Title Drop! A Plenitude of Picture Books

Reading books has long been known to be important in developing language, comprehension, and creativity, for anyone of any age.

The benefits of reading out loud to children are not as well-known, but are possibly even more crucial; children form many of their life-long habits towards literacy when they are young. Children can also learn more advanced vocabulary and nuances of communication by being read to from books, which tend to have a much more varied and rich language than everyday speech. Having well-developed vocabulary, comprehension and communication skills has been found to help children do much better when first starting school.

And it’s fun! There isn’t one negative effect of reading out loud to children, unless you count them wanting you to read another book, then another, and another, until they learn to read, and then they’ll want to read a book to you, then another one, and another, and then they’ll start reading books to themselves, then another one, and another…

Who really wants to be the reason their child is curious, expressive, imaginative and thoughtful? That’s a trick question, don’t answer that.

Start reading aloud with one or more picture books from this list of some of my favorite recently published titles.

Dojo Daycare, by Chris Tougas
Six little daycare ninjas kick and KAPOW! with impunity, despite the poor daycare dojo master’s dismayed attempts to instill in them the tenets of all good ninjas. Bright illustrations, great read-aloud effects, told in clever and fluid rhyme, with a warm message of respect, responsibility, and teamwork! And ninjas for the win! Ages 3 and up.

The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt
With warm, adorable illustrations by the amazing Oliver Jeffers, this title explores what happens when a boy’s box of crayons revolt, leaving him letters explaining their various grievances (Black wants to do more than outlines, and White wants to be used more, period!) with hilarious (and color coordinated) results. Ages 3 and up.

Stuck, by Oliver Jeffers
New York Times best-selling illustrator and author Oliver Jeffers explores how one boy tries to solve the problem of retrieving his kite, stuck in a tree. With each escalation, his situation gets more serious (and more hilarious), and the end will leave you laughing (but maybe a little concerned). Ages 3 and up.
The Numberlys, by William Joyce
Award-winning author of The Guardians of Childhood novel and picture book series (which inspired the film The Rise of the Guardians), Joyce presents an original, engaging tale of how the alphabet was first invented, back when everything had a number instead of a name. No letters meant no words, and no words meant no colors, or desserts, or fun!  Ages 3 and up.

The Book With No Pictures, by B.J. Novak
A picture book with no pictures, say whaaaa-? A New York Times bestseller, this title encourages children’s interest in textual content with its humorous, clever approach to reading.  The premise is that whoever is reading the book (usually a very serious adult) has to read WHATEVER the book says, no matter how silly.  With illustrated words in different fonts and bright colors for added visual interest. Ages 5 and up.

New York Times’ bestselling peas star in this delightful introduction to some of the most common colors. Each page is illustrated with a BIG eye-catching word spelling out its color, surrounded by dozens of the cutest “little green peas” in various acts of color-coordinated activities and paraphernalia. Kids will love pointing out all the little details. For ages 4 and up.

Mix it Up, by Herve Tullet
Author of the marvelously inventive New York Times bestseller Press Here, an interactive picture book relevant to today’s iPad-savvy kidsters, this innovative title takes the same concept and adds more COLOR, with gorgeous photorealistic textures and illustrations. By the end of the book kids will either want to read it again, or reach for real paint to mix! Ages 3 and up.

Journey, by Aaron Becker
A 2014 Caldecott Honor book, Becker’s wordless yet engrossing story follows a lonely little girl who, with a red marker in hand, draws herself a red door into another world, and a series of magical adventures marked by her red-hued creations. Without words, but beautifully illustrated, it still manages to convey its messages of friendship, determination and imagination. Ages 4 and up.

Going Places, by Paul A. Reynolds
A fantastic story of teamwork, creativity, and the joys of not quite staying inside the lines, illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Peter H. Reynolds (Judy Moody, The Dot). When a class of students receive identical kits for building a go-cart for racing, two children, one who excels at following instructions and another whose bright imagination is tempered by practicality, work together to build something that may not be exactly what everyone else has, in the best way possible. Ages 4 and up.

