Best Books to Give Your Kids This Christmas

Here’s how the Christmas cycle goes. At the dawn of December there is a magical anticipation of what is to come. You find creative ways to get everyone in your family exactly what they have spent all year dreaming about. You dance and sing along to “All I Want For Christmas” with an enthusiasm that could rival Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister dance in Love, Actually. You organize the perfect advent countdown events that will have your family bonding like frosting to gingerbread.

But then something happens. Disillusionment creeps into that cinnamon scented air. You begin to ask yourself, “Why am I happily singing, ‘The weather outside is frightful,’ and ‘Let it snow’ when it is 86* F outside?” You begin to experience something that can only be described as song rage every time you hear “Last Christmas.” You begin to have an allergic reaction to the cinnamon stick smell that is every. where. You even dare to think maybe you can just give the teachers homemade cards. With nothing inside. (You know you’ve thought it too. If it works for Mother’s Day, it ought to work for teacher’s too, right? NO! This is wrong. Never think this again! Even if someone plays “Baby It’s Cold Outside” on repeat. Fight. It.)

And then just before you lose your ever-loving mind, suddenly it is the Twelve Days of Christmas and all is merry and bright again! You have a renewed excitement for Christmas morning and all that it means. Not merely a thing in a box, but a Baby and an Ultimate gift. You have a deepened gratitude for those close to you. You have a growing sense of comfort and joy. You weathered that proverbial storm and now solidly, once again, appreciate what Christmas is all about.

The only problem being, all that perspective and depth gained does not, in fact, fill stockings. But books do! And I can help with that.

Board Books

This year is all about board book collections. What could be better than opening a present you think is one book only to discover eight books within! As an added bonus, my personal favorites can be found at Costco right now and are cheaper than on Amazon!

BabyLit Classic Box Set – Admittedly, this is the least practical of the suggested gifts. However, think about how cool that impracticality will look on your baby’s book shelf! (This is only $15.99 at Costco right now.)

The Best Classic Christmas Stories – This set is worth it for Little Blue Truck’s Christmas alone, but the seven other books seal the deal. (Again, $15.99 at Costco.)

The Eric Carle Library – You may already have Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? and The Very Hungry Caterpillar but do you have The Greedy Python or A House for Hermit Crab? With this box set you could own those plus six other lesser known Carle books.

The Harper Collins Classic Library – This box set includes some of my all time favorites like, Mommy’s Best Kisses, Freight Train, and Harold and the Purple Crayon! Go ahead and buy extras of this set because they would also be perfect baby shower gifts.

Alphaprints Library – If you are looking to go the educational route, these are perfect! You have animals, colors, shapes, and first words galore.

Picture Books

Jabari Jumps – Gaia Cornwall’s story of trying to overcome fear is a must-have. This is a particularly good book for those with a knack for bravado.

Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors – This book is hilarious, as one comes to expect from Drew Daywalt. The back story of this legendary meeting is epic and a blast to read out loud.

I’ll Wait, Mr. Panda – I think this may be my favorite of Steve Anthony’s Mr. Panda books. This is a very cute story about the good that can come from just a little bit of patience.

Plant the Tiny Seed – Christie Matheson does these interactive books so well. Plant the Tiny Seed is a fun way to get young kids excited about spring and planting flowers.

What To Do With A Problem – When I think of a book I want to give to every child, this is in the top five. Kobi Yamada has such a gifted way of using a story to help give children tangible tools for problem solving.

*Bonus* – My Busy Books are excellent gifts for any occasion, Christmas included. There is guaranteed to be one for any child’s character preferences and they produce endless hours of fun.

Early Grade Chapter Books

Like box sets with board books, collections with these early chapter books make excellent gifts. One book is good, but more books are always better!

Jaden Toussaint (Marti Dumas) – This five book series is funny, adventurous, smart, and creative. My kids quote lines from these books all the time because the stories have a way of engaging kids (and adults) in a unique way.

Magic Tree House (Mary Pope Osborne) – Time traveling tree houses, historical fiction disguised as magic, and kids consantly outwitting their parents…what could be better?! These books are well-established favorites and for good reason.

Boxcar Children (Gertrude Chandler Warner) – These books are great for the future Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys loving kids. There is a mystery around every corner and these four orphans always seem to find themselves right smack in the middle of every single one.

