Middle Grade Books I Read in 2016

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Apart from a brief period in my adolescence young adult (YA) books have never really interested me. This year I decided to try reading middle-grade books and was pleasantly surprised. Maybe the quality of books has improved. Or perhaps I'm subconsciously trying to avert my actual age by escaping into young fiction. Who knows?

In truth, I tend to read in phases. A few years ago I read non-fiction pretty exclusively, so maybe this is further evidence that I appreciate variety. Luckily, reading—especially reading fiction—encourages exploration. Some of the best books I've read come from book clubs or best-of-lists, where other people are recommending titles I never would have picked up on my own. Then again, sometimes I like to think that I am vetting books for my daughter, even if she won't be reading them for another decade or more. Let's just say if you have any interest in books for young readers (think 8-11 years olds), I highly recommend these eight as a great place to start.
  1. The Poet's Dog by Patricia MacLachlan - A touching look at the bond children and pets share. A book that surprised me with its tenderness. 
  2. Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin - A thoughtful telling of that infamous day, told through four different young adult characters. Though it gives a spoiler, I'm glad I read the author's note first.
  3. It Ain't So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas - Of all the books on this list, this one is my absolute favorite. Set in the late 1970s, the Iran hostage crisis makes this historical fiction book compelling, yes, but the insightful protagonist is funny and relatable in a holy-moley-I-also-survived-middle-school sort of way. 
  4. Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson - Three twelve-year-old boys set off to make one special day for their teacher. The chase scene alone was laugh-out-loud funny. A recent publication that has already received well-deserved acclaim.
  5. Pax by Sara Pennypacker - A modern telling of a boy and his strong relationship to his pet. In this case, a domesticated fox. Reminded me a bit of The Yearling, although much shorter. Plus occasional illustrations by Jon Klassen obviously helped. 
  6. El Deafo by Cece Bell - A graphic novel of heroic proportions. A first-hand account of what it is like to be deaf in a hearing world. I especially love Bell's attention to minor details such as the tiny rosette on her undershirt. 
  7. George by Alex Gino - Living life as a girl is difficult, particularly when you are in a boy's body. A thoughtful look at gender and what that might mean to a transgender child. 
  8. Wonder by R. J. Palacio - A young man, with an obvious physical deformity, tackles life at a new school. A beautiful homage to the need for more kindness. Soon to be a movie and a picture book.
Ps. Although I didn't read it this year, I also thoroughly enjoyed this book. 

Currently | 12.12.2016

Monday, December 12, 2016

READING: A collection of cozy winter stories. And looking forward to reading this in 2017. What's the best book you read in 2016? I can't choose between this novel and this graphic memoir. Both were remarkable in different ways.

WATCHING: Madame Secretary, which is a great way to get my D.C. fix. Also, have you watched The Crown yet? SO good. Finally, I need to carve out some time to watch one of my favorite holiday movies in the next couple weeks.

EATING: Tomato soup. Simple, homemade tomato soup. I make it every week. It simmers on the stove for over two hours and infuses the air with the most delectable aroma. The trick? Good tomatoes.

ENJOYING: The fact that we had family pictures taken back in October, meaning I could get Christmas cards in the mail immediately after Thanksgiving. This may be our new tradition.

FEELING: Grateful for all the people who have helped us over the past couple months, and really for the entire year.

LISTENING TO: The best radio of 2016, specifically the winners from The Third Coast Competition.

MAKING: Christmas cookies, including these ginger infused delights.

DREAMING OF: A New Year's getaway. Not sure if it will happen this year, but maybe we'll be able to escape soon for an overnight kid-free adventure.

LAUGHING AT: My daughter's antics. She recently pulled a packet of tuna out of the pantry and started skating around our wood floors with it. Plus her rendition of Frosty the Snowman always makes me laugh.

EXCITED FOR: The first snow of the season and more indoor fires.

Mural located in St. Louis, MO.   

Countdown to Christmas: A Children's Book Advent Calendar | 2016

Friday, November 25, 2016

You guys, I have been waiting for this list ALL year. Seriously. I think it has been sitting in my draft folder since August.

Part of me feels like I've always been a children's book lover. Obviously books were a big part of my childhood, but then I started working in a bookstore when I was in college and couldn't restrain myself from the children's section. For whatever reason, during that time, I decided to start collecting children's Christmas books and this was the book that started it all. Have you read it?