Uni the Unicorn, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
With Disney-worthy huggable illustrations, this title takes an old tale and spins it into an adorable new story about friendship and believing in the impossible (also, unicorns!). A young unicorn is told there are no such things as little girls, but he believes there are no matter what the adults say.  Coincidentally, far, far (but not that far) away, a little girl believes that unicorns exist, no matter what they tell her. Ages 4 and up.

The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires
A brilliant, encouraging story of ingenuity, failure, perseverance, and creativity, from an award-winning author and illustrator. A little girl, with the help of her best friend (her dog) decides to make “The most MAGINIFICENT thing!” but even with the best-laid plans, failure happens. And happens again. And again. Then you get mad. And want to quit.  Then actually quit.  But sometimes all it takes is a little time (and a little help), and a lot of tinkering, before truly magnificent things can happen. Ages 3 and up.

My Teacher Is A Monster!, by Peter Brown
From the New York Times bestselling author and illustrator of quirky giggle-inducing favorites like The Curious Garden and Creepy Carrots comes an endearing story that many children with intimidating teachers will relate to.  A little boy claims that his stomping, roaring, anti-paper airplane teacher is a monster (with reptile-like snout, and huge clumping pumps), but a chance encounter outside of the classroom reveals that there's more to a person, once you get to know them, from both perspectives, high and low.  Ages 4 and up.

Click on any of the titles to visit the OC Public Libraries website and reserve a copy today!

And to find more recommended titles, visit our Book Lists tab (above), or click here.


More Toddler Favorites

About a year ago, I shared some of my favorite books for reading aloud to toddlers. If you want to read that blog again, click here . That time around, I was looking for titles that I had read over and over (as toddlers like to do).  Since then, I have come across more books that have gone over well with toddlers that I would like to share.  They aren't all necessarily new, but were new to me.

Be sure to try Baby Parade by Rebecca O'Connell. This book appeals to tiny tykes' love of waving hello and good-bye. Readers are encouraged to wave to babies passing by in the illustrations, who ride in wagons, rest in backpacks and so on. So simple, yet so inviting of active participation.  These are some cute babies!

Another book with a simple, yet satisfying concept is Hooray for Hat by Brian Won. Grumpy Elephant is so cheered by a surprise gift of a box of hats on his doorstep that he ends up sharing them one-by-one with a succession of his similarly grumpy friends. Readers can join in by exclaiming, "Hooray for Hat!"

Let me just say flat-out that I think Mo Willems is a comic genius. He has written best-selling picture books (Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Knuffle Bunny) and readers ( the Elephant and Piggie books). He has also started a series for the youngest readers: the Cat the Cat books. The first is called Cat the Cat, Who is That?  In Cat the Cat's world, everyone has a name that reflects who they are: Cat the Cat, Mouse the Mouse, etc. Not only that, everyone is her friend, even the mysterious critter who says "Blarggie! Blarggie!"  Every one of the books in the series has a humorous twist. For example, in Let's Say HI to Friends Who Fly all the friends are sure Rhino the Rhino can't fly -- until he shows up in an airplane!

Karen Katz is a prolific author whose many books are geared to toddlers. Here's one of her newer titles: Now I'm Big! A number of children with Katz's signature large round heads, stubby arms and cheerful wardrobes list all of the things they can do now that they are not babies any more.  Best of all, now they can help their baby brothers and sisters.

If you have any favorite books for toddlers, please list them in the comments below. We want to keep our youngest readers happy!


