Friday, December 24, 2010

December 24th: Seussville

Well then, I would be nothing short of a Grinch if this site were not the grand finale, door #24 on my Advent calendar. Are you ready for it?

At, you can learn all about Theodor Seuss Geisel, follow a timeline of his life and publications, watch classic video clips from 70s and 80s adaptations of his books, play numerous games and engage in a wide range of activities. Heck, you can even plan a Seuss-themed birthday party complete with a Seussian cake. The site is fun, child-focussed and deep. Keep digging because there is always more to discover. Because today is Christmas Eve, might I recommend starting your tour of the site with a game of How the Grinch Saved Christmas? Please make sure you help the Grinch get my present into his sack. Thanking you in advance.


There you have it: 24 great book-based, children's websites in 24 days. I hope you all have fun exploring them well into the New Year and beyond, and, no matter how you celebrate the holidays, my wish for you is that your time be peaceful and your days and nights be jammed full of quality books.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

December 23rd: Aaron Shepard

Picture book, picture book, poetry, fiction. Picture book, picture book, poetry, fiction...

Sometimes I sound like a broken record. What's missing from this list? Let me see. How about folktales, storytelling and theatre? At Aaron's World of Stories, you will find all three. Aaron Shepard is a long-time American storyteller whose adaptations of several folktales have been published in picture-book format. On his website, you will find the full-text for numerous folktales, fairy tales, myths, legends and personally authored stories. Each story comes with comprehensive metadata to make your inner librarian happy, or, rather, to help you search the site and determine if a story is appropriate for your needs before you read it. In addition to providing the full-text of the stories, Shepard has also adapted many as reader's theatre scripts, which makes them ideal for staging with children. And did I mention that each story makes a great read aloud? The folktales aren't just Grimm either. They come from many traditions and are global in scope.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

December 22nd: Reading is Fundamental

Because the library is as dead as the grave right now, my 5-year-old daughter is coming to visit me at work today. We will mound up stacks of Christmas books, cuddle up in a chair and do what comes naturally.

"Naturally?" OK, reading is not natural. It is the product of learning and dedication. If you have a toddler, pre-schooler or a child who is just learning to read, visit this website created and maintained by an organization called Reading is Fundamental. Although the site's main characters, Riffy and Rita, are, ahem, quite annoying for an adult audience, there is a lot of wisdom and fun scattered across the site. Make sure you work your way to the Read page where your child can have a number of fine books read to them in an interactive manner. My favourite is This is the Tree by Miriam Moss.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December 21st: Ed Emberley

In lieu of a mug or gift card, this year my daughter and I gave a book to the classroom for her holiday teacher's gift. The book was The Little Red Hen as adapted by Ed and Rebecca Emberley. The fact that Ed Emberly is still publishing fantastic children's books almost 50 years after he first started out--43 years after winning the Caldecott Medal for Drummer Hoff--is astonishing, really, given how transient fads in children's literature have become. The added fact that he now publishes with his equally talented daughter makes me reflect on the importance of tradition and family--because, you know, it is a time to reflect on those very things.

What could be more traditional and seasonal than a child-focused website? Ha! At, you can have no end of drawing and crafty fun. Emberley is a master of teaching the basic principles of drawing (shapes, line, colour) by breaking them down into their fundamental components. And when I say "fundamental," I really mean "FUNdamental." Try doing some thumbprint drawings, for example, or maybe make a garden scene using only 3 identical circles. Be diverted by the Holiday Activities section of the website. In short, enjoy. According to the home page, the site is currently being revised so make sure you come back again in the new year to see what other goodies might be in store.

And if you still have a little holiday shopping to do yourself, let me recommend The Little Red Hen or last year's Chicken Little.

Monday, December 20, 2010

December 20th: Jack Prelutsky

Jack Prelutsky: so much fun
Poking fun at everyone
Baked a pizza the size of the sun
Hotgogs fly in unflappable buns
Read his poems? Go read one.

And while you're there, please, please pretty please delve into the "Letters to Jack" section of his website. Here is just a sample of the hilarity in store for you there:

"Dear Mr. Prelutsky,
I'm not the funniest person but I like your poems. They make me laugh. Every body in my family is serious. Because we're vegetarian.
Your Reader, Annsley."

