Archive for December, 2011

December 18, 2011

Last minute book gifts

Okay, last-minute shoppers. There’s no one out there I know that doesn’t want a book! Here are some of my favorites from this blog, divided by the age of the person for whom you are shopping.

Babies and Toddlers:

For its brilliant illustrations and book-loving message: Bats at the Library, by Brian Lies

For its introduction to Spanish and wonderful story: The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred, by Samantha Vamos

For its fun poems and read-aloud-ability: Dirt On My Shirt, by Jeff Foxworthy

For a great personalized name book: Following Featherbottom, by Philip Haussler

To encourage physical play and a love of trucks: I am a backhoe, by Anna Grossnickle Hines

To encourage being different: Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, by Mo Willems

To celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah: The Trees of the Dancing Goats, by Patricia Polacco

To encourage your princess to be a little wild: The Very Fairy Princess, by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton

For the art-lover and the book-lover: When Pigasso met Mootisse, by Nina Laden

Early Readers and Chapter Books

To encourage a little adventure: Bink and Gollie, by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee

To encourage some friendly neighbors: Ivy and Bean, by Annie Barrows

To tell a worrywort that it’s going to be okay: Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters, by Rachel Vail

For its beautiful cover, wonderful mousy characters and fun stories: Tumtum and Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall, by Emily Bearn

Because it’s awesome: We Are In A Book! by Mo Willems

Middle Grade and Young Adult

For its honest story about growing up in America: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

For its take on the angst of becoming nothing special: An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green

For its beautiful story and lovely characters: Chasing Redbird, by Sharon Creech

For the budding chef or exuberant eater (or even the finicky one): Eat it Up!, by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

Because it’s a phenomenal book and is about to be a movie: Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

In case there’s someone out there who hasn’t read the phenomenal page-turner: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

For the mystery-lover, a story and a character they will fall in love with: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley

December 13, 2011

Vote for my e-picture book!

If you read my last post and are willing to see some magic in the online story, please let me know by clicking on the link below and voting for my picture book to be published by the online book publisher MeeGenius. I appreciate it and Happy Holidays! (You do need to have a Facebook account.)

December 12, 2011

The immortal story

Given that my son who is not yet four and has less than 2 hours of screen time a week (and yet knows exactly what screen time is and that he wants more of it) recently taught my husband how to do something on his iPad, it’s easy to see that the future involves screens. So what’s a book, a decidedly un-screened thing, to do? Many people are talking about the future of books, and no one seems to know what to predict. It’s clear that digital books are the future. But will they exist alongside paperbacks or replace them entirely? Will books made of trees be the illumated manuscripts of the future, only to be examined in museums?

Will we be snuggling up with an e-reader soon?

On a personal note, I would hate to see the disappearance of books. They are too much a part of my childhood, too much a part of my free time and my personal space, for me to give them up that easily. But on the other hand, maybe we are asking the wrong question. We are talking about the horse when we should be talking about transportation. We are talking about the telegraph when we should be talking about how we communicate. Maybe we are talking about books when we should be talking about stories.

Stories are not going to die. Stories have been around since Homer told the Odyssey to anyone who would sit down and listen. (And were people outraged later, when print came along, reducing that once-living epic to a fixed version of itself, subject only to minor word changes in its infinite translations?)

Stories keep us up at night, turning the pages (or maybe scrolling the screens) to find out what happens to a character we just met only a few hundred pages ago, a character that reminds us so much of ourselves that in her choices we see our own weakness and in her consequences we see our own narrowly-missed (or once-lived) fate. Stories teach us what we didn’t know about other people (that’s why she acts that way! that’s what he meant!). They teach us that some things we never thought of might be entirely possible, or even normal. Often, they teach us that what we thought weird about ourselves is normal, too. (I think that’s what most of the YA and MG genres are all about, aren’t they? Perhaps that’s why I like them so much!)

I’m curious—are you excited about the future of books you can interact with? Of carrying 1000 books in a small case on the plane with you? Or are you holding onto the past like I am, just a little bit longer? Please let me know! I read a blog recently that said the best Christmas present you can give a blogger is comments, and it’s so true! Let me know what you are thinking!

December 8, 2011


If the holidays aren’t a time for cooking, I don’t know what they are for! And my 3-year-old seems to have sensed the vibe, because he’s been spending an average of 30 minutes a day in his play kitchen recently.

