Archive for picture books (ages 4-6)

Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel

I think I would be hard-pressed to find many parents who have not read Frog and Toad to their children. They are perfect little gems of stories, great for children of varying ages (always important if you have only one voice and more than one child). And, they are wonderful to listen to in the car (or anywhere your ipod or CD player takes you) — especially since they are narrated by the great Arnold Lobel, author and illustrator of the series.

Owl at Home

Owl at Home

Much less well known but equally wonderful (honestly) is Arnold Lobel’s Owl at Home. The downside of Owl at Home is that there is only Owl (no Toad to play off Frog and Frog to play off Toad). But luckily, Owl is just silly enough to make it on his own in these stories. With a similar humor found in Frog and Toad, Lobel plays with Owl’s misunderstandings (like when he becomes scared of the two bumps at the bottom of his bed).

But, again like Frog and Toad, there is also something sweet about Owl’s silliness — like when he thinks the moon is following him home. He finally believes he has convinced the moon to stay over the lake when it hides behind the clouds but then, in his bed, he feels sad to be all alone. Guess what fills his room with light? A good friend, who knows not to leave you even when you ask him to.

A great discovery for all those who wish there were more Frog and Toad stories.

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Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

My children NEED everything. Every toy. Every book. They have no concept of what things cost, no concept of moderation, no concept of the difference between want and need. In a nutshell, they are children.

I, on the other hand, am keenly aware of money, especially in this economic climate. I am keenly aware of what things cost, the need for moderation, the difference between want and need. I am a parent, it’s my job. I hate this job. I hate this job because I can’t figure out how to acknowledge that children don’t (and maybe shouldn’t?) understand money, and yet teach them to appreciate what they have, understand the difference between want and need.

Those Shoes

Those Shoes

So enter a book. I love books. I especially love Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones. Those Shoes is the story of a boy who wants a new pair of cool shoes.

I have dreams about those shoes.
Black high-tops. Two white stripes.

My children dream of $50 Star Wars Lego sets. 

“Grandma, I want them.”
“There’s no room for ‘want’ around here — just ‘need,'”
Grandma says. “And what you need are new boots for winter.”

And thus comes the story of how our young friend deals with his wanting, how his grandmother deals with his wanting. We see the humiliation when his teacher sees how his shoes are falling apart and finds some extra shoes in “a box of shoes and other stuff he has for kids who need thing.” But these have an old cartoon animal on the side and they are not cool — they are the opposite of cool. We see the elation when he finds a pair at a thrift shop (even though they are too small and he has to squish his toes to fit them in). And then we see the amazing thing he does with the shoes. I’ll give you a clue, it has to do with another boy who wants shoes just like those but can’t afford them (and has small feet).

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How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers

There are some books that are so beautiful that you want to buy extra copies so you can cut them up and use the pages as art for your walls. OK, it might just be me. But, if you’ve ever thought you might be inclined to do that, this is the book you’d want to do it with.

How to Catch a Star

How to Catch a Star

How to Catch a Star, by Oliver Jeffers, is not only beautiful, but also whimsical, touching, stirring and just about as perfect as a book for a young child can be. The story of a boy who wants to catch his own star, How to Catch a Star is a great lesson in imagination, perseverance and learning to make do with something that isn’t exactly what you wanted.

Once there was a boy and the boy loved stars very much.

The text is just that simple, but his ideas on how to catch the star are anything but. (At one point he wants to use his rocket ship but he’s out of petrol… If I had a dime for the number of times I hate that problem.) I just love the way this book is focused on the point of view of a child, where anything is possible, as long as you try hard enough.

Does he finally catch his star? Yes, but to find out how, you’ll have to read the book. Suffice to say, it’s a good ending…

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Harriet You’ll Drive Me Wild by Mem Fox

Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild!

Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild!

Well, whether your kids are driving you wild because it’s Purim and they have too much sugar in their bodies or because it’s Tuesday (or Wednesday or…), this is the book to read. In fact, we have several copies of it at home because we read it that often. Sometimes we read it so often that it is no longer about what my kids want to read but what I NEED to read — I need to read Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild by Mem Fox, illustrated by the fantastic Marla Frazee. And if they want me to read their stories, I get to read my story.

Harriet Harris was a pesky child. She didn’t mean to be, she just was.

Could that describe our my children any better?

Harriet’s mother has about 10 pages more patience than I do, but still, I like to think we are the same person (if I had a daughter, a lot more patience, stayed at home and, well, OK, she’s not much like me). After each thing that goes wrong (Harriet accientally pulls the tablecloth and lunch dishes to the ground; Harriet drips paint all over the floor as she shows her mom her painting, etc.), Harriet’s mother (“who didn’t like to yell”), gets “angry” and each time, her statements get longer and longer:

Harriet, my darling child. Harriet, you’ll drive me wild..

And of course, each time, Harriet apologizes, as children are sometimes good at doing.

 Until the end, when Harriet pops a pillow and the feathers go everywhere. And then, well, Harriet’s mother starts to yell. And she yells and yells and yells. And then she apologizes.

Basically, it’s an average day at my house.

