Countdown to Christmas: A Children's Book Advent Calendar | 2015

Monday, November 30, 2015

Have you started your advent countdown yet? I know some folks started yesterday and others wait until December 1. But no matter when you begin counting down I can already feel the air abuzz with a festive vibe, can't you? While I get no points for creativity in coming up with the book advent calendar idea, I feel the execution has been years in the making. Fifteen years to be exact. Which is precisely how long I've collected children's Christmas books. What started as a hobby when I worked at a bookstore in college is finally turning into a holiday tradition! One I'm sure Amelia will appreciate as she grows older. We'll probably vary the selection each year as we continue to expand our collection, and it's likely I won't be so ambitious as to wrap them every year, but I'm a sucker for traditions and I love the idea of reading something festive in the days leading up to Christmas. And what better place to display them than on our little hearth! Can you tell I'm excited about this?
If you're curious to know what we'll be reading throughout December here's the list of our (mostly) Christmas advent books with a brief description.
  1.  A Child’s Christmas in Wales -The magical illustrations in this edition pair perfectly with the beautiful prose describing the celebration of the season, complete with presents, aunts and uncles, the frozen sea, and the wonder of unexpected snow. 
  2.  One Wintry Night - An injured mountain boy finds refuge in a cabin, where the woman of the house weaves the beautiful tale of God's creation from the beginning down to a humble stable. 
  3.  Baboushka and the Three Kings - This Caldecott winner reads like an old folk tale about a Russian peasant woman who encounters the three kings on their journey and is invited to join them. The song at the end is especially charming. 
  4. Merry Christmas, Curious George - I don't normally like many character Christmas books, but I do enjoy how George, the ever mischievous monkey, manages to provide Christmas cheer to children at a local hospital. 
  5. Red Ranger Came Calling - This is probably my first and favorite book. A young boy journeys to visit the hermit, Lord Sander Clos, whom he doesn't believe in, and explodes in his request for a certain bike, which is delivered on Christmas Day in the most unusual fashion. 
  6.  How the Grinch Stole Christmas - This classic story hardly needs an introduction, but I must admit it often reminds me how good singing is for the soul. 
  7.  The Legend of the Poinsettia - A Mexican legend that tells how a little girl sought out a special gift for the Christ Child and how the poinsettia came about because of that. 
  8. Auntie Claus - Sophie wonders about her eccentric great-aunt who always seems to disappear on a "business trip" right around the holidays. This is a must-read for any imaginative child. 
  9. When Jesus Was Born in Bethlehem - This is probably the most religious of all these selections, but the stunning illustrations mingle well with scripture passages.
  10. A Christmas Dress for Ellen - The tale of Mary Jeppson and her young family on the eve of Christmas 1927 is a reminder of simpler times and unexpected miracles.  
  11.  Olivia helps with Christmas - Ever hilarious, Olivia is the most lovable "helpful" pig, who takes celebration to a whole new level. 
  12.  Nine Days to Christmas - I love Christmas books that celebrate the culture and traditions of other countries and this Caldecott winner, about young Ceci and her piñata, is a true celebration of love and light. 
  13.  The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree - A heartwarming story set during the war, little Ruthie and her mother must ensure that Pine Grove, their little town, has a tree for it's annual Christmas celebration. 
  14.  The Night Before Christmas - The award-winning illustrations and tall rectangular size make this a perfect read-aloud for those cozy December nights. 
  15.  A Christmas Alphabet - The vintage illustrations in this book remind me of a Victorian Christmas, which makes it an old-fashioned favorite. 
  16.  The Message of the Birds - Singing far and wide the birds, who have not been heard, decide to spread the message of Baby Jesus once again. 
  17.  Christmas Eve at the Mellops' - I just added this to our collection about a month ago because it's so charming! Four brothers all surprise the family with a Christmas tree and then work hard to find a better home for them—a generous undertaking that is harder than expected. 
  18.  The Polar Express - I go back and forth about liking this book. As a child I found it so wonderful, but some of the magic has faded as I've aged. Still it stays in our collection.
  19.  The Christmas Candle - Thomas stops by a candle shop on his way home to find light for his journey. Through the night the candle proves to have powers of a particular kind. 
  20.  The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey - A downhearted woodcarver is touched by the simple request of a widow and her young son.
  21.  A Christmas Carol - We have two versions of this classic tale. This year we are sticking with the simple color primer board book edition. 
  22.  The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming - A latke on the run learns about other customs and traditions. A great way to introduce Hanukkah to children. 
  23.  P. Bear’s New Year’s Party - Although it's a little hard to come by I adore this simple three color illustration (black, red, and white) counting book. Perfect for ringing in the New Year!
  24. The Wee Christmas Cabin of Carn-na-ween - Set in Ireland this charming tale is about a young abandoned baby who grows into a woman that cares for the children and needs of others. The illustrations and sprinkling of regional language are perfect for children of all ages. 
Printable advent tags available here.