He loves to cook, and I love cooking in my own kitchen while he putters away in his mini-version right next to me. As I simmer away the tomatoes and onions, he chops his velcro and wood fruit, mixes them in his mini pans and sticks them in the oven. Then he brings it over to me for a taste or insists that I sit down for a more formal meal.

And it’s even more fun when he gets up on his “learning tower” to cook along with me. So when we got this cookbook to review from OwlKids, we were both really excited. My son was very proud to show his dad that he has his very own cookbook, and it’s provided us with fun, great times together, and some really good food.

Title: Eat it Up!
Author: Elisabeth de Mariaffi
Genre: Nonfiction, Cookbook
Age: 3 and up!

What to do with the kids:

These are simple, easy, and yummy recipes. Let your kid pick one out: the pictures will allow even kids who are too young to read to choose for themselves. Then take them to the store (or a farmer’s market if it’s summertime!) and let them help buy the ingredients.

The first recipe my son chose, much to my surprise, was the meat pie. I don’t eat red meat, and I don’t usually cook with it at home, so we used Field Roast Apple Sage sausages (which are meat-free, soy-free, and dairy-free and absolutely great). It was delicious! It was even better smothered with some Apple Butter. Hey, it’s the holidays, right?

December 2, 2011

Afraid of the dark? Me too.

Well, I know where my son gets it, but that doesn’t really help. But I did find some answers to helping preschool children with their (very normal) fears. You can read about it in my latest article in ParentMap.

Then come back here and tell me what you are afraid of! Or what your kids are afraid of. Or what they were afraid of. And what you did about it!

December 1, 2011

Every student may not be a parent, but every parent is a student

A note to welcome student parents to The family that reads together —

One year during finals in college, I remember trying to write a philosophy paper. I wasn’t a philosophy major—far from it, in fact; it was one of my three required Humanities courses—which is probably why I had left this one to the end. I hadn’t slept more than a few hours in the past few days and I remember staring at the computer screen trying to make something come out of the keyboard. I was powered by orange juice and powdered sugar doughnuts. At one point I read back what I had written and realized I had typed a direct quote from the late night DJ right into the middle of a sentence. I don’t remember what the paper was about or how I ended up finishing it, but at some point before midnight, or likely right around that time, I printed out what I had, walked across a dark campus and slid the paper under the professor’s office door. (No, I was NOT the kind of student who would have banked on him not actually being there until the morning and turning it in later. You’d have to see my husband for that…) I would give anything to see that paper today.

He will try if you show him you are trying, too. Photo by Abul Haque courtesy of U.S. National Archives via Flickr.

I’m thinking about that now because it reminds me a bit of being a parent. There are a lot of sleepless nights. There are the days like yesterday, when taking a “sick” day as a stay-at-home mom means laundry, grocery shopping, and making a mess in the kitchen with my toddler as we make pies for dinner. In other words, it looks a lot like a non-sick day. I was so tired I ran a whole load of hot laundry without putting the clothes in the wash. And the other day when I left my computer on top of my car and drove away. (It’s fine, if slightly dented, thank you; I’m typing on it now and I highly recommend the BuiltNY laptop sleeves.)

The other similarity about being a student and being a parent is that you are constantly learning. I’ve never felt more confident in my life than when I brought my son home from the hospital and began to care for him, a human life in my trust. But it’s not just about learning how to diaper and when to check his temperature. There’s also a re-learning–a learning about the world around us, a remembering that the little things ARE miraculous.

So for those of you who are both students and parents, I know your time is doubly taxed. I know your brain is doubly speeding ahead. And I hope you know how lucky you are! In this blog I talk a lot about modeling reading with your kids. You are already doing an important modeling job—you are modeling education, arguably the most important thing in their lives. I encourage you to model it explicitly. Show your kids when you struggle with your homework. Remark about how hard it is and how you sometimes need to spend extra time on it to get it done. When you accomplish something you are proud of, tell them, and tell them how you worked for it. If you emphasize brains over hard work, it only gives them an excuse later to say “I’m not good at this,” or “I can’t do math.” (Read my article in ParentMap about girls in science and math if you want to hear more about that!)

When it comes to reading with your kids, get the most out of it by choosing quality books (for little ones, school-age ones, and adolescent ones) and using some of my ideas for conversations and activities to follow up on those books. Good luck!