Sincerely yours,
The vegetarian librarian who eats no carrion and is sometimes a contrarian, even an authoritarian disciplinarian but is she serious? Never.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

December 19th: Tra-la-la!

I know a lot of people who poo-poo Captain Underpants. Frankly, those people deserve a good wedgie administered by Miss Anthrope. While Dav Pilkey's comic-inspired chapter books starring 4rth graders, George Beard and Harold Hutchins, may not be high literature, they are funny as hell and offer any kid a clinic in punning and word play. Go to Scholastic's Captain Underpants website where you can have lots of laffs and play a few rounds of click-o-rama. Tra-la-la!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

December 18th: Beverly Cleary

Thank heavens for the recent film, Ramona and Beezus. Unlike so many children's book adaptations, this one is well-written, well-acted, and, more or less, remains true to the spirit if not the letter of the original books. What's more, it has put the marvellous books of Beverly Cleary back into the hands of a whole new generation of children. I hope.

Who can help but fall in love with Ramona Quimby or Ralph and his motorcycle? In a world where so much fiction for 6-10 year olds has devolved into poorly written, formulaic, series tripe, Beverly Cleary's books still shine. That's not to say there aren't great recent titles for that age group. There are. Beverly Cleary's books, however, still carry a unique magic.

On the Beverly Cleary website, kids can hang out in the neighbourhood of Klickitat Street and see where Cleary's key characters live and go to school. There's also a handful of fun and educational games to play with names like "Spelling Beezus" and "Retrieving Risby." If you play well enough, your name can be added to the online leader board. The film is mentioned on the website but it hasn't taken over in the way that so many other film adaptations eventually efface the textual history that gave them roots--which is good, because for me, Ramona will always look just like this:

Friday, December 17, 2010

December 17th: 10 Minutes 'Til Bedtime

When my daughter was 3 years old, she fell head-over-heels in love with Peggy Rathmann's 10 Minutes Till Bedtime. Truth be told both of us have lost our hearts time and again to Rathmann. We think she is the bees knees and we really, really, really wish she would publish another book. It's been far too long since The Day the Babies Crawled Away (2003) landed on my desk.

But getting back to 10 Minutes Till Bedtime--I recently stumbled upon the website for the book and I fell in love with Rathmann's wit and charm all over again. On the site you can play shockwave games, learn how to make a hamsterscope, and (my favourite) make yourself a snack fit for a hamster. I would really like it if someone were to make me this snack right now and deliver it to my office door. Thank you.

Once you're done on the 10 Minutes Till Bedtime site, you can pop on over to Peggy Rathmann's author website to learn more about her and her books. Accompanying her biography is her photograph, a picture that solidifies my desire to one day be her friend.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

December 16th: You Read Like Betty White

Lately it seems as if Betty White is the new black. She premiers Superbowl commercials, co-stars with People's sexiest man alive and hosts Saturday Night Live. Golly gee, that naive Sue Ann Nivens certainly has come a long way. Have you ever wondered, though, what it would be like to have Betty White as a Grandma at story time? Or maybe you'd like give a listen to Frodo or Sam Gamgee reading from a contemporary picture book classic? How about Darth Vadar reading a moving, poetic account of African American history?

Thanks to the Screen Actors' Guild Foundation, you can do all of this and more. At Storyline Online, you will find video clips of prominent Hollywood actors reading stories for children. Betty White takes on Gene Zion's classic, Harry the Dirty Dog, Sean Astin reads one of his daughter's favourites, David Shannon's A Bad Case of Stripes, Elijah Wood tackles Satoshi Kitamura's Me and My Cat?, and just in time for the holidays, Lou Diamond Phillips gives an excellent rendition of Chris Van Allsburg's The Polar Express. It's James Earl Jones' reading of To Be a Drum by Evelyn Coleman that impressed me most. Go, have a listen. It's definitely worth the trip.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December 15th: Canadian History

Sometimes literacy feels a bit like the toy ailse at Toys'r'us: girl's books to the right, guy's books to the left and never shall the two meet in the middle. This gender divide is prevalent and it definitely makes me uncomfortable. And for some baffling reason, this great divide seems to have heightened in the last few years instead of receding. That's not to say there aren't worthy and sometimes even great books written specifically with a female or male audience in mind. But, but, but... I do get frustrated sometimes. I digress. It's just that yesterday's post along with today's has put this issue at the front of my mind.

