Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Matchy Matchy & Bookstand Benefits

Fish Colors Mix N Match Peg PuzzleI don't know if this is exactly a developmental milestone, but it is a good thing for me the mom: As of tonight Jackson can match puzzle pieces to their slots in a puzzle. He doesn't have the manual dexterity to snap them in yet, but turtle goes on the turtle hole, barn goes to the barn spot, orange fish goes to the orange fish. Whee! I celebrate mostly because this means there's hope of him someday helping me put away puzzles instead of just pulling them off the shelves, dumping out all the pieces, making little piles of them, and then wandering off to his next project. :)

He's also had a leap in the past couple of days where he actively solicits vocabulary and is able to then volley the word back immediately, rather than grunting in acceptance and then actually deploying the word or sign days later. I can say "magnet" and he'll say "manna" and then we can do that for two or three rounds as he slightly refines the sound. I taught him "salmon" at breakfast and then my friend A. came over and we had sushi, and when I mentioned salmon again, Jackson delivered a version of "samman" that was completely intelligible to a non-family-member grownup.

A Harry the Dirty Dog Treasury: Three StoriesI introduced Harry the Dirty Dog for the first time today and Jackson loved it. In addition to "DOG!!!" there are lots of background trains and construction sites and dirt and boy things that I probably never appreciated when I read it as a little girl. I was also pleased to discover than I can actually sign a fair number of words in a short children's story, thanks to the instructional miracle that is Signing Time! On a related noted, I bought an inexpensive bookstand at Office Depot to free up my hands when reading aloud, and now not only can I sign--which I think reinforces some words and/or slows me down to make the reading more comprehensible to a little one--but Jackson can really see the pictures. When I'm holding a book I think the angle is ever changing and it bounces around quite a bit, but the bookstand lets him really gaze at illustrations and dig into the detail. (Also, when I'm in the kitchen and he's snacking on Cheerios or whatever he can look at books without getting his adorable sticky fingers all over 'em.) We were reading Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm (grew up with The Year at Maple Hill Farm, never read this followup before, LOVE IT SO MUCH), and when I went to get more food, I left the book open to a horse page because he loves neigh-neighs. When I came back he signed apple and lo and behold, when I looked closely I saw that one of the illustrations depicted a girl feeding a horse an apple. Anyway, yay bookstand. I wasn't sure it was a good idea, but now I love it, and I think it's a great addition to our mealtime readalouds!

Alphabet Diapers & Number Snacks

The Well-Trained Mind famously advises singing the alphabet song every time you change a diaper. I have never actually remembered to do this, but it certainly seems like a great plan.

I have, however, come up with a pre-numeracy idea to complement the pre-literacy idea of the alphabet-song diaper changed.

I've started counting at every meal, and it's turned out to be great for both me and my kid. I realized at some point that while my kid is regularly spammed with the alphabet, he was getting less exposure to numbers. So I started looking for opportunities to count, and I found a lot of them in one of Jackson's favorite things: food. I started out counting tangerine segments (amazing how many tangerines have exactly 10 segments) and now we do chickpeas and Cheerios and broccoli florets. Not only does it slow down Jackson's very enthusiastic eating, I think he's started to say and/or comprehend two. He seems to say two now after I say one, and a couple of times he's held up two objects (binkies and toddler spoons) and said, proudly, "Two!"

Friday, August 26, 2011

Little-Kid Concept Books That Use Fine Art; Lucy Micklethwiat Bibliography

This post is almost more of a mental bookmark than anything, but as we're working on color, shapes, numbers and letters, I find that some of the books that make me happiest while also seeming to please the child are the ones that use historic and contemporary art pieces to illustrate the subject in question. I don't think they're going to make my kid smarter than if he reads a cartoony book covering the same information, but as the mama I will certainly have a better time studying the material with him when the books are this dense and interesting.

Anyway, so far I've found three main sources of such books, and I'm looking for more!

