What We’re Reading: A Wish To Be a Christmas Tree (plus online literature resources)

Did you know that the idea for featuring weekly book reviews came from SK reader Emily (The Pilot’s Wife)?  I had the pleasure of meeting Emily at a blogging event last spring (that’s us pictured below!), and I have so enjoyed getting to know her.  She has a true passion for great children’s literature, and today she is featuring a Christmas book as well as some helpful online children’s literature resources for the SK community:

This week I want to share with you a new-to-me Christmas story, and I also want to pass along some of my favorite online resources for children’s literature.

I found A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree by Colleen Monroe this week and found it to be a completely charming book.   It is the story of a old, tall tree on a Christmas tree farm that has never been chosen to be someone’s special tree.

He has watched his children and grandchildren be chosen, and he knows that he is too large now to be a suitable Christmas tree.  As the old tree weeps, he woodland friends make a plan to boost their friend’s feelings and make his Christmas special.

This is a beautifully illustrated book that combines a message of Christmas and friendship in a rhyming text.  I think you’ll really enjoy this one!

Something I discovered while researching this book is that YouTube has children’s stories! Am I the last person to figure this out?

You can watch (and listen) to A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree here:

A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree on YouTube

I also found ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas read by Perry Como:

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas on YouTube

And a few more (non-Christmasy, yet still great): The Very Hungry Caterpiller and Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me

I already knew YouTube was great; now I have a reason to love it even more!  I found these stories by searching “children’s books read aloud”.  There are many more available.

While I’m sharing my finds, I want to pass along a few of my other go to spots for children’s literature.

1) Speakaboos – This is a website that allows children to read along with celebrity readers and even record themselves reading.  This site requires you to register, but it’s free.

2) Another celebrity reading site is Storyline Online. This site is supported by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, and unlike Speakaboos, you actually watch a video of the actor reading the book, but you can still read along with the words.  There are only about 20 books on this site, but they’re all high quality books.

3) The last thing I want to share is not a site that has stories, but a site that provides wonderful support for children’s literature.  Making Learning Fun is a site that is geared towards Pre-K to 2nd grade, and it has so many wonderful, printable activities that go beautifully with such classics as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, The Very Hungry Caterpiller, Chicka-Chicka Boom Boom, and many more.

Alright Simple Kids readers, what are your favorite websites to encourage reading and literacy?

What We’re Reading Wednesday: September 2nd

Welcome back to What We’re Reading Wednesday!  More great book selections from the Review Team this week:


from Trisha (~okieOLIO~)

sitti's secretsNaomi Shihab Nye’s picture book Sitti’s Secrets holds a special place in my heart because I can intimately relate to Mona, the young American girl who travels to the “other side of the earth” to visit her grandmother, Sitti, in a small Middle Eastern village. The pages evoked fond thoughts of my own Sitti, who also calls me habibi (“darling or sweetheart”), and enjoys yogurt and flat bread for breakfast. But Nye’s story is one that has the capacity to speak to every child (and parent) despite their background.

Through Mona’s bright and simple portrayal of the vast differences between her life and her grandmother’s, the barriers of language, culture, and distance seem to shrink away. As she and the wise elderly woman share time, chores, meals, songs, and secrets, their strong bond and genuine communication are evident. It is a thoughtful affirmation of the power of love to transcend diversity, and also positive encouragement for hope and peace.

The poetic, lyrical text is fittingly illustrated by Nancy Carpenter’s exquisitely ethereal mixed-media paintings that fill the page with flowing images that feel like a giant hug that envelopes Mona, Sitti, and you. The pictures faithfully maintain the authentic connection between the girl and woman from two different worlds, even when they are separated by “fish and cities and buses and fields…”

The language level and engaging illustrations are well-suited for preschool ages, but all ages will delight in Mona’s wonder-filled encounters with the new sights, sounds, and tastes she is introduced to. Also, the story offers plenty of potential for learning opportunities about culture, geography, government, and family traditions for older children. While there are other books that depict lessons through multicultural grandparents, this one stands out to me for its layered appeal: a wonderfully emotive story, a profoundly meaningful message, and an accessible global perspective.

All this in a beautiful package! I whole-heartedly recommend this book for any young habibi in your life.

Early Elementary

from Emily (The Pilot’s Wife)

“..for this story, you only need to know three things: 1. They are a little bit rat.  2. They are a little bit mole.  3. They are all naked.”

