My older daughter is heading to London this summer with her grandfather. Just in time, Usborne books published the really fun book Kitty Kat, Kitty Kat, Where Have you Been – London.
As you may recall, the original poem is quite simple and goes like this:
Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to look at the Queen.
Pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you there?
I frightened a little mouse under her chair.
This wonderful picture book pays homage to the original English rhyme, first published in 1805, as a way to tour some of the bigger sites of London.
In this story, written by Russell Punter and illustrated by Dan Taylor, an owl asks a returning Kitty Kat where he had been. Of course Kitty tells the owl that he had been to London to visit the Queen. When pressed further to say what he saw, Kitty Kat encourages the owl to listen to his story. He then recounts many of the really cool things that he was able to do on his trip to London.
From going on a boat under London Bridge, seeing the Crown Jewels, hopping on a double decker bus, going to Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace, Kitty Kat takes a full tour of London. Many of the locations are described within the original rhyme sequence.
The inside front and back covers have a truly basic map of the region and items that young Kitty Kat sees and even though Kitty wasn’t able to actually see the Queen, he still had a marvelous time in London.
Books about travel destinations typically engage children through bright and vivid illustrations and this book is no different. The pictures are whimsical yet realistic. A child can get a good sense of what the Tower of London was like and how amazing it is to actually get to see the Crown Jewels. For a child who hasn’t yet been to a location, seeing what another child might have gone to see can help get them excited, especially if there are fun details like how a whisper is heard throughout the dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. A place like London has a huge amount of history for kids to be excited by, and this book does a great job for the 4-8 set.
There is also a version that whisks Kitty Kat off on an exciting tour of Paris. Young readers can join him as he cruises down the Seine, climbs the Eiffel Tower, and discovers famous paintings in the Lourve Museum. I don’t have a copy of that yet, but I will 🙂
I love books that encourage children to experience music. Recently, I picked up the book Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin, by Lloyd Moss, at our library and was immediately entranced. What is even more ingenious about this book is that it is a counting book that happens to also build an orchestra.
We have started taking our children to the orchestra when there is a local show that makes sense for them (Broadway tunes was a big hit). It is difficult to give them tons of information in the auditorium itself, so finding books that help them understand what they are hearing and seeing is especially useful.
As the book opens, “with mournful moan and silken tune, itself alone came one trombone.” One instrument is a solo musician. Each page adds a new layer, player, description, and number. Through descriptive terminology and colorful illustrations, young readers get a better sense of the instruments that make up an orchestra.
The book itself was written by Lloyd Moss, a radio personality for NY’s only full-time classical music station. He knows the perfect words to describe the instruments in an orchestra and Marjorie Priceman’s illustrations draw children in with their whimsy and movement.
After finding this book, it made me think about how few children do get to experience seeing an orchestra live. Fortunately, Usborne has a marvelous book that can help fill them in on a variety of key details. In Usborne’s First Book About the Orchestra, children get to see what the instruments that make up most orchestras look like, what families they belong to, and it has good sound that allows them to hear the instruments as well. A very intelligent thing that the First Book About the Orchestra does is that it utilizes one piece of music throughout the entire book showing how each the piece sounds when played by a single grouping of instruments and then how much fuller the sound is when all of the instruments are put together with the full orchestration.
If you are looking for a way to bring more music education to your child, these two books are a great place to start.
We learn many things from folk stories and fairy tales. Once passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth and then in written form, they are becoming less of a staple in the stories that are read to children. An important message that flows through many old tales is that good things come in small packages and that riches are often found in items not worth a lot of money.
Take the traditional story of Beauty and the Beast. In it, Beauty’s father sets off for a trade ship to see if there is anything that he can sell and asks his children what gift they would like him to bring back for them. Of his three daughters, the first two ask for clothing, jewels, and the finest dresses possible while his youngest asks for a rose. The father unfortunately picks a rose in the Beast’s garden after being graciously hosted the previous night and seals Beauty’s fate, but we know how the story resolves in the end.
