Archive for ‘Book for boys’

August 27, 2014

when your early reader is (not) a robot

by Wendy Lawrence

At some point, early readers (the people) get tired of the early readers (the books). For my first son, this was before he even opened them. I think I bought one or two out of a sense of duty, but wasn’t even that excited to read them myself. Some of them lack any obvious attempt at plot, characterization, voice, or any trait necessary to call something a “book”. And don’t get me started on the phonics ones.

But these! These are about robots! And aliens! And space adventures! And they have great titles! In fact, I’m pretty sure my son was drawn to this series, which was one of the first ones he read, just because of the title Ricky Ricotta’s Might Robot vs. The Stupid Stinkbugs from Saturn.

rickyricottaTitle: Ricky Ricotta’s Might Robot vs. The Stupid Stinkbugs from Saturn
Author: Dav Pilkey
Genre: Early Reader, Science Fiction
Ages: 4 – 8

Written by Dav Pilkey, of Captain Underpants fame*, these are a great beginner series. They are books that can be read in one sitting, with easy words (and not too many words per page), tons of pictures, Pilkey’s characteristic flip-o-rama (essentially a two-page flip book illustration), and even instructions on how to draw all the major characters (well, the robot and the alien villians, not the boring ones like mom and dad). 😉 One of my son’s drawings based on those instructions can be found here:

filename-1*For those of you who worry about that sort of thing, there’s nothing of the toilet humor in these books that so pervades Underpants. I realize that my first example has the word “stupid” in it, but that’s not really indicative of how these books are written.

My son’s favorites as he remembers them, are Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot vs. the Mecha-Monkeys from Mars, Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot vs. the Uranium Unicorns from Uranus, and … vs. The Mutant Mosquitos from Mercury. There is a first one, and they were written in planet order (Mercury, Venus, etc.), but you can read them in any order. Every book stands alone.

So, if you have an early reader, I would highly recommend these. A reluctant reader might read them with you–one page you read aloud, then next page he/she reads aloud. (Although I do think reading aloud makes it even harder, so consider that.)

Have you tried these? Do you think you might?

May 13, 2014

Dystopian Fantasy: The End of the World as We Know it

Dystopian Fantasy: The End of the World as We Know It
by Katherine Higgs-Coulthard38-FE3-KathyHiggs-Coulthard

Hunger Games
Divergent
The Maze Runner
Ender’s Game

What do these books have in common?

a) They’re great books that offer an exciting read.
b) Preteens, tweens, and teens love them.
c) They either have or will soon be made into movies.
d) They are dystopian novels.
e) All of the above.

The answer is e) All of the above!

Books like Hunger Games and Divergent are introducing today’s generation to dystopian fiction. While many adults may not recognize the label “dystopian,” it’s not new. Remember reading Louis Lowry’s The Giver or Stephen King/Richard Bachman’s Running Man back in the 90’s? In fact, a brief Google search will uncover dystopian stories dating back to the 18th Century! But what does “dystopian” mean? The opposite of utopian, dystopian stories take place in a society where people are severely oppressed or live in fear. Usually they take place in an altered reality or a future version of our world where the government wields heavy-handed power.

Dystopian stories draw in middle grade to young adult readers because they offer many of the same features fairy tales offer to younger readers: They show that the world is a dangerous place where people are not always what they seem, but where creativity, intellect, and perseverance can prevail.

If you have a child ages 10 and up, you’ve probably seen them carrying around a copy of Hunger Games or Divergent. But there are more great dystopian books out there than just the blockbusters. Check out these:

 

13th reality

Title: The 13th Reality
Author: James Dashner
Genre: middle grade

 

Title: City of Embercity of ember
Author:
Jeanne Duprau
Genre: middle grade

 

 

Among the HiddenTitle: Among the Hidden
Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix
Genre: middle grade

 

 

Title: The UgliesThe Uglies
Author: Scott Westerfield
Genre: y/a

 

Add to the list! What dystopian novels have your family discovered?

