Careful, you might get stuck too!

Billy Bloo is Stuck in Goo by Jennifer Hamburg.

I’ll be honest with you here – I wasn’t overly excited when my daughter picked this book up off the library shelf (for no justifiable reason I might add). However, I was pleasantly surprised by this book, a really entertaining read.

I’m not quite sure what it was about the presentation of the book that didn’t appeal to me, but there’s something that doesn’t catch the eye in a way that does the book justice. Like the old saying goes – you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. It obviously appealed to my daughter enough that she picked it out of the crowd of books, but I probably would have skimmed over it if it weren’t for her.

Summary

“Billy Bloo is stuck in goo. Who will help him, tell me who? Who’ll unstick him from this goo? Would you? With madcap mania, a troupe of merry volunteers attempt to rescue poor Billy Bloo, only to find themselves stuck in goo too!”

This book is great for both toddlers and pre-school age children.

What I love about this book

What makes this book so appealing is its sense of humour and its rhyme. The rhyme is very natural, making it easy to read in an entertaining manner. The story line is nice and simple. It is an engaging read for a varied age group due to its simplicity, coupled with the rhyming words.

The illustrations are quite cute – they look as though drawn by a child. A host of interesting and silly characters are introduced as Billy Bloo tries to break free from the goo. Hamburg also sprinkles a bit of cheeky humour throughout the illustrations.

This book provided a good chuckle for both child and reader alike.

Storytime Tips and Activities

  • Set a nice reading pace and make sure you give the rhyme good flow and intonation.
  • Take the time to look into the illustrations and read some of the little jokes out loud. Some further explanation may be required for younger audiences.
  • Discuss the individual characters – what makes them unique and how they tried (and failed) to get Billy out.
  • Give the characters a bit of personality.
  • Have fun and a good chuckle!

Why Dr Seuss Has Storytime Covered

There’s a reason why Dr Seuss books have been popular with kids (and parents alike) for decades. They make for the ultimate storytime.

Seuss’ books hit all the key elements that make for great reading:

  • Repetition and rhyme,
  • Interesting characters,
  • Quirky and imaginative stories,
  • Bright and playful illustration,
  • Humour,
  • Depth of character.

I’m willing to bet that there aren’t many book collections in english-speaking homes that don’t feature at least one Dr Seuss book. For those of my generation: our parents grew up with these stories, we grew up with them, and we want to share them with our kids too. They are enjoyable stories for the reader, as well as those being read to – a critical element to successful storytime. They have proven the test of time and are a fantastic addition to any home library.

I imagine that I’m not saying anything new here for most of you, but I think it’s important to take the time to appreciate the great work of Dr Seuss and the joy he has brought into so many families’ lives.

While I believe that his books will live in perpetuity, I also fear that they may get drowned out. As parents of young children in this current era, we have so many storytime options available to us (this is a good thing). We also have an array of fantastic books to choose from, but books also compete with the attention of digital media. We need to continually go back and appreciate some of these founding influential authors such as Seuss.

Seeing Dr Seuss’ stories being re-made into movies keeps them current in popular culture (and reminds us of their existence!). However, there is nothing like getting the enjoyment with your family in the manner that was originally intended – by reading the book!

Everyone has a favourite (mine is The Cat in the Hat), so make a family tradition out of it. Or, in the spirit of the upcoming festive season – grab a copy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

If you haven’t already done so – top your child’s book collection up with at least one Dr Seuss book and you’ll have storytime covered for years to come.

 

Green with Envy

The Crunching Munching Caterpillar by Sheridan Cain

If you love the theme and ideas of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, you’ll love this book too.

While I give credit to Carle for first picking up on the idea of the beauty of a caterpillar’s/butterfly’s life cycle, The Crunching Munching Caterpillar gives a little more personality to this particular caterpillar character. Cain also touches on a few emotional themes, important for teaching young children: envy, jealousy and finding your own strengths.

