Sing your way to early literacy

By Camille Thompson and Jacqui Dempsey-Cohen

This month, we’re celebrating early literacy with our Winter Reading activities for children birth-age 5.  Early literacy skills are the building blocks children acquire before they learn to read and write which help them on their journey towards literacy.  One of the ways caregivers can help children develop early literacy skills is through singing.  Singing, reciting nursery rhymes, and reading books with rhyming phrases helps children hear the smaller sounds in words, which will help them sound out words when they learn to read.  You don’t need to be a virtuoso to sing with your child– whether you can carry a tune or not, you and your child will reap the benefits of singing for early literacy, all while having fun together!  Try out more fun activities from our Winter Reading Activity Sheet, and once you’ve completed it, turn it in to any JMRL location for a free book.

These books are wonderful for rhyming and singing with your child:

Every Little Thing by Cedella Marley: An exuberant picture book adaptation of Bob Marley’s song that illustrates the reassuring story of a bouncing, dreadlocked boy who won’t let anything get him down.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star by Jerry Pinkney: A lavish rendition of the classic song following the adventures of a curious chipmunk who embarks on an imaginary voyage to the stars.

Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton: Adorably silly farm animals dance and prance across board book pages in a frolicking read-aloud with foot-stomping rhythms and rhymes.

Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown: A collection of charming lullabies by the celebrated  author of Goodnight Moon, illustrated by 12 award winning artists.

Baa Baa Black Sheep by Jane Cabrera: Black sheep graciously offers bag after bag of wool to Miss, who hand-knits mittens, a tea cozy, and other fuzzy gifts for her friends. Includes music for piano and guitar.

Inch by Inch by David Mallett: Inch by inch and row by row, a boy and his dog help their garden grow in this playfully illustrated version of the classic song.

Seals on the Bus by Lenny Hort: What will the people on the bus do when raucous animals hop on board and add their voices to the din? This beastly twist on a favorite song will have young readers errping and roaring and honking along.

I Went Walking by Sue Williams: A melodious guessing-game concept book in which a shock-headed child goes for a walk and collects a procession of surprisingly colorful animals.

Time for Christmas!


November has come and gone, the leftovers are finished, and decorating has begun – it must be December!   Many of us are starting to think of Christmas and luckily there are plenty of books to get us in the mood.  There are any number of authors who faithfully write a small (and most of them seem to be small) Christmas story each year.  Mary Higgins Clark with her daughter Carol Higgins Clark and Anne Perry can be counted on for Christmas mysteries that do not necessarily feature their regular protagonists.  If you’re in the mood for a western holiday romance, both Janet Dailey and Linda Lael Miller have several.  Debbie Macomber has a series of Christmas books featuring the angels Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy and Thomas Kinkade has a number of nice holiday tales that take place in the fictional town of Cape Light.  Richard Paul Evans rose to fame with The Christmas Box and has since continued his Christmas chronicles.

Many of our favorite authors have Christmas stories that are part of their regular series – Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott,  and Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen, to name a few.   Jan Karon’s Mitford series includes Shepherds Abiding – be sure to check the acknowledgement to local artist Stefanie Newman, who restored the actual Nativity figures for the story.

Garrison Keillor’s A Christmas Blizzard, John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas, and David Baldacci’s The Christmas Train, all from excellent storytellers, add humor, mystery or adventure to the mix.  Bailey White, of NPR fame, offers a lovely collection of stories in Nothing With Strings.

Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, edited by Otto Penzler, is unusual.  Mr. Penzler is the founder and proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, described by Wikipedia as “one of the oldest and largest mystery specialist bookstores in the world.”  Each year, Mr. Penzler would commission a Christmas story, set in the bookstore, from a leading mystery writer.  These stories were printed as pamphlets and given to his regular customers.  In 2010, he collected 17 of them and published them in book format.  The authors include Lawrence Block, S.J. Rozan, Anne Perry, Mary Higgins Clark, Ed McBain, and others!

For the whole family, read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, a true classic that reminds us of the real spirit of the holiday.  It’s usually performed as a play by one of the local theater groups or schools around this time of year.  The Nativity, with words from the King James Bible and beautiful illustrations by Julie Vivas, brings the age-old tale to human proportions.


So whether you re-read your old favorites or try something new, I wish you all a joyful, peace-filled holiday season!

Great New Picture Books to Give as Gifts

The Airport Book

What to get that young child in your life who already has a library full of classic picture books?  These titles from 2016 make it to the top of my list:

The Airport Book by Lisa Brown would be a great gift for a child flying for the first time.  Brown leads us through each part of the airport with simple text, and detailed descriptions that lead to lingering– a sort of picture book version of the great people watching an airport provides, mixed with comforting text about the process of getting on the plane. Recommended for ages 3-7.

Bloom by Doreen Cronin (illustrated by David Small) is the tale of a glass kingdom in disrepair and the messy mud fairy who enlists the help of an “ordinary” girl to save it.  Elegantly illustrated with a flourish of creative typography, this is the best kind of grit and girl-power-fueled empowerment story.  It’s fun, it’s messy, it’s fabulous. Recommended for ages 4-8.

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers celebrates the wonder of getting lost in a great book.  Filled with beautiful collages– oceans and mountains are formed from the typed lines of classic literary works– we join a young reader as she shares the adventure of story with her traveling companion.  This has the potential to start great conversations about stories and art. Recommended for ages 5-8.

Parachute by Danny Parker is about a boy named Toby who never does anything without wearing his bright orange parachute.  The strength of this story is in the illustrations, which give a striking sense of how big the world seems to a little person– how impossibly far up a tree house seems, how far down it looks from the bathroom stool, and how as Toby learns to feel safe, his perspective changes. Recommended for ages 4-8.

Penguin Problems by Jory John (illustrated by Lane Smith) presents us with Penguin, who has a bone to pick about, well, everything– “My beak is cold… The ocean smells too salty today.” Though a wise walrus tries to help him focus on the good things in his life, his triumph over griping appears to be short-lived.  This book is hilarious in its snark, and genius in its ability to make readers identify with a cranky penguin. Recommended for ages 3-7.

Worms for Breakfast: How to Feed a Zoo by Helaine Becker (illustrated by Kathy Boake) will disgust and delight young readers as they learn how animals are really fed at the zoo. From mealworm mush to predator popsicles, recipe cards detail what goes into the animals meals, while superimposed images of creatures up to crazy antics like raiding refrigerators and drinking from milkshake glasses keep it lively. Recommended for ages 7-10.