November 18, 2013

A book to be thankful for

by Wendy Lawrence

Thanksgiving is coming up and I have the bestest ever picture book for that! I just checked it out of the library and now plan to buy a copy. I’m excited to have a great Thanksgiving story to share with my children; one that combines history with a gripping story, one that teaches about women’s rights without preaching, and one that will help add a whole helping of meaning to our Thanksgiving table. This is a fun story that will be enjoyed by the little ones but with enough history and real issues to be liked by kids much older than the usual picture book audience. Heck, I liked it so much I read it twice right away.

sarahgivesthanksTitle:  Sarah Gives Thanks
Author: Mike Allegra
Illustrator: David Gardner
Genre
: Picture Book, History, Nonfiction
Age: 2 – 10

Sarah Gives Thanks is a true and well-researched story by Mike Allegra. A widow, Sarah works in a hat shop, even though she has a particular disdain for impractical fashion. Even though women didn’t attend college in her time, she gets an education with her older brother’s textbooks from Dartmouth. You get a sense of her personality when she convinces him to help her study on his vacation by saying “I am not going to go away, Horatio. Therefore you might as well do as I ask.” Even though this is the early 1800s when women had few professional options, Sarah publishes a few poems in a magazine and later becomes a widely read  author. She and her family are invited to move to Boston so she can become a magazine editor (although she insisted on being called an editress). She quickly becomes an influential figure in America, and her opinions matter.

Throughout all this time, Sarah has been celebrating Thanksgiving, not yet a national holiday, and telling everyone who would listen (which was getting to be a lot of people) that everyone should celebrate it. She wasn’t as concerned with the holiday’s roots as much as she was concerned with the meaning of the holiday–that we all have something to be thankful for–and this is someone who had already lost two husbands. Sarah wrote to president after president. (“I am not going to go away,” Sarah said. “Therefore the president might as well do as I ask.”) but Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan all ignore her. It wasn’t until Lincoln got her letter in the middle of the Civil War that he agreed that Thanksgiving was exactly what the nation needed.

It’s a phenomenal story that is told much better than my short synopsis and with really great illustrations that bring the characters to life. An author’s note with more information about this amazing woman is included at the end. I love that this is less about the Native Americans and the Pilgrims and more about being thankful, which, given the history of those two groups after their big feast, I think is the message most families want to pass along today. Now when I make my own Thanksgiving about saying our thanks, I know I’m not even rewriting history–I’m just following in the footsteps of the great woman who made this holiday official!

I hope this book makes its way onto your tables and its message–about being who you can be despite prejudices and being thankful despite heavy loss–reaches your children’s hearts and minds. It’s a good one.

October 24, 2013

When Monster Have Minds of Their Own

Kathy Higgs-Coultard, Director of Michiana Writers' Center

Kathy Higgs-Coultard, Director of Michiana Writers’ Center

By Kathy Higgs-Coulthard

With Halloween soon at hand, I’d like to take a moment to talk about monsters.

At one point or another all of us have two-stepped it from the light switch to the bed, yanked the covers over our heads, and hoped like heck the monster didn’t see us. Whether it’s the boogeyman or a subterranean troll, childhood fears are universal. In fact, one study found that as many as 74% of 4-6 year olds self-report being afraid of monsters and ghosts.

You might wonder how a four year old even knows what a ghost is—it’s not like his parents handed him a bowl of popcorn and said, “Come on, son, it’s family night—let’s watch Poltergeist.” Still, monsters are as integral to American culture as baseball. Test this theory: Lay out pictures of Frankenstein, Dracula, Godzilla, and The Hulk next to snapshots of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Alex Rodriguez, and Willie Mays. All classics. Now see which ones your six year old can name. At my house the score was 3-0. (But don’t worry, Hannah’ll bat 1000 as soon as we introduce her to the Avengers next week.)

Monsters get a bad rap, but the truth is we need them. (We need baseball players, too—but that’s a different blog.) For years, psychologists have been looking at the role of monsters in children’s development. Monsters in movies and books place abstract fears like abandonment and powerlessness in physical form. Watching heroes triumph over monsters teaches us that we too can triumph over our fears.