Every Choice Has A Price

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister by Amélie Sarn, translated by Y. Maudet, is a short novel about teenage sisters living in a Muslim community in France. Sohane and Djelila are very close until they reach high school. Since they are the second generation born in France, their parents allow many liberties customarily not permitted in a Muslim household. Sohane embraces Muslim traditions. In contrast, Djelila elects to become secular which allows her to dress as she wants and socialize with her non-Muslim friends. Because of her choices, a local Muslim gang bullies Djelila. Sohane dislikes her sister’s decisions so she watches on as the bullying continues; hoping Djelila will learn a lesson. Conversely, when Sohane publicly pronounces her religion by wearing a scarf, her school expels her when she refuses to remove the scarf. Djelila may not agree with her sister’s beliefs, but she supports Sohane’s pursuit to express her individuality.
The simple prose is in Sohane’s voice, following her train of thought as the chapters alternate between past and present events. This heartbreaking story raises the issues of freedom of religion and expression, individual values, family relations, feminism, guilt, grief, morality and what it is like to be a Muslim woman in a secular society. Seemingly torn from the headlines, this book is ripe for a thought provoking discussion in any book club.


Picture Book Month

November is Picture Book month! Join us in celebrating this month-long celebration of picture books. How many picture books will you read this month? 

Picture books are essential for early literacy. The best way to help children get ready to read on their own is for children and their families to read together! Reading picture books aloud to your child teaches them concepts such as, print awareness, letter knowledge and print motivation. Learning to recognize letters, hold a book and follow words on a page are all skills that will help your child get ready to read on their own as well as help instill a lifelong love of reading.


There are many ways to find picture books you and your children might like to read. One option is to search the OC Public Libraries’ catalog and utilize the “power search” option. Under power search, locate the “Reading Level” tab and select Children’s Primary Fiction. You can then search all the OC Public Libraries branches for books or limit your search to an individual branch of your choosing. This is a great way to search if you just want to browse picture books. You may find your next favorite picture book!

Another option is to use Book Talk as a resource to find great picture books recommended by OC Public Libraries’ staff. Look to the right side of your screen and you will see the subject tags in the margin. Locate the Read Aloud Picture Books link. Click this link and view all the Book Talk posts about picture books! There are a lot because we love picture books and are so excited to share them and recommend them!

There are many other great ways to find picture books. Each year the prestigious Caldecott Medal is awarded and honors the artist of one exceptional children’s picture book. The Caldecott Medal was first awarded in 1938 and you can find the entire list of award winners from 1938 through the present on the OC Public Libraries’ website. Some of my favorite Caldecott winners include, This is Not My Hat, Lon Po Po, The Polar Express, and Where the Wild Things Are. In honor of Picture Book Month, take a look at this list and find your favorite Caldecott winner!

Each year the publication School Library Journal puts out a best picture books list. Take a look at the SLJ Best Books 2013 Picture Books and keep an eye out for the upcoming 2014 list. The editors of School Library Journal who select the books on the list describe this list of picture books as being the year’s “best of the best”. The Picture Book Month website has lists of picture book authors and illustrators along with a variety of information and literature about the importance of picture books. This site also has a variety of fun activities for children, families, and teachers. Take a look at this website to learn more about Picture Book Month.

Don’t forget! You can always visit or call one of your OC Public Libraries branches and ask for a picture book recommendation. We all have our favorite picture books and are happy to share. Think of the month of November as a special time to devote to gobbling up these beautiful books. Let’s all celebrate Picture Book Month!


Halloween Reads for Little Ones, Kids & Middle Schoolers

It’s that wonderfully spooky time of year again!  We wanted to share with you a sampling of the many great and recent Halloween-themed books and ghost stories for youth which you can check out at OC Public Libraries.  We’ve got fun picture books for young ones, more-giggly-than-scary “beginning readers” for children learning how to read, thrilling tales for school-age children and slightly to quite scary novels for middle schoolers.  All treats, no tricks -- we promise!

PICTURE BOOKS (Toddlers through Grade 2)

Black and Bittern Was Night by Robert Heidbreder
When skeletons take over a small town, the grown-ups call off trick-or-treating, but the kids in town vow to save the day.

In this Halloween countdown book, ten orange pumpkins are each carried off by a witch, a ghost, a spider, and other Halloween creatures until there's just one.

Dog and Bear: Tricks and Treats by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Dog and Bear are back in three new stories, all with a Halloween theme.  This book is part of a series.

