This year has been an odd one, full of unexpected plot twists. Some months dragged on forever, while others raced ahead. I’m pretty sure we skipped August completely. At any rate, we are tiptoeing closer to Christmas, and with shipping issues being what they are, now is probably a good time to start on any planned gift shopping. Here are a few picture books that are loved in my house. Any of them would be a winner under the tree. If you’d like more suggestions, you can read my list from last year here: It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas 2020 Picture Book Edition.
Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke
We read this one with my youngest for the first time this year. It is so cute! It is the perfect length for an emerging reader, although it’s also perfect for before bed story time as well. The illustrations are adorable and the storyline is creative and fun. It follows Goblin as he sets off to rescue his best friend, Skeleton, from the evil clutches of a group of heroes.
Bach to the Rescue!: How a Rich Dude Who Couldn’t Sleep Inspired the Greatest Music Ever by Tom Angleberger, illustrated by Chris Eliopolous
My kindergartener loves historical figures. From U.S. presidents to famous writers, from authors to artists, if a person has made a mark on history, he is excited about it. This is a fun (and true!) story about Bach, written by the author of the Origami Yoda series. The pictures are zany and entertaining, and the book gets bonus points from me for adding an afterword with the historical facts.
Good Knight, Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang
The Mustache Baby books are so stinking adorable! This is the latest in the set, releasing on December seventh. I’ve already ordered a copy to give to the youngest.
Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods that Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis, illustrated by Laura Cornell
My youngest has experienced a lot of changes this year, and sometimes he struggles to know the appropriate way to express himself. I wanted him to know that whatever he feels is okay, that he isn’t “bad” if he is sad or angry. Today I feel Silly! to the rescue! The pictures are so bright and energetic and there’s a little “mood wheel” at the back, which is a lot of fun.
Sir Lilypad by Anna Kemp,illustrated by Sara Ogilvie
My husband gave me a copy of this book because he knows that I love dragons in any form I can get them (I also love children’s books). I loved it! I read it to my youngest, who was equally delighted. It would be a perfect Christmas gift for any little one!
Lives of the Writers: Comedies, Tragedies (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this book. It’s part of an entire series and they’ve been my youngest’s favorite books this year. They give information in an accessible and engaging way. They’d be a good gift for any nonfiction-loving little readers.
I suppose October is when all the ghosts and ghoulies come out to play. I’ll be honest: I’ve never been big on Halloween. More power to people who are, but it’s just not my jam. I am a fan of a good spooky book, though, and my youngest went through a phase when he loved all things Halloween related (it was an odd choice for a three year old, but…okay?)
Here’s a roundup of some spooky and not-so-spooky books for fiends of all ages. Enjoy!
For little monsters:
Most parents are familiar with the Sandra Boynton books. There are about a million of them, all with cute little critters and fun storylines. The number of times I sang the Pajama Time song with the kids is truly astonishing! Spooky Pookie is another sweet little story, this time about a pig who can’t figure out what costume to wear. It’s great for three years old and under.
The Ghost-Eye Tree
This book scared the snot out of me when I was young! This is a perfect cuddle-up-and-read-aloud kind of book, and the illustrations are amazing.
The Monster at the End of this Book
This has all the trappings of a good horror book: monsters, tension, a twist at the end! All it’s missing is the spookiness. Instead, it has something better: a great sense of humor. This one is so much fun! It’s one I think all parents should read with their littles.
For older elementary ghoulies/ middle grade ghosts:
I love this book so, so much! The Bunnicula books are a blast! They are clever and creative, full of some of the most memorable pets in print. I have fond memories of this book and I loved reading it with my oldest for the first time a few years ago.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Ah, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark! I think every adult of a certain age read these when they were young. This is the sort of book that begs to be read while eating s’mores.