But monsters are changing, my friends. It’s no longer easy to tell the difference between monsters and teddy bears—just look at Sully from Monsters Inc. He’s fluffy, for Pete’s sake. And what’s worse, monsters aren’t following the classic do-something-scary-and-then-be-defeated scenario. They’ve started thinking for themselves. Just take The Monster Who Ate My Peas. It has eyestalks and tentacles. It lurks in the kitchen just waiting for its chance to…eat our yucky vegetables? In the words of my eldest daughter, “Wait—what?” Katie’s 14, but she sat right down and read that book to see why the monster would want to help the boy. Turns out it wanted something else entirely. And Gabe—the monster that lives under Nathan’s bed in I Need My Monster—goes on vacation. I’d like to know where in his contract it says he gets vacation. Speaking of contracts…Zack should have read his before he paid the owner of The Monstore good money for a monster to scare his little sister.

No, these creatures are not the usual suspects. They have redefined what it means to be a monster and because of that, even adults won’t be able to put these books down.

monster who ate peas coverTitleThe Monster Who Ate My Peas
Author: Danny Schnitzlein
Illustrator: Matt Faulkner
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

monstore

Title: The Monstore
Author: Tara Lazar
Illustrator: James Burks
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

i need my monsterTitle: I Need My Monster
Author: Amanda Noll
Illustrator: Howard McWilliam
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

Okay this might be cheating, but in thinking about monsters and bedtime fears, I have to include a fantastic resource for parents. Child psychologist Margaret Jessop has written a great story about a little boy who overcomes his fear of the dark. It’s available FREE on her website along with suggestions for what parents can do to help banish bedtime fears.

Title: Nighty-night Knight
Author: Margaret Ann Jessop
Genre: Read-aloud story
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

http://margaretjessoppsyd.com/free-childrens-book-nighty-night-knight/

September 5, 2013

Hosting a Super Sleepover (Of course there are books involved!)

by Angela Verges

Angela Verges

Angela Verges

The kids are back in school and will make friends and soon invite them over for play dates and sleepovers. I remember my boys being invited to a friends’ house for a sleepover, so we didn’t have to host many ourselves. When the boys returned home I would hear stories about their escapades.

“We had a pillow fight, played games and stayed up all night.”

Now when I ask my teen boys about their first sleepover, they claim memory loss. I asked questions such as, “Did you tell scary stories, what kind of games did you play?”

The response I received was, “That was six years ago Ma, I don’t remember.”

Since I was planning a sleepover for my nieces, I thought it was also a good idea for the boys to read a book related to sleepovers. Maybe this would help them remember their days of sleepovers and help me with the planning.

jigsawjonessleepoverThe book my son read with me was A Jigsaw Jones Mystery – The Case of the Spooky Sleepover by James Preller. The first page of this chapter book begins with a description or Ralphie Jordan, a popular kid and a “world-champion smiler.”

Title: A Jigsaw Jones Mystery: The Case of the Spooky Sleepover
Author: James Preller
Genre: Early Reader, Mystery
Age:  Elementary

Ralphie wasn’t smiling when he talked to Jigsaw about his problem. Sitting in Jigsaw’s treehouse and backyard office, Ralphie explained that he heard ghost sounds at his house. And so the idea of a sleepover at Ralphie’s house was formed.

The Jigsaw Jones series has a recommended age of 7-10 years. The language was age appropriate and fun to read. The mystery was solved in a satisfying way that left this reader with a smile, just like Ralphie Jordan.

9780316734189For the younger reader, Olive’s First Sleepover by Roberta Baker does a good job showing escapades that occur during a first sleepover. Olive played with her friend Lizard many times, but had never stayed the night with Lizard.

Title: Olive’s First Sleepover
Author: Roberta Baker
Illustrator: Debbie Tilley
Genre: Picture Book
Ages: whenever they are having their first sleepover!

During the sleepover the girls created a petting zoo with caterpillars and other bugs they collected and charged the neighbors a small fee to visit. For dinner they made pizza with crazy toppings like marshmallows and chocolate chips. When it was time for bed the girls made a blanket tent and used pillows to create a tunnel.

