Monday, July 30, 2012

Hello World!

Madeline in London
By Ludwig Bemelmans

The Olympic Games only come every two years, making it all the more exciting to follow and watch.  We thought it would be fun to read books along an international theme to coincide with the Olympics--as this event is one of the few times the world comes together peacefully to cheer each other on and where individuals get to compete with pride for their home country.  We are kicking off our international theme with a Madeline book that takes place in London, where the Summer Olympics take place this year.

Read It
The classic Madeline series by Ludwig Bemelmans offers stories for your family to travel the world following all the adventures of Madeline, Miss Clavel, and the little girls who live in that old house in Paris.  In Madeline in London, the Spanish ambassador--neighbor to Miss Clavel and the girls--has to move from Paris to London, including his son Pepito.  Everyone is sad Pepito must go--especially Pepito--so they arrange a trip for Miss Clavel's girls to visit London for Pepio's birthday.  After they arrive, they realize they have brought no present for Pepito.  The twelve girls and Miss Clavel venture out into London to find him the perfect gift and come upon an old reitred horse, a perfect pet for Pepito.  Along the way, the many famous and historic landmarks of London are the backdrop to the mishaps and adventures of Madeline and company. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Elephants Can Paint Too!
Pictures and Text by Katya Arnold

Elephants fascinate me.  They are so large, yet seem so gentle.  They are gray and wrinkly, yet so cute.  I love to visit the elephants when we go to the zoo.  Last time we went, the zookeepers gave a little presentation about elephants. 

Did you know...

To tell the difference between African elephants and
Asian elephants, you look at their ears--African
elephants have large ears and Asian elephants
have small ears.

Elephants do not actually drink from their trunk.
 They just use it to slurp up water and squirt it in their mouth.

When we found Elephants Can Paint Too! at the library, I knew we had to get it--and we have enjoyed it even more than anticipated.  This book is full of amazing facts and information about elephants from and author and artist that works closely with them, a friend and trainer of elephants, Katya Arnold.

Read It
Elephants Can Paint Too! contains great photographs and text by Katya Arnold, that introduce a concept I had never heard of before--elephants painting!  Arnold obviously has a love for art and elephants.  She compares the world of human art students and elephant art students, using contrasts to teach.  Like, "I teach in two schools.  One is in the city. The other is in the jungle . . . Some of my students have hands.  Others have trunks . . . Some students eat grass.  Others eat peanut butter and jelly."  Since Arnold works so intimately with elephants, she also compliments the story text with lots of non-fiction text about elephants.  Working so intimately with elephants, Arnold offers more elephant information than your typical children's encyclopedia.  Here are some facts that I never knew before:
  • Elephants have 150,000 muscles in their trunks.  (Our entire body has only 639 muscles.)
  • Elephants suck their trunks like a baby sucks his thumb.
  • Young elephants like to play like children, and even misbehave sometimes.
  • Elephants use their trunk as a snorkel when they swim.
  • Elephants can paint too!
Enjoy It
I have read this book so many times and it still has not gotten old.  And everytime somebody comes to our house I show it to them.  I always enjoy learning about creatures of all types.  You know a book is a good book if kids and parents enjoy it just the same.  Big Stuff and Little Guy enjoyed all the unusual photogrpahs of the elephants--you get to see all the different ways elephants can hold a paintbrush, all the different paint tecniques they can learn, and how they interat with each other and their art teacher.  They also like the simple story-like text about painting.  The non-fiction text paired with it got a little long for my kiddos, but I am sure readers a little bit older would enjoy it as much as I did. 

Make It Come to Life
So with any book we have read lately we always try to find a way to involve water.
So we pretended that our squirt gun was a trunk.
It was a little hard to squirt in our mouth since it did
not bend like a trunk.

Then we walked like elephants.
We even tried to eat grass like elephants.

Look at the fun fingerplays we did next!
An Elephant
An elephant goes like this and that (swing arms to the left and the right).
He's terribly big (hands up high) and he's terribly fat (hands out wide).
He has no fingers (wiggle fingers) and he has no toes (touch toes),
But goodness gracious, what a nose! (make curling motion away from nose with hand)

The Elephant's Trunk
The elephant has a great big trunk, (use arm for a trunk)
That goes swinging, swinging so. (swing trunk)
He has tiny, tiny eyes that show him where to go. (point to eyes)
His huge, long ears go flapping up and down. (flop hands up and down by ears)
His great big feet go stomping, stomping on the ground. (stomp your feet)

We got these fun fingerplays from the story hour at our library.

