Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pick of the Week: Wow! City!

Ben picked this over-sized book out at the library this past week and it's been a hit with both him and his sisters.  Wow! City! follows Izzy (a country girl) on her trip through the big city.  Each two-page spread features a new scene from the city.  The only text is two words on each two-page spread - "Wow!" and whatever it is Izzy is observing.  The illustrations and bright and complicated, and my kids all loved searching for Izzy and a cute little golden lab on each page.  Despite the fact that Ben is starting (slowly) to read, and my girls are growing into books with more sophisticated plots, I still love borrowing pictures books which I think force the kids to slow down a bit and encourages them to come up with storytelling of their own.  I've enjoyed "reading" this one over and over!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Pick of the Week: Lola Plants a Garden

Given the season, I've been on the look-out for books about planting and being outdoors.  I stumbled across Lola Plants a Garden on the Mighty Girl website.  In this beautifully illustrated book, Lola reads the poem "Mary Mary Quite Contrary" and decides that she wants to grow her own garden.  With the help of her mother, she learns about plants, picks out the seeds, plants her garden, waits for her garden to grow, and then invites her friends over to enjoy the fruits of her labors.  A perfect book for inspiring young ones to plant their own gardens.

I am also always on the look-out for books that feature characters of color, especially when the topic of the book has nothing to do with the race of the character.  The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is often cited as a particular example of this. The more my children can see people who don't look like them doing exactly the same things they enjoy doing, the better.

Lola is adorable and I was very happy to learn today that she has a series of books including:

  • Lola at the Library
  • Lola Loves Stories
  • Lola Reads to Leo
We'll be checking those out very soon!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ben's Pick of the Week: Water in the Park

My girls are obsessed with playgrounds, so I actually borrowed this book for them - so they could pour over the drawings of the swings and slides.  But, things don't always go as planned.

Instead of my girls, my son was the one who wanted to read this one over and over.  Water in the Park goes through the day in the life of a park - from the early morning when the turtles rest on the rock ponds and people walk their dogs, though the morning of children playing on the jungle gym and eating snacks, to the workers eating their lunches, to after-school ice cream treats, and finally to late night strollers.  It is a good way to talk about the different times of day - and what we do throughout the day.  My son is just starting to get a good grasp for the concept of time - and he has always been interested in the sequence of the day and order of events.  He also enjoyed the water focus of the book - from the turtle pond, to sprinklers, to a light-rain.

The illustrations in the book are complex - a lot going on in each panel - so this allowed for a great deal of conversation while reading the book - about what each person in the book is doing, where they might be coming from and going to, what we do at the park, etc. etc.  I love when books surprise me, and this one definitely falls into that category!  


Today, we combined many of our favorite things for a mostly warm indoor activity (on a cold-for-the-Bay Area morning), including play-dough, a nature hunt, and dinosaurs!  First, we went out in the backyard (in our pajamas) on a search for materials for our Dino-Land.  Ben focused on collecting rocks and sticks, while the girls went searching for foliage, including leaves, flowers, and ferns.  We then came inside where we used an empty storage container for Dino-Land.  First we took some of our old homemade play-dough to create the terrain  - we included a couple water pools, a grassy area with  volcano, and a few hills and valleys.  The kids then had fun finding places for all the treasures they discovered on their nature hunt.  Ben ran back outside a couple times to fill in a few areas.  In warmer weather, I'd like to create this Dino-Land outside using water and dirt/mud instead of play-dough.  

Because Dino-Land is in a storage container, it's easy to move around from room to room depending on where the kids want to play with it.  Admittedly, the space we used is a bit small for three kids and we did have some conflict arise over which dinosaurs should be placed in which locations - and which dinosaurs couldn't be moved because they are "resting" - but I think it will provide some exploration fun for the kids over the next couple days before we have to clean-up and put everything away.
Nature hunt for materials for Dino-Land

Building Dino-Land

And, of course, we always read a lot of books about dinosaurs - wonderful non-fiction books about real dinosaurs, and many children's books featuring dinosaur characters.  There are so many out there.  Here are some of the ones we're currently enjoying:



We also do a lot of coloring dinosaurs.  I know coloring books are controversial, but I think they are fine in moderation, and recommend the Dover Dinosaurs Coloring Book.  

We know there are so many other wonderfully fun activities to do with dinosaurs - we'd love to hear what everyone else has been up to!

