Category Archives: Booklists

Joanna Gardens?

Even though I am completely inept at taking care of low-maintenance houseplants, I volunteered to help my daughter’s kindergarten class tend their garden.  (I know my friend with the chicken coop in her backyard is LOL.)

Let me backup a bit:  one of the ideas that came up in regard to my desperate post last week was for me to volunteer more in my daughter’s class.  This seemed a reasonable suggestion since I have to contribute more hours to the school anyway (lest I end up with a poor school service record to go with my delinquent library record).  When I asked the teacher how I could help out I was thinking, “Storytime!  I can break out the hand and finger puppets!”  After all, it’s Joanna reads, not Joanna roots around in the dirt.

But all Catholic school teachers are gifted with the ability to receive a “yes” answer to any request and my years as a teacher haven’t yet balanced out my years as a student.  So when the teacher eagerly asked if I could assist the children once a week with their garden, I was helpless to say no.

I wasn’t kidding about my ineptitude with plants.  Remember that Sex and the City episode when Aidan brings a plant into Carrie’s apartment?  Yeah.  When my husband had to go to Newport, RI for training, he seriously considered taking his plant with him because it had a better chance of surviving a New England winter in a Navy barracks than six months of my negligence care.  (He should have gone with his instincts on that one.)

Predictably, I have turned to books to help me out.  At ALA Midwinter, I picked up Succulent Container Gardens by Debra Lee Baldwin.  While I love Baldwin’s ideas and succulents probably could withstand the abuse they’d take from me, this book is actually not helpful for the project at hand, what with kids and cactus being a bad combination.

Three books that I have been reading this past week are Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots:  Gardening Together with Children by Sharon Lovejoy, How Does Your Garden Grow? by Clare Matthews, and Gardening with Children: Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-region Guide, all available at my local library.  Each takes a slightly different approach to gardening with kids.

Charmingly illustrated, Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots offers a list of the 20 best plants for kids as well as 12 backyard projects.  In the section titled “Gardening Basics,” Lovejoy says that children can easily feel overwhelmed by long lists of garden chores.  This applies to me too so Lovejoy’s suggestion to break gardening tasks into ten-minute chunks sounds about my speed.  The section gets progressively more complicated so while I think I can handle weeding and watering I will certainly not be composting nor having anything to do with worm boxes.

Truthfully, I preferred Clare Matthews’ approach in How Does Your Garden Grow? Matthews arranged her book into projects, listing materials recipe-style and providing step-by-step instructions with pictures by Clive Nichols to illustrate the directions.  Whereas Lovejoy’s book will appeal to older kids who already have an interest in gardening, it is too text rich to be accessible to the age group I’ll be working with.    In fact, I think Lovejoy’s book is aimed at adults who want to garden with kids (even though the book is classified in juvenile non-fiction).

Matthews includes straight-forward answers to typical questions such as, why is grass green?  Why do plants have roots?  Why do most flowers come out in the spring?  Between the clear pictures, colorful projects and simple language, this book is the best of the three for young children.  (As an aside, I have to say that I love how Matthews (who is British) uses the term “black dustbin liner.”  Doesn’t that sound so much classier than “trash bag?”)

Finally, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden book Gardening with Children offers the most scientific perspective of the three books and really appealed to the biology nerd in me.  With diagrams of the food chain and photosynthesis as well as information about climate and habitat, this book provides older children with an expanded discussion of common classroom science topics.  For someone like me who has an intellectual interest in plants and ecology but little to no skill with the actual living specimens, this is a great book.

I placed a hold with the library on How to Grow a School Garden but as I’m still waiting on it I can’t do more than mention it now.

Well, at this point, I welcome the insight of those of you with green thumbs—any tips for me?  I’ll let you know how this endeavor turns out.

 

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Filed under Booklists, Non-fiction

Battle Bullying with Books

Starting Young

Last week, my daughter told me about a troubling recess incident at her school:  apparently, a game of “Lego City Police” devolved into the playground version of police brutality.  Teachers were alerted and intervened but not before one of my daughter’s kindergarten classmates was punched and scratched by another kid.

In her responses to my “casual” questions, my daughter revealed that the boy who was punched/scratched is not well liked among his peers.  She says the other boys don’t like him because he doesn’t brush his teeth.  The only girl police officer in the game, my daughter backed away when the punching started and didn’t know what to do.  The boy who did the punching/scratching has often been sent to the principal’s office but my daughter thinks he is silly and says funny things in class.