Many of my very favorite children’s books are filled with humor for several reasons.  First, I love to laugh!  Making a new friend is all the better when they make me laugh, and finding a good book that tickles my funny bone is a delight.  I love funny books for kids, as well, because for many children reading can be difficult.  As a teacher, I love to show them a side of reading that can be fun!

moleratpicNaked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems is ranking high on my list right now for that very reason.  C’mon, you know any book with the word ‘naked’ in the title is going to elicit giggles from the under 10 crowd. (And probably the rest of us too, if we’re honest!)

I was first introduced to Mo Willems’ work with his book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, and since it was a huge success with my kindergarten class, I couldn’t wait to read more.

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed is actually about, well, a naked mole rat getting dressed!  Willems uses witty text and hilarious illustrations to tell the tale of the odd Naked Mole Rat, Wilbur, who enjoys being stylishly clad, and wants to convince his reluctant friends to do like-wise.

My favorite aspect of this book, other than it making me burst out laughing in the library, is Willems attention to detail.  In one illustration is a sign hanging in the Naked Mole Rat colony that reads:

*No Shirt
*No Shoes
* Service

I love it!

Underneath all the sillies, this is a wonderful book about tolerance and the beauty of accepting each other’s differences.  But if you and your children don’t collapse into a fit of giggles while learning that lesson, I’ll be amazed!

Put this book in your Amazon cart, or on your library reserve list today.  And go ahead and toss in everything else you can find by Mo Willems while you’re at it.

Upper Elementary

from Katie (This Natural Life)

Many of us are probably familiar with the story of Anne of Green Gables – the winsome, fiery redheaded girl who speaks her mind as freely as she shares her heart. Lesser known than Anne but perhaps even more memorable, Emily Starr is the heroine of the three books which form the “Emily” trilogy, written by the same author as the “Anne” stories, L.M. Montgomery.

emilynewmoonWe first meet Emily in Emily of New Moon. She is eight years old, and very early in the story, she becomes an orphan when her dear father passes away unexpectedly. Her mother had died when she was four, and so she is sent to live with relatives – the conservative Murray family, who live on New Moon Farm. The story follows Emily as she grieves her father, finds solace in her writing, and settles into her new home. She discovers friendship in Ilse and Teddy. And she becomes acquainted with – and eventually grows to love – her new family.

In Emily Climbs, Emily leaves New Moon to attend high school on one condition: she may not write any fiction while she is there. Emily boards with her Aunt Ruth, who appears to be a cold and distant woman, and she must learn how to make her way in this new place. She finds that her writing improves as she draws upon her creativity in new ways. Her friendship with Teddy continues to deepen and grow, and even offers the possibility of love. At the end of the book, Emily turns down an offer to accompany a famous author to New York in favor of returning to New Moon.

emilysquestThe trio concludes with Emily’s Quest. Here we discover that Teddy and Emily’s love is emerging just as Teddy leaves home to study art. However, as circumstances shift and communication falters, Emily encounters many unexpected turns in the road, including an accident that threatens her life, an engagement, heartbreak, and her first published book. In the end, though, all is as it should be (which means you will have to read it to find out what happens!).

What can’t be summarized here are the unique qualities that make Emily who she is. She is intelligent, imaginative, and hopeful. She has a sensitive spirit with a touch of “second sight,” which allows her to see and feel more than she is often able to understand. She is quietly prideful, fiercely loyal, and always conducts herself with class. Where the “Anne” books are sometimes unrealistic and over-simplistic (though I do love them so!), the “Emily” books dig a little deeper, and do not flinch from dealing with ugly truths and broken people. However, the author handles it all in a way that is still accessible to and appropriate for young people. The “Emily” books would be a wonderful addition to any library. Once you get to know her, Emily is certain to win your devotion just as surely as Anne did.

What We’re Reading Wednesdays: The Dot and Ish

Welcome back to What We’re Reading Wednesday!  Emily returns to share two more recent favorites in her home.

I love sharing books with people who get just as excited as I do.  My dream job is to be a children’s librarian.  My husband thinks that would be the world’s most boring job, but then again he flies airplanes upside down for a living.  I thought you all might appreciate my dream.

