Monday, May 31, 2010

Cora Cooks Pancit - Pancit

"She saw a large bowl of pancit. The thick noodles and vegetables curled and swirled in a dance party. Mmmm." - Cora Cooks Pancit, Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore


Cora Cooks Pancit was a serendipitious discovery, for a number of reasons. I was shown the book on a recent visit to Fresno, my hometown in the Central Valley of California. I knew immediately (sometimes you can judge a book by its cover) that it was a perfect fit for my blog. Further research led me to discover that the author, Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, makes her home in Fresno. And she was born and raised in Chicago, where my husband and I lived for eight years. And her publisher, Shen's Books, is based in my current hometown. If that isn't serendipitous, I don't know what is.

The book alone would have made me want to feature it on my blog. But the local connection was icing on the cake. I like to support hometown authors. (One might not think of the Fresno as being a hotbed of literary activity, but a number of notable authors and poets--including William Saroyan, Gary Soto and Philip Levine--have called it home. And I like to promote that because the main thing Fresno seems to be known for is, uh, crime.). I also like to support independent publishers (once upon a time, I worked for an independent publisher). I am thrilled that I have an opportunity to review a book that I have a personal connection to, even if that connection only extends to the Fresno connection the author and I share.

In Cora Cooks Pancit, Gilmore's title character is the youngest of five children. She's used to being given the "kid" jobs in the kitchen while her older sisters and brother get the more involved tasks. But one day, when all of her siblings are off doing other things, Cora asks her mother to teach her to cook pancit, a traditional Filipino dish their family enjoys. Cora's mother teaches her to make pancit according to her grandfather's recipe. She helps soak the noodles and shred the chicken while Mama chops the vegetables. As in Tallulah in the Kitchen, we get a few reminders of basic kitchen safety within the narrrative--wash your hands, be careful near the stove. There are a few mishaps along the way but Mama reassures Cora that it's okay. When dinner is served Cora's siblings are surprised and impressed that Cora has helped cook such a grown up meal. Everybody loves it, and Cora is overjoyed at her accomplishment. The final illustration, of Cora wearing her mother's red apron and basking in the praise of her family, says it all.

Kristi Valiant's illustrations perfectly complement Gilmore's story. Although we never know exactly how old Cora is, her true-to-life expressions brought to mind my own four year old. The final illustration, of Cora's family enjoying the meal she has helped prepare, is a delight. In Nutmeg we also saw a family sitting down to enjoy a meal together but I think young kids will be better able to relate to Valiant's more realistic looking characters, which might in turn remind them of their own family meal times.

Pancit (recipe courtesy of Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore)

Pancit is a traditional Filipino noodle dish. In my research I discovered many ways to make it--some variations called for wheat noodles, or for shellfish or pork. I decided to stick to the recipe included in the book, with a few modifications.


Ingredients:

  • 2 - 3 boneless chicken breasts plus 1/2 cup chicken broth and 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 (8 oz) package of rice stick pancit noodles (the rice noodles pictured above were the closest I could find--I used half the box)
  • 1 (8 oz.) package dried shitake mushrooms (I could only find fresh)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped (I used dried)
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • vegetable or olive oil
  • 1/2 head cabbage, shredded
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced (I used 3)
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced
  • 1 (8 oz.) can water chestnuts, sliced 
  • 1 (8 oz.) can bamboo shoots, sliced (did not use these)
  • 1 (8 oz.) can baby corn, diced (did not use this either)
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 3 eggs, hard boiled and sliced
  • 5 green onions, sliced lengthwise and cut into 3-inch strips (optional)
  • salt and pepper 

1. Cook chicken and boil eggs in advance. The recipe in the book actually suggests two methods for chicken cooking--the first involves steamed, boned chicken. I went for the second method, which was cooking the chicken, along with the chicken broth and a teaspoon of soy sauce, in a slow cooker. I cooked on high for three hours, at which point the chicken was cooked through and easy to shred. I love my slow cooker.

2. Soak noodles in warm water for a half hour. While noodles are soaking, chop veggies. If you are using dried mushrooms, soak those in a separate bowl of warm water. Otherwise, slice the fresh mushrooms.

