Teaching Kids What Books Are For

Sometimes a book catches your eye right away and you can tell from the cover it’s going to be a fun read. Other times, it’s the most inconspicuous book that you happen to pick up out of mild curiosity, not expecting much, that turns out to be a real gem. This is one of those books.

The Wonderful BookThe Wonderful Book by Leonid Gore

First impression: Oh great, another children’s picture book with a cute bear on the cover. Yawn!

But believe me, this one is definitely worth picking up. It had my storytime group giggling from start to finish, and at the end, one little boy blurted, “Read it again!” As any literacy educator knows, finding books that appeal to boys is quite often a challenge, so I took this as high praise indeed.

I decided to make a complete fool of myself when introducing this book. I pulled it out of my storytime treasure box and said, “Oh look! It’s a pillow!” As I pretended to go to sleep with my head on the book, the group erupted in giggles. Grumpily, I knocked on the cover and complained about the hardness of my “pillow”. The kids (in vain) tried to tell me, no, no, that’s not what a book is for!

I proceeded to try a few other silly things with the book, like using it as an umbrella in the rain or a chair to sit on, but each time, the kids insisted that I was mistaken. Finally, I asked them to please tell me what to do with the book. Never before has a group of kids demanded with such passion that I read them a story!

Ok, so maybe the fact that I built it up so much helped… a lot. The kids were highly amused by the animals in the story—from the bear who uses a book as a hat to the mice who use it as a dining table—who were just as confused about books as their crazy storytime teacher.

While there are other books that promote reading in a positive way (and they certainly have their place), this one emphasizes the joy of reading by showing what a book is NOT for. That’s what sets it apart and makes it so funny to preschoolers, who delight in such silliness.

My Top 7 Favourite Podcasts

Looking for something new to strike your eardrums? Here I’ll share seven podcasts that get played on my iPhone on a regular basis. I’ve learned many things from these wellsprings of audible information, from the fact that I really must see the new Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie (thanks, Plugged In!) to the fact that some faux fur trim actually comes from domestic cats (thanks, Planet Money… I think).

The Boundless Show1. The Boundless Show

I’ve been reading the Boundless webzine and blog since way back when I was an undergrad university student (ok, that was only 5 years ago, but it seems like a lifetime). For good advice on relationships and life as a 20-something from a Christian perspective, Boundless is a great place to turn to, whether you’re single, dating, or married. Also, Lisa the podcast host is a riot. She’s fun to listen to.

AlbertMohler.com – The BriefingAlbertMohler.com – Thinking in Public2. AlbertMohler.com – The Briefing

3. AlbertMohler.com – Thinking in Public

If my pastor had a podcast, I would love to hear his take on today’s current events. Hmm, maybe I should drop that suggestion in the offering plate next Sunday… In the meantime, I can always listen to Albert Mohler talk about what’s going on in the world today and what it means for us as Christians. He’s a Baptist, just like my pastor, so close enough! The Briefing, as you can tell by the name, is a shorter daily podcast, and Thinking in Public features longer interviews on specific topics.

NPR: Planet Money Podcast4. NPR: Planet Money

I did not major in economics, business, or finance, but I find this podcast fascinating. They talk about economics in a way that I can actually understand, with stories about real people instead of just abstract figures. Oh, and in case you’re wondering what the cat fur is all about, download episode #245: A Meat Grinder For Fabric (Jan. 21, 2011).

Official Plugged In Podcast5. Official Plugged In Podcast

This is, in my opinion, the best source for family-friendly reviews on the latest movies, TV shows, music, and video games. That’s not to say they don’t talk about R-rated movies. In fact, they do. But they point out the content that some viewers might find offensive, which for me is very helpful in deciding whether or not something is worth watching. It will be even more helpful someday when we have kids in the house, whose little eyes and ears don’t need to be exposed to certain kinds of entertainment.

