Tag Archives: childrens books

Once Upon an Alphabet


My seven year old’s latest love is Oliver Jeffers’s beautiful and humorous book, Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters. Although the book celebrates the alphabet which might lead you to buy this for your toddler, the clever words chosen for each letter of the alphabet and the at times dark and quirky tales that celebrate them, make this book more engaging for elementary school age children or adults. You will adore the funny, quirky, and dramatic conclusions to the adventures of an astronaut who is afraid of heights, a rival who burns a bridge (that he needs to get back to his side), a cup who dreams big, a boy who grows old waiting forever, a king who forgets his keys, a puzzled parsnip who just doesn’t get his true being, a terrible typewriter that makes what is written on it come true, and much more. The exquisite and expressive illustrations bring the stories alive, capturing emotions in a dreamy, surprising, brilliant, and Edward Gorey-esque spirit. My daughter is fascinated by the subtle ink and watercolor drawings.

We’ve enjoyed other Oliver Jeffers books as well–the Hueys series and The Incredible Book Eating Boy are some of our favorites. Oliver Jeffers is a smile inducing and poignant writer, artist, and all around insight-instigator. Learn about his projects on his web site, Oliver Jeffers World, and his store (limited edition prints, books, and more).

Here are some photos of Once Upon an Alphabet:















Here are some views of the wonderfully drawn expressions:







Interview with Oliver Jeffers about Once Upon An Alphabet on NPR. 















Leaving perfectionism behind

What is perfect?

Although my 7-year-old often craves to achieve that imaginary ideal and has had her share of running to get the white out, erasing through her paper, or crying through an assignment, as she grows, she is beginning to become comfortable with the imperfect. We talk a lot about process, how even machines have variances, how “perfect” can be boring, how doing your best at any particular moment is all you can do, how famous musicians and dancers still have to practice every day, and how letting go of trying to reach “perfection” means opening yourself up to taking chances and maybe even discovering something new while doing something wrong. Both my husband and I also try to regularly acknowledge making mistakes every day (e.g. I burned the bacon again… oh well. Time to start over!) and demonstrating how to adapt to situations.

I’m not sure how much of these heart to heart talks seep into her head, but what has made a huge positive impact recently are children’s books about making mistakes, creative thinking, perception, and inventors.

Here are some picture book recommendations for your young perfectionist:


The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes  |  By Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein
A great story about a girl who is known for her error free life. When she makes a very public mistake during a school talent show, her humorous recovery is both reassuring and a welcome relief!



Sky Color  |  By Peter H. Reynolds
Young perfectionists will enjoy reading about Marisol, a girl who is so confident in her art abilities but surprisingly is faced with not having the color blue to paint the sky in a school mural. After some thought, Marisol eventually is able to see the sky as more than just blue.

A classroom guide to Sky Color from Peter H. Reynolds.



Ish  |  By Peter H. Reynolds
Another sweet book from Peter H. Reynolds, Ish presents a frustrated boy who crumples up all his artwork that isn’t perfect. When he learns that his sister has been saving all of his “bad” artwork and has put them up on her bedroom walls, he begins to free himself from perfect expectations and embraces the “ish” of his artistic renditions.



Mistakes That Worked  |  By Charlotte Jones
Popsicles, potato chips, Silly Putty, Velcro, chocolate chip cookies, and many other familiar items are fascinating examples of how unintentional mistakes and experimentation evolved into wonderful inventions. Mistakes That Worked offers forty of these entertaining tales.



Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin   |  By Gene Baretta
This colorful book gives children a fun look at the enormous number of inventions and talents Benjamin Franklin shared with the world as a writer, printer, diplomat, musician, humorist, scientist, postmaster, and more. While not necessarily “mistake” oriented, the story values creativity, persistence, and experimentation.

More inventor books from author and illustrator Gene Baretta.

Happy reading! (Now go make some mistakes!)

Top photo: Bryan Smith, Freelance, NY Daily News

Books to soothe your anxious preschooler

Okay, I’ll admit it. My preschooler is a little anxious. She’s smart, incredibly perceptive, and funny, but she’s also a bit of a worrier. Sometimes, I think that she’s a little too observant of the world around her. The other day she said, “I’m going to miss you when I go to college.”

As she begins to encounter new experiences in environments such as preschool, the dentist, the doctor, play dates, and with babysitters, we’ve calmed some of her worries with two great authors. My four year old often asks for books in which the little kids are scared and then learn to feel better.