The Beast and the Bethany
This book is such fun! It reminds me of nothing so much as a lighthearted, kid-friendly take on The Picture of DorianGray. The characters are delightfully nasty, the Beast is brutally entertaining, and the illustrations are a perfect addition. Plus, there’s a sequel coming before too long! Review
For Young-adult vampires:
House of Hollow
If you’re looking for eerie, this dark fairy tale/ horror is for you. It actually creeped me out a little, which is not an easy feat. I didn’t love the wrap-up at the end, but the rest of the book was great. Review
Tales from the Hinterland
Tales from the Hinterland is a creepy and clever book of shorts stories that take place in the world of author Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood. While I didn’t like the final book in the Hazel Wood duology (at all), this collection of fairy tales that take place in that world are fantastic. You don’t need to read the original series to understand or enjoy this book at all, which makes it even better. Review
The Devouring Gray
Uncanny happenings, monsters, and townsfolk who are not who they seem make The Devouring Gray a fun-filled, creepy book. It’s a quick read too, which makes it a great palette-cleanser after a heavy book. Review
For adult zombies:
Meddling Kids is a love letter to the Scooby Gang, the Goonies, or the Hardy Boys. It’s a mystery-meets-supernatural book that answers the question: what happens when those meddling kids grow up and return home to solve one last case?
In the Garden of Spite
I think books about serial killers fall into the “spooktastic” category. I was enthralled by this book from page one. I knew nothing about the Widow of La Porte before reading this and I was shocked to learn that it was based on a real person. Yikes! Review
Nothing but Blackened Teeth
While this never managed to flat-out scare me, Nothing but Blackened Teeth was nonetheless an interesting read. It had a bit of a Shirley Jackson vibe (though with gore). Review
I read this for the first time not all that long ago and holy crap! I still find myself uneasily examining it. It is engrossing and thought-provoking. It’s also believable, which makes it even more unsettling.
Of course I had to have Frankenstein on this list! There’s nothing quite so scary as watching a human play God.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
I generally prefer thought-provoking gothic horrors to gore-fests, and The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of the best examples of a smart gothic horror that I’ve read. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, I highly suggest you do.
There are many other great spooky reads that didn’t make this list, mainly because it would be way too long if I added everything. What are some of your favorite spooktastic reads?
My littlest, who loves history books and biographies more than anything else, has finally started reading picture books every now and again as well. I’m so relieved, simply because it’s hard to work on reading skills with a little kid when the print from the very adult history book he’s picked is miniscule. While books about people such as Confucius or President Taft are still his go-to, here are a few picture books from May that he picked out, as well as what we thought of them.
Great, Now We‘ve Got Barbarians! by Jason Carter Eaton, Illustrated by Mark Fearing
I bet you thought that leaving dirty dishes out could attract ants. And never picking clothes up off the floor causes mold and bugs. Nope! Being slobby attracts…barbarians! Barbarians who eat the food, destroy the room and basically become a hilarious nuisance. This kid learns the importance of cleaning up after himself after dealing with a barbaric infestation.
This book was a hit! My youngest giggled his way through it, and objected to returning it to the library. I enjoyed it too. The pictures are so much fun. There’s a lot going on that can be enjoyed and talked about. The language was simple enough the my little guy could read it, but not so simple that it read like an early reader. I give this cautionary tale points for creativity and would happily read it with my youngest again.
The Yawns are Coming! by Christopher Eliopoulos
This book is about a sleepover that is interrupted by the YAWNS (insert gasp here). These two children have a list of fun things they want to do and they aren’t going to let a little thing like sleep get in the way. They try to find ways to avoid those pesky yawns, but the next thing they know, they’re also being bothered by DOZES.
My youngest loved this one. I was a little less enthusiastic, but I didn’t hate reading it with him. The pictures are cute and so is the concept, I just would have like to see a little more happening. As far as reading level, I’d suggest this one to children who are learning their very first sight words, as it was a little simpler than some of the others on the list.
My Symphony by William Henry Channing, Illustrated by Mary Engelbreit
My Symphony happens to be one of my favorite poems and I thought the colorful illustrations would delight my youngest. Boy, was I wrong! He didn’t like this book at all. I’ll forgive him for his lack of taste (ha!) just this once: I’m pretty sure he’s not the intended age group for this particular book.
