Tag Archives: 1 year old

Review: Mary Elizabeth the Spotless Cow

Today I am taking part in the blog tour for Mary Elizabeth the Spotless Cow by Sal Barbera. If you are here because of the tour, welcome! This blog focuses on reviewing lots and lots of children’s picture books.

Mary banner

We got Mary Elizabeth in the mail on Monday and have been reading it every day since then. My three-year-old has been requesting it every afternoon when we attempt to settle down for naptime. I also found him reading it on his own yesterday. He was totally engrossed in it and didn’t realize I was watching him for a few minutes. Then he looked up and said, in that nonchalant way little kids use when they are being their grown up selves, “Oh, Mommy, I just reading this book.”

Mary-Elizabeth-Spotless-Cow cover

Mary Elizabeth is the new cow on the farm and she, unlike all the other cows, has no spots. At first, the other cows ignore her and won’t play with her because she has no spots. But Mary Elizabeth has seen this kind of treatment before and she has a plan: when the other cows are asleep, she puts mud on herself to look like spots. Will it work? Will the other cows like her now that she looks like they do?

I thought this story was very sweet. At first, the other cows seem like mean bullies when they shut poor Mary Elizabeth out of their social circle, but I appreciated that Mary Elizabeth hunkers down with a plan of action. She uses her own ingenuity to take care of the problem and she does it with confidence. And once the other cows realize the error of their ways, they turn out to be not such bad cows after all.

During the month of October, the publisher is offering this book at a discount through their website. In addition, 50% of the net profits will be donated to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital’s Child Life Program. Visit http://www.sweetles.com/product/books/mary-elizabeth-the-spotless-cow-book/ for more information.

Other picture book reviews you might like:

fancy nancycowboy boydgruffalo


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Book Problems

The books are a little out of control around here.

20130923_074121I’ve been trying to keep the board books in the basket and the paper books in the cabinet, so the baby doesn’t eat all the “nice” books. But the basket is getting too small. And maybe it doesn’t look like there are a lot of books in that cabinet, but if we stuff more in there, they fall out on whoever opens the door.

And then there is this shelf.

20130923_074152I’m not sure I even know what is on there anymore.

Not pictured: the bag of library books, the ones on the beds, the ones next to the chair, the ones on the couch. In addition to tripping over tiny cars and trains every time I go into a room, which I expected as the mom of boys, I keep finding books all over the place. Which is great! Except when I want to clean up! I also have five books waiting to be picked up from the library and they won’t let me put any others on hold until I go get the ones that are already there.

I feel the urge to simplify. Too many things! All over my house! Somewhere in my brain is a little closet where my “throw it away” personality lives. But, arg, when it’s books it’s so much harder. The good ones are beloved, so beloved. The bad ones … wait, there aren’t any bad ones. I already got rid of the bad ones. The ones we have outgrown are all chewed on. And there aren’t very many of those anyway.

So, maybe we just need a bigger basket?


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Dinosaur Roar!

What does it mean when a one year old has a favorite book? Kids (ok, babies) at this age are still a little like dogs (a lot like dogs? I’m leaning toward a lot like dogs). When they get sick, you try to measure how bad it is by how they are eating and pooping. You ask yourself if the quality of their sleep is different. You hem and haw about taking them to the doctor because the doctor is just going to do the same thing you’re doing at midnight, which is guess. And then no matter the diagnosis you end up with the advice of “wait and see” which is also what you get when you take a sick dog to the vet. I guess my point is: tiny children are mysteries.

So when a one year old kid looks at a book with that look on his face – fascinated, amazed, delighted – what exactly is he responding to? What about it is different from all the other books in the basket or piled in the corner or whatever? My one year old (pause while I freak out that he’s already a whole year old) is in love with this book: Dinosaur Roar! by Paul and Henrietta Strickland.

dinosaur roarHe will dig through the other board books with some determination until he finds it, will carry it over to me using both hands, and sit in rapt wonder as I read it to him for the sixieth time. Then he grabs it, shoves it back in my hands, and signs “more.” If I’m not quick to start it up again, he will open up my hand and place it on the binding. Which is one-year-old speak for “Do it again, silly.” And if I should dare approach him with another book, he will swat it right out of my hands and go find the dino book again. He does not have time for Maisy’s Fire Engine; more Dinosaur Roar!

This book has a lot going for it. Colorful pictures: yes. Repetition: yes. Simple concept of opposites: yes. And then it has a punchline at the end as well. I like a good punchline. Maybe Donovan does, too.

