Patrick McDonnell’s Books Teach Love and Kindness

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

How about starting the New Year off with more love and kindness? Treat your family to some books by award winning author and illustrator Patrick McDonnell. His stories show the many ways we can cultivate kindness toward one another and accept others for who they are, especially if different from us. McDonnell’s picture books are written for young children, but his stories touch on big life messages that will resonate with adults.

McDonnell is widely known for his comic strip “MUTTS” that premiered in 1994 and stars a cat named Mooch and a dog named Earl (coincidently McDonnell’s real dog’s name). One of the author’s passions is in helping facilitate pet ownership and kindness toward animals. 5% of all sales of printouts of his comic strips (www.mutts.com) go to The Humane Society of the United States’ Animal Rescue Team.

McDonnell’s work is strongly influenced by George Herriman’s “Krazy Kat” comic strip (1913-1944, New York Evening Journal). He uses the same bulbous noses, black eyes with no whites of the eyes showing, and loosely rendered black ink lines to define his characters. He does everything without computer technology and hand paints each image with watercolor. In the style of Harriman he also uses tender-hearted colloquial dialog between characters. “Yesh!” says Mooch, quite often.

But an even bigger influence on his artwork was Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comics, and a mentor to McDonnell. Schulz was also profoundly influenced by Harriman, the defining comic strip artist in his time. Learning from Harriman, Schulz added depth of meaning and personal feeling into his “cute” characters and passed the value of incorporating sentiment into comics, on to McDonnell.

In 2005, McDonnell broke into the children’s book world with the book “The Little Gift of Nothing” about the significance of giving your presence and companionship to someone instead of a physical gift. Since then he has written and illustrated 12 children’s books and collaborated with Eckhart Tolle (author of “The Power of Now”) on a book for adults, “Guardians of Our Being, Spiritual Teachings from Our Dogs and Cats.”

Here are some favorite Patrick McDonnell books to read with your young children. Talk about what happens in each story and see if love and kindness grow this year!

  • “Hug Time.” Little orange-striped kitten Jules is so filled with love that he wants to hug the whole world. Jules makes a Hug-To-Do List and visits places around the earth, hugging many endangered species and getting many hugs in return.
  • “Wag!” “Fwip, fwip, fwip!” wags Earl’s tail. Mooch wants to know what makes Earl’s tail wag. After much observation, Mooch finds out. It’s love!
  • “Thank You and Good Night.” How many fun things can you do at a pajama party? These 3 friends have an evening packed with togetherness. They stage a funny-face contest, learn a chicken dance, play hide-and-seek, practice yoga, eat, watch for shooting stars—and they are thankful for it all.
  • “Art.” Art is a boy and art is a thing to do. McDonnell uses this homonym pair to play with the idea that unbridled creation in squiggles, wiggles, and zigzags can be a person’s identity. Can you tell Art and art apart?
  • “The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s (the hard way)” Great for a child who already knows his or her alphabet, this wordless book is a continuously flowing story that needs the reader to identify what word is represented in each illustration of the alphabet. Here’s the trailer for the book on Youtube.
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Filed under alphabet book, art, author spotlight, creativity, empathy, Feelings, kindness, love, opportunities for conversation, wordless picturebooks

Choosing the Best Book

 

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Looking for that perfect book gift for the young child in your life? As a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or friend, it’s not always easy to know what will spark the interest of a youngster. Here are some strategies for choosing a winner:

  • Ask the child’s parent for ideas. A parent probably knows best what books are already in the household and what kinds of books their child chooses as a read-aloud book again and again.
  • Ask the child for ideas. What are their favorite books now? Is there a library book they’ve read that they want to have for their own to keep?
  • Go with what you know about the child’s interests. Does he or she like kittens, wild animals, the ocean, adventure, or the color pink? There are books on just about every topic a child might find exciting. Look online or ask your local bookseller for ideas for the age of the child.
  • Search online under “best children’s book lists” and you’ll find lists of book choices from The New York Times, the New York Public Library, book publishers, Time magazine, and many more. Look up your neighborhood library online and you’ll find book lists galore!
  • Read reviews of children’s books online. Find out what books keep the attention of young listeners and why and match that to what you know about the child.
  • Read the book yourself before buying it, if you can. Are the illustrations engaging? Is the story compelling?
  • Pay attention to the recommended age range for the book. You may also know what kinds of books the child already listens to or reads independently and can choose a book gift at that same comprehension level.
  • Choose a book that was published this year if you want to be pretty sure the child doesn’t own it already. Pick a classic if you know the child doesn’t have it already, and you want to make sure that book is part of the child’s home library.
  • You also could go through your own collection of children’s books and pick some favorites to pass down and enjoy.
  • Avoid books that have toy parts attached to them that can break or have pieces that can be lost. This will just be frustrating to the child and parents in the end.
  • Inscribe the book with your sentiment and the date as a way to make the book a keepsake.
  • If you can, enclose a note to offer to read the book aloud to the child via a video chat or in person.

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Encourage Creativity with Children’s Books

Creating artwork is one of those things that some adults find easy and others won’t even try to do! Young children, however, don’t judge themselves as harshly as grown-ups, and usually are eager to dive head first into painting, drawing, cutting, and gluing. The process of working with different media and putting colors and materials together is rich with learning experiences and even more important than what the creation looks like in the end. The drawing, painting, or collage they bring home from school is a reminder to your children of how much fun it was to make their art piece.

As children get older they create art with more intention. Children learn to use the real world and their imaginations for inspiration. Because artwork is unique to each person, children can find self-confidence in creating one-of-a-kind pieces with support and encouragement from the adults in their lives.

To encourage your child’s creativity, read some of these children’s books together and then follow-up your read-aloud by doing an open-ended art project:

“The Pencil” by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingman. A pencil starts by drawing a line that becomes a boy, a dog, a bicycle, more characters, and a story. A paintbrush joins in to add color. What happens when the pencil wants to change a few things? He draws an eraser for himself of course!

“the dot” by Peter H. Reynolds. A girl believes she can’t draw, but her art teacher encourages her to start with a dot. From there, she finds her confidence, and passes on the feeling to a friend. 

“Ms. McCaw Learns to Draw” by Kaethe Zemach. Ms. McCaw seems to know everything about math and science, history and spelling. But, one thing she can’t do is draw. Dudley Ellington, a student in Ms. McCaw’s class, doesn’t do well with traditional studies at school, but loves to draw. A friendship is formed as the student teaches the teacher.

“When a Line Bends… a Shape Begins” by Rhonda Growler Greene, illustrated by James Kaczman. Lines turn into many brightly colored shapes that become animals, people, and action! Young children will have fun looking for triangles, squares, circles, and more while listening to the rhyming text.

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Back to School Books Ease the Transition

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

We expect a lot of our young children. After the huge tasks of learning to walk and talk we expect them to learn to share and be civil in public! Going to school may be the first time a child’s communication and negotiating skills are put to the test. This is the beginning of learning how talk about feelings. Children start to realize that other people have other points of view, and they must learn to compromise. As adults, we know how important these skills are for successful relationships at home and at work.

Additionally, your child is learning to be independent. This may cause some anxiety at first, for both the parent and the child. It’s a big world out there! Your child will be comforted by the predictability of being home after a day at school. Talk about school and what to expect. Be a good listener and hug with abundance. Your child is growing up!

Try some of these books to help ease the transition to pre-school or kindergarten and provide a way to talk about feelings.

“Kindergarten Countdown” by Anna Jane Hays, illustrated by Linda Davick. This book can be read over and over even after the first day of school. The author counts from seven down to zero, names the days of the week, and weaves in the alphabet and colors as a child waits for school to begin. The rhyming text is happy, playful, and bouncy. Illustrations are clean edged, computer generated images with big areas of solid colors and patterns.