  • MOMA's six-book series by Philip Yenawine: Shapes, Lines, Colors, People, Places, Stories
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Museum ABC, Museum 123, Museum Shapes and the mysteriously out-of-print Museum Colors
  • Everything by Lucy Mickelthwait. Dear god I love her. We started with Children's Book of Art: Great Pictures, First Words, and then found Spot a Cat at the thrift store, and just checked out I Spy Shapes in Art from the library and man, she just does flawless work. I wanted to know more about her catalog, so this is a bibliography I just pulled together. (Note: Can someone reassure me she's not dead? Because she seems to have stopped publishing in the 1990s and there should be more from her!)
    • I SPY SERIES: 
      • I Spy Shapes in Art
      • I Spy an Alphabet in Art
      • I Spy Colors in Art
      • I Spy Two Eyes: Numbers in Art
      • I Spy a Freight Train
      • I Spy Animals in Art
      • A Child's Book of Art: Discover Great Paintings
      • A Child's Book of Art: Great Pictures, First Words
      • A Child's Book of Play in Art
      • Spot a Dog
      • Spot a Cat

BFIAR-Style Ideas for In-Print Books

Been toying around with ordering Before Five in a Row (we actually own even some of the out-of-print ones thanks to our Children's Choice Book Club collection), because I love the idea of (a) reading the book five days in a row, which I think has good to be a great brain builder, and (b) the idea of building out learning experiences--including making and eating a lot of food!--based on elements of the book. Note: I didn't really get the whole FIAR thing until I saw what Delightful Learning does with her kids and now I am enchanted.

That said, I'm skeptical (as I so often am about so many things!) that it's not worth the money. I suspect we'd really only do some of the activities for some of the books, and so I'm not sure I'm ready to commit. Anyway, I've been noodling around with building out a BFIAR-style curriculum of our own for when the time comes, and here are some preliminary thoughts.

Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner
  • GEOGRAPHY: What and where is "old Mexico"? What is Machu Pichu? (As in El Skippito's sneeze "Aaaahh-chooo-pichu!")
  • BIOLOGY: Exploring animal breeds (Siamese kittens, Chihauhua puppies, et al), bumblebees and more.
  • FOREIGN LANGUAGE: Spanish words in the story: Siesta, fiesta, frijoles; plus how to count to 10 in  Spanish; playing around with Google Translate or a Spanish-English dictionary (library skills).
  • INTERTEXTUALITY: Zorro, Robin Hood, "stranger comes to town"
  • FOOD: Chimichangas, rice and beans, and a piñata full of jelly beans, obviously!
  • NATURE STUDY: Observe, feed, chase local squirrel population, identify and study species.
  • GEOGRAPHY: Map study of New York City, Central Park, Met, practice map and globe skills
  • ART STUDY FIELD TRIP: Visit a Getty Museum or LACMA and look for works by painters from "Micawber's Museum of Art"
  • STUDIO ART: Do some splatter painting in the style of Micawber and/or Jackson Pollock
  • COLORS: Introduce color wheel, visit paint store and look for paint chips that match "cadmium green...magenta, vermilion, ultramarine, alizarin crimson, and bright tangerine"
  • PHYSICS: How bicycles work, playing with gears, talking about balance
  • GEOMETRY: Folding paper boats
  • ZOOLOGY: Ostriches and chimpanzees and bears, oh my! 
  • HISTORY: "What's a newspaper, mama?" (Because you know it's history to kids these days!)
  • FIELD TRIP: Go see Cirque du Soliel and/or the Barnum & Bailey circus, discuss animal rights controversies, partake of cotton candy
  • BIOLOGY: Learn about frog development from egg to tadpole to full-grown froggy
  • FOLKLORE: Study the Loch Ness Monster and other "cryptids" like the Yeti and Bigfoot, talk about how folklore develops
  • GEOGRAPHY: Where and what is Scotland? Possible discussion of Britain/Ireland/British Isles/United Kingdom distinctions.
  • HISTORY: What are pirates and why are they always leaving sunken treasure all over the place?
  • P.E. & SNACKS: Visit the local public pool and go swimming, and then go out for cheeseburgers!

The Library Grows...

(3) From the free table, Questions Parents Ask, by Louise Bates Ames, who's the mind behind those "your kid year by year" books. She sorta seems like the Betsy Brown Braun of her day?