The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snickett, Illustrated by Carson Ellis, Contributed to by Nathaniel Stookey
A dastardly deed has been discovered: the composer is dead! I realize this sounds absolutely awful, and not the sort of book a five year old should read, but it’s actually great fun. A detective must figure out what has happened to the composer and who is responsible, introducing kids to different parts of the symphony as he investigates. With just a tiny touch of the macabre, and an enormous helping of creativity and fun, this was a favorite of my oldest when he was young and my youngest loved it too. In fact, you can find narrations of it on YouTube to go along with the book, if you’d like the sound of each instrument to accompany the pictures in the book.
I would love to eventually own this one.
The Traveler’s Gift: A Story of Loss and Hope by Danielle Davison, Illustrated by Anne Lambelet
I fell in love with this book. Yes, it’s a picture book and I’m an adult, but so what? It was beautiful. Liam is told magical stories of faraway lands by his father, who is a sailor. One day, his father’s ship sinks and he doesn’t return. Liam feels like the magic has been drained from the world, which is brilliantly shown by shades of gray. Eventually, he meets the Traveler, a man with a wondrous, multicolored beard filled with bits of amazing stories of the magical places he’s been. Liam travels with him and begins to see the magic in the world again. He learns that even the sad things in our life make us who we are and that our experiences shape our perspectives and give us stories that only we can tell.
My youngest was fascinated by the gorgeous illustrations and I was floored by the beautiful story and how it was told gently, but never in a condescending way. This is another one that I want to add to our large collection of picture books.
There were several rereads throughout the month, of course, and the usual deluge of historical books, but these were some of the new ones that we read together. Have you read any of these with your little one? What did you think?
My pre-kindergarten child has different interests than an average youngster. He prefers nonfiction books to fiction, and generally chooses adult books about historical figures when at the library. Obviously, this makes working on his reading skills a little difficult (he can read words like “constitution” and “liberty” on sight, but struggles with “form” vs. “from”, for example, and the font is quite a bit smaller in adult books). I would never tell him not to read the books that interest him, but I am also trying to push a picture book or easy reader here and there. Here are a few picture books that caught his attention this month!
Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke
Nobody Likes a Goblin is adorable. It was a win for my youngest, and I enjoyed it too. The imagination of the storyline, combined with the charming illustrations, kept him entertained. He happily read it to his dad and then to me afterward. The text is simple enough that an early reader can sound out the words and grow their vocabulary, which is a major plus. Nobody Likes a Goblin was a great choice for this geeky household.
Everybody’s Favorite Book by Mike Allegra, Illustrated by Claire Almon
This one had mixed reactions. My youngest enjoyed the pictures, but seemed a little less interested in the story itself. The way some of the text was set up confused him, as far as which part he should read first. He did laugh at some of the shenanigans that ensued, though. Personally, I was happy that he only wanted to read it once. It was cute, but I felt it was a little abrupt in its ending.
Mustache Duckstache by Amy Young, Illustrated by A.J. Young
Mustache Duckstache was just plain cute. There’s a facial hair competition between a bunch of animals (because why not?), with moostaches and duckstaches galore. There wasn’t a lot in the way of wording, so my youngest didn’t get much reading practice in, but so what? He thoroughly enjoyed the book, which I think makes it a win.
The Duckling Gets a Cookie? By Mo Willems
One of the many titles in the hilarious and adorable Pigeon series, my youngest and I had a great time cuddling up and reading this together. The words are simple, and the story is funny. One thing that I love about this is that it teaches about exclamation marks vs. other punctuation without being obnoxious about it. My youngest loved yelling the parts that were bolded with exclamation marks added. He’s developing his own “reader voice”, which is a blast to hear.
Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman
I have fond memories of Go, Dog, Go! from my own childhood. Watching my youngest read it was a lot of fun. There aren’t too many new words presented at once, and the vocabulary used is repeated several times throughout the book, helping those sight words stick. The illustrations are fun, and my youngest has read this many times.
