Saturday, December 31, 2011

Along a Long Road, by Frank Viva

My family and I are just back from an intense trip to Kenya.   While we were there our daughter struggled a bit with being out of her normal routine.  And by "a bit" I really mean "a great deal."   She would ask for the places she loves to go, the foods she loves to eat, and the people who are normally in our daily life.

People like our favorite librarian.

I was playing "Trot, Trot to Grandma's House" with her.

Wait.  Does everyone know that game?

You sing "Trot, trot to Grandma's house to get a little girl some cherries.  And when we got there, the tree was bare, so we trot back, trot back, trot back...Weeeeeeeeeee..."  All while bouncing your baby or toddler on your lap and leaning them back at the end.

We learned that sweet and fun little lap jog at the play group at our local library, but I was still a bit surprised when at the end of our fun, she asked.  "Trot, trot to Grandma's house with Miss Lori?" - See, she would often volunteer to go onto the Librarian's lap during that song, and I just think she was missing home.

So quickly (less than 24 hours) after our return stateside, we went off to the library.  We saw Miss Lori, she played with her favorite library toys, and I got a few new reads for us.

Enter Along A Long Road, by Frank Viva.

What a delightfully simple book.  The cyclist takes us on his tour through beautifully designed and illustrated scenes, highlighted by a long, shiny yellow road that traverses every page.

The promotional video above gives you a taste of the illustrations and the simplicity of the text.  My daughter has only read it three or four times, but was already asking me to recite it for her on the car ride to a friends house.  (I wonder sometimes if she is shocked that I cannot memorize her books quite as fast as she can!)

I am delighted she enjoys this book, because for me, it represents so much.  It reminds me of the sports enthusiasts in my life, who need to make time for their sport in the way that the rest of us need to breathe.  It reminds me of the love I have for libraries and the treasures we find in each visit.  But most of all, it reminds me that we have survived our first trip to Kenya as a family.  It was a long road and there were lots of bumps, but the beauty and memories we found along the way were worth it.  And the feeling of accomplishment is bolstering.

Expect I will write more about the trip in another format.  But forgive a few anecdotes here and there on this blog.  It was life-altering.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Panda Owl Sheep

Today at the library we had a fantastic time.  I'm not completely certain if my daughter had more fun sitting in the chairs, driving a found rhinoceros down the aisles of books, or actually reading, but what does that matter?

We read two books by Emma Quay: Puddle Jumping: A Book About Bravery and Sleep Tight: A Book About Bedtime.

I must admit, they were simple, but fun.  Each starts out with a nice, cheerful introduction: "Hi I'm Panda.  Hi I'm Owl.  Hi I'm Sheep.  Hi Friends."

And they are friends.  I can't imagine these three particular animals ever actually having the opportunity to become friends, but that small fact aside, these three really exemplify what you want your friends to be: honest, encouraging, and loving.

I cannot wait to see how my daughter develops relationships with her peers.  I hope they encourage her to have fun when she is afraid; I hope they share their comfy sleeping bag when hers is uncomfortable; and I hope they share her enthusiasm about life in general.

Now, my friends, Sleep Tight.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

LOUD! ...............quiet..................

One of my fantastic aunts came to visit us recently.  Her gifts are always spot-on.

A monkey scarf.  Not just a regular-old flat scarf with a monkey image on it, this is a furry, stole-like monkey with arms, legs, and a cute little face.  And it happens to be the softest thing you've ever felt in your whole life.  (Not that I steal it to cuddle with during nap-time or anything, ahem.)

And two books: The Quiet Book and The Loud Book both written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Renata Liwska.  They are simple in format, but so clever and complex in both evocative emotion and illustration. I really love them.

My daughter is too young to love them, or so I thought after the first few attempts at reading them.  But then one day she asked for them.  Now she often asks for them.  She whispers while we read the quiet book and shouts while we read the loud book.  (Might I suggest that if you are using them near bedtime, start with the Loud Book and work your way quieter and quieter as you move through and to the quiet book.)

Each scene really captures a feeling and a sound.  I know they will take on more and more meaning for my daughter as she has more life experiences, so I imagine older children would still love these books.   And what a fun activity to try to come up with your own quiets and louds.

