Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bleak Mid-winter

"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp,
drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing
before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet...
then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute
for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his
sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but
knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly
the feelings towards the ocean with me."
~from Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Oh, winter. I imagine many of us are feeling a "damp, drizzly November" in our souls and could use a good dose of the sea. Luckily, we've had a lovely Spring-like weekend here -- a nice break in the middle of winter.

Happy Sunday!


Friday, January 29, 2016

5 Classics I've Read with My Daughter

I have been reading to Abby for almost 11 years now -- and she still likes it! (She reads on her own, too, but still enjoys sharing a book with me -- I will keep this going as long as possible!) Once we graduated from picture books, we moved on to simple and more complex chapter books, including some classics. Today I want to highlight a few of those.

A quick note: All of these book have central characters that are strong females. They teach about courage in the face of adversity, hard work, and hope. They are great mother-daughter reads.

Another quick note: Often, while I'm reading to Abby, she is doodling or making something with her hands. But she is absorbing the story and often stops to ask questions. If your child won't sit still or would likely space off during reading, let them doodle or craft during reading time and see what happens!

1. The Chronicles of Narnia series

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis) was the first chapter book I read to Abby, and I believe she was 5 years old. I worried that the heightened, more formal language would be over her head, and figured we would abandon the book until later, if needed. However, the characters and story were so compelling to her, that she just loved it!

Abby's 6th birthday Narnia cake

The magical story of four siblings who enter another world via an old wardrobe captivated Abby's imagination. Talking animals and beasts, castles, the battle of good vs. evil, a gentle lion king... she ate it up and I would often find her outside playing Lucy Pevensie. :)

We went on to read the next two books in the series, but then took a break to read some other adventures. We will need to resume the story some day. #somanybookssolittletime

2. The Little House on the Prairie series

I mean, how could we not, right? The books detailing the pioneering adventures of the Ingalls family were written for children. The language is easy to understand and read, and the stories of the family's day-to-day life in a time long ago are fascinating. Laura Ingalls is taught hard work and perseverance and longs to end each day snuggled on Pa's knee, hearing about his hunting adventures or music from his fiddle.

And if you live in Missouri like we do, or want to travel this way, you can take a trip to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield. It is where Laura and Almanzo moved their family, built a life for themselves, and where she wrote these treasured books.

Look -- Pa's fiddle!
3. Anne of Green Gables

The Anne books by Lucy Maud Montgomery are so wonderful. Anne is an orphan who is (mistakenly) taken-in by a couple in Avonlea. She talks a mile a minute, often lost in some daydreamy reverie. Matthew immediately loves her delightful ways, but Marilla thinks she can be silly and impractical. Anne gets into all sorts of scrapes, but as she grows and matures, she becomes a trusted and solid -- and still daydreamy -- star of her community.

Yet again, I wondered if Abby wouldn't be engaged with the heightened language -- but Anne is just so lovable! She is smart, determined, head-strong, kind, and, above all, exceedingly imaginative. What a great role model for a young girl.

4. The Little Princess

This is what Abby and I are currently reading (first time for me!), and we are about halfway through. The central character is Sara Crewe, whose wealthy father brings her to a boarding school in New York. Though Sara has been spoiled and is used to a lavish lifestyle, she is a kind and generous soul. Miss Minchin, the headmistress, is jealous and disapproving of Sara and her wealth, but keeps the peace in order to maintain friendly relations with (the deep pockets of) her father. When it is learned that Captain Crewe has died, Sara is stripped of her belongings and is forced to live in the attic and become a servant. She is abused and mocked. However, Sara still maintains her kindness, generosity, imagination, and spirit to show that it is what's in the heart that makes one a "little princess."

5. The Harry Potter series

The greatest story ever told! :)

I cannot say enough wonderful things about these books. The magic and wizardry are captivating for kids and adults, alike. But it is the themes of courage, friendship, determination, good, loyalty, and understanding that put these over the top. I hope all of my kids read and treasure these books as much as my husband and I have.

Have you read any of these classics with your kids, or do you have any to add to our "must-read" list?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Mother for Choco

Today's book is a sweet, heart-warming story of a bird on an adventure. It is also a story of adoption.

