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!).

 

 

How Reading Builds Resilience

Family storytime plays an important part in building resilience in our children.

What is resilience and why is it important?

Resilience is essentially our ability to cope, or “bounce back” from stress and adverse situations. The long-term impacts of stress on our health can include a weakened immune system, poor attention, inability to problem solve, or regulate emotions. Being resilient is, therefore, imperative to good psychological and physiological health. Resilience is a coping mechanism that does not come naturally to everyone, but with the right support, it can be developed.

Resilience can be nurtured at any stage in life. However, if parents (and educators) are aware of ways we can help our children become more resilient, we can give them the best head start to tackle stressful situations. Stress and adversity is an inevitable part of life – it is how we deal with those situations (whether big or small) that determines how we can recover from them.

Beyond Blue explains the concept of resilience wonderfully with an analogy to a plane encountering turbulent weather:

“The ability of the plane to get through the poor weather and reach its destination depends on:

Plane in storm
  • the pilot (the child)
  • the co-pilot (the child’s family, friends, teachers and health professionals)
  • the type of plane (the child’s individual characteristics such as age and temperament)
  • the equipment available to the pilot, co-pilots and ground crew
  • the severity and duration of the poor weather.”

Being resilient does not equate to requiring people to be “strong silent types”. It requires a whole network of support and the ability to draw on that support.

What role does reading stories play in all this?

Some of the ways that you can help build resilience in your children include:

  • Building their self-esteem – finding ways to support and give your child confidence in their skills.
  • Building healthy relationships.
  • Working on problem solving skills.
  • Managing their stress and anxiety.

The simple act of reading to your kids on a daily basis can strengthen all of these skills. With some planning and understanding of resilience, you can make storytime even more effective. Some of the ways you can do this are:

  • Give your child your undivided attention when you read to them – go to a quiet, warm room away from distractions. Dim the lights. If you have more than one child, you may need to give them separate storytimes. There are benefits to joint storytime, but it can also be disruptive. Make the call on what works for your family.
  • Let your child have a say in what story is being read.
  • Set some (flexible)rules around discussions and questions during the story. Eg. questions to be asked at the end of each page. Make sure your child understands the expectations. This way, you can get your child to focus on the story without distraction while still allowing them to question/discuss the story with you.
  • Give yourself adequate time for storytime. Don’t rush the story. Also make sure there is enough time after for discussion at the end without your child/you being too tired.
  • Address all of your children’s questions compassionately – don’t make them feel silly about the questions they ask, or for their interpretations of the story.
  • Take the time to “debrief” on the story. Work through any conflict, problems, emotions etc with your child and discuss ways in which they were resolved.
  • Take the time to build compassion and understanding about the character’s feelings.
  • Above all, enjoy the time you are spending reading the book!

A note about mindfulness

Mindfulness is the process of “being in the moment”. It is a practice used in meditation and is widely being used as a technique to help combat stress, anxiety and depression. Practicing mindfulness, therefore, also helps build resilience.

While there are many various ways of promoting mindfulness, it can be a bit tricky with young children. Younger children do not always have the attention span, but with some gentle guidance you can engage with activities that can help draw attention to mindfulness. Reading, if done right, is one of those activities (check out Hey Sigmund for some other activities too).

When you are reading to your children, try to make the routine quiet and free from distractions. This way you can help your child focus on the story, the illustrations, their emotions, and their senses (the warm blanket on their bed, your voice, etc).

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

I’m sure you have the song stuck in your head already just by reading the title! A timeless classic book and absolute must read to your kids.

This book is available to borrow at the Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries (check your own local libraries too!), and for purchase at numerous stores – Kmart, BigW, Dymocks, etc.

The ABC are also showing an adaptation to a short 30min movie – see here.

Summary

“Brave bear hunters go through grass, a river, mud, and other obstacles before the inevitable encounter with the bear forces a headlong retreat.”

Suitable for toddlers, preschoolers and young school age children.

What I love about this book

By far what I love most about this book is the sing-song style in which it was written. The repetition of phrases being similar to that of the chorus in a song “we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!” It really is a joyous read.

The illustrations are also beautiful. Oxenbury captures the sense of adventure through the use of alternating black-and-white and colour watercolour images. The illustrations are wonderfully detailed and really captures the imagination.

The powerful combination of language and illustration make this an extremely engaging book. I suspect this is why it has been such a popular book since its first publication in 1989.

The story is also a great aspect of the book – it is adventurous and engages all of the senses to draw you in.

