The Children's Book Garden

Reading and weeding through the best and worst of children's literature

Quirky Counting Story Worth Searching For November 5, 2010

Filed under: Animal books,Beautiful Books,Favorites,Read aloud,Uncategorized — snowbrice @ 5:13 pm

I usually find counting and sequential stories cumbersome to read.  My tongue gets dry and twisted constantly repeating the same sentences over and over.  But, An Invitation to the Butterfly Ball: A Counting Rhyme, by Jane Yolen is actually fun to read.  This quirky book is about a little elf who goes to the homes of woodland animals with an invitation to a butterfly ball.  Each animal in turn is frantic about not finding the perfect outfit or accessory to wear.  The mouse needs a “floor length dress”, the rabbits are frantically searching for “baubles and laces”, and the skunks are looking for “one clean suit.”  I also appreciate the use of descriptive vocabulary.  There are plenty of opportunities to discuss the meaning of words such as “mournful”, “crimson”, and “silken.”

The watercolor illustrations pay homage to Beatrix Potter without being direct copies.  Each painting incorporates intricate details that deserve more than a dismissive glance.  They each tell a story within the story with characters and plot.  Parents and older children will delight at the irony of skunks fighting over a pinstripe suit and turtles that wish to wear party slippers.

Unfortunately, this story is out of print and it will cost you upwards of $50 to buy a copy.  Thankfully, we have public libraries.  Or if enough of us harass her, maybe we can get Jane Yolen to publish it again.


Red Sings from Treetops July 4, 2010

Filed under: Beautiful Books,Favorites,Read aloud — Maiaoming @ 10:27 am

Red Sings From TreetopsThis gorgeous book by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski sings,res are as the title suggests, with colorful lyricism. It is a pleasure to read aloud – to taste the words, with images that often surprise and delight – this is a real poem as much as it is a book for children, with the kind of rich density that makes poems re-readable, endlessly. The pictures are equally enchanting. And the way the colors move through the seasons keeps my four and two-year-old coming back for more.

The descriptions are accurate to the imagination:


White clinks in drinks.

Yellow melts

everything it touches…

smells like butter,

tastes like salt.


Makes a great gift.


Good Books by Demi February 22, 2010

Yes, this is a rebuttal to Amy’s post about Rumi by Demi.  While I agree that particular book is not so great for kids, one should not write Demi off completely.  We own two books by her, The Empty Pot and Liang and the Magic Paintbrush.  Both of these are wonderful stories that teach children about morals and integrity without being too preachy.  Both stories are adaptations of Chinese folk-tales.  Demi’s illustrations look like ancient paintings on silk.  They have the look and feel of authentic Chinese art.

We also have a book of poetry illustrated by Demi.  The poems are all about insects and feature a variety of poets from Rumi to Shakespeare.  The illustrations are vibrant and iridescent.  The insects are more beautiful on the pages than they are in reality.

So, please , read Demi’s books to your children.


Big Bear the Patient Parent January 26, 2010

Tonight, I read Let’s Go Home, Little Bear by Martin Waddel to my daughters.  Big Bear and Little Bear are on a walk in the snow in the forest, when Big Bear decides it is time to go home.  Little Bear starts off very confident, frolicking through the snow, but then he begins to hear strange sounds that cause him a bit of anxiety.  Big Bear reassures Little Bear by explaining to him that what he is hearing is just the sounds of the forest: snow from a tree plopping to the ground, water dripping from icicles, etc.  All the while patiently guiding Little Bear home.

I like this book because it reminds me to be patient with my children.  It reminds me that the world is new, and sometimes scary to them, and I need to reassure them that they are safe.  I must guide my children slowly and patiently.

My daughters seem to get the message that their parents will protect them.  We will be watching over them as they frolic along in front of us, and we will explain the world around them when they are scared, anxious, and confused.


Mice and Magic December 18, 2009

Filed under: Animal books,Favorites,Friendship,Uncategorized — snowbrice @ 3:46 am

Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse by Leo Lionni is one of my all time favorite books.  Alexander is a mouse who is lonely until he meets Willie, a toy wind-up mouse.  Alexander wants to be just like Willie because Willie is loved by everyone.  Alexander hears about a lizard in the garden who can grant wishes, so he goes to meet him so that he can become a beloved wind-up mouse just like Willie.  The lizard tells him to bring him a purple pebble “when the moon is round.”  Alexander goes on a mad search for a purple pebble, but to no avail.  He returns to the house to find Willie in a box of toys ready to be thrown out.  The little girl who owned Willie has just celebrated a birthday and has no use for her old toys.  As Alexander listens to Willie’s tale of woe, he spots a purple pebble.  He runs to the lizard in the garden.  When the lizard asks him what he wishes to change into, Alexander surprisingly asks the lizard to change Willie into a real mouse.  The lizard grants the wish and the two mice dance off happily ever after.

