I really must apologize for being offline for such a long time. Our move into a bigger home didn’t go as planned and we are still battling with a huge water damage. But: The books are safe and I can’t wait to get started on some new reviews!
The last three weeks were a little crazy for Finja. Reading helped her to keep her schedule and calm down after another exciting (and loud – think about fans, de-humidifier and air filter…) day. Look at this picture – do I need to tell more?
One of the books she’s totally into is “Will you help Doug find his dog?” from one of my favorite publishers, Barefoot Books. “Will you help Doug find his dog” is a little different from the Barefoot books I selected so far. It’s not about diversity, it’s not about cultural literacy, but it’s about sharing the love of reading with your child and offering them a book they can discover by themselves.
The story: Doug is devastated, he lost his dog… Luckily, Doug can count on the help of the young reader enjoying his story at this very moment. Together with Doug kids can sort through all the different dogs on the pages of the lovingly illustrated volume. Is Doug’s dog scruffy? Can you give all spotted dogs a pat? And tickle all small dogs? Finally, there is Doug’s dog!
“Will you help Doug find his dog” combines the idea of a search-and-find-book with interactive, sensory books like “Tickle my ears”. Lots of things are happening on the colorful pages, sorting and counting keeps children entertained and helps them to rediscover the story every time they pull “Will you help Doug find his dog” out of the bookshelf.
The book from Jane Caston was illustrated by Carmen Saldana and is one of the books that keeps kids smiling and motivates them to “read” a book all by themselves. The publisher recommends “Will you help Doug find his dog?” for children between 1 and 5 years of age. Helping Doug find his dog is a fun way for preschoolers to practice early math skills, sort and spot similarities and differences! With lot of action on every page it’s a page turner for younger children as well.
One of the reasons: Main character Gus is instantly likeable. The friends pig stores lots of curious things in his garage. Curious children will discover metal bins, an old fridge, a goldfish glass, a bathtub, some old piping, an old grandpa chair. What will he use them for? The next page brings the answer: Rhino Rico is complaining about the too small seat of his scooter. Gus has the answer: “Let’s see. I have some bits and bobs. This goes with that. There. Just the job!” Soon a happy Rhino leaves Gus’s garage on a completely remodeled scooter, sitting comfortable on his newly designed grandpa-chair-seat.
Will Gus find a way to help his other customers? Giraffe Gina is freezing her long neck off in the chilly air, while penguin Mrs. P “needs refrigeration”. Walrus Walter on the other hand is suffering what is, in his opinion, a too dry car… When the last customer of the day, rabbit Henry, is speeding away in his newly tuned up car, there is nothing more to do for Gus. Except: Inventing something for his own comfort…
Leo Timmer’s story about going out of your way to help others features friendly Gus, who creates unique gismos to help his customers. Gus uses old garbage to invent something new, tailored to his friends’ needs. The colorful pictures by the author show how the pile of square parts in front of Gus’s garage slowly shrinks with each customer. Curious children will re-discover the abandoned parts in the newly renovated cars of Gus’s friends! The rhyming text is catching and Finja loved to read it with me: “Let’s see. I have some bits and bobs. This goes with that. There. Just the job!” Although the book is recommended for children age 5 to 7, it is a fun read for younger children, too.
Leo Timmers is one of Belgium’s most popular children books authors and we are glad Gecko Press brought „Gus’s garage“ to the US!
More information: “Gus’s garage”
written and illustrated by Leo Timmers
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Gecko Press
Did you know that I was an official Barefoot Book Ambassador in 2016? As someone who constantly has her nose in a book, promoting literacy and working with the great Barefoot community was the perfect fit! Well, that being said – I quickly discovered that direct marketing isn’t for me. A year later I still love Barefoot books and miss the discounts I got as an Ambassador. That doesn’t change that I’m not a seller, so I keep on reading and reviewing.
Imagine my delight when I was offered review copies of the newest Barefoot books by one of the literacy agencies I’m working with! Sure, I said yes – and quickly re-discovered my love for Barefoot Books. Is there something better than unconventional, diverse children’s literature? Finja chose the first two books to read and review. One of them: “The Beeman” by Laurie Krebs, illustrated by Valeria Cis. “The Beeman” is one of the wonderful non-fiction books that teaches children about the real world and score with delightful pictures, an attention-grabbing storyline and rhymes.
