31 Days, Children's Books, Parenting

Monday Quote

mother reading to daughter outdoors, motherhood, reading“It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations–something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.” 

-Katherine Paterson, author of Jacob Have I Loved, Bridge to Teribithia, and more

A recent study covered in this USA Today Article discovered that people who read literary fiction as opposed to pop fiction become more perceptive, especially in regards to relating with other people.

I think the study’s findings make sense. My experiences in my own reading life certainly confirm them. These findings are important for everyone, but especially to parents, because our challenge is two-fold. We need to read good literary fiction so that we can relate to people (including children!) well, and we need to give our children literature for whatever their age level is that will teach them empathy, help them form perceptive thoughts, and broaden their ideas. There’s nothing wrong with picking up some purely fun books for yourself or your children, but I challenge you to balance those choices with books that pull the imagination and senses and emotions in all at the same time. I hope you’ve found some books in this 31 Days of Picture Books that fit that bill.

More picture books to come tomorrow!

31 Days, Children's Books

Tootle, Choo Choo, and Other Literary Trains

There are some little boys who love trucks and some who love trains and some who love both. My little boy tends toward the truck side, but he is definitely a train fan, too. A few of our favorite train books are:

TootleTootle is a book published in 1945 that many adults hate. Yes, that’s right, some adults spend their emotions on hating a cute Little Golden Book. Okay, so I am not beyond strongly disliking certain children’s books. But I like this one. It’s about a little engine named Tootle, who shows a lot of promise to be the fast Flyer from New York to Chicago when he grows up. He has to get through engine school first, where Engineer Bill teaches him all the important things, especially staying on the rails no matter what. Tootle has a hard time learning this lesson, but learn it he does. Many reviewers on Goodreads say this book is about McCarthy-ism, or it’s about conforming to standards, or maybe it’s just bad because Tootle doesn’t get severely punished. Apparently, it can’t please anyone. I think it’s just a good story about a little engine who gets distracted from his goals and learns a lesson. If every children’s book has to be my life’s beliefs in a nutshell, I wouldn’t read children’s books. My kids love this one, my husband loves it, and I think it’s fun and adorable. So if your children like trains, read Tootle to them and don’t worry overmuch that they’ll hate nature and become a cold hearted industrialist.

We also love The Wonder Book of Trains, which follows an engine collecting different kinds of cars to make up its trains.

Choo ChooMy daughter really loves Choo Choo by Virginia Lee Burton. I think the love that Choo Choo’s crew has for her is touching. It reminds me how children want to test the limits and taste adventure, but they want their parents to love them afterwards and forgive mistakes, too. Especially at age four.

I’m Taking A Trip On My Train is a fun book that replaces key words with symbols as the book goes along so that children can feel like they’re taking part in the reading. It has a nice rhythm to it, as well. My daughter started enjoying this with her Grammy at age 2 and now my son is working on following along.

Honorable mentions to:

Trains by Byron Barton

Freight Train by Donald Crewes

I Love Trains by Philemon Sturges

This is Day 20 of the 31 Days of Picture Books series. To see the rest, go here.


31 Days, Children's Books

Must Love Dog Books

Confession: I do not love dogs.

I know, I know, we can’t be friends anymore.

But don’t leave yet! It’s true, I’m not drawn to dogs in general–strange dogs pretty much scare me–but there are a few dogs in my past I’ve really liked. When I was 4, we had a black spaniel whom I named Liesel (shout out to The Sound of Music) and she had some incredibly cute puppies, Jason and Lucy. Then when I was about eight, my great grandparents got a dachshund puppy named Heidi. I wanted Heidi so much, I begged to take her home with me after staying one weekend with them. I shouldn’t have asked and they shouldn’t have said yes, but they did. So I got to keep Heidi for one week before my parents had me give her back. It was a good decision on their part, but I didn’t understand at the time. There weren’t any other dogs I until I was a teenager and one of my younger sisters begged for a puppy. She got little Trumpkin, a black lab-ish puppy, who was cute as can be. He met a tragic end very soon after joining our family. Then we got the most troublesome dog ever, and at that same time I started running in our rural area and found out that I really dislike country dogs who chase runners. Especially that Doberman down the street.

