12 years: a reading progress report

It’s been 12 years now since I began my epic project to read every book in my local branch library. 12 years, three cities, six homes, one husband, three biological children, and two foster children later… I’m still reading.

TOTALS as of Sept 5, 2018 (12 years or 4383 days)

Category Items this year Total Items Total Categories Closed
Juvenile Picture 165 1657 472
Juvenile, Board Books 365 512 268
Juvenile, First Readers 9 75 3
Juvenile, Chapter 0 92 7
Juvenile Fiction 6 320 25
Juvenile Nonfiction 19 280 1
Teen Fiction 1 49 4
Teen Nonfiction 0 5 0
Adult Fiction 3 468 71
Adult Nonfiction 34 953 44
Audio CD 238 933 14
Juvenile DVD 4 53 0
Adult Fiction DVD 8 107 7
Adult Nonfiction DVD 3 45 1
Periodicals 5 94 0
Total 860 items 5643 items
2.36 items/day 1.21 items/day

This year’s biggest reading accomplishment was getting serious about closing categories. The children and I read everything our library owns by 222 different board book authors. We have 8 more board books to read before we can say that we’ve read every board book in Wichita’s Advanced Learning Library!

Next up? We’re going to be hitting the picture books hard.

Reading picture books for preschoolers from 100 Best Books for Children by Anita Silvey

Silvey’s collection of 100 Best Books for Children is organized into six categories: Board Books (Birth to age 2), Picture Books (Ages 2-8), Books for Beginning Readers (Ages 5-7), Books for Young Readers (Ages 7-9), Books for Middle Readers (Ages 8-11), and Books for Older Readers (Ages 11-12). The widest range by far is the picture book section, which covers a whopping 6 years (7 inclusive). In the introduction to each book, Silvey gives an “at a glance” which includes the title, author, illustrator, date of publication, publisher, age range, and length of the book. This is wonderful. But as I went through the picture book section, I noticed that the age ranges were always either “ages 2-5” or “ages 5-8”. Which frustrated me. I understand jumbling all the age ranges for picture books together if some books are best categorized as “ages 2-5” while others are “ages 3-7” and other “ages 5-8” – but if there are really two distinct categories of picture books, one for younger and one for older children, why not give those separate sections in the book?

I checked all of the picture books out of the library and read them, but I’ve chosen to separate them here into age ranges – because I wish that’s what Silvey had done for me. Below are the first five picture books geared toward preschoolers (ages 2-5) – the ones that fit my Tirzah Mae’s demographic.

Madeline written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans

Me: “What do you think about Madeline? Is it a good book?”
Tirzah Mae: “Yeah.”
Me: “What do you think about Madeline? Is it a bad book?”
Tirzah Mae: “Yeah.”
Me (thinking): “That was helpful.”
Me (speaking now): “Is Madeline a good book or a bad book?”
Tirzah Mae: “A good book.”
And she brought it to me for re-reads.

My thoughts? If it weren’t already considered a classic, I’d have probably complained about the rather forced rhyme scheme.

Cover art for "The Snowman"

The Snowman illustrated by Raymond Briggs

Remember how I don’t like wordless books? I really need to revise that statement now that I’ve found Baby Animal Spots and Stripes, Suzie Lee’s Wave, and The White Book by Elisabetta Pica and Lorenzo Clerici. The Snowman also joins the ranks of spectacular wordless books. Illustrated with multiple cells per page, like a cartoon strip, The Snowman tells the story of a snowman who takes the little boy who created him on a spectacular adventure. There’s enough detail here that you don’t have to stretch to tell a slightly different tale each time – and there’s plenty for a child to look at to help them tell the story themselves.

Tirzah Mae reads "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel"

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton

I remember this book fondly from my childhood, remembering Mike and Mary Anne digging faster and faster but failing to give themselves an escape route. And I remember the solution: turning Mary Anne into the furnace for the new town hall. I don’t remember that the context was the obsolescence of the steam shovel (which was replaced by “gasoline diggers and electric diggers and diesel diggers”) or that the newly-hired City Hall janitor Mike Mulligan apparently only sits in the basement in a rocking chair telling stories. I suppose that’s for the best. I take heart from my own experience that children can enjoy stories, even ones that might have some political under- or over-tones, without internalizing all the issues they bring up. So I’ll keep reading this one to Tirzah Mae (and probably Louis too when he’s a bit older), although I might not make a priority of acquiring it for our home library.

