What We’re Reading Wednesday: September 23rd

Filling our homes with books allows us the freedom to turnoff the screens in our homes – even if it is just for the week. The book review team is back this week with three fantastic recommendations:

Baby and Toddler

from Meghan (Out of the Woods)

house-in-the-night-coverHave you heard yet about The House In the Night by Susan Marie Swanson?  This book is the 2009 winner of the prestigious Caldecott award (aka It Must Be Awesome).  I am obsessed.  Both the text and the illustrations by Beth Krommes are utterly enchanting and perfect for getting you and your little one swept up in the glory of a starry, fall evening.

I recommend this book for the infant/toddler category for three reasons:

1. The book is entirely illustrated in black, white and yellow and provides an excellent opportunity for young ones to focus, instead of getting lost in pages packed with bright colors.  I knew it would be perfect for my nine-month-old daughter when I noticed her point to the fireplace on almost every page of Goodnight Moon.  The color yellow represents The House’s main character—light—and just as I thought, my girl goes right for the bright spots of color every time. Krommes is a printmaker, and her illustrations are done in the style of wood engraving.  You will love her landscapes of rolling hills, inviting cottages, fields awaiting harvest and yellow sun and stars.

2. The text is very simple (only one phrase per page) and is full of basic words that your toddler is likely working on, such as home, book, bird, sun, moon, song, etc.  The pages are full of opportunities for image and word recognition, as they are teeming with animals, toys and musical instruments.

3. Best of all, this is the perfect book for children who are developing a fear of the dark. It explains very simply how light from the sun reflects off the moon at night and comes into the little one’s room, along with the shining of the stars.  It explains that her home is full of light, even if the lamp is turned off, pointing out pets, plants and parents as comforts better than any lightbulb.

And I recommend this book for parents, because it will captivate you as well, with its intimate and tender details, its depiction of home and family, and its masterful illustrations. You’ll want to study every page.

Early Elementary

From Jean-Marie Maier

mercyrescueMercy Watson doesn’t want to sleep alone in her dark, scary room, so she sneaks into Mr. and Mrs. Watson’s bed and snuggles between them. Typical behavior of a preschooler you say? Only problem is Mercy isn’t a preschooler. She’s a fun-loving pig with an affinity for warm, buttery toast.

Just when Mercy is deep in a dream about a plate piled-high with delicious, hot-buttered toast, she and the other dreaming Watsons are awakened by a “Boom!” The bed is falling through a second floor hole. And although Mr. Watson tells everyone to stay where they are, Mercy dashes off to find…help?  No!  Some of that dreamy, hot-buttered toast!

What happens next? A scare. A wild chase. And firemen are called to the scene. Mercy’s insuppressible love of toast turns her into the unwitting hero, or as the Watsons like to call her a “porcine wonder.”

Mercy Watson To The Rescue by Kate DiCamillo is an action-filled, fast moving story that completely delighted me and my 5-year-old daughter. We shared lots of chatter, giggles and toast. We would also recommend the other books in the Mercy Watson series.  They are perfect for beginning readers ready to give chapter books a try. Each book has so much to offer: easy to read text, vibrant illustrations, quirky characters and lots of humor and silliness.

And if you’re gearing up for Halloween, check out Mercy Watson Princess in Disguise. It features a trick-or-treating Mercy, many of the same familiar faces and, of course, stacks of delicious, hot-buttered toast.

Upper Elementary

By Elizabeth (Finding Him Bigger)

crookedkindofperfectThere’s nothing like having a dream and not quite being able to reach it. Zoe, the 5th grade protagonist in Linda Urban’s A Crooked Kind of Perfect, knows this disappointment well. She dreams of playing the piano in Carnegie Hall, complete with a ball gown, gloves up to her elbows, and ruby slippers. Because for her a piano is everything she is not: glamorous, sophisticated, and worldly.

Unfortunately, instead of a grand piano, Zoe plays the organ: a loud, awkward instrument, nothing like a delicate piano.

In learning how to play the organ and preparing for a competition she’s not even sure she wants to compete in, Zoe learns a great deal about herself and her unconventional parents. She makes an unlikely friend and realizes that people aren’t always as they seem. Some of their quirks might actually be strengths. In fact, what seems crooked to one person and perfect to another might be just that: a crooked kind of perfect.

So when Zoe’s performance in the competition seems anything but perfect to her, she learns that sometimes you just have to keep going. She tells her dad, “You can’t jut get up and walk away every time you mess up. You’d never get anywhere.” That’s a lesson that’s good for all of us to learn.

