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“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa. She lives in a big white house with many rooms and balconies.”

Thus begins each chapter in the Juvi novel, Anna Hibiscus, one of the most delightful books I’ve read over the last year. Four chapters tell four stories of Anna Hibiscus’ life with her very large family in a very large city in Africa. By the end of the book, I was ready to move to Africa and into that big, happy family.

Everything is not perfect but everything is manageable. A trip to the beach becomes overwhelming until the whole family arrives; “‘It is not good to be alone,’ Anna heard them whisper…’A husband and three children is too much for one woman alone.'” Anna learns compassion and hard work when she sells oranges instead of the street children. The family frets over a daughter returning from Canada for a visit; will she have forgotten the African ways? And Anna shows initiative and gets to visit Canada–and see snow!

Great elements in Anna Hisbiscus?

  • Family is the central focus and what a great family they all are!
  • Each story is written from a child’s point of view, expressing a child’s feelings and showing how children can grow and learn when supported by family.
  • Each story shows a realistic view of modern Africa with a blend of the traditional and the modern.
  • Each story just feels so natural even though the setting and culture will be so different for many children here in the US.

I can’t wait to add more in the series to my collection!

Hope you enjoy too!




I live in one of the poorest areas in Colorado. I do storytimes at the local Head Start programs. I see kids who come from homes that are struggling. And the kids from these homes experience the wear and tear of such a life on a daily basis.

So what kind of books do I choose for kids who probably haven’t grown up being read to? Who might not know what a book is or is for? Who might not care or be interested in books? Who might have even shorter than normal attention spans?

Do I choose books by famous authors? Books with award winning illustrations? Or do I choose the shortest books? Books with the fewest words on a page? Books with sounds and lights and gizmos and gimmicks?

Nope! I choose books with “good stories.”

Let me give you an example. The Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday (so already I have one stroke against me), I visit a Head Start classroom. Actually it’s two classrooms combined into a teeny tiny reading space (two more strikes against me). And I start to read Don’t Want to Go by Shirley Hughes.

I can see the teachers look wide-eyed at me as I open this book. It’s got LOTS of words in it. And there’s nothing snazzy, razzle dazzle about the pictures.

It’s the straight forward story of a preschooler whose mom wakes up one morning with the flu. So dad (who has to go to work) takes her to an adult friend’s house for the day. The little girl’s plaintive cry is, “Don’t want to go!”

Of course, she goes anyway. She really doesn’t have much say in it. But there she meets a smiling mom with a friendly baby. The dog licks her hand, she helps the mom glue pictures into a book, she plays peekaboo and holds the dog’s leash on the way to the older brother’s school and even gets to watch a little TV with him.  At each transition her cry is, “Don’t want to go!”

And when dad comes to get her at the end of the day, once again she exclaims, “Dont’ want to go!” Adults love the ending–but kids? Kids love the in-between parts. These are situations and feelings they have experienced. They would want mom up in the morning.  They would want to stay home, too, not go to a stranger’s house. They would lose their mittens on the way and pout under the table and say “don’t want to” but then with warmth and understanding and careful coaxing find themselves enjoying the new moments–just like Lily.

What’s this have to do with “good stories?” An essential element of any good children’s story (for children of any age up through teens) is that the story needs to meet the kid where the kid is at developmentally.

The books that hold kids’ attention with no gimmicks or gizmos are the ones that reflect their experiences, their perceptions, their learning edges, their developmental issues, their world. These are the books with staying power. These become the classics.

Shirley Hughes understands three and four year olds. You hear it in Lily’s reactions, whether in her cry, her pout, her laugh,  or her saying no and then helping anyway. You see it in the illustrations–in the postures and faces of the characters. You hear it in the details she notices (“It was a yellow door, the color of the inside of Lily’s egg,” an egg which she remembers, btw, because she dropped it on the floor earlier). You see and hear it in the reassuring manner in which the adults react to her.

The book is clean and simple. It’s a “good story” for young children any time but perhaps especially right now during the holidays. There can be so many changes on a daily basis. And change is not easy when you are little and adults run the world.

So don’t let the number of words or the non-glamour of this book scare you away.  My Head Starters were dead into it, all the way through! Yours can be too! It is a winner–for groups or for just one or two in the lap–cause it’s a “good story!”

Give it a whirl!


Someone asked a great question about Storybox Special. How do you decide which books to put in your boxes? (If you don’t know about Storybox, click here to read more.)

