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Pam: December 2009 Archives


Thursday Three: Reading Resolutions

Posted by Pam on December 31, 2009 at 11:00 AM in creative literacy
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It being the last day of the year - of the decade - it's a good time to set Reading Resolutions. Continue to follow Jen's fabulous series on Tips for Growing Bookworms and make this the year - and the decade - that you...

1. Establish a Reading Ritual
The easiest way to keep reading in your child's life is to schedule it with as much regularity as dinnertime. Sure, it seems easier to fit in books whenever it works - and that's not to say that reading can't have some time in the quiet moments of the day. But what tends to happen, especially as the kids get older, is that other activities slowly crowd out books. Scheduling reading time for the end of the day keeps it important and keeps it happening.

2. Expand Reading Choices
I suspect that one of the reasons that parents become less invested in reading time is that they get bored. Hey, I've been there. I've done the tenth reading of Pinkalicious. One of the things that helped me through twelve years of reading time is keeping it interesting for me by expanding our reading choices. The easiest, cheapest way to do this is go to the library. I definitely believe that kids should choose their own books, but I also believe that parents should pick a few titles too. Use our suggestions here at Booklights. Print out some of the "Best Of" lists, and make your way through them during the next year. (My favorite lists for children's literature are The Cybils shortlists, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Association for Library Services for Children.) Ask the librarians for some new books that they've enjoyed. Along with exposing your child to many different kinds of books than what you might select yourself, you will keep the reading time engaging and interesting for you. Who knows, you might even learn something new.

3. Model Pleasure Reading
Okay, here's the one where I - and Jen - give you permission to do what you probably haven't been doing enough - reading books for fun. If you're like most of the moms I know, you save your own reading time for the very end of the day after the chores, the carpooling, the ballet/karate/music class when you're so exhausted that you fall asleep with latest Grisham book on your lap. Well, no more. I'm telling you to read during the day, perhaps in the actual presence of your child. I know it sounds crazy. But sometimes the dishes - and yes, even your kid - can wait. Kids interrupt adults' reading because we subtly train them to. We wouldn't stop cooking dinner because Susie wants us to color, but we'll quickly put down our newspaper for the same request. Yes, we want to show our children how valued they are by playing with them, but we need to balance that by showing them that reading is an important activity. That it is What People Do. Try out these phrases: "You play with your felt board here." or "Mommy's going to read. I'm going to read for a while, so do you want to make a picture with your crayons?" and my favorite, "Hey, get your book and I'll get mine and let's read together!"


Thursday Three: After Christmas

Posted by Pam on December 24, 2009 at 8:53 AM in Picture BooksRecommendations
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Surely, you’ve covered The Night Before Christmas in your seasonal reading, but you may have missed these picture books which focus on after Christmas.

My Penguin Osbert
by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, illustrated by H.B. Lewis
My Penguin OsbertJoe gets a penguin for Christmas from Santa after years of misunderstandings, but having a penguin turns out to be a lot of work. The feeding, the cold baths, the mounds of smelly fish - it’s a real problem. It’s also not an ideal situation for the penguin, so Joe does what is best for both of them. The “be careful what you wish for” message is handled with humor and grace. The illustrations and story make it brilliant.

Jingle Bells
by Nick Butterworth
Jingle BellsTwo mice would have happy barnyard lives, but are constantly bullied by the Cat. When they make Christmas stockings out of glove fingers, the mean feline puts up a note to Santa saying they went away for the holidays. Drat! They decide to teach cat a lesson, that involves a noisy jingle bell. A twist on the idea of the gift, where the present they give the cat is actually much better for the mice. Lovely illustrations with great details and a fun story.

Merry Un-Christmas
by Mike Reiss, illustrated by David Catrow
Merry Un-ChristmasYou may be surprised that Noelle isn’t happy with her Christmas pony or fancy dinner, but it soon becomes understandable when you find that she lives in a town where it is Christmas every day. Well, except for the one glorious day when it’s Un-Christmas and the mail comes and the kids go to school and everyone eats frozen dinners. Silly, funny, and yet with just a touch of message for kids who need to hear why Christmas comes just once a year.


Thursday FIVE: Christmas Around the World

Posted by Pam on December 17, 2009 at 9:09 AM in Picture BooksRecommendations
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The original post I did at MotherReader about Christmas Around the World always gets a lot of traffic this time of year. So I'm posting it here for the PBS Booklights subscribers who may not have seen these options for expanding your holiday storytelling at home or in the classroom.

(By the way, it would be more accurate to call this post Christmas Around the World plus One Hanukkah Story, but that title was too long. Forgive me.)