Do you know where our honey comes from? Bees not only provide us with honey, their work as pollinator is important for our environment – but bees are critically endangered. “The Beeman” teaches little ones about bees, a bee man’s everyday life and why bees are neither scary nor dangerous, but important for our environment.
The story: Grandpa, the bee-man, teaches his young grandson the basics of beekeeping. His relationships to his bees is one of friendship and respect. They are family. We discover the boxes where bees live and sleep – the “beehive”. We learn about different kinds of bees and their duties: What are worker bees for, how do you recognize drone bees and why is the queen so important for a bee colony? Did you know that the house bees dry up the nectar brought by worker bees to make honey? How will the bees survive in winter and how does the honey get from the honey comb into the bottle? Author Laurie Krebs wrote her rhyming story easy to understand, several pages of endnotes full of essential facts about bees and beekeeping are perfect for children and parents that have more questions. The recipe for “Grandma’s Apple and Honey Muffins” is a tasty activity for hungry readers.
I re-discovered my love for non-fiction when Finja started to ask questions about our world. “The Beeman” is one of the books I love for my preschool-aged daughter: Easy to understand and awakening curiosity. She’s able to discover “The Beeman” by herself, even if she’s not able to read yet. The illustrations by Valeria Cis are colorful and grasp her attention, but they are also true to fact. The publisher recommends “The Beeman” for age 5 to 9, in my opinion the book is already perfect for preschool aged children.
A wonderful book for curious children (and parents)!
Written By: Laurie Krebs
Illustrated By: Valeria Cis
Publisher: Barefoot Books
You probably already saw a picture of Finja’s bookshelves on this blog. I’m really jealous of her, because I don’t have a bookshelf anymore since my office was turned into Finja’s room in 2012… Well, we are trying to change that and in the process of cleaning and staging our home so we can finally move into a bigger home and the days of working on the dining room table are over. Yeah! Moving always means throwing away and donating lots of stuff. It’s always hard to prioritize, I even recycled my old diaries… There is one thing that we won’t throw away though: Our books. Finja always enjoys when we bring some copies to one of our local “Little Free Library”, but in general her bookshelf keeps growing and growing…
It’s kind of interesting how real life and the books you are reading sometimes come together. The reality of how much work staging a home has just sunk in and I started dreaming of an office with a huge bookshelf when we received “Bear’s house of books” as a review copy. And bear has exactly what lots of us book lovers are dreaming of… But let’s start at the beginning.
Not everyone can enjoy a huge library of hundreds of books like Finja. Fox, rabbit, mouse and hedgehog are good friends and as they all enjoy stories they read the same worn-out storybook repeatedly. It’s they favorite book, although the pages are a bit sticky after years of reading. The friends would like some new books to enjoy. But where do you find new books? Do they grow on trees or do they fall from the sky like shooting stars? Do you dig them out like potatoes? So fox, mouse, rabbit and hedgehog set out on a book hunt. Heavily armed with sandwiches and the eagerness to discover new stories they start their adventure and search the woods high and low. Just before they are ready to give up they find – a book! The fantastic story catches they attention right away, but the book belongs to someone else: A label on the first page says that their new favorite book belongs to bear, who lives at the other side of the woods… Although the friends would love to keep the book a little longer they start their way to bear’s home. After a long hike, they finally arrive – and discover a wonderful library in bear’s abandoned home… A book lovers dream! The friends start reading right away, until bear arrives back home.
“Who left sticky paw prints on this cover?” “And a sandwich in the middle!” “Who’s been reading my books?”
These quotes may remind you of the story of snow-white and the seven dwarfs – and just like in this fairytale bear and fox, mouse, hedgehog and rabbit become good friends after discovering their shared love for books. After bear learns that the friends just have one book to read at home he allows them to read one more book – and soon the animals are cuddled together, enjoying one story after another. And they have a wonderful idea about how to share the love of books with other animals in the woods!
“Bear’s house of books” by Poppy Bishop is a great book about sharing the love of reading. The board book features a friendly fox, rabbit, mouse and hedgehog and makes it easy for preschoolers to identify themselves with the protagonists. Even the grumpy bear comes over as extremely likable and his decision to open a library for other animals sends an important message about sharing. After all, a library is wonderful – but isn’t it even better to spread the joy of reading and discovering new stories? Another great read by “Tiger Tales”!
