Something We Read: Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert

Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert

This week, I want to focus on another of Bitsy’s favorite picture books for Picture Book MonthEating the Alphabet (shown above in board book form, but also available in other formats at this link), like a lot of alphabet books, is one in which the illustrations are the real star of the show. There is a good variety of vocabulary to found be in this book, too (Kumquat! Kohlrabi! Xigua!).

Eating the alphabet Peach through Pomegranate

I think this book is a really fun one for little ones who are discovering new foods. Because it’s a quick read, it’s a really good one for the short attention span of an active toddler. Bitsy brings this one to me frequently, we read it, then she wanders off to play some more. Reading then feels fun, not forced. A learning activity I’d like to do with her soon, but haven’t tried yet, is to take this book with us next time we go grocery shopping and search for each of the fruits and vegetables in Eating the Alphabet. When I do that, I’ll let you know how it goes!

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Something We Read: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

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Last Stop On Market Street was the first book I put on Bitsy’s Amazon baby registry, and the first one I bought since I was too impatient to wait for someone to buy it for us. I was just so excited about having books for her, and this one in particular  I knew would be special. It received some of the most prestigious honors in children’s literature. It is a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book, the winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal, and a 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor.

These awards speak well for the book, but what attracted me most was its content and message. After church, CJ and his grandmother take the bus to the soup kitchen where they volunteer each week. CJ sees his friends go home in their cars, and wonders why he can’t do the same. He feels a little sorry for himself, but his grandmother patiently, lovingly, and wisely shows him how fortunate they are, and how to find beauty all around them in this ordinary excursion. Who needs a car when “we got a bus that breathes fire?” CJ’s friends who get to go home after church will not get the chance to meet all the people CJ and his grandma see on the bus and at the soup kitchen. CJ doesn’t need a smartphone to hear music when the man across from him on the bus has a guitar, and plays a song for everyone. CJ closes his eyes to appreciate the music. It takes him out of the bus to an imaginary place of freedom, beauty, and magic.

After CJ and his grandmother exit the bus in the neighborhood of the soup kitchen where they volunteer, CJ looks around at the “crumbling sidewalks and broken-down doors, graffiti-tagged windows, and boarded-up stores.” He asks his grandmother why “it’s always so dirty over here.” She points out a rainbow and tells him that being “surrounded by dirt” can sometimes help you be “a better witness for what’s beautiful.” CJ then recognizes his grandmother’s gift for finding beauty, and looks around to find it himself in the street lights, stray cats, and shadows around him. When they approach the soup kitchen and see the people they serve every week, CJ tells his grandmother he is happy to be there.

There are so many messages in Last Stop on Market Street that I want to share with my daughter, and I’m glad I have this book to help me do that. I want her to be able to find joy and beauty in everyday settings, and be grateful for our many blessings. I want her to have close relationships with her grandparents, like CJ and his grandmother have. His grandmother is such a positive influence, teaching him some of the most important lessons for living a happy, meaningful, and useful life. The illustrations show diverse characters, something very important for every child to see in their books. Most of all, I love the sense of community CJ’s grandmother clearly has and is teaching him. She connects with the people all around her. She sees the bus as a valuable public space where people can interact and learn from one another. She smiles and wishes a good afternoon to all the other passengers, and has CJ do the same. The way she speaks of the people they serve at the soup kitchen shows that she does not condescend to the people she serves. She treats them not only as equals, but as wonderful people she and CJ are honored to know. I think the book conveys all of these messages without being preachy. I try to share these messages when I read it to Bitsy through my voice, expression, and pointing to the illustrations, delighting in all of the beauties CJ’s grandma points out to him. I’m so glad Bitsy has been enjoying this one. The message, as well as the condition of the book in its hardcover format, should hold up for her for years to come.

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Something We Read: Little People, BIG DREAMS

Little People, BIG DREAMS: Ella Fitzgerald by 

Isabel Sánchez Vegara, Illustrated by Bàrbara Alca

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Just look at that adorable cover!

Bitsy seems really drawn to this cute illustration of little Ella Fitzgerald, and often carries  this book around with her and brings it to me to read to her. At this toddler stage, sitting still for a whole book can be difficult. If a toddler is having trouble sitting still for an entire story, that’s okay. It better to skip some sentences or whole pages, or let them run around while you read, than to make them sit still until you finish the book. You want to help them develop a love of reading, not make it a chore. I do sometimes miss the days when I could read her books with longer, more complex stories than the ones in her board books, whenever I wanted. For whatever reason, Bitsy seems to stay pretty engaged with this book, though. I think she likes Ella’s friendly face and the colorful illustrations.

