Friday, January 29, 2016

Review Round-Up: Books for Beginning Readers, January 2016

Easy Readers

Both Jean Little Library and Kids Book a Day featured Cybils finalist In, Over, and On the Farm this month. Of the series, Jennifer of Jean Little Library says, " [It] is successful because it stands on its own and doesn't try to imitate other popular series." Janet from Kids Book a Day also compliments the book, pointing out that it "would be a fun read-aloud to young children as well as a good first book for emergent readers to try on their own."

Toon Books also received some attention this month. Jean Little Library reviewed 2016 Batchelder Honor book, Written and Drawn by Henrietta, calling it "a stunning work of graphic art" but questioning whether it works as an easy reader. Meanwhile, Sal's Fiction Addiction reviewed Flop to the Top, saying "The adults who read it to children will be as entertained as their children are ... the best kind of praise, for sure!"

Other reviews included Jean Little Library's posts on I Will Take a Nap and Katie Fry Private Eye: The Lost Kitten, Flying Off My Bookshelf's reviews of Sydney and Simon: Full STEAM Ahead and Come Back, Ben, Sal's Fiction Addiction's post on Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret, and a post from Becky's Book Reviews on Best Friends Wear Pink Tutus.

Chapter Books

There were a few Cybils finalists represented among the chapter book reviews I read this month. Geo Librarian reviewed Big Bad Detective Agency, citing its silliness as one of its strengths, while Jean Little Library reviewed both The Case of the Snack Snatcher and Dory and the Real True Friend.

Jean Little Library had several other chapter book reviews as well: The Friendship Garden: Green Thumbs Up!, Tales from Maple Ridge: Logan Pryce Makes a Mess, Puppy Pirates: Stowaway and Puppy Pirates: X Marks the Spot, and a review on its sister blog, Flying Off My Bookshelf, of Little Rhino: My New Team.

There were also a few non-fiction chapter book reviews this month. Geo Librarian reviewed two from National Geographic: Hoops to Hippos and Hoot, Hoot, Hooray! Here at Story Time Secrets, I also reviewed a whole series of non-fiction chapter book titles: Tomie dePaola's memoir, 26 Fairmount Avenue, and two sets of its sequels.

Mom Read It reviewed books from three different series, all published by Scholastic. Eerie Elementary: Recess is a Jungle and Stella and the Night Sprites: Knit-Knotters are both new titles from the Branches imprint, and Paloma (which just came out on Tuesday!) is the third book in the Shelter Pet Squad series.

Other chapter book reviews from this month are below:

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Five Tips for Watching Videos with Toddlers (Plus a List of Our Favorites!)

In September 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics made some changes to its guidelines about screen time for young children. One of the new guidelines states that "Co-engagement counts" and that "For infants and toddlers, co-viewing is essential." I started allowing Little Miss Muffet (now 2) to have a very small amount of screen time sometime between 18 and 24 months of age. Today I want to share some tips that have helped me make the most of co-viewing videos with her.

  1. Choose videos with minimal commentary. Not all, but many of the first videos I watched with Little Miss Muffet were nature videos, which were either silent, except for the sounds the animals naturally made, or set to instrumental music.  The benefit of the limited soundtrack is that I could make my own comments about what we were seeing on the screen without having to pause the video or talk over a narrator. Because I was directing the commentary, I could then draw Miss Muffet's attention to details I knew would especially interest her, or to new information I wanted her to learn.
  2. Connect each viewing session with a book or activity. Watching random videos might have some educational value, but it's even more likely that your child will learn something if you watch videos with a specific purpose in mind. When Little Miss Muffet was really into Jim Arnosky's Little Lions, we started watching this video about lion cubs at the San Diego Zoo. Now she knows what they eat and which toys they like to play with. When the National Zoo's panda cub was born, we would check in on the Panda Cam a couple of times a day to see what the cub was doing. Now that Miss Muffet's favorite book is Owl Babies, we like to watch the video adaptation, too, and this has really contributed to her memorizing almost the entire story word for word. You don't need to have an entire lesson plan  to accompany a video, but even just a simple book, craft, or game should be enough to reinforce the video content your child consumes.
  3. Interact with content. Watching a video is never a passive experience for Miss Muffet. We discuss everything that is happening on the screen. We identify colors and animals. We count how many birds are in the sky, or how many tusks an elephant has. We dance along with Michael Rosen's rendition of We're Going on a Bear Hunt, and identify the speaker of each line of dialogue in Owl Babies. Very occasionally, she will be allowed to sit alone and watch a video, but it's always one we have seen before, and usually, she will do at least some of what I have modeled for her even if I am in the next room and not directly involved in the presentation. 
  4. Set limits. This is another recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics. For me, setting limits means we don't watch videos endlessly without a plan. I will usually select a number of videos that we will watch, or a set amount of time that we will spend watching. Typically, the maximum number of videos we watch in one sitting is three, and I doubt we have ever watched more than 20 minutes total in a single day. She asks for screen time much more often, but I stand firm in my limitations and suggest other activities instead. Videos are provided solely at my discretion, and never simply because she wants to watch one.