The overpopulation of Dino-Land may lead to its extinction, but for now, everyone seems to be getting along!

Monday, May 11, 2015

All About Math

For the past couple weeks, Ben has been interested in books about numbers and math.  He can't always sit down and focus on actual math problems, but for now he seems to have a fascination about numbers, how they work, and why people find them so fun.  Here are a few books we've been reading in this area:

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman:  In general, I am a fan of children's biographies.  I think they're a really fun way to teach kids about real people doing real amazing things with their lives.  While Ben, like most kids, enjoys regular children's fiction, he always seems to get a kick out of knowing that we're reading about a "real person."  This book is the story of the mathematician Paul Erdős who I had actually never heard of before.  Young Paul loves math and numbers, but he hates school - he can't abide by the rules and so he convinces his mother to allow him to stay home and learn on his own.  He devotes hours and hours each day to learning about math, and grows into an eccentric world-traveling mathematician.  In addition to just learning about someone who followed their passion, I liked the emphasis on non-school learning.  It also seems that Paul's mother did a lot for him - so much so that in the book when Paul goes abroad at the age of 21 he isn't even quite sure how to butter his own bread.  He lacks basic social interaction skills, but still manages to make and develop incredible relationships.  It's a nice tribute to marching to your own drummer but still finding a way to contribute and fit in.  Ben was interested in the introduction of negative numbers in the book and the concept of an Erdős number, which describes a person's degree of separation from Erdős himself, based on their collaboration with him, or with another who has their own Erdős number (kind of similar to the Kevin Bacon Six-Degrees-of-Separation game).  

Zero the Hero by Joan Holub: in this cute story about the number zero, Zero fancies himself somewhat of a superhero.  Unfortunately, the other numbers don't value him quite as much.  They see him as kind of pointless when it comes to addition and subtraction, and they're terrified of him when it comes to multiplication.  But, when the numbers find themselves taken over by Roman Numerals, it's Zero who comes to the rescue.  Ben enjoyed the part where the Roman Numerals (with their spears) force the other numbers into a gladiator ring, and then use the word "skedaddle" when Zero comes to chase them off.  While I think the concept of placeholders was over his head, I still liked being able to introduce him to the idea through this very fun book - perfect for any kid (like Ben) who is currently in their superhero phase of development.

One by Kathryn Otoshi:  This author has several books based on numbers - all with beautiful brush painting illustrations.  In One, colors are a bit of a focus with hot-headed red bullying the calm and collected blue, until the number 1 comes along and teaches them how to stand up for themselves.  I appreciated the focus on the colors and numbers, while also telling a wonderful story about speaking up and standing tall.

There are a lot of other fun books out there that get kids doing math problems in fun and creative ways - one we've been recommended often and enjoy is Bedtime Math.  But, sometimes, I think it's great to just ruminate and live in the numbers - and that's why I like the books I've mentioned here.  They aren't about doing problems or solving anything - just about appreciating numbers and introducing kids to all the wonderful things we can do with them.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Alice & Clara's Picks of the Week

It's no surprise that a book by Lucy Cousins, author of the popular Maisy series, would be absolutely beloved in our home.  My kids love the bright illustrations - and the simple story is easily memorized after just a couple readings, so the kids can then "read" it to themselves, each other, and their animals.  Hooray for Fish! features a small fish who swims through the sea finding all kinds of fish from the big to the small, to the twirly-whirly and round-and-round.  Very simple but fun way to get the kids talking about different kinds of colors and fish - and a good jumping off point for drawing some fun under-water creations of their own!

I've been on the hunt for children's books that depict kids playing outdoors.  I found this one in a recent Scholastic Book Club catalog - and love it as much as my kids do.  Zoe's Jungle is the story of older sister, Zoe, and her younger sister Addie pretending that their playground is a vast jungle filled with incredible animals and adventures.  Zoe is the fearless explorer on the hunt for the elusive Addie-beast.  As their mother counts down the time to leave the park from FIVE MINUTES! to TIME TO GO! they rush to get every last bit of fun in.  Not only is this a really great book for encouraging outdoor play and make-believe, but it's a great example for kids about preparing to leave a place where they're having an incredible amount of fun.  My girls in particular are still at the stage when they cry when they have to leave the park -so using Zoe and Addie as a model for them has been a great side-benefit to this discovery.