We Planted a Tree by Diane Muldrow and illustrated by Bob Staake

Same, Same, but Different, by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

I think there is a strong connection between valuing the environment and valuing other people. Just a month ago it was big news as the world’s population reached 7 billion humans, with a prediction this number will reach 10 billion by 2050. I’m a fan of the hundreds of little acts each of us can take to help protect mother earth, but this Earth Day, I’m focusing on how caring for the environment intertwines with caring for others. Some of these others may be friends (so that is easy), but there are many more who need the same basic human rights we often take for granted (freedom of expression, housing, clean water and nutritious food, education and opportunity, safety and a secure community of support).

While it feels difficult to explain the complexities and connection of environmental protection and human rights to young children, the two books highlighted in this blog set a basis to start from. Both books contrast a North American child and family with an international counterpart. In We Planted a Tree the main voice is from Kenya with glimpses of other locations around the globe, while in Same, Same, but Different the pen pal is located in India. In both stories, even though the contrasted lives are different, they also share many similarities. The planted tree has a clear ecological impact no matter where it is planted. These stories also move through time with their illustrations, so it is shown how what we do now, has an impact on future generations.

My daughters’ ages feel like a pivotal time for helping them develop attitudes and beliefs that may stay with them for a lifetime. So we talk a lot about, for example, not wasting water and about people in many other countries not having access to clean water. Recently, we watched the Water Brothers documentary series on TVO. This was a big deal not only because it meant watching television outside of our usual weekend viewing; it gave them a bit more awareness that this issue is real and more important than just remembering to turn off the tap. With these books we also talk about how other children live. While my information about how the chocolate treats we enjoy depends on the work some children are made to do on coca plantations may have been a bit over their heads, they are starting to make a connection about how our actions including our consumption are part of a system that needs correction. The environmental and social issues that challenge us now will certainly become urgent during their lifetime. While we are lucky to live in a country with plenty, we must also understand how our awareness and action is part of our responsibility to the world both environmentally and socially.

In the coming year(s) I’m committed to helping my daughters  learn more about conscientious consumerism, sustainable diet and valuing others, no matter what their colour, religion, race or socieconomic status. These will be some important contributions toward a better and more sustainable planet for everyone.

Happy Earth Day everyone! Send us a comment on how you and your emerging reader(s) are also helping to be the change!


In Front of My House by Marianne Dubuc

It was brewing in the news and in the union support campaign all fall/winter, so the recently-ended strike by Toronto library staff should not have come as a surprise. The strike, which lasted two weeks, centred on the workers refusing a contract that would have diminished their job security. What could the city’s plan have resulted in? Reduced hours, fewer resources, closed branches and ultimately less access to books. Each morning Sophie and I walked past the librarian picket line in front of City Hall on our way to daycare. While some were the lovely early spring days in March, anyone who has ever been involved in any kind of public demonstration knows how grueling these efforts are.

I think all library users owe these workers a huge thank you for taking this very important stand.

During these two weeks I was constantly reminded of how important our library is in supporting my daughters’ learning. The challenge of new and interesting books is especially important for beginning readers. Last night Elizabeth began reading In Front of My House to Sophie and me. We found this book just waiting for us to pick up when our local Branch re-opened. Its unusual size, lovely illustrations, quirky use of font sizes and word placement, and use of repetition makes it a great book for those just becoming comfortable reading aloud.

This book provided a huge boost to Elizabeth’s confidence as a reader. It was also fun for Sophie to practice some counting. After Elizabeth had finished, Sophie flipped through the pages to re-tell her own version of the story. It was a lovely and positive way to end our day. I can’t thank the library enough for all the ways it enriches our lives.

We invite any other beginning readers ! to let us know some of the books that they have discovered on the shelves of their local branch. Welcome back!

I Believe In You, by Marianne Richmond

I wish I didn’t nag my daughters so much. I truly believe in their power to make good choices and do the right thing. As winter drags on, however, there seem to be too many days when, for instance, the walk to the Y becomes an endurance test because we have left the house with only one mitt or no hat, or someone’s lips are raw from licking and lack of lip balm use!

I Believe In You is one parent’s lovely collection of positive, encouraging thoughts for children. It touches on all the themes that are important to us these days – telling the truth, not letting other people’s moods dictate our feelings, and being responsible for our actions. Sometimes life’s challenges can weigh like a huge anchor, so it’s good to have a book like this to strengthen the most important messages I can share with Elizabeth and Sophie. I believe in each of them; their job is to become the best person they can be and I will be there to support them. This book is highly recommended.

Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen, Illustrated by Irene Luxbacher

I haven’t been using my creative thinking for this blog entry – or it could have been posted over two weeks ago.

On that weekend our family ventured to the Lillian Smith Library for a Family Literacy event with Andrew Larsen. We had borrowed one of his books prior to that session – Imaginary Garden. This is a lovely story of Theo and her Poppa. Author Larsen told us we all have stories to tell and this can be one of the best gifts we will ever share. His quote is the title of this blog. He showed us some early home-created versions of the stories he created and reinforce how important oral story telling is, in any day and age.  This book is supported by amazing illustrations to encourage story tellers to use drawing to tell their stories. Author Larsen shared some ways this book stimulated readers imaginations and has taken on a life of it’s own since it was published.

Using one’s imagination and wondering is a main theme in so much writing – both for children and adults. This session helped reinforce how creative thinking needs to be encouraged the same as reading and math skills.

Have you and your child shared imagined stories, as well as books, lately? If you need some help, check out Imaginary Garden. It is a find that is truly inspiring!

11 Experiments That Failed by Jenny Offill & Nancy Carpenter

Bernadette in the Doghouse, by Susan Glickman

On a recent drive over the Grandma’s house, Elizabeth (7 years old) decided to quiz Sophie (almost 5 years old) on some math questions.  Sophie held her own, providing some pretty creative answers. To end that session Elizabeth concluded with some exasperation, “Sophie! You have so much to learn!”

Most days spent with my daughters have at least a few moments when I am struck by that same notion of there being so, so, so much more to learn. This feeling may be invoked from my daughters constantly changing personalities or by a reminder of some long ago stored away school information or by a science fact that I never really truly understood. Luckily there is the Internet and Anil is also a pretty reliable source of facts so there is a fair share of referrals going on!

Young children seem to love science and all the questions about how the world operates, so we were all pretty happy to sit down for 11 Experiments That Failed, and we weren’t disappointed! This young lady has some pretty zany ideas and who doesn’t occasionally wonder – could you live on snow and ketsup? What would happen if you tried to grow something in your brother’s old sneaker?  I’m not sure if this book will quell or fuel Elizabeth’s future investigations (our freezer has more experiments than food in it currently). This book (re)introduced us all to the word hypothesis, so we will likely  see this activity continue!

At the same time we wrere also reading a chapter book about a third grader named Bernadette who identifies herself as a young scientist – Bernadette in the Doghouse.  The added complexity of this book was how much more complicated friendships are beginning to become for girls her age. Along with the world of science, these are deep waters to navigate. It was nice to have a story so Elizabeth understands that she is not alone when friend A says something bad about friend B or friend C says she doesn’t want to play with her today.

Here is to hoping that the coming new year is a time of wonderful discoveries in science and friendly friendship for girls (and boys) all over the world!

Forget-Me-Not Beautiful Buttercup by Michael Broad

I’m so glad the wise young women in Elizabeth’s after-school program informed me that it was Anti Bullying Week – Nov 14-18 in the UK and arranged a day for the kids to colour pictures and talk about bullying. This is an issue that sometimes seems low on the parental radar, but can raise it’s negative influence and become all encompassing the second it is impacting your child. Guarding against it is one of the reasons we enrolled Elizabeth in Taekwondo and is also why we are interested in hearing ideas to support building self confidence. We see, through Elizabeth’s attending public school, how much schools try to communicate around this issue (it will NOT be tolerated). At least at the elementary level, students hear messages to make them feel they can raise issues that occur.

In thinking about this blog I ran across efforts to create an equivalent national awareness Anti-Bullying Day here in Canada – December 16. By luck, early this week Sophie was at home sick with pink eye, giving us the opportunity to see a discussion session on TVO Kids with a representative from Kids Help Phone and young people phoning in to talk about this isue. All of this awareness is a without a doubt a good thing.

Forget-Me-Not: Beautiful Buttercup touches gently on this topic. I think that any book that approachs a serious topic like bullying, but lets the readers and listeners draw their own conclusions, can be more powerful than simple preaching. Sophie, for one, appreciates the importance of being a good friend and had a very positive response to the characters in the book.

This is a story with colourful illustrations about a young elephant and a warthog. The warthog is the littlest of her litter and subjected to taunts of “teeny-tiny-ugly-wugly”. Her friendship with the elephant and their resulting actions just go to show how – we are all different, some in ways more visible than others and we all contribute in our own ways. It is a story of how to embrace and appreciate others despite their differences. The elephant and the warthog do just that – much to everyone’s appreciation in the end. There is a good “sticking up for what you believe in” message in this book, and a reminder of the power of friendship. Enjoy!

