Archive for November, 2010

November 30, 2010

Christmahannukwanzikah

Patricia Polacco was one of the first authors I was introduced to during my student teaching.  Her picture books were popular with elementary teachers and the young students they taught.  This one in particular stole my heart.  Many of Polacco’s books center around the beautiful theme of multi-cultural relationships between Jews and non-Jews.  In this book, the relationship is between a Jewish family and their Christian neighbors and the story grabs the reader immediately with the beautiful, colorful illustrations, and the kid-friendly setting of the fabulous winter holidays, Hanukkah and Christmas.

Title: The Trees of the Dancing Goats
Author/llustrator: Patricia Polacco
Genre
: Picture Book
Age: 3 – 10 (this is a text-heavy picture book)

Summary and Review:

The main character is a young Jewish girl who lives with her family on a farm.  Her family is preparing for their annual Hanukkah celebration—dipping candles by hand and making gifts for each other.  When the girl goes out to a neighbor’s house, she discovers that many of the families in her town have been stricken with scarlet fever, and her family realizes they won’t be well enough to celebrate their holiday of Christmas.  Then they come up with a plan—they chop down small trees and decorate them with the toys that were made for their own Hanukkah presents.  They sneak into each neighbor’s house at night and deliver the decorated trees, spreading their own Hanukkah cheer in the form of the Christmas spirit.  Later, when their neighbors recover, they are thanked extensively, and presented with a beautiful handmade menorah featuring some of the toy animals that had earlier decorated the trees.

The book isn’t preachy—it is simply a beautiful story about beautiful people, or more accurately perhaps, people with beautiful hearts.  While the issues are complex—multiculturalism, religious tolerance, and even the terrible diseases we are lucky now to live without–the story is a story for kids and is told as such.  The holiday season makes it one that every kid will enjoy reading about, and the warmth of a family adding light and love to the dark winter is tangible with every magnificent drawing.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

This book helps introduce children to other people’s religions.  It shows how two different families can enjoy two different holidays and still be friends.  It shows how there is nothing wrong with a Jewish family who helps a Christian family celebrate Christmas and vice-versa.  It shows how a dark, illness-filled winter is made better by the love that is shared between people, even (or especially?) people from different backgrounds.

Talking to your children about the holiday (or holidays) you as a family celebrate.  Why do you celebrate that holiday and what are you being thankful for as you do?  Then talk to your children about the fact that not everyone celebrates the same holidays and introduce them to other ideas.  You can stick to the two in this book or expand into other cultures as well, choosing some library books or internet sites to help you explain.  Holidays make a great way to talk to kids about religious differences because holidays are tangible, fun events that kids can really relate to and understand.  It might be too early to start talking about the difference between the Old and New Testaments, but it’s not too early to talk about Christmas trees and dreidels, Christmas cookies and potato latkes.

One activity that elementary students would enjoy is a pairing of the two holidays.  For example, they could decorate two pieces of paper with stickers or drawings—one that shows Christmas things and one that shows Hanukkah things.  They could go further and match them–what is a typical Christmas food versus a typical Hanukkah food?  What is a typical Christmas decoration versus a typical Hanukkah decoration?  If they have a friend who celebrates a different holiday than them, the activity could be made even more meaningful as each child teaches the other about what is done in their own family.

I believe so firmly and deeply that it is never too early to talk to your kids about differences.  People don’t hesitate to take a child to church or synagogue and they shouldn’t hesitate to teach that same child about the myriad ways that others worship their own God or gods.  Just think about everything that’s happened in the world lately and ask yourself how much of it could be avoided if religions were not just about believing, but about believing in others’ right to believe as well.  Personally, I “found” religion later in life, and I believe that it’s my responsibility, as a religious person raising children in the context of religion, to teach tolerance as well.

November 24, 2010

Celebrity princesses and other no-no’s of picture book writers

So, when they give out advice at the SCBWI conference, here are a few things they tell picture book writers.  Don’t write in rhyme, don’t write an ABC book, don’t write a princess book, and don’t read any of the tidal wave of picture books coming from celebrities these days for inspiration on how to do it well.  And it’s true, if you are a celebrity, it seems that you can get a picture book published no matter what you write.  Let me tell you, I know dozens of picture book writers who are not celebrities, and the same thing does NOT hold true for them.  They write and rewrite, workshop and critique, write and rewrite some more, and then send in queries and submissions for years on end sometimes.  And having read many celebrity picture books, it would seem that maybe they didn’t go through all of that…in fact, they might not even have gotten to the “rewrite” part.  But, like the Jeff Foxworthy book I’ve mentioned earlier, this one from everyone’s favorite Julie Andrews is a gem.  And it’s even about princesses.  But if you have a princess aversion, read on…I think you’ll still like it!