We're certainly not alone celebrating advent with picture books. Many families have a similar tradition. Of course it makes the holiday season a little more festive, but it also gives us a chance to s-l-o-w down during what always feels like the craziest time of year. This list is a selection of old and new favorites. Five of which are new (published in 2016). Perhaps you'll find a brand new holiday classic amongst these books. As always, feel free to share your best holiday picture book recommendation in the comments below.
  1.  Presents Through the Window by Taro Gomi - Santa's in a bit of a rush this year, riding in on his trusty helicopter, which means he only has a chance to peek through the window and toss in a corresponding gift for each occupant. Needless to say, Santa doesn't always get it right. A comical take on gift giving. 
  2.  Christmas for Greta and Gracie by Yasmeen Ismail - Oh man, this might be my favorite holiday book published this year. Let's just say that I am one of the characters and my next younger sister is the other. A charming take on differences and holiday magic. 
  3.  The Christmas Eve Tree by Delia Huddy - This poignant picture book is about the life of a scraggly fir tree that gives warmth to a homeless boy on Christmas Eve and then continues its life for years to come in a local neighborhood park. The sweeping watercolor illustrations brim with color and light, reminiscent of European holiday markets. 
  4.  The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis - Another sweet story about sister siblings and the breadth of holiday sacrifice. Easily one of my favorite reads in recent years. 
  5.  Dream Snow by Eric Carle - Dare I admit that this is one of the few Eric Carle book we own? Luckily it's one of his best. When a farmer sits down for a rest he dreams that each of his animals gets covered in a layer of snow. With lift-the-flap transparencies and a push-the-button jingle at the end, this book is perfect for preschoolers. 
  6.  The Best Christmas Ever by Chih-Yuan Chen - This book probably falls into my top five favorites category. Simple in scope, but enormous in spirit, it follow the secret wanderings of a young bear who gives gifts from his heart, that his family members can truly appreciate.
  7.  Santa Claus the World's Number One Toy Expert by Marla Frazee - What does it take to become an expert? Practice and research, two things that Santa has clearly mastered. Anyone familiar with Frazee's other books will adore this riot of color and humor. Best read with a mug of chocolate and a candy cane. 
  8.  Herbie's Secret Santa by Petra Mathers - Herbie and Lottie are off to buy a Christmas tree when they make a stop at the neighborhood bakery. Herbie finds the Santa cookies a little too irresistible and accidentally eats one. The rest of the story is a charmer, one not to be missed. 
  9.  Slinky Malinki's Christmas Cracker by Lynley Dodd - Oh how this brings back memories of our black cat growing up and all the mischief she would unravel with a trimmed Christmas tree at her disposal. 
  10.  Ollie's Christmas Reindeer by Nicola Killen - When Ollie wakes to the sound of jingle bells, she treks into the night snow, bravely seeking the source of the merry sound. Into the woods she walks and discovers a reindeer! Together they fly into the inky sky on an adventure that befits a young girl at Christmas.
  11.  Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs - A classic by many accounts, this comic-strip like tale follows Father Christmas through the vicissitudes and victories of his most important night of the year. Now I need to track down Father Christmas goes on Holiday.  
  12.  Uncle Vova's Tree by Patricia Polacco - This was my first introduction to the prolific author/illustrator, who's work I've now come to adore. Plus I love that this book explores Polacco's vibrant childhood culture in loving memory of her own uncle and their celebration of Epiphany. It also reminds me of the outdoor Christmas tree we created for my dad the Christmas after he passed away. 
  13.  Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano - Finding Christmas books with diverse characters is a little tough, but this book fits the bill. An entire neighborhood is cranky until they all get a whiff of a special Christmas roast. Soon they are all gathered into a small apartment sharing a meal and making new memories. 
  14.  You Can Do It, Sam by Amy Hest -  One of the sweetest books of the bunch is actually a winter story, but charming nonetheless, especially for anyone that still gives out neighbor gifts. Sam is tasked with delivering cakes to the neighbors on Plum Street all by himself. A gentle approach to encouraging altruism and independence amongst little ones. 
  15.  Small, Medium, & Large by Jane Monroe Donovan - This nearly wordless Christmas book is about a young girl that gets three animal friends for Christmas, one in each size. Together the four of them set out on a winter excursion, complete with an exuberant sleigh ride. 
  16.  Plum Pudding for Christmas by Virginia Kahl - The queen wants plum pudding and sends the Duke off on a mission to procure them for their special holiday dessert. This vintage gem is extra special as it reminds me of our family tradition of steam pudding on Christmas Eve. 
  17.  A Christmas Story by Brian Wildsmith - A young girl named Rebecca is asked to care for a small Donkey, while its mother takes another weary mother to Bethlehem. With characteristic stunning Wildsmith illustrations and gilded gold detail, stars and snow shine as they illuminate the way to the humble stable. 
  18.  Christmas is Here adapted from the King James Bible - A young family treks into the snow to see the Live Nativity and are immediately enveloped in the beloved words from the First Christmas Story. 
  19.  The Christmas Truce by Carol Ann Duffy - There are a few versions of the true story of what happened between troops during WWI in 1914, but this compact telling is a poetic rendition of the peace found on the battlefield, that starts with the tender notes of one voice singing. 
  20.  Harold at the North Pole by Crockett Johnson - Can you ever resist Harold's adventurous purple crayon? Follow along as he creates a candy cane wonderland, always drawing exactly what he needs in the moment.  
  21.  When Santa Was a Baby by Linda Bailey - He loved the color red best, re-wrapped his birthday presents and gave them away, had an unusual fascination with chimneys, and liked to stand near the open cold refrigerator. A cute take on Santa's formative years.  
  22.  A Homemade Christmas Together by Maryann Cocca-Leffler - When the Pig Family decides to give each other homemade gifts for Christmas the littlest family member is stumped for an idea. This also reminds me of when we did this as a family growing up. 
  23.  Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka - I came to this book after reading Wet Cement earlier this year.  Not only are the endpapers festive it's a fun way to teach haiku with a holiday twist. (TIP: Have a fondness for a particular children's author? Check to see if they've written any holiday books. You might be pleasantly surprised.)
  24.  The Twelve Days of Christmas by Jane Ray - A whimsical variation of the timeless holiday carol. With so many versions it's hard to choose a favorite, but this one repeatedly tops our list. 

Printable advent tags available here.

Ps. Special thanks to my friend Rachel for taking these pictures on her beautiful book ledges. We mixed in all sorts of books, so you might spot a couple not on this list. 

If you'd like more Christmas book recommendations be sure to check out my 2015 list and follow along on Instagram, where I'll be sharing more books throughout the month. 

