Raising Readers: The Quick and Easy Method (Guest Post)

May 3, 2016

Out of all of the Raising Readers guests I've had here on the blog, today's is the first one I've actually hung out with at the park. Jen is one of my very dear friends, and, after today, I'm pretty sure you'll wish she was one of yours, too. Jen was a special guest at my little preschool co-op, she filled in as book club host for me one time at the last minute, and she even saved my life after a bad reaction to the flu shot (true story, although maybe slightly exaggerated).

We share a love of books and reading (although she likes science fiction quite a bit more than I do), and you've probably heard her name mentioned on the blog before because she's the reason why I stuck with Middlemarch last year. Ever practical and down-to-earth, I think you'll enjoy hearing about the way she's fostered a love of reading in her home.

Let me just start by saying that I am a Sunlit Pages superfan.  I am lucky enough to know Amy IRL (in real life – see? I’m hip) so I know that her blog isn’t a carefully curated game of smoke and mirrors.  She is actually that awesome. IRL.

Now, I’ll be honest, when I read Sunlit Pages, I am 90% inspired and 10% overwhelmed (the ratios skew toward overwhelmed if a glue gun is involved).  When Amy asked me to write this post on Raising Readers my initial thought was, “what could I possibly have to add?” because probably the most thoughtful thing I do to foster a love of reading in my kids (my son is 8, daughter 4) is follow this blog for suggestions!

But Amy and I are Book Friends. I’m sure you know what I am talking about. Yes, we have kids the same age (we met while pregnant!) and we are both stay-at- home-moms (or co-workers, as I like to say) but the core of our friendship is our mutual love of books. We are in the same Book Club and have even branched out to our own mini-book clubs (Middlemarch, now Crossing to Safety). So, how could I say no?

As a way of introduction, I should mention that I am a bit Type A. I am a physician by training and one does not survive medical school and residency without organization skills. I am a planner, a researcher, an organizer. I subscribe to Consumer Reports, I was buying BPA-free plastic before it was trendy, and this is what we look like during a smog-filled inversion:

So I guess I was a little surprised when I realized I haven’t been exactly meticulous with respect to my children’s reading education (it’s also surprising that I am fairly messy – my husband is nodding in the background). I have spurts of effort where I try to be more thoughtful and intentional about encouraging a love of reading. (These spurts usually involve searching Sunlit Pages and putting a flurry of holds at the library.)  But mostly I depend on it just soaking in somehow. But I do have one tip.

Are you ready for my secret technique?

Ignore Your Children.

I am confidently teaching my children that reading is important by showing them that it is even more important than them sometimes!

I remember when my son was learning to walk and I moved the furniture around our small apartment’s living room so as to form a sort of pen.  He wandered around and around the pen holding on to the furniture while I sat in the middle with a book, periodically looking up to smile and clap.

I still do that. My kids build forts, set up imaginary shops or play in the backyard, and I am reading.

One thing I am always careful about is reading an actual book.  Since I get the majority of my books from the library, this is not difficult.  But I don’t want there to be any confusion about why I am ignoring them.  Mommy is not on the iPhone, she is not playing Plants vs. Zombies, she is READING. A book.  It’s Important.  Even when I listen to a book with my headphones while cooking dinner I make a point to tell them that’s what I am doing.

Ok, I have one more.

Let Them Have Farts.

There appears to be no end to an 8 year-old’s fascination with farts, poop, burps and all other manner of grossness.  I have just decided to accept it and move on.  When I think back to my favorite books as a tween and teen I would be remiss if I didn’t note that in addition to James Harriet and Beverly Cleary, my addiction to Sweet Valley High was profound. So when my 8-year- old wants to read Calvin and Hobbes before bed or checks out Captain Underpants at school, I shrug and am grateful he is reading.

I come from a long line of Bibliophiles. Long before everyone was sitting in the same room ignoring each other by looking at their smartphones, my family was sitting in a room ignoring each other while immersed in our books. My mom has over 500 titles on her Amazon reader account, and it is only 5 years old. My dad spends more time planning what books to pack for a trip than clothes. This is considered normal behavior:

(One of my father’s bookcases)

So, I guess what I’m saying is that in justifying my parental laziness when it comes to encouraging my kids to love books, it boils down to this:

It’s never occurred to me that they wouldn’t.

