Good Books

Posted September 30, 2019

By Sarah Sivright

We know that shared book reading builds and strengthens connections between children and adults.  But does it really matter what you read to children?  Yes!  A study funded by the National Science Foundation demonstrates that even babies respond differently to better books.  Quality books contain thought-provoking characters and plots.  In addition to providing a mirror to our children, quality literature expands children’s experiences beyond themselves.  After many years in early childhood, here are some of my take-aways.

What are “good books?”

There are classics, which by their longevity in the “beloved” category are clearly Good Books.  Folk/fairly tales and nursery rhymes were the classic staple in our grandparents’ era. Nowadays, there is a huge collection of books written specifically for young children.  But, like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead, some are very good, and some are very, very bad.*

What I’ve recommended are personal choices, as all books must be.  My choices are partially guided by the belief that young children are routinely under-estimated. “Big messages” are delivered in a heavy-handed, preachy manner, with little or no subtlety. (In that category, Thunder Cake comes the closest to that failing, but has other good qualities.) Also, humor is over-done, like a slapstick comedy.  Some books are fun in that way, but are not usually the ones requested over and over, one of the marks of a Good Book. And poorly illustrated books are just off my list.

*[See the nursery rhyme “There was a little girl who had a little curl…” I was going to include some examples of Bad Books, but that didn’t seem very nice.]


Promoting a child’s love of books involves several key pieces:

  • Being read to from an early age
  • Watching the people in their lives enjoy reading
  • Being exposed to books with text that speaks in some thoughtful, creative way to the child’s mind and illustrations that are beautiful, creative or charming

A note about the illustrations—the Newberry Award is given by the American Library Association to the author of the most distinguished American children’s book, and the Caldecott is given to the artist of the best picture book, so the “experts” put a high value on both.


Some of my favorites…

Big message

Fire Cat—Esther Averill (a very big exception to my illustration standard!)

Crow Boy—Yashima

Mr. Gumpy’s Outing—Burningham

Owl Babies—Waddell

Thunder Cake—Polacco

Extra Yarn—Barnett

Anything by Leo Lionni


Drama—just scary enough for preschoolers

Three Robbers–Ungerer

Edward and the Pirates—McPhail

Abiyoyo—Seeger and Hays

Tough Boris—Mem Fox



The Mitten–Tresselt

Boo and Baa series—Landstrom

Anything by Jon Klassen


Chapter Books

Frog and Toad series—Lobel

Little Bear—Sendak

Jenny and the Cat Club–Averill



Gilberto and the Wind—Ets

Any nature books by Jim Arnosky—nature info with enough of a story to engage young children.

And the Are you a Bee/Butterfly/Spider series by Allen and Humphries

Owl Moon—Yolen

Peter Rabbit—Potter


Lullaby books

Hush! Minfong Ho

Little Fur Family—Margaret Wise Brown


Grandmas and Grandpas

Nana Upstiars and Nana Downstairs—dePaola

Now One Foot, Now the Other — dePaola

My Little Grandmother Often Forgets—Lindbergh

Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge—Mem Fox

Miss Rumphius–Cooney

My Grandson Lew—Charlotte Zolotow

The Two of Them–Aliki


Nursery rhymes/Mother Goose

Lack of exposure these days, partly because of the increase in good children’s lit these days, but don’t neglect this important part of every child’s education!



The beauty of many of these books is that there is no Big Message.  They are books about children and families just being themselves—many colors, many styles.

Jamaica series—Havill. (African-American).

Louie, Peter’s Chair—Keats.  (African-American) 

Sam—Ann Herbert Scott ((African-American)

Fancy Nancy series—O’Connor/Glasser—individualism of family members, especially Nancy, is supported.

Mrs. Katz and Tush—Polacco—(Jewish)

A Different Pond—Phi/bui (Hmong)

Hush (Thai)

Crow Boy (Japanese)


Happy Reading!

And for some returning families, this blog will look familiar.  We have sent it out before, but I think it merits a second round.