3. Heat shredded chicken, mushrooms, yellow onion and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce in a non-stick skillet (I swirled a bit of olive oil in my iron skillet and cooked them in there). Stir in garlic and ginger, add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in large, shallow pot. Add other vegetables, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook briefly, making sure carrots and cabbage don't overcook.


5. Add chicken and mushroom mixture:


6. Strain noodles. In separate pot, bring 1.5 cups water, 1/4 cup oil, 1/4 cup soy sauce and sprinkle of salt to light boil. Add noodles and stir. Cook 5 minutes. Pour noodles on chicken and veggie mixture. Mix everything together and cook on low for an additional 5 minutes. (Confession: I totally messed up this part. I cooked the noodles according to the package directions and then drained the noodles. So I put the noodles in the pan, then added the water and soy sauce and tossed together.)

7. Serve in bowls. Garnish with sliced egg and green onions.



Despite my mishap with the noodles this dish turned out really, really well. Remember a few weeks ago when I said the noodles with browned butter and Parmesan was the best thing we've ever made for this blog? This gives it a run for its money. It had a nice, light flavor and the crisp, fresh veggies really made it a perfect dish to have on a spring evening. My husband thought it was a little bland--that could be because I used a reduced-sodium soy sauce (actually, tamari). One boy loved it and one just thought it was okay but I think he was just being picky. I will definitely make this again.

*Disclosure: Cora Cooks Pancit was provided for review by the publisher, Shen's Books.

    Monday, May 24, 2010

    When I am Quiet on Maui - Lava Flow Smoothies and Roasted Pineapple with Ice Cream

    "When you are quiet, what do you hear?" - When I am Quiet on Maui, Judi Riley


    It's been an unseasonably cool spring in the Bay Area. I am a warm weather kind of girl. I long for the warm sun. We can't control the weather but we can escape to a warmer place via our books.

    A few years ago, when my boys were very young (not-quite-three and seven months), we spent a week in Maui. Although I don't necessarily recommend taking kids that young to Maui if you're expecting a restful and relaxing vacation, it is a favorite family memory of that time in our lives. When we want to remind the boys of our trip we watch videos and look at pictures or we read When I am Quiet on Maui, a book my husband and I brought back from a solo Maui trip a couple of years later.

    Judi Riley's When I am Quiet on Maui is a peaceful book, a perfect reflection of the laid back island lifestyle. The first two pages, in fact, are just two questions (one per page) on a white background: "When you are quiet, what do you hear? When you are still, what do you feel?" With this we are brought into the book, which takes us through a child's day on the island of Maui. We learn about the island through sights and sounds. Each spread shows an illustration on the left with a single statement on the opposite page--a painting of koi and plumeria flowers in a pond is accompanied by, "When I am quiet in Wailea long before lunch, I hear the plumeria cascade into the koi pond." This is not a book to turn to if you're looking for excitement or a story where something happens. It is more like poetry: calm meditations just right for settling into a calm state of mind (perhaps right before naptime). It reminds us of the beauty of nature (found in a specific place) and the importance of slowing down and taking note of the world around us. It also introduces Hawaiian vocabulary, with proper pronunciations and definitions in footnotes at the bottom of the pages. (Crucial for parents who stumble over the word humuhumunukunukuapua'a.)

    We made two different treats to get us into the Hawaiian spirit (they also went well with our Lost series finale viewing after the boys were in bed).

    Lava Flow Smoothies






    Ingredients:
    • 2 oz. coconut cream
    • 2 oz. unsweetened pineapple juice
    • 4 large strawberries (or handful of frozen strawberries)
    • 1 small, ripe banana
    • ice
    Additional equipment: Blender, paper umbrella (optional)

    1. Puree the strawberries in blender.

    2. Pour strawberry puree in glass.

    3. Puree pineapple juice, coconut cream and banana in blender with crushed ice. Blend until smooth.

    4. Pour pineapple/coconut/banana mixture into glass. The strawberry puree should rise to the top, like a lava flow.




    Roasted Pineapple with Ice Cream (recipe courtesy of Runner's World magazine, April 2010)




    Ingredients:

    • 1 pineapple, cut and sliced
    • dark brown sugar
    • butter
    • vanilla ice cream
    1. Brush melted butter on both sides of the pineapple slices (the original recipe recommends cutting the pineapple into rings).