My 10-year old daughter and I both enjoyed this book very much, and it has sparked some wonderful conversations in our home about perfectionism and expectations. Most upper-elementary aged girls understand Zoe’s feelings of wanting to fit in with their peers but not always being able to. A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban is a delightful book from which they’ll find encouragement and inspiration to be themselves. It inspires confidence and self-assuredness, even for moms like me, and reminds all of us that what seems perfect has mistakes in it too. But when we focus on the positives, those mistakes hardly matter at all.

Storytelling Day: The True Story of Hey, Diddle Diddle

overthemoonphoto by James Jordan

It’s Storytelling Day again here at Simple Kids.  Today, we welcome back Robin who has crafted a new, engaging, and thoroughly enjoyable story to share with your family and to inspire your own storytelling muse.

Hey, diddle diddle
The cat and the fiddle
The cow jumped over the moon.

The little dog laughed
To see such sport
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

Pssst: have you ever seen a cow jump? No? Me, neither. Here’s what really happened.

Bill and Jill Diddle had a little farm where they raised cows and chickens on soft, rolling hills: the cows grazed on the north side of the creek that ran through the farm, and the chickens clucked on the south side. They also had a cat and a dog and four kids. The three girls, Sara, Cara and Dara, were always just called “the Daughters Diddle” because they were so close in age and looked so much alike. The Daughters Diddle loved caring for all the animals. There was also one boy. He was much younger than his sisters, who thought he was too small to help with the animals and always sent him off to go play. Almost nobody called him by his real name. His mommy called him “my little dumpling.” Everyone else called him “the little Diddle” or simply, “Diddle Diddle.” Only his daddy, who had always wanted a son, ever used his proper name.

Diddle Diddle always tried to help. He wanted to milk the cows but he accidentally knocked over the pail. He tried to collect the morning eggs from the hens but he dropped two eggs and they cracked. The Daughters Diddle told him what they always told him. “Oh, Diddle Diddle, you’re still too little for all this work. Why don’t you go play?”

They always told him to go play. He didn’t mind too much, though, because he had a secret: Diddle Diddle was going to be a famous musician when he grew up. Whenever his sisters told him to go play, he practiced his music. He always took his guitar with him. Sometimes he took a cow bell. Sometimes he’d take his favorite drum, too. It wasn’t a real drum. It was his mommy’s big wooden salad bowl, but when he propped it against a rock and used the serving spoons as drumsticks it made fantastic boom-boom-buh-boom noises.

Diddle Diddle would go where nobody would see or hear him: down in the valley of the creek bed between Cow Hill and Chicken Hill.  There, the farmhouse and the hen house and the dairy barn all seemed worlds away. There, he could play his music and sing as loudly as he wanted and dream about the day that nobody would tell him he was too little anymore. He drummed and strummed and clanged and sang and imagined himself on stage. His dog and cat always kept him company while he practiced; they were very loyal and they always meowed and woofed appreciatively.

Over time, a peculiar thing happened. Whenever Diddle Diddle came to the flat rock by the creek more animals began to gather to hear his music. The dog and the cat were always there, but a few chickens would cluck down to the bottom of their hill, too. One day, a cow came. The day after that, nine cows and 22 chickens came to hear Diddle Diddle’s music. And they began to dance! At first the chickens two-stepped on their hill and the cows linked tails and swayed on their hill, but the dog and the cat had been listening to Diddle Diddle’s music for weeks and they wanted to party. They ran across the summer-shallow creek waters, encouraging and nudging and gently yipping at tails and tail-feathers until slowly, shyly, all the animals began to dance together.

One afternoon Diddle Diddle realized that all of the farm animals were at the creek dancing to his music. He was playing and singing his heart out and the party was so fun that he didn’t realize he had played right past his dinnertime. All he knew is that he was having the best day. He knew he wasn’t too little to do anything. He knew he would grow up to be a great musician.

The sun was long set and the moon was high in the sky when his family found him. The Daughters Diddle came down from the south hill where they had been to close up the hen house for the night but couldn’t find any chickens. His daddy came down from the top of the north hill. He had gone out to the dairy barn to do the night milking and found that all the cows were missing. And his mommy came running from the farm house where she had been looking for him. It was Diddle Diddle’s bedtime and she was worried!

As all the Diddles met in the moonlight they saw the most spectacular thing. The chickens were clucking and jumping through the grass. The cows were splashing across the creek and swinging the sprightlier hens over the water with their tails. All the animals were dancing together and at the center of it all was the baby of their family, Little Diddle, playing and looking happier than they’d ever seen.

