31 Days, Children's Books, Parenting

Finding Balance in Fairy Tale Frenzy

Children in our culture are exposed to fairy tales at a young age. Even for those of us who determine when our children are infants that we won’t flood their brains with Disney, it is a difficult resolution to stick to. For one thing, most young parents have good feelings towards the Disney movies they grew up watching. I know I loved Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast from the moment I was introduced to those films. Another difficulty is those dang princesses and talking cars are everywhere. Is there anywhere you can go without running into them? No, not even church, in our case. And even if you have decided to eschew all things Disney and have stuck to your guns, most of your children’s friends probably haven’t.

Maybe if you’re Amish, these difficulties all sound like lame excuses. Maybe they really are mere excuses because, yes, we have allowed our children to become Disney fans. We ourselves are casual Disney fans. I thoroughly enjoy Tangled and laugh heartily at The Emperor’s New Groove. In the last few weeks, we introduced our 2-year-old son to Cars. But I’d like to think we’re cautious and critical fans. One of my concerns amidst the Disney Princess craze is that I intentionally give our 4-year-old daughter, Ella, a good dose of what real womanhood looks like–you know, “This broom Is FOREVER, not just until you meet a guy” and that sort of hard hitting truth. Because the reality is, with or without Disney, fairy tales are hard to ignore. There’s a reason they’ve been around for centuries, and the reason isn’t the toy market. The reason is that they are appealing, generation after generation. For whatever reason, we are drawn to them and we delight in passing them on to our children.

So how can we help our children embrace the magic without buying into the (expensive) fairy tale culture? Believe me, I’m still trying to figure that out. One thing I have found useful is to own some good children’s fairy tale books. I think these books should be ones Mary Engelbreit's Fairy Tales: Twelve Timeless Treasureswith beautiful illustrations that capture the imagination, but also tell the story in a meaningful way. I don’t think all stories should be morality stories, but most fairy tales are already set up that way. There are some pretty deep values to be found in fairy tales. Which books you choose will largely depend on your children’s age. My favorite book for little girls so far is Mary Engelbreit’s Fairy Tales: Twelve Timeless Treasures. I love how the characters in this book look like young maidens, not even close to the Barbie type heroines we often see (I’m looking at you, Jasmine and Ariel!). I also appreciate how several of the stories, such as The Little Mermaid, stick with the original endings. You see, Disney’s Ariel should not have been rewarded for selling her soul to a devilish creature or disregarding her father’s orders. Hans Christian Andersen would have been revolted! The Little Mermaid ends as sea foam in the original. In Engelbreit’s version, The Little Mermaid refuses to follow the dark path she has started on and sacrifices her future with her prince.  In Engelbreit’s The Princess and the Frog, the prince and princess are children, and they become friends at the end of the story instead of spouses. Thank you for that shout out to friendship, Mrs. Engelbreit! As you can see, I’m a big fan of this book.

The Wild SwansThere are also other princess stories that haven’t become mainstream but hold just as much potential as the more popular ones. On Ella’s 4th birthday, we took her to see her ballet studio’s performance of This Is Love, an adaptation of Andersen’s The Wild Swans. We were spellbound by the way the ballet showed Eliza’s struggle with the wicked queen and then watched her suffering through what she knew was the way to redeem her sisters (brothers, in the original). The ballet version went into much added depth with the redemption story, and I loved it. The book version I love is illustrated by Susan Jeffers. I’d recommend it for older children, as it’s a bit graphic.

King Grisly-BeardKing Grisly-Beard is a Brothers Grimm tale and tells the story of a haughty princess who thinks she is above every suitor her father sends her way. Obviously, she must learn a lesson. Through her banishment from the princess life, she learns about humility and love and what really matters, and she also learns to appreciate the good things in life. Illustrated by Maurice Sendak, this book is a refreshing change from the usual fairy tale style.

And be sure to check out The Pigkeeper. I’d like to see anyone turn that into a Disney film.

Beyond the books, we still have work to do in helping our children embrace good and filter out what isn’t good in the seemingly innocent entertainment that surrounds them. For starters, we need to be there with them while they watch or read fairy tales. We as parents or loving adults in their lives need to be ready to answer questions and temper the magic with reality (just temper the magic though, not squash it). We need to teach them that hard work is valuable, whether there’s a prince waiting in the wings or not.

