You can’t catch me!

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton

I will be honest with you – I am in two minds about this book. At first I found the theme quite dark and maybe a bit too mature for my 4 year old (who also found the illustrations a bit creepy). However, I do also see a more goofy side to the book. All the other reviews that I have read online tend to agree the latter take on the book. Maybe I’ve just read a little too much into the storyline….

Shh! We have a Plan can be borrowed at Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries (check your own local libraries too!) and purchased through Angus & Robertson.

After having read Oh No George! by Haughton, I was a little surprised by this story. The illustrations are as fantastic and unique as Oh No George! but uses deeper shades of blue instead of bright oranges and reds. The shades of blue perfectly represent the sneaky, darker tones to the story. The first thing my daughter asked me when she saw the book was, “Mummy is this a scary story?”

No, the story is not scary. Where I feel that the story has some darker undertones is that it follows a crew of people dressed like “robbers” who are trying to capture a bird, squirrel, etc in the dark. It is only the little one who is able to encourage the birds (who ultimately turn on the group anyway) by giving them some feed. What may have led me to the more serious conclusions of this book is the Einstein quote that Haughton includes on the dedication page – “Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding”. A bit too deep for my pre-schooler I think.

On the other hand, this book could be read with a more slap-stick interpretation. You essentially have the three stooges who cannot execute a plan successfully. It takes the littlest one (who keeps being shh’d) to come up with a strategy that actually works.

The book has minimal text and lets the illustrations do most of the talking. This is part of the reason why there is a bit of a variance to the interpretation I had on this book.

While I do appreciate this book, I can’t say that it was a real hit in our household.

I’d love to hear from others who have read this book and enjoyed it more than we did. Maybe you have a different take or some other suggestions?

 

Lucky Frog.

Oi Dog! by Kes & Claire Gray

Further to my review of Oi Cat! (see my post When you really should have put your foot in your mouth), we went back over to our local library and took out Oi Dog!

Despite reading these books out of order (should have been Oi Frog – Oi Dog – then Oi Cat last!), this book in the series was as big of a hit as Oi Cat!

The book is full of hilarious and detailed illustrations – you get a little more out of them every time you look at them.

The premise of the story and the rhyme is similar to Oi Cat!, but looks at a new set of animals that sit on various things. This further extends the vocabulary that is being taught in the books. There does also appear to be an added layer of repetition in the book, reinforcing what the words your youngster is learning.

The book ends with a very lucky frog who can sit on whatever he likes!

A great series of books for pre-school and young school age children, and a whole lot of storytime fun for the family.

Hello Fish!

Hooray for Fish! by Lucy Cousins

A beautifully bright and cheery book, fantastic for teaching children about colours, descriptors, and rhyme.

I have a soft spot for books that end with cuddles between mummy and baby (eg Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What do you see? and Hello Baby!) – this book is just that with the addition of a fun rhyme and engaging illustrations.

Available to borrow at the Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries (check your own local library too!) and for purchase at Big W and Dymocks.

Summary

“Little fish has lots of fishy friends. Stripy fish. Spotty fish. Happy fish. Grumpy fish. So many friends, so many fish, splosh, splash, splish!”

This book is appropriate for babies for the engaging graphics and simple language, but also appropriate for teaching rhyme and furthering language skills for toddlers and pre-schoolers.

What I love about this book

What I love most about this book is the illustrations. They are quite simple – but this is what makes them so effective. It looks as though they were done with a big, thick paint brush and with the kind of paint that you would find at any school/kinder. The bright, bold colours are wonderfully engaging, particularly for youngsters. They give the book an uplifting and whimsical tone.

As the perfect accompaniment to the illustrations, the language used in the story is simple, direct and rhyming. This combination makes the story extremely engaging for a wider age group – your preschooler can enjoy this book as much as a toddler, or baby.

The book works on various levels teaching rhyme, as well as interesting ways to describe the different fish.

This book is a lot of fun and offers many good teaching points. It also conveys the message of beauty in diversity. What makes the book particularly clever is that it is a seemingly simple book, but does a whole lot of teaching!

Storytime Activities and Tips

  • Run your finger over each word as you read them.
  • Read the book slowly, the rhyme will still allow a slower pace. Take the time with each word to help with letter and word recognition.
  • Point at each of the relevant fish and to what the describing word refers. For example, “Grumpy fish…Oh, look at the frown on that fish’s face!”, “fin-fin fish…look at all the fins on that fish!”
  • Create some suspense at the end with “But where’s the one I love the best, even more than all the rest?” and give your little one a big hug and kiss when you get to the last page.

Spying v Eavesdropping, a subtle difference…

Olivia the Spy by Ian Falconer.

Due to my daughter’s absolute love of the first book in the series Olivia (read my review here), we recently borrowed Olivia the Spy.

This book in the series is as great as the first.