“Bear’s house of books”
written by Poppy Bishop
illustrated by Alison Edgson
Publisher: Tiger Tales
We always had pets as part of our family and I can just imagine how author and illustrator Stef Albert felt after passing of his beloved Dachshund “Sophie Sue” … Stef Albert set pen to paper and created “The Magical Adventures of Sophie Sue” as an educational and inspirational adventure series for children and a way for Sophie Sue’s legacy to live on. “Sophie Sue travelled the world, sailed the seven seas and lived in a variety of countries. Always ready for the next adventure and loved by all who knew her, Sophie Sue touched the hearts of many.” Stef Albert’s mission: Through magical rescue missions, Sophie Sue and her animal friends teach children love towards pets and animals, awareness on endangered species, international travel, countries, flags, cultures and even a few foreign words in each story.
Dogs and world cultures – doesn’t that sound great? We were thrilled when Stef Albert contacted us about writing a review of the first part of the Sophie Sue series! „Sophie Sue – Book 1: Robbie the Rhino“ arrived just in time for Christmas with free stickers of Sophie’s animal friends and a bookmark. To be honest: I let Finja browse through the first adventure of Sophie Sue alone before I had a peek. Funny enough our four-year-old understood most of the story without even being able to read. And she had lots of questions right away: “Are these the Rhino’s parents?” “Why are they in a cage?” “Are these bad men?”
We read the book together a few days later. The story: Sophie Sue is a friendly Wiener dog with lots of friends. And Sophie Sue has lots of magic, too: Her magic ball tells her whenever an animal around the world needs help and she’s able to turn into a special Wiener-Copter to start a rescue mission with all her friends. Today Rhino Robby from South Africa needs Sophie Sue’s help. On the way to the country on the South tip of the African continent giraffe Larry Long tells his friend about South Africa and its inhabitants, its flag and spoken languages. Within “Sophie-seconds” the copter arrives in the bush of South Africa; the animals can spot Robbie Rhino right away. Poachers have kidnapped his parents and Robbie tries to keep up with the fast driving truck who will take his parents away… Sophie and her friends arrived just in time – but will they be able to rescue the Rhinos and bring the family back together?
I loved that Steph Albert teaches a lot about the destination country, in this case South Africa. Basics like the flag, language or characteristics of a certain culture will stick with the young readers. In this book of the series children learn to say “Thank you” and “Goodbye” in Afrikaans. He also educates about conservation and nature protection. The important of these topics shouldn’t be underestimated in today’s world! I want our daughter to be raised with the awareness of other cultures and the need to protect nature and wild animals. And as I spend some month in Namibia during High School I loved to hear some Afrikaans words again!
Finja loved the colorful, almost cartoon-like illustrations by the author. Sophie Sue and her friends show lots of expression; the thieves seem like caricatures. She also caught on to the moral of the story pretty quick, even without me reading the whole book right away!
Sophie Sue’s magic makes rescue missions over continents possible and although a dog turning into a helicopter being a little much for me (especially after Sophie’s house falls away when she turned fist, but is whole again when the animals arrive back after they adventure) it seems to spark children’s imagination and may be one of the reasons why younger kids love Sophie Sue. I read Fantasy novels as well, so it’s absolutely understandable!
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)
Are you already in Christmas mood? I have to be honest: We started packing Christmas packages for Germany about a month ago and I always felt like a pretender because I just didn’t feel the holiday vipe yet… Well, with Thanksgiving around the corner the mood is finally catching up with me – especially while browsing all the wonderful Christmas stories!
We are not a religious household, but Christmas is important for us anyway. It’s just about being together, thinking of the people you love, getting in touch with every good friends abroad and getting in a special, merry mood. Our daughter and we enjoy decorating our condo, visiting Santa at the local zoo and packing small baskets to surprise our friends at December 6th, Sant Nicolaus day.
In Germany, where there is no Santa but a “Christkind” (Christ child) I always had the feeling Christmas had a more religious touch. This goes for decorations as well as for Christmas books for kids, which mainly show angels and most times refer to the birth of Jesus. Or I’m just too old and was growing up in another area… Anyway, I really enjoy books that point out the importance of Christmas without bible references. And as someone who loves Northern Europe I finally found one of my favorite Christmas stories!
