Category Archives: Children’s Books

Accentuating the Positive


Poor Philip.  Being 4 can be rough sometimes.  Lots of rules.  Lots of expectations.  Lots of emotions.

Sometimes, his emotions erupt like a volcano.  I understand.  I feel that way sometimes and I am still a work in progress on “turning the wheel” and keeping my emotions under control.  Today, in fact, I felt a rumbling of anger when he had drenched himself with the rainwater (irresistible!) while I walked the dog.  I had this big plan.  It was a cloudy day so we were going to relocate some of the 4′ x 4′ garden beds from the back garden and put them in the front garden.  But, a soaked child in cool, persistent wind is no good and I was not in the mood to dress him in fresh clothes, stick his feet in plastic bags to allow him to wear his sodden boots and layer him in a fleece and a windbreaker since his winter coat was dripping.  It was so disappointing.  We were going to be EXCAVATORS!  We were going to unearth these beds and haul them.  He was going to get wonderfully worn out and I was going to tackle a chore.  But, it drained me.  I lacked the reserve to be resilient about it.  We went in.  I removed all of the wet items, made sure he was warm and dry and relocated myself to make a bed while he listened to Poetry Speaks to Children in the kitchen and read along with the book.

As I made the bed, I argued with myself about whether or not this was a major big deal (not really) or just a learning opportunity (probably) and what I could do about it (get calm, move forward).

When I got downstairs, he was still listening to poetry, and I was still feeling pretty negative.  So, I grabbed a notebook and a pen and just started writing.  I sat on the chair near the window (trying not to think about all of the seeds that I have not yet planted) and I got my mood back in order after about 2 paragraphs (I wasn’t given much time for more).  He came up with some games to play, we had book-and-a-snack on the chair a bit later, then enjoyed reading the graphic novel version of The Little Prince over dinner.  Afterwards, he had a fabulous splash fest in the bath followed by a bedtime book, then lights out.

As I gave Philip his bedtime hugs and kisses, I told him how much he helped me get chores done (he helped me vacuum and he helped me clean dishes), how hard he worked on controlling his emotions (He and I worked on a list together.  For example, “When I get angry, I will stop and think quietly.”), how gentle he was with the dog (lots of pets and a reminder to brush the dog’s teeth) and so on.

He was grinning ear to ear.  He even said he was blushing.

As Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish point out in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk, lecturing, preaching and harping about mistakes are ineffective motivators for positive change.  When the situation has passed, when the milk has been spilled, when the brains (both the parents’ and the child’s) are back in normal mode, it’s time to talk about ways to do things differently.  It can be really hard.  Parenting is a selfless act, but not all parents are selfless (nor, I think, should they be).  But, having faith and trust, leaning on patience and collective plans really can help ease the burden on all in the family.


Vive le French!


Last night, we came home from the library with these 2 gems:

Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas by Philippe Coudray.   For emerging readers (and, I suspect, boys), this book provides enough words to convey a message with images that highlight the humor in the action and the text. What I love most about this refreshingly different children’s book is how it provides clean humor and wonderful wit without kowtowing to “what kids want.” When I buy books, I think about whether or not the author deserves my money. I fully believe that Philippe Coudray creates an entertaining book with charm and understated verve. Bravo!

Hello, Mr. Hulot by David Merveille according to Jacques Tati.  Another gorgeous book from the French.  Merci!  Monsieur Hulot is an exceptional character depicted whimsically and sure to make you laugh out loud. I particularly love “The Snowball Effect” (brillant), “The Umbrella Corner” (sweet ou doux) and “Francois the Postman” (tres drole), but all of the vignettes are wonderful.  A refreshing change from so many of the other children’s books that are out there.

I am so excited to have found these books!  I hope that you will pick them up and enjoy them, too.

Au revoir!

More children’s books recommendations!