Cover art for "Millions of Cats"

Millions of Cats written and illustrated by Wanda Gág

A very old man and a very old woman were lonely, so the very old man sets off at his wife’s behest to find them a cat to keep them company. He finds “hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats”, but can’t decide which to bring home. So, of course, he brings them all home. This is a great story, with just the right amount of repetition, a little bit of violence (’cause children’s books need a little violence here and there), and an understated moral. The black and white illustrations are a refreshing change from the bright modern cartoons currently so favored in children’s picture books.

From the inside of "Millions of Cats"

The Snowy Day written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats

It was sunny and bright with leaves on the trees and green grass covering the rain-slogged land when Tirzah Mae and I read Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day. I didn’t expect this story to resonate much with Tirzah Mae, since her only experience with snow was at Grandma and Grandpa’s when she was one. But resonate it did. Tirzah Mae was delighted to point out Peter on every page as he enjoyed the eponymous snowy day in the city. When we finished, she begged me to read it again and again. Finally, I left her to narrate the story herself, which she did with surprising detail, talking about Peter’s bath and how his mom took off his socks and “about the snowy day”. This was a definite hit – one I think I might check out next winter near when we travel north again (just in case we can catch a bit of snow ourselves!)

Louis reads "Snowy Day"

All in all, I’m glad we’re reading through these books together. While I’m not enamored with all of them, they are introducing me to books I have never read, some of which that are quite good. I’ll probably have another couple posts on these preschooler picture books (there are nine more) – and haven’t decided whether I’m going to write about the books for 5-8 year olds or not – maybe I should wait until I’m reading those with the kids?

Books of Action Rhymes

Maybe some people grew up knowing dozens of little hand plays – they learned them in preschool or at library story time or whatever.

I am not one of those people.

Furthermore, since my preemies aren’t supposed to spend time with other kids until they’re older, I can’t take my toddler to story time (lest my infant be exposed to kids). So I am stuck with books to learn those action rhymes – which is fine with me. Books are my preferred way of learning anyway.

I’ve checked out a few books of action rhymes, mostly as they come up in my reading of the “nursery rhyme” section – juvenile nonfiction Dewey Decimal 398.8, and am attempting to learn a few to share with Tirzah Mae.

Knock at the Door by Kay Chorao

Knock at the Door

A collection of 20 finger-plays conveniently organized with one or two per double-page spread. Each line of the finger-play is preceded by a small box illustrating the appropriate action. The illustrations are generally clear (or at least I was able to do something with them – whether or not it is correct is another story.) Best of all, the book also includes large illustrations of each rhyme – which means it’ll keep a child’s interest even if mama chooses not to do the finger-play (Guilty as charged – I’m working on it.)

Inside 'Knock at the Door'

Clap Your Hands: Finger Rhymes selected by Sarah Hayes, illustrated by Toni Goffe
A little over 20 finger-rhymes accompanied by illustrations of children performing the finger rhymes. Some of the illustrations make the actions perfectly clear, while others are decidedly less so. There are multiple rhymes to a page, making this less of a favorite for me than Chorao’s Knock at the Door.

Marc Brown’s Playtime Rhymes
Twenty finger plays and other action rhymes accompanied by small-box illustrations of each action and large illustrations depicting the content of the rhyme. While I detest Brown’s Arthur books, his illustrations in these classic rhymes are just fine. Some of these rhymes are more involved than others – but that’s okay. Each rhyme has its own double-page spread, which makes it easy to open up and just do one rhyme (not that I ever want to limit us to just one rhyme. *sarcasm*)

Playtime Rhymes for Little People by Clare Beaton

Playtime Rhymes for Little People

About 40 rhymes including familiar action rhymes (“Incy Wincy Spider” and “Head and Shoulders”) and unfamiliar ones, familiar songs (“The Wheels on the Bus” and “Here we Go round the mulberry bush”) and less familiar ones, and a range of “counting out” songs for selecting who’s “it” during playtime. Unlike several of the other collections I read, this does NOT include figures for how to “act out” the rhyme. Instead, instructions are given in italicized print at the bottom of the page. But, as with other Beaton titles, to focus on the text misses the highest point: Beaton’s lovely applique and embroidery illustrations. Oh how I long to make a collection of pieces in her style for our nursery! (But, time.)