The book is good at avoiding the common, expected ones... so I really had to think hard to come up with some quiets and louds that are meaningful to us right now.  But so you get a feel for the book, here are a few quiets and louds from our lives:

-- Hugging your favorite stuffed animal quiet.

-- Buckle in and color quiet.  (That's what we call sitting in her highchair, "buckle in" but it also extends to car seats  shopping carts and strollers)

-- Dance to Zangalewa loud.  (Next time you need a dance party, grab some noisy shaker and go to that link)

-- Being loud just to practice being loud loud.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Productive Parenting Blog Post -

Ah, how I love to write.  Sometimes you need to spread your writing wings a bit and contribute to a different corner of the universe.

So how about, just for today (well and maybe a few more times coming up) take a click on over to the Productive Parenting Blog and read me there?  Eh? Eh?

<a target="_blank" href=""><img border="0" src="" alt="Productive Parenting Contributor" width="125" height="125" /></a>

Monday, November 21, 2011

Beautiful Books

I love books.  I love art.

So whenever I find a book that effectively combines the two, I am so pleased.  When that book also has nice, soothing text, easily identifiable themes, and you have a recipe for a new favorite.

Enter: A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na

The illustrations are amazing.  Woven into each animal friend is this layered, lyrical texture.  Upon closer look, the animals are highly worked, beautiful images with flowers, shapes, and sophisticated patinas.   My daughter also loves this book.  She chooses it several times a day, naming each animal, describing its features, and mimicking its sleeping style.

We read this book all day long, but it would be a nice addition to a bedtime routine.  I want this book printed poster size, make that mural size, so I can lounge in its beauty as I lay my own head down on the pillow at night.  Truly a magnificent book.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Curious George

As a child, I was not very interested in the Curious George books.

But now, as a parent, I understand that I was too old for them.  Curious George is meant for toddlers and their parents.


Because toddlers find themselves in the same kind of situations all the time.  They lean over too far and fall into a lake.  They decide they want to play hide-n-seek with a baby bunny and are surprised when the bunny runs away.

Totally toddler behavior.

Occasionally I get so completely overwhelmed by her activity level and her curiosity that I start to sweat profusely.   There are times when I catch her at the last possible second as she is about to do something totally dangerous.  She is just so prone to spontaneous bursts of mischief.  And so is George.

Here are my favorites:
Curious George's Opposites and Curious George and the Bunny.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Naked Mole Rats.

Okay, so this blog is not going to turn into a Mo Willems fanpage, I promise.

But, let's talk about one more wonderful Mo Willems book:
Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed

Blame this post on the Washington Post and their wonderful column today about the amazing naked mole rat. So it turns out that there are a few discrepancies between actual naked mole rats and the ones in this delightful book.  Shocking, right?

Allow me to quote the article from today:
"Their social structure is the mammalian equivalent of an ant colony. There’s a queen who takes two or three male consorts and is the only female to reproduce. She lords over the rest of the realm — which can be as large as 200 animals — so that the other females cease ovulating and the males give up."  (Hopefully you are not reading this post aloud to your children.)

So after reading this book, if you are thinking it would be cool to be a naked mole rat, and you happen to be female, then it's only cool if you are the queen.  

Alright, now all I can think is "Don't be a drag, just be a queen." 

But this book doesn't talk about the queen, it talks about a young man named Wilbur that is different.  He likes clothes.  Drama ensues.  Resolution occurs.  Then there's a party.  Which seems quite likely now that I know more about the species from the WP article.  Since they live long lives and seem to have a complete resistance to cancer, why not party?

Prepare yourselves.  I'm about to turn from this ALL MO WILLEMS lovefest to another wonderful and prolific author: Leo Lionni.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Author Alert: Ian Falconer

Let me be clear: I bristle at stereotypes of girls.  I dislike all things Princess (with the exception that I accept my nieces to whom they mean the world).  I dislike words like "diva" being projected on normal and spirited young girls.  And I am wary of anything that stereotypes girls into a type.  I believe strongly that children should be allowed to be whomever they please, and they should be allowed to change that person regularly and with flourish.

So, I have a guilty pleasure.  My daughter has a guilty pleasure (although since she does not yet feel any guilt, it's just pure pleasure).  The Olivia series by Ian Falconer.  Olivia borders on a stereotype.  Her behavior is over the top.  She lies.  She is not nice to anyone.  She is selfish and boorish (pun intended).

