teacher gift idea

If you’re flailing around desperately trying to think of a teacher gift, my advice is ALWAYS the same: a gift card. One from Amazon will let them buy books or, if needed, class supplies for next year (or a whole host of other things). One from Tim Horton’s is also, in my experience, always welcome.

BUT. If you have a little more time and you’re buying for a grade-school teacher, Last Day Blues is a fantastic book. I just loaned my copy to my son’s teacher, actually, and it’s being passed around all the other teachers in his primary school. Children also like it, too, so it’s a good end-of-year read-aloud (although my oldest is just turning seven, and he wasn’t hugely interested in it. By about third grade they start to get why the ending is funny.)

last day blues

There’s a beginning-of-school-year book that kind of goes with this one, and both my children found THAT one hilarious. Go figure. Maybe Last Day Blues is just a little more melancholy? Anyway, First Day Jitters is another excellent picture book.

first day jitters

If you search online, by the way, you can find a tonne of downloadable worksheets and activities based on those books. That might be part of the reason why teachers like them, actually. I imagine that comes in particularly handy at the end of the year, when most of the real work has been done but you need SOMETHING to keep the class busy while you assess individual students.

Obviously I’m not giving either of them to my son’s teacher this year, because if I were I wouldn’t be ruining the surprise by lending them to her. I let him choose, and he went with a copy of Mo Willem’s latest (and last) Elephant and Piggie book, The Thank You Book. (And a gift card. Teachers love gift cards.)

thank you book



reading: February

By now we have enough books that we can do some seasonal reading, which is nice. We have chapter books, which I’ll be reading aloud this month:


And we have picture books, which I’ll be putting on our “display table” (it’s not as fancy as it sounds; it’s just an end table I stick a basket on to try to draw attention to our books and get them off the shelves).


I’m also going to start a “Wimpy Kid” book this month. We have a bunch of them, but I thought they were a bit old for my children. Last Friday, though, my son’s school had a book swap, and a bunch of the kids in his grade specifically mentioned Diary of a Wimpy Kid when we were helping them choose books. So I’ll add one to our chapter books rotation and see how it goes.

January: What We’re Reading

Obviously we’re reading a lot of things that AREN’T on the list. The adults on the list are reading adult books; the beginning readers are working steadily at their Guided Reading books and library books and the basket of currently-seasonal books that sits on their table.

But here are the read-out-loud chapter books that we’re sharing:0-590-44477-8

Santa Claus Doesn’t Mop Floors: The Bailey Elementary third graders are at it again, and the janitor has had it. His replacement, Mr. Jolly, keeps the school magically clean and as cold as the North Pole. Now the kids are beginning to suspect Mr. Jolly may be…Santa Claus! We should have tackled this last month, but we’re still enjoying it. Besides, it’s hard to let go of Christmas all at once. We like to ease down gradually.


january joker January Joker: In the first book of the Calendar Mysteries — an early chapter book mystery series featuring the younger siblings of the A to Z Mysteries detectives — Green Lawn has a problem! When Bradley Pinto wakes up in the night to strange lights in his backyard, he wonders if there are aliens in town. When he sees three-toed tracks in the snow, he’s sure of it. His twin, Brian, and friends Lucy and Nate aren’t so certain. But then Lucy’s cousin Dink, the twins’ brother Josh, and Nate’s sister Ruth Rose all disappear. Are there “really “aliens in Green Lawn? And where could they be taking Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose? This is the first book by Ron Roy we’ve tried. For once we are actually starting a series WITH THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES. This is a huge achievement for us.

21840315 The Snow Day from the Black Lagoon: When a blizzard hits, Hubie knows that doesn’t mean a snow day, it means a “no” day — nothing moves, nothing happens. After spending all afternoon zipping zippers, snapping snaps, and buckling buckles, he’s finally ready to explore the winter wonderland. Can Hubie plow through his snow-venture or will he be left out in the cold? Some of the humour in these books is a little over my kids’ heads, but they love the illustrations and they “get” the contrast between Hubie’s worst fears and what’s really happening, so I’m content to keep them on the roster.

