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Playtime Rhymes for Little People
Compiled by Mary Finch
Illustrated by Clare Beaton
Barefoot Books

This delightful book of children’s nursery rhymes, games and songs is a collection to treasure. In these pages, you’ll find classic favorites like One, Two, Buckle My Shoe and The Wheels on the Bus, as well as lesser known gems like Five Little Peas and There’s a Wide-Eyed Owl. Each piece is accompanied by easy-to-follow instructions for acting out the verses through fingerplays and gestures. Yarn, buttons, beads and a variety of textured fabrics form exquisite illustrations that add charm and allure and will surely generate countless smiles between you and your child. These selections are perfect for sharing with babies on bouncing knees as well as with preschoolers.

Potluck of Fun:
As you read aloud this book, be sure to try Clare Beaton's suggestions for fingerplays and gestures. When the rhymes are also songs and you know the tune, go ahead and sing them to/with your child. As your child gets older, play a game with the book to see which fabrics and other items your child can identify in the illustrations.

Clare Beaton has had more than 100 books published, including about 60 activity and craft books for children, more than 20 picture books and books in the Bilingual First Books series (Barron's). Also for your baby or preschooler, check out the companion book, Mother Goose Remembers (Barefoot Books) – winner of an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award. When your child is old enough, have fun doing a fabric art activity connected to this book. Visit and choose the US or UK site. Under Barefoot Community, select Online Activities. Click on the Create Your Own Collage link that appears under the Mother Goose Remembers cover image.

At, you will find listings for the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio books, Read It! Play It! with Babies and Toddlers and the original Read It! Play It! (for children ages 3-8). Both books offer parents suggested reading lists along with recommended activities that enhance the reading experience and playfully explore language, math, art, science and more. Check with your local library for availability.

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You Can Do It Too!
Written by Karen Baicker
Illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max
Handprint Books

In this sequel to I Can Do It Too!, young readers and listeners will continue to be reassured and encouraged as they try to master everyday activities. The main character and narrator of the first book now takes on the role of big sister, helping her toddler brother learn how much he really can do – from making music by clanking a spoon on the back of a pan to counting the people waiting in line at the ice cream truck. With bold and engaging childlike illustrations, little ones will find themselves drawn to this book and, once the reading begins, they’ll be captivated by the infectious sense of confidence big sister has and passes on to her little brother. And little brother has a surprise in store, showing he has something to teach his sister. This sturdy card stock book will please both your toddler and an older sibling.

Potluck of Fun:
As you read and reread this book with your child, ask questions about the way the sibling characters interact: How is the big sister helping her little brother? How does the little brother react? Is he able to help his big sister, too? Then you can extend the conversation to talk about your own family’s issues and responsibilities in terms of how you, your spouse and/or your child(ren) already help each other or how you could help each other. This book can be a great tool for promoting and reinforcing family cooperation.

Be sure to pick up the prequel book, I Can Do It Too! (Handprint Books).

If you’re interested in more children’s books that explore the subject of sibling relationships and impending additions to your family, visit and enter the phrase “reading to siblings” in the Search box. Click on the resulting link for Best Books for Reading to Siblings. This article lists some wonderful books about families and siblings that approach the subjects in a variety of ways. The inclusion of book summaries will help you choose the books that best fit your family. You’ll also find a sidebar link to another article, Reading to Two: How – and What – to Read to Siblings, which offers tips for reading aloud with children of different ages.

For advice about helping your toddler feel good about a new baby on the way, check out AOL Parenting at and type the phrase “Helping Siblings Bond” in the Search box. Then click the resulting link for the Ask Dr. Sears article with this title.

You’ll find more helpful sibling-related information at Type the phrase “sibling rivalry” in the Search the Site box. Then click on the link for Sibling Rivalry – and More Family Fun. The resulting page offers links to a number of articles addressing different aspects of this age-old predicament. Explore the articles, especially the Field Guide to Siblings.


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Food for Thought
Written and illustrated by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers
A. Levine Books

Fruits and vegetables take on a whole new nutritional role in this clever book, nourishing young minds with the concepts of shapes, colors, numbers, letters and opposites. Carved melons form a house with a square window and rectangular door. A sheep with a cauliflower body and an olive head represents black and white. Mushroom people play on a seesaw of rhubarb and broccoli to demonstrate up and down. With just a few strokes and cuts, Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers elicit an astonishing amount of expressions and personalities. The bright colors of the different food items and the solid page backgrounds, along with the whimsical nature of the photographs, will engage children’s eyes and minds.