But, they are so clever.  They are so fun to read.  They have little jokes and surprises that reveal themselves slowly after many reads.  I kind of like them.  Okay, I'll admit it, I kind of love them.

Well, two of them: Olivia and the Missing Toy and Olivia Saves the Circus.   I do not particularly care for the original Olivia and I really disliked the Olivia Goes to Venice book.

But the other two are quite magical.  My daughter loves the drama of them.  She reenacts several parts of them daily.  And it's hard to be mad at a book that creates so much joy in both parent and child.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Girl Effect.

This blog is about me reading to my baby.  It's about education.  It's about the love of illustrations and the love of words.

Or is it?

Is it really about a girl.  My girl.  The girl that I adore, that I cherish, that I treat with respect.  The girl that I left my job at a local college to teach.  The girl that I would do anything to protect.

That is one lucky girl.  She is not yet 18 months old and she can count, she can recite books, she can sing the ABC song, and she can recognize letters on command.  She owns books and is on her way to reading them herself.  In some countries that puts her ahead of 75% of the population of women.

And there is a fact that we try to push away, that we can do something to change that.  That we have resources to help, not just here in this country, but all over the world.  Many of us work hard to provide educational tools to our children.  I just received a catalogue that had some beautiful educational toys for $60 each.  That toy might teach a new skill and be cherished for a year or two, but in the developing world, that same $60 might change the whole course of a young girls life.  She might live.  She might be educated.  It might allow her to find a way to sustain herself and her family.

But I'm not asking for money.  Just start by watching this video.  Start by caring and wanting to do something.  Start by wanting things to change, and then when the opportunity arises, when you see a young girl and  you have the means to help her, do it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Safari Animals by Simms Taback

We love animals around here.

Well, we love the idea of animals around here.  We have a zoo membership and go often.  We read animal books with frequency.  It's just that neither my husband nor I want pets.

But back to the books.  We read tons of animal books.  A new favorite is Simms Taback's Safari Animals.

This book is a delightful cross between a cootie-catcher, an animal quiz, and a do-it-yourself Microsoft Paint experiment gone horribly wrong.  While the individual elements might not work separately, together they are fun and cute.

So you start out by opening the book.  You get a quarter of the illustration and a clue as to what animal it is.  You open the flap up and you get another quarter and another clue.  The last turn of the flap gets you the rest of the image and the name of the animal.  It's huge!  It's fun!

My daughter has a bit of a cold right now, so imagine a snotty little kid with a raspy voice wandering about saying "I can RROOOOAAARRRR! I'm a Lion!"  And you'll have a bit of insight into this book.

It's not long, so it's best for younger kids.  I bet by age 4, these animals and this style of illustration would be too over-the-top.  But there is a lot of black and white, so I bet young babies might really enjoy this book.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More from Mo...

Ahh, nothing like a great villian.  A villian who is a know-it-all, annoying, needs-to-be-right kid.  A villian with a FANTASTIC NAME.

Reginald von Hoobie Doobie

That's right, Reginald von Hoobie Doobie.

Go ahead, try saying it.  Reginald von Hoobie Doobie.

Maybe try a funny accent.  Try saying it like it's the punchline of a joke.  Say it as fast as you can.  It's a truly brilliant name.  And one that had my daughter rolling with laughter all afternoon.  While eating pasta in her highchair, hours after we read the book, she was saying "Hoobie-Doobie" to herself and chuckling.

Warning:  This book may make you crave chocolate-chip cookies.  In fact, maybe make sure you have some in the house before making your way to the library or bookstore for this book.  But then enjoy!  Enjoy the story, enjoy the villian, and enjoy the cookies!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

First Books: what to expect when you are expecting.

If our daughter had to rate the things in her life that she has always loved, I would guess the list would look something like this:

#1 - Daddy
#2 - Mommy
#3- Books

I inherited a ton of board books from a friend while I was still pregnant.  It was probably the single most influential gift I received. But I know not everyone is so lucky.  And in some places they don't even consider buying books for a newborn to be an important thing.

