Tag Archives: Books 101

Bonus of audio books…

We went on a trip last weekend and we listened to this wonderfully told version of E.B. White’s Stuart Little. Mid story, I discovered something that goes decisively on the “Pro” side of why one should use audio books here and there. We already know that they can be time savers, attention holders and time passers on the road, but they should also be praised for their consistency. Sometimes, when I’m reading aloud to the kids, I trail off during an exciting part and quickly read ahead to myself. I can’t help it! The kids have to nudge me back to the present because I’d unconsciously forgotten about them and the stalled story! Terrible I know. Anyway, audio books are an excellent remedy to that situation. While we listened to the gentle tales (more about that topic later, by the way) of dear Stuart, we ALL got to experience the full suspense as he got dumped into the garbage truck; we ALL felt the tension heighten as Snowbell got ready to pounce on Margolo. It was fantastic… very bonding.

I’ve been waiting for the right time and money to buy this edition of the entire Narnia series on audio. It would be a good investment since these are stories that definitely merit more than one reading… and they are full of adventure which could really use a more attentive and less spacey storyteller than myself!
“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.”
-E.B. White
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St. Patrick’s Day, Irish Saints in General, and How to Be a Savvy Library Patron

A potpourri post that omits some of the best books based in Ireland only because there are many and I’m saving them for another upcoming theme:
Next week is the feast of St. Patrick. If you live in a particularly big city or a particularly literate area or a particularly homeschooler-thick area, it’s probably too late for you to reserve your St. Patrick books at the library because bibliozealots like me snatched them up at least a week or two ago already. See you really have to be forward-thinking with seasonal literature. Some people walk into a library on December 23rd expecting to pick up some lovely Christmas stories for their kids to enjoy Christmas Day… ha! It ain’t gonna happen my friend! Reserve your Christmas books a month out, then when they notify you that your holds are ready to pick up, you wait until the last possible day to pick them up. Usually you have a week’s grace period to pick up your holds. So that puts you out three weeks to the holiday. Your library should let you borrow books for three weeks. But if you want them longer, try to renew your books a week after you get them or so. Some will already have reservations on them from other users, others will be available for renewals. You make the most of it.

This is the way to get seasonal or holiday books. I try not to hoard every single book on St. Patrick or Christmas or Thanksgiving or whatever… that’s just gluttonous, but I do try and make sure we have a super great title or two that we can count on to be perfect holiday reading.
Furthermore, I am more and more interested in purchasing seasonal or liturgical books than the average run-of-the-mill book only because it’s nice to rotate things in and out of your book basket as the rhythms of the year come and go. So I’ll even borrow some Christmas books from the library in October or November for preview’s sake… to see if it’s something I want to purchase. Right now, I’m getting itchy to purchase some lovely Easter-themed books for the children on Easter morning and the time is already over-ripe to make those plans!
But I digress.
St. Patrick’s Day. And a wee bit of Ireland in general just to get in the sprit of things shall we?
My favorites:

St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning by Eve Bunting. Very sweet story with excellent Jan Brett illustrations about a young boy who is too big for his britches.

Patrick Patron Saint of Ireland by the incomparable Tomie dePaola. Everyone should have the basic story of Patrick in mind on this holiday that quickly gets overtaken with beer and leprechauns… this is a good a story as any! Also, I haven’t personally read these, but here are some other books on the saint himself that look like they might be real gems too: Patrick, Saint of Ireland, and The Story of Saint Patrick and The Life of St. Patrick: Enlightener of the Irish.
St. Patrick’s Day by Gail Gibbons. Gibbons does a great job at producing basic, light non-fiction children’s books on a ton of topics. This book is a good overview of the holiday and current customs. My only beef with it is that it says the shamrock is a “symbol of St. Patrick”… well, uh, actually it’s not. He made this symbol famous for representing the Holy Trinity… but I try not to be too pedantic with kid’s books. Key word “try.”
Mary McLean and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade by Steven Kroll. Wishes really can come true for this little girl!
Saint Patrick and the Peddler by Margaret Hodges is out of print but your library may have it. This is a fantastic story that tells like a verbal story… try to read it with an accent! It may be scary for young readers as the ghost of St. Patrick is shown… the story actually has nothing to do with his feast day but all things Ireland relate to him somehow it seems!


