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Growing Readers

Recommended children's books and reading activities to foster early literacy at home.

Reading with your child may be one of the most meaningful and memorable ways to spend time imagining and learning together at home. Growing Readers emphasizes the importance of reading aloud to children and cultivating a love of great books. These parent resources and book reviews help you select the best books for your child, at each age and stage. Reading excellent children’s books together can strengthen your child's educational development. Discussing themes in the book are also wonderful ways to explore new concepts or guide your child through life's experiences.

Growing Readers Review (Volume 16, Issue 3)
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Children's Books for Learning about the Real World

The Real World

What is the real world to a very young child? It starts as a small circle of loved ones who care for and comfort a baby and expands rapidly with each day bringing new experiences to all the senses. A baby arrives with no language yet masters hundreds of words by age three. Toddlers march toward independence acquiring opinions and strong feelings along the way. And preschoolers have made great strides in mastering running, jumping, and balance. Young children are driven by an innate curiosity, a desire to learn more about how the world works.

For young readers, books are often the source of great stories full of fantasies, talking animals, and pretending; however, books can also offer an introduction to the real world. Eggs lead to chicks in Eric Carle’s How Things Grow, giving an infant-toddler appreciation of the wonders of nature. 

How does night turn into day, darkness to light? The answers to these preschool questions are illustrated in Mordecai Gerstein’s, The Night World. It is an example of art answering the questions of science – and in a beautiful way. 

Finally, Out of the Woods tells a true story of survival, of humans and animals finding shelter from the ravages of fire in a most unusual place. The real world is full of wonder that even very young readers can experience through literature.

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Growing Readers Review (Volume 16, Issue 2)
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Reviewers Picks

Reviewers' Picks

"Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say. No matter what.” And then the fun begins! If you saw a picture of the author, you might recognize him as he was in the long running TV series, The Office. 

On the complete other side of the young reader’s spectrum is brown girl dreaming, an eloquent memoir told in verse. This is the story of an African American girl growing up between the end of the Jim Crow era and the beginning of the civil rights movement who finds her strength in words and writing. 

Graphic art meets shape and number concepts in two board books that will give toddlers hands-on, multisensory experiences. 

Four books for different ages spanning topics from humor to history to early reading concepts. What do they all have in common? They are all reviewers’ picks. Books that some or all of the Growing Readers editorial committee found so compelling that we wanted to bring them to your attention. We hope you and your young reader will enjoy each of these selections.

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Growing Readers Review (Volume 16, Issue 1)
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Where Do Story Ideas Begin?

Where Do Story Ideas Begin?

Kevin Henkes is as delightful as the 50 award winning books he has authored and illustrated. I had the pleasure of interviewing him recently and got to see firsthand the spirit behind the creation of so many beloved children’s books. Kevin went to New York at age 19 to become a writer and held this one job for all of his professional life – and young children and those of us who read to them are grateful!

“Why mice,” I asked Kevin. “I started out with humans,” he replied, “but after drawing several characters, mice seemed more humorous and expressive.” And why big words? In Chrysanthemum (1991) we find precious, priceless, fascinating, winsome, envious, begrudging, discontented. Kevin said that he used to read books to children in his son’s kindergarten who asked about words they didn’t know – they were never embarrassed to ask. He wants the “rhythm of the words to be right,” and he also quoted E.B. White who talked about “the sound …words make on paper.” Read aloud these words from The Year of Billy Miller (2013) to see what he means: raindrop, dewdrop, snowdrop, gumdrop, lemon drop. And Kevin’s words look the part as in Wemberly Worried (2000) where we see She worried all the way there in a large, bold font. I noted that Kevin often uses illustrations that might be deemed unusual for children’s books such as Munch’s “The Scream” in the background of Owen (1993). Kevin confirmed that he likes to add something that adult readers will enjoy. 