Title: The Very Fairy Princess
Author: Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton (her daughter)
Illustrator: Christine Davenier
Genre: Picture Book
Age: 0 – 8

Summary and Review: Geraldine, the sparky and wonderful main character in the book knows that she is a fairy princess because she can “FEEL it inside—a sparkly feeling of just KNOWING in my heart.”  If that doesn’t capture your love and imagination, I don’t know what will.  But maybe this.  Geraldine does everything that fairy princesses do, such as: putting on her crown to come downstairs (which she does by sliding down the rail, of course), eating pancakes with extra fairy dust, putting on royal attire which includes sneakers and scabby knees.  (In Geraldine’s words “I say sneakers help me practice my flying skills, ESPECIALLY when we’re late for the school bus, and scabs are the price you pay.”)  When others don’t believe her, she happily responds that you can be whatever you want to be—“you just have to let your SPARKLE out!”

If I was going to be a stickler, and why would I write a blog if I wasn’t, I’d say that I would PREFER if the fairy princess occasionally something other than sugar, and maybe if TV wasn’t used as the homework distraction, but something a little more active instead.  However, the character is certainly active overall and you can’t expect every kid role model to do things differently than most kids do anyway…they wouldn’t be kid role models if they did.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

Well, talk about their sparkle of course!  When do they sparkle best?  When they are playing the trombone, like the Fairy Princess’s friend?  Or dancing in a recital?  Or climbing a tree?  Or reading a book?  Helping cook in the kitchen?  What do they believe about themselves?  You might want to share some of your own secret sparkles, too.  Children are often surprised by their parents talents, some of which are often tucked away as we spend more and more of our time on the job or reading Fairy Princess books.

November 23, 2010

With friends like these, who needs people?

I’d never heard of this book until my favorite book-store staff member in my favorite book store showed it to me.  I was in love at once.  It’s a simple story that’s full of character, love, and friendship.  And how to take care of each other.  In very few words, this book tells more than many books with thousands of them.

Title: A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Author: Philip C. Stead
Illustrator
: Erin E. Stead
Genre
: Picture Book
Age: 0 – 7

Summary and Review:

Amos is an elderly man.  Not your typical hero for a picture book, but it definitely works.  Amos is on his way to the zoo, where he spends much of his time (presumably he is working at the zoo at other times) taking care of the animals–sitting with the penguin, racing the tortoise, reading with the owl.  But when Amos is sick one day and unable to go to work, the animals don’t know what to do.  So in a series of wordless pages that reminds me of the sequence in “Goodnight, Gorilla” when the animals follow the zookeeper to his house, the animals ride the bus to Amos’s house to take care of him just like he takes care of them.  The illustrations are charming, if not hysterical, and the whole book just makes you want to smile and find someone to hug.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

The friendship theme is obvious, but I think a great conversation would be to talk about the different animals and why they each like different things.  Why, for example, does the penguin like to sit still?  Why does the owl like to read?  Why does he read to the owl at the end of the day when dusk is coming instead of in the middle of the day?  By focusing on the different animals and their characteristics, you can talk both about the biology and natural habits and habitats of these animals, as well as how these animals tend to be portrayed by humans who write them in literature.

November 22, 2010

By gosh and golly, this is a really fun book

I first noticed Bink and Gollie on the Kirkus Book Award list, mentioned in an earlier post.  I was determined to buy it, but then while at the bookstore looking for gifts for my nieces, this was recommended.  Perfect–I get to buy it, read it, and then give it to someone else to enjoy!