Ella wears princess dresses daily. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. (And it’s adorable). Still, I’m struggling to find a balance for her. I know that children learn the most by example and that as long as I’m not treating myself like a princess, she probably won’t expect the royal treatment either. But I still feel uneasy about what is on a pedestal in my little girl’s world. So I’m trying to choose her entertainment carefully and searching for ways to point her to kindness and loving service as the ultimate goal. She’ll learn pretty quickly as she approaches adulthood that becoming a princess isn’t going to happen. My goal for her is that she will have already seen what is really valuable and those fairy tale riches won’t even be on her wishlist anymore.

I’d love to hear how you approach this with your children. Share your ideas in the comments. Thanks!

This is Day 10 in the 31 Days of Picture Books series. To read the rest of the posts, go here.




31 Days, Children's Books


Everyone should be outside frolicking around in glorious autumn, so I’ll make this short today.

Rags, Shaggy White Dog - Little Golden Book CHKDon’t you hate it when someone talks about the best, most wonderful, stellar book that’s old and impossible to find? They imply the best books are old ones and you start to feel like you’ll never get your hands on the real greatest books of all time. Well, that’s what I’m doing today. I can’t help it, because a beloved book around here is Rags. It’s about a shaggy dog who is huge but quite the gentle giant. He is adopted by a shopkeeper and his wife to defend their grocery store from burglars. The shopkeeper loves him, but his wife is quite disappointed by his affectionate and skittish character. Something happens that brings the fierce watchdog out of Rags and makes both the shopkeeper and his wife appreciate Rag’s loyal and loving nature. If you can get your hands on it, I highly recommend it. My husband loved it as a child and my kids love it now.

Do you have a favorite out of print book? Tell us about it so we can all be enraged that we can’t get our hands on it. ; -)

This is Day 9 of 31 Days of Picture Books. To see the rest of the series, go here. To read more great 31 Days series on the other blogs participating, go to The Nester.

31 Days, Children's Books

Introducing Young Children to Art Through Picture Books

I don’t have a strong background in art. I was raised in the pre-Baby Einstein days, after all. Before my college art history class, I could recognize a Monet or a variety of children’s book illustrators (Mercer Mayer, for instance), but that was my extent of art culture. As I raise my children now, I am in awe of the wee ones’ art knowledge. The other day, Ella told me she was drawing a picture that looked like van Gogh. Holy cow! That child came from me? I think it’s awesome that there are so many resources for bringing art and music into our children’s sphere of interest. Yes, a lot of the credit for our art knowledge goes to the T.V. show Little Einsteins, which we stumbled upon by accident in our library’s DVD collection. Now we don’t leave the library without one, and if we do, well, there’s always Youtube.

392176There are some great books that have made my daughter fascinated by art, too. You’ve probably heard of the Fancy Nancy series by Jane O’Conner and illustrated by Robin Priess Glasser, but did you know that your child will talk to you about Jackson Pollock after reading Fancy Nancy, Aspiring Artist? Or that she will want to cut out shapes and make a picture like the ones by Henri Matisse? (true story). Our favorite book series on art is the Katie series by James Mayhew. It’s about a girl named Katie and her art museum adventures. Our favorite is Katie and the Impressionistsfollowed closely by Katie and the Spanish Princess. These books give readers a feel for a certain era or style in art. If you’re looking for books about specific painters, I’ve heard great things about the “Getting to Know The World’s Greatest Artists” series. The blog Mrs. Picasso’s Art Room has many more great ideas about books on artists.

I’m not set on force feeding art history to my children or anything. It’s something my oldest has become interested in, so I’m going with it. I think it’s fun and I can’t wait until she’s old enough to take really enjoy our city’s art museum.  At this point, I’m doing my best to pick out fun children’s books with quality illustrations. I know quality art is often a matter of opinion, and I want my children to appreciate all kinds. But for now, I try to stay away from elaborate stick figures or those books that remind me of that TV show Rugrats.


We’re going to stick with Jessie Wilcox Smith, Tasha Tudor, Virginia Lee Burton, and other great artists and Caldecott Medal winners and nominees.

What are your thoughts on teaching art to your kids and art in children’s literature? This is a new topic for me, so I’d love some advice.

This is Day 8 in the series 31 Days of Picture Books. To see the rest of the posts, go here.


31 Days, Children's Books, Parenting

Grab Your Winter Coat Books

When I was eight years old, I was given a wool, London Fog, pea coat. I can’t remember who gave it to me now. It was black, with some dark magenta and teal threads woven through. My mom was very pleased that I received a Christmas gift that was so timely and well made. But I really hated that coat. It was heavy and bulky and too big. It was straight up and down with big buttons, and had no saving ruffles or frills. I wore it grudgingly for two winters. I felt it didn’t match anything and made me look like Randy in A Christmas Story It was not the red coat or a blue coat or a beautiful purple coat I envisioned myself in. My parents (and whoever bought it in the first place) were right, though; it was a quality coat. I think I and each of my two sisters wore it for two winters apiece. And my youngest sister really liked it! Last time I saw it, it still looked nearly new. It’s probably in my parents’ attic, waiting to pounce on my daughter.