Jen will always be a Californian at heart but is ecstatic to have landed here in beautiful Utah. She has an abiding love of books and all the questions contained therein. She's into Dutch braiding, Bento box lunches and the Twilight series, and she doesn't care who knows it. 

Turning Impulsive

Apr 29, 2016

In most situations, I consider myself an underbuyer. Buying huge amounts of anything makes me feel anxious instead of secure. And I tend to agonize over even very small purchases, like sandals or toothpaste. I usually end up not buying anything rather than actually forking over the money.

I think I've mentioned before that I teach piano lessons on a few afternoons every week. When Mike was in school, that extra money went right into the mix to buy groceries, housing, and other necessities. But when he graduated and got a full-time job, that money became mine to do with as I pleased.

It has taken me a long time to get used to. In fact, I usually spend the bulk of it on things like preschool or extracurricular activities for the boys or gifts. And I'm totally fine with that because it means we can save more of our actual income for house projects or other big things.

But in the last six months or so, I've become a little more rash and impulsive. I can think of a number of purchases I've made on the spot, without agonizing over them at all, and, for the most part, I've been happy, even thrilled, with all of them.

For example, one evening when we were at Costco, they had a display of down-filled, quilted coats for $40. Normally, this is the kind of potential purchase I would go home and "think about." But it was exactly what I wanted, and I knew I wasn't going to find it for that price again, so I bought it right then.

And, oh my goodness, I've loved that coat. It's warm without being bulky, and it is so comfortable. I wore it every day this past winter, and it made the cold not seem quite so unbearable. Even though I hadn't gone into Costco thinking I would buy a coat, it was exactly what I'd been looking for, and I was so glad I hadn't let my underbuyer side get in the way of a good purchase.

I made similar impulsive purchases when I bought a dress (actually two) for Mike's work Christmas party, a swimming suit (after I'd already bought one for the upcoming season), and a pair of converse sneakers.

And then, of course, there have been the books: Finding Winnie because I loved it so much after we read it and Amazon had it for under $10; The Reindeer Wish and Santa Clauses because they had been on my wish list, so when the price dropped, I jumped on it; Sense and Sensibility because it was my birthday and it was so pretty.

And just last week, Little Men. After I read it last November, I wanted my own copy, but I didn't like any of the current editions except for a UK one that I couldn't find in the US. But then last week, Suzanne and I scheduled our monthly Book Blab, and I was planning on recommending Little Men. I always like to have a copy of the book to show while we're chatting, but all the library copies were checked out. So I decided to just see if there was just a cheap paperback on Amazon that I could buy and not feel guilty about. And then, instead of just an ugly copy, there was a beautiful new edition for only $6. It was exactly like what I wanted to find a few months ago, so I didn't wait. I snatched it up and then bought Jo's Boys too. (And I would have bought Little Women and Good Wives as well if Amazon had had them in that edition.) It was so fun getting them in the mail and lining up their cute spines on the bookshelf. 

These purchases weren't impulsive in the same way that some things are impulsive. They were all things I'd thought about and had my ideal of in my head. No, they were impulsive because I bought them immediately upon finding them instead of pacing for twenty minutes in the store before deciding to go home and come back to the store later if it was still something I really wanted.

And that's rare for me and also, I discovered, a little bit liberating.

Gretchen Rubin advocates "indulging in a modest splurge" to boost happiness. It's taken me awhile to figure out how to do that without being quickly overtaken by buyer's remorse. But I think I've finally got it. I don't like shopping, especially when there is something specific I need (like a new outfit for a wedding). But, like most people, I have a running list of things I'm on the lookout for that will fill a specific purpose. So when I find myself out shopping, and I happen to see one of those items on my list, I buy it. I don't question it or talk myself out of it. I buy it right then and there. It feels impulsive to me, so I get a little bit of a rush, but it's really not because it's stuff that I've already thought through. I'd call that a win-win.