Inside 'Playtime Rhymes for Little People'

Of the four collections reviewed here, I recommend either Knock at the Door or Marc Brown’s Playtime Rhymes for the mom seeking to learn new finger plays – and Playtime Rhymes for Little People for people who are interested in beautiful fabric art :-)

Animal Books: Farmyard Sounds

Since moving to Prairie Elms, Tirzah Mae has been enamored with our neighbors’ animals. First it was the dogs (Woof, woof!) belonging to our neighbor to the south. Then it was the chickens (Cluck, cluck!) belonging to our neighbor to the north.

Not one to waste an opportunity to check books out of the library, I rushed off to find as many farm animal books as I could – a great many of which were centered around the sounds farm animals make.

Tirzah Mae chases the chickens

This is a record of what we read, and what we thought of what we read, ordered from favorite to least favorite (give or take.)

Does a Cow Say Boo? by Judy Hindley
Tirzah Mae didn’t really know her animal sounds yet, so I figured the silliness of this book – asking if a variety of farmyard animals say “Boo” – would be over her head. Just goes to show that mama ISN’T always right. While she may not know ALL the animals sounds, she DOES know that neither a cow nor a pigeon nor a goat says “Boo”. The rollicking rhyme scheme and continued questioning is just exactly what it takes to keep Tirzah Mae engaged for the entire book. And when we get to the end, when Tirzah Mae covers her face with her hands and lets out her own “Boo!”? It’s perfect. We highly recommend this book!

This Little Chick by John Lawrence
A little chick goes to visit a variety of different animals – and what do they hear her say? Not “cheep, cheep” as I might have expected. Instead, she speaks to each group of animals in their own language. But when she gets home to her mama at night, she’s full of all sorts of cheeps and oinks and quacks and moos – telling her mama all about her day. I thought this book was just darling.

Barnyard Banter by Denise Fleming
This one isn’t entirely animal sounds, since it includes “Pigs in the wallow. Muck, muck, muck.” – but it’s no less delightful for the occasional non-sound inclusion. The text follows the basic formula seen above (“[Animal] in the [location]. [Sound], [sound], [sound].”) with rhyming pairs of sounds (“muck” rhymed with “cluck”). Fleming’s illustrations are handmade paper poured into molds in the shapes of the animals (I want to try that!) Children will enjoy finding the goose hidden in each double-page spread.

All Kinds of Kisses by Nancy Tafuri
In this board book, a selection of baby animals feel that their mothers’ kisses are the best: “Little Piglet loves Oink kisses. Little Lamb loves Baaa kisses.” Not all the animals are farmyard animals, but most of the farmyard ones are represented. This is also a good book for learning the names of the “baby versions” of animals – ducklings, chicks, kids, etc. In a day and age where cartoonish illustrations are all the rage, the more careful but not quite photo-realistic illustrations are a real plus for me.

Honk, Honk! Baa, Baa! by Petr Horacek
A board book with very simple text beginning with “Hee-Haw, Hee-Haw says the donkey.” Each physical page of the book is shorter than the one before, and the left-hand side of each spread ends up forming the figure of a cow on the very last page. It’s a clever little illustrative technique, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Bob by Tracey Campbell Pearson
Bob, the rooster, only clucks until the coop cat (since when does a chicken coop have a cat?) informs him that he needs to learn how to crow so he can wake the girls up in the morning. Bob sets out to find another rooster to teach him to crow, but finds plenty of other animals along the way, each of whom teach him their own sounds. The additional sounds come in handy when a fox tries to get into the henhouse! I’d really like to like this story. The plot is fun, as are the illustrations. But I have a very hard time getting over the initial technical error: Pearson has the cat tell Bob that he isn’t a chicken, he’s a rooster – which is why he should crow instead of cluck. Did you catch that? Roosters are chickens. A male chicken is a rooster, a female chicken a hen. Bob oughtn’t cluck like a hen. I rather hate that this is a deal-breaker for me, but it is.

