After seeing the chaos of Black Friday reflected in the news, I pulled my children close and reminded them that we don’t have to be like that. My oldest (who just turned eighteen) said, “Isn’t it ironic that the day after we give thanks, we trample people to death to get a better deal on something we probably could have afforded anyway?”
But it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of Christmas—stores start piping in the music shortly after Halloween. This year a few stores snuck Christmas ornaments on shelves next to cornucopias and Indian corn. I bet they sold more than a couple, too, because Christmas is like pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving—yes, you just stuffed yourself and probably should wait, but why? There’s the pie right there…
But there is a certain joy in waiting.
Of quieting your heart in expectation of what is to come.
To me, that’s what the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is, quiet expectation. Expectation reflected in the manger scene by our front door—Mary and Joseph near an empty cradle, waiting.
That expectation is also reflected by the pile of books under our Christmas tree. It waits for dinner to be done, dishes to be cleared, hot cocoa to be marshmallowed, and the fire to be crackling. Then the children gather around Daddy and he reads one story each night between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
My favorites are the calm, quiet stories. Here are a few on the top of the pile:
If you haven’t yet discovered Deborah Underwood, you’re in for a treat.
Her characters are gentle natured woodland animals getting ready for Christmas, but without the hustle and bustle of other books.
Check out the book trailer below!
Gorgeously illustrated story about a boy hearing the Christmas story for the first time.
Another sweet book. A little tree wishes to be part of something—anything—and winds up being part of something he never could have imagined.
How about you? Which Christmas books make your family’s must-read list?
‘Tis the season to be jolly. The holiday season can create an atmosphere of cheer, sharing and togetherness. One of the things my family likes to do during the holiday is watch movies together or venture out to the movie theater. Of course we can’t go through the season without picking up a book.
As my sons and I were discussing which movie we wanted to see at the movie theater, the conversation spiraled in a new direction.
“If we go to the movies, you know we’ll have to buy nachos or a pretzel,” one son said.
“Yeah, and all of that salt and butter will make us thirsty and we will need a pop,” said the other son.
Our conversation had a familiar tone. It reminded me of a book by one of my favorite children’s authors, If You Take a Mouse to the Movies, by Laura Numeroff. You may be familiar with the story; when mouse goes to the movies, he wants popcorn. Then he wants to string the popcorn. After that, he wants to hang the popcorn on a Christmas tree. And the list goes on.
I enjoyed pulling this book out and reintroducing it to my teen boys. They got a chuckle out of how much the story resembled them.
Laura Numeroff’s lovable mouse has lots of character. He practically dances through the pages with his requests and antics. When I shared this story with a group of children at an afterschool program, they wanted more.
Instead of reading the book over and over and over again, we worked on a couple of projects related to the story. Below are five activity ideas that relate to If You take a Mouse to the Movies.
• Make popcorn balls and shape them into mice.
• String popcorn and hang it on a Christmas tree.
• Make a mouse shaped ornament and decorate it with glitter, like the mouse in the story.
• Draw a container for popcorn on construction paper, then glue real popcorn to it.
• Create math problems for your child – for example… If mouse bought five drinks at the movies, how many of his friends could have their own drink?
Have you ever taken a mouse to the movies or maybe even a child? They’ll want more.
Do you have a favorite Holiday story that resembles your child or the child in you?
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.
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.
November is the month of giving thanks or a celebration of thankfulness, as one blogger describes it. I am thankful everyday for friends and family who are the most valuable players in my life. However, this month I am giving thanks for my love of reading (and writing).
Sometimes it’s hard to make time for the little things we love most. When you finally carve out time for the thing you love, is it a warm fuzzy feeling, a rush of adrenalin or does it simply bring a smile to your face?
As I sat down with a new book to read, a smile appeared on my face from page one. The Ellie McDoodle Diaries-Most Valuable Player, by Ruth McNally Barshaw was a fun book. In the beginning Ellie talks about the Breakfast Games that her family plays. In the game, Balloon Bobble, they bump the balloon in the air while eating…and mayhem begins.