Beverly Cleary – This treasured author wrote something for everyone, from her Ramona books, to the Henry series, to the Ralph Mouse tales, you will find a set that grabs your child’s literary attention.

Roald Dahl – Every child should have Matilda, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The BFG, and Danny Champion of the World on their shelves, not to mention, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach.

Middle Grade Chapter Books

Track series (Jason Reynolds) – This series, which includes Ghost, Patina, and the newly released Sunny, has been my favorite to read this year. The books follow a group of five kids who are new to the club track team they run with. Reynolds’ writing pulls you into the story and brings life to characters you feel like you remember from your days in school. My oldest daughter could not put these books down.

Jupiter Storm (Marti Dumas) – If you follow Well Worn Pages on Facebook, then you have already heard me talk about my love for this book. Dragons, magic, family drama, and life lessons…that is the stuff of captivating storytelling!

Echo (Pam Munoz Ryan) – This 2016 Newberry Medal winner was one of my daughter’s favorite books to read this year. This is the one book of this list I have not read, but it is on my desk to read over the break.

Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series (Jordan Stratford) – The premise of these books alone makes them uniquely intrguing, but then the writing and storytelling within their pages are equally as engaging. Imagine Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley living at the same time, homeschooling together, and then deciding to become detectives! I highly recommend this series for some light, fun, and imaginative reading.

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle) – Because of March 9th! If you plan to go watch the movie with your kids, please for the love of everything, read the book first!

This is a list of books that gets me in the Christmas spirit! Now to somehow avoid ever hearing “I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus” again so we can keep that Christmas spirit going for the next twelve days!

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20 Bookish Christmas Gifts: Kids Edition

It is the first week of December and all of my Christmas shopping is done. I am not going to lie, I have been feeling pretty good about myself with this one. To make it even better, when I looked through the Christmas bins to get out the decorations I found an entire bin full of stocking presents I had bought during the week after Christmas clearance sales last year! WHAT?!?! How smart was I?!

I did not envision this forethought and efficiency coming with any complications. Except that it has. Now, I realize, I have to not spend anymore money on presents for the next twenty days. No matter how many that-would-be-perfect-for deals I see. And so to help me with this impulse control, I have started shopping for the readers in your home. Since I am already done with my shopping, none of my kids will be getting any of these things but your kids; your kids could have it all!

Here are twenty perfect gifts for the young reader in your life:

Book light – After looking at entirely too many book lights, I am going to give this one a try. This is perfect for your night owl and when the kids want to read in the car but it is already dark at 2:13 pm!

Magazine Subscription – There are several that are literary in nature. These expose kids to different kinds of literature, like short stories, poems, and non-fiction content. I recommend Top Secret Adventures by Highlights Magazine, which is kind of like a literary “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” and Cricket magazine, with its eleven different off-shoots, it has been dubbed “The New Yorker” for kids.

Post Its – Every reader knows the importance of annotation. Here is your perfect chance to teach them this exciting and essential past time. Post Its are a guaranteed hit, with their half sticker, half note pad self, also they are very cheap (as presents go). I am partial to the book dart size post its, but to each their own (unless you like something else, in which case, you are wrong).

Reading Logs and Journals –  These are the perfect gift for your book lover. They are books. That you write in. Yep. You can pick from any number of the bajillion blank journals out there, like these. If you are looking for something more like a reading log, two I have seen recommended for kids are the Bookworm Journal and My Reading Adventure Journal.

Framed Book Covers – I first saw this brilliant idea in a good friend of mine’s kids’ bedrooms. She took their favorite books and framed the book covers! I love, love, love this idea! It is such a cool, personal, creative, and, as an added bonus, inexpensive gift.

Framed Book Quotes – I got going with the wall hangings and now I just can’t stop. But again, this can be a very personalized gift. Those are always the best gifts. You can, of course, go the ultra fancy lithograph route or you can fall down the Pinterest rabbit hole and make your own.

Bookmarks – Please, let us give these children some bookmarks. I need my random receipts, socks, game cards, etc back for my book marking use. Fortunately for us, BookRiot just compiled a list of 50 FREE printable bookmarks. Some of these I will be gifting to myself this year.

Book Shelf – It is a book lovers dream to have book shelves all your own to arrange (and rearrange and rearrange again) in whichever way pleases you most. This is a joy your child should know.

