The Power of Books

Most of the books I’ve included in this blog so far have been books that have entertained us. They have caused us to laugh out loud, transported us to magical places, and introduced us to new characters who now feel like friends. I was recently reminded of the power of books. Books can enlighten us, help us analyze issues, and inspire us. Books can serve as springboards for deep discussions about issues such as discrimination. Books can be tools for teaching our children.

img_2334.jpg

I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis

Our older daughter recently borrowed this book from the school library. It is a powerful book about one girl’s experience at a Canadian residential school. One shameful part of Canada’s history is that approximately 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were taken away from their families and sent to residential schools in order to break the ties between the children and their cultures. For instance, students were punished for speaking their home languages. Abuse and neglect were present in many residential schools. Thousands of children died at residential schools. The practice of removing indigenous children from their families lasted for over a century, with the last residential school closing in 1996. The Canadian government has since issued a formal apology.

Our older daughter was deeply moved by the book. After talking about the book with her, I noticed that its author was coming to our local library to speak about the book. I decided to bring our older daughter to the presentation.

The author described her motivation for writing the book and how she overcame various obstacles she encountered while writing it. I was impressed by the extensive research that went into the writing of the book in order to ensure its accuracy.

Grownups will want to preview the book in order to determine whether it is appropriate for their readers. There are portions that might be better suited for older or more mature readers. Personally, I felt that our younger daughter was a bit too young for the book. For her, I felt that other books about the residential schools, such as Shi-shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell and When We Were Alone by David Alexander, were more appropriate.

 

More Disney Princess Books (!)

Our younger daughter is still in the thick of her Disney princess phase. Three guesses as to what she wants to be for Halloween this year. Yep, she wants to be Elsa for Halloween! We recently started on the Disney Princess Beginnings books and she’s gobbling them up.

 

img_2018.jpgDisney Princess Beginnings books by various authors

Each book of the series focuses on the childhood of a different princess. In the books, the main character solves a problem, learning something about herself in the process and providing a glimpse of the adult she will grow up to be. For example, Belle develops a plan to save the village bookstore from being converted into a meeting place for socialites. In doing so, she learns that she does have something in common with the others in her village after all. In true Disney fashion, the illustrations are striking, but there are usually only one or two per chapter. As with the Disney Princess chapter books (see post from August 30, 2017), I have found that the characters tend to be one-dimensional. For example, Ariel is adventurous while Belle is smart and bookish. Despite this and the relative slow pace of the storylines, our younger daughter has been delighted with them. She can’t wait until the Tiana book is released in January!

Any other recommendations for a princess-loving reader? Please feel free to pass them along!

Mischief Makers Starring in Chapter Books for Early Readers

Our two daughters both have big imaginations. One tends more toward storytelling and directing scenes with dolls and stuffed animals, while the other gravitates toward creating games and contests. When they entertain themselves, they sometimes get into mischief. Thankfully, usually the mischief they cause is relatively tame! I was hesitant to introduce our daughters to the mischief makers included below, worried that they would be inspired to wreak havoc and copy behaviors I’d rather not have them learn. My fears proved to be unfounded. Instead, we’ve found that our daughters enjoy living vicariously through the characters in these books and that reading about the adventures of the characters has stimulated their own imaginations!

 

 

img_8924.jpg

Ivy + Bean books by Annie Barrows 

Ivy and Bean are unlikely friends. Together they come up with unconventional solutions to their problems, such as being left with a babysitter or avoiding a ballet recital. Our daughters find them hilarious, even upon multiple readings. One of their favorites is Ivy + Bean: What’s the Big Idea?, where Ivy and Bean test multiple solutions to climate change. Ivy + Bean Make the Rules runs a close second, where Ivy and Bean develop their own summer camp. While I am all too glad that the disasters Ivy and Bean create remain confined to the pages of a book, the pair never fails to entertain all of us.