It’s exciting to see my youngest mixing it up a little, and reading both nonfiction and fiction. I’m curious to see what catches his eye next. Have you read any of these with your children? What are some of their favorites?
Despite 2020 being the year that just won’t end, we’re coming up on “that time of year.” I like to give my kids at least one book for Christmas each year, so last year I posted a little list of suggestions (you can find that post here ). Here are some of my family’s picture book winners for this year, ones that are sure to make little readers happy.
The 1,2,3’s of D&D and The A,B,C’s of D&D by Ivan Van Norman and Caleb Cleveland
So, if you didn’t already know that I’m a major nerd, this will definitely give it away. These books are so much fun and I – ahem, my kid-loves them. If you look closely, you’ll find an homage to a certain red wizard hidden in one of the pages of The 1,2,3s of D&D. These books are great for little learners with big imaginations.
I’m Afraid Your Teddy is in Trouble Today by Jancee Dunn, Illustrated by Scott Nash
This adorable book is about a naughty stuffed bear and the shenanigans he gets up to with his stuffed buddies. The pictures are bright and engaging and give little ones so much to talk about. There’s no overtly-forced rhyme scheme, which is a huge plus for me. This book is a popular one in our house, and for good reason.
100 Inventions that Made History:Brilliant Breakthroughs that Shaped Our World
My five year old marches to the beat of his own drum. Not only that, he wants to know who invented the drum, when they invented it, and why. He just really enjoys nonfiction and this series of books is great. It gives a lot of really interesting information in a way that is accessible. I actually originally bought this book for my older child to use in school. My youngest has adopted it and looks at it constantly.
You are My Work of Art by Sue DiCicco
I love this book so, so much! This is a great cuddling- before- bed read. Each illustration shows a child with a sweet rhyme, but when you lift a flap, there’s a famous painting, along with information about it. It’s such a wonderful way to introduce kids to art! When my youngest outgrows it, I’ll probably save it in case he has kids some day. (Please ignore my horrible photography skills.)
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, Illustrated by Michael Martchenko
My husband actually bought this one for me because I collect all things dragon-related (I also have quite the collection of fairy tales, and this sort of fits in). Not only does the princess save the prince in this one, she decides she’s better off without him (he’s a shallow jerk). The ending is hilarious and the pictures add to the fun. This has become a family favorite.
So, there you have it: some books that I think would make great gifts. Are you planning on gifting any children’s books this year? What are some you’d recommend? You can find these great books, and more at Bookshop.org , which supports indie bookstores instead of Amazon. That’s pretty nifty. I’ll also get a little kickback at no extra cost to you, if you use my link (above).
Did you know that the second week in November is National Young Readers Week in the U.S.? This is a week to encourage and promote the love of literature in young readers. While mainly celebrated in public schools, I think all of us everywhere should get in on the fun. I’m a homeschool parent (going on seven years of homeschooling!), so my “classroom” looks a little different. Here are some ways that I encourage my young readers:
Book It! Program – This has been around since I was young and it’s as much fun now as it was then. Basically, you sign your kid up and give them a reading goal based on age or skill level. When that goal is reached, Pizza Hut provides the child with a certificate for a one-topping personal pan pizza. Yum!
Lego Magazine– I believe that this is only available in the U.S. and Canada (please correct me if I’m wrong). My kids love getting mail and this magazine, while in essence a long advertisement, still has little comics and such whatnot for young kids to read.
Origami Yoda– My oldest loves the Origami Yoda books by Tom Angleberger. They’re a blast to read. After reading them, have your kids check out the Origami Yoda website for free origami instructions. They can make their own origami Star Wars characters, and (with parental supervision) even create and submit their own foldable fun on the site. Warning: you will go through a ridiculous amount of paper while your kids fold away.
Lunch Doodle with Mo Willems– If you have a little reader, you’re probably familiar with the Pigeon books by Mo Willems. If not, you definitely need to fix that. They’re a blast! Well, author Mo Willems has a delightful YouTube channel which he started back in March when the U.S went on Quarantine lockdown. It is just a fun, calm way to encourage kids to get creating along with Mo Willems. There is also an email address where kids can send their own doodles.
