28 4 / 2012
Wanted to let my tumblr friends know that I have moved A Million Words over to my new website! Check it out at amydixonbooks.com and let me know what you think!
19 4 / 2012
Naps are funny things. As children, we felt naps were a sort of punishment. You want me to stop constructing this fort out of the entire contents of your linen closet so that I can go lay down in a dark room? Because it’s good for me? What did I ever do to you? As adults, there’s not a day that goes by that we think couldn’t be made better by the addition of a nap. Not one. But it isn’t until we have our own children that we discover the true power of the nap. A nap can mean the difference between arches-back-so-you-can’t-buckle-him-in-and-you-get-kicked-in-the-face-while-trying-to-WWF-him-into-the-carseat child, and the sits-sweetly-in-the-shopping-cart-and-charms-the-pants-off-the-entire-world child. A nap can mean the difference between a day where you actually get to write, or exercise, or
clean (don’t you dare clean during the precious nap hours!) or, I don’t know…EAT REAL FOOD…and a day where you serve toast and applesauce for dinner. Naps are magical. So you can’t argue with the appeal of a book called, THE NAPPING HOUSE. And you won’t blame me when I tell you that I want to live there.
THE NAPPING HOUSE
- Written by: Audrey Wood
- Illustrated by: Don Wood
- Published by:Harcourt Children’s Books, 1984
- Suitable for: 3 and up (appeals to the preschool set)
- Topics/Themes: Family, pets, fun!
- Opening:”There is a house, a napping house, where everyone is sleeping.”
- Synopsis:(from author’s website) The Napping House is a cumulative tale about a cozy bed, a snoring granny, a dreaming child, a dozing dog, and a snoozing cat. One by one the characters snuggle up in a pile until a tiny unwelcome guest appears on the scene.
- Links to Resources: This is such a beloved book, there are a whole lot of lesson plans out there on the internet! Most of them are designed for preschool aged children. On the author and illustrator’s website, there is a whole page dedicated to activities. Scholastic also has a study guide written for this book. Personally, I love the idea of pulling out other fun cumulative classics like, There Was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly and The Green Grass Grew All Around.
- Why I Like this Book: Audrey and Don Wood have been favorites in our house since our oldest son was born 10 years ago. This book is perhaps the most loved, (followed closely by THE LITTLE MOUSE, THE RED RIPE STRAWBERRY, AND THE BIG HUNGRY BEAR) because of the art. Despite most of the story taking place inside Granny’s bedroom, Don Wood manages to make each spread worth closer examination. The wakeful flea can be found in each bedroom picture, and kids love watching him as he moves closer and closer to the sleeping bunch. And the expressions on the faces of the peaceful nappers when they are so rudely awakened are perfect. The cumulative part of the story makes it a fun read-aloud, as my kids like to try to name all of the sleeping animals in order with me.
12 4 / 2012
Throw an extra dollop of whipped cream on your hot chocolate, snuggle up under your fleece blanket and get ready for some warm fuzzies (can you tell it’s raining at my house?). Because that is what is coming your way when you crack open the gorgeous picture book I have for you today. Liz Garton Scanlon’s text is so touching and the incomparable Marla Frazee’s illustrations are so perfect, and the book makes you feel “hope and peace and love and trust” as you marvel at finding both comfort in the sameness and wonder in the bigness that is ALL THE WORLD.
ALL THE WORLD
- Written By: Liz Garton Scanlon
- Illustrated By: Marla Frazee
- Publsihed By: Beach Lane Books (September 8, 2009)
- Suitable For: All ages
- Topics/Themes: Interconnectedness, Nature, Family, Wonder
“Rock, stone, pebble, sand
Body, shoulder, arm, hand
A moat to dig, a shell to keep
All the world is wide and deep.”
- Synopsis: (from Amazon) Following a circle of family and friends through the course of a day from morning till night, this book affirms the importance of all things great and small in our world, from the tiniest shell on the beach, to warm family connections, to the widest sunset sky.
- Links to Resources: There is an impressive, 16-page Teacher’s Resource Guide on Liz Garton Scanlon’s website. It has a variety of exercises, from the most simple (comparing size and color), to the much more complex (defining the concepts of hope, peace, love and trust). I also found more great resources on the Teacher Think Tank website, where they developed writing templates to accompany this book. As a writer, I loved hearing the “story behind the story,” from both the author and illustrator, which I found on the Simon & Schuster website here.