Check out this fun video we found to see elephants painting in action!  Happy elephanting!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Time for Tea!

Miss Spider's Tea Party: The Counting Book
By David Kirk

I remember reading Miss Spider's Tea Partyto my younger brother when we were little.  We had the same board book version of the original Miss Spider's Tea Party that I read to my sons today.  Still written in rhyme, the shortened verses count with younger readers up to twelve by the end of the story.  My brother had me read it so many times that he had it memorized.  He would anticipate his favorite page "Two beetles gasped. . ." and open his mouth wide in a gasp before I would even begin the story. 
"One lonely Spider wished to play . . .
. . . two beetles gasped and ran away."
"Three fireflies saw her web and fled. . .
. . . We won't come in the four bees said.

Read It
In the original story a kind spider invites all her bug friends over for a tea party.  Unfortunately, being a spider causes all of her bug friends to be afraid--they will not come to her tea party for fear of being eaten!  She is left alone with her tea cups and tea cakes. Her bug friends' fears subside towards the end of the story as they discover her kindness when she helps a little moth left out in the rain--then the party begins!

Enjoy It
I am such a sucker for a book with good rhymes, especially when reading to little kids.  The rhythm of a poem really holds the attention of young readers and helps them participate in "reading" the story as they can anticipate the rhyming words.  Usually when I find a simple rhyming story like this, we read it a few times and then as I read I will say the whole verse but leave out the last word and let Big Stuff fill in.  In this way he feels like he is "reading," making reading fun and something he wants to learn how to do.  Kirk's vibrant pictures are chock full of bugs and critters and colors and plants that you can count and talk about with your little readers.  What I love about picture books is that you can read the story, but the illustrations also tell a story of their own that you can also talk about and discuss with your children.

Make It Come to Life
As you probably noticed from the pictures above, we decided to have a tea party like Miss Spider and invite all of our animal friends.  It was so much fun!  Pretend play is a great way to learn, and it was a fun way to talk about themes in the Miss Spider book--like being a friend, sharing, being kind, taking care of our friends.  We also got to count.  Can you count how many friends came to our tea party?  Happy tea-partying!   
First we wanted to get dressed up for the occasion, so we
put gel in our hair.  :)  Then we laid out a blanket.
Next, we invited all of our friends . . .
. . . poured them some "tea" . . .
(This is a great way to practice fine motor skills, and since
it was only water and we were outside, no worries
about mess!  Besides, it was so hot outside we didn't
mind if a little water got splashed on us!  Little Guy
made sure to pour and splash every drip of water that
Big Stuffed served.)
. . . and served everyone a cup! 

Big Stuff really got into it, helping his friends eat . . .
. . . he got so excited he went inside and brought
out his own idea of something to serve.  So cute!
Ooops!  Maybe we should get a plastic
tea set for next time!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Few Fun Photos

Remember our post about Marcus Pfister's book Questions, Questions?  Well, I am finally getting around to posting the pictures of us trying out the illustration method he used for that book.  I am a dork, and I downloaded the song that inspired the book, Cosa Sarà, by Lucio Dalla.  Amazon had an offer for three free downloads and I used one for this song.  It is in Italian, and it drives me crazy to not know what a song is if you take a listen on YouTube or somewhere else, I put the lyrics and their translation below.  Anyways, to get us in the Pfister-illustrating mood, we listened to Cosa Sarà while we drew and painted. See what you think! 

Also, check out this alternative for making Pfister-like pictures that I found at Make and Takes' Storybook Summer.  Happy illustrating!

First we drew a picture on some cardboard.

Mr. Pfister recommended simple illustrations
but ours got a little complicated...

...making it pretty hard for Mom to cut out.
But I tried my best--I did not want to stifle
Big Stuff's inner artist. (Like how our
tummy got some illustration too?)

Then the fun part--paint!

We dipped the cut-out illustration in paint.

Next, we stamped it on paper.

In the book, each illustration had a shiny part, so we added
some foil to ours, and Voila!