Apparel – From socks to T-shirts to onesies, there are some very creative and fantastic options out there. While this will not be your cheapest route, gift wise, choose wisely and this will be a favorite.

Library Stamp – I am partial to the embossers because stamps have to dry and children have no patience. Anything that removes the ink of any given scenario is alright by me. You can find places that will do this on Etsy that may be a bit cheaper.

Book Related Toys – The beauty of this option is that it is open to wild speculation. For example, while this taco holder is neither a toy nor directly related to Dragons Love Tacos, it must be gifted to the child (or adult) who reads that book again and again. If speculation is not your thing, rest assured there are a limitless number of options directly related to books, all ages: babies, younger kids, and older ones too.

Ornaments -This would be a fantastic way to document your child’s favorite book that year. Recycle book covers or pictures from old favorites and turn them into ornaments. I have no idea how…but I have heard there is a site for that (lookin’ at you, Pinterest). You can also just buy beauties like this or this.

Jewelry – Earrings and necklaces galore. Etsy and Bookish Gifts are two excellent places to find uncommon treasures.

Games and PuzzlesThe Very Hungry Caterpillar Game is a favorite in our house. Or, once again, you can do it yourself! Puzzles are a difficult thing, with the losing of the pieces, the fighting over how the puzzling process is done (free-for-all versus edge pieces first), and the quarantined off space required to accommodate a work in progress. However, all of that aside, if your kids are older, puzzles can be awesome. Like this one.

Totes – All those books have to go where they go somehow (unless you want to carry them)! As in all things, these range from simple, like the $1 section of Target that often has Dr. Seuss themed totes, to the elaborate, like these.

Pencil Cases – I realize that $12 for a pencil case is a bit much, but just have a look!

Magnetic Character scenes – Mudpuppy.com has options for both Good Night, Good Night Construction Site and Eric Carle books.

Lap Trays – I love these ones that you can find at Michael’s. They do not take up too much room on the couch or, more importantly, in the car. These specific ones fit over the arms of booster seats, so even my younger kids are able to use them. It gives them somewhere to store their books and then a level surface to read on.

Gift Cards – You love buying your own books, chances are, so would they!

Phew! Now you are done Christmas shopping, too!

Mind the Gap!: 5 Authors for Beginning Readers to Know

For the majority of my now solidly adult life, I have lived under the delusion that I am a balanced person. In my mind’s eye, I navigate life’s drama with ease, poise, and steadiness. I embody both chaos and structure, flexibility and discipline, quietness and verbosity.

Except, it turns out, I do not. At all.

Events over the last few months have brought me to the shattering realization that I am much less balance beam and much more pendulum, on a wrecking ball scale, than I ever cared to admit. What I willingly mistook for nuisance and balance were actually:

  • Demolishing my first homemade pie crust attempt on my honeymoon. Then not making another one for ten years! Because if you can’t do it right the first time, you should never do it again.
  • Doing no laundry at all. Then fuming through eight hundred thirty-six loads in one day. Because…well, I don’t know why, this habit is completely illogical.
  • Sacrificing all carbonated beverages for life. Then drinking one Diet Dr. Pepper (I know, I know…it gets worse) to stay awake after a horrible night of the children playing “Who Can Wake Mom Up the Most” and following that up with three two liters. Because a broken deal equals no deal.
  • Volunteering for every imaginable school event. Then in an inspirational moment of clarity, realizing it is all too much and removing yourself from every. single. thing. Because if you can’t do it all, doing nothing is obviously the only option left to you.
  • Exercising seven days a week. Then getting sick and never exercising again because that schedule was just too demanding anyway. Because, see above.

In case you are wondering, I do occasionally see that there are other options available to me. But those other options do not fit into my paradigm of being balanced on all or balanced on nothing. Apparently, somewhere along the way I defined “balance” as “standing firmly on one side or the other.” Again, turns out, that is not what that word means. At all.

Walking into the beginning readers section of the library can have this same wrecking ball pendulum effect. You either have “See Jane Run,” with a picture of eyes above the word “see,” a picture of a little girl above “Jane,” and a pair of running legs above “run” or you have the Gettysburg address. There is very little by way of a happy medium. This section of the library should look like the London Underground: covered with signs that say “Mind the Gap!”