Related Activities:

Teach Your Baby About Opposites: I think this would be great if, say, you were leaving your baby with someone for a few hours who said they don’t know what to “do” with the baby. Well, here. Walk around the house and play with stuff.

Makes Opposites Cards. Take photos of your kid and make cards out of them. I need to do this. I think we would wear them out.

Dinosaur Costume: Because Halloween is coming up. And also just because this is a really cute picture of a baby dressed like a dinosaur.

And just in case anyone needs another, here is my kid. Dressed like a lion, but it’s close.

donovan lion

This post is part of Perfect Picture Book Friday hosted by Susanna Leonard Hill. She gets the best recommendations from the best people about the best books for kids. Every week.


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Review: Chanticleer and the Fox

Have you ever checked out a picture book because *you* wanted to read it and didn’t really care if your kids thought it was interesting? I admit, I have done it. And not just because I am tired of reading the same fifteen train books they have at our local branch. It happened last week when I forgot the library bag and made some dumb pronouncement outside the doors, like, “Ok, just one book each!” And then Finn came out of the stacks with one called Buenos Noches, Miami and I thought, “Ok, fine, I will puzzle out the Spanish on that for you,” and Donovan grabbed one of those First 400 Words in the Kitchen type books that are just pictures and are impossible to read.

And then I saw Chanticleer and the Fox. Ooh, ooh, a book based on Chaucer! With sweet olde-tyme illustrations as well. My heart skipped a beat. I am still still a nerd English major of the worst sort.


So … it’s not that great. I mean, the story is cute, but they could have divorced it from Chaucer a little more, in my opinion. True, they updated the language to Modern English, but they didn’t really try to make the words child-friendly. And even though I I recently fell in love with Corduroy, a story about a teddy bear who searches for a button which is not exactly high adventure, I am not sure most kids are ready to follow a story about a rooster. A married rooster, at that. My kids listened to it exactly once, with looks on their faces that seemed to say, “They make books about all kinds of things, do they?” but I guess there is value even in that. I was tired of Chanticleer by about page four. And when the fox arrived, I hoped he would get eaten.

But I did love the pictures.

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Review: Choo Choo, The Story of a Little Engine Who Ran Away

A review of Choo Choo, The Story of a Little Engine Who Ran Away by Virginia Lee Burton. I really love this book; it has a special place in my heart.

choo choo

Choo Choo is dedicated, with a beautiful charcoal drawing of a little boy, to the author’s son Aris. In this picture, he is surrounded by his toy trains and — in ever-widening circles — historical, real life trains. The story itself includes all the train-related high-points: tunnels, bridges, stations, traffic crossings, hills, train noises. It is not hard to imagine that Burton knew exactly what her son wanted to see in a train book and made him one that fit the bill. Even the endpapers feature a large panoramic scene of the tracks where Choo Choo runs. My son likes to trace his fingers over the tracks in these pictures, going over the hills and through the tunnels and across the bridge. If you have a small train lover, this book has almost everything you could ask for.

Choo Choo was one of the very first books we checked out from the library that wasn’t a board book. Finn was very young at the time, less than 18 months old, and he had very little patience for this book. There are a lot of words and they don’t rhyme or have a noticeable rhythm. It seemed to take us forever and ever to get through it and, to be honest, many times we did not read the whole thing. I thought it was too long and too wordy and spent a great deal too much space in the beginning laying out the names of the engineer and the fireman and the conductor.

But now that Finn is older, this has become one of his favorite books. Duh, of course we need to know everything about Choo Choo before she decides to run off. We need to know her engineer and see his oil can and hear about how much he loves her; because if you are a person who loves trains, you need to know all about everyone in the book who loves trains. You need to see his hat and imagine it on your own head. You need to see the conductor’s pocket watch and imagine you have one, too. We have to see where Choo Choo goes every day before she runs off, because this is how trains cast their magic spell on us: they travel along paths we can’t always see from our windows or from the roads we usually travel.

Burton is better known for her book Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, which is a pretty great book, too. But I like this one better. I saw The Little House, another book of hers, at Half Price Books last week and I am still a little irritated that I didn’t buy it (someone wanted to spend his summer reading gift certificate on a Thomas book). I think I will put that on our list.