(1) Happy Baby Things That Go satisfies Jackson's appetite for "'rucks!" plus it's actually a size he can carry/manipulate by himself
(2) A hardback compilation of Richard Scarry Little Golden Books (Good Night, Little BearChipmunk's ABC and The Bunny Book) is not something I'm going to turn down
(3) Baby Einstein Let's Explore Poetry is because I try to read Jackson at least one poem every weekday (I fail miserably but I try) and because I'm running low on stuff that's appropriate that I haven't already read in Sing a Song of Popcorn(4) The six books from the Eric Carle "My Very First Book of" series will be held back for at least year, at which time the kid could  possibly grasp the "matching" conceit of books, and/or have the manual dexterity to do all the page flipping.
(5) The kiddo is fascinated by these little finger puppet books! We found Little Mouse first, and then I ordered some more from Paperback Swap, and I'm stoked to have found these four others at the thrift store. He doesn't hear a word I say when I read the meager text, but he loves them puppets.

THRIFT STORE SEUSS: If I Ran the Circus and The Butter Battle Book; I loved the Butter Battle Book as a kid. It's about two factions warring over which side to butter their bread on, but it's actually about the Cold War and nuclear proliferation. I talked to my dad about it as an adult and he said he dreaded having to read this aloud because he knew what it was really about, even if I didn't, and the whole thing just made him depressed. Poor parents!

THRIFT STORE FOLK LORE: I need another fairy tale book like I need a hole in the head, but I caved when I saw that the introduction was written by Bruno Bettelheim, author of The Uses of Enchantment.

THRIFT STORE FLAPS: This copy of Go! Go! Go! by Roxie Munro is in remarkably good condition for being a pop-up-ish book. It's definitely been read, but everything appears to be intact!


(1) Elsa Beskow has a homeschool and/or Swedish cult following. (2) Family Math is a math curriculum for ages 4 to 8 from UC Berkeley, and I'm always on the lookout for help thinking about math, since I, uh, don't remember any. (3) The Bambi is because--with respect to my many friends who work at Disney--I fiercely want my kids to have non-Disney images of classic stories in their minds before they get the inevitable marketed, manufactured and Disneyfied version of those stories. The original Felix Salten book is ginormous and off-putting so I think this will suit as a placeholder before "You can call me Flower if you want to!" becomes gospel grooved into the child's skull.

I've finally realized that at this stage, almost all alphabet books are functionally vocabulary books, but eh, that's fine too. (The few alphabet books that aren't really just vocab books are divided into two subgroups: Books that teach letter sounds and book that teach letter shapes. If you like any particular books that focus on letter shapes or letter recognition, please share them in the comments!)

RESALE SHOP STORYBOOKS: I'm trying to offer a more "Montessori-style prepared environment" in our living room i.e., clean, neat, organized and everything ready to be played with (I rarely actually have the energy to pick up after the kid, but I'm working on it), so tonight I removed three cluttery, noisy, distracting electronic toys that had worn out their welcome and traded them in at the local children's resale shop for the following books: The Original Curious George (a version of the book with original watercolors from before the first edition), Elmer (colors! elephants! colored elephants!) and at long last, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, which I have been hoping to find forever. (It says on the cover "over one million copies sold" so you'd think it'd be pretty easy to find, right?) BTW, I really like the latest book from the couple that wrote Cloudy (they publish together only rarely!): it's called The Marshmallow Incident and it's a return to form after the Pickles to Pittsburgh debacle. 

The Barretts also wrote and illustrated Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing, which we just checked out from the library. It received Jackson's highest rating which is a "more!" request immediately following the reading of "The end!"

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Updated - Now With Words! - Wordless Wednesday

Rhetoric stage, year one, circa 2025? The Odyssey of HomerThe Iliad of HomerThe Aeneid of Virgil, all published by Oxford/Walck in the 1960s, all illustrated by Joan Kiddell-Monroe, two out of three retold by Barbara Leonie Picard.

