Category Archives: Books and reading

Books and a board game

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This summer has been filled with books for us. In fact, since the past 4 months, we have dived headlong into the fascinating and magical world of Roald Dahl. And while the boys  boys are reading quite a lot of stuff on their own, we have been reading all our Roald Dahls together, snuggled by the book cupboard on our reading rug, or curled up comfortably on the bed before turning in for the day. We have gone through James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate factory, BFG (our favorite so far), Esio Trot, The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, and of course, The Enormous Crocodile. Each book has been a roller coaster ride and the BFG especially has given us so many fun things to joke about.

I came up with the idea of working with the kids to make a board game based on these books. The kids loved the idea and we started thinking about it very seriously. We sat down and first thought about the type of game we wanted. We decided on something similar in concept to Snakes and Ladders…with the snakes and ladders replaced by characters from the books.

The three boys had many discussions and we maintained a list in a notebook. We put down the good and “bad” characters and chose between different characters on the list. So, for example we chose between several Giants from the BFG and decided to go with the Blood Bottler. We felt we really needed to have Trunchbull to toss a player far far out and down. The board was to be a track …a chocolate river with different characters on different numbers who would wither help us move ahead or pull us back. The planning part took several days which were spread out over a couple of weeks.

Finally, once we felt satisfied with our choices of characters and different elements we made a rough sketch of what we thought it should look like.

Then I sat and sketched it out on a canvas and painted it with acrylic. The boys helped too and did some bits of the painting.

Finally it was ready and the boys could not wait to start playing. They have been playing on it constantly since it got done a couple of days ago and are still coming up with thoughts and ideas for potential additions.

This was a great exercise because it allowed the boys to think much harder about different characters, about their specific likes and dislikes in the books as well as their ability to contribute to making the game more exciting. We had healthy (and not such healthy) discussions on the choice of giants and witches and the colors to be used but we completely enjoyed the process. And now the boys are so thrilled with it..they are proud of their ideas, super kicked when someone gets stuck on Veruca Salt’s old bubblegum or gets flung by the Trunchbull. It is even more exciting to land on a spot where the BFG gently blows you with his dreams into a sweeter spot or when you can jump on jelly beans to a higher number. It is great for practicing math skills too – as the kids are recognizing numbers on dice counting, counting on, adding, subtracting and strategizing. But more than anything else, is is plain and simple fun!

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Learning from our kids

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If only we could go back to feeling and thinking like children…somewhere along the way, in the process of growing up and growing supposedly wiser, we lose empathy, we lose our ability to look at each other as just human beings like our selves. Children think so often with their hearts, their sense of justice is well defined, they are agnostic to shades and colors of the skin, to rich and poor…which socialization and supposed education eventually teaches them.

Last evening we read a beautifully written and illustrated book about Martin Luther King Jr. called Martin’s Big Words. A biography of the great man, told in simple words and with powerful collage based illustrations, this was a wonderful book to continue our conversation on the civil rights movement which we had dipped our toes into when we read Follow The Drinking Gourd a few months ago. Nish’s reaction to the story was almost visceral. I could see him looking upset at a point when I explained as simply as I could what segregation was and by the time we reached the place where Rosa Parks was asked to give up her seat on the bus, he burst into tears and stood up saying, “but everyone is a person! Why could the white people not sit at the back? And why did they have to make her get up!!!!” He was very upset and we paused in the narrative to allow him some time to calm down. The tears continued to flow as we read about MLK’s work and his non-violent approach. Nish could not wrap his head around the fact that people were being treated the way they were and it was heart breaking to see him grapple with his initial brush with identities and concepts of power.  And although the book ended with the White Only signs coming down, he was still upset and disturbed that this could have been a reality not so long ago.

And yet it took so long for an educated people to see, understand and respect something that an almost 6 year old could do so instinctively…and we probably have not understood or truly embraced this respect for people no matter who they are, where they come from, the color of their skin and type of their hair.

As a mother, it broke my heart to see him burst into tears and very obviously be disturbed by something, and at the same time, I felt proud of this child who had his heart in the right place, who recognized people for who they were…and it showed me once again just how much we have to learn from our children.