Cosa Sarà
by Lucio Dalla

Cosa sarà, que crescere gli alberi e la felicità
Che fa morire a vent'anni anche se vivi fino al cento
Cosa sarà a far muovere il vento, a fermare il poeta ubriaco
A dare la morte per un pezzo di pane o un baccio non dato
Oh, cosa sarà, che ti sveglia al mattino e sei serio
Che ti fa morire ridendo di notte all'ombra de un desiderio
Oh, cosa sarà, che te spinge ad amare una donna bassina perduta
La bottiglia che ti ubriaca anche se non l'ai bevuta
Cosa sarà, che te spinge a picchiare il tuo re
Che ti porta a cercare il giusto dove giustizia non c'e
Cosa sarà, che ti fa comprare di tutto anche se di niente hai bisogno
Cosa sarà che ti strappa dal sogno
Oh, cosa sarà, che te fa uscire di tasca dei "no! non c'i sto"
Ti getta nel mare e ti viene a salvare,
Oh, cosa sarà, che dobbiamo chercare, che dobbiamo chercare
Cosa saràche ti fa lasciare la bicicletta sul muro
E caminare a la sera con un amico a parlar del futuro
Cosa sarà, questo strano coraggio, paura che ci prende
E ci porta a ascoltare la notte che scende
Oh, cosa sarà, quell'uommo e il suo cuore benedetto
Che sceso dalle scarpe, dal letto, si è sentito solo
È come un uccello che in volo, è come un uccello che in volo
Si ferma i guarda giù

Since I do not speak Italian, I had to rely on the Google translation (until I can ask my Italian relatives to translate it for me!)  Go here to read the lyrics in English.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Let's Go to the Beach!

Barney & Baby Bop At the Beach
By Mary Ann Dudko, Ph.D. and Margie Larsen, M.Ed.

The temperatures in our area lately have been record-setting HOT!  So we have been looking for fun ways to enjoy the heat.  Here is a fun read that we got as a hand-me-down.  Check it out!

Read It
I am not the biggest fan of Barney, so I probably would not have bought Barney & Baby Bop At the Beach on my own, but this came in a bundle of hand-me-down books from a friend and we have enjoyed reading it this summer.  Barney and Baby Bop go to the beach in this board book, and each page has a fun spot that you can touch to engage the senses--like a squishy beach ball, a furry puppy, and a bumpy starfish. 

Enjoy It
Who does not love the thought of the beach--especially in the thick of summer.  Jay Johnson's illustrations in this book show what fun can be had at the beach, and compliment the simple text well by offering extra things to look at and talk about with your children.  And the shiny sea waters in the background of every page make you want to find the nearest ocean to jump in!

Make It Come to Life
For those who live in the Kansas City area (and do not already live on one of the awesome lakes in our area that offer private beaches) here are two lakes that offer public beaches our family has enjoyed this summer.
Longview Lake Beach opens at 1pm and stays open until 7pm through August 10--the hours change after this date.  Admission is $3 for children (2 and under are free) and $5 for adults.  Or, if you plan to go a lot, a family pass is only $90 for the entire summer season.  See the picture below from our day at the Longview beach.   
Watkins Mill State Park Beach makes for a great day trip!  The beach is open from 10am until sunset daily, through September 3.  It is free to swim at the beach, and before or after your swim you can picnic or cook out at one of their shelter areas, take a hike in the around the lake, or take a tour of the Watkins Woolen Mill historic site.  The possibilities are really endless.

What?! I get to play in the sand?!

Making a little pool for baby brother.

Who does not love the beach!?

I love sand!

We buried big brother--a good time to sneak a kiss!

If you are looking for a fun beach-theme activity at home check out this fun project we did today.  Happy beaching!
We had some ocean objects laying around so I laid them
out on a piece of heavy cardstock.
Then I traced them with a permanent marker.
Once the objects were all traced, I mixed them up and set
them on the table for Big Stuff to match the shapes.
"This is going to be so fun, Mom!"

A fun way to work on reading readiness, as matching and
recognizing the shapes is like learning to match
and recognize letters.
Not bad for our first time.  The seahorse
was a little tricky.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Triple Tuesday (A Day Late) Trains!

Boys have certain things programed into their DNA and I have learned that liking trains is one of those things.  We have train birthday parties, train underwear, train toys, and lots and lots of train books!  Here are three train books that we really like and want to share with you.

Thomas and the Freight Train
A Chunky Shape Book
Illustrated by Owain Bell

My ten-month-old is loving this chunky book right now.  Chunky books have the perfect size and shape for little hands to hold and grab and turn pages.  It is so fun to see my little guy work on his book handling skills with this book--he gets so proud when he can turn a page a see what Thomas the Tank Engine is up to next.  The illustrations in this book are full of action and detail, but the story is quick and simple.  So you can turn the pages fast--which is what we do if Little Guy is in charge of turning--or you can spend time on each page talking about all the goods Thomas carries in his freight cars like wood, sand, coal, ducks, pigs, cows and horses.  Lots of fun reading possibilities for such a little book!

