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Our 1,000 Books Journey

After my son was born, I was inspired by the idea of the 1,000 books before kindergarten challenge. The premise of that challenge is to read 1,000 books with your child before they begin kindergarten.

I decided to create a modified challenge for myself – read 1,000 books to my son BEFORE his first birthday. We started the challenge May of this year and we have until November 24 to complete our challenge. As of right now, we have read 310 books.

As part of our journey, I wanted to help other parents be inspired to create their own literary challenges. Also I wanted to help other parents by sharing some of the best books we discover along our journey.

Happy reading!

Posted in Book Review

Robot Kitties EVERYWHERE!!!

Today, I have already read Robot Kitties by Jim Benton fourteen times to my son. Why have we read the same book fourteen times today? My son just keeps bringing me Robot Kitties and requesting that we read it again and again. It seemed logical to review Robot Kitties.

Format

Robot Kitties is a short board book that is perfect for the busy toddler on the go. Another great perk of this book is how durable the pages are. There are no flaps that can be torn off. Also the cardboard is quite thick and holds up well against teething toddlers.

This book is incredibly short. Robot Kitties is only sixteen pages long. The pages only have two to four words per page making this an incredibly quick book to read. In fact, two of the pages do not have any words. You can easily read this book in two to three minutes with your little one.

The Illustrations

Robot Kitties contains simplistic cartoon illustrations of robot kitties. The robot kitties are featured doing a wide variety of activities such as flying and scuba diving deep in the ocean. The cartoon illustrations use simple, bold colors. The illustrations are playful and effective at bringing character to a simple storyline. Overall, the illustrations are highly effective at grabbing the attention of a toddler.

The Story

This book takes your toddler on a simplistic yet whimsical journey. The book has short sentences that bring to life the various adventures of different robot kitties. These robot kitties do everything from fly to scuba dive.

If I had any critique it would be that the book does not have much of a plot. It is essentially just a series of short sentences and illustrations that describe robot kitties doing different activities. I think the extremely basic storyline is perfect, however, for its intended audience of babies and toddlers.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a delightful, short new book to read with your busy toddler, I highly recommend Jim Benton’s Robot Kitties. If you have an Ollie’s near you, you can even pick this book up for under $2! Happy reading!

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Our Brazilian Adventure

A Little Background…

This week, we decided to try something new. Every Wednesday, we are going to take a “vacation” to another country. Technically we are going to go on a literary and virtual vacation to our destination.

Every Wednesday, we will explore another country. We are going to read a traditional folktale from the country, cook a traditional dish (when possible), listen to some traditional music, do a craft project or coloring sheet, read about the chosen country, and watch a short video about the country.

I will document our journey around the world here. When possible, I will include links to the resources we use for this project, so that others can embark on a similar learning journey.

To begin our global journey, we decided to start with Brazil.

The Folktale – Domingo’s Cat

We located a short Brazilian folktale online called Domingo’s Cat. It was the perfect folktale for a child because it was concise. The language used was also straightforward and easily grasped by a child.

This folktale introduces the reader to two main characters: Domingo, a poor man, and his cat. Domingo was so poor that he ended up giving away practically everything but his cat. The cat rewarded Domingo generously with gifts. By the end of the story, Domingo is living in his own castle. He is married to a King’s daughter.

This is an extremely succinct version of the folktale, because I do not want to ruin the surprising twists and turns the story takes. I will reveal, however, that the rest of the story involves a giant, bacon, and trickery.

Prior to selecting this folktale to read to my children, I read several others. Domingo’s Cat was easily my favorite choice though. Other Brazilian folktales you might want to explore are How the Toad got his Bruises and Why the Lamb is Meek.

If you are interested in Brazilian folktales, I encourage you to check out the links included at the end of this post.

Feijoada: a Delicious Dish

We decided to cook feijoda, a well-known Brazilian dish, as part of our Brazilian learning adventure. Prior to cooking this dish, we wanted to first do some research about its origins.