Potluck of Fun:
Play a game as you read and reread this book, asking your child to try to identify the fruits and/or vegetables used in the different photographs.

Extend the artistic nature of the book playfully with your children by using foods you have in the house to create your own characters and objects.

You can also reinforce the concepts explored in the book as you do everyday tasks with your child. For example, place some clean laundry on the sofa where you and your child can sort it first by color, then by shape and then by size. Together, count the number of similar socks before matching them by color, shape and size into pairs. (As your child gets older, you can use the pairs of socks to apply multiplying by two.) Make up a story about the washing process that incorporates the concept of opposites: describe how the socks in the washing machine went up and down and in and out of the alternating cold and hot water and how they went in dirty but came out clean.

Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers have collaborated on a number of books featuring intriguing and often amusing food sculptures. Other titles include, Play with Your Food (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), How Are You Peeling? and One Lonely Seahorse (Arthur A. Levine Books).

For other enjoyable books addressing the concept of opposites, pick up these selections by Leslie Patricelli: Big Little, Yummy Yucky and Quiet Loud. All of these titles are available in hardcover (Walker) and as board books (Candlewick Press).

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White Is for Blueberry
Written by George Shannon
Illustrated by Laura Dronzek
Greenwillow Books

Through bold and bright acrylic paintings and initially mysterious and puzzling text, Laura Dronzek and George Shannon help children (and adults) look at colors in a whole new light. “Orange is for sky… when the sun has nearly set” and “White is for blueberry… when the berry is still too young to pick.” By changing the standard settings for observing colors, the author and illustrator aim to challenge readers’ typical color associations. Younger children will be fascinated by the unexpected twists, while older children can engage in predicting end results. Accept the challenge along with your child to look at colors in a new and poetic way, and your eyes will open to many wonderful surprises.

Potluck of Fun:
When you read this book with your child, before turning the page to complete a sentence starter like, “Red is for leaves...”, take the time to guess. Ask your child to try to finish the sentence with a time or situation in which leaves are red. And when your child’s answer doesn’t match the book’s, that’s okay. In fact, it’s terrific, because your child is thinking and deducing and coming to creative conclusions all on her own!

After reading the book, grab some fruits and vegetables to explore with your child. Sit down together and talk about each item – discuss the color or colors it now displays and then think of other colors it might display at different stages of growth or once it is bitten into or cut. What color is a banana before it’s ripe? What color is an apple on the inside? You might be surprised at just how perceptive your child can be.

With an older child, try combining language and science by observing and recording changes in plant life. Pick a plant that’s growing in your yard or neighborhood and one that is about to go through some color changes – a tree in autumn or a plant or shrub that’s ready to flower. Mark your calendar to regularly check its progress. Talk about what you expect to happen and what would be surprising. Look closely and even consider taking a magnifying glass with you. When you get back indoors, have your child dictate notes and create drawings for their own simple field notebook.

For other wonderful and playful books about color, check out Mouse Paint by Ellen Stohll Walsh (Red Wagon), A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni (Knopf) and the classics Color Zoo by Lois Ehlert (HarperCollins) and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. (Henry Holt & Co.).

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Wait! I Want to Tell You a Story
Written and illustrated by Tom Willans
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Here’s a book children will simply love! This delightful read-aloud features the repetitive pattern of a chain story rounded out by a surprise ending. When a hungry tiger happens upon a muskrat, he’s anxious to make a meal of the creature, but there’s more in store than the tiger bargained for. “‘I’m going to eat you, little muskrat,’ said the tiger. ‘Wait!’ said the muskrat. ‘I want to tell you a story.’ ‘Okay,’ said the tiger, ‘but make it quick!’” And so, the muskrat begins to tell his cyclical tale of other animals in similar predicaments, all leading to an unexpected ending. Don’t be surprised if, as soon as you finish the book, your children shout, “Read it again!”

Potluck of Fun:
Try making up your own chain or cyclical story. You could start with one that is quite similar to the book. Then try coming up with unique characters facing unique dilemmas in which they use storytelling as a diversion. And remember, surprise endings are always fun!

You can try creating circle stories (those that typically end in the same place they began) with a group of children (and adults, too) in a party setting. Visit and enter the phrase “circle story” in the Search box. Click on the link for Free Kids' Party Games – Circle Story, scroll down to the tip of the same name and give it a whirl! Adjust the game as needed depending on the age of the children and/or create the stories in child-adult pairs.