14 Winter Books We Love

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Whether you celebrate Christmas or some other holiday, we can all agree that colder weather keeps us indoors a little more. Which makes it the perfect season for reading. Today I'm delighted to be sharing my list of the best winter picture books over at Hello, Wonderful. I hope you'll find a few new favorite on this list.
  1. Snow by Uri Shulevitz. A little boy rushes onto the scene, jubilantly shouting, snow is on the way. The grown-ups doubt his forecast. Then, gently, ever so gently, the first fat snowflake starts to fall. Followed by another. Soon the radio and television announcers and the entire town are slushing through a mountain of powder. With a sweeping old-world setting, this award-winner is a classic for many reasons.
  2. Brave Irene by William Steig. When Irene’s mother becomes ill, it falls to Irene to deliver a dress to the duchess. Through a blustery and almost impassible storm, she pushes. Shouting against the wind, and bossing the elements, the young protagonist is determined to complete her errand. A picture book for slightly older children, but a story for the entire family.
  3. Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Christian Robinson. A waddle of penguins awake to find snowflakes falling. Ready for an outdoor excursion they pull on mittens, heavy socks, boots, and matching scarves. Together they roll in the snow, relishing winter’s glory. Told with few words, this seemingly simple tale is a delight. Perfect for even the smallest child. 
  4. Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen. A collection of poems, told through the voice of each animal. Swans settle into sleep, while voles burrow under frozen ground. Listen to the chickadee’s song and watch as the world starts to melt when spring comes again. A glossary and informative sidebars provide detailed facts about each animal. A must for animal lovers.
  5. The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshii. When Kikko discovers that her father left the pie intended for Grandma she treks off in search of her father, following his tracks in the fresh snow. However, she discovers the man she was following wasn’t her father at all, but a great big bear. Soon she enters a mysterious house, where a gathering of animals are delighted to welcome her to their party. With minimal charcoal illustrations this book is a rare and remarkable gem.
  6. A Dot in the Snow by Corinne Averiss, illustrated by Fiona Woodcock. A polar bear cub uninterested in learning how to fish wanders off and sees a red dot in the snow. Slowly the dot comes closer, turning into a pink-cheeked child. Together the two slide through the snow, until a mitten goes missing and the little cub dives after it. In many ways this sweet story reminds us of Blueberries for Sal.
  7. A Poem for Peter by Andrea Pinkney, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. Snow is nature’s we-all blanket. When Snow spreads her sheet, we all glisten. When Snow paints the streets, we all see her beauty. Snow doesn’t know who’s needy or dirty or greedy or nice. Snow doesn’t choose where to fall. A compelling account of Ezra Jack Keats, the man behind the cherished award-winning book, The Snowy Day.
  8. White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin. The postman and farmer predict snow. A woman with an aching toe knows that always means snow. Children stand watch, waiting for the first snowflake to fall. And so the familiar story goes. Each one with a special task, before, during, and after the snow falls. Beloved by generations, this is a classic for good reason.
  9. Snow by Sam Usher. A young boy wakes to fresh snow and all he wants to do is go out in it, preferably before anyone else does. But he has to wait for his granddad. Waiting takes forever. But finally, when Granddad is ready to go, the two head to the park for an adventure of giant proportions. A really special book worth seeking out.
  10. Walking in a Winter Wonderland by Richard Smith & Felix Bernard, illustrated by Tim Hopgood. For holiday music lovers everywhere, this illustrated rendition of the holiday classic is a new book you won’t want to miss. With vibrant and jazzy images, you can’t help singing, rather than reading, this book.
  11. Bear's Winter Party by Deborah Hodge, illustrated by Lisa Cinar. Bear feels at home in the forest, but he also feels lonely. Then he has an idea to invite his friends over for a winter party. He sets out and delivers each invitation and returns home to ready his den for guests. He looks out, wondering if anyone will come. Then, one by one, the chickadee, hare, fox, and other friends cross his threshold for an evening of baked goods, dancing, and merriment. As his guests leave and bear falls into his deep winter sleep, he knows that come spring he’ll have a forest full of friends. With sweeping watercolors and a recipe for ginger cookies in the back, you can’t help but be inspired to throw your own winter party.
  12. Fox’s Dream by Keizaburo Tejima. In the deep woods at midnight all is still, except for the sound of the fox’s footsteps. Hungry and cold he wanders, first chasing a hare, and then stopping at a forest of ice. Memories of warm summer days flood his mind. As morning breaks he is greeted by another traveler, a welcome assurance that winter will not last forever. The bold colored woodcuts make this story an immediate favorite.
  13. Into the Snow by Yuki Kaneko, illustrated by Masamitsu Saito. A child peeks out the window, watching the snow fall down. Bundled up, with sled in hand, he heads out to play. Content and cold, he returns for a cup of hot chocolate. A familiar and simple story, made fresh again with mixed-medium illustrations that radiate movement and light. An exquisite rendition of childhood enthusiasm.
  14. Sugar White Snow and Evergreens by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky, illustrated by Susan Swan. When sugar snow falls, the colors on the farm become vibrant and fresh against a crisp white backdrop. Follow a small family as they hunt for winter’s gold (maple syrup). With a kaleidoscope of color, this rhyming book makes a delicious breakfast-time read.

5 Ways to Give Books this Holiday Season

Friday, November 18, 2016

This probably isn't a news flash for anyone that knows me, but I can safely say I have given more books as gifts than I have any other item. Hands down. Whether for birthdays, baby showers, care packages, weddings, Christmas gifts, or just to brighten someone's day. Books are my go-to gift. Do you feel passionate about giving books? Or gifts in general? I know it stresses some people out, but gift giving is one of my top love languages, so perhaps I come by it honestly.