This one is fun for adults, too. There are little references for us to enjoy, like Ella’s mother reading Mrs. Dalloway. It gives us a lot of music to explore. At the beginning, we see a musically-precocious little Ella Fitzgerald listening to the Boswell sisters on vinyl. This group was a new discovery for me, and fortunately you can find their collections on Youtube, including what fans in the comments say are pretty rare, deep cuts.

We also learn about Ella Fitzgerald’s collaborations, band, and solo work, including illustrations of her album covers. What a great way introduce one of America’s greatest singers to children! Bitsy is so drawn to music, and this book has prompted me to play some of Ella Fitzgerald’s music for her.

 

The story is a very positive one about overcoming adversity and following your dreams. It does briefly touch on some difficult events in Ella’s life–her mother’s death, skipping school, being sent away to “a strict school as punishment,” and running away from home. It doesn’t dwell too much on these events and topics, and tells about them in a way that I believe children can handle.

Little People, Big Dreams

This series features the stories of women who have achieved great things. It follows their stories from childhood, showing little ones that we all start small, but can accomplish a lot if we dream big and follow those dreams. The books are written for young children, but are enjoyable for all ages. According to this interview, the author was inspired to write books about female heroes to fill a gap she discovered when looking for books to read to her nieces.  There just weren’t as many books about real-life, strong, courageous women as she’d found about men. The books aren’t just for girls. They are about dreamers, and intended for all children.

Vergara writes all the books in the series, but works with different illustrators. I loved all the illustrations in the book about Ella Fitzgerald. One page really stood out for me for the way Alca illustrates Vergara’s figurative language. Ella Fitzgerald’s “velvety voice wrapped around the audience like a blanket.”

blanket

I am so excited to keep sharing stories in this series about the lives of great women with Bitsy. I think the next Little People, Big Dreams we’ll read will be Rosa ParksMother Teresa, and Jane Austen. There are many from which to choose in this series, and you can probably find the stories of some of your heroes to share with your children.

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Something We Read: Sense and Sensibility for Your Little One

Children’s literacy is one of my passions. Start reading to your children early and do it regularly! It helps them develop important preliteracy skills and a love of reading, and even more importantly, is a wonderful way to bond with the little ones we love.

I’ve been reading at least one book to Bitsy every day since her birth, and keeping a journal of all the books read to her. My hospital bag included two books to read to her during our stay. I’ll never forget my mother reading Home for a Bunny, one of my childhood favorites, to Bitsy on her first day in the world.

As a weekly feature on Fridays, I will share with you one of the books Bitsy and I read together during the week.

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Something We Read This Week

Sometimes Jane Austen is the best self-care. My schedule this summer has been busy and often sometimes very stressful (don’t take two summer classes with a newly-mobile baby while traveling out of state on the baby’s first flight!), and while I have a big bag full of exciting new books from my library, and plenty of required reading for my MLIS courses, there are times I just need to go back and reread a good Jane Austen novel to make everything feel better. Books we read repeatedly throughout our lives can take on new character and meaning with our own changing attitudes and experiences. My feelings toward Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, for instance, have grown more sympathetic over the years.

During a family trip to the shore this summer, I reread Mansfield Park, the Austen novel I’d gone longest without rereading. Later, I wanted the satisfaction brought by the triumph of wise, patient Elinor Dashwood and, let’s be honest, the sense of superiority over the foolish, bad-mannered characters the narrator so bitingly ridicules, so I’ve been enjoying my beloved clothbound edition of Sense and Sensibility. Which brings me to my choice for one of Bitsy’s books this week:

Sense and Sensibility: An Opposites Primer

opposites primer

How fun for Bitsy to have her own version of the book her mama is reading! I read it to her, then handed the sturdy board book to her so she could play with it while I read my own. She loves to play with her books, turning the pages, pointing to pictures, and vocalizing.

books on floor

She also loves pulling all the books off her bookshelf and throwing them on the floor.

The format is like any other first book of opposites, but what better way to teach my child the concepts of big and little than through the examples of Norland Park and Barton Cottage?

BigLittle

And who wouldn’t want to get an early start sharing their favorite novels with their child? The book is as amusing for parents who are fans of Jane Austen as it is for little ones. Here’s Marianne Dashwood playing the pianoforte the only way it should be played–passionately:

NoisyQuiet

Sense and Sensibility: An Opposites Primer is part of the BabyLit series. I first discovered the series on a visit to a small local bookstore. What a boon to a literature-loving parent’s heart! All the books in this series are so clever, attractive, and well-made. I only bought this one that day, though it was hard to leave the others behind. I’ll definitely add more of them to our collection soon.

Does your little one have any books in this series? Which ones are your favorites? Let me know in the comments! I love discussing books and discovering new children’s lit!