Where do Kevin’s ideas begin? He said that the character comes first. He thinks about it a lot and lives with it a long time as the characteristics develop, and he keeps notes in a spiral notebook. “I never know where they’ll end up when I begin.” When the story is developed, Kevin goes from longhand to a typewriter that once belonged to his wife. No computer here, no email, and a cell phone that’s used for travel only. For Kitten’s First Full Moon (2004) Kevin knew from the beginning that the story would be told in black and white and he started illustrating with a brush, not a pen. 

Kevin expressed an idea that is at the heart of Growing Readers Review: “If we expose our kids to books and art, nothing but good can come from it.” He closed by saying, “The older I get, the more I am drawn to books for younger children.” His fans could not be happier. 

Look at this issue’s Books of Excellence to see the range of ideas that permeates children’s literature. The spectrum for young readers is as wide as the creativity of the authors and illustrators who craft these books – books that inspire young children to use their own imaginations.

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Growing Readers Review (Volume 15, Issue 4)
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Growing Readers

15 Year Anniversary

Think back to the first children’s book you can remember reading - or the first book that was read to you. Perhaps you can recall the illustrations or catchy rhymes or a whimsical story. And you may have read that same book to your children.

Children’s literature is a doorway to language, art, and traditions. Authors of children’s books have a limited number of pages and words to tell a tale. Sometimes they use no words at all, letting the illustrations guide a child’s imagination. These writers can tap into the world of a young reader, helping them explore their own thoughts and feelings or they can open new worlds of ideas and faraway places. With this issue we celebrate 15 years of Growing Readers Review.


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Growing Readers Review (Volume 15, Issue 3)
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Fiction Books for Young Children

Facts for Kids

What could be more fun than sharing a good story with a young reader? How about a good reference book? What, you say?! Compare a classic fairy tale with an encyclopedia? Take out Dr. Seuss and put in Webster? Maybe not, but what if facts came in beautifully illustrated volumes that encouraged youngsters to learn about the world and follow their burgeoning interests?

Consider this issue’s Books of Excellence. Infants and toddlers may have their first glimpse of wildlife in Some Babies are Wild. These tiny readers – babies themselves – will gently learn about a variety of species in a way that may very well spark an interest in animals, science, and more. Mama Built a Little Nest is also a book about animals and science. And like Some Babies are Wild, it brings scientific facts back to concepts that children can understand: baby animals and their mamas, birds’ nests and a child’s bed. And what about a book that could bring out the inner da Vinci or Velazquez? Get into Art People may be just the prompt needed to spur an interest in art or in becoming an artist.

It is likely that today’s young readers will get much of their future information from on-line sources that perhaps we can’t even imagine. With a few electronic taps, they will have libraries of information at their fingertips. But touching, holding a book, enjoying the uniqueness of each volume now can create a joy of learning and a portal to new interests. Will reference books replace “Once upon a time....?” Of course not, but fact and fiction can live happily ever after in children’s literature. 

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Growing Readers Review (Volume 15, Issue 2)
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Growing Readers: A Dose of Whimsy

A Dose of Whimsy

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.” — Dr Seuss

Remember the first time you played “peek-a-boo” with your baby? Smiles turned to giggles as your infant saw you disappear and return – over and over again. And have you heard your toddler sing and act out “I’m a Little Teapot” or perhaps perform a real live version of “Five Little Monkeys?” Children love fanciful play. Whether it's the whimsy of the unexpected, like seeing your face emerge from your hands, or the make-believe of playful songs, youngsters love to "get in the game." You may find the same results when youngsters enjoy our Growing Readers Review featured books.

Wooden books provide surprises for even the very youngest readers. They don't feel like the board books these children have come to know and they don't sound like paper pages. Watch your infant react to these new books. And for a real experience with anticipation, share That is Not a Good Idea! with preschoolers. Your child will quickly see what the villain is up to and shout warning messages to save the day. And for our sophisticated school-agers, a tale of crayons going on strike will entertain. Children often assign emotions to inanimate objects like stuffed animals or action figures, and here they learn that even their everyday crayons have feelings.

Play is the important work of childhood. These whimsical stories will entertain and bring forth participation from even the youngest readers. 