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Review: Bus Stops for Perfect Picture Book Friday

bus stopsBefore I share my thoughts on Bus Stops by Taro Gomi for Perfect Picture Book Fridays, let me just mention that I had no idea this was the same author as Everybody Poops until I started looking it up. I feel like I need to … erm, air that out. I have never read Everybody Poops. I am sure it is a fine book. I am sure my children would find it hi-larious as they share genes with the people who brought a fart machine to my wedding rehearsal. But if I knew about the connection, I would have prepared by reading Everybody Poops as well. All I can offer, especially if you are having a bad day, is to read the 1 star reviews of Everybody Poops on Amazon. Some of them are hi-larious themselves, at least to me. (Like: “A waste of ink and paper.” I’m pretty sure that pun was unintentional.)

So. Bus Stops. Completely different book.

  • Published by Chronicle Books, 1999
  • Fiction; for ages baby-preschool
  • Themes: transportation
  • Opening: “The bus stops at the beach. An artist steps off.”

Bus Stops follows a charming little bus on its route, from the beach to the city and then out to the suburbs. Every page is a different bus stop where people get on and off. The text points out things to find in the pictures, like a car or someone who missed the bus.  The illustrations are done in water colors; they are bright and cheerful and very expressive. I found it a really fun book to read when my son was small, maybe like 12-18 months.  He loved the pictures. It helped us get through a real squirmy phase.


  • Ride the bus in your town. Even from our house, which is not very far from downtown, the scenery changes quite a bit — from shops to a hospital to a university to skyscrapers.
  • Take a pretend bus ride on the couch. Everyone can practice having their change ready when they get on and making the noises of the bell when they pull the imaginary cord for the next stop.
  • And, of course, sing a few rounds of The Wheels on the Bus.  We like to make up new verses, like “The trains on the bus go choo-choo-choo.” Because, of course they do.

Perfect Picture Book Friday is hosted by Susanna Lenard Hill.  Check out this list of all the Perfect Picture Books. It’s the most comprehensive list I’ve ever seen. Especially if you have, I don’t know, any summer birthdays coming up you need to get presents for.


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Review: Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo for PPBF

This is my pick for Perfect Picture Book Friday, which is presented each week by Susanna Leonard HillChugga-Chugga Choo-Choo by Kevin Lewis and illustrated by Daniel Kirk.

  • Hyperion Books, 2001
  • Fiction; ages 3 – 5 (or anyone who thinks it’s fun to say “choo-choo”)
  • Themes: trains, toys
  • First line: “Sun’s Up, Morning’s Here.  Up and at ’em, engineer.”

Related activities:

So, duh, we love trains around here.  Train books are pretty much the gold standard.  Was Knuffle Bunny good?  Yes.  Would it have been better if it had featured a train? Yes. Obviously.

chuggc chuggaIn honor of this train adoration, I offer up Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo by Kevin Lewis for Perfect Picture Book Friday.  It is a really fun read-aloud book.  When we first heard it at a library storytime (o! storytime! how I miss you!), the librarian had all the kids say, “Chugga-chugga choo-choo!” with her while pulling an imaginary train whistle whenever the phrase appeared in the book.  By the end of that reading, she had turned into the pied piper of the library; the children would have followed her anywhere. The pictures are pretty great, too, since they are about toys.  I love seeing how other people imagine playing with toys that we have in our house, like blocks.  It helps me out when I’m having those low-energy days. Or, you know, months.

I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but sometimes when I have read the same book forty or fifty times, I start to mentally take it apart and search for hidden meanings. Maybe this is just how the girl who loved English class deals with this all day mommy-time, I don’t know.  Llama Llama Red Pajama, for example, appears to be about a single-parent family.  And many of the workers in Roadwork seem to be women (they have ponytails at any rate, so I’m calling it). Did I notice that all the trucks in Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site are male? Yes, I did. And I was irritated. I know these examples aren’t exactly Jane Eyre-madwoman-in-the-attic, but you know, they help me get through another bedtime.

I don’t want to admit how many times I read Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo before I realized the human protagonist has dark skin.  And that some of the toys, including a cowboy, do too. (I’m not using the term African-American because this story could take place anywhere around the world.  And also, I don’t know how/if toys identify themselves as far as race/ethnicity.) These details make this book a little more special to me, especially since I think it is easy to lump trains into the realm of Thomas the Tank Engine and little Caucasian boys wearing engineer hats, when really, I know from personal experience that trains appeal to all kinds of kids. And some of them are not often represented in the pictures on the page. Example: an amazon search for “princess + train” reveals just one entry.  Why?

Every time I discover something new/extra/hidden/special about a book, it makes it all the more interesting when I read it the next forty or fifty times.

Do you ever pick apart the kids books you read?  Have you discovered anything interesting?


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Great Books for Squirmy Kids


My children posing for the camera. What … you can’t tell?

