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.

Too Many Frogs!

Sometimes those that are different from us can be…well, annoying. Even little kids can tell you who they find annoying, once they know what it means. It may be the kid that won’t let them take a turn on the swing, or the one that writes on their hand in art class. In any event, there are times when someone we find really annoying at first, becomes a friend. This is the premise of Too Many Frogs!, written by Sandy Asher and illustrated by Keith Graves.  When conservative Rabbit gets an unexpected “knock-knockety-knocking” on his front door from Froggie, his life will never be the same.

There are a lot of things to love about this book, but given that I’m recommending it as a Read with Dad pick, let me start there. With Rabbit being a sort of persnickety character and Froggie being boisterous and a little goofy, this book is perfect for multiple voices that guys can do really well!  My husband has read it our oldest son’s school classes over the years and his voices are HILARIOUS. The kids love it and it pulls them into the story even more. He gives Rabbit a real nasal, whiny type of voice and Froggie a really deep, raspy one. You can also do it with two readers–one for each character–and that’s fun too.  It’s like you’re putting on a little play for your child. Trust me, you’ll get repeat requests.

Too Many Frogs! does a great job of showing just how different people can be. Rabbit and Froggie are complete opposites. Rabbit lives a simple life, and Froggie is anything but simple. As the story continues, Rabbit—being very set in his ways—grows more and more frustrated with Froggie’s different style of doing things. Rather than tell him, he keeps it inside until he finally lets his feelings out in a big way. Once Froggie is gone, Rabbit has a chance to think about the things he did like about his new friend and misses him—learning that different can sometimes be better. In addition to being really fun to read, the illustration is fantastic and detailed, down to the mushrooms on the doormat and the ladybugs on the lamps. Use this book as an opportunity to discuss patience and the idea of trying new things with your child. Maybe you’ll even get them to take a bite of broccoli at dinner.

Sandy Asher began her career began writing stories, poems, and articles in children’s magazines. Her first book for young readers was published in 1980 and she’s written 25 more books since, including Too Many Frogs! and its sequel, What a Party!. Texas-based artist Keith Graves is the author and illustrator of several children’s books including Frank was a Monster who Wanted to Dance, Loretta: Ace Pinky Scout, and Uncle Blubbafink’s Serious Ridiculous Stories.

Perfect for boys and girls, ages 3 to 8.

Great Books for Dad this Month at Wise Owl!

Hi everyone! Isn’t June such a great month? School is out for the kiddos, the warm weather is finally hitting most of the country, summer officially begins, and we have the big daddy holiday of the year—Father’s Day!

In celebration of the knowledge and experiences that dads and other positive male role models can share with kids, we’re proclaiming June as Read with Dad Month at Wise Owl! With ‘dad’ representing dad, as well as any of the many possible father figures in your child’s life.

Along with our planned reviews, all month long we’ll feature books that are great selections for the guys to share. Why are they great?  The book may be even more fun when read with deep, funny voices that men can do really well. It may be about cars, tools or other things that men typically find especially interesting. Or it may be a story about a dad, grandpa, uncle, brother, cousin, teacher or another great guy a kid can look up to.

Look for the Read with Dad Month logo on the review and then head out to your local library or bookstore to pick up a copy. And, if you’re looking for a Father’s Day gift, any of these books would be a great choice.

What a great way to share a wonderful experience and foster a love of reading.

P.S. Use our Summer Reading Adventure to track all the great books your child reads and reward their efforts. To learn more about the program, click here.

All Aboard the Dinotrain

What do you get when you combine dinosaurs, a train and a roller coaster ride? One fun book, a happy kid and a great story time! All Aboard the Dinotrain written by Deb Lund and illustrated by Howard Fine is pure fun. When a group of all different types of dinosaurs embark on an adventure—by train—it’s hard to know what to expect. First, they’re too big to fit in the train, so they ride on top. Next, they’re too heavy for the train to move fast, so they have to push. Then, they have to dump the cargo to get uphill. When they finally get to the mountain peak, the story takes on the excitement of a roller coaster ride as the dinos ride the rails and run into some unexpected surprises.