Focus on the Family Daily Broadcast6. Focus on the Family Daily Broadcast

I remember my mom listening to Focus on the Family on the radio when I was a kid. Back then, it was Dr. James Dobson’s familiar voice that I used to overhear. Even though he’s retired from Focus on the Family now, the podcast is just as encouraging for me now as a young wife as it was for my mom twenty-some-odd years ago. As someone who wants to have a strong, lasting marriage and to be a good mom someday, I really appreciate the solid biblical advice I get from Focus on the Family.

Vinyl Cafe Stories from CBC Radio7. Vinyl Cafe Stories from CBC Radio

Stuart McLean is a great storyteller. I took one of his Vinyl Cafe books to the cottage this summer and got a lot of odd looks from my husband for my frequent unstoppable outbursts of laughter. Hearing the author read his stories out loud is even more enjoyable. The 15- to 20-minute-long stories follow the antics of a typical Canadian family of four, and McLean has a knack for amplifying the humour in their everyday lives.

Quick Sunday night supper

I threw this together last night using some ingredients I had on hand. Served in bowls with grated mozzarella cheese sprinkled on top, it was a warm, satisfying dish and a nice change of pace from all the leftover turkey we’ve been having this month. My husband’s favourite part was the chunks of hot Italian sausage; mine was the tender broccoli florets, bursting with folic acid and all those other healthy green-veggie vitamins. We agreed that next time, he gets extra sausage in his bowl and I can have extra broccoli in mine.

This is a quick and easy recipe to make when you’re pressed for time or when you’d rather just relax on the couch with your dearly beloved instead of spending hours in the kitchen. Just add broccoli, Italian sausage, and mozzarella cheese to your grocery list this week, and I bet you already have all the other ingredients in your pantry to make this next weekend!

Sausage Broccoli Pasta

6 hot Italian sausages, casings removed
1 jar (700 ml) tomato sauce (I used a no-name 6-vegetable pasta sauce)
1 cup uncooked pasta (I used rigatoni)
1 head of broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
Additional grated mozzarella for sprinkling

In a large nonstick skillet, fry the sausages until cooked, about 10 minutes. Drain and return to the skillet. Add pasta sauce and cook over medium heat until bubbly.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and boil for 4 minutes. Add broccoli and continue boiling 6 minutes longer. Drain and add to the sauce mixture. Stir in cheese and mix well. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the cheese is melted.

To serve, scoop into bowls and sprinkle with additional grated mozzarella cheese. Makes 4 bowlfuls—just enough for 2 hungry people, with leftovers for the next day!

Pete the Cat free audio download

“Can we read Pete the Cat again? Please?!”

Be prepared: Kids will beg you to read this book again and again after you read it to them once. It’s a highly requested storytime favourite in at least one library I know.

Children will love singing along with Pete the Cat as he delights in his ever-changing shoes—whatever colour they happen to be at the moment. We can all learn a simple but valuable lesson from this unflappable feline: No matter what you step in, keep walking along and singing your song!

You can download the song and story for free here, so if you ever do get tired of reading the book, your kids can still listen to it over and over again to their hearts’ content. Thanks, Harper Collins!

BBQ recipes in November?!

Tonight was not a good night for barbecuing. Not only was it cold and windy, but it was starting to get dark by the time we got home. But I didn’t let the frigid weather stop me from experimenting with some great grilling recipes in the comfort of my warm kitchen!

Spice-Rubbed Pork Chops

I do so love my iPhone recipe apps—including Epicurious, which is the source of this mouth-watering dish. When I saw that 97% of reviewers would make this again, I knew it had to be good, and now that I’ve tasted it myself, I would definitely agree it’s a keeper!

I adapted the recipe slightly based on what I had in my pantry. I didn’t have garlic powder or onion powder on hand, so I substituted one minced clove of garlic and 3/4 tsp. minced onion. I also left out the cayenne. Even without it, the flavour was bold enough for me!

Instead of cooking the chops on the BBQ, I heated a little olive oil in a non-stick skillet with a lid and cooked 3 chops at a time over medium-high heat for about 20 minutes, covered, turning them every 5 minutes. They came out juicy and delicious! The only thing missing was those lovely charred grill marks. Which is why I can’t wait to try the original recipe (below) as soon as the sun smiles on us with a warmer day!