The Magic Maguey
by Tony Johnson, illustrated by Elisa Kleven
The Magic MagueyA large maguey plant sits in the middle of a Mexican village providing many resources to the people of the town, as well as a gathering spot. As Christmas approaches, a rich man who owns that land says that he will get rid of the maguey and build a house there. Miguel, with the help of the other children, decorate the maguey so beautifully for Christmas that the rich man realizes his error and doesn’t cut it down. A great story about resourcefulness with a little bit of Christmas tradition and a smattering of Spanish words.

What’s Cooking, Jamela?
by Niki Daly
What's Cooking, Jamela?Jamela’s family gets a chicken to fatten up for Christmas dinner, but Jamela gets attached to the chicken as a pet. Tension builds as a woman comes to prepare the chicken dinner, but in the end, Jamela’s mother finds something else for the Christmas dinner and gives the chicken to Jamela as a present. A fun story of a South African Christmas,conveying a sense of the culture along with a few words of the country.

A Kenya Christmas
by Tony Johnson, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins
A Kenya ChristmasJuma’s Christmas wish is to see Father Christmas, and his special aunt brings a red and white suit to the village. She tells Juma to find someone to wear the suit so that the whole village can see Father Christmas for the first time. He does so and Father Christmas surprises the village with his arrival. But it is Juma who is surprised later when he finds out that the man who was supposed to play the part didn’t do so after all. Who was that man on the elephant? A very different picture of Christmas in Africa with amazing pictures by Leonard Jenkins.

Cobweb Christmas: The Traditon of Tinsel
by Shirley Climo, illustrated by Jane Manning
A Cobweb ChristmasIn Germany, a old woman sets up a Christmas tree and cleans her house throughly, chasing the spiders outside. Let back into the house by Kris Kringle, the spiders are curious about this interesting tree, and end up “decorating” it with their cobwebs. What could be a holiday mishap becomes magical as Kris Kringle turns the webs into silver, making the first tinsel. A sweet story about the Christmas tree tradition.

The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes
by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Nancy Cote
The Borrowed Hanukkah LatkesAs a family prepares for Hanukkah, more guests are due to arrive than expected. The daughter, Rachel, borrows potatoes and eggs from their elderly neighbor to make the latkes, each time hoping that by borrowing food she will convince the woman to join the family for Hanukkah. She can’t make her come over, but in the end comes up with another plan to bring Hanukkah to the woman. While not a story of Israel, it is my favorite Hanukkah story, so I kind of cheat and use it anyway.

I have yet to find a Diwali story that isn’t just, “This is what happens during Diwali,” so if anyone has one, I’d be happy to hear about it. If anyone wants to write a good Diwali story, I’d say you’d have a pretty open market.


Thursday Three: Holidays

Posted by Pam on December 10, 2009 at 10:14 AM in Picture BooksRecommendations
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With the holidays quickly approaching, here are three books that I've been favoring lately to celebrate the season.

The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming.
Lemony Snicket
The Latke Who Couldn't Stop ScreamingJust hysterical. A latke runs screaming from the frying pan, and encounters various Christmas icons along its path. As the latke explains what it is and its significance in the celebration of Hanukkah, it keeps getting compared to Christmas. And so it keeps screaming. Lemony Snicket actually gets in a fair bit about the meaning of Hanukkah, while keeping a wry tone throughout. For instance as the latke explains in a long paragraph about being fried in oil as a reference to the oil that was used to rededicate the temple and the miracle that made the oil last for eight nights, the answer it receives is par for the course:

“So you’re basically hash browns,” said the flashing colored lights. “Maybe you can be served alongside a Christmas ham.”

“I’m not hash browns!” cried the latke. “I’m something completely different!”And then it runs screaming, “AAAHHHHHHHHH!” for two pages. As my kids have grown past the traditional - and too often schmaltzy - Hannukkah stories, this one is our new family classic.

The Lump of Coal
Lemony Snicket
The Lump of CoalOn the same note, we've turned to this title to replace the cute Christmas stories that absorbed us in the past. It contains perhaps one of the most perfect opening sentences of all times:

The holiday season is a time for storytelling, and whether you are hearing the story of a candelabra staying lit for more than a week, or a baby born in a barn without proper medical supervision, these stories often feature miracles.
A humble lump of coal longs to be something more and visits an art gallery and Korean barbecue in hopes of fulfilling his search for meaning. Instead a drugstore Santa decides he'll be the perfect thing for his stepson's stocking as punishment. But this ill intent goes right as the coal finds his purpose in an artist's hand. Wry, funy and odd, this book ends on just the right note for the holidays, and in echoing the first sentence, with miracles.