I absolutely love this book. Not only because I have sons, who happen to love dinosaurs and trains. I love this book because it’s so well written and such a treat to share. With rhyming verse and a “dino” language all its own, it takes you on an journey that both kids and parents can’t help but enjoy.

“We think we can!” they dinosay.
“Our dinomight will save the day.”
The smokestack coughs out dinosoot.
They sweat from dinohead to foot.

I also appreciate that the book has some bonus teaching. As part of the story, kids learn a little bit about steam engine trains and how they work. It also exposes them to different types of dinosaurs—some of them having a role on the train crew. There’s the Triceratops Switch Operator, the Stegosaurs Conductor and the T-Rex Porter, just to name a few. The painted illustrations are pure art. From cover to cover, it features beautiful, bright and colorful scenes that pull little ones into the story.

Perfect for boys and girls, ages 3 to 7.

My Many Colored Days

How do you approach teaching your children about emotions? As any parent going through the terrible twos (or threes and even fours) knows, experiencing and trying to understand feelings is an enormous developmental milestone. My Many Colored Days, by Dr. Seuss, wraps an emotion around a color and a description, to help children identify with different feelings. Each page features one color, an object and a story about that object with an emotion tied to it.

On bright red days
how good it feels,
to be a horse
and kick my heels!

For younger children, sharing this book is a fun way to reinforce colors, while giving them an interesting way to better understand their emotions. It says right on the book that it’s perfect for babies and toddlers, but I will tell you that I’ve shared this book with kids up to 6 years old and found that it sparked great conversations. For older kids, I asked them what types of things make them feel a certain emotion and what do they do when they feel that way. It’s also fun to ask them why they think the author used a certain color to describe a particular feeling.

In the classic Dr. Seuss tradition, the narrative rhymes beautifully. The painted illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher are bright and interesting, yet uncomplicated—very different than what you expect from a Dr. Seuss book. According to Seuss himself when he wrote this as part of a manuscript in 1974, this will be “first book ever to be based on beautiful illustrations and sensational color.” Johnson and Fancher have collaborated on illustrations for over 20 years and are recipients of a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators.

Enjoy this book with your child and start a wonderful conversation about emotions. You may be surprised at how much you learn.

Perfect for boys and girls, toddler through 6.

The Kiss That Missed

Every night we lucky parents get to send our little ones to sleep with a big kiss goodnight. What if there was a night when taking the time to deliver that kiss became a little less important.

This is the premise of The Kiss That Missed written and illustrated by David Melling. A sweet story about a young Prince and his very busy father, the King, who blows his son a kiss good night as he hurries on his way. As the Prince sits in his royal bed, he watches the blown kiss float past him and out the window!

The Prince cries to his mother the Queen, who informs the King. The king quickly dispatches his bravest Knight into the dark wood to catch the kiss, where more adventure awaits.

The book is visually stunning. The illustrations are vivid, witty and include some fun details that appeal to kids and adults alike. While a story that includes a castle, prince, queen, king, brave knight and scary fairytale creatures is definitely a winner, there’s more to this one. The family backstory is instantly familiar with kids. While parents are typically busy, today it seems even more so. The story is full of twists and unexpected turns, ending with a lesson about what is truly important.

When I asked a first grade class what the King learned in the story, most responses were that he shouldn’t always be in a hurry and not to blow a kiss, “because it could get lost”. I found it interesting that they got the message so clearly, even when delivered through a fantastic tale. A good reminder to all of us parents to slow down for focus on what matters most.

David Melling has illustrated over 60 books, writing and illustrating 15 of them. Other titles include sequels Good Knight Sleep Tight and The Three Wishes, as well as Just Like My Dad and Hugless Douglas. The Kiss That Missed was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway award.

Perfect for boys and girls, ages 4 to 8.

Room on the Broom

Room on the Broom, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, is a story about one very nice witch, who runs into some challenges as she rides on her broom with her cat companion. Throughout the story, she meets some new friends who are eager to help the witch get back on her flight. Just when it seems that her troubles are behind her, the witch and her new friends run into an unexpected and extremely unfriendly dragon, who prefers to eat his witch with a side of fries!

This book is fun and beautifully written with rhyme that is an absolute treat to read.