Sid’s key take-away from the book was: I guess I would not have got a seat on the bus back then huh?

Yes – I guess he continues to grapple with that gorgeous brown of his skin in a society which places a premium on chubby fair faced rosy cheeked children.

A Kaleidoscope of Children by Jayanti Tambe – Book Review

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It’s been a while since I wrote…the days have gotten busier and more packed with the boys and work and I seem to hardly find the time to write.

But today I decided I simply had to…have been meaning to post something about this incredible book that was published recently – a little earlier this year.

A Kaleidoscope of Children written by Jayanti Tambe is an absolute must-read for anyone working with early childhood…by anyone I mean parents, teachers of infants, toddlers and preschoolers, early childhood care-givers, students of early childhood and education…It is a book that simplifies this rather complex age and process…that makes it accessible to a range of economic backgrounds too. The ideas here are not simply for the elite private preschools with loads of funding but for the poorest of Anganwadi centres that wants to make a difference in the way they look at children and learning.

Jayanti Tambe, the author, is the Executive Director of Early Childhood Care and Education at UCLA. But more than that, she is an incredible teacher who has worked extensively (and most creatively) with young children and preschoolers in the United States and India as well as for a short while, in South Africa. Her experience, creativity and passion make the book really engaging and difficult to put down. it gives the reader the unique perspective of a teacher and a professor – a rare combination of theory and praxis. It also has lovely color photographs to better illustrate what the author is saying.

The book addresses different domains of development – physical, socio-emotional, and cognitive. Each domain is broken up into short chapters that come alive with Tambe’s narrative style. While there are a lot of pedagogical and theoretical constructs subtly and seamlessly interwoven with the narrative, the focus is on real life examples and discussions. As you read the book, you can actually hear the voices, see the colours, imagine the children jumping and playing, drawing at an easel or building a tower…and this time when you hear the voices and see the children you have the key to decode what they really are saying and doing and that makes it all the more magical.

You will have ‘aha’ moments and times when an example will resonate so strongly with you that you truly begin to relate to the book. It is replete with interesting suggestions and ideas and does not hesitate to bring up and talk about a range of things that emerge from children’s conversations – questions on colour and gender and sex, obsessions with potty talk, same sex parents and even death.

The short chapters in the book make it easy to read. The chapters are complete in and of themselves and can be read in isolation. So you can choose to read the book sequentially or simply open it to a chapter you find relevant. Whatever works for you…but there is something in there for you for sure!

I have recommended this book to a few educators and friends who have children in the this age group and I would strongly recommend it to those who are reading this blog post (assuming that most of you who are reading this do have kids in this age group). 51yJrD1MS2L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_

Ramadan Moon – Book review

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“Ramadan, the month of fasting,
Doesn’t begin all at once.
It begins with a whisper
And a prayer
And a wish”

I love the way this picture book starts. Ramadan Moon, written by Na’ima B Robert and illustrated by Shirin Adl is a wonderful introduction to Ramadan for kids. It takes us on a journey of the waxing and waning moon, all that it brings with it…it gives us an insight into the fasting and the prayers, the thinking and humility and generosity and gratitude that this period symbolizes. In a simple, fluid and poetic style the author and illustrator help the reader experience the beauty, celebrations and excitement of the month. The book is a wonderful introduction to Ramadan for young kids. It is simple (yet not simplistic) and a wonderful snapshot into a world that some kids may not be familiar with. Mine were not…and they enjoyed reading the book and learning about something different from what they experience. What is lovely is the fact that the book reflects a child’s perspective and understanding of Ramadan.

The illustrations are gorgeous and in a style that combines various media – a style that would be fun to explore for kids! The style also reflects Persian inspiration! (And according to one of my twins, the moon has most probably been made by cutting out silver chocolate wrapping foil)

I think that since Ramadan has just started, this might be a good time to read this with kids. I am thinking of how to explore this more and better. Have shown the kids a mosque earlier but might take them to Mosque Road on of these days so they have a chance to see people praying and then will also engage in some conversations around some of the ideas if they seem inclined to it. I also think this is a wonderful book for schools to use to introduce Ramadan.

