Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Baby Danced the Polka

I got Baby Danced the Polka by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas for Henry's birthday and it is my absolute favorite book right now. It is a pretty long book by Henry's standards, but it's such a bouncy, rhyme-y, fun book that he's up for a reading (if not two) each night. The illustrations are simple, but not boring. I particularly love the round, happy baby.

Mama and Papa put Baby down for a nap while they try to get their chores done, but instead of sleeping, Baby and his stuffed animals keep escaping the crib to do some dancing. Finally, Mama and Papa give up on making Baby nap when he's clearly not sleepy. (I've been there. How about you?) And after just a bit of grumbling, they decide to join in the dancing fun.

Not really a great message for a naptime/bedtime book, but Henry isn't quite hip to that yet. You might want to share it with older kids (who may immitate Baby's tactics) at a more neutral time. But it is so much fun for reader and the read-to alike. I find myself almost humming the rhymes in my head as I'm brushing my teeth. So be forewarned, it does get stuck in your head, but not in a crappy 80s pop tune kind of way. Here's an example:

"Whoa! Papa's whiskers!

Whoa! Mama's wig!

"Go!" Baby giggled with the polka-dotted pig.

Did you hear what Mama told you?

Did you hear what Papa said?

It's your naptime, little baby.

Now you better stay in bed!

But instead..."

Well, you'll just have to find out now, won't you? I cannot recommend this book highly enough. You absolutely need it if you have a little one in the house.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Old Granny and the Bean Thief

Sorry for the month-long absence! We had birthdays and visitors and all sorts of things. Plus, I'm working on a super-cool new craft project. (More on that later.)

Anyway, here is another one of my top go-to books from my school visiting days: Old Granny and the Bean Thief by Cynthia DeFelice, illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith. This is a book that I'm sure I would have barely glanced at if I'd seen it in a store. But I flipped though it when it arrived in the new book shipment for the library branch for which I was working and immediately realized that it would go over big at the elementary schools. Two words: talking poop!

On a side note (and just because I want keep you in suspense for another moment or two), that was one really great thing about working for a library. Every so often, you'd receive a big stack of brand new books to read. It felt like Christmas! Some books that turned out to be favorites were ones I wasn't especially interested in when the book committee chose to buy them (libraries most often buy books based on reviews from a few trusted trade journals), so it's really great to have several librarians doing the picking.

Okay, so I wouldn't have chosen Old Granny. I don't really dig the artwork, but the story is a winner. It's a cumulative tale, meaning that over the course of the story events and characters pile up one another in repetitive way, often with a phrase or squence of events repeated over and over. Think, "There Was and Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" or "The Gingerbread Man."

In this instance, Old Granny lives by herself and is generally happy so long as she has a ready supply of her favorite meal of beans. But when a bean thief steals her beans three nights in a row, Old Granny decides she must make her way through the desert to visit the sheriff and tell him about the bean thief. Along the way, she encounters a succession of talking critters and objects, including a talking cow patty, who ask her to bring them back home with her. Upon finding that the sheriff has "Gone Fishin'," Old Granny agrees to bring whole motley assortment home and together they foil the thief.

It's a really good, original folktale-like story. And while there is scatalogical humor, it isn't done in a gross-out way. The kids love it if you ham up the part where Granny has to hold her nose and put the cow patty in the bag. Although, I kind of had to lead them to the realization that a cow patty is poo in the first place because some of them had never heard the term. There's always at least one kid in the class who A) knows what it is or B) can put two and two together. That's where audience participation comes in handy. It's also a lot of fun to get the kids helping you tell the story by encouraging them to repeat Old Granny's catch-phrase, "In a pig's eye, my, oh, my." It's great fun to read aloud and I wasn't totally sick of it even after shopping it around to fifty or so classrooms a year. So, hooray for Old Granny and hooray for talking cow patties! Now go grab a copy!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gone With the Wind

No, I'm not recommending this book for kids (although, come to think about it, I read it at the tender age of 11).

Just jumping on to say that we are temporarily staying in a hotel as our power is still out from the highs winds that passed through Virginia on Sunday. Right now, it's me and baby in a tiny room while Dave is at work. We're getting a little stir crazy. I'm way behind on birthday preparations, but I will try to post some more recommendations soon!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Go Away, Big Green Monster!

Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley consists of a series of cut-out illustrations ("two big yellow eyes, "one big green nose," etc.) that build upon one another to make the face of the big, green, monster and then dissolve page by page when the monster is told to go away. The artwork is bold, bright, and simple and each cut-out is just begging to be explored by little fingers. (I mentioned in my last post that there are tons of board books being made from books that are more appropriate for an older audience. Well, here is an instance where I wonder why a book hasn't been published in board book form.)

Children's librarians do a lot of outreach visits to daycares, preschools, and elementary schools. Often, we don't know much about our audiences before we enter the room, so I would always bring a few books that I knew from experience would get a favorable reception no matter what. Go Away, Big Green Monster was one of these and boy, did it come in handy.