I still like the idea of a good family dog. I was raised on James Herriot, so how could I not like that image? But I can’t reconcile myself to the risk involved with getting a dog—what if I’m no good at training it? What if it ruins everything? What if we pick out one with a vicious soul? What if we won’t even want to play in our backyard? How much does dog food cost? Etc. I know some day one of my children will want a dog so earnestly, I will have to give in. I just can’t be a mom who says she’s allergic to dogs when she’s really not. But I’m trying not to give them any ideas like “every boy should have a dog” or that sort of thing. The hard part is some of the best picture books are about dogs. Dogs in books  = the best kind, in my opinion, but I doubt I can convince my two children of that.

The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy (Reading Rainbow Book)The cutest book dog is the one in The Puppy Who Wanted A Boy. His name is Petey and he all he wants for Christmas is a boy, but he struggles to find a boy who doesn’t already belong to a dog. I’m pretty sure I would have a hard time turning away a dog from my door who looked like Petey. Please, no one use this against me in the future.

The little dog, Zip, in We Help Daddy is another book dog I wouldn’t be able to turn away if he showed up in real life.

Carl Goes ShoppingAnd what mother wouldn’t like Carl to show up and be her helper? I would probably freak out at first, but over time I’m sure I’d grow to appreciate him. One of my friend’s who has two daughters has made sure to tell them that if they ever see a dog who looks like Carl, they shouldn’t go up and pet him. Carl is a great book dog, though.

And then of course there are the big time book dogs, Clifford, Martha, and Biscuit. It’s probably only a matter of time before Biscuit has his own TV show.

Now that I’ve pondered all the dogs in books that I think of fondly, maybe I’m not so far away from reconciling myself with a family dog as I thought I was. I’m sure I’d be overly selective, but it could happen sometime in the future. Just don’t tell my kids yet.

This is Day 19 of the 31 Days of Picture Books Series. To read the rest of the series, go here

31 Days, Children's Books

Longer Books for Little Brains

I love the ages of three and four.  Children just blossom into these little people at age three and into four. I almost feel like I’m living with a small adult now that Ella is four-and-a-half, because there is so much change in such a short period of time. This is also the age when kids are ready for some longer books. Here are a few with tame enough themes for very young minds.

Little BearLittle Bear books are the best for introducing children to chapter books. They are easy to understand and a perfect length because even two-year-olds can enjoy one story and then as they get older they can read more than one and feel like they’re reading a big book. Plus Little Bear is such a good sort of bear, the kind you’d want your kids to be friends with.

The Bear That Heard CryingSpeaking of bears that are friends, The Bear That Heard Crying is a riveting read for young children. It’s not a chapter book, but it’s a longer picture book. It tells about three-year-old Sarah who is lost in the woods and befriended by a big black bear. My kids want to read it over and over. I think they feel some kind of kinship with little, lost Sarah. And Helen Kinsey’s illustrations are perfection. I long for trees surrounding me and leaves and dirt under my feet when I look at this book.

The Fire Cat (An I Can Read Book: Level 1)The Fire Cat is a three part story book about a cat named Pickle. I had never heard of it but one day last fall we saw it in a the bookstore and my husband grabbed it up without thinking twice. That doesn’t happen too often. The illustrations are a little too far on the cartoonish side for me to really love, but there’s something about them that’s endearing. Our kids love it. They know that if they ask for “Just one Pickles story” they’ll get two or maybe the whole 64 page book if they’re lucky. Especially if it’s Mommy who is a sucker for (a) sitting still for more than three minutes at a time, and (b) reading.

There are all kinds of longer picture books that kids can get into when they’re young. I’ve found a lot of them have too much tragedy or drama for my children. Luckily, there’s no rush at this point. We just find some topics or characters our kids enjoy and ease them into listening to us read for a little bit longer than they did before. If they’re not ready for that, no sweat. We pull out the building blocks or tricycles and try again next week. =)

This is Day 18 of the 31 Days of Picture Book Series. To see the other posts in the series, go here.

31 Days, Children's Books

Surrounding Children With Books On A Budget

I’ve spent sixteen days now telling you about what I consider to be marvelous picture books for children. Today, I was hit with remorse for not stating earlier in this 31 Days of Picture Book Series that I am by no means encouraging anyone to spend a fortune on creating a masterful library for your little ones. And if there is an area I am tempted to spend frivolously, it’s books for children. I would never, ever advocate spending frivolously on anything (except for maybe good charities). But that’s the great thing about books — you can incorporate wonderful books into your life and the lives of children without spending a fortune. Here’s how we spend next to nothing and still live surrounded by books in our home.

1. Ask your parents for the books they kept from your childhood. My husband and I are the oldest children in our book-lovin’ families. We didn’t even have to ask for the books that had our names in it–they started coming back to us way before we had children. However, I think a lot of parents keep their kids’ favorite books, but may not think of pulling them out of the attic to pass on. Even if you don’t already have children, ask your parents if they’ve kept any of the books you love when you were a kid.