Based on our research, my kids learned that there are conflicting opinions about the origin of Feijoada. It seems that traditional stories describe this dish as being rooted in slavery. It is rumored that the slaves created this dish using scraps of meat from their master’s tables. Today, academics contest this narrative and argue that it was actually the European settlers that introduced this dish to Brazil.

Regardless of its origins, today feijoada is a beloved dish in Brazil. Just what is feijoada though?

While there are endless regional variations of feijoada, the dish is frequently prepared using black beans, salted pork, and beef served over rice with orange slices. Other popular additions to this dish are smoked sausage, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, chorizo, and blood sausage. In some regions, red or brown beans are substituted for the black beans.

The dish required a lot of steps, so I handled a lot of the cooking. Despite having several steps, the dish itself was relatively easy to prepare. I seared several cuts of meat which I then let the kids put in the slow cooker. The kids then poured in chicken and beef broth, sprinkled in spices, and added the diced onion and garlic. We left that mixture in the slow cooker for several hours. Afterwards we browned sausage and chorizo, cooked white rice, and crumbled bacon. We added the sausage, chorizo, and canned black beans to the slow cooker. After everything was mixed together, we served it over rice with orange slices.

The verdict: my kids actually liked the dish, which is astonishing since they are picky eaters. My husband decided to eat three plate fulls in case I never cooked the dish again. I decided to write down what I did so that I could add this to my regular recipe rotation.

Researching Brazil

To begin our journey learning about Brazil, we started out reading a country profile of Brazil that was on the National Geographic Kids website. It was the perfect website to teach the kids some basic facts about Brazil. The website provided information about Brazil’s geography, people, government, economy, and wildlife. I liked this website because it was fast facts that are great for elementary age children. I did not want to kill my children’s enthusiasm for this new idea by boring them with endless facts.

After I read the National Geographic Kid’s country profile for Brazil, my kids and I watched three short YouTube videos about Brazil. I like to keep the videos we watch to ten minutes or less, otherwise I know my kids zone out. My kids are at the age where they love everything digital, so integrating YouTube into our virtual vacation was a must. I included the links we used at the end of this post.

The kids colored in pictures of Brazil on the map and also the Brazilian flag. Next week, I will try to be more creative and come up with a more exciting craft project, but for this week, coloring sheets worked.

Exploring the Music of Brazil

A preliminary Google search of traditional Brazilian music quickly revealed a diverse rich history of musical styles. To try to simplify our project, we decided to pick three different styles of Brazilian music to listen to on YouTube. Specifically, we focused on Samba, indigenous music, and chorinho (more commonly called choro). My kids decided we should also watch some traditional Brazilian dance videos on YouTube as well.

Summarizing our Brazilian Journey

Overall, I think we had an amazing first day of trying something new. This was easily the most successful method I’ve tried for getting my kids interested in learning about other countries and their culture. In the past, we have tried reading children’s books about different countries but just reading a book did not seem to actively engaged my kids as much. I am excited to see where we go this year with our journey to learn about other countries around the world.

Now I just need to decide what country we will explore next week. 🤔

Here are some of the links I found useful for this project:

https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/countries/brazil/

Links to Brazilian folktales:

https://fairytalez.com/region/brazilian/

http://whisperingbooks.com/Show_Page/?book=Brazilian_Legends

http://www.folkworld.de/54/e/brazil.html

Links about Feijoada (recipes included):

https://theculturetrip.com/south-america/brazil/articles/a-brief-introduction-to-feijoada-brazils-national-dish/

http://royalrio.net/the-evolution-of-the-feijoada-in-the-brazilian-cuisine/

https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/feijoada_brazilian_black_bean_stew/

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/139208/feijoada-brazilian-black-bean-stew/

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Celebrate-Brazil-with-Emerils-Feijoada-180951699/