 

 

img_1955.jpg

Dory Fantasmagory books by Abby Hanlon

Dory is the youngest of three children whose behavior has earned her the family nickname of Rascal. She longs for the friendship of her two older siblings, but they often refuse to play with her, leaving Dory to entertain herself. Dory has an active imagination and a rich fantasy life, so much so that the lines between reality and fantasy often become blurred. Our daughters were captivated by Dory’s adventures and begged for us to track down all of the books after reading the first one. My husband often chuckles while reading these books aloud to our daughters. Most two-page spreads in the books feature at least one black-and-white illustration. We are all eager for the publication of the next one!

Also on the to-read list for us are the Junie B. Jones books and the Ramona Quimby books. Do you have any favorite mischief-making characters? Please feel free to leave recommendations!

Laugh Out Loud Chapter Books for Early Readers

Sometimes people read to experience different worlds, cultures, and time periods or to learn and grapple with new ideas. Other times people read just for entertainment. This quirky series of books fits squarely in the realm of entertainment, producing giggles and laughter.

img_1823.jpgAdventures of Arnie the Doughnut books by Laurie Keller

Arnie is a walking, talking doughnut with sprinkles who has absurd adventures. His best friend is a walking, talking piece of pizza named Peezo. The books are full of word play and silly humor, making them a good fit for when your reader is looking for a goofy read. Our older daughter laughed out loud when a rival competitor named Pikyor Pocketo escaped with nickels collected during an event of the Spinny Icky Showdown. And you can probably guess what the response was when Heeza, one of the Schmelly twins, got married to Carl Caveman and decided to hyphenate her last name. The books are written and illustrated in a cartoon-like style where the text and the illustrations often merge for greater effect. Arnie the Doughnut’s adventures begin with a picture book by the same name that our older daughter enjoyed as much as she enjoys these chapter books.

Which books have made you laugh out loud? Please feel free to leave recommendations in the comments section!

 

Detective Books for Early Readers

 

Growing up, I loved to read mysteries: Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and Encyclopedia Brown. Mysteries have built-in suspense and drama. As a parent, I appreciate how often mysteries for early readers can do this without incorporating violence. Mysteries also encourage reader participation as readers race to solve the mysteries before the characters in the books do.  Who doesn’t enjoy finishing a mystery and confirming that his or her answer was correct? Looking at the shelves of local bookstores and libraries, we’ve found more options for our daughters than the mysteries I read as a kid, many even better suited for early readers. Enjoy!

 

img_1817.jpg

King & Kayla books by Dori Hillestad Butler 

The King & Kayla books are written from the perspective of Kayla’s dog, King. King helps Kayla solve mysteries, such as finding missing dog treats or decoding a set of secret messages. Kayla models a step-by-step approach to solving problems that readers can use to analyze issues in their own lives. The books have colorful illustrations on each page. The chapters are relatively short and the text is written in a straightforward style. Our daughters enjoy solving the mysteries, as well as the way Kayla often misinterprets what King is asking her for.

 

img_8937.jpg

Cam Jansen and Young Cam Jansen books by David A. Adler

Jennifer, better known as Cam, solves mysteries. She obtained the nickname Camera due to her photographic memory, which was then shortened to Cam. Eric, her best friend, sometimes helps to solve the mysteries, but more often provides comic relief. Clues are scattered throughout the books in such a way that observant readers can often piece together the solutions for themselves. Younger readers might want to choose the Young Cam Jansen books, which are shorter than the Cam Jansen books.

We have also placed a hold at our library for the first of the A-Z mysteries by Ron Roy (thanks for the recommendation, Kristin!) and are eager to start on this series. Please feel free to send any other recommendations our way!

Disney Chapter Books

I grew up about a 20-minute drive from Disneyland and my parents still live where I grew up. During a recent trip to visit relatives in California, our family spent three fun-filled (but exhausting!) days at Disneyland, so I have had Disney on my mind lately.

 

img_8931.jpg

Anna & Elsa books by Erica David

Anna and Elsa, the sisters from Frozen, have adventures together. Other characters from Frozen, such as Olaf and Kristof, often make appearances as well. Although we have found some adventures to be more exciting and interesting than others, the plots are all straightforward and easy to follow. There are black and white illustrations scattered throughout the books. Our daughters went through a Frozen craze a while ago, so I expected these books to be much more popular than they have been.