They stood quietly and marveled at his talents. “Look,” Cara murmured. “The way it’s reflecting in the water, doesn’t it look like that cow is jumping over the moon?” Her parents and sisters laughed, and sat down in the grass to enjoy the show. They had always thought of Little Diddle as just that – little, and that night they appreciated him in a brand new way. “Diddle Diddle!” Sara said with new respect in her voice. “That’s my dumpling!” thought Jill. And Bill, the proudest daddy there ever was, said again and again, “look at my son, my John.” There they sat until the last song ended, and together the whole family, including their most amazing little boy, all tucked the animals away for the night together and got ready for bed.

Tired from so much excitement, the Diddles fell asleep quickly. Especially John — he fell asleep dreaming of what Cara had repeated to him: of cows who loved his music, jumping over the moon.

Dear reader: you’ve heard of him, right? “Diddle diddle dumpling, my son John? Went to bed with his stockings on?”  I’ll tell you more about him next month.

simplekidsRobin1Robin blogs about satisfying the curiosities of her inquisitive family at Not-Ever-Still Life with Girls.

Turnoff Week: September 20-26th

tvfreephoto by Aaron Escobar

Twice a year, the Center for Screen-Time Awareness hosts a Turnoff Week to encourage people everywhere to turn off the screens for a week.  The second Turnoff Week for 2009 launched yesterday, September 20th and will continue through Saturday, September 26th.

Is this a challenge your family will undertake?

For those accustomed to unlimited screen time, the thought of turning off for a week can be overwhelming.  Here are some resources to motivate and inspire a week without (or with reduced) screen time:

Resources for TV-Free and Screen-Free Living


Kill Your Television

Preschool Activities 101: TV-Free Ways To Keep Your Kid Busy While You Work – Part One and Part Two

Simple Mom: 20 Indoor Activities for Kids – besides TV

Unplug Your Kids blog

The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom Trying to Raise a TV-Free Kid by Ellen Curry-Wilson

Instead of TV

Is your home screen-free?  TV-free?  Limited in screen and TV-time?  What resources have helped or inspired you?

September 18th: SK Showcase and Weekend Links

I don’t have a showcase to share this week, but I sure would love to receive your submission!  Check the SK Showcase FAQ for submission inspiration.

Just a reminder – on October 1st, Simple Kids is hosting a book talk to discuss Lenore Skenazy’s Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry. I am working out some details on the logistics of our book talk.  It would really help to have an estimate of how many from the community will be participating.

If you are planning to take part in the book talk, could you take a moment to leave a comment and let me know?  I so appreciate your help!

And now, your weekend reading:

Simply Practical

Small Notebook: Organizing Your Children’s Clothes Storage

Simply Delicious

beauty that moves: kid friendly pad thai

Inspired Projects

Kids Craft Weekly: Bears

Inspired Images

The Rinrins: Birthday uncake

Inspired Words

Catskill Cottage Seed: Cultivating the Imaginal in Kids

(don’t forget to comment and let me know if you are planning to be a part of the Free Range Kids book talk!)

What We’re Reading Wednesday: September 16th

Four fantastic selections from the WWRW Review Team this week!

Baby and Toddler

from Kelly (Notions and Threads)

rockabyefarmBefore my son, Ari was born, I envisioned rocking him to sleep every night in my arms. Fourteen months later, the unused rocking chair is collecting cobwebs on our front porch.

Wanting to encourage another try at this soothing nighttime routine, I went searching for a book to show Ari the merits of rocking. I found Rock-a-Bye Farm by Diane Johnston Hamm, a delightful tale of a very busy farmer at bedtime. One of my favorite parts of the book is the beginning when he rocks his own baby to sleep before tucking in his animals. I love the message that a dad in his work overalls gladly ends his day putting his baby to sleep.

I was also drawn to the dreamy, yet whimsical illustrations by Alexi Natchev, which have been updated since the book’s first publication in 1992. You’ll love how patient and inventive this farmer is as he makes his rounds before rocking himself to sleep on his front porch. Sure, of course you’d rock a tiny mouse to sleep in a wooden cradle, but how do you rock a cow to sleep? A horse? This farmer’s challenges makes putting a tireless toddler to sleep look easy. On the page where the farmer rocks a large brood of hens in his apron, my son likes me to whisper, “back and forth, back and forth” while swaying him gently side to side. This may be the closest we get to rocking in my house, but at least we have an engaging new bedtime book.


from Amy (Girlfriends Get Real)

tellmesomethingI discovered the book Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go to Sleep this summer while I was searching the internet for new books to add to our home library. This book written in 1998 by Joyce Dunbar and Debi Gliori is a story of a little bunny that cannot fall asleep.

