Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Books for New Babies and Parents, too!

The birth of a baby is such magic. This is my precious Emmy just a day old. What I remember most is the warmth - her body and my body so close that we were magically one in the same. I thought this feeling would be lost when she entered the world, but instead it only intensified. This post is to celebrate the birth of our babies... yesterday, today and tomorrow!

Let's begin our celebration by acknowledging the first nine months with a delightful book titled Ma! There's Nothing to Do Here: A Word From Your Baby-in-Waiting written by Barbara Park (of Junie B.Jones fame) and illustrated by Viviana Garofoli. If a baby in utero were to write a letter to his "Ma," he might say something like this:

"There's nothing to see here! Not one scrawny tree here! No puppies. N0 toys. No girls and zero boys. Not a sandbox or swings. Or those monkey bar things. Not a park or a zoo. Ma! There's nothing to do here!"

Ms. Park came up with the idea for this book when her daughter-in-law invited her to her first sonogram (sonograms were not used at the time of Barbara's pregnancies). As she watched the baby on the screen, she realized that the baby wasn't doing much. Perhaps he had nothing to do in there! This sparked Barbara to write a poem, cleverly narrated in the voice of the unborn child, to give to her daughter-in-law and later made into a book.

This sweet story would be the perfect gift for expectant mothers and the perfect read aloud at a baby shower with the guests then writing their own "notes from utero" to be collected and presented to the Mommy to be!

My favorite book to welcome a new baby is On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier.

On the day you were born the Earth turned, the Moon pulled, the Sun flared, and, then, with a push, you slipped out of the dark quiet where suddenly you could hear...a circle of people singing with voices familiar and clear.

In Debra's words, "I have always liked to write letters, and people often would say to me, 'Why don't you write books?' My first one, On the Day You Were Born, came unexpectedly as the result of a difficult pregnancy with our only child, Calla. Early in the pregnancy, when things were at their darkest, I asked a nurse at the hospital to bring me some paper so I could write down all the things on earth that would welcome my daughter, if she would just get here. Later, after her safe arrival, I took this jumble of words and scribbled drawings and began to turn them into the book that became On the Day You Were Born."

As has become a tradition in our family, a book is presented to Emmy on each of her birthdays with a special letter written on the first page. The book On the Day You Were Born was given to Emmy on her second birthday with the following note,

"Happy Second Birthday Emerson. We are celebrating the day you were born. The day a circle of people sang with voices familiar and clear. 'Welcome to the spinning world. Welcome to the green Earth. We are so glad you've come!' We are forever grateful for your birth and your life with us. We love you forever and ever. Love, Mommy and Daddy."

Another favorite book to present to a newborn baby is On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman.

Ms. Tillman created this book to convey to children at an early and impressionable age that they are "the one and only ever you." According to Nancy, "Too many children are unaware of their innate, immeasurable value. It is my dearest hope that this book will help give children a deep sense of their personal worth."

This enchanting tale begins,

On the night you were born, the moon smiled with such wonder that the stars peeked in to see you and the night wind whispered, "Life will never be the same." Because there had never been anyone like you...ever in the world.

Next on my list of favorite new baby books is Happy Birthday to Whooo? A Baby Animal Riddle Book

by Doris Fisher and illustrated by Lisa Downey. In baby announcement style, this book gives the reader riddles to solve through informative facts and clues in the partially hidden illustrations. Such as:

The Latest Word In Our Herd! Born September 23 and tipping the scale at 250 pounds, my baby stands 3 feet high at the shoulders. New Mother: Ms. Ivor E. Tusks

Included at the end of the book are Animal Fun Fact pages and a numbers game as well as a creative writing page where a child could create a birth announcement for himself or a baby brother or sister. Of all the books mentioned in this post, this is Emmy's favorite.

Another favorite book to present to a new baby is If You Were Born a Kitten by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by JoEllen McAllister Stammen. It is the sweetest story showing, through pictures and rhyme, twelve different types of animal babies
entering the world including a human baby.