Not once, but three times, I found myself in a classroom where, unbeknownst to me before I arrived, the majority of the children spoke only Spanish. The first time this happened, I sweated through a storybook while the kids looked totally bored and disinterested. My Spanish is rusty and rudimentary. However, four years of high school classes and one of college had drilled the question, "Como se dice ______?" into my brain. So, next, I pulled out Go Away, Big Green Monster! and on the nose page, for example, I'd say "Como se dice nose?" The kids had a great time yelling out the Spanish word and cracking up that a grown woman didn't know such basic words. (I didn't mention above, but my other critera for my go-to books was that they elicited lots of audience participation.) It saved my storytime butt on several following occasions, and is a real testament to the fun of the book that it can easily play in another language.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Each Peach Pear Plum

Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg is a classic that I knew about, but largely overlooked when I was working as a librarian. The pictures are much too detailed for a large storytime audience, so it managed to fly under my radar. Each illustration has an "I Spy" element related to a fairy tale or nursery rhyme. For instance, on one page you see Mother Hubbard and are asked to spy Cinderella whos outstretched hand wielding a feather duster you can see emerging from behind a pile of suitcases. The characters are never complicatedly hidden, so little ones can easily find them and experience a sense of accomplishment. The other details in the illustrations and on the cover page lend themselves to lots of discussion and make the books fun to look at over and over.

Since it assumes a knowledge of basic nursery rhymes and fairy tales, it both leads to other stories and reinforces a child's knowledge of these tales. (I'll save my soapbox rant on the importance of fairy tales and nursery rhymes to child development for another post.) This book is a bit advanced for Henry, but by the end of the year, he may be getting in to it. Kids from almost three up to age five or six will really get a kick out of it.

I have to mention that I was a bit surprised by two of the illlustrations. The first shows the Three Bears going hunting and Baby Bear accidentally shooting Baby Bunting's basket out of a tree. The second shows Robin Hood trying to shoot down the Wicked Witch with arrows. To be fair, many fairy tales and even some nursery rhymes contain violent imagery and I think that sanitizing them often robs them of their power. I'm personally not thrilled about the depiction of firearms and the necessary discussion of safety these illustrations will elicit in a book for such a young crowd, but the book has enough other merits that I'm trying to overlook it.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Board Books for the Birthday Boy: Global Babies

My little one is almost one! He's been read to nearly daily since he was born, but it wasn't until sometime around six month old that he made any indication that he was actually interested. Before that, he would screech like an angry monkey about halfway through the book and then bat it out of our hands. Our persistance paid off, though, and now he screeches like an angry monkey when the book ends!

Against our best intentions he got a glut of toys for Christmas (albeit mostly homemade or natural wood), so his birthday is going to be all about the books. It was really hard to stick to our self-imposed money limit, but I think I made good choices.

We just received the first two in the mail: Global Babies by The Global Fund for Children and Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. Let me just start by saying it's really hard to find good board books. Lots of the books out today are just board versions of books that were intended for an older audience with too much text and small illustrations that just don't hold the attentions of little ones. Or, they have the bold photos or simple illustrations that babies love, but come off like a collection of clip art.

I was expecting the latter when I ordered Global Babies, and was pleasantly surprised to find those expectations surpassed. While his favorite face is his own (seriously, he lights up whenever he gets a glimpse in the mirror), like most babies, my son loves to look at other kids. This book features close-ups of babies from around the world, with an emphasis on third-world countries. The photos are coffee table book quality gorgeous. I love the fact that the children are in both traditional dress and modern clothing and as a babywearing mama, I think it's really neat that many of the babies are depicted being worn by an adult.

I think my favorite thing about this book is that each baby, no matter how "foreign" the location, is captured in a moment that babies and parents can recognize as familiar. Seeing the same impy expression Henry often gets mirrored on the face of a child half a world away brought tears to my eyes.

So often, I'm struck both by how lucky I am that Henry was born into a safe place where I have the luxury of imagining a happy future for him and by the realization that such luck is a precarious thing that many mamas and babies have lost or never had. I remember rocking newborn Henry and listening to a CD of lullabies. Before I had him, I'd never realized the sad, lonely, fearful quality of many traditional lullabies. It connected me in a bittersweet way to all the women who've held a fragile life in their hands and worried about the future.

Looking at this book brings up similar emotions (for me--Henry will just dig the baby pictures). That such a simple book as this can hold so much makes it one of my new favorites.

Check back tomorrow for Each Peach Pear Plum.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Welcome, Readers!

Hi, all!

Welcome to the new, improved Straw Into Gold! It's a new year and I've got lots of ideas brewing. While there will still be some crafty goodness (stay tuned for information on my new store at etsy), I'm shifting the focus of this blog.

In my pre-baby life, I was a children's librarian. I loved coming across new and wonderful books. For years, I didn't even bother reading adult books, as some of the best, honest, most heartfelt literature is being written with young people in mind.

Now that I'm a stay at home mom, I find myself missing the ability to share my favorite books with kids and their parents. So, I came up with the idea of revamping this blog to focus on literature for babies, children, and young adults. It's a great motivator for me to stay up on all the great books being published, many of which don't end up being featured at your local large bookstore chain.

More importantly, I want to do this as a service to parents who are looking for new books for their kids to enjoy. In that vein, I love a good reference question, so feel free to email me (amy ruth webb at gmail dot com) with questions or just leave me a comment. Nothing makes me happier than matching a child with the perfect book.

Check back in a day or so for some acutal recommendations!