In the last decade, three excellent historical fiction series have emerged in Canada: Our Canadian Girl (Penguin), Dear Canada (Scholastic) and I am Canada (Scholastic). Penguin and Scholastic were smart in that they recruited some of the nation's best writers for children to pen these books which means the final product is definitely worth it. The websites for each, chock full of recipies, crafts and other activities, aren't too shabby either. Check them out and then promise me you'll encourage cross-gender reading as much as you can.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December 14th: Guys Read

I can't really remember when I first heard about Jon Scieszka's project Guys Read but I think it was in 2003. The project itself got started in 2001 and over the last near-decade, Scieszka, his friends and colleagues have done considerable work towards lessening the early literacy gap for boys and teens. Command centre for Guys Read is the website, but there's also 2 anthologies (with 4 more in the works) and a (not-often-updated) Twitter feed. On the website, you will find all manner of great titles for guys recommended by guys. There are also reading lists provided by author guys as well as a guys news blog. Guys, guys, guys. You get the point.

Monday, December 13, 2010

December 13th: Book Wink

So many of the links so far on this advent calendar have been for younger children. Perhaps there's something about picture books that lend themselves to web extension. I'm not sure what that might be, though, because for me, picture books are all about the luxury of slow reading while the web is all about excitable, frenetic clicking.

Today's link, however, is pitched to slightly older children. Book Wink is a child-focussed book talk and book review site. Here you can listen to informative video podcasts, each of which showcases one or several contemporary children's books for children in Grades 3-8. Follow the links from these video pages to get lists of read alikes, or simply access the long list of authors, titles, or subjects from the home page. Enjoy.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

December 12th: Little Critter

Note to self: in future be wary of commitments to post 7 days a week during the month of December. Phew. Now onwards.

Today's link is to the Little Critter World-Wide Network. Here you will find all sorts of games and activities centred around Mercer Meyer's beloved books. There's colouring pages, dot-to-dots, interactive games, story-time movies, sing-a-long song sheets and Shockwave-enabled read-to-learn pages. If you have a little critter yourself, he or she will be kept well-occupied on this website.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

December 11th: The Magic School Bus

I think we've likely all spent enough money on Scholastic books and merchandise to have earned a few fun rewards. Today's is The Magic School Bus website where you can play games, download printables and just hang out with the Fritz and her gang. There's lots of learning to be had when you ride on the Magic School Bus--which is all fine and dandy if learnin's your thing, but, me, I'm in it for the bad puns.

Friday, December 10, 2010

December 10th: Story Woods

I was all set to use a different, book-based entry for the Advent calendar today when my librarian friend, Heidi, shared this link with me on Facebook. The site combines almost all of my passions: photography, blogging, and visual narratives. Story Woods may not be book based, but it is a 2.0 treat: the picture book as adapted for the web. I love it and I am sure you will too.

Here are a few of my favourite posts:
Hank makes a friend
Hank finds an egg
Hank's dream
The Box

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December 9th: Mrs P

Now, here's a marvelous, fulsome, odd and at times perplexing website. On it, Mrs P, a kindly Irish grandmother figure played by actress Kathy Kinney, offers up her own storytelling wrapped around the reading of such public domain stories for children as Alice in Wonderland, Aladdin, and Cinderella. You may remember Kathy Kinney as a character actor on numerous television shows. Most notably, she played the over-the-top yet often subtly complex Mimi on The Drew Carey Show. In 2008, Kinney moved on to this internet-based experiment in storytelling. When you visit Mrs P's library, you will find books, stories and poems all classified according to age. Click on a link and the video will zoom you into Mrs P sitting in her rocking chair. She then recounts a humorous anecdote from her life before opening the book to read. Kinney is a very talented woman and her delivery is compelling but, let's just say that, well, the romantic polar bears who turn up at the end of Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter, are a tad baffling given the context of the site. Please do go check it out and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

December 8th: Jan Brett

I don't think there's an author-illustrator out there who more comprehensively captures the holidays and the richness of winter better than Jan Brett. With 37 titles to her credit including classic illustrated adaptations of The Mitten and The Night Before Christmas, Brett has been a significant figure on the picture book landscape for just over 30 years. We're fans of the Gingerbread Boy and Gingerbread Friends in our house. Reading those books always makes me hungry.

