“Clive and his hats” by Jessica Spanyol

I’m not a friend of gender neutral education. Because, let’s face it: Girls and boys just are different. That doesn’t mean that there is any justification for gender stereotypes though. Although boys and girls are different, learn differently and have different interest, girls play with fire trucks, too. And boys like to play kitchen. Or to dress up.


Clive, the hero of the board book “Clive and his hats” by Jessica Spanyol, is a boy with a vivid imagination. He likes to build castles out of sand and jump into puddles. He loves to play in his little pool and to pretend he’s a cowboy. But he also likes to dress up, play peek-a-boo and wearing his own creation during a visit in the art gallery. Clive has lots of hats – and bunny ears are just part of his inventory as a fireman hat and a wooly hat for cold days. Because “Clive likes lots and lots of hats!”

“Clive and his hats” by Jessica Spanyol is a book for children age 1 to 3. The board book convinces with sturdy pages, that are easy to grasp for early readers. We loved the colorful illustrations by the author – Finja especially likes Clive’s black Moshi cat and it’s mischieveos smile… Jessica Spanyol doesn’t just write to challenge gender stereotypes, her illustrations embrace diversity: Clive’s friends are from all parts of the world. This is one of the best parts of this book in my opinion – because is there a better way to show our children how diverse and colorful the world is? Or, as another children’s book publisher stated: “Books are for ALL children”. You want your child to find themselves or their friends in the book they read. You want them to become tolerant and aware that there is no “average” kid. Because there are girls playing with cars – and boys playing with dolls, there are children from Asia and with lighter or darker skin color than yours!


This book is part of the “All about Clive” book series about Clive and his everyday life. Jessica Spanyol created books about “Clive and his babies”, “Clive and his art” and “Clive and his bags”. We didn’t read the other parts of the series, but the titles promise more diverse books who defy gender stereotypes. And we definitely need more diverse books to make the world a little more colorful for toddlers and preschoolers!

The “All about Clive” series was created by Child’s Play International. According to the publisher, Child’s play “is more than just a publishing program, it is a philosophy.” As children learn most about the world around them in their early years, the publisher wants to expose children to diverse, quality books “to develop an enquiring mind and a lifelong love of reading.”

More information:
“Clive and his hats”
written and illustrated by Jessica Spanyol
Age Range: 1 – 3 years
Grade Level: Preschool and up
Series: All about Clive
Board book: 12 pages
Publisher: Child’s Play International; Brdbk edition (July 1, 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1846438851


„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?


„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.


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

Online Workshop: Reading with your child

Thanks for attending my Facebook Online Workshop about supporting children’s literacy at home! We talked about lots of topics, from the right illustrations for newborns up to cultural literacy. This script is just a short summary, but can help if you couldn’t attend the whole workshop or just want some reading suggestions!

"Bear on a bike" by Barefoot books - Finja's favorite!
“Bear on a bike” by Barefoot books – Finja’s favorite!

My husband and I grew up in Germany – Finja was born here 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! I first worked with “Barefoot Books”, the publisher of “Bear in a bike” for book reviews on by book blog and then decided to join their Ambassador program to have access to children literacy resources, support parents in finding the right books for their children and growing Finja’s bookshelf 🙂 Barefoot books offers a great variety of books about cultural diversity – I never saw that many books about different cultures! That’s why I decided to join the Barefoot Team as Ambassador to have access to more resources and help to bring parents, kids and the right books together.

How to identify a good book
In my opinion one of the most important things you can do for your child is reading out loud regularly. One of Finja’s first books was “Bear on a bike” from the British publisher “Barefoot books”. She still loves it and I have to read it to her multiple times a week. I still believe that the books you show your children during their early childhood have a huge effect on their interest of literacy! “Bear on a bike” for example has colorful illustrations – Finja loved this even when she was just a few weeks old. When she was older, she was drawn to the rhythm of the text – and now she loves to use the illustrations in a “search and find” manner. We talk about what happens on each page. In my opinion “Bear on a bike” is still one of the best children books that I ever encountered. That’s how I got in contact with the publisher. I personally love their books with beautiful art and meaningful stories that let imagination and creativity spark.

Book recommendation:
“Bear on a bike”: You can find my review about “Bear on a bike” here. Barefoot Books offers a preview on their homepage – here you can have a look into all the other Bear-books as well!


Baby’s literature
Let’s begin at the beginning of your child’s reading journey. Babies explore their world with chewing. Board books can withstand mouthing. Board books are also great for tummy time, which is important for building core muscle strength. You can prop them up, which gives babies a focal point. But did you ever think about what’s “within” the pages? The dye Barefoot Board books are vegetable-based and non-toxic, so you don’t have to worry when your little one “reads” with her mouth! Here are some suggestions especially for younger children.BabyTalk

Another thing babies love: High contrast. Babies’ developing brains are tasked with processing a lot of information! Focusing on simple, high-contrast images allows babies’ brains to rest and helps prevent overstimulation.