***[Side Note]***

I was typing a title into Amazon to find the link and I stumbled on this book which looks like it could be a real winner… at least the cover art is appealing to me. So don’t take my word for it, since I’ve not reviewed it myself yet, but I was surprised to find a book on St. Patrick that I’d never heard of that looked really promising! (boo, my library system doesn’t have it in their system.)
St. Patrick and the Three Brave Mice by Joyce Stengel…
***[/Side Note]***

The Blackbird’s Nest: Saint Kevin of Ireland by Jenny Schroedel. This is a good time of year to go through other Irish saints too… and this particular story is particularly Lenten so I consider it a must-read!

Ciaran: the Tale of a Saint of Ireland by Gary Schmidt. St. Ciaran was one of Ireland’s first saints… he was encouraged by St. Patrick. This is a lovely, gentle book with excellent illustrations and evocative prose: “But still Ciaran’s eyes looked to the east, and his heart longed for the name of God…”
Saint Brigid: Abbess of Kildaire by Jane Meyer. Geared toward slightly older children, this story of St. Brigid has stunning illuminations that make the whole thing come alive from the Emerald Isle… (see also Brigid’s Cloak)
Acrosss a Dark and Wild Sea by Don Brown. This is an excellent story about the Irish monk St. Columba…
Brendan and the Voyage Before Columbus by Michael McGrew. Get your history straight on the “discovery” of the New World and add some faith in there too!

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Upcycling Casualties

It’s been a brutal month on the Western Front. Three… I say again, three deaths of library books for which I have to pay. Every year or so we lose a book or maybe one gets a cup of water spilled on it accidentally but to have three casualities in a single month is a new, sobering reality. It is a reality that brings me shamefaced to my husband once again, who shakes his head and threatens to ban the library altogether unless we can get our act together. And like any good commander, I take full responsibility and tell him with all sincerity that we’ll do better this time! I have a plan! My platoon was poorly trained, in truth. One young soldier thought it was okay to sit a 5 month old grabbing, teething baby on his lap and read a book to him. It is okay… encouraged even. But the young lad failed to grab an appropriate board book from my shelf… or even one of those annoying books that I have to keep because they were gifts. No, he grabbed a library book. It was one that isn’t worth a title mention, for better or worse, as one of the kids tossed it in my book pile before I checked my holds out at the library. Being such a nondescript book, I couldn’t even have the pleasure of salvaging beautiful artwork to frame.

Then, we lost something that came to us with a loose binding to begin with. Readers, let it serve as a warning to always check the condition of a book before you check it out! It’s easy to hand something off to a librarian for repairs before it’s on your account! But should you do any further damage to such a book, you will pay. So, we bought one of the Where’s Waldo? books once a couple good yanks from the same teething, grabbing baby got a hold of it when his siblings left it on the floor in too close of his reach. While I never buy Waldo books or I Spy books because their merit lies solely in their novelty, I can use this remains of this book in a constructive way. Waldo backgrounds would make for fun homemade wrapping paper or envelopes for letters that I write (believe it or not, I’m among the dying breed that sometimes still handwrites letters!)

The third loss came when the two year old found a pair of scissors and decided to shred the pages of Raining Cats and Dogs which was a delightful and very well illustrated book of idioms. There are some pages left with which I could do something crafty I’m sure… but it really is a book that needs to be appreciated in its whole; a single page out of context just won’t carry even half the charm as the whole thing. Still, I’ll hang on to it and toss it in my scrap paper bin for a while at least.