This book has always captured my imagination.  As a child I was entranced by the magic, and I am still today.  I love how Alexander goes in search of a magic lizard to solve his problems.  It is a kind of mouse “Aladdin” story.

I also love that Alexander puts his friend before himself.  In the beginning he is jealous of Willie and all the attention he gets.  He wants to be loved just like Willie.  In the end, he realizes that he is loved…by Willie.

I am also fascinated by the lizard.  Why a magic lizard?  Is it just because it rhymes with wizard?  Are lizards thought to have magical powers?  I have always felt that there was something deep and mystical about the lizard.  When I read his parts I try to sound mysterious and commanding.  Sort of like the Wizard of Oz.

Leo Lionni was a master at creating deep and intricate stories for children.  Somehow, his books are at one time quick to read, but loaded with values and morality.  They are all magic in their own way.


Five for Under Five: Amy’s Top Holiday Gift Ideas December 16, 2009

Take a book and make it a package! For the younger set, here’s books that make great gifts:

Princess Smartypants and Princess Smartypants Rules
Prince Cinders and King Change-a-Lot
Babette Cole
Make a package: Pair these pairs – or mix and match – of irreverent, romping tales with the usual royal dress-up gear – frilly dress, a crown – mixed in with some dragony dinosaur pets and some cowgirl boots for a complete package to widen a young girl’s imagination about the reinvention of princess-hood and a young boy’s burgeoning conceptualization of masculine desire.

Fancy Nancy Splendiforous Christmas
by Jane O’connor and Robin Preiss Glasser
Just published in October, this pleasing treat makes a fancy girl think.
The Complete Treat: Spend an hour in a thrift store stuffing a bag of lace, fake pearls, and other Punky Brewster-esque trimmings; for an extra dash of class, a book about France, some French music, and/or an introduction to learning French will tie learning into the story.

Harold and the Purple Crayon 50th Anniversary Edition
Crockett Johnson
A classic juicer for the imagination.
The Kit: Obviously – crayons. You can never go wrong with a lovely new package of crayons. And paper. No – don’t get that new stuff that doesn’t stain anything or that you erase. Go old fashioned. It’s a classic combo and perfect for the kid who has everything.

Mad About Madeline
Ludwig Bemelmans
Fun, adventurous, and French, this complete collection of the Madeline series will be a favorite. And the rhymes are fun to read over and over and over… a must for any book you actually purchase, unlike those library books you can dump off when you, the reader, can’t take it anymore…

More merriment: There’s the “learn about France” route, as mentioned above; there’s the dolls, the video, the accessories.

The Story of Ferdinand
Munro Leaf
The classic tale with simple drawings that inspires us all with an appreciation for a strong, masculine figure who prefers smelling flowers to violent displays. Buy it in English AND Spanish for those enterprising kids who are bilingual already and showing you up.
The Hilarious Combo: A bull chia pet! Or a miniature herb garden. I always think simple, easy-to-grow plants are amazing presents for little kids. They’ll enjoy getting their hands dirty, and they won’t stress when the thing dies.


For the Love of Pancakes November 30, 2009

Filed under: Favorites,Single mothers,Uncategorized — snowbrice @ 3:09 am

I love pancakes, and so do my daughters.  I will pat my own back for a moment and admit that I make the most delicious whole wheat pancakes from scratch.  The brown sugar and extra vanilla make for an absolutely divine pancake experience.

However good my pancakes may be, I have nothing on Jack and his mother in Eric Carle’s Pancakes, Pancakes.  In this story, Jack really wants a big pancake for breakfast, but his mother is busy with chores, and he has to help gather the ingredients.  That should be easy, one would think, but not in this household.  Jack has to thresh the wheat, gather the eggs, milk the cow, churn the butter, and so on, just to make one pancake.  But I am sure that it is worth it.

Eric Carle is an extremely prolific children’s book author.  He is most famous for The Very Hungry Caterpiller.  His books are wonderful for toddlers because they are repetitive and brightly colored.  They teach young children patterns and sequencing.  They are also lots of fun for little ones to chant back to parents.

Pancakes, Pancakes takes the skill of sequencing to a more abstract level for slightly older children.  Children are aware of the finished product of pancakes, but in this story they get to learn where each of the ingredients come from.  It also raises their awareness of the complexities of the food on their tables.  Sort of an Omnivore’s Dilemma for the early elementary crowd.  My girls always ask lots of questions about wheat production while we read the book.  I have even taken them on an impromptu field trip to the water wheel at  Michie’s Tavern (near Monticello in Charlottesville, VA ).

And, to top off this great book, Eric Carle includes a very simple recipe for pancakes at the end.  Perfect!