  5. Build a playlist. Always pre-screen videos before sharing them with your child and plan how you will use them. I usually do this during nap time. I search for videos on topics that we have been discussing a lot, or of books that we especially like and save them for later viewing. This way, I am never scrambling to find appropriate content while Miss Muffet is watching, and I can also anticipate what is coming in the video as we're viewing it so I can tailor my commentary accordingly. By building a playlist ahead of time, I always know that I am sharing content of value that does not include any age-inappropriate material.

Little Miss Muffet's favorite YouTube videos are below:

Do you watch videos with your kids? Which are your favorites? What works for you? Please share below! 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Reading with Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep, January 2016

We have been snowed in for the last few days, and before that we had a good cold spell, so we have had lots of time to cuddle up with good books. Here's what Miss Muffet and Bo Peep enjoyed in January.

Busting Boredom with Books

Little Bo Peep (just turning 4 months) is getting to the age now where she is beginning to desire entertainment in addition to bottles, snuggles, and clean diapers. When she is fussing and nothing else seems to comfort her, it usually works to give her a book to look at. If she's lying on the floor, I will stand up Black and White by Tana Hoban, or the Alphaprints ABC book she got for Christmas and just let her take in the images on the pages. She kicks her legs, coos, and even reaches out to try to knock the book over. It's so nice to see even a small baby beginning to have her own relationship with books.

Singable Picture Books

Little Miss Muffet (age 2 years, 2 months) has suddenly started to demand that all picture books be sung, whether they have a tune or not. Rather than start making up tunes for every book under the sun, we have been borrowing a lot of singable picture books from the library - and revisiting the ones in our own collection - to satisfy this new fascination. Here are some titles we have recently enjoyed:

  • The Babies on the Bus by Karen Katz
  • The Seals on the Bus by Lenny Hort 
  • Row Row Row Your Boat by Iza Trapani 
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star illustrated by Julia Noonan
  • Lullaby and Good Night by Julie Downing 
  • Old MacDonald Had a Woodshop by Lisa Shulman and Ashley Wolff
  • Mockingbird by Allan Ahlberg and Paul Howard
  • Mary Wore Her Red Dress and Henry Wore His Green Sneakers by Merle Peek
  • Hush Little Baby by Margot Zemach
We borrowed Lullaby and Good Night from the library, but it has become such a special favorite that we had to order a copy of our own. It has beautiful illustrations, and the music for each lullaby is worked into the pictures. It also just happened to have a version of I See the Moon, which is a song we already love from Marylee's 1, 2, 3 Sing with Me! album, so it was an instant hit with Miss Muffet - and with me, too.

Highlights High Five

Last year, we had a subscription to Highlights Hello, and we loved it! I saved all the back issues to share with Little Bo Peep, but now, thanks to Grandma, we have a new subscription to Highlights High Five for the new year. The stories are a bit longer, and there are more of them, and the magazine also includes activities to do at home, as well as more complicated hidden pictures puzzles. Miss Muffet loves to flip through her "manganize" all "by self" and she even tries to follow along with the audio version, though it often moves to the next page before she is ready and she does not turn the page as directed. The hidden pictures are so far too difficult without a lot of help, but the stories and rhymes are just right. I look forward to watching her learn to master the new activities in the coming months!

The Reading with Little Miss Muffet featured started last January. Click here to see what she was reading way back when.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Milestones Board Books

Babies reach many milestones during the first two years of life. The board books on this list are great for supporting and celebrating these important achievements.