elizabeth's valentineElizabeth’s Valentine: Identical twins Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield can’t wait until Eva, the new girl in their second-grade class, arrives from Jamaica. When Elizabeth is picked to show Eva around school, the two become friends, and Jessica begins to feel left out. After all, she and Elizabeth are supposed to be best friends. To get back at her twin, Jessica ignores Elizabeth and pretends to keep secrets from her. She even pretends she has a new best friend. Elizabeth can’t understand why Jessica is being so mean. Everything’s a mess, and it’s up to Eva to help Elizabeth and Jessica become friends again! My daughter found this on my shelf of vintage paperbacks, and I agreed to read it to her. She’s riveted. I have mixed feelings about Sweet Valley, but the twins are only seven in this and there’s no overt body-image-policing, so I’m cautiously agreeing to this for now. (The next series up–Sweet Valley Twins–is going to have to wait for a time when my children are old enough to have a serious talk about Why We Don’t Treat People the Way Jessica Treats Them. Although actually, I’m hoping they ALREADY know how mean her behaviour would be in real life, and that it’s not okay to hate people for being fat or whatever else Jessica thinks is a flaw.)


Christmas Books Worth Keeping

It’s that time of year again. No, not the New Year. I mean, YES, it’s New Year’s Eve, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the semi-annual bookshelf purge. Specifically, today it’s time to look over the books that were part of our Advent Calendar of Books, and weed out the ones that can safely be donated to the preschool.

Which means making the crucial decision of which books to keep.

christmasbooks copy

There are a few points I like to keep in mind during bookshelf purges:

  1. My son is a (beginning) reader, but my daughter hasn’t started reading yet, so I need to hang on to at least SOME of the books he’s outgrown so she can grow into them.
  2. Some of the books my son has technically outgrown have sentimental value to him. So he may be over Thomas most of the time, but on holidays and in the summer he drags out the trains and train books, and I think it’s important to respect that. We’re keeping The Missing Christmas Tree and Thomas’ Night Before Christmas and we’ve added Santa’s Little Engine.
  3. As much as media tie-in products annoy me, they don’t annoy my children. So I try to strike a balance between my urge to get rid of everything overly-branded, and their urge to keep anything they ever once saw a commercial for. See Thomas in #2, and also Barbie: a Special Christmas, Peppa Pig: Peppa’s Christmas Wish, and the Backyardigans: Jingle Bell Christmas.
  4. Christmas is a religious holiday. I read my children retellings of the Christmas story every year. So I need a few of those. Also, I am a sucker for any retelling of the Christmas Story told from the point of view of the animals in the stable (really; I cry over these regularly), so for my own happiness a couple of choices in this important category have to be “I said the donkey”-type versions. We like Who is Coming to Our House?, Room for a Little One, Christmas in the Manger, and Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.
  5. My children have one Canadian parent (me) and one Australian one (their father), and we like to have our bookshelves reflect that. So if you look closely at that picture you’ll see The Fairies Christmas Wishes, Fair Dinkum Aussie Christmas, A Porcupine in a Pine Tree, and Dashing Through the Snow.
  6. It may eventually cause me to lose my mind, but the kids love to listen to The Twelve Dogs of Christmas and follow along with the book. Over and over and OVER. And they both started to recognize words while still in the pre-reader stage by doing this, so overall, it’s worth tolerating.

Four Book Series for pre-K to Grade One

books we love copy

I’ve been lucky so far in that both my children love to read and be read to, but these books will charm even the most reluctant reader. Best of all, with characters and settings continuing across more than one book, series books provide a comforting familiarity even when the child is tackling new text for the first time.

Here are four series my own kids can’t get enough of:

  1. Little Blue Truck

Now that my son is an independent reader I’d thought maybe he’d outgrown these, but when Little Blue Truck’s Christmas came out of storage as part of our Advent Calendar of books he snatched it up happily. We also have the original Little Blue Truck and Little Blue Truck Leads the Way, and I was excited to see there’s a Halloween book coming out this summer.

2. Fly Guy

There are about a billion of these. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but we have at least eleven on our shelves. Some of our favourites are Hi, Fly Guy; Fly Guy and the Frankenfly; Fly Guy vs. the Flyswatter. My son also really enjoyed Fly Guy Presents: Insects and Fly Guy Presents: Dinosaurs. Scholastic have a parent’s guide here.

3. Elephant and Piggie

We already knew and loved Mo Willems from the Pigeon books when we discovered these. My children think they’re HILARIOUS, and I have to admit, I enjoy them a lot too. Some of our favourites: We Are in a Book; I Really Like Slop!; I Broke my Trunk.

4. Llama Llama

Always gentle and so, so easy to relate to, these are tender stories of a llama (and his llama mama) encountering trials such as the first day of preschool, an over-long shopping trip, and too much holiday excitement. We also really like Llama Llama Home with Mama and Llama Llama and the Bully Goat.