Do you remember the dreaded words that you never liked to hear your teacher say? For Ellie it was when the teacher announced that they would have to work on “group projects.” Of course best friends couldn’t be together.
Although Ellie couldn’t be in the same project group with her best friend, she could do other things with her. When Ellie’s friend decides to try out for the parks and rec soccer team, she encourages Ellie to do the same. After giving a lot of excuses, Ellie finally decides to give soccer a try.
Guess who coaches Ellie’s team…? You’ll have to read the book to find out. And who is the Most Valuable Player? It’s revealed at the end of the book. If you get to the end of the book and want more, there are other Ellie McDoodle books in the series.
For a little family fun, choose a most valuable player (MVP) in your family each week (until everyone has a turn to win). Create your own guidelines. Maybe your MVP is the person who completed all of her chores without complaining, or completed a task without being asked to do it.
Your MVP could also be one who went to bed on time for an entire week. You could even take a lesson from Ellie McDoodle’s family and initiate your version of Breakfast Games. That’s one way to make meal time interesting.
As a reward, treat your MVP to a lunch of his or her choosing or some other small token.
While you celebrate the month of giving thanks, build in time to do something you love. Know that it’s okay for you to be selected as the Most Valuable Player.
How will you celebrate the month of giving thanks with your MVP?
Hi! Check out these great ideas by Jake Ball (bio at the end of the post), and settle down with a book and a dad. (Or, as he indicates below, DON’T settle down, but still read.)
Books and Reading Time with Dad
Reading has traditionally been an activity young children do with Mom. However, in so many families reading can fall down the priorities list with both Mom and Dad working outside the home or if Mom and Dad are not together.
It is critical for Dad to be engaged in the effort of creating a healthy reading environment in the home. Kids look up to Dad, just as they do Mom. When they see both of their parents involved in literacy activities, it helps them develop a strong love of reading.
Dad reads differently than Moms
Dads tend to have a greater ability to be silly with their kids. We are more in touch with their 12-year-old self. It’s true, whether we want to admit or not! Dads are often the ones rolling down the hill with their kids or putting things on their head in the grocery store. Keep that silliness alive even when you are cuddled up on the couch reading with your kids.
Read with funny voices and accents for each character. Use costumes and puppets. Get off the couch and recreate the action of the story. Injecting energy and enthusiasm in the story will make reading time with Dad an event not to be missed!
Father-child bonding time
Having that intimate time with your children is crucial and should be cherished. Read without distractions. Turn off the TV and leave your phone in another room. Instead immerse yourself in the moment. Texts and emails can wait – focus on the time you have together. This strengths your bond and shows your children how special they are to you.
How to set the tone in the home
Make reading a priority. Treat reading time as any other task or appointment on your schedule. It is just as, if not more, important than anything other commitment you have. There is always at least 15 minutes to pick up a book and read with your child.
Seeing how important it is to you will boost their self-confidence and motivate them to pick up a book. Dads have such a great influence on their kids – if you love reading, chances are they will too.
So Dad, pick up a book and share in the wonderful experience of reading with your children. Read with enthusiasm and without distractions. Put away your phone and turn off the TV. Below are a few selections for that are wonderful you, Dad, to read with your little ones. Cuddle up with your kids for
Dads can never go wrong with Dr. Seuss. They are always fun to read, for parents and kids alike. The simple, silly rhymes are perfect for beginning readers.
Piglet and Papa – Margaret Wild
This heartwarming tale of parental forgiveness and unconditional love is a wonderful story for dads to read to their children. Little Piglet has upset her father and wonders if he still loves her. She feels unloved and seeks reassurance from other animals in the barnyard, learning that no one love her more than papa. Piglets loving relationship with her papa will comfort any child who has ever been naughty for attention.