You know the ones I mean, right? Either they are too little to care about what happens to Chicken Little while they attempt to stuff the pages in their mouths, or they leave four pages in because you read too slowly, or they turn the pages for you before you even finish one sentence.  Some kids — probably all kids, at one time or another — are not into the whole “let’s sit quietly and read” thing.  I saw a poster at the library once that said, “Read to your little one 20 minutes a day,” and about died.  That was something like 40 attempts to read a book for us at that point.

A few things I do (in general):

1. For babies, I keep at least two books on hand.  One to chew on, one to look at.  Sometimes you have to trade back and forth, but it’s all good.

2. For older kids, keep it short. Maybe you just read one line per page.

3. Find one with interesting pictures to look at.  Busy, complicated pictures are sometimes the best, because you can practice sitting still while you look at some of the details.  Guide them along with your finger, find anything you can comment on, even if it doesn’t seem very interesting.

Ok, now for an actual list list:

peekababy1. Peek-A-Baby. It is almost more toy than book, which is great for a tiny wee one who needs to chew and handle everything.  I love playing peek-a-boo in books.  Karen Katz has a few nice ones, too, like Where Is Baby’s Belly Button?

moo baa

2. Moo, Baa, La La La by Sandra Boynton. Many of her other books are great as well. I am also a big fan of Blue Hat, Green Hat and All the Hippos Go Berzerk! for wiggly kids. Some of her books have actual music to go with the words and this can help some kids hang out a little longer.  But Moo, Baa is the fastest, shortest one and it comes in a board book.

cars and trucks3. Cars and Trucks and Things That Go! by Richard Scarry.  The pictures are full of detail that reward careful examination.  If that sounds boring, trust me, kids like looking for where Gold Bug is hiding on every page (and if you get stumped, it is often inside a purple car, but that’s just between you and me).  You don’t even have to read the words, just find Gold Bug and keep on moving.

freight train4. Freight Train by Donald Crews. You might be thinking: Oh, I can find some books with a small number of words on the page, that’s all I need. But then you read a book like Freight Train and you see how a master does it.  My favorite way to read this book is to sit the kid on my knees and bounce them a little bit.  During the first few pages, when it is describing the train cars, I bounce very slowly, and then when the train leaves on its journey, I start to read faster and faster and bounce faster and faster, until we get to the last page: “Going, going … gone.” Stop the bouncing, whisper “gone” and tell me even the wiggliest kid doesn’t turn around and ask for it again.  The board book works best for this tactic, because you have to whip through the pages quite quickly.

maisy5. Maisy’s Fire Engine by Lucy Cousins. Or any Maisy board book. I do not completely understand the magic of Maisy. In all honesty, I find these books slow and uninteresting; there is not even a payoff at the end, where there is a pun or a lame joke or anything. But that’s ok, kid books are not for me. So many small children I know adore Maisy. And these books are some of the shortest ones we have.

6. Any of the Priddy Books with big pictures.  We have this organic baby machinesone called Organic Baby Machines, a title that is beyond silly to me (the machines are neither organic nor baby/small — it is just printed on organic material for babies), but it is a good book.  A kid with patience can look at the photos and learn what properties group them together.  A younger, squirmier one might be able to point out fast ones or red ones or big ones.  You don’t have to read the words on the page, just explore together.  Sometimes I just like to find one and claim it is my favorite, like the snow plow train. A train and a snow plow? Mind blown.

baby bear baby bear7. Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle. There are a few in this series and they are all very similar (Panda Bear, Panda Bear and Brown Bear, Brown Bear).  The illustrations are gorgeous and bright, the text is simple and repetitive.

dinosaur roar8. Dinosaur Roar! by Paul and Henriette Strickland. The ending (“Gobble, gooble, nibble, nibble, munch, munch, crunch!”) gives you the opportunity to walk your fingers up your child’s arm or leg, or to give a little tickle.  I think it helped us develop that sense of anticipation, which seems to go hand-in-hand with patience.

bear hunt9. We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. There is something so playful about this book.  The sing-song words, the action-oriented text, the bear chase at the end.

When All Else Fails:

10. Audiobooks.  Sometimes your kid just wants to jump on the couch while doing story time (sigh). Well, finding super short audio stories can be a solution.  Listening to a story and imagining the action is a different skill than looking at words and pictures, but it’s an important one nonetheless.  Barefoot Books has a free podcast that features very short audio stories; some clock in at just 4 minutes.  When we started using these, I “previewed” them to my son by telling him shortened versions of, say, The Gingerbread Man for a few days (we were potty training, so we had ample time when we were sitting around and waiting, but bedtime or a car ride could work, too).  Once he knew the general story, he could follow the audio version and asked to listen to a few of these on repeat.  Which really helped me get dinner done on a lot of nights.

