Tag Archives: Language Arts

For Your Bookshelf: Poetry Month

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I know April is almost over and I have already done one of these posts this month, but I decided I wanted to share a couple poetry titles for National Poetry Month.


Poetry seems to be one of those polarizing genres, you either love it or hate it. Plus it can conjure up some bad memories from high school English class where you had to analyze every line of some terrible (or terribly boring poem). But poetry is a really great way to introduce language- and word-play to children.

They may not seem like it, but those Mother Goose nursery rhymes are a form of poetry. And the rhythm and rhyme in them help kids hear letter sounds, find new vocabulary, and give them a sense that language can be fun. Nursery rhymes are also easy to memorize for you and your child so you can say them at any time. I like to use them for emphasis when we go places or see things. (“Diddle Diddle Dumpling” when Cam only has on one shoe or “To Market, To Market” when we go to the grocery store.)

We don’t just do Mother Goose, though. We read “real” poetry (it’s all real, but these are poems you would find in high school English class) often found in poetry anthologies for children. I have an old vintage Childcraft anthology that has poetry from Carl Sandburg to Emily Dickinson to unknown poets, but there are many collections for kids. There are also authors who have written poems for children and compiled them. Poems that are evocative and beautiful the way you would expect “adult” poetry to be. These kinds of poems are really wonderful for teaching children how to make pictures in their minds when they read (or are read to), a really important skill that all good readers do without thinking about.

So put those thoughts of the tortured, angst-y poems you wrote in your youth and the boring ones you read in English aside and give some of these titles a try with your child.

Poetry for Children

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman- I was really blown away by this book when I first picked it up. Obviously the illustrations are wonderful, but the poems are too. The thing is, they’re essentially non-fiction poems. They teach you something about nighttime nature which struck me as both clever and a great way to connect a younger child with science.

Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies- I love that this one moves through the year. It also gives you a wonderful appreciation for the outside world. It is even better for young readers because the poems are fairly short and very evocative of seeing, feeling or experiencing nature. The large format is also great for putting on the floor and poring over.

Water Sings Blue by Kate Coombs – Another book I was totally blown away by. In some ways it makes me sad that people who write poetry for children don’t seem to get the same praise as people who write poetry for adults. This one is also incredibly evocative of the ocean and the beach and the language in it is so beautiful. It really shows what language can do. The watercolor illustrations also really add to the wonder of the poems.

Firefly July: A Year of Short Poems by Paul B. Janeczko- This is another one that moves you through the year. I love that many of these are either famous poems or famous poets but they are incredibly short. They are also relatable poems for kids.

For Your Bookshelf: Gardening Books

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Where we live Spring is most definitely here. It’s actually a little early this year, but I am so itchy to get into the garden that it doesn’t matter to me. In honor of gardening that you may be doing or are planning to do in the next month or two, I pulled together a selection of books about gardens and gardening.

Garden Books

The Carrot Seed by Crockett Johnson: A classic that is both about the patience that gardening takes and about believing in yourself even when no one else does. I loved this book as a child and now my daughter is enjoying it. The simple, repetitive text would make it a great early reader.

My Garden by Kevin Henkes: What kid wouldn’t want this little girl’s garden full of chocolate bunnies, a jelly bean bush and plants that grow keys and shells. The imagination in this book is just so wonderful. I also think it encourages kids to look beyond your basic vegetable and flower gardens and see the garden as some where potentially magical.

One Small Square: Backyard by Donald Silver: This book is full of amazing details about what is in our backyards and it shows it to you by going through a square foot layer by layer. I know it isn’t techincally about a garden, but many of the same elements and ideas apply to our garden, including animals, soil, and natural cycles. This is actually one in an expansive series. They are all well done and I highly recommend checking any of them out.

Ruby Red Shoes by Kate Knapp: Okay this one isn’t strictly about gardening, but Ruby does garden and spends a good amount of time in her garden. Plus she has chickens. I absolutely love the illustrations in this book. They are so whimsical and compliment the gentle story about Ruby and her grandmother so well.

These are some of my favorites, but I’m there are many more. Are there any title you would add to this list?

Eight Great Books for the Deep Dark of Winter

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Winter Magic by Eveline Hassler: This is a story about the beauty of the world when it is deep in winter as seen by a young boy and his cat, Sebastian. It is such a magical story that celebrates a season and time of year that doesn’t usually get a lot of praise.

