Hello, readers, and welcome to 2018! What a year 2017 was for our little (big?) family. There were days that had me reeling, but all the hard parts were tied to rich blessings. Some of you may know what I’m talking about when I say I’m coming out of a long newborn fog (baby Lydia is 10 months but I guess new-mother-fatigue is compounded by the number of children). Homeschooling is great but takes time and mental energy. All that to say, I took an unplanned blogging break for the last 3 months and missed it quite a lot, but at least I didn’t take a break from feeding everyone lunch or washing clothes, you know? I’m hopeful 2018 will be a great year of reading and writing.
So now, back to the reading and sharing of books!
Every kid and his or her mother needs a slew of silly books to get them through these cold winter days. The stir crazy is at an all time high here. So today I’m sharing our latest favorite silly picture books in hopes that they might lighten the spirits in your home as well.
We’re all crazy about Nobody Likes a Goblin, especially six-year-old Isaac and three-year-old Violet. It has a fable, Hobbit-ish feel to it (or maybe it does just to us because The Hobbit was Dad’s read-aloud to the kids book in the Fall), and the characters that could be ghoulish simply end up being cute and endearing. The illustrations are surprisingly detailed for a cartoon-looking book and give you a feel that everything is actually moving in front of you. The characters and the setting give so much scope for the imagination. Ben Hatke is the author/illustrator of Julia’s House of Lost Creatures, which we also adore for all the same reasons we love Nobody Likes a Goblin. Basically, we’re Hatke fans here.
We’re also giggling at Sleeping Cinderella and Other Princess Mix-Ups. This rhyming story about traditional fairy tale princesses who get fed up and walk out of their respective tales into another princess’s is a classic “grass is always greener” story with a twist. I particularly sympathize with Cinderella’s plot line of being too tired to go to a ball and wanting to trade places with Sleeping Beauty. Sign me up for that one. Honestly, we all laugh at this book! It is an added bonus that it’s a friendly reminder that nobody’s life is perfect. And in the end, each princess figures out a way to make her real life work better instead of abandoning it. It’s silly, unrealistic, but fun and a bit philosophical (or maybe that’s just for me…).
Tiger Can’t Sleep has been in the toddler class at our church for a few years and my kids want to read it every single week. Again, I sympathize with the poor kid who just wants to go to sleep but can’t because the pesky tiger who lives in his closet has way too much energy. Did a mother of a toddler write this book?? The silliness doesn’t stop with the ending, which is the best kind of book when you’re two or three. =)
That wraps up our favorite picture books of this week! We are going to the library today to hopefully stock up on more fun books to get us through the coldest week we’ve seen in years. I hope you and yours stay warm and enjoy some fun books together this winter, as well!
In my last post about great silly books to share with kids, I intentionally left out one of the most famous silly books of all time. We’ve actually been reading it and its companion books quite a lot. It’s full of hilarity, but I don’t read it as a silly book anymore. I read it as a parenting manual. What silly book could I possibly be referring to? Amelia Bedelia, of course! Peggy Parish’s famous character and all the books about her crack my children up. They still make me smile, too, but recently I had a revelation while reading them that makes me stop and take some parenting inventory while I read those fabulous books.
You know Amelia Bedelia, right? That silly maid who takes everything absolutely literally and does all the wrong things, but somehow knows how to bake delicious and complicated desserts like cream puffs and lemon meringue pie? (My six-year-old son is on to you, Amelia Bedelia). Last week as we were reading, Thank You, Amelia Bedelia,he asked, “How does she know how to bake so well, but she doesn’t know how to do anything else?” He was seriously perplexed. Without giving it much though, I answered, “Maybe someone taught her how to bake, but didn’t teach her anything else.” And man, the moment those words left my mouth it was like a bright flashlight shone right into my eyes. And it did, because my two-year-old was playing with one. But figuratively speaking, I had an “Oh!” thunder clap parenting moment. Amelia Bedelia is like every child in the history of the world!
Why is this such a revelation for me? Well, my oldest two kids are eight and six now. They’re pretty big, right? I mean, they can do a lot of things. Pick stuff up, put stuff away, clean stuff…or at least, that’s what I think they should be able to do. At the onset of this summer, though, I found myself harboring a sustained frustration at them. The ancient Mom Complaints went through my head a million times a day. “This place is always a mess! Why can’t they put anything away? Do I have to do everything around here? Why are there shoes on the coffee table?” (It’s ironic that we are the cause of these complaints in our early days here on earth and then we are the thinkers of those complaints later…sorry, Mom!). But then, I was reading about Amelia Bedelia scattering roses around the living room and stripping sheets (tearing them into strips, that is), and I thought, “Ha, that’s something my kids would do.” Ding, ding! That’s something your kids would do if you didn’t TEACH them how to do it the right way or explain what you meant!
