50 Family Favorite Picture Books

This month, my youngest child turned five. I find myself experiencing something largely unfelt for the last ten years…nostalgia. For these past ten years, I have been in perpetual, day-to-day survival mode. I have experienced all manner of “mom” modes, including, but not limited to:

  • Newborn Haze Mom
  • Zombie Mom
  • I Can’t Even Mom
  • “That” Mom
  • Judge-y Mom
  • Mama Bear Mom
  • Defeated, Deflated, Detached Mom
  • Yell-y Mom
  • Sobbing Mom
  • Bribing Mom
  • Oh No You Didn’t Mom
  • These Toddlers Will Be The End of Me Mom
  • and above all HOT MESS MOM

But I have never (well, rarely ever) been Nostalgic Mom. You know, the one who sees a baby and immediately sighs, reminiscing through rose-colored glasses, and pining over those best memories that rise to the top.

Nostalgic Moms used to cause very real stress for me because, with them, I had a constant feeling that I was not “enjoying the moment” enough, or present enough, or “treasuring it all up in my heart” enough. I was overwhelmed, out-numbered, exhausted, and perpetually at a loss. I had never been far enough removed from the intensity of it all to experience anything else. Now, I liken it to swimming in the ocean. When waves are rolling in at a pace that allows you to catch your breath in between, you can look around and appreciate the beauty, majesty, and power of them. At this rate, even the large, overwhelming, crushing waves can be absorbed. But when the waves come in at such a pace that each time your raise your head out the water, another crashes over you, even the smallest waves become thoroughly incapacitating and panic inducing. That is what much of the early days of mothering felt like for me. And so, nostalgia was very far removed.

But now, suddenly, with the coming of my youngest child’s fifth birthday, I am becoming Nostalgic Mom. I see a tiny baby and I coo and aww and remember (only the good things). I see an older baby grab their mom’s face and turn it to them and I can almost feel the hands of my own children years ago. I see a new walker heading in the opposite direction of their heavily pregnant mother and my mind rewinds to the joy of my children’s first tentative steps while stubbornly blocking out the endless chasing that followed. I see a toddler throwing a fit in the store and I smile at the exhausted, embarrassed mother in solidarity but feel no shared panic.

I am, at long last, far enough removed. The waves are rolling in at a relatively even pace. And I am shocked by how emotional it is. I was not prepared for how jarring this new phase of life would be for me. My children are now all school aged and my role is shifting under my feet. In an effort to somewhat steady that shifting, I have been trying to find some way of commemorating the past ten years of baby/toddler/preschool parenting, something unique, something that embodies my parenting experience during that time.

What better way for me to do that than through books?! I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that we have read thousands of picture books in our home over the last decade. Some we have read so often the pages are destroyed, some we never finished (which is saying something for a picture book), some we have given away, some we have memorized. But no matter the reaction, the picture books have been there, in neat stacks, in rows, in “hot lava” patterns across the floor, in lopsided piles. Increasingly, though, the younger kids are asking for longer stories to be read to them. And while I will always read them picture books, I can sense the days of having twenty-seven checked out at a time waning.

Because of this, I would like to make a list of our family’s favorite picture books. This is not a list of the best picture books, though some are in there, or the most popular, though, again, there will be some overlap. These are simply the ones we enjoyed the most and I love each and every one of them for that.

The Essential First Books:

  • Yo! Yes? (Chris Raschka) – Hands down, this is the best picture book about friendship out there. This was my first picture book love and it is the first book I give to new parents.
  • Freight Train (Donald Crews) – The illustrations in this book are true art. Also, who doesn’t love trains?!
  • Red Wagon (Renata Liwska) – This fantastic book is everything a picture book should be: beautifully illustrated, funny, imaginative, and helpful.
  • Seven Blind Mice (Ed Young) – Perspective is an important thing, as these mice learn.
  • Bear’s Loose Tooth (Karma Wilson) – Of all the wonderful Bear books, this one has been my children’s favorite. Probably because over the last five years there has always been a least one loose tooth in the house.
  • Lonesome Polar Bear (Jane Cabrera) – This is a personal favorite of mine. I have memories of long, cold winter nights, reading this book again and again. All the Polar Bear wants is a friend and Cloud just is not cutting it.
  • Whistle for Willie (Ezra Keats) – This is the summer version of Keats’ Snowy Day and I absolutely love it.
  • Little Quack (Lauren Thompson) – Every parent can relate to Mama Duck’s struggle trying to get the kids out of the house, or nest, in this case. Every child can relish in the joy of overcoming fears.
  • Planting a Rainbow (Lois Ehlert) – Ehlert is a picture book icon and this was my kids’ favorite of hers.
  • The Umbrella (Jan Brett) – This book is basically The Mitten in the rain forest. I cannot count the number of times we have read this book in my house, but we all thoroughly enjoy it every time.

The Classics:

  • Snowy Day (Ezra Keats) – This book almost makes me want to play in the snow! It is picture book perfection.
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Eric Carle) – The best thing about this book is that your two and three-year old will feel an enormous sense of accomplishment reading this book to you, by themselves, over and over and over and, yep, over again!
  • Swimmy (Leo Lionni) – Different and all alone in the world, Swimmy just wants to find his place. Lionni’s famous illustrations will keep this book on your children’s shelf for a very long time.
  • Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak) – Max needs no introduction!
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst) – It seems like every time we read this book, my kids can relate to a new part of it. Because some days are just like that, even in Australia.
  • Bread and Jam for Frances (Russel Hoban) – I’m not going to lie, I have used this book as a subtle teaching tool for how to learn to eat other things besides peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sadly, while they love the book, they have not picked up on the lesson.
  • Curious George (Margret and H.A. Rey) – “This is George. He was a good little monkey and always very curious.” I mean, does it get much better than that!
  • Dr. Seuss’s ABCs (Dr. Seuss) – I think each of my kids have learned the alphabet to this book, with a lot of laughs along the way!
  • Chrysanthemum (Kevin Henkes) – Because my children do not have common American names, this book has been essential in our home. They have spent many hours, like Chrysanthemum, courageously embracing their unique names.
  • Animalia (Graeme Base) – This book is brilliantly written and illustrated. It does not matter how many times you have read it, you can always find something new. It is, by far, my favorite ABC book.

The Laugh Track:

  • Don’t Let Pigeon Drive the Bus (Mo Williams) – All of the Pigeon books are hilarious, this one is particularly so.
  • The Book With No Pictures (B.J. Novak) – Belly laughs will ensue, even without pictures.
  • The Day the Crayons Quit (Drew Daywalt) – Listen to the laugh-out-loud messages the crayons have for their owner.
  • A is for Musk Ox (Erin Cabatingan) – Sometimes a musk ox just needs some alphabet attention, too.
  • Count the Monkeys (Mac Barnett) – What happens if you are reading a counting book, but all the things you are supposed to count are nowhere to be found?!
  • Stick (Steve Breen) – A young frog gets overly excited about his tongue’s fly-catching abilities. Wait for it, though, because the big laughs are on the last page.
  • Hippo-Not-A-Mus (Tony and Jan Payne) – Portly, the young hippo, decides he doesn’t want to be a hippo anymore and goes searching for the animal he should be instead.
  • 11 Experiments That Failed (Jenny Offill) – Occasionally, things do not go according to plan, experiment wise. When that happens, there can be hilarious results, at least in eleven cases I’ve read about!
  • Froggy’s Worst Playdate (Jonathan London) – My kids went through a very long Froggy phase. I think “more red in the face than green” were the first seven words they were each able to read. This one is guaranteed to bring the laughs.
  • Z is for Moose (Kelly Bingham) – Moose is feeling a little excited about his upcoming page in the alphabet book. Hijinks ensue, feelings are hurt, chaos and drama reign, all until Zebra figures out the perfect solution.