Just imagine how my heart rejoiced when Sophie announced she wants to go as Word Girl this Halloween. This is an incredible decision for a girl who has been all princesses and fairies for the last two years! As someone who would rather read than watch TV, it seems a bit strange that something called Word Girl originated as an animated children’s TV series, not as books (according to Wikipedia). All this to say we haven’t actually read a Word Girl book yet, but we have seen her occasionally on TV and recently got a DVD from the library that featured her in some Halloween episodes. In one of the episodes Word Girl’s friend dresses as Word Girl for trick-or-treating. Word Girl’s superhero identity, similar to Superman’s, is never revealed even to those closest to her “regular” self.

Even though it has proven impossible to find a ready-made costume, I’m continuing my hunt for a orange cape, because this blogging mama is pretty pleased about this development. I’m ambivalent about TV and video (while it turns my daughters into viewing zombies, it allows me to actually get some things done), but I can’t deny some of it has value. The television episode of Arthur (another of my favourites) that features the school cafeteria lady’s diagnosis with cancer comes to my mind as an incredibly educational and lovely example of quality programming. In the case of Word Girl, I think it is creating an excellent character role model – what’s not to love about a girl who can fly, has a monkey side-kick and a special talent of introducing interesting words?!?

This character, whether in book or animated form, is helping to reinforce the importance of words with my daughters. Word Girl(s) Everywhere – You Rule!

[Update] Here is a Halloween photo of Word Girl –

Jumping Jenny by Ellen Bari. Illustrated by Raquel Garcia Macia

It is interesting to see what stories or part of a story will resonate with your child. It is not always what you would expect.

Last year Elizabeth’s Taekwondo class had a kick-a-thon to raise money for the Strong Kids Campaign at the YMCA. In school, her class participated in the Jump Rope for Heart campaign; the school also had a parent council donation request (new school equipment), a loonie-a-button (funds for earthquake victims in Japan), bake sale (to support the grade 8’s class trip), etc., etc. Each of these is a well-intentioned and meaningful effort, but sometimes (and I’m sure I’m not the only parent to think this) the amount of child fundraising seems almost too much! Still, it is good for kids to recognize how they can help make things better and certainly in this day and age raising money for good causes is a regular activity for children.

In this book, Jenny’s class is preparing to help out a sister school in Africa. She sets a goal for herself to make 1,000 jumps on her pogo stick even though she has only made it as high as 250 previously. Jenny has had some rough times with others not appreciating her jumping but she determines to use her ability to help raise money through collecting pledges for each jump. I love the message in this story. Elizabeth connected to the jumping (skipping rope has been a new and much enjoyed activity this past summer). Sophie connected with the number 1,000 and now points it out whenever we see it (or a number with some similarity like 100, 10,000, etc), so we all connected with this story in some way.

I think the overall message was to remind us how our actions can make a difference everyday. This book comes highly recommended by the three of us!

A Call for a New Alphabet, by Jef Czekaj

What I perceive as Elizabeth’s reluctance to read for herself baffles me. We rarely have TV on during the week. We read together all of the time. Many of her friends seem to be quite proficient readers. She recognizes the value of reading – especially for all of the things she sees advertised and believes she needs.

My finds at the library this week include a copy of Usborne Parents’ Guide – Help Your Child to Read and Write, by Fiona Chandler. It reminds me that learning to read is one of the hardest things a child will ever do. I tell myself Elizabeth will become a reader when she is ready. Yet when I see young children who are deeply immersed in their own independent reading, I hope she will soon share this experience.

In the meantime, I remind myself of how lucky I am to be a parent reading to my children during a time when incredibly fun books are available. Any day that begins with or ends with a laugh from the book we are reading feels like winning a jackpot! A Call for a New Alphabet is an educational hoot! While my daughters don’t fully appreciate this story yet, it has humour that works on many levels, beginner to advanced.

I never have imagined that vowels and consonants could be so much fun; the author gives each their own personality and ‘issues’. It is understandable that ‘X’ would lead the charge for a new alphabet — who wouldn’t be upset being so near the end of the alphabet and starting off so few words? But as he dozes off to sleep the night before the letters vote on a change, ‘X’ dreams deeply and begins to appreciate the complexity of all the other letters. It is fun in a comic book style, and a good read for an older child because it will reinforce grammar rules.

