Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Our favourite books for 2013

Although my posting has fallen by the wayside lately, our reading certainly hasn't and so I thought it was timely to write a quick top books list for 2013.

These are the books that Maximilian has adored and asked for, over and over and over, often by name; the books that he can "read" now because we have read them so many times; the books that look the most dog eared in our collections and, in some cases, even need replacing due to the tough love they've received this year!!

In no particular order:

A bit lost by Chris Haughton

I was very surprised that I haven't reviewed this book in detail yet, because it has been a favourite for almost this whole year. We bought it as a gift for Maximilian when he was born because we fell in love with the quirky illustrations on first sight. It is the story of a little owl who falls out of his nest, and his search for his mother, with the help of a strange and slightly manic squirrel. "A bit lost" taught Maximilan one of his very first words - uh oh - and by 15 months of age, he could recite parts of the story. Still a firm favourite (in fact we read this just tonight!), I can't recommend it highly enough (and will write a proper review asap)

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld

I have already reviewed this wonderful book, so let me just say again how much we love it and how gorgeous the artwork is. It is a long story, so it took quite a while to take off as a favourite, but we now pretty much know it off by heart and Maximilian knows all the names of various construction machinery thanks to this book. It also inspired his bulldozer birthday cake and he often requests this book by name. I also still credit this book as the book that taught Maximilian how to go to bed - and for that it will forever be a favourite of mine :-)

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

The story of Sam-I-am is a much loved classic here in our house. For months, when asked "what book would you like tonight", Maximilian would reply "Sam, Sam, Sam". When we went to Sydney, packing light I only took three books and this was one of them. After staying an extra week, and reading this book every night and day for fourteen days, he still loves it enough to request it regularly. A true hit!

Teeth are not for biting by Elizabeth Verdick

Like most (all?) toddlers, Maximilian went through a biting stage (and received quite a nasty bite on his face from a daycare child earlier this year). Fortunately, his phase only lasted a couple of weeks, but it was long enough - and painful enough - that I bought this great little book as a way to talk to him about not biting. It is really simple, repetitive (teeth are not for biting; ouch! biting hurts), bright, colourful and has a great tips for parents section at the back which is very reassuring when your lovely toddler turns into an evil biting machine. Strangely, Maximilian took to this book really well, and it has become a favourite bedtime story in our house!

101 First Words: things that go

This little board book is another very strange favourite because it is really just a collection of 101 photographs of things that go accompanied by the word that describes them. It is really quite difficult to read this book as a bedtime story but, when your little dictator demands it's the only book for them, you find a way, believe me!! I actually hid this one once or twice when I was so thoroughly sick of trying to read it to Maximilian, but he was so downcast that I felt bad and got it out again!!!

Time to say bye-bye by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

By far the most popular library book we've borrowed this year (and reborrowed four times!!), this is a fabulous little story that Maximilian just loves. It follows a young toddler through her day, at the park, visiting Grandma, playing with toys, having dinner, bath and bedtime. At the end of each activity, it is acknowledged that the toddler doesn't want the activity to end and encourages her to "say bye-bye" before moving on to the next activity. Sounds simple, but anyone who has ever had anything to do with toddlers will be familiar with the tantrums that occur when it is time to stop doing something they are enjoying. This book has been loved by both Maximilian and me - he loves the story, especially following along with the character and saying the words, I love being able to use this technique to help avoid tantrums - win win, I say!

At 9 months of age now, Walther is still a little young to have grown attached to any particular books,  although he does enjoy chewing on "Green Eggs and Ham":

So this year, this list is really Maximilan's favourite books for 2013. I can't wait until 31/12/2014 where the list will include favourite books from both my boys ;-)

Until then, happy new year and happy reading everyone!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My Dad's the Coolest by Rosie Smith and Bruce Whatley

Since Father's Day is just around the corner in Australia, I thought I'd look at another one of our favourite Dad books: My Dad's the Coolest.

Maximilian gave this book to his Dad as a Father's Day present last year. I like to give picture books to adults as gifts because it creates a wonderful excuse and opportunity for parent and child to spend some time together. And it's always nice to receive presents that tell you how cool you are!!

Like Some Dads, each page of this book features a different animal Dad and child and simple text about why that Dad is the coolest. I like this book because of the great range of animals it features, from the obvious (brave lion) to the bizarre (funny puffer fish). It is also a great celebration of the father-child bond and of the fun that all different kinds of dads have with their children.