Are you an underbuyer or overbuyer? What does impulsive look like for you? Tell me about a happy, impulsive purchase you've made recently!

The Book Blab Episode 5: How to Find Time to Read, Plus Two Books About Motherhood (with show notes)

Apr 25, 2016

Last Thursday evening, Suzanne and I sat down and had a virtual chat about how we make time for reading in our lives. We shared seven of our best tips and had a great time commiserating about our book nerdiness.

In case you missed watching it live, here is the replay along with the show notes. Enjoy!

0:44 - This month's topic: How to fit in more time for reading
2:30 - What made Suzanne prioritize reading in her life again
3:40 - Tip #1: Manage your reading list
6:27 - Tip #2: "Read" audiobooks
10:02 - Tip #3: Speed-read some books (nonfiction, textbooks, online articles, etc.)
12:38 - Tip #4: Read multiple books at a time
16:55 - Tip #5: Keep a book with you always
18:42 - Tip #6: Use external motivators (reading goals, book club, etc.)
21:33 - Tip #7: Schedule a time to read
23:48 - Two favorite books about motherhood
  • 25:12 - Suzanne's recommendation
  • 26:27 - Amy's recommendation 
29:15 - Conclusion + reminder of next month's show

Links from the show:

Episode 3 of The Book Blab: Reading Goals
On Such Stuff: "Does it Count as 'Reading' if You're Listening?"
The book that was ruined because Amy listened to it at regular speed
On Such Stuff: "Speed Reading vs. Slow Reading"
Suzanne's review of The Light Between Oceans
Amy's review of Little Men 

We would love to hear your recommendations for how you fit more reading time into your busy lives! Please share in the comments!

And P.S., don't forget that next month we'll be having a mini book club discussing A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. We invite you to read it, too, and come share your insights. We'll announce the  date in a few weeks.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Apr 20, 2016

Several years ago, my book club read Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. I can probably count on one hand the number of book club books I haven't read, but that is one of them (I think I knew I wasn't going to be able to make the meeting, so I decided not to commit to a 550-page book if I wasn't going to have anyone to discuss it with afterwards).

And yet, Wallace Stegner has stayed on my short list because so many readers whom I respect and trust have raved about him. One of my reading goals this year is to "Read a male author I've been meaning to read" (don't worry, I have a goal for a female author too--I'm nothing if not fair), and Wallace Stegner was definitely a contender. But the deal was clinched when my friend, Jen, said she'd been wanting to read something by Wallace Stegner too, and she was game if I was. (This is the same friend who convinced me to read Middlemarch last year--she's a good influence on me.)

So I read it. And I loved it. Like, really really loved it. And then I was intimidated to write about it because I loved it so much. But I couldn't bear the thought of it fading from memory over time, so I decided to buckle down and crank out my thoughts, as inadequate as they might be (there may be some inadvertent spoilers, just a heads up). 

It's not that it's a particularly happy novel, but it's also not a particularly sad novel. It's just kind of a mix of both, just like real life.

The story is retrospective in nature. Larry and Sally Morgan are returning to visit their best friends, Sid and Charity Lang, after many years away, and Larry's thoughts naturally go back forty years before when they were both young married couples with big dreams in front of them.

They met in Madison, Wisconsin soon after Larry took a job teaching creative writing at the college. It's the 1930's, so of course he's grateful for any job he can get, even though this one was not advertised as a permanent position. Sid Lang is also on the English faculty, hoping he can publish enough academic papers to get tenure (even though he'd rather by writing poetry). Charity Lang and Sally are both pregnant (Charity with her third, Sally with her first). Their friendship takes root almost immediately. It's one of those rare instances where the wives get along and the husbands get along and the couples get along (Mike and I have about four such friendships, and we treasure each one of them).

The Langs are gregarious and supportive and generous. They like everyone, but no one as much as the Morgans. They are also very wealthy due to an inheritance from Sid's father. The Morgans are barely making ends meet (luckily, as Larry says, "With the right wife, and I had her, deprivation becomes a game"). This disparity in finances could have made the friendship between these couples awkward, especially since the Langs are only too eager to help the Morgans at the least sign of need, but Larry has a talent for writing that Sid envies, and that seems to even things up a little.