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Fancy Aunt Jess by Amy Hest

Fancy Aunt Jess

Fancy Aunt Jess

While writing my post about Amy Schwartz and thinking about my favorites among her books, one book that deserved a post all on its own is Fancy Aunt Jess, written by Amy Hest (of The Friday Nights of Nana fame) and illustrated by Amy Schwartz.

I adore this book. I adore how quiet it is and how sweet it is. I love the portrayal of Becky and her affection for her Aunt Jess, who she thinks of as Fancy Aunt Jess. I love that it’s a bit of a romantic book — because ultimately it concerns the fact that Aunt Jess won’t get married until she meets someone who gives her goosebumps — but it’s not over the top and embarrassing. It’s a bit of a girl book but both my boys sat through it (my oldest is already thinking about who he’s going to marry — at 5 — so he had a vested interest in figuring out how the whole marriage thing works).

But most of all, I love the fact that it turns out the characters are Jewish, which you might not have expected. It turns out that when Becky sleeps over at Aunt Jess’ house, one of the things they do is go to (a clearly Reform) shul on Shabbat. And that in fact, that’s where Aunt Jess meets Harry (uncle to a Becky-like girl Nicole). And I love the fact that the last page of the book features the two getting married — cute and romantic but not Disney — under a chuppah. Just like it’s normal for a chuppah to be the last page of a book. The characters being Jewish is really no big deal to them, it’s not a big part of the story, it’s a character in the story, a detail.

“Mama, they’re Jewish!” my 5-year old yelped when we got to the part where they go to shul. “Just like we’re Jewish.” He sees Jewish people in books all the time, but they are always Jewish books. This one just slipped it in and that made all the difference.

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Mrs. Moskowitz and the Sabbath Candlesticks by Amy Schwartz

Since it’s Friday and I’m thinking ahead to Shabbat, I thought I’d blog about one of my favorite Shabbat books — Mrs. Moskowitz and the Sabbath Candlesticks by Amy Schwartz.
Mrs. Moskowitz and the Sabbath Candlesticks

Mrs. Moskowitz and the Sabbath Candlesticks

Moskowitz (as my children like to call the book), is one of the first books published by the incredibly talented writer/ illustrator, Amy Schwartz, who is responsible for some of my favorite mainstream books — like Bea and Mr. Jones, Annabelle Swift, Kindergartener,  and A Glorious Day, to name a few. In this book, Schwartz creates a very special kind of Shabbat book — one that is perfect for families of all denominations and beliefs — no mean feat to be sure. Moskowitz is the story of an older woman who has moved from her family home where she raised her children into an apartment. “This apartment will never be a home,” she says at the beginning of the story.

However, something almost magical seems to happen when her son Sam brings her a box in her old house, a box that contains her old Shabbat candlesticks. She puts them on the table and when she wakes up the next morning, she sees how tarnished they are in the sunlight. So she buys some polish for them. Once they are polished, they look so beautiful that she can’t help but feel badly that they are sitting on such a plain table, so she finds a tablecloth. And on, and on. While the candles don’t do anything special, by the end of the week, her apartment has been completely unpacked and turned into a home — and she’s decided to invite the family over to have a nice Shabbat dinner. 

It’s a lovely story — perfect for discussing the loneliness that older adults can feel, for playing games with your children that involve having them clean things (!). It’s a great book for sharing with grandparents (in my experience, a lot of parents and grandparents tear up during the story). It’s just plain lovely.

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Bigger, Better, Best! by Stuart J. Murphy

It is sometimes incredibly frustrating how much my sons learn from TV. It’s not suppose to be like that. TV is suppose to turn their brains to mush (according to my dad), not teach them about science (thanks Magic School Bus), music (surprisingly, Backyardiggans), enrich their vocabulary (Martha Speaks) and virtually teach them to read (Word World). And no, they don’t watch that much TV, they just watch many different PBS programs…. oh well. The other day, my 5 year old told me that we shouldn’t watch too much TV because it ruins your powers to think (we were having a sick-kids-means-movies day). “That’s right!” I said, feeling proud that TV hadn’t totally rotted his brain. “Where did you hear that?” I asked. “From Sid the Science Kid,” he said nonchalantly. Stupid PBS. 

Bigger, Better, Best!

Bigger, Better, Best!

Anyway, my kids do learn a lot from books, but the science and match stuff is sometimes hard to get from a book, unless it’s the Magic School Bus. But one book that has really taught my son a lot about math is Bigger, Better, Best! by Stuart J. Murphy, part of his Math Start series. While math stories might have you thinking about two trains heading toward each other at different speeds, this story is actually quite good and applicable to children. Jeff and Jenny are always arguing about whose stuff is better. When they move to their new house, they want to know who has the bigger window, whose room is larger, etc. etc. With the aid of paper sheets, they set out to figure out the surface area of their two different shaped windows and rooms. Figuring out the surface area works nicely into the story and doesn’t turn the book into one of those didactic stories no child wants to read again. Besides, with bickering siblings, kids can relate.

By the way, Jill, the youngest, is clear that her room is best because while it’s the smallest, it’s the farthest from her bickering siblings. So you get math and values. Who said math had to be dull?

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