Book recommendation:
Baby talk” This book has been specially created for parents and older children to share with new babies, helping to lay the foundations for secure attachment and early language skills.

Baby basics“: A colorful introduction to letters, numbers and opposites! These cheery board books include interactive spreads for practicing new skills.


Cultural literacy
Not 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? One of the things I love most about Barefoot Books is that the company promotes cultural and emotional literacy. I don’t know about you, but before discovering Barefoot, it was hard for me to find books that exposed my daughter to diversity.

SafariBook recommendations:
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. The lively, rhyming text is accompanied by an illustrated guide to counting in Swahili, a map, notes about each of the animals, and interesting facts about Tanzania and the Maasai people.
Off we go to Mexiko”: 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. Enjoy your journey!

Lin Yi’s Lantern – A Moon Festival Tale”: 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.

Tales from Ireland”: Celebrate the wonder of Ireland with the seven enchanting stories in this captivating collection. The rich traditions of Irish storytelling are honored with larger-than-life characters, myths and legends around every bend, and plenty of magic. Book with double CDs include stories read by Grammy-nominated singer Maura O’Connell.

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. Notable Books for a Global Society, Winner of the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award

Let’s talk about feelings. Through reading and discussions, we can help children feel confident in their unique identities, identify and express their feelings, and develop empathy towards others. Like reading, math or science, emotional literacy can be taught, but it requires dedicated time and attention. Reading books that address social and emotional issues opens the door for conversation and helps children understand their own experiences. This personally helped my daughter a lot when she started preschool about a year ago and couldn’t hold her excitement and her separation anxiety…


Book recommendation:
Emily’s tiger“: When you are parent of a strong willed toddler or preschool kid (or teenager) you know, that harmful situations like putting on shoes or serving healthy food can turn serious within seconds. Emily is a strong willed girl that knows what she wants – and what she doesn’t. She’s full of temperament and can turn into a roaaaaaaaaring tiger when something doesn’t go her way… Read my review about “Emily’s tiger” here. Barefoot Books offers a preview of the book here.

Selecting the right books for your child AND yourself
So, we talked about WHY reading is so important. But how do you read to your child? How do you select the right books?

When you attended my workshop and are reding this article you are probably already a great role model and show your child how much you enjoy reading. Show your child books that you enjoy – but be adventurous as well and let them choose books that they enjoy, too! Here we are back to the cultural part as well. The book you read doesn’t always need to be something that’s exactly designed for their age. For example: One of my favorite children books right now is “The Tear Thief”. “The Tear Thief” is appropriate for preschool age children, but it’s a fairytale that probably just adults get in it’s full meaning. But what does it matter? Finja loves that the book is about emotions, we talk about each page and she loves the rhythm of the story.

Book recommendation:
The Tear Thief

Wanting to hear the same book over and over again is normal for preschoolers and it’s okay to indulge them in that! At this age it’s also important to expose them to a variety of types of books so that they can develop a well rounded set of literacy and language skills.

AnimalBoogieI was surprised to learn that singalongs are actually one of the best kinds of books for developing Kindergarten readiness. They help develop children’s attention span and develop their ability to follow directions!

Book recommendations:
Portside pirates

Animal Boogie
Both books come with a CD!

What also helps is a reading routine. It doesn’t need to be a bedtime story – you can read at Breakfast or Lunch as well of in the afternoon. Whatever works for you and your family’s schedule! My daughter is pretty active and our bedtime routine takes ages – so I always read in the evening so she calms down a bit. But I can remember the time when she dropped her nap and we read after lunch! When do you usually read? I found that a good goodnight story helps our three-year-old to calm down after an exciting day!

Book recommendation:
Starlight sailor”: Sail away to dreamland! Follow a small boy and his dog as they navigate the land of dreams in a paper boat. As you journey through the night, you will meet all kinds of curious and magical creatures

Does your child love animals or motorcycles? Perfect! Don’t shy away from nonfiction picture books and literature. They grab your child’s attention – this not only goes for preschool aged children, but for the little ones as well! So why not connecting season and adventures with the books you are reading? It’s becoming summer. Do you visit the farmers market? Why not show your child where food comes from, which teaches the importance of teamwork and how to choose healthy foods, the plant life cycle and how to treat animals and plants responsibly?

Book recommendations:
Grandpas GardenMillie’s chicken”: Tend Millie’s backyard chickens from day to night in this rhyming picture book, which is right on trend and packed with STEM-friendly science info.

Grandpa’s garden”: A beautifully told story that follows Billy from early spring to late summer as he helps his grandpa on his vegetable patch. Children will be drawn in by the poetry of the language and the warm illustrations, while also catching the excitement of watching things grow!