    2. Sprinkle brown sugar over both sides of the pineapple.

    3. Roast pineapple in oven at 400* for 18 minutes. Flip halfway through.



    5. Serve in bowls. Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.


    These refreshing treats did bring a little bit of that Hawaiian feeling into our home, which is nice since it's far more practical than jumping on a plane every time we want to escape to Hawaii.

    Still in a Hawaiian state of mind? Check out Riley's other book, When I am Quiet on Oahu.

    My kids also love Disney's animated film Lilo and Stitch, which has a Hawaiian setting.

    Finally, if you do happen to have a trip to Hawaii planned, I highly recommend Andrew Doughty's "Ultimate" guidebook series. We have used The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed and Maui Revealed: The Ultimate Guidebook on our trips and found them to be, hands down, the best resources for sightseeing, snorkeling and dining information.

    Thursday, May 20, 2010

    My New Gig

    I'm happy to announce that I am the new gluten-free living blogger for the Bay Area edition of Today's Mama, a national parenting website with local affiliates in select markets. If you are looking for information about gluten-free issues, product and restaurant reviews, recipes, parenting gluten-free kids, or gluten-free resources, please check me out at my other online home!

    Direct link to my introductory post

    Bay Area Mama main page

    SteamPotVille Giveaway Winner

    SteamPotVille


    The winner of my SteamPotVille book giveaway is Jenimal. Jenimal, I will forward your information to the publisher and they will ship the book directly to you. Thank you to everyone who entered!

    Monday, May 17, 2010

    Nutmeg - String and Sawdust

    "There was always cardboard for breakfast. There was always string for lunch. There was always sawdust for supper."  - Nutmeg, David Lucas



    Since starting this blog I have been introduced to a number of wonderful kidlit blogs written by like-minded folks, and I've discovered lots of new reads through the recommendations of others. I became intrigued with author/illustrator David Lucas after reading reviews of Cake Girl and Halibut Jackson on Playing by the Book. After a quick Amazon search I discovered he'd also written a book called Nutmeg--and the cover art, featuring a little girl and various cooking implements, tipped me off that it might be a good fit for my blog. I searched my library's online catalog, placed a hold and had the book in my hand a few days later. (Aren't libraries wonderful?)

    Nutmeg is a young girl who lives with her uncle and cousin in a dilapidated house on what amounts to a beachfront property junkyard. We don't know how their living situation came to be or why they are stuck eating bland cardboard, string and sawdust (depicted as looking suspiciously like toast, spaghetti and rice) but it's immediately evident that Nutmeg is fed up with the status quo. One day she decides to go for a walk--she's not sure why but Lucas' illustrations deftly capture her frustration and yearning for something new (it would be interesting to pair this book with A Penguin Story, which I reviewed here). While on the beach she finds a bright bottle that, when opened, releases a genie. The genie grants her three wishes: Nutmeg wishes for something different for breakfast, something different for lunch and something different for dinner. The genie gives her a magic spoon and disappears. This sets off a chain of events that changes the lives of Nutmeg and her small family.

    When she returns home, the spoon whips up a fabulous, colorful dinner--the best meal Nutmeg and her uncle and cousin have ever eaten. Later that night, though, the spoon stirs up the entire house and creates quite the ruckus. It stirs up the land and sea and stars and transforms the house into a boat. Which Nutmeg and her family sail to a new land, where a new breakfast awaits. After breakfast they return to their boat, presumably in search of more new and different places and foods.

    Nutmeg contains elements found in so many great magical stories, including Aladdin, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. The shift from the drab, dull colors in the book's opening pages to a brighter palette when Nutmeg meets the genie especially recall the film version of The Wizard of Oz. The shift in colors illustrates her culinary awakening. There is more out there than the same old stuff she's been given every day, and it's good. Like Edna in A Penguin Story, Nutmeg's realization that there is more out there inspires her to sail on, looking for the new and different.