In an effort to create a new generation of bibliophiles, here is my list of the top five books that I would buy for a new mom.  These are intended for new babies.  I will do some additional lists to address later issues like bedtime routine and language development, but these are a good start.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle: Eric Carle will loom large on this list.  His illustrations are like baby magnets.  This was the first book my daughter ever really latched onto - at two months old.

Polar Bear, Polar Bear What Do You Hear? by Eric Carle:  This book has great repetition, which babies love.  It also has several pages that are primarily black and white, so infants can really see and enjoy them.  It's companion book: Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? is also wonderful.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown:  This book was first published in the 1940s.  There is a reason that multiple generations of parents have embraced this book, the cadence of this book is soothing.  The ritualistic nature of saying goodnight to things is comforting.  In the beginning, when a parent is soothing and comforting 24 hours a day, but feeling neither soothed nor comforted, this book really helps everyone to relax.  We still recite this book every night.  Every single night.

Bright Baby: Animals:  I am not a fan of books without a story.  I am not a fan of flashcards.  BUT, there are exceptions and Bright Baby books are one of them.  They have bright  photographs with simple fonts.  My daughter really preferred photographs to illustrations for many, many months.  These books also have a lot of great contrast, so they are great for infants.

Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman:  I know this book is intended for toddlers.  And I don't know why my daughter loved it so much, maybe because you can read it with a good dose of drama or maybe because the idea of the mother looms large in their little lives, but she loved it.  And she continues to love it.

Other books that are not essential, but that we enjoyed greatly in those first months were:
On the Night You Were Born
Magritte's Imagination
Perfect Pets
Peekaboo Baby
The Very Lazy Lion
But Not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton (actually anything by Sandra Boynton is great)
Any of the "Baby Faces" books - we own several by several publishers.  She loved all of them.

Oh and I cannot forget the wonderful Squishy Press Books ( - which use paper and ink that are safe for babies - should they end up in their mouths.  I was a dictator about books being NOT FOR CHEWING, but these books were what I would give her in those few stolen, unsupervised moments.   I didn't panic if they ended up in her mouth.

For the record, I read all our books to her from the very beginning.  There were some she would not sit through - some of them she still will not sit through, but I sometimes needed a break from the same five books.

Author Alert: Mo Williems

Mo Williems is a rockstar.  He has won awards.  He has written for Sesame Street.  What else do you need for your children's book resume?

My daughter's endorsement, of course.

She loves the Knuffle Bunny series.  In each book, a young girl named Trixie loses her beloved lovey.  They have drama and intrigue.  They have happy endings.  They are perfect.  My daughter now wanders about the house asking "Where is Knuffle Bunny?"

We also love the Pigeon series.  You might wonder why someone might let a Pigeon ride a bus, but after you read the book and experience the persuasive powers of this underestimated guy.  I think I might enjoy them a bit more than she does, but perhaps that's because they are so fun to read aloud.

Our favorite Mo Williems book so far though is.......  Leonardo the Terrible Monster.

It's cute.  It's fun to read.  It taught my toddler words like "research" and "candidate" - and for me it's never too early to learn to love research.  She reenacts the main action, she pretends to try to scare people, she asks to read it by name.  It's awesome.

We recently returned it to the library and after several days of her asking for it, we returned to see if we could check it out again.  It was gone.  We were crushed.

Looks like we need to go ahead and add it to our personal home library.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Author Alert: Taro Gomi

Most people know about Taro Gomi, the famous and prolific Japanese children's book author.  Before I had children, I only knew one book: Everyone Poops.  Now I'm addicted and so is my daughter.

Everyone Poops has certainly been helpful as we begin to introduce potty training topics into our lives, but it is also a great source of laughter and embarrassment to our older nieces and nephews.  It was a hand-me-down book, and my husband loves to go to the bookshelf and bring it out in order to make the kids in our lives laugh.  It is very straightforward though, and I actually don't find it distasteful at all.

But all things Poop aside, Taro Gomi's other books are wonderful.  They range from very simple, like Spring is Here to a bit more complex like I Lost My Dad.

In Spring is Here, we follow a small calf through one whole season, with beautiful illustrations at each change in the season.  It is succinct in words, but clever, and has just enough emotion to be interesting.  We read it at bedtime, because it has a poetic quality that we both find relaxing.

