„The Big Book of Animals of the World“ by Ole Könnecke

It’s always fun to discover an English translation of a German original! I have to be honest that I wasn’t familiar with Ole Könnecke’s big books of words before receiving “The Big Book of Animals of the World”, published by Gecko Press. But the large-format board book was loved by our daughter and me right away. Is it surprising, as we both love animals and a trip to the local zoo is an important part of our week?

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„The Big Book of Animals of the World“ is more than a simple book of words. Each page introduces a certain habitat as well as the animals living in it. Children are travelling from the Northern sea over the European alps to the South American rain forest, learning which animals live in each ecosystem. The illustrations are rather simple – but this is not a biology book and the friendly animals hold a toddler’s and preschooler’s attention for a long time. Elementary school kids can learn how to read, write and pronounce each animal’s and habitat’s name.

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But more importantly: As „The Big Book of Animals of the World“ comes with less text, it invites to discover, wonder and discuss. How can you get stranded on a tropical island – and which animals will you meet there? What are the relatives of the spectacled bear, living in Northern America? What is the biggest mammal in the ocean? And what’s the most outstanding attribute of the anglerfish? And in which other book did you meet a giant octopus? The story around the animals of the world can grow and change every time you read, depending on your children’s age and interest, your focus, knowledge – and mood! What will it be today? A short biology lesson about the earth’s ecosystem or a fictional story about the mice, which appear on every page of this book?

„The Big Book of Animals of the World“ is a sturdy, extremely versatile book for parents and kids. It’s a great read-a-loud for babies, wonderful for curious toddlers and keeps the attention of active preschoolers. Emergent readers can discover the book by themselves. Parents will be surprised how many stories are hidden in a single book.

More information:
Board book: 20 pages
Publisher: Gecko Press
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1776570126

„The tea party in the woods“ by Akiko Miyakoshi

Do you remember “Alice in Wonderland”? Do you like surreal adventures and tales? Then you’ll love “The tea party in the woods”! What got me hooked up with this book and request a review copy over NetGalley were the unique illustrations by Japanese author and illustrator Akiko Miyakoshi. But the book offers more…

"The tea party in the woods" is a captivating tale
“The tea party in the woods” is a captivating tale

The beginning of „The tea party in the woods” reminds of “Little red riding hood”: A little girl sets out to bring a forgotten pie to grandma’s house. During her walk through the winter wonderland she comes upon a strange home. Curious Kikko can’t help but glance into the windows. What she sees seem to come right out of “Alice in Wonderland”: A bear in a coat? A dear in a nice lace dress? A stag in a tailored suit? Kikko can’t believe her eyes. And she can’t decline the invitation to warm herself on some tea and enjoy some delicious cake…

“The tea party in the woods” is a tale about a simple errant turning into a magical adventure. It also is a story about being trusted with important tasks – children can relate to the curious, but brave Kikko and let their imagination fly. And who doesn’t like to dream about an animal parade through the woods, a personal carnival?

Author Akiko Miyakoshi began creating picture books while studying visual communication design at Musashino Art University. Her unique illustrations are a feast for the eyes: Mainly black and white charcoal paintings with a hint of red and yellow complement this timeless fairytale: Illustration without overlay, leaving room for imagination. Reading this book as a digital version I just can imagine the beauty of these illustrations on paper. An absolute recommendations for children (and adults) who love surreal adventures!

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More information:
„The tea party in the woods“
by Akiko Miyakoshi
Publisher: Kids Can Press
ISBN-13: 978-1771381079

From the same publisher:
“The most magnificent thing” by Ashley Spires

Cultural literacy: Read the world this summer!

My husband and I grew up in Germany – Finja was born in the US. German and American culture are not so different, but we use books to give Finja a basic understanding of German language. But it can go further than that! Sharing stories from around the world is a great way to start a conversation about diversity – even before children start thinking about other cultures actively!

20160503_222633566_iOSWhen you love reading you want to share this love with your children. This is the most important part – in the end it doesn’t matter of you join one of the different summer reading programs available or share the books you love with your children. But I have another idea: Why not “read” the world this summer? Why not only share the love of reading with your children, but also learn something about world cultures?