Choco is a bird who lives all alone, and he goes in search of his mother. He asks a variety of animals who share some of his features if they are his mother. Disappointingly, they all point out that they have many features that are different, and so they can't possibly be his mother. Until he meets Mrs. Bear. She shows Choco that even though she looks nothing like him, she can still do all of the things a mother would do. Choco finds a home filled with the features that matter most of all -- love and laughter...and apple pie. :)

Originally published in 1982 and in this format in 1992 (G.P. Putnam's Sons), the themes in this story will hold up through the ages. Keiko Kasza gently and beautifully approaches the idea of adoption without hitting the reader over the head with a lesson. She doesn't vilify the animals who say no to Choco -- in fact, most of them are concerned. But she shows that the warmth and tenderness -- not appearance -- that Mrs. Bear displays are all that Choco needs.

Any family should read this story of inclusion. And if you have friends or loved ones who are adoptive parents or in the adoption process, this would make a meaningful addition to their library.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Jennifer's Rabbit

"Jennifer's rabbit, brown and white,
Left the house and ran away one night,
Along with a turtle and a kangaroo,
And seventeen monkeys from the city zoo...
And Jennifer, too."

Jennifer's Rabbit is yet another family favorite and another that I was gifted from my sister. Written by Tom Paxton as a lullaby for his daughter, it was published in picture book format in 1988 by William Morrow & Co.

Jennifer dreams that she and a crew of animal companions have a nighttime adventure, visiting the "cookie crumb sands" and sailing with pirates on the "starlight sea." When the hour grows late, they decide to count all of the stars in the sky on their way back home.

This is a dreamy, whimsical story of a child's dream, and my kids -- even one-year-old Vivian -- have sat engaged by the beautiful words and illustrations. Paxton's use of rhyme and tempo is impressively done as the story reaches an exciting arc and then descends calmly and dreamily to urge the listening ear to bed.

My favorite edition of this book is the one pictured above, with illustrations by Donna Ayers. Ayers' full-page watercolor illustrations are the perfect companion for telling this enchanting story.



Sunday, January 24, 2016

So Safe a Prop

"You are no ruin, sir -- no lightning-struck tree: you are green and vigorous.
Plants will grow about your roots, whether you ask them or not, because they
take delight in your bountiful shadow; and as they grow they will lean towards you,
and wind round you, because your strength offers them so safe a prop."
~ from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
This is my favorite passage from a favorite book. By the time you read these words in the story, your heart will swell at the meaning behind them. So lovely and powerful. :)

Happy Sunday! 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Wayside School

Today, I'd like to venture away from picture books a bit and discuss a great early-grade chapter book.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School was written by Louis Sachar, award-winning author of Holes and the Marvin Redpost series. Wayside School was supposed to be built one story high and have 30 classrooms. But the builder made a mistake and built the school 30 stories high with one classroom per level! (He said he was very sorry.)

The book details the strange happenings of the teachers and students on the 30th floor. Mrs. Gorf, who turns her students into apples, is soon replaced by Mrs. Jewls, who thinks her students are so cute they can't possibly be children and must be monkeys. And the students are even sillier than the teachers: There's Joe, who cannot count in the correct order and yet gets the right answer each time; Bebe, who can draw over 300 pictures in an hour; and of course Sammy -- the new kid in class -- who wears layers of raincoats and is very smelly.

I started reading this to William this week, and just as Abby had been when I read it to her, he was completely enthralled and giggly and kept asking for "just one more chapter." It is a great bridge from picture books to chapter books in that the action and stories are so compelling and hilarious for kids, they don't miss the illustrations on each page. The chapters in the book are quick and filled with ridiculousness, as well as timeless experiences from grade school and childhood.

First published in 1978, there have been three editions of this original book, as well as two sequels: Wayside School is Falling Down and Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger. Check them out for your kiddos soon, and you may find yourself enjoying them just as much.

Happy reading!


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Day the Crayons Came Home

Have you read the latest book by author/illustrator team Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers? In a follow-up to their wildly popular The Day the Crayons Quit, this second book (published in 2015 by Philomel Books) details the adventures of displeased crayons who find their way back to Duncan's crayon box.

The crayons send Duncan a series of postcards from their various locations. My favorites are from Neon Red Crayon, who reminds Duncan how much fun they had coloring his dad's sunburn on vacation, and Brown Crayon, who is miffed because of the "item" Duncan used him to color.