If you were born a kitten, you'd slip into the world in a silvery sac, and your mother would lick, lick, lick you free.

And another wonderful book for a newborn is Fiddle-I-Fee by Will Hillenbrand. This is a delightful story based on the folk song titled 'Bought Me a Cat.'
Hillebrand's illustrations cleverly show a farmer and his wife preparing for a new baby as their animals secretly meet at night to plan a surprise of their own. The sheet music is included at the beginning of the book, but if you're anything like me, you might like to hear the tune so click here to listen.

And finally...on the day Emmy was born we gave her the book Before You Were Born retold by Howard Schwartz and illustrated by Kristina Swarner. This book retells
a folktale where the indentation that everyone has on their upper lip is explained.

But the moment you were born, Lailah put her finger to your lips, reminding you to keep everything that she had taught you a secret. That is how you got the indentation on your upper lip. It is your reminder of all that Lailah taught you before you were born...and all that you have forgotten.

Lailah, according to Jewish legend, is the angel of conception who brings together the soul and the seed in the womb and stays with the unborn infant sharing the mysteries of heaven and all the secrets of the world. The instant the child emerges, the angel lightly places its finger to the child's lip, as if to say "Shh," which causes the child to forget everything learned in the womb and places an indentation above the upper lip. The story implies that the knowledge is present just merely forgotten and the child has the rest of her life to learn all of the wondrous secrets again.

As a mom, I can think of no better gift for a newborn baby and his or her parents than the gift of a book. I hope these recommendations are helpful to you as you think of your own home library or that of a friend's or relative's.


You are the poem
I dreamed of writing
the masterpiece
I longed to paint.
You are the shining star
I reached for In my
ever hopeful quest
for life fulfilled..
You are my child.
Now with all things
I am blessed.

~Author Unknown~

Friday, December 4, 2009

Our Favorite Christmas Books

I began this post about our favorite Christmas books on December 4th. It is now December 15th - 10 days before Christmas! This time of year always goes by so very fast even with efforts to SLOW THINGS DOWN!

What's wonderful about this year's holiday season is that Emmy really gets it. She is full of anticipation and talks non stop about Santa Claus and his upcoming arrival. With our move to Massachusetts, we are both hoping for a white Christmas this year.

Part of our holiday decorating this year has been putting our Christmas books into beautiful baskets. We have a rather large selection and Emmy and I wanted to be sure to share with you our favorite Christmas books before the season is over!

First on our list is Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry.
This book was written in 1963 and is one of my all time favorite
Christmas stories. It begins with wealthy, old Mr. Willowby's too tall Christmas tree and trickles down to the smallest mouse in the house.

Then Mistletoe Mouse just happened to see that tiny tip of a Christmas tree. He pulled it through the snow and
ice...up some stairs...he fell down twice! At last he reached his cozy house. "It's just the right size!" said Mrs. Mouse. Then at the top, if you please, they put a star made out of cheese.

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree was also produced as a television Christmas special in 1995 starring Robert Downey, Jr. and The Muppets. Here's a clip of the opening song which was nominated for an Emmy.

I would love to show this to Emmy in its entirety, but can't find it! Come on TV stations, bring back Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree to the holiday lineup!

Second on our list of favorites is Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present by John
Burningham. As Santa is retiring for the evening, he notices one present left in his sack. With the reindeer exhausted, Santa enlists the help of several people, from an airplane pilot to a mountain climber, in order to deliver the present to Harvey Slumfenburger before Christmas morning. Emmy loves to say the following words along with me:

My name is Santa Claus. I still have one present left in my sack, which is for Harvery Slumfenburger, the little boy who lives in a hut at the top of the Roly Poly Mountain, which is far, far away.
And it will soon be Christmas Day.

John Burningham's illustrations are exquisite. Emmy's favorite picture is the one of Santa Claus finally arriving at Harvey's hut.

"Mommy look how beautiful the sky looks. I think the sun is coming up. Santa just made it!"