- Why I like this book: This is a book that just makes me gush. Liz Garton Scanlon has taken a mere handful of words, and crafted them into poetry that makes us feel connected in an intimate way to…EVERYTHING. How did she do that? I am in awe. And oh my, Marla Frazee. Her illustrations take us through both the personal and the universal. Again, how did she do that? This book won a Caldecott Honor and about a zillion other awards, and I am not surprised. In addition to gaining the admiration of adults everywhere, ALL THE WORLD is a favorite with kids, too. The lyrical text makes a great bedtime choice, and there are so many layers in the art, they will be finding new gems in it with every reading. This is a book you need to have in your collection!
Go see the other choices for Perfect Picture Book Friday over at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog. It is a great resource for parents and teachers, especially if you are in search of books on specific topics. Check it out!
05 4 / 2012
When my daughter saw her name splashed across the cover of this book, she insisted we pick it up. Convinced there is but one Lily in the world, she couldn’t wait to get home and see how the illustrator had chosen to portray her. Nevermind that there is a cow featured prominently in the center of the art. Nevermind that this cow is clearly both prancing and dancing, as is referred to in the title. Nevermind that there isn’t a curly-haired, chubby-cheeked little squirt anywhere to be found in the entire book. It was about HER. So after my sweet, self-centered-as-all-three-year-olds-are, little girl got over her disappointment, she fell in love with THIS Lily…the independent, adventurous, dance-until-her-hooves-ache star of this captivating book, PRANCING DANCING LILY.
PRANCING DANCING LILY
- Written by: Marsha Diane Arnold
- Illustrated by: John Manders
- Published by: Dial (March 30, 2004)
- Suitable for: Ages 4 and up
- Topics/Themes: Individuality, Being Different, Independence, Self-Acceptance
- Opening: “‘Come on in, Rose! Milking time!’ Farmer Gibson called across the pasture. Clang-a-lang. Clang-a-lang. All the cows fell in behind Rose. Except for Lily. Prancing, dancing Lily.”
- Synopsis:(from the jacketflap) The cows in Lily’s herd are always dignified as they walk from the barn to the pasture. But Lily would much rather prance and dance! One day Lily decides to leave the farm and venture out on her own.
All over the world-from New York City to Spain to Senegal-Lily learns new dances and makes wonderful friends. But none of the dances are quite right for a cow, and soon Lily starts to miss home. Will she ever find a place where she fits in?
- Links to Resources: Marsha Diane Arnold has a number of suggested activities on her website. Kids can learn to write rhymes and make cow puppets, as well as design their own bookmarks. When I read this book with my kids, it always ends in some display of creative dancing. And I don’t want to give away the clever ending, but let’s just say that the last dance the cows do always requires the whole family to jump in for a demonstration!
- Why I Like this Book: I just love the strength of the Lily character in this book. She recognizes that she is different from the herd, and isn’t afraid to explore those differences. The lovely Marsha Diane Arnold (side note: if you are in the kidlit world and have not had the chance to interact with her yet, you are missing out! She really is lovely) handles an important message in a witty, fun, and sometimes silly way. Lily goes off on her adventure and in the process recognizes that what was identified in the herd as weakness really could be a strength. She refines that unique “something” about herself and brings it back home in a way that benefits everyone. Okay, and a cow that belly-dances? How could you not love that?
30 3 / 2012
Dragons are one of those magical creatures that I think just about every kid finds fascinating. When I was young, we watched that Disney classic, Pete’s Dragon, about a million times. Anyone else remember that one? Well, my pick for Perfect Picture Book Friday reminds me of it, as Pete and the main character in this book have something very unique in common. They both have a dragon that no one else can see.
WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN
- Written By: Jodi Moore
- Illustrated By: Howard McWilliam
- Published By: Flashlight Press, (May 1, 2011)
- Suitable For: 5 and up
- Topics/Themes: Imagination, friendship, family, beach, dragons!
- Opening/Synopsis: “If you build a perfect sandcastle, a dragon will move in. He’ll settle in all cozy and peep at you from inside… and you’ll wonder how you ever got so lucky.”
- One day at the beach, a dragon takes up residence in this young boy’s perfect sandcastle. At first it seems the boy has found the perfect pal! But as the day progresses, so does the dragon’s mischief.
- Links to Resources: Flashlight Press has an activity page for this book, and it includes mazes, puzzles, and drawing pages. There is also a parent/teacher guide to use with the book to talk about the components of a story. I also found this really cute dragon craft that would be fun to make with your kids.
- Why I like this book: My favorite thing about this adorable book is that we are left to decide on our own what is really happening. Is there a dragon living in his sandcastle? Is it his imagination? Did a dragon’s breath just toast his marshmallow? Or is he pretending? What really happened to those brownies? Who is the actual mischief-maker in this story? The boy, or the dragon? And I just love the large, colorful illustrations of Howard McWilliam. They bring this playful story to life!