Willa is afraid to have bad dreams. Her older brother Willoughby helps her to fall asleep by reminding her of happy things. He reminds her of all of the things that are waiting for her in the morning.

“What do you see in the corner?” asked Willoughby.
“I see my basket full of toys,” said Willa.
“What do you think they are doing?” asked Willoughby.
“I don’t know,” said Willa.
“They are dreaming, dreaming of tomorrow, and the games you are going to play.”
“That’s very happy,” said Willa. “What else?”

I have a daughter that prays about dreaming happy things before she drifts to sleep every night. This book captures all of the happy thoughts through the story and the beautiful illustrations that can help your child drift into dreamland. If you are looking for a wonderful bedtime story, this is the perfect book to read to your child.

Early Elementary

from MJ (turnitupmom)

Those ShoesThis week’s selection, Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, is a perfect fit for any child who has ever felt pressured to buy the latest fad in order to belong.  It’s also for any parent who has ever struggled with how to talk to children about wants versus needs.

The story begins with Jeremy longing for a pair of new black sneakers: I have dreams about those shoes. Black high-tops.  Two white stripes. We immediately discover, however, that Jeremy’s grandma is in no financial position to buy what he wants, only what he needs.  And what he needs are warm winter boots.

After a humiliating school incident in which Jeremy is forced to wear Velcro baby shoes from the school’s donation box, he and his sympathetic grandma search several thrift shops for a used pair.  When Jeremy finally finds them, they’re too small.  Of course he buys them anyway, limping to the bus stop and praying that his “too-small shoes” will stretch.

One day, Jeremy notices that his best friend, Antonio- the only one who didn’t laugh at his baby shoes- is wearing taped-up shoes.  Despite his disappointment and embarrassment, Jeremy knows what he must do.  In a spirit of generosity, he surprises Antonio with a gift- those shoes.

This sweet and sincere ending tugs at the heartstrings, suggesting that what we really need are loving relationships and good friends by our side.  It’s a story that builds empathy and understanding as we grapple with the fine line between our wants and needs in a gotta-have-it society.

Upper Elementary

from Diana (HOLES in my Shiny Veneer)

“That’s just how parents are,” Henry explained wisely as he ate the cheese off the top of his slice and wiped his greasy hand on his jeans. “They like to talk about how they used to do things or about how they plan to do things someday, but parents aren’t very good at right now.” From Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder

tlccontentUgh, such an indictment for all parents!  I found this quote in a review, and it led to a post on my blog and an open thread discussion on another blog before my library even got Any Which Wall in.  Snyder is a stay-at-home mom to two toddlers, struggling like the rest of us, which makes this masterpiece all the more incredible of a read to me.

Any Which Wall is a special book, one that begs to be added to the family library instead of just being borrowed from the one downtown.  Written as a tribute to Edward Eager’s “Magic” novels, it would be the perfect family read-aloud on a rainy day: the narrator with her clever-but-not-too-clever asides explains that this is a tale of “common magic”, that ordinary magic just waiting to be found by kids who have too much time on their hands and are willing to open their eyes to the unusual.

Susan, Henry, Roy, and Emma are the four protagonists who find a wall dropped into the middle of a cornfield on a previously boring summer day.  Once they figure out the basic rules of this particular magical wall, they find that it can take them to anywhere and anytime.  Over the course of the book, they each choose a destination and have adventures in Camelot, with Blackbeard’s son, on the American prairie, and in present-day New York. In spite of the mention of cell phones and e-mail, their adventures have a timeless feel about them and it’s obvious that Snyder is a lover of childhood adventures from Anne of Green Gables to Mrs. Piggle Wiggle.

Yet Any Which Wall isn’t just a collection of magical journeys.  The children, of course, learn about themselves and each other in their time travels.  Parents will appreciate such lessons as:

“I can only be what I am,” said Merlin.  “And I’m happy, I suppose, because I don’t try to be anything else . . . It’s a lot of work to pretend.”

So yes, the morals are there (as in any classic kid lit), but I think the young reader will be too caught up in the adventures and the magic to be put off by them.  They certainly will make good talking points after a family read aloud, though.  I can’t wait for that rainy day to share Any Which Wall with my two.