The Constant Go – To’s:

  • Down By the Cool of the Pool (Tony Mitton) – The rhyme and rhythm of this book are so catchy that kids just want to hear it again and again.
  • I’m Dirty (Kate and Jim McMullin) – Apparently, there is nothing more interesting than listening to a back hoe digger brag about its machinery and revel in the mud.
  • Ladybug Girl at the Beach (Jacky Davis) – The Ladybug Girl books were sanity saving pieces of literature for my escape from all things Fancy Nancy related.
  • Only Bread for Eze (Ifeoma Okoye) – This is the second picture book I came to love as a young girl. I have read it more times than I can imagine and I love it more each time. It is the Nigerian version of Bread and Jelly for Frances.
  • Manana, Iguana (Ann Whitford Paul) – My kids feel so cool reading this book, like they speak Spanish. It is a very fun re-telling of The Little Red Hen.
  • Smash, Crash (Jon Scieszka) – If dirty diggers are your child’s thing, then this book is even better because all these two trucks want to do is smash and crash everything in sight.
  • My Name is Not Isabella (Jennifer Fosberry) – I read this book to my girls all the time. Isabella has a very active imagination and at every turn she is pretending to be a different famous woman from history.
  • Catch That Goat (Polly Alakija) – This story takes place in a Nigerian market. A goat goes missing and one little girl must find it before her mother comes back. I cannot recommend this book enough.
  • Dial M for Mercy (Doug Peterson) – Written by one of the VeggieTales writers, Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber are mess-line detectives who find themselves in the middle of a pretty big mix-up.
  • My Truck is Stuck (Kevin Lewis) – To be honest, I am not sure what it is about this book that my kids enjoyed so much. But they could hear about this stuck truck many, many, many times. I really think it is the hilarious, scene-stealing gophers that they like so much.

Bedtime:

  • Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site (Sherri Duskey Rinker) – Don’t you need to say goodnight to every construction vehicle in town before bed? Because from the antics in my house, that seems like a standard need.
  • Goodnight, Moon (Margaret Wise Brown) – I mean, whether you understand why we are saying “Goodnight, nobody” or not, you have to own the book. It is a must.
  • Llama, Llama, Red Pajama (Ann Dewdney) – Llama just needs his mama, again and again. Your kids can relate, you can relate, everybody wins.
  • Just in Case You Ever Wonder (Max Lucado) – My dad gave me a copy of this book a few years before he died and it has become a bedtime must read (and cry) with my kids.
  • Giraffe Can’t Dance (Giles Andreae) – There is nothing bedtime-y about this book and a great deal of windy-upedness (?) about it, but my kids love to hear it at bedtime. Maybe its all the middle of the night dancing, I don’t know. Either way, it is a great book, no matter the time of day.
  • Mommy’s Best Kisses (Margaret Anastas) – The book goes through different mother animals kissing their babies in all different places and my kids absolutely loved having me follow suit. And I was all too happy to oblige!
  • I’m Not Sleepy (Jane Chapman) – This is the bedtime story every parent can understand. It is a very entertaining tale of a little owl who just cannot go to sleep, or stay in bed.
  • Hedgie Blasts Off (Jan Brett) – Again, I do not know why a space traveling hedgehog story got into our bedtime rotation, but somehow it did and now it’s here to stay.
  • Little Pink Pig (Pat Hutchins) – Mama Pig just wants her baby to come home, but a farm can be oh so distracting for a clumsy little pig.
  • The Going to Bed Book (Sandra Boyton) – I think I read this book nightly for nine straight years. It was wonderful because it could always be the last book I read and I could “read” it even after the light went out. I think this is the book that will bring back visceral memories of our bedtime story times most.

If you are still reading this, you deserve to win all fifty of these books! I can’t actually make that happen, but you deserve it. These books hold very special places on my shelves and  I am glad to have a place to go to when Nostalgic Mom comes calling.

May your family enjoy these books as much as mine did!

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Black History Month: Two Excellent Books for Children

Let me be honest for a minute, when I first came to the United States, I did not understand Black History Month. At all. I would sit in my education classes listening to my professor talk about the importance of emphasizing Black History Month in our future classrooms and I admit to being confused. In my naivete, I thought, “Why can’t we just teach American history?” I did not understand why we were segregating history.

