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.
“Long ago, everything from the changing of the seasons to the passage of the Sun through the sky was an unsolved mystery. So people came up with stories to explain how things came to be. These stories – known as myths or fables – varied from place to place, but all had a shared thread running through them: they set out to explain the inexplicable, to offer a version of the world that made some sense.”
So begins the book the Usborne Illustrated Fables from Around the World. This beautiful book offers 18 wonderful myths and fables from around the world that at one point helped people try to understand the world around them. Continue reading →
I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting books to challenge my kids and everyone else’s. From storyline to embellishments, kids get excited when things are a little different. So I was thrilled when I opened the pages of The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth.
The story tells of a magic hour where the animals and other things within a museum come to life. The only problem is that Teddy, a baby mammoth, has gotten loose and his older brother Timothy needs to find him and get him back to the museum before the clock strikes one. A young boy, Oscar, see Timothy outside of his bedroom window and goes to help. Continue reading →
Kids love when books come in a series. Don’t believe me? Just check out the proliferation of trilogies in the last number of years. Young readers simply get hooked on a character and once they know that they like one book, they also know that they don’t have to go searching through the vast library of other options to have another book to read. I have no problem with that, but finding good series can be challenging. One that J has been devouring lately, and that E really wants to be able to read, is the EJ12: Girl Hero series by Susannah McFarlane.
EJ12 is an adventure series for young girls where the girl is the hero. The concept of the series is that young Emma Jacks is an average ten-year-old girl who just happens to also be EJ12 – “a field agent and ace code-cracker in the under-twelve division of SHINE, a secret agency that protects the world from evildoers.” As Emma Jacks, she often struggles and doubts herself, but as EJ12 she believes that she can accomplish anything. Each book features a situation that she needs to deal with in her everyday life as Emma Jacks as well as a mission that she has to solve as EJ12.
I actually found this video from Susannah McFarlane about the series and one of the things she says that I love is that “EJ is more competent than confident and she needs to trust herself a little bit more.” I also think it is awesome that she specifically wanted a book series where the girl was “hero front and center,” rather than how Hermione is a major hero in Harry Potter, but not the main focus.
In each book, EJ12 must solve various codes to solve her mission for Shine. As she explains in book 1, codes are “confusing at first because they looked like one things and then turned out to be something else…But once you understood how they worked, they were easy to handle.” Interestingly, she understands that there are similarities between codes and people, but while she can crack the codes she gets faced with for a mission, she is struggling with cracking the code of other 10 year olds.
These books are aimed at 7-10 year olds, those who have graduated from early chapter books and are ready to read something with a little more meat. I wish I had known about these books when J was younger, but even though they are like candy for her, they deal with some of the emotional issues that a girl who is about to be 10 deals with, so for that reason, they are still perfect. E will be getting to these in probably the next year, so at least that is a plus.
EJ12 is an import from Australia via the Kane Miller portion of Usborne Books & More. As you may or may not know, I am an independent consultant with Usborne Books. You can find EJ12 here. You might also consider hosting a party and earning some truly amazing books for free!
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!
My 9 year old has developed a deep and abiding love for all things Shakespeare. Back in February we inadvertently introduced her to King Lear when we read a picture book called Anook the Snow Princess. Since then, we have had lots of conversations about Shakespeare’s plays, but more than anything else, we have found a wealth of truly amazing books that help bring Shakespeare to life.*
Teaching your children to understand the stories that Shakespeare wrote and the world in which he lived is a great way to open their eyes to a world of creativity. We haven’t focused on any of the old English, but I would love to find a way to bring some of the bard’s poetry in as well. What thrills me is that there are wonderful resources out there to encourage a love of his works.
J’s absolute favorite book that we have is the Usborne Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare. From lively comedy to dark tragedy, with clowns, witches and a doomed romance, this wonderful collection has six of Shakespeare’s best-loved plays. In this durable collection, young readers can discover the stories of Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and The Tempest, all beautifully retold for easy reading. The text is mainly told in modern styles, but from time to time there are direct quotes from the stories written in italics, almost like speech bubbles.
J has read this book from cover to cover multiple times. She is shocked that so many people perish in the end, but we have to explain to her that that is simply a part of how plays were written long ago. Her favorite at the moment is Twelfth Night. Having her read and enjoy this book has opened up conversations about how Romeo and Juliet is the basis for West Side Story, one of my all-time-favorite musicals, and how so many people have been inspired by Shakespeare’s works.
Once she was completely entranced with the stories themselves, we moved on to another book that engages her in a hunt and search method while also informing her about additional plays. In “Where’s Will“, readers get to explore ten of William Shakespeare’s most exciting, funny, and powerful plays. Each play has a spread that gives young readers a summary of the story, allows them to meet the characters, and find out what they are up to. Then turn the page and you get to find Will and all of the characters in a “Where’s Waldo” style hunt.