Although some very real and heartbreaking things happen during the course of the narrative (Sally contracts polio, Sid's career flounders, Charity is diagnosed with cancer), it was the relationships themselves that kept me riveted.

In particular, there is an interesting dynamic between Sid and Charity. Although it's obvious that they love each other, there is no doubt that Charity has to be in control--from little things, like taking a photo of Sid even when he has asked her not to, to big things, like demanding that they stay in Madison and that he teach a subject he's not passionate about.

There's one scene especially that I keep thinking about. In it, the Morgans and the Langs are about to leave on a week-long camping trip. As usual, Charity has organized the whole thing down to the most minute detail. She has an extensive list, but they all forgot to consult it, and now everything is packed and ready to go. She can't bear the thought that they might not bring something important (or maybe she's more worried that they'll have a fine trip even without every item on the list), and so she does the totally irrational thing of making them unpack everything and go back through the list, checking off each item before repacking it.

Sid is frustrated but does as she asks. Then he takes the walking cane that she has insisted he use and heads off with Larry, who has a cane of his own. Larry admits, only to himself, "I kind of like my cane, but then, nobody's making me carry it." I couldn't help but think that's probably the way it is with a lot of things, in careers and marriages and parenting. When someone forces us to do something, it's irritating, even if it's something we would have chosen to do on our own. We just want the freedom to decide for ourselves.

Much later in the story, when it returns to the present, Charity is in the final stages of cancer. With death, as with everything else, she has a plan, and she will not swerve from it, even though Sid is completely broken because of it. He wants her to keep fighting, but she says, "Hope would be foolish for me. It wouldn't do me any good to set my will on living. I thought it would, before I had the operation. That's why I had it. I had so much to live for, I was determined to live. But they just sewed me up again, and I had to learn to face the facts and make the most of what time I had left."

It's an interesting conflict of interests, hers versus Sid's, and you get the impression that maybe they've never had the kind of marriage you'd hope for in one of nearly fifty years.

Towards the end of the book, Sid and Larry have a poignant conversation. Sid admits that he's "taken a bit of comfort in [Larry's] bad luck." He says, "You've always thought my marriage was a kind of slavery," but he knows that, in his own way, Larry was also trapped by his marriage, "tied and helpless, though for very different reasons." He speculates, wonders, if Sally hadn't gotten polio if Larry would have stayed as faithful to her? If she hadn't needed him so much, and he'd had more time to develop his talents, would they have grown apart? And then he says this: "[Sally] couldn't survive you? Could you survive her?"

He's asking it because he realizes how dependent he's become on Charity for everything. He doesn't know if he'll be able to survive her after she's gone. Larry says that both he and Sally would be able to survive the other because that's just what you do, but you can see how these themes of freedom and choice and love and sacrifice permeate the entire book.

I realize that the parts of the book I've chosen to share in this review haven't painted Charity Lang in the most flattering light. And while it's true that she has her faults, so do Sid and Larry and, yes, even angelic Sally. That's why I loved this book so much. There was just so much depth to each character. In fact, Mike listened to it too, and we both wondered how Wallace Stegner could write in such a perceptive, intimate way if he wasn't writing about his own life. (I later found out that this book is semi-autobiographical, but I was never able to find any more details about it. Still, maybe it's that hint of truth that makes the whole thing seem credible.)

At one point, Larry is talking to the Lang's adult daughter, Hallie. She is begging him to write a book about her parents, but he refuses. He asks himself, "How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these?" But of course, that's exactly what this book is, and, it turns out, this is how you do it.

Have you read this book? Which parts have stayed with you? And what do you think the title is referring to?

Also, unrelated to this post, but I wanted to let you know that Episode 5 of The Book Blab will be airing live on Thursday, April 21st, at 7:00 MST. I hope you'll join Suzanne and me as we discuss how we make time for reading. The live feed will be right here on the blog or you can visit this link. See you then!

