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Stuff and new stuff
A new book on play for adults… and two playful new books for children


Creating a Beautiful Mess: Ten Essential Play Experiences for a Joyous Childhood
Written by Ann Gadzikowski. Redleaf Press, 2015. ($15.95)


Broadly defining play as “…pretty much any activity that is done purely for pleasure,” author and educator Ann Gadzikowski describes 10 play experiences for a balanced and joyous childhood. She writes for both parents and educators, combining the language of both groups—cognitive domain and family board games—to make her position clear: Play is what children need and what adults too often overlook, control, and minimize.

Each of Gadzikowski’s activities is engaging for children and inexpensive and accessible for adults to offer and encourage. She examines features of specific materials like blocks, machines, and board games as well as open, undirected activities like acting silly, being messy, and “running around like crazy.”

She stays true to early childhood principles and encourages reflection on each of the 10 activities. For example, in the chapter on cuddling something soft and small, she acknowledges a universal need to cuddle, explores cuddle toys in children’s literature, and underscores emerging attachment and affection as hallmarks of a child’s emotional and social development.

Especially useful—because it’s so often overlooked—Gadzikowski addresses play for children in the early elementary years, acknowledging collectors and collections, play with machines, and toy play beyond the early years.

Creating a Beautiful Mess deserves a place in a teacher’s resource library. It’s an inspiring, back-to-basics study of play and its importance across a child’s developmental domains. Its accessible and supportive message makes it perfect to share with parents who question the need for play and emergent curriculum.



Little Baby Buttercup
Written by Linda Ashman and illustrated by You Byun. Penguin Young Readers Group, 2015. ($16.99)


Gentle, infectious rhymes and soft, realistic illustrations make this a perfect book to share with the youngest of listeners. The storyline follows a baby—Buttercup—and her mother through the routines of the day with the affection and responsiveness all adults aspire to emulate. Blocks tumble, the garden hose sprays more than the flowers, and a visit to the park ends in a wet doggy smooch as Buttercup learns, responds, and experiences an array of emotions with an adult who teaches, inspires, and supports with loving attention.

Toddlers will recognize themselves in Buttercup’s explorations, discoveries, and challenges. Adult readers will appreciate the opportunity to use clear, purposeful illustrations to enliven conversations with toddlers about everyday life.

Breakfast goes into the hand, mouth, cheek and hair—some to eat and some to wear.


Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters
Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. Penguin Young Readers Group, 2014. ($26.99)


Guaranteed to have more impact than endless alphabet drills, Once Upon an Alphabet couples 26 letters with short, charming, funny, and insightful stories with illustrations that engage and inform.

With the same witty understanding of children and their humor that he shared in The Hueys series and Stuck, Jeffers personifies the alphabet in a style that might make Vygotsky smile—building on a child’s background knowledge and urging a climb up the scaffold.

School-agers will delight in the science, cheesy jokes, and rambunctious antics of the letters without any of the boredom that can accompany basic literacy work. Teachers (and parents) will be happy to read and re-read, discovering some new feature of text or illustration with every telling.