Owl Moon– Jane Yolen
This book demonstrates to your little one the importance of family time. It poetically tells the story of a father and daughter going out into the woods one snowy night in search of an owl. The little girl is so happy to finally go “owling” with her dad that she doesn’t mind if they never find an owl.
Guess How Much I Love You– Sam McBratney
No collection is complete without this sweet and touching little book. It is a favorite in many homes and can choke up the toughest of dads.
About the Author:
Jake Ball started childrensbookstore.com in 2006 after realizing that there was no website that was a truly independent bookstore that is 100% dedicated to juvenile literature. He loves engaging with the authors, illustrators and publishers who work hard to produce high quality children’s literature. Jake and his wife have 4 beautiful children. These poor children are often used as product testers and they have more books than might be considered healthy.
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.
Title: The Monstore
Author: Tara Lazar
Illustrator: James Burks
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
The best thing about The Best Saturday Ever is the illustrations. Bright colors on a black background give a superhero feel to the book, which is appropriate for a story of a boy who turns into a superhero on a rainy saturday. The colors also do a nice job of giving the effect of a rainy day when the power is out; all the light seems to be coming from the boy’s imagination, which I love.
A great book to encourage kids to play imaginatively, parents can jump right in with their own encouragement. Get out your own superhero cape and fly around the house. (Kids run faster when there is someone chasing them!)
Power outages might be my favorite times. Of course, there are downsides now that I am the responsible adult (making sure the fish get enough oxygen, picking up dry ice for the freezer and finding all the flashlights). But I wouldn’t trade them for anything, and this books definitely explains why.
If there’s one thing we do in this family, it’s Halloween, so obviously we have to have lots of Halloween books. This is a new one that the folks at Scarletta were nice enough to send me.
I love a good monster story. And I also love a good monster story. (Get it?) This is both.
Title: Monster Needs a Costume
Author: Paul Czajak
Illustrator: Wendy Grieb
Genre: Picture Book, Halloween
Ages: 0 – 6
Monster wants to be a cowboy for Halloween and wears his costume everywhere…until he sees the ballet. But cowboy? Dancer? Ninja? What WILL monster be? This is a great story that will make kids laugh and get excited to try on their own costumes. (Of course, ANYTHING could et my kids excited to try on a costume.) But still. I loved the illustrations in this book, too. They are super colorful, super lively, and super funny. Stealth ninja monster is definitely my favorite.
Another great thing about this book is that the monster dresses in outfits that are traditionally assigned to both genders. Cowboy. Dancer. Ninja. I love that those are interchangeable ideas because too often they aren’t. You can challenge your kid on that…see if he or she notices. Or ask your boy if he would consider being a dancer or your girl if she would be a cowboy. If they look shocked and upset, ask them why. If their answer is gender-based (I can’t do that because I’m a —-), challenge them. There’s a difference between not choosing a ballet costume because it’s the last thing you would want to wear and not choosing a ballet costume because you think you shouldn’t. Kids should know that difference.
(And no, I wasn’t purposely trying to prove that I can take the fun out of anything. It just comes naturally.) Kidding! Keep in touch for more Halloween stories, but this is a great one to start with! And remember, talk to your kids!!!
A child was born and a tree grew. By the time my son was old enough to walk, a new tree was planted in my grandfather’s front yard. The two events were not planned to happen together, but provided an interesting history.
The seedlings grew up with each other, the tree and my son. Until one day, my son had a history class in which he had to create a family tree. We discussed how a tree was planted the same year he was born. Our talk eventually led to actual facts about family history.
There were countless cousins, an armful of aunts and long lost legends to add to my sons’ family tree. There was no place on the tree for explanations/details such as: a great grandmother who played basketball, a grandmother who marched with Martin Luther King Junior, or a great uncle who was a town mayor.
Discovering relatives who had simple quirks was entertaining for my son. He once asked, “Mom why is Aunt Lou’s mustache so thick?” and “Why does Granny collect so many newspapers?”