Wow.  All this just in time for No Name Calling Week.

Bullying Statistics

Some parents may feel it is an overreaction on my part to be concerned that the Lego City Police incident could be a precursor to bullying.  However, the statistics are alarming:  160,000 students per day skip school in fear of attack or bullying; out of 37 studied shootings, 66% of them were led by individuals who felt bullied; and 20% of high school students say they’ve considered suicide within the past twelve months, mentioning the triggers as bullying, teasing, and social rejection.  (These figures are borrowed from a library colleague; I didn’t ask for her sources).

The messages sent to my daughter and her classmates about this incident matter.  The time to address these issues is now, and the time to lay the foundation for the prevention of future bullying is now.

Don’t just read.  Discuss what you read.

My way of addressing issues typically involves books and I am familiar with the skepticism toward my approach:  can books really change the world?  Can reading really change lives?

Jenny Betz, Education Manager for GLSEN, suggested a different spin on these questions yesterday in “Battle Bullying with Books,” a webinar sponsored by Booklist.  Betz says that perhaps not the books themselves but the conversations around those books are what truly have the power to change lives.

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is listening to young people talk about issues of importance to them.  With civil discourse eroding before our eyes and disturbingly venomous speech flying around, it feels increasingly important to teach youth how to engage in respectful conversation with others.  I think using literature to open up dialogue is a great place to start.

Alone, the act of reading will not teach a child how to recognize and understand his emotions, will not create empathy.    But coupled with discussion, reading can help foster sensitivity and healthy relationships.

The thing to remember with discussion is that being “right” isn’t the point.  It’s more important to understanding what the other person is saying.  We adults are so eager to impart wisdom to young people that sometimes we talk too much.  We want young people to listen to us, but we often fail to reciprocate and truly listen to them.

All It Takes is One

In the past decade, innumerable titles have been published that deal with the subject of bullying for kids of all ages.  Last year author Mitali Perkins compiled a list of great titles for young adults (ages 12+).  For emergent readers (ages 5-8) the recent Benny and Penny in the Toy Breaker by Geoffrey Hayes is a good one and the upcoming The Three Bully Goats by Leslie Kimmelman seems promising.  James Howe, author of Bunnicula, published The Misfits in 2001  for middle grade readers.  Loosely based on his daughter’s experience at the hands of middle school bullies, The Misfits is the book that launched No Name Calling Week.

My personal favorite is One by Kathryn Otoshi, published in 2008 by KO Kids Books.   This profound picture book is accessible for very young children but has an elegant, Zen flair that makes it appealing for tweens and teens as well.  Every preschool and elementary school library needs a copy of this book, and it would make a terrific teacher gift as well.  (Coincidentally, I had given my daughter’s teacher a copy of One earlier this month.  She read it to the class this week and the kids’ response to it was very encouraging.)

Summary:   Generally, Blue feels happy and life is good.  Except when Red gets mad and takes it out on Blue.  Those are the times when Blue feels, well, blue.  And Red sometimes makes Orange, Purple, Green, and Yellow feel blue too.  Red is a bully but the other colors don’t quite know what to do about it until One comes along and teaches an important lesson—that everyone counts!

Counting by ones may seem like a slow process—one book, one teacher, one kid, one parent—but we never know which one moment can be a turning point.  I, for one, don’t want to allow a single opportunity to slip by.

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For the First Five

My home state has a program called “First Five,” which is designed with the goal of ensuring the health, well-being, and kindergarten readiness of all children.  Emphasis is placed on the most formative years of a child’s life, the first five.

My own daughter will turn five in less than two weeks, and in my first five years as a mother, I’ve relied on various resources.  I’m sharing the following titles as a woman who previously had little to no experience with babies and toddlers, and I recommend all of them for other such parenting neophytes. 

Booklist:  For Parents of Children Ages 0-5

What to Expect the First Year

by Heidi Murkoff


Since I had no idea whatsoever to expect from my first year of motherhood, this book was a true lifesaver.  I can honestly say that in the first six months of my daughter’s life I probably referred to this book at least once a day.  (You should know that I’m a bit neurotic.  Normal people without my obsessive, perfectionist tendencies would probably only need to consult this book once a week or so).