What it comes down to is my son was onto something. Amelia Bedelia could do one thing well, because someone probably taught her how. Amelia Bedelia didn’t know how to do anything else at all, because no one ever taught her how to do it. Yes, yes, I know, most kids are born with twice as much common sense as Amelia Bedelia. But even though these books are just meant to be fun and silly, they changed this family’s summer. All of a sudden, I understood that I needed to see this summer break from homeschooling as a time to school the kids on how to live in a home. It was time for me to explain to them what I mean when I say, “Sort the laundry” and “clean up the living room.” It was time to settle in and give gentle (…mostly gentle) reminders throughout the day about putting shoes away and clearing the table after dinner so that these things that matter to us as parents become habits for the children in my home.
It’s been about a month since I made this discovery, and I certainly still get frustrated, but at least we have some foundation for what the kids know we expect from them now. At least when I get frustrated that there’s dirt all over the floor, they understand why, because they just vacuumed that room themselves yesterday and now they have to do it again. I guess you can say reading Amelia Bedelia taught me that it’s completely fruitless to be frustrated with my children if I wasn’t taking the time to explain and train. Now, every time I read those books to the kids, I am reminded of that lesson and I ask myself how I’m doing at it.
Silliness is powerful. Kids love to be silly with the grown ups in their lives. And I’ve noticed that just a little bit of zany will go a long way towards fostering a fun relationship with a little person you generally have to boss around and discipline all.day.long.
Even though I know that a few silly interactions peppered throughout our days brings new closeness to our relationships, silliness doesn’t come naturally to me most days. The to-do lists, the heavy nature of life some days, the exhaustion…it all kind of wipes away any desire for to be even a little bit goofy. So, like I do for many dilemmas in life, I turn to books. There are so many great silly books that both you and the children you love can enjoy together! Here are a few we’ve found recently on our library trips.
We Forgot Brock! – A little boy named Phillip has an awesome imaginary friend named Brock. Brock looks like a cross between a pirate and a rock star, but only Phillip can see him. That is, until Phillip accidentally leaves Brock behind somewhere, and Brock adopts more friends. The ending is happy and the whole book cracks us up.
Matilda’s Cat – Matilda thinks her cat likes all kinds of fun things. It turns out, she doesn’t know her cat so well. But Matilda’s cat knows her!
The Bink and Gollie Series – Oh, how we love Bink and Gollie. They are fun to read ourselves, but our library also has these books on CD, and let me tell you, they are hilarious. All my kids are crazy about them, but Violet (age 2) is the one who currently listens to them nonstop. Bink and Gollie is part of our family culture. “Use your gray matter, Bink,” is now synonymous with, “Would you just stop and think a minute!” and saves us one unpleasant parent-child interaction by inserting some humor into an otherwise scolding situation.
We could go on and on, because so many children’s books have a silly component to them, for an obvious reason: children love to be silly. If you can’t muster up the mental energy to engage in a staring contest or tell endless knock-knock jokes with your kids, maybe try reading a silly book together. It just might get you back on the fun parent track.
We are hitting the short chapter books hard around here lately! It’s sometimes tricky to find chapter books suitable for very young children, but these I’m sharing today are perfect. I quite enjoyed them, too. If you’re looking for some quality literature to draw young children into chapter books, this list is for you.
I read Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry to both Ella (7) and Isaac (5) and they loved it. Violet (2.5) also listened and laughed with us. I don’t know why I’ve never heard of this book before now? It is perfect for 4-7-year-olds. Gooney Bird Greene is an accomplished story teller, and her whole second-grade class, including the teacher, is enamored by her true stories. This book would pair wonderfully with a story-telling unit study if you’re a homeschooler. Or just read it for fun! Because it is seriously fun. It’s the first in a series of five books, and I just discovered the whole series is on CD at my library. Score! I plan to check that out and give my kids lots of fun listening time during the long, hot afternoons this summer.
I tried to read Pippi Longstockingto Ella when she was five and it was a major flop. I pulled it out again last month, though, and this time it has been a big hit with her and Isaac. Maybe Ella wasn’t ready for the absurdity of Pippi when she was younger (Ella’s a very literal person), but now the zaniness of this story completely entertains us all (yes, even Violet announced, “I love Pippi!” yesterday). I love all things Astrid Lindgren, so I can’t wait to read the next Pippi book!
Princess Cora and the Crocodile is a purely fun and silly chapter book we all enjoyed at bedtime last week. Though it has chapters, it’s truly just a long picture book, with illustrations on every page. Princess Cora is a little girl whose princessly life is extremely dull, until her fairy godmother sends her a pet crocodile who hilariously sets everything right. I’m guessing even reluctant chapter book readers/listeners will enjoy this book.
These next two books on our list are a bit more serious, but still great for young children. Isaac particularly liked The King’s Equal, a short fairy tale by Katherine Paterson about a haughty prince who can’t be crowned until he finds a wife who is his equal in every way. In six short chapters, kids (and grown ups) consider themes such as wisdom, kindness, industriousness, true beauty, and friendship. I’m so glad a good friend lent me this book!
The Light at Tern Rock is another tiny book with big themes we recently finished. It’s about a young boy named Ronnie and his aunt who agree to fill in for the lighthouse keeper for a few weeks right before Christmas. The days keep stretching on and the main characters have to learn to make the best with what they have, and to be gracious to those who treat them unfairly. It was so good, a great read for kids six and up.