Be sure to check out the other choices for Perfect Picture Book Friday over at Susanna Leonard Hill’s amazing blog!
26 3 / 2012
Monday is one of the busiest days of our week. We go from school, to homework, to soccer practice, to guitar practice, and then collapse into bed. Phew! So imagine our dismay when we realized that it was today, a MONDAY, that our special guest Phyllis was going to arrive. It was a slightly breezy 62 degrees when she was plopped onto our doorstep, and we took her out to gently break the news to her…we were not going to be able to see the sights of our lovely town of Clovis, California. Thankfully, Phyllis confessed to us that she was rather exhausted from her whirlwind tour, and would be happy to spend a quiet evening at home with us. We nodded and smiled, not letting on that with four kids, nothing in the Dixon home is ever done quietly. After reading her book, we realized that Phyllis was quite comfortable in the chaos of our home, since she has all kinds of groundhog family that live with her!
When we got home from our busy day, we cleaned up, got in our jammies and spent some quality time with Phyllis. She was a gracious guest, and we enjoyed hosting her. Check out the video below to see what The Dixon family liked best about, APRIL FOOL, PHYLLIS!
22 3 / 2012
I have had trees on the brain lately. Probably because this was my backyard a few months ago:
A huge windstorm blew down the one and only tree in our backyard. We were grateful that it didn’t hit the house on its way down, but were sad to lose our source of shade, especially considering how hot it gets here in the summer. So we have spent the last few months
procrastinating researching the types of trees that we might want to replace it with. When we moved here almost 8 years ago, we talked about planting other trees, but never did. We considered planting an avocado tree, but were told it takes seven years to produce fruit. I thought that surely we would have moved on by the time SEVEN WHOLE YEARS! had rolled around. But life happened, the housing market did what it did, and we are still here. I can’t help but think of all the guacamole I could be enjoying if we had just planted that tree.
So that leads me to this week’s Perfect Picture Book about guacamole. Wait. I mean, TREES!
THIS TREE COUNTS!
- Written By: Alison Formento
- Illustrated By: Sarah Snow
- Published By: Albert Whitman & Company (March 1, 2010)
- Suitable For: Pre-K and up
- Topics/Themes: Caring for the Environment, Community, Cooperation, Counting
- Opening/Synopsis: “Only one tree stood behind Oak Lane School. It needed friends. So Mr. Tate’s class decided to plant more trees. The children got ready to dig. Mr. Tate said, ‘Wait! Our big tree has a story to tell.’”
- from jacketflap: “If you listen carefully to the lone tree behind Oak Lane School, it has a story to tell, about… one owl, two spiders, three squirrels, four robins, five caterpillars, six ants, seven crickets, eight flies, nine ladybugs, and ten earthworms, all living safe and free in their tree home. What does this tree need? The children know-it needs friends!”
- Links to Resources: Ashley Formento has a beautiful, 18-page Teacher’s Guide for this book on her website. The Arbor Day Foundation also has an amazing website with lots of ideas on how to connect kids to nature. Or you could just take your kids outside to observe the things they can count on the trees in your yard!
- What I like about this book: The double meaning of the word “counts” in this book’s title is so clever. You get a book that expresses how much trees matter and their importance to our environment. But you also get a counting book, and my kids enjoyed finding each of the creatures that call this tree home. I am also a fan of the cooperative nature of the story, with the class working together to plant some “friends” for the lone oak tree. There are so many educational nuggets in this book, and combined with the wonderful collage art of Sara Snow, it is a winner!
Now hop on over to Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog and check out the other choices for Perfect Picture Book Friday!
19 3 / 2012
I don’t usually watch the Grammys. I just wait for the next day to see who won what, who snubbed who onstage, and who had the most outrageous wardrobe malfunction. But this year, I heard that Paul McCartney was performing, and I knew I had to watch. Some may wonder why, since Sir Paul is not really the music of my generation. I should have been more compelled by the Whitney tributes. But I wasn’t. As I watched the Grammys, it became clear to me how much of a product of my musical upbringing I was. I knew every word of that Abbey Road medley, and wasn’t afraid to sing it out. And I was delighted by the collaboration of legendary guitarists that followed. All of it got me thinking about my musical roots.