I had a tough time picking the next book I wanted to review because there are just so many good ones!  So I decided to pick two: The Dot and Ish are both written and illustrated by Peter Reynolds. It was impossible for me to choose which I liked better so I’m sharing both!

the-dotThe Dot is about a girl named Vashti who is frustrated in art class and cannot think of anything to draw.  Her teacher tells her to, “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.”  Through this simple encouragement, Vashti unleashes her creative juices and finds her love of drawing.  Along the way she discovers that she does have talent when she was sure she had none.  This lovely tale ends as Vashti encourages another boy who believes he can’t draw by passing along the same advice she was given.

ishIsh is another tale about a would-be artist, Ramon, who loves to draw, but gives way to doubt when his older brother makes fun of his drawings.  His epiphany comes when he finds all his crumpled up, self-rejected drawings have been rescued from the trash by his sister.  She has smoothed them out and lovingly taped them all to her bedroom walls.  Ramon learns that even though he drawings aren’t perfect, they’re still beautiful.

These books are both quick reads with beautifully simple illustrations.  Although they are about children’s frustrations with art, I think the lesson could be translated to any subject with which a child was struggling.

I will be adding The Dot and Ish to my list of favorites, and I’m just sure you will too!

What We’re Reading Wednesdays: James and the Rain

What a fun day here at Simple Kids!  We are launching What We’re Reading Wednesdays – a weekly feature in which members of the Simple Kids community offer reviews of some of the best of children’s literature.  The series begins today with this review from Emily:

james-and-the-rainAs I was sorting and cataloging books for the list a few weeks ago, I began creating my own must-be-checked-out list.  With my background in education and childcare, I was already familiar with quite a few of the books.  I was surprised, however, with how many that were brand new to me!

The first book I want to share with you is James and the Rain written by Karla Kuskin and illustrated by Reg Cartwright.  The title and beautiful cover drew me in, and because it was available at my local library, that’s where I began.

I’m actually really sad that I didn’t know about this book until now!  I would have used it on every single rainy day when I was teaching.

The basic premise is a young boy, James, takes a walk in the rain where he meets a menagerie of animals that share their favorite thing to do in the rain.  It is a counting book as he meets one cow all the way up to ten cats, and children could practice one-to-one counting by pointing at the pictures.  Also, each page builds on the last, including all of the animals, so older children could practice counting past ten.

The text is written in a rhyming and chanting manner, making it fun to read and to listen.  In the course of my studies, we talked a lot about the importance of “word exposure” for children, and how it’s important for their vocabulary for them to hear a wide variety of words even if they don’t understand the meaning of them all.  Well, I’m going to steal Tsh’s phrase and assure you that this book is indeed “twaddle-free”! The language is rich and delightfully descriptive.  Also, the illustrations are just gorgeous.  The kind I enjoy looking at over and over again.

My favorite page is the one where James meets four birds:

“Well,” said the birds, “when it rains we soar

up to the clouds and a little bit more.

We seek and we search

soaking our skins

to try to find out where the rain begins.”

Do yourself a favor and snag this lovely book on your next library trip.  You won’t be disappointed!

The List – Children’s Literature We Love!

booksLast month, I asked you – the Simple Kids community – to share some of your unsung favorites of children’s literature.  The overwhelming response resulted in a list of more than one hundred literature recommendations for children from birth through upper elementary.  What an amazing resource!  But not as useful – or simple – as it had the potential to be while still in the format of a comments section.

I asked for volunteers to help sort through and organize the book recommendations and several of you offered your help right away.  Life picked up its pace and before I knew it, weeks had gone by without me having time to organize the volunteers.  You can only imagine my utter shock and surprise when someone in our community emailed to let me know she had taken up the task of organizing that list all on her own!

Emily of The Pilot’s Wife is an absolutely wonderful, sweet, funny, and helpful woman I met at the Tulsa Mom’s Night Out for Oklahoma Women Bloggers.  As a former elementary school teacher, she is well-practiced in the work of organizing learning material – even when that material lives in a virtual context.  In just a matter of a few days, she had broken that massive list of recommendations into three age groups and then alphabetized within by author’s last name.  What follows is the result of her magnanimous gesture for this community.

After you review this outstanding resource, please take a moment to offer a word of gratitude to Emily for her hard work on this project!  (And if your recommendation inadvertently got left off of this list, please do let me know!)