Update: Here are some blurbs about these three books from the back flap of another Picard retelling:

Retold by Barbara Leonie Picard
Illustrated by Joan Kiddell-Monroe

"The epic poem retold in its entirety in clean, forceful prose and attractively illustrated..." —ALA Booklist

Retold by Barbara Leonie Picard
Illustrated by Joan Kiddell-Monroe

"There is both strength and a flowing quality in the simple narrative, and the simple vocabulary does not sacrifice dignity of style. A prologue and an epilogue make the book especially valuable..." —Elementary English

An ALA Notable Children's Book, 1960

Retold by N.B. Taylor
Illustrated by Joan Kiddell-Monroe

"A forceful retelling of the fall of Troy after the death of Hector and the adventures of the Trojan hero Aeneas...Includes an introduction telling of the Greek gods and the causes of the Trojan War and a glossary." —ALA Booklist

Monday, August 22, 2011

Right Now We're Reading Pictures

Curious George Rides a Bike (Read Along Book & CD)Interesting development in our read-alouds is that Jackson is getting interested in more complex books, but he really doesn't have the attention span for me reading the exact text. So we're reading pictures. I flip through the book in question--we're doing a lot of Angus and original-flavor Curious George right now--and narrate what's happening in the pictures, which is a much swifter and more direct approach to "reading" the book than my usual would-be-dramatic reading aloud of each and every word on the page. I've noticed that if we do this a few times, familiarizing him with a book, and if his mood is right, Jackson becomes much more patient with longer text. I can still do regular read-alouds during mealtime, when I have a captive audience, but this is an interesting new addition to our couch reading routine.

Library Book of the Week: Counting Birds

So after I put together my "baby reference library" box, I decided to expand on the theme box idea and put together boxes for the alphabet and numbers. In addition to alphabet and counting books, I included foam letters and numbers, links for counting, etc. I quickly same that there is a strong household bias toward alphabet books instead of counting books, so I made a point to get some more counting books when we visited the Culver City branch of the County of Los Angeles Library (not to be confused with the city of Los Angeles Public Library system) this weekend.

Counting BirdsAnyway, I found this lovely British book published by the Tate Gallery in England called Counting Birds. It's veddy veddy British, but I love the whimsy (some of the birds are birds in a baby's mobile or birds on the pot of afternoon tea), and Alice Melvin's illustration style. In particular, her geese remind me of my beloved Provensens. Long story short, Jackson and I both really liked these. Jackson told me that crows say "caw-caw" while we were looking at it tonight, which is the first time that he's revealed he knows this information (he learned it from Good-Night Owl! by Pat Hutchins, not to mention our local, very active murder of crows). He also liked looking for extra objects, like a picture of an owl or a cat sleeping on a couch. In addition to the great textured illusrations, I loved the lyricis, which makes it fun for me to read in between counting, counting, counting. (I count from one to whatever number is on every page, so there's a lot of good repetition.

Anyway, I'm going to look for more storybooks that count to 20, because I read somewhere that the way the "teens" are set up can be confusing to kids for a while (the number names become regular after 20), and I hope I find more books like this!

U.S. History

Two completely random U.S. history recommendations that I just posted in the comments on I Capture the Rowhouse's recent U.S. history post. These are probably for the logic/rhetoric stage, but do with them what you will!
  • If you're looking for an audiobook equivalent to SWB's Story of the World for just U.S. history, and you can still find an cassette tape player (hee!), Martin Sheen did the narration on something called We the People in the 1990s, and it's pretty good, IIRC.
  • There's an old Reader's Digest book called American Folklore & Legend that someone recommended on the WTM forums for "tall tales" and such, but when I got it I found it was a highly readable U.S. history textbook in disguise, with all sorts of legitimate facts on voyageurs and pioneers and mountain men. It's expansive and incredibly smart and we'll definitely be using it somewhere all the way.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Favorite COLORS Books

These are our favorite color books so far:

Freight Train Big Book (Mulberry Big Book)1. Freight Train by Donald Crews: Jackson wanted to read this over and over. There are no characters and virtually no story, but the rainbow train running along a track through various landscapes seems to be entertaining enough!
2. The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown: I consider MWB to be nothing less than a poet and this is one of my faves by her. The illustrations by the Provensens are also wonderful. I came across a version of this book with pictures by another illustrator and it wasn't nearly as magical.
3. A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni: More of a chameleon love story than a teaching book, but who cares?
4. Baby Einstein Let's Explore Colors and Baby Einstein Windows to Color. These both have a mix of great paintings and simple photos or graphics, and Jackson really likes them both. He had this hilarious epiphany while looking at Van Gogh's The Starry Night, which is the painting for blue in the Explore book. He said, "Moon? MOON!" and I swear I could see him thinking, "OOOOOoooh, a MOON! I've heard so much about it and here it is!!"