Does ‘X’ succeed? Well, you will need to pick it up to find out. Be prepared to laugh — this is one craftily written and illustrated story.

Press Here by Hervé Tullet

I think most parents and caregivers would agree – being with children expands your world. Kids are out in the world constantly making new connections and building their community. It is a great thing and I’m grateful to my children for every new connection we make. Maybe especially when you live with young children, in a building, in the city, in the summer – the park is one place where community grows. I’ve read stories by other parents lamenting the end of park season and I have felt that way in the past few years as the summer begins to feel like it is making way for fall. Where would we go? What would we do? How could life continue without the space and connections we find regularly in the park? It doesn’t have to be a fancy park either. Sure, fancy rubber tarmac with zippy movers and climbing challenges are great; but even a small space with a few swings and some space to run around is fine.

This is the kind of park Sophie and I visit many afternoons on our way home from daycare/work. It is right across the street from another daycare, so we meet up with different parents and children, do some swinging, running and bumping (on the teeter-totter) and chat before finishing our way home. This park attracts younger children (perhaps because they are too young to demand a more sophisticated setting?), and it is here that Sophie has found a new role – that of the big 4-year old (using the “big kid” swing) among other children who are 2 or 3 years of age range.

While both Sophie and Elizabeth strongly enjoyed Press Here, I can imagine the younger children we see in this park really adopting it as a favorite. This is a book that I think would really develop in complexity of involvement along with a younger child – I can imagine beginning to read it with a child at 18 or 24 months and continuing to let the book evolve until they are a beginning reader. This book involves and will interest young children — what kid doesn’t love to press buttons?! The story makes the reader and listener active participants in a tale about dots. In our age of extended bling and over stimulation, this book is pure simple genius.

Even as I was thinking about writing about this book here, it reminded me of another book Night/Day: a book of eye-catching opposites. Sure enough these two books are by the same author/illustrator. The Night/Day book never seemed to become a favorite with my daughters and I never really understood why. Now I think that, although it is also a great book, the difference is the active involvement expected in Press Here. So this recommendation is for our friends in the park — we hope you get to connect with a copy of this book and enjoy it. We would love to hear your reaction and happy reading!

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola

I’ll admit it – I’m a big crier! Sad (or happy) movies (with big sound tracks), novels with stories and endings that make you feel like you are losing your best friend (again), opt-ed pieces in newspapers, or children’s books like Love You Forever by Robert Munch. So I pretty much knew what was coming when one of my daughters picked out a book with the title Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs. I tried to dodge it with “We’re taking too many books out already!”, but somehow it stayed in our library check-out pile. Now I have to admit I’m glad it did.

Death is a really hard and scary concept for kids (OK, for almost everyone), but it shouldn’t be ignored. It is around us all the time – my daughter’s daycare friend’s father died suddenly; even more recently one of my good friends’ dearly-loved 99 year old grandmother died; and today I spent some time mourning the unexpected loss of Jack Layton, a man who gave such incredible energy, intelligence and realness to politics in Canada. As much as I would like to shield my daughters from the pain people feel from these losses, it is a reality. It is only through talking about death that children are able to begin to understand and develop the coping skills they will need to deal with what they will face throughout life.

This book presents 4 year old Tommy, a child who gets to connect with both his grandmother and great-grandmother every week. He does this with an innocence and love that is generous and lovely. His defense of his great-grandmother saying “she looks beautiful” is touching and wise. Based on my own relationship with my grandmother, I have always hoped to pass on to my daughters an appreciation of the beauty of old people. I never anticipated finding a book that also helps to convey that message. The death of his great-grandmother and her empty room is heartbreaking. His hope remains when he sees a shooting star in the sky, first for his great grandma and later after his grandmother died. I think this is a comforting and good message for this age range.

This book is based on the author’s personal experience. He is also the author of other books like Strega Nona. It is obvious that old people had a great influence on his life and I’m very grateful that he passed along the stories and wisdom that he gained from these connections.

Wendy’s Grandma at 97 years old
Wilma Nichols (May 23, 1911 – May 23, 2011)

The Big Wish by Carolyn Conahan

Warning! If you blink, you might miss it: that magical period when your child believes anything is possible. It may last a year, a few months or merely days, but it is that time when your child is amazed by all that seems unexplainable–such as the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, super heros (and heroines) and even the power of a wish made while blowing a piece of dandelion fluff.