Pete the Cat: Old MacDonald Had a Farm by James Dean
The lyrics to “Old MacDonald had a Farm”, sung by Pete the Cat himself (apparently he’s a thing?) Complete with really hokey illustrations. I’ll pass.

Everywhere a Moo, Moo, a Scholastic “Rookie Toddler” book
Abbreviated lyrics to “Old MacDonald had a Farm” (sans the “E-I-E-I-O” and the titular preamble) superimposed over photographs of various farm animals. Except that the farm animals are photoshopped onto the same unrealistically green field below the same generic sky with an equally photoshopped barn or farmhouse on the horizon. This could have been a book with really nice photos of animals IN THEIR ENVIRONMENT, but it isn’t.

Brown Books

Now that I’m FINALLY done with Marc Brown’s awful “Arthur” books in the picture book section at my library, I’m getting on to some other “Brown” authors.

Secrets of the Apple Tree by Carron Brown and Alyssa Nassner

A delightful nonfiction picture book about the ecosystem of an apple tree. This is a “shine-a-light” book, which means the right hand page has a full-color illustration with a blank space somewhere. When you hold the page up to a light or shine a flashlight from behind it, you can see the outline of the black and white illustration on the next (left-hand) page. For instance, you might see a lizard that has scurried behind a stone at the apple tree’s base. I enjoyed this informative and non-preachy look at nature.

Alice Ramsey’s Grand Adventure by Don Brown

Another nonfiction tale, this book tells the story of the first woman to drive a motorcar across the US. It took Alice Ramsey fifty-nine days in 1909, but she made it! Alice Ramsey’s Grand Adventure is relatively text-heavy, but the watercolor illustrations are lovely and the story gives a great look at what the US (and transportation) looked like early in the 20th century. With Alice Ramsey being a woman and all, this might be an opportunity for feminist grandstanding – but Brown does a wonderful job of telling the story and letting parents come up with how to interpret it.

Darth Vader and Friends and Goodnight Darth Vader by Jeffrey Brown

For this Star Wars no-nothing, these comic-book style picture books were absolutely incomprehensible. Daniel read one and I guess there are lots of illusions to the Star Wars stories and characters but relatively little plot of their own.

Stone Soup by Marcia Brown

This retelling of the classic story was a Caldecott Honor book in 1948 – and well deserves it. The retelling itself is relatively involved, with enough text per page that I abbreviated the story for Tirzah Mae’s consumption; but the illustrations, done in shades of gray and red, are magnificent (and enough to keep Tirzah Mae turning the pages for several days.)

Imani’s Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood
A little girl is the littlest in her village and always gets made fun of. But she dreams of reaching the moon, and practices until she
can, despite the naysayers. People who are into feel-good, if-you-can-dream-it-you-can-do-it stuff might like this story – but I’m not one of those people. I’m all about encouraging dreams and working towards dreams – but dream or not, no little girl can jump into the moon. Fairy tales about jumping to the moon are fine, but this stuff? This is silliness.

Arthur’s Mean [Fill-in-the-blank]

“Oh, I love the Arthur books,” the new check-out girl at the library raved. “They’re such fun!”

I smiled politely and remained silent as she checked out my monthly half-dozen children’s picture books.

I am at that point in my read-every-book challenge where I’m yet again reading a massive children’s picture book series that I don’t particularly like.

This time, it’s Marc Brown’s Arthur.

Apart from the fact that it’s a massive series and that it’s repetitive and that the stories aren’t particularly interesting, what bugs me about Marc Brown’s Arthur series is how many meanies there are.

Almost every book includes some form of sibling rivalry, classroom taunting, or other mild bullying (although I fear to use that word, given the current anti-bullying craze.)

I understand the point. Teasing happens. Bullying happens. Brown wants to portray child life as it is, give children something to identify with. Furthermore, he probably wants kids to develop empathy with Arthur (frequently the recipient of the teasing) and hopefully to learn that it isn’t nice to bully and taunt. All understandable and noble goals.