Art inspired by books

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We have this lovely book called Peely Wally by Kali Stileman. We’ve had the book for a while now and several months ago we had done some art and craft inspired by the illustrations in the book.

Today, after a long time, Sid suddenly remembered Peely Wally as he looked at the piece of art we had done inspired by the book.

he suggested we try it again. So i diligently took their old sheets of painted paper and cut up some stuff for them to stick. Nish joined in and Amu was not to be left out. here is what they came up with. I made a few suggestions but allowed them to work at it how they wanted to. Tomorrow i want ot have them write a story about the picture…

But, it is nice to see that the boys are looking at and appreciating illustrations in their picture books…illustrations contribute in so many ways to stories, adding details, nuances, irony, parody, humor…extending the pact between the reader and the book to a level deeper than the just the narrative.

here is an image of what the boys came up with this evening. It is surprisingly neat given that all three worked on it together!
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Some books you can use with young kids in school

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I was putting this list down for a friend who asked me for suggestions for books to use in his school. Sharing the book list here as well in case anyone else finds it useful 🙂

List of recommended Picture Books for K-4

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle
Ages: Pre-K through Grade 2
The book can be used with different age group as the teacher can choose to focus on
 multiple aspects – days, numbers, names of different fruits, collaborative reading,
 writing based on the book, life cycle of a butterfly and metamorphosis.
It looks at pre-math and math skills – sequencing, counting
, Literacy skills,
 Writing,
 vocabulary,
 science – life cycle
Can be connected to art activities based on Eric Carle’s style, an actual study and  exploration of metamorphosis
Can use puppets for retelling

No David – David Shannon
Ages: Pre K- grade 1
Great as a beginner book for emergent readers and perfect as a read aloud for non-readers.
Can be used to set up class rules and expectations
Can be used as a model to create your book book of “No” things
Great to elicit dialogue based on the illustrations

Swimmy – Leo Lionni
Lio Lionni has some spectacular books for kids and Swimmy is a great introduction to his writing and illustration style. 
Can be used with K-4
Introduction to the concept of working together as well as the power of One
Can be used as a study of his art techniques as well
Can be used as an exploration of marine life and an introduction to some sea creatures
Another book to talk about Marine life is Mister Sea Horse by Eric Carle

Books by Julia Donaldson 
The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom, The Snail and the Whale, etc.
Ages: K-3
Great for introducing the concept of rhyme
Deals with sharing, imagination, friendship, exploration, etc.
Can be used to discuss creative thinking, looking for solutions, following one’s dreams

When Sophie gets angry – Molly Bangs
Ages: K-3
A
great book to talk about anger and managing one’s temper.
Looks at temper tantrums and is an interesting way to talk about anger, conflict, resolution, etc.
Can be used to model writing
Great as a discussion tool for circle time

Something Else – Kathryn Cave
Ages: Grades 2 and up
Deals with difference and inclusion
Great to start a conversation in class about difference and acceptance
Also to focus on the individuality of each person
A good teacher training tool as well – something that can be on a reading list for teachers
Can be used for class discussions and for an exploration of difference and how to accept it

Will you Still Love Me – Jean Baptiste Baronian
Ages: PreK – 2nd grade
A heart warming story of a young polar bear who is expecting a sibling
Great for prek – 2nd grade – typically ages when siblings arrive!
Good book to initiate a conversation on siblings, insecurities and change
(My New Baby and Peter’s Chair are two other very nice books to discuss this topic)

One – By Kathryn Otoshi
Ages: PreK – grade 3/4
Great to introduce colors to younger kids
Interesting way to discuss the importance of One and how each one of us stands for
 something

Books by Sandra Boynton
Ages: PreK and K
Silly fun and lovely rhymes – Sandra Boynton books are great for introducing children 
to books.
Poetry by Shel Silverstein

10 of my favorite picture books for toddlers

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Before I start on the post, let me try and define a picture book. Very often, when I use the term picture book, people mistakenly think that I am talking about any book with pictures..like a lot of the vocabulary type books that one gets in the market. I am personally quite averse to those. They are good for perhaps introducing kids to names of things in a very matter of fact and unimaginative way. A hard cover book with Baby’s first animals…pictures with the names given under…sure..it can help the baby identify an animal with the correct name but can’t one do the same thing in a more creative manner? I am not being prescriptive..this is merely my opinion as a parent and an educator.