In Priceless Gifts, by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss, we are swept into the time of the old spice trade, where merchants traveled to distant islands to get precious spices in exchange for other goods. They would trade fine items for things that we take for granted, such as cinnamon or nutmeg.
On one of Antonio’s journeys to the spice islands, he is invited to the King’s Palace for dinner. Antonio is confused when he see servants holding sticks ready to strike and discovered that they were there because the palace was infested with rats who come out of hiding the moment that food is served. In order for people to eat in peace, there needed to be guards ready to beat off the rats. Antonio gives the king two cats from his ship to deal with the problem. He wants nothing in return, but the King is so grateful that he gives him a chest of jewels.
Another Italian merchant hears of Antonio’s experience and gathers up fine items of his own in hopes of getting his own supply of jewels from the King. The King of the island is stunned by the treasures that Luigi brings. Luigi is certain that he will be given a chest of jewels at least 20 times as large as Antonio’s. After a long discussion with his advisors over what they should give Luigi in return, the King gifts him with something truly priceless – a kitten from a litter born from Antonio’s cats. Luigi returns to Italy with the kitten. He didn’t return a rich man, but “he was certainly a wiser one.”
This is a wonderful example of how every person values things differently and that simple items that make your life a little easier and better can bring more joy than riches.
All children enjoy fairy tales. They help inspire us, teach us, and entertain us. Many traditional fairy tales have had a main female character who needs help from a magical being and/or gets saved by a prince. As we as a society change, so too have our fairy tales. The newest addition to the fairy tale scene is a series of books to be published by Queen Girls. The books that they are bringing forth are “stories of real women turned into fairy tales to inspire girls to follow their dreams.”
The authors of these books approached me as a way to help spread their message and I jumped at the chance because I am highly impressed with what I see. The main mission of collaborators Andrea and Jimena is to “give girls a positive view of life and help them envision their dreams as possible. This is the reason why our stories are based on real women.
Often times, classic stories highlight the strength, courage and skills of men. Female characters are often stereotyped or one-dimensional: the mother figure, the homemaker, the exotic beauty, the love seeker…We believe that we should be telling different stories to our children. Let’s encourage girls to find their happiness, passions, drive and self-confidence from within. At the same time, let’s help boys to move to a place of equality.”
The first book that they are publishing is called Bessie, Queen of the Sky. This story features Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman in the world to receive her pilot’s license. I was able to read a rough draft of the book and it is wonderful! The story shows how Bessie Smith always wanted to fly, but that between living in a time when flight schools wouldn’t take women and when women were expected to “learn how to cook, clean, and become moms – not pilots,” she was definitely facing an uphill battle. But Bessie followed her dreams, went to flight school in France, and became the first black woman to fly airplanes in the whole world. She believed in herself, she believed in her dreams, and she made her dreams a reality.
Publishing these books is the dream of Andrea and Jimena. I for one would like to see their dream come true, so I have backed their kickstarter campaign. You can do that too by clicking here. I look forward to reading more of their work as it continues to come out. They already have one planned based on Isadora Duncan and one about Savitribhai Phule. There is much that we can learn from these marvelous books. For more information about their books, check out their website.
About a week ago I received an email from a reader looking for good chapter book series for her young daughters. First, let me say, I LOVE getting emails like this. I can’t always help when it comes to great books for young boys, but girls, I have that covered! That said, there might be more people looking for similar books, so I wanted to share some series that might be lesser known to people.
Billie B. Brown & Hey Jack – I’ve talked about these series before. Billie B. is a bold and brave young girl who is learning how to believe in herself. Her best friend is a boy named Jack who struggles with some of the same issues that she does. Together, they navigate the world around them and perhaps learn a lesson or two in the process. There are two separate series that each have about 15 books to them. They are ideal for early readers with no more than 50 words per page and with challenging words in bold.