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Growing Readers Review (Volume 15, Issue 1)
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Parent's Roles as 1st Teachers Reading Books

Parents as Teachers

As parents, we are our children's first teachers. We help our infants learn that the world is a secure and predictable place. We guide toddlers as they learn to share. We encourage our preschoolers to become problem solvers. And we use books like those featured in this issue of Growing Readers Review to awaken their interests in so many topics. Perhaps just learning to love books is one of the greatest gifts we can give our youngsters.

Celeste Ng is the author of Everything I Never Told You, one of the New York Times Notable Books of 2014. In 2011, Ng was a young mother and wished that of all the things her child could do or become, he would be a reader. Here's what she said:

So no matter what he ultimately ends up doing, I hope my son turns out to be a reader. And I’ll do all I can to help him become one. I won't threaten to burn his toys, or bar him from playdates. But I'll buy him books as treats. I'll keep on reading to him, whatever he likes, every day, every year. I won't complain if he leaves books in every room: not just on shelves, but on the coffee table, on his nightstand, in the sofa cushions. A tiger mother I may not be. But as a bookworm mother, I'm setting my son up for success better than any tiger mother could. (Huffington Post 2-9-11)

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Growing Readers Review (Volume 14, Issue 4)
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Children's Books about Art & Music

Fine Art: Children's Books that Celebrate Art & Music

A few years ago at a back-up center, some preschoolers were looking at examples of modern art. They talked about the colors, composition and technique of Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian and others and then took matters into their own hands. They painted in the style of the artist that appealed to them, and the center was filled with beautiful creations. Each day parents enjoyed the growing gallery.

Now in back-up care, children attend when their regular care is not available, so some time can pass between visits. And over that time, teachers change center displays focusing on the children's latest work. One little boy returned to the center two months after the art activity. He took a quick look around and demanded, "Where is my Matisse?!" Clearly, the activity had left an impression on this young artist.

Young children are ready for the arts - music, dance, drawing, painting are all part of a child’s world. They are naturally visual artists and performers, and may just draw their inspiration from the books featured in this edition of Growing Readers Review.

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Growing Readers Review (Volume 14, Issue 3)
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Children's Books that Life Lessons

Children's Books that Teach Life Lessons

Sorting out the world is the job of children. And there is so much to learn. When caring adults answer the needs of infants, these very young children learn that the world is a responsive place and that they can feel secure. Toddlers move from the realm of "mine" to actually being able to share a favorite toy. And preschoolers become more and more adept at solving problems large and small.

Children are curious learners and gain knowledge daily through all of their interactions and observations. And good children's literature offers a rich start to just about every topic of interest to a child.

Tap the Magic Tree is an almost magical, interactive introduction to the four seasons. Even the youngest readers will see and hear the rhythm of nature. In Sophie's Squash, a pet veggie delightfully explores the ideas of love and patience. For older readers, Nasreddine presents the difference between criticism and wisdom. And finally, Wonder gives us an extraordinary lesson from the words of a 10-year-old.

All of these books give children an engaging introduction to complex ideas and provide families with the basis for great conversations. And, of course, they open the door to the great gift of becoming a lifelong reader.

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Growing Readers Review (Volume 14, Issue 2)
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Best Non-Fiction Books for Kids

Actual / Factual: Non-Fiction Children's Books

The development of knowledge in children from birth through eight is an amazing phenomenon. Both parents and teachers see the speed of learning in young children as a daily wonder. Sorting out this complicated world is no small task; yet through interactions with adults, through the five senses, through play and school, youngsters amass the basis of what they need to know to become independent individuals as well as confident and competent learners.

In addition, at a very early age, children develop their own favorite topics and themes. Have you witnessed a three or four year old dinosaur expert? This is the child who identifies and pronounces the very difficult names of a variety of creatures – not just the T Rex. Have you seen the child who takes a box of crayons and a stack of plain paper and turns them into a world of imagination? Where do these interests come from?

Deliberately and inadvertently, we introduce a myriad of subjects to children every day. Children "file away" most of the information, but some topics become favorites - perhaps lifelong hobbies or even the basis of adult interests or professions. The books in this issue of Growing Readers Review are what we call "Actual and Factual." They are the stories of real things, events, or people, beautifully written and illustrated to capture a child's interest. Non-fiction children's literature can be a child's entry into a broader and fascinating world.