2. Hit up used book sales. Your local library sales are the best place for this. We’ve found great hardback classics and board books like The Little Engine That Could and The Big Red Barn and never pay more than $3. Almost all our books are from library sales or free tables.

3. Speaking of the library…(brace yourself for a soapbox)… I shouldn’t even have to mention the library, but I’m always surprised at how many people I talk to who love reading yet never set foot in their local libraries. If you like books at all, you must get a library card and go to the library. Just do it. A library is not poor man’s Barnes and Noble — it is a goldmine. It offers wealth without requiring your wealth. It offers access to tons of books without requiring your shelf space. It does not tempt you with salted caramel mochas. I don’t know what else I can say to convince you, but if you’re afraid of the library or afraid of taking your kids to the library, read this post. If you’re still unsure, at least go in once and get a card and password so you can use the online resources for your e-reader. Please. I’m begging you, and I don’t even know why. Let’s just say I’m begging you for your own sake.

4. Let loved ones know books are your favorite gifts. I have an awesome great aunt who has always given me the best books. Let those people who give you books know you really appreciate them, and let others who ask what you like know, “hey, I love this kind of book!” Sure, sometimes you’ll get a book you don’t actually enjoy, but that’s gift giving. And from me to you, I don’t mind if anyone who ever gets a book from me takes it right to 2nd&Charles or e-bay to trade it in for something they want. Be my guest. And I may be yours, whether you invite me to do so or not. ; )

5. Amazon filler items. You know those times when you order something on Amazon but you don’t quite hit the $25 threshold for free shipping? Yes, you guessed it…add a book you’ve been wanting! It’s like a free book, or free shipping. You’re getting something for free, so why not? (Yes, this is a bit of book-lover rationalization, but I still think it’s one of the best ideas I’ve ever had). When my husband orders something and needs a few more dollars to get free shipping, he often asks me if I have a book on my to-buy list. Reason 4,287 I married that guy.

6. Be selective and buy the ones you really love. It’s easy to think you need to maintain a book collection that experts would approve of. I’ve grown to dislike common perceptions such as you’re pretty much under a rock if you have kids under 5 and don’t own Eric Carle books. That Very Hungry Caterpillar…is it just me, or is there something symbolic about him? Just kidding, he lives in our house and he’s cute. Or he was 600 readings ago. But you get what I mean. There are those books that are considered by Parenting Magazine or whatever “expert” to be the best of the best. Definitely check those out at the store or library, but check a bunch of other ones out, too, and then buy only the ones you simply can’t live without. Throw Eric Carle and Maurice Sendek to the wind if you want to.

7. When it comes to buying the books you really want, there’s nothing wrong with used. Unless, of course, there is something wrong with the used book. But as a concept and general rule, buying a used book is awesome. You save trees, you save money, you pass on a book that has been read by others. I think it’s great. I know people who want crisp new pages in all their books. I sometimes wonder how we’re still friends. No, I’m kidding, but I really do think used books are wonderful. 2nd & Charles has a great selection of classics and current best sellers, and shopping the little corner book dispensaries is always a quaint delight. E-bay is always an option, too.

I love having a small library in my own home. Yes, I am trying to keep it relatively small. It once was a lot larger. Even then, I didn’t shell out large amounts of cash for the books I bought. I know there are lots of other ways to build a library on a budget, such as book swap sites and hosting a book swap in your home. I haven’t tried those options, but I’d love to hear from you if you have.

This is Day 17 of 31 Days of Picture Books. Catch up on the other posts in the series here31days

31 Days, Children's Books

My Favorite Children’s Books

Today is the halfway point in the 31 Days of Picture Books Series. I think it’s high time to share my absolute most favorite picture books from my early memories.

25940451. Nora’s Castle — Satomi Ichikawa — I always dreamed of finding my own castle, and this book fueled my imagination.

2.  Keep the Lights Burning, Abby —  Peter Roop — I wanted to be a heroine like Abby!

3. Bread and Jam for Frances — Lillian Hoban — Even as a little child, when I was supposed to be relating to Frances as a peer, I thought she was so cute.

4. The Twelve Dancing Princesses — I can’t find my childhood version anywhere! But I oohed and ahhed and declared “that one’s mine” over the Princess’s dresses every time I read it.

Christina Katerina & the Box5. Christina Katerina and the Box — Patricia Lee Gauch — Give your kids a big box and childhood ecstasy is born.

