Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Trains, Trains, Trains

I have two boys under the age of 3 and both are obsessed with trains.  They also love trucks, cars, and planes…pretty much anything that VROOMS. 

But the train preference has always puzzled me.  We do not see trains regularly, as with the other forms of transportation.  We do not live in a city and take the subway daily.  The most experience they have had with trains is the shuttle train at the airport and the kiddie “train” at the mall.  Yet they love toy trains, train TV shows, and books about trains.  It is an awful lot of fun to say "choo-choo"!

I will forego including Thomas the Tank Engine in my list.  He is certainly well-read and well-watched in my home, but I don’t find the stories particularly appealing or well-written.  Therefore, my list this week includes train books that my children love and that I appreciate as well.  There are some incredible train books out there.  Let’s ride the rails!

Freight Train
by Donald Crews (ages 2+)

This fabulous Caldecott Honor Book was an early favorite of my oldest son.  It was the first book he could "read" all by himself, so it will always hold a special place in my heart.  I love the colorful cars, the sophisticated vocabulary, and the feeling of motion that this book exudes.  Look for the large format board book (more like a lap book, but still sturdy against rough little book lovers!)
Choo Choo: The Story of a Little Engine Who Ran Away
by Virginia Lee Burton (ages 5+)

Written in 1937, the author of The Little House and Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel had a deep insight into the hearts of young readers.  While I find this book a bit long for a bedtime read-aloud, my son asks for it again and again.  It has universal appeal to all those with independent streaks (i.e. children!), as the little engine decides to go on an adventure by herself. 

C is for Caboose: Riding the Rails from A to Z
by Traci N. Todd (ages 3+)

A rollicking and refreshing A to Z book about trains, of course.  Very informative, full of train history and terminology.  I made notes to do a bit of research on a couple of pages that intrigued me.  Possible story ideas?  You never know when inspiration will strike.  This book will appeal to the youngest readers for its theme and A to Z appeal, but also to older children who can comprehend the vocabulary and appreciate railroad history.

by Byron Barton (board book: infant +)

This simple board book follows a passenger train as it passes different kinds of trains on its way to the station.  All of Byron Barton's vehicle board books are favorites in my house.  Don't miss Planes, Trucks, and Boats.  Each follows a similar pattern and is coupled with colorful, cartoonish illustrations.

Shark vs. Train
by Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld (ages 3+)

This hysterical book looks at the contests of two toys: a shark and a train.  Opening with "Shark vs. Train: Who will win?", the reader is drawn into a world of competition where the winner depends on the players' strengths.  The illustrations include bantering speech bubbles.  Don't miss this one!

Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo
by Kevin Lewis (ages 2+)

Rhythmic, repetitive, rhyming text drives the story along just like a train.  From sun up to sun down, a toy engineer chugs through the imaginary landscape created out of blocks, furniture, and a fish tank.  This book has everything a child could want, including a satisfying ending: a boy asleep with his favorite toy train.

I can't help but end by sharing a rhyme that my boys love to act out.  I don't know the author, but we learned it at a library storytime.

This is a choo-choo train, chugging down the track.
See it going forward.  See it going back.
Hear the bell ringing.  Hear the whistle blow.
What a lot of noise it makes, everywhere it goes!

Now chug on over to the library and check out these great titles.  And don't forget to post your favorite train books!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

For my first post to Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Fridays, I thought I’d share one of my very favorite children’s books.  I have so many favorites, but this one holds a special place in my heart.  It is written in a lyrical, poetic voice (of course it is…it’s written by Maya Angelou!); very refreshing for an informational nonfiction book. 

Title: My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me
Author: Maya Angelou
Photographs : Margaret Courtney-Clarke
Publisher: Clarkson Potter, Inc./Publishers; 1994
Nonfiction for grades 1-3

Topics: Friendship, world cultures, Africa, art

Opening: “Hello Stranger-friend.  I am Thandi, an Ndebele girl in South Africa.  I am eight years old, and my best friend is a chicken.”

Synopsis: Thandi shares the unique beauty of her culture (painted houses and beaded clothes) while relating the universal themes of friendship, family, and fun.  Readers connect to Thandi as she proudly looks inward at her people and outward to the world, full of hope at making a new friend from afar.

Resources: How to pronounce Ndebele -
When I was a third grade teacher, I used this book during our African studies unit.  You could easily create art projects around the painted houses and beadwork shown in the book.  As a writing exercise, students can write a letter to Thandi in a similar style, sharing what is important in their own culture.

For more links to Perfect Picture Books, click here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reading for the Earth

When I think about my children’s future, I don’t think about college or what career they will choose or what lifestyle they will live.  I think about the Earth they will inherit. 