Books for Babies & Toddlers

Aigner, Julie.  Mimi’s Toes
Barton, Byron.  My Car
Bauer, Marion Dane. Toes, Ears & Nose! A Lift the Flap Book
Benjamen, A.H.  Baa! Moo! What Will We Do?
Boynton, Sandra.  Belly Button Book
Boynton, Sandra.  Snuggle Puppy
Cyrus, Kurt.  Slow Train to Oxmox
Fox, Mem.  It’s Time for Bed
Freedman, Claire.  Snuggle Up, Sleepy Ones
Joel, Billy.  Goodnight My Angel
Katz, Karen.  Ten Tiny Tickles
Kent, Jack.  Socks for Supper
Lindgren, Barbro.  Sam’s Potty
Maccarone, Grace.  Bless Me: A Child’s Goodnight Prayer
Maccourt, Lisa.  I Love You Stinky Face
McCue, Dick.  Bunny’s Numbers
Perkins, Al. Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb
Rathmann, Peggy.  Goodnight Gorilla
Shustak, Bernadette Rossetti.  I Love You Through and Through
Tankard, Jeremy.  Grumpy Bird
Waddell, Martin.  Owl Babies
Whybrow, Ian.  Say Hello to the Animals

Books for Preschool thru Elementary-Aged Children

Adler, David A.  Cam Jansen series
Ahlberg, Allan and Janet.  Each Peach Pear Plum
Alborough, Jez.  Fix-it Duck
Allard, Harry.  Miss Nelson is Missing
Anderson, C.W. Billy and Blaze Series
Asch, Frank.  Happy Birthday Moon
Aylesworth, Jim.  The Full Belly Bowl
Barklem, Jill.  The Brambly Hedge books
Barrett, Judi and Ron.  Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
Bemelmans, Ludwig.  Madeline
Beskow, Elsa.  The Children of the Forest
Beskow, Elsa.  Aunt Green, Aunt Brown, and Aunt Lavender
Beskow, Elsa.  Woody, Hazel, and Little Pip
Bland, Nick.  The Very Cranky Bear
Bond, Michael.  Paddington
Bradfield, Jolly Roger.  Pickle-Chiffon Pie
Brett, Jan.  Annie and the Wild Animals
Brett, Jan.  The Mitten
Broach, Elise.  Wet Dog
Brown, Margaret Wise.  Big Red Barn
Bunting, Eve.  Riding the Tiger
Burton, Virginia Lee.  Katy and the Big Snow
Burton, Virginia Lee.  The Little House
Burton, Virginia Lee.  Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
Cannon, Janell.  Stellaluna
Carle, Eric.  The Very Busy Spider
Cosgrove, Stephen.  Leo the Lop
Crews, Donald.  Freight Trane
Cronin, Doreen.  Click, Clack, Moo, Cows That Type
Curtis, Carolyn.  I Took the Moon for a Walk
Cusimano, Maryann. You Are My I Love You
Degen, Bruce.  Jamberry
Demi.  The Empty Pot
dePaola, Tomie.  Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs
deVarennes, Monique.  The Sugar Child
Devlin, Harry.  Cranberry Thanksgiving
Dewdney, Anna.  Llama llama Mad at Mama
Eastman, P.D. Are You My Mother?
Flack, Marjorie.  Angus and the Cat
Fox, Mem.  Harriet You’ll Drive Me Wild
Freedman, Clair.  Aliens Love Underpants
Gilman, Pheobe.  The Balloon Tree
Gilman, Pheobe.  Something From Nothing
Godden, Rumer.  The Story of Holly and Ivy
Gollub, Mathew.  The Jazz Fly
Guarino, Deborah.  Is Your Mama a Llama?
Gurney, Nancy.  The King, the Mice, and the Cheese
Hargreaves, Roger.  Little Miss Bossy
Hefter, Richard.  Sweet Pickle Series
Henkes, Kevin.  Sheila Rae, the Brave
Hennessy, B.G.  The Boy Who Cried Wolf
Hest, Amy.  Kiss Goodnight
Hoban, Rusell.  Bedtime for Frances
Hoberman, Mary Ann.  The Seven Silly Eaters
Hoberman, Mary Ann.  Mary Had a Little Lamb
Hobbie, Hollie.  Toot & Puddle
Hutchins, Pat.  Ten Red Apples
Isaacs, Anne.  Swamp Angel
Jeffers, Oliver.  The Incredible Book Eating Boy
Jeffers, Susan.  The Three Jovial Huntsmen
Johnson, Crockett.  Harold and the Purple Crayon
Johnson, Paul Brett.  On Top of Spaghetti
Kahl, Virginia.  The Duchess Bakes a Cake
Klein, Abby.  Ready, Freddy! Series
Kleven, Elisa.  The Paper Princess
Kuskin, Karla.  James and the Rain
Krause, Robert.  Leo the Late Bloomer
Lamarche, Jim.  The Raft
Lasky, Kathryn.  Humphrey, Albert, and the Flying Machine
Lawler, Janet.  If Kisses Were Colors
Lear, Edward.  The Owl and the Pussy Cat