I think it’s important to encourage reading of any kind. Yes, I mean that comics are just as valid as picture books, or even The Great American Novel. Reading is reading. If it excites your kid, then there’s a bigger chance they’ll keep reading. What are some great free reading resources for kids that I’ve missed? Are you doing anything special with your littles to spark a love of reading?
Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This is the second picture book following little Timothy Mean. You can find my review for book one here. Both books are available for purchase now.
Timothy Mean has an amazing imagination and a penchant for trouble. Both of these qualities send him on some fantastic time-traveling escapades, courtesy of his trusty homemade time machine. The first book saw him visit dinosaurs, vikings, and more. The second book included more historical figures, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, and Albert Einstein.
My little Toddler Tornado loves historical figures. This book is right up his alley. It’s silly and fun, but it also offers the chance for a parent to explain a little bit about who these historical figures were (or not: I think that’s the homeschool parent in me taking over).
The narrative rhymes and has a nice cadence to it. The book tells the story simply and well, without becoming too wordy to keep a little one’s attention. Of course, a picture book needs good illustrations, and the ones in this story are amazing! The author and illustrator worked together to tell a fantastic tale through both words and pictures.
As much as I enjoyed the first book, I think this one might be even better. I highly recommend picking up both books in this series. They are perfect for younger elementary-aged children.
Lately, I’ve been trying to read more outside my comfort zone. I have tried to not judge a book prematurely based on its cover (I struggle with that one, to be honest). I find this kind of funny, because children judge books first and foremost by their covers.
Before readers can read on their own, a cover is what draws them in. As an adult, the books I remember most from my childhood have amazing illustrations. I was particularly interested in fairy tales and Arthurian stories (are you surprised? I know, who would have thought?), and the amazing illustrations found in some of those books have stuck with me.
I have my own children now, and they love books too. I’ve used that as an excuse to buy myself some of my favorites from my childhood, and my husband likes to surprise me with them as well.
Here are a few of my favorite fairy tales, based on language of course, but also on the incredible pictures lurking on the pages. Pick these up for any child who likes the fantastical.
East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Mercer Mayer
Mercer Mayer is pretty popular for his Little Critter books. However, his fairy tales are absolutely stunning. The writing flows well and the illustrations are magical. Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
I’m not sure if this was the original dragon book that started my (ongoing) love of dragons, but if it wasn’t the first, it was close. Trina Schart Hyman rightfully deserves the Caldecott Award she received for her pictures in this one. Parents, plan on reading this one aloud to youngsters at first: it’s on the wordy side.
The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Michael Hague
Michael Hague is one of my favorite illustrators. His Alphabears is so charming and sweet. He lent his talents to this book and it works wonderfully. I love the whimsical touch he added.
The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft
Isn’t that art gorgeous? I have yet to add this one to my collection, but I loved it as a child. My favorite part was actually the images of the travel through the forest back and forth from the palace. It’s so beautiful.
Merlin and the Dragons by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Li Ming
There’s no way I could have a post about fairy tales and Arthurian stories without including one written by Jane Yolen. The illustrations by Li Ming bring this book to a new level. I’d happily frame the picture of the dragons and hang it on my wall.
Beauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by Mercer Mayer
Are you noticing a trend? I am. Let’s just go ahead and say that any fairy tale illustrated by Mercer Mayer is going to be beautiful. I also highly suggest Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like and Sleeping Beauty.
Rumpelstiltskin by Paul O. Zlinsky
Okay, I know Rumpelstiltskin is supposed to be the villain, but I contend that everyone in this story is a little shady. Either way, I love the pictures in this version. This is another Caldecott Award winner, and with good reason.
The Kitchen Knight by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
Last, but most certainly not least, I have another Arthurian tale illustrated by the incomparable Trina Schart Hyman. If only I had an iota of the talent she possesses. Sigh. Absolutely amazing.