This summer, my daughter Elizabeth would not let any piece of dandelion fuzz float past without grabbing it to launch another secret wish. We have spent the past few weeks jumping and chasing after every piece we see. I don’t mind because she is about to turn seven, and I know these days of childhood will be over way before I’m ready for them to be.

In The Big Wish, Molly’s yard is covered in dandelions–so many, the town’s mayor believes it is a disgrace. Molly explains that she is the guardian of these flowers until they become wish-puffs ready to achieve a world-record wish. A chance for a wish?! The town decides to hold a contest for the biggest, best wish, with Molly deciding the winner. What should the big wish be? The town characters have plenty of ideas that go beyond the personal and indulgent (along the way, you can ask your child–and yourself–what the wish should be). When the yellow dandelions have become wish-puffs, the townspeople must suddenly all spring to action to protect the field of dreams. Molly in return recognizes that everyone’s wish is of value. These actions help the townsfolk realize that they have the power to make their wishes come true. The biggest wish event may be officially over, but the dreams and community actions to make them happen have just begun.

It took us a few readings and examination of the illustrations to realize the full beauty of this story. Give it a bit more of your time than a typical picture book. It has a message worth appreciating and passing along.

What will you wish for?

Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile, by Gloria Houston. Illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb.

Each of my daughters has a middle name which is one of her grandmother’s names. For sometime I have been searching for other examples of those with the name Dorothy, to assure Elizabeth that she was NOT named after the Wiggles’ dinosaur. Rather, she inherited that name as a tribute to my much loved and missed mom, whom she never met but I have tried to convey through photos and stories. This book is a tribute to another lovely Dorothy, a librarian who touched many people’s lives via bookmobile.

If you grew up in a small or mid-sized Canadian or US city you may be familiar with the bookmobile either as an extension of the local library or the sole source of books. For me, this book also highlights the spunkiness of many women in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s – who were feminists. They had a vision of what they hoped for in their lives, but for many this vision ended up being sacrificed to accommodate marriage (and children). That was true for my mom who never had the opportunity to study or continue to build her career once she became a mother. This does not mean that women like my mom didn’t make significant contributions (I recall my mom’s involvement with all ages as a volunteer). But those contributions, like those of many women at that time, were unrecognized, at least until we were older and she returned to the paid labour force. Miss Dorothy’s vision luckily found a receptive audience in North Carolina, during a period in time when books were not so readily available. While she yearns to oversee a collection “in a fine brick library in the centre of town” she is committed to those who like to read. The importance of books is highlighted when the bookmobile becomes stuck due to poor weather. “Finally a farmer on his tractor came down the road and saw the bookmobile. ‘Miss Dorothy,’ he called. ‘Do you have a book of poems I could borrow?'” Books and librarian are rescued, but rescued as well was the farmer who needed poetry in his life.

It is beautiful how Miss Dorothy gracefully ages through the pages. The story ends with letters from those who benefited from her commitment to the notion that books are for borrowing. The final page provides an author’s note, a tribute to this much-loved woman in the form (a book) that meant the most to her.

Edward the “Crazy Man”, by Marie Day

Living in a large city my daughters are exposed to homeless people most days. I’m sure every location, no matter what size, has some people who are homeless or living on the margins in a visible way. The challenge as a parent is to help our children understand what is happening when the instinct to just ignore the situation seems so easy. Children who have always had a secure home can understandably be baffled by people sleeping on the street, looking ragged, apparently talking to themselves or yelling agitatedly. While to an adult it can seem obvious they are suffering from mental illness, explaining this in the moment to a child is not easy. It is good to have some time outside these encounters to be able to talk about what may be happening in a calm and reflective mannner.

Luckily one day we spied Edward the “Crazy Man”. He was not sitting on the sidewalk but on our local library shelf. My daughters were attracted to the book’s colorful cover. The content inside is equally well done. The story begins when Charlie is school age. He is intrigued by the local “crazy man” and tries to help him with odds and ends from his family’s garage. From a classic bully scene, the story evolves. Turn the page and fast forward to the later rediscovery of this character by Charlie. We don’t really know how Charlie learned or maintained his caring nature, but the story demonstrates how it is possible to be empathetic as a youngster and as a grownup. Now an adult, Charlie has the power to help the man, and he does. When we are finally introduced to Edward we are told he has a brain disease called schizophrenia and learn some of the signs of this disease. Even though the other adults don’t seem much more sympathetic than the children did, Edward is able to succeed, thanks to the caring support of Charlie. Greater awareness of and empathy for those with mental illness is important given that “one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. The remaining 4 will have a friend, family member or colleague who will” [www.camh.net]. While the happily-ever-after ending many seem like an unlikely outcome, this story provides a good introduction to this issue. It is great to be able to share this story and use it to build some understanding rather than just giving a quick, shallow answer to a child’s question asked in the street or “pretending” that mental illness is not an important issue that children can develop an awareness about.