Third on our list is Redbird at Rockefeller Center by Peter Mahoney and Felicia Zekauskas.
Told in a rhyme reminiscent of Dr. Seuss this book tells the story of a giant spruce found in the yard of Kate and her mom.

There once was a tree of a height to astound that people could see for
miles around. It towered above the house of a lady who found it too tall and overly shady.

With a phone call from the mother, the tree becomes the famous Christmas tree towering above the ice skaters at Rockefeller Center. Only Kate knows that hidden among the branches is a redbird and is heartbroken that the tree has been cut down. Luckily the holiday season is a time of magic and miracles, and with the help of the tree's ornaments (redbirds - of course), the lonely redbird and the tall spruce make their way back home again. The illustrations humorously show the hustle and bustle of New York City during the holiday season. Emmy's favorite drawing is of the mother. She just cracks up at her hairdo - a rather tall beehive!

Last on our list is Who'll Pull Santa's Sleigh Tonight? by Laura Rader. This is a sequel to
Santa's New Suit, which is also a great holiday read. When the reindeer all come down with colds, Santa needs a back up plan and quick. He decides to hold auditions in order to find stand ins. A large crowd gathers to try out including ducks, rabbits, monkeys and an elephant, but none was right for the job. Next, Santa tries his own invention, but that doesn't work out either. When Mrs. Claus suggests bringing him a cup of hot cocoa to make him feel better, they both know just what to do. HOT COCOA! After the reindeer drink Mrs. Claus' hot cocoa, they stop sniffling and sneezing and are ready to fly!

Hot cocoa for all and to all a good night!

Emmy just laughs and laughs at the antics of the characters in this story and wants me to read the "talking bubbles" over and over again. Included is the recipe for Mrs. Claus' hot cocoa! We are looking forward to reading the next book in the series...When Santa Lost His Ho! Ho! Ho!

Emmy and I hope that this holiday season brings you joy, love and laughter.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up

If you, like me, are ever stuck on what book to read with your child or what book to buy as a gift, then I have found a wonderful resource for you. Julia Eccleshare, a regular contributor to children's book publishing, has compiled a list of the best classic and contemporary children's literature to date. The title of the book is 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up and is the latest work in the bestselling 1001 series.

The collection is organized by age group from board books to young adult novels and features informed reviews of each entry by a team of international critics complete with beautifully reproduced artwork from the featured titles. Whether you are a parent seeking to instill a love of reading in your child, an educator looking for inspiration, or a young reader with a voracious appetite, this guide covers the best of the best in children’s literature. You will find beloved classics such as Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are as well as works from around the world such as Jamela's Dress (a modern South African tale) and Anancy Spiderman (Caribbean versions of the spider trickster tales)

Providing the preface for this book is acclaimed children's book writer Quentin Blake who was appointed as Britain's first Children's Laureate.

"Every now and then a golden age of children's books is announced,
but there are glitterings of gold all through their history, and
Julia Eccleshare's book sifts out a thousand and one for us."

Quentin describes Julia's work in 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up as a guidebook filled with maps and hints to help us on our journey through the magical world of children's books. I completely agree. As you weave your way through the aisles of books in your local bookstore or library, use this book as your guide.

Two more wonderful resources to help with choosing children's books are:

Jim Trealeses' The Read-Aloud Handbook and Esme Raji Codell's book How to Get Your Child to Love Reading.

Let me conclude this post with a quote from "Becoming a Nation of Readers" a national report by the Commision on Reading:

"The single most important activity for building the knowledge

required for eventual success is reading aloud to children."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

When I Was A Girl...I Dreamed

Emmy's Aunt Karen bought the book, When I Was A Girl...I Dreamed, for Emmy when she was just a baby. The illustrator, Mark Ludy, lives in Colorado which allowed Karen the opportunity to meet him and have the book autographed with the inscription "Aunt Karen believes in you."

This beautiful story is written by Margaret Baker & JP Matott and follows the memory of an old woman as she reveals her past dreams. She is seen dancing The Nutcracker, painting in Paris (a favorite page for Emmy), living in a castle surrounded by a moat, being the archaeologist to uncover the tomb of the five kings, and restoring law in the Wild West. As the dream-telling is told, the reader may catch a glimpse of some mementos of the girl's adventures, bringing to question whether or not those dreams came true, but leaving no doubt that the woman still dreams.