    Instead of making the delicious foods Nutmeg and her family tried after the arrival of the magic spoon, we decided to make "string and sawdust" (yes, to be eaten at one meal instead of separately at lunch and dinner). It was easy to figure out what to do for the string (spaghetti). But what to do about the sawdust... I thought about rice (too many carbs; you can't have a meal of just rice and noodles) and then got to thinking about what sawdust looks like...kind of like pencil shavings. What is a food that goes well with pasta that you can "shave"?

    Parmesan cheese. When grated with a fine, sharp grater, it looks like a pile of sawdust. I knew I was onto something when I told my six-year old my idea and he excitedly pointed to the picture and exclaimed, "Yes! That looks exactly like parmesan cheese!"


    String and Sawdust (Spaghetti with Parmesan and browned butter)






    Ingredients:

    • Spaghetti (I used a half bag to serve one adult and two kids)
    • block of Parmesan cheese
    • 1 stick of butter plus 1/8 stick of butter (again, enough for three people)
    Additional equipment: Cheese grater. Preferably a Microplane zester/grater. This is one of my most indespensable kitchen tools. It is absolutely essential for grating hard cheeses or garlic, zesting citrus, grating chocolate...I would be lost without this little tool. I am actually on my second one because my original disappeared sometime after Thanksgiving.

    This recipe was inspired by a dish served at The Old Spaghetti Factory, a restaurant chain with locations throughout the United States (mostly West Coast). One of their most popular dishes is spaghetti with mizithra cheese and browned butter. Mizithra is a hard cheese and can be difficult to find. Fortunately Parmesan is similar in taste and texture and works just fine for this recipe. 

    Given its high butter and cheese content, this is not an "every day" or even a "once in awhile" meal. At least not in our house. It is more palatable than boxed macaroni and cheese (which I have always, even as a child, found particularly vile) though so if you prefer you can think of it that way.

    1. Cook pasta according to package instructions. 

    2. While pasta is cooking, grate the cheese. This was a task I happily handed off to the boys so I could get the butter started.






    Behold, sawdust:






    3. In a small saucepan, brown the butter over medium heat. Be careful not to scald it. It will start to bubble like this:




    Stir the butter continually during this time. After about five minutes it will begin to turn a more golden/caramel color and you'll begin to see sediment accumulate in the bottom of the pan. At this point, cook just a little longer, until it gives of a caramelized, burnt butter (but not burned) aroma.

    4. Serve the pasta with one or two spoonfuls of butter (we ended up with a lot of leftover butter) and some cheese on top:



    This meal was an all around winner. (I made the boys each eat a carrot to go with their bowls of pasta.) It is quite possibly my favorite thing I've made for this blog to date. Far more delicious, I am sure, than the string and sawdust Nutmeg ate. My kids certainly didn't complain about it. We have made this at home in the past but renaming it "string and sawdust" has made it an instant new favorite in the eyes of my kids and I know that in the future they'll request it by the new name.

    Friday, May 14, 2010

    SteamPotVille - Review and Giveaway

    SteamPotVille

    This contest is now closed. Thank you to everybody who entered.


    I was recently given the opportunity to review Steve Ouch's SteamPotVille, which was just published by Running Press Kids. It came at the perfect time because I had already planned my feature on interactive books and SteamPotVille fits in nicely with that group.

    Illustrated using photographs and digital photography, Ouch has created a dreamlike town in which nothing is as it is expected to be. The animal inhabitants live in tea kettles. Cats wear hats. Birds say "buzz" and bees live underground. It's like a weird mashup of Graeme Base's Animalia (another worthy title I left out of Monday's review) and Alice in Wonderland.  The note at the beginning indicates that SteamPotVille is a place found in the imagination, and that by continuing to imagine and explore the young reader can prevent his or her "SteamPotVille" from getting "soggy or wet."