Spice-Rubbed Grilled Pork Chops

Pork Chop Willy’s Grilling Rub:

  • 3 tablespoons sweet paprika, preferably Spanish
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt, either kosher or sea salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

Other ingredients:

  • Six to eight 10- to 11-ounce bone-in pork rib chops, 3/4 to 1 inch thick
  • Vegetable oil spray

At least 1 and up to 8 hours before you plan to grill the pork chops, prepare the dry rub, combining the ingredients in a small bowl. Coat the chops with the spice mixture, place them in a large plastic bag, seal, and refrigerate.

Fire up the grill, bringing the heat to medium (4 to 5 seconds with the hand test).

Remove the chops from the refrigerator and let them sit covered at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

Spray the chops with oil and transfer them to the grill. Grill for 18 to 20 minutes total. Turn onto each side twice, rotating the chops a half turn each time to get criss-cross grill marks. The chops are done when just a hint of pink remains at the center. Serve hot.

Read More: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Spice-Rubbed-Grilled-Pork-Chops-235178?mbid=ipapp#ixzz16A8LyhI7

Grilled Zucchini

My husband and I have made this recipe on the BBQ before. His only complaint was that I should have bought more than one zucchini! This time, I made three, and we only had a few pieces left over. Mind you, these are the small zucchini they sell in the grocery store, not the robust garden variety. Still, they taste pretty good this way. I’d have to say that next to my Mom’s zucchini chocolate chip cake, it’s my favourite way to eat the vegetable!

To make this recipe work indoors, I used a small, shallow roasting pan of mine that has a rack. I put the zucchini on the rack in a single layer and broiled them about 8 minutes on each side. For the last 8 minutes, I moved the oven rack up as close to the heat as possible. The zucchini actually turned out very pretty; the black marks could have fooled you into believing I actually did brave the cold to BBQ them!

The recipe comes from Kalyn’s Kitchen.

Grilled Zucchini

  • 1 zucchini 12-14 inches long, sliced in slices 1/2 to 5/8 inch thick
  • 1/2 cup Italian salad dressing
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder or garlic puree (optional)
  • 1 -2 tsp. dried oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, or a combination (optional)

Cut zucchini into slices, making sure the slices are the same thickness. Combine salad dressing with garlic powder and dried herbs of your choice, if using. Put zucchini slices into ziploc bag, pour in marinade and let zucchini marinate 4 hours or longer, even as long as all day if desired.

To cook zucchini, preheat grill to medium-high. (You can only hold your hand there for 3-4 seconds.) You can spray the grill with non-stick spray if desired, but you don’t really need it.

Place zucchini on grill, having a spray bottle handy for taming any flames that shoot up from the oil in the marinade. After about 4 minute, check for grill marks, and rotate zucchini a quarter turn. Cook 3-4 more minutes on first side.

Turn zucchini to second side and cook about 4 minutes more, or until zucchini is starting to soften quite a bit, with the outside slightly charred and browned. Season with salt and fresh ground black pepper and serve hot.

Read More: http://kalynskitchen.blogspot.com/2006/07/how-to-grill-zucchini-perfect-every.html

In praise of audiobooks

Read me a story!

As a child, I was extremely fortunate to have a mother who often read to me at home. At school too, I used to love when the teacher would spend a whole period reading aloud from a chapter book. I suppose that part of me never really grew up.

As an adult, I still enjoy the pleasure of listening to someone else read to me. Audiobooks allow me to drive, or wash dishes, or do laundry, while savouring a good novel or non-fiction book at the same time. I’ve enjoyed many more books this way than I would have had time to sit down and read otherwise.

The latest library gadget: Playaways

Our library has something new to offer to audiobook lovers like me. They’re called Playaways. Each one comes loaded with a prerecorded audiobook. All the user has to do is insert one AAA battery and plug in a pair of earbuds. (The library sells earbuds for $2 to patrons who don’t have their own.)