The book is relatable to kids and is so fun to read aloud together. The author's voice can be sarcastic and scornful, depending on the crayon's predicament (which adds to the hilarity), though other "characters" take a softer approach. And the illustrations (in crayon, of course) are playful and delightful. In the end, Duncan comes up with a way to make everyone happy (and feel included).

I think this book is even better than the first! Check it out if you haven't already.

Happy reading!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Warm Things

"Sara -- who was only doing what she unconsciously liked better than anything else,
Nature having made her for a giver -- had not the least idea what she meant to poor Becky,
and how wonderful a benefactor she seemed. If Nature has made you for a giver, your
hands are born open, and so is your heart; and though there may be times when your hands
are empty, your heart is always full, and you can give things out of that -- warm things,
kind things, sweet things -- help and comfort and laughter -- and sometimes gay, kind
laughter is the best help of all."
-- from The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Abby and I are reading The Little Princess together, and these words from chapter six just grabbed me. They are so lovely and so true.
Happy Sunday!

Friday, January 15, 2016


When I was pregnant with my firstborn, my cousin Stacy gifted me a subscription to Babybug magazine. Have you heard of it?

Babybug is an award-winning magazine for babies and toddlers six months to three years old. Each issue is filled with stories, rhymes, photos and beautiful artwork that appeal to a very young child.

With words and pictures from a variety of authors and artists, the concepts are simple and relatable, and perfect for reading aloud by a parent or other caregiver.

Some of our favorite rhymes and knee-bouncers have come from the pages of Babybug, making story time an engaging and interactive experience.

I love our Babybugs. I saved all of Abby's and read them to William and now Vivian. Vivian now gets a subscription of her own, and we squeal when we open the mailbox and there is a new, happy, colorful issue waiting for us. A subscription for these books also makes a unique gift for a baby shower, birthday, or holiday.

Cricket Media, the publisher of Babybug, offers a variety of literary magazines for children of all ages. I encourage you to check them out!

I was not in any way paid for this blog post -- I just treasure these products and what they've meant to our family. I hope you will treasure them, too!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Family Favorite

Continuing the conversation of delightfully absurd stories that we began yesterday, I'd like to highlight one of our family's favorite picture books: Stop That Pickle (author: Peter Armour; Illustrator: Andrew Shachat; published by HMH Books for Young Readers 1993).

My sister gifted me this book years ago, before I even had kids, because the notion of an ornery, runaway pickle was too ridiculous not to share. :) Basically, when Ms. Elmira Deeds visits the deli and orders a pickle -- the last pickle in the jar -- it does NOT want to be eaten. It runs out of the deli and is chased by a cast of other edible characters who all aim to -- you guessed it -- stop that pickle!

When my nephew Brad was a little boy, he'd beeline for the bookshelf in our guest room when he'd come over and would always select Stop That Pickle to read while he stayed. Warmed my heart. Over the years, Abby and William (and some day Vivian) have loved my husband's rendition of this story with a variety of ridiculous voices, and they join in the repeat of "Stop that pickle!" on each page. This can get very loud. :)

I wonder if the author knew he was writing an interactive book? :) Add this to the list of books that instill a delight in the experience of reading in young kids. (We adults sure love reading this with them, too.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rude Cakes

OMG. If you have yet to read Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins (a relatively new picture book, published in June 2015), you must run out and acquire it right now!

This is a delightful story of cakes that are very, very rude. They don't listen to their parents, they don't say "please," and they NEVER say they're sorry.

Enter a giant cyclops. Giant cyclopses are very well-mannered, and they also LOVE.... Well, I don't want to spoil it for you.

Read this to your child and laugh -- I sure did!

Watkins' illustrations are playful and endearing. They add another layer to help tell the story, and you may just find yourself with a newfound fondness for large one-eyed monsters.

Is the ending a bit disappointing? Perhaps. But the delight of the rest of the story more than makes up for that.

Finally, I have read some reviews that call this a book on manners. And I can see how one might categorize it as such. But for me, it is just a playful, ridiculously absurd story that challenges our expectations of how certain beings might behave. It is a book that you can read with a child on your lap and experience the joy of reading together.

I'm still giggling about the plot twist in this book. :) I hope you enjoy it and will add this to your list of books that will foster a love of reading!