Brett's also got one the best and most generous websites going. Are you thinking of giving a 2011 wall calendar to your child for Christmas? Why not make a free one that features Brett's intricate artwork from her latest book, The Three Dassies. Alternatively, you could put on a pageant with your kids using Brett's stage adaptation of the same book. There's even a link to masks that children can print out and colour before donning them for the show. The Hedgie's Holiday Workbench link features 60 additional colouring pages, Christmas card pdfs, recipes, board games, computer games, iron-on transfers, and even a cross-stitch pattern. Whew. And that's not all. If you're not keen on getting your hands sticky, why not decorate Brett's interactive gingerbread house? Or maybe you'd like to make bookmarks for all your friends. See what I mean about this being a generous website? Please make sure that you and all the children you know have fun with it over the holidays.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 7th: The Children's Poetry Archive

Those of you who know me realize that I simply could not get through 24 days of children's book sites without focussing on poetry for at least one (or more) of those days. Today's link is to The Children's Poetry Archive, a site that was established by former British Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion. It was his wish to record and make publically available the voices of living poets reading their own work. The site features samples from many noted children's poets including Michael Rosen, Margaret Atwood and Andrew Fusek Peters. There's also recordings of 19th and 20th Century poems but the likes of Robert Browning, William Butler Yeats, and Langston Hughes whose own voices have been lost to history. In all, the work of 48 poets can be heard alongside brief textual biographies of the poets themselves. For those of you whose interests extend beyond children's poetry, you can delve deeper into Motion's broader project at

Monday, December 6, 2010

December 6th: how to turn hungry tissue paper into a butterfly

So tell me, did you get a case of the warm fuzzies last year when Google changed its home page design for a day to honour the 40th birthday of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar? I sure did. In an instant, I was transported back to Mrs. Smith's Grade 1 class, when Mrs Kite, the librarian, came in to read it to us for the first time. Have you ever wanted to make art just like Carle's? I've tried but the best I've been able to muster is tissue paper collage using lots of glue. It was a sticky mess of a business (especially when done with a 5-year-old), and no matter how hard I tried my creations never looked right. They never looked--dare I coin an adjective?--Carlesque. Which is why I was thrilled a few weeks ago when I discovered Eric Carle's website. Here, he offers up a slideshow that details exactly how he gets the fantastic results he does. Now my art (and my daughter's) will still not look like Carle's, because we clearly do not have his talent, but it will be a lot better than it was. You and yours should give it a try too. The site also offers other up other helpful slideshows that detail his creative process further. Just check the Photo and Video Gallery to access them.

And if you ever find yourself in western Massachusetts, make sure you visit The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. It's a dream of mine to get there.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

December 5th: Chris Van Allsburg

Oh, you all know The Polar Express and Jumanji, and I'm sure that many of you have pored over the beauty of author-illustrator Chris Van Allsburg's other works as well, but have you ever been to his website? Here you will find interactive games, such as simple puzzles, more challenging block puzzles and memory games. There' s also online colouring pages--as opposed to the more common printables that you find at most sites. While you're there, send someone you love a postcard, print out a bookmark, or download one of Allsburg's stunning illustrations as computer wallpaper. This website will satisfy a range of ages. Me? I just like to look at the pictures.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

December 4th: Choosing a good book

Whether you're a parent or loved one looking to select a classic book as a Christmas gift or whether you're a child just wanting to learn more about great books you can read, School Library Journal's Fuse #8 countdown lists are for you. In 2009 Betsy Bird, a librarian at the New York Public Library, conducted a web poll to determine the top 100 picture books of all time. Over the course of several weeks, she unveiled the results along with a detailed discussion of each book. This past winter, she did the same for novels for the 8-12 set. The lists can be found here: picture books and novels. If you click on any individual title, you will find her write-up for that particular book.

