Children's Books, Everyday Life, Parenting, Reading

Books for Little Boys

I am from an all girl family. I have two younger sisters, but no brothers. When we found out our first child was a girl, I was excited and, to be honest, rather relieved. Because what would I do with a boy? Being a mom to a little girl came pretty naturally. But then…oh, but then…I was about 85% sure about two months into my second pregnancy that I was having a boy. There were none of those signs you hear about like carrying the baby lower or higher or being sicker than last time or anything at all. The pregnancies were pretty much the same (speaking of weird signs, that one about heartburn being related to babies  who have lots of hair? It’s bogus. Both my babies had dark, thick, brown hair, and I had no heartburn whatsoever. I just had to let all two of you who care know that.).  But I was pretty sure I was having a boy. When the ultrasound confirmed it, I was very excited, but I was also a little apprehensive. How do I raise a little boy? And what’s even more daunting, what do I read to a little boy?

Just kidding, there are many parts of parenting a boy that make me feel more nervous than what books to read him. But it is something I had to figure out! So I thought I’d share what I’ve discovered so far as I read books to my son, Isaac, and watch his love of reading grow.

As a side note, my daughter really enjoys most of these books, too. Little girls like trucks! It was a revelation to me.

Farmer John's TractorI’ll be honest, I may love Farmer John’s Tractor by Sally Sutton more than my children do. It gives me a nostalgic feeling, and I don’t know why because it’s based in New Zealand and I have definitely never been there. Maybe it’s from watching all of those All Creatures Great and Small episodes with my parents when I was little that are set on Yorkshire sheep farms. Whatever the reason for my nostalgia, my kids really do love it, too. Read it on a rainy day and let your kids go out and splash in puddles on their bikes afterwards.

My Truck is Stuck!My friend recommended My Truck is Stuck to me because her two-year-old boy loved it (thanks, Jessica!). I don’t think I would have picked it up otherwise because I always gravitate more to books about people than animals (“How sad!,” some of you are thinking. It’s not a conscious decision, it’s just how I judge book covers, for some reason), but she was right, Isaac definitely loved it. In fact, we often say, “Can’t go! my truck is stuck!” when we’re playing with trucks. It’s a fun book.

Little Blue TruckWe read this book all the time. It’s one of those books that we got from the library and then bought as soon as we saw it in a store. Not only is the book beautiful and the story fun, but it teaches a great lesson about being kind to people (or trucks?) who haven’t been kind to you. It’s a keeper. The sequel, Little Blue Truck Leads the Way, has not been quite such a hit with our son, but we’ve only read it once since we got it from the library on Monday, so it may become a late blooming favorite. We’ll see.

Going to the Zoo with Lily and MiloBoth my children love the Lily and Milo books by Pauline Oud. They are fun because the illustrations give you a chance to be observant. Milo does some pretty funny things while Lily isn’t watching, like collecting friends at the zoo instead of paying any attention to the zoo animals. My daughter thinks they’re great and Isaac laughs out loud at them. He’s a laugher (no lie, he started laughing at 5 weeks and hasn’t stopped since), so maybe your kids won’t find them quite so amusing as he does, but they will probably like them. I sure do. =)

Roadwork!Roadwork is another one by Sally Sutton that Isaac loves. It kind of makes me sad because I have to admit, I verge on the tree hugger side of things (understatement), so seeing that beautiful pasture they start out on becoming a lovely highway isn’t so fun for me. But the project progression is pretty fascinating, especially to my little boy. We have gotten it from the library so many times, we really just need to buy it. But then I would be stuck reading it multiple times a day without the excuse that “we had to take it back to the library.”

The Bravest KnightThe Bravest Knight is an awesome book for boys. I really do want my son to think about being brave and chivalrous and all that. This story kind of puts a funny twist on the knight idea, though. My son is always laughing at the cat in the book. I think he may be a little young to really appreciate the story, but he sure does love it.

I’ve only scratched the surface of books I’ve discovered that my little boy loves. And I’m still discovering more. I may have to write a part two very soon. Please let me know which books the little boys you know love, too!