Baby Pig Pig Walks by David McPhail (ISBN: 9781580895965) 
Baby Pig Pig Talks by David McPhail (ISBN: 9781580895972)
David McPhail's character from picture books such as Pig Pig Grows Up and Pig Pig Gets a Job is just a toddler in these board books. Baby Pig Pig takes a while to get the hang of walking, but when he finally figures it out, he runs right to the kitchen to hug his mama. When he's learning to talk, his mother teaches him many words, which he slowly begins to repeat until finally he says her name loud and clear. 

Little Movers series by Carol Thompson 
These four books feature a diverse cast of babies - some with disabilities - showing off their gross motor skills. There are four titles in this series: One, Two, Three...Jump!, One, Two, Three... Run!, One, Two, Three... Climb! , and One, Two, Three...Crawl! (which I reviewed here.)

Happy, Healthy Baby series by  Elizabeth Verdick and Marjorie Lisovskis
The six books in this series highlight all of the things baby do, using photographs of real infants to illustrate each skill. The titles are: Play, Rest, Cuddle, Eat, Move, and Reach

Spoonful by Benoit Marchon (ISBN: 9780547893136)
Whether your little one is just starting solid foods or learning to use a spoon independently, he or she will be delighted by  this book, in which a baby gives a spoonful of food to everyone from the fish to the picture on the wall. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Early Literacy Around the House: The Bathroom

Between hand washing, bath time, and potty training, little kids spend a lot of time in the bathroom. Make these experiences a bit more fun - and educational! - with these early literacy activities.
  • Sing "This is the way we wash..." As you wash your child in the bathtub, sing a little verse about each of his parts. (Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush is the perfect tune for this game.) Pay special attention to the words you may not say as much in everyday conversation, such as elbow, eyebrow, thigh, shin, and wrist. If your child already knows some body vocabulary, ask him to tell you which part to sing about next. 
  • Draw letters on your child’s back with a washcloth and have her guess them. Preschoolers who are beginning to write letters will have fun with this game as they try to visualize each letter you draw on their skin. Get your child in on the game by hiding your eyes and letting her trace a letter on your hand or arm so you also have a chance to guess. 
  • Write in the fog on the mirror. Kids can't resist a mirror that has steamed up after a hot shower. Indulge their fascination and allow them to write and draw in the fog. For added fun, play a game of Win, Lose, or Draw, where you and your child take turns drawing and guessing what has been drawn. 
  • Time your hand washing with the ABC song. It can be hard for a young child to take time out of his busy day of play and exploration to wash his hands properly. Make the time go by a little faster by singing the alphabet - or any other favorite children's song - while your child lathers his hands. 
  • Sing a tooth brushing song. Many young children, especially toddlers, hate to have their teeth brushed. Ease their anxiety and discomfort by singing them through the experience. Suggested songs include: 
For more household early literacy activities, see my other Early Literacy Around the House posts

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Babies Need Words Every Day Blog Tour: Singing in Story Time

Today I'm participating in a blog tour to help promote a great new resource from ALSC: Babies Need Words Every Day posters! The posters were designed by the Early Childhood Programs and Services committee using illustrations by Il Sung Na. Each poster highlights one of four early literacy practices: sing, talk, read, and play. My post today is inspired by this poster (shown below), which focuses on singing.

Singing is as much a part of my story times as stories themselves, and it is my favorite way to interact with babies. There are many ways to model singing during story time; these are the ones I use most.
  • Sing with props.  Singing with a puppet or other prop can make you - and parents - feel more at ease, since some of the focus is taken off of the singer and placed onto the object instead. Farm animal puppets are great for Old MacDonald Had a Farm, shaker eggs pair well with Shake My Sillies Out, and a scarf is wonderful for songs involving waving, washing, or hiding. By using items you have in your story time stash to inspire your song choices, you show caregivers how they can be inspired to sing by the toys and stuffed animals in their children's environment.
  • Sing about bodies. As the poster suggests, singing during diaper changes is a great way to promote a baby's early literacy skills. You can help parents build their repertoire of songs to sing at diaper time by introducing body-themed songs into your story times. Head, Shoulders Knees, and Toes, Tony Chestnut, Eyes Nose Cheeky Cheeky Chin, Where is Big Toe?, and Where Oh Where Are Baby's Fingers? have all been big hits in my story times, and at home with my three-month-old.
  • Sing a picture book. There are many board book and picture book versions of favorite children's songs. Engage babies and their caregivers by singing some of your stories! The Babies Need Words Every Day book list includes several singable titles: 
    • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star by Caroline Jayne Church
    • Baa Baa Black Sheep by Annie Kubler
    • Itsy Bitsy Spider by Annie Kubler
    • The Itsy Bitsy Spider by Iza Trapani
    • The Babies on the Bus by Karen Katz
  • Sing a nursery rhyme. Nursery rhymes are a great way to introduce babies to rarely used vocabulary and fun rhythm and rhyme. Some popular nursery rhymes have been set to music, like Hey Diddle Diddle, Little Boy Blue, and Mary Had a Little Lamb. Many also fit the tune of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. Children's singer Marylee has a great album filled with singable nursery rhymes.
As a proponent of finding early literacy opportunities in everyday places, I think these posters are a great low-pressure way to keep parents and caregivers aware of the opportunities for sharing language that exist all around them, in the places their children visit in their daily routines. To reach families with babies, consider hanging a poster or two in a church crying room or bathroom, in the waiting room of a pediatrician's office, or above the changing tables at baby gyms and clothing stores, as well as in your library's children's area and story time space.