But, while I can’t remember exactly where I read it (maybe Nurture Shock?), I remember reading that such attempts generally backfire. Rather than producing empathy and encouraging children to avoid taunting, hearing stories about children being teased only adds to a child’s arsenal of ways to pick on other children. Children don’t come up with “four-eyes” on their own – they hear it on a television show or read about it in Arthur’s Eyes. And when they hear about it, they don’t file it away as “something I wouldn’t like to be called” – they file it away as “something to throw at my glasses-wearing-classmate next time I feel like being superior.”

So what kind of stories would I prefer?

I’d prefer stories that focus on kids banding together to overcome obstacles and fight real bad guys – bad guys so scary they’d never want to be them. I prefer the fairy tale version of life, where children must be smart and slay dragons instead of each other.

What do you think of Arthur? Do you have any favorite children’s picture book series?

It’ll “B” Forever

I was inclined to despair as I thought of how long I’d been working on the “B” picture books in my library’s collection. Surely I’d been at it at least as long as it had taken me to complete the whole “A” section. And I had only gotten to “BO”.

Then, I counted up how many books I’d read in the B’s already–and came up with 635. That’d be 179 more books than are found in the entire “A” section.

I feel a little better about how slowly I’ve been progressing through the B’s.

Here are a couple of my recent favorites:

If you’re not from the prairie… by David Bouchard
(Images by Henry Ripplinger)

Where you’re from makes a difference. It affects who you are, what kind of person you become. You can’t truly know a person until you know their background, their context.

I am from the prairie.

And if you’re not from the prairie…

“You don’t know the wind,
You can’t know the wind.

Our cold winds of winter cut right to the core,
Hot summer wind devils can blow down the door.
As children we know when we play any game,
The wind will be there, yet we play just the same.

If you’re not from the prairie,
You don’t know the wind.”

There’s plenty more you don’t know if you’re not from the prairie–plenty more that David Bouchard shares in this lovely tribute to prairie life (modern-day prairie life, not just the romanticized “prairie novel” life).

Paired with the lyrical prose are stunning scenes of prairie life painted by Henry Ripplinger, a prairie boy from Saskatchewan. Highly worth reading and seeing.

Blue Moo by Sandra Boynton

Frankly, I was a bit baffled by this book when I first opened it up. It wasn’t a story book. It–I couldn’t figure out what it was. But then I popped in the CD and fell in love. The book has illustrations and original lyrics to 18 hilarious songs, played in a variety of styles from doo-wop to blues to tango.

In the style of the Beach Boys’ iconic car songs, “Speed Turtle” includes:

“It is compact, streamlined, built to last,
shiny and green and so incredibly fast–

It’s a speed turtle! Whoa-ho!
It’s a speed turtle! Oh, no!
Man alive, it’s in overdrive. Go, little turtle, go go”

And my favorite song of all, “Your Personal Penguin” has me singing:

“I want to be your personal penguin
I want to walk right by your side…
I want to be your personal penguin from now on.”

This book/CD combo is too great not to share, so I pulled it out and popped in the disc when my friend Gena and her children (third and fifth grade?) were over one evening. C and N (as well as Gena, Anna, and I) had a blast singing and dancing along, all the while enjoying the illustrations and enjoyably laid out lyrics.

I’m contemplating buying myself a copy.

Reading My LibraryI’m still reading my way through the children’s picture book section of my no-longer-local library. For more comments on children’s books, see the rest of my Reading My Library posts or check out Carrie’s blog Reading My Library, which chronicles her and her children’s trip through the children’s section of their local library.

Book Review: “Flora’s Very Windy Day” by Jeanne Birdsall

Flora rather wishes her little brother weren’t around–after all, he’s always messing up her projects and getting her in trouble.

When the wind almost blows her away, she tells it that it can’t get her since she’s wearing her super-special heavy-duty red boots. But Crispin, on the other hand… “You may notice that my little brother is wearing regular old purple boots.”

The wind takes Flora’s suggestion and blows Crispin away-and Flora kicks off her boots to join him. While flying through the sky, Flora and Crispin meet one thing after another. Each thing, whether a dragonfly or a rainbow or an eagle or the moon, asks if it can keep Crispin. It seems each could really use a little boy. Flora refuses each time “I’m sorry, but I can’t,” said Flora. “He’s my little brother and I’m taking him home.”

Each time, she hears the response “If the wind lets you.”