Robert's Snowflakes
Grace Lin
Robert's SnowflakesLest you think I'm all about the wit, my third choice is not about either holiday, but it is about beauty, joy, and hope. The book features dozens of snowflake shapes decorated by famous children's illustrators and gentle haikus for the winter season. The artwork created is amazing. Some illustrators featured their characters - like Oliva, of Ian Falconer and the dinosaurs of Mark Teague. Others contributed scenes of snow, skating, Santa, and lights. The real story within the book is the dedication of this group in auctioning of the original snowflakes to fund cancer research with the push of Grace Lin and her husband Robert Mercer, diagnosed with the disease. It's been a few years now, another set of snowflakes were auctioned, and more money raised through Robert's Snow for Cancer Cure.

Unfortunately, Robert himself has died. In his memory, Grace wrote and published her latest book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - a beautiful book of love, friendship, and gratitude that I can't recommend enough. Where the Mountain Meets the MoonIncorporating Chinese folktales with the style of European fairytales, the story tells the adventure of a girl trying to help her family by appealing to the Old Man in the Moon to change their family's fortune. I mention it now because the cover is very similar to the snowflake that Grace contributed to Robert's Snowflakes - a girl riding on a dragon against a blue background. I was in love with the cover months before I even had a chance to fall in love with the book. I also mention it because it would be the ideal gift for either/any holiday for a special girl in your life. Or for you.

Links to books in this post are affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which the site may receive a referral fee.


Thursday Three: Three

Posted by Pam on December 3, 2009 at 10:50 AM in Picture BooksRecommendations
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Today's title may be confusing, but it's not a mistake. In looking for books to give for the holidays, I thought I could share which of the dozens of new picture books I'm choosing to give as gifts this season. Chosen from the Cybils nominated titles I'm judging for Fiction Picture Books, today I have the books I selected for my adorable three year old niece.

There are Cats in This Book
by Viviane Schwartz
There are Cats in This BookBright, fun, clever and let's repeat fun, this book will surely entertain any toddler or preschooler. Using cutouts, flaps, and oddly shaped pages, the book interacts with the reader in a - can we use fun again? - fun way. The end papers even get in on the act with the first words on bright blue informing the reader that "The cats aren't on this page." They aren't on the next page either, but then move ahead to see purring and a quilt as a large flap. Lift it to find three awakened kitties, surprised and then happy to play with you. The cats address the reader the whole time, asking for pages to be turned, yarn to be tossed, and boxes to be opened. The happy cats are brightly and simply drawn, which lends even more of a surprise to finding the pages with more detail. This is a truly delightful book to share with a child and just plain - yes, I'll say it again - fun.

I Always, ALWAYS Get My Way
by Thad Krasnesky, illustrated by David Parkins
I Always, ALWAYS Get My Way The terrible two's might bring tantrums and frustration, but the tricky three's are all about testing limits. One of the hardest things in approaching this age is figuring out when the child isn't old enough to understand something and when they do know better. This book is a wonderful, learning tribute to that concept handled in a light way. Emmy spills juice on dad, but mom intervenes in Dad's annoyance knowing that Emmy is only three. Same with a mistake with her siblings toys. But then Emmy does things Wrong, and learns that "only three" doesn't always excuse her behavior. The message is strong, but not overbearing. The rhyming text lightens the tone, and the pictures are excellent - especially in capturing the moods of three year old. Emmy's bad choices are pretty funny to see, like seeing her dress the lizard in a doll's bathing suit, but the consequences are firm and appropriate. An enjoyable book that will ring true for any preschool parent.

Jeremy Draws a Monster
by Peter McCarty
Jeremy Draws a MonsterThis title is one of my favorites of 2009, though it seems to have slipped under the radar in the book world. I didn't think the amazing message contained within was too subtle, but maybe it did escape many readers who looked at the surface and saw a simple, light story. It's a shame, because people missed one of the better combinations of art, story, and message that I've ever seen. In the simply written and illustrated book, Jeremy stays in his room, never goes out, and draws pictures. And one day, with his special crayon, he draws a monster. The monster is demanding and Jeremy has to keep working to satisfy it. He's relieved when it goes out for the day. But can things end that easily? No. Only when Jeremy takes an active role in getting rid of his monster does he find a chance to be happy. Young kids will enjoy the story - especially as you read in the cranky monster's voice - but can also absorb the deeper meaning within. Hopefully the adult readers will too. In my own family, after all enjoying this book, we've taken to saying, "you draw your own monster." And we now see that you can't feed it or ignore it, but you have to tackle it. An amazing message wrapped in a charming book with engaging illustrations. Not to be missed.

Links to books in this post are affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which the site MotherReader may receive a referral fee.

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