“Don’t Go!” written and illustrated by Jan Breskin Zalben. Daniel is a bit tearful as he waves good-bye to his mother on the first day of school, but he has so much fun during the day that he forgets to be sad. This is a realistic look at separation with ideas interspersed in the story about how to make the transition easier. The illustrations of animal characters at school give many opportunities to talk about your own child’s pre-school experience. A Pumpkin Vanilla-Chip Cookie recipe included.

“Chicken Chickens Go to School” by Valeri Gorbachev. With illustrations reminiscent of Richard Scarry, the author/illustrator uses animal characters to tell a story about the first day of school for two little chickens. They try to make friends all day, but feel that they are being ignored and are discouraged until their fellow students pull together to help the chicks cross a stream at recess. This is a heartwarming story and introduction to school.

“Off to Kindergarten” by Tony Johnson, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. A boy gathers all the things he will need for kindergarten, like his stuffed bear, some cookies, a toy truck, his swing and sandbox… and more and more. He realizes he’ll need a moving truck to get all the items to school, until his mother tells him that all he needs to bring to school is himself!

“This is Our House” by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Bob Graham. As a natural part of their emotional development, young children are self-centered. Remember the “Mine! Mine!” phase? This story is all about learning the difficult task (for a pre-schooler) of sharing. George makes a house out of a box at pre-school and learns to share it with all his classmates.

“The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn. Young Chester raccoon is worried about leaving home to go to school. Mama raccoon gives her son a very special gift to keep him feeling loved the entire school day.

The “Miss Bindergarten” series of books is about–you guessed it, kindergarten! Miss Bindergarten is a Border Collie who teaches a class of animals from A to Z. These are wonderful books for a 5 year old, with so many things to look at. As the children in the class drop things, spill, hug, cry and laugh, Miss Bindergarten remains unflappable.

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Laugh It Up!

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Humor can help create friendships, make difficult situations easier, and can make children beg for more books. Humor can work wonders! A lot of humor is based on portraying a skewed view of a normal situation. Children age 3 to 4 and up can start appreciating how something should be, and then the funny alternative way it is described in words and pictures.

What if animals took over a farm for the farmer? What if cows could type? What if you knew a woman named Mrs. Submarine or a housefly that danced? Characters changing places and play on words make stories silly and encourage creative thinking.

Laugh it up with these funny books:

“Buggy Riddles” by Katy Hall and Lisa Eisenberg, pictures by Simms Taback. This is a book of riddle just right for a young child. Q: How do you start a lightning bug race? A: On your mark! Get set! Glow! and Q: What does a fruit fly do in a cornfield? A: goes in one ear and out the other! Look for the many other riddle books by these two authors.

“Rainy Morning” by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by Jill Pinkwater. One rainy morning a husband and wife are having hot, corn muffins for breakfast. “Would you like another breakfast, dear?” Mrs. Submarine asks her husband. “I’ve had two breakfasts already,” Mr. Submarine says. “But it is raining very hard. I will have one more breakfast, please, but just a small one.” From there, you won’t believe who joins them for a muffin!

“Cows in the Kitchen” by June Crebbin, illustrated by Katharine McEwen. Pigs in the pantry? Ducks in the dishes? Hens on the hat stand? Silly, silly, pre-school silliness!

“Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type,” written by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. A Caldecott Award winner for its bold and whimsical illustrations, this book is reportedly humorous to even two year-olds. Cows can’t type! Cows don’t use electric blankets! Look closely at the illustrations for some surprises.

“Quiet Night” by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by John Manders. A cumulative story that starts with one very large mouthed frog croaking “Ba-rum!” and ends with ten campers yawning on a now noisy night. The exaggerated illustrations are even funnier than the noises.

“Quick! Turn the Page!” By James Stevenson. An interactive story that will tickle your child’s funny bone. This may become your new favorite family book!

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Summertime Reading with Your Children

by Katrina Morse, for Family Reading Partnership

Pieces of chalk and a driveway, a cardboard box in the grass, flour and sugar in the kitchen, or a stick on a sandy beach–children only need common, everyPiece of Chalkday items, a long summer day, and your encouragement, to have fun. Jumpstart their imaginations by reading children’s books about picnics, swimming, berry picking, exploring and other summer activities, and then do them! You’ll be making children’s books “come alive” and giving your child the connection between new words and what they mean, while creating colorful childhood memories.