Lily the Elf – Lily the Elf lives with her dad in a tiny house in a busy city. Her granny lives in a cottage behind their house. In these charming books, join Lily as she finds lost treasures, makes wishes, meets new creatures, and masters new skills. As with the Billie B. Brown and Hey Jack books, Lily is aimed at newly emergent readers with only 50 words per page in a large font.
Rainbow Magic Series – Some series never grow old and this popular one by Daisy Meadows is constantly attracting young readers. This series is actually multiple series all under one common theme – young friends, Rachel and Kristy, discover the fairies and find that they are able to help them defeat their arch nemesis, Jack Frost. Each time there are seven books with a common theme – rainbow fairies, sports fairies, ocean fairies, party fairies, the list goes on and on. Young readers easily get hooked on these books, even when parents get sick of them.
The Secret Mermaid – This is a really fun series that appeals to fans of the Daisy Meadow’s Rainbow Magic series. The concept of this series, published by Usborne Books, is that a little girl’s grandmother gives her a magic necklace that allows her to join the mermaid world while she sleeps. It turns out that she is one of a long line of secret mermaids and now she is trying to save the mermaid world from an evil mermaid. A great early chapter book series that still incorporates images and doesn’t cram too much text into each page.
Fairy Ponies – In this series, young Holly and her pony friend, Puck, have wonderful adventures including rescuing missing royalty and saving the day from wicked plots and dark storms. With this series, kids get a bit more adventure than their average fairy books. The Fairy Ponies appeals to kids who are 5-8 years old.
Pony Crazed Princess – Princess Ellie is crazy about her ponies! Any time she can, she trades in her royal crown and fancy dresses for her riding helmet and boots, and heads out to the Royal Stable. Along with her best friend, Kate, Ellie takes her ponies for rides and jumps all around the palace grounds. Together, they go on adventures, solve mysteries, and, of course, spend lots of time with Ellie’s adorable ponies. This is a great book as an early chapter book
The Princess in Black – Shannon Hale, the writer behind the Princess Academy series and Ever After High, hit the nail on the head with her series staring the Princess in Black. The Princess in Black is a humorous and action-packed chapter-book series for young readers who like their princesses not only prim and perfect, but also dressed in black. Princess Magnolia appears to be a normal, perfectly dressed princess, but when her monster alarm goes off, she runs to the broom closet, ditches her frilly clothes, and becomes the Princess in Black! This is a great book because it works well as a read-aloud to 4 and 5 year olds and has larger font and images so that a 6 or 7 year old can read it on their own. Super fun and featuring a girl who is unwilling to “just be a princess.”
The Magic Tree House – This is not a series that falls under the overly girly category, but there are few young children who have not been sucked into this fabulous series about siblings Jack and Annie who discover a magic tree house that whisks them away to places and times near and far to solve problems for Morgan Le Fay. Kids are able to learn a great deal about history from these fabulous books without it feeling like they are learning anything. My 6 year old has even decided that she is naming her children after them!
There are tons of books out there for every child’s pleasure. If at first they don’t enjoy a given book, don’t despair, they just haven’t found the right book yet!
For a long time we’ve really focused on the books that J has enjoyed reading. Now that E is in kindergarten and her reading has grown by leaps and bounds, I felt like I should include some of the items that she is picking out and bringing home.
In E’s class they are allowed to pick a book for whatever level they are at and we are supposed to read it together. After she can read it with me or her father, she brings it back to class, reads it with her teacher and picks out another book. What I have been fascinated by is that the last number of books that she has chosen have all been non-fiction texts about animals. We had dolphins, sharks and the latest was polar bears.
Getting kids hooked on non-fiction at an early age is really important. We start them out on all kinds of stories, but as they grow and start to develop their own passions, non-fiction texts get them more involved with the subjects that intrigue them. We’ve always known that E had a love of all things fashion, music, and art, but I was actually shocked when she started bringing home books about wild animals.