Most recently I read a chapter book where the main character discovered she had relatives she never knew about. In The Five Lost Aunts of Harriet Bean by Alexander McCall Smith, Harriet was nine years old before she learned she even had aunts (her dad’s sisters). Harriet described her dad as great at inventing things, but absent minded. He forgot to tell Harriet about his aunts.
Harriet’s dad explained how he and his sisters were separated when they had to sell their family farm. This led Harriet to ask more questions. She helped fine each one of her aunts and reveled in their oddities. Aunt Veronica always had super strength and was found working in a circus.
Aunt Japonica and Thessalonika were twins and they could read minds. Aunt Harmonica was a ventriloquist. All of the aunts were peculiar, but special in their own way, just like our real families. You’ll have to read the book to find out the challenges Harriet faced as she found each aunt.
If you’re looking for fun ways to teach your child about your family history, here are four ways that I found interesting:
- Play family history games
- Have your child video tape an interview with an older relative – your child could pretend to be a report and ask such as
-where did you grow up?
-what movies and songs did you like when you were growing up?
-what did you do for fun when you were a child?
- Create personal histories – have kids keep a journal, create a scrapbook or write stories form their lives. Have older kids or teens take pictures of events and the photos for their scrapbook
- Start a family newsletter
For more ideas check out the link at www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Involve_Children_and_Youth_in_Family_History.
There can be many branches on a family tree, discovering how each is connected provides a rich history. How do you teach your child about family history?
I am officially the world’s worst parent.
It hasn’t always been the case and there is hope that redemption will come, but meanwhile I wear the gray badge of failed parenthood. A badge which was remarkably easy to earn.
Hannah’s pet frog died while the kids were at school. Since after school sports and parents’ Back to School Night would prevent me from sitting still long enough to talk to Hannah compassionately about death, I scooped Crystal from the terrarium, wrapped her gently in paper towels and tucked her into a small box for safe keeping. Just until after school the next day when I planned to sit down with Hannah and have THE TALK.
But. The next day we hosted an out of town guest and I had airport duty. And the day after that my mom needed help moving some boxes and before I knew it, Saturday had arrived and Hannah called down the stairs, “Mom? I can’t find Crystal!”
I assembled the minions in the living room and told them as gently as possible that Crystal had died. “But where is she?” Hannah asked. My answer that Crystal was probably in Frog Heaven got a snort from my teenager and a follow up question from my ever discerning tween who asked, “What about the body?”
My eyes flitted to the counter where I’d secreted away Crystal’s remains. Before I could protest Chris was off the couch and holding the makeshift casket. The other kids clamored around him, asking to see the body. I weighed the therapeutic values and risks of showing Hannah the body. I figured it might help her to see how peaceful all things look in death, so that when she faced the inevitable loss of a human loved one, it wouldn’t be such a shock. I did not for a second think about how much time had passed since Crystal’s demise. Even if I had, I never would have predicted power of paper towels to completely mummify an amphibian. I unwrapped Crystal from her shroud and showed my children something that looked more like a Muppet version of King Tut than a frog.
After the shrieking and the crying Hannah finally asked if that’s what Cookie Grandma (who died when Hannah was very little) looked like now. Then her eyes grew wide and she asked, “When I die will my skin shrink off like that?”
We had a loooooong talk and a very formal funeral (which required all of us to don our Sunday best). Then I loaded everyone into the van and drove to the place that has helped me heal from so many of life’s shocks: Dairy Queen.
Since then I’ve invested in a few good books in case Hannah’s other pet, a beta named Nick, should go belly up. My favorite is The Tenth Good Thing About Barney because of Judith Viorst’s warmth and humor.
My favorite book about losing a pet. The child is encouraged to cope with loss through remembering the things about Barney that made him so lovable.
Sweet illustrations. Helps young children understand that love doesn’t stop when someone dies.
Helps explain the mystery of Heaven in a way that is not specific to a religion.
Anyone who ever watched Mister Rogers knows how caring and thoughtful Fred Rogers was. His background in child development is evident in this developmentally appropriate handling of death.