Why summer reading is so important

Summer reading is important. Not only because reading is fun, but because it’s a fun way to work your kid’s brain and prevent learning loss during the summer break. What is learning loss? According to a newer study, average school aged children loose one to three months of learning through the summer. This not just applies to school aged children, but to preschoolers and Kindergardeners as well. Reading interactively is a fun way to keep these little minds sharp!

Reading over the summer is critical for maintaining and expanding the intellectual development of children of all ages. The good news is: With some simple steps you can take to keep your child’s mind sharp over the summer!

According to experts, reading 6 books or more over the summer is essential in keeping “summer brain drain” away. The summer is a great chance to build your library! Have a diverse selection of books on hand from which your children can choose. Not surprisingly children are more engaged when they have the opportunity to select books themselves!

And now to the fun part: Bring the books to life. Give your children more to look forward than “just” a book. Pair it with activities. Why not pair arts and crafts with the book your child loves? I love Pinterest to get some ideas – that makes it easy to tailor activities to the age and interest of your children.

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When talking about cultural literacy a fun way to encourage your children to “read around the world” and keep the engagement going is a “world passport”, which is a fun activity to do with your kids. From every country they read a book they can color or stamp it in. Barefoot also uses a world atlas as a map to organize summer reading. Africa, Europe, Asia, America – which continent seems to be most fascinating for your child? Every book about other cultures can give you and your children insight into other parts of the world and a welcome break from everyday school life! 

Read the world!
elephant-dance_fc_wNot only does reading together help children’s cognitive development, but it also strengthens your parent-child bond. Plus, we sometimes forget about something else: As parents we are also concerned about our children’s character development. What kind of people will they grow up to be? We want them to be caring and socially conscious citizens of the world: self-confident, curious and compassionate. And what better way to grow your childrens’ confidence, empathy and knowledge about other cultures than books? That’s why I love the Barefoot books summer reading program. Barefoot books cares about global citizenship. Their reading program encourages families to “travel the world” with a world atlas and use this as a map to organize summer reading. Barefoot books are about cultural diversity – but you sure can use every book to “travel the world” with your children! But: What books will you read? Maybe you already have a selection of cultural books from your home country or out of your own bookshelf. Perfect! Other than that I have some recommendations for you. All these recommendations are from Barefoot books, as I love their cultural books and they fit perfectly into a summer reading program “around the world”. However, please understand these recommendations just as this: Recommendations. Every book about other cultures can give you and your children insight into other parts of the world, so please choose the books you like!

weallwentonsafari_genpb_fc_rgb_w_1Africa
For children (and parents 🙂 ) who are fascinated by the African continent I can recommend two books:

We all went on safari”: Join Arusha, Mosi, Tumpe and their Maasai friends as they set out on a counting journey through the grasslands of Tanzania. Along the way, the children encounter all sorts of animals including elephants, lions and monkeys, while counting from one to ten in both English and Swahili. You could create masks from paper plate as an activity to go with this book!

Another great book is “Mama Panya’s Pancake”: On market day, Mama Panya’s son Adika invites everyone he sees to a pancake dinner. How will Mama Panya ever feed them all? This clever and heartwarming story about Kenyan village life teaches the importance of sharing, even when you have little to give.  The book comes with Mama Panya’s pancake recipe.

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Southern Asia
Elephant Dance” lets you listen along with Ravi to Grandfather’s captivating stories about India, where the sun is like a ferocious tiger and monsoon rains cascade like waterfalls. Notes after the story include facts about India’s animals, food, culture and religion, and a simple elephant dance music score. “Elephant Dance” is a NAPRA Nautilus Award Finalist.

Mexico
Or maybe sunny Mexico is your favorite? Then you’ll love “Off we go to Mexico“. Swim in turquoise seas, admire grey whales and monarch butterflies, trek to native villages and sing and dance to the music of Mariachi bands. Along the way, you can learn Spanish words and phrases and discover Mexican culture. Why not pair this book about Mexican culture with a visit in an original Mexican restaurant?