11. Photo Albums. Sure, there’s probably no words, but the pictures feature the creature most fascinating to young children — themselves.  You can still practice looking at pictures in the order of words on a page, left to right, up to down.  And it can open up all kinds of conversations about old vacations, celebrations, friends, feelings.

This is what I do when I have a squirmy kid who doesn’t want to sit down for a story.  What do you do? What books do you pick up to keep a wiggly one interested?


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Review: Hello, Madagascar!

Hello Madagascar by Christopher Corr.

This book was a gift from our neighbors after their kids enjoyed it for years.  How they kept a board book in such pristine condition, I will never know (our house is where books go to die).

Hello_MadagascarWe love Hello, Madagascar. It features a few interesting, quirky facts about the country alongside pretty and interesting paintings showing regular people going about their day. LOVE. I can’t help but think that this is a extra super wonderful fantastic way to learn about other parts of the world without dissolving into stereotypes. No surprise, maybe, that it was published by UNICEF.  My only beef with UNICEF regarding this book: why isn’t there a book like this for every country?  I would be very tempted to have all of them.

Short enough for a squirmy kid. Interesting enough to read on repeat.

If anyone has other suggestions for books to read to small children about life in other countries, I would love to hear about them.

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What I Did Not Google

I thought the road trip to the beach started auspiciously enough, because both kids took two naps in the car.  Two! This was beyond my expectations.

Yes, my older son was the one running around a BBQ place in his mickey mouse pajamas 45 minutes into the trip, yelling “No, Mommy! Don’t do that!” because he could not have an ice cream cone. But my spirit was undiminished. And later, when we stopped at a small town to run around the courthouse square, I asked my husband to take a picture of the boys next to the big live oak tree because it was so pretty — only to later learn that it a.) had been the town “hanging tree” and b.) was sitting on top of a colony of hornets. The spirits of dead criminals haunting a tree in the form of hornets? Ah, what an interesting tale of the road! Nothing to worry about!

haunted tree

Mickey Mouse pj’s, hanging tree, hornets (by Donovan’s feet).

The beach house was supposed to have wi-fi, but we could never get it to work.  To quote Pete the Cat: Was I worried? Goodness no! Here was a weekend free from distraction, free from email and facebook and every other thing. Fine!

We had a lovely time at the beach, even though it was too cold to go swimming.  The boys had fun crawling through the sand and jumping into big holes and smashing the sand castles their daddy built for them. The baby was so tired that he fell asleep for the night, or so I thought, around 6pm on Saturday.

And then he woke up screaming so hard I thought he was choking on something.  He was doing that thing where he had his mouth open but no noise was coming out. And when the noise did some out, it was loud and angry! Nothing calmed him down for at least an hour, and I even reverted back to our old ways when he had been a one month old infant suffering from gas pains.  We took a bath together, we nursed, we cuddled and swaddled and rocked in a chair; we walked and sang and bounced; had some sips of water, checked his whole little body all over for sunburn or bruises or hurts of any kind.  I didn’t see anything, but let me ask a question: if a haunted bee stings you, would it even leave a mark on your physical body?

He cried so hard that some of the relatives thought we should go to the emergency room.  But we stayed put. And I did not google “what if a baby eats too much sand?” or “sand poisoning symptoms” or “dead spirits + hornets + courthouse + baby.” Not because I didn’t want to; because I couldn’t. I didn’t email my 2,000 closest mom friends to ask if this had happened to anyone else. Not because I didn’t think of it, but because everyone outside the house was effectively out of my reach. I tried to clear my mind of the clutter as I rocked my poor baby through his decreasing screams, as I watched for his eyelids to drift shut into slumber. But really, I just wanted to ask everyone ever if this had happened to them before.

By 8pm, he was asleep.  At 9:30 he woke up, but just seemed a little cranky and he fell asleep again as soon as he nursed for a few minutes. In the morning, he was happily smiling at everyone again, giggling at his brother and his cousin.  Not, to my untrained eyes, haunted by bees or feeling the effects of sand poisoning. Well, actually, I never did google any of that.  I supposed I should get on it.

[ETA: Googling just brought me to a picture of a thing called a tarantula hawk. Not at all what we encountered at the Hanging Tree, but WILL likely show up in my nightmares.  Thanks, google!]


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