„Otto and the secret light of Christmas“ was written and illustrated by the Finish mother-daughter team Nora and Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin. The hero of the story, elfin Otto, finds himself on a long travel to find the “light of Christmas” to brighten the dark Finish winter days. His motivation: A postcards, proclaiming the “Light of Christmas” and wishing light in the midst of winter. Otto heads north, hiking dark forests, snowshoeing through deep snow, skiing down hills and riding on a reindeer`s back. The journey he started alone brings many new friends and adventures: Otto meets an apple-loving badger named Badger, encounters the king of the forest, warms up in a Sauna with Klupu, strong trolls living on the plains of Lappland and shares a tea with Snow Lonttis. Most of these creatures originate from Northern Europe folklore – together with the stunning illustrations of snowy plains, Northern villages and dark forests the reader is thrown deep in the Finnish landscape. Can there be a setting more Christmas-sy?
Finally, Otto’s journey nears an end: A campfire under the North Star where he joins an old man, which Otto addresses as “Father Yule”, one of the pre-Christian name of the Norse god Odin. “I have been called that”, laughs the old man. Otto has been looking for Christmas – but has he found it?
I’m sure what we have found: A magical Christmas story to share with children every age. „Otto and the secret light of Christmas” is a story about the real meaning of Christmas aside religious meaning and a tale that can be enjoyed by children and adults every culture and background. It would make the perfect read aloud for a preschool or elementary school! Reading „Otto and the secret light of Christmas” aloud is absolutely charming, the authors use a wonderful, poetic language. Hearing the story of Otto and his new friends you can almost feel the snow crunching under your shoes and hear the wind howling in the tree tops. I was craving Otto’s favorite drink, blueberry tea, after the last chapter! Speaking about chapters: Although the tale around Otto is absolutely wonderful it might be a little extensive for younger children to read in one sitting. Luckily the authors dedicated one separate chapter for every encounter. This makes „Otto and the secret light of Christmas” not only more accessible for younger readers, but also turns this book into a perfect companion for the holiday season. The 14 chapters could make a literary advent calendar of one of a kind!
We really loved the „Otto and the secret light of Christmas“ and I’m sure we’ll read it many many times this Christmas season and in the years to come! The book makes it easy for me to explain our meaning of Christmas with the words of “Father Yule”:
Which child doesn’t like the zoo? Finja loves visiting her favorite animals – and she always knows which to visit first. The jaguar always is number one – and then come the goats, the bungees or the lemurs, depending on her mood. The tree kangaroo always has to be part of our tour, too. I’m always in awe of the teachers who are handling a whole group of children without one of them wandering of!
„That’s not a Hippopotamus“ by Juliette MacIver is a story about a school class visiting a wildlife park. “Don’s Safari” declares to have “every creature in the land, roaming wild, safe and free”. Looking at the list of animals the children soon realize that one animal is missing: The Hippopotamus. Don is sure the wild park is home to a hippo – and so the search begins. The hippo is really good at staying hidden among the other animals, and so the resolution to “fetch him in no time at all” end in lots of confusion. The self-declared hippo-hunters catch a giraffe, an elephant and even a skunk, but the hippopotamus stays just out of reach – always in the picture, newer spotted by the class. Only the shy Liam seems to be able to uncover the mammal’s disguise…
„That’s not a Hippopotamus“ is fun to read and easy to love. A book for rainy days, snowy days, sunny days and whenever you or your child need some excitement in your life. The humor of the story is irresistible, the rhyme makes reading aloud extremely entertaining and Finja loved to scream “That’s NOT a hippopotamus!” after every mix-up. The illustrations by Sarah Davis are colorful and show real emotions. You can easily spot the anxious child in the diverse class, the more outgoing one, the loud one, the quiet one and the child that always is more careful than is classmates… Last but not least: Who doesn’t love a “search and find”-theme? Reading „That’s not a Hippopotamus“ can become a game: Who can spot the hippo first – you or your child? I have to be honest: Finja is way better at this than I am! 😉
„That’s not a Hippopotamus“ is a fun picture book for kids in pre- and elementary-school. Our daughter wanted to read it again and again and again and again (…) and will take it to preschool tomorrow. That’s definitely a ribbon of excellence from this little reader!
The book was published by “Gecko Press”, an independent publisher from New Zeeland. According to Gecko Press, the publishers aims to encourage children to love to read, because “one good book can spark a lifetime of reading”. Books like „That’s not a Hippopotamus“ definitely make it easy for kids to find their love for literature!
