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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


10 Books to Help Cultivate Gratitude

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

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

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

Everyone wins.

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

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

Guest Blogger: Mysterious Benedict Society

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

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

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

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

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


Beware the Monster!: Frankenstein

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

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

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

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

It is not this:

Or this:

Definitely not this:


But more this:

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

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

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

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


What to Read With Middle Schoolers

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

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

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

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

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

You keep reading together.

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

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

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

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

At least in theory!

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

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



Picture Books about Libraries

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

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

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

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


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




Mommy, Can I Read More?

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

These mistakes range from the innocuous:

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

To the ill-advised:

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

To the insane:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



You’ve Got Me Feelin’ Emotions

To my way of seeing it, it is an indisputable fact that reading makes you a better person. The benefits of reading are well documented. Almost every site devoted to literature has its own version of “How Reading Makes You Smarter/Happier/Kinder. They are all fun to read, mostly because I thoroughly agree. It is like receiving a virtual pat on the back. It is a momentary silencing of that quiet voice that occasionally whispers, “Your hobby is turning you into a lazy slob.” It is like hearing the perfect defense for all those times you hear, “Really, you are reading again.” You have likely read many of the same studies I have to this end.  The listed benefits of reading generally go something like this: reading gives you:

  1. Empathy
  2. Broader Understanding/Curiosity for the World
  3. Creativity/Imagination
  4. Building Vocabulary
  5. Mental Health

Pretty indisputable, right?!

I have a new one to add to the list: Self Discovery

We have all had those moments where you suddenly see yourself with acute clarity. They come on in an instant, without warning. One minute you are all dressed up, blissfully enjoying the wedding of an old friend, caught up in the moment and BOOM! the Mother/Son dance you are watching is suddenly you and your son. In between the tears, darn those caterers and their onions, you realize those ladies in the grocery store have been right all along, it will be over in a blink.

Recently, I had one of those moments. It started out a day like any other: get up, make breakfast, get children to school on time (or at least try to), talk to people about books, etc. Except on this particular day, everyone I talked to asked me some version of the same question, “What did you like about (fill in the blank) book?” The only difference was what book they were referring to. By about the fourth person, right in the middle of my Groundhog Day (the movie, not the actual fake weather day) moment, BOOM! it hit me. Self Discovery. I realized that all of my answers had a shockingly similar thread, despite the fact that I had been discussing several different books.

All of my answers about why I liked a book had been emotional. Each time I had described the way the book made me feel. I would talk about whether I cried or laughed, or felt angry. I have an immediate answer for which books evoked the strongest emotional reaction in me. For example:

  • Books that made me laugh the most –  Catch 22 by Joseph Heller and Hogfather by Terry Pratchett (anything by Pratchett actually).
  • Books that made me cry the most – Night by Ellie Wiesel Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.
  • Book that made me the most angry was Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult ( the “Turk” chapters).
  • Book that scared me the most was Intensity by Dean Koontz.

This realization, that my primary description of books is an emotional one, was very surprising.

I have always thought of myself as having the emotional range of double-sided tape, one side normal (read: sarcastic, cynical, slightly bitter), the other side angry. Both sides look pretty much the same and usually end up getting me in sticky (yep, I just did that!) situations. I thought I was calloused and cold-hearted. Turns out, that is only true when encountering actual humans (just kidding, mostly).

Apparently, books bring out the emotions in me. And while I love words, beautifully constructed sentences, and creative, visceral stories; it would appear that what I care most about is how the story made me feel.

I have to admit, I don’t know how I feel about that.




My Reading Chair: In Memoriam

Ten years ago, I had a six-month-old baby girl. I was just emerging from that newborn fog of dark days and very long nights. I was just beginning to recognize the world outside my home again. I was on the verge of “normal life.”

And then I went to a birthday party.

Something I ingested at that party turned my stomach in an oddly familiar way. A few days later, I noticed that my neighbors dogs smelled awful and I could smell them all the way from my house. Several days after that, I started actively looking for raisins. To eat. This is something I had never done. Ever.

It turns out, old wives tales about not being able to get pregnant while breastfeeding are nothing but lies.

So it was that I acquired “The Chair.”

My husband, being the thoughtful, kind, generous man that he is, realized this was a time for a time for big gestures. He did something unprecedented in our lives up to that point. He bought me a brand new giant, billowing, reclining chair. It was perfect. It had the right proportion of soft to sturdy. It was just the right height when I was sitting in it. When it was reclined my feet came over the edge at the most comfortable place.


My six-month-old baby girl could sit with me in the chair even though my lap disappeared more everyday. Later, I could read to her while she sat beside me and I nursed her baby sister. Then I could read to the two of them while I nursed the next baby sister, and then their baby brother. The chair seemed to magically expand to accommodate the children. I have spent countless hours reading, what I imagine to be, thousands of picture books to my four children in that chair over the last ten years. I treasure those times of close, cuddled up, wiggly storytimes.

The Chair has been my refuge. It has held me up when I was too morning sick to move. It has laid me back when I just could not keep my eyes open one more minute. It has steadied me when I pinched a nerve in my neck during pregnancy number four. It has rocked me through heartaches I thought would break me.

Most notably, it has been my constant companion through an incalculable number of hours reading and hundreds of books. My love of reading was solidified in that chair. I have stayed awake nights in that chair, unable to put a book down. I have fallen asleep reading the same sentence fifty-six times in that chair. I have found bookmarks, pens for taking notes, post-its, small notebooks, small books themselves in the cracks and crevices of that chair. I have spent ten years of my life reading, almost exclusively, in that chair.

And now my chair is gone.

It is broken, damaged, rejected, and literally kicked to the curb.

Now when I read to my kids they are all sprawled out across an entire couch. Yes, it is true, now they can all sit without touching each other. Yes, it is true, now they can all see the pictures and pages without having someone’s hair in their face. But it’s not the same.

Now I have to read in a new spot. Yes, it is true that it is also very soft yet sturdy. Yes, it is true that it also reclines. Yes, it is true that I have even more options of where to sit and read now. But it is not the same.

My husband laughs and tells me my loyalty to inanimate objects is “cute.”

Is it still “cute” to go read in My Chair, on the curb, one last time?