My Dad's the Coolest has plain coloured pages with just a few words of text and facing pages with animal illustrations, again on plain coloured background. This is a really simple book, which is a refreshing change from the really busy, detailed full page illustrations in many picture books. Bruce Whatley's illustrations are terrific, and each picture shines with the love between the dad and child. If you haven't seen this book, it really is worth a look. With only a very small amount of text, My Dad's the Coolest is also suitable for even the youngest baby to enjoy reading with their dad.

If you are keen to get this book as a gift for the cool Dad in your child's world, I have also just found this awesome gift pack which includes the book My Dad's the Coolest in a mini hardback edition and a drink cooler - how cool is that?!? (Thought I'd throw in a dad joke there to finish with!)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld

Set against a cityscape backdrop, Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site tells the story of five tough trucks working on a big construction site. It is the end of a hard day's work and the reader gets to learn a little bit about each truck and the work they do before saying goodnight to each of them.

The story is told in delightful rhyming text. There are lots of action words used, which provides wonderful opportunity to engage little ones - Maximilian loves to "reach and stretch and lift" like Crane Truck and, of course, the repetitive Shh...goodnight is nice to say together with "shushing". The language used also makes this a great read aloud book, as it's fun to crrrunch the gravel along with Dump Truck and rooaaar along with Bulldozer.  Like all good bedtime stories, there are also lots of opportunities throughout the story for parent and child to enjoy some good cuddles!

Lichtenheld's illustrations are just magnificent and really are works of art. The trucks and diggers manage to be both cartoonish and realistic, and their faces are filled with such personality. There is also incredible detail in every picture, and I've been amazed by how many things Maximilian sees in the pictures that I've missed - there is one page with a little owl that he spots every time! As he gets older and his vocabulary grows, I'm sure he'll notice and articulate even more of the details in the pictures.

The bedtime detail in the pictures is also really charming - Crane Truck has a teddy bear and night light while Cement Mixer has a little blankie. The night sky with the lovely sleepy moon illustration is featured on each goodnight page and the twilight blue is really striking and unusual and very engaging - as are the illustrations of the trucks and diggers.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site is a wonderful book that will always hold a special place in our hearts, because this is the book that taught Maximilian about bedtime!

We chose very gentle bedtime techniques with our babies. As a small baby, we always cuddled Maximilian to sleep before putting him in his cradle or cot. As he grew bigger, we would cuddle him on our bed before transferring him to his own cot once he was fast asleep. But, as I got bigger and bigger when I was pregnant with Walther and as Walther's arrival grew closer and closer, it became impossible - I simply couldn't bend over his cot to lift his 12kg sleeping body in any more!! It was time to help Maximilian learn to go to sleep in his own bed. 

We tried lots of different things - putting him in his bed awake and sitting nearby singing songs or reading books, patting him off to sleep, etc. We had moderate success and things were going quite well. Then, one night when Walther was only a few weeks old, Daddy had to be out at night and Mummy needed to do bedtime by herself. I knew I didn't have very long before Walther would need feeding, so it had to be a pretty quick bedtime routine. I cuddled Maximilian up in my feeding chair and read him Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site. As we said Shh...goodnight to each of the trucks in the book, Maximilian grew sleepier and sleepier. When we had finished the book, I carried him over to Walther's cot and he said Shh...goodnight to bubby, then Shh...goodnight to our parrots, then Shh...goodnight to ape (his favourite cuddly toy) etc. When I put him in his bed, I simply said Shh...goodnight Maximilian, tucked him in and left the room - and he went straight to sleep and didn't wake again until morning. It was magical! And it was the same night after night - the bedtime ritual and routine that this book gave us worked like a dream and we haven't looked back since.

Maximilian received Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site as a gift for his first Christmas. We fell in love with the beautiful artwork and delightful rhyming text immediately and tried reading it to him when he was a few months old. It is quite a long story though and didn't immediately catch his interest. We tried again a few months later and made it through a few of the trucks in the book, but it wasn't until he was around 14 months old that he started to really enjoy this book and sit through the whole story. Once this happened though, Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site was a firm favourite and the only book he wanted to read for several weeks!!

I really can't recommend this book highly enough. Great for any little person interested in trucks, diggers and construction equipment. This is a wonderful book to give as a gift - we have the hardcover edition. The story is most suitable for ages 2 and up, and there is also plenty to engage older readers.

This is our best bedtime story ever!