Title: Bink & Gollie
Author: Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
Illustrator
: Tony Fucile
Genre
: Early Reader, Fiction
Age: Kindergarten – 3rd

Summary and Review:

Bink is little and fiesty.  She loves things like rainbow-colored socks.  Gollie is tall and thin and much older–uses laptops and cellphones, but still loves and hangs out with Bink.  They have adventures and learn to compromise, but most of all they are just friends and they hang out together.  My favorite story is one where Gollie, perhaps needing some alone time, locks her door and puts signs specifically addressing Bink not to interrupt her.  She climbs a tall mountain of ice and snow (all the while in her room, of course) and finally relents to let Bink join her once she’s at the top.  The balance of wanting some space and then wanting to share your triumphs (even your imaginary ones) with your best friend, is priceless.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

Ask them about their friends.  Do they have a “best” friend?  What do they like to do with that friend?  What do they do when they don’t agree?

November 19, 2010

A psychic, two geniuses, and a girl with a red bucket

The great thing about discovering a great series after everyone else already has is that you get to buy the next book immediately.  Of course, that’s also the bad thing because then it’s over too quickly.  However, I did let the first wonderful book in this beautifully quirky series marinate a little bit before reading this one, and I hope I have the patience to do the same before getting the third book.  I doubt it, but we’ll see.  It doesn’t matter what these four children are doing–I just love to watch them do it!  And watching the youngest, Constance, grow up in the stories has been great.

Title: The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Perilous Journey
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Genre
: Adventure
Age: Middle School, 9 – 13

Summary and Review:

Mr. Benedict is missing and the evil Mr. Curtain is back again.  This time the four young children must sneak away from their family in a journey around the world to save the man they admire so much.  The plot is not nearly as complex as the first one, and doesn’t seem to have quite as many social commentaries, but it’s fast-paced, interesting, and really more than enough for these characters to hang their hats on.  Honestly, I could watch the four of them paint a house for 300 pages.

I did have a problem with how many times they had to justify being on their own (getting away from adults or convincing adults to let them come with them), but I also have a hard time with kids’ books who don’t explain why the kids are on their own.  But this time, really, I just thought it was over-explained.

But let’s talk characters, because that’s what it’s about.  Reynie, a gifted adolescent, is always thinking.  The group’s natural (if initially relucant) leader, his strength is solving problems, and he finds the group looking to him in their most dire moments.  Much of the story is told from his point of view, albeit still in the third person.  Sticky, the bald (this time because he shaved) young boy who polishes his glasses when nervous (which is often when he’s on an adventure with the Society), is a genius of a different sort–he has memorized every fact he’s ever read, and since he can speed-read, that adds up to a lot of facts.  Kate, a tall, athletic girl whose dad is a top secret agent, has another talent–with the red bucket that’s always by her side, she can get out of (or sometimes into) almost any mess.  She’s strong, fast, and as resourceful as MacGyver when she needs to be–and often when she doesn’t need to be.  And then there’s Constance, the stubborn one who saved everyone’s lives with her mere obstinance in the first book is now just as stubborn in this one.  She’s still cranky and tired and is almost always reciting rhyming insults and complaints.  But then again, she’s only three years old.  And she seems to be psychic, so that helps, too.

Watching the four of them interact is a pleasure.  I loved this book, and highly, highly recommend it.  Because of the mix of genders among the characters and the adventurous nature of the story, this really is a great read for both boys and girls.  And adults.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

Stick to the strengths.  This book is about the four kids and what they can do when they work together.  Great example the next time your daughter has a group project at school and doesn’t want to work with X, Y, or Z.  Encourage your children to find the unique talents that all of us have.  Also importantly, for a kid in a high-pressure academic environment, is the realization that there are so many different ways to succeed.  Reynie would think his way out of a problem, Sticky would memorize an answer, and Kate would happily give up and star on the soccer team.  But they are all successful and can all be proud of themselves.

If you want to engage in a little technological interaction with your kids (and sometimes, they think that’s all there is, right?) the Mysterious Benedict Society has a great website.  Learn which character you are most like and test your ability to solve different kinds of puzzles.  Play together or against each other, and I guarantee, parents won’t find this too easy for them!

November 18, 2010

Children who chase squirrels and other daily events

There were so many things I loved about this book.  I certainly enjoyed reading it.  But there were so many things I didn’t enjoy, and so every time I thumb through my bookcase of middle grade and young adult books (already filling up two rows deep, like one of those used bookstores that smells really good), I think to myself how that doesn’t really fit the criteria of books I want to blog about.  But then Kirkus reviews, who I would have to grudgingly admit probably knows their stuff (and grudgingly, mind you, not because I have anything against them but only because they seem to *gasp* disagree with me), has placed this book on their list of best books of 2010 and so now I am forced to reconsider.  So, in case you follow their advice over mine (or my advice over mine, since I did tell you in the last post to buy the Kirkus review books), here’s a little synopsis of what was, really, a charming book to read.