 

 

img_8908.jpg

Disney Fairies books by various authors

The Disney Fairies books have been much more popular in our family than the Anna & Elsa books. These books describe the lives of Tinker bell and her friends in Pixie Hollow. Each fairy or sparrow man has a special talent, such as tinkering, flying fast, manipulating water, gardening, communicating with animals, or baking. Although I have not been the biggest fan of the Rainbow Magic Fairy books (see post from July 27, 2017) or fairies in general, the Disney Fairies books have grown on me. The authors have created detailed world where each fairy and sparrow man has a distinct personality. Pixie Hollow and its inhabitants come alive in these books. The conflicts and problems that arise are sometimes internal, such as the queen’s crown going missing, and sometimes external, such as fighting between chipmunks and birds. With only one or two illustrations per chapter, there are fewer illustrations than in many other books for early readers, but they are detailed and eye catching. Although the books are out of print, they are well worth the effort of tracking them down!

 

img_8856.jpg

Disney Princess books by various authors

Each of the Disney Princess books focuses on a different princess. Familiar characters are faced with new challenges, such as Jasmine figuring out why there is no produce available or Ariel tracking down a friend who has gone missing. Like the Disney Fairies books, there are one or two beautiful and eye-catching illustrations per chapter. Both of our daughters have gone through phases where they loved the Disney princesses, so I expected these books to be more popular than they have been. A related set of books, the Disney Princess: Palace Pets books by Tennant Redbank have been more requested than the Disney Princess books.

 

img_8921.jpg

The Never Girls books by various authors

Four friends have adventures in Neverland with Tinkerbell, Rosetta, and other fairies from Pixie Hollow. The friends travel back and forth between Neverland and the everyday human world, sometimes together and sometimes alone. Like the Anna & Elsa books, the illustrations are in black and white. Part of the magic of the books that makes them enjoyable is the idea that there are connections between our everyday world and Neverland and that humans can be whisked off to Neverland.

 

img_8920.jpg

Whisker Haven Tales with the Palace Pets books by various authors

The Palace Pets are the favorite pets of the Disney princesses, such as Cinderella’s puppy,  Pumpkin, or Snow White’s bunny, Berry. The pets usually have to work together to solve problems and learn valuable lessons while doing so. These books are well suited for readers just starting out with chapter books because the text is less dense and the books are shorter than the other Disney chapter books.

Trying to choose a Disney series? Our favorites by far are the Disney Fairies books. They more successfully build suspense and tension than the other sets of books. The characters are also more vivid, with real-life personalities. I think that part of why the Disney Princess and Anna & Elsa books have not been as popular in our family as I had anticipated is that the characters are more one dimensional than those in the Disney Fairies books even when the adventures are as exciting. Our next choices would be the Never Girls books or the Disney Princess: Palace Pets books for similar reasons.

Note: I’ve just heard about the Disney Princess Beginnings books, which sound like they are well suited for readers just starting out with chapter books. More to come!

First Books to Read Independently

Learning to read is hard work and our younger daughter has been working hard at it all summer (see post from June 14, 2017). She recently read her first book independently! Our younger daughter easily identifies letters, matches them to the sounds they make, and recognizes common consonant blends. Her sight word vocabulary also continues to grow. However, reading is still hard work for her and she often runs out of steam before the end of a book. Right now we are focused on building her stamina and confidence with reading.

Easy Readers labeled with levels are one place to start, such as the I Can Read! books published by Harper Collins or the Step Into Reading books published by Random House.  However, I sometimes find that the books are still a bit too difficult for her right now (ask me again in a couple of months!) and that there can be a lack of consistency across books labeled as being at the same level. Instead, in our household, we’ve found Mo Willems to be a great source of books for this stage of learning to read.

 

img_0216.jpg

Cat the Cat books by Mo Willems

Over the course of four books, Cat the Cat makes new friends, encounters various animal sounds, discusses getting ready for bed, and explores flight. There is limited text on each page, usually one to three sentences, with a lot of repetition built in, making them well suited for those just learning to read. The illustrations are bright and funny, and there is usually a bit of a surprise waiting for you at the end.