What is your favourite bedtime story to read with your children? I'd love to hear about it!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Our book shelf and reading corner - a personal post

This is our (very crowded) book shelf. We got it from Toys R Us after seeing the same one at our nephews' house and it is awesome. Now that our collection has expanded so much, I'm going to go back and get a second one - with all the books we receive as gifts and all the books I can't resist buying it too will be full in no time!!

We also have a tub of cloth and board books on the floor that Maximilian can choose books from.

This is great because the board books don't fit really well on the other book shelf and, being strong and hard wearing, tend to get thrown around a lot!

Our storage tub comes from Ikea and is part of the Trofast system, so can be stored easily in the matching shelving - although ours is permanently in the corner. We read so often there is little point in putting it away!

At our house, we've gotten into a great pattern of self directed reading. When Maximilian was very small and less mobile, we chose various books regularly to read with him. When he was around 9 months old, every night Daddy would read a story with him before cuddling him to sleep. We developed a great system where we would choose a story then read the same one for a week with him, which I think gave him a great sense of the books because he would remember them night after night. Of course, we chose books that were our favourites, perhaps from childhood or that we'd found recently and loved.

Now that Maximilian is older and physically able to choose his own books, we try really hard to encourage that. Every afternoon we read books together for about an hour - a terrific way to reconnect when I get home from work and he is tired and a little cranky. Having Maximilian choose his own books works fabulously, although it does sometimes means that Mummy gets to read "101 things that go" far more often that perhaps she'd like!! But it also means that we get a real sense of what interests him at any given moment and can build on that interest through other play activities. And what interests a toddler changes very quickly, so what is a favourite book one day is sometimes completely blah the next.

The other awesome and amazing thing that has happened a few times is when we ask Maximilian to choose a book, such as the one with the caterpillar or the one with Max in it, and he toddles off the book shelf and then returns with the book you asked for. This level of comprehension just blows me away and I am so proud that he is so engaged with his book collection that he can do this.

It's no surprise that one of the pleasures of a picture book is the pictures, and so it's also no surprise that seeing the covers displayed makes the books so much more attractive than displaying them spine out. So many children's books are so thin that the spines are lost on regular bookshelves, which is why a display system like this one works so well. The low fabric "shelves" are perfect for face out display of books and to engage your child with the eye catching, interesting, textured or brightly coloured book covers.

Children learn a love of reading by physically engaging with books, and that is where this book shelf and storage tub excels. The books are stored low to the ground, so really encourages children to engage with books because they are at their level. It also means that often Maximilian will "play with" his books as much as any other toy because they are so accessible to him.

Our house is very small and we don't have a lot of space to spare, but we have made sure that we've set up a small reading corner for Maximilian and Walther. As well as the low book shelf and board book tub, we included a fabulous little $20 couch from Kmart - perfect for snuggling up with a good book. I'd love to get some wall stickers as well - either the alphabet or maybe just spell out "read".

Here is the reading corner in action!

How are your children's books stored? Do you have a reading corner or nook at your place? I'd love to hear about your ideas for encouraging reading and making books accessible for your child!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

Once there was a boy and one day he found a penguin at his door...

So begins Lost and Found: the story of an unlikely friendship between a young boy and a penguin. When the penguin turns up, the young boy assumes he is lost and tries to help the penguin find his home - with surprising and heart warming results.

Lost and Found is quite long for a picture book - I remember when Maximilian first chose it for us to read (when he was around 13 months of age) that I was surprised that he sat through the whole book. The story is told in narrative format with no rhyming text. A young child with a short attention span might not make it through the whole story initially, but there is lots of detail in the illustrations to help sustain their interest.

On the flip side, Lost and Found is definitely a picture book with lasting value - even primary school readers would find much of interest in the illustrations and parents could have some fascinating discussion with their older child about the story elements. It would also be a nice addition to a beginner readers collection - so often early reader books don't really have much of a story so Lost and Found would be a nice story to help children who are learning to read independently.

Maximilian was lucky enough to receive this gorgeous book as a gift from a dear friend. Lost and Found was the first Oliver Jeffers' book to make it into our picture book collection (although I do have a copy of The Heart and the Bottle that is in my own book collection that I bought some years ago - an amazing book about grief. Right up there with A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.)

As I said in my post about Stuck, I love everything Oliver Jeffers creates and he is one of my favourite children's authors. He manages to create stories that are funny, interesting and completely engaging as well as books that are absolutely delightful and beautiful to look at. Jeffers is an amazingly talented artist - most of the artwork in his picture books could easily be framed and hung on the wall, and the illustrations in Lost and Found really are unique and beautiful. Jeffers' website has prints of images from his books for sale - I'm coveting this one of the cover of Lost and Found amongst others!