Recently, some good friends were lamenting this very fact on a social media thread that I, in an un-stalker-y way, read through but did not insert my twenty cents on. And there it was, inspiration! How great would it be to have a list of books that “Mind the Gap?!” Books for the child past reading the stapled together, one sentence a page books sent home from school but still not ready for Pinkalicious and the Pinktastic Zoo Day, with all its made up words mixed in with words like “unbearable” and “promised” and “suddenly.”

And so, to help with that, here are some trusted authors minding the gap. These are authors who find that balance between having books of substance and length, while still using words that beginning readers are able to recognize or sound out.

Mo Willems -The Elephant and Piggie books are the perfect starter books for the beginning reader. They have the added bonus of being books you will actually enjoy listening to, which matters, as you will be listening to them a very great deal.

Dr Seuss – It is impossible to overestimate the impact of Dr. Seuss on children’s literacy. He did a remarkable job creating fantastic tales out of sight words. One of my daughters had a very difficult time remembering “could,” “would,” “there,” and “where” until she read Green Eggs and Ham, repeatedly. While Hop on Pop may drive you to insanity, it will teach your children word recognition! And just when you think you can’t take it any more, they can turn to Cat in the Hat, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, or Cat in the Hat Comes Back and amaze you.

P.D. Eastman – A protege of Dr. Seuss, Eastman’s books are often so similar in style they are thought of as works of Seuss’. Like his mentor, these books have an uncanny ability to help children read fluently. Are You My Mother? and The Best Nest have been favorites for my reading learners.

Syd Hoff – From Danny and the Dinosaur to Sammy the Seal, these classics are exactly what your beginning reader is looking for. The stories are fun and entertaining and the language is accessible.

Arnold Lobel – The Frog and Toad books belong on every single child’s book shelf. While technically labeled reading level 2, there are enough recognizable words for beginning readers to not get discouraged. These are excellent for giving confident readers and extra, small, push.

B. WisemanMorris the Moose is a lovable, underrated character. These books are usually easy to find. They are almost always available at the library simply because they are often overlooked.

Should you have others you would add to the list, please share! We all need to know what else is out there.

Here’s to hoping that I can follow in these author’s footsteps and find that perfect balance. The year is almost over, surely it is possible. Having said that, the year is almost over so why bother?! Hmmmmm…

10 Books to Help Cultivate Gratitude

Growing up outside of North America, the traditional Thanksgiving day was not something often celebrated in my home or community. The pumpkin pie versus apple pie, or turkey versus ham, or sweet potatoes versus mashed potatoes debates were meaningless to me. Equally foreign to me were the hours of either playing or watching American football after the meal, or the time spent searching store ads for the best deals on the ironically timed biggest shopping day of the year the next day, or the agony of eating turkey 653 ways for the next 7 days. While I learned very little about the traditions and celebrations of this particular holiday, I learned quite a lot about being thankful.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I do not associate it with the aforementioned things. I think of my mother. With my mom, gratitude, not cleanliness, was next to Godliness. The worst sin you could commit in her house was to be ungrateful, something I was an awful lot as a child. So much so, that by my 4th grade year she decided drastic measures were required. With plenty of advance warning to curb my ungrateful ways, she explained to my sister and me that if we did not start to say “thank you,” we would be making all of our own meals for 4 days. Being the brilliant, angelic child that I was (cough, cough), I called what was obviously my mother’s biggest bluff yet (ignoring the fact that my mother never bluffed). I kept my “thank yous” sealed in the vault of an otherwise big mouth. Surprisingly to no one but me, that evening I was told that starting tomorrow, we would be cooking all our own food for the rest of the week. As usual, my sister suffered the consequences of my stupidity. And so began one of my greatest lessons learned. Over the course of the next few days, my sister and I ate some truly disgusting food, missed one pretty sweet dinner out, and bonded over our mutual suffering. We also learned to be loose and free with the “thank yous” and are better people for it.

I would argue that there are very few other things one human can do for another that are as mutually beneficial as expressing genuine gratitude. Cultivating habitual expressions of thankfulness changes how you, personally, see the world and the people in it. But, more than just effecting you, it also changes the experiences of those around you. The “hold the door” scenario turns from being an awkward obligation to a kind human connection when a “thank you” is given. The “stop at a parking lot entrance to let someone in” scenario turns from annoyance boarding on road rage to a kind human connection when a nod and an overly articulated silent “thank you” is given. The “I have something I need to say to you” turns from being a friendship straining incident to a kind human connection when a “thank you for caring enough to tell me this” is given.