Title: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling
Author: Maryrose Wood
Genre
: Fiction/Fantasy
Age: Young Middle Grade, Ages 8 – 12

Summary and Review:

The narrator of this book has a great voice, which is one of the things I loved about it.  It has an old-fashioned feel to it which I always love, and the girl, a 15-year-old graduate taking her first job with children, can tell a story well.  The girl arrives at a mansion in the woods to care for three children.  The woman of the house is beside herself, having tried to marry into a good situation (i.e. money) but presently completely unhappy with the way her husband ignores her (especially on full-moon nights, when he is nowhere to be found).  They have discovered three children in the forest who appear to have been raised by wolves, and now want to raise them as their own (or at least have Miss Penelope Lumley, our heroine, raise them).  And there’s a lurking coachmen.  And a grand ball, thrown by aforementioned housewife, that Miss Lumley has to get the children ready to attend.

The set-up is perfect for lots of fun, mischief, misbehavior (if accidental as they don’t know any better), and mystery.  And you would think it would also be perfect for some wacky characters that would be fun to get to know and some answers to the mystery, but here’s the catch: it’s not.  The narrator, Miss Penelope, and the housewife are well-developed characters.  The husband and the coachman are interesting.  But the children are really just wild.  You see some glimpses, but I really wanted to see more.  Of course, Miss Penelope is 15, a perfectly reasonable age for a MG heroine, but in the old-fashioned context and in her responsible role, she seems more of an adult character than not.  That, though, could be my own fault.  And none of the mysteries are solved (even though some are obvious).

So basically, this whole book is a set-up for the next one, and you feel like you just watched part one of a two-part TV special.  It’s like a soap opera.  I have no problem with series books–in fact I quite like a continuing story, but for me, each book has to stand alone.  And this one doesn’t.  It’s very short, and I have no idea why they didn’t just finish it and make a whole book, but probably something to do with money.  At any rate, it irritates me.  So there you go.  And while I have no doubt that the children will become better-developed characters as the series goes on, I want really good children’s characters in a children’s book.  That’s just how it should be.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

One thing that really brings out the maturity in a kid is having them take care of another kid.  Of course, any kind of responsibility helps, but there seems to be something about being in charge of a smaller being that brings out the best in people.  So ask your children what they might do if they were in the heroine’s shoes.  How would they possibly teach these children?  And ask them to challenge some of the book’s assumptions; after all, the children have done very well by themselves, is it right necessarily to train them out of their old habits?

November 17, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Best of 2010

Check out the Kirkus Book Reviews Best Children’s Books of 2010!  The list includes a few I’ve blogged about: Justin Case by Rachel Vail–my very first blog! and We Are In A Book! by Mo Willems.

It includes one that I specifically didn’t blog about: Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, which had a lot of elements in it that I liked but many that I didn’t…I’m surprised to find it here, but perhaps that will inspire me to blog on it tomorrow.

It also includes some that I’ve been eyeing at the bookstore but decided not to buy.  One is Art and Max, and I can see why that is on the list…it’s a gorgeous book with a clever meta-literary/artistic idea in which the characters draw themselves.  But I decided it was a little too much for me and my son, and it wasn’t really up our alley.  Probably I just wasn’t in the meta-literary mood at the time and will now end up buying it later.  Another I didn’t buy is Lemony Snicket’s 13 words.  I love Lemony Snicket.  I love his dark sense of humor, the cynicism, the death, destruction, and depression not normally (for perhaps obvious reasons) found in children’s books.  I mean, I get the humor and I like it.  A picture book that supposedly teaches children words, but those words are things like “haberdashery” and “mezzo-soprano”?  That’s funny.  But there’s also “despondent” which is a recurring theme (obviously, as this is Lemony Snicket we are talking about).  And I’ve got a super-sensitive kid (I know, who doesn’t these days?) who makes me read any page with tears or other non-happy emotions twice and asks a lot of questions about how it gets better, so I wasn’t sure how I’d ever get out of the “despondent” loop.  So this wasn’t for him.  Maybe when he’s older he can start the Series of Unfortunate Events (which is hysterical!), but really, he’s two.  I hope I’m not shielding him.  I mean, this year I’m planning to buy The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story which ends, predictably, in the main character getting eaten.  And I do love The Composer is Dead. (Neither of these are Kirkus 2010 books, just to clarify.)  But this one was just not for me.