This blog tour continues all week. Check Reading with Red for the full schedule.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Feet & Toes Board Books

Babies and toddlers are fascinated by feet! The five books on this list will have them tapping and tickling their toes all day long.

Tickly Toes by Susan Hood, illustrated by Barroux (ISBN: 9781894786522) 
In this 2014 release from Kids Can Press, a mother and father marvel over the fact that their sweet little boy loves his own toys over all other toys. This is an ideal book for pre-crawling babies, especially those who have recently discovered their feet. (I reviewed this book last summer.)

Whose Toes Are Those? by Jabari Asim, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (ISBN: 9780316736091)

This rhyming story shows off the cute brown sweetness of toddler toes, leading up to the reveal that they belong to a little girl. The illustrations are by one of my favorite illustrators, LeUyen Pham. Find more of her books on this list.

Rain Feet by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Rhonda Mitchell (ISBN: 9780531068496)
A little boy named Joshua puts on his raincoat and rain boots and enjoys the wet weather as it plops and splashes all around.

Feet Are Neat by Susan Pearson, illustrated by Emily Bolam (ISBN: 9781934618462)
This BeginSmart book teaches the youngest readers all the things feet can do!

Busy Toes by C.W. Bowie, illustrated by Fred Willingham (ISBN: 9781580890564)
Little toes are busy all day long in this book celebrating some of the unusual and silly things kids and grown-ups can do with their feet.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

9 Kids' Books Illustrated by Lane Smith

Lane Smith is the illustrator of two Caldecott honor books: The Stinky Cheese Man by Jon Scieszka (honored in 1993) and Grandpa Green, which he wrote himself (honored in 2012). He is married to Molly Leach, a book designer who has designed many of Smith's books. Listed below are works by other authors which Lane Smith has illustrated. 


  • Lulu Series by Judith Viorst
    There are three books in the Lulu series, and Lane Smith illustrated the first two. In Lulu and the Brontosaurus, a little girl who wants a brontosaurus for a pet gets a very big surprise when the dinosaur brings her home to be his pet instead. In Lulu Walks the Dogs, the same little girl decides to walk dogs in order to earn some money, but things don't go exactly as planned. (The third book, Lulu's Mysterious Mission, in which Lulu tries to outsmart a crafty babysitter, is illustrated by Kevin Cornell.)
  • Time Warp Trio Series by Jon Scieszka
    Lane Smith illustrated the early volumes of this popular series, in which a group of friends explores history by traveling through time and having funny adventures.  The following titles feature Smith's illustrations: 
    • Knights of the Kitchen Table
    • The Not-So-Jolly Roger
    • The Good, the Bad, and the Goofy
    • Your Mother Was a Neanderthal
    • 2095
    • Tut Tut
    • Summer Reading Is Killing Me
    • It's All Greek to Me 
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
    Though nothing can compare to Quentin Blake's well-known illustrations for this book, it is fun to see Smith's own take on the story in this 1996 reprint edition of the beloved novel.