The Nursing Mother’s Companion

by Kathleen Huggins 

The decision to breast or bottle feed is obviously an incredibly personal one.  For those who choose the former, true to its title, this book is a wonderful companion.  As I’ve indicated, I was clueless about all things baby related, so this book answered a host of questions I didn’t even think to ask.  Highly recommend this one.

Caring for your Baby and Young Child Birth to Age Five

American Academy of Pediatrics

After the first year, this book replaced What to Expect as my go-to reference (and I stopped consulting it daily some time before my daughter’s first birthday).  It has been especially useful when my husband’s Merck Manual is too much for me. 

The Happiest Toddler on the Block

by Harvey Karp

Now, I also read The Happiest Baby on the Block and was disappointed.  Someone gave me a copy while I was pregnant, and I was all set to swaddle my baby the way Karp recommends.  Then I actually met my baby and she let me know in no uncertain terms that there would be no swaddling.  So I wasn’t sure if Karp’s Toddler = Caveman ideas would be helpful.  To my happy surprise, the ideas in this book did help me through 18-24 months, which was the most challenging part of toddlerhood for my daughter and me.  This book is intended for one to four year olds, but I did not refer back to it after my daughter was two.

Child of Mine

by Ellyn Satter

This is an excellent resource on feeding and nutrition for babies and young children.  Satter emphasizes a division of responsibility in feeding:  adults are responsible for what, when and where children are fed; children are responsible for how much and whether they eat.  Between the problem of childhood obesity and the rise in increasingly bizarre diet and exercise programs for all ages, parents need to make it a priority for their children to develop healthy relationships with food.  Child of Mine can set families on the right track from the very beginning.

The above five titles are intended specifically for the first five years.  I’ve also read a number of other books that are applicable throughout childhood and into the teen years.  Here’s a list (with links but not annotations) of additional parenting titles that I recommend.  I’ll be revisiting these over the summer as I make the transition from parent of a young child to parent of an elementary-school child.

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee
Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World
Parenting With Love and Logic
The Five Love Languages of Children
Parenting from the Inside Out

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Booklist: Bullying

I’ve been following the case of Phoebe Prince, the 15 year-old Irish girl who committed suicide in January of this year after enduring a months-long bullying campaign staged by her Massachusetts high school peers.

Certainly there are numerous articles containing “tips” on how to identify, cope with and prevent bullying.  This booklist is intended to open up dialogue at various age levels on the subject.

For 4-8 year olds:

Hugo and the Bully Frogs
Written by Francesca Simon
Illustrated by Caroline Jean Church

Hugo is a little frog with a little croak.  He lives in a deep, muddy pond.  And he’s constantly tormented by Pop-Eyes, the biggest, meanest frog Hugo has ever met.  Pop-Eyes snatches Hugo’s toys, calls him names, and drops him head-first into the pond.  How will Hugo ever stand up to such a bully?
4 Flags

The Recess Queen
Written by Alexis O’Neill
Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

Mean Jean dominates the playground.  She goes first at swinging, bouncing and kicking, and no one risks challenging her.  Then a new kid arrives at school.  Katie Sue doesn’t know that Jean is the reigning recess queen.  So what will happen when Katie Sue decides to swing, bounce and kick first?
4 Flags

For Ages 9+

Buddha Boy
by Kathe Koja

Jinsen, known around school as “Buddha Boy,” is increasingly targeted in mean-spirited, violent bullying by the popular crowd.  Read the full review here.
4 Flags

For Ages 15+

Twisted
by Laurie Halse Anderson

After years of being bullied, Tyler considers using violence to make himself heard.
Read the full review here.
5 Flags

For Parents and Educators

The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander
by Barbara Coloroso

Coloroso discusses in depth the parts enacted in each incident of bullying (including cyberbullying):  the perpetrator, the victim, the bystander, the adults, and the community context.  This book emphasizes ways in which the cycle of bullying can be broken.  Read the full review here.
5 Flags

For Deeper Reflection

Tikkun Passover Supplement 2010 (Click to link to the full text.)

“As we sit at the Seder table we need to discuss how ancient liberation for the Jews can inspire liberation today for all people.”  So begins the Passover supplement.

How are the Seder and Jewish liberation relevant for non-Jews?  Why is this Passover supplement included on a reading list about bullying?