"When I was a girl, I dreamed great dreams of who I'd be and where,
of places near and journeys far, adventures wild and rare."
"Yes, as a girl I dreamed great dreams. Perhaps you dream them too.
Reach higher than the stars, my dears, and your dreams...will come true."

This book would make a wonderful gift for a girl young or old. As found in the inside flap of the book jacket, "Come young, come old and dream. Whether for the first time or once again."

I love this little tidbit about how Mr. Ludy got started drawing (excerpted from Mark Ludy's bio on his website).

You know how children can never sit still in a restaurant – always squirming around asking every two minutes when the food is coming. Well, clever Dad Ludy used to draw something on a paper napkin – like eyeballs or a goofy grin – and then passed the napkin to Mark, who added something else to it – maybe the nose with lots of hair and warts. The two passed the napkin back and forth until they had finished the drawing. The drawings always became a competition with Mark and his dad each trying to beat the other by making the funniest part of the picture. And, that’s how Dad Ludy showed Mark how much fun drawing can be. Boy! Did he have fun with it. He even went as far as making his homework look like works of art – handing in assignments with little scenes on the side of the page – like people climbing up the side with bears waiting hungrily at the top.

And just as beautifully done is the companion book titled When I Was A Boy...I Dreamed written by Justin Matott and illustrated by Mark Ludy.

Inspire the heart of the special boy or girl in your life by adding one or both of these books to his or her personal library.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Colonel Trash Truck

Emmy and I are celebrating the one year anniversary of our blog. Hip, hip hooray! The very first post was on November 10, 2008. With forty-eight posts under our belts, we are excited to begin another year of blogging about our favorite books, favorite authors and favorite illustrators. We hope to show how these books help us to become better thinkers, readers and writers. So snuggle up with your favorite little person and get ready to read.

With our one year anniversary came an official request to review a book on our blog. We said yes, of course, and waited anxiously for the book to arrive. As luck would have it, Emmy checked the mail the day we received the book and eagerly helped tear open the package to see "our blogging book." She immediately giggled at the picture of the truck on the front cover wearing a hat and a monocle!

The book for review is titled Colonel Trash Truck and is written by Kathleen Crawley with illustrations by Manuel Conde. Any child interested in garbage trucks and helping to keep his community clean will enjoy marching along to Colonel Trash Truck's cadence:

From street to street,
He sweeps and sweeps
To keep our neighborhood clean.
From dawn to dusk,
Clean up he must
To make our world stay green.

As is often the case with books pertaining to the environment, the message is usually a bit too difficult for the young ones to understand, but Ms. Crawley has created a likeable hero that children can definitely relate to. Emmy is excited to be a part of Colonel Trash Truck's Clean and Green Team and can be heard saying "Karunch!" when she puts trash into the garbage can. Captain Michael Recycle will be joining Colonel Trash Truck in future books as they work together to defeat Litterbug Louie! For an introduction to Colonel Trash Truck, check out this video as well the website. It will have you marching right out into your community to pick up any trash that you see!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Katie in London

Emmy is absolutely thrilled when a piece of mail, with her name written on it, is in our mailbox. So when a special package arrived from her best friend, Besh, she was ecstatic. With great ceremony, the package was brought into the house and placed carefully onto the coffee table.
"Can we open it now, Mommy."
As each item was taken out of the large envelope, Emmy gasped and clapped her hands.
"Oh, look what Beshaboo sent to me."
The package contained treasures from Besh's recent trip to London. Included in the package were photos, notes of his adventures, a special rock and a wonderful book. As I watched Emmy's reaction, I sent out a wish to every child in the world so that he or she could have the opportunity for such a special relationship as Emmy has with her friend Besh.

The book Besh picked out is a big hit with Emmy! We read it first thing in the morning, before naptime, after naptime and at bedtime. The book is treasured not only because it's from her best friend, but also because it takes her on a wonderful adventure to a faraway place.