Lester, Helen.  Tacky the Penguin
Lillegard, Dee.  The Big Bug Ball
Lindvall, Ella K.  Read Aloud Bible Stories
Lithgow, John.  The Remarkable Farkle McBride
Lobel, Arnold.  The Frog and Toad Collection
Long, Melinda and Shannon, David.  How I Became a Pirate
Loyd-Jones, Sally.  The Jesus Storybook Bible
Lucado, Max.  You Are Special
Lucado, Max.  You Are Mine
Marshall, James. George and Martha books
Martin, Bill Jr.  A Beasty Story
Martin, Bill Jr.  Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Martin, Bill Jr. Chicka Chicka 1 2 3
McBratney, Sam. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs
McCloskey, Robert.  Blueberries for Sal
McMullan, Kate and Jim.  I’m Dirty
McMullan, Kate and Jim.  I Stink
Milne, A.A. Winnie the Pooh and the Pebble Hunt
Morgan, Stacy.  The Cuddlers
Munsch, Robert.  Andrew’s Loose Tooth
Munsch, Robert.  Mmmm… Cookies
Muth, Jon J.  Zen Shorts
Napoli, Donna Jo.  Albert
Numeroff, Laura.  If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
Oakley, Graham.  The Church Mice Chronicles
Osborne, Mary Pope. The Magic Tree House Series
Palatini, Margie.  Stinky, Smelly Feet: A Love Story
Park, Barbara.  Junie B. Jones books
Pfister, Marcus.  The Rainbow Fish
Pfister, Marcus.  The Happy Hedgehog
Polacco, Patricia.  Thunder Cake
Portis, Antoinette. Not a Box
Portis, Antoinette.  Not a Stick
Potter, Beatrix.  The Tale of Samuel Whiskers
Relf, Adam.  Fox Makes Friends
Rey, H.A. Curious George
Reynolds, Peter.  Ish
Reynolds, Peter. The Dot
Risom, Ole.  I Am a Bunny
Rohmann, Eric.  My Friend Rabbit
Rosenthal, Amy Krouse.  Cookies: Bite Sized Life Lessons
Rosenthal, Amy Krouse.  Little Pea
Rylant, Cynthia.  Tulip See America
Scarry, Richard.  A Day at the Airport
Schachner, Judy.  Skippyjon Jones
Seuss, Dr.  Dr. Seuss’s ABC
Schwartz, Amy.  A Teeny Tiny Baby
Sierra, Judy.  Wild About Books
Silverstein, Shel.  The Giving Tree
Smath, Jerry.  But No Elephants
Smith, Maggie.  Counting Our Way to Maine
Seuss, Dr.  Dr. Seuss’s ABC
Tudor, Tasha.  A Time to Keep: The Tasha Tudor Book of Holidays
Tunnell, Michael O.  Halloween Pie
Tunnell, Michael O.  Mailing May
Van Allsburg, Chris.  The Wretched Stone
Viorst, Judith.  Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Von Olfers, Sibylle.  Mother Earth and Her Children
Weeks, Sarah.  If I Were a Lion
Wiesner, David.  Sector 7
Wiesner, David.  Tuesday
Willems, Mo.  Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus
Willems, Mo.  Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed
Williams, Vera B.  A Chair for My Mother
Wood, Audrey.  The Napping House
Wood, Audrey.  Quick as a Cricket
Wood, Don.  The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear
Yashima, Taro.  Umbrella
Yolen, Jane.  The Flying Witch
Yolen, Jane.  Owl Moon
Zion, Gene.  Harry the Dirty Dog

Books for Upper Elementary Children and Beyond

Birney, Betty.  The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs
Blyton, Enid.  Adventure’s of the Wishing Chair
Blyton, Enid.  The Magic Faraway Tree
Brooks, Walter.  Freddy the Detective
Cleary, Beverly.  Ramona Quimby, Age 8
Dahl, Roald.  James and the Giant Peach
DiCamillo, Kate.  The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Edwards, Julie Andrews.  The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
Gannett, Ruth Stiles.  My Father’s Dragon
Jansson, Tove.  Moomintrolls books
Lindgren, Astrid.  The Children of Noisy Village
Lindgren, Astrid.  Happy Times in Noisy Village
Peck, Richard.  A Long Way From Chicago
Wells, Rosemary.  A Voyage to Bunny Planet
White, E.B. Stuart Little

Is there another book you would like to see added to the list? Leave a comment and I will get it added!

photo by kennymatic