Links to free Brazilian coloring sheets:

http://www.coloringpages101.com/Countries/Brazil-coloring-pages

Useful YouTube links to child friendly videos about Brazil:

https://youtu.be/76ABfyo8Kv0

https://youtu.be/f028paAX2M0

https://youtu.be/WvZpgvoXB1M

https://youtu.be/Z_MJZtR3n0I

Useful YouTube links to child friendly Brazilian music:

https://youtu.be/Zes9yQaSwQk (Choro music)

https://youtu.be/3et6GC7pFXA (Samba)

https://youtu.be/JvE1XdBYkkw (Indigenous)

Posted in Book Review

Find the Wolf

Introduction

Today, we discovered a new gem at our local library entitled Find the Wolf which was written by Carly Blake and illustrated by Agnese Baruzzi. It is certainly a new favorite of my son. We have already read this book four times today, but my son just keeps requesting it again. So what exactly makes this book such a delightful read for little ones?

The Format

Find the Wolf has wonderful formatting that engages a child. This board book features twenty-eight (28) pages full of cleverly constructed peek through pages and illustrations. Right away, the reader is instructed to “Find the Wolf!” The pages feature cut outs and pose questions such as “Are those his ears?” The reader then has to guess whether a part of the wolf is revealed in the image that is peeking through the cutouts. This format was excellent at engaging a child.

The book also featured bold font that was easy to read. The lettering was large and simplistic. All of the text is in black and pops against the background colors on each of the pages.

There were approximately six to ten words per page, which made it ideal for keeping a younger child’s attention. In total there were 151 words in the book, making it a short read. Several of the words are repeated throughout the book which also makes it ideal for a new reader to practice their reading skills.

The Illustrations

Agnese Baruzzi did a beautiful job creating clever illustrations throughout this book. For example, Agnese made peacock feathers look like a wolf’s eyes and butterfly wings look like a wolf’s nose. Her illustrations that peek through the cut outs are sure to engage a child as the child joins in the quest to find the wolf.

At the very end of the book, there is a surprise. Not only does the reader find the wolf, BUT the reader learns that a wolf or his paw prints were actually featured in every scene in the book. After learning that the wolf was actually hiding throughout the book, young readers can go back through the book to search for all of the other hidden illustrations. Candidly, despite being an adult reader, I did not notice the hidden wolves and paw prints that were featured throughout the entire book. The wolf’s silhouette or paw prints are artfully woven in to each of the illustrations in the book.

Agnese used a simple but effective color palette for her illustrations. The illustrations utilize bold colors and minimal shading. Artistically, the illustrations are flat and simplistic, but they manage to still be clever and visually appealing. The simplistic shading and color use are perfect for a toddler. Despite being a board book geared towards toddlers, both my seven and nine year old stepdaughters greatly enjoyed the illustrations of this book.

The Plot

If you are looking for a wolf book with an in-depth plot, then this is NOT the book for you. This takes the reader on a journey where they have to find the wolf who is “wanted” for various offenses such as “huffing and puffing.” This book’s main focus is truly on the reader finding the wolf.

Conclusion

I highly recommend this book if you have a toddler or young child who enjoys cut out books or non-scary wolf books. The book is adorable and engaging. It is quick to read, while still managing to be engaging. This is the perfect book to add into your toddler story time.

Posted in Book Review

The Creature of the Pines – WARNING the Unicorns are a Lie!

Sorry about my absentee status this week. Between sick kids, a car accident, and listing our house for sale, blogging was put on hold. We are still going strong with our reading challenge despite the chaos. We have read 824 books as of today; however, our deadline is quickly sneaking up on an us.

Anyways, time to begin tonight’s book review. If you remember, my kiddos and I began reading The Creature of the Pines about a week ago. We finally finished it and the results are in.