    This sets us off on a journey through SteamPotVille, where strange things are happening to the animal residents. A brief story is told in rhymed verse. I thought this was the weakest part of the book; there are times when the rhymes feel forced or clunky and places where I feel the author could have exercised better word choice. However, this was of little consequence to my children, who fell in love with the bright, crisp illustrations. This is where the book really shines and Ouch's true talent lies. Looking at the detail within each spread, it's clear that he spent quite a bit of time creating and manipulating the images to serve his story's purposes.

    When we come to the end of the book we are shown a spread with pictures of different animals and are asked to go back through the book and find them. But what my kids were most eager to do was go back through the pages and talk about what they saw: they discussed why the cats might be wearing hats and how the bee had gotten underground. It really opens up the door to creativity and storytelling. School aged children might enjoy taking this a step further and creating their own picture collages, either digitally or with photographs and magazine pictures. The storytelling possibilities can be executed on many levels and I can see this book being used as a teaching aid in elementary school-level writer's workshops or art classes, or even in digital media classes for the junior high/high school set.

    I am giving away one copy of SteamPotVille, courtesy of Running Press. If you would like to enter the giveaway, please leave a comment with your email address (to avoid spammers, please spell it out: you at youremailaddress dot com) by midnight on Tuesday, May 18). I will draw one winner at random and contact you via email to coordinate shipment of the book. One entry per person, please.

    For more information about SteamPotVille and Steve Ouch, please visit SteamPotVille online!

    *Disclosure: Running Press has provided me with a review copy of SteamPotVille and will handle shipment of the book to the winning entrant. I have not received monetary compensation in exchange for this review and any opinions expressed in this review are my own.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    Travel Trail Mix

    Yesterday I wrote about books we like to take with us on our travels, especially when those travels involve long stretches of time in cars or planes. What else do I pack when faced with a long trip? Why, snacks of course!

    Our favorite go-to car snack is trail mix. Or, "trail mix", as what I make bears little resemblance to actual trail mix. Granola is out because most commercially prepared granola is not gluten-free. We use cereal in place of the granola.

    Truth be told, my kids like our trail mix so much that I've been known to pack it in their lunches or offer it as snacks. They've been known to make it themselves when I'm too busy (read: they're too impatient) to get them a snack. It's super easy to make.

    Ingredients (choose at least one from each category):



    Something Crunchy
    • dry cereals: Gorilla Munch, Panda Puffs, Rice Chex, Corn Chex, Cinnamon Chex, Nature's Path Organic Whole O's
    • dry cereals for non-Celiacs: Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Kashi Honey Sunshine, Life, Quaker Oat Squares, Fruit Loops, Crunch Berries... basically, you non-Celiacs have choices aplenty (I miss cereal.)
    •  pretzels
    • snack crackers like Annie's Bunnies (there is a gluten-free variety!) or Goldfish crackers (these are NOT gluten-free!)

    Something Nutty
    examples: peanuts, cashews (or moon nuts, as they are called in our house), almonds, pistachios

    Something Fruity
    examples: raisins, Craisins, dried pineapple, dried cherries, dried coconut, freeze dried strawberries, freeze dried apples

    Something Chocolatey
    examples: M&Ms, Trader Joe's Power Berries (so very good!), chocolate chips, Reese's Pieces

    1. Choose your ingredients. I typically choose whatever we have on hand. If I know in advance that we'll be taking a trip I might make a special trip to the store to buy ingredients. But we typically have cereal, Craisins and chocolate chips on hand so that's what the boys use when they make it themselves. Today we used raisins, dried blueberries, cereal, cashews, dark chocolate covered Powerberries and M&Ms (leftover from Easter).



    2. There's no hard and fast rule about how much of each ingredient to include. I imagine much of it boils down to personal preference and personal quirks. (My children tell me I never put enough chocolate in. And I completely omit almonds from my younger son's bag because he picks them out every time.)

    How easy is this to make? Easy enough that a four year old and a six year old can do it without help. Here's proof:







    If we are going on a long trip that involves spending time in a hotel or multiple days in the car I'll prepare a large bag of trail mix for each kid and serve them out of that througout the week. If it's just a long drive or plane trip (or a snack at home) they get their trail mix in a reusable snack bowl or cup.