Everyone wins.

As we, here in the United States, start preparing for Thanksgiving next week, I am not only mindful of all the things in my life to be thankful for, I am also reminded to continue forming the habit of communicating gratitude everyday. And reminded to make sure my children do the same. Here are some books to help with just that:

May our “thank yous” be as free flowing as the ice cream on our pie!

Guest Blogger: Mysterious Benedict Society

Hello everyone, I am writing to tell you that the Mysterious Benedict Society books are very, very enjoyable, must read, can’t-put-down books. When I was reading them I felt as if I was right there in the story. You know the feeling, right?

The first book of the trio, The Mysterious Benedict Society, is about two girls and two boys. They are brilliant and creative kids, who have a lot of potential. They are enjoyable characters and are really fun to learn, think, and read along with. Even though it is only the beginning of their story, it is still an amazing book!

The second book of the trio, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, is a very good, spur-of-the-moment book. As you follow the characters through the story of their second year together, you will find that not only do you fall in love with reading about them, but you also become more curious about what will happen next. As you may know, that is what makes books so hard to put down.

The third book in the trio, The Mysterious Benedict society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma, is a cutting edge story that I wish could go on forever! It is an amazing third book for the trio and it shows how far the characters have come from book one. I have so much thanks for the final and best book of the series, that it cannot be fully expressed in words, but simply I really, really, really loved the Mysterious Benedict Society series, but mainly The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

There is so much more I wish that I could say, but I will not spoil anything at all. In conclusion, I really, really enjoyed reading The Mysterious Benedict Society. Thank you Trenton Lee Stewart!!!!

Beware the Monster!: Frankenstein

Last year around Halloween, I could not resist detailing my excitement over reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the first time. This year, on Halloween and at the risk of this becoming cliché, I am going to do it again. Only now with Mary Shelley’s mind-blowing Frankenstein.

If you have not read this book yet, you can find it here. This post will still be here when you are finished. See you then. Just kidding. Please keep reading, but put aside everything that you thought you knew about the story of Frankenstein. If you have already read this novel, please suspend your judgement of my only just finding it in my thirty-ninth year. It is inexcusable.

From the first page to the last, Frankenstein was astounding. One by one each of my pre-conceived ideas about the book was crushed beneath an onslaught of remarkable creativity, brilliant writing, and surprising relatablity. Mary Shelley not only changed the game with this book, she refined what writing could be. The book gives you drama, action, suspense, thrill, moral dilemma, emotional trauma and leaves you in wonder. What is famous for being a “monster story,” is eerily human.

Every single thing I thought I knew about this story was wrong. I cannot detail for you the ways I was wrong without giving away key parts of the story, but suffice it to say the Frankenstein pop culture lore and the actual novel differ a very great deal.

It is not this:

Or this:

Definitely not this:

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But more this:

I learned that the possessions most esteemed by your fellow-creatures were, high and unsullied descent united with riches. A man might be respected with only one of these acquisitions; but without either he was considered, except in very rare instances, as a vagabond and slave, doomed to waste his powers for the profit of the chosen few. And what was I? Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant; but I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. I was, besides, endowed with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome; I was not even of the same nature as man. I was more agile than they, and could subsist upon coarser diet; I bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury to my frame; my stature far exceeded their’s. When I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me. Was I then a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled, and whom all men disowned?

For all that pop culture has gotten wrong with this story, it has had one positive effect. And that is that now the real story has even more depth and meaning when taken in juxtaposition with what we have been told. For my part, there are a few things I found most compelling.

  1. Mary Shelley was brilliant and I am thoroughly jealous of her. To have written a novel of this magnitude by the age of nineteen is indeed remarkable and enviable. I would encourage you to read the foreword, written by her, describing the process of how this book came about in her imagination. It is fascinating. While I am jealous of her abilities, I do not envy the life experiences she had that gave her the capacity to write like this at such a young age.
  2. The uniqueness of this story is undeniable. While there are many components that make that true, the one most significant to me is the lack of a clear hero. Both main characters are equally admirable, pitiable, and inexcusable. The story is not the quintessential one of a good guy versus a bad guy, but rather a story of each character battling good versus evil within themselves. It makes for fascinating moral dilemmas and ambiguities, the likes of which could be discussed for centuries. As they have been.
  3. Unrequited love is devastating on an individual scale, but whole scale, world-wide unrequited love is the worst kind of living. Shelley describes this perfectly with the monster’s famous quote: “I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”
  4. The question of how to balance scientific advancement and moral obligation is not new.
  5. Moral responsibility, or a lack there of, can have extreme ramifications.