And then I started to read American history.

I realized that America’s history has always been segregated. The more I read, the more I realized that outside of sections on slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, the vast majority of U.S. history textbooks were stories about Americans of European descent. James Baldwin is famously quoted as saying,

“When I was going to school, I began to be bugged by the teaching of American history, because it seemed that history had been taught without cognizance of my presence.”

Reading these stories and listening to gracious and patient African American friends describe their educational experience helped me to realize that there can be no “unified” historical story until everyone’s story is included.

One of my favorite songs from the musical, Hamilton, is “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” The song begins with George Washington’s character singing:

“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known when I was young and dreamed of glory. You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story.”

We have no control who tells our story, but we do control which stories we choose to tell. The stories we choose to tell need to do justice to the people who gave so much to the foundation and formation of this nation. The stories we choose to tell need to go beyond the broad strokes children learn year after year and into the fine detail of underappreciated creators and inventors. The stories we choose to tell need to inspire, uplift, and excite a new generation of history-in-the-making individuals. Stories that are not limited to just one cross-section of our society, but stories that represent all contributors.

This is why Black History Month has gone from being a source of confusion for me to being something I view as essential. If our everyday history teaching is only going to cover the generalities of American history, then taking a month out of the year to shine a spotlight on events and individuals otherwise left out of the story is exactly what is needed.

The thing is, even when we do celebrate Black History Month, we often mimic our textbooks’ incomplete picture. Our focus tends towards topics of some familiarity, namely slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. As such, we often do not look much further than Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Please don’t misunderstand, we need to and must learn about this country’s horrifying history with slavery and celebrate the individuals and groups who worked tirelessly and sacrificially to bring about it’s end. The same is true of the brave national heroes of the Civil Rights Movement.

This is not a call to stop learning about those times or people in American history; rather, this is a call to expand our knowledge to include so much and so many more. Our children (and the adults too) need to learn about Lewis Howard Latimer, Daniel Hale Williams, Alice Ball, Garret Morgan, Bessie Coleman, and many, many others. We need to know the stories of the inventors, doctors, lawyers, scientists, and artists who made significant contributions to American life and development.

Two of my favorite books that do just this are:

    • Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison: This is an excellent book to jump start your child’s historical education. I think this book is a great resource and an interesting read for any age, not just the “little leaders” in the title.

Between these two books, you would have over 29 individuals to learn about, research, and study; one person for each day of February. If you are looking for more resources, Be the Bridge has fantastic book lists for younger kids and another, equally good, one for older kids. You can also see my list from last year here.

With the broad strokes of America’s historical painting finished, let’s start filling in the details.

15 Stealthy Books About Ninjas

Many people wonder, and a few brave souls even ask, if my husband and I planned to have four children. The surprising answer to most is that, yes, yes we did hope to have four kids. Four seems like the perfect round number, everyone always has someone they can get along with for that moment, no one is ever naturally excluded (my lone son may have something to say about this after seeing his sister’s notebook that read, “The Secret Sister’s Club”), and there is a built-in, substantial group of friends to play with at all times.

Now that our youngest child is about to turn five, these theories, for the most part, are finally proving true. There are natural pairings among the four, but on any given day, for seemingly any random reason, those friendships strain. The effected children are able to find different siblings to commiserate play with relatively effortlessly. Secret Sister Club’s aside, there are very few times when an odd sibling is, intentionally, left out. It is also true that they now have a small village to play with every day before and after school. Our house and backyard sound like it, too.

Lately, as all of our neighbors can attest, the kids have been playing a game they call “Ninja Training.” Which is awesome, except that in all of their research, they have failed to realize rule number one of ninja-ing: SILENCE! I need to give them one of my favorite shirts (which you can find on Woot.com).

“Ninja Training” works like this:

  • My second born is the Ninja Trainer, always.
  • She teaches the others her stealthy moves.
  • They try to always stay in the shadows.
  • They try to blend in with their surroundings.
  • They try to move with extreme caution (though, again, silence seems of no import).
  • They learn to fight with some pretty sweet, made up moves.

