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Peanut Butter and Jelly: A Play Rhyme
Illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott
Puffin Books


Making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – what could be easier for a boy and his sister? Well, when a chef shows up in their kitchen with five elephant friends and they all begin to make a huge version of the sandwich from scratch, it quickly becomes a big adventure. With each step – from kneading the dough to mashing the peanuts and grapes – children will delight in chugging along to the rhythmic refrain of “peanut butter, peanut butter, jelly, jelly.” The hilarious illustrations bring to life the energy and liveliness of this play rhyme. This book is sure to become a favorite selection in your home.


Potluck of Fun:
At the end of the book, you will find suggested motions to go along with the story. Try using these gestures when telling the story. Hopefully, your child will ultimately join in. Even children as young as several months will often try to imitate the motions you do, and this will add a whole new layer of enjoyment for both of you.


Nadine Bernard Westcott is well known for illustrating such classic rhymes and songs as The Eensy-Weensy Spider, Skip to My Lou and The Lady with the Alligator Purse (Megan Tingley), often created in collaboration with poet and critically-acclaimed children's book author, Mary Ann Hoberman. The two have also collaborated on collections that are part of the Sing-Along Stories series (Megan Tingley).


Try other books that combine words and motions, like those by Marc Brown, the author of the Arthur series. Brown's Play Rhymes, Finger Rhymes and Hand Rhymes (Puffin) all feature drawings depicting the hand and finger movements to accompany the rhymes. These collections will get little hands and fingers moving joyfully.

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Time for Bed
Written by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Jane Dyer
Red Wagon Books/Harcourt

This exquisite and tender bedtime or naptime book will lull little ones to sleep. Melodic and rhythmic couplets appear along the bottom of double-page spreads of watercolors depicting parent animals prompting their babies to prepare for bed. The paintings are peaceful and warm, perfectly capturing the gentle exchanges between the animals, which range from mice to sheep to deer. For the final rhyming couplet, “The stars on high are shining bright. Sweet dreams, my darling, sleep well...good night,” we move indoors and see a mother tucking in her little girl as she drifts off to sleep feeling safe and loved. This charming book is available in a variety of formats: hardcover, big book paperback, board book and big board book.

Potluck of Fun:
Mem Fox was born in Australia, grew up in Africa, attended drama school in London and now resides back in Australia. She is the author of more than 25 children's books and six books for adults. For details about her life and writing, including the stories behind 13 of her picture books, visit In the Reading Aloud section, you will find tips for reading to your children along with audio files of Mem reading three of her picture books and an excerpt from one of her adult books.

For another wonderful bedtime book involving animals, check out Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann (G.P. Putnam's Sons). I Love You As Much... by Laura Krauss Melmed (HarperFestival) has a layout similar to Time for Bed and also portrays the affection between mommy and baby animals along with the love shared by human mothers and infants.


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Shrinking Violet
Written by Cari Best
Illustrated by Giselle Potter
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Why is Violet always itching and scratching and twirling her hair, wishing she could just shrink away? It must be because she's allergic to attention. And dealing with the class bully, Irwin, doesn't make it better. Violet has many dramatic talents - from impersonating Elvis to pretending to be Captain Hook, but only her best friend Opal gets to see these routines. When the class play is cast, Violet is scared to death of playing Lady Space until she finds out that the part is spoken from offstage. On the night of the performance, the play nearly falls apart when Irwin misbehaves. Will Violet use her role to scorn Irwin or to help him?

Potluck of Fun:
Be sure to encourage and praise your children's talents. Your child deserves recognition for whatever he is good at, whether it's making people laugh, drawing, sharing or helping around the house. The more support you give, the more your children will feel confident and will freely share their gifts.

If your child displays a flair for the dramatic, look for community or youth theater groups in your area and suggest that your child join such a group. You can also delve into books with your children that support dramatic play and explore the world of acting, such as Break a Leg! The Kids' Guide to Acting and Stagecraft by Lise Friedman (Workman Publishing) and The Skit Book: 101 Skits from Kids by Margaret Read MacDonald (Linnet Books) [both summarized in The Book Lady's Recommended Books for Parents below] and 101 More Drama Games for Children: New Fun and Learning with Acting and Make-Believe by Paul Rooyackers (Hunter House).

You can learn more about helping shy children at ( Look for the Parenting & Family section and the subsequent Parenting of K-6 Children. Then enter the word “shyness” in the Search box. You will find a link for My Child Has a Problem – Shyness. Follow this link to an article about shyness in children and to find links to additional articles and Web sites that address this issue.

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The Toolbox
Written by Anne and Harlow Rockwell
Illustrated by Harlow Rockwell
Walker & Co.