Follow the Polar Bears was one of our books from last week. This is a simple story that talks about two polar bear cubs and things they do as they are just starting out in life. The pictures are the main focus, but there are simple words with rhymes that help it move along.
Some of the words were challenging for E, but she learned a lot about the polar bear and enjoyed watching the cubs grow.
These books along with the Step into Reading non-fiction titles are a great jumping off point for young readers. I didn’t get my post up on Wednesday, but I’m still going to include this in the non-fiction picture book challenge. Check out Kid Lit Frenzy for more outstanding titles!
In the world of children’s literature, there are a few names that you often hear repeated over and over again. For the younger girls ages 3-7, Fancy Nancy is one of those names. My younger daughter, who is now 5, absolutely loves Fancy Nancy. Jane O’Connor created a truly fun character and then gave her a surprising amount of depth. Some might not consider Nancy a super strong character, but they would be wrong. These days, not only do we love reading Nancy books, we even have a collection of stories that we bought on audible that my daughter could listen to over and over again. I laugh when my daughter uses big words and then tells me “that’s fancy for….” just like they say throughout the Nancy books.
In the first book simply called “Fancy Nancy,” Nancy explains how she perceives the world around her and that “more is always better when it comes to being fancy.” In her world, being fancy makes her simply feel better. A personal favorite from this book is when she explains to her mother that “lace-trimmed socks do help me play soccer better.” She wants to teach her family how to be more like her, but when she trips over her own fancy shoes, she realizes that love is love no matter what.
Throughout that long-running series, Nancy learns a variety of lessons. In “Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet,” Nancy has to learn about not always getting what you want and then also dealing with the evil green jealousy monster when someone close to you does. Both Nancy and her best friend, Bree, assume that they will get to be mermaids in the upcoming ballet because they are glamorous and like to play mermaid from time to time. When neither gets the role, they are shocked and Nancy is bummed to be playing a dreary, dull tree. When Bree gets to step into the role of mermaid at the last minute, Nancy is incredibly jealous. She “lies” to Bree and tells her that she is happy for her, but knows that deep down she is not. Nancy finds a way to still shine in her tree costume, which she decides is fabulous and not dull and dreary and the show is a smashing success.
Nancy learns a lesson about being kind to her sister in “Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique.” In this story, when Nancy goes shopping for her sister’s birthday present, she also wants to buy a fancy fan for herself, but doesn’t have enough money after buying her sister a gift. She decides to sell off some of her fabulous fashions to raise the money. She’s doing great until her sister decides that she wants a fancy necklace that Nancy has already promised to someone else. She doesn’t want her sister to be disappointed on her birthday so she goes over to the twins who purchased the necklace and asks if there is any way that she can “persuade” them to part with it so she can give it to her sister for her birthday. They do, but it means that she can’t afford her fan. Her father sees how kind she has been to her sister and surprises her with the fan as well.
In “Fancy Nancy and the Mean Girl,” which is a part of the “I Can Read” collection, Nancy has to deal with a girl who hurts her feelings. Much to Nancy’s dismay, Nancy has been chosen for the relay team in this year’s Field Day at school. Despite her many natural talents, Nancy isn’t much of a runner. She’s afraid of letting her team down—especially after finding out that an unkind (that’s another word for mean) girl in her class is on the team too. With a little help from her dad, Nancy tries her best, stands up for herself, and makes a new friend.
Nancy wants everything to be fancy, but in “Fancy Nancy: My Family History,”she learns that making things up just so that they are fancy can hurt other people and that when you are supposed to be writing a report based on truth, exaggerating can turn into outright lying. Nancy and her classmates are learning about ancestors, “people who lived long ago.” Bree’s great-grandfather was a war hero. Robert’s great-grandmother is 101 and came to America on a ship that almost sank! When Nancy talks to her grandfather about her great-grandparents, she finds that “they were nice ordinary people.” “Ordinary?” Nancy thinks, “that’s like plain. I wish I had fancy ancestors.” She writes her report for school about her great-grandfather, but makes things up so he seems less ordinary. However, when she learns that Grandpa will be there to hear her read the report aloud she realizes she was dishonest. By the time her grandpa comes, she has written a new report that sticks to the truth.