When Flora asks the wind why he wouldn’t let her take Crispin home, he responds that he thought she didn’t want Crispin around.

Flora realizes that maybe she does want Crispin around–and the wind kindly returns them both home.

This is a dear story about sibling relationships–sometimes hard, but ultimately worthwhile. Clearly, there’s a moral to this story–but it isn’t a moralizing tale. It’s just fun and real and wildly imaginative (all at the same time).

Reading My LibraryI’m still reading my way through the children’s picture book section of my no-longer-local library. For more comments on children’s books, see the rest of my Reading My Library posts or check out Carrie’s blog Reading My Library, which chronicles her and her children’s trip through the children’s section of their local library.

Cheeky Chickens and other animal ends

Parents of youngsters might not find Michael Ian Black’s Chicken Cheeks quite as fun as I did.

After all, since I don’t actually live with a little one, I don’t have to put up toddler and childhood potty humor ad nauseum.

Chicken Cheeks Book Cover

The format of this children’s book is simple–a picture of an animal together with that animal’s name and a corresponding euphemism for that animal’s bottom.

My favorites?

“Gnu Wazoo” and “Duck-Billed Platypus Gluteus Maximus”.

Yes, this book breaks my parents’ cardinal rule in dealing with juvenile humor: never let them know that potty talk is funny.

But, in this case, it is.

This book of “ends” is both amusing and imaginative.

Perfect for maiden aunts to spoil the minds of their nieces and nephews with :-)

Reading My LibraryI’m still reading my way through the children’s picture book section of my no-longer-local library. For more comments on children’s books, see the rest of my Reading My Library posts or check out Carrie’s blog Reading My Library, which chronicles her and her children’s trip through the children’s section of their local library.

The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Dad

Once upon a time, I was a Berenstain Bears fan.

I checked those books out of the library at least a dozen times.

My favorite was The Berenstain Bears and the Truth–an episode that I swear was source of the idea for “Larry Boy and the Fib from Outer Space”.

Brother Bear and Sister Bear are playing soccer in the house–always a no-no–and they knock over Mama Bear’s favorite lamp, shattering it. But instead of fessing up, they tell a tall tale about a large bird with a purple breast, red wing tips, green claws, and yellow fringe above its eyes. Or was it a bird with a red breast, green wing tips, yellow claws and a purple fringe?

Or was it, as Papa Bear adroitly guesses, a black and white bird JUST LIKE THAT SOCCER BALL BEHIND THE CHAIR?

Yes, I loved the Berenstain Bears.

I remember that my mom wasn’t too keen on them–she didn’t like the way Papa Bear was portrayed or something. But I paid her little mind and kept on reading.

Re-reading them as an adult, I am aghast at how unperceptive I was as a child.

Papa Bear is described as an absolute boor. Not only is he portrayed as just like another of the kids that Mama Bear has to keep in line–he’s even worse than the kids.

He gets behind on his taxes, he breaks the Mama Bear imposed TV fast, he gobbles up junk food like nobody’s business. He hops right into the Beanie Baby craze (called something else for the sake of the book, of course), he is the world’s worst sports parent, he never remembers his manners. He’s a lout, plain and simple.

I’ve heard of the “Father knows Best” phenomenon (while I’ve never seen the show of the same name)–but I can’t help but think that this opposite extreme is just as dangerous or more.

Fathers are fallible, they don’t always know best. They make mistakes, sometimes big ones.

But that doesn’t mean fathers are do-nothing, overgrown children who need Mama’s strong hand to keep them in line.

Portraying fathers in this way can only degrade them in the sight of their children. Portraying fathers in this way gives boys and men no standard by which to live.

At least in the olden-way, the “father knows best” way, men were expected to be hard workers and good providers. In this portrayal, men are expected to be toddlers, reluctantly straining against the wife’s leash.

My opinion of the Berenstain Bears has changed (with the exception of The Berenstain Bears and the Truth, the one title that does not portray Papa Bear as a big galloof.)

I do not like them. I do not like them at all.

Reading My LibraryFor more comments on children’s books, see the rest of my Reading My Library posts or check out Carrie’s blog Reading My Library, which chronicles her and her children’s trip through the children’s section of their local library.