Moving to the US wasn’t as big of a culture shock as we expected. Well, at least not until the results of the presidential election came in… We live in the liberal Pacific Northwest, so life is not so different from rainy Germany. After Finja was born I realized that education and upbringing in the US definitely is different from childhood in Germany though. One example: Stranger danger. Even with a policeman as a dad, my sister and I never were explicitly warned about strangers. Not because we were distrustful by nature, but it seems as if our parents were just not afraid of some outsider would come and swipe us away. I thought this was a generation conflict – after all I pedaled my bike through the dark woods when I was middle school aged. You can’t compare the 80s and 90s with today, can’t you? But speaking with my parent friends in Germany made me realize that it’s only not a question of generations – it’s a question of culture as well.
So with a naturally friendly and outgoing daughter I thought it was time to tell her about not wandering away (she loves to do that!) and not trusting anyone she doesn’t know – and even be careful of people she knows. But how can you do it without inflicting distrust and fear of other human beings?
I didn’t search for Nicole Snitselaar’s “Little fox, lost”, but it was the perfect solution to our problem.
The storyline is simple: Little fox takes a walk with this mother who gets caught up in a friendly neighborhood chat. Little fox is bored – and soon so fascinated by his tracks in the fresh snow that he doesn’t realize how far he is wandering off. Little fox finds himself in the depth of the forest, all alone and scared… A friendly owl offers to take him back to his mother. Little fox almost agrees, but then he remembers a song his mom taught him:
“If you ever are lost my child
Don’t let a stranger guide you.
Be still and I will search the wild
Until I am beside you.”
The friendly owl understands – and together they wait, singing Mama fox’s song until she finally arrives to bring little fox home.
“Little fox, lost” is a gentle story about getting lost and finding your way home again. We loved the snowy winter setting and the cute forest animals as well as the significance of the story – the illustrations by Alicia Padron are calming, they have a huge part in talking about a difficult topic without being frightening. Mother fox’s rhyme “If you ever are lost my child” is easy to remember for children every age. This little ear worm can give them confidence if they should ever get lost for real.
“Little fox, lost” was published by Pajama Press, an independent publisher who’s goal it is “to produce high quality, award-winning books that are appealing to children, young adults, librarians, teachers and parents.”
Author Aileen Stewart works in my dream job: She not only writes books and markets them herself, but also organizes children’s writing workshop. How cool is that?
Her series around duck Quack and cat Daisy shows that Aileen knows what children want. Quack and Daisy are an unlikely team – but they are inseparable from the moment they literally bump together on the farm’s meadow. Both of them like exploring the magic of the meadow, but soon thez have to discover that cats can’t swim and ducks are not good at catching mice. Does their friendship have a chance anyway?
Aileen Stewart’s book is fun to read aloud, my daughter loved the colorful illustrations of the big eyed cat Daisy and her funny friend Quack. The heartwarming friendship story has an important message: You can be friends with everyone – even with someone who is not like you!
Finja immediately wanted to know how Quack and Daisy’s story continues. Luckily she didn’t have to wait long: “Quack and Daisy – Beyond The Meadow”, the second part of the story, continues with another adventure. Mama Quack cautioned her duckling about going beyond the meadow. Sure this warning just motivated the adventurous duo to explore the outside world… Quack and Daisy start on a new quest, they admire wildflowers on their way out of the meadow, enjoy the breeze – and Quack finally gets to swim in a real river! But when the duckling isn’t able to come out of the ditch again the unlikely friends know they are in trouble…
“Quack and Daisy – Beyond The Meadow” comes with lots of action and cautions children to listen to their parents. Anyway, as an adult I also had the feeling that Quack and Daisy’s hunger for adventure was a little bit dampened in this second part of the story… Well, as parent of a four-year-old I know that there is no end to seeking adventures for our daughter though. She just started to explore the “outside world” without waiting for my permission to leave the house. So this story just came to the right time… 😉
What I really liked in both part of the story was the unlikely friendship of the grey cat Daisy and her yellow friend Quack. Friends are important for toddlers and preschoolers – and the books around “Quack and Daisy” put friendship in the focus!
The “Quack and Daisy“-books aren’t Aileen’s only publications. She loves writing about animals – a passion that she explains with growing up on a farm: “The fact that I chose to write about farm animals is directly related to the fact that my childhood friend lived on a farm. It was a magical place to visit and the place where I became a big fan of chickens and gathering eggs. The characters and events in Fern Valley are loosely based on people I knew and events my brother and I experienced growing up.” So make sure to check out her collections of short stories and other books!