Related Posts: 

The Library is For Everyone

31 Days of Picture Books

Your Kids Have A Crush On You

Everyday Life, Parenting, Reading, Reviews

Camping With Kids

My family and I spent this past weekend camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We had a great time splashing in cold mountain streams, hiking on little trails near our campsite, taking long walks to the bath house, and sleeping on our sleeping bags side by side in our tent. I didn’t carry my camera with me much, but I did take lots of mental pictures that I hope to carry always: three tired heads sleeping on their pillows in the early dawn light; my son cuddled in a hammock with an uncle or aunt (my kids have lots of great uncles and aunts); the warmth of campfire reflecting on happy, tired faces; and my four-year-old, usually very girly daughter in her pink jeans, pink shoes, and pink shirt intently learning to swing a baseball bat. Turns out she’s pretty coordinated and is crazy about baseball now, thanks to some really thoughtful friends who brought a new toy for our children. My son kind of tries to hit the ball with a golf-like swing, but he’ll get it right someday. Or maybe he’ll just stick to golf.

Image
The kids and I enjoying the icy cold stream near our campsite.

We had a lot of fun even if we didn’t sit around the campfire relaxing nearly as much as we used to before we had children. I always take lots of books with me when I go to the mountains. I took three books with me on this trip, but I only read a quarter of one. But here’s what I did read quite a lot of before we left:

The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids: How to Plan Memorable Family Adventures and Connect Kids to Nature
The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids

Laugh if you will. I am the type of person who always find a book to read on whatever topic I feel unprepared for. Childbirth? Read at least five different books on it. Parenting? Still reading books, and I’ve lost count on how many I’ve read so far. Preparing for job interviews? Two books (they didn’t help much). Cooking for children? Three books. You see? I buy into the theory that knowledge is power. So, yes, I read a book on how to camp with kids. And it was fairly helpful. I probably would have thought of a lot of the tips without reading that book (for instance, keep your children away from open fires), but there were some helpful hints. One of the ideas was to take some monster truck toys with you so your children can make trails at the campsite or on hikes. That idea was genius. I will probably read The Guide again when my children are older and I can do more of the games and activities suggested in the book. It’s a great book if you’re like me, and need a book to prepare you for life’s major hurdles, such as camping with children in the mountains.

We also love the book We’re Going to the Mountains by Steve Kemp. My husband and I bought it on a trip to Ashevillle, NC when our daughter was just a baby. Both of our children love that it’s a poem with pictures. It’s so lyrical, it’s one of those books that’s easy to memorize after you’ve read it a few times. We recited bits of it several times throughout our trip. I like how it sets some expectations for small children of what people usually do when they go to the mountains. The illustrations are gorgeous, too. I’ve only seen it sold at Mast General Stores, or Amazon, but if you’re going to camp with children, I highly recommend getting a copy somehow.

And Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a fun one to read in the mountains. It kind of takes the fear out of the fact that there may be bears around. This is my favorite version of the story because it’s the one my family had when I was little. My parents now have it in their living room for the grandkids to read when they come over, and I still think that this version has the cutest Baby Bear ever. Jan Brett has done a version that is breathtaking visually, but may be a bit too wordy for very young readers/listeners.

So that’s what I learned about camping with children. What books and ideas have been your favorite when camping with kids? We had a great time and plan to go again, so bring on all the suggestions you can think of!

Everyday Life, Reading

The Wednesday Sisters and Thoughts on How to Focus

This morning, my two-year-old son woke up at 5:50. I heard him whimpering a bit in his bed, but held my breath for a few seconds, hoping he’d go back to sleep. He did. I, however, did not. Instead, I  promptly rolled over and reached for my Nook, because I was dying to finish The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. By 6:30, I was done. It was such a great book, but for some different reasons than the ones I usually like books for.

