Christmas is Coming

I do not know how it is possible but this week we welcome December. It does not matter whether your December brings sun or snow or the dust of harmattan, December means Christmas is coming. It is my favorite holiday, with its excitement, anticipation, joy, tradition, and goodwill.

Every part of Christmas is enjoyable to me: the music, the food, the presents, the decorations, the Advent calendars, the time off. Admittedly, by the time Boxing Day comes around I never want to hear another Christmas song, or eat anything even remotely peppermint flavored, or try and deal with yet another set of tangled lights, or keep track of counting down to anything, and I am more than ready to get back to the normal routine of life. Those facts are best ignored at this point.

I love building traditions and making memories with my children in the days leading up to Christmas and am always looking out for new things to try. My goal is to keep the traditions and the tradition making process simple, fun, and child driven. Yes, that means our Christmas tree looks like it was decorated by four small children. It was! Our gingerbread houses have a generous helping of creative license. The sugar cookies look homemade, in the true sense of the word not the magazine definition. Sometimes, Elfie B. Jingle Bottom (our beloved Elf on the Shelf) goes through very lazy periods where he does not move for a few days but that is entirely my fault. In the midst of all this fun, there is the constant temptation to do more and do better. I learned early on in this parenting thing that giving in to that temptation only leads to stress, frustration, dissatisfaction, and my nemesis, Pinterest. It is not good.

This year though, the internet got me. I have seen this idea circling social media for about a week and am very excited about trying something new. I first saw this idea for a book advent “calendar” on Book Riot and was immediately inspired. Books plus Christmas, ummmm…yes! The general idea is that you wrap one book for each of the 25 days in December leading up to Christmas. Each day your child opens one book! I absolutely love this idea. I have taken all of our Christmas books and wrapped them up. Now all there is to do is wait. p1030349




Unrealized Good Intentions

Each year around this time my kids make “thankfulness” placemats for our Thanksgiving feast (as they call it). About 10 days ago I was inspired with a new idea (let this be a lesson to you…new is overrated) to have us do a family project. The idea was to make a Pinterest worthy (ahem!) featherless turkey. Then every night at dinner we would go around the table and write down one thing we are thankful for on these lovely feathers.



After our collective outpouring of thankfulness, we would put the feathers from that day around the turkey. By Thanksgiving the turkey would look amazing in all its full feathered glory, beautifully reminding us of all we are thankful for


This is the Thanksgiving “thankfulness” turkey today,


blank, undone, completely ignored, mocking my good intentions every time I walk by.

As it is wont to do, life happened, things got busy, demands were made, and time disappeared. My good intentions turned into sleep resisting thoughts to make it a priority tomorrow except tomorrow never seems to come, at least not in the way I meant it to.

What can happen with well-intentioned thankfulness turkeys can happen with reading out loud to the children. Much as I love books and reading, let’s be honest, reading with your children requires a surprising amount of effort. Oh sure, you have moments that would make LaVar Burton jealous. But the everyday-ness of it can, more often than not, produce moments to rival the scene from Alexander’s (of Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day fame) father’s office.

It can all just be a bit much: the fighting over which book to read, the fighting over who gets to pick which book to read, the fighting over who gets to sit closest to the book, the constant requests for being read to right as you are about to walk out the door, or take a shower, or cook, or help someone with their homework, or answer the phone. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there have been a few nights this fall when I have fallen asleep realizing I had not read  a single book to the kids all day. They had been read to, just not by me, leaving me with unrealized good intentions…again.

Turns out whether our unrealized good intentions involve Thanksgiving crafts or reading with the kids, we need goals and ideals but also the space and grace to fall short. I have no advice for crafting but for the reading, I will be taking advantage of a few extra days “off” to read to the kids more. Although likely at the cost of a few extra Thanksgiving dishes for the “feast.”

Tomorrow will come, even if not in the way we mean it.

Representation matters: Redux

This week the “United” States of America finds itself in a very precarious position. Divisions have been publicly and gruesomely exposed; anger and fear the predominating emotions. In all of this, parents and teachers find themselves facing difficult questions about bullying, racism, and political differences.

It is important to address these questions honestly and openly. But we all know that children learn more from what we do than what we say. While there are many things that we can do to reinforce honest, respectful conversations and promote inclusion and acceptance, one of the most basic ways of accomplishing this is through books. Giving children access to books that depict children of all backgrounds and books with minority group children as the main characters promotes an environment of equality.

A few months ago, I wrote about why diverse representation matters in children’s literature is so important. There I say:

It matters for people of color to see themselves in the imaginary world of dragon slaying princesses and super powered heroes, or in the ordinary world of playground drama and sibling rivalry and fun-loving adventure. It matters for white kids to see all of their fellow students, teammates, and neighbors represented equally in the literary world so there can be no room for exclusivity to become normative. So that even if they live in a place predominately white, they grow up connected to stories that diversify and normalize the world around them.

There is enormous power in diverse literature: power to connect, power to include, and power to equate. We need to tap in to that power by intentionally providing our children and students opportunities to encounter these books.

Here are some additional resources to the ones mentioned in my previous post.

Kwame Alexander – The Newbery Medal winning author who has books ranging from picture books to books of poetry to chapter books. Crossover (2015 Newbery Award winner) for the older kids and Indigo Blume in Garden City for the younger ones.

Pura Belpree Awards – The Association of Library Service to Children describes this award as:

The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

Matt de la Peña – The brilliant Last Stop on Market Street is the 2016 Newbery Medal winner and is a book that belongs on every child’s shelf.

