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Stuff and new stuff
New books that challenge adults… and delight children


Big Body Play: Why Boisterous, Vigorous, and Very Physical Play Is Essential to Children’s Development and Learning
Written by Frances M. Carlson. National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2011. ($16)


Increasingly researchers and practitioners are identifying the value of big body play—also called rough-and-tumble play, roughhousing, horseplay, and play-fighting. After years of increasingly restrictive playground and classroom physical activity with prescribed fall zones, ladder heights, and no-touch rules, the pendulum is slowing shifting to again recognize the need for children to learn to self-regulate while building social and physical skills.

Big Body Play frames the issue with what theory and best practices teach about children’s social and physical development. From infancy, children use their bodies to learn, often testing strength and control by pulling, pushing, and tumbling—all challenging for teachers who are likely to respond with, “Use gentle touches,” or “It hurts Jetta when you push her.” Teachers are urged find a balance between essential developmental exploration (kicking, throwing, falling, and climbing) with the need to keep children safe. Big Body Play offers specific guidance tips with plentiful anecdotal examples to lead teachers to the balance. Most useful are the distinctions between rough-and-tumble play and real fighting including facial expression (learning to distinguish play face from fight face), willingness to participate (“No” means no), and willingness to return and extend the play with play-partners (friends).

Carlson offers a chapter describing the benefits of big body play, guidelines for physical activity across children’s ages and stages, and tips for helping children communicate play interests, helping socially rejected children enter play, and supporting children as they develop spatial skills. Additional chapters offer strategies for putting big body play into action while minimizing risk, establishing policies, setting the environment, coaching children, and helping parents understand the value of big body play in the classroom and at home. An array of frequently asked questions coupled with a comprehensive appendix that includes finger plays related to big body play, samples of policy language, and an outline for training staff on rough-and-tumble play, as well as a helpful reference list make this a primer for both educators who are curious and those who are ready to add big body play to their classroom routines.


The Great Disconnect in Early Childhood Education: What We Know vs. What We Do
Written by Michael Gramling. Redleaf Press, 2015. ($24.95)


The Great Disconnect is a provocative and challenging call to action that focuses on the history of Head Start. Gramling uses powerful stories to illustrate both what research tells us about how children learn and the ways in which current classrooms ignore the research and minimize the potential for children’s optimal growth.

Over several decades teachers have learned more and more about children’s brain development, sensory exploration, and hands-on exploration and discovery—learning by doing. Too often, however, teachers capitulate to standardized testing pressures by ignoring how children learn and focusing only on what they must learn.

Gramling’s primary focus is on communication—talking with children. He cites familiar research that compares the vocabularies of children who live in poverty with those of affluent families, and suggests that this difference is the appropriate starting point for improving children’s skills across the developmental domains. Most simply, he contends, talking with children—having extended conversations—is the easiest and simplest way to improve children’s learning outcomes.



Steam Train, Dream Train
Written by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld. Scholastic Press, 2013. ($5.99)


Whimsical and rhythmic, the dream train squeals, hisses, and stops, ready to be loaded by a menagerie of zoo animals working to match every car to its intended load. Monkeys load boxcars so that “Things that rock and roll and spin, all are juggled safely in.” Bouncing kangaroos toss balls into the hopper, and elephants fill the tankers with colored paint from their long trunk hoses. Polar bears fill the icy reefer car, burrowing mice fill the gondolas with sand, and the flatcars…”are rolling beds. The weary crew can rest their heads.”

Dark, wax oil pastel illustrations ably communicate the dreamy mood; the boy asleep in his bed on the final page reinforces the magic of dreams constructed from common and routine features of daily life.


Henry’s Stars
Written by David Elliot. Penguin Young Readers Group, 2015. ($16.99)


Henry, in a moment of evening contemplation, gazes at the sky and in perfect artistic imagination imagines a star grouping as the Great Pig constellation. When he shares the discovery with his barnyard friends, they, in turn, see themselves in the stars—Great Sheep of the Stars, Great Star Cow, Great Starry Horse, and Heavenly Hens—and not Great Pig at all.

The storyline is charming if familiar. Its strength is in the subtle demonstration of how everyone sees the same thing in unique and individual ways.


Zig and the Magic Umbrella
Written by Sylvie Kantorovitz. Penguin Young Readers Group, 2014. ($!6.99)


In this almost-wordless book, the magical tool of transport is a red umbrella. Another ho-hum, boring, rainy day offers an exciting adventure when meek and unassuming Zig tumbles in the wind and rain, follows a yellow bird that needs his clever and adventurous self to overcome a monster, and sails home with a new friend.

The spare and whimsical illustrations coupled with few words of text invite children to build their own narrations about feelings, the weather, unexpected discoveries, and friendships.