Ps. If you'd like more recommendations be sure to follow along on Instagram.


Friday, November 27, 2015

A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2015.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2015.


Friday, November 13, 2015

This girl turns 15 months on the 15th. Holy toledo! I'm not really sure how that happened but it's been fun watching her little personality become more pronounced over the last couple months. This week she braved the little neighborhood park slide on her own. Then that's all she wanted to do. Her walking is getting better with each passing day (hooray for Gap socks) and her favorite word, apart from mama mama, is her best friend's three syllable first name. Ha! Clearly it's becoming harder and harder to get her to hold still for our weekly picture outings, girlfriend wants to move.
A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2015.

Growing Your Children's Book Collection

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Here's the thing, I don't buy books. For myself that is. In the last decade I can count on one hand the books I have purchased for my personal collection. Why is that? Simply because I can get most everything I want to read at the library. And I don't have a burning desire to grow my own library anymore. Also I don't own a tablet so all of my book reading happens the old-fashioned way, hefting heavy tomes or slinging lightweight reads.

But when it comes to children's books that's an entirely different story. True I had a handful of children's books before Amelia arrived, but now that reading has quickly become one of her favorite activities I am constantly on the lookout for new and notable selections. Here are a few ways I vet new picture books before adding them to our permanent collection.

1. Scout out the new picture book section in your local library. A no-brainer, right? Most libraries identify their new books by marking the spine with a sticker and designating them to a specific location in the library. Not sure where the new books are located? Ask your librarian.

2. When it comes to finding holiday books I like to check out a bunch of them at one time. This gives me a chance to take them home and read them without being rushed. Again, many libraries separate these books from the rest of the collection and will sometimes only make them available during the month of the specific holiday.

3. When I say new picture books that doesn't just mean recently published titles. It also includes new-to-me publications that could have easily been popular in say 1972. That said, it's always a good idea to look at award winning books (Caldecott, Geisel, Newberry, Mark Twain, etc.) and the nominees for a particular year.

4. Read reviews online. To be honest I don't do this as regularly as I should. Goodreads has a Choice Award section where you can locate top nominated picture books and even peruse previous years. Similarly the American Library Association (ALA) makes all kinds of online lists of award-winning picture books available. Also, The Read-Aloud Handbook has a list of tried-and-true recommendations. Finally, the New York Times features the 10 best illustrated books at the end of each year.

5. We live in an high density library zone. Meaning I have access to over a dozen libraries in a 15 mile radius, including one of the top 25 largest libraries in the nation. Which is kind of great! You may not have the same luxury, but if you do, or even if you have a couple in neighboring cities/counties, I suggest looking at other library collections. This is a great way to find children's books you might not otherwise come across.

6. Follow other bloggers and social media gurus to see what's on their children's book radar. I guarantee you'll find something you've never heard of before. Like from herehere, or here.