Summary

“Caterpillar longs to be able to fly. He envies Bumblebee his wings, and he wishes he could soar through the air like a bird. But all he can do is crunch and munch his way through a blackberry bush. When Butterfly comes along she smiles a secret smile because she knows something Caterpillar doesn’t!”

This book is best suited for toddlers and pre-school age children.

What I love about this book.

It is difficult not to draw comparisons between The Very Hungry Caterpillar and this book, but I think the intended audiences and theme focus are quite distinct.

I would say that Carle’s book captures a larger audience. In a really simple but beautiful way, Carle takes us through the process of caterpillar-butterfly metamorphosis. This is why it is such a popular and timeless book (must have for your library!).

In this book, Cain seems to focus more on feelings and emotions, using the metamorphosis to illustrate the point. She addresses some of the more unpleasant feelings such as exclusion, jealousy, and being different. However, ultimately, demonstrating that everyone has their own abilities and beauty. She also touches on the idea that eventually everything can come around to your favour in due time.

The language used throughout the book is a bit more complex than that used in The Very Hungry Catepillar. Sentences are longer and overall the book is a bit more word-y. For this reason, it is better suited for older toddlers and pre-school aged children. It also doesn’t quite have the same sing-song flow, so needs a bit of added character when reading.

The illustrations in the book are bright and engaging.

Storytime Tips and Activities

  • Read this story with a slower pace. The flow is not particularly natural. Try give a bit of character to the dialogue of each of the animals/insects.
  • At the end of the story discuss the caterpillar’s feelings – why might it feel this way? How did the caterpillar deal with these feelings?
  • Draw parallels with your child’s experience with similar emotions and the types of strategies that can be used to address the feelings.
  • Reiterate that it’s good to be different and everyone has their own strengths/abilities!
  • Highlight the positives of the story – good things come to those who wait.
  • As well as the emotional side of the story, discuss the life-cycle of a caterpillar-butterfly. If your child has read The Hungry Caterpillar draw the parallels.

Raising Children in a Multilingual Home

Firstly before I get into my post, I have to apologize for my lack of writing over the past few weeks….The family and I have just come back from an overseas holiday and I’m just getting over the process of re-adjusting two kids (and myself) to a 9-hour time difference!

In fact, this post is inspired by the trip from which we just returned. In particular, by my daughter’s cultural experience there and encounter with language other than English.

Background

I have always valued language and the importance of learning more than one. Here in Australia, while most of us are required to take a second language at school, most people of my generation do not fluently speak a second language.

Although most are well-travelled, Australians are lucky in the sense that English is widely spoken across the globe. Additionally, our country does not closely border others and English is the only official language. This in turn, has made us a bit lazy in the need to seriously learn a language other than English. When we travel, it is those around us (where possible) who tend to default to the global language of English.

Sure there are those, like myself, who grew up in a first/second generation immigrant family – we are often exposed to a second language and can communicate at a basic level (at a push). However, more often than not, we do not really learn to fluently speak our family’s native-tongue. This is a shame.

For my children, they have the opportunity to learn two additional languages. English is not my husband’s native tongue, and I also come from an immigrant family. For numerous reasons, English will be the primary language in our house. However, learning their father’s native language at a minimum must also be made a priority. Since we reside in an English speaking country and English is my primary language, there are challenges to do this. There needs to be a conscious effort as a family to make this possible.

Why?

For those who wish to learn another language as an adult, it can take many years of study, practice and immersion to get a proper handle of a new language. To have the opportunity to learn a language from an early age is a privilege that many take for granted. There are also the added benefits of getting exposure to a culture, not just a language, when you have family who teach.

In our particular circumstance, I also see it as an important opportunity for our kids to get some really special bonding time with their father alone. It is important that half of our children’s heritage is not forgotten as a result of our decision to reside in Australia – English-speaking, and quite frankly, quite isolated from the rest of the world.

Learning another language to the point where you can call yourself “bilingual” is difficult, but not impossible. A great portion of the rest of the world speak more than one language with ease. It is unusual in Australia, but not in many other places (like Europe), where borders are close, cultures have older histories, and the exposure to other languages on a daily basis is higher.