I am left asking, “Who is the real monster?”

What to Read With Middle Schoolers

Junior high. Middle school. No matter what you call it, there is no getting around the fact that those years are painfully in-between. They are almost, but not yet. They are well past “that” but just shy of “there.” They are off-kilter, imbalanced, and overlooked. They are a parenthesis. (But like most things in parentheses, the overall effect would be diminished and incomplete without them.)

I look back on my junior high days and have very visceral reactions. I am, by turns, laughing or sobbing; nodding or cringing; dancing or fetal-position rocking at the memories of those tumultuous years. How do you make sense of a time that was equal parts “Pictures of Me” by The Cure and “Ain’t Nothin’ But a G Thang” by Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre? Or a time that was equal parts #metoo and bullying those brave enough to let their differences show. Or a time that was equal parts towing the line and breaking every rule.

With two daughters on the brink of junior high, I still have no words to prepare them for the confusion, elation, torture, and fun of that time of life. I have no answers for how to navigate it with your dignity intact. I will be relaying solely on God’s grace and the help of those around me. But I am becoming more and more convinced that it is a time for parents to mimic the dichotomy of that age and hold their middle schoolers tight while, simultaneously, giving them free-ish reign.

Parents are keenly aware that we have the first five years of a child’s life to deeply instill in them a sense of who they are, how much they are loved, and what their family stands for. After that, they begin to take in the voices of the masses. And we hope that what we have instilled solidifies. I am becoming increasingly aware that junior high is another one of those times when we should pause, close ranks, and intentionally re-instill in them a sense of who they are, how much they are loved, and what their family stands for. All the while, competing with the voices of the masses.

Again, I have no answers for how to do this. Except that I found inspiration from a series of texts with a dear friend telling me about reading with her junior high age daughter. Finally, I had something tangible.

You keep reading together.

(Yes, Mom, you did just hear that right. I, the child who begged and pleaded with you to stop reading out loud to me, am now strongly advocating for parents everywhere to do the same. The irony is not lost on me. Please take this as a nod to your wise persistence!)

So the question becomes, where do you start? And here, here is where I actually have some answers!

  1. The Book Thief  (Markus Zusak) – This is a thought-provoking, perspective stretching, fantastic read.
  2. A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle) – While you are at it, just keep reading the whole Time Quintet series or anything else by Madeleine L’Engle.
  3. Jason ReynoldsGhost is one of the best children’s literature books I have read this year. Reynolds’ brilliant writing style captures your imagination and transports you into the characters’ world. He is an author to read extensively.
  4. The Giver (Lois Lowry) – This is one of my all-time favorite middle school reads. The story is excellent and sure to spark many wonderful conversations. And again, while you are already reading Lois Lowry, you should keep going with Number the Stars.
  5. Seeds of America (Laurie Halse Anderson) – Chains, Forge, and Ashes are fantastic historical fiction novels that every junior high student should read.
  6. Kwame AlexanderCrossover, Booked, and Solo are excellent places to start. But read everything you can get your hands on that he has written. He is that good.
  7. Rita Garcia-WilliamsOne Crazy Summer is the book to start with, but this is another author to read thoroughly.
  8. The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)  – While now, admittedly, over-hyped, this series is still very, very good. It is interesting, engaging, and thought-provoking.
  9. The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank) – This is the one to pull out when your junior higher thinks their problems are insurmountable and the worst humanity has ever seen. A little perspective goes a long way.
  10. The Princess Bride (William Goldman) – This book is as hilarious and charming as the movie and is a must read.
  11. Holes (Louis Sachar) – This is my personal favorite to read out loud to junior highers. It is funny, serious, and pertinent. Definitely read this one!

You will notice that many of these books are of a more serious and heavy nature. That is intentional. I think that this age can become so tunnel visioned and “me” centered that it is the perfect time to have them read outside of themselves. Exposing middle schoolers to the difficulties of the world around them is vital for their ability to see beyond their personal drama. Reading these books with them additionally serves the purpose of giving parents a natural, tangible way to have deep, serious discussions with their children.

At least in theory!