For other humorous stories of a circular or cause-and-effect nature, pick up books in the If You Give...series by the author/illustrator team of Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond. The first book in this series is If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, followed by such titles as If You Give a Moose a Muffin and If You Give a Pig a Party (Laura Geringer).


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Chameleon, Chameleon
Written by Joy Cowley
Photographs by Nic Bishop

A colorful chameleon wakes up hungry in his tree home and sets out to find a juicy treat. Along the way, he encounters geckos, a tiny frog and a scorpion. As he happens upon and climbs another tree, his luck improves with the sighting (and subsequent eating) of a big caterpillar. A female chameleon in the tree appears with dark colors that signify a message of “Go away!” But the brightly-colored greeting the male chameleon displays is then welcomed as the female’s colors pale. Is this the start of a new chameleon friendship?

The bold photographs and colored pages make this book a visual delight and, more than that, a fine example of combining informational visuals with story. At the close of the book, the Did You Know? section provides intriguing details about chameleon traits and behavior.

Potluck of Fun:
This author-illustrator team also collaborated on Red-Eyed Tree Frog (Scholastic), which won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and tells a similar story with striking and engaging photographs.

You can find out more about Joy Cowley at her official Web site – According to the site, she “is one of New Zealand's most prolific and successful writers of children's books,” having written more than 600 books for children of varying ages. Not only can you learn about the many books she’s written and her inspiration, but you can also read letters from Joy, see photos from her personal album and check out clips of animated films based on her books. In addition, the Writing and You section features Writing Tips for kids and Talking about Stories, which gives parents and teachers advice on story talk and story starters for young children.

Nic Bishop continues to fascinate young readers and their families with books that feature his incredible high-speed photography, capturing even the smallest of creatures in spellbinding detail and glory. Among these are The Secrets of Animal Flight (Houghton Mifflin), Forest Explorer: A Life-Size Field Guide (Scholastic) and Backyard Detective: Critters Up Close (Tangerine).

If you visit and type the word “chameleon” in the Search box, you'll find many links to pages of National Geographic Web sites about chameleons. From articles about the creatures’ camouflaging and tongue-propelling abilities to the Chameleon Rescue game to chameleon coloring book pages – there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Visit with your children and click on Animal Bytes under the Animals & Plants heading. Then select the Reptile category to read some general information about these creatures. Click on Chameleon to discover more about these lizards in great detail including their unique physical attributes, habitat and more. One of the best features about this site is the embedded glossary: anytime you see a word in red, you can click on it to get the definition. The Kids section of this site offers animal-based games, crafts, science experiments and more.

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Horrible Harry and the Mud Gremlins (A Puffin Chapters Book)
Written by Suzy Kline
Illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz
Puffin Books

In this 14th book in the Horrible Harry series, you and your child will enter the world of a dynamic third grade classroom and playground. When Harry comes to school wearing a necklace with a mini-microscope attached, his classmates are intrigued. Anxious to use the microscope, Harry tells his friends they can observe a veritable kingdom of mushrooms during recess, but they’ll have to break a school rule to do so. Will they follow Harry and break the rule? And if they do, what will happen if they get caught? This fast-paced story has elements of conflict, excitement and apprehension and builds to a tense climax, all combining to motivate even the most reluctant of readers.

Potluck of Fun:
Try doing some mushroom research and discovery online together with your child. Visit and type the word “mushroom” in the Search box. Follow the link for Feature: Fungus Hunt. This will lead you to some interesting and surprising scientific information about mushrooms, also known as fungi. At the bottom of this article, you will find more mushroom links, including Additional Information (which will take you to a list of related links) and Word Find: Mushrooms (which will take you to a printable word search puzzle). You can expand on your Web research by visiting your local library and exploring books, videos and other sources of fungi information.

Once you and your child have done some online and/or library investigation, take it outside: go to damp, wooded areas and hunt for mushrooms in their natural environment. (Make sure your children know to not eat any of the mysterious fungi they might encounter!) Bring along a camera and take snapshots that you can build into your own mushroom guidebook by matching photos with images you find online or in books.

Series like Horrible Harry, that consist of short chapter books with recurring characters, can be wonderful tools for encouraging reading in children in this age range, as well as for older children who might struggle with reading. Some other chapter-book series of note for this age range are: the Magic Tree House series (Random House) and the Magic School Bus series (Scholastic).