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You love fairytales from different cultures and want to “travel” to Asia with your children? Then “Lin Yi’s Lantern – A Moon Festival Tale” is a fantastic book for you and your children. Meet Lin Yi — a little boy with a big heart and a talent for bargaining. Tonight is the moon festival and he wants nothing more than a red rabbit lantern; but first he must buy the things his mother needs at the market. This heartwarming story shows the rewards of putting others first, and includes educational notes at the end about the Chinese moon festival, life in rural China, and the legend of the moon fairy.

chandras-magic-light_w_1One of the newer books, that will captivate elementary school aged children as well as adults, is “Chandra’s Magic Light”. Join sisters Chandra and Deena at the market in Nepal. A man is selling lamps that are powered by the sun instead of kerosene, and Chandra knows the magic solar lamp would help her baby brother’s cough. But how will they afford one? This lyrical tale is brought to life with luminous acrylic artwork, and comes complete with seven pages of endnotes, including an illustrated map of Nepal, notes on Nepali daily life and instructions for making a pizza box solar oven, which is a great activity to go with your summer reading. This book was developed with the help and advice of SolarAid UK and ECCA (Nepal).

Which books are you choosing?
You don’t need to buy the recommended books for this summer reading program – every book about other cultures can give you and your children insight into other parts of the world and a welcome break from everyday school life! Which books are you choosing?

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“The Princess & the White Bear King” by Tanya Robyn Batt

Somehow sunny spring days let me yearn for Northern folk tales… “The princess & the white bear king” was sitting on my shelf for quite some time and I never found the peace and quiet to enjoy it. So what better day to finally read a story set in ice and snow than a warm May day?

"The Princess & the White Bear King"

According to the author, “The princess & the white bear king” is a combines three classic tales: “East of the sun, west of the moon”, “The black bull of Norraway” and “The white bear king”. I knew the often retold tale of Eros and Psyche, which is the origin of “East of the sun, west of the moon”, so I knew to expect a classic love story. And as our four-year-old daughter was fascinated by the title cover of the white bear king – why not read it aloud?

“The princess & the white bear king” is set in a winterly fantasy world, brought to life by illustrator Nicoletta Ceccoli, who also illustrated “The tear thief” by Carol Ann Duffy. In “The princess & the white bear king”, the King’s youngest and most beloved daughter dreams of a golden crown, more beautiful than everything her father can give her. Following her dream, the princess has an encounter with a strange white bear, who offers her the desired crown in exchange for her freedom. The girl agrees. Living in the bear’s castle she not only finds his presents acceptable, she even falls in love with the bear king.

The Princess & the White Bear King

But as we know, fairytales never end here… When the homesick girl is allowed to visit her family, she disregards the bear’s suggestion to “not listen to your mother’s advice, for if you do, bad luck befalls us both.” Back in the castle she lights a candle when feeling something sharing her room – and spills hot wax on a handsome prince’s shirt… Doomed to now marry the Troll Queen, who bewitched him, the prince has to travel “to a land east of the sun and west of the moon” without a chance to break the enchantment.

This is when the spoiled and passive princess turns into a heroine. She follows the trail of the bear king for over three years, until finally arriving at the Troll Queen’s castle – and fights for her love…

To be honest, I absolutely disliked the princess in the first part of this new told fairytale. Honestly, which girl goes the way of possible enslavement, just to win a wonderful new crown? Losing her love is a turning point for the spoiled girl though. She turns into a keen and strong willed women, who is not only willing to fight for her love, but also compassionate enough to help those in need during her journey.

The tale itself is kind of long, so more for adult readers or children age 6 and up. Our preschool age daughter seemed to seriously enjoy the story though, although more interested in the emotions of the protagonists and the blacksmith’s children then the meaning of the love story. 🙂

All in all, “The princess & the white bear king” is a wonderful modern fairytale with a not-so-strong beginning, but an even stronger progress. Sure,  it has the classic setting: a heroic male, a wicked antagonist – and we know that in real life no one lives “happily ever after”. But that’s how fairytales end, isn’t it? Our heroine is more than a damsel in distress. I absolutely adore Nicoletta Ceccoli’s illustrations, which add great character and atmosphere to the storyline!