So, when I say picture books, I am referring to a book with text and illustrations – where the illustrations not only complement the text but also supplement it. The picture book is a literary form in itself. The text and the pictures are both equally contributing to the story…the images add to the text and there may be cues and elements that the pictures bring in that the story does not even state.

Picture books are great for collaborative reading, the fact that so much of the story is told by the illustrations helps the child be a co-reader/co-story teller as he looks at the images to co-construct meaning as the story is being read aloud to him.

My three boys absolutely love books and reading and it is an important part of our daily routine. We start and end our day with books and very often they feature several times along the way as well.  We read and read and re-read the same book a zillion times and then they “read it” on their own or to each other as well.

When a friend asked me to put down a list of 10 picture books that I would recommend, I realized it was going to be a tough choice. Anyway, I have tried to put down the ones that came to my mind. These are all books that I have used with my boys when they were toddlers (one of them still is a toddler) and while at first glance you may feel they have more content than you expected, trust me when I say that they will learn to love the books in time. Start with simple ones that they can relate to easily and then gradually bring in the ones with more content matter.

A couple of the things to remember:
Make reading time special…create a small reading corner, get the child excited about a new book, pick something he will relate to or find interesting/funny
Engage the child – sit in a way that he can see the book, let him hold it, explore it in his way; ask him to find something in the picture or describe what he sees; don’t expect him to say what you want him to
make it fun and non threatening. make reading a part of your daily routine
there is no such thing as too early! start as early as you can!

Here is my list:

No David! (by David Shannon)

What is probably the most frequently heard word for a toddler? NO! No    climbing on the sofa, no digging you nose, no throwing food…NO! And that is pretty much what this beautiful book is about. Simple, repetitive, hilarious and with absolutely stunning illustrations, No David has been a favorite with all my boys. (Other books in the same series are also great)
Moo Baa La La La (By Sandra Boynton)

Another hot favorite in our home! This book is super simple with lovely illustrations…a great starter for a nice long Sandra Boynton journey! I introduced my boys to this book when they were about 8 months old. With my third boy, he took to it suddenly when he was about 10 months old and it was his absolute favorite book for the next 3-4 months. In fact, even now (at 23 months) I catch him ‘reciting’ the book to himself as he plays. My kids enjoyed mooing and neighing and making whacky animal sounds as we went through the book. Boynton has a whole bunch of books for infants and toddlers..our favorites, in addition, to this one are: Belly Button Book, Pajama Time, Barnyard Dance, What’s wrong Little Pookie?  There are many more that you can try and doscover!

Brown Bear Brown Bear What do you see? (By Bill Martin Jr. Illustrated by Eric Carle)

This is like a legend with the boys! The book is simple, repetitive and so allows the kids to participate in the reading almost instantly. It helps them recognize animals and birds, introduces them to colors in an absolutely stunning manner! Eric Carle’s artwork is beautiful and his style is one that kids enjoy and relate to. We have done follow up activities with my boys where they tried creating collages in a fashion similar to Carle’s. (This is of course something I have tried with my 3 yr olds…toddlers may not be able to do this but it is a a great exercise nonetheless).  My youngest loves this book and knows it by heart. He even makes his own variations to the story, introducing his own animals and characters – something you can have your toddlers do. This is also great to use in a classroom. Eric Carle has a lot of books that you can aloud to your kids!