While Olivia does appear to have grown up a bit in this book, her character is just as endearing as before. As a parent of an inquisitive and cheeky pre-schooler, I can relate to the mother’s exasperation to “No mummy, I know how to…..[insert daily assisted activity here]” and it all going a bit pear shaped.

Olivia is a bright child with a vocabulary that would challenge some adults. While somewhat unrealistic for most children, the book does work to push an expanding vocabulary. The storyline and premise can easily be understood by preschoolers, but cleverly introduces these more difficult words (eg suspicious, insecure, etc).

The illustrations in this book were fantastic. Falconer uses the signature black, white, red drawings and also super-imposes them onto photographic images.

Another great story to add to the collection. I love this book for pretty much the same reasons as the original Olivia story, but also for the added complexity to character and storyline. This story teaches children (and adults!) about the concept of eavesdropping and how a poorly informed understanding of a situation can lead us to some crazy conclusions.

 

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.

Who is my treasure?

Hello Baby! by Mem Fox

This book holds special sentimental value for me. It was the first book I read to my daughter and is also written by my favourite children’s author.

A sweet book which is perfect for cuddling up with your baby while learning about animals and body parts.

The book is written such that the person reading asks a series of direct questions to baby. Wonderfully interactive and engaging.

Available for purchase at Dymocks, Angus & Robertson and for borrow at Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries (check your own local libraries too!).

Summary

“Clever monkey babies, dusty lion babies, sleepy leopard babies, hairy warthog babies. But which is the most treasured one of all?”

Suitable for babies in particular, but also great to use as a teaching tool (word and letter recognition) for pre-school age children.

What I love about this book

The language used in this book is clear, simple and repetitive, making it a fantastic first book.

This book is best with baby on your lap, so you can touch baby’s nose, “paws”, toes, eyes, etc as you read. You can then end with a big cuddle when you work out who is the most treasured baby of all!..

The illustrations are textural and realistic looking due to the use of a paper cut-and-paste effect.

Storytime Tips and Activities

  • Read this book cuddled up on a chair with baby.
  • Point to baby’s body parts as you read them.
  • Take the time to go through identifying each animal and making the sound they make.
  • Build up the suspense on the second last page (“Then who are you, baby? Wait, let me guess…Are you my treasure? The answer is…”), with a resounding YES at the end.
  • Place your hand on top of the parent’s hand at the illustration at the end, with baby’s hand on the other to show togetherness.

You are great just the way you are!

Crocodiles are the Best Animals of All by Sean Taylor

My daughter was given this book as a gift from family in Canada. While I have been able to find other titles by this author here in Australia at my local library and in stores, I have been unable to find this particular book. However, it does looks as though it can be purchased online.

If you are in Australia and do manage to find a copy of this book, it is well worth the read. Despite its lack of availability, I am still writing up a review because it is a fantastic book. It features a cast of favourite animals, has a wonderful rhyme and, above all, conveys an important message to children – self worth and appreciation.

The book is geared more towards the toddler audience, but is suitable for preschoolers also. My 4-year old daughter, however, seems to have grown a little distant to this book (much to my disappointment). I’m hoping my son will soon enjoy cuddling up with me over this story.

Summary

‘Crocodiles are the best animals of all!’ announces a rather boastful crocodile. But can he swing through trees like an orang-utan, hop like a kangaroo, or climb like a mountain goat? Of course he can! But perhaps there is one thing he can’t do?”

Suitable for toddlers and preschool age children.

What I love about this book

What I love most about this book is the important message that it conveys – and does so in a light-hearted and fun way. Essentially, the take-away from this book is to love yourself (including your imperfections). It also deals with acknowledging that there will almost always be someone who is better at something than you, but that we all have our own skills and unique qualities. We should be embracing this. We don’t have to be the “best” to be valued in our community.

I also think it is important to note that the boastful crocodile (who is good at almost everything) is depicted as the minority. The majority of animals in the story are like the donkey – being “beaten” by the crocodile at numerous activities.

As adults, I’m sure we can all relate to knowing a “crocodile”-type personality in our lives….The message is applicable to both adults and to children.

The book is a lovely read with its sing-song rhyme.

The illustrations are also a great accompaniment to the story. They are a bit quirky (looks similar to what an early teenager might draw), but they are detailed, colourful and extremely engaging.

Storytime Tips and Activities

  • Read this story with your child on your lap and act out some of what the animals are doing. For example, bounce the child up and down on your knee when you get to “I hop on my left foot. I hop on my right. I hop to an unbelievable height!”
  • Try wiggling your ears with the donkey.
  • Take the time to get your child to identify all the animals they see.
  • Spend a bit of time on the illustrations and discuss what is going on in the background (eg rabbits mowing the lawn).
  • Spend some extra time to discuss what happens when the crocodile can’t wiggle his ears. Reiterate more clearly to your child the message of self-worth and appreciating who you are, imperfections and all!