Books About Autumn

Fall is now in full color here in the Northeast US, and the leaves are slowly working their way towards peak colors. So many oranges, brown, red, and yellows! It’s amazing that trees know how to do this beautiful show each fall.

So in the spirit of fall, I’m sharing some of our favorite picture books about autumn. Since Halloween is technically a part of autumn, there are few Halloween selections in here.


Our favorite autumn books that we get out year after year:

  • Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson (check out my previous review here)
  • Dinosaurs’ Halloween by Liza Donnelly
  • Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert (as well as Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf)
  • We Gather Together, Now Please Get Lost! by Diane deGroat
  • Happy Halloween, Curious George! 
  • Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson (review here)
  • Mouse and Mole, A Perfect Halloween by Wong Herbert Yee (see Joanna’s review here)
  • Various Books about Johnny Appleseed

We recently discovered another autumn book to add to our collection that I will review next week, Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller. My daughter also insisted that we included Fancy Nancy: Halloween or Bust by Jane O’Connor.

So grab a few of these books, warm up a mug of apple cider, and settle in under a blanket. Enjoy!

What other autumn favorites do you enjoy? Please share in the comments!

Graphic Novels

I admit, I wasn’t always in favor of graphic novels for my son. I thought of them as glorified comic books- with not as much value as chapter books or novels.

But my son really seemed to enjoy them, and insisted on reading them multiple times among other (more traditional) reading. So I looked a little closer, and discovered that just like with any other type of book, the quality is more important than the genre.

For Aidan, graphic novels have provided a bridge between picture books and novels. He enjoys illustrations, and going abruptly to a book with no pictures was disappointing.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was managing this transition himself. He started with Geronimo Stilton books which are not graphic novels, but use colored text and intermittent illustrations that ease the reader towards more complex books. Aidan tried the BabyMouse series and Squish series by Jennifer Holm, the Lunch Lady series by Jarrett Krosocszka, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, and the Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce. He then moved on to more sophisticated graphic novels such as The Origin Story of Batman and Redwall. I even introduced him to intelligent comic strips along the way (Calvin and Hobbes!), which he loved.

Contrary to my fears, he still reads regular novels, and he still loves reading. When we run errands or travel, his companion of choice is a book. So I’m glad I’ve learned to expand my perspective on graphic novels. Just in time for my next emerging reader.

Author Profile: Jon Scieszka

Today, I am featuring Jon Scieszka, an author who started his career as a teacher before finding success with his own unique sense of humor. He has written a wide range of books, from the Trucktown preschool series to multiple fractured fairy tales. You probably know him best for his frequent collaborations with illustrator Lane Smith, with whom he worked on The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, The Time Warp Trio Series, Science Verse, Squids Will Be Squids, Cowboy and Octopus, and others.

Mr. Scieszka has a very unique sense of humor that is silly and multilevel. Both parents and children will enjoy different things about his books, and parents might even enjoy the repeated readings (gasp!). For his fairy tale-based books, he takes a slightly different perspective on what we think we know about characters and their stories. I can almost hear him starting a book writing session by saying, “What if?…”

He has won a long list of awards for his books, including the Caldecott Honor for The Stinky Cheese Man, the Golden Duck Award for Excellence in Children’s Science Fiction Literature (Science Verse), and multiple citations by the ALA, New York Times, and National Education Association. Mr. Scieszka previously served as as the US National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and is dedicated to increasing literacy and making reading fun.

Our favorite Jon Scieszka books are:
The Stinky Cheese Man(see my previous review here)The True Story of the Three Little PigsScience Verse

All of the above books have so much humor and interesting text packed into them. We own the Stinky Cheese Man and have read it so many times the pages are worn. I will soon be buying Science Verse, as it has been read no less that a dozen times since we brought it home from the library. Science Verse not only introduces scientific concepts, but because the text is based on classic poems or songs, it has also generates an interest in the original material. Way to get kids interested in science, literature, and the arts all at once!

Some other books from this author that we have not yet read: The Time Warp Trio Series; the Frank Einstein series; Honestly, Red Riding Hood was Rotten! The Story of Red Riding Hood as Told by The Wolf; or the Guys Read series. We didn’t care for the Trucktown series, but once we discovered it my son was too old for it.

What is your favorite Jon Scieszka book? Please share in the comments!

Review: The New Small Person/ Max’s Review

The New Small Person coverThe New Small Person

Written and Illustrated by: The New Small Person

Candlewick Press, 2015, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Families, Siblings

How We Discovered This Book: We found this one in the new books bin at our library.

Summary: Elmore’s life is perfect- he puts his toys where he wants, and he’s in sole control of his jelly beans. Then his new brother comes along. And he is no fun at all. Maybe.