Author and illustrator Kevin Henkes and Vera Rosenberry have created entertaining, cleverly thought out, and sensitive books about anxious moments young children go through. Kevin Henkes beautifully captures his characters’ expressions in detailed illustrations, has a delightful cadence to his narrative, and often injects some subtle adult humor that your child might not notice. I love Vera Rosenberry’s illustrations of somewhat awkward looking kids and her tender way (but not overly sweet) of dealing with some difficult situations that both kids and adults encounter. Here are some of my favorite Kevin Henkes and Vera Rosenberry books. Be sure to check your local library for any of these titles. Also, your child’s school Scholastic sale probably includes the Kevin Henkes books.

Kevin Henkes (Caldecott and Newberry winner)

Chrysanthemum is a book about a little mouse who gets teased at school about her name: Chrysanthemum.With the help from a kind teacher, she eventually realizes that she isn’t that different after all and that sometimes being unique can feel absolutely special.

Owen addresses a young mouse who has to give up his prized blanket. The blanket is his closest friend, confidant, and comforter during “nail clippings and haircuts and trips to the dentist.” But when Owen heads off to school, his Mom figures out a way for Owen to still have a piece of his loving blanket with him. A great story about separation and developing independence.

“At home, Wemberly worried about the tree in the front yard, and the crack in the living room wall, and the noise the radiators made.” Wemberly Worried features a little mouse who worries all day and all night and of course, about starting school. Wemberly learns to make friends with another anxious mouse at school and how to worry a little less.

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is a humorous book about a free-spirited young mouse named Lilly who adores her hipster teacher. Until one day, he takes away her distracting new purple purse, sunglasses, and shiny quarters and Lilly is outraged. The book addresses ways kids can deal with frustration and anger and also how they can apologize and move on.

Vera Rosenberry

We’ve read a lot of dentist books–it took my daughter four visits to the dentist before she successfully got her teeth cleaned. Vera Goes to the Dentist is probably one of the best dentist anxiety books for preschoolers. (Note: it’s also important to read the nonfiction ones that show the dental tools, x-rays, and such.) The best, rather outlandish, part of this book is when Vera jumps down from the dentist chair and starts to run around the block with the dentist, hygienist, Mom, and sisters running after her. Now when I take my daughter to the dentist, we laughingly say, “Now, let’s not pull a Vera.”

Vera Runs Away portrays a typical busy family, one that doesn’t react as happily to Vera’s glowing report card as she had anticipated. In her mind, she thinks that everyone should stop what they are doing and celebrate her good grades. Frustrated, she runs away. They eventually find her, and Vera’s Mom says, “We’re so sorry we didn’t pay enough attention to your wonderful report card. But when you do well, you are doing well for yourself.” Pizza and togetherness ends this thoughtful story.

In Vera Rides a Bike, Vera sadly loses her tricycle at the park. After a few months, her parents give her a refurbished bicycle and Vera begins to learn how to ride it. One evening when everyone is too busy to help her practice riding, Vera ventures out on her own. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know how to break yet, and ends up falling off of her bike, but makes it safely home. This is another great story about the complex path of independence, courage, and reassurance that little kids travel each day.

Vera’s First Day of School starts off with Vera being very excited for her first day but then turns sour when Vera is a little overwhelmed by the big school. When she becomes preoccupied with a fuzzy caterpillar on the playground she misses the school bell and is late for school. Not knowing what to do, Vera goes home and hides. A little crying, Mom hugs, a welcoming teacher, and painting at her new desk, smooths things over and Vera “was where she was supposed to be–a big girl in school. She was not afraid anymore.”

Another great book from Clavis Publishing

I’m a big fan of Clavis Publishing whose children’s books are always uniquely illustrated and the stories thoughtful, clever, and sometimes unexpected.

One of Clavis Publishing’s new titles is Thankyouplease written by Pierre Winters and illustrated by Barbara Ortelli. This 2011 Dutch book translated to English is about a six year old girl named Nina who “has a big mouth… is often grumpy and talks back.” Her Mommy tries to teach Nina good manners and to be polite so that more people will “see how sweet you can be and want to play with you.”

After yet another grumpy outburst, Nina is asked to go outside to calm down. While walking around, Nina hears someone call her name, but the voice is coming from inside a tree. When Nina looks inside the tree, she discovers a magical circus filled with elephants, a dog riding a bicycle, balance beams, trapeze artists, lions, cotton candy, and of course a ringmaster whose name happens to be “Thankyouplease.” Nina has stumbled upon the “Circus of Good Manners” where all practice good manners.