Katie in London, by James Mayhew, is a creatively written travel guide through the city of London. Katie, along with her grandmother and little brother, Jack, set off to see the sights of the city beginning with Trafalgar Square. Upon arriving at the square, Katie's grandmother sits down to rest and asks the children to stay near the lion statue. With the morning sun, the lion awakens to find the children climbing on him. The children ask the lion to show them the sights so off they go visiting such places as Tower Bridge, the London Eye, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Harrods department store. Besh's Mommy included photos of his trip for Emmy to compare with the illustrations. Matching the photos with the illustrations is a favorite activity for Emmy. And if asked what her favorite part of the story is, she will say when the lion opens his package from Katie and Jack and finds a woolly blanket.

When James Mayhew was a boy in school he was often told to stop daydreaming. Thankfully his daydreams didn't stop and instead have helped him to create a series of books about Katie. These books masterfully weave art, ballet, opera and literature into Katie's adventures. Each story is brilliantly written allowing a child to feel as if they too are experiencing the wonders that Katie is so joyfully experiencing. When asked where the idea for Katie came from, Mr. Mayhew replied, "Obviously my sister Kate was an inspiration! But also, I remember my parents had a big 'coffee table' book called Art Treasures of the World, which I still have to this day. It had all the usual art from Pre-historic man through the Renaissance to Impressionism and to Picasso and the Twentieth Century. I had no idea what the paintings were about; I couldn't read. But the paintings were illustrations to me, and I imagined the stories that belonged with them." Who would have thought that looking through an old book of art would be so important to a little child?

Also a huge inspiration for Mr. Mayhew's work are childhood memories. Here is a photo taken of a five year old James with his mischievious seven year old sister, Katie, in front of one of the lions of Trafalgar Square. James recalls spending the entire day in London with his family which was quite an event since they lived in a tiny village miles from anywhere.

From daydream to reality, Mr. Mayhew's first book in the Katie series, Katie's Picture Show, follows a small, lively girl and her grandmother as they visit a London art gallery on a rainy afternoon. When Grandma sits down to rest, Katie continues to explore the gallery's wonders alone. To her surprise and amusement, she stumbles inside painting after painting. As a result, she enjoys a cup of tea with Ingres' Madame Moitessier, befriends the little girl in Renoir's Les Parapluies, explores Rousseau's Tropical Storm with a Tiger, and marvels at the contents of an abstract painting by Malevich before being rescued, finally, by a gallery guard.

Emmy and I cannot say enough fantastic things about James Mayhew and his Katie books. If anyone is planning a trip to London then be sure to get a copy of Katie in London beforehand and use it to prepare for the trip as well as keeping it handy as a guide to the city. If you'd like to learn more about the author and his books check out Mr. Mayhew's blog Katie's Picture Show. Emmy and I are very excited to begin reading about Ella Bella Ballerina and follow her adventures into the world of music and dance. For more information, go to Mr. Mayhew's other blog Ella Bella Ballerina.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Princess and the Potty

It was one year ago that Emmy began using the potty. This experience was fairly easy for our family with Emmy enjoying her sense of control over her body. As I was sifting through my books recently, I came across The Princess and the Potty, by Wendy Cheyette Lewison, and knew that Emmy would relate to the princess' experience even if each was a bit different.
For example:
1) The princess had no interest in trading in her "royal diaper" for a potty. Emmy quite eagerly disposed of her
diapers for a potty.
2) The princess couldn't be tempted by pottys that were polka-dotted, musical or glow-in-the-dark. Emmy was quite satisfied with the typical white potty.
3) The king and queen were mortified of what the neighbors in the next kingdom might think of their daughter still wearing a diaper. Emmy's mommy and daddy weren't so concerned about what others thought.

When the princess's desperate parents consult the royal wise man, he answers that "the princess will use the potty when it pleases her to use the potty.'' These are very wise words and ring very true for Emmy who was definitely ready.