This piece of reflection from Rabbi Michael Lerner calls the Jewish people—indeed, all people– to open “their eyes to the suffering of our brothers and sisters, the Palestinians,”  to “the ways in which we…have been acting as Pharoah to another people.”  Clearly, bullying is not a problem contained on school grounds.

In fact, bullying occurs on school grounds precisely because it happens on a larger scale in our communities.  Prosperous nations bully developing nations, and powerful companies bully smaller businesses.  Certain adults bully those weaker than themselves.

In all its manifestations, bullying is nothing less than a serious form of oppression.  And so discussion of liberation can move us forward, closer to “communal vision of what messianic redemption would look like,” no matter what our particular faith tradition might be.

As Rabbi Lerner writes, “Instead of relying on domination, we know both from our holy texts and from our real-world experience that it is generosity, kindness, compassion, and caring for others that will be the key to our success and survival.”

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Booklist:  St. Patrick’s Day Picture Books
All titles ages 3+

My mom, an Irish New Yorker, picked out these four St. Patrick’s Day books for my daughter this year.  Thanks, Mom!  We love them!

Jack and the Leprechaun
Written by Ivan Robertson
Illustrated by Katy Bratu

A family of field mice are preparing for St. Patrick’s Day in their village in the Irish countryside, and cousin Jack is coming all the way from America to join in the celebrations.  When the family sends Jack out to gather shamrocks for the festivities, Jack encounters a creature unlike any he’s ever seen.  But will his family believe him when he returns to tell his tale?
Little Lit Lover says:  I like the mice and the surprise that Liam the Leprechaun leaves for them.
3 Flags

King Puck Inspired by an Irish festival
Written and Illustrated by Michael Garland


Seamus is a solitary farmer living on a mountain above the town of Killorglin with only his goat Finny for company.  One night a band of fairies casts a spell on Finny, giving Seamus the surprise of his life.  The fairies mischief comes just in time for the March 17th crowning of King Puck, a Killorglin tradition honoring the best goat.  A charming story with beautiful illustrations, and every book lover will love Seamus and Finny’s happy ending.
Little Lit Lover says:  I like finding the fairies hidden in the pictures.
4 Flags

St. Patrick’s Day
Written and Illustrated by Gail Gibbons


A non-fiction narrative that introduces the traditions of St. Patrick’s Day and St. Patrick himself to young readers.  Includes short summaries of legends connected to St. Patrick.
Little Lit Lover says:  I like how St. Patrick talks about Jesus with a shamrock.
4 Flags

That’s What Leprechauns Do
Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully


Ari, Boo and Col have serious leprechaun duties.  They have to place the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  But along the way the three little people can’t resist some silly antics, like tying up long-johns left out to dry and slipping a tennis ball into a hen’s nest.  Afterall, “that’s what leprechauns do!”
Little Lit Lover says:  These leprechauns are funny!  I like what they do to the cow.
4 Flags

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Booklist: Board Books

All titles:  Ages 0-3, 5 Flags

I love tiny clothes as much as the next mom, but how many sleepers or onesies does a baby really need?  A librarian friend gave me the first five of the following board books as a shower gift.  All five were a huge hit with my little one from the time she was six months until I carefully packed them away last summer.  A thoughtful and meaningful gift my daughter and I will always treasure.  Help foster a love of reading from a child’s first months by considering the titles from this list for the next time you need a baby gift.  

Hug
Written and Illustrated by Jez Alborough

As he wanders through the jungle, a baby chimp named Bobo observes various animals hugging affectionately and he decides he wants some loving too!  Luckily, Mama Chimp is near to provide all the cuddling her little one craves.

Colors (Slide ‘n Seek)
Written and Illustrated by Chuck Murphy

A fun introduction to colors and animals with simple text. 
A “heads up”:  My daughter loved to slide the tabs on this book, but one of them often got stuck, causing her to wail in frustration.  She did not develop the dexterity to cope with this until was close to 18 months old.   

Baby Animals (DK Baby Genius)

Beautiful color photographs and simple captions describing the animals’ actions (sleeping, standing, peeking, romping, etc.)  A good companion book for a trip to the zoo. 

Pooh’s Five Little Honeypots (Disney)

In this simple rhyming story, Pooh happily devours the contents of five honeypots.  Slide the honeypots over as Pooh finishes each one.  A nice tactile feature that thoroughly entertained my daughter.