The witch had a cat
and a hat that was black
And long ginger hair
in a braid down her back.
How the cat purred
and how the witch grinned
As they sat on their broomstick
and flew through the wind.

Besides the infectious cadence, there is a repeated phrase throughout the story that younger children quickly pick up on. When I’ve read it at Story Time the group will start saying it with me, each time getting louder and louder – I love that. It shows that they are completely engaged and paying attention. When the witch unexpectedly runs into the hungry dragon, everyone gets quiet and waits to hear what happens next.

The illustration by Axel Scheffler includes both full page artwork and small vignettes that help children further understand what is happening at different parts of the story. The illustrations are fantastic—colorful, interesting, clever and detailed. After I shared this story recently with my son, he kept looking at the pages and pointing out more of the detail.

Julia Donaldson is an English writer and playwright, best known as author of The Gruffalo and other children’s books, many illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Of her 157 published books, 56 are available in bookstores and online, and the rest are used in schools.

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

Sock Monkey Goes to Hollywood

SMIn Sock Monkey Goes to Hollywood:  A Star is Bathed, the adorable and nostalgic Sock Monkey is reinvented as a modern day character AND a famous actor!  Written and illustrated by Cece Bell, this story is funny, endearing and a great read for both kids and parents. When Sock Monkey is nominated for an Oswald Award for the Best Supporting Toy in a Motion Picture, he is completely excited.  That is, until he reads the fine print: Nominees Must Be Clean

It appears that Sock Monkey has been busy over the years and has never taken a bath.  NEVER.  The story tells of Sock Monkey’s journey to cleanliness by traveling to exotic locations with his friends Miss Bunn, Froggie and Blue Pig by his side.  Once clean, we follow him to the Oswald Awards where he’s up against some stiff competition including Teddy Bear, Jack-in-the-Box and Baby Doll.

SockMonkey_2I love a lot of things about this book–for starters the fact that Sock Monkey gets clean (if you have kids that don’t want to take a bath, you’ll understand).  I also like that Sock Monkey overcomes his fears and by doing so gets to have a once in a lifetime experience.  The ending is a great surprise and teaches a valuable lesson about losing and winning.  Cece Bell’s narrative is modern, clever and hilarious — especially when the characters chime in.  When I’ve read this with kids, they think it’s funny that Sock Monkey has never taken a bath and love to see what happens at the Oswald Awards.

Sock Monkey Goes to Hollywood:  A Star is Bathed was Cece Bell’s first book.  There are a few other Sock Monkey stories that followed, including Sock Monkey in the Spotlight and Sock Monkey Rides Again.

Perfect for boys and girls, 4 years and older.

The Bugliest Bug

bugliestbug3For the first recommended children’s book on this blog, I had to go with an all time favorite in our house. The Bugliest Bug written by Carol Diggory Shields and illustrated by Scott Nash is pure fun.  Not only is the rhyming verse an absolute treat to read, but the illustration is bright, colorful and beautifully done– especially important since we’re talking about bugs here.  It opens up with a question: Do you have six legs?  Do you wiggle or crawl? Could YOU be the bugliest bug of them all?

The story of the contest for the bugliest bug continues describing the contest stage, as well as detail of all of the different types of  insects that enter the competition, “…from tiny no-see-ums to fat termite queens. Some had great pincers, some had proud horns, some looked like branches or flowers or thorns.” We have loved this book since my oldest son was 4 years old.  When I was asked to choose a story to read to his kindergarten class, I knew this would be my choice.  What shocked me was that not one kid in the class had ever heard of or read the book before–not even the teacher.

bugliestbug2As I read it and the mystery of the somewhat questionable contest judges began to unfold, the kids were completely glued to the story.  They laughed at the funny parts and sat quietly engaged as the antagonists are revealed and the battle between the lovable insects and the less lovable arachnids plays out.  Not only does this book tell a wonderful tale of an underdog–Young Damselfly Dilly– saving the day, but it challenges children with language that inspires their curiosity and teaches as well.  You will no doubt be asked questions from your little one as you read, proof that this book promotes interest, learning and earns their attention.

Perfect for boys and girls ages 4 and older.