Gift Guide: Best Board Books for Babies and Toddlers

As a school librarian / mother of two back-to-back toddlers, I get a lot of questions about what kinds of books work well for the littlest readers.  Babies and toddlers benefit enormously from being read to and having access to books.  Of course, their limited motor skills and pre-literate approach to "reading" mean that books with thin paper pages and elaborate, written stories just won't work.  Below, you'll find two big categories of board books that I find to be perfect for the tiny tikes on your shopping list.

Inspirational - Books in this category will leave you and your little listener feeling empowered and ready to face the world.
I Am So Brave! by Stephen Krensky is a short, colorful reminder that big challenges will get easier with practice and time.  My kids and I have read this book hundreds of times, and it remains an enjoying read.

My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith is a sweet reminder that little moments spent dancing or sharing meals with loved ones are the keys to happiness.

Interactive - Books on this list have interactive elements that allow toddlers to play with the book while reading.

Chengdu Could Not, Would Not, Fall Asleep by Barney Saltzberg is a cute bedtime story about a restless panda searching for the perfect place to get some rest.  About halfway through this silly story is a series of partial pages that are fun for little hands to turn as the panda progresses toward sleep.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is a classic book that never gets old.  This book also contains a set of partial pages depicting the growing caterpillars meals throughout the week.  Littles love turning the colorful mini pages to see what he will eat next, so the board book version of this timeless tale is definitely the best choice.

Pancakes!: An Interactive Recipe Book is part of the Cook in a Book series by Lotta Nieminen.  Books in this series present a simple recipe and allow the reader to help make the food.  In Pancakes!, tiny hands can pull tabs and turn wheels to stir the ingredients, flip the pancakes, and more.  At my house, this book has been read every day for the month and half since we bought it.  Next, we plan to purchase Pizza!

Night Creatures: A Lift-the-Flap Book Lovers of Peppa Pig will especially enjoy this book in which nocturnal creatures are hiding behind flaps throughout the story.  The book also includes a tiny flashlight perfect for searching out all the after-dark animals and then for making bat shadows on the wall with the cutouts on the last page.  Toddlers will love this and any other books that come with a tiny flashlight.

This Is Not A Book by Jean Jullien encourages readers to use their imagination as each spread transforms the story into a toolbox, a laptop, and more.

Before & After is another adorable book by Jean Jullien.  In this story the author uses clever, comical illustrations to demonstration changes such as melting ice cream and growing families.  This book doesn't have any elements for children to physically manipulate, but the images alone provide a sense of exciting transformation.

What are your favorite books for the tiniest readers in your life?


Veteran's Day Reads for Real Life

Veteran's Day will be observed in the U.S. next week.  This holiday is intended to honor people who have served in the branches of the United States' Armed Forces.  As you prepare to observe this holiday with your students, consider adding some new books to your lessons.

Oftentimes, our discussions regarding Veterans Day tend to glamorize the military experience.  At my campus, we host an annual, star-spangled, bunting-bedecked sing-along in honor of local veterans.  In our efforts to honor and thank veterans, we focus on the pomp and prestige of being a military service-person but frequently miss the opportunity to devote time and attention to the sometimes challenging or even traumatic experiences of veterans and their families.  So many of our students have family members who have served in the military.  We can honor their real experiences more truthfully by including materials that address their challenges in addition to their triumphs.

Children's Experiences
Having a parent in the military often gives children a sense of pride, but the life of a military family can also include other feelings such as fear and uncertainty.  The following books depict the experiences of children whose parents are away while serving in the military.

Year of the Jungle by Suzanne Collins, author of Hunger Games.  This is the book that inspired me to write this post.  In this brief picture book, Collins describes the year that her father was away in the Vietnam War.  The story is a moving description of her emotions as she awaited her father's return from war, but the book is also approachable even with very young readers.
100 Days and 99 Nights by Alan Madison
Crow Call, a picture book by Lois Lowry
Love, Lizzie: Letters to a Military Mom by Lisa Tucker McElroy

Wounded Warriors
Sometimes veterans endure injuries during their service.  The books below address the experiences of children whose parent return from tours of duty after sustaining physical injuries.
Sparrow, a board book by Dorinda Silver Williams
A Sergeant in the House by Betty Turnbull
Is Your Dad a Pirate? by Tara McClary Reeves
Daddy's Different: A Look at Brain Injury Through a Child's Eyes by G. Forest

Post-traumatic stress disorder affects many combat veterans.  For children, this invisible mental health problem can be very confusing and distressing.  The following books can be used to help children understand this health condition.
When Daddy Comes Home: A Children's Book on PTSD by Maggie Hundshamer
The Impossible Knife of Memory, a young adult novel by Laurie Halse Anderson

Many children, especially those who live in large cities, may be very aware of the homelessness problem in their communities; however, they may not realize that a large percentage of America's homeless population are military veterans.  Sharing the books below can help students learn that homeless people are just regular people, sometimes veterans, who have experienced adversity in their lives.
The Veterans' Clubhouse by Kristin Zajac
December Stillness, a young adult novel by Mary Downing Hahn
After reading one of these stories, you can encourage children to collect socks for homeless people in your community as this is a persistent, widespread necessity and will provide a way for students to actively support those in need.