You know how before you do something you have all the answers for how to do said thing? Like how when you are a kid, you know exactly how to be a functional adult. Or how before you become a parent, you know all about how to make a fit-throwing child relent. Or how before you become a teacher, you know *just* how to connect with that one kid. Yeah, I may have just done that.

I’ll get back to you in a few years and let you know how those theories are holding up in practice. If it’s anything like all the rest of my theories, my next post on this matter will be very different!

 

Picture Books about Libraries

At this moment, I am three books, an episode of “This is US,” a season of “The Great British Bake Off,” and a bar (yes, a whole bar) of dark chocolate deep into procrastination. It is bad, people. So bad.

My can’t evens are outnumbered only by the number of YouTube videos of Hip Hop and R&B songs from the late 1990s that I just watched.

It is only Wednesday and I have lost the ability to put cohesive thoughts together. I open the books I am supposed to be reading and my eyes just close (not because of the books…they are excellent). I try to have conversations with my family that turn into odd looks and “Are you sure you’re alright?”s. I take a moment to organize my scattered mind and there’s just silence. I have resorted to setting alarms for various normal everyday things I am supposed to be doing because, right now, I am apparently losing my ever-loving mind.

And now, there is this little icon on my WordPress page that demands I “Write.” But all I can do is “Write” about how much I can’t “Write.” That tiny, insignificant button is haunting, taunting, and daunting me.

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So I fall back on the old adage, “write what you know.” Yes, you’re right, it was only last week that I disparaged this very idea, but desperate times and all…

When it comes to what I know and what I want to know, that can be summed up in two words: books and libraries. I have a small, inconsequential, un-intrusive, and healthy obsession with both. (*ahem*) I know this because my husband says encouraging things like, “Do you really have to go to the library, again, *right* now?”  Or my son will say, “Wow, I already have too many books.” Or one of the girls will say, “Mom, why did you tell Dad we were going to the grocery store when really we are at the library?” See?! All perfectly normal.

Before you start planning my intervention, wait until you see these fantastic books that combine the objects of my obsession. Here books about libraries. Reading about libraries?! It’s perfect.

And now I am a “quick” trip to the library deep into procrastination!

Don’t Only Read What You Know

I tried to not write this post. I have tried for the last two days to write something different, something funny, something cute. Every time it has ended with me walking away from the computer, eating entirely too much chocolate, and drinking gallons of Diet Dr. Pepper. (I am an emotional eater and that’s just the way it is.) I have to write this particular post. For my health, if nothing else.

Once again, the “United” States of America is having the flashlight shone under the proverbial rug. The rug that generations of injustice, brutality, and inequity have been swept under. If you have been within eye shot of any social media forum this week, you have surely noticed that what Americans see under that rug differs greatly.

I have, repeatedly, heard this week how shocked people are about how divisive America has become. But as I write this, there is an open tab on the computer with a report my oldest daughter is writing in school about the Dred Scott case of 1846. It was a devastating case of injustice in our U.S. history. It has me thinking that America has always been divisive. The difference being now, thanks to social media, we are forced to hear each other’s differing thoughts.  Whether we listen or not, that is yet to be seen.

It seems fair to say that life in America is experienced very differently by different groups of people. Those groups can be made along racial lines, socio-economic lines, language lines, immigration status lines, religious lines, geographic lines. Each group has a unique American experience.

With tensions running as high as they are and the issues surrounding those tensions as uncomfortable as they are, it is very difficult to know where to start. Starting is uncomfortable, unknown, a little scary. But we must intentionally become uncomfortable and reach outside of ourselves.

The best way to do that is to actually get to know each other. One of the best ways to get to know each other is through our stories. As you know by now, I am going to start with books. The saying goes, “Write what you know.” Too often, we settle for following that advice in our reading as well. We read what we know, what is familiar, comfortable. But that is too easy. We need to read outside of our comfort zone. We have to read beyond ourselves. Read to learn, read to understand, read to listen to new perspectives, ideas, and ways of life.

For the last several years, it has been a goal of mine that for every book I read by an author of my background, I will read a book by an author of a different one. I cannot tell you how revolutionary this has been for me. Admittedly, I do not always make my goal, but that intentional striving towards reaching outside of myself has had a marked impact on me. There is something powerfully moving about hearing another person’s story and allowing their perspective to influence and re-frame your own.