What I Liked: Besides the totally charming illustrations (similar to Ms. Child’s Charlie and Lola characters), this is an interesting take on the changes that first borns have to deal with when a new sibling is born.

What Did My Kids Think? They love Charlie and Lola, so they liked this book right from the cover. Aidan said he didn’t feel this way when his sister came along, but he was very eager to play with her.


Check out Creative with Kids for playtime activities for babies and older siblings.

Interested in checking out Charlie and Lola? They have a website with activities and more information about the books. They even have a TV show on PBS.


Hello from Max! Max really liked this book too – see what he has to say.

Email subscribers: Please click over to this post on the website to see Max’s complete video.

Follow Up on Our Summer Reading Challenge

Now that school is back in full swing, I am looking back on the summer reading challenge we gave ourselves and reviewing how we did. Aidan and I challenged ourselves to read 20 books over the summer, and we had shared our list of planned books with you.

So how did we do? For quantity, Aidan completed his 20 books and a few more. For me, I read closer to 10 novels (several over 700 pages each), but over 50 picture books with Elizabeth.

We met our number goal, but how was the quality? Even though we didn’t necessarily stick to the list we had planned (Aidan in particular), overall we read good quality books. Aidan began his summer devouring Calvin and Hobbes collections (which is technically reading, but not what I had in mind), and then reading some good novels including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He re-read some favorites including some Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, sprinkled in with a bunch of graphic novels from our library. He finished up the summer with a keen interest in non-fiction books about animals and geography (go figure). We are still planning to finish Shiloh together, which we got about halfway through.

For all of us, we read some good books and some not so good books. That is to be expected. I will still encourage Aidan to supplement his graphic novel/comics interests with meatier novels. However, the most important thing I saw this summer was my kids reading. Not “Mom made me sit down and be quiet” reading. Book-loving reading – fully engrossed, bring a book everywhere, “Mom, can I bring the book in the store?” kind of reading. Perhaps that is the best measure of our summer reading challenge, which I declare a success.

What did you read this summer? Any good finds?

Back to School!

This week, the school year began anew in my town. My children counted down the days with a mixture of anticipation and nervousness. Once the day finally came, it was bittersweet for me – after a summer packed with fun and togetherness, it was time for all of us to transition to our next path.

My kids each begin this year in a new environment – my daughter begins Kindergarten, and my son moves up to a new school for 4th grade. So far, they are excited and happy with these new adventures.

I, on the other hand, am a bit melancholy. As I watched my youngest get on the bus, my heart seized. How were both my kids ready to go out into the world? When did they grow into such independent children with strong, humorous, and energetic personalities? While I recognize that it was my job to prepare them to do just that – take on the world with a bounce in their step – it doesn’t make it any less bittersweet.

So I will take a lesson from my own children. I will accept whatever comes of this new phase of my life with enthusiasm and excitement. And just a little bit of tears.

Author Profile: Bill Martin, Jr.

Today, I am featuring Bill Martin, Jr., an author who wrote for almost 60 years and was inducted into the Reading Hall of Fame by the International Literacy Association. After a career in education, he began writing books and several are still being published since his death in 2004.

If you live in the Texas area, you might be able to make a visit to his library on the campus of Texas A&M University in Commerce. According to his website, his many awards, manuscripts, and personal letters are on display there.

Most of Bill Martin’s books that you would be familiar with are picture books, with some illustrated by Eric Carle. Many of his books have a lovely lyrical rhythm to them, which may be why they are some of my daughter’s favorites. Our favorite Bill Martin, Jr. books include:

Brown Bear, Bown BearChicka Chicka Boom BoomChicka Chicka 123Sounds of the Storyteller
My daughter’s favorite of the four is Chicka Chicka 1-2-3. When we read that book together, she demands that we return to the beginning and immediately read it again. The last book may be unfamiliar to you. It is a student storybook collection published in 1966 that was used in my elementary school. I still have my copy among my favorite books that I have kept from my childhood.

If you like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  there are several others in the series with the same cadence and illustrator.

Bill Martin, Jr. wrote over 300 books for children, so this is an author I need to do some more exploring with. Some other books he wrote that are at the top of my list to read: Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are you Waking Up?; Barn Dance; Knots on a Counting Rope; and The Turning of the Year.

What is your favorite Bill Martin Jr. book? Please share in the comments!

Revisiting the Picture Book Classics

In our house, I like to balance classic children’s picture books with modern and new titles. I prefer variety as a reader, and my children like reading lots of different books in the search for the gem that will become their new favorite.

While I am well aware of the changes in the publishing industry over the last 50+ years, I am struck by which of the classics hold up and are still engaging for a modern reader.

