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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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!

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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Books for Talking About Racism with Children: A Collection of Lists

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. – James Baldwin

This past week, the United States has had the metaphorical floodlights focused on one of our most enduring faults. Under the glare of these lights, we have been forced to look, full in the face, at the truth long spoken of by black and brown Americans, that racism is alive and well. Still. Today.

Now is our chance to face our collective historical and present truth, together, with humility, kindness, and respect. Now is our chance to teach the next generation, the generation under our care, a different way forward. Now is my chance to acknowledge that my words and actions may not change the world, but they can change me.

We have seen the brilliant quote by Nelson Mandela many times this week:

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

But it leaves many of us asking, “How?” It sounds so simple. But what does it look like, to “be taught to love.”

We are the teachers and parents charged with teaching the next generation how to go forward differently. To do that, we must honestly face our history and teach it to them accurately. We cannot shy away from uncomfortable truths. As the James Baldwin quote above states, “Nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

But it is not enough to teach only the history. We must actively teach and reinforce accurate ideas about race. It is not helpful to teach children to be “colorblind” or to never speak about race. It is confusing and troubling to tell children to “not see color.” We all see color. These platitudes perpetuate the idea that our racial differences are a bad thing that should never be noticed. Let them ask questions. When we shun questions about race, we make it seem taboo. Our racial differences are not a taboo, divisive thing. It is our negative responses to racial differences that create a divide. We have to actively teach that God’s creation is beautiful, that skin comes in a variety of shades, all beautiful, all perfectly acceptable, and lovely. They need to see this modeled.

To help us navigate these discussions and prompt these conversations, there are many, many good books that you can read together. Over the past week, I have seen several excellent lists. I have compiled a list of my favorite lists. These books are fantastic resources for your home and/or classroom.

To these I would add my own Black History Month book list and three books that I have read in the last year: Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper, Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson, and Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport.

Under the glare of these floodlights, may we have the courage, respect, and grace to face the truth and work towards change. Under the glare of these floodlights, may we begin new conversations. Under the glare of these floodlights may we mend.

 

 

 

10 Excellent Books for the New School Year

The year was 1985. My family had just moved to Nigeria, West Africa. While my parents were moving back to the country they grew up in, this was my first time there. I do not remember the move as traumatic, I remember it as exciting and right…except for school. I was terrified of starting school.

I was beginning second grade and this would be my third school in three years. My nerves were raw, my stomach roiled, and my emotions were a chaotic disaster. I could not identify it at the time but the shortness of breath, the accelerated heartbeat, and the feeling of overwhelming panic I experienced were the beginning of many years of mini-panic attacks. On paper, there was no reason for my visceral reaction to the start of school. My teacher was the kindest, most gentle teacher at the school. My classmates were accepting and fun. My environment was adventurous and freeing. But my emotions did not care. I was held hostage by fear, panic, and worry.

Over the years, I learned ways to subdue those waves of emotional struggle. But they never fully abated on each and every first day of school. Even through college I would walk through my schedule the week before school started just so I knew exactly where I was supposed to be at each point.

If at this point you are feeling the need to set up a GoFundMe page for my therapy, don’t worry. I am okay. See. I was a happy child. (Or maybe I am just working on perfecting my side eye. Just kidding, I was happy.) I went on to become a teacher. In a school. That shows progress, right?!

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The beginning of school invokes a visceral reaction in all of us. My own school age children are evidence of this, one is thrilled, counting down the hours, one is in denial, one is nervous and worried.

No matter which kind of school you attended, we all understand the nerves, the excitement, the apprehension, the “no, I don’t want to’s” that come with the beginning of each school year. As with all things in life, there are books to help with that. (Yes, you are right, I did already do a back to school list last year. These will be different books, I promise.)

What Do You Do With a Problem (Kobi Yamada) – This is one of my favorite new picture books. It gives an excellent analogy about resilience and problem solving even when you feel unable. This book would be perfect for the child feeling overwhelmed by the thought of starting school.

I’m Smart (Kate McMullan) – Following in the great tradition of the other “I’m…” books, I’m Smart introduces us to the school bus and the excitement involved in getting children to school.

K is for Kindergarten (Erin Dealy) – Not only is this a fantastic alphabet book about going to school, it also includes very cute ideas in the margins.

School’s First Day of School (Adam Rex) – We have all experienced the first day of school as children, but what does the first day of school feel like to the school building?

How To Get Your Teacher Ready (Jean Reagan) – This book is by the same author of the How to Babysit a Grandpa/Grandma books. It is a very funny story about the beginning of school.

Llama, Llama Misses Mama (Anna Dewdney) – Sometimes even when your fifth grader is happily sprinting off to her classroom, she needs to be reminded that it’s okay to miss her mama! (Not that I would know!)

Milk Goes to School (Terry Border) – Milk has a rude awakening when she gets to school and realizes that not everyone thinks she’s the creme de la creme her parents have told her she is. Everyone needs a little comic relief to calm those jittery nerves.

