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Word by Word

THE TWELVE BOOKS OF CHRISTMAS

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
When my son was young, our holiday tradition was to buy a new Christmas book every year. That, coupled with the books other people gave us, and all of the I-can’t-resist-this-one extras that I bought, soon led us to a HUMONGOUS collection. We kept the books in a special, decorated box (which soon became two boxes, and then three….). We got the books out every year on December 1st. In an effort to keep the holidays somewhat scaled back, we didn’t decorate our house until around Dec. 10, so the books were the only evidence of Christmas-is-coming for nearly two weeks.

Last year, I posted a list of my top favorite Christmas books. In the spirit of the season, I rummaged through my boxes again and came up with 12 more favorites:

1. Santa’s Beard is Soft and Warm by Bob Ottum and Jo Anne Wood. Remember “Pat the Bunny”? This is the Christmas version of a touch-and-feel book.

2. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. Great family read-aloud about the true spirit of Christmas.

3. Baby’s Christmas by Eloise Wilkin. This is OLD. I’ll bet I had this as a baby, too!

4. The Twelve Days of Christmas Dogs by Carolyn Conahan. This is NEW. I bought it to give as a gift, and then couldn’t bear to part with it.

5. Cookie Count by Robert Sabuda. I love anything with mice. And cookies. Yum!

6. It’s Christmas by Jack Prelutsky. Jolly Christmas rhymes and jingles to read aloud.

7. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston, illustrated by Barbara Cooney. A beautifully told story of wartime (WWI) Appalachian Christmas. I choke up every time I read it.

8. The Mole Family’s Christmas by Russell Hoban. What would a mole want more than to see the stars? Russell Hoban is a genius.

9. The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden. An unabashedly sentimental tale of dolls and their wishes.

10. Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry. Found in the library discard pile, this one’s a keeper!

11. The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett. I love the other stories told within Jan’s illustrated borders. A good one to pair with The Mitten.

12. The Mitten by Jan Brett. There are other versions of this classic winter folk tale, but her charming illustrations are not to be missed.

What books are on your Christmas list?
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The Important Thing About Picture Books

November is Picture Book Month! In honor of the occasion, I am re-running a blog post I wrote last year.

THE IMPORTANT THING ABOUT PICTURE BOOKS

Recently, an article in the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/08/us/08picture.html
stated that picture books seem to be on the wane, as parents and teachers push children into reading “harder” books in order to make gains on reading tests. This is such a mistaken notion.
Picture books far are more than easy books with pictures as a crutch. Like learning to crawl before learning to walk, picture books serve an important function in a child’s language development.
I hope we as a culture haven’t forgotten that picture books:
• Develop vocabulary. Because picture books are meant to be read by an adult to a child (and not the other way around) the author is free to use any words at all—including made up words and words in other languages. There are no restrictions. The level of vocabulary in a picture book is much higher than in a leveled chapter book.
• Teach an appreciation for language. Picture books sound best when read aloud. They use playful, tongue-tickling language. Picture books teach an appreciation for all the fun of English, including alliteration, onomatopoeia, puns, and word play. No where else, aside from poetry, will you find such joy in words.
• Visual interpretation. The pictures in a picture book often tell a companion story to the text, so the reader learns to interpret visual clues—like facial expressions and body language. In our graphics-heavy culture, the ability to “read” visuals is a key skill.
• Shared experience. A picture book, shared by an adult with a child, is an interactive experience. It gives the child a chance to ask questions, and make comments. It gives the adult a chance to listen, guide, and direct. The interaction leads to increased receptive and expressive language.
• Brain development. A picture book read by an adult to a child engages more centers of the brain than a video. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2848291/

I remember hearing about a grandmother who was concerned when her grandson entered school, and was labeled as language delayed. She promptly put him on a “diet” of fourteen picture books a day. Imagine—she read fourteen picture books every day (not in a row) to her grandson! Within months, he had caught up to the rest of the children in his class.
So snuggle up with a child today and share a picture book. You won’t regret it.

Find more great posts from picture book authors and illustrators at www.picturebookmonth.com

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