And the best part is that the review also contains books I’m now really excited to buy!   So maybe you will hear about them soon.  🙂  Here are some whose titles and descriptions caught my eye:  Arroz Con Leche, Shark vs. Train (definitely getting this!  I’ll be a two-boy household soon–this could come true at any moment!), There’s Going to Be a Baby, Summer Birds (going to look closer first–I’m all for science, but not really one for collecting specimens, unless we keep them alive, which is often hard for kids to do), and Bink and Gollie (I’ve been wanting to add more early readers to this blog anyway, and they had me at “George and Martha”…I LOVE those stories!)

November 16, 2010

It’s a wonderful town painted with wonderful pictures

No one would ever accuse me, positively or negatively, of being a New York person.  It’s not that I can’t appreciate it, or even admire it from afar–or from a-near for short periods of time.  I’m not city-phobic, and in fact am excitedly anticipating a 2-day trip to said urban metropolis very soon.  But my time in a city, especially one as large as New York, is generally spent people-watching, building-watching,  and occasionally humming to myself and rocking back and forth, repeating soothing words about trees and mountains.

That being said, I absolutely love this book.  It was a gift to my son from New York friends when he was born, and he has always been fascinated by it, even before he was old enough to understand anything he actually saw in the book.  One of his favorite things was the search games the back pages of the book encourage you to play with the illustrations.  And now that we are soon on our way to New York with family, he is SO excited!  In fact, he’s already planned the itinerary, strictly on the basis of this book (he wants to see the dinosaurs at the museum, the carousel in the park, and the scary ghosts.  I had to tell him that the ghosts were only there for Halloween, but he’s so excited about the dinosaur fossils, he didn’t really care.

Also, because the book’s plot is laid out as a girl going on an adventure with a map (the map is in the front of the book), he was adament that we bring the map.  He kept saying, I want to “chart the map” when we are there, which I assume means something important, and so to help him along, I made a color copy of the map, laminated it, and that will come on the trip with us (along with the book of course, but that will wait in the hotel room).  Lightning McQueen is also coming, but as that is less literarily relevant, I won’t go into detail about that.

Title: My New York (New Anniversary Edition)
Author/Illustrator: Kathy Jakobsen
Genre
: Picture Book
Age: 0 – 7

Summary and Review:

The book has a painting for most of the famous landmarks, places, and events in New York city, including (among many others) the Statue of Liberty to the zoo, the marathon, the Thanksgiving Day Parade, FAO Swartz, and the Apollo theatre.  The story follows a girl who moves to New York and uses a map to find different places she wants to visit.  Sometimes a friend comes with her, sometimes she goes with her mom.  Each painting is gorgeous, colorful, and detailed, and many fold out to twice (or even four times) the size of a regular page.  So detailed, in fact, that you could read this book to ten kids as they grow up and probably not find all the details contained therein.  At the end of the book, there is a list of fun facts about the various places mentioned and also a small circle cutout of part of a painting.  One game is to find the piece of the painting that it came from.  Also, each page contains a hidden cat and many famous actors, politicians, singers, and others are disguised within the pages as well.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

This book really comes with its own suggestions!  The back of the book is filled with look-and-find games.  For the youngest, you can find the page the picture is on (this is more obvious with the labeled pictures), and the older ones can do their own searching.

One thing I love about this book is that it encourages kids to go on their own adventures.  Are there adventures that your kids can plan for themselves?  Or, if too young, take you on?  Maybe you can give them a day to decide on an adventure, and they can choose something (zoo, science museum, etc.)  Then you can get a map of your own town–or use the one in the book if you are in New York!–and head out to discover something new!

Because the book starts with the girl and her mom having moved to New York, the book can also be an example of a great attitude when moving to a new place and a great way to adapt–plan family adventures every week or every month to get to know your new location.  And of course, if your new location is New York City, or if you are just visiting for a few days, bring this book and get the kids excited!