My mom’s dad was known for his songs. He was always singing, and got us to sing, too. We joined in with gusto, asking, “Who’s gonna fix that whistle?” We wondered what was inside that mysterious box when we belted out, “I discovered a boom boom boom, right before my eyes!” And we “mm-hmmm”ed with Miss Mousie as she was courted by ‘ol Froggie. Grandpa’s songs were sung when we were together, and when we were apart. His songs were sung in the car, in the bathtub, and as we snuggled down to sleep at night. And I will never forget, not too long ago, watching my mom sing those very songs back to him when he couldn’t sing them anymore. He was known for and is still loved and remembered for his songs.
So we grew up singing. Our repertoire expanded to include my mom’s most beloved musicals. We marched along with Harold Hill and his 76 trombones, we danced the night away with Eliza Doolittle, and we bid each other, “Adeiu,” as we said So Long, Farewell, with the Von Trapps. As we got older, we added our own favorites. My older sister and I would spend hours trying to perfect the harmonies from the Les Miserables soundtrack. I can’t help but think of her every time I hear “Castle on a Cloud.” (We never did get that one quite right, did we Jen?) With my younger siblings, we would push in a taped-off-of-TV copy of The Newsies, and sing longingly with Christian Bale about Santa Fe. “Dreams come true, yes they do, in Santa Feeeeeeeee!” (Yes, The Newsies. Totally panned by every critic, but a steadfast favorite in our house.)
And in the backdrop of all of this, there was my dad and his guitar.
Some of my earliest memories are of him sitting in the hallway, playing songs like, “The Girl from Ipanema,” for us until we went to sleep. As we got older, he would take out his Beatles playbooks and pluck the strings, while teaching us different singing parts. I can sing the “do do do do dos” in “Girl,” from the album Rubber Soul, like nobody’s business. He would play weddings too, and I would bet that any member of my family can recite the lyrics to “Annie’s Song,” or “The Wedding Song (There is Love),” in a blink. As he got more into classical guitar, the notes of, “Moonlight Sonata,” and “Recuerdos de la Alhambra,” would float out from behind his office door. It wasn’t until I got to college that I finally realized that not everyone grew up with classical guitar as the soundtrack of their life. It’s sad, but I didn’t know how beautiful and unique it was, until I left.
Now that I am a parent, it is such a joy to see my kids getting to benefit from the gift of my dad and his guitar. Whenever they hear guitar music, they ask, “Is that Grandpa?” To them, guitar and Grandpa are synonymous. And because my dad has since become a Suzuki-trained guitar instructor, they even get to learn how to play.
One of the best things about watching Paul McCartney on the Grammys this year was that I got to watch it at my parents’ house. While my Dad and I marveled at the musical genius of, “The End,” my Mom tucked the kids into bed with a verse or two of, “The Five O’Clock Whistle.” My musical roots have become my kids’ musical roots. And as I sit here now, listening to Josh pluck his guitar strings while Lily belts out, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” I can be sure that they are mine.
And now, for my contribution to their musical upbringing, I go in search of that copy of The Newsies…
What about you? What are your musical roots?
15 3 / 2012
Growing up, I read a lot of Nancy Drew. She was always finding cool stuff like secret diaries, antique jewel boxes, and dusty old maps. I would imagine myself in the passenger seat of her blue convertible, taking in the clues as they came, and solving the mystery alongside my best pal, Nancy. So when I read this week’s Perfect Picture book, ONE DARK NIGHT, I found myself putting on my detective hat, and trying to crack the case. I don’t come across too many mysteries in the picture book world, so I was delighted by the feel of this book, and found the twist of an ending a clever finish!
- ONE DARK NIGHT
- Written By: Lisa Wheeler
- Illustrated By: Ivan Bates
- Harcourt, Inc., 2003
- Suitable for: Ages 3 and up
- Topics/Themes: Mystery, Friendship
- “In a wee little house,
- In a wee little hole,
- Lived a wee little mouse
- And a wee little mole
- They munched tiny crackers.
- They served tiny teas.
- Filled wee tiny smackers
- With wee tiny cheese
- Evenings at home with Mouse and Mole are always safe and cozy, until one dark night they venture outside for a moonlit walk and find something waiting for them. (from Amazon)
- Links to Resources: Lisa Wheeler has some great resources on her website, including a downloadable activity guide for ONE DARK NIGHT. You could also take the opportunity to learn about the real life animals that star in this book, as they do on the Kid’s Wings website.
- Why I Like this Book: This book is another great read-aloud. Lisa Wheeler creates a story with a bit of a spook factor, but because of the lively rhyme, it just doesn’t feel that scary. My kids do snuggle deeper into my arms as we read it and they think about the unknown in that dark night. But then they laugh at the end when they realize that there wasn’t anything to worry about. So when it’s Mom’s turn to pick the story at night, you’ll often see me choosing this one…because you’re not going to catch this mama turning down extra cuddles during story time!