Here are five ways to incorporate book into your holiday gift giving:

1. Make a Book: You already know there are a lot of websites for making photo books these days. We've tried several of them over the years and found that Pinhole Press repeatedly delivers a high quality product in a timely manner. Plus their customer service is outstanding. You can make everything from a hardcover book, to a spiral board book, or custom sticker book w/ drawing pages. I like that there is something for every price point. And believe me, once you have a kid you can never have too many pictures to give to grandparents.

2. Give a Magazine Subscription: While this isn't technically a book it is similar. As noted in The Read-Aloud Handbook, kids need a wide variety of reading materials. You'll be pleased to know that Anorak makes the most beautifully deigned and cleverly crafted magazines for kids, to the extent that opening the pages feels like a party. Dot is their most recent publication, focused primarily on pre-schoolers (ages 2-5) and I can tell you AJ loves it. Giving a magazine subscription to kids is a blast, because not only will they enjoy the publication, they'll look forward to checking the mail with renewed enthusiasm.

3. Give a Book Excerpt: This is the first year we have a bunch of teachers to give little gifts to and I especially like the idea of giving something semi-homemade. Which is why this coloring card book is perfect. Cards, envelopes, and stickers all in one place. Bonus: each card has a little inscription on the back where you can write-in who created it. Such a fun and interactive way to give something unique.

4. Read to Your/A Child: If you have a kid in your life, be it your own, a niece/nephew, neighbor, grandchild/godchild, or even a child you volunteer with, carving out a few minutes of time to be with them is probably the nicest thing I can think to give. We've been enjoying the intricate and exquisite detail of this new pop-up book, The Christmas Story by Robert Sabuda. In the season of rush, rush, it truly is a gift to slow down and read a story aloud together. It can be something holiday related or not. The important thing is to do it. Preferably as often as possible.

5. Donate to a Local Charity: Earlier this year we discovered Ready Readers, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping preschoolers from low-income communities love books and reading. We support their mission by making annual donations a family priority. No doubt you probably have something similar in your community that you can access through a Google search or asking your local librarian.

Wishing you a season of generosity and exceptional reading material.

Special thanks to Anorak, Candlewick, and Pinhole Press for providing us with the resources for this post. 

Best Picture Books of 2016 (10 More)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

You didn't think I could let the year end without sharing a few more favorite picture books published in 2016, did you? The New York Times recently came out with its annual list of best illustrated books and School Library Journal is planning on releasing their top selections next week. This time of year the only thing more ubiquitous than holiday decorations are end-of-year lists! Which is great news if you are currently growing your home library or looking for fantastic gift ideas. In that case, these are all worthy of your attention.
  1. What is a Child? by Beatrice Alemagna - "All children are small people who will change some day." With detailed precision the illustrations and text form a compilation of children throughout this ephemeral state. It is sentimental without being saccharin and portrays a lovely collage of the poetry adults see in children.
  2. The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas - When it comes to picture books I have found that I am incredibly loyal to certain illustrators. Which is absolutely the case with Erin Stead. As the title suggests, the Uncorker of Ocean Bottles is responsible for unstopping all bottles that come his way and delivering messages to the appropriate individual. One day a party invitation arrives in a bottle and he is stumped as he traverses the island in search of the intended recipient. Truly a remarkable read. 
  3. It Came in the Mail by Ben Clanton - This brilliant picture book is all about snail mail, with a little lesson about greed and generosity. The pictures are a treasure trove of colorful odds and ends that work together in playful harmony. My nephew, Liam (mail spelled backwards), especially loves this one. 
  4. First Snow by Bomi Park - For anyone that has experienced the magic and wonder of snow, either for the first time in their life or for the first time at the start of each winter, this ebullient debut picture book expertly captures that seasonal delight.  
  5. The Moon Inside by Sandra Feder - Daytime is bright and yellow, but when darkness falls Ella is afraid. Will her Mom be able to help her overcome her fears and realize that the night also holds an illuminating light? 
  6. Me: A Compendium by Wee Society - This fill-in-the blank journal isn't technically a picture book, but it is such a visual masterpiece I couldn't not include it. With numerous questions and artistic opportunities, it's perfect for capturing a precise moment of childhood. Best suited for children ages 6-10. 
  7. Misss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess by Janet Hill - I confess that I almost didn't read this book. Namely because it falls into the everyone-is-raving-about-it category, which is usually a sure sign I won't like a book. Ha. That said, this collection of 20 bits of wisdom is worthwhile for both dogs and their human owners. 
  8. One Minute till Bedtime selected by Kenn Nesbitt - This collection of brief nighttime poems is a handy tool to have in your bedtime arsenal. With whimsical illustrations and poems by familiar authors, this is a genius and concise approach to lights out. Highly recommend. 
  9. A Well-Mannered Young Wolf by Jean Leroy - "A young wolf, whose parents had taught him good manners, went hunting alone in the forest for the first time. Very quickly, he caught...a rabbit!" Knowing that it was respectable to grant a last wish, he asked the rabbit what his wish was. Unfortunately, the well-mannered young wolf runs into trouble when he must momentarily leave his prey to grant its last wish. For anyone that enjoyed A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals earlier this year, no doubt you'll relish the sly and slightly dark humor of this book.
  10. The Journey by Francesca Sann - I still haven't found the right words to review this book. Publisher's Weekly proclaims it both "haunting and deeply reverent." Which is true. A story of refugees but so much more. Personally, the layers of meaning struck a deep chord in my mother heart.

  11. Here is my summer list in case you missed it. 

    Mural located in Salt Lake City, UT. 