“Ninja Training” takes place anytime, anywhere: in the car, in the hallway, on the walk to school, at the table, while going to bed. But their favorite place to play is in the trampoline, in the dark. The trainer has a flashlight and the ninjas have to sneak around the trampoline in the shadows and scare the trainer. It is hilarious, often violent, and always noisy (really, why can’t they get the silence component!).

There is just something universally awesome about ninjas. They embody mystery and adventure, poise and control. It is an irresistible combination of imaginative thrill for children. A thrill they like to incorporate into every facet of their lives, including the literary. I know it is not actually true that my children have read every ninja picture book there is, but I am pretty sure they have read every ninja picture book there is! And there are some very good ones:

Nighttime Ninja (Barbara DeCosta) – This is one of my favorite birthday presents for little kids (don’t worry, I give them other things too, not only one small book). This little ninja fulfills every child’s fantasy of sneaking through the house in the middle of the night in search of the forbidden!

N.D. WilsonHello Ninja is a fantastic ninja rhyming adventure for the younger kids in your life. Ninja Boy Goes to School is the perfect book for the child who doesn’t want to take their ninja costume off as they head off to school.

Chris TougasDojo Daycare is a hilarious book that leaves every child I have ever read it to laughing and KA-POWing. It is a remarkably relatable tale for those of us reading it, as well! You have definitely felt like this dojo master at the end of the day!  Dojo Daytrip and Dojo Surprise follow in the same vein. These are very fun books.

Arree ChungNinja! is the go to ninja book for the picture book lovers. Arree Chung has two other ninja books that deserve attention as well, Ninja!: Attack of the Clan and Ninja Claus.

Corey Rosen Schwartz – Schwartz has cornered the market on turning fairy tales into ninja stories, which does not sound like something that should work. I was skeptical at first, but these books are funny and children love them! Be sure to check out The Three Ninja Pigs, Ninja Red Riding Hood, Hensel & Gretel: Ninja Chicks.

Little Kunoichi The Ninja Girl (by Sanae Ishida) – My girls loved reading this book. It is still rare to find ninja books that feature girls. As if that weren’t enough, the story is actually good.

The Boy Who Cried Ninja (Alex Latimer) – An active imagination can be a burden when amazing things keep happening and no one will believe you!

Magic Treehouse: Night of the Ninjas (Mary Pope Osborne)  – This is book 5 of the Magic Treehouse series and one of my kids’ favorites. It now comes with a companion, Magic Treehouse Fact Tracker: Ninjas and Samurai.

When the books no longer suffice, I give you this song, Ninja by Slugs and Bugs.
https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/0fObBZiutHOWoeq0QwJcq2
Unapologetically.

Books to Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Life with Children

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination. 50 very short years since his life was brutally cut short and what was his life’s work became his lasting legacy.

It is that lasting legacy that we commemorate and honor on this upcoming American holiday.

While it is sometimes easy for us to think of the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s work as bygone history, it is important to remember that, according to the Census Bureau, approximately 29% of the population of the United States is 50 years old and above. That means that within the lifetime of 29% of Americans, in parts of this country, there were separate drinking fountains for black Americans, black Americans were not allowed to check out library books from the public library, schools were segregated, black Americans could not stay in public hotels, eat at public restaurants, or swim in public pools. The list goes on and on and on. Within the lifetime of 29% of Americans. This is not slavery-days history, this is contemporary history.

It is this contemporary history we must not ignore. In his, now famous, 1967 speech at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. King begins by talking about the progress and success of the Civil Rights Movement up to that point. But shortly after this introduction, he turns his attention to the future and asks, “Where do we go from here?”

As we celebrate and honor the life of Dr. King, this is a question we must ask ourselves now. “Where do we go from here?”  We now live in a country quite different from the one he knew, and yet, even now, we still have so far to go towards realizing his dream. “Where do we go from here?”