This is a genre I love and I am finding (and remembering!) favorites all the time with my children, but those five are the ones I remember loving most as a little girl. Each of them had something that captured my imagination or inspired me in some way. Even Frances inspired me, because I wanted to be able to make up little ditties like her.

I’d love to know which books you still treasure from your childhood.

31 Days, Children's Books

Permanent Marker For The Brain, Or Poetry for Children

I am a reluctant poetry fan. I have favorite poems and poets, and I am glad to have poetry included in the literature I’ve studied. Tennyson, Rosetti, Frost, and so many other wonderful wordsmiths have enriched my thoughts through their works. However, I sometimes doubt that I ever would have read a poem on my own if it hadn’t been for my schooling. I’m not naturally drawn to it, even though I remember it’s an amazing art form once I start reading. There’s something about a poem that can lodge itself in your consciousness for life. “There was a girl who had a curl…” etc. My mom let us choose the poems we wanted to memorize for school, but memorize them we had to. I can’t say I remember an entire poem besides one or two of Emily Dickinson’s, but bits and pieces of many different poems pop into my head at random throughout life.

389956Poems can stay with you for a long time, but a poem with a picture to go with it is like a permanent marker for the brain. I was probably eight or nine (or maybe older?) when my mom got Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems by Mary Ann HobermanI loved those poems so much, I memorized them for fun. My favorite one was called “Vacation”:

In my head I hear a humming:
Summer, summer summer’s coming.
Soon we’re going on vacation
But there is a complication:
Day by day the problem’s growing-
We don’t know yet where we’re going!

Mother likes the country best;
That’s so she can read and rest.
Dad thinks resting is a bore;
He’s for fishing at the shore.
Sailing is my brother’s pick;
Sailing makes my sister sick;
She says swimming’s much more cool,
Swimming in a swimming pool.
As for me, why, I don’t care,
I’d be happy anywhere!

In my head I hear a humming:
Summer, summer, summer’s coming.
Soon we’re going on vacation
But we have a complication:
Day by day the problem’s growing-
Where oh where will we be going?

The illustrations by Marylin Hafner make the poems in the book come alive. I highly recommend it. And I highly recommend any book by Mary Ann Hoberman. The Seven Silly Eaters is particularly awesome.

Where the Sidewalk EndsAnd let’s not forget the classic triple threat of Shel Silverstein, who wrote poems, illustrated the poems, and recorded the poems (and won a Grammy for it). I loved listening to “Peanut Butter Sandwich” and my mom called me “Peggy Ann McKay” from the poem “Saturday” so many times! I wasn’t quite that level of a hypochondriac, but it always made me smile. Or at least want to smile. Yes, Shel Silverstein’s poems are a little weird. I can’t defend the man, but I’ll defend his poems (albeit weakly–how can you defend nonsense?) forever.

There are so many wonderful poetry books for little ones. Clearly, I prefer the ones on the sillier side. Or at least those are the ones that have stuck with me. I’m ashamed to say that not one verse from Robert Lewis Stevenson’s famed A Child’s Garden of Verses remains in my memory. Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” however…well, that just proves my point–my poetry taste is ridiculously unsophisticated. Maybe if I really think about it, the more wholesome and elegant poems will come to mind for a Part 2 of Poetry for Children.

This is Day 15 of  the series 31 Days of Picture Books. Catch up on the other posts in the series here.

31 Days, Children's Books, Parenting

Apple Picking and Books for Other Major Life Events

For some of you, there are apples all over the place where you live and apple picking is not that much of a to-do. That’s not the case for me. I climbed up and picked the very first apple I’ve ever picked in my life today. My children and mom and I went to an apple farm about two hours away from our house and spent the day being touristy apple pickers. Despite the misty weather, it was delightful.

Apple Picking in Hendersonville!