Storytime Tips and Activities

  • Try as best as possible to read the story uninterrupted to get the best effect from the sing-song language.
  • Put on your storytime acting hat! This story is best read with lots of good intonation, sound effects, variations in volume and appropriately placed pauses.
  • Get carried away with the story, but also take the time afterward to go through some of the illustrations with your child to further explain what the family is doing.
  • You can use the story as a song to enact your own bear-hunt at home!

Not so scary after all!

Monsters Love Underpants by Claire Freedman

This is a very entertaining read for toddlers and pre-schoolers alike. It helps to take the fear of the “monster-under-the-bed” away when your little one sees the monsters in their silly underpants.

The book is available to borrow at the Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries (check your own local libraries too!) and for purchase at Booktopia.

Summary

“There are prowly monsters howling loudly and drooling monsters from the steamy swamp. There are wild, woolly mountain monsters and spiky, spooky monsters from outer space. And they all have one thing in common – they LOVE underpants!

This hilarious Underpants story is hairy, scary – and silly! You’ll never think of monsters in the same way again!”

This book is best suited to a preschool age, but would also be suitable for toddlers. It would even be appropriate for younger school age children.

Although the book deals with monsters (which some younger children may find frightening), they are certainly not portrayed in a scary manner.

What I love about this book

The illustrations in this book are fantastic – bright, detailed, creative and engaging. Each page tells its own story and the illustrations deserve their own explanation in addition to the story text.

What I really love about this book is the theme with which it deals – taking the fear out of the unknown and the perception of “scary monsters”. It picks up on the notion of vulnerability and that things aren’t always as they seem.

The way that the theme is presented is perfect for little ones. Talking about brightly coloured underwear on a monster is humourous and silly. A lovely light-hearted book that can also help teach children about their emotions.

The monsters in the book are bright and full of personality. They are not dark or creepy characters; rather a character who could be be-friended.

Storytime Tips and Activities

  • Take the time on each page to go through the illustrations with your children.
  • Talk about the patterns and colours that your child can identify.
  • The rhyme in this book is a little strained. Try reading each paragraph slowly and uninterrupted (if possible!). This will help your child take the words in and so that the flow of the story is not broken.
  • The way the sentences and words are arranged are not as simple or as direct as other rhyming books, so it doesn’t not lend itself well to word/letter recognition for younger kids. Try take the focus to the illustrations once you have read each paragraph in its entirety.
  • Read in a light hearted manner to reinforce how “silly” the monsters look in their colourful underpants.
  • At the end of the book, take the time to discuss fears with your children. Explain how sometimes things seem scarier than what they really are. When we take a look at and tackle what scares us, it takes away the fear-of-the-unknown. This is often what scares us more than the “scary-thing” itself. Sometimes we can even have a laugh at what used to scare us!

 

Poor Little Owl…

A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton

Further to my reviews of Oh No, George and Shh! We Have a Plan by Haughton, I decided to take a look at A Bit Lost.

What a sweet little book this is! Accompanied by Haughton’s signature illustrations, this book is humourous and overall, a lovely read.

A Bit Lost can be borrowed from the Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries (check your own local libraries too!) and purchased from Booktopia and Walker Books.

Summary

“Little Owl must be more careful when he is sleeping … Uh-oh! He has fallen from his nest, and with a bump he lands on the ground. Where is his mummy? With the earnest assistance of his new friend Squirrel, Little Owl sets off in search of her, and meets a sequence of other animals. Yet while one might have his mummy’s BIG EYES, and another her POINTY EARS, they are simply not her. Chris Haughton’s striking colour illustrations follow Little Owl on his quest. Which of his new friends will lead him back to his mummy?”

Suitable for toddlers and preschoolers.

What I love about this book

The endearing characters are probably the best thing about this book. As a parent, your heart strings tug for the little lost owl and the worried mummy. The squirrel and frog are cute and remind me of how sweet young children can be. They really try their best to help little owl.

The story is humourous and reinforces the love that parents have for their children. A great book to cuddle up with your own little owl.

The language used in the book is clear and simple, making it engaging for both a toddler and preschool age audience.

Storytime Tips and Activities

  • Talk with your child about how little owl and mummy owl are feeling and how they might feel in the situation of being momentarily separated. Remind your child that the owl and mummy are re-united!
  • Take the time to pause and discuss how the squirrel and frog help little owl (there is a positive side to the story!)
  • Talk about why squirrel may have thought that the different animals were little owl’s mummy.
  • Make the actions with your child, copying the owl’s description of his mummy.
  • The simple language in this book is suitable to do some letter and word recognition with older children. Run your finger over the words as you read.