The player is easy to use—not too many buttons—and small enough to fit in one’s pocket. Playaways can be checked out for 3 weeks, just like books, and patrons can either browse the selection on the shelf or request titles from other branches (again, just like books).

Downloads still win in my books

Personally, my favourite method of listening to audiobooks is still on my iPhone. I’m a big fan of downloadLibrary, through which our library also offers a wide selection of downloadable audiobooks. My phone goes with me everywhere, so whether I’m in the car or doing chores around the house, I can carry my audiobooks with me. Of course, the same holds true for Playaways, which are also very portable.

The advantage of downloaded audiobooks is that I can get them instantly at home, without having to go to the library to check out a physical copy. I never have to worry about overdue fines either, since the files automatically expire after the loan period is over. Hence, I never have to make a mad dash to return them in the bookdrop either.

Books on CD take third place

As for my third favourite kind of audiobook we offer, books on CD were a great invention at first, but the only thing they have going for them now is the fact that we have a lot of them in our collection. To me, they are more inconvenient because I can only play them in my car or on my computer. This is fine when I am driving or sitting at my desk, but it gets a little cumbersome to carry my laptop with me when I am running up and down the stairs to check on a load of laundry.

I think Playaways are great for people like me who like to listen to audiobooks on the go, especially for those who aren’t able to download audiobooks or who don’t own an mp3 player. I, for one, am hoping that our library will continue to expand our collection of these neat little devices.

Read-aloud favourites

I recently used these three picture books for my Play and Pretend Storytime at the library. (Age group: 3 to 6 years.) They’re all loosely related along the themes of imagination and animals, but mostly I picked them because they had new, shiny covers and were fun to read!

Mathilda and the Orange Balloon
by Randall de Sève

I used a sheep puppet to introduce this story. I told the kids her name was Mathilda and she had brought something special to show them, but it was hidden in my bag and they would have to guess what it was. Mathilda the puppet then “whispered” clues in my ear: 1) It was round. 2) It was kind of big, but not heavy. 3) It was orange. They loved this guessing game. The special thing Mathilda wanted to show them was, of course, an orange balloon.

The story has wonderful images, although not much of a plot. Still, who can resist the charm of a cute little sheep who wants to pretend she is an orange balloon? It’s an enjoyable, light-hearted read that encourages kids to use their imaginations and dream because “anything is possible!”

Children Make Terrible Pets
by Peter Brown

I love how this book defies expectations. The picture on the cover says it all: Lucy the bear holding her sweet, lovable human pet. It’s all backwards! The kids and I also loved how the humans kept making funny squeaking noises throughout the book. I let them chime in on those parts.

A good song to go along with this is Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Turn Around:

Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around.
Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground.
Teddy bear, teddy bear, show your shoe.
Teddy bear, teddy bear, that will do!

Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark
by Deborah Diesen

The illustrations in this one are great. For some reason, the characters remind me of Fraggle Rock (ah, fond memories from my own childhood!). Anyway, what makes this a perfect read-aloud story is the bouncing rhythm, as well as the elements of rhyme and repetition. It’s what literacy educators call a predictable book; like a song with a chorus that repeats between verses, the story has a “refrain” that kids can quickly learn by heart and read out loud along with the teacher. In terms of helping children learn to read, this is a bonus feature!

My favourite part is when the fish swim to the deepest, darkest part of the ocean. The pages are almost black, but you can faintly see the fishy characters peeking through the darkness. What great work on the part of the illustrator, Dan Hanna. While many may not admit it, I think most children can relate to being afraid of the dark, which makes the book’s messages about courage and friends sticking together through thick and thin highly relevant to young readers.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I just finished reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I picked it up for two reasons: 1) It had a big red hand on the cover, and 2) A library patron, when she returned it, said that everyone should read this book. I always take such comments with a grain of salt, but in this case I’m glad I heeded her advice.