 

img_0223.jpg

Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems

Ready to move on from the Cat the Cat books? Try the Elephant and Piggie books, my favorite books for kids just learning to read. Gerald is cautious and skeptical, while Piggie is optimistic and enthusiastic. Despite their differences, Gerald and Piggie are the best of friends. They have fun adventures together, support each other through difficult times, and work through disagreements. Early readers will be able to relate to many of the issues dealt with such as broken toys, being afraid of losing your best friend, coping with a melting ice cream cone, and wanting to cheer up a sad friend. Again, there is limited text on each page and hilarious illustrations. The facial expressions of Piggie and Elephant, along with the varied use of fonts for emphasis in the dialogue, have even allowed our younger daughter to start reading aloud with expression.

Mo Willems also has a series of books about Pigeon that are well suited for those just learning to read. While I personally find the Pigeon’s personality irritating, they may be a good fit for the reader in your life!

 

img_0228.jpg

Any picture book by Jan Thomas

While not technically a series, Duck, Cow, and Pig make an appearance in multiple books, while talking dust bunnies are the focus of a few others. The humor often comes from characters misinterpreting others or one character having a distinctly different opinion than the rest of the group. Our favorites are A Birthday for Cow, Pumpkin Trouble, Is Everyone Ready for Fun?, Is That Wise, Pig?, and Let’s Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy. Like the Elephant and Piggie books, there is limited text on each page and bright, hilarious illustrations.

A note for all of the books discussed above: Even with such limited text in these books, we sometimes come across words that are not common sight words or easy to sound out, and need to provide our younger daughter with help.

Which books you would recommend for those just learning to read? Please leave a comment!

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

Unconventional Princesses for Early Readers

Both of our daughters went through a phase where they loved the Disney princesses. (To be honest, it’s still going on with our younger daughter!) In the hopes of broadening their ideas about what a princess can be, I’ve searched for books about unconventional princesses. One of my favorite stand-alone books is the Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. However, finding a series of books about unconventional princesses has been a little more difficult. While Princess Pink is the main character in unconventional fairy tales (see post from June 21, 2017), she’s technically not a princess. As she explains to others, her first name just happens to be Princess. However, there are two unconventional princesses who have become favorites in our household!

 

IMG_0172

Hamster Princess books by Ursula Vernon

Despite her mother’s best efforts to make her into a typical princess, Princess Harriet Hamsterbone loves to cliff-dive, sword-fight, and ride her faithful battle quail, Mumphrey. She is known throughout the land as a fierce fighter and has adventures rescuing others from magical creatures. Comic relief comes in the form of the dialogue between Harriet and her best friend, Prince Wilbur. There is some violence in the books due to Harriet fighting magical creatures. However, the descriptions are not detailed and Harriet often finds unexpected ways to defeat her foes. We love the Hamster Princess books so much in our household that we have started on the Dragonbreath series, also by Ursula Vernon, hoping to find yet another character or two to love.

 

img_8930.jpg

Princess in Black books by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

Princess Magnolia is a typical princess who wears fancy clothes and lives in a castle. However, when the monster alarm sounds, she sheds her fancy clothes in favor of a black, superhero outfit to become the Princess in Black. Blacky is the alter ego of her trusty steed, Frimplepants. Together they defend their land from monsters, especially those who like to eat goats. The books are filled with funny illustrations and fast-paced action. The descriptions of fighting in the books are mild, as are the illustrations of the Princess in Black’s fighting moves.

 

Trying to decide between the two? The Princess in Black books are better suited for younger readers. The books are shorter, contain more illustrations, and have a straightforward, fast-moving plot. At over 200 pages each, the Hamster Princess books are much longer, the humor tends to be more subtle and ironic, and the pages are more text heavy. However, Harriet Hamsterbone is a clear winner in our household for their humor and richly drawn characters.

Do you have any unconventional princesses to recommend? Please leave a comment!

 

Powerhouse Chapter Books for Early Readers

When I first started venturing out of the picture book sections of our local libraries and bookstores into the chapter book sections, these were the books that jumped out at me, mostly due to their sheer numbers. They take up multiple shelves in many of the libraries we use: the local public library, the school library, and yes, you guessed it, our home library. Enjoy!