Classic Books

Certainly American society has changed over that time (forgive me for my US-centric perspective on this topic). What competes for children’s attention has changed – the prevalence of video games and bright, assaultive entertainment may make plain illustrations uninteresting. Topics that were once taboo such as death and social concerns are freely discussed now, and some topics acceptable in an earlier generation are sometimes “sanitized” to ensure no political incorrectness or cultural intolerance.

However, I think the challenge for authors and illustrators remains the same – write an engaging, creative, and simple (not simplistic) story that leaves readers wanting to read it again (which is quite the daunting task!).

I was also pleased to find plenty of classics that capture the common experience of childhood, which made them more likely to still appeal to me and my children. As my daughter prepares for kindergarten, our local library has collected a wide range of new and old books for her to read this summer. There are so many books that are new to her, or were really enjoyed by my son when he was her age. We have been taking 15-20 picture books out each week, and it has been an interesting experiment in reader tastes and literature quality.

While we have read some classics that underwhelmed us (Caps for Sale, George and Martha, Millions of Cats), there were many that we love (Are You My Mother?; Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?; Chicka Chicka Boom Boom; Curious George; Little Bear; Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel).

My brother and I had favorite books as a child that we had to have serious discussions about to determine who got which books when we left for college. I got Jumping Beans by Judith Martin, and my brother got Seals on Wheels by Dean Whalley. Jumping Beans has certainly held up literature-wise, with just a little tape to help it physically survive another generation.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the classics, and which ones hold up for you. Please share your thoughts in the comments!


Author Profile: Cressida Cowell

Today I am featuring another of our favorite authors, Cressida Cowell. She is a British writer/illustrator who write picture books and chapter books. Her wonderful sense of humor and whimsy have earned her books (and the movies made from them!) international recognition. While her wry sense of humor shines through each of her books, I find them quite diverse.

You may know Ms. Cowell from the Hiccup the Viking series, most notably How to Train Your Dragon. However, she is also the author of one of my children’s (and mine) favorite characters, Emily Brown.

Her books range from board books for toddlers (What Shall We Do with the Boo-hoo Baby?) to picture books for the 3-8 year old range. Her Dragon books are longer and more complex, and therefore may appeal to the 7-9 year old target audience.

Our favorite Cressida Cowell books are:
Cressida Cowell BooksThat Rabbit Belongs to Emily BrownEmily Brown and the ThingEmily Brown and the Elephant Emergency

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown is the clear favorite, but we have read all of the Emily Brown books multiple times. Read my previous reviews here and here. In the case of How to Train Your Dragon, we did the reverse of our normal approach and discovered the book after enjoying the movie. I also found a copy of How to Be a Viking (a picture book introduction to Hiccup) at our library, which also came with an audio companion CD with extra story elements read in a lovely Scottish brogue. Check it out if you can find it!

Some other books from this author that I have not yet read: Claydon Was a Clingy Child, Super Sue at Super School, Little Bo Peep’s Library Book, and Don’t Do That Kitty Kilroy. I also haven’t read past the first How to Train Your Dragon book, but my kids and I may in the future!

What is your favorite Cressida Cowell book? Please share in the comments!

Review: Are You Ready to Play Outside?/ Max’s Review

Cover- Are you Ready to Play Outside?Are You Ready to Play Outside?

Written and Illustrated by: Mo Willems

Hyperion Books for Children, 2008, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Friendship, Creative Problem Solving

How We Discovered This Book: I went looking for a summer themed book, and this is one of our old favorites. It is also a Theodore Geisel Award winner.

Summary: Piggie and Gerald can’t wait to play outside, but it begins to rain. Gerald helps Piggie have fun in the rain, but then it stops. What will they do now?

What I Liked: The Elephant and Piggie books are charming, simple, and funny. This book is no exception. With just simple illustrations and text, so much is expressed. My kids and I just noticed (after many years of reading these books) that the setting is just some nondescript place outside. We had never noticed!

What Did My Kids Think? My kids vie for who gets to read each of the voices. The text leaves so much room for expression. The books are short reads, so there is plenty of time to go back to the beginning and read it again!


Brainstorm with your kids/students a list of things you can do inside and outside. And then flip the list and talk about what would happen if you had to do an outside activity inside (and vice versa). What creative solutions could you come up with to make each activity work?

There are many possible Elephant and Piggie companion activities: Try these or these. Mo Willem’s Pigeon even has an Elephant and Piggie party kit!


And heeeeere’s Max! He’s back with his own review of Are You Ready to Play Outside? Max has taken a break from hanging out at the pool to give us his review this week.

Email subscribers: Please click over to this post on the website to see Max’s complete video.