Emmy's favorite part of the story is when the princess notices the queen's pantalettes under her dress. This is her favorite for two reasons. First the word pantalettes is just so fun to say and second the pantalettes are very, very pretty. The pantalettes prove to be the incentive the princess needed as she and her mother chose "the prettiest pair of pantalettes in the land - pantalettes fit for a princess!''

Amusingly understated, The Princes and the Potty conveys the tale's message brilliantly through art and text. Both children who are new to toilet learning and seasoned pros will be thoroughly amused by this royal tale.

For the boys out there, Ms. Lewison also wrote The Prince and the Potty. This time the royal wise man suggests getting the boy a puppy. As the puppy learns how to to do its business on a cloth, the prince is inspired to use his potty after all.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Favorite Autumn Books

Autumn is my favorite season and it seems that Emmy is feeling the same way. The leaves are so vibrant here in New England that they just take our breath away. Emmy looks up into the trees and wishes for pink leaves since pink is her favorite color.

There are a large number of books written about Autumn and many are favorites, but to help those that get overwhelmed with a long list (I'm mostly speaking about myself), Emmy and I would like to focus on just two.

The first is by Tasha Tudor who I mentioned in a previous post as one of our favorite authors. Written in 1938, Pumpkin Moonshine is a sweet Halloween story about a little girl, named Sylvie, who is searching for the perfect pumpkin to carve into a pumpkin moonshine (jack-o-lantern). Emmy laughs when the pumpkin rolls down the hill and bumps into Mr. Hemmelskamp! This weekend, we will be choosing our pumpkin to turn into a pumpkin moonshine. Emmy has drawn her ideas for the pumpkin moonshine's face and already has chosen the spoons that she will be using to scoop out the seeds and pulp.

Our second favorite Autumn book is Three Pebbles and a Song written by Eileen Spinelli. Known for her poetry, Eileen's words float off the pages beginning with... "Across the moonlit fields crackly old leaves twirled and skittered." Please, please, please read this story with your child and allow the conversation of how children contribute to their family's happiness, in their own special way, just as Moses the mouse contributed to his. Moses' contributions for winter may not have been practical, but through song, dance and juggling, Moses helped his family embrace their own creativity so much so that only Moses detects the arrival of spring. I love the subtle message of celebrating art's powers to invigorate and to sustain. Emmy likes when Moses finds a patch of pebbles and tosses them into the air, Catch-a-toss-catch.

I am always interested in how authors get their ideas for books and so would like to pass along how Eileen came up with the story for Three Pebbles and a Song.

"Sometimes I'm so eager to get to work that I don't take time to get dressed in the morning. I just run upstairs in my nightie, with a cup of tea and an idea or two. Such was the morning I began Three Pebbles and a Song. I looked at the trees outside my window. They were turning red and gold. I heard geese honking across the pond. I thought of how much I loved the changing of the seasons. How much I enjoyed getting ready for each one. Summer: dust the patio furniture. Spring: plant my herb garden. Fall: scour soup pot. Winter: play my Christmas cd's. I thought, too, about how important the arts are in all the seasons of my life.
I thought about my playful--but unsuccessful--attempts at juggling.
And I put the thoughts into words. And it was a good day."

If you are interested in developing your child's love for poetry, try this...Make copies of seasonal poems for your child and roll them up scroll-like and tie with a ribbon - orange for Autumn, red for Valentine's Day, etc. Lay the scroll beside your child's bed or on their breakfast plate and make the finding a true celebration. Jump for joy, light a candle and have a special poetry reading. Keep the poems in a binder or folder to go back to on a cold and rainy day.

By the way, Eileen's husband is also a writer! Check out Jerry Spinelli's book Stargirl (suitable for tweens and teens) - a story about a high school student who is startlingly different from everyone else. If you're like me, you'll LOVE Stargirl, given name Susan, and maybe even be inclined to start a Stargirl Society.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Apple Farmer Annie

"The breath of autumn is a whisper to the soul."

