New! Summer Reading Program

Yesterday was the last day of elementary school for our district. Only one hour after he officially started summer vacation, my child complained to me that he was bored. No joke.

You know what he’s doing today?

He’s starting his Summer Reading Adventure!  And, your kids can too! Just click here to download the map, customize it for your child, determine their rewards and get started reading. Just print and you’re ready to go!

Since my oldest son was three, we’ve done a similar program through our local library and it’s been great. This year, I decided to do my own so that I can offer rewards that I know will provide an incentive for my kids.

I’m excited to make the Summer Reading Adventure available to all the Wise Owl readers to say ‘thanks’ for your support. I hope the program will help you encourage your kids to continue great reading habits over the summer.


Spread Holiday Cheer with Great Children’s Books This Year!

The 2011 holidays are officially here! I can’t think of a better way to share and create special memories with your children than to read wonderful holiday stories with them. Good books provide opportunities to teach and explore, as well as share what the holidays mean to your family. Here are some of my all time favorite Christmas inspired books with a little background on why it makes the list. All of these books are perfect for kids 4 years and older and they make great gifts!

Olive the Other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh
Illustrated by J. Otto Seibold
When Olive the dog gets the idea that she’s actually a reindeer, she heads up to the North Pole to help Santa and goes on an amazing adventure. This book is super fun and J. Otto Seibold’s illustrations are bright, modern and interesting. Your kids will love this book! Every time I have read it to groups, as well as my own kids, I’ve had a captive audience.

The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson
Illustrated by Jon J. Muth
My youngest son and I recently discovered this book on a trip to the library and we love it. Beautifully illustrated by Jon J. Muth (Zen Shorts and Zen Ties), Lauren Thompson shares a sweet story of how Santa prepares for his famous midnight ride with some help from the special magic of Christmas.

Drummer Boy by Loren Long
In this story, a beloved little toy drummer boy gets lost and finds himself on a journey to get back where he belongs. In each of his encounters he gives his special gift of music and brings peace. When I’ve read this book, the kids become very concerned about the Drummer Boy, as if it is one of their own toys. Long’s wonderful illustrations pull you into the story with their detail and perspective.

Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Breuhner
Illustrated by Mark Breuhner
A boy builds a snowman and starts to wonder what he does to celebrate Christmas. In this fun, companion story to the New York Times bestseller, Snowmen at Night, the snow people have a holiday celebration all their own and they definitely know how to have fun! Mark Breuhner’s detailed illustrations illuminate the nighttime scenes and the holiday lights seem to light up the page. Great book!

Home for Christmas by Jan Brett
New York Times bestselling author Jan Brett creates beautiful books with her signature illustrations and wonderful storytelling. Home for Christmas is no exception. In this story, a little troll learns a lesson about how special “home” truly is just in time for Christmas.

If You Take a Mouse to the Movies by Laura Numeroff
Illustrated by Felicia Bond
The fun, holiday spin on the award-winning book series; If You Take a Mouse to the Movies features a special little mouse with a lot of big ideas. This book is also available as a special Christmas Edition that includes recipes, activities, sheet music, author insights and a DVD. A nice gift!

Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown
Illustrated by Diane Goode
One of my favorite children’s books of all time is Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown. In Christmas in the Barn, Brown borrows from that wonderful story, but features the story of the birth of Jesus in its wonderful, lyrical verse.

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry
In Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, Mr. Willowby receives “the biggest tree he has ever seen” and decides to trim it down a bit and share it with his tenant. She in turn does the same and the tree continues to be trimmed and pieces passed to families throughout the town, sharing the holiday spirit and bringing joy to others.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
How the Grinch Stole Christmas is the classic Dr. Seuss story of the Grinch who hates Christmas and the Whos of Whoville that help him discover the true meaning of the holiday. If you like rhyme, this book is an absolute treat to read.

Mortimer’s Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson
Illustrated by Jane Chapman
Share the story of the birth of Jesus from a mouse’s perspective. In Mortimer’s Christmas Manager, a little mouse starts out looking for cozy new place to sleep and learns why the place he found is so special. Written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman, best selling creators of Bear Snores On, this book is a wonderful addition to your holiday reading list.

The Spirit of Christmas by Nancy Tillman
Nancy Tillman has created a beautiful book to help celebrate the holiday with The Spirit of Christmas. Touching on everything that is special about this time of year, especially spending time with those we love, Tillman brings our hopes and dreams of Christmas to life. Detailed and interesting illustrations hide the spirit of Christmas on every page for your little ones to find.

And of course, the holiday wouldn’t be complete without The Night Before Christmas. The classic tale by Clement C. Moore has been illustrated by a number of artists. The version illustrated by Tom Browning and published in 2009 is really beautiful.