The Name Jar (Yangsook Choi) – This a is beautiful, important story of acceptance, learning about each other, and creating a welcoming classroom environment.

My Name is Maria Isabel (Alma Flor Ada) – Names matter. As teachers, we have to be careful to honor the importance of  a name.

The Hundred Dresses (Eleanor Estes) – This is an excellent book about bullying and the power of standing up for one another.

I will just be over here taking deep breaths and practicing every relaxation technique I know while I live, vicariously, through yet another first day of school. May all of their first days be filled with joy, acceptance, and a renewed love of learning.

 

 

26 Mysteries for the Budding Detective

Literary detectives. Literary detectives are the absolute coolest. They get the long trench coat, the hat, the flip style notepad, the pencil, and all the swagger. They research, inspect, follow leads, evade red herrings, think, rethink, ask questions, exhaust all theories, and ultimately find answers. They captivate the imagination and set loose the possibilities.

Since the day I held my first blue and yellow book and read about a girl named Nancy Drew, I have been drawn to stories of mystery and intrigue. Whether about her, or a couple of brothers with the last name Hardy, or a group of orphaned siblings who occasionally have a boxcar for a home, or the moustached Hercule Poirot, or the honorable Lord Peter Wimsey, or the bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau, or the fantastic Precious Ramotswe, or the quintessential Sherlock Holmes; there are few things more satisfying and thoroughly entertaining than solving a mystery alongside these excellent literary sleuths.

Stories of mysterious adventures are great fun, not only for the individual reader, but also for the whole family or classroom to enjoy together. Many a childhood road trip has been passed with my family listening to mysteries. On one memorable trip, we went through a Sherlock Holmes phase. To this day, my sisters and I will quote bits from The Hound of the Baskervilles, which was our favorite of the audiobooks.

If your child or student is looking for some light, fun summer reading, look no further. Below are some mysterious tales sure to get their inquisitive minds racing.

Picture Books

Early Chapter Books

Middle Grade Chapter Books

Now, if only someone could help me solve these mysteries:

  1. How did the couch get wet? (It could be water, right?!)
  2. Why does my Netflix account now load up the “Kids” account, when I *know* I was the last one to watch anything? (My 1234 password is AIR.TIGHT.)
  3. What happened to my copy of The Westing Game? (I distinctly remember having it in 2002.)
  4. How did glitter get on my toothbrush? (Please tell me it is just from someone’s sparkly lip gloss!)
  5. What will I find at the end of this trail of chocolate chips? (A pot of gold, surely!)

Summer Reading List: Preschool Edition

Just like that, May is gone. June finally arrived and all is well in the world. (Except that some things are exactly the same, like getting woken up at 4:30 AM by the recent Kindergarten graduate because her finger stings.) In a stroke of genius, my girls’ school scheduled their last day of school today. June could not be off to a better start. A few short hours from now, my kids will all be out of school. We can catch our collective breath and rest.

My son, the one child not even in school yet, may be the most excited about school getting out. He has been home alone with me all year and he is beyond ready for his sisters to be back home. He has visions of playing Candyland and being read to all day dancing in his head. During this last week of school, he has sat through three end of the year parties, one school performance, and one Kindergarten graduation. At each event, he brings his little bag full of books and patiently starts to read.

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It goes like this: tap book on me, tap book on me harder, tap book on me even harder, include “read to me, Mom,” repeat only louder, and louder still. I *calmly* say, “You need to read to yourself right now.” A child at the end of the school party interrupts, “Mrs. Peterson, can you start the game.” My son, ignoring that interruption, says, “I don’t know how to read.” I hurriedly say, “Just look at the pictures, you have this book memorized anyway.” Then, apologetically, start whichever game I am stationed at for that moment.  My son looks at one page and then begins the process over again. If all of that can be considered “patiently starting to read” then yeah, we’ve got that down.

All of this to say, while the older kids have dreams of the books they want to read over the summer, the youngest one does too. And so here are 11 books for your preschooler to look forward to this summer.

  1. Dragons Love Tacos 2 (Adam Rubin)
  2. The Day The Crayons Came Home (Drew Daywalt)
  3. Tap the Magic Tree (Christie Matheson)
  4. Animals By The Numbers (Steve Jenkins)
  5. Dino-Swimming (Lisa Wheeler)
  6. Ada Twist, Scientist (Andrea Beaty)
  7. The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors (Drew Daywalt)
  8. Ladybug Girl’s Day Out with Grandpa (David Soman)
  9. No Matter What (Debi Gliori)
  10. How to Raise A Mom (Jean Reagan)
  11. Hattie and Hudson (Chris Van Dusen)

You can find other lists of picture books here:

Happy Summer! May your preschooler handle their “read to me” demands with patience and calmness. (Hey, it’s summer now, a person can dream!)