If you know of other young reader books that present stories around mental health issues please feel free to post a comment to share them. Thanks.

Wolf’s coming!, by Joe Kulka

This picture book is a fun, fast-paced, rhyming twist on the classic tale of a wolf! Around our house it is referred to as “Taylor’s favourite!”, after one of my daughters’ pre-school daycare classmates who just couldn’t get enough of this book! For children who are a little bit older, and able to manage a little bit of suspense in their stories, try adding a bit of vocal tension and pace your reading to make this wonderful book one that will receive demands of “again!, again!”. It has a birthday party ending which resonates with children.

I’d suggest your audience for this book is a little bit older (4-6 years), or who have been exposed to many types of stories. Some children find the suspense element just a bit too overwhelming. Enjoy!

Are you a parent or a caregiver who is interested in finding new, interesting and meaningful books to help instill a love of reading in a young child? If so, this blog is for you! It will help you discover good young (ages 3 – 8) children’s books fast.

These are books that have been read by my two daughters (Elizabeth, now age 7 and Sophie, age 4) and myself. We get many of our books through the Toronto Public Library so whenever possible we will provide a link to the library listing and their wonderful system where anyone with a valid Toronto Library card can place a hold for a book. When your book arrives at your local library branch a nice lady will phone you and leave a message so you know your next book discovery (or rediscovery) awaits. Hopefully no matter where you live, your local library (or bookstore) will be able to help you get these books.

Who doesn’t love all the tried and true classics in children’s books? Little Bear, The Giving Tree, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Winnie the Pooh, and the list goes on and on. We love them too, but this blog is going to try and take you down a different path. We will try not to list of the books you will find in classic lists (if you haven’t already, check out Michele Landsberg’s Guide to children’s books which has some old favorites and some you may not have heard of before) or the current magazine favorites. We want to help you discover lesser-known books that would be good additions to your reading list.

And because there are so many books out there, we invite you to make your own recommendations to add to this list. We are aiming to include one book each week for the next year!

Let’s all read happily ever after…

The End.

Dog Loves Drawing by Louise Yates

Stella Batts Needs a New Name by Courtney Sheinmel, illustrated by Jennifer Bell

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary

It has been a wonderful summer of learning and fun adventures! Even as I begin to write this my daughters are being amazed by the athletic feats of the paraolympic women and men. We applaud their courage and outstanding skills!

This has also been a very empowering summer for Elizabeth and Sophie. Both have made great progress in swimming, showing commitment to learning, and being the best individuals they can in the face of constant change (for Sophie – leaving her daycare familiarity and family after more than 4 years; for Elizabeth – evolving into a hand-raising, pick-me child who discovers how to float as the magician’s assistant at the CNE!) Both of my daughters surprise and amaze me regularly!

We have had a terrific time participating in the Toronto Public Library’s Summer Reading Program, seeing the behaviour of our visiting turtle Speedy and enjoying all this summer offered. Part of that was Elizabeth beginning to read chapter books on her own (starting with Stella Batts Needs a New Name, by Courtney Sheinmel and birthday gift Ramona Quimby, Age 8, by Beverly Cleary)

With fall around the corner, we are getting back on our regular reading together schedule. A recent favorite has allowed us to focus on story telling through illustrations rather than the words has been Dog Loves Drawings, by Louise Yates. This dog loves books so much he owns a bookstore! Then one day he receives a blank book for drawing and discovers the joy of creating his own characters and story. Make sure you have your pencils sharpened and some blank pages ready before you start this one!

*   *   *

It’s hard to believe it has been over a year since Emerging Readers started. Thanks for visiting! It has been great to share so many  good books to inspire young people’s interest in reading. Now we are looking for our next creative adventure, so this will be the last post here.

In the meantime don’t forget what a wonderful place the TPL (or your local library) is for providing you with new ideas and great books. Keep reading – and we look forward to the next time our paths cross!

Hurray, the 2012 Summer Games have begun! What a fantastic opening ceremony — we look forward to the amazing display of sports (and good sportsmanship) to come over the next two weeks. Here are some of our favourite moments from these games so far –

Day 1 – Men’s doubles rowing heat
A Canadian team was winning this heat, having pulled ahead early and the commentators observed the tension building up in one of the rowers shoulders and arms. Feeling very happy about their victory Elizabeth observed “Well, they can take it slower when they are rowing back (to the start).”