We start by not being content with almost realizing the dream. Almost is not good enough. We commit to working tirelessly, sacrificially, and determinedly towards true equity and equal standing, politically, financially, and practically. We commit to teaching our children and students the truth of our collective past. We give them tools, resources, and support to bring about greater change in their generation.

We all want to live Dr. King’s unforgettable words:

“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls”

In order to reach that dream, we must teach our children the truth, the truth of our history and the truth about each other. It can be difficult to know how to talk to children about these awful realities. We naturally want to shelter and protect our children from unpleasant things and preserve their innocence as long as possible. As a result, in many settings, “race” has become a new “four letter word,” a taboo subject, for any age. But this should not be the case. Racial differences are not inherently wrong, they are actually a beautiful, healthy, and completely natural part of human existence. It is our responses and reactions to those differences that are either morally wrong or right. Our discussions with our children should reflect that reality.

With all this in view, we look back and remember the life of a man who gave voice to a movement, a movement that altered the course of a nation, a nation in desperate need of change.

Here are some books to help your children or students learn more about Dr. King’s lasting legacy and the movement he helped lead.

Picture Books:

Early Readers:

Middle Grade Chapter Books:

Junior High and above:
I highly recommend just reading his speeches, besides the “I Have a Dream” speech. It is a remarkable speech and should be listened to or read in its entirety, often. But he had many other equally remarkable and memorable speeches that deserve our attention as well. My 3 favorite are “Letters From a Birmingham Jail,” “Where Do We Go From Here?” and “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

In his own words, from “Where Do We Go From Here?”:

What I’m saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, “America, you must be born again!” [applause] (Oh yes)

And so, I conclude by saying today that we have a task, and let us go out with a divine dissatisfaction. (Yes)

Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. (All right)

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. (Yes sir)

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history (Yes), and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home.

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.

Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.

Let us be dissatisfied (All right) until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin. (Yeah) Let us be dissatisfied. [applause]

Let us be dissatisfied (Well) until every state capitol (Yes) will be housed by a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy, and who will walk humbly with his God.

Let us be dissatisfied [applause] until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Yes)

2018: The Year of Reliability (I hope)

2018 is 4 days old and so far I have:

  • purchased 3 books on Amazon.
  • returned 24 books to the library…on time!
  • checked out 19 different books.
  • placed 13 books on hold at the library.
  • set off the alarm trying to leave the library, again. (Actually, this happens so often that my 4 year-old son will no longer walk through the scanner with me. He makes me go ahead of him so that he doesn’t have to be seen with the embarrassing alarm-setter-offer.)
  • gone over (and over and over) in my head exactly how to phrase my conversation with the kid from my daughter’s class that I lent 2 of my books to over the break when I ask for my books back.
  • started reading 2 different books only to give up on both (for the time being) to catch up on This Is Us and The Crown.

For the most part, there is very little “new” about this new year. I guess I should be fine with that. Last year was a really good year, actually. I resolved to work towards greater organization and self-discipline. And I, moderately, did just that.

I was able to get a family system of organization in place that kept the 6 of us going, often in 6 different directions, where we needed to be, with the things we were supposed to have, fed, and appropriately dressed…mostly.

As far as self-discipline goes, considering my default mode is to use as few muscles in a day as possible, I feel pretty good about how I did. I wrote at least once a week. I exercised for at least one-third of the year. For a majority of the year, I was carbonated diet drinks free, which for this fizz-lover was an impressive feat of self discipline. I cut down on my daily dark chocolate intake. Mind you, there is still daily intake, but less than there used to be. I also spent more time reading than watching TV. Some may argue this is not self discipline, as actual self discipline would have been to spend more time cleaning the house more than I did read. But that is just crazy talk!

Now here we are at the beginning of a new year and nothing has changed. I need something to change though, because I have a whole new word of emphasis for this year. Somehow January 1st is supposed to bring with it the magical powers of renewed determination and refreshed enthusiasm. How am I supposed to accomplish my goals when the first 4 days are more “meh” than “whoosh” (that’s the sound magic makes, right)? Especially when this year’s word may just be my most difficult one yet.