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Apr 18, 2016

I'm starting to not recognize myself any more. Last year, I read a verse novel about basketball, and it ended up being one of my favorite books of the year. A couple of weeks ago, I picked up this graphic novel about roller derby, and I couldn't put it down. Seriously? Roller derby? Is this really me? I used to be afraid of new genres. I used to shun topics I couldn't relate to. But as I've pushed myself out of my comfort zone, my world has only opened up and become richer. Reading has become even more of a treasure.

Astrid and Nicole are best friends and have been since the first grade. But as they approach sixth grade, their interests begin to diverge. Nicole loves to dance; she cares about clothes and the way she looks; she likes boys. Astrid though . . . Astrid doesn't really know what she likes until one night  when her mom surprises her with tickets to a roller derby bout. Astrid didn't even know something like this existed, and she is hooked from the minute the emcee announces the names of the Rose City Rollers.

She is so excited, in fact, that she doesn't even notice Nicole's lukewarm reaction to all the pushing and shoving and racing and falling. When Astrid sees an advertisement in the program for junior roller derby camp, she assumes they'll both sign up together.

But that's not how it goes at all, and Astrid finds herself staring down at six weeks of roller derby camp without her best friend by her side. The roller derby girls are completely different than Astrid is used to. They have crazy nicknames (Slamwich , Scream Soda, and Blondilocks); they dye their hair green and purple; and they're tough as nails. Astrid can barely make it home after the first day because she's so battered and bruised and worn out.

But she sticks with it--in part because she never told her mom that Nicole decided to go to dance camp instead, and her mom assumes she's getting a ride home with Nicole every day--and after a couple of weeks, she's hit a certain sort of stride and is excitedly anticipating competing in her first bout. But of course, there are some bumps in the road, and those teach her who she really is and also what it takes to be a good friend.

After Roller Girl won a Newbery Honor earlier this year, I was very interested in reading it. You might remember that a graphic novel, El Deafo, won an honor last year as well, and even though I liked it fine, I didn't personally feel like it fit the Newbery criteria. With a second win for a graphic novel this year, I was really interested to see how they compared and if more of a case could be made for this one.

And I will say that even though it still seems unfair to strip away the illustrations and consider the text alone because the two are meant to go together, the text itself was far superior to El Deafo. It was sassy and funny and added as much character to the story as the illustrations did.

One of my favorite scenes was when Astrid's new friend, Zoey, helps Astrid dye her hair blue. Because Astrid's hair is so dark, they have to dye it blonde first, and when Astrid sees herself, she freaks out. "Okay, relax," Zoey says. "It's OK. Breathe . . . But not too deeply on account of the fumes . . . You're experiencing some shock right now, but this is normal."

Although I've never had even the teeniest tiniest desire to play roller derby, I felt like the underlying message of this book (finding yourself, being comfortable with who you are, etc.) was very relatable. I know many twelve-year-olds who would feel a kinship with Astrid, rather than Nicole, and who would appreciate her personality and interests.

There is a part of me, however, who wonders how kids who relate to Astrid will react to this book. Will they see it as permission to rebel and be a little more edgy? Astrid and her mom have a couple of fights in the book (the one after her mom finds out that Astrid lied to her and has actually been walking home from camp by herself is especially intense), and those actually demonstrate really great conflict and resolution, so hopefully even kids who relate to Astrid will see how important it is to be honest and communicate with their parents.

The other thing that struck me as incredibly real is that Astrid and Nicole don't magically become best friends again. They go through a very rough patch where they basically hate each other, but even though they eventually mend things, their friendship never goes back to the way it was, and you don't get the impression that it ever will. I think that's pretty true to life. Friends often grow apart from each other, and that's okay.

One of my major complaints about El Deafo was the ending. I felt like it totally celebrated being dishonest in order to gain popularity. But I had no such problem with Roller Girl's ending. In fact, I wouldn't change a single thing about it. Astrid shows real selflessness and good sportsmanship, but some really great things happen to her as well with her roller derby idol, Rainbow Bite.

The most surprising part of the book for me though was just how much I loved reading about roller derby. I thought it was fascinating. Not something that I would ever want to try, mind you,  but fascinating.