The Wednesday SistersThe book was written from the point of view of Frankie O’Mara, wife of a technological genius, who has moved to Palo Alto, California in 1967 to pursue what would later be known as the Silicon Valley computer boom. Frankie meets “The Wednesday Sisters” in the neighborhood park. They are, of course, really not sisters, but a group of women who live in the same neighborhood and have secret literary ambitions. Or at least, most of them do and the others join in because they are talked into it. The group of women is diverse in a way that makes you think “this could only happen in a book.” Somehow, that aspect didn’t ruin the book for me because it was crucial to the story. I gained some insight about that time period in the late ’60’s when so much about the American culture was changing. Sure, I learned about the feminist movement at the women’s liberal arts college I went to, where we were required to take an entire class on feminism. This book, though, made me realize what it was like to be a woman watching all of these changes happen around her.

The Wednesday Sisters are not openly feminists. Besides Linda, the activist of the group, they are slightly fearful of the women protesters they see on TV. But as the book goes on, the characters in the book, and I as the reader, came to understand a little bit more about why changes were inevitable and some of them very necessary. For example, women’s healthcare was downright scary. Breast cancer was not understood very well and even survivors were crippled after treatment. Infertility was a huge mystery. Premature babies didn’t live very long. Besides the healthcare issue, there were many other ideas that I’m glad changed, such as the one that particularly bothered me, the idea that women who participated in sports were unfeminine.

Politically, I’m not a true feminist in the current day. For starters, I’m pro-life. I may agree with some “feminist” stances, but mostly, no. But I live in a culture that smiles on a stay-at-home mom typing out a manuscript in her spare time, and that claps for women who run marathons, and that really doesn’t take Miss America pageants very seriously anymore (if you do, forgive me, but most people I know don’t). I played sports in high school. I cut my hair short without anyone blinking an eye. These are some freedoms that I take for granted. I have a few opinions about some bad effects the feminist movement had on America. For example, while no one frowns on me for having literary aspirations, many frown on me for choosing to stay at home with my beloved children instead of pursuing a career and “using my education.” That’s an opposite extreme we’re dealing with now. But that’s not what The Wednesday Sisters made me realize. It helped me appreciate some good things about 1960s feminism, even if I have mixed emotions and thoughts about the evolution of feminism and what it is today.

A few things I didn’t enjoy about the book were the descriptions of some marital relations between husbands and wives. I could’ve done without that. I understand the author intended to portray some important ideas about men’s and women’s marriage roles in that time period. I just don’t like that kind of stuff to be in books. There’s a Victorian lady hiding somewhere inside of me, I think. So if you, too, could do without that sort of thing, skip over those pages, but know that it is only a tiny part of the book.

Even with all these historical revelations, the thing about this book that hit me the hardest was something that was not very central to the story. It was this: typewriters.

These women were full time mothers and they didn’t have dishwashers or clothes dryers or all sorts of luxuries we have now, yet they churned out short stories and novels. How did they do that? The answer is focus. They were focused on their goals. Here’s what Frankie says,

I suppose what we did was park our butts down and write any moment and any place our children were otherwise occupied. We got up early and wrote while our households slept. We carried journals and pens and even manuscripts in our purses, and if the children fell asleep in the car on the way to the grocery store, we sat with our writing propped up against the steering wheel, scribbling quietly, careful not to inadvertently honk the horn. We grabbed every minute we could, hoping it might turn out to be five minutes or ten, or maybe an hour if we were lucky. And even when it was frustrating and we didn’t like what we wrote, even when we were just jotting down thoughts about a day that had not gone well, there was joy in it…”

I write like that, I guess, but here’s what I also do: sit down on the computer and write a sentence or two, and then check Facebook. Or I start working on a proofreading project for a while, but then I check the weather. And my e-mail account. And my RSS feed. And then, before I know it, 30 minutes have gone by and I have only written two sentences or only proofread half a page. But it’s a whole different matter when I sit down with my journal. I can write pages and pages there and not realize how fast the time has gone. I know I can’t blame all my focus problems on my trusty laptop, but the distractions are hard to ignore.