It just so happens that recently I have read several excellent books that fit this category. I share them with you in case you are looking for a place to start or if you have read them already, as a way of starting a conversation about how good (fill in the blank) was. This is by no means an exhaustive list, this is merely a collection of outstanding books I have read in the last month. Please add your suggestions.

It should be said that Brown Girl Dreaming, Chains, Forge, and Ashes are the only ones that would be good reads for older elementary school age kids. Flying Lessons and Other Stories is a collection of short stories. A few of the stories would be excellent for that age, but several of them would be more appropriate for late junior high. Solo and Kindred would be good options for high school aged kids. The Hate U Give is one for adults.

If you are looking for books for younger children, you can find more recommendations here and here and here.

how to listen #7

Even the silence

has a story to tell you.

Just listen. Listen.

-Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming

 

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Mommy, Can I Read More?

I have made a lot of mistakes in my life. More than most, quite likely, on account of my inability to learn a lesson the easy way and my extreme stubbornness. Being the first-born perfectionist that I am, each mistake is cataloged, filed, and stored away for later use when I need it least.

These mistakes range from the innocuous:

  • Building a fort on an army ant trail.
  • Refusing to say the word “when” when my dad was dishing up my food and told me to tell him “when” it was enough.
  • Choosing Jane Austen as the author for my senior Literature project.

To the ill-advised:

  • Thinking it was cool to shout “damn” on the soccer field in front of my dad in the third grade.
  • Perms.
  • Trying to beat the pedestrian light in downtown Chicago, in the rain, in the middle of the night.

To the insane:

  • Spending a large portion of my junior high years bullying other kids.
  • Telling a bold-faced lie to someone who had hurt me too many years earlier for me to still remember, let alone try to pathetically avenge.
  • Not thinking before I spoke during the last face to face conversation I ever had with my dad and saying something I have remembered and regretted every day since.

My mistake making skills have multiplied by thousands since becoming a parent. And I have now entered the phase where every one of my four children is old enough to remember said mistakes. Somehow it has turned out that the majority of my parental errors center around my third born daughter.

As an hours-old newborn in the hospital, she was already crying giant tears every time I picked her up. Yet it took me five more days to realize that she had broken her collarbone during delivery. As a preschooler, I used to tell my husband that she had literally tuned out the sound of my voice and would only respond to me with “WHAT?”. It was not until she failed her Kindergarten hearing screening that I realized she had a hearing problem (which has since been resolved with the help of ear tubes). As a Kindergartener, I thought she was just disinterested in reading when she would put off doing it. She was learning her sight words (or so I thought) and I was, quite frankly, too lazy and distracted to push her further along. It was not until right before she was about to start first grade that I realized how far behind in her reading she was.

I panicked. I spent a few weeks making more mistakes than I care to list trying to force her to read more. Every “do not do” in the book was attempted. And I knew better. Each session was filled with tears, frustration, shouting, and her telling me over and over how she “hates reading.”

After too long, I finally realized my “approach” was not working and was actually making the situation much worse. It was time to start over. Clearly, the way I had tried to teach her to read the first time was not helping her.

And so we did just that. We started over using a completely different tactic this time. We started using some kinesthetic learning techniques. I took out all the books I thought she should be reading and brought back all the beginning readers hoping to build her confidence back up. We started a notebook filled with tricky letter combinations (like “igh”) and add a few to the list each week.

At the same time we were doing these things at home, she started first grade with a teacher who has a Master’s degree in teaching reading. She gave my daughter the tools and confidence to be willing to sound out words, rather than guessing what they are.

Then yesterday, after a particularly good after school reading routine time together, she came up to me and said, “Mommy, can I read more?”. I almost started crying right then and there. This is the same girl who mere weeks ago would start sobbing at the mention of it being time to read. She proceeded to read, out loud, for forty-five minutes! She started using inflection in her voice. She even read in front of her siblings, something she had never been willing to do until yesterday. At one point she said, “This book is just so interesting, I have to keep reading.” Johnny Lion’s Book will forever be one of my favorite books in memory of this moment.

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I cannot describe in words what I felt listening to her read with such confidence and joy. To hear my struggling reader tell me that she “loves reading” was truly fantastic.

Now if only the other eight thousand and seventy-five parental errors I have made this month could be resolved with “Mommy, can I ready more?” I might actually have a chance. As it stands, I will be satisfied with the one.