The story brilliantly and whimsically talks about greeting people, waiting patiently, saying please and thank you, helping others, and taking turns. After experiencing the mysterious circus, Nina wakes up from her dream (or was it real?) and is very sweet and polite with her Mommy. She tells her, “I am sure that you’ve prepared a delicious dinner. Shall I set the table, Mommy?”

Sounds just about right.

Ollie and Moon

“Ollie and Moon are best friends. Moon loves surprises, and Ollie loves to surprise Moon. One time he surprised her with a spaghetti cake–for no reason. Another time he surprised her with a performance of Irish folk dance.”

If this is your kind of humor, pick up a copy of the new book Ollie & Moon by Diane Kredensor, with photographs by Sandra Kress. Reminiscent of the Knuffle Bunny series that seamlessly juxtaposes urban photography with illustrations that pop off the page, Ollie & Moon is a sweet, funny, and well written children’s book that is perfect for preschoolers.

The story features a boy cat named Ollie and a girl cat named Moon. Set in Paris, Ollie leads his friend Moon through a cheese store, the Metro, a fruit stand, a park, and the usual tourist destinations. Each place the two cats visit adds another clue so that Moon can attempt to guess her surprise.

Here is an example of how Ollie and Moon leave each location and head off for the next:

Moon says, “So my surprise is… ROUND and MUSICAL and it has LOTS OF COLORS.” “True! But that’s not all,” Ollie said as they continued on their way.

My four year old daughter laughed out loud at the illustrations of the expressive animals, the tempo of the text, the detailed photography, the goofy events that happen (e.g. brie rolling down stairs and the image of an elephant on a unicycle juggling animals while playing the French horn), and of course guessing what Moon’s surprise could possibly be.

After many wrong guesses, the story ends at a gorgeous carousel in Paris (did you guess right?) and Moon gives Ollie a big and joyful kiss. Ms. Kredensor writes, “And Ollie was so very happy that Moon hadn’t guessed what it was–otherwise it wouldn’t have been a surprise.”

Ollie and Moon’s creator, Diane Kredensor, is an Emmy Award winning artist who has worked on hit shows Pinky and the Brain, Oswald, and WordWorld. This is her first children’s book and I hope to see many more to come. She is currently developing Ollie and Moon into a children’s TV series as well.

Ollie and Moon is a wonderful book about surprises, friendship, and making others genuinely happy. Go find a copy at your local library or bookstore today. And maybe a wheel of brie and a croissant while you’re at it.

Ollie and Moon on Facebook.

Ollie and Moon on Twitter.


The Cow That Went OINK

Over the past year, my now four year old daughter has been working on not getting frustrated (i.e. screaming, crying, whining, flopping, etc…) when she can’t get something figured out immediately. I recently came across the book, The Cow That Went OINK, by Bernard Most, and was really pleased by how humorously and cleverly the author delves into ideas of learning, frustration, being teased, practice, and persistence. Plus, the drawings are cute and the opportunities for you and your child to play around with animal sounds abound.

The story starts out with a cow who only knows how to say “oink.” All the other cows and animals on the farm laugh at this poor cow who cries about her problem. Next enters a friendly pig who only knows how to say, “moo.” Naturally, this unleashes more laughter from the other pigs and farm animals. The pig cries as well. The cow and pig eventually try to teach each other their sound, resulting in “oimoo, oinoo, oinkoo, moink, moinkoo, and mook.” The farm animals continue to make fun of the cow and pig, but the cow and pig ignore them, continuing to practice their “moo” and “oink.” Finally, the cow and the pig both learn how to successfully say “moo” and “oink.” The book concludes with, “And they were the only animals on the farm that could do both. So they had the last laugh.”

We’ve only read this book once together, but my daughter has mentioned it a few times after she worked on buttoning her sweater by herself (a 10 minute project) without crying and taping a plastic cup that had cracked. She said, “I practiced and did it by myself! Just like that cow!”

The book of course is also good in pointing out how cows, pigs, and yes, people are different and have unique skills and knowledge. Being apart from the crowd can be hard at times, but can often have more lasting and worldly benefits!

The Cow That Went OINK is a nice length for 3 to 6 year old kids and excellent at being opened ended to prompt lots of questions. Oh, wait. Did your child already ask you enough questions today? Perfect for bedtime or nap time.

Be sure to check your local library for a copy of this entertaining and engaging book.

Good read: Little Red Bird

“Have you ever heard of the little red bird who lived in a cage made of gold? She had all she could need–she had water and seed, and plenty to read I’ve been told.”