Earlier today, I was thinking about how distracted I am in comparison to Frankie and the other Wednesday Sisters. I was wishing for a typewriter like Frankie had–a tool with nothing on it but letters to punch into pages of words. So I determined that I would open the proofreading project I’m working on and focus solely on it for 30 minutes straight. The difficulty of that task is a sad commentary on the state of my mind. After five minutes, I became kind of twitchy, my fingers itching to pick up my i-phone or click over to my web browser. At ten minutes, I had to grit my teeth. Fifteen minutes into it, I was actually feeling kind of panicky. Panicky! But after a few deep breaths (ridiculous!), I got into a groove and the proofreading came pretty easily for the next fifteen minutes. And when I did check my e-mail, Facebook, whatever else, I had missed absolutely nothing. Not one thing.

The Wednesday Sisters helped me think in a new way about the 1960s in America, but what I really appreciate is the insight into how distracted and unfocused I am. I can’t go back to a less media-infiltrated time, but I can make choices. For me, it’s going to come down to practice. I plan to determine times when I will and won’t check e-mail, Facebook, etc. I need to keep it separate. I know the technology available to me is helpful in many ways, but I have to work on how distracted I am by it. I’m looking forward to reading  Sarah Mae’s The Unwired Mom for some more perspective on being a more focused person. It’s free right now on her website, if you want to pop over there and sign up for it. And read The Wednesday Sisters, too! Then come back and tell me what you liked or didn’t like or learned from it.

Everyday Life, Reading

Your Kids Have a Crush On You

“Where’s Mommy?”

“Where’d Daddy go?”

These are questions my two-year-old son asks at least once an hour.  He and his four-year-old sister have a Mommy and Daddy Radar. It beeps urgently when they realize they don’t know exactly where Mommy and Daddy are. If you have children, you know what I’m talking about. And you definitely know what I’m talking about if this scenario sounds familiar: It’s 4:30 in the afternoon, during the witching hours of the day.  You’re more than ready for a break, but really, your work has just begun. There’s dinner to cook, dishes to wash, and kids to bathe and put to bed and try your best to keep in bed until they finally, finally succumb to sleep. And then you have a few more miles to go in the form of piles of laundry or work you didn’t quite wrap up at the office, or maybe a phone call to return that you’ve been dreading all day. Not to mention that workout you had to put off all day/week. No, if you’re a mom or dad, 4:30 isn’t even close to quitting time.

Around 4:30 is when I desperately think, “I just need five minutes alone.” So I creep to the bathroom. And I’m in there about ten, maybe twenty seconds before I hear “Where’d Mommy go? Mommy!!”

I’m in here. Hiding.

4:30 is also about when my children get desperate for me to read books to them. “I wan’ read a boooook!” my always enthusiastic son proclaims, as he lugs a book beyond his age level to me when I walk into his room to see, again, why he’s yelling for me. Quiet, dancing Ella then says, “I want to read, too,” and I’m left with no choice, because how can I put silly things like sustenance and cleanliness ahead of the love of reading I and my children share? So we smush together on the couch and open up a book and let the rice boil over while we read about brave knights or dancing princesses. And I struggle to explain why the rice is dry again, but my husband doesn’t even ask why, because he knows. He knows how our children hit me at my weak spot and get me to hold to hold them in my lap when I think I need to be doing other things. He knows that frustration between wanting to say “yes” but always feeling guilty about whatever it is you said “no” to. He and I both struggle to figure out our “yes’s” and our “no’s”. Maybe you do to.

My kids aren’t trying to frustrate me, but I get weary of how unsettled they become when I’m focusing on something other than them. I can’t get mad at them (okay, I can, but I shouldn’t) because the truth is they want me to be present with them because they’re crazy about me. Me. The woman wearing the sweat pants that likely have snot (theirs) on them. The woman who really should’ve washed her hair this morning and who feels a little boring around other adults and who can’t remember to change the oven from “broil” to “bake” and serves her family crunchy cookies. The woman who forgets at least one thing on her grocery list every stinkin’ shopping trip. The woman who sometimes (often) loses her cool and speaks in harsh tones when she’s upset and clearly never, ever has it all together. That’s the woman they’re crazy about.