The Lola books – Anna McQuinn’s books about Lola are adorable. Lola Goes to the Library and Lola Plants a Garden are personal favorites.

Plum Street Press – This is the publishing company behind the fantastic Jaden Toussaint books by Marti Dumas and the Swift Walker books by Verlyn Tarlton. Additionally, they have an excellent list of books featuring diverse main characters.

Jason Reynolds – It seems like every book Jason Reynolds writes gets nominated for an award and his latest Ghost is no exception. It is now a finalist for the National Book Award. Great for middle school age kids, Ghost and As Brave As You come highly recommended.

Duncan Tonatiuh Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation is an important book. It tells the story of how the Mendez family fought for Mexican American families to be included in all schools in California. It is also a Pura Belpree Honor award winner in 2015.

Yangsook Choi – The beautifully told The Name Jar is a must have for every classroom and home. Children of all backgrounds need to have this book read to them, often. And thankfully, Choi has many other books available as well.

Patricia Polacco – Patricia Polacco is able to tell stories with an incredible mixture of candor and delicacy. Her stories are thoughtful, touching, and always helping to move us towards acceptance of each other. For more on what I have written about her books, you can click on my post here.

Rita Williams-Garcia – Best known for One Crazy Summer, Williams-Garcia is an important author to know. Her books are award-winning many times over and she has an excellent story telling ability. Reading her stories with your older elementary school or middle school age children will open up many interesting and vital discussions.

The Newbery Medal Award – I should note that several times I have referenced a book by an author on this list as being a Newbery Medal Award winner. It seems only right then to say that the Newbery Medal Awards themselves belong on this list. They have done an excellent job of consistently selecting fantastic books with diverse characters and by diverse authors.

May we find ourselves lost in the stories and illustrations that fully represent the diversity of this country.


Best Pictured Chapter Books

With my dark hair pulled back into the obligatory librarian bun and my black, thick framed glasses set squarely on my overly stern, don’t-talk-to-me-I’m-reading-face, I have come to embody “The Book Snob.” I did not set out to become a book snob; I simply enjoyed reading. But the more I read, the more rules for reading I acquired. Being the dutiful first-born that I am, I knew that rules must not be ignored. Rules must be coddled and nurtured into mature regiments. Rules like:

  1. You must read on paper.
  2. The story is always better in hardback.
  3. Always read the checked out books before the books you own.
  4. Read stories you enjoy, unapologetically.
  5. Finish one book before starting another.
  6. Never quit in the middle of a book.
  7. Keep accountant level records of the books you read.
  8. Always have a book with you.
  9. If you like the book, never watch the movie.
  10. If it has pictures, it is not *real* reading.

Then I had children…now I have to read on a Kindle so that I can read in the dark while participating in the ten-hour long “tuck in” process; the story is still always better in hardback; all of my allotted library check outs are for the kids’ books; I am so exhausted I have the mental space to read about one “serious” book a year; my books are always getting lost under a couch or covered in mud so I never get to finish them; if a book has to do with children getting hurt, killed, or taken…I absolutely will be quitting in the middle of that book; my book recording now consists of clicking “read” on Goodreads; I do always have books with me; it is a board book collection to make any toddler drool; and I have to watch the movie because that is the only way I find out how a story ended.

But #10, number 10 has been the most stubbornly held rule of them all, until my second born. She did not feel compelled by my carefully thought out and flawless plan for transitioning children from reading picture books to beginning readers to chapter books. Chapter books without pictures I thought went without saying. It did not. Turns out this brilliant child has a mind and way all her own, even in regard to how she will read. She progressed beautifully through picture books and beginning readers, but at chapter books we hit a proverbial wall. I spent longer than I care to publicly admit trying to coax, convince, and eventually force her to read the chapter books I thought should come next. They did not. I saw what I feared most, a child of mine refusing to read.

Then she discovered Thea Stilton. She began to devour the books one by one in rapid succession. She was reading for fun, finally, but…was she? I found myself being uncomfortably confronted with my book snobbery and having to re-evaluate the meaning of *real* books. My daughter has given me an appreciation and even excitement for, what I call, pictured chapter books. Pictured chapter books are part comic book, part traditional chapter book. These are chapter books that, generally, have illustrations on every page. They are excellent for your reluctant reader. Here are some of our favorite series or authors:

  • Geronimo Stilton (by Geronimo Stilton)- Mouse adventurer extraordinaire, Geronimo regularly finds himself ensnared in stories beyond his expectation.
  • Thea Stilton  (by Thea Stilton)- Geronimo’s sister, Thea and her group of friends move from adventure to adventure with excitement and drama.
  • Big Nate (by Lincoln Peirce) – Follow the mischievous and funny Nate through his various school escapades and listen while your children laugh out loud.
  • How To Train Your Dragon (by Cressida Cowell)- The books provide a very loose basis for the ever popular movie, “How To Train Your Dragon.” The movie and the books are quite different so don’t worry that they will already know the story. This can be one of their first experiences with the whole the-book-is-always-better truth.
  • The Odd Squad (by Michael Fry)- No relation to the PBS show, these books follow Nick Ramsey and his friends Molly and Karl through their days filled with school, drama, and antics that will keep your reader reading more and more.
  • The Treehouse Books (by Andy Griffiths)- Beginning with The 13-Story Treehouse, the books follow Andy and Terry’s lives in their ever-expanding treehouse.

For more traditional comic book style, check out books by Raina Telgemeier, best known for Smile and Sisters.

From a recovering “Book Snob,” may you learn to break your own rules! You may be surprised who benefits.