When I think of my favorite  children’s books for winter, I realize that coats are a central theme. I start asking myself, “Why coats?”  Here’s what I’ve come up with: A coat is a piece of clothing you wear on the outside–there’s no hiding it. A coat is something that nurtures you and keeps you warm. It’s a necessity in most climates. But the central importance of a winter coat being one you like is this: you only get one. Even in our culture of excess, most people only have one true winter coat. When you’re eight, it’s important that it’s a coat you actually want to wear.

A New Coat for AnnaI’ve been reading A New Coat for Anna to my children lately. Set in post World War II Germany, Anna’s mother barters a few of her family treasures as she and Anna walk through each step of making a new coat, from the sheep to the tailor. While I am not sure how Anna’s mother managed to hold on to her heirlooms through the actual war, unless she started out pretty well off, I do love this book. I smile at hearing my children say to each other as they play, “I have no money, but I will give you this apple if…”. Bartering is still a useful skill, right?

The Purple CoatAnother great book centered on a girl and her coat is The Purple Coat. This may be the source of my purple coat envy. In this book, Gabrielle decides to buck her usual trend of blue winter coats and asks instead for a deep purple one. Her grandfather and mother are unsure about this decisions. With some creativity, what unfurls is the perfect coat, inside and out.

Changes for Kit: A Winter Story (American Girls: Kit, #6)I was about six when American Girl dolls and their books hit the market, I was bedazzled by all of it. I saved up money for months to buy Kirsten, although my favorite books were the Molly series. I was so vain–I wanted what I thought was the prettiest doll. In all of those books, the coat is a central piece. I was out of the American Girl stage by the time Kit came into the family of characters, but I read them all the same, under the guise of reading to my youngest sister. Changes for Kit tells of her mother’s resourcefulness and Kit’s generosity, and it’s all centered on a coat. It’s a great book for kids who are just getting ready to have parents read aloud to them out of chapter books, because it still has a good many pictures and it includes a great lesson.

So bring out your winter coats, gather some winter coat books, and if at all possible, get your child a coat she’ll really like to wear.

This post is part of the 31 Days of Picture Book Series. To see the posts in the series, go here

31 Days, Children's Books, Everyday Life

A Book to Banish My Sunday Pity Parties

Sunday. A day to rest.

At least, that’s what I’ve heard.

To me, Sunday seems like the busiest day of the week. From when we wake up until noon, we are getting ready for or attending church. In the afternoon, there’s usually an event or a family dinner or something fun that keeps us busy. It’s all good, meaningful bustling around and joyful gatherings, but it still ends up as feeling like busyness by the end of the day. It’s funny how Sundays can feel like my tiredest, worst days. The kind that makes me think of Alexander and The Terrible, Awful, No Good, Very Bad Day. That book has so many great lines that pop into my brain. “Tomorrow, I’ll be in Australia!”

The Twelve Dancing PrincessesBut I want Sundays to be beautiful. Like Love You Forever beautiful, or golden like the illustrations in The Twelve Dancing Princesses.  I’m still trying to figure this one out. I love going to church, worshiping, seeing friends and meeting people, serving in the children’s ministry, and gathering with friends and family later in the day on most Sunday afternoons. Still, Sundays get me stressed. As I stated in my post laying out my 7 Challenge, I’m planning to spend a whole month working on de-stressing by planning ahead and being more thankful. I think I’ll need to start this part of the challenge on a Sunday.

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: An African TaleFor now, I’m re-reading Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. If there’s a picture book to remind me that having a pity party is the fast track to spoiling any good in life, it’s this one. Yes, it’s a traditional Cinderella story set in Africa, but it’s more than that. It reminds me that Someone is truly watching my every day attitudes. It’s also a story of a girl who chose to see beauty in her surroundings, while her sister chose discontentment. It is a choice most days, isn’t it? A choice that we can make subconsciously if we’re not careful. So I’m trying to remember that Sundays are what I make of them, and that I want to make them beautiful.

What do you do to make Sundays a great day?

This post is part of the 31 Days of Picture Books Series. To read the rest of the posts, go here.