Language development requires a great deal of “brain-stretching” due to the speed and complexity at which we must use it. There’s written and spoken language – you cannot isolate the two, and must be able to read, write and speak a language. There’s also formal and informal – to function in a country, you must be able to speak with peers, navigate shops/signage/government offices, understand news, etc all at speed. It really is no small feat.

I have always admired those who seem to be able to pick up languages with relative ease. My husband is one of those people. I am not. It takes confidence to practice language in order to master it.

You need to make mistakes, query and sometimes be at ease with the fact that you may not get it right. It will take time and an open mind. It is for this reason that children are much better at picking up languages. They are not as inhibited as adults at trying, practicing, asking questions and accepting when they make a mistakes. They tend to move on and learn from experiences, rather than get embarrassed by them. They are also great at observing and mimicking, which is also an essential skill when learning a new language.

How?

The greatest challenge my family faces with trying to raise truly bilingual (and hopefully multilingual) children is the ease of defaulting back into English.

While there are numerous theories to the best approach to having a multilingual family, I think a “one-parent, one-language” approach will probably work best for us. This means that the children “should” speak English with me and another with my husband.

My children are at a great age for doing this – they are still young and they absorb language like a sponge. They also spend a lot of time in the home, so the habit can be more easily formed into the daily routine.

Being off the back of a trip visiting my husband’s family is a good time to start. Keep the momentum that was started over there, but back here in Australia. It will be a bit of work initially to get this started, as it is not part of our family’s current routine – but I truly believe that the educational and cultural benefits are immense. I also want my children to be able to communicate fluently with both sides of the family.

Storytime also plays an important role in developing language skills. While overseas, we picked up a few storybooks to help assist the children. The stories are familiar (Peppa Pig, Little Red Riding Hood, Three Little Pigs, etc) but in a different language.

Maybe through all of this I can pick up another language too!…

I’d love to hear from any of my readers who have successfully raised bilingual children! In particular where the parents have differing native-tongues. I’d love to hear your stories and tips for doing this!

Animal Rhyme Time

The focus of this book review is The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland.

This book is one of a collection of 5 books:

  1. The Very Cranky Bear
  2. The Very Noisy Bear
  3. The Very Itchy Bear
  4. The Very Hungry Bear
  5. The Very Brave Bear

I absolutely love this collection (hard to say which one is my favourite). The illustrations are wonderfully artistic, detailed and expressive. This series is a must for all family book collections.

The books have interesting plots and the rhyming language is a joy to read.

The collection is available to borrow at the Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries (check your own local libraries too!), and for purchase at various book stores including Dymocks and Angus & Robertson.

Summary

“In the jingle jangle jungle on a wet and windy day, four little friends meet a very cranky bear. Can they cheer him up?” 

The other titles in the collection follow the cranky bear (who is also very brave, itchy, noisy and hungry) through adventures and problem solving scenarios with the four little friends (moose, lion, zebra and sheep).

Suitable for toddlers, pre-schoolers and early school-age.

What I love about these books

The Cranky Bear series would be my own personal favourite reads in my daughter’s collection of books.

They are written with a sing-song rhyme which makes them an easy read and gives the reader good opportunity to add tone and interest to the story.

The illustrations are highly detailed, giving extra interest to the already captivating story.

They are a perfect trifecta of language, story structure and illustration – making for an enjoyable storytime every time.

There are also some subtle messages to each of the stories which make for good “teaching moments” with the kids, and also for parents to reflect on their own behaviour.

My favourite moments

My favourite moments in these books include:

  • The logic of the “four little friends” that the bear would only be happy if they gave him things that made them happy (learning a bit about empathy and self-centredness) – The Very Cranky Bear
  • Bear working really hard to find Polar Bear a home in trade for his pile of delicious fish – The Very Hungry Bear.
  • The competitiveness of Bear and Buffalo to “one-up” each other, only to be scared off by a tiny little frog – The Very Brave Bear.
  • Bear has a go at all the different instruments with not great success, until he uses his voice as an instrument! After a rocking day, he finds solace in the violin – The Very Noisy Bear.

