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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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Time for Bed by Mem Fox

Board books are generally pretty boring. Every so often you get a really funny one but for the most part, you have to read them so many times that even the best start to feel tiresome.

And then there are the bedtime books. My 3 year old still insists on hearing Goodnight Moon every night — so we don’t even read it anymore, it’s one of the “stories” he gets to hear when he’s in his crib (yes, he still sleeps in his crib — truthfully, I’d keep him in there until he’s 10 if it will keep him from getting out of bed!). So it’s high praise when I call a board book one of my favorite bedtime stories.

It's Time For Bed
Time For Bed

Time For Bed by Mem Fox is a perfect bedtime story. The words are lilting, there isn’t too much text and it’s sweet without being too sappy. It has this soothing rhythm that could honestly put my to sleep if I let it and Jane Dyer’s soft illustrations are a perfect complement. If you are dealing with a child who is too awake, there’s also a lot to look at in the book — you can point out all the animals and their animal parents, etc. And it’s the perfect message for the end of the day:

It’s time for bed little mouse, little mouse,
Darkness is falling all over the house.

It’s time for bed little calf, little calf,
What happened today to make you laugh?

Unfortunately, at the end of the day (for that’s what it is when you read this book), even a great bedtime book can’t ensure a great bedtime. Sad, isn’t it?

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Light Years by Tammar Stein

Like many people, I’m thinking a lot about Israel these days. I think that this week, as I get back on track with blogging, I’ll focus on some great Israel books. I’ve already blogged about my new favorite YA Israel novel — Freefall by Anna Levine — now it’s time to go back a bit and blog about one of my other favorite YA Israel novels: Light Years by Tammar Stein.

Light Years

Light Years

Light Years tells the story of Maya, an Israeli young woman who is just finishing her army service when a suicide bombing blows up a restaurant where her boy friend was waiting for her. The trouble is: she was trying to figure out whether to tell him she was going to still go to the U.S. to go to college, even though he didn’t want her to go.  The story is wonderful — the way it carries you back and forth between Maya’s present, where she’s in college in Virginia, and her past, in Israel with Dov in the time leading up to and following the bombing. It’s a great love story — as Maya remembers what it was to be in love with Dov, and what it means to now be falling for someone else.

But more than anything else, it takes you right back to Israel. To the way it feels to be in Israel — not with the threat of bombings, but rather with the taste of the food, the smell of the air, the way people relate to one another. It’s one of those books you don’t put down once you start reading it, that captures you. It’s one of those books that even in the cold beginning of January, in the safety of America, you remember what it feels like to be back in Israel.

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Half a World Away by Libby Gleeson

Having moved a number of times in my life, I have often felt very far away from my very best friends. However, the worst was when my childhood best friend Rachel moved across the ocean to England when I was 13.

I think about that a lot these days now that Rachel and I are back in touch, more than 20 years later, and talked on the phone, still across the ocean from one another. It’s in that spirit that I want to recommend another delightful gentle book, Half a World Away by Libby Gleeson.

Half a World Away

Half a World Away

It’s a quiet book, beautifully illustrated in soft but vivid colors by Freya Blackwood. It’s the type of book that makes you sigh when you are done, that makes you feel peaceful — perfect for that last book before bed. In it, Amy and Louie are best friends — children who do everything together, who climb through the fence between their backyards every day, who call each other to play by calling: “Coo-ee Am-ee” or “Coo-ee Lou-ee.” But then Amy, like Rachel many years ago, moves with her family to the other side of the world (presumably from the illustrations, New York) and they are separated.

Louie is despondant and wants to call out “Coo-ee Amy” but everyone tells him that she won’t hear it, that when it’s day for him, it’s night for her. Finally, his grandmother says that maybe Amy would hear it and Louie takes the chance. And that night, in a dream, Amy can hear Louie calling across the ocean: “Coo-ee Am-ee.” Soft and delightful and hopeful — a wonderful bedtime read.

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