Here’s the basic mix. Each box contains:

  • books that support at least one early literacy skill,
  • books that support a developmental task of children ages birth to five (for instance, a new baby in the family, learning about emotions,  or potty training),
  • bilingual books, and
  • at least one teacher resource book.

More specifically, each box will have at least:

  • 3 books for phonological awareness,
  • 1 book for letter knowledge,
  • 5 books for narrative skills,
  • 1 book for print awareness,
  • 2 books for print motivation,
  • 3 books for vocabulary,
  • 2-4 books for developmental tasks,
  • 2 bilingual books,
  • 1 seasonal book, and
  • 2 board books.

Each box contains about twenty-five books.

Through an El Pomar grant, we are wrapping up processing twelve new boxes and hope to start circulating them after January’s early literacy class. If you know anyone in Alamosa or Monte Vista who is a home childcare provider, let them know we’d love to have them join Storybox Special. There’s no cost to participate and the only requirement is to attend the one-time class.

Read on!




And the prize goes to Zoopa by Gianna Marino! What’s Zoopa?

Zoopa is a yummy looking bowl of tomato based alphabet soup that attracts first an ant to the table–and then a whole alphabet’s worth of animals! And it’s the “funnest” alphabet book I’ve seen in ages.

Each double page spread shows a bowl of soup on a placemat. Each new spread shows the next alphabet letter floating in the soup. For each letter, there is a picture of an animal whose name begins with that letter. None of the animals leave the pages so as the story progresses, things get a little chaotic and crowded.

And did I mention Zoopa wordless? So you and your kiddos can find lots and lots to talk about from page to page. What’s that letter? What’s that animal? What’s he doing? What’s she carrying? What’s different? (On one spread the baby elephants that decorate the edge of the soup bowl come to life and start spraying each other with tomato soup.) Where is the (blank) now?

Something new catches my eye every time I look at this book. Hope it catches yours too!


Baby Gym is a fairly new series of board books for babies and toddlers that I touch & ticklestumbled across recently. There are four books in the series and come in about an 8×8 size.

My favorite is Touch & Tickle. Each double page spread is a rhyme, and four of the five rhymes are new ones to me. Illustrations are bright and colorful, and the babies all look like they are having fun with their grown-up. Families are multicultural, there’s one parent in a wheelchair, and one child is wearing a hearing aid.

The best part though? The words are followed by directions for actions–and the actions are based on baby massage! What a marvelous idea!

Others in the series includes Wiggle & Move, Calm & Soothe, and Bounce & Jiggle. (They also have movements with their rhymes but the movements are not specifically massage based.)

Have lovely time with your little one!


Someone called me on it. “So what are the other great non-fiction books you referred to here?”swords

Well, here they are, in no particular order:

  • Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot and illustrated by Axel Scheffler: Nice, kid friendly version of the poems that inspired the musical “Cats.” I’d forgotten how well these read aloud!
  • Blackbeard the Pirate King by J. Patrick Lewis: Each double page spread includes a poem about an event in the life of Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard. It’s the pictures, though, that make the book, ranging from one of the first pictures of Blackbeard in 1730 through the Wyeths up to 2008 illustrations. Lots of pirate fun!
  • Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter: Bass Reeves just barely won over this one. I treasure books like this for two reasons. one, they give glimpses of how hard life can be and how resilient humans can be, even when they are children. And two, I hope they poke kids and adults alike out of their complacency about the value of education. It’s not all about “getting a good job.”
  • Swords by Ben Boos: Gorgeously detailed illustrations are the highlight of this chronological, around the world story of the sword. Boys will wear this one out!

That’s all for now!


Cool month! All my contenders are in non-fiction! Not sure how that bass reeveshappened but it’s delightful. Real world meets great writing and illustrations.

The Winner is–Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheux Nelson and illustrations by R. Gregory Christie. I almost passed on this purchase as I had just added Gary Paulsen’s The Legend of Bass Reeves.

What was remarkable about Bass Reeves? Start with his life as a runaway slave and move forward for seventy years. Can’t say more without spoiling the story! 😉

The best compliment I can give a biography is that it makes me wish I had known the person. After reading Nelson and Christie’s book, I’d love to meet Marshall Reeves.

The biography is picture book format and deceptively simple without being simplistic. If you stop and imagine yourself writing it, you begin to realize how much research went into her telling. The illustrations are a perfect match.

A middle grader not ready for Paulsen’s longer version would find Nelson’s manageable and older preschoolers who are into cowboys or bad guys in the Wild West would enjoy it as a read-aloud.