The rhythmic, colorful, and poignant story of the Little Red Bird, by Nick Bruel, asks kids about the differences between comfort and predictability versus freedom and the unknown. The little red bird (a pet bird) enjoys the ease and familiarity of her cage but then one day looks outside and glimpses the world beyond. Through an open window (and many, many great metered sentences–you English and music majors will have fun reading this book), the little red bird briefly ventures out to a park happily discovering flowers, trees, benches, and well, a part of the exciting world she has never seen before.

But when the sun starts to set, the little red bird remembers the comforts of her home. From the top of a tree, she sees her little gold cage inside her house. “She thought she would stay, and live freely each day. Here in the park, ‘neath the sky. Then she thought she’d go back [home], where there was nothing she lacked. Though she’d never be able to fly.” The author, smartly ends the book with a question to the reader, “I wonder what YOU would do?”

The anxiety of leaving home or leaving the familiar applies to all our different phases of life and The Little Red Bird beautifully opens this topic for discussion with your child. This book is particularly good for kids dealing with separation anxiety or those who are on the quiet or cautious side in public settings. For these more observation based learners, the idea of venturing out into the freedom of new experiences often sounds more scary than inviting and this little red bird shows that “the new” can sometimes be fun.

Three pigs, a sheep, and a wildly happy dinosaur

We are obsessed with visiting our local library and have discovered a few great books over the last month. Here are three favorites that are perfect for your goofy preschooler and ripe for you to try out your funny voices. (Hasn’t your variety of funny voices grown since you had your kid?)

1. The Three Little Pigs: An Architectural Tale |  Steven Guarnaccia
This old standby is refreshed by updating the pigs’ homes to signature houses inspired by Frank Gehry, Phillip Johnson, and Frank Lloyd Wright. The drawings and fonts are smart, funny, and may introduce your child to some new lines and shapes. Perfect for all you Dwell Magazine parents.

2. Baa-Choo! |  Sarah Weeks, author and Jane Manning, illustrator
“I’ve got the ahhh but not the choo. No, no, this sneeze will never do. Can someone help me, help me please, to find the ending of my sneeze?” Follow this poor sheep’s humorous adventure as he tries to recover his sneeze’s lost “choo.” A hen, pig, and goat attempt to help in this well written “I can read” book. What makes Baa-Choo! really stand out is the rhythm and cadence of Sarah Weeks’s rhymes. Makes for fun bedtime reading, sure to make your preschooler giggle out loud.

3. Edwina: The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct |  Mo Willems
Are you a fan of Mo Willems’s Knuffle Bunny series or the Gerald the Elephant and Piggy books? You will love Edwina. Edwina is a loving, helpful, sweet, and innocent looking dinosaur who lives to play with kids, help others, and bake chocolate chip cookies for friends. No one seems to question that she is a dinosaur living in modern day life–they just seem happy to have her around. Everyone believes in Edwina’s existence except for Reginald Von Hoobie Doobie. Reginald tries to convince everyone that Edwina should be extinct but no one believes him, or even cares to listen. The only one who eventually listens to Reginald is Edwina. This is a wonderful book about believing in yourself, others, and well, the unknown.

Happy reading!

Good Read: Harry and Lulu

A little girl named Lulu desperately wants a new dog. Her parents give her a stuffed toy dog instead.

“Lulu went lulu.”

Author Arthur Yorinks and Illustrator Martin Matje’s Harry and Lulu is a very funny, touching, and subtly moving story about a little girl who wants a dog, gets a toy dog, ramps up her imagination (or ours?), learns to believe, and in the end finds herself loving what may or may not be real.

Harry the dog comes to life over night and begins his journey to convince Lulu that he is real. He declines the offered dog biscuits but opts for Lulu’s pumpernickel bagel instead. They eventually end up in Paris where Harry claims he is from. While in Paris, Lulu tells Harry, “Now go away and do something… I don’t want people to think I’m hanging around with a stuffed animal.” The narrator poignantly fills us in with, “And though she could say and do all the mean things in the world to him [Harry], he still loved her and was loyal to her and, so as not to embarrass her, he walked around pretending not to know her but never once took his eyes off her.”

Sound familiar?

Harry ends up saving Lulu from an oncoming car, lands in the Seine, and Lulu rescues him–finally convinced that Harry is her dog. Whether or not he is real doesn’t really matter anymore.

I love, love, love the great dialogue in Harry and Lulu. The emphasis on certain words, the tempo, and the fun use of vocabulary will definitely delight your preschooler and you. The expressive illustrations are unique too. The artist Martin Matje depicts the body language of an opinionated little girl well, amplifying this perfect story.

Note, the phrase “Holy moly” is used in the beginning of the book. Feel free to substitute when reading aloud to your child… that is if you don’t already say it every day.