That’s why they act like a seventh grader with crush on someone. Remember those days? (Don’t pretend you weren’t like that!) You craved that person’s attention. You were envious of the people your crush talked to when he or she wasn’t with you. You performed crazy, nonsensical antics to get his/her attention. You thought about where they were when they were not around (yes, you did). You hoped the person would see past your imperfections and fall completely in love with everything about you that is good and unique and found nowhere else on earth but in you. Really, don’t we all still want that from the people we love? Isn’t that what our kids want from us? Here we are with our kids constantly wanting our attention, acting out when we’re trying to talk on the phone, and driving us crazy when all we want to do is get the dishes washed or the bills paid…and all they want is to simply be with us. Whether we’re having a bad hair/face/work/everything day or not. Yes, it’s true. Your kids have a huge crush on you.

And in all the books, movies, love songs, and all other forms of human expression, what’s sadder than unrequited love?

But of course, we all love our kids, more deeply than we can say. Our children’s love is not unrequited. I know there are parents out there who aren’t very loving, but I personally don’t know any. The parents I know are too crazy about their children to put it into words. But no matter how much I love my children, I’m going to get frustrated. I’m going to be tired of being needed. I may mess up and make them feel like I don’t appreciate their desire to be with me. But it helps to remember why they’re constantly seeking me out. It helps to remember it’s because they love me and they know I love and care for their every need. And though I tell my kids “I love you,” if I want them to believe me, I need to meet their love at the only place they know how to give and receive it–in spending time together. I need to gather them in my arms and laugh at their silly jokes. I need to read books and go with them on their flights of imagination. I need to make sure they know I love every single thing about them: the questions my four-year-old daughter asks, the exuberance my toddler son maintains every single day, the colors in their eyes and hair and skin, the absolute freedom they feel to snuggle with me no matter what. There are no barriers between us now, and I need to realize it’s not always going to be that way. Someday, I’m going to call out, “Hey, let’s read this book!” and I’ll get a groan for a response, or no response at all.  But for now, reading a book together is exactly the excuse they’re looking for to be near me. So I’m going to revel in the crush they have on me and I on them. There will always be days when I feel like reading by myself instead of gathering them up in my arms and reading Farmer John’s Tractor for the eighteenth time. Still, I hope to remember how much my arms and my attention mean to them, and I’ll try not to hide from them. At least not until after bedtime.

Communicating unconditional love through the sacrifice of time is my goal. Yes, I’m setting myself up for failure. But trying is still accomplishing goals as long as you’re still trying the next day. It just may mean those goals will take a lifetime.

God bless all of you on this Father’s Day. I hope you get the chance to spend lots of time with your loved ones and maybe even a little time to yourself. And be sure to tell the children in your life that yes, you will read them that book. =)

IMG_0247

Everyday Life, Saturday Cooking

Saturday Cooking

I’m still enjoying The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and I’m flirting with The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton (i.e. I read a page or two between reading Huck Finn because I am so eager to really sit down to read it and find it if it’s good like The Forgotten Garden or not so good like The House at Riverton–I’ll let you know soon!). 

But today, I’m not reading a whole lot other than cookbooks, which is really not my preferred genre. Here’s a little known fact: I don’t really like to cook. Bake, yes. But cook, not so much. I can cook and we do eat most of our meals at home. I’m committed to feeding my family of four healthfully and I’m trying to learn how to do that on a consistent budget. But since cooking is not a passion of mine (and I’m definitely not a foodie, either), I struggle to consistently plan and cook well-rounded and/or scrumptious meals. Here’s what I’d eat for every meal if I didn’t have a family:

Image
Yes, this is really my kitchen.

Dark chocolate, fruit, almonds, granola, and coffee would keep me happy for weeks.

When I hit on a good and easy recipe, I serve it into the ground. Or so it feels to me. So today I spent the morning developing a monthly meal plan with a daily theme, such as Mondays are Asian food, Tuesdays are Mexican, etc. I’ve tried monthly meal plans before, but I generally pick 30 meals and have a hard time sticking to it. So this time I have more like 12 meals that I’m repeating 2-3 times in the month. I’ll let you know how it goes.