The little boy in this book can name and describe every item in his father's toolbox. Take a look inside with him and you'll find a hammer, nails and a ruler. There's also a plane for smoothing wood or making shavings, a pair of pliers that pinch, sharp wire cutters and more. Presented in simple text and watercolor still lifes, this is a wonderful introduction to basic tools - both their names and uses. Many young children will be drawn to this book again and again as they imagine all of the marvelous things they could build.

Potluck of Fun:
If you are handy with tools and have your own toolbox, bring it out and share it with your child. After reading
The Toolbox, you can show your child the real-life tools depicted in the book, as well as others you might have, and describe how you use them. When the time is right, consider involving him in building projects with you.

Anne Rockwell has authored more than 100 children's books, including many that her husband Harlow illustrated prior to his death in 1988. Her bestsellers for this age group include: Welcome to Kindergarten (Walker & Co.), One Bean (Walker & Co.) and Bugs Are Insects (HarperTrophy). Anne & Harlow's daughter, Lizzy Rockwell, has illustrated more than 10 of Anne's books, as well as a number with other authors, and has written and illustrated three children's books of her own. Find out more about Anne at and about Lizzy at


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Once Upon a Starry Night: A Book of Constellations
Written by Jacqueline Mitton
Illustrated by Christina Balit
National Geographic

A spectacular introduction to the night skies, each of nine constellations is portrayed in dazzling detail enriched with ancient myths and modern astronomical facts. The shimmering silver stars provide a visually dynamic introduction to the constellations. Hercules, Orion and the winged horse Pegasus are just outside your night window. What fun you and your children will have reading each short legend and then searching together for the constellations in the night sky.

Potluck of Fun:
Another terrific book that can help you and your children learn as you stargaze is
Find the Constellations by H.A. Rey (Houghton Mifflin) of Curious George fame. This book is a classic that readers cite as being among the best, clearest and most intuitive books on the subject.

On a clear, warm night, head outside with your kids, a blanket, pillows and maybe even some snacks. Set yourselves up comfortably and observe the night sky. Bring along a flashlight and a guidebook or chart (or even better – one that glows in the dark) and see what you can see. For fun, try creating patterns from the stars and making up stories to go along with them.

Although Once Upon a Starry Night focuses on nine constellations, there are actually 88 constellations in total. At the home page of Chris Dolan
(, a graduate student pursuing a doctorate in astronomy, you and your child can learn more by clicking on Constellation Pages. Your child can also surf on over to
Astronomy for Kids at for more exploration.

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Water Dance
Written and illustrated by Thomas Locker
With scientific information by Candace Christiansen

Poetry, art and science join forces beautifully in this superb book. Depicted through rich oil-on-canvas paintings complemented by a lyrical text, the water cycle becomes easily accessible to children. Not only will you and your child be fascinated by the scientific facts integrated into this innovative picture book, but you will also be delighted by the glistening, surging, sparkling and trickling of water as it dances through its endless journey. The closing pages of the book include a paragraph about water and its importance in nature and allow you to revisit each painting accompanied by text describing the water cycle in more detail.

Potluck of Fun:
It might be fun to recreate some of the stages of the water cycle in your own home so your kids can really see these principles in action. For evaporation, simply boil a pot of water until you can observe steam rising from it – that's evaporation! For condensation, put a piece of cardboard (8 x 11 inches is a good size) in the freezer for an hour or so. Bring water to a boil in a teapot. Using tongs and an oven mitt, hold the frozen cardboard about 12 inches over the teapot's open spout so it is right in the steam. The water droplets that form on the cardboard signify condensation and, if you keep the cardboard in this spot long enough, it won't be able to hold the water. It will start dripping and –
ta-da – precipitation!

For books that will give you more ideas for water and other scientific experiments and activities, look for the Usborne Science Activities series, especially Science with Water and Usborne Book of Science Activities, Volume One (Usborne/EDC Publishing).

Visit the Web site of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water
(, a division of the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and click on Kids' Stuff with Thirstin. Then click on Games & Activities in the left-hand side menu to find the Interactive Water Cycle and many other fun links.

You and your kids can go beyond the basic water cycle depicted in the site mentioned above by checking out the Web site of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Go to and click on Education. Click on Water Resources in the list of Selected Popular USGS Websites under Educational Resources. Select Students & Teachers from the left-hand side menu and then click on Water Science for Schools. Here you will find a great deal of information related to the science of water. In particular, look for the link for Investigate the Water Cycle. An interactive diagram leads to detailed information about each component of the water cycle.

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A Writing Kind of Day: Poems for Young Poets
Written by Ralph Fletcher
Illustrated by April Ward
Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press

   “It is raining today,
   a writing kind of day.
   Each word hits the page
   like a drop in a puddle,
   creating a tiny circle
   of trembling feeling
   that ripples out
   and gathers strength
   ringing toward the stars.”

