Tag Archives: Book review

Ish by Peter Reynolds


We already had a book by Peter Reynolds – and it is a much loved book in our home – The Dot…which i may have blogged about earlier…about a girl who thought she could not draw and how just a really simple thoughtful interaction with her teacher changed all that…

I came across another book by Reynolds last week when I swung by my favorite bookstore in Bangalore (The Lightroom Bookstore) – Ish.

Intrigued by the title and encouraged by the author, I picked up the book and started to go through it. As I started reading, I could almost picture one of my twins being like the protagonist – Ramon. Here was a boy who liked to draw…Anywhere, anything, anytime…and just a simple thoughtless comment by his older brother makes him question his ability to draw. And so begins a journey of fail.ed attempts and frustration, as each work of art is crumpled up and thrown on the floor because it does not look like what it is supposed to. Suddenly, for Ramon, art is no longer a fun thing and he cannot stand his own own drawings. But there is someone else who has a different lens, someone who loves what Ramon does and sees value in his art. His younger sister Marisol, who quietly picks up the crumpled art to put up in her room. And it is little Marisol who looks at his attempt at a vase and tells him that it is actually ‘vase-ish’! ANd so it is! And as Ramon drops his need for perfect representation, making peace with the ‘ishness’ of his drawings, he lets himself go and starts painting again.

This reminded me so much of one of my twins – who loves to color, but often nowadays lokst at his brothers art and finds his own not quite ‘there’. He tends to get upset and feels like his drawings are not good. At times he winds himself up over this, getting more and more upset if his drawing does not come out ‘right’ and of late I have noticed a hesitation to try to draw something that he feels might be difficult. And so i thought maybe recognizing that ‘ish’ drawings are fun as well, and it is his representation that matters not the perfect image as one would conventionally have it – would help him. I told him that I thought of him when i saw the book but I did not tell him why. However when we were done reading it, he looked at me and said “i know why you thought of me!”

I don’t think that just reading the book is going to help. We will need to work on him and his confidence at various levels. Having twin boys who are so radically different is so many ways is fun, but also challenging..because more often than not, they master different things at different paces, and in our society, unfortunately, academics or lovely art is looked at with more admiration than hanging upside down or turning a somersault (which requires skill, practice, calculated risk taking, etc).

Anyway, as a follow up to our reading, we did a little art where the boys decorated a brown paper envelope to put a gift in for a friend. And the art was lovely…and Sid tried too and produced something pretty gorgeous – which I am sure has helped him feel at least a litle better about his art! This art is inspired by the book Cave Baby by Julia Donaldson – a book the boys used to love and one that their friend now has has his favorite. The first pic is Sid’s version of a fun tiger and the second pic is Nish’s interpretation of woolly mammoth frolicking in the paint!


A Kaleidoscope of Children by Jayanti Tambe – Book Review


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


“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.

10 of my favorite picture books for toddlers


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!

Preparing for a sibling


For those of you who know me…please don’t panic..this is not another baby announcement. I already have my hands full with my boys. Actually I am writing this because I happened to have conversations with two different friends today on how to prepare for a new baby in the house..more specifically how to prepare for a new sibling.

Actually, I had a really simple time doing this. Maybe i was just plain lucky or maybe some of the stuff we did and talked about with the kids helped. My twins boys were all of 20 months when our younger son was born and from the first day on all I saw was lots of love and care. Sure they fought for attention every now and then…of course they were boisterous and noisy at times around the baby…but no pinches, no hitting, no pushing. They made sure everyone around them knew they had a baby brother…they chose his name and and clothes for him…they tried to give him their toys and they made sure no one came to pick him up without sanitising their hands first. Honestly i could not have asked for anything more.

Here are some things that helped us make this a fairly easy transition for the boys and the whole family. For one, we started talking about the baby once I was about 6 months pregnant. I started looking pregnant and alos started to tire out more easily. The twins who were less than a year and half then loved to jump on me and horse around and some of that was about to change. It really helped that a good friend of ours who has a daughter their age had just given birth to a baby boy. The boys loved going over to see the baby and were most fascinated by the whole thing. So when I told them that we were going to have a baby too, they actually seemed excited. I don’t think that at that point they realized it meant that they would be sharing me and Dad with this new creature.

Every evening as we lay down and read our books before bed the boys wold take turns touching my belly, talking nonsense to the baby, singing songs and more often than not, making funny farting sounds with their mouths on my very large tummy!

We made a list of girls and boys names and had them pick the ones they liked. They only chose a boy’s name as they said it was definitely going to be a baby brother. We started picking up a few small things together and every time we got the baby something we made sure to get something small for the twins as well.