One that we only recently learned about by listening to our audio version is “Fancy Nancy: Aspiring Artist.” After listening to it a few times, I felt the need to purchase it because it nicely taught about various artists and styles in a simple manner. Nancy is sad because Bree has gone on vacation for spring break, so her mother cheers her up with new glitter markers. Inspiration strikes and she decides to turn her clubhouse into an art studio filled with her creations. Inspiration strikes again when she goes to her dance class and realizes that the studio is full of posters of art by Edgar Degas. When she tells her neighbor about her art studio idea, she teaches Nancy about Claude Monet. Nancy also experiments with the styles of Henri Matisse and Jackson Pollack. She learns about various ways of allowing yourself to be inspired and visits the art museum. It is a marvelous way to show children the world of art.
A similar book that brings the world of poetry alive for young readers and encourages them to create their own anthologies of poems that they enjoy is “Fancy Nancy: Poet Extraordinare.” In this book, Nancy’s class is doing a survey of people’s favorite poems, which of course Nancy shares with the reader and then each child is supposed to write their own poem. From nursery rhymes to song lyrics, silly limericks to acrostics and odes. This book is a fun way to encourage children to start considering poetry and maybe even writing some themselves!
I could go on and on with these books, especially since the audio version has 31 different stories that we listen to over and over and over again, but instead I will simply say to give Nancy a chance, especially if you have a budding fashionista with a love of accessorizing like I do.
The aging process is a very difficult thing for anyone to comprehend. Explaining what is happening when Grandma or Grandpa starts to lose their memory or perhaps starts acting differently due to dementia or Alzheimer’s is especially challenging because there is no easy way to explain why it is happening. Finding ways to open the conversation with your children and grandchildren is important as are coming up with coping mechanisms. As with most difficult topics, there are a slew of picture books out there that try to open the door to understanding.
One of the biggest challenges with children, is that when we start to explain that someone is losing their memory, children aren’t exactly sure what that means. In “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge,” little Wilfrid gets a lesson in what memories are. He grew up “next door to an old people’s home, and he knew all of the people who lived over there.” One day he hears his parents talking about how his favorite resident, Ms. Nancy, has lost her memory. When the concept confused him, he goes over to the retirement home and asks many of the residents what a memory is. They each give him wonderful responses and Wilfrid decides to gather up wonderful things of his own to give to Nancy since she is losing her memory. While his treasures initially confuse her, they do help her remember some special moments from her own childhood. A very sweet story and a marvelous look at not only how special memories are, but how special they can make us feel.
One way to start a conversation with children focuses less about what their grandparents are going to lose and try to look at the pieces that help them remember, since these things are often aspects that children can help them hold on to. In Alison Acheson’s touching story, “Grandpa’s Music,” Callie’s grandfather moves in with her family as his memory begins to fade – an important part in understanding the aging process for any older adult. The family makes a routine so that “grandpa will know what step comes next.” It is only Callie, however, who realizes that Grandpa doesn’t want to be a burden and so she gives him responsibilities that he can still handle – gardening, peeling potatoes, kneading bread and making music. As time passes, he becomes less able to do those things, but his music still remains as connective tissue to his past and Callie sits and sings with him whenever she gets the chance. Even when he has to transition into an assisted living facility, seeing the piano in the common room gives him comfort.
With the same respect for music and the fact that sometimes your muscles remember what to do even when your mind doesn’t, Sarah Lynn’s “Tip-Tap Pop” is a sweet story about a little girl who loves to tap dance with her grandfather. As Pop ages, he starts forgetting things, even Emma’s birthday. Rather than dancing around, he sits quietly in his chair. Emma is saddened by his changes and then realizes that a brief moment of memory brings his dancing feet back, if for a moment or two. The story glosses over some of the harder aspects of Alzheimer’s, but is a good place to start for young children.