The Plot

*WARNING: SPOILERS INCLUDED!!!*

The Creature of the Pines by Adam Gidwitz is the first book in the series The Unicorn Rescue Society. It follows two children, Uchenna Devereaux and Elliot Eisner, on a class field trip. The book begins with Elliot experiencing his first day at his new school. He has the typical new kid blues. Once on the bus, Elliot meets Uchenna, who quickly befriends him.

It quickly becomes apparent that Elliot and Uchenna are about as different as can be. Elliot is cautious and follows the rules. Uchenna is bold and downright reckless. These differing personalities become more evident as their field trip progresses.

Uchenna and Elliot are on their way to the the Pine Barrens Forest. While Uchenna is oozing with enthusiasm for the adventure, Elliot is dismayed to be journeying to the dangerous woods. He is also unhappy because the scary and eccentric Professor Fauna is leading the trip. Uchenna warns Elliot that Professor Fauna is even rumored to have a torture chamber in the school basement!

Uchenna’s fearless personality quickly gets Elliot into trouble once they are in the woods. Uchenna decided to sneak away from the group and to do her own exploring. Elliot eventually goes against his better judgment and follows Uchenna into the woods to make sure she is safe.

Shockingly, they encounter a small blue dragon – the Jersey Devil. After rescuing him from being tangled up, the mischievous dragon becomes a stowaway on the school bus.

Elliot and Uchenna once again have the opportunity to save the dragon. This time, the children team up with Professor Fauna to defeat the dubious Schmoke Brothers.

After their heroic acts, Professor Fauna invites the Elliot and Uchenna to join a secret society – The Unicorn Rescue Society.

The Positives

This 192 page fantasy book was well-written. Adam Gidwitz did a lovely job developing each of his characters. The main characters each had their own highly unique personality types. The attention to character development makes it easy for younger children to keep track of the different characters.

The characters are extremely relatable. Because of the diverse personalities of the characters included in this book, it is easy for a child to find someone to relate to. Plus several relatable themes are included. For example, trying to navigate the fears and awkwardness of being the new kid at school.

The book included a male and female lead character. I view this as a bonus. My girls are at the age where they strongly prefer characters who are girls “like them.” This book worked great because Uchenna was a lead character just like Elliot. If Uchenna did not exist in this book, I doubt the girls would have finished listening to it.

The illustrations were well-done. While the illustrations were all black and white, they were cute. My kids got excited whenever they saw a page with pictures in this book. The illustrations enhanced the reading experience.

Lastly, the overall story was enjoyable. It included a cute dragon, several humorous mishaps, and a caste of quirky characters. Children between ages 6 and 11 are likely to enjoy this story if they enjoy fantasy books.

The Critiques

My biggest disappointment with this book as silly as it may sound was THERE WERE NO UNICORNS. When I picked this book out for the girls, it was specifically for the unicorns. Who would have guessed that a book called The Unicorn Rescue Society: The Creature of the Pines does not contain one single unicorn. My girls were super disappointed. They just kept nagging me with “when are the unicorns going to show up?”

The first chapter completely failed to grab my kids’ attention. To be perfectly honest, I had to ask the kids to humor me and to give the book at least thirty pages to improve. I promised them if the book did not get better by page thirty, we would read something else. The book did improve enough for us to finish it; however, it got off to a rough start. Had I not volunteered to read the whole book aloud it would not have been finished. Also, my kids kept taking breaks to have me read books that they deemed more interesting. Specifically, we read two Magic Treehouse books, three Rainbow Fairy books, and one Junie B. Jones book, before we finished this book.

I also was not a huge fan of some of the “humorous” elements included in the book. I acknowledge that this is solely a matter of personal preference, but we do not gravitate towards books with farting jokes. This book had several farting jokes and scenes throughout. I try to encourage my kids to be polite and classy so farting was not humorous to them. Obviously this may be a non-issue for other families.

Also, some parents as a matter of preference may take issue with the dragon being called the Jersey Devil. It was not a dealbreaker for us, but I know for some families it might be.