Chocolate Mousse for Greedy Goose (By Julia Donaldson)
I love Julia Donaldson’s books. Again, like with the other authors I put down, this is one of the many books we love by her. The book has a lot of animals, talk about table manners (or lack thereof) and has a nice rhyme scheme. The book is great for predictions while reading because each page has a part of the next animal on it and my kids loved guessing which animal was coming up next. Gorgeous bold illustrations by Nick Sharrat. (other books which are good for the infant/toddler age group – One mole digging a hole, Hippo Has a Hat). The books are available in paperback as well as in board-book version.  Another hot favorite is Cave Baby by Donaldon…absolutely incredible book and pictures!

Goodnight Moon (By Margaret Wise-Brown)

This is a book that has mixed reactions from people…I love it…my boys love it. In fact we read it almost every night for almost 4 months straight. Yet, I see other friends have a very different reaction to the book. So I guess this one is up to you to try. It has been acclaimed as a classic in this genre and it is the simple process of a baby bunny saying goodnight to everything in his room before he falls asleep.  Illustrations are simple yet there is a lot of meta-text to look for if you like. My boys turned the book into a ritual as they also started saying goodnight to the various things in their rooming before finally falling asleep.

Where the Wild Things Are (By Maurice Sendak)

“The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind…or another…his mother called him Wild thing! And max said ‘I’ll eat you up’ “…and so his mother sent him to bed without his supper. “That very night in max’s room a forest grew…and grew” And so the story goes…getting more and more fantastic with each page….just like a child’s unbridled imagination. An absolute work of art, the illustrations and text are very intelligently juxtaposed…each holding a very important place of its own. As Max’s imagination grows, so does the size of the illustrations on each page, till finally the illustrations replace words altogether! And what i also like is the fact that Max’s supper is waiting for him when he is back from his ‘adventure’…His mother may have sent him to bed without supper but she loves him too much to really send him hungry! We LOVE this book as well as In the Night Kitchen by Sendak.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (By Eric Carle)

OK…I know I already put down a few books by Eric Carle earlier on this list, but this is one that needs a separate mention. Done in Eric Carle’s incredible illustration style, the book is a story of a very hungry caterpillar and in an early introduction to the process of metamorphosis. While the book can be read to a toddler, it works really well with first graders too as it looks at how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. It introduces days of the week, numbers, fruits and other food items, as well as the process of transformation. I still remember how one of my twins gasped in sheer wonder at the last page which had a stunning butterfly!  You can engage kids in the reading, have them retell the story, help them create a variation using food and fruits of their choice!

A bit Lost (by Chris Haughton)

A heartwarming story of a baby owl who falls off his perch when he is sleeping and is now can’t find his mummy. A very helpful squirrel helps him out and the two set off to look for mummy. The illustrations are simple yet striking and complete the story. Each page leads to the wrong animal (who is only shown through the illustrations and not mentioned in the text) till finally the baby owl is reunited with a very worried mummy owl.
In the Bath (by Leslie Patricelli)

I recently discovered Leslie Patricelli – more specifically a book called In the Bath. Given how much my youngest likes books and bath-time i figured this would be perfect for him…and it is! Although very very simple in content and style the book takes us through bath time for a little baby (who could be any baby anywhere). The illustrations are fabulous and contribute well to the story. This is great for co-constructing the story while reading aloud and has a lot of space for kids to add their ideas and descriptions. My little fellow loves it and identifies with the story really well!  Other books by the author are also great for this age group.

When Sophie gets Angry- Really, Really Angry (by Molly Bang)

We have heard of the Terrible twos and probably experienced them first hand too! Tantrums and getting really upset over small things isn’t something new in our house…and a year ago it was pretty frequent. With 3 boys under 4 that is hardly surprising. Fortunately, with the book, my boys are able to see that getting angry is an emotion a lot of kids may experience…and there are ways to deal with feeling upset. Sophie does not want to share and when she is already upset about giving a toy to her sister and ends up tripping over a truck it is the last straw. Sophie storms out of the room, slams the door and runs and runs till she finds a tree to climb. There she cries for a bit calms down, then comes back home where everyone is waiting for her. The artwork is beautiful and very clever. It is interesting to see how everything becomes tones and hues of red and orange when sophie is angry but then slowly moves on to cooler blues and yellows as she calms down.