I Love Trains!
By Philemon Sturges
Illustrated by Shari Halpern

This board book has a simple story and simple illustrations to match.  I bought this book for our oldest when he turned two and had a train birthday party.  He enjoys books at a higher reading level than this one, but he is also still practicing how to gently handle books, so that is why I picked out a board book story to give him.  Another reason I picked this particular book is the rhyming story.  Big brother has been into rhyming for a while, and I thought this would give him some fun practice.  It also teaches some different vocabulary like grain, logs, steel and scrap (metal).  Those are my reasons for liking the book.  I think Big Brother likes it because the father of the little boy who tells the story works on the train, and it is fun for him to see the boy wave to his dad as he rides by their house on the train. 

That's Not My Train...
An Usborne Touchy-Feely Book
By Fiona Watt
Illustrated by Rachel Wells

Another board book!  That's Not My Train delights the senses with shiny trains, bumpy trains, rough trains and rusty trains.  It is so fun Little Guy giggles when we read it.  This book out of all three is probably the one most geared for young ones, yet Big Brother enjoys it because the text is so simple he remembers the words and can "read" it to his little brother.  Look at the pictures below to see the fun we had making our train books come to life!  Also, check out our favorite train songs and some fun links and ideas for train activities.

Since the train fettish started, we have enjoyed watching the train videos on the vidz4kids channel on YouTube.  You can find different train videos there, of trains carrying different things like letters, shapes, and fruit.  These videos are a fun way to train your brain!  One of our favorites is the letter train.

 After watching it over and over, I thought it would be fun to make our own alphabet train to choo-choo around our wall at home.  So we found a simple way to construct a train out of shapes from this website.  We made the engine, and then freight cars to follow it.  The freight cars are simply made from a large rectangle and four circle wheels.  Then we put a letter in the car.  Our train is a work in progress--right now we are on the letter D.  Big Brother helps trace the letter after I write it.  After we finish the entire alphabet we plan to clip pictures out of old magazines and put them in the freight car with the object's beginning letter sound.  For example, we will clip a picture of an alligator for the "A" freight car, or a picture of a ball for the "B" freight car.  Here are a few pictures of our alphabet train.

Last Friday we rode on an Ice Cream Train at the Belton, Grandview and Kansas City Railroad Company.  If your family lives in Kansas City, I highly recommend taking a trip on the Ice Cream Train or other rides the BGKCRC offers on their museum train.  The train makes a 5-mile, forty-five minute trek, beginning and ending on Main Street in historic downtown Belton, Missouri. 

All of the volunteers running the train were so kind and made the experience fun.  A sweet lady acted as the tour guide announcing what we were passing as we rode, and she gave little tid-bits about the train.  Apparently, the car we rode in was in the movie Biloxi Blues with Matthew Broderick.  If you click on the link above you can read more about the history of the train and the BGKCRC.  The conductor and engineer dressed the part and were happy to pose for pictures--you could tell they love what they do and the families they do it for.   

**Please note the times listed on the website are correct, but we were charged a $10 fare for the Ice Cream Train, and they only accept cash or check payments.  The company is a non-profit organization run by volunteers, so when you call the number you will only be able to listen to the automated message (which gives lots of helpful information) or leave a message.  If you need more info than the message gives, make sure you call a week in advance of your trip as they take one to two business days to return your call.  Also, the train does not have air conditioning so bring cash to buy water bottles on the train or bring your own!**

We were so excited!  Big Brother gets so serious when he does
something new.  :)

Spying the conductor!

All aboard!

Waiting to get our tickets punched.  Holding on tight so we
do not lose them (like the boy on The Polar Express)!

And then for the ice cream.  Reminded me of the "Hot Chocolate"
scene in The Polar Express.

This dining car was part of the gift shop/museum train
(not the one we rode)--straight from the Fifties, too cool!

Yay for trains and conductors!!

One last train thing!  Check out these awesome train songs:

"Train Song" by Charlie Hope on the I'm Me! A Collection of Songs for Children album, and
"Little Red Caboose" by Laurie Berkner from her Buzz Buzz album.

Happy train-ing!