Picture Books

  • Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated by Florence Parry Heide
    A princess with a unique problem finds ways to cope and makes a new friend in the process in this laugh-out-loud contemporary fairy tale. 
  • Hooray for Diffendoofer Day by Dr. Seuss and Jack Prelutsky
    This book was originally conceived by Dr. Seuss, but was completed by Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith after Seuss died. The story focuses on Diffendoofer School, where the principal worries whether his free-spirited teachers have prepared his students for the upcoming standardized tests. 
  • Big Plans by Bob Shea
    A young troublemaker who has been placed in time out reflects on all the big plans he has for his exciting future. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bout of Books Progress Day 7 / Final Wrap-Up Post

Bout of Books

My very first Bout of Books has come to an end! This was really the ideal way to kick off the year. Of the 38 digital ARCs I had on my to-read shelf at the start of the week, I read 30, and I've already started getting the reviews scheduled. It will be nice to get back to a point where I'm reviewing the books before they come out instead of months later. I haven't been able to do that since Little Miss Muffet came along two years ago!

Here are the titles I finished on Day 7:

I'm already looking forward to participating in the next read-a-thon, coming in May 2016. See the other books I read this time around in my previous progress posts.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Bout of Books Progress Day 6

Bout of Books
Only two books to report for Day 6. I finished The Forget-Me-Not Summer by Leila Howland and The BFF Bucket List by Dee Romito. Hoping to get a few more in before today is over!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Bout of Books Progress Day 5

Bout of Books

I got up early yesterday morning and knocked out one book - Nine, Ten by Nora Raleigh Baskin - in just over an hour. I originally intended to read more, and I did read nearly half of The Forget-Me-Not-Summer by Leila Howland, but then I realized I just really needed a break from reading and wound up taking notes for reviews instead. 

It seems unlikely that I will finish the rest of my ARC backlog between today and tomorrow, but I hope to finish strong with at least two or three books to report for each day. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Bout of Books Progress Day 4

Bout of Books

Day 4 was practically a read-a-thon unto itself! I read twice as many books as the day before. Here are the 8 titles that I finished yesterday:
I was really hoping to clear my entire backlog of ARCs this week, but I'm running out of steam. I also haven't written reviews for any of these books, and writing all of them seems like a daunting task already. I may need to take tonight's reading time and devote it to reviews instead, just so I don't fall too far behind and forget everything I've read. But I hope to have at least a couple of books read to report tomorrow! 

Hide & Seek Board Books

Even very young kids like to play hide and seek. Engage your little ones with these fun board books, all about looking and finding.

 Where is Baby’s... series by Karen Katz
Among Karen Katz's many board books for babies and toddlers are a set of lift-the-flap books where something belonging to a baby has gone missing, and he or she must look for it. Some of the books are seasonal, or associated with a specific celebration (Where is Baby's Birthday Cake?, Where is Baby's Pumpkin?, Where is Baby's Valentine?) while others are more generic (Where is Baby's Belly Button?, Where is Baby's Yummy Tummy?, Where is Baby's Mommy?).

Hide and Seek Harry series by Kenny Harrison
Harry is a hippopotamus who loves to play hide and seek, but he always chooses very obvious hiding places. Babies and toddlers love to point to Harry on every page, and they enjoy the brightly colored backgrounds of the different environments where Harry plays his game. There are currently four books in the Hide and Seek Harry series: At the Beach, Around the House, On the Farm, and At the Playground.

Peek-a-Who? by Nina Laden (ISBN: 9780811826020)
Peek-a-Zoo by Nina Laden (ISBN: 9781452111759)
Hidden in these books are various objects and animals - owl, cow, and train (Peek-a-Who?) and a tiger, and a panda (Peek-a-Zoo). Cut-outs reveal hints at what is to come after each page turn, and for added fun, every line of text ends with the "oo" sound. These books are perfect for busy toddlers with only seconds to spare for a story, and because they are so simple, they can easily become the first books a child memorizes and "reads" on his own.

Baby’s First Treasure Hunt by Roger Priddy (ISBN: 9780312515027)
This book provides a series of photographs of different objects arranged in a pattern. One thing on each page is slightly different from everything else, and a clue prompts the reader to find it. Reading this book with a caregiver makes a great first experience playing "I Spy."

Hide and Seek by Taro Gomi (ISBN: 9781452108407)
Amidst familiar animals are hidden everyday objects for young readers to find. This book is most appropriate for slightly older toddlers (two years old and up) and is probably most fun to enjoy in a grown-up's lap.