So here's to reading more books about subjects I don't like! Okay, that didn't sound quite the way I meant it to, but you know what I mean.

Which books have surprised YOU?

Content note: A mean girl gives Astrid a crude nickname.

20 Parenting Books Later, and This is What I Remember

Apr 14, 2016

Last Sunday, we were sitting in church, and Clark didn't get to put his little plastic sacrament cup back in the tray like he wanted to. It was basically the end of the world for him. Instead of covering his mouth though or telling him to be quiet or rushing him out of the chapel, I whispered in his ear, "You wanted to put the cup in the tray. It was your cup, and you wanted to do it. You didn't want mommy to do it. You wanted to do it." Within seconds, his cries had stopped and he was back to his normal self.

A tantrum had been narrowly avoided, and as I was thinking about it, I realized that in that moment, I'd applied the one piece of advice I remember from when I read The Happiest Toddler on the Block: Narrate what they're thinking. Most of the time, they just want to know someone knows why they're so mad, so just say it for them again and again and again.

Over the past eight years, I've read my share of parenting books. Most of them completely motivate and inspire me while I'm reading them (and for maybe a couple of weeks after), and then I promptly forget everything except for maybe one or two takeaway messages. (And sometimes, sadly, even with books I liked very much, I really do forget the entire thing. It's mom-brain at it's finest.)

Today I thought it would be fun, or maybe depressing, to see what has stayed with me from some of the books. In each case, I haven't looked back at my review, which surely would have helped me remember a lot more (and sometimes, it was very tempting to take a quick peek, but I'm a girl of my word).

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp
To sooth a crying baby, try one (or several) of the five S's: Swing, Swaddle, Shhhh, Suck, and . . . dang it, I can't remember the last one!

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth
Put your baby to bed earlier, and he'll sleep longer.

Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood by Jim Fay and Charles Fay
When you want your child to do something (for example, leave the park), give him a choice, "Would you like to leave now or in five minutes?"

The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp
Your toddler is like a little caveman. When he is upset, mimic his words/feelings in short, primitive sentences.

Parent Power by John Rosemond
There should never be any question that it is the parent who is in charge. 

The Parenting Breakthrough: A Real-Life Plan to Teach Kids to Work, Save Money, and Be Truly Independent by Merrilee Browne Boyack
It's the parents' responsibility to teach their kids how to work and to raise successful adults out of them. This is best accomplished through an organized plan. (For example, at three, teach them how to get dressed; at seven, teach them how to use the microwave; at twelve, teach them how to schedule appointments, etc.) I modified the plan she outlined in the book to fit our own family, and we still reference it every year.

Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children by Lenore Skenazy
My kids won't die if they eat cookie dough.

Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Healthy and Confident Eater by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett
It is better for babies to learn how to handle real food at six months when their gag reflex is at the front of their tongue rather than at nine months when it has moved farther back. Cut up food into stick shapes at the beginning for early success.

Screamfree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool by Hal Edward Runkel
Be very careful not to label your kids, especially when they can hear what you're saying. You might think they don't have a natural inclination towards ______, but if they hear you say so, they most certainly won't. (Full review here)

Bringing Up Geeks: How to Protect Your Kid's Childhood in a Grow-Up-Too-Fast World by MaryBeth Hicks
If my parents were to write a parenting handbook, it would be this book. (Full review here)

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman
Kids don't need to eat a snack fifty times a day. One snack, that's it. It's okay for kids to be hungry before meals. (Full review here)

Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic and Underachieving Young Men by Leonard Sax
Most active boys do not have ADHD and do not need to be medicated. Boys are active because they're boys. Video games should be severely limited or avoided altogether. Boys thrive on competition. (Full review here)

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior
Validation! Also, I'm terrified to have teenagers. (Full review here)

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman
It is not bad to feel mad or sad or scared. Those emotions can be a catalyst for growth and change. (Full review here)

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Basically the same book as Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child but easier to read and with more practical, hands-on tips. Reflect back your child's feelings rather than force them into a different emotion: "I can see you're feeling angry right now. Why don't you go take a break in your room?" Not, "Get into your room, and don't you dare come out until you're happy!"