What stories do you like to share with students during patriotic holidays?


Rainbow Reading, Learning, and Fun

This year I decided to use rainbows to decorate the library, and it has turned out just as colorful and wonderful as I had hoped.
This once-in-awhile weather event reminds me to bring my own cheerfulness to each day, and it seems to make students happy too!  The bulletin board above greets library patrons as they approach the entrance.  Once inside, students are surrounded by lots more color and cheer.

To keep things organized, I assigned a color to each of our six tables and then labeled table supplies to match.  For the first time, I set up a parking station for each table's materials. 
 That way we can put things away when we don't need them, thereby eliminating the constant discussion about fiddling with supplies we aren't using right now.  Another thing I'm trying this year to help reduce disruptive fidgeting is providing stress balls.  Each table has a basket like the one below with enough stress toys for everyone.  This experiment has made me very popular, and for some students this has really worked.  In other classes I find students seem even more distracted than normal by the novelty of "toys" in the classroom.  But, it has been quick and easy to park the tub of stress toys on our supply shelf if they aren't working out and move right along.

I also carried the rainbow theme into some of our first learning stations of the year.
Among librarians, there's a running joke about patrons who come in asking for "that blue book" or some other, equally vague description that only a library superhero could fulfill.  I decided to dive right in to this silly way of classifying books with a Read the Rainbow reading station.  Students have enjoyed exploring books of all colors with the help of whisper phones and puppet buddies.

 At our science station, students have been experimenting and learning how rainbows are made.  I provided acrylic prisms.  Students tried making rainbows with flashlights, florescent classroom lights, a UV pen light, and sunlight from the windows.
 Once they discovered what worked best, learners could draw the rainbow they made.

Finally, I made a few totally self-indulgent purchases just to make my work space lovely.
A rainbow pillow for my teaching chair, a Choose Happy lamp for my desk, and a rainbow lanyard and keychain have helped me to remember to prioritize taking care of myself.  For teachers, it is very easy to give, serve, lead, and repeat without taking breaks to rest and recharge.  I am not an advocate of spending lots of money out-of-pocket to make a classroom look like a birthday party just to keep up with the room next door.  But I do believe we can sometimes make a worthwhile purchase that will significantly improve mood or workflow.

What tricks have you found to bring positive thinking and cheerfulness (for your students or for yourself) to your teaching space?

Find more ideas for rainbow learning and fun!


Perspectives on 4th of July

The Fourth of July is a great time for a conversation about varied perspectives.  These words from a speech by Frederick Douglass in 1852 can help students think about how different people may feel about various holidays.  The speech also illustrates the way primary documents can help us better understand history.  Check out this lesson on primary documents and perspectives for July 4th.


Fireworks Storytime

Fireworks are one of the best parts of summertime celebrations.  And, they make a fun theme for learning.  Check out these ideas for some festive fireworks learning.
Start by reading Red, White, and Boom! by Lee Wardlaw and Huy Voun Lee.  This picture book about Fourth of July celebrations includes diverse characters, beautiful cut paper illustrations, and brief rhyming text that helps readers explore the traditions of the holiday.
Older readers will enjoy Kama Einhorn's The Explosive Story of Fireworks! This 48-page non-fiction chapter book is part of publisher Simon Spotlight's History of Fun Stuff series.  You can get a boxed set of these engaging titles, called History of Fun Stuff to Go!, including the fireworks book plus five more.  This historical look at fireworks can also be used as a read-aloud, especially for children who are not ready to read this challenging text independently.  Daniel Guidera's colorful and playful illustrations will hold listeners' attention while they hear about firecracker displays of the past.

Then watch Fireworks ABCs from Sesame Street.
This quick segment shows each letter of the alphabet in a fireworks display.  It's a great way to review the letters using the fireworks theme.

For a fun science connection, head to Toddler Approved to learn how to make fizzing fireworks using a few basic household items.  During this activity, you can discuss the chemical reaction that happens when vinegar and baking soda mix.

You can practice lots of art and math skills by making fireworks hats.

Connie at Little Stars Learning explains in detail how to help little learners create these holiday hats while practicing skills such as pattern making and graphing.

Another fun craft is fireworks painting.  Grab some dark paper, paint, and cardboard tubes.  Make lots of cuts in one end of the cardboard tubes.  Then fold the fringey pieces back to create a firework stamp.
Let children stamp their tube into the paint and then onto the dark paper to create their own painted fireworks display.  We added a little glitter to our paint to make the fireworks extra sparkly.