What’s in a basket of favorite children’s books on animals?

Each year I look forward to the “Tinsel and Tails Holiday Petacular” to raise funds for the Humane Society for Hamilton County, Indiana. The event includes a silent auction, dinner, and presentations that feature the year’s most amazing pet adoption and survival stories. Some of the stories are tear-jerkers, for sure ─ you walk away truly humbled by what can be done to rescue and help so many wonderful animals find good homes with caring families. The silent auction includes everything from autographed sports memorabilia, art work, gift certificates for upscale dining, spa packages, golf packages, pet gifts, jewelry, travel and more. One year there was an amazing guitar signed by a famous musician.

This year I’m donating a basket from “Z House Stories” for the silent auction with the theme, “Reading Fun: Favorite Animal Stories.”  The next decision is which favorite books to include.

The search for favorite books surprisingly takes me to four different stores, not including the craft store where I purchase a basket and colored paper filling. I’m hoping to find some of the great stories I read when my son was little, especially some Bill Peet stories. There are lots of books in the first store I go to, a suburban Barnes and Noble that has a large children’s section with kid-size tables and chairs, toys, computer games, stuffed animals, paper products and pencils, stickers, magazines, and of course, many books. By the way, I would have checked out Borders but most of the Borders in our locale closed months ago.

In looking around Barnes and Noble, I’m surprised that many of the books I consider classics are not on the shelves. The sales-person does not recognize the name, Bill Peet, when I ask if they have his books. This is surprising since Peet grew up in Indianapolis and you’d think would be featured in an Indiana-based store as a well-renowned children’s author. The sales-person tells me they can order anything I want. But I know I can more easily order a book online myself.

Ok, so no Bill Peet here. I decide to look for “Harry the Dirty Dog” by Gene Zion. I listened to Betty White recently read this classic on Storyline Online (see my last blog) so for sure they’ll have this book on the shelves. Nope, they do not. But they do have lots of other books – books for Halloween, for Christmas, for winter, for summer. Seems like people must be buying books for the seasons or primarily for special occasions. Is this true?

I tell myself to keep an open mind – look for great animal books by more recent authors. So I open several books on the shelves. The art work in most of them is pretty terrific and they have great binding (hard bound mostly which means more expensive). But I’m not seeing many entrancing stories. There’s a nice anthology of Berenstain Bears books I like. But the hard-bound book exceeds my budget for this project.  There are the Berenstain Bears in paperbacks, so these are an option. Then I see several Eric Carle books in a nice display – the art work is gorgeous but I’m looking for more elaborate storylines.

So the search continues at two more nearby stores, Wal-Mart and Kroger. Both stores have lots of children’s picture books. But again, I’m not seeing the animal stories that seem quite right for the silent auction basket.

The fourth option is a store accessible at home courtesy of Wi-Fi, Amazon.com. All I have to do is type in the name of an author or book title recalled from years ago and there they are! There are new copies and used copies. They’re not all that expensive. They’re paperbacks. And they’re classics, at least to me.

So online shopping wins the day. The receipt notifies me that the books will arrive at my home in just two days.  Here’s what I selected to put into the basket for the silent auction:

  • “Eli” ─ Bill Peet
  • “Big Bad Bruce” ─ Bill Peet
  • “Harry the Dirty Dog” ─ Gene Zion
  • “The Pinkish, Purplish, Bluish Egg” ─ Bill Peet
  • “How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head” ─ Bill Peet
  • My own book, “How BJ Diana Came to Live at the Z House.”

Two days later after the ordered books have come in the mail, I’m stuffing handfuls of green and tan paper filling into the basket. But it doesn’t’ seem right not to include some candy. So in go some brightly colored jelly beans. Evidently, too many Easter baskets have affected my conception of what goes into a basket. Also, it doesn’t seem right not to include a coloring book ─ so in goes a nice coloring book obtained from Wal-Mart: “Winnie the Pooh: Big Fun Book to Color” (Disney). Finally, in goes a laminated cut-out of a favorite illustration of an animal shelter dog and cat from my new book.

The basket is ready to go.  What would go in your basket for favorite children’s animal stories?

Storyline Online … when you’re too tired or busy to read to your child

This week I’ve been exploring the Internet under a self-appointed mission to see what’s out there to help parents who are too tired after working all day to read to their young children; or who have kids of different ages who can’t figure out how to read to all of them given the realities of time.

After searching using key words ─ literacy, reading, reading to children ─ an online option wonderfully emerged out of e-world that would really work for these situations and many others. Storyline Online is a program of the Screen Actors Guild, part of the Guild’s commitment to children’s literacy. Storyline Online offers an online streaming video program featuring celebrities reading children’s books out loud. The actors read the story and the artwork comes alive through video production. I watched five stories tonight.  My favorites so far are Elijah Wood reading “Me and My Cat,” and Betty White reading “Harry the Dirty Dog.”

Storyline Online got its start 12 years ago through a grant from Verizon. The purpose is to strengthen comprehension, verbal and written skills of English language learners worldwide.  The program started with five videos featuring actors reading children’s books ─ now the site offers 19. There are also supplemental activities for each book that have been developed by an educator. Two important advantages of this site: you can access it 24/7 and it’s free.

I read through the many testimonials to see who’s using the site and why. There are many teachers using it in their classrooms to supplement their teaching activities. Some librarians in other countries indicate they don’t have enough books in their libraries so this helps to supplement their resources. There are students studying English in other countries who use the site to help them learn English. And yes, there are those working parents and grandparents who use the site on those nights when they’re too tired to read to their children and grandchildren. I especially liked the 45 year old living in Paris who just likes stories read aloud to her.

This is a cool site. Check it out if you need help reading to children – or if you just want someone to read you a great children’s story. I plan to go back and listen myself to more stories, for sure: http://www.storylineonline.net/




Happy 150th birthday to Stratemeyer, great storyteller

Thanks to the Writer’s Almanac which magically delivers a new poem to my cell phone daily via 4G around 1 a.m., I get to either start each day or end each night reading a poem. Along with the poem comes a list of famous writers with a birthday that day. Today’s list (October 4), celebrates Edward Stratemeyer’s 150th birthday. When I was a child, I read many of his books but today I didn’t recognize his name. What I could not know as a child was how important Stratemeyer was to bringing storytelling to children’s literature. Writers Almanac describes him as “one of the first American writers to capitalize on the new market in children’s literature which was created by universal primary education. At the time, most children’s books taught moral lessons.” Stratemeyer, however, had a different vision: tell gripping stories and use recurring characters in a series to capture children’s interest. So he created various series of stories with the same characters in them (e.g., the Motor Boys, the Outdoor Girls, the Bobbsey Twins). His books took off so fast that he couldn’t do all the writing himself. So he wrote the outline for each story and hired a crew of freelance writers to write the books under a pen name owned by his company. Two of his most popular series for kids were detective series ─ the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Nancy Drew was an icon to me as child ─I read every book. Thankfully, storytelling ran in the Stratemeyer family, because when Stratemeyer died, his two daughters continued the book business. So hat’s off today to the family whose name I long ago forgot but whose recurring characters and gripping stories have stayed with me ─and no doubt millions others ─for a lifetime. The mystery of Nancy Drew (who created her…) is solved.

If you want to get a daily poem from the Writer’s Almanac: http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/