BEGINNING READERS (Preschool through Grade 3)

Katy Duck’s Happy Halloween by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
Katy Duck is excited about Halloween…until she sees Alice Duck dressed up in a shimmery, glimmery outfit.  But with a little help from Alice and Ralph, Katy realizes that her costume is still very special.  And besides, she can be shimmery and glimmery next year. This book is part of a series.

When Petal admits that Halloween is too spooky for her, Poppy helps her understand that it's all pretend.  This book is a part of a series.

As Halloween nears, Captain Awesome and Nacho Cheese Man set out to protect Sunnyview from monsters.  But when they encounter what may be a real haunted house, they suddenly remember that they have homework to do.  This book is a part of a series.


Home Sweet Horror by James Preller
After the death of his mother, eight-year-old Liam and his father and sister move to a new house for a fresh start.  However, Liam soon discovers that the house is haunted.

The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud
Lockwood & Company are hired to investigate Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead.  Meanwhile, Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in a ghost jar. This book is the sequel to The Screaming Staircase.


Irish orphans Molly, fourteen, and Kip, ten, travel to England to work as servants in a crumbling manor house where nothing is quite what it seems to be.  Soon the siblings are confronted by a mysterious stranger and the secrets of the cursed house.  This book is the sequel to Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes.

Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones
In Victorian London, an undertaker's son can see ghosts and is haunted by their constant demands for attention.  He must decide whether to help when a horrible disease imprisons ghosts into empty houses in the world of the living.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
When Miss Lana accidentally buys a haunted inn at the Tupelo Landing town auction, the Desperado Detectives agency -- a.k.a. Mo LoBeau and her best friend Dale -- opens up a paranormal division to figure out the ghost's identity before the town's big 250th anniversary bash.   This book is the sequel to Three Times Lucky.

In a seaside New England town in the 1920s, twelve-year-old Clare finds refuge from the cruelty of her society friends in a mysterious glass house.  The house is also inhabited by Jack, a charming and playful ghost who cannot remember his real name or how he died.


7 Days of Transformative Teen Reads

Teen Read Week

To kick off Teen Read Week, a nationwide initiative encouraging teens to read and visit libraries more, here are seven teen titles recommended for all ages (one for each day of the week, and an extra title in case you run out) featuring enterprising, unconventional, and interesting young people, who hopefully will inspire you to stand up, to speak up, to be unafraid of change, to be yourself.

If you enjoyed Looking For Alaska (or any John Green book for that matter), you’ll like at least one of these titles. Especially since one of them is by John Green!  See what I did there?

The Carrie Diaries, by Candace Bushnell, follows the high school exploits of a teenage Carrie Bradshaw, and serves as an engaging and tantalizingly familiar origin story for Bushnell’s popular character of broadcast fame. Beginning her senior year of high school, Carrie is at a crossroads (as all teens find themselves), conflicted between the future her father has planned for her or following her dreams of living in the Big Apple as a writer. At a time when everyone else around her seems obsessed with more trivial pursuits, Carrie is determined to rise above that. If only those trivial pursuits didn’t come wrapped up as cute boys, needy friends, and high school arch-nemeses.

The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt, is one of my all-time favorite coming of age stories, one that I think just about anyone would enjoy. Wonderfully written, it’s filled with clever humor, real heart and the surprising thoughtfulness of all great novels for young people. Holling Hoodhood is convinced that Mrs. Baker hates him, not the least because he’s the lone Presbyterian in a school filled with Catholic and Jewish students, his Wednesday afternoons spent in manual labor under her supervision while everyone else is off learning religion. After particular incidents spark Mrs. Baker's realization that Holling isn’t quite the hoodlum he appears to be, those labors, with the help of Shakespeare, become lessons on life, love, family, and the intricacies of human folly, both antique and modern.

And check out the sort-of sequel called Okay For Now, which follows one of Holling’s friends, another boy of surprising contrasts named Doug Swieteck, who discovers his own strengths and talents when his family moves to a new city.