Finally, I am sad to say that the two year old was on quite a spree this month and also ruined my personal copy of a book which is a sweet delight: A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog which is one of my very favorite wordless books out there featuring one of my favorite illustrators, Mercer Mayer. So that was fairly depressing. The book is too small to make envelopes with and I suppose I could matte and frame a series of photos… it would be lovely artwork in a child’s bathroom or even bedroom… or I could use the images for gift tags, address labels on packages or mod podge them onto some blocks or a piece of furniture… hmm, here’s a sweet bunting idea… what else? I suppose that when it comes to repurposing books, there’s quite a bit that can be done. Ideally though, books are best left in their original form. Time to go write a check to the library… *sigh*… the pain of being a bibliozealot can be fierce indeed.

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Thrifting Swoon/On Challenging Your Children

I went to the Goodwill yesterday saying a little prayer as I went in that there would be some decent pants in the sizes of my two middle sons… they are in desperate need of some fresh knees to rip through.

No such luck. God, in His infinite goodness, did not allow such a mercy. But He did allow me to find a book that has been on my want list for a very, very long time:

Pagooby Holling C. Holling is the very first living science book that I read aloud to my children when my oldest was six years old. It was a very surprising hit. Kind of like how I was shocked when my six year old requested that we read Pinocchio (the original version) where the language is archaic and challenging, but they loved it! Children really ought to get their ears trained to hearing excellent vocabulary though. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they always need to be talked (read) down to. They will rise to the challenge. And when I taught myself to read at age four, whenever I came across words I didn’t know, I just sort of ignored them until they slowly came to meaning based on context. That’s how readers and writers are born. They get challenged with the words in their natural setting which they are exposed to often. If you yourself are uncomfortable with reading challenging books with your children, get the audio version! Play it in the car where they can’t escape the words which might ordinarily make them disinterested only because they are unfamiliar…

But I digress, I think if I were to read Pagoo again with their ages now (9, 7, 5), it would be even more popular. As it is, Holling C. Holling books are one of the more superior options you have in teachable stories. I mean, a lot, lot, lot of picture books really double as educational too… but these are something special. Each one is a perfect science or geography lesson in and of itself with a story wrapped up in it. And the art, which is usually a color spread on every other page, and more nature-journal black and white sketches with captions in between… is super. Do not expect a typical 15 minute story however, they are fairly dense. We spread our reading of it out over a week.

Pagoo is about the life of a hermit crab. We learned all about tidal creatures, life cycles of hermit crabs and fun little facts here and there. It was really easy to make it come alive for them when we went to the aquarium and could see real hermit crabs up close… and then I reinforced it with buying this excellent little companionfor our toy animal bin too.

Other books we’ve purchased (albeit full price) from this author are Minn of the Mississippiand Paddle-to-the-Seawhich we began reading when we studied the beginnings of European explorers in Canada last year. Excellent, excellent books. And who really needs pants when you have books?

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How To Build Your Home Library


What should be on our bookshelves?

The answer to that title question is in other questions:

With what do you want to fill your child’s brain? What kinds of things do you want your children to be thinking about, dreaming of, reflecting on, or trying to figure out? For me, it’s always the same: I want my kids to be offered as much of the world’s goodness, nobility, truth and beauty as possible. So I hope my bookshelves reflect that.

I found a quote that I plan on writing a whole essay on soon for Soul Gardening… but in the meantime, I’ll share the gist of it here:

“Let nothing be in your homes that is not useful or that you do not find to be beautiful.”
Let that sink in my friends. This is slowly changing my world and it affects every. single. aspect of that beautiful, evocative word: home. Not just stuff like knick-knacks or furniture… but wardrobes, kitchenware, jewelry, toys, and books!
As I’ve been reflecting on this quote, I thought it would be a good, seasonal time to go through my bookshelves again to begin culling out the items that do not fit this definition. In so doing, I realize that there are a few categories of books that might help me to make some choices:
  • Useful-Beautiful books. This would include non-fiction titles like Paul Revere’s Ride which exposes a child to history, excellent poetry, and lovely illustrations all at once. It also includes fiction books that teach a subtle character lesson or virtue that you want to cultivate in your child, e.g. The Empty Pot which offers a lesson in honesty, the Chinese culture, and superb art. I would also classify certain Reader books in this category like: The Frog and Toad series which feature the talented author/illustrator, Arnold Lobel. Reader books are especially difficult to find in this category since so many of them are dull or uninspired. Useful and Beautiful books should always be collected and treasured more than any other type.
  • Useful-Unremarkable books. These include many titles for homeschoolers. I have noticed that the popular publisher Usborne Books has a ton of titles in this category. They offer good information for children, are interesting to read… but usually feature uninspiring illustrations. Don’t get me wrong; I love our Usborne Time Traveler but there is nothing aesthetically superior here.
  • Useful-Ugly books. The beginning reader books fill out this category more than any other. For some reason, writers and publishers think simple text needs to necessarily equate to banal story lines… if there’s a story at all. Parents may do well to wonder if their child’s resistance to reading has to do with the quality of what they ‘re offered. Indeed, what child would ever WANT to learn to read when the stuff they’re reading is dull as dirt?! I’d also include heavily commercialized literature in this category like this (*shudder*) or this (*blech*).
  • Beautiful books. These are books that delight you or your child (preferably both) and are simultaneously original, inspiring, or clever. There are hundreds of books in this category but one that comes immediately to my mind (which captures the whole trifecta of “original, inspiring and clever”) is from my all-time favorite author illustrator, Doris Burn: Andrew Henry’s Meadow. Now “beautiful books” need not always be serious or beautifully illustrated per se. Character development defines beauty (as in the case of the dignified animals in most of William Steig’s books, e.g., Doctor De Soto). Clever rhymes define beauty (like the fun A House is a House for Me) and of course inspiring art–even without text– defines beauty a la Tuesday style… These types of stories will be the things your children remember well into adulthood. They will influence play, dreams, and creative thinking. They will teach children to foster an appreciation for good, beautiful and wholesome literature. Yes, Beautiful books should live in abundance on your shelves.
  • Unremarkable books. Most of the parents I know– and whose bookshelves I’ve chanced to peruse– have books of only this type and the type I’ll be mentioning next. Occasionally, parents fill their shelves with these books and have a few Beautiful books scattered in there. They’re on the right track! Unremarkable books have lived in my shelves off and on for my whole parenting career. These are books which are essentially harmless, have mediocre art and/or story lines and which children generally like. But there is nothing that really resonates “beauty” or “delight” in them. We get a lot of unremarkable books from the library that seem to interest the children, like Library Mouse, or The Magic Hat. You may find yourself protesting at what I’d consider an “unremarkable book.” That’s okay. This is my blog. And your mileage may vary on when Beautiful ends and Unremarkable begins… I’ll not deny that some books of this sort are “good books.” But once you get a taste of “excellent books”… good books simply won’t suffice anymore. If it’s all you’ve got, stick with ’em… “good” or “unremarkable” books are better than no books! But do try to improve your collection over time.
  • Ugly books. There is no excuse for ugly books on anyone’s shelves. Most American parents have ugly books on their shelves. These books are the lowest in both art and text. They are often banal, commercialized or even offensive. You may feel conflicted because your children LIKE these books! Well, my kids like Oreos and Cotton Candy. I’m certainly not going to feed them these things often if I can help it. They’ll soon learn that the “beautiful books” are even sweeter than these ones. And one day, you’ll be at your little downtown library and your nine year old will come up to you with an exquisite book and say excitedly: “Mom, look at these illustrations! Aren’t they awesome?” And you’ll let out a gentle, contented sigh as you delight in knowing that you’ve raised a discerning child who can recognize goodness when he sees it. Believe me the psychology of this goes far beyond books and art… So anyway, get rid of all your ugly books! Go to the Goodwill and buy a few unremarkable books at least! And if you don’t have any money, get rid of your ugly books anyway and get a free library card; begin enjoying some quality literature.
So these are