I hope you share some of these special stories with your family this year and create memories to treasure. Click here to download a printable list of these books to take with you on your next trip to the library.

Happy Holidays!

Small Saul

I recently made a bookstore trip to check out some new books that haven’t made it to our local library yet. While the one book I wanted wasn’t there, I found a really fun, unexpected pick: Small Saul by Ashley Spires.

Saul wanted to be a sailor for as long as he can remember. When he finally comes of age and learns that he’s too small to be accepted into the Navy, he turns to another seafaring career—pirate. Saul enrolls in Pirate College and quickly learns that he’s not quite like the other pirates. He brings his own special skills that the other pirate students don’t find too impressive.

“He did well in navigation, but lacked focus in Looting: The Basics. He was born to sing sea shanties, not to hold a sword.”

After Saul gets his Pirate Diploma and joins the crew of The Rusty Squid, his differences become even more of a challenge. At one point ending him overboard!

Saul stays true to who he is throughout the story – even when he tries, in his own special way, to fit in. He is a wonderful example of the importance of being confident in ourselves and what we each have to offer the world.  With so much talk about bullying going on with children of all ages, Saul’s story provides a good opportunity to ask your children about their experiences with other kids and reinforce all of the things that make them unique and special.

Small Saul is sweet and clever, with a great lesson for kids and some fun references for us parent readers. Spires’ colorful and detail-oriented illustrations are fun and a perfect complement to the story.  The ones of Saul nurturing the gruff pirates with band aids and baked goods definitely made me smile.

Award-winning author and illustrator Ashley Spires’ other books include Binky the Space Cat, Binky to the Rescue and Penguin and the Cupcake.

Great for boys and girls, ages 4 years and older.

Courage of the Blue Boy

Courage of the Blue Boy by Robert Neubecker does an amazing job of introducing the concept of diversity to even the youngest children in a way they can understand. By simply using color at first, and then building into slightly more complex ideas, Neubecker tells the story of how life can be more fulfilling when we embrace our differences. The Blue Boy lives in a world of blue and wonders if that is all there is. By leaving his home to learn the truth, he is gradually introduced to lands of pink, orange and then a sea of green that leads him to the big city — where all the colors and patterns live together. The Blue Boy loves the city, until he realizes that among all the colors and patterns, there is no blue. It is then that he makes his own blue mark on the world.

This book is a wonderful story of discovery.  We live in a world of diversity. As technology brings the far reaches of the globe as close as our own backyard, our children are increasingly exposed to experiences and knowledge unlike previous generations. Helping them understand and embrace cultural, language and even spiritual differences among us fosters curiosity, tolerance and an expanded world view. Courage of the Blue Boy is a valuable resource to share this important teaching.

Neubecker’s illustration style is modern and interesting. As the book uses color to frame the story, each page becomes more vibrant and detailed. My family loves this book and I know you will too.

Robert Neubecker is the award winning author and illustrator of I Got Two Dogs, Wow! City!, Beasty Bath, and other books. Neubecker is a graduate of Parsons School of Design and also illustrates for The New York Times and Slate.
Perfect for boys and girls, ages 3+.

The Foolish Tortoise

I love Eric Carle books and have read many of them to both my own kids and at story time. They are instantly identifiable, thanks to Carle’s unique and colorful artwork. The simplicity of his writing and repetition really draws young kids in to each of his stories. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of them.

A few years ago, I came across an Eric Carle book that I hadn’t heard of before. The Foolish Tortoise is illustrated by Carle, but written by Richard Buckley. Buckley’s rhyming verse is wonderful as the story follows the tortoise on his journey of self discovery.

A tortoise, tired of being slow
Impatient to get up and go,
Took off his large and heavy shell
And left it lying where it fell.

“Hooray!” he cried. “Now I’ve been freed –
I’ll see the world at double speed!”

Thinking his life will be much better when he rids himself of his shell, he encounters a number of unexpected situations that help him realize exactly who he is and where he wants to be.

The Foolish Tortoise is a sweet story that provides a great opportunity to talk about how we feel when faced with unfamiliar situations. Carle’s beautiful art brings the story to life with an interesting complexity and depth that and is a treat for both kids and adults. When reading this book, I’ve noticed that younger children quickly relate to the tortoise. His new and unfamiliar experiences resonate with them and they seem to sympathize with how frightening the unknown can be. The story does a great job of illustrating how new and different isn’t always better. A great lesson for today’s world.

Acclaimed author and illustrator, Eric Carle, is the creator of more than 70 innovatively designed picture books for young children. His best-known work, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, has been translated into more than 50 languages and sold over 33 million copies. Since 1969, Eric Carle has sold more than than 110 million copies of his books around the world.  Richard Buckley also authored The Greedy Python with Carle, which was published in 1993.