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Growing Readers Review (Volume 14, Issue 1)
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Children's Books about Empathy, Kindness & Compassion

Who Cares? Children's Books that Teach Caring & Kindness

Have you ever seen preschoolers negotiate the boundaries of a play activity? "I'll be the mommy and you be the daddy," says a four year old. "No, you be the sister," says a playmate. On their own they work out the roles, and the story evolves. Have you ever seen a toddler pat the hand of a friend who is crying? These are examples of very young children learning and experiencing cooperation, empathy, respect, problem solving, and a sense of self. These are big and important topics that we usually discuss within the realm of adulthood or at least the teen years; however, children are mastering these elements of character at a very early age.

Children's literature can also promote guidance and understanding. "I'm sick", "I'm chilly", "I'm proud", "I'm happy" are all feelings that toddlers can see and hear in the engaging photos and rhymes of A Kiss Means I Love You. Each page is a potential conversation starter with even very young children. In Too Tall Houses, Rabbit and Owl's competitive nature takes them to a no-win conclusion – unless they can learn to cooperate. And Spunky, the thoughtful pup in Spunky Tells All, is faced with sharing his family with his worst enemy – a cat. But what will happen when Fiona gets into trouble? How will Spunky respond?

Character development isn't something that can wait till the teens or even the elementary years. Young children surprise us in their ability to care, and these lovely books can support that journey.

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Growing Readers Review (Volume 13, Issue 4)
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Children's Books for Girls | Empowerment

Girl Power: Children's Books of Adventure & Courage

Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? is the story of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to become a physician. Chances are the five- to eight-year-olds who read this inspiring biography will have seen just as many female physicians in their young lives as male physicians. It may be hard for them to imagine a time when society put strong limits on what women could accomplish.

Most children also would not remember a time when finding female heroes in literature for any age was rare. Today, children's literature presents an introduction to a world of possibilities for young girls and boys. Heroes come in all sizes, shapes, and genders. And the books can be biographical, informational, or just good fiction.

This issue of Growing Readers Review features books about empowered girls and young women who can become all they want to be.

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Growing Readers Review (Volume 13, Issue 3)
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Helping Kids Learn Using Books

Children's Books that Teach

Most people don’t associate the word curriculum with very young children or child care, but with children learning at their most rapid rate in the early years, a major opportunity lies in a well thought out early childhood curriculum. At Bright Horizons®, our curriculum, The World at Their Fingertips®, provides intentional teaching and rich experiences that build upon children’s individual strengths and talents to help them achieve success in school and in life.

All the books in this issue of Growing Readers Review relate to areas of the World curriculum. In addition, they are books that children, families, and teachers can learn, grow, and enjoy together.

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Growing Readers Review
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Funny Children's Books

Laughter is the Best Medicine - Even for Tots!

What makes your child laugh? Is it raspberries on the tummy of your infant? Your toddler dressing up in grown-up clothes? A stream of knock-knock jokes from your preschooler? Or sophisticated puns from your school-ager?

According to the blog Ageing Healthily, Happily & Youthfully, “the average four-year-old laughs 300 times a day and for the average 40-year-old it might be four times.” Why is the world of childhood such a funny place?

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Growing Readers Review
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Gardening Books for Children

Gardening Books for Children

Imagine involving your children in something that would include science, math, outdoor play, and physical activity. And what if that activity also promoted a healthy lifestyle, taught respect for the earth, and was both exciting and fun?

There really is an activity that can do all that and more - and it’s called gardening. Whether you start with seeds in cups near a sunny window, pots outside your door, or an available plot of land, your whole family can participate in something that is sure to engender a sense of wonder in children of any age. Gardening books abound for every age group.

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Growing Readers Review
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
History Books for Preschool Children

History Books for Preschool Children

Sometime in the preschool years, children begin to understand that they have a past. They can look at pictures of themselves from an early age and comprehend that's how they once looked. "I was a baby, but now I'm big," is a phrase you'll hear a young child repeat.