7. Request holds regularly. Meaning that if a library doesn't have what you want, simply ask them to get it for you. Amazing, right?

8. Host a children's book exchange. This may not exactly grow your collection, but it will expose you to different titles, which is all part of the process. Similarly, you can find a little free library in your neighborhood and take a book or leave a book. We've found a couple cute board books this way.

9. Ask your children's librarian what picture books they have read and loved lately.

10. Keep a list of what you've read. Rate it and save it until you're ready to buy it. I often put beloved children's books in my Amazon card until I'm ready to purchase a few at a time.

Bonus Tip: Do you have friends that are children's librarians? If yes, ask them to set aside a certain type of book when they are wedding the collection. I got a handful of great winter books this way earlier in the year.

When it comes to buying children's books, either for myself or as a gift, I am fairly particular. Luckily beautiful picture books are in the midst of a lovely resurgence. Implementing these strategies over the last year has been a great way for me to vet books before I buy them—kind of like taking a vehicle test drive. Do you collect children's picture books? Is your collection in a rut? If you haven't visited the children's section of your local library or bookstore recently I'd highly recommend it.


Friday, November 6, 2015

A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2015.

The Most Important Thing

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A few months before Amelia was born a friend gifted me The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. I thanked her for it and then put the book on the shelf and promptly forgot about it. It wasn't until several months later when I remembered it again. Fortunately, I picked it up right around the same time I was getting tired of every board book in our collection. And what a game changer! We know reading to our children is important, right? But why does it matter? How young should we start reading to them? What types of books should read? At what age should a child read on their own? And should we stop reading to them once they can read on their own? All of these questions and others are addressed in this compelling book. Intuitively we know reading is essential in helping a child with language acquisition, comprehension, and development. Similarly, reading is a great way to establish a bond between caregiver/parent and child. But did you know that the reading habits of mothers directly impact a child’s reading test scores?

One of the best things about this book is being able to implement its practices almost immediately. For example, after reading about a mother who started to read picture books to her ten-month-old, while she ate in her highchair, I replicated the exact same practice. Not only did it vary our reading material, it helped me focus on creating an enjoyable dining experience where I could focus on the story and no longer worry about Amelia’s food intake. Another practice I’ve implemented is leaving books in every room in the house and also in the car. I love how effortlessly Trelease combines academic studies with personal anecdotes, proving again and again that reading to my child every day may be the single most important thing I do for her. As if the book wasn’t convincing enough in its research, the second half consists of a Treasury of the best read-aloud titles. Including everything from picture books to novels, wordless books, anthologies and fairy tales, marked with correlating grade levels. That said, you can bet I’ll be gifting this at many future baby showers.

Currently | 11.2.2015

Monday, November 2, 2015

WATCHING: Thanks to Katie we've recently started watching The West Wing, an entirely new to me show. Also, I polled Facebook and discovered that The Great British Baking Show is 100% worth watching and entirely addicting.

EATING: These pumpkin muffins are a favorite at our house—luckily it's perfectly acceptable to substitute the sour cream for plain yogurt. I also recently gave this soup recipe a shot and made a mental note to cut the cream in half next time or leave it out altogether.

READING: I've got two books to finish before the end of the year, both of them for different book clubs. The first is I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and the second is Women in Clothes.

ENJOYING: The fire pit Ken made for us in our backyard. Perks of being a homeowner!

MAKING: I just wrapped up making A TON of baby bibs, which means now it's time to turn my attention to a couple different advent calendars.

THINKING ABOUT: Pie Day 2015! Bigger and better than ever.

REMEMBERING: That little thrill of excitement when Amelia won Best Individual Costume at our ward trunk or treat. Also I already have a killer family costume idea in mind for next year!

EXCITED FOR: A road trip to Georgia for Thanksgiving.

About 1/3 of a giant mural located in Salt Lake City, UT. 

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