I hope you find some gems for your family in this list! I’m on the hunt for more as we approach summer reading time. Eee! I love summer reading…
Hello, friends! It’s been a while, and I have so many books to catch you up on! Most importantly, I’ve made a discovery in my adult reading life: middle-grade novels. These are the novels publishers say are appropriate for people ages 8-12, but adults are missing out if we leave these books to the kids! If you find yourself wondering what happened to your joy in reading, or you feel too overwhelmed by life to enjoy the serious (and often depressing) themes in adult novels, you should definitely pick up a one of the many wonderfully crafted books in this genre.
Yes, you may be an adult and you may think you should be reading adult novels, but how often have you heard or even said, “I used to love to read”? This phrase is usally followed by a brisk, “But who has time?” or, “I’m just too tired to focus on a book at the end of the day.” Yes, there is some truth in these reasons for why adults don’t read like they used to or would like to. But that’s not the whole story, is it?
It’s sad, but somewhere along the way through childhood to adulthood, reading lost its magic. We try to get into a novel and are left feeling, well, jaded. Maybe even bored. And all along, we’ve thought, “It must be us. We must have changed. We aren’t real readers anymore.” Well, today I am here to tell you, it is most definitely not us. It is the books.
Yes, absolutely, some books written for adults are incredibly good, but many…maybe even most…leave us life-long book lovers feeling just blah. We don’t want to be immature or unenlightened, but we get discouraged by all the disheartening story lines, the fashionably uncertain endings, the lack of engaging plots. Childhood readers become adult TV-watchers not because they don’t have time or they’re too tired to read a novel, but because the delight that was once in books…the vacation from life, the relaxation, the refreshing use of our own imaginations we once experienced…it’s gone.
The answer is middle grade novels. You know, the books that made us into readers to begin with, like A Wrinkle in Time or Where the Red Fern Grows, Anne of Green Gables, and yes, even Harry Potter. There are so many wonderful books in this category, and they remain perfect for readers of all ages. Here is why adults should be reading them:
(1) They aren’t extremely long.
(2) They offer a refreshing break from adult themes like violence or substance abuse, etc. (though there can be hints of war violence or playground/bully violence). Wherever your moral compass points, you can’t argue with the fact that there is already just plain too much of these things in our world.
(3) The plots are fascinating. Our eight to twelve-year-old selves wouldn’t want to read a boring book, and neither do we as adults! We just don’t want to say that out loud.
(4) There is a clear beginning and end. No guessing games, no loose ends. Unless of course, the books are series, which is a different matter.
Convinced yet? Then pick of one of these books I’ve read recently and thoroughly enjoyed.
The War That Saved My Life – A Newbery Honor Book of 2017, this book tells the story of a young girl and her brother who are sent to the country in World War II to escape London’s danger of bombing. The main character, Ada, has led a horrible life in London, never even being allowed to leave her apartment because of her deranged mother’s view of a minor deformity Ada has lived with her whole life. The characters in this book are incredibly good. My only complaint is the lack of description of the people – but that can be kind of fun in that each person’s appearance in your mind as you read is totally up to your imagination. This is quick yet moving read. Perfect for fans of The Book Thief, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and Emily of New Moon…or books in general. I’m super excited to discover this book will have a sequel in October.
When You Reach Me– A book about time travel and friendship that doesn’t feel like science fiction at all. This book is set in the 1970s and revolves around Miranda and Sal, two sixth-graders whose lives change by mysterious events that become more clear as Miranda receives letters from a person from the future. It’s such a strange sounding but very good book, and quite easy to follow and enjoy (unlike some time travel novels). If you like A Wrinkle in Time, you will enjoy this book.
Wonder – I don’t know how to describe this book except to say I couldn’t put it down. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?
R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.
Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up – If you think you know this story because you’ve seen the movie, think again. The books are so much less annoying than the Hayley Mills version done by Walt Disney in the 1960s. I downloaded these on my kindle from Project Gutenberg for free. The audiobook form of Pollyanna is free, too!
Dear Mr. Henshaw – Famous author Beverly Cleary didn’t win a Newbery Award for her Ralph the Mouse books or her Ramona books, but for this little novel about a boy who writes letters to his favorite author and learns a lot about life along the way. It is touching and sometimes funny and I just enjoyed it through and through.
Note: I won’t be introducing my children to any of these until age ten or older, despite publisher recommendations.
After enjoying these books so much and realizing all but one of them was a Newbery Award winner or runner up, I printed out a list of the Newbery Award books. I was really surprised that I have only read a small fraction of these books! And I call myself a reader who loves children’s lit….so, I’m making it my goal to read a bunch of these this year. Yes, I am still reading adult literature here and there, but when you’re a sleep-deprived mom of a newborn, light reading that is still quality literature is the way to go. Also, I don’t want to stop reading middle grade novels now that I’ve discovered all that I’ve been missing out on in the past twenty years of my life! They are so good…have I said that already?
I’d love to hear about the books you loved as a kid and the ones you are reading now!