Also Day 1 – Women’s basketball

Things were looking very promising for the Canadian women’s first game against Russia. However, the Russians proved too much in the final minutes beating our team by a 4 or 5 point margin. Sportsmanship is so key to all we do in life. Learning how to lose is such a hard lesson. Kudos to these women who, although disappointed, played as a team and accepted the outcome. This is a big and important lesson  — thank you ladies for showing us how to do it gracefully!

Day 6 – Sport unknown (overheard from upstairs)

Anil – “I can’t believe he just did that!!!”

Elizabeth – “OOOHHHHH!”

Also Day 6 – Practising for the 20?? Olympics at the Riverdale Pool – sister synchronized jumping event

Elizabeth  – “Sophie, that one was not the best, but the entry was clean.”

Day 8 – Trampoline

Canada’s first gold medal is won by Rosie MacLennan! Hurray! We are so proud of the people representing our country!

We are loving the Olympics, although it has combined with our few days vacation travelling in Ontario to put our regular reading on hold. I don’t really mind: there are so many great lessons and ideas these Olympics are encouraging, I think this is also time well spent.

Hope you have been able to enjoy some of the Olympics too. Feel free to leave us a comment with your favorite Olympic story.

Bea at Ballet by Rachel Isadora

Sophie & Elizabeth with dance instructor Megan at the Fringe Festival Production “RockGarden Party” July 14, 2012

We just have a few days left until Sophie’s week of summer dance camp. We’ll be lucky if she doesn’t explode from excitement first. Her dance classes to date have been primarily creative movement, but the idea of ballet intrigues her (she happily sat through an entire production of the Nutcracker back in the winter).

There are lots of children’s books about dance – this one shows lots of different dancers.  It provides a nice introduction to the common terms, moves and items associated with ballet. This book is a hit at our house right now; I’m sure Sophie sees herself in it. She is even trying out the positions based on the illustrations! If you have a beginning dancer too – check it out!

I recently picked up a booklet at the TPL celebrating Lillian Smith’s hiring and her contributions as Toronto’s “first professionally trained children’s librarian”. It is packed interesting historical tidbits and highlights 100 books published from 1912 to today. It has lots of familiar covers, some of which I recall reading as a child and one which we have covered in an Emerging Readers blog from almost one year ago (Press Here by Herve Tullet).

Included in the selection of 100 are some that we are fortunate to have as part of our home library collection that we can read time and time again –

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans – one of the original brave girls (“To the tiger in the zoo, Madeline just said ‘Pooh-pooh‘”). If you are thinking of taking your daughter(s) to see that new movie this summer, also plan to pick up this great book.

Mr. Gumpy’s Outing by John Burningham – I can’t count the number of times we read this one to the girls in the first years of their lives! It wasn’t a surprise to see the new book run now being featured in bookstores.

Finally, there is one book that we hope to catch as a theatre production in the next two weeks at the Toronto Fringe Kids FestivalSomething from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman.

There are many suggestions in this booklet that we haven’t read yet, so we are going to add them to our summer reading list and we may highlight some here soon! Let us know your favourite too!

Ivy + Bean – No News Is Good News by Annie Barrows & Sophie Blackall

Elizabeth, Sophie and I are about to embark on a new adventure – two months of summer vacation together! In recognition of this new three-of-us together model, Elizabeth and Sophie are contributing to this blog post. Each of us is looking forward to our own vision of what this summer will be…

Cathy: getting time to connect with each of my daughters in a way not possible during too short weekends, with (too many!) scheduled activities.

Elizabeth: sleeping in, no dictée and “my birthday is the next one in the family!”

Sophie: spending time with Lizzy, missing my daycare friends and (maybe) cracking the code to learn to ride a two-wheeler by myself!

Thanks to our local book bank, we’ve acquired a few books in a series that is one of our “old” favourites, first discovered through the public library — Ivy + Bean! Author Annie and illustrator Sophie can’t create these stories fast enough, but when Ivy & Bean – No News Is Good News became available this past spring, it encouraged us to re-read some of the previous adventures we had already enjoyed. They were just as fun the second time around! These stories are chapter books with occasional illustrations. Like many good books, you will frequently find yourself looking forward to the next opportunity to read more!

C: Which character do you like best?

E: Ivy

S: Yeah, Ivy

[This surprised to me. Both girls seemed to like the character who they describe as neater and more proper. Maybe because it is frequently Ivy’s imaginative and creative sides that cause the adventures to unfold!]