Hide and Snake by Keith Baker (ISBN: 9780152022297)
This board book is a scaled down version of the picture book of the same name. A snake winds his way in and out of each page, and the reader is asked to look for him. This is a great choice for pre-verbal kids who are able to point well, as they can engage with the book without needing to speak.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Bout of Books Progress Day 3

Bout of Books
My reading slowed way down on Day 3. I only got through four of the seven books I had planned to read. The titles I finished are:

I also made progress on two others: The Last Boy at St. Edith's by Lee Gjertsen Malone and The Girl in the Well Is Me by Karen Rivers, which I will finish today.

And I did the author rainbow challenge on Twitter.

Christmas 2015 Reading Round-Up

The Christmas season has just about come to an end here in the Fitzgerald household. I'm glad to say, though, that we read most of the books in our Christmas box that were age appropriate for Miss Muffet, and I learned which ones I will want to use again next year. Here are all the titles we read between Christmas Eve and yesterday. 

  • The Night Before Christmas by Leonard Weisgard
    We have several editions of this story, and I hadn't read this one to Miss Muffet on either of her previous two Christmas Eves, so I decided to use it this year. Both girls were present for the story, but I'm not sure either of them listened to the whole thing. It's long for little ones. Still, it's tradition to read it on Christmas Eve, and this version has a nice vintage feel to it.
  • The First Noel by Alice and Martin Provensen
    I also read this one on Christmas Eve, and I think it's a great introduction to the Christmas story for toddlers. Miss Muffet was not completely attentive to the story, but she enjoyed pointing out familiar things in the illustrations. I want to use this one again next year.
  • The Story of Christmas by Felix Hoffman
    We have a lot of versions of the Christmas story, and I had originally planned to read them all during the Christmas season, but it became too repetitive, so this wound up being the last one. It wasn't a particular favorite, though I think it is well done.
  • Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella by Adrienne Adams
    Miss Muffet is really into picture books based on songs, so she wanted to hear this one several times. I like the illustrations and the fact that the music appears along with the words for each verse, and not just on a page at the end of the book.
  • They Followed a Bright Star by by Joan Alavedra, Ulises Wensell
    My husband got this book out of the library and read it to me and Miss Muffet. It focuses on the people who followed the star, as well as the people who stayed behind to prepare for the arrival of the infant Jesus in different ways. It's on the long side, and I doubt Miss Muffet understood the whole thing, but it would be great for an early elementary audience.
  • The Christmas ABC by Florence Johnson, illustrated by Eloise Wilkin
    My mom sent us an oversized board book of this story, and I think I want to use it before Christmas next year, as it talks a lot about the preparations leading up to Christmas, as well as the religious significance of Christmas Day itself. Miss Muffet was enamored of the little girl on the front cover and kept flipping back to look at her.
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas by LeUyen Pham
    LeUyen Pham is one of my favorite illustrators, but this book doesn't have as much to it as some of her others. I like the illustrations later in the book best, mostly because they are not all of birds, and they show many different types of dancers, pipes, and drums. Miss Muffet liked it because it could be sung. I also read this to Little Bo Peep, who had no real reaction.
  • Ben's Gingerbread Man by Niki Daly
    Apparently I owned this book in childhood, but I don't remember it. The mother in the story has outrageously dated 1980s clothes, but the plot is just right for a two year old. Ben bakes a gingerbread man, and then puts it to bed on an easy chair to keep it safe, only to have his mother sit on it and break it. Then Mum bakes Ben a new gingerbread man. Little Miss Muffet helped make gingerbread men just before Christmas, and it was definitely her favorite part of the entire Christmas experience, so this was probably her favorite book of the list.
  • The Huron Carol by Ian Wallace
    Another singable book. I had to relearn the tune, since it's not a song I know that well, and that frustrated Miss Muffet, and she didn't really like the pictures that much. She may like this more when she is older and more familiar with the carol itself.
  • Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry
    The rhyming in this book didn't quite work for me, but the premise is clever and fun. Mr. Willowby cuts the top off of his Christmas tree because it's too tall for the parlor. His maid takes the top to her room, but it's too tall for the spot she selected for it, so she discards the top as well. Smaller and smaller pieces of the tree find homes with different characters, until finally even the mice in Mr. Willowby's house have a tree of their own.
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star by Julia Noonan
    This was a late addition to our reading pile, which I found at the library. It's the traditional Twinkle Twinkle Little Star song, illustrated with Christmas-themed paintings. This would be great for a story time. If I happen to do a holiday story time for any reason next year, I'll keep this book in mind.
  • I Like Winter by Lois Lenski 
    I chose this book at the library not realizing that the middle 50% of the story is all about Christmas. This one is also a singable book, but I had a hard time learning the tune. Miss Muffet liked it because it had Santa Claus in it, and also because it is a small book. Lenski did a book like this for each of the four seasons - I'll be looking for the others in the future!
  • Asleep in the Stable by Will Hillenbrand 
    Miss Muffet is really into owls, so when I found this story at the library about an owl and his mother who live in the stable where Jesus is born, I knew we had to have it. As I suspected, Miss Muffet loved it, especially the fact that the owls kept saying, "Whoooo?"
  • Small Camel Follows the Star by Rachel W.N. Brown 
    This was our Epiphany read. Miss Muffet loved it. She was really interested in the camel and thrilled to see Baby Jesus. The story takes some liberties with the Bible story, so I might not want to use it again until we have taught the story as it appears in the Bible, but it was an interesting take on the story of the wise men.
See what we read during Advent 2015 here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Bout of Books Progress Day 2