13 Thanksgiving Books We Love

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Whenever I put together a compilation of favorite holiday books I do my best to ensure that I would own absolutely every single book on the list. Nothing half-hearted here. Meaning these carefully curated books feature stories and illustrations exciting enough to engage both children and parents. Some of the books I mentioned last year on Instagram and are certainly already familiar to you, but I figured it was time to make an official list. Thanksgiving, to me, is the start of slowing down and savoring life. Which makes reading the perfect activity leading into the calmer season of the year. I hope you retreat into some of these picture books over the coming month. And do let me know if I missed one of your favorite Thanksgiving reads.
  1. Thanksgiving is Here! by Diane Goode - This book, a celebration of large families gathering for the grandest feast of the year, is new to me, but the movement and energy of the illustrations take me back to my grandparent's house and all the long table meals we shared there. 
  2. A Plump and Perky Turkey by Teresa Bateman - What's a town to do when all the turkeys go missing every autumn? Host an art show, of course. This lyrically rhyming book is a festive romp, certain to entertain even after multiple reads. 
  3. Thankful by Eileen Spinelli - Gratitude is a lifelong lesson and this book celebrates everyday blessings, woven together with playful images and a sweet text. Perfect for a bedtime read-aloud.
  4. Thanksgiving With Me by Margaret Willey - With a bevy of brothers, a sumptuous spread, rhyming verse, and a banjo, this book is a celebration of family and food, with every detail accounted for in vibrant exuberance. 
  5. Handscrabble Harvest by Dahlov Ipcar - I've never met a Dashlov Ipcar book I didn't like. This one may be a little hard to find, but it's worth the hunt. With bold vintage-like illustrations, the book follows a steadfast farmer, who literally scrambles after his crops, ensuring there's enough left for his family once harvest rolls around. An altogether familiar tale for anyone that has had to fend off unwanted garden critters. 
  6. Sharing the Bread: An Old-fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller - I read this book last year and was completely smitten after one read. With such a sense of love and community, this family reminds us how many hands it takes to truly make a loving meal. And since eating is universal, the story feels both fresh and well-worn.
  7. The Thanksgiving Door by Debby Atwell - I believe I stumbled across this book via Goodreads and I'm SO glad I did. Especially because it features two older adults (grandparent like), who, after having burnt Thanksgiving dinner, stumble upon a neighbor's open restaurant door and end up having a celebration of cultures they never could have anticipated. 
  8. Turkey Trouble by Wendi Silvano - Two weeks until Thanksgiving and this bird's got trouble. With a few creative costume changes, Turkey almost pulls off his barnyard doppelganger ruse to avoid becoming the table centerpiece. 
  9. Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet - Take a trip from Harlem to Herald Square as you learn about Tony Sarg, the man who made upside-down marionettes soar. A whimsical nonfiction story about the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, told through Sweet's unparalleled collage and paint illustrations.  
  10. In November by Cynthia Rylant - The air is chilly and the trees are bare, each animal makes a burrow for winter and the hearth smells of cinnamon and squash. My favorite sequence is the concluding page. 
  11. Over the River and Through the Woods by Lydia Marie Child - There are numerous versions of this beloved Thanksgiving poem, but the over-the-top illustrations in this one make it my favorite rendition. 
  12. Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende Devlin- It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a secret family recipe and a little drama. Plus this book comes with a delicious sweet bread recipe in the back (be sure to omit the raisins). 
  13. The Very Stuffed Turkey by Katharine Kenah - Turkey is the guest of honor at not one, but five thanksgiving dinners. With grace and humor he somehow manages to make his way through each meal. A favorite amongst preschoolers. 
Itching for Christmas books? Check out this popular post and stay tuned for a brand new children's advent list coming very shortly.

Halloween 2016

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

I admit, I thought I would get another year to choose Amelia's Halloween costume. Nope. Several weeks ago she started telling us what she was going to be dressed up as. No prompts, just flat out demands. Ha. Granted I feel like her costume choice was highly influenced by this book, so maybe I have more pull than I thought. And really, I can't complain. Because I have it on good authority she's the most darling flamingo in town!

9 Halloween Books We Love

Monday, September 19, 2016

Last year I made the mistake of waiting until two weeks before October 31 to request Halloween specific library books. Which meant many of the books didn't come until November. The horror. Who knew Halloween was such a hit? Apparently everyone. While it's never been my favorite holiday, having a child makes every holiday a little more exciting. As we slowly grow our own collection of Halloween books I can attest that these nine are part of our tried and true favorites.
  1. The Witch Next Door - A vintage classic. Two children are amused by the antics of their quirky neighbor and are delighted to discover that having a witch live next door can also come in handy. 
  2. Happy Halloween Witch's Cat - We fell in love with this little cat last year from this book. Well, she's back and desperately trying to figure out what to be for Halloween. Will her mom go along with her idea?
  3. Ghosts in the House! - What's a girl to do with a house full of haunted ghosts? Capture them. Wash them. Hang them out to dry. And repurpose them for more functional household items. Such a fun one!
  4. Ghost in the House - Not to be confused with the previous book, this is a spooky tale of a ghost who encounters a bump in the night, but ends up accumulating comrades along his journey to discover the source of the racket. 
  5. Birdie's Happiest Halloween - Out this year, this is our first experience with the lovable heroine, Birdie, who is trying to figure out what to be for Halloween. Inspired by a trip to the museum she comes up with a last minute solution. 
  6. Humbug Witch - Even though she's a frightening-looking, horrible, witchy, WITCH, this witch has a surprise in store. Another vintage classic, still striking in its illustrations and story. 
  7. Leo: a Ghost Story - When a new family moves into Leo's house, he tries to make friends with them, but is sadly misunderstood. A tale of friendship told with imaginative style. Meaning it hardly matters that it isn't a Halloween specific book.  
  8. Gilbert the GhostNot technically a Halloween book, but a tale of Spartacus, the ghost, who doesn't want to be like all his other classmates. Charming and reminiscent of Casper. 
  9. Go Away, Big Green Monster! - Also not technically a Halloween book, but Ed Emberley is a master, who manages to create then disassembles a monster, simply by layering shapes that even the youngest child can't resist. 
Want more Halloween inspired books? Follow along on Instagram, where I'll be sharing more in the coming weeks. Also, four more Halloween books from last year. 