With nearly 30 mainly free-verse poems on a wide range of topics, this book invites young readers and writers to lasso their feelings and write down what is in their minds and in their hearts. The narrator/poet proves that you can write poetry about anything – a little brother, a woodpecker, a Venus flytrap – what matters is the creative process of writing, not the lofty nature of the content. In fact, clear aim is taken at teaching poetry in a tedious and mechanical way in the portrayal of a poem-gobbler who ultimately struggles with some digestive issues. The verses in this book will inspire budding poets and confirm, once and for all, “poems are not extinct.”

Potluck of Fun:
Join your children in an adventure of the creative process: Write together, finding many seeds for poems in the ordinary, in your daily lives. Make your own poetry books together and illustrate them. Capture your feelings and express them in layers of meaning!

Visit the Web site of author and poet Andrea Shavick ( and click on Poetry Front Page. Here you will find links to Andrea's Poems, Your Poems and Young Guest Poet. In the Your Poems area, you and your children can read poems written by children from all over the world in the Young Poets Corner. Once your children have been inspired, they can write and send in their own poems for posting on the site. (NOTE: Parents please be advised there is a section here for Teenage Poems, some of which touch upon themes that may not be appropriate for younger children. As with all Web sites, it is recommended that you preview the site yourself and/or go through the site together with your child.)

If your child is trying to write a poem that rhymes (and it's important to remind kids that poetry doesn't have to rhyme) and is having a hard time finding a rhyming word, he can check out RhymeZone ( Here your child can enter the word or phrase he is trying to rhyme and, whenever possible, the site will return a significant list of rhyming results, including single words and phrases of varying syllable lengths.


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Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices
Written by Walter Dean Myers
Holiday House


Walter Dean Myers exquisitely paints in words and old period photographs the lives of 53 Harlem residents – from student to retiree, hairdresser to street vendor. Each personality reveals a memory or a reflection that stays with you. Using free verse, rhythm and rhyme reminiscent of early blues music and light conversation, this distinguished author lures us into the community where he was born. His poems make each person memorable and leave you filled with wonder about the life and times of this period. This is definitely a book to read together.


Potluck of Fun:
To learn more about
Walter Dean Myers, who has written dozens of books for children and young adults, go to and select the Kids section. Click on Book Central and then Authors & Illustrators. In the More Authors & Illustrators list, click on Walter Dean Myers/Christopher Myers (Christopher is Walter's son and he has illustrated several of his father's books). From the biography page of Walter Dean Myers, you can follow links to a partial booklist and an interview transcript.


Encourage your children to use Here in Harlem as a model for portraying people they know – from neighbors and friends to family and community members – through poetry. Your children can try to put themselves in someone else's shoes, get into someone else's head and write from that perspective. This is a great exercise for writing and imagination as well as an opportunity for kids to look at and think about situations from different points of view.


At, click on the Kids link and then select Homework Hub. In the Hub, click on the Write link. Under Tips and Tools, click on You're a Poet. Here you will find lists and explanations of Types of Poems (such as haiku and sonnet) and Poetic Terms and Examples (like couplet and meter) along with Tips on Getting Started.

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The Roman News
Written by Andrew Langley and Philip deSouza
Candlewick Press

This is an intriguing way to look at history. If the ancient Romans had published a daily paper, it might have resembled this book. It is packed with interviews, advertisements and feature articles about events that really happened. Headlines include: “Caesar Stabbed,” “Hannibal Invades” and “Colosseum Opens.” There are also articles like “Five Things You Didn't Know About Gladiators,” “Take Your Daily Dip at Caracalla's Baths” and “What Work Children Do When They Don't Go To School.” Even reading the want ads is fascinating: “Wanted: Stone Carver” and “Fire Watcher Needed”. The timeline at the end puts every detail into historical perspective. This is a book you can peruse together and use to initiate conversations about ancient times and about newspapers.

Potluck of Fun:
Discover other books in this series including:
The Greek News, The Egyptian News, The Aztec News and The Viking News (Candlewick Press).

When your children are studying history, especially ancient and medieval history, suggest and work with them to convert historical happenings into newspaper stories. This will help them get to the essential elements of a historical occurrence or account – the who, what, when, where, why and how – and to decipher the relative importance of pieces of information.

To discover more about life in ancient times, go to Under
Mr. Donn's Special Sections, click on Daily Life in Ancient Civilizations. You and your kids can learn a lot about the food, clothing, customs, games and many more aspects of life in ancient Rome and other ancient civilizations.