The Tomten & The Tomten and the Fox by Astrid Lindgren: The Tomten, a small gnome-like creature that lives on the farm in the woods, cares for all the animals in the deep midwinter. When the fox arrives looking for a meal the Tomten offers to share his own food with the fox. I love the respectful tone of this book and the Tomten is always so magical.

Winter by Greda Muller: Another in the wordless board book series. More lovely and lively pictures appropriate to the season. Even though we don’t get snow, it’s easy to appreciate the cold weather and the delights of the idea of snow.

Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner: What do snowmen do when we aren’t watching? All kinds of silly things according to this book. I love how hilarious and silly the snowmen are, something we need after the holidays and the winter begins to drag on.

The Mitten by Alvin Tresselt: The classic tale of a lot of animals cramming themselves into a warm cozy mitten to escape the cold forest. Ultimately they don’t all fit and the mitten bursts apart. This particular version is the one I had as a child, and even though Jan Brett has done a beautiful edition, I love the simplicity of these illustrations. I also love how the book is set up as a story a grandfather tells his grandchildren and it isn’t clear to the child narrator if the grandfather was being completely truthful.

The Day it Rained Hearts by Felicia Bond: This is the story of Cornelia Augusta and her inspiration for the valentine cards she makes. Valentine’s Day can be so commercialized with roses and romantic love, but this is a book that celebrates doing something nice for your friends. Plus it would be awesome if it rained hearts!

The Happy Day by Ruth Krauss: This book celebrates the first flower and the joy it brings when you realize spring is near.

Eight Great Books for the Winter Holidays

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Here is a selection of books for the holidays. I know Hanukkah is almost gone, but those books are well worth reading.

Eight Great Books for the Winter Holidays

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel: In a small town somewhere in Eastern Europe the local synagogue has been taken over by goblins who will not allow the townspeople to celebrate Hanukkah. Hershel takes on the task of convincing one goblin each night to allow him to light the menorah in the lonely old synagogue. Hershel is a clever guy and has some pretty creative ways that he tricks the goblins. However there is a catch, on the final night he must have the Goblin King, the biggest scariest goblin of all, light the menorah himself. The story is dramatic, suspenseful, and very funny at points.

Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat by Naomi Howland: If you are familiar with Strega Nona and her magic pasta pot you will be familiar with the storyline of this one too. Sadie is given a magic pan that makes latkes. But in order to stop it you must say the magic words. Too bad her brothers don’t know those words and start up the pan while Sadie is out. I wouldn’t say the holiday features prominently, but it’s still a great story to read during the season.

The Chanukkah Guest by Eric Kimmel: This one is just plain funny and totally appeals to kids’ sense of humor. Baba Brayna is a bit hard of hearing and her eyesight isn’t so good either, so when a bear shows up on her doorstep lured by the smell of latkes she mistakes him for the rabbi. The bear enjoys a great meal and is even given the scarf Baba Brayna knit for the rabbi. As he leaves, the rabbi and Baba Brayna’s friends arrive and are rather surprised to find all the latkes gone. However, Baba Brayna simply whips up another batch of latkes.

The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett: Jan Brett creates such detailed illustrations that her books make great read alouds for even the youngest of children. They are also perfect read alouds for one or two children nestled in your lap. I especially like the message in this book of kindness, respect, and cooperation for and with animals. Tika has been entrusted to find and work with Santa’s wild reindeer this year and she takes her task very seriously. As she begins she tries to boss them around and is rather rough, but this only results in a fiasco. After a tangle up, Tika promises to listen to the animals and be gentle and kind. This works out quite well and the reindeer are ready to lead Santa’s sleigh.

Dream Snow by Eric Carle: Another story that shows kindness to animals. While we don’t get snow where we live, we still appreciate the thought of a white Christmas. In Dream Snow, a farmer wishes it would snow, but then dreams of snow covering his animals. He awakens to find that it really has snowed and he rushes out to deliver gifts to his animals.

Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto: Another story where the holiday is more of a backdrop, however it has a great message about honesty and is funny to boot. Maria is making tamales with her parents for their family Christmas celebration. Her mother removes her wedding ring to mix the masa, but Maria sneaks the ring on her finger. In the hustle and bustle of family arriving Maria forgets all about the ring and only later realizes it must have fallen off in the tamales. She and her cousins sneak into the kitchen and eat all the tamales in search of the ring, which, it turns out her mother had all along. Maria confesses to her mother and the family has a good laugh and sets out to make another batch of tamales. The look on the kids faces when they have to make more tamales is priceless.

Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs: This is a wordless picture book that details Santa’s Christmas routine. I know there is an animated version of it, but I love to pore over all the details with my daughter. There are some surprising and delightful things if you look closely.

Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa by Donna Washington: I am a big proponent of introducing a variety of customs to my daughter, but it was hard finding a quality Kwanzaa book. So many of them are overtly didactic or informational with illustrations that just aren’t very engaging. I wish there were more stories about Kwanzaa in the vein of all the Christmas and Hanukkah books. In Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa, Li’l Rabbit sets out to find a nice gift for his grandmother who is sick in place of the large happy feast they normally have. While out he tells all grandma’s friends that she is unwell, but doesn’t think he has come up with the perfect surprise. Until he gets home and realizes all the friends have pulled together and created the Karamu for Granna Rabbit. I liked that the principles of Kwanzaa are subtly worked into the story instead of being glaringly pointed to.

Eight Great Books for Autumn

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I’ve started noticing that some mommy blogs like to give recommendations for picture books (or chapters books) that go along with a theme or an author and I started to think, “Hey I could do that, I am a librarian after all!”  I have done a bit of suggesting here and there, but I thought maybe I could start making it a bit more of a regular series with several title suggestions instead of just one or two.

Without further ado, here are my fall suggestions:

Autumn by Gerda Muller: This one is a wordless board book with really beautiful illustrations showing some of the delights of the season. Our Autumns don’t look exactly like this (rain is scarce this time of year), but I think it captures the beauty of the season and the excitement the change in weather brings. The wordlessness makes it a great vehicle for building vocabulary and poring over with your young child.

Autumn Leaves by Ken Robbins: This one is full of awesome photographs of leaves from a variety of trees. It’s definitely a non-fiction, but it is super accessible even for younger kids. If you are lucky enough to live where many or all of the included trees grow, it’s a lot of fun to make the connection between the book and the real world. We also bought a set of leaf rubbing plates that match most of the leaves in this book and had a good time making rubbings and comparing to the book. It’s out of print, so if you normally purchase books you may have to check with your local library instead.

Winter Lullaby by Barbara Seuling: I know this has winter in the title, but it’s really about the natural world getting ready for winter. The text is simple and written in verse that uses questions and answers which my daughter really responded to. But really this book is about the illustrations. They are stunning.

Pumpkin Jack by Will Hubbel: This is one of my all time favorites. It starts with a boy making a jack-o-lantern, but it’s really a story about the life cycle of a pumpkin. I could also see some religious overtones in it too. While l love to celebrate one particular season when we are in it, I also really feel that to appreciate them you need the cycle of the seasons. Pumpkin Jack does a nice job of doing just that.

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams: This isn’t strictly a Halloween book, but it works well for the holiday especially since there’s a scary pumpkin head. The story is totally ridiculous and repetitive, but that’s why kids love it. My daughter, at 26 months, is saying the refrain along with me and giggling hysterically. Doesn’t get better than that.

A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting: Another ridiculous story. I love that everyone is welcome at the Thanksgiving table and that it’s really a book about a play on the phrase “a turkey for Thanksgiving”. We read this one every year.

The Perfect Thanksgiving by Eileen Spinelli: I reviewed this one last year and you can read that post here. The short version is, this is a story about embracing your family warts and all. We don’t all have perfect families, but simply being with them makes it a perfect Thanksgiving.

Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes: Another supermarket book table find and I love this one too. It runs through a number of things to be thankful for but many of them are not run-of-the-mill thanksgivings. There is school, music and art. There is hopscotch and slides and dress up. I like the variety and inventiveness of the things, but it still ends with bing thankful for our families. Plus the last page it open for you to record things you’re thankful for. This would be a great way to create a book that can be passed down and show the growth of your family through the years.

Those are my picks. There are tons more that we read, but if you’re trying to build up your collection at home or just need some suggestions for books to request at the library, these are where I would start. Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments! I love to hear when other people love our favorites or introduce us to new ones.