1012082But here’s where reading a book about an experience before-hand is maybe not such a good idea. We read Apples and Pumpkins by Anne F. Rockwell last week before heading to the mountain orchard. I was glad to have found it at our library because it got the kids excited about the experience. However, two-year-old Isaac was extremely disappointed that there was no real pumpkin patch at the orchard we went to. I guess I didn’t explain very well to him that we were going to an apple farm, and not all apple farms also grow pumpkins. Or maybe I didn’t actually realize that myself…

591295That’s the risk you take when you try to prepare children for experience through books. And I’m okay with that. Sometimes, there are some differences between the book’s portrayal and what actually happens, but it seldom really bothers anyone. I try to find books for many different “firsts” in my children’s lives. For example, before Ella went to the dentist we read lots of going to the dentist books. Our favorites were Just Going to the Dentist and Vera Goes to the Dentist.  Most parents are familiar with the many books introducing children to the ideas of becoming an older sibling or starting to potty train. There are books about moving to a “big boy bed,” books about the first day of school, books about family members with illnesses, books about losing teeth, and on and on. I think if chosen wisely, books about new experiences are great starting points for preparing children for what’s ahead. In my experience, children become panicked when they realize they’re in a totally unfamiliar situation. Once they reach that stage, there’s little chance they’ll be interested in your explaining or using logic to help them cope. Even though you may arouse some fears before hand, I’d rather take that chance and have the opportunity to deal with the fears before the panic and feeling that they’ve been betrayed by those whom they trusts somehow sets in. So far, this has worked well for me, but all children are different.

What’s your take on books and life changes? Do you use books to help navigate new experiences with your children? Share your thoughts in the comments!

This is Day 14 in the 31 Days of Picture Book Series. To see the rest of the series, go here.

31 Days, Children's Books, Parenting, Reading

Brain Fry

You know those nights when you’re not sure if you actually got into a deep sleep at all? When you slept the whole night with one ear open because your kids are sick or because they suddenly develop the tendency to walk around in the middle of the night, or maybe it’s just a classic case of stupid insomnia? Well, we’ve had a couple of those nights lately. For some reason, when I’m in that state of mental exhaustion and my son brings me those sound effects kind of books that are full of “vroom vroom, choo choo, etc.” and other kinds of sounds I wouldn’t naturally make, I start feeling like I must really be insane. Why are these words coming out of my mouth? Why are these non-words in a book? Is it bedtime yet?

I'm a Truck DriverI recently was reading I’m A Truck Driver by Jonathan London to my children and noticing how the little girl character in the book talks in rhyming, descriptive words and the little boy character talks mostly in equally descriptive car and truck sounds. I noticed that and thought, “Spot on.” My little boy is actually quite a talker, but his innate ability to mimic sounds without thinking impresses me over and over again. I have no idea how to make car and truck sounds. I’m sure some girls do, but I wonder how many who don’t have brothers? I don’t know.

All that’s to say, I’m too tired for onomatopoeia. I’m avoiding those books that make me feel like a crazy person today. I need words and a story line to keep me awake. Maybe tomorrow, son, if you let me get some sleep, we’ll read a vroom vroom book.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a more informative post to continue the 31 Days of Picture Books series. If you’ve missed some posts, you can catch up here.


31 Days, Children's Books, Saturday Cooking

Saturday Cooking: Picture Book Edition

2013iPhonephotos 008My children love to help me in the kitchen. I am usually willing to have one of them help me, but now that the two-year-old boy wants to be involved in everything, it gets messier and more time consuming and just generally harder to be excited about cooking with kids. But in the spirit of doing the hard things so the hard things get easier, I’m resolved to bake a lot with them this fall season. They love to bake, they love to do what I’m doing, and it’s a valuable skill to have. Plus, it’s like built in obedience school for toddlers–bonus!

Since we love to read even more than we love food itself (okay, maybe that’s just me), some of the recipes I plan to make this Fall are found in books.

Cranberry ThanksgivingThe first is one I baked with my mom and sisters as part of our homeschool curriculum. It’s called Grandmother’s Cranberry Bread from the book Cranberry Thanksgiving. The book is pretty good, but the recipe is mostly what I remember. For someone who isn’t crazy about all things pumpkin (you can keep your pumpkin spice latte, thankyouverymuch), cranberry is the flavor of Fall. I recommend the book, but if you’re not in a picture book stage of life (whatever that means!) you can view the whole recipe on the Amazon website.

We’re also going to try Fairy Tale FeastsI doubt we’ll be finding any stellar recipes, as they all look pretty basic, but I think the kids will really have fun with it. They are especially fascinated by Jack and the Beanstalk, so I foresee some beans in our menu future.

And though The Little House books aren’t technically picture books, we’ve already read two of them and we’re definitely try out the The Little House CookbookI’ve always wanted to make the molasses snow candy they make in Little House and the Big Woods, but the snow is a little sparse in the deep south. Another recipe book I want to try is The Louisa May Alcott Cookbook. The Honey Pumpkin Pie with Gingerbread Crust looks especially fall-ish and delicious.

So that’s what is on our fall baking list, along with this non-bookish recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins. What’s on your list?



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