The All New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook: Over 1,250 of Our Best RecipesSince I have cooking on the brain, today I’m sharing my favorite cookbooks of all time. I know, who uses cookbooks when you could just search the internet? Well, I don’t have many cookbooks, but I feel I need them when I’m trying to find dinner ideas–allrecipes.com is great but it overwhelms me. I’ll start with the best cookbook in the world: The All New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook. My grandmother gave this book to me for Christmas a year after I got married (thanks, Gammy!), and since then I have tried at least forty recipes. They are always perfect or nearly perfect. It’s my go-to idea book when it comes to meal planning. The recipes vary from ridiculously easy to more advanced, but you can generally tell in a glance how hard the recipe will be. If you look into it, definitely try the recipes in the Healthy Eating section. The cake section and the breakfast section are also especially good. One of our favorites is the chicken and bowtie pasta recipe.

Everyday Italian: 125 Simple and Delicious RecipesAnd when I feel like cooking some Italian food, I always look first in Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis. I don’t actually watch any cooking shows, mostly because we choose not to have cable or satellite television (it’s becoming clear how I have time to read, now, isn’t it?), but I think Giada de Laurentiis’s books are awesome.  I’ve had this one since it first came out and it’s literally falling apart. The “Everyday Sauces” section has changed my cooking life. And if you’re a visual cookbook viewer, there’s a photo for almost every recipe.  A photo that will make your mouth start watering before you even read the name of the food.

And lastly, I love this:

Image

This is the recipe notebook a couple of my bridesmaids gave me and the recipes they had everyone at my wedding shower give me for my book. I’ve added so many more shared recipes since then and it is a treasure in my house. It’s also falling apart and rather covered in muffin batter in places, but it will never be retired.

So what’s for dinner tonight? Here, my husband is grilling chicken (yes, about a third of my menu plan includes my husband grilling, but he likes to grill…I’m pretty sure he likes to grill…) and we’re having Ginger and Honey Glazed Carrots and muffins. Because my kids love muffins and it’s an easy way to add whole wheat flour and wheat germ into their diets. =)

Everyday Life, Reading

Book Messes and Real Life

Image

For some reason, book messes don’t bother me as much as other kinds of messes…

But life has certainly been messy around my place lately.  My progress on the books I’ve been reading lately has been slow.  One of my favorite authors, Ann Voskamp, often writes, “Life is not an emergency.”  As much as I appreciate and need that perspective, sometimes, life does feel urgent.  Sometimes your whole family gets a stomach bug; or you really do have to get those errands done before two birthdays and two anniversaries occur in one week; or your husband has to travel for work and it’s all on you, mama; or your first nephew arrives and (happily) other things get put on hold for a few days.

That’s been the month of May for us, so the book messes are some of the nicest messes that have been going on around here. I’ll spare you photos of the other ones.

Even in the frantic days, however, I have to read something.  A lot of times I find I turn to my old favorites; they’re kind of like comfort food for a bookworm.  When I’m having a hard time on the family and home front, reading the later books in the Anne of Green Gables series cheers me up.  (On a side note, if you’re one of those people who says, “Oh, I read Anne of Green Gables but I didn’t know it was a series,” I am jealous of you because there are EIGHT books in that series and they are wonderful. I have read them to mental shreds.  But I still love them).  If I can’t seem to think anything but negative thoughts, I re-read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp or I Capture the Castle (because it’s just fun and strangely uplifting) or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  When I’m sick of life in the fast lane, I read Austen or Gaskell (usually Wives and Daughters) And if I feel like my brain is mired in the mundane, the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis or some other fantasy fiction is just what I need.

Those are just a few of my comfort books that come to mind.  I have to mention the Bible because I’m always reading that, and it is comfort and beyond.  What about you? Do you have books you turn to when your mind is troubled? I’d love to hear about them.