Chapter Books for Toddlers

Monday, September 12, 2016

You might wonder when a good time to start chapter books is, especially if you have kids in the two to five-year-old range. While all families are different, I'd say your child should be able to sit still for some amount of time. We've had particular success reading chapter books aloud during dinner. We started a couple months before my daughter turned two. Now it has become a family ritual that either me or my husband will read-aloud as the rest of the family finishes eating.

Over the last couple months we've read all three of the Lulu books and Three Tales of My Father's Dragon. In addition, I selected a handful of chapter books back in July to read as part of a vetting exercise and I'm happy to report I enjoyed reading each of these books. With short chapters and simple sentence structure, chapter books help children with memory retention, imagination, and reading readiness. If you're just starting out with chapter books at your home (either to read aloud or for beginning readers to read solo), this is a great place to start.

- The Adventures of Sophie Mouse
- Lulu Walks the Dog
- Bink & Golly
- A Pig, A Fox, and a Box
- Monkey and Elephant
- Henry and Mudge & the Happy Cat
- Mercy Watson to the Rescue
- Mouse and Mole

Words: Wisdom

Friday, August 26, 2016

"You read to your child because the experts say it’s important. You read to your child because the hours of parenting are endless and it’s something to do. Maybe you read to your kid because you love it, and you make your living from it, and you can’t imagine having a child who doesn’t appreciate your subsistence, in the fullest sense of the word. It’s an exercise in parental narcissism—an effort to shape your child according to your own proclivities and predilections—but also one of hope: an attempt to bequeath a form of solace and communion that will last them the entirety of their lives."

Best 2016 Picture Books (So far)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

When it comes to lists I have it on good authority that bookish folks, including former librarians, are some of the best list makers around.  At the beginning of 2016 I started on a quest to read every new picture book publication I could get my hands on.  Mainly because I have a pretty strict rule about reading a picture book prior to purchasing it for our home collection.  Sometimes we go to the bookstore to read new books, but mostly we wait for library holds. That said, this has been a phenomenal year for picture books!

As far as lists go, I realize this is a completely subjective compilation.  Some of the books on this list became favorites because my daughter adores them and we read them repeatedly.  Others are strange and may be considered outside the scope of a "normal" children's book.  Different books speak to different people at different times in their life.  That's okay.  I think there's room for everyone in the picture book parade.  Especially ones that flaunt beautiful colors and wave delightful stories.
  1. Ideas are All Around by Phillip Stead - When the author is stumped for an idea he goes on a walk.  While out and about he finds ideas in nature and from his neighbor's spilled paint can.  I especially like the Instax images included in this book and the typewriter font. 
  2. I Won a What? by Audrey Vernick - When a little boy wins at the Go Fish carnival game, his prize is a little larger than anticipated.  But even if his parents are practical, they are also fair.  Which means Nuncio, the whale he won, is coming home with them.
  3. There is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith - Collective nouns connected in a magical sequence.  Also a sweet reminder that no matter the generation, there will always be a tribe of kids keeping the rest of us young.  
  4. Secret Tree Fort by Brianne Farley - Nothing is more appealing than a "You're not invited" taunt from a sibling.  But when two sisters, very different in their approaches to play, come together, they realize they can create a candy-covered, pirate-halting fortress for two. 
  5. Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer - Penguin is grumpy for no reason.  He takes off his grumpy coat, pants, boots, hat, and underpants in an effort to shed his mood.  After a bath, a book, and a good sleep he knows tomorrow will be better.
  6. The Night Gardener by Terry and Eric Fan - One day a young boy discovers the tree in his backyard has been transformed into an owl.  Each day a new tree is sculpted into a work of art by a mysterious new stranger, who manages to transform not only trees, but an entire town. 
  7. A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins - When animals start disappearing the Hungry Lion is the obvious guilty party. However, in a slightly dark twist, the animals, occupied by other obligations, fail to notice another party crashing predator.  
  8. Over the Ocean by Taro Gomi - A small girl stands at the edge of the sand and wonders: What's over the ocean?  Ships perhaps?  Big farms or tall buildings?  Small houses and kids?  Or maybe another beach, where someone else is standing, looking over the ocean and wondering.
  9. Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by Isabel Campoy - 
  10. Based on the true story of Rafael and Candice López, whose colorful murals dot the East Village near downtown San Diego, California, this book is "an invitation to transform not only walls and streets, but also minds and hearts of communities." 
  11. Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill - This collection of poems weaves a lyrical arc, culminating in the historical fold-out picture that brought jazz musicians together on a hot August morning in 1958.  With retro-style illustrations and playful side stories I could easily scat praises of this book all day long. 

Currently | 7.5.2016

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

READING: Just started this young adult book, in addition to the stacks of picture books I read weekly.