For more information on the value of such reading, check out the article A Fresh Look at Series Books by Dana Truby. You will find this article at the Web site of the Edina Public Schools in Minnesota ( From the home page, select Concord Elementary under the Schools heading. Then, under Teach & Learn, select Media Center. You will find a link to a PDF of this article in the Recommended Reading section of this page.

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Look at My Book: How Kids Can Write and Illustrate Terrific Books
Written and illustrated by Loreen Leedy
Holiday House

In this step-by-step guide, young readers go on a writer’s journey – discovering concrete suggestions and insightful advice on brainstorming, researching, drafting and editing their own fiction or nonfiction books. With plenty of lists, captioned illustrations and thought bubbles sprinkled throughout the book, the format is both accessible and engaging. There are also examples of book formats and layouts, as well as lettering methods and binding processes. A resource list at the end of the book provides recommendations for other books on writing, illustration and getting published.

Potluck of Fun:
Be sure to explore and follow up on the bookmaking resources included at the end of this book. From the Getting Published Web sites in particular, check out and The Stone Soup site and print magazine are quite reputable and offer real opportunities for young writers up to age 13. You and your child can look through the online Sample Issue and Writing section together and even listen to young authors read their work as you read along. Once a New York-based newspaper, Zuzu is now a Web-only publication that features the writing (and art and photography) of children from all over the world. From the Contents page, click on the Get Published! link for immediate writing opportunities.

For some additional bookmaking ideas, visit Go to the Teachers' Page or the Parents' Page and select Free Projects. You’ll find instructions for making eight different types of books. These projects suggest book formats, but the content is up to you and your child.

It can be very helpful for you to know how children’s writing skills evolve as they grow. At, type the phrase “Developmental Stages of Writing” in the Search box. (make sure the Seattle Public Schools button is selected). Select the top resulting link to see a chart that details how children’s writing progresses from Kindergarten through 8th grade.

As Loreen Leedy points out, research is an important step in writing stories. Your local library is a wonderful resource for doing research. Talk to the children’s librarian and/or reference desk staff and ask for their help in advising your young author about research strategies and skills. On the Internet, you can direct your child to kid-friendly Web search sites like Ithaki for Kids
(, Kids Click! ( and Yahoo! Kids ( And remember, research can be an inspiring family project, so try doing it together!

When you visit the library and bookstores, don’t forget to look for nonfiction books. Nonfiction children’s books, including picture books, are a growing genre and one that can lead your family to endless discovery and gratification.


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Always Remember Me: How One Family Survived World War II
Written and illustrated by Marisabina Russo
Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Rachel’s grandmother, Oma, shares her photo albums that date back to pre-World War I Germany. Oma tells of the joy of her marriage, the sadness of her husband’s death, the rise of the Nazis and the resulting Holocaust. Through grace and luck, Oma and her three daughters survived the concentration camps and were reunited in America. Oma presents Rachel with a special heirloom that she hopes will serve both as a remembrance and as a good luck charm.

The author/illustrator’s own family history provides the foundation for this important story. With great sensitivity, readers are introduced to World War II and the Holocaust. This picture book for the older child offers a poignant way to present a difficult topic.

Potluck of Fun:
Let this book inspire an exploration of your own family’s history. Consider setting up interviews between older relatives and your child. Help your child prepare for the interviews by providing photographs and enough information to generate questions. You and your child should review the questions to be sure the family member’s major contributions and interests are taken into consideration. Record the interviews to preserve them for generations to come.

You might want to consider expanding this into a community-based venture, following the example of one award-winning school principal. He arranged for 3rd graders to visit residents of a local senior housing building. The children were guided to do interviews, take notes and, back in the classroom, write the history of their new friend. They later prepared a feast for their new-found friends at which they read aloud the history of each resident. This is an ideal way to promote children’s communication and literacy skills while also teaching them to value the wisdom and experiences of the elderly.

Anne Frank was tragically caught in, and fell victim to, the Holocaust as a young woman. Many people are aware of her diary, which was first published in 1947 and stands as one of the best-known works of nonfiction the world over, but few people know about Anne’s other writings. At the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Web site (, under the History heading, select Online Exhibitions and scroll down the page to click on the link for Anne Frank the Writer. You and your child can then Launch the Exhibition, which delves into Anne’s diary and other works. You can also read and watch interviews with Anne’s cousin, Buddy Elias, and museum curators discussing Anne’s personality, spirituality and writing.