Last spring, I got quite caught up in this countdown, agreeing with many titles but flying off the handle whenever I felt her readers got it all wrong. By the time I discovered the countdown, I had missed the deadline to vote. I'm pretty sure she's going to be taking on YA Lit after Christmas, so if'n you have strong opinions on the best books ever for 12-18 year-olds, keep your eyes peeled to the Fuse #8 blog following the New Year.

Oh, and if it's brand new books you're looking for, you can check out the blog's list of 100 Magnificent Children's Books from 2010.

Friday, December 3, 2010

December 3rd: Barbara Reid

Barbara Reid is one of Canada's preeminent author illustrators with nearly 20 books to her credit. Her medium is plasticine and I don't think any other illustrator working in that meduim today matches her craft, humour, or level of detail.

On her home page, you can learn all about her and her books while catching up on the history of plasticine. It's the Portfolio and Students and Teachers links, though, that will provide hours of entertainment. Why? Because not only does Reid encourage kids to tell stories themselves with plasticine, she actually encourages them to plagiarize her work in the process. OK, not really, but she does offer up samples of her art as models to learn by. There's a good deal of student art showcased on the site which means that kids can explore and learn from the styles of other kids. I know that I plan to put a plasticine starter's kit in someone's stocking this year. You're never too young to start your artistic career, right?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 2nd: The ICDL

"Children and their families deserve to have access to the books of their culture, as well as the majority culture."

This is just one sentence from one of the most eloquent, progressive and noble mission statements on the Internet. It comes from the International Children's Digital Library; the full text of the mission statement can be read here. The library itself contains roughly 4,500 books in 54 languages. There are plenty of English language titles represented in the collection, from picture books through to more complex chapter books. Finding books could not be more simple, as the ICDL has one of the best, most child- and adult-user friendly search interfaces out there.

The mission statement for the ICDL places much emphasis on the primacy of language and one's mother tongue when it comes both to learning in a new culture and to discovering the depth of one's own cultural heritage. While this is certainly true, I would also argue that the works represented in the ICDL go a long way toward teaching cultural diversity through visual literacy. For example, I have no knowledge of Persian or Farsi but just looking at the illustrations in this book gives me a strong sense of Iranian cultural history and the art of visual representation.

So, go now. Read some books or just browse the pictures. Compare a Finnish picture book to one from Serbia. Get lost--in all the right ways. The main search page can be found here.

By the way, Kyla mentioned Tumblebooks and The Capstone Library in the comments section yesterday. These are both excellent eBook resources, but they are licensed databases. If your public or school library does not subscribe to them, you cannot access them. FYI, the New Brunswick Public Library System recently acquired TumbleBooks so if you live where I do, then you and your child can read Tumblebooks from the library's home page. With this advent calendar, I am trying to showcase web resources that are freely available to all. It amazes me that the ICDL remains a free resource and I hope it always will remain so. Should you be looking for a good cause to support this holiday season, I notice the ICDL has a home-page listing of ways that you can contribute whether it be with expertise or money.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Countdown Is On!

Last year at this time I offered up an advent calendar of sorts: 24 links to quality animated picture books available on YouTube. That calendar was a huge hit and so I've decided to do something similar again this year. Rather than sharing YouTube links, over the next 24 days I plan to take you to some of the best child-focused book sites on the web. You can visit one each day between now and Christmas, find an activity or two, and learn more about the wealth and breadth of children's literature in the process. Alternatively, you can come back on some dull January afternoon and work your way through the links. There's hours of enjoyment to be had.

December 1: Peter Rabbit

At peterrabbit. com you can create your own personalized puppet show, complete with a photograph of your child if you choose to upload one. You can also make old fashioned crafts such as a pom-pom mouse or a spinner. There are colouring pages to download and interactive games to play. Make sure you try your hand at A Winter's Tale Game in order to receive a free background and screensaver. You may think screensaver downloads are so 1998, but trust me this one will make you feel calm while you smile a broad smile.

Don't forget to come back to open tomorrow's calendar door. I can't promise chocolate, but I will feed your soul.