WATCHING: Now that we've finally finished The West Wing (so sad!) I've decided to take a bit of a television break.  However, I'm still thinking about this documentary I saw a couple months ago. Have you seen it? Totally mesmerizing.

EATING: Homemade pesto and looking forward to guacamole once the avocados on the counter ripen.

ENJOYING: The online children's book community. If you follow me on Instagram you know what I mean. It's been so great to connect with other like-minded book lovers.

FEELING: Overwhelmed. 2016 has been a difficult health year for me. Chronic pain is exhausting, both physically and mentally, and I'm really hoping to have some relief and healing in the coming months.

LISTENING TO: This powerful 20 minute podcast about an attorney who defends inmates on death row.

MAKING: More baby bibs. Even though I don't know anyone that is currently pregnant I always like to have a small stash of baby gifts on hand. Usually I just give books, but sometimes homemade is extra nice.

DREAMING OF: This play kitchen for a certain almost two-year-old and this summer tote for an almost, well, older August baby.

LAUGHING AT: How AJ recently watched Shrek and had a little trouble pronouncing Fiona. It took us awhile to figure out what sounded a lot like Narnia was actually Fiona.

EXCITED FOR: One month until preschool starts!

Mural located in St. Louis, MO.   

5 Summer Reading Tips

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

As summer quickly approaches I wanted to share one more quote from The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.

"How can you prevent the traditional summer reading gap? Research gives little support to traditional summer school but a great deal to summer reading—reading to the child and reading by the child."

Children who read at least five (5) books in the summer are more likely to start school in the fall ready to learn. Whereas children who do not read over the summer actually lose the reading gains they made the previous year.

Need motivation to keep your kid(s) reading during the summer? Here are five tips:

1. Set aside a time each week to regularly go to the library. If your library offers a summer reading program (most do), sign-up with your kid(s) and work together to met your reading goals. My daughter isn't two yet and we've already completed half of our 25 summer reading tasks!

2. Pack a reading picnic, where you take books about food and read the books during/after you eat. Can I Eat That? by Joshua David Stein and Julia Rothman is great for this.
3. Set aside time each day when your family can read together or on their own. Set a timer for 20 minutes and pile into cozy chairs or lounge outside in a hammock.

4. Take a reading vacation together! Gabrielle Blair from @designmom talks about her family's experience doing this (complete with itinerary) on her website.

5. Add variety to your regular routine. Try lift-the-flap, wordless, or seek-and-find books. Audiobooks are another great option to keep kids excited about reading. Above are six of our current read-aloud favorites.

For more read-aloud inspiration check out the #littlelitbookseries on Instagram and be sure to check back this Friday (June 3), as we share our favorite summer themed picture books.

The Read-Aloud Handbook

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Of all the parenting books in the library I'd argue that The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease is really the only parenting book you need. In fact I've written about it before. My copy was gifted to me at my baby shower and I've referenced it numerous times in the last couple years. A combination of research, personal anecdotes, and read-aloud suggestions (yes, actual book lists) make this book both informative and practical for any adult that reads to children.

If you don't have time to read the book in its entirety, follow along with #littlelitbookseries today on Instagram for key highlights and salient quotes.

"Reading is like riding a bicycle, driving a car, or sewing: In order to get better at it you must do it. And the more you read, the better you get at it. The past thirty years of reading research confirms this simple formula, regardless of gender, race, nationality, or socioeconomic background. Students who read the most also read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest.”

A Conversation with Tee & Penguin

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

One of the best things about finding like-minded picture book lovers is gushing over some of our favorite stories and discovering new books together. Plus I LOVE having an arsenal of favorite picture books at the ready to give at baby showers or kids' birthday parties. I'm pretty certain that fostering reading with beautiful books is one of the best parts of parenthood! On that note, I'm delighted to be featured over at Tee & Penguin today.

What are 3 ways you foster reading in your home?

Like a lot of new parents I read a TON of board books to my daughter during those first several months. By the time she was ten-months-old I needed some variety, so I started reading picture books to her while she ate lunch. This made the dining experience much more enjoyable for both of us. Now my husband and I take turns reading to her during lunch and it’s one of my favorite parts of the day.

Each week we go to two different storytimes. Depending on the week we either go to the history museum, library, bookstore, or the local animal adoption center. This routine has been a great way to introduce my daughter to reading in new environments. Not to mention the interactivity of these experiences helps her connect reading to something that’s an enjoyable activity.

Lastly, we foster reading in our home by making books available and accessible. Meaning that we have books in every room of the house and in our car. All three of us have our own bookshelf and we have two designated library totes that get a lot of use!

What 10 picture books do you think every home library should have?

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse
Knuffle Bunny
A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Snow (by Uri Shulevitz)
A wordless picture book (SO many that I love)
The Tea Party in the Woods
Dragons Love Tacos
Max Deluxe 
A Frank Asch book (again, so many great ones)
The Little Prince (although it’s not really a picture book, I couldn’t leave it off the list)

If you had to pick your top 5 favorite illustrators who would they be?

Hopefully I’m not cheating by answering this question with a couple individuals that wear both hats of author and illustrator. Obviously this is a trick question, because there are too many talented illustrators to choose just five.

Christian Robinson
Julie Flett
Zachariah OHora
Tomi Ungerer
Molly Idle

What did your parents do to promote reading in your childhood home?