Of course the night didn’t end without Olive becoming homesick. After listening to a ghost story, every sound that Olive heard was magnified. The ticking of the alarm clock was loud as well as the dripping of the rain as it trickled down a gutter. The girls experience more mishaps before finally sleeping soundly.

If you’re planning a sleepover either of the books mentioned in this post would be fun to read. If you’re looking for activities to incorporate into your party check out The Sleepover Book by Margot Griffin. The book included ideas such as flashlight tag, radical relays and a recipe for making glow-in-the-dark body paint.

thesleepoverbook

Title: The Sleepover Book
Author: Margot Griffin
Illustrator: Jane Kurisu
Genre: Parenting, Crafts, Cookbook
Ages: Old enough to host a sleepover

If you want to host a super sleepover, include the kids in the planning. Or at the very least, enjoy a good book about sleepovers.

What has been your experience with sleepovers?

August 27, 2013

Will there be a sea monster in my kindergarten class?

SeaMonsterBossyFish_Tour_Banner

The countdown has begun in our house! We have new lunch boxes, new socks, and a whole whopping stack of new forms to fill out. The school year is upon us and for us, The Wizard of Why will be headed to the big leagues. You know, the Majors.

Kindergarten.

And right now, we are not TOO sure how we feel about that. Which is why it was so awesome to come home from the last vacation of the summer and find these books waiting for us as part of Chronicle Books Sea Monster and the Bossy Fish blog tour.

sea monster-Kate MessnerI was also lucky enough to interview the awesome author, Kate Messner. Here are some things she had to say:

1. Hi Kate! One thing I try to talk about in my blog is what we can do with books after the reading. Or in addition to the reading. In other words, when a parent reads your books to their child, do you have ideas for follow-up activities? Or conversation-starters so that they can keep carrying your message?

Every book can be a conversation starter when it’s shared as a family, but I think SEA MONSTER AND THE BOSSY FISH especially lends itself to those conversations because its subject matter is something to which every kid (and every adult!) can relate. Everyone knows a bossy fish, and learning to deal with that person can be the difference between smooth sailing and a really rough day at school or the office.

We often ask kids how they can relate to characters in a shared read-aloud, but I think sometimes, as parents, we forget that it’s powerful for us to share our own stories, too. SEA MONSTER AND THE BOSSY FISH can be a great springboard for talking about how to get along with people whose leadership styles might be different from yours.  Kids will enjoy hearing your own stories – both failures and successes – when it comes to negotiating those kinds of relationships.

2. Your fish pledge mentions speaking out when a child see bullying. We often tell kids this, but it is SO HARD. In fact, I would argue that most adults don’t even do it. How do we really teach kids to speak up? Can you think of a way to use your book as a starting point for that?

It is hard – harder than we think when we give that advice to kids – and that’s why I think conversations about these situations can be so valuable. When we discuss bullying before it happens, we provide a really safe environment for kids to imagine “what if.” What would I do if someone treated me this way? What if someone treated my friend like that?  Role-playing can be a wonderful, natural follow-up to reading a book like SEA MONSTER AND THE BOSSY FISH. Giving kids the opportunity to practice standing up for friends and modeling inclusive behavior in a fun, non-threatening setting makes it more likely that they’ll be able to be a positive force on the playground when a real situation arises.

3. I like the idea of parents reading books like these because they can share an important concept without lecturing their kids. Do you have advice for parents who want to talk further with their kids about this but don’t want to lecture?

Questions are  more powerful than lectures, I think. The very first time I read this book aloud to kids, I was visiting a classroom full of kindergarten students near Albany, NY, and I was blown away by their reactions. I think I asked a question or two as we read – things like “Hmm…how do you think that made the Ernest feel?”  But soon, all I had to do was pause after reading a page and let the kids reflect. Without me even asking questions, they wanted to talk about the impact of the bossy fish’s behavior. They were able to empathize with the fish being pushed around, and Andy Rash’s great illustration style makes it clear that school settings are full of emotions.  The kids used the facial expressions as evidence in their arguments: “Look, he didn’t say anything, but he’s upset. You can tell by the way his eyes look…”  These kinds of quiet discussions promote empathy and build memories that are likely to be recalled when there’s a need for kindness on the real-life playground.