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A Simple Gift
Written by Nancy Ruth Patterson
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Ten-year-old Carrie O'Connor dreams of being an actress. When a play based on a children's book written by her mother is being produced one summer in North Carolina, Carrie auditions for the play without disclosing who she is. She gets the part on her own merit, but things begin to unravel when she thoughtlessly reveals the reading and writing struggles of one of the other actors. How Carrie comes to terms with her blunder and deals with finding out about a painful event in her own family's past provide the real drama of this story. Carrie also learns that acting is hard work, that the show must go on no matter what and that even simple gifts can hold great meaning. Readers are certain to learn important messages about respect, courage and teamwork.

Potluck of Fun:
If your child is interested in plays based on children's stories, check out
Folktales on Stage and Readers on Stage by Aaron Shepard (Shepard Publications). You can also visit and click on Aaron's RT Page to explore the world of Reader's Theater. Shepard defines Reader's Theater as “minimal theater in support of literature and reading...developed as an efficient and effective way to present literature in dramatic form...most scripts are literary adaptations, though others are original dramatic works...seen as a key tool for creating interest and skill in reading.”

At, a site created and maintained by a retired school librarian, your child will find a haven Just for Kids Who Love Books. Your child can link to other sites and read other kids' messages about authors, books, specific series like Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events and more. The best part is that your child can contribute to the site by writing in with reviews, favorite books and authors, thoughts on homework and writing tips.


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Break a Leg! The Kids' Guide to Acting and Stagecraft
Written by Lise Friedman
Photographs by Mary Dowdle
Workman Publishing

Although written for children ages nine and above, this is a terrific book for parents and children to share together. Guided by a cast of school-age actors, you and your child will experience countless aspects of performance such as warm-ups and stretches, vocal projection, theater games and improvisation, character development and memorizing lines. You will also learn about behind-the-scenes components like costuming and makeup - expanded upon in a 16-page full-color section. And there is information specific to working in front of the camera, as opposed to on stage. Throughout the book, jargon is defined in straightforward language and many processes are laid out in easy-to-follow steps. The final chapter, Making a Living, deals with subjects like headshots, agents, auditions and unions. Appendices provide suggestions for further reading and Web site exploration, as well as a few monologues and scenes to try. To say this book is chock full of information seems an understatement. For children who are interested in acting (and their parents), this book will be a treasure.

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The Kids' Building Workshop: 15 Woodworking Projects for Kids and Parents to Build Together
Written by Craig and Barbara Robertson
Photographs by Edward Judice
Illustrations by Alison Kolesar
Storey Kids

This book tackles more than building woodworking projects: it is implicitly about building family relationships, too, as it guides parents and children to learn basic carpentry skills together. With help from their daughters, the authors aim to get you and your children raring to go with essential woodworking knowledge and projects that will fuel a lifelong enthusiasm for carpentry. The book is divided into two basic sections: one about tools and one that contains plans for projects. A list of essential tools is provided and the projects range from the simplest to the more complex. Throughout the book, you will find tips for parents, photographs and illustrations, materials lists, step-by-step instructions and Kids! balloons with tips written by one of the authors' daughters. All of these elements combine to provide you with a practical and enjoyable text that will inspire hours and hours of family fun.

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The Skit Book: 101 Skits from Kids
Written by Margaret Read MacDonald
Illustrations by Marie-Louise Scull
Linnet Books

The skits presented in this book were made up, performed and passed on by kids. Since they change naturally depending on who is using them,
Margaret Read MacDonald refers to the skits as folklore and she recommends that you and your children use them as a jumping off point, adapting them as you see fit. Minimal costuming and props are required – just use whatever you have on hand – and ad-libbing is strongly encouraged. Rather than having specific scripted lines and a designated number of characters as plays typically do, most of these skits provide only four main elements: cast (in general terms that allow for adding or doubling-up characters), scene, action and ending. In approaching the skits this way, the door is flung wide open for children and parents to create, imagine and ham it up!


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To inspire writing, fourth grade teachers Joan Walker and Joan Snell carefully choose literature with “really rich language” and images that capture the imagination, such as:


Stranger in the Woods: A Photographic Fantasy
Written by Carl R. Sams II & Jean Stoick
Carl R. Sams II Photography








The Ghost of Nicholas Greebe
Written by Tony Johnston
Illustrated by S.D. Schindler











The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
As retold and illustrated by Will Moses
Philomel Books

















Rip Van Winkle
As retold and illustrated by Will Moses
Philomel Books

















The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
Written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg
Houghton Mifflin

Buy Now

A Mind at a Time
Written by Mel Levine, M.D.
Simon & Schuster

Buy Now

Thank You, Mr. Falker
Written and illustrated by Paula Polacco
Philomel Books

Buy Now

Buy Now

... and for children ages 9-12:

Jarvis Clutch: Social Spy
Written by Mel Levine, M.D.
Educators Publishing Service








Yellow Bird and Me
Written by Joyce Hansen
Clarion Books


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

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