Bout of Books

On the second day of the Bout of Books read-a-thon, I finished five books. Three were middle grade novels:

And two were easy readers: 

(These almost don't count, they're so short, but I needed to get them read, so this seemed like as good a time as any.) 

I didn't do the challenge.

Hoping to do much more reading today! Still hoping to clear out Adobe Digital Editions by the end of the week. 

Read Around Town: The Doctor's Office

In my latest blog series, Read Around Town, I'm highlighting picture books that celebrate the people and places in a young child's immediate community. These would work well for preschool classes or homeschool groups taking tours of local businesses, or for any child interested in learning about his or her neighborhood. Today's post kicks off the series with ten picture books about doctors and doctors' offices.

How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon? by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague
This book teaches young kids how to be on their best behavior at the doctor's office by questioning what a sick dinosaur would do. 

Froggy Goes to the Doctor by Jonathan London & Frank Remkiewicz
Froggy is nervous about possibly being given a shot at his doctor's appointment, but he's not prepared for the fact that he might have forgotten his underwear! 

Bark, George by Jules Feiffer
When George the dog moos and quacks instead of saying "Arf!" his mother brings him to the vet, who makes a surprising - and hilarious - discovery. 

Doctor Dan, The Bandage Man by Helen Gaspard & Corinne Malvern
This classic Golden Book shows how one boy reacts to being given a bandage by becoming a doctor to all the stuffed animals and dolls in his house. 

A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
Camilla Cream, who worries about how others see her, develops an unusual condition where her skin takes on the appearance of whatever the people around her suggest. 

Imogene’s Antlers by David Small
Imogene is surprised when she wakes up one morning to discover that she has grown antlers on the top of her head, a condition for which the doctor can find no cause.

Nurse Clementine by Simon James
When Clementine receives a nursing kit for her birthday, she enthusiastically cures everyone in her family, except her brother, who doesn't appreciate his sister's medical skills despite his tendency to crash into things. 

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
Madeline, a student at a French girls' boarding school is taken ill with appendicitis, which impresses her classmates so much they also wish to become sick.

Doctor Ted by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre
When Ted, a young bear, decides he needs a doctor for the bump on his knee, he uses his imagination to become one himself.

A Day in the Office of Doctor Bugspit by Elise Gravel
This Balloon Toons book is a child's first introduction to the graphic novel format. A silly alien doctor named Doctor Bugspit is perfectly happy to prescribe disgusting remedies to his patients until he himself comes down with a cold.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Bout of Books Progress Day 1

Bout of Books

Yesterday was the first day of the Bout of Books read-a-thon. Considering that Monday is my busiest day - I'm home with the kids all day, and then I teach CCD at night - I'm really impressed that I read six books. Here's what I finished:

I also read some of How to Break a Heart by Kiera Stewart, which I have on the Kindle app on my phone, but it's been very slow-going and I keep taking breaks from it. I've been reading it on and off all morning today, so hopefully I'll be able to list it as finished in tomorrow's update.

