading, this is a simple book that will encourage reader and child to identify colors. Over multiple readings, you will find yourself broadening the young child's world by discussing pages in much more details. Which things on this page are good to eat? Which things are to play with? Which ones are soft? The book will be one that is read again and again over many years. Watch also for Hoban's book Construction Zone for babies and toddlers who love trucks.

Month 9:
More More More Said the Baby by Vera Williams

Three short stories describe the love by adults for the babies in their care. A father, grandmother and mother in turn chase and kiss the babies they love. This is a very simple book that exudes affection through Williams' brilliantly colored paintings. The baby is the center of each page just as she is, in those early years, the center of a parent's world. Avoid the board book version of this book- the art suffers when it is shrunk to fit into a book one fourth the size of the original.

Month 10:
Ten Nine Eight by Molly Bang

Once this gentle book becomes part of a baby's library, it will become a regular at bedtime. Starting with "Ten small toes, all washed and warm..." Bang counts down to "one big girl all ready for bed." The text has a lovely quiet rhythm and the objects on each page are the familiar important things of a baby's day.

Month 11:
Good Night Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann

When the zoo keeper says goodnight to each of his charges, the gorilla sneaks about letting the animals out of their cages. They quietly follow the zoo keeper home and climb into his bed. There is much to love in this little book. Rathmann's sense of humor is fabulous, the details will have children looking at each page again and again, her story is so fresh and her use of just a very few words shows a perfect sense of comic timing.

Month 12:
Walk On! by Marla Frazee

This brand new book celebrates and encourages a baby to get up on her feet and take some steps. Frazee's babies are wonderfully chubby and touchable. They roll and fall and stretch and pull themselves up...finally taking steps on the last page of the funny, sweet book. Look also at Marla Frazee's retelling of the song Hush Little Baby.

I have finished my list of top twelve baby book gifts, but there are so many other titles that I would hate for a child to miss. Michael Rosen's We're Going on a Bear Hunt and John Burningham's Mr. Gumpy's Outing are the perfect antidote to the quiet bedtime stories. Read these to an energetic, wide-awake toddler. Read Amy Schwartz's fabulous Some Babies and a baby will see that all the details of her day are really part of her story!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Need a gift for a baby shower?

Have you been invited to a baby shower? Know someone who is expecting and you'll need a perfect baby gift? I want to suggest baby books (no surprise) but I want to go further and suggest you enroll the baby in your own personalized "book-of-the-month" club. If you purchase twelve books from the following list you can give one to the family each time you see them and in just a year the baby will have an invaluable library. He or she will have long outgrown the baby clothes and will rarely use the silver-plated rattle, but the books will become part of her day.

Month 1:
White on Black by Tana Hoban.

This little board book is perfect for babies who are just developing their sense of sight. There are other black and white board books but what I like about this one is that the object are organized logically. A parent can talk about the objects even to a very young child and make connections between the things on facing pages. I would say "Look, there are four buttons on this page. One, two three, four. There are four more things here. What are they?" Of course I am answering my own questions but child development specialists have noted that even very young babies learn to listen for questions and fill the space after a question with an answering baby coo.

Month 2:
Clap Hands! by Helen Oxenbury

I'll recommend more Helen Oxenbury before this baby's year is out but I suggest you start with the large, clean board books about toddler activities. Clap Hands and the other books in the series have short rhyming text and parents will find themselves clapping their own hands and spinning the baby around inventing new baby games to go with Oxenbury's rhymes.

Month 3:
The Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown

Let's assume that the baby in question will get a couple of copies of Goodnight Moon. Since that may well happen, look further into Margaret Wise Brown's extensive repertory to find another lyrical story that makes the ordinary extraordinary. Brown describes the dawn to dusk activities that are part of life on a farm. The words sound lovely, the rhythm is inviting and the details just right for babies and toddlers.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Princess Academy

This morning I finished reading the 2006 Newbery Honor book Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. It is a lovely book. I was expecting that it would be since I very much liked her first two books The Goose Girl and Enna Burning. Each of the three books is set in a world I recognize from having read fairy tales all my life. This is a pre-technology, agraraian world. People live on small farms or in villages, they get around on horseback or in horse-drawn carts. People communicate from town to town using messengers. Cinderella would feel right at home in Shannon Hale's world.

The Goose Girl is in fact a full length novel based on a Grimm Brothers' fairy tale. Hale begins with a familiar tale develops it further by imagining the motivations and fleshing out characters. When Hale is finished, the story is something much more than a long fairy tale. It is a fully-realized world with a strong heroine at its center.

Enna Burning is the sequel to The Goose Girl and is equally readable. The plot is compelling and a bit less comfortable than in the first book. I never worried about the outcome of The Goose Girl but I was not sure where Hale was taking her reader in Enna Burning so it both more original and more disturbing.

Princess Academy has a lot in common with Hale's first two books. The world, as I mentioned, feels familiar. The heroine is strong and independent. Most striking, Hale gives her characters a gift, a power they must learn and control and eventually use for good. Miri learns to speak telepathically through the rocks of the mountain where she lives. This communication becomes important to the plot but it also links Miri to her people. When the novel opens Miri feels distant and lonely even though she lives with family. She does not know why, but she is not allowed to work in the quarries with the rest of her community. By the end of the novel Miri has learned the "quarry speak" and used it to save the community but she has found a place for herself in the community without entering the quarry to cut stone.

Miri is a strong female heroine, the kind I can happily introduce to both girls and boys. I will be curious to see how many boys are willing to read the novel- it does have such a girly title- but there are certainly elements of the story that boys will like. Hale writes beautifully, and a bit purposefully, about the power girls have within themselves to make change.

Miri would be right at home with Charlotte Doyle and Jane Peck. You can meet them in:

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle Avi
Boston Jane: An Adventure Jennifer Holm