Finding the connection that a grandchild can still have with their aging grandparent is important. Just like Callie had music with her grandfather and Emma had tap dancing, in Émilie Rivard’s “Really and Truly,” Charlie and his grandfather share a love of a tall tale. His grandfather always told him stories, really and truly! But now that Charlie is older, his grandfather not only doesn’t tell stories, he has “an awful disease [that is] eating up his memory and his words. It has even swallowed up his smile.” Suddenly, Charlie makes up his own story and when he says the magic line, “really and truly,” a spark of recognition appears on his grandfather’s face. Charlie takes on his Grandfather’s magical power of story telling to bring him out of his fog for a moment or two. While his grandfather doesn’t always recognize him, he continues to be the story teller with “the power to find the right story to make him smile.”
While these stories are very sweet, the reality is that it can be a very frightening experience for kids when their grandparents start to lose their memories. In “Always My Grandpa,” by Linda Scacco, young Daniel looks forward to spending his summer vacation with his grandpa, but this year Grandpa starts to change as the summer progresses. Daniel learns that since Grandpa has Alzheimer’s disease, he will increasingly have trouble remembering all of the things that belong to him – his clothes, his words, his memories – and eventually, his own grandson. This is a heartwarming tale describing what it is like to be close to a grandparent who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
In a similar vein, “Still My Grandma,” by Véronique Van den Abelee, celebrates the special relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter while showing the challenge as grandma begins to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. One day Grandma forgets her granddaughter’s name. Another day she puts her shoes in the refrigerator. This is a sensitive way to introduce a young reader to the realities of Alzheimer’s disease and a reminder that love is more powerful than any illness.
Making memory boxes and scrapbooks is an important theme that you will see come up repeatedly in books about Alzheimer’s. As with “Still My Grandma,” in Maria Shriver’s “What’s Happening to Grandpa” Shriver walks a girl through acceptance and a beginning understanding of her Grandpa’s condition after her grandfather starts repeating the same stories over and over again. Kate questions not just what can be done to address the changes Alzheimer’s will bring within her own family but she also tries to place her concern in the larger context of growing old. She decides how to help her grandfather as he goes through this difficult time. Together they sit down with a box of photographs and his still-intact memories and create a scrapbook so that “the important memories of my life will forever be in my heart.”
Help a young child find ways to understand what is going on with their beloved grandparents with any of these marvelous books.
Any parent is well versed in the artistry and engaging stories of Eric Carle. There was a time that I could recite Brown Bear, Brown Bear by memory. What did the Very Hungry Caterpillar eat that gave him such a terrible tummy ache? Yeah, knew that one too. But every once in a while, I still manage to come across a book of Carle’s that I didn’t know about.
The Mixed-Up Chameleon is a brilliant story about just being yourself and appreciating what makes you different. It is told from the eyes of a young chameleon who happened upon the zoo one day. After seeing each animal, the chameleon thought how that animal was better than he was and wished to be like the other animal – “‘How small I am, how slow, how weak! I wish I could be big and white like a polar bear.’ And the chameleon’s wish came true. But was it happy? No!”
Each page continues with it finding something about each animal and slowly taking on a part of each animal. There are also cutouts on the left side of each page to show each animal that the chameleon is turning into, which miraculously also take on the colors of the rainbow. By the end, the chameleon is barely recognizable, but worse than that, he was so mixed up that he couldn’t even manage to catch a fly so he could get something to eat!
At that point, he realizes the importance of just being himself, wishes himself back to normal, and caught the fly.
This is such a simple story and yet so powerful. My 5 year old really loved the cut out tabs and all of the crazy colors. It is a great opener to a conversation with kids about what they like about themselves. Another win for Eric Carle!