4. What’s the most important thing you want kids to take away from your books?

That sometimes a “bossy fish” just needs help to be a better friend. As an adult, I love the Robert Frost poem “Outwitted.”

He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win.
We drew a circle that took him in.


I’d like to think BOSSY FISH is the preschool version of that sentiment.

Isn’t that all very cool? And in addition, I can offer you a discount:

Just enter this promotion code: SEAMONSTER on this website: http://www.chroniclebooks.com/. Offer ends September 6, 2013.

seamonstersfirstdayseamonsterbossyfishTitle: Sea Monster and the Bossy Fish (and the earlier release Sea Monster’s First Day)
Author: Kate Messner
Illustrator: Andy Rash
Genre: Picture Book
Ages: 4 – 7

Download your own Friend Fish pledge here. Use it in the classroom or your own home to promise friend-making over bullying. And good luck!

Have any other books you like to read before school starts? Share them here!

August 6, 2013

Take Me Out to the Ballpark

by Angela Verges

Line drive, loose hit, home run, these are all signs that baseball season is in full swing. I remember the days of my boys playing t-ball, coach pitch, and then baseball. Sitting on metal bleachers, watching kids in the outfield pick dandelions during the game, was one of the joys of parenting during baseball season.

During the days of little league parents may play the role of coach, snack organizer, and cheerleader. The job doesn’t end there. As my boys got older they wanted to expand from playing baseball into watching “real” baseball games. So it was off to Tiger Stadium to see professional baseball in action.

fenwayfoulupThis summer, we’ve shifted into reading a book with a baseball theme. One book we chose as a quick read was The Fenway Foul-Up by David A. Kelly. This book is one in the series, Ballpark Mysteries. In the story, Kate and Mike are cousins who stumble upon a mystery to solve while they are at a baseball game at Fenway Park.

Mike and Kate are self-appointed sleuths who search for clues to find a lucky bat that was stolen. The bat belonged to the star slugger of the Red Sox. Large print and pictures add to the easy flow of this book. And the story line is good too.

grandmasatbatIf you have an emerging reader, Grandmas at Bat by Emily Arnold McCully is a fun story. When Pip’s team needs a coach his two grandmas step up to the plate, literally. They coach, they cheer and they even take a turn at bat. It sounds like real life parenting during little league season.

If your little slugger can’t seem to get enough of baseball, let him or her have a little fun with baseball related science experiments or activities. At the science buddies website, there was an experiment that shows how to determine whether body position affects baseball speed (www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Sports_p053.shtml).

The TLC website listed activities and instructions for playing them. Some of the activities included, Backward Baseball, Spelling Bee Baseball and a Base Running Game (www.tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/baseball-activities4.htm).

The next time you’re sitting on metal bleachers watching a little league game or sitting in the stands of a professional game, remember kids really do grow up quickly. Enjoy the journey. Soon the roles will reverse and the kids will take you out to the ballpark.

Do you have any adventures in baseball to share?

August 2, 2013

the secrets of parenting with books

This was a YA book I could NOT put down. I think EVERY SINGLE parent needs to read it right now. And most teens, too. I chose this book for its title and cover. This might make me shallow, but it totally worked. Because Aristotle and Dante DO discover the secrets of the universe, or at least some of them, and they do it in a really realistically teen way.

aristotleanddanteTitle: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author
: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Genre: Fiction, Realistic Fiction
Age: 12 and up

And the cool thing about the parents? Well for starters, they aren’t dead! When is the last time you read a kids’ book where the parents were still alive? Still thinking about that one? Exactly. ALL FOUR parents are involved, and all, despite various issues they might have, are phenomenal role models, or at least doing their best. (And not in a cheesy, role-your-eyes I can’t believe my mom is making me read this book kind of way. Not that your kid would EVER roll his eyes…)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a compelling story about two teenage boys. Both are Mexican-American, which is already an identity with which they struggle, in different ways. And both are discovering sexuality, and again, they discover their own in really different ways. Aristotle is rough around the edges, completely silent inside and out (which makes him a really unique 1st person narrator–he doesn’t understand himself well enough to tell you all the details). Dante is more refined, more talkative, inquisitive. He wants to save the dead bird in the street.