As Emmy and I explore a New England autumn, we are in awe of the magic that seems to occur overnight. We like to think that it is the fairies with tiny pots of paint and paint brushes that create such magnificent colored leaves in the trees.

Emmy's favorite fall activity is apple picking. She delights in finding the most perfect apple to add to her bag. I must say I agree, it is so peaceful in an apple orchard. And what delight I have watching my daughter actually eat an apple down to its core.

And if the juicy apples aren't enough, just wait for the cider donuts - DELICIOUS! Just made, hot-out-of-the-oil apple cider donuts are, without a doubt, one of the guilty pleasures of the season. Coupled with freshly pressed apple cider and you are in heaven.

A wonderful book to share during this season is Apple Farmer Annie by Monica Wellington. Follow along as Annie harvests her apples and uses them to make a variety of tasty items such as apple cider, applesauce, muffins, candied apples, cakes and pies. Annie takes her apples and apple products to "The Big Apple" where she is part of a farmers market. Annie's produce, pies and the rest, are a big hit! Wellington has added information and lessons in many of the bright cheery pictures. beginning with the life cycle of an apple, apples arranged in groups from one to ten which provides an opportunity to practice counting and another page showing apples sorted according to variety. The author concludes the story by sharing recipes for applesauce, apple muffins and applesauce cake with butter frosting.

Which recipe does Emmy want to try...Applesauce Cake! With apples collected from today's field trip, we are ready to make this delicious treat. If you'd like to do the same, here's the recipe:

Applesauce Cake
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
1/2 teaspoon allspice (optional)
1 cup applesauce
2/3 cup raisins

*Cream together butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.
*Add eggs and beat well.
*In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.
*Add to creamed mixture alternately with applesauce, beating after each addition and blending well.
*Stir in raisins.
*Pour batter into 9-inch greased tube pan.
*Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until browned. (toothpick inserted into cake should come out clean.)
*Cool, then spread with Butter Frosting (see recipe below).

Butter Frosting
2 tablespoons softened butter
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk

*Cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla extract.
*Add milk and stir well.
*The frosting should be smooth and easy to spread.

Since we love Apple Farmer Annie, Emmy and I will be going to the library to check out a few more Monica Wellington books. Perhaps we'll start with these: Pizza at Sally's and Mr. Cookie Baker.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Strega Nona's Harvest

Ah yes, Strega Nona! A beloved character from children book author and illustrator - Tomie dePaola. Tomie's tenth book in the Strega Nona series, Strega Nona's Harvest, is another huge hit with fans young and old. I had the pleasure of attending a book signing recently where I had the opportunity to meet Tomie dePaola. He is exactly how you might expect him to be with a twinkle in his eye and a smile that reveals slight dimples. Tomie shared a bit about how this story came to be...His editor suggested a book about Thanksgiving. After giving this topic much thought, not a single idea came to him. He was discussing his writing struggles with his art director when she looked at him and said, of course you can't write about Thanksgiving. You hate Thanksgiving! She was right! He hates turkey. He liked it as a kid, but now all that food just makes him feel miserable. With this thought came this realization - how can he write about something that he does not care about. I thought this was such an important message!!! Especially since much of the writing done in today's schools is focused on writing to a prompt and not individual writing choice. Well, Tomie still had to hustle to come up with an idea for a book that could be published in the Fall. As was her way, Strega Nona whispered in his ear...write about me and the harvest. Tomie came across a Martha Stewart Living magazine and was intrigued by the center photo which was an aerial view of Martha Stewart's vegetable garden. He had never seen anything like it before. It was huge and beautifully arranged. A-ha, Tomie thought, Strega Nona taught Martha how to plant a garden! With this idea in mind, Tomie began researching the folklore behind planting fruits and vegetables such as the idea of scheduling the planting according to the phases of the moon. He also liked the idea of promoting sustainable agriculture and buying fresh food grown by local farmers. And so he set about writing a story showing how Strega Nona creates her annual garden using her magic touch and how Big Anthony tries to make a garden as well, but ends up with a jungle on his hands. Strega Nona's Harvest accomplishes both of these ideas. It is a perfect story to share for Thanksgiving as it ends with an amazing Harvest Feast. This book is certainly going to become a favorite in our house. Emmy enjoys watching both gardens grow and laughs when Big Anthony piles his vegetables outside of Strega Nona's door. We now enjoy blowing three kisses, Strega Nona's signature move, to the moon which, along with her song, is her secret ingredient to a successful garden.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fairy Houses

