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!