Added (double) bonus? I can consider it written by a local author as Nelson lives in Northern New Mexico (and we’re in Southern Colorado). And Christie is African-American. I refuse to buy books just for those factors but I am proud to add this one to our collection on both counts.



Yes, I know it is November already–but hey, give me a break. I had the flu for a water witcherweek and a half, putting me so far behind that I haven’t had the chance to tell you about three books that I love. 🙂

All three involve boys who live outside the US and whose lives are not easy. Each is making the best of things–but then circumstances change and the boys have opportunities to discover what they are really made of. An added bonus? Their decisions are good not just for themselves but also for others.

All have superb sense of place, character development, and strong family presence and belonging.  All also achieve the trickiest of feats in children’s books–they tell complex stories in simple ways.

Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber–Loosely based on the camel libraries of Kenya, the story follows Muktar as he adjusts to life and school in a refugee camp. But Muktar doesn’t just miss his family and their nomadic life; he also misses their camels. Until the “library” arrives. Graber does a stellar job of layering details and meanings in such a way that it does not overwhelm young listeners but adds depth for older ones. It’s a complex story in a simple package!

First Come the Zebra by Lynne Barasch–Abaani and Haki belong to two different peoples, the Maasai and the Kikuyu, and their peoples do not get along. When a baby’s life is in danger, though, the boys momentarily forget those differences. This chance encounter opens the way for a friendship to develop. Such long standing troubles are not easily solved but Barasch captures so well the feelings  and world views of both boys, making it, too, a complex story in a simple package.

Finally, there’s Water Witcher by Jan Ormerod–Set in Australia during a drought, the story follows a boy through another parched day as he tries to find water just like his grandfather used to do. Of course, everyone thinks he’s just being a little boy but Dougie persists despite the teasing. The story has all the elements of a “real story“–and added bonus? The pictures take you there. Why is this book not on a Caldecott list? Ormerod has outdone herself! Again, complex within the simple.



are-you-a-horse1I twittered last week that the Best Book for March was Splat the Cat. I really like the pictures–the truly fuzzy looking hair and the full-of-expression eyes. You just want to give Splat a great big hug!

But then yesterday I read Are You a Horse? at storytime–and I’m having second thoughts. It’s lighthearted, has a funny ending, and all the kids feel so much smarter than the poor ol’ cowboy as he tries to figure out what a horse is.

But the story is actually built around a thinking process. Is a wagon living? Is a horse? How do you figure out what something is? By looks? By how it acts? By process of elimination? By perserverance? By observation, gathering info from other sources, and deduction?

Of course, as with most well-written stories, none of this has to be discussed. Just read and re-read; you’ll be surprised years later to discover how much was absorbed.

Bonus points: fun with phonological awareness with the snake!

As I twittered earlier,  I don’t get it. tribes

I’ve heard about and heard about Tribes but it didn’t sound like much so I didn’t read it. But after a while, if a book title keeps cropping up, I’ll go ahead and finally read it.

I’m certainly not finished with it yet, and I wouldn’t say it’s bad, but I’m not at all sure what the fuss is about.  I keep waiting for him to say something.

And with no chapters and no structure, I feel like I’m going around and around and around….

What’s your take on it? Why do you love or hate it?

I know it seems inconceivable but I’m going to put chickens before Abraham Lincoln. (But it is really tough, honest.)

Best Book I got in on the new book order:

Tillie Lays an Egg by Terry Golson.tilly

It’s got pictures of real chickens, 50’s memorabilia, eggs to count and even multiply, a Where’s Waldo factor, and a funny, funny ending.

Children and all other chicken lovers will have a delightful time with Tilly!


Abe’s Honest Words by Doreen Rappaport is a combination bio and quotations including one of my favorites about trying to please people (I’ll put it on the quote page soon).

How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham quotes Bob as saying, “In troubled time, when many of us are losing contact with the natural world, I wanted to show that there is still hope in a coming generation of children who have curiosity and empathy with the world around them, and that care and attention can sometimes fix broken wings.” He does a fine job.


This month’s winner is:

The Little Bit Scary People by Emily Jenkins.

A very honest, comforting book for children who find some adults a little bit scary, a neat reframing of common fears.

(I’m probably one of the little bit scary people to children sometimes too.)

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Contact Info for Babette

email babette(dot)reeves(at)gmail(dot)com
snail mail
73 State Avenue
Alamosa, CO 81101

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