As their sense of time and place develops, they realize that daddy and mommy were also young at one time and they begin to appreciate the stories told by grandparents about their young lives. As children mature, their perspective on the world develops as well. Not only do they have a personal history, but so do their family, their town, and their country. And other children may have a history that is different from their own.

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Growing Readers Review
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Math and Science Books for Young Children

Math & Science Books for Young Readers

When do children begin to explore the important topics of science and mathematics? We may have an image of children in elementary school, but perhaps the path of curiosity, exploration, and discovery begins when an infant experiences the taste and texture of an object she puts in her mouth. Along the way, a toddler goes beyond rote counting and learns the actual meaning of the number two. And a preschooler watches day by day as a seed placed in a cup of dirt becomes a plant with tomato blossoms.

Young children are inquisitive, filled with questions about the world around them. Math and science books for children can both answer questions and stimulate growing interests.

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Growing Readers Review
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Inspirational Books for Young Readers

Reading is Moving - Children's Books Encouraging Fitness

As adults, we've all been moved by a good book, a great story or beautiful poetry or engaging information that speaks to us. Of course, the same thing happens with children.

Witness the youngster who wants the same book read over and over. Something in words or pictures is appealing and - at least for the moment - no other book will do. These kinds of experiences will cultivate life-long readers.

Some books can not only be moving, but can lead children to movement. The right stories and pictures can capitalize on young children’s natural inclination to be in motion. 

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Growing Readers Review
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Teaching Compassion to Kids through Reading

Teach Compassion through Reading

When do children begin to consider the feelings of others? When do they know what it means to help a friend? When does impulse give way to thoughtfulness? How do parents and teachers help youngsters learn about kindness and compassion?

Children model their own behavior on the behavior they see. Even very young toddlers can care for a pet, act gently with a younger sibling, perhaps part with a toy for a child who needs it more. Children model their language on the words they hear. They learn the words to express kindness and resolve conflicts. Respect for fellow human beings and character development begin at an early age. And children learn how to care for others from the books they enjoy.

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Growing Readers Review
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Our Favorite Children's Books

Our Favorite Books for Children

What makes a book a favorite? What makes us return to it again and again? What kind of book inspires fond memories?

Even the youngest children show strong preferences for their favorite book. Witness a toddler reaching for the same chunky board book or a preschooler asking for the same bedtime story each night. Perhaps the draw is an engaging story, intriguing illustrations, or the way the words sound when read aloud.

Giving children a wide array of well-written and well-illustrated books will allow them to develop their own tastes and learn the enjoyment of reading.

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Growing Readers Review
Children’s Book Reviews by Early Education Experts
Stories from Around the World

Stories from around the World

Young children make daily progress through the developmental stages. We can watch them learn to sit, to walk, to speak, to add, to read, and to ride a bicycle. But what else is happening as these young minds and bodies are developing? When does a child learn to appreciate differences among friends, to feel compassion for those less fortunate, to conserve the earth's resources? 

These are big lessons even for adults, but the education of a caring human being begins in the very early years. And a body of wonderful children’s literature supports and motivates this learning.

Read on for our book recommendations.

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Children's Books for Parents to Teach
Books of Excellence winners are reviewed and recommended by our early childhood educators as the best in children’s books and literature. We invite you to shop our Amazon book store where a portion of every sale supports the Bright Horizons Foundation for Children, an organization helping to make a difference in the lives of homeless children and families.
Tap the Magic Tree
Tap the Magic Tree
Infant

This books shows the changing of the seasons through the life of a tree.

Too Tall Houses
Too Tall Houses
Preschool

Owl and Rabbit are good friends until they compete with each other over their houses.

Wonder the book
Wonder
School Age

We walk with Auggie, a boy with facial deformities, through the many challenges of building friendships.

Mama Built a Little Nest  | Children's Books
Mama Built a Little Nest
Preschool

This beautifully illustrated book features interesting facts about a variety of birds and their unique nests - many of which are engineering feats.

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