I Lost My Dad is more of a cautionary tale for early elementary aged children.  Keep your hands on your parents, or you might have more of an adventure than you expect.  It's ending is a bit flat, but the clever flaps and adventure of the rest make it a worthwhile read.

By far my favorite Taro Gomi book is My Friends.  A small girl takes us through each of her friends and how they have contributed to her life.  It is sweet and touching, but also makes connections for how the things around us inform our lives and our personalities.  It's simple enough in language for toddlers and it comes in a board book version, but complex enough to be a sweet gift for a young elementary child in your life.

Author Alerts.

I have always been loyal to authors.  If I like a book, I will often read as many other books by that author as I can lay my hands on!  The same has been true of  how I choose books for my daughter.  Occasionally, instead of reviewing a book, I will review an author instead, giving you several books that we have enjoyed.  If you are an avid library-goer, then this can be a helpful way to find some sure-bets in the massive stacks.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Llama Llama by Anna Dewdney

First, a lament about the closing of Borders.  While it has never been my favorite bookstore (Hi over there Barnes & Noble), I hate to see bookstores of any kind closing.  Even if it means a discount at the store closing sale.

But I dragged myself and my daughter into our local Borders today to see if I could find some of our library favorites.  I was looking specifically for any of the Llama Llama books.  We have read two of them over and over again, Llama Llama Mad at Mama and Llama Llama Misses Mama.  Both have a great build-up, an enthusiastic crescendo, and then a sweet and practical relaxing phase.  My daughter recognizes them, asks for them, and has a very emotional response to the storyline. 

For more information about the Llama Llama series and about Anna Dewdney, visit:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Jeremy Draws A Monster, Peter McCarty

I don't believe in just buying books, I am an avid library-goer.  Today's find at the library was this book, Jeremy Draws a Monster by Peter McCarty.

My daughter has several toy monsters, but has not yet developed any fear around the idea of monsters, so I was delighted to find a book where the monster was not scary.  The illustrations are wonderful.  The monster looks to be drawn in pen, which adds greatly to the idea that this little boy is drawing it himself.  It is fun to read, not too wordy, and quite funny.  The library volunteer was even chucking to herself while listening to me read this story!

This is a fun choice for older toddlers that can handle paper books without tearing them.  Even early school-aged children that are interested in art would enjoy this book and find it funny. 

Amazon link:

The beginning: a gift and a curse.

Before the reviews start, perhaps you would like to know when and how I started reading to my child.  When is too young?  What do young babies do with books?  How do you decide what to buy?

First, I was enormously fortunate to receive several large boxes of baby books from a friend.  I didn't ask, she just brought them over.  I had registered for a ton of books, but only received a dozen or so, but with this bequest, I was suddenly in need of a bookshelf for the baby.   I really thought that the bookshelf would go unnoticed for a year or so, and unread for even longer.  I was so wrong.

But my curse in the early days was solitude.  I didn't have family in the area, my friends are workaholics, and my husband was working and in school full-time.  I had read over and over again in my "preparing for baby" books how important it was to talk to your baby, but I found it so hard to do!  I couldn't just tell her about how I was doing the dishes or what color beige the sofa was, it felt forced and boring.  Instead, I would read to her.  And then talk to her about what we read.   It really helped and she learned quickly to enjoy books, enjoy reading with me, and we forged a culture of books in our home.

I am starting this blog when she is 15 months old, young enough that I still remember the early days and old enough that I can see how her preferences are developing. I'll try to use easy to search tags, so you can search things quickly when looking for suggestions.  Or hopefully you'll check in often to discuss books, authors, illustrators, and your own tips, suggestions, or questions for us.

And like many parents, I have really enjoyed reading favorites from my own childhood to my child.  I hope readers will feel comfortable commenting on books, even if you are reading for yourself and not for a child.  But also, I know parents are not the only ones that support reading in children, so think of this blog as inclusive to aunts and uncles, cousins, friends-of-the-family, and others that want to get involved in supporting the reading habits of the children in their lives.  Bravo to you all!


I have no plans to convince anyone of the power of reading to your child.  I am not trying to help parents make super-kids or super-babies.  I just love to read and so does my baby.  Here are some books that we love.  Please leave comments, suggestions, and tell us what you love, what you think about the books we review, and what will help you be a more effective reader.