So that is my list of top 10 books for toddlers. This is a starting point and there is so much to discover in the world of picture books. Good picture books are very cleverly done, the illustrations tell a whole story on their own and the books are great for read alouds, shared readings, story constructions, descriptions, re-tellings, predictions, etc. They can be used with different age groups in different manners and are wonderful for adults to read as well!

Something Else

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The great thing about having found a lovely bookstore is that I now am finding (obviously so) lovely books. I came across an especially wonderful book last week called Something Else by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell.

For those of you who have read my earlier reviews of kids’ picture books, you know that I absolutely love illustrations and the way picture books can handle the mst complex of topics in the simplest of ways. This is another example of just that.

A simple yet stunningly touching way of looking at difference Something Else poignantly captures the essence of tolerance (and the lack of thereof as well) with lovely illustrations and a story line that even the youngest of readers can relate to. It allows for a lot of conversation, discussion and interpretation because it avoids stating the obvious.

A story about a creature who simply does not fit in, does not belong…he tries so hard to be a part of the group, to fit in…but whatever he does, he is always ‘something else’. The another ‘something’ comes along…so different from ‘something else’ and helps Something Else come to the realization that you can be different and yet be friends. the books captures the emotions of aspirations, rejection, empathy, tolerance and happiness with such facility and the text and illustrations convey so much feeling with such little effort!

A book for a range of ages, I would strongly recommend this to teachers as well as parents,

Felt felt felt!

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I am really discovering the magical magical world of felt. While it is nothing new in terms of a concept, the possibilities are endless and I love what I can do with it. The boys are really enjoying playing with felt board…whether it is stories or rhymes or math games or mr.potato head dress up stuff. It is plain and simple fun…not so difficult to make and quite versatile in its uses.

I am now working on a felt Quiet Book and the boys are supplying me with ideas and a wishlist.

In terms of stories and rhymes we now have: Three little pigs, The three Billy goats gruff, La Luna, Chicka chicka boom boom, 5 little monkeys jumping on the bed, 5 little monkeys swinging from a tree, five little fish, and Five little ducks went out one day. We have a ladybird counting game, a build it yourself fire trucks, matching shapes, potato head and make your own cupcakes.

It is great for literacy related devt, math skills, motor skills as well as promoting conversation, retelling, narration, imaginary play, etc. My boys are playing with the felt board all the time…the older ones don’t need me around ..they enjoy retelling stories using the felt board, they make up stories as they go along and in general have a blast. I plan to use it with the kids to practice math and phonics too.

Here are some pics:

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Finally a bookstore that I instantly fell in love with!

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Ever since we moved to Bangalore I have been in search of a nice bookstore…nice does not mean fancy…it need not have a cafe in it and I really don’t mind so much if it is air conditioned or not. I like to take the boys to a bookstore, sit with them and browse through books, appreciate the literature and illustrations and then pick something we can take home with us. It was a like a ritual of sorts in Mumbai for us..we would visit Kitaab Khana in Kala Ghoda once a month and come back home super happy and with 2 or more books for our collection.

In the past four months I have not been able to do that. Crosswords near our place in Bangalore has a large section of books for kids…the toddlers/preschool section has a shelves laden with ‘activity books’ coloring books, math for kids, handwriting books and phonics. What happened to the literature part??? The sales person had not heard of Eric Carle, Julia Donaldson or Sandra Boynton..The chap at the computer in the information section candidly informed me that they don’t keep ‘those type of books’. I guess our toddlers only need handwriting and phonics?! I had similar luck with a couple of other bookshops too.

Which is why i was so delighted to find Lightroom Bookstore in Frazer town. Some one i met the other day mentioned the bookstore and it is indeed a pleasure to visit it. Went without the kids this time as I was not sure what to expect but it was absolutely wonderful. A whole room full of children’s books…Caldecott winners and all.

And the lady who run the bookstore actually understands books, can discuss literature and illustrations and was charming to talk to! It was all in all a most satisfying experience and I strongly recommend this bookstore to other children’s books lovers! (They are on FB if you would like to learn more)