    We're heading out of town soon and you can bet we'll be mixing some of this up for car snacks.

    Monday, May 10, 2010

    When a book is more than just a story...


    We are closing in on Memorial Day weekend, to be followed by a glorious two and a half months off from school for my boys. (Not that I'm counting or anything. Talk to me at the end of August. I'm sure I'll be just as eager for them to go back.) I don't know about you, but for us that means the season of car and/or plane trips is about to begin. We have a summer beach trip planned, a second possible Disneyland/Southern California trip (to celebrate a family member's birthday) and we always take a few trips down to visit family and friends a few hours away. All of these trips add up to a lot of time in the car (not to mention a lot of time away from our usual stable of toys and games). We of course bring lots of books along to keep the boys entertained. They always select a few picture books and our current read aloud to bring along, but I also make sure our bags our well stocked with "puzzle" books, search and finds and other books that offer interactive elements that keep kids engaged and entertained. In other words, books that are more than just a story


    (Some books from our personal collection.)



    I have loosely grouped these interactive books into a few categories (some overlap): search and finds, maze books, puzzle books and counting books.

    Search and Find Books

    Oh, you know which books I'm talking about. Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick's "I Spy" series is a good, popular example of a search and find. If you are unfamiliar with these books, each double page spread contains a photo collage packed with tiny items. The accompanying poem, or riddle, lists objects in the picture that the reader must find. Even without the riddles, the pictures alone keep my kids occupied as they look at all of the tiny objects packed into the pictures.

    The "Look and Find" series (populated by licensed characters such as Disney Princesses and Thomas and Friends) by Publications International is similar in concept but the visual clues make these a better choice for pre-readers if an adult isn't able to read clues aloud.

    (Below is a comparison between an I Spy book and a Look and Find book. The I Spy book uses textual clues while the Look and Find series employs picture clues.)


    Martin Handford's "Where's Waldo" books and Walter Wick's "Can You See What I See?" series fall into this category, as does Counting Colors, a book my four year old and I enjoyed on a four hour plane ride when he was almost two years old. It kept him occupied for a good chunk of time and even now he enjoys looking at it. This book introduces colors and counting in a search and find format:


    Seek and Find Counting Colors: Seek & Find



    SteamPotVille

    SteamPotVille, by Steve Ouch, is a new addition to this genre. It combines photography and digital illustrations to create a whimsical world in which nothing is quite as it seems. The sheer amount of stuff to look at is, at first, mind boggling. When the story is finished readers are invited to find various animals throughout the book's pages. I will be posting a more in-depth review of this title, along with a book giveaway, on Friday of this week (5/14).




    Cars and Trucks and Things That Go (Giant Little Golden Book)



    Finally, I must mention Richard Scarry's classic Cars and Trucks and Things That Goa family favorite. While it is an actual (loooooong) story about the Pig Family as they take a day trip to the beach, it is also a very early example of a search and find. The thing most people remember about this book is that it is the one with Goldbug. The character makes an appearance on every page of this book, but it's not always easy to spot him. It's fun to search for Goldbug as the story is read, but the dozens of whimsical vehicles (pencil car, pickle car, etc.) and other details on each page also hold young children's interest. I originally purchased our copy for my older son when he was two years old and I needed something to occupy him while I was nursing his younger brother. The pages full of vehicles (and Goldbug!) did the job. My kids are now six and four and this is still a treasured favorite. (If you purchase this book for your child on my recommendation, feel free to thank me. If you purchase this book for your child and quickly tire of reading it out loud, remember I warned you: it's looooooong.)


    Maze Books


    My kids love mazes. My six year old has always had a knack for them and my four year old enjoys them as well. There are, of course, lots of maze activity books on the market (Kumon workbooks are a favorite brand). But there are also a few beautifully illustrated picture books out that, rather than pencil mazes, are finger mazes.