Aristotle and Dante become fast friends and what happens next is nothing less than the story of all boys who grow up. It will, in particular, speak to those teenage boys who are finding out that their own sexuality might be different than the status quo, but I believe this is a book whose teenage angst will speak to all of us: gay, straight, young, and old.

And like I said, this is a book for parents. If you are having a hard time talking with your kids about growing up, having friends, or being gay, please read this book. Give it to your kids to read. And, like Ari’s father, sit down at the kitchen table one day and just start to talk. You might be surprised where it gets you.

If all books were like this, EVERYONE would read kids’ books, everyone would read with their kids, and this blog would be totally irrelevant.

And you don’t have to take MY word for it. This book won the Michael J. Printz Award, the Stonewall Book Award, and the Pura Belpré Award. Seriously. It has three medals on the cover.

If you like this one, I would suggest: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. All are great coming-of-age boy stories with a real MC and real problems in a real world.

July 26, 2013

Little Red Writing Hood

OMG THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD!!! I squealed with excitement when I opened up the package from Chronicle Books and saw the cover. Then I squealed some more as I realized just how tremendously awesome the story was. I only just stopped squealing a few moments ago so I could share all this goodness with you! Here’s the deal. Little Red Writing is the kind of picture book you can’t help but pick up. The cover is beautiful, the colors brilliant, and the story hook tempting. Little Red Writing is a pencil? And she wants to tell a story? And she gets lost on the way to the end!!!

It’s a children’s writer’s/teacher’s/librarian’s dream come true. But here’s the good part–the kids are going to love it too. The small ones, who won’t know what a conjunction is for many a year to come, will just love the funny story of the pencil and the really gorgeously original illustrations. The older ones will love a fun reminder about how to write a story. The story starts out with Little Red’s teacher, Ms. 2 (love it!) asking the class to write a story.

littleredwriting

Title: Little Red Writing
Author: Joan Holub
Illustrator: Melissa Sweet
Genre: Picture Book
Ages: 2 – 8

Little Red begins to write:

Once there was a brave red pencil who went on a journey. As she walked along…

But then a thought bubble from Little Red interrupts the story:

Walking is boring, decided Little Red. She wanted her story to be exciting. She went to the gym and was quickly drawn into action. (LOVE THAT WRITING!) She bounced! She boogied! Then she cartwheeled right off the page…

Okay, there you go, only a few pages into the book and already a lovely little lesson about using more powerful verbs to tell your story. But it gets better, because Little Red tumbles into…

a deep, dark, descriptive forest.

Ha! Has anyone ever heard the editing advice that you should go through your manuscript and throw out all the adjectives? Well, that might be a tad harsh, but it has a ring of truth in it and even this picture book is here to warn you about it! Then LIttle Red meets some “conjunction glue” and she squeezed the bottle. What happens?

Too many glue words came out! So that is how she found herself writing a sentence that would not end but just kept going and going and running on and on although it had no purpose yet it would not…

Yes! It’s true. The book DOES just keep getting better and better. And if you have an older kid, they could find all the conjunctions on that page. Little Red Writing doesn’t just learn about parts of speech, she also learns about parts of a story.

It was the middle of her story, where something exciting should happen. And it did.

You, too will love this story all the way to principal granny and the Wolf 3000 pencil sharpener. And your kids will be introduced to so many features of writing, whether you help them realize it or not! This book comes out in September, just in time to get your pencils sharpened!

And if you liked this book, check out two word smithing books: Ann And Nan Are Anagrams and Wumbers.

July 19, 2013

The Journey

Kathy Higgs-Coultard, Director of Michiana Writers' Center

Kathy Higgs-Coultard, Director of Michiana Writers’ Center

By Kathy Higgs-Coulthard*

When my son, Christopher, was little we used to take frequent walks. Or, more accurately, I would take walks and Christopher would ride along—first in a snuggly (think papoose), then stroller, then wagon. I chose the destination, the route, and the purpose of the trip. Often, our trip was designed to be educational in some way: To the pond to capture tadpoles or to the weeping willow to picnic and read. But eventually Christopher grew less and less content in the role of passenger, until the day came when he insisted on walking.

At first that seemed like a win-win. He could walk and I wouldn’t have to pull the wagon. I decided one of our first excursions would be to the park about a block from our house. The excursion would fit perfectly in the after lunch, before nap slot—five minutes there, about a half hour of playtime, five minutes back. No agenda, just playtime. We sunscreened up and trotted out the door.

Christopher was so excited to be in the lead that he made up a song about going to the park. Wish I’d had a video camera with me (partly so I could share it with you, but mostly so I could use it to blackmail him if the need arises later in life). So, he’s singing “Park, park, PARK, park, PARK!” and  then he stops at the end of our yard and climbs on a big rock, jumps off, climbs back up, repeat. I lure him off the rock, remind him of our destination, and we’re off again, singing.

Until we get across the street. The frogs are thrumming up a storm. Christopher’s eyes light up and he bolts for the cattail forest. Twenty minutes later we emerge, mud-crusted and carrying a new (temporary) travel companion named Ribbit. I look at my watch—naptime is quickly approaching, but it’s okay. We’re really truckin’ now, singing “Park, PARK, park.”

Until two houses from the park. The neighbor’s yard is covered with sweet gum pods. If you’ve ever seen one, you’ll understand Christopher’s fascination—the spiky seed pods look like creatures from another planet. Christopher nearly drops Ribbit as he scrambles to fill his pockets (and mine) with pods. Of course the neighbor comes out laughing. She provides a bucket and Christopher completely fills it. We’re so close to the park I can hear a child squealing “Higher, higher!” presumably as someone pushes him in a swing. I thank the neighbor for her bucket and lure Christopher back to the road, singing “Park, park, park.”

Until we reach the park gate. The squealing child and his daddy are leaving and Christopher has to show them his treasures—his “sweet gummies” and his froggy. The little boy says he wants some and before I can say a word, Christopher is leading them down the street away from the park. Both children are singing “Gummy, gummy, GUMMY.”

In some regards the afternoon was a wash. We never did reach the park. Naptime was very late and only accomplished by allowing Ribbit to sleep in a bowl by Christopher’s bed. But when I really think about it, this trip was the most worthwhile one we’d taken so far. So what if we didn’t swing at the park? Christopher had changed the purpose of our trip, and in so doing, had gained a pet, a new friend, and several dozen spiky seed pods. But the real treasure was the sparkle in Christopher’s eyes the next day as he asked me if we could go on another walk.

A few of my favorite books about the discovery nature of child-directed play:

itsrainingitspouringTitle: It’s Raining! It’s Pouring! We’re Exploring!

Author: Polly Peters

Illustrator: Jess Stockham

Genre: Picture book

Ages: 3-7 years

Celebrates the joy of imaginative play as three bored children face a rainy day. Fun rhyming text, playful pictures. Love that Dad and Mom work together making lunch!

notaboxnotastickTitle: Not a Box (And the companion book, Not a Stick)

Author: Antoinette Portis

Genre: Picture book

Ages: 1-6 years

What child doesn’t like to play with an empty box? Especially if the box is big enough to climb in! Inspired by the author’s memories of sitting in a box as a child, this book explores the power of imagination as a child transforms his ordinary box into a spaceship and flies to another planet.

preschoolersbusybooktoddlersbusybookTitle: The Preschooler’s Busy Book and The Toddler’s Busy Book

Author: Tish Kuffner

Genre: Nonfiction

Ages: Adult

Although the point of my blog post is that kids need times to direct their own play, a parent can only take hearing “I’m bored” so many times before they cave in. Instead of turning on the TV, try some of the activities in these books.

*You can read more about Kathy here. Kathy normally blogs on the second Monday of the month. Except when the months go by so quickly that I accidentally schedule her post for August instead of July and don’t notice until she politely asks where the post might have gone. In case you were wondering.