My boys all love books and so I figured that would be a good way to talk to them about the baby. Here are some that we read:

1. Will you Still Love Me by Jean-Baptiste Baronian, Illustrated by Noris Kern.
This is an extremely delightful and touching book that articulates in the simplest of manners the fears and worries that a child might have about a new sibling arriving into his/her life. The most basic question on all captured perfectly in the title of the book : Will you still love me.
A story about a little polar bear who feels that his parents are behaving slightly differently. He talks to his friends about it and finally talks to his mother who tells him that she is pregnant. And my children’s favorite lines from the book: A mommy’s heart is as big as the sea. And a daddy’s heart is as big as the sky. I will always love you. Even when you are a big brother, you’ll still be my little one. And I’ll love both you and our new baby with all my heart”

2. My New Baby illustrated by Rachel Fuller
Another extremely simple book with lovely illustrations. The book is very different in style and approach from the first one I have put down but it beautifully juxtaposes what the older sibling and baby are doing and able to do. It shows acceptance, sharing and how in spite of the new baby the parents are still there for the older sibling.

3. Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats
Written by Caldecott award winner Ezra Jack Keats (For Snowy Day) Peter’s chair beautifully captures some of the struggles an older sibling goes through. This is a story about a boy called Peter who has a younger baby sister. His parents are trying to reuse a lot of Peter’s old toys and things for the new baby and Peter resents that. He does not like his crib being repainted or his stuff given away to her. He takes his favorite little chair and hides with it…that’s when he realizes that the chair is actually too small for him. This is the story of a young boy trying to deal with the struggle of having a baby sister and accepting her and sharing with her. Peter is someone my kids could related to very easily. The illustrations are stunning too and Keats use of collage with cutouts is simple yet beautiful!

4. I also put together a simple story book for the boys. (https://myfourboysandme.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/book-for-introducing-a-new-sibling/) You can check it out on my earlier blogpost if you like. The twins absolutely loved it and we read it many many many times!

Once the baby came, I tried as much as possible to involve the twins. They got me diapers, sang songs to the baby, picked out his clothes for him and chose his name. They called me when he woke up, they checked to see if his diaper was full. They climbed into the baby cot and cuddled with him right from the time he was 3 days old. I bit back the NO on my lips as much as I could and just made sure they did not hurt the baby accidentally.

Of course things are different with each child and this post is in no way prescriptive. I have simply put down some of the things that worked for me and I hope this is useful to some of you out there 🙂

Something Else


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 board math


I was at the art and craft store the other day when I came across a packet of really adorable ladybug buttons. Bright red and black, they instantly caught my eye and fancy and I picked them up certain that i would find some interesting use for them.
And then, this afternoon i did. As i was finishing making the characters for Three Billy Goats Gruff (Sid’s request) for our felt board story collection (https://myfourboysandme.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/felt-board-stories/) I had green felt left over and suddenly thought of making leaves to use with the lady bugs. Came up with a simple counting game for the boys…I already had some felt number cutouts (store bought), so i used the green to make leaves and I lined the leaves up along a felt ‘stalk’ on the felt board. Next I placed a number next to each leaf. The boys then took turns to identify the number and place the corresponding number of ladybugs on the leaf. This is not a super original idea or anything….have seen variations of this in places. It was super simple but lots of fun and the boys wanted to do “more and more”. We had a little ‘help’ from the youngest who decided to engage in a special session on ‘subtraction’ but we managed to cope with his antics and fortunately nobody had any melt downs (which is saying a lot).

This is a good way to practice basic numnbers and for older kids you can also use it for addition and subtraction. It is visual, encourages counting and correlation, involves a tactile experience and it is in the form of a game so it does not seem tedious or abstract.


Another lovely book!


One by Kathryn Otoshi



I have to thank my kids’ classmate most profusely for the return presents they got at his birthday party…a whole stack of books. And not just any books but some really well picked out ones. We got a lot of them sooner and for some reason, this one remained on the shelf for the past couple of months. I pulled it out yesterday and went over it a couple of times before reading it out to the twins.


One is a really simple and yet very complex books. Using simple language and gorgeous yet extremely simple illustrations Otoshi gets multiple points across to the reader. A little bit like an onion (a la Shrek), there are layers you can peel off and appreciate. The first read can be an easy one…the book seems to be about colors and numbers and standing up for oneself. A second read helped me appreciate the play with words and the use of numbers…everyone counts as in matters.  

The end flaps introduce the picture book really well. I quote “Blue is a quiet color. Red is a hot head. Red likes to pick on Blue. Yellow, Green, Purple and Orange don’t like what they see, but what can they do? When no one takes a stand, things get out of hand. Until One comes along and shows all the colors how to stand up and count!” 

What appears to be a numbers/colors book is in fact a lot more…it teaches us to count for something, to stand up for what we believe in. 

She sums it up beautifully on the last page “Sometimes it just takes One.” 

And the other aspect I really enjoyed was the connecting of colors to temperature … so blue is cool and red is hot. Which really made sense to my kids…we have been reading a book called “When Sophie gets angry” by Molly Bang and that is another book where the illustrator has in fact used the colors red and blue very beautifully to add to the metatext. And, this is something I pointed out to them and we discussed when we were reading. We came up with hot things that made them think of red…flames, fire, embers, coal, the sun…and then of cool things with blue…water, the swimming pool. 

One also helped me introduce them to a new English phrase…When someone is angry they see RED (my boys currently seem to see red pretty easily ..so i think they got it and were amused).