Conclusion

This book would be an excellent choice for a child who likes dragons. If your child likes unicorns, I would skip this book. In fact, my six year old recommends Pop-up Peekaboo! Unicorn instead for any young unicorn-loving readers out there.

Despite our rocky start with The Creature of the Pines, we did order book number two in the series. I will keep you posted on whether the second book goes over better.

For now, have a great day everyone!

Posted in Book Review

Time to Clap! – A Review of If You’re Spooky and You Know It

Introduction

My son is obsessed with certain children’s songs. One of our current favorite songs is If You’re Happy and You Know It. I was, therefore, ecstatic to find If You’re Spooky and You Know It. I love finding twists on classic songs since it spares me from having to sing the exact same song REPEATEDLY. If you have a toddler, I’m sure you understand.

The Premise of this Book

If You’re Spooky and You Know It is Aly Fronis’s twist on If You’re Happy and You Know It. The book does not tell a story but is a Halloween inspired song book.

This book takes children on a Halloween adventure where they can clap their hands with skeletons, nod their heads with vampires, stomp their feet with witches, and more! This book would be great for a toddler who could understand the lyrics of the song and who could act out the book.

This would be a fantastic book to read at a children’s Halloween party where the kids could dance along. I think this book would even be fun for children up to age 5. The song is easy to act out but it would still be entertaining for four or five year old children.

The Illustrations

This sixteen page board book is full of adorable Halloween illustrations. There is certainly nothing scary or spooky about the colorful cast of characters in this book. As a parent, rest assured your child will not be frightened by the pictures in this book. Jannie Ho created a variety of smiling, silly characters to dance along with.

This book features cute versions of classic Halloween characters such as mummies, skeletons, werewolves, and witches. Frankenstein and Dracula also make an appearance in this children’s song book. All of the characters exude cheerfulness as they dance around.

In addition to the enchanting characters, the colors used throughout this book are perfect choices. This certainly is not a dark dreary ghoulish set of colors, rather this book is full of cheery colors. Vibrant yellows, oranges, and greens are featured throughout. The lyrics are all in bold, easy to read black font. The reader friendly font is particularly valuable if your child is trying to read the book on their own.

My Critiques

While this engaging song book has many positive attributes, there are certain aspects of this book that could be problematic for some parents. There are three potential issues I want to highlight.

First, I could see a parent taking issue with some of the actual lyrics in this song book. For example, one verse includes the words “If you’re sneaky and you know it, nod your head.” On another page, the lyrics include “If you’re wicked and you know it, stomp your feet.” The lyrics also include “If you’re naughty and you know it, snap your fingers.” I could see these lyrics being problematic for parents.

These lyrics could be perceived as glorifying negative attributes that we as parents try to teach our children to avoid. For example, I know I reminded my six year old that it is NOT okay to be sneaky. Sneakiness is one of those issues we have been struggling with, so I did instruct her that this book is fiction. In real life, being sneaky will get your sent to timeout.

Alternatively, some parents might be offended by the idea of referring to their child as wicked, naughty, or sneaky. As parents we prefer to think of our children as sweet angelic types. 🤷 I might normally be troubled by the lyrics, except I recognize that these are just adjectives that work effectively in a Halloween song.

Second, while some parents allow their children to partake in Halloween festivities, they may avoid books that feature witches. This book does contain two pages where witches are dancing with brooms, black cats, and bats. The inclusion of cartoon witches was not a deal breaker for us, but it could be for other families.

Third, this book is simply a Halloween inspired version of If You’re Happy and You Know It. This book is not a story book that features some groundbreaking original Halloween story. It is simply a lighthearted Halloween take on a classic children’s song. If you are looking for an actual Halloween story, this is not the book for you.

My Closing Thoughts

Overall, If You’re Spooky and You Know It was a cute Halloween book to change up our normal music time songs. My infant enjoyed the book; however, it is not a book I plan to buy for our collection. This is certainly a book worth checking out at your local library though!