Storytime Tips and Activities

  • Find a reading pace that works for you and your child. It is easy to get a bit carried away with these books because they have been very well written. It is difficult to keep the enthusiam for the rhyme if you have to stop often to explain/discuss with the child. Try to read at a slower pace if necessary, that way you can keep the flow of reading and your child can still understand the story.
  • There are a few larger/more complex words and sentences in these stories, so take the time to go back after you’ve read the story to explain them to your child.
  • Take the time after reading the story to discuss why the bear/furry friends acted a certain way and did things they way they did. This can help teach your child more about empathy and behaviour.

Children’s Library Essentials

adorable blur bookcase books
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m all about efficiency and effective organization.

I believe strongly in these principles because they give us the opportunity to get the most out of what we are doing, or wanting in life. When we are disorganized, we spend more time on trying to correct the situation, than if you put an extra couple of minutes into early planning.

Being effective and efficient also means being less wasteful. It does not mean having to live overly planned and rigid lives – quite the opposite really. A little bit of forward thinking means the ability to have control over a situation and, ultimately, more flexibility and enjoyment. This is something I try to practise in my both my professional and personal life.

I guess you’re probably a little confused at this point as to what this has to do with your child’s book collection? Well, with a little forward planning, you can have the “ultimate” library for your child that serves them well up until school age. Additionally, you can do this with minimal waste (ie books that just sit and collect dust) and have a more effective storytime each night.

My intent here with this post is not to provide you with a list of “best books” for whatever age. There are plenty of these floating around the internet (possibly with some ulterior motives for affiliate sales too..). Plus, every child has different interests, so a “best book” list may not work for your family. Don’t get me wrong, these lists are great for getting ideas for books if you really have none. I tend not to use these lists – I’d rather take my kids down to the library for a bit of trial-and-error. We pick a pile of books that has grabbed our attention, do a quick run through of each and shortlist what we want to take home (usually about 5x books). Once we get home, we read them. Some are hits, some are not.

The point of this post, however, is more a case of providing you with some ideas and tools to get longevity out of the books that you choose to buy. This point is also relevant to the reviews I post. I hope to empart some ideas to other families, but it is about adopting those ideas into what will work for you. Ultimately, if it doesn’t work, you won’t enjoy storytime as much as you want to.

The most important thing is that you and your family enjoy the books you are reading. If you don’t enjoy the books, then the frequency and quality of storytime will suffer.

I also believe that the collection you have at home does not need to be extensive (or expensive). There are so many opportunity for your kids to be exposed to different books (eg kinder, childcare, borrowing from libraries, etc) that your collection at home doesn’t really need to contain much, if done properly and cleverly. Plus, you will probably find that your child has a couple of favourites that they will just continue to cycle through (over and over and over again…).

Flexibility

Flexibility, I’ve learnt, is the number one rule for parenting.

Remember that what may work for your child one month, may not the next, so try be flexible in how you approach book purchases. You may not have control either on the quality/quantity of books in your collection, as many books you have may have been given as gifts. In all honesty, the bulk of the books in our collection are the result of gifts rather than purchases. Being effective in this circumstance, is a case of doing the best you can, with what you have, and while catering to the interests of your child.

A good way to road test books is to try them first at your library. If you find your child continues to want to read a particular book (or series), consider a purchase or even find someone who has it (and purchase or trade from them – this is a much cheaper alternative to buying new).

Inevitably, your child will grow out of some of the books. If you don’t have any younger children, it may be time to think about moving those books on. Consider donating them. Alternatively, a book swap is also the perfect opportunity if you want to update your library collection to cater to your growing family, while getting rid of older books.