Pajama Time
Written and Illustrated by Sandra Boynton

“The moon is up / It’s getting late / Let’s get ready to celebrate / It’s Pajama Time!”  A fun read for anytime of the day. 

(These next five are my additions to the list.)

Goodnight, Gorilla
Written and Illustrated by Peggy Rathmann

It’s time to say goodnight, but a mischievous gorilla and his zoo animal friends follow Joe the zookeeper right into his home when he’s getting ready for bed.  A delightful story with minimal text that invites discussion of the illustrations.    

My Many Colored Days
Written by Dr. Seuss 
Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Francher

Rich illustrations blend with subtle Seussian rhyme to introduce moods and emotions by associating them with different colors and animals.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Written by Bill Martin, Jr.
Illustrated by Eric Carle

A classic with vibrant pictures, Brown Bear unfolds in a pattern that even young babies quickly learn to anticipate. 

Planes
Written and Illustrated by Byron Barton


Perfect for a first plane trip, Planes provides a look at different kinds of planes and a simple explanation of the intriguing activities that a young traveler may see from the airport windows. 

Quiet Loud
Written and Illustrated by Leslie Patricelli


Quiet Loud is a great presentation of opposites that may help toddlers understand the concept of “inside voice.”

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Young Cat Lover’s Booklist (Part 3)

Booklist:  Cats

Ages 4-8, Unless otherwise noted 

Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2!

Cat
Written by Matthew van Fleet
Photographed by Brian Stanton

A rhyming list of a variety of cats to accompany fantastic photographs.  Pull tabs, flaps and textures enhance the tactile experience of this book.  The highlight:  30+ breeds featured in on the final fold out pages.  Age 2+
Little Lit Lover says:  I like the cat that hides in the boot and the little mouse.
4 Flags

The Cat in the Hat
Written and Illustrated by Dr. Seuss

No booklist on cats would be complete without the most famous literary feline of all!    220—that’s the number of words Dr. Seuss incorporated into this zany story in which, on a rainy day, two siblings are at home alone with nothing to do until a mischievous  cat materializes and proceeds to stir things up.  Excellent reading practice for beginning readers.
5 Flags

Eyewitness Cat
Written by Juliet Clutton-Brock

From the DK encyclopedic series, Cat covers the origins and evolutionary history of cats, the anatomy of cats including their “supersenses,” big cats and their natural habitats, various breeds of domestic cats, and more.  A great reference book most suitable for ages 8+, but also a good way to expose younger children to non-fiction reading.
Little Lit Lover says: I like the page with the cat skeletons where you can see all their bones.
5 Flags

Meet Trouble (All Aboard Reading 1)
Written by Susan Hood
Illustrated by Kristina Stephenson

Young Emily loves her aptly-named kitten Trouble who engages in typical feline explorations in this simple story with rhyming words and repetition to build early reading skills.  There is nothing special about this book, but with so many titles for beginning readers these days, this one is a safe choice for a child who can’t get enough of kittens and cats.  Ages 4-6
Little Lit Lover says:  It’s funny when Trouble tries to get his reflection in the mirror.
3 Flags

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
Written by T.S. Eliot
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

In “The Naming of Cats,” “The Old Gumbie Cat,” “Gus: the Theatre Cat,” and a dozen other charming poems, Eliot celebrates the quirks of a host of loveable felines, reminding readers “That Cats are much like you and me / And other people whom we find / Possessed of various types of mind.”  In this edition, Scheffler’s fresh illustrations breathe new life into a beloved collection.  A great way to introduce poetry to new readers.  Enrich the reading experience by listening to the Cats soundtrack.  Age 5+
Little Lit Lover says:  My favorite poem is “Macavity the Mystery Cat” and my favorite picture is Jennyanydots with the mice.
5 Flags

Too Many Cats (Step into Reading 1)
Written by Lori Haskins Houran
Illustrated by Joe Mathieu

 A woman plays the cello near an open window in her home and the music attracts the cats of the neighborhood that soon join in with music of their own.  A decent beginning reader book that contains a fair number of sight words.  It is not a phonics reader.  Ages 4-6
Little Lit Lover says:  I like when the white cat turns green!

3 Flags

This concludes the young cat lover’s booklist!  “You’ve read of several kinds of Cat, / And my opinion now is that / You should need no interpreter / To understand their character.” ~ from “The Ad-Dressing of Cats” by T.S. Eliot

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