31 Days, Children's Books, Reading, Reviews

Saturday Picture Book Reading

Today was one of those days when the people in my home were a bit under the (gorgeous) weather, the weight of projects, or just the weight of a boring Saturday with no plans. Therefore, we read books. Here are the picture books we read throughout the day:

Jonathan and the Big Blue BoatJonathan and the Big Blue Boat by Philip C. Stead (We got this from the library two weeks ago and today I found my four-year-old “reading” it almost word for word to my two-year-old. It’s a favorite).

The Lady With the Ship on Her Head by Deborah Nourse Lattimore

Ordinary Amos and The Amazing Fish by Eugenie and Henry Fernandes (I never had a pet fish as a child and, thanks to this book, my children probably never will either)

Who Wants A Dragon? by James Mayhew and Lindsey Gardiner

DahliaThe Purple Coat by Amy Hest and Amy Schwartz (to be featured in another post)

Dora The Explorer: It’s Riddle Time (Note: I would be extremely pleased if my children saw a Dora the Explorer book or video at the library, turned to me and said, “Mommy, is it okay with you if we decide we actually don’t like that overly perky, condescending Dora? We much prefer reruns of The Reading Rainbow and books by Robert McCloskey. We hope you don’t mind?” But we are pretty far from that scenario at this point.

Dahlia by Barbara McClintock (I would like to live in the illustrations of this book)

Little Squirt The Fire Engine by Catherine Kenworthy

And on my own I read Wishing For Tomorrow: The Sequel to A Little Princess. It’s a fun read that dives a little deeper into the secondary characters of the original book. If it were by the original author, I’d love it. As it is, I like it pretty well. It has an interesting, 19th century girls-should-be-educated feminism slant. And it brings Miss Minchin out of the stark, a villain-is-a-villain day and age into our let’s-try-to-understand-everyone age. All that’s to say, it has a very different feel, but it’s imaginative and fun.

What did you read today?

This post is part of the 31 Days of Picture Books series. To see all the posts in the series, go here.



31 Days, Children's Books

Our Friends Lily and Milo

Going to the Beach with Lily and MiloPauline Oud writes a series of children’s books about a little bunny named Lily and her mischievous mouse friend Milo. As soon as my daughter discovered these at our library, they became those books that she wants to pick out every time. For a while, she was upset when they were already checked out. There are six books in the series. Our favorite is Going to the Beach with Lily and Milo. What I love about these books is that they subtly teach a lesson about colors, or animals and their habitat, or something along those lines, while telling the story of these two characters whose personalities are very much like my own two children. I can totally see Ella trying to get everything together to go to the beach as Isaac unpacks it and pretends he’s already at the beach. But Isaac is two, so maybe that’s something he’ll grow out of. Or maybe Milo is really only two, as well. =) Anyway, I would be willing to bet your little ones will enjoy Lily and Milo as much as mine do. Isaac has been enjoying them from a very young age.


Isaac reading Lily and Milo at 8 months old

This post is part of the 31 Days of Picture Books series. For the rest of the posts in the series, go here.


31 Days, Children's Books

Bing Bong Bang and Fiddle Dee Dee: A Wise Book

One of our family’s favorite quotes actually comes from a children’s picture book. And the picture book has a not so wise sounding name: Bing Bong Bang and Fiddle Dee Dee. But the quote can change your life:

“The morning is wiser than the evening.

And the light is better, too.”

Do you ever lie in bed at 3:00 a.m., worrying about something that you didn’t worry about during the day? Remind yourself that “the morning is wiser than the evening” and go to sleep. You can think about it better in the light.

Who knew children’s picture books are the best self help?

Do you have a favorite quote from a picture book? Share it in the comments!

31daysThis post is part of the 31 Days of Picture Books series. See the other posts in the series here.

And check out the other 31 Days bloggers at thenester.com.

31 Days, Children's Books

Books for Little Ballerinas

Day 2 of 31 Days of Picture Books is all about books for little ballerinas. (To read the other posts in the series, please go here.)

If you’ve been in the children’s section of a bookstore recently, you know it’s not hard to find books featuring fluffy tutus and the color pink. A current favorite with little girls is the Tallulah’s Tutu series. Then there’s the ever popular Angelina Ballerina (that little mouse has been blown way out of proportion). My four-year-old daughter Ella and I like those books, too. There are some others we love even more, though. I appreciate how most ballerina books teach an important lesson along with the tutus and toe shoes.

I had I Wear My Tutu EvI Wear My Tutu Everywhere!erywhere memorized when I was fourteen, thanks to a four-year-old sister who adored it. I re-memorized it when my daughter got her own copy at age 2. I have to admit, the words are pretty catchy. I now really appreciate the mental image it gives of a ripped tutu. When Ella asks if she can wear hers to the grocery store, I say “Remember what happened to Tilly’s tutu on the swing? Yours might rip on the shopping cart.” Works every time. However, we are not above wearing princess dresses to Publix. A few weeks ago, we did our shopping with a Disney Rapunzel riding in our race car shopping cart, replete with hair extensions (attached to a headband from The Dollar Store). I figure she’s only four once.