Perfect for boys and girls, ages 4 to 8.

The Big Bad Wolf and Me

Befriend the Big Bad Wolf? That’s exactly what happens in The Big Bad Wolf and Me, an offbeat, charming book by Delphine Perret. In the story, the Big Bad Wolf, named Bernard, has lost his confidence and thinks his days of scaring are over. It’s only when a young boy meets up with the skinny and sort of depressed creature on his way home from school that things start to turn around for the famed storybook villain.

This book is hysterical. With its dialogue format and Bernard being a gruff, fun character for the guys, it’s a great Read with Dad Month pick. The interaction between the wolf and the boy, who takes on the role of coach and counselor, is clever and entertaining. The boy is a nurturing and positive friend as he encourages Bernard to practice being scary, while letting him live in his closet and feeding him chocolate chip cookies and canned meat—in this case cat food.

The story is fast moving and told through short vignettes, which help show the time that passes as Bernard gradually gets his confidence back. Perret’s illustration in this story is a very simple, line drawn style. It works wonderfully with the book and enables a lot of detail to be covered with each interaction between the boy and Bernard.

French author and illustrator, Delphine Perret, has written and illustrated many books that were published in France, including Mademoiselle Lisa and Oncle Hector. The Big Bad Wolf and Me is her first book to be published in the United States.

Perfect for boys and girls, ages 5+

Poetry for Summer

Our three year old has taken on a new schedule for the summer. It goes something like this:  the slightest glimpse of sunlight appears around his blackout window shade and he is immediately up. The time doesn’t matter. For the past few weeks his average waking time is around 4:30 a.m.  As you probably also experience with your own kids, when he is awake, the whole house is awake. He’s loud, his toys are loud and he wants his breakfast. Everyone is grumpy. Enough said.

This new ‘summer version’ of my son has prompted us to get him to bed earlier. The hard part is that since it’s still light outside here at 7:30 p.m., he doesn’t think it’s time for bed. And, the nightly bedtime challenge ensues.

The whole situation started me thinking about the wonderful Robert Louis Stevenson poem, Bed in Summer. If you don’t know it, here it is…

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candlelight.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

In addition to his highly regarded novels including Treasure Island and Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson published many children’s poems. They are beautifully written with a childlike sense of wonder—a perfect way to introduce poetry to your child. Some of my favorites are The Swing, Summer Sun, Where Go the Boats?, The Moon and The Land of Nod.  Both parents and children will enjoy Stevenson’s poetry. Each time I read The Swing, it brings back memories of how it felt to fly through the air on the swings as a child, with each pass going higher and higher. Keep in mind that these poems were written in the 1800s and you will occasionally need to explain the meaning of some words or phrases– it’s a great opportunity to expose your child to different words and show them how language has changed over the years.

Stevenson’s poetry is published in the book A Child’s Garden of Verses. Many versions have been published since the original release in 1885, with different illustrators artwork featured. The version illustrated by Brian Wildsmith is a favorite. I find his art to be whimsical and interesting – it’s a beautiful compliment to the poetry.

You can also find his poems online for free by simply by doing an Internet search.  A fun activity is to download the poems, read them to your child and have them draw their own illustrations based on what it means to them.

Summer is a wonderful time to explore new things including books, interests and art forms with your child. I hope you’ll consider poetry as one of those new experiences this year.

Perfect for boys and girls, ages 4+

Father’s Day Book Picks!

Hi Friends. With this Sunday being Father’s Day, I wanted to share some of my top Read with Dad picks all in one post. These are all on the calendar to review this month, but I haven’t been able to get to them this week as planned. Unfortunately, both my boys have had stomach viruses and it has derailed my writing a little bit. Sick little ones are one of the not-so-pleasant sides of parenthood, for sure!

If you’re looking for a great gift to give Dad, Grandpa or another father figure in your child’s life, this list will give you some great options to choose from.

The Giving Tree
written and illustrated by Shell Silverstein
This is one of my favorite children’s books of all time. It is THE most beautiful story of selfless giving. Box of tissues warning: it can be a tearjerker. I believe every family should own a copy of this book. It provides an amazing opportunity to discuss friendship, sharing, giving and aging.

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel
written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton
This is a classic book with a sweet story about friendship, love and caring. It provides a great opportunity to talk about the value of things and treating them with respect (i.e. toys), as well as recycling.

The Paperboy
written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
This Caldecott Honor winner is the story about a young paper boy and his commitment to doing his job. The book features Pilkey’s beautiful painted illustrations of the early morning hours. The Paperboy provides a great opportunity to discuss leadership and how to be responsible.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz
Sweet, funny story about a little boy and one very bad day. The story presents the opportunity to discuss how we deal with things that don’t go our way, our emotions and what makes us feel different ways. Also nice to share that bad days are something everyone experiences!