“You’re Never Too Old to be Young” – Happy from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Posted September 17, 2019

by Amy Lemieux

Some messages are worth repeating, and the inherent value of intergenerational programming is one of them! Parents who choose an intergenerational setting for their child understand at some deep level the great potential of pairing the youngest and oldest among us.
Our teachers understand this potential, as well. One of the commonalities between the young and old that makes their pairing magical is their ability to be totally candid without being offensive. There are not many seniors or young children whose thoughts do not pop right out of their mouths, and we delight in these interactions! No one means to be offensive and it is rare that offense is taken.
Our students will ask: “Why don’t you have hair?”  “Are you sad your husband died?”
A senior will say: “Sit down before you tip over in that chair.” “Take your finger out of your nose.”
These matter-of-fact interactions, the small unstructured moments that take place within our structure, are what make our days richer. The aides in Willow Cove (memory care) have shared that the seniors enjoy their daily visit from the preschoolers even more than visits from their own family members! This surprised us and we wondered why. The explanation was simple; the children come with no agenda, no expectations, and do not pass judgement. Unlike family members, our students are not visiting the seniors to monitor their food intake, assess their activity level, or ask about their blood pressure. With young children, the mission is simple; to be together. With the children, the seniors can be social and enjoy the success of a simple activity without feeling like they’re under a microscope.

With some reflection, we realized that the very same thing could be said about our preschoolers. Pairing the youngest and the oldest in our society strips away the need to “perform” or meet any expectations our society inadvertently (and almost always) imposes on these two populations.
Quotes from a conversation in one of our classrooms illustrates this straightforward honesty that is possible when we strip away our expectations.

A teacher asked, “How can you tell that someone upstairs is a grandma or grandpa?”
-They are bald and have plain hair. We think plain is not a color.
-They’re wearing different clothes. Like a flower shirt or pink clothes.
-Grandmas always have short hair.
-When people walk, their legs hurt. I can see the grandmas when their legs hurt.
-Some grandmas wear glasses. They wear grandma glasses.
-They can sometimes hurt their hips and backs.
-They have owies.
-Sometimes they’re fat. Or just chubby.
-Their skin is soft and loose. Floppy, kind of.
-They have fancy chairs that can move and even go backwards!
Believe it or not, statements like these are one of the very reasons the seniors appreciate the presence of young children. Add to that physical touch, affection, and tenderness (a lack of touch is a very real problem for our elders), it is easy to understand the natural bond that can be formed.
The children add energy, spontaneity, and unpredictability in the midst of routine. While the routine is an essential quality for the young and old, the spontaneity is what’s enchanting. Even with seniors who are not always aware of the time, they have a sense of when the children come and the familiar routine is comforting. Said one grandma, “The kids come right before lunch, but who knows what they will do or say.”





Happy New Year!

Posted September 4, 2019

by Joanne Esser


September always feels to me as if it should be the time when we officially celebrate the New Year, rather than according to the calendar, in January.

For people who work with children, for parents and certainly for the children themselves, the start of a new school year is a time of excitement and promise, a time for celebration. Seeing beloved teachers and favorite friends, returning to special spots in the woods, discovering new people and places and materials can be so much fun!

But for many people, both adults and children, the start of a new school year can also trigger some fear or worry. Transitions – moving from the unstructured days of summer to the routine of preschool, from the familiarity of home to an unfamiliar classroom, from spending most of their time with family to being with strangers – can be both frightening and wonderfully stimulating at the same time. This is normal for all of us.

Educators are keenly aware of this complicated dynamic. Big emotions of all kinds come up when school begins. That’s why we spend so much time preparing the classroom environments ahead of time to make them feel welcoming. It’s why we move slowly at first, helping children adjust at their own pace to the new experiences they are having. It’s why we focus on very basic things like learning each other’s names, touring the various parts of the building and discovering the outdoor spaces, exploring materials in the classroom one by one to figure out how they can be used. It’s why we develop predictable routines and agreements (rules) and repeatedly share songs that help everyone know what to expect. It’s why teachers pay such close attention to the messages that the children give us, both in words and nonverbally, about how they are feeling. We stay close by to support them as they work through their own versions of getting to know this new place.

For me, as the new director of All Seasons Preschool, this is also a big transition point in my life. I am the “outsider,” coming to join a solid and connected community of educators. Though I have been a teacher and a school administrator for well over thirty years, this particular place and these specific people are new to me. I spent the past thirteen-plus years teaching Pre-K classes of four- and five-year-olds at Blake School in Hopkins; I know exactly how to do that job well. Now I am leaving my familiar role as a full-time classroom teacher and taking on a new teacher/leader position.

Like the children entering their new preschool or classroom, I naturally wonder, “Will they like me?” “Will I fit in?” “Will I figure out what this place is all about without feeling too lost?” It takes courage for any of us to try something unfamiliar. It takes time to adjust.

Transitions are not often adequately acknowledged in our fast-paced world at large, but they are significant moments in our lives. During the first weeks of school at All Seasons Preschool, our most important job is to help everyone develop a sense of belonging – for children, for families, for teachers and staff. When we feel we belong, our transitions happen more smoothly and we relax into the joy of being part of something really amazing. I am looking forward to that joy!