A whimsical series of books that are truly delightful to share with children of all ages is Tracy Kane's Fairy House Series. The series began when the author visited an island off of the coast of Maine where she discovered fairy houses built among the trees and bushes. She was immediately taken back to childhood where collecting items from nature was a favorite pasttime. A video was then produced titled Kristen's Fairy House. The video was a grass roots production where Tracy Kane played an artist creating a children's picture book and a friend's daughter played her niece, who was building the fairy house that inspired the artist to create a picture book. The success of this video allowed Tracy to get her creative juices flowing and publish the Fairy Houses Series: Fairy Houses, Fairy Boat, Fairy Flight and coming soon Forest Secrets.

When I was teaching second grade in Laconia, New Hampshire, I had the opportunity to meet Tracy Kane when she participated in an author visit at our school. She was simply delightful. She engaged the students in a reading of her first book Fairy Houses, shared some of her story boards, encouraged the students to build their own fairy houses and autographed books. My students brought in many fantastic items found in nature and set to work immediately on creating the most fanciful fairy houses ever. This experience stuck with me and I've been waiting for that just right moment to engage Emmy in this experience. Today was that day! She is always busy collecting things from nature, but today she was creating a pile out of the sticks she had picked up. The sticks were looking very much like little houses and so we began our journey into the world of fairies!

As soon as we got home, I brought out my signed copy of Fairy Houses. Since Emmy wanted to know where the fairies were and when they would visit her house, I knew I had better share this book right away. As the main character, Kristen, builds her fairy house, many forest creatures visit from a bird helping himself to the berries carefully placed around the front, to a frog frolicking in the rock pond, to a deer licking the salt from the carefully placed seashells. Finally, a visit from the fairies........or were they just beautiful butterflies. It's for the reader to decide. Emmy and I know for a fact that the fairies will visit her house! And I'm sure we will be checking this special house out tomorrow to look for any signs of visitors.

If you would like to build your own fairy house, keep these rules in mind:
1. Fairy Houses should look so natural they are almost hidden. A location close to the ground is best.
2. You should use only natural materials. Dry grasses, leaves, sticks, pebbles and pinecones are just a few examples of materials to choose.
3. Be careful not to use or disturb any of nature's materials that are still living, especially flowers, ferns, mosses and lichen. Fairies do not like to disturb or destroy anything that is growing in nature.

Check out Tracy Kane's website for more information along with some pretty amazing photographs of fairy houses that are sure to inspire.

I can't think of any better way to spend a morning, then out in nature with your child(ren).

Monday, September 7, 2009

Baby Loves Jazz

Any Duke Ellington fans out there? Emmy is definitely a fan....well a fan of Duck Ellington. The Baby Loves Jazz series is some serious fun especially for those that love jazz. These books highlight some of jazz's greatest musicians/singers with wonderful CD's full of that jazzy sound. As I was researching the roots of jazz, I came across this interesting fact:
In 1987, the US House of Representatives and Senate passed a bill proposed by Democratic Representative John Conyers, Jr. to define jazz as a unique form of American music stating, among other things, "...that jazz is hereby designated as a rare and valuable national American treasure to which we should devote our attention, support and resources to make certain it is preserved, understood and promulgated."

As jazz is such an important part of our American history, take this opportunity to introduce this sound to your child through the Baby Loves Jazz Series! I guarantee that he or she will be groovin' to some wonderful music as well as enjoying some wonderful books. By the way the name Baby Loves Jazz is misleading. These books are great for all ages!

Mile Davis
Louis Armstrong

Ella Fitzgerald

Charlie "Bird" Parker

Philly Joe Jones