Giant John
written and illustrated by Arthur Loebel
Originally published in 1964, this Caldecott Medal winner is back in print. The story tells of a giant who goes out and gets a job to support his family. Giant John shows kids what it means to be responsible and take action to fix a bad situation, in a fairy tale sort of way. Arthur Loebel is the famous author and illustrator of the Frog and Toad series – also great, classic books.

How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?
by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague
There are a number of books in this series and they’re all good, but this is my favorite. The story gives some great examples of proper behavior and plays off of Dad and Mom in a sweet, fun way. Perfect for bedtime, the book features lovely, detailed illustrations by Mark Teague. In addition to the behavior lesson, the story is a neat way to introduce many different types dinosaurs by name to your child.

Sending very best wishes to all the families out there, especially dads, for a wonderful Father’s Day 2011! Enjoy every moment with your kids and I hope you share many wonderful stories together.


Flotsam by David Wiesner is the illustration-only story of the ocean world, as told by the photos in a camera that washes ashore. The book’s clever and stunning art captures the imagination in a whole new way.

The story opens with a young boy at the beach with his parents. After getting knocked over by a big wave and sitting in the wet sand, an old fashioned camera washes up at his feet—a “Melville Underwater Camera.” When he opens it up and finds a roll of film, he runs to have it developed. What he gets back are possibly the most unexpected and fantastic photos of life under the sea.  As you go through the photos with the boy, each page becomes more and more exciting. The illustrations are elaborate, inspired and showcase the creative mind of David Wiesner.  Just when you think it can’t get better, the story cleverly shows the history of the camera and the lives that it has touched. Again, revealing layers that add depth and wonder to the story.

Besides the beautiful illustrations, I love the fact that when you share this book, it is virtually impossible for it to not inspire conversation. Each page presents an opportunity to ask a child questions and help them explore their own imagination. The simple question, ‘what do you think is happening here’ opens a child up to unguarded, creative thinking that is such an important life skill. It also gives the person sharing the story a glimpse into the child’s mind and what they understand about the world around them.  In my experience sharing this book, I’ve had fun and interesting discussions about the oceans, mythical sea creatures, and film photography to name a few–along with lots of big eyes and kids saying, ‘wow, look at that’ every time I turned the page.

David Wiesner has illustrated more than twenty award-winning books for young readers. He has received the Caldecott Medal twice for Tuesday and The Three Pigs, and two Caldecott Honors for Sector 7 and Free Fall. Flotsam was a New York Times Bestseller and won the 2007 Caldecott Medal, making Wiesner only the second person in the award’s long history to have won three times.

Perfect for boys and girls, ages 3 and older.

Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity

Let me start off by saying that I love all Mo Willems books. Every time I read one to a child, it’s an instant favorite. You can’t go wrong with any of them; all of his books are funny–written to appeal to both kids and adults–and feature his wonderful illustrations. I’ll be sharing more Mo Willems books in future posts and, frankly, any of them are great choices. In this review, however, we’re talking about Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity.

When Dad takes Trixie to school with her beloved, one-of-a-kind Knuffle Bunny to show all of her friends in Pre-K, she gets an unexpected surprise. Sonja also has a bunny…a Nuffle Bunny. Suddenly, Trixie’s one-of-a-kind bunny isn’t so one-of-a-kind anymore. Each believing that their bunny is the most special, the girls argue and one-up each other until the teacher, Ms. Greengrove, has no choice but to take the bunnies away. When school ends and the bunnies are returned, the story gets even better.

While this is a fun story for anyone to share, there is a sweetness in the relationship Trixie has with her Daddy that qualifies it as a great Read with Dad Month pick.  In the middle of the night when Trixie realizes she has a problem, she and her Dad go on a late night rescue adventure. Through her Knuffle Bunny experience, Trixie learns a valuable lesson about jealousy, sharing and, eventually, friendship. This is a really nice book for a Dad to share with his daughter–although any little boy with a favorite special toy can relate as well. Make sure you read the epilogue too, it’s the perfect ending.

The illustration features Mo Willem’s full-color, hand drawn characters on top of black and white photographs. The effect is so different and interesting; you can’t stop looking at all the detail. The story is realistic and clever, and in my experience reading it to kids, always keeps their attention. Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity is a 2008 Caldecott Honor winner and the sequel to Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, a 2005 Caldecott Honor winner.

Mo Willems started his career in television, writing for Sesame Street and earning six Emmys. He is the author of many favorite children’s books, including Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (a 2004 Caldecott Honor winner) and its sequels, as well as the Elephant and Piggie early reader series.

Perfect for girls and boys ages 4 to 8.