C: If you were to join in their next adventure what do you think it should be about?

S: Hotdog buns or bananas

E: Tiny, tiny beans or crickets, baby crickets

[This interview took place over breakfast. Sophie’s mind was obviously influenced by other forces!]

If you haven’t yet enjoyed these adventures, the stories are about two 7-year old girls who live on the same street. They are different enough that they never thought they would become friends — but they are! These are hilarious adventures involving dance, babysitters, ghosts, small individual wax-wrapped cheeses, mud volcanos, and more!

We also recently discovered a similar type of book series –  Heidi Heckelbeck has a secret. The author of this series has had four books published so far this year (!). Even though the library only has access to two of the books so far, if you need some additional good reading for this summer, it is worth checking out. Enjoy!

Owly – Just a Little Blue, by Andy Runton

Owly & Wormy – Friends all Aflutter, by Andy Runton

Ahhh, it’s spring time and everything seems so new again!

We got our bikes out, so Sophie and I have added some days of work and daycare commuting using our conjoined bike. So far it has been great! We have a low stress, downhill route in the morning and a bit more tricky (left hand turns and more traffic) ride uphill at the end of the day. Since this is still pretty new for us we are getting use to each other’s rythm and ways. The bike ride home seems to be Sophie’s preferred time to be a Star. There has never been a doubt that in our small family she is the born performer! During the bike riding she belts out every song she can think of including a good mix of Christmas favourites and songs I assumed she would have forgotten from mom and baby drop-in centre days (which seem so long ago now). She also includes some I’m sure are her own creation. It is this last batch that made me think she was ready for the type of children’s book without words – make up your own story. We had tried some of these  books before, with mixed success. However a recent library blog on kid’s comics plus her creative bike expressions suggested it was time to try that kind of book again. I think we are both glad they are in our current library borrowed pile!

Our usual morning breakfast routine was changed a bit this week. Sophie wanted to use a bar stool to eat at the little window/ledge that connects our kitchen and dining area. I find it so difficult to get her to focus on eating in the morning that I’m happy to accommodate most requests. This morning Sophie decided to entertain herself with Owly – Just a Little Blue while she sat there with her cereal. Her story evolved around an apple and I may have broken her interpretation when I told her the name of the owl. She only made it through a few pages, but as a natural story teller, I have a feeling she will be revisiting this one.

We also borrowed a copy of the picture book interpretation of this character Owly & Wormy – Friends all Aflutter, which we will have a look at this week.

I love to encourage my daughters to use their imaginations. As I’ve suggested in the past, this skill is often overlooked, but can be one of the best sources of satisfaction throughout life. While the timing with the wordless books didn’t work some months ago, now it seems to have found a receptive audience. I find it hard to know what kind of reading material will be appropriate when. I guess the trick is just to keep track of these possible tools and keep trying different ones until we find the ones that work to help our children develop in the way and at the pace that is right for them!

Happy story telling!


A Kiss for Little Bear, by Else Holmelund Minarik and pictures by Maurice Sendak

I have often admired those with the skills to execute both the writing and the illustration that make a children’s book. Many times, however, it is someone else’s unique interpretation of a story that gives it some added depth.

This was reinforced this past week with Maurice Sendak‘s death. Where the Wild Things Are, the book he authored and illustrated, obviously made a huge contribution to children’s literature (and our thinking about the kind of information and thinking of children), but, to me, it is his illustrations of the Little Bear series that show his talent and his love of humour.

The Little Bear books depict the world from a young bear’s perspective including his understanding of himself and his interactions with others (family and other animal/human friends). His mother’s frank explanation of what will happen to him when he tries to fly like a bird to the moon is a classic in parental humour and honesty –
“And maybe ,” says Mother Bear, “you are a little fat bear club with no wings and no feathers. Maybe if you jump up you will come down very fast , with a big plop.” (Little Bear, by Else Holmelund Minarik and pictures by Maurice Sendak)

The story that I find most lovely is A Kiss for Little Bear. This book is the final one in this series and the only one published after Where the Wild Things Are (there are hints that maybe Little Bear shares Sendak’s love of drawing wild things). It is the illustration on page 22 with Little Bear laughing as the little joke he has started with a kiss being passed along from friend to friend that shows Sendak’s skills as an artist. The mischievousness and fun of this illustration makes the words and characters in this story come alive. When you get a copy of the book, let us know if you agree!

Merci Monsier Sendak!