For our long car rides, J loves to do sticker books. She initially got hooked doing sticker dolly dressing books, but we have now discovered a wealth of titles that are not only fun sticker books, but also educational. One of these titles is Sticker Dressing Shakespeare. These are hands on books that allow kids to learn about the fashions utilized in the plays as well as learn little bits about the plays themselves.
A brand new title that starts children understanding the world that Shakespeare lived in and how his plays were produced is See Inside the World of Shakespeare. Through engaging lift-the-flaps, kids can travel back 400 years to visit rowdy playhouses and royal palaces and discover Shakespeare’s tales of doomed princes and mischievous fairies causing trouble.
Finally, for those who are older and really ready to get into meaty information about the Bard, there is the beautifully produced World of Shakespeare. This 64 page reference guide shows how Shakespeare’s world was full of danger, excitement and change. Elizabethan London was filthy, crowded, crime-ridden, hazardous, thrilling and inspiring. But the theaters, situated in the scruffier parts of town, provided popular places of entertainment. Shakespeare’s plays tell tales of love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge, corruption, family, feuds, ghosts, witches, and murder. Discover how Shakespeare lived, and why, hundreds of years later, his works are still being performed, interpreted and adapted all over the world.
I love that my daughter has gotten interested in Shakespeare and I will do all that I can to encourage her to learn more about him. For additional titles, check out this guest post on Pragmatic Mom.
*Note – Most of these books are published by Usborne Books & More. I am an independent Usborne Consultant and the links are back to my website.
It’s Shark Week and non-fiction picture book Wednesday. My girls have never been overly excited by sharks. Dolphins? Absolutely. Sharks? Not so much. Actually, J has been completely fascinated with marine biology for years, but more as a general study. So I wanted to put together a list of ocean themed books that actually made more sense for us. There is a little bit of something for everyone here.*
Picture Books and Flap books for the Younger Readers
Shine-a-light Secrets of the Seashore – The Shine-A-Light books are amazing. Each page asks the child a question and you hold a the page up to a light (or shine a flashlight) and discover the secrets hidden withing. In this book, spot the tiny shrimps hiding in the sand, see a shy crab underneath a rock and watch a jewel-like anemone open its tentacles in this beautiful book of nature’s hidden habitats. Great for ages 4-8.
How Deep is the Sea? – Have you ever wondered how deep the sea is? Pipkin the Penguin wants to know just that. With the help of a friendly seal, a big blue whale and a salty sea dog in a yellow submarine, Pipkin learns that the sea is very deep indeed! A VERY long poster at the back of the book shows just how deep the sea is – and how far Pipkin would have to travel to get so deep.
Under the Sea – Have you ever wondered what’s under the sea? Dive beneath the waves and discover bustling fish, a singing whale and twinkling creatures of the deep.
Big Book of Sea Creatures – Open the huge fold-out pages to discover all kinds of magnificent sea creatures, from the leatherback sea turtle to the great white shark and the biggest animal on Earth – the mighty blue whale. Each page is full of stunning illustrations to pore over, showing the biggest, smallest, longest, fastest, oldest and most ferocious ocean creatures.
Lift-the-flap Sharks – Sharks aren’t just scary fish with pointy teeth. Lift the flaps in this richly illustrated book to meet gentle giants, fierce hunters, beady-eyed baby sharks and the weird, weedy woebegone.
Lift-the-flap Under the Sea – The sea is full of surprises, so come on in and take a look. You’ll find amazing wildlife, from a fish that change its shape, to deep-sea shockers that light up in the dark. You’ll discover even more behind the seaweed and the rocks — lift the flaps to see.
Fact Based Books for the elementary aged reader
What’s Under the Sea – Shipwrecks, fish, whales and sharks, tunnels, cables and coral reefs – these are just some of the topics in this bright, colorful book. With maps and pictures, it shows the seas of the world and their wildlife, and describes how the sea provides us with fish and minerals. Diagrams and cutaway pictures show an oil rig, diving gear, submarines and other equipment for exploring the seabed, and explain how they work.
Under the Sea (IR) – What lives at the bottom of the sea? What does a shark really eat? How does a sea horse swim? In this book you’ll find the answers and lots more about the fascinating things which live under the sea. A perfect intro for ages 5-7.
See Under the Sea – Explore the world beneath the sea, from coral reefs teeming with jewel-bright fish to the icy waters of the Arctic. Lift the flaps to peer inside shipwrecks and gaze into the dizzying depth of dark trenches at the very bottom of the ocean. Aimed at readers 7+.
Sharks (IR) – What do sharks like to eat? Which shark glows in the dark? And why do some sharks never stop swimming? You’ll find out the answers and lots more fun facts in this shark-infested book. This book is aimed at readers 6+ but is a wonderful addition to a preschool class when read by the teacher.