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The Island on Bird Street
Written by Uri Orlev
Houghton Mifflin

This is a riveting story of a Jewish boy who is forced to hide in a bombed out building in a Polish ghetto during World War II. On the “island” of 78 Bird Street, Alex becomes like a modern day Robinson Crusoe, finding ways to make his shelter safe as he hopes and waits for his father’s return. Alex struggles with fear, loneliness and starvation as he continues to hide from the Nazis. Throughout his ordeal, Alex demonstrates incredible courage, resilience and willpower, but will he survive the war and the hunt for Jews? And will his father ever come home? This story is so compelling and powerful that your child won’t be able to put it down.

Potluck of Fun:
Uri Orlev himself survived the horrors of World War II as a child in Warsaw, Poland. He has written more than 25 books for children, including The Man from the Other Side (Puffin Books) and Run, Boy, Run (Walter Lorraine Books), which both return to the Jewish ghettos of WWII and powerful stories of children in the midst of war. In 1996, Orlev received the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international honor given to an author of children’s books.

For more noteworthy children’s books dealing with the subject of the Holocaust, try the Newbery Medal winner Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (Laurel Leaf) and The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen (Puffin).

If you want to help your children appreciate all cultures and their struggles against discrimination, visit The For Kids tab will take you to Planet Tolerance, where you and your kids can explore interactive stories and images that promote pride and acceptance. There’s also a section For Teens called Mix it Up that strives to empower adolescents to “break the walls of division” in their own schools and communities. And be sure to check out the For Parents section of the site yourself – you’ll be prepared to make a difference in so many ways.


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Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever
Written by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Judy Horacek

Dedicated to the “King of the Read-Alouds,” Jim Trelease, this book will inspire parents to read aloud to their children not only when they are infants, toddlers and grade-schoolers, but always. Full of practical advice, activities and read-aloud anecdotes, you’ll want to reread this book often to learn the games and catchy sound ideas that can help your child learn to and love to read. Beyond the literacy development benefits to children, you'll learn that by sharing with your children the words and pictures, ideas and perspectives and everything else that books involve, you are forging a unique bond that will forever strengthen the parent-child relationship.

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Making Books that Fly, Fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop Up, Twist and Turn
Written and illustrated by Gwen Diehn
Photographs by Evan Bracken
Lark Books

Clear directions and diagrams make this exciting book a fine resource for both parents and children. The introductory pages give details about the book, how to use it and how to set up a bookmaking center, along with specific tips for communicating your message and for illustrating your ideas. Types of books are separated into categories like Books that Carry Messages Across Space and Time; Books that Celebrate and Mark Things and Books that Save Words, Pictures and Ideas. Instructions are written in a step-by-step manner augmented with line and figure drawings. Photographs of the finished products help you to envision your books. This imaginative introduction to the wonderful world of bookmaking will provide all the inspiration you and your children need, so go ahead and start making books together today!


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Iman Solomon says that books in the Bionicle series, while not chapter books, contribute to his son’s enjoyment of reading even with vocabulary beyond his grade level, such as:

Makuta’s Revenge (Bionicle Chronicles #3)
Written by C.A. Hapka








The Darkness Below (Bionicle Adventures #3)
by Greg Farshtey

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Terri James Solomon recommends becoming familiar with books in the Core Knowledge series that provide a frame of reference for where your child should be at what age, like:

What Your First Grader Needs to Know
Edited by E. D. Hirsch Jr.







What Your Second Grader Needs to Know
Edited by E. D. Hirsch Jr.








What Your Third Grader Needs to Know
Edited by E. D. Hirsch Jr.

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Guest Annie shows us the importance of connecting reading with children’s interests as she shares a poem from one of her favorite books:

Antarctic Antics: A Book of Penguin Poems
Written by Judy Sierra
Illustrated by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey
Gulliver Books




Annie also enjoys books in the Magic Tree House series such as:


Night of the Ninjas (Magic Tree House #5)
Written by Mary Pope Osborne
Random House








Tonight on the Titanic (Magic Tree House #17)
Written by Mary Pope Osborne
Random House










Civil War on Sunday (Magic Tree House #21)
Written by Mary Pope Osborne
Random House

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To encourage and support Annie, who struggles with language-based learning differences, Michele McDonald-Schwartz tells us she’ll first read a simple version of a story and then work up to more advanced levels of the same story. She did this with the Heidi story using the following two editions:

Heidi (A Little Golden Book)
Adapted from the novel by Johanna Spyri
Illustrated by Corinne Malvern
Golden Press  





Written by Johanna Spyri


2006 Words That Cook   All rights reserved  Box 411, Natick, MA  01760  USA

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