Raising a Reader: A Mother's Tale of Desperation and Delight by Jennie Nash
A mistreated book is not worth freaking out over. (Full review here)

Calm and Compassionate Children by Susan Usha Dermond
Get a pet. (Full review here)

Strong Mothers, Strong Sons: Lessons Mothers Need to Raise Extraordinary Men by Meg Meeker
Your son should never ever ever question your love for him. Never. (Full review here)

MotherStyles: Using Your Personality Type to Discover Your Parenting Strengths by Janet P. Penley
I am an ISTJ. I can't come up with imaginative ways for my kids to eat their food or get ready for school. But I can make a long list of summer goals, check them all off, and have fun doing it. (Full review here)

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
Taking the time to have one-on-one, weekly interviews with your children will go a long way in raising productive, successful, faithful adults. (Full review here)

This list represents hundreds of hours of reading. I can remember forcing myself to painstakingly read every word of The Power of Positive Parenting by Glenn Latham, and you'll notice that it didn't even make the list because I couldn't remember a single thing from it. That's sad. It almost seems like it's not worth all the time and effort if I'm just going to forget it all anyway.

But here's the thing: Reading is as much an experience as a memory. As I read each of these books, they influenced and shaped me. Some of that influence was retained as a tangible phrase that I could apply in tricky parenting situations, but some of it actually changed who I was, and that is harder to measure.

Which books have shaped you as a parent? What are some of your mantras in moments of crises? Do you have any fail-proof tips you use to calm a screaming toddler or to get your kids to stop fighting? Please share!

And bonus! Here are a few other parenting books I've read that didn't make the list because they were so memorable I couldn't remember anything. Oops.

Nine Classic Board Books My Toddler Asks for Again and Again

Apr 11, 2016

I always fall into a pit of despair when my kids hit their eight-month birthdays. At that point, they're mobile, which means they have the necessary skills to get into a ridiculous amount of danger and trouble in a short amount of time, and they think they can do it all on just one nap.

If it were only that though, I don't think I would be as dramatic as calling it a pit of a despair. A pit, maybe. But not of despair.

But coinciding with this eight-month mark, they also stop listening to books, except to rip them to shreds with their chubby little fingers. And that, no question, is despair-worthy.

Luckily, something miraculous begins to happen soon after their first birthdays and slowly gains momentum as they approach eighteen months. All of a sudden, they like books again. They sit on my lap and listen contentedly. They point to pictures. They make animal sounds. They ask for the book again . . . and again.

Clark has been no exception to this pattern, but that doesn't make it any less miraculous. The whole family is enjoying his requests of "read book please." It's kind of fantastic to have five willing readers now instead of just two. I'm telling you, this kid is spoiled.

Because we are doing a lot of reading now, I wanted to share some of Clark's current favorites.

But first, a disclaimer. This list is made up almost entirely of classic children's books. If you're looking for new recommendations, you'll have to look somewhere else. Clark, of course, doesn't know that these books have been around for ten, twenty-five, fifty years. He just knows that he likes them, and I kind of love seeing him gravitate towards them just like his older brothers did. Many of them have been reviewed here before, but I'm mentioning them again so I can capture a bit of Clark right now (and maybe remind you of some of your beloved favorites, too).

1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Since I already warned you this would be a list full of classics, I might as well start out with one of the most iconic children's books of the twentieth century. I'm sure their are readers out there who don't love it (there always are), but from my viewpoint, this story about a gluttonous caterpillar who gorges himself for a week is pretty much universally loved. At least it is in our house. Clark loves pointing out all of his favorite foods, and I love nibbling his neck while the caterpillar nibbles a strawberry.

2. At the Zoo: A Lift-the-Flap Shadow Book by Roger Priddy
This book has a lot of flaps, and if you're like me, then you probably try to avoid such books, but hear me out. Each page contains probably ten to twelve silhouettes of different animals. Open each flap, and you find a photograph of the actual animal. I love this book (and the other ones in the series) for several reasons: 1) The silhouettes add a fun little guessing game element to the book, 2) It features quite a wide range of animals, and 3) The photographs make it feel more real. I was a little overly protective of the book when we first got it when Aaron was a toddler, but I've loosened up a bit with each child, and it's held up remarkably well.

3. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr., illus. Eric Carle
When Aaron was born, one of my good friends gave me a box set of Brown Bear, Polar Bear, and Panda Bear. Believe it or not, four kids later, those same board books are still kicking at our house, but only just. They have been read so many times, the edges are scuffed and worn soft, the binding is coming apart, and we all can recite them in our sleep. When Bradley was Clark's age, he loved this book so much, Mike made him a Brown Bear cake for his second birthday. Clark's favorite page is the last one where all of the animals are shown together. He likes to point to the correct picture when I say, "Find the blue horse" or "Find the red bird." I keep hoping it will help him learn his colors, but so far it hasn't worked.

4. Hooray for Fish by Lucy Cousins
Little Fish takes readers on a tour of his ocean home and introduces them to all his fishy friends. Lucy Cousins' broad strokes and bold colors are eye-catching of course, but other than that, it's a pretty average story. And yet, all of my kids have loved it. It might have to do with all of the little things we've added over the years: chomping their tummies when we get to the "scary fish," changing voices when we read "fat" and "thin" fish, and giving three quick kisses on the cheek when we find Little Fish's favorite fish. Or it might just be because of those illustrations because really, who can resist Lucy Cousins?

5. Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox, illus. Judy Horacek
Most of the books on this list are family favorites, but Mike has firmly told me that he doesn't really love this one. No matter. I bought it for Clark for Christmas anyway, and he loves it.  The reader spends the entire book looking for the green sheep. He finds the sun sheep and the rain sheep and the moon sheep and the star sheep, but where is the green sheep? (Clark always answers, "I don't know.") The lilting text is perfectly repetitive, and the sheep are silly and unexpected. Mike might not be a convert, but the rest of us are.

6. Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin, illus. James Dean
I don't think you can call Pete the Cat "a classic" (although it is very popular), and it's also not a board book, so it probably shouldn't be on this list at all except that Clark loves it, and that's what I'm really trying to showcase here. It had been quite awhile since I'd sung the "I love my white shoes" song to any of my kids, but it came right back to me. I have mixed feelings about Pete the Cat though. We've loved this one since it first came out in 2010. And the ones that followed (Rocking in My School Shoes and Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons) are not bad either. But then, as so often happens with popular books, someone decided it would be a great idea to make a whole line of early readers based on Pete the Cat, and they don't have the same personality as this one. So I guess what I'm saying is, if you haven't read any Pete the Cat before, don't think that you can just go to the library and pick up the first one you see and it will be a winner.

7. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
I guess it's probably fairly obvious from the featured books on this list that Clark is a fan of animals. This one though is more than just a collection of animals thrown together. It's a simple story about a kid (I always assume it's a boy, but I think that's just because I only have boys) who asks the zoo to send him a pet. He gets all sorts of animals shipped to him, but for one reason or another (too fierce, too grumpy, etc.), they're just not quite right for him. Fortunately though, the zoo finally finds the perfect pet.

8. Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton
For years, I said that Hippos Go Berserk was my favorite Sandra Boynton board book. But then I got Clark Blue Hat, Green Hat for Easter, and the first read-through prompted the most delightful, unadulterated giggles I have ever heard, and I switched loyalties just like that. Seriously though, if you think that a book with only a handful of words and approximately six pages can't be funny, then you clearly have never read this book about a turkey who just can't seem to get his clothes on correctly. For a toddler whose daily life is a struggle of the same, it is hilarious.

9. The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle
One of Clark's early words was "spidey," which made me remember this book . . . and also realize that I hadn't seen it around our house in a very long time. After a thorough search, I decided it really was missing and promptly bought a replacement copy. It only took one time through for Clark to be a devoted fan of this story about a spider who can't be bothered by all the other farm animals because she is so busy spinning her web.

Which classic board books have your kids loved?

For more favorite board books, click here.
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