 

img_8910.jpg

Geronimo Stilton books published by Scholastic

Geronimo Stilton is a mouse who is a big-city newspaper publisher. Being timid and anxious, he would like to live out a quiet life—reading, writing, and drinking cheese milkshakes. However, he is also always willing to help out anyone in need, which leads him into adventures all over the world. His relatives feature prominently in the books as well: daring sister Thea, annoying cousin Trap, strict Grandfather William, and sweet nephew Bugsy. The books are fast-paced and funny, making them useful for both independent reading and as read alouds. Note that those learning to read may be tripped up by made-up words, such as “enormouse,” or the different fonts used for select words and phrases. Once we were familiar with the major characters, we started picking up whatever looked appealing at the library since it isn’t essential to read the books in order.

There are multiple spin-offs from the original series, including Creepella Von Cacklefur, Mice Kings, Space Mice, Thea Stilton, and Kingdom of Fantasy. The Thea Stilton books describe the worldwide adventures of a group of young mice who call themselves the Thea Sisters. Thea Stilton books are longer than the Geronimo Stilton books. Even longer are the Kingdom of Fantasy books. In them Geronimo has elaborate, lifelike adventures in the Kingdom of Fantasy as he dreams that involve typical fantasy characters, such as fairies, dragons, and wizards. Truth be told, I think we all love the Stiltons in our household!

 

img_8935.jpg

Magic Treehouse books by Mary Pope Osborne

The Magic Treehouse series opens with a pair of siblings, Annie and Jack, exploring a treehouse filled with books. The treehouse magically whisks them away on adventures all over the world and through various historical time periods. Each book weaves in facts related to the place, time period, or subject of its adventure. The mystery of M builds over the course of the series.

I remain optimistic that one of our daughters will love this series as so many friends have recommended it to us. Our older daughter will happily select and read a book from the series at random from time to time, but has little interest in reading them in order and doesn’t request Magic Treehouse books to be read aloud to her. I’ve tried introducing  the series to her multiple times, and each met with a similar response. Maybe our younger daughter will be the one to fall in love with this series?

 

img_8906.jpg

Rainbow Magic Fairies by Daisy Meadows

Rachel and Kirsty are best friends who share a magical secret: they are friends with the Rainbow Magic Fairies! Their adventures with the Rainbow Magic Fairies typically involve helping them retrieve magical items that Jack Frost and his goblins have stolen or are trying to steal. Most come in sets of 7, such as the Fun Day Fairies or the Jewel Fairies, and there are special editions that are essentially three books in one, such as the Selena the Sleepover Fairy or Brianna the Tooth Fairy. The books tend to be predictable in their plot. For example, in most books the first attempt to retrieve the missing magical item will fail and at some point in the book Kirsty and Rachel will be turned into fairies. Our daughters enjoyed being able to predict what was going to happen next, though we as grownups found the predictable nature of the books to detract from our enjoyment of them. Any violence in the books tends to be mild and many times Jack Frost sees the error of his jealous or greedy ways. With over 200 books in the series, it is more likely that your readers will lose interest in the books than you will run out of books to read!

 

Sunny Books for Sunny Weather

img_9823.jpg

Super Happy Party Bears books by Marcie Colleen

“Slide to the right. Hop to the left. Shimmy, shimmy, shake. Strike a pose.” If you recognize this dance sequence, I’m betting that your household has also been introduced to the Super Happy Party Bears! Both of our daughters have fallen in love with this group of optimistic, upbeat group of bears. The Super Happy Party Bears love to have fun, throw parties, and want to make friends with the other residents of the Grumpy Woods. As you may have guessed, all of their neighbors are grouchy by nature and resist the efforts of the Super Happy Party Bears to befriend them. The Super Happy Party Bears don’t let this deter them, interpreting every rejection as a positive reaction from their neighbors. They solve problems that arise in the Grumpy Woods through the power of their optimism and upbeat nature, and often with a party of some sort. Our older daughter scolded our normally sunny and bubbly younger daughter out of a pouty mood one morning by saying, “You need to have a positive attitude! Be like a Super Happy Party Bear!”

Enjoy!