Your Children’s Library Essentials

My recommendations for the ultimate children’s book collection that will hopefully stand the test of time:

  • Board Books: My number one tip. Wherever possible, get the board book version! This is especially true for baby and toddler books. Books will get drooled on, drawn on and ripped (see images below of our poor old copies of The Hungry Caterpillar and Cat in the Hat as an example). Even though these are a sign of a well-loved book, keeping them in as best condition as possible means that you don’t have to memorize the missing pages, and you can give them a second home when you are ready to move them on.20180806_084646.jpgPoor ripped pages…20180806_084702.jpg
  • Single-Worded Books: Books that contain simple graphics with a single word on each page are great books for babies, but also find a second life in toddler and pre-school years when teaching words, letters, and reading. Get a variety of these types of books that deal with different themes: animals, numbers, colours, etc.
  • Books for the Senses: Similar to single-worded books, books that combine the sense of touch and sound also make great books for childhood learning. The addition of touch (eg fabric, textured graphics, etc) and sound (noise buttons), enhance the learning experience.
  • Books with Motion: Pop-up and pull-tab books are great because they get the children involved with the story. They also add visual interest and can add a layer of suspense to the storyline. Some good examples include The Spot the Dog series, Elmer the Elephant, Look Out Leon! WARNING: these types of books get damaged easily, so try to encourage gentle reading!
  • Books with Rhyme and Repetition: Stories with rhyme and repetition are much more enjoyable to read. They also are a stronger language teaching tool.
  • Books with Photo Illustrations: See my earlier post – Illustrations Alive! for more information on the benefits of these books.
  • Classics: Build your library up with the classics – stories you enjoyed as a child and classic books your child will enjoy now. Think of the timeless books like The Hungry Caterpillar, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, etc. They’re called timeless for a reason – chances are your kids will also get a lot of enjoyment out of them too.

The Take-Away Message

  • Start small and build your way up. There’s no reason to go crazy with buying all kinds of books. Pick a few recommended ones to start with and build up from there. Let your child’s interest be your guide.
  • Think long term – which books could be good for babies, toddlers and preschoolers?
  • Make use of your local library! Stock your own collection with the favourites that are on repeat and borrow books for variety!
  • Stock your child’s collection with books that you like to read to them. There’s nothing worse than your child picking out stories and a) you try to push them to pick something else; or b) your story telling becomes luck-lustre! If you need to, store away books that are not age appropriate, or that you don’t really enjoy (maybe they were given to you as a gift). That way, every book your child asks you to read them is a winner for everyone.

When I’m Feeling….

When I’m Feeling Angry by Trace Moroney

Shortly after I wrote my post about how reading builds resilience, I received a message from my daughter’s childcare. The message was to tell parents that the centre is teaching the children about their emotions and self-regulation. An interesting coincidence since the acknowledgment and regulation of emotions is also an important part of building confidence and self-esteem.

After my son was born, my daughter made an interesting selection of books for borrowing at the library. It included When I’m Feeling Angry and When I’m Feeling Sad.

She was right in the midst of dealing with a whole array of emotions with the arrival of a new little brother. She had been the only child (and grand-child on my side) for nearly 4 years, so her world was being drastically shaken up.

I recall the first day I was able to start taking her up to kinder drop-off again after the birth (my husband had been doing this while I recovered) and her exclamation, “Everything is back to normal again, hooray!”… It wasn’t until she said this that it really hit me how much the new arrival was affecting her emotionally. I hadn’t really taken the weight of this into consideration until she said this. I did think, however, you poor thing, your life will never be back to “normal”…

The “When I’m Feeling” books by Moroney were an excellent support tool for my daughter during this time. They broke down some of the emotions to “child-size bites”, so that they were tangible and relatable. They identified the emotion, the cause of the emotion and ways of dealing with it.

The illustrations were also very sweet, using a bunny as the primary character.

The books in this series include:

  • When I’m Feeling Angry
  • When I’m Feeling Sad
  • When I’m Feeling Nervous
  • When I’m Feeling Jealous
  • When I’m Feeling Disappointed
  • When I’m Feeling Lonely
  • When I’m Feeling Happy
  • When I’m Feeling Scared
  • When I’m Feeling Loved
  • When I’m Feeling Kind

The books are best suited for toddlers and preschoolers. They can be purchased at book stores such as Dymocks and can be borrowed at the Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries (check your own local libraries too!).