Who’s in the garden?”: A delightful peek-a-boo book that Smithsonian Magazine called one of the “Notable Books for Children”. Children are invited to look through the holes on every other page to answer the repeating refrain, “Who’s coming to see how my garden grows?” The energetic, rhyming text introduces all sorts of creatures that are busy in the garden.

Let your child create a story!
Another interesting idea: Let your children tell a story. Take a picture walk: Especially with books that you’ve read a thousand times use a “picture walk” as a chance to notice details from the illustrations and to let your kiddo retell the story in their words. Don’t forget to ask questions along the way!

Book recommendation:
outoftheblue_wI reviewed “Journey”, a picture book without words, on my blog a few weeks ago. I liked the book, but had the feeling it was a little complex for preschool aged children. “Out of the blue”, a wordless book about the mysteries of the sea, is a little more kid friendly and will let them tell the story in their own words! I think it’s perfect for our trip to the coast in summer! 🙂

Puzzles and games
…or maybe today’s reading routine doesn’t come with a book… Did you ever think about making a puzzle or use cards? My daughter loves the “Children around the world” memory game – although she likes to change the rules sometimes…

Well, it all looks good on paper. But you know that every age has its challenges… Right now Finja sometimes is a little distracted. She shows me which book she wants to read – and then she fishes out the next one before I can finish book number one… That used to annoy me. But, honestly – is it so bad? Sometimes it can help to let your child lead. The same goes for the books you are reading together. It’a all a combination of leading your child and let them lead. Be adventurous and have fun!

I hope I could give you some ideas about sharing literacy with your children! Ask any questions below or send me a message. You can contact me at Facebook or directly on my Barefoot-Book-Ambassador-Page.

If you are interested in any of these books/puzzles/games/CDs let me know and I can help you place any orders. Also, keep in mind that I just showed you a very small sample of Barefoot products. If you’re looking for other gift ideas for a special occasion or for a specific child, I can also help you find age-appropriate presents.

Thanks a lot for joining me!

“Bear in Sunshine” by Stella Blackstone

One of Finja’s first board books, „Bear on a bike“, was the beginning of her love for books. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, as “Bear on a bike” and the other parts of the bear-series convince even newborns with colorful high-contrast illustrations. When she was older, she was drawn to the rhythm of the text – and now she loves to use the illustrations in a “search and find” manner. We talk about what happens on each page.


Bear in Sunshine” is another part of the “Bear”-series and a long time favorite in our  library. The story is simple, yet educational and funny. The big, friendly bear discovers the seasons: He plays in the sunshine, sings in the rain, flies his kite when the wind blows, paints when it’s misty and builds snow-bears when snow falls. I never expected the concept of seasons to be hard to grasp for a child – but whenever Finja is confused about spring, summer, fall and winter we take five minute to read this well loved board book again.

Simple rhymes and the captivating colorful illustrations captivate newborns, toddlers and preschool kids and are funny and interesting enough for parents. I personally love Stella Blackstone’s artwork!

Bear in Sunshine” is another great read by Barefoot Books and one of the reasons I decided to join the Barefoot Team as Ambassador. This book has everything a board book needs. That’s why we reward it with five crowns for story and illustrations!

Bear in Sunshine

More information:
Bear in sunshine
Written by: Stella Blackstone
Illustrated by: Debbie Harter
Publisher: Barefoot Books
ISBN-10: 1841489239
ISBN-13: 978-1841489230

“Bear on a bike” by Stella Blackstone

One of Finja’s first books will make the beginning: When we got “Bear on a bike” by Stelle Blackstone in the mail, we didn’t even have a book shelf for children books. For almost two years, this Barefoot book belonged to Finja’s bedtime routine like brushing teeth and was a go-to for sleepless nights.

"Bear on a bike" by Barefoot books - Finja's favorite!
“Bear on a bike” by Barefoot books – Finja’s favorite!

Bear on a bike” is one of numerous “Bear”-books by the British publisher “Barefoot books”. What convinced me of this book were the colorful, playful and friendly illustrations by Debbie Harter: Easy to look at for a baby they turned were great for “look-and-find” when Finja entered preschool age. Rhymes and repetitions makes reading fun for parents and easy to understand for children of any age.

The content: The bear tries out different forms of transportations and stumbles into new adventures. A bike brings him to the market, a train to the seaside, a raft promises an adventure in the jungle, a carriage carries him to a nightly party in a castle – always bringing his friend, a little boy, and his dog (“where are you going bear – please wait for me!”). Children can hop onto the back of the bike and will be comforted by the bear just like this little boy – and say “goodbye and goodnight” when bear blasts off on a rocket, just before bedtime.

A great read and a great present for every new parent – and just the beginning of our love for Barefoot books. Enjoy!

Storyline: Five crowns
Illustrations: Five crowns


More information:
Bear on a Bike (A Barefoot Board Book)
Written by: Stella Blackstone
Illustrated by: Debbie Harter
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1841483753
ISBN-13: 978-1841483757