What do you think? Are any of these household favorites? What amazingly illustrated fairy tales do I need to check out?
Meet Zara! She’s a smart, friendly, and curious girl who loves to visit her Auntie. This is a FRACTURED version of a famous tale. This retelling of Little Red Riding Hood takes the reader to the Louisiana swamps where we meet a new character in Cory the Crocodile. Will Little Red follow her mother’s rules? Will Cory the Croc succeed? Find out what happens when they meet on a journey. (taken from Amazon)
Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.
As you can probably tell from the above description, this children’s book is a twist on Little Red Riding Hood. Instead of Red, there’s a sweet little girl named Zara. She is supposed to bring her goodies to her aunt Moshee. Her mother warns her to go straight there, without getting distracted or talking to strangers. Of course, she doesn’t listen. If she had, there wouldn’t be a story. Instead, Zara befriends a sneaky (and hungry) crocodile.
I read this to my toddler, seeing as it’s intended for kids. He enjoyed the twist on the classic fairy tale, as did I. It was charming, and the fact that the crocodile doesn’t get cut open in this version is a win in my book.
It is a bit longer than I would expect a young child to sit still for. I’d recommend this one for ages 4 through 6ish. It’s a good tool to use when talking to your kids about stranger danger. The lesson was taught in a fun way.
I do wish there were more illustrations because they were so incredibly cute. However, this was a great book overall, and one that I think most kids would enjoy.
Have you read this to your little ones? What did they think?
I have two children, both of whom love books. My oldest taught himself to read at a very young age, and is able to read pretty much anything (he’s a big fan of the dictionary, which is also pretty cool). The Toddler Tornado can’t read just yet, but he loves to listen to me read and is constantly looking at books. Recently, I was asked for tips on raising kids who love books. I can only give suggestions based on my limited experience, but here are some things that have worked for my kids:
1. Make reading aloud a daily activity: I love reading to my kids. It’s an excellent bonding experience, as well as a good way to encourage an early love of books. I still read aloud to my oldest, even though he’s perfectly capable of reading his own books. It’s special for my kids, and it’s special for me. They won’t be kids forever; I’ll cherish my memories of reading to them. At the moment, we’re going through Alice: Through the Looking Glass.
2. Do the voices: It’s okay to be silly. Make it fun! If you’re reading about a grumpy lion, for example, give him a gruff, cantankerous voice. My toddler loves books about historical figures. I give them accents. I’m absolutely horrible at doing accents, so there are lots of giggles. Making your child laugh is the best!
3. Take trips to the library: If you’re lucky enough to have a library nearby, take advantage of it! My husband and I take the kids every Saturday. Libraries often have fun activities your kids can participate in as well. Plus, as long as you don’t accrue huge late fees, it’s free fun!
4. Let them choose: It’s easy to pick the books that you are okay reading ad nauseam, since youngsters can get hung up on reading the same thing over and over. However, if you allow your kids to pick their own books, it will spark their interest. When we take a trip to the bookstore, my oldest picks fantasy novels. My toddler chooses adult history books, especially ones about the U.S presidents. We’ve gotten some odd looks over that, but he loves them, so that’s what he gets.
5. Add activities: I think this is the homeschool parent in me making itself known, but if I can add extra fun to reading time, I’m all over that jazz. For example, after reading Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late by Mo Willems, I found a printout on Pinterest (I love Pinterest!) that had a picture of the pigeon and a speech bubble where kids could add their own “Don’t let the pigeon…”. It was a blast! Eat strawberries after reading The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big, Hungry Bear. Things like that add extra fun.
6. Be an example: Let your kids see you reading! If they grow up seeing reading as a fun activity, they’ll realize that it is. I love this tip, because I can use it as an excuse for the amount of reading I do. It doesn’t happen often, because my toddler doesn’t like holding still for long, but I love the rare occasion when everyone is sitting and reading their own favorite book. It’s a wonderful, cozy feeling.
So, there you have it! How about you? What suggestions do you have for raising readers?