November 11, 2010

It’s meta-literary fun with your favorite characters

This is the BEST Elephant and Piggie book ever!  Well, there was “Are you ready to play outside?” which I really love and might be my favorite.  And of course, “Can I play too?” which is genius.  Come to think of it, I like them all.  But this one is really, truly great  Elephant and Piggie are at their best interacting with each other.  But in this book, they interact with YOU, too!  This is the latest in Mo Willem’s beloved series, so make sure you don’t miss it!

Title: We are in a book!
Author: Mo Willems
Genre
: Very Early Reader
Age: 2 – 7 (Amazon says 4 to 8, but that’s crazy.  This is a GREAT book for 2-year-olds, and it isn’t because I’m trying to push them out of picture books too early, as you would know by reading this blog.  It’s because I LOVE Elephant and Piggie!  Why deny them?)

Summary and Review:

Elephant notices someone watching him and is a little scared.  But when Piggie goes to investigate and finds out it’s a reader, they rejoice with happiness that they are in a book!

You can NOT have too much Mo! Or even too many Elephant and Piggie stories!

In a moment of genius, Piggie decides to make the reader say the word “bananas” by saying it himself.  Hysterical.  And then they notice what page they are on and what page the book ends so they start to hatch a plot to get the book to never end.  Any guesses?  It’s sheer genius!  (And explains the first page a little better than the first time you read it!)  Great book, great characters.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

This book really gets kids thinking about what a book actually is.  The characters notice the page numbers, and so can you and your child!  Go back to the beginning of the book and ask you child what number she thinks the book will start on.  Then count up and look at the page numbers.  Then research to find out what page the book ends on.  This is teaching them good skills of looking in a book to find information.

Get a little surreal.  Ask your child what happens to Elephant and Piggie when the book ends.  Why is Elephant scared to have the book end and what is their plot to keep it from ending?  How does this relate to the very first page of the book?

When you read a book (any book), you probably start with the title.  Also include the author’s name.  Give your kid a sense that books come from people; understanding this may make his early years of writing more magical.  We talk about movie stars, why not lowly authors, too?  This is a good one to talk about the author because you are already in the mode of talking about the actual book itself, rather than just the story, which after all, isn’t so much a story in this one.

November 10, 2010

Dirt is funny

I don’t care if he’s famous.  I don’t care what they say about rhyming picture books.  I don’t care what they say about celebrity picture books.  I don’t care that I got this book off of the bargain shelf at a large chain bookstore.  I LOVE THIS BOOK!  (And so, most importantly, does my son.)

Title: Dirt on My Shirt
Author: Jeff Foxworthy
Genre
: Picture Book
Age: 0 – 7

Summary and Review:

This is a book of poems that are really fun to read aloud!  A lot of them are about the outdoors (hence the title) and another strong theme is family.  There are poems about a staring contest with a cat, looking for a lost hat (and finding it, of course, on your head), a missing tadpole (where a frog now stands), playing with your cousins, crazy aunts and uncles, and a whole lot more.  They are sweet, funny, and fun to read.  The illustrations also are great and really bring the book to life.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

All of these poems are subjects that kids can relate to, so talking to them about the poems will get them engaged in the book and also teach them how to think while they read (seems simple, but trust me, I’ve taught lots of middle schoolers, and it isn’t!)  A good reader makes connections between what they are reading and real life or other things they have read or seen.  You can start with this book.  Examples:

You read the poem about making friends, and ask your kid about some of his own friends.  What does he like to do with his friends?  Anything in the poem (make a sandwich, a tree house, or green jello)?  Does anything in the poem remind him of his own friendships?

Read the tadpole-frog poem and ask your child what happened?  How did a tadpole disappear and a frog reappear?  Even if they are too young to know, ask the question first and then teach them.  Model for them the art of asking questions while you read, always trying to understand the text.

Or you read the poem about what you can see when you are outside and ask you daughter what she saw last time she was outside.  Remember, these seem like simple questions, but we are talking toddlers here, and you are instilling in them good reading habits.  You want them to know they can interact with the material they are reading, compare it to their own lives, and really think about it.  Then, when they get to middle school and endure literature discussions in English class, they won’t be frantically trying to remember some mundane fact.  Instead, they can contribute their own original thoughts about what they’ve read.

And maybe they’ll never be one of those kids who reads a whole chapter without understanding a single thing, and never stopping to look up a word or ask a question.  To me, that’s the saddest thing!

(P.S. Sorry it’s been awhile!  Family vacation!)