Reliability.

You know, that word that means when you offer to help someone learn how to drive, you actually get in a car and teach them to drive, not just never call them again because you realized you don’t have time to teach someone how to drive. That word that means when you say you will meet someone for coffee, you actually put it in your calendar and meet said person for coffee, not totally forget and get a “are-we-still-on” call while reading in bed in your pajamas. That word that means when you say, “Mom, don’t buy that album yet. I want to get it for you for Christmas.” You actually go online and order the album for your mother, rather than forgetting until you hear her playing it 5 years later and realizing she got tired of waiting for you to follow through. Because when even your own mother gets tired of waiting for you to follow through, you have a very significant problem indeed…not that I would know?! (Ahem)

And so, I find myself much like Hamilton’s George Washington, “in dire need of assistance.” I am determined to find a way to be more reliable this year, to consistently follow through with what I commit to, but so far it is more of the same. To help motivate me, I will start off with a thing I have no problem being reliable about…books. Here are a few of the books I am most looking forward to reading this year.

Picture Books:

Children’s Chapter Books:
Early Grades:

Middle Grades:

Books for Me:

Now we have 361 days to see if I can discipline myself towards being reliable with the more difficult things.

Best Books of 2017

You may remember that last year I made it my goal to read 52 books in 2017. I am thrilled to announce that I exceeded my goal and read 62 books this year! Unfortunately this goal accomplishing streak did not extend to the one new recipe a week, or the one load of laundry a day, or the stop shouting at the kids, or the start substitute teaching goals. But books. So that is enough, right?!

I should clarify that while that magical 62 does not include the 12,604 picture books I read this year, it does include many children’s novels. While I am okay with that, I understand if that fact skews my numbers in your view. For my part, the only stipulation on my reading goal was that the books be novel length chapter books. All 62 fit into that very broad category. The more specific category break down goes like this:

  1. Children’s Middle Grade – Junior High novels – 35 books
  2. Adult Literary Fiction – 11 books
  3. Adult Non – Fiction – 7 books
  4. Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy – 5
  5. Adult Historical Fiction – 2
  6. Young Adult – 2

Looking back, 2017 has been a very good literary year for me. For the most part, I have come away from this collection of books proud of my choices. I wish I had been able to read more, much more, in the fantasy genre, and in years to come I will need to step my young adult game for the oncoming teenage years, but for this year, I am contented with the content and selection represented.

Of these books, 28 of them feature a main character of a different nationality or ethnicity from my own and 26 of them were authored by writers of a different nationality or ethnicity from my own. This is very exciting to me and yet, I was hoping those numbers would be even closer to exactly half.

While it has been a successful year, reading wise, I have had a few mishaps along the way. This year I have had a record number of library fines. I have returned a book to the wrong library, not just once, but twice. I have lost a school library book for the first time ever. I have had books that were on hold for me re-shelved five times because I forgot they were there. Five times! And I have over spent my book budget (yes, that is a thing) exactly EVERY TIME! For a pretend librarian, I have been very cavalier with the book related responsibilities this year.

Now that you have heard the bad with the good, here are my favorites from my year in reading.

My Favorite Books Written in 2017:

  1. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – This is a brutal read, in the best possible way. It is an unrelenting, irreverent, often hilarious, and devastating retelling of tragic death of Abraham Lincoln’s son. I will admit, this one is not for everyone.
  2. We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehishi Coates – The book is formed from 8 different essays written by Coates over the course of the Obama administration. I found the book insightful, helpful, and very interesting. The chapter called The Case for Reparations is particularly poignant.
  3. Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo – The story follows a couple in Nigeria as they struggle with infertility, infidelity, and deep misunderstanding. It is heartbreaking and thought-provoking.
  4. Exit West by Moshin Hamid – This is a classic immigration story with a decidedly un-classical twist. Anything else will give it away!
  5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – Police brutality, racism, and racial tension. This books does not shy away or back down from directly confronting issues through a fictionalized story of a black teenage girl whose friend is killed by police.