Everyday, we make choices that either improve our world a smidge or make it just a bit dirtier.  Compost or garbage can?  Cloth or disposable diapers?  Walk or drive?  Through our combined efforts, we are all nudging the see-saw up and down.  Will we find a balance between human needs and the needs of the planet?  Or will we hit bottom one day and wonder what we could have done differently?
Our kids see everything.   Modeling is a fabulous teaching tool. When they see us recycle, plant a garden, or reuse a bag, they learn what we deem important.  Conversations can be built around these simple acts and books that teach about the environment in a non-preachy way are just another tool we parents can use to raise eco-conscious kids.

Here are some book suggestions to get you started:
(In no particular order)

1.        The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (ages 6 +)

Written in 1971, this book couldn’t have more contemporary relevance.  This is the story of greed and a decimated environment.  When the Lorax tries to speak up, “I am the Lorax.  I speak for the trees,” his warnings go unheeded.  While filled with the dangers of environmental short-sightedness, it ends with the hopeful message that we have the power to make good choices for the Earth.  This classic is going to be a movie soon, opening in theaters March 2, 2012.  If you are like me and have to read a book before you see the movie, get to the library! 

2.       Footprints on the Roof: poems about the earth by Marilyn Singer (ages 8+)

Ink drawings paired with free verse poetry make the subtle message of Earth-care an integral part of enjoying nature’s magnificence and mysteries. 

3.       I Can Make a Difference All Around My House: An Earth-Friendly Lift-the-Flap Book by P.A. Bonner (ages 2+)

In this sweet rhyming book shaped like a house, a boy invites the reader to see how to be “green”.  Flaps to lift engage the youngest readers while they learn what they can do to help the Earth right at home.

4.       The Green Mother Goose: Saving the World One Rhyme at a Time by Jan Peck and David Davis (ages 4+)

No Little Boy Blue in this collection.  Instead you’ll find Little Boy Green. As the book jacket states, “Mother Goose’s lively rhymes have been recycled as fun, eco-friendly verses with a wonderful mission.” 

      5.       Common Ground: The Water, Earth, and Air We Share by Molly Bang (ages 9+)

Molly Bang uses the example of the common ground in a village to help young readers visualize the role we play on our planet.  Will we use our natural resources wisely or exploit them?  She offers a bold warning at the end.  “…what will stop us from destroying our whole world-our common ground?...we don’t have anyplace else to go.”

6.       The Earth and I by Frank Asch (ages 3+)

With minimal text, watercolors tell the story of a boy and the Earth as friends.  They share playful times and sadness, too.  Even the youngest readers will identify with the idea that our relationship with the Earth needs to be in balance for both to thrive.

7.       Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: A message from Chief Seattle paintings by Susan Jeffers (ages 8+)

Chief Seattle spoke these words in a speech during white settlement negotiations in the 1850s in the Pacific Northwest.  Incredibly relevant to our modern-day ecological movements, Susan Jeffers brings his words to life through her art. 

8.       The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry (ages 4+)

A rainforest full of animals whisper all of the reasons their home should not be cut down to a sleeping man with an ax.  Attractive for its exotic rain forest animals and its message of conservation, this book clearly invites the reader to save the rain forest.

9.       The Earth Book by Todd Parr (ages 3+)


With the opening line “I take care of the earth because I know I can do little things everyday to make a BIG difference”, Todd Parr takes young readers on a colorful and practical journey,  showing children how they help the planet stay healthy.
10.   100 Things You Should Know About Saving The Earth by Anna Claybourne (ages 8+)

This nonfiction book is chock full of facts, quizzes, and tips on how to live green.  Photographs, diagrams, and cartoons effectively illustrate the text.

11.   Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals (ages 3+)


A clever A to Z rhyming book with fabulous collage illustrations made from recycled/reused materials. 

I’d also like to highlight the DK: Made with Care series.  Titles include Love Your World, Grow Organic, and Make It!  This series of nonfiction books range in reading age from toddler to teenager, so there is one perfect for your child.  The books themselves are made with recycled paper, vegetable inks, and are produced without a dust jacket to conserve paper and energy.
I hope this list inspires you to read to your children about what it means to be green.  And to find more great books on the subject.  Make GREEN your favorite color!

Book Lists for Kids Drawn from Daily Life

From my blog title and my first post title, you should get the gist of my intention here.  I am the mother of two toddlers, a former elementary school teacher, and an aspiring children's author.  I have always been passionate about children's books.  In this blog, I will (hopefully weekly) post a book list.  It may have two books in it or fifteen, depending on the topic.  The lists will be themed.  For example, my oldest son is really into trucks, trains, and airplanes, so I'll probably do a transportation list at some point, if not a list for each of those categories.  Or maybe Independence Day is coming up, so you'll get a list of kid-appropriate Fourth of July-themed books.  I welcome suggestions from readers regarding themes, so let me know what you'd like to see.

These lists will include title, author, age level, and a brief synopsis.  They are not intended to be reviews.  They are intended to jump-start your next trip to the library!