Harriet's RecitalMy great aunt gave me Harriet’s Recital for Christmas one year. I really related to the main character, a nervous bear-girl who is petrified of performing on stage. I especially identified with the way she said, “Oh, it was nothing” after the recital. I was just like that as a kid. Fortunately, I didn’t make any major mistakes in piano recitals until I was in high school. At that point, there was no use pretending anymore that I didn’t have a serious case of stage fright.

Susan Jeffers’s The Nutcracker is a beautiful book. I love the perspective from which she illustrates. However, I think The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet by Deborah Hautzig presents the story in an easy to understand yet more comprehensive way. The book is a great one to read before taking your little ones to see the ballet this Christmas.

Ella Bella Ballerina and CinderellaThe entire Ella Bella Ballerina series are our favorite ballerina books around here. James Mayhew does a great job of telling a story such as Cinderella from the ballet background. The illustrations combine pretty ballerinas with a very cute little girl. And Ella is such a perfect name. =)

Finally, if you as a grown up need a crash course in ballet plots, pick up Of Swans, Sugar Plums, and Satin Slippers. I wouldn’t recommend it to children under ten or twelve (most ballets are rather tragic), but it’s helped me have a fairly decent knowledge of the popular classical ballets, and the illustrations are lovely.

Do you have a ballerina book recommendation? My Little Ballerina is always eager for more, and I can’t deny that I quite enjoy all these ballerina books myself. It’s a stage in Ella’s life that I’m clutching onto while it lasts. =)




31 Days, Children's Books

Little Books, Lasting Memories

31daysWelcome to 31 Days of Picture Books!

I’m beginning the series with the two books that started our family’s house of books long before we were even a family. It should be no surprise that they are Little Golden Books. If you don’t have Little Golden Books from the 60s-80s in your home, get to the nearest second-hand bookstore you can find and load up. They are called golden for a reason. Although, they’re more a dull silver after 30 years…

The Store Bought Doll (Little Golden Book)When I was 1 one year old, my parents gave me The Store-Bought Doll for Christmas.  The book is by Lois Meyer and illustrated by Ruth Sanderson (famous for her version of The Twelve Dancing Princesses). It tells the story of Christina, a little girl (dressed in adorable calico) who lives on a farm with her parents and treasures her rag doll and best friend, Lucy. One day, she is given a china doll from the city. The doll is breathtakingly beautiful. Christina spends the day entranced by her new doll. But Christina soon learns that love is based on character qualities instead of appearance, even when it comes to dolls.

Looking back now, I can’t say for sure that this book is the source of my love for dolls, but I think it had something to do with my attachment to my too-many dolls from age 2 into my teens. Oh, who am I kidding, I still have most of them. How can I ever get rid of a doll after reading this book? Some of them my daughter (and son…he’s going to be a great dad one day) plays with now. However, there are two rag dolls in the attic that have been so well-loved, they are beyond playing with. One of them is named Lucy. But she’s not the only Lucy doll in our house. My daughter is 4 and she is a two-doll girl. She has others, but they are high on a closet shelf 95% of the time. However, Lucy and Christina are her constant companions. They play with her every day and sleep with her every night. And yes, she picked those names herself at age 2. Makes my heart sing.

The Boy With a DrumMy husband’s book foundation is a more well known book, The Boy With a Drum by David L. Harrison and Eloise Wilkin. It is a rhyming, sing song book of a little boy who marches off his porch one morning playing his drum. He is the Pied Piper of animals with that drum, collecting quite a parade that stretches from morning to moonlight. I’ve read this book a thousand times, and I’ve yet to read it to a child who didn’t want to read it again. That last image of the boy marching over a hill under the moon makes my mother-heart ache. It’s just a story, but I’d rest easier if that little boy ended up in his little, soft bed being tucked in by his mother.

I am becoming a collector of Eloise Wilkin books.  Her illustrations feel like home to me. My Nana and Grandaddy gave me My Goodnight Book when I was almost one, and my mom always wanted to read We Help Mommy or We Help Daddy (I wonder why? Just kidding. I encourage the reading of those books now, too!). When I see an Eloise Wilkin book in a bookstore for a good price, I snatch it up.

Which books did you read over and over as a child?

Related posts:

31 Days of Picture Books

Books for Little Boys

Camping with Kids