    Mazeways: A to ZAmazement Park: 12 Wild Mazes

    Roxie Munro's Mazeways: A to Z and Amazement Park are two of these maze books. What I enjoy about her books is that they are all distinctly different enough that each book provides a different puzzle solving experience. In Mazeways: A to Z readers follow a set of directions to complete 26 different mazes, each in the shape of a different letter of the alphabet. When finished the book asks readers to find hidden objects within the maze. (For instance in the 'Q' maze--for quarry--readers are invited to find 2 cranes, 2 dump trucks, a steam shovel, 3 ladders, 2 entrance ramps and a gray trailer.)


    Amazement Park features two mazes on each page, with each spread depicting a different attraction in an amusement park. You can choose to follow the easier track (train tracks) or the harder track (other attractions like rollercoasters or park paths). Each track connects to the following page and when you reach the end you are able to go back through the book backwards to work the mazes from the end to the beginning. This book also incorporates search and find elements: there are pictures repeated on each page (balloons, ice cream stand, class on a field trip) that must be found.

    How do I know these books hold kids' attention? Because I had them sitting on my desk as in preparation for this post and my kids, who had not yet seen them (I had planned to pull them out after homework was done), took them, went off into separate corners, and were not seen for quite some time.

    Follow the Line


    I don't know if I would call Laura Ljungvist's Follow the Line a maze book, per se, but it certainly fits into the category better than any of the other categories I've outlined. In Follow the Line and its sequels (Follow the Line Through the House--which I actually prefer over the original--and Follow the Line Around the World) pictures are created by an unbroken line that the reader can follow with his finger, from page to page. I personally like the mod quality of the illustrations. My kids like the novelty of being able to follow the line all over the place and seeing how one line can create such detailed pictures. Each spread also brings in search and find and counting elements. Someday, perhaps during the summer when we have more time, I'd like to work with my kids to make our own "follow the line" books.


    "Puzzle" Books

    I'm using the term "puzzle" to define books that have riddles or brain teasers, or ask the reader to complete a task. Brian Wildsmith's Puzzles is a beautifully illustrated example of this type of book. Each page has an illustration with an accompanying question or riddle for young readers to solve. My only criticism of this book is that it is too short; just as my boys were really getting into solving the puzzles it came to an end. Unfortunately, this one is out of print but if you can find it at your local library or a used book store it is well worth it.





    A more recent book with a similar concept is Who's Hiding? by Satoru Onishi Each spread features the same lineup of animals, but some of them appear differently from page to page. Some may wear a different facial expression, or face a different direction--it's up to the reader to figure out which one(s). On other pages the reader may be asked to point out all the animals that share a similar characteristic (horns, color, etc.). It's simple but great for young children who may not be ready for more challenging brain teasers. I love the bright illustrations.






    Counting Books
    Richard Scarry's Best Counting Book Ever / El mejor libro para contar de Richard Scarry

    These are books that have helped my kids learn to count. (Yes, we do own the bilingual edition of the Scarry book.) The nice thing about Richard Scarry's Best Counting Book Ever and Jacqueline Rogers' Kindergarten Count to 100 is that they have lots of things for kids to count and introduce numbers up to 100. Not all kids will be ready for these books at the same time but the counting and repetition does reinforce concepts of counting. Ten Little Ladybugs is another family favorite. Geared toward toddlers and young preschoolers, it introduces numbers one through ten and counting backwards from ten. The raised ladybugs are perfect counting manipulatives for young children and the sturdy, durable pages are just right for toddler hands.

    Ten Little Ladybugs


    This post is long enough as it is without a recipe to make it longer. Tomorrow I will post the recipe that goes along with these books. (Any guesses? Remember, the theme I'm working around is travel.) I've only just scratched the surface here with my personal recommendations for books that do double duty as both stories and activity books. (Honestly, I feel like there could be an entire blog devoted to just this topic.) What are your favorites that I may have missed?


    Disclosures: 
    *The majority of the books featured in this post are from our personal collection or were borrowed from our county library. Mazeways: A to Z and Amazement Park were provided for review by the publisher, Sterling. SteamPotVille was provided for review by the publisher, Running Press. 
    **As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn a small commission (at no additional charge to you) if you make a purchase via the linked titles in this post or my Amazon search box.