We have the board book edition of Lost and Found, but it is available in paperback as well. If you are buying this book as a gift, I'd definitely recommend the board book for any child aged 3 and under - it will be much more hard-wearing for those little hands that won't be able to resist turning pages and examining the illustrations. For an older child, the paperback version is a great choice as the illustrations look even better bigger!!

Lost and Found has won multiple awards and has also been made into an award winning short film, which I can't wait to watch! 

I highly recommend this book as an addition to any picture book collection, and it is a real keeper - so perfect as a gift for any child. Best suited for children aged 2 and up.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Dr Seuss's Seusscase by Dr Seuss

It's been a real Dr Seuss week in our house and this is largely due to the fantastic Dr Seuss Seusscase!

The Seusscase is a fantastic collection of ten Dr Seuss stories. It has all the popular hits: Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, Oh, the Places You'll Go!, The Lorax, Fox in Socks and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; plus a whole lot more less well known Seuss titles (well less known to me anyway!) like I Wish that I had Duck Feet, Dr Seuss's ABC, etc.....

And the best part is all the books are packed together into a fantastic little suitcase (or Seusscase!) There is nothing cuter than Maximilian grabbing his little Seusscase and coming up to me saying "book, book!"

Maximilian received this great compendium of Dr Seuss books as a gift for his first Christmas, but it is only very recently that he has started to sit through and enjoy books by Dr Seuss. I hadn't remembered just how long many of the stories are but now, at 20 months, Maximilian quite happily sits through over 40 pages of Dr Seuss, which is pretty impressive I think.

The back of the books in the Seusscase are also colour coded: blue for sharing with your child, green for children just beginning to read on their own and yellow for fluent readers to enjoy. Dr Seuss books are full of rhyme and repetition to help early readers recognise the words and are also full of crazy nonsense words which are just plain fun to read aloud!

Maximilian loves to open his Seusscase and choose a book for us to read together. His first favourite was Oh! The Places You'll Go! - which I'm sorry to say I didn't know very well before but now adore. Green Eggs and Ham is also a huge hit and, this weeks favourite read by a long way, Fox in Socks - although I, like Mr Knox, have trouble reading the tongue twisters aloud! He has also just started to enjoy One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, which was a childhood favourite of mine.

If you're looking for a book gift for a child, you could do far worse than a Dr Seuss book and you probably can't do better than a whole box of them!! We love our Seusscase!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

The story of Sam's quest to get a grouch to eat green eggs and ham is a well deserved classic of children's literature and has always been one of my favourite Dr Seuss books.

This is such a funny book. Who doesn't love the interplay between Sam and the grouch?! The way the grouch gets more and more exasperated and the way that Sam's suggestions get more and more outrageous is nothing short of hilarious!

The fantastic rhyming, rhythmic repetitive text in Green Eggs and Ham makes this a terrific story for kids learning to read independently.

This is also a perfect book for parents to read aloud to their child. Unlike some Dr Seuss books, this one is easy to read, with simple plain language and no real tongue twisters!

I've used Green Eggs and Ham as a library storytime book lots of times and the kids always love it. It is especially good for reading out loud with a partner as you can have so much fun as either the increasingly grumpy grouch or the wheedling pleading Sam.

I've also been surprised when rereading Dr Seuss just how many themes and morals are contained within these simple stories - the moral in Green Eggs and Ham being try new things even if you think you don't like them as you may just be surprised! And what a great book for parents to quote to their child during those wonderful dinner time discussions about eating one vegetable or another - try it and you might like it :-)

It wasn't until I started reading Dr Seuss with Maximilian that I realised just how long the books actually are. We tried One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish a few times but he hasn't taken to it at all yet (although it is my childhood fave). Green Eggs and Ham though was a hit from the first reading and we now read it every other day! In fact, Sam is the second book character that Maximilian now recognizes and knows by name - the first was Max from Where the Wild Things Are.

At 20 months, Maximilian doesn't truly understand the humour in this book. It is lovely though how he earnestly shakes his head and says "No" along with the grouches refusal to eat the green eggs and ham and how he claps at the end when he tries and likes them! And the rhythmic text keeps him totally riveted through the whole book.

Green Eggs and Ham would be a great addition to a food themed storytime session - team it with I will not ever never eat a tomato by Lauren Child, and you are guaranteed to have lots of fun!!

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