Posted in Book Review

Somebody Save the Chickens! – Day 2 of My Spooktacular Book Reviews

The Introduction

The terrified chickens of Eek! Halloween! need a hero! Something strange has been going on. They begin to encounter bizarre phenomena such as pumpkins with flickering eyes and mice that are the size of an elephant. What is going on?

You and your little pumpkin can go through this quirky journey with a group of scared chickens. Eek! Halloween! by Sandra Boynton is an excellent board book choice for getting your young child in the Halloween spirit.

The Illustrations

The illustrations in this book are simplistic yet highly effective at engaging a toddler or young child. The book is filled with charming pictures of the chickens who star in this book. The expressive poultry really come to life on the pages. The exaggerated reactions of the chickens are likely to make your child giggle with delight.

Not only are the drawings themselves effective, but so are the color choices utilized throughout the book. This book uses extremely high contrast, powerful colors. Every single page features a strong color palette that draws in the reader’s attention. My ten month old mostly prefers board books with touch and feel elements or flaps, but even he was drawn in by the pages of this book.

The Story

This book tells a Halloween story from the point of view of a group of clueless chickens. These chickens have never before witnessed any Halloween festivities. When animals in costumes begin to appear, panic ensues. Eventually a friendly pig in a chicken costume saves the day by telling the silly chickens that it’s Halloween.

All three of my kids enjoyed the story. The book only contains 104 words, yet it manages to convey a comical chicken tale. Obviously this book does not have an elaborate plot given how short it is; however, I would still recommend reading it for some holiday fun.

This book is certainly not the next great literary classic; however, it is a delightful book to get your child in the holiday spirit.

My Critiques

I have largely positive thoughts regarding this book, but I do want to identify some aspects of this book that may be considered negatively by other parents.

First, the construction of this book is not the best I have ever seen. My son would decimate this book if left him alone with it. The binding is extremely flimsy although the pages themselves are sturdy cardboard.

Second, the main focus of this book is the chickens. The illustrations, therefore, are almost exclusively the chickens. If a parent were looking for a Halloween book with more traditional Halloween illustrations, this may not be the book for you. I thought the chickens were charming, so I personally did not mind them being the stars of this book.

Third, the book could be perceived as just another kitschy holiday book. I did not select this book because I was seeking a literary masterpiece. My kids and I were just looking for a fun Halloween story to read together.

Lastly, the price is less than ideal for the length of the book you get. On Amazon, this book is currently $7. This book only contains 104 words so I could see a parent being disappointed by the accompanying price tag. I am a huge advocate of using my local library, so the price was a non-issue for us.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a silly not scary Halloween book to read with your toddler, this is a great option. I think this book is best suited to children who are 0 to 4 years of age. So what are you waiting for? Head over to your local library to check out this fun Halloween board book! 🎃

Posted in Book Review

31 Days of Halloween Books

It’s finally October! The season of sweaters, boots, and pumpkin everything is nearly upon us. As Halloween continues to creep up, I decided to review one Halloween book a day for the next thirty-one days.

To kick off my spooktacular Halloween book reviews, we begin with Five Little Pumpkins. This sixteen page board book was illustrated by Dan Yaccarino.

This book is seventy-one words long, so it can easily be read to your wiggly little ghouls and goblins. The length of this board book makes it ideal for children ages 0 to 4 years old.

The book itself contains brightly colored illustrations that help grab the attention of babies and toddlers. The illustrations, while fairly simplistic in design, are still enchanting. There are cute pumpkins and ghosts that haunt the pages of this book. My ten month old son definitely enjoyed the pictures in this book.

The book itself contains a rhyming children’s poem rather than a story. The rhymes make this a great book for reading out loud to a baby or toddler. I will warn you, if you are looking for a Halloween story, this is likely not the book for you.

This book is perfect for someone who is looking for a merry not scary Halloween poem to read with their baby or toddler.