The book comes with a story CD narrated by Miranda Richardson.

More information:
The princess & the white bear king
Written By: Tanya Robyn Batt
Illustrated By: Nicoletta Ceccoli
Publisher: Barefoot Books
ISBN-10: 1846862280
ISBN-13: 978-1846862281

Read your way around the world!

Some of you know that I started my journey as a Barefoot Ambassador a few weeks ago. I don’t work exclusively for Barefoot, but I absolutely love the company’s multicultural orientation and the chance to promote children’s literacy together with the engaged people from Barefoot Books.

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Their new summer reading program is all about creating world citizen and connecting summer reading with tons of fun and learning about different cultures.

When I was a child, our German school breaks were just six weeks long, summer literacy workshops weren’t known back then – and I spent the summer reading anyway… 😉 That’s why I was so astonished to learn that children have one to three months of learning loss over the summer break. Summer reading workshops are more important than we think – but shouldn’t the summer be fun and full of new adventures as well? Who wants to commit to not only read a certain number of books, but to certain books as well?

I have a better idea for you: Why not travel the world this summer – with reading books? Let your child choose which books to read, pair the books with optional activities, learn about world cultures – and more important: Have fun!

My 30 minute workshop on May 12 2016 gives you some ideas on how to travel the world from your living room or reading nook, how to choose the right books (or let your child choose) and how to find fun activities to go with it. And the best: You can access this event from your home PC! No need to pack the kids up and drive to the library! And nobody will know if you are in your PJs or your toddler is running around with a princess dress.

Join me on Facebook? 🙂

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„Thea’s tree“ by Judith Clay

There are only few books with a simple story that seem to grow every time you read them. “Thea’s tree” by German author and illustrator Judith Clay is one of them. I honestly didn’t fell in love with this book at first sight – but sometimes you have to take a second look.
“Thea’s tree” was published by the Indian publisher “Karadi Tales” and chosen for the White Ravens List of the International Youth Library Munich in 2012.

"Thea's Tree" by Judith Clay may seem unassuming at first.
“Thea’s Tree” by Judith Clay may seem unassuming at first.
The first time I read “Thea’s tree” I was quite disappointed by the unassuming storyline. Thea grew up in a city without trees – and like most children she doesn’t know what she’s missing until hearing her parent’s childhood stories. Thea starts to long for “trees to hide, trees to climb, trees to sit under and dream.” One day, Thea gets the chance to reach for her vision in a dream-like encounter with a magical tree. Believing in her dream, Thea plants the first tree in the city without trees – “and if you come to Thea’s town today, you will find it there still.” Nature finds it’s way back into our civilization. We live in a time where climbing trees is ill-reputed as “too dangerous” and playgrounds are made out of concrete. So isn’t this a message we want to give our children and grandchildren?

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I have to be honest: Though I love Clay’s message of making your dreams reality and bringing back nature in our lifes, I personally found interpreting the passage with the god-like representation of a tree extremely difficult. Is it an ode to daydreaming? Does is present destiny, a god or just a chance life gives you? As a non-religious person who doesn’t believe in fate this still is one of the biggest drawbacks for me. Thea fells in love with the idea of having a tree, she holds on to her dream and finally brings it to life. There is no need for destiny of a bigger entity, is it? But as every story, our background and experiences are playing a big part in the interpretation of “Thea’s tree”. Judith Clay’s illustrations are rather unique and worth a second glance. So please: Give “Thea’s tree” a chance and enjoy the unique story about bringing back nature and making your daydreams true!

More information:
„Thea’s tree“ by Judith Clay
Hardcover: 28 pages
Publisher: Karadi Tales Picturebooks
ISBN-10: 8181902971
ISBN-13: 978-8181902979