What if you didn’t like who you’d become? What if you regretted the choices you’d made leading up to where you are now, like your eating habits (or lack thereof), your dating choices (great-looking but shallow), and your plans for your future (ew, really?). Then one day, you wake up in an ambulance and your memories of the past few years pretty much cut off right before you hit puberty? Welcome to the life of Naomi Porter, high school junior and teenage amnesiac. Enjoyably insightful, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac examines the choices of a teen who is given a second chance, but one with all the consequences those kinds of second beginnings rarely explore. Like how to deal with the discovery that your parents are now divorced AND remarried, you’re one of the popular mean girls at school, AND you dress like one, too!  Naomi has a lot of catching up to do, and maybe…. a lot of changes to make.

An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green, follows Colin Singleton, anagram aficionado, mathematical prodigy and aspiring genius, whose nineteenth endeavor in love has ended unhappily, with a girl named (same as the eighteen girls before her) Katherine. At the urgings of his best friend, the funny and Judge Judy-obsessed Hasan, the teens take to the road, in part to help Colin get over his break-up with Katherine XIX a.k.a. Katherine the Great, and to help Colin find his Eureka moment, that thing that will help him finally achieve genius-hood, in particular his Theorem of Underlying Katherine Probability, which will predict the future of a relationship between two people. His calculations become a tiny bit more complicated with the introduction of non-Katherine variable, Lindsey, and her boyfriend, Colin, or as our protagonist and his friend dub him, TOC, “The other Colin.”

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon, is just as curious and evocative as the title, with a main character who is as interesting and endearing as he is odd and true-to-life. Fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Bone is a true fan of master observer Sherlock Holmes, an expert mathematician who can calculate prime numbers up to 7, 057, and he doesn’t like to be touched. And colors, those affect him like physical stimuli (don’t even get started with the color yellow). When his neighbor’s dog is found, dead in the garden with a kitchen utensil sticking out of it, and Christopher is initially blamed for it, he takes it upon himself to find the true culprit, a mystery case that will test not only his social skills (what few he has), but any skills really concerning the big world beyond his front door, leading him to uncover things, both terrifying and wonderful, that he never would have otherwise.

For a more comprehensive review, click here.

And another related read that I found particularly stellar, with a character similar to, yet very different from, Christopher, is Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork, whose main character, Marcelo (of course), a teen who hears music that no one else can hear, finds how he fits into the world that everyone else expects him to be a part of, the one that he has such a hard time relating to.

Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli, is another one of those books that I think should be a classic in young adult literature. Seen through the eyes of a high school boy named Leo, we’re introduced to newcomer Susan Caraway, or Stargirl, as she introduces herself, as delightfully unconventional and quirky as her self-given name. The entire school, steadfast conformists all, are taken aback at Stargirl’s enthusiastic disregard for popular opinion: she wears the unlikeliest clothes (from kimonos to buckskin to flapper-era wear), she sings Happy Birthday for people she doesn’t know (accompanied by an ukulele), and she cheers for both teams at sporting events, among many other things. First Leo, then the rest of the school body, find themselves enamored of this lone-drum marcher, and not a little changed, while Stargirl herself begins shifting polarities, but none of those things come without their own consequences, good and bad.

Click on any of the titles to visit the OC Public Libraries website to reserve a copy today!

For more information on Teen Read Week, visit the official site here.  Sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).


Gluten-Free Cookbooks Galore – Dig In!

Many of us, for health or other reasons, are now eating gluten-free.  In other words, we have eliminated gluten from our diets.  But what is gluten?  The short definition is that gluten is a protein found in wheat and certain other grains.  For more information, please see the several articles regarding gluten in OC Public Libraries' Health and Wellness Resource Center database.  You can access this database at home using your library card number or at one of our branches without a library card.

As a result of eliminating gluten from my own diet I have discovered many wonderful grains and recipes that I may never have encountered otherwise.  Believe me, there is a LOT of yummy stuff out there that does not involve gluten!  Whether you can eat gluten or not, the many gluten-free cookbooks in OC Public Libraries’ collection are well worth exploring.  Below are a few which I have personally reviewed and/or used in my own kitchen.  Bon appétit!