Yesterday, I also completed the challenge for day one, which was to introduce myself in six words. I did that on Twitter.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Five Reading & Blogging Goals for 2016

Reviewing My 2015 Goals 

At the start of last year, I sat down and made a list of five reading goals to work toward in 2015. The time has come to see how well I did and to set some new goals for 2016. First, here’s an inventory of my 2015 goals.

  • 2015 Goal #1: Read Through History
    My most specific and measurable goal for 2015 was to read and review 52 historical fiction novels in chronological order based on setting. And I did it! The full list of titles and their reviews is here. It was a really great experience, and one I may repeat in a future year. 
  • 2015 Goal #2: Go Easier on the ARCs
    My reasoning with this goal was that I was focusing too much on what was new and shiny, and not enough on good books I missed in previous years. But between Reading Through History and Old School Sunday, I didn’t have as much time - or room in the blogging schedule - for more recent backlist titles. I still want to be mindful about not amassing ARCs just for the sake of it, but I have no doubt I will continue to review them in abundance during 2016. 
  • 2015 Goal #3: Be Proactive About Picture Books
    I think I did fairly well at seeking out picture books, but so many of them were duds that I had a hard time feeling motivated to read a lot of them. I did manage to return to reviewing them more regularly, however, so I feel that this goal was accomplished. 
  • 2015 Goal #4: Phase Out YA 
    I stopped reviewing new young adult books pretty much altogether, and I don’t miss them. A handful of older titles were included in Reading Through History and one or two appeared on Old School Sunday, but otherwise, I did manage to bring my focus back to books for middle grade audiences and younger. 
  • 2015 Goal #5: Bring Back Books for Beginners
    I really only even began to accomplish this because of Cybils, and even then, there weren’t all that many new easy readers available. I did revamp my format my reviewing beginner reader books, though, and I hope that will make it easier for me to review more of them in the future. 

Five Reading & Blogging Goals for 2016 

Now, on to 2016… These are not just reading goals, but writing and overall blogging goals as well.

  • Goal #1 Fumble Through Fantasy
    Because Reading Through History was such a success, I decided to do a similar project this year, focused on the genre I like least: Fantasy. I gave myself a break and selected only 25 titles to read and review. The reviews will appear on Sundays and Mondays scattered throughout the year beginning January 3rd. 
  • Goal #2: Organize my social media content. 
    Because blogging is strictly a hobby for me, I haven’t necessarily felt it was important to have a strong social media presence. When I look at the sites that refer traffic to my blog, however, it is clear that Pinterest and Facebook are the main ways readers find this site. I was better about posting to both this year - and I’m mostly set with a routine for Pinterest - but Facebook, as well as Twitter and Instagram, could use some work. It helps that Picture Book of the Day is moving to Instagram, but I still need to sit down and sort out exactly where I want to post, what I want to put there, and when. 
  • Goal #3: Participate in more read-a-thons and challenges.
    In 2015, I participated in the 48 Hour Book Challenge as well as Armchair BEA, and I found both to be very useful ways to jump-start my reading and to connect a little bit with the blogging community. I hope to do both of those again, but I’m also looking forward to trying new (to me) things, such as The Bout of Books, Newbery Through the Decades, and Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-Thon
  • Goal #4: Write a page of fiction five days a week. 
    When I went to college, my one goal in life was to be a fiction writer. After some negative experiences, and several rejections from graduate writing programs, however, I graduated and basically never wrote another word. Though I no longer necessarily aspire to write a novel (I wrote a non-fiction book this year, and found that very enjoyable), I do miss creating characters and writing them in and out of interesting situations. So, this year, my hope is to sit down at the end of each weekday and write a handwritten page of fiction. This will be purely for enjoyment, so there might not be a cohesive unit at the end of the year, but there will hopefully be a daily writing habit and maybe a handful of useful story starters. (I'll be using the weekends as catch-up days in case I have to skip a weekday.)
  • Goal #5: Relocate, rebrand and rename the blog. 
    I fully expect to continue blogging for years to come, but I see myself writing on more and more disparate topics that don’t fit neatly under the “Story Time Secrets” title. My hope is to spend this next year studying up on Wordpress and to work toward launching a new blog, with its own domain, in early 2017. The goal is to continue focusing on books, but to also incorporate other interests, including stay-at-home parenting, homeschooling preschool, Catholic living, etc. I am not 100% sure this will be accomplished in just one year, but writing it down at least makes it seem like a real goal! 
Do you have any reading or blogging goals this year? Feel free to share in comments!
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