I have vivid memories of my mom reading a Childcraft book of Poems and Rhymes to me growing up and I’m lucky enough to have inherited that special book. I also appreciate that I was never made to feel bad for anything I was reading, even though some of my 5th grade reading choices were pretty abysmal. Finally, as a child, I loved bringing home those newspaper-like Scholastic book order forms on a regular basis. And even though I may have wanted to order a dozen books every month, my mom always made sure I was able to order at least one or two. Thereby fostering my love of reading and enabling me to grow my own little childhood paperback collection. I wish I still had some of those books. Then again, would I really re-read The Babysitters Club as an adult?

What are you reading right now with your kids?

We’ve been on a poetry kick lately, which has been fun to read bite-sized vignettes to our little girl. Some of our favorites include The Pet Project, Lemonade (or anything by Bob Raczka), and Stories from Bug Garden. Our other recent favorites are Let’s Go to the Hardware Store and The Bear and the Piano.

What are you reading right now for yourself?

Currently I’m reading two nonfiction books: Rising Strong and Bad Feminist; while my husband and I are reading Crucial Conversations together. I also just started reading Pax to have something a little lighter in the mix.

What are your favorite places to shop for books?

I have a love/hate relationship with Amazon, but still, it’s where I end up purchasing most of the children’s books in our home. Also, I try to hit up our local library sale every year because it’s massive and has much better pricing. You can find similar sales here. Lastly, I’ve been purchasing more books from museum gift shops lately, because they offer well-designed and unique selections that are hard to find elsewhere.

Do you have a favorite children's Christmas book? If so, what is it?

Great question! I’ve actually collected children’s Christmas books since I was in college. Which means I have several beloved favorites. How can you not? However, I absolutely adore Red Ranger Came Calling. It’s best for ages 4+, but I’ve been known to read it aloud at holiday Christmas parties.

9 Art Books for Children

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Recently I did a little research for an Instagram feature and in the process I came across a lot of beautiful picture books all related to art. Everything from artist biographies, to alphabet books, to imaginative stories championing creativity in many formats. Most of the books I immediately wanted to add to our personal collection! Which, for me, is the mark of a good book. Next time you are stumped for something to read may I suggest grabbing a stack of children's books related to a single topic. Guaranteed you'll be amazed to discover something new.
  1. Get Into Art: Animals (People, Places and Telling Stories) - I imagine many art teachers use these books in the classroom, as they feature renowned works of art from various genres and artists (Degas, Warhol, Seurat, Matisse, etc). Plus the corresponding fold-out activities are a terrific way to get kids excited about making their own creations.
  2. Mary Cassatt: Extraordinary Impressionist Painter - Growing up we had a red book of nursery rhymes and in that book I remember this image most vividly. Which means Mary Cassatt's work was imprinted on my brain at a young age. Plus I love that this book is about a woman artist. 
  3. Let's Paint - With a firm but playful beginning There are no mistakes in painting, this book is a celebration of ideas, that with care and execution can become art. This is an especially good reminder that there are no right or wrong ways to create. 
  4. A is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet - This is unlike any alphabet book I've ever encountered. One artist constructs art instillations of various materials (tires, metal, collage, paint) and then describes them with alliterative accuracy. Kids will also appreciate some of the hide-n-seek aspects within the text and art. 
  5. The Museum - Creating art is only part of the process, experiencing it on an emotional level is another part. Which makes the young girl in this story such a charming character. Follow along her antics as she is literally moved by the art she sees at the museum one morning. 
  6. Art - Meet Art, an imaginative young boy, who coincidently likes to make art. The familiar cartoon illustrations will draw in readers of all ages, while the plastered fridge and appreciative mother make this a sweet story.
  7. Andrew Drew and Drew - A little reminiscent of Harold and the Purple Crayon, Andrew believes that making a drawing is a bit like magic— what he needs always appears at the right moment. With fold-out flaps this book is especially fun for kids that like to doodle.
  8. Beautiful Oops! - This is a terrific book about how mistakes are really opportunities for creativity. Finding shapes in spills and animals in bent corners is all part of the process. This is a must-read for any mini perfectionist. 
  9. Matisse's Garden - If you've ever seen a Matisse canvas you know how color and form play prominent in his art; where every piece seems to dance with movement and light. This book is a beautiful depiction of how Matisse created collage, inspired by nature. 
Ps. These art board books are also great for little fingers. See more children's book recommendations here

Soda Bread You'll Actually Love

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day is part of my heritage, which means we host a gathering every year to share a traditional Irish meal with friends. One of the best parts of our feast is a flavorful round of soda bread. I've made it for the past four years. Now I know what you are thinking. Soda bread? Isn't that dry and chalky and something you usually choke down as a polite dinner guest? Normally you'd be correct. But this, oh this, is something entirely different—delicious and crusty, sweet and moist, a caraway infused bread that both kids and adults devour! Slathered with Irish butter it's almost like eating dessert. Plus it doesn't require any rise time, which means total prep from start to finish is a little over an hour. Perfect to serve alongside corned beef and cabbage.

Irish Soda Bread
(serves 10-15)

1/2 cups white sugar
4 cups all purpose flour 
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp kosher salt
2 1/2 cups raisins (I use half golden and half dark)
1 TBS caraway seeds
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 cup sour cream


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put a nonstick baking mat or parchment paper on a cookie sheet. In a mixing bowl combine flour (reserving one Tablespoon), sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, raisins and caraway seeds. In a small bowl, blend eggs, buttermilk, and sour cream. Stir the liquid mixture into the flour mixture just until the flour is moistened. Kneed into a round 4-5 times. Dough will be very sticky. Place the dough on the prepared pan and pat down. Cut a 3/4 inch deep 'X' slit in the top of the bread and dust with reserved flour. 

Bake for 55-65 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Best served 3-4 hours after cooling. 

See more recipes here

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