Not your average kid

The narrator and protagonist is a young boy named Oskar who is by no means your typical nine-year-old. He’s a genius of an inventor and spouts facts like a walking encyclopedia, although one might say he is not very well-adjusted socially. I must say I was a little taken aback by his coarse language at certain points in the story. Nevertheless, I found him quite endearing, perhaps partly because I felt sorry for him, and partly because in some ways he reminded me of myself.

Intellectual stimulation

I feel like I learned so much while I was reading this book, which is always an element of appeal for me. I like being able to pause and say, “Wow, I didn’t know that!” This and, “Wow, I wish I would have thought of that!” were both expressions I found myself repeating often as I read Oskar’s rambling narrative. The pages are filled with his ideas for new inventions and things he has learned about everything from elephants to the Empire State Building.

Sad, profound…

This is definitely a sad story, and it left me feeling just as sorry for Oskar at the ending, which doesn’t seem to leave him with much hope (some, perhaps, but not much). But still, it was a profound story and it gave me much to think about. It reminded me that hiding a painful secret makes it all the more painful. I’ve had secrets of my own that became, in Oskar’s words, “a hole in the middle of me that every happy thing fell into.” (I love that line; how sad and how true.) It also reminded me how important it is to tell the people I love how much I love them, even if it may seem unnecessary. “It’s always necessary,” Oskar’s grandmother wisely states.

…and quirky

I would also call this a quirky book because of the way the author plays with punctuation and spacing and uses photos along with the text to emphasize what he’s trying to say. It was refreshingly different from any other book I’ve read. I wouldn’t go as far as that library patron and say that everyone should read it, but if you don’t mind some serious subject matter–and by serious, I mean tragic–and you enjoy novels written from the perspective of an intelligent youngster, then by all means, go for it.

Spiced Pumpkin Bread

Here’s a great pumpkin recipe to try. It’s become a tradition for me to make this for my father-in-law’s birthday, which happens to fall around Thanksgiving (near the beginning of October for us Canadians). The original recipe from my Aunt Carol made two loaves; I’ve adapted it to make only one loaf and changed the amounts of spices slightly. It’s good with or without raisins and nuts. I’ve even substituted dried cranberries for the walnuts, which adds some nice colour and moisture.

Spiced Pumpkin Bread Recipe

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup oil
1/3 cup chopped walnuts OR dried cranberries, optional
1/2 cup raisins, optional

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs, sugar, pumpkin puree, water, and oil. Add to dry ingredients, stirring only to moisten. Fold in nuts or cranberries and raisins, if desired.

Bake in a greased loaf pan for 45-55 minutes at 350 F, until a piece of uncooked spaghetti inserted in the centre comes out clean.


Cooking pumpkins

I once worked on a farm that grew pumpkins (among other things). Part of my job involved giving tours to groups of schoolchildren and teaching them all about how pumpkins grow. Another part of my job involved baking spiced pumpkin cookies to serve to these eager young visitors. The main ingredient, of course, came straight from our own pumpkin patch. That autumn at the farm is when I learned how to take a real, live pumpkin and turn it into something other than a jack-o-lantern. I’ve never bought a can of pumpkin puree since.

How to cook a pumpkin:

1. Choose a small pie pumpkin (they have the nicest flavour for baking).

2. Break off the stem and wash the pumpkin.

3. Cut pumpkin in quarters.

4. Using a spoon, scoop out seeds. (Roast them for a snack later!)

5. Put pumpkin pieces, with skin on, in a large pot and fill it about half to two-thirds full of water.

6. Lightly salt, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat.

7. Reduce heat to medium-high and maintain a steady boil until pumpkin is soft when pierced with a fork (about 20 minutes).

8. Remove from heat and drain.

9. When pumpkin is cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape the flesh away from the skin. Discard skin.

10. Mash pumpkin, put in bags, and freeze. To use frozen pumpkin in recipes, thaw and drain of excess liquid.


Use immediately in your favourite recipes! Depending on the size, one pie pumpkin will give you about 2 1/2 to 3 cups.