The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook: Revolutionary Techniques, Ground-Breaking Recipes by America’s Test Kitchen (eds.)

One of the best features of this cookbook is a detailed opening section on gluten-free living, including a detailed description of gluten, why it aids in baking and cooking and how to cook well without it.  The authors also describe the foundational ingredients of a gluten-free pantry and give their evaluations of several commercial gluten-free flours, breads and pastas. The cookbook includes recipes for breakfast items, grains and pasta dishes, “comfort foods”, breads, cookies and bars, pies, other desserts and cakes.  There are many large photos showing finished products as well as smaller “step-by-step” photos for certain dishes.  Along with most recipes the authors have included a detailed section entitled “Why This Recipe Works” in which they discuss the challenges they faced when perfecting the recipe and how they resolved them with ingredients and techniques.

Roben Ryberg  began cooking with gluten-free flours almost two decades ago in order to help expand a gluten-intolerant friend’s diet.   The great strength of Ryberg’s cookbook is that she provides multiple variations for each recipe.   For example, she includes four different chocolate-chip cookie recipes: one using cornstarch, one using oat flour, one using potato starch and a fourth using rice flour.  For corn bread fans, she also presents four variations: two using cornmeal, one using millet flour and another using rice flour.   Before most recipes Ryberg offers helpful tips and notes on the effects that the ingredients will likely have on the final outcome.  The lack of photos in Roberg’s cookbook leaves all the more room for a huge selection of recipes covering appetizers, soups and stews, breakfast items, vegetable dishes, pies, tarts, cookies, other desserts, cakes, meat and poultry dishes, fish dishes, salads, an enormous array of breads and even a section on wedding cakes.

Often, those who are gluten-intolerant are also intolerant of dairy foods.  Hence, cookbooks that present recipes which are both gluten-free and dairy-free are invaluable for many, including myself.  Denise Jardine opens her cookbook with a nicely detailed discussion of dairy-related health issues, calcium and dairy food alternatives.  She includes recipes for breakfast items, snacks, salads, soups, fish dishes, meat and poultry dishes, vegetarian dishes, sauces, breads and desserts.  There are a few photos.  An extremely handy feature of Jardine’s book is that she notes in bold color-coded squares before each recipe whether it’s free of common allergens/irritants such as eggs, soy, nuts, sugars and/or oil.

A Gluten-Free Birthday for Me! by Sue Fliess

As this attractively illustrated picture/recipe book opens, we meet a cheerful little girl who is helping her family to get their house ready for her birthday celebration.  The author conveys the feeling that gluten-free living is very doable, keeping the mood light and fun throughout.  For example, when it comes time to bake the cake, the birthday girl smilingly notes, “Can’t use flour, / can’t eat wheat… / That’s got gluten!  What’s to eat? / Search the cookbooks… / time to bake -- / chocolate-cookie-crumble cake!”  The cake is a huge hit, and all the kids at the party want seconds.  After the story, the author includes two gluten-free dessert recipes, including one for the chocolate-cookie-crumble cake.  There are also some tips for friends and family of the gluten-intolerant, as well as a list of Web sites concerning gluten-intolerance.  

This is a great cookbook for eight to eleven-year-olds which includes recipes for seven different dishes and a flour mixture to use in general in gluten-free baking.  Some of the recipes included are blueberry pancakes, classic lasagna, cupcakes, chicken fingers and pineapple muffins.  There’s also a helpful opening section which provides kids with some tips on preparing to cook and defines many cooking terms.  Each recipe is accompanied by an inviting photo of the dish, a list of both ingredients and tools that will be needed and a step-by-step guide to making the dish.  Key steps are color-coded to match  illustrative photos of those steps.  This slim book is a great introduction to gluten-free cooking for children.

The above is just a small sampling of the numerous gluten-free cookbooks that we have for you to check out at OC Public Libraries.  And we are adding more!  Keep checking our catalog for new additions.