Sharks (Discovery) – The Discovery series takes the knowledge up a level with 64 pages of information vs 32. This vividly illustrated guide gets up-close and personal. Learn what drives sharks into “”feeding frenzies” and more. Great for readers 8+.
First Coloring Book: Under the Sea – A fun coloring book for young children full of exciting sea creatures to color. Lively underwater scenes include sharks, dolphins, turtles and lots of different fish. With colored backgrounds allowing children to concentrate on coloring the shapes. Contains two pages of stickers to add to the pictures.
1001 Things to Spot In the Sea – Brimming with things to find, count and talk about, this charming picture book provides hours of puzzle-solving fun. Readers will delight in discovering the secrets of the sea. Great for kids 5+
Shark Excavation Kit – Inside is a complete skeleton of a Megalodon that is encased in a clay rock, and you must carefully excavate or “dig” the bones out with the tools provided.
Fiction for older Shark Enthusiasts
Shark Bait -Action has a new hero – Sam Fox! With a talent for attracting danger, Sam Fox is an expert at getting himself into (and out of) the most extreme situations. When Sam and his friend are swept off the coast of the Great Barrier Reef, Sam must fight to keep them alive. As night falls over the ocean, the underwater predators start moving in?
This series has a strong appeal with a courageous young hero and exotic settings and has non-stop action and short chapters which will engage reluctant readers.
This is my weekly contribution to Kid Lit Frenzy’s awesome non-fiction picture book challenge. Check out the link-up for tons of other super titles.
*These books can be purchased in my Usborne Books & More page. If you are interested in learning about Usborne and Kane Miller books or if you would like to host an online Facebook event to discuss how to raise readers and promote literacy in your home while earning FREE books for your own home library, please send me a note at booksmykidsread at gmail dot com.
“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa.”
So starts every Anna Hibiscus book. These books, written by Atinuke and illustrated by Lauren Tobia, tell the story of young Anna Hibiscus as she tries to maneuver through some of life’s challenges. They take place in Africa, but really they could be anywhere. They are a multicultural, multi-generational family, which is something we don’t see a great deal of.
We first discovered Anna Hibiscus in picture book format, but there are also chapter books for young readers available.
In “Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus!” Anna’s mother has just given birth to twin boys. The day that the babies are born, Anna struggles with the fact that her normal routine has been completely upended by their birth. Anna’s cousins had teased her that boys were trouble and now Anna feels that they were right – her new brothers are nothing but double trouble.
The problem that Anna is facing is that no one seems to have time for her because everyone is focused on the new babies. When she finally breaks down and cries, her father finds her and explains that she will now have to share the family with her brothers, but that everyone still loves her. At that same time, miraculously, everyone finally has time for Anna. She realizes that her brothers aren’t so bad, it will just take some time for everyone to adjust.
This is a marvelous book for any child who is about to get a new sibling. Change can be very difficult, but the message is clear that while that first day is very far from normal, your family will continue to love you and be there for you.
In “Splash,” Anna and her family are enjoying a hot day at the beach. All Anna wants to do is splash in the waves, but no one wants to join her. She invites everyone, but they are busy playing in the sand, playing with their phones, braiding hair or simply napping. Anna gets very frustrated because she really wants someone to play with her, but no one wants to do what she wants.
She finally gives up on everyone else and dips her toes in the water. Her family might be too busy, but she realizes that the waves are jumping and splashing and they want someone to join them! She fully enjoys splashing in the water. Her laughter carries over the sand and entices her family to join her. Everything else is hot, but the water is cool and inviting.
This book surprised me because it was the first Anna Hibiscus book that I read and not only was it about Africa, but it focused on the beaches of Africa instead of the safari or desert. In terms of lessons, it is all about persistence and perseverance. Anna knows what she wants, tries every angle, and when she doesn’t get her family to get in the water, she goes in by herself and shows everyone how amazing it is.
Moving away from picture books, there are also chapter books aimed at younger children that feature Anna and her family.
In the first of the series, the book is made up of four short stories about Anna Hibiscus’s life in Africa. Join her as she splashes in the sea, prepares for a party, sells oranges, and hopes to see sweet, sweet snow! The stories move smoothly and comfortably through life in Africa. The reader learns a lot about a different culture almost without being aware of it. The reader quickly learns to like Anna Hibiscus and her extended family. The delightful illustrations beautifully compliment the stories.
In book 2 of the series, “Hooray for Anna Hibiscus,” Anna taking a big step: she has become old enough to attend school. As her father reminds her, growing-up children need to go to school so they can work to make Africa a better place. Anna certainly has her work cut out for her when she is selected to sing a solo for a visiting president from another country. However, she gets a major case of stage fright. Her learning also progresses outside of school, especially when she accompanies her aunty and uncle on an errand to another part of the city where children beg and scavenge through trash to survive.
There are a total of 4 books of the chapter series available at Usborne Books and More, but these two are a great place to start!