My Favorite Children’s Literature Written in 2017: (With recommended ages in parenthesis.)

  1. Jupiter Storm by Marti Dumas (3rd grade and up) – Dragons, magic, family drama, and life lessons! Need I say more?!
  2. Patina by Jason Reynolds (4th grade and up) – The new girl on the club track team leaves everyone guessing with her speed, her multi-racial family, and her attitude.
  3. The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (5th grade and up) – This is the sequel to the bestselling, The War That Saved My Life. It is a story of bravery, acceptance, and sacrifice.

My Favorite Young Adult Books Written in 2017:

  1. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (Young Adult)- What ifs, revenge, and consequences literally haunt a black teenage boy as he tries to decide what is right.
  2. Solo by Kwame Alexander (Young Adult)- The story follows the son of a famous musician who cannot seem to find his place in the world. His path to self discovery leads him to Ghana, West Africa.

Overall Favorites (Books I read this year that were published previously):

  1. Kindred by Octavia Butler
  2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  3. The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
  4. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
  5. The Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew Hart

Overall Favorites in Children’s Literature:

  1. Stella by Starlight by Sharon M Draper
  2. Pax by Sarah Pennypacker
  3. The Hero and The Crown by Robin McKinley
  4. Ghost by Jason Reynolds
  5. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Most Difficult Read: Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson

Biggest Literary Regret: Not being able to finish The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson this year.

Book that Got the Most Laughs: Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett (reading for myself) and The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency: The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford (reading to my kids).

Here is my year in review, courtesy of Goodreads, if you would like to see it all in infograph form!

Update
While the following books were not a part of my overall book count this year, I wanted to add a section for my favorite picture books and early chapter books from 2017.

Picture Books:

Early Chapter Books: Jaden Toussaint is the only early chapter book we read that was published this year. The others were all published previously. A few of my favorites were: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Mrs Piggle Wiggle, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and Ralph S. Mouse.

On Turning 40

According to my birth certificate, today is the day I turn forty. Aside from the deepening lines on my face, the increasing number of silver strands in my hair, and the need to take my glasses off while I read, this birthday feels much like the ones before it. Although, there is some solemnity to the turning of a decade, or four. While I have not fretted over the visual aspects of aging, yet, I have still reached this milestone with some foreboding.

As I look ahead, I am acutely aware that this was the decade in which my grandmother was widowed. It was the decade in which my father was diagnosed with cancer.  And it was the decade in which my mother was widowed. These facts give me pause.

As I look ahead, I also realize that this is the decade in which three of my children will learn to drive. It is the decade in which two of my children will graduate from high school. And it is the decade in which I will be the mother of four teenagers. These facts give me nightmares.

As I look ahead, I trust what everyone keeps telling me: that despite all of these things, the decade of the forties is the best. This “fact” gives me hope. Hope I can see from the decades before, when life was its chaotic, messy, unpredictable self but still managed joy, laughter, life, and blessing in the midst of it all.

My twenties were spent trying to undo everything I thought I knew about living in America, about being married, about being a Christian, about loss, about family, about everything. It was an exciting, soul crushing, and ultimately hopeful decade.

My thirties were spent trying to re-establish what mattered most to me, what I wanted to pass on to my children, what I wanted my adult life to be given to, what was worth my time and what was not. It was an inspiring, exhausting, and ultimately hopeful decade.

Right now, on the cusp of a new decade, life feels a bit like eating a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans…anything could happen. I look ahead to the forties with hope, and not a little trepidation. I wonder what will define this decade and how I will respond. With my identity, priorities, and focus firmly solidified, what questions will loom large over me?

In the midst of all the unknowns, one thing I know is that books will still hold a place of prominence in my daily life. To that end, inspired by a good friend, I would love it if you would tell me one book you think I should read during my fortieth year. I will update this post with all the suggestions I get so we can all benefit from my virtual birthday present!

Thank you, in advance! I cannot wait to hear what you suggest!

 

 

 

 

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!

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…