Did you ever make drawings, hopscotch games, or start lines for races with chalk on the sidewalk or driveway when you were young? Give your children the same experience. With a few colored sticks of chalk a child can draw all day. The next rain will wash away the chalk to make a blank slate for another time. “A Piece of Chalk” by Jennifer Ericsson, illustrations by Michelle Shapiro, follows a little girl as she creates a chalk drawing the width of her driveway. The book names many colors and playfully relates the colors to the objects in the girl’s yard.

Beach DayAre you going to spend some time at the ocean while the weather is warm? Read “Beach Day” by Karen Roosa, illustrated by Maggie Smith, and learn about the simple pleasures provided by a shovel and a pail. If you are staying closer to home and visiting a lake, compare the animals and activities in this book to the experience at the lake. What is the same; what is different? Younger children will have fun with the rhyming text.

“One, two, three. Ready or not, here I come!” Hide and seek has been a favorite game of children for generations. The book “Gotcha, Louie!” by H.M. Ehrlich, illustrated by Emily Bolam, is a simple book about a small boy and his family playing hide and seek on vacation. Who will find Louie in the tall grass?

Yum! Homemade cake! “What’s Cookin’?” by Nancy Coffelt is a counting and baking book. On each turn of the page there is a “knock, knock, knock,” and someone else comes into the kitchen with another ingredient to add to the mixing bowl. The delightful illustrations continue onto pages at the back of the book that give ideas of activities to do while baking and a recipe for “Cousin Alice’s Easy Layer Cake” and “Quick Chocolate Frosting.”

Secret hiding places, magic houses, and even entire pretend towns are part of childhood. “Roxaboxen” by Alice McLerran, illustrated by Barbara Cooney, is about a special place called Roxaboxen that comes to life with the imagination of the children in this Arizona landscape. With little, white stones, wooden crates, and items found in the sand, the children create streets and houses. When the children grow up, they come back and find the traces of Roxaboxen still there.

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Filed under family, family reading, family time, reading outside, summer, summer reading

Make Your Home a Book Home

Do you live in a Book Home? Is your home filled with a love of reading, listening to stories, and playing with words and sounds? Are books a part of every day? Does your child have a favorite book and a favorite time to hear books read aloud?

Before children are ready to read, they need lots of “lap time” – time sitting with a grown-up or older child listening to books read aloud. They also need time to look at books on their own, to be comfortable holding a book and turning pages, exploring at their own pace.

Children discover that there is a story inside each book, and pictures too! They learn new words and ideas, excitement and adventure, comfort and delight! Just listening to books, without knowing how to read themselves, children learn how to express themselves in words, how to think creatively and critically, how to ask questions and, children develop a longer attention span.

With all that goodness packed in children’s books, you’ll want to make your home into a Book Home – if it isn’t already!

Here are some suggestions:

  • Own some children’s books, but also borrow from the library or pick up used books at yard sales or a Bright Red Bookshelf, if your community has that program.
  • Have books within reach of children. For baby, put board books in a basket on the floor next to the toys. For pre-schoolers, make sure books are on lower shelves where children can get them.
  • Stand some books up on a table or in the bookcase so their front cover is facing out and they are more noticeable.
  • Take photos of your child enjoying a book and put that picture on the refrigerator, in a photo album or in a picture frame.
  • Give books as gifts for special occasions like birthdays and holidays.
  • Let your children see you reading books, magazines, letters and emails.
  • Play with words! Sing nursery rhymes, say tongue twisters, make up silly word combinations with your child.
  • Talk to your child about the books you read together. Talk to your child about what you do together. Children learn words by hearing them and using them.
  • Do things with your child that you read about in children’s storybooks, like baking cookies, visiting a park, going for a walk. Relate the books you read to real life.
  • Read to your child every day!

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Filed under benefits of reading together, book routines, Creating a Book Home, family reading