This morning, while holding Philip’s hand, I slipped and fell down the stairs.  Philip started crying about his hurt arm (which, thankfully, was OK) and I just sat crouched on the landing and tried to get my pain sensations under control.  I was not a fully active mother today as a result.  OK, the antihistamines I am taking for my poison ivy (rash all over my neck…ugh!) didn’t help, either.  As a result, much of the day was spent reading!

Here are some of Philip’s favorites:

Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen.  This has two of Philip’s favorite things in it: a character who tinkers with junk to make cool machines (FLYING machines, no less) and a character who saves people.  He loves heroes.  Who doesn’t?  If you have a young boy who liked Frank ‘n’ Stan, you’ll probably want to read this, too.

Radio Rescue by Lynne Barasch.  This story is based on the author’s father who became an amateur radio operator at the age of eight (I think!) and makes his own “shack” (for me, it finally clicked why the term “Radio Shack” was probably clever when it started) and saves a family–by using his radio to contact the Coast Guard–in the midst of a hurricane.

Crinkleroot’s Guide to Giving Back to Nature by Jim Arnosky.  I have read this one several times now.  I didn’t realize until just this moment that Crinkleroot is the star of his own nature series.  Anyway, the book talks about several things you can do to help nature–feeding birds, seeding fields for grazing creatures, planting trees near streams, etc.  There’s a good discussion about different birds and their food preferences that adults might find informative.

The First Drawing by Moricai Gerstein.  If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know that we loved The Field Museum’s exhibit of the cave paintings at Lascaux.  Well, after reading this book, we learned that there is another cave in France that has even OLDER cave art and, interestingly enough, two footprints were in the cave: one of a young child, another of a wolf.  The story in this book explores a misunderstood boy who introduces a world of magic (i.e., art) to his family.  In the end, they share in the joy and no longer feel he is worrisome.  It’s a lovely thought.

Even an Ostrich Needs a Nest: Where Birds Begin by Irene Kelly.  I found this book fascinating.  Not only do you learn about birds, but you learn about whether or not they make nests (some don’t) and the ways in which they make nests.  I didn’t know, for example, that puffins BURROW!  I have never thought that birds burrow.  Incredible.  And now, I admit, I want to build my very own eagle’s nest in my front yard.  Maybe more than one.  It will really convince the neighbors that “those people are just plain crazy.”  Read this book.  If you eat dead birds, you may want to start giving them some credit for their nest-making ingenuity and release some of your convictions that they are brainless and deserve to be devoured.

Why do Elephants Need the Sun by Robert Wells.  Another great book by Robert Wells.  We also loved his book, Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is?  In this one, you get to learn about the different parts of the sun (core through corona) as well as photosynthesis and basic concepts of energy.  This book respects kids’ brains by giving them a foundation for scientific concepts and terminology, without overdoing it.  (Incidentally, in my grown-up book, The Canon, which I am STILL reading by the way, I read an interesting quote.  To paraphrase, “Every time you eat, you are taking a bite of the sun.”)

And, last, but not least…

Transformed: How Everyday Things Are Made by Bill Slavin.  This book does a great job of introducing the behind-the-scenes processes for all kinds of items–from CDs to cereals to marbles.  Each “thing” is described with wonderful illustrations in 2 pages.  It’s a lot like The Way Things Work series by David Macauley, but with less detail and a shocking lack of mammoths.  Very approachable for the younger reader.

Well, that’s it for right now.  Enjoy!

Children’s book recommendations


As usual, Philip and I have been reading a lot.  Here are a few (OK, a few is 3; this list turned out to be way more than 3) gems that we have been enjoying lately:

Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World by Elizabeth Rusch, illustrated by Oliver Dominguez.  Wonderful book.  Beautiful illustrations.  I don’t know why Thomas Edison gets all of the acclaim he receives and Nikola Tesla receives so very little.  Tesla was clearly a genius and had some hard times in his life.  I think I AM a bit biased since Edison electrocuted animals to demonstrate the safety concerns of AC current.  Clearly, very visual.  But, truly awful.  I also learned that Edison refused to let Westinghouse use his light bulbs for the Chicago World’s Fair (sore loser or just jerk or both?) that Tesla was contracted to design and implement.  Anyway, all of these thoughts are spurred after we read this book and it is worth exploring!

Baby mammoth mummy : frozen in time! : a prehistoric animal’s journey into the 21st century by Christopher Sloan, Bernard Buigues and photography by Francis Latreille.  Fascinating, fascinating.  While I will say that it is sad what happens initially to the recovered baby mammoth (and no, I am not going to tell you what happens–read it yourself), this book is wonderful.  It highlights the scientific collaborators–and that scientists HAVE to collaborate to approach a problem from many angles (awesome lesson!) and also gives a glimpse of what the world of Siberia looked like when Lyuba lived about 30,000 years ago.  Well worth the time to delve into this one.  And, OK, it is published by National Geographic Kids, so the photos are captivating.

Dig, wait, listen : a desert toad’s tale by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Barbara Bash.  This book provides a wonderfully poetic glimpse of the desert world while the spadefoot toad waits for the sound of rain.  You meet kangaroo rats, javelinas, scorpions, snakes (and probably others…I forget now) and learn a bit about each of them along the way.  Always intriguing to read about the desert when you live in the Midwest.

Explore night science! by Cindy Blobaum, illustrated by Bryan Stone.  This book is structured using the 5 senses as ways to explore the night world.  It is chock-full of great activities to do both inside and outside.  We did the “Touch Test” exercise.  This involves placing objects into paper bags and trying to extract them simply by feeling them.  While Philip couldn’t reliably be trusted to not look, I felt it was a good start in understanding how different the world seems when you only use your fingers to explore the objects in it.

Perimeter, area, and volume : a monster book of dimensions by David A. Adler, illustrated by Edward Miller.  I should start by saying that I really like David Adler’s work.  He manages to balance entertainment with education well.  While Philip certainly isn’t ready to do most of the calculations in the book, I feel it was very useful in introducing the basic concepts in a fun and approachable way.  There is nothing scary about this book even though it is full of monsters.  A good door opener to these mathematical concepts.

The Wing Wing brothers math spectacular! by Ethan Long.  I am including this book even though I don’t personally love it because Philip seemed to learn a lot from it…and he genuinely enjoyed it.  I spent a lot of my time trying to figure out who each of the five brothers were.  All of their names start with the letter “W” and, if you take the time, you can differentiate them.  But, you do need to be a keen observer.  For me, it detracted from the joy of the book.  But, for Philip, it was completely irrelevant.  There is a section in the book with a vanishing cabinet that helps the reader with basic addition and subtraction between 0 and 5.  If you do manipulatives with your child, you’ve probably played “Pigs in the Pen” or a similar game where the pigs go in and out to reinforce the same concepts.  If you don’t do manipulatives, this section does a good job of simulating the game.

King Arthur’s very great grandson : Henry Alfred Grummorson was the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson of King Arthur, the noblest knight to ever wield a sword by Kenneth Kraegel.  What a great book with a message all parents (especially of boys) can embrace!  Young Henry launches on an adventure to challenge a dragon, is redirected to a cyclops who suggests he visits a griffin who tells him to go visit a sea serpent.  At each turn, Henry wants battle and the creatures have something else in mind.  As a parent, you feel somewhat refreshed after you read this book with your child.  Finally, you think, a book with a palatable pro-social message!

As always, we continue to read our favorites: Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie series and Cynthia Rylant’s Mr. Putter & Tabby series.

We just embarked on Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown series (not in love, but the series does help Philip feel confident reading by himself, so I am not going to knock it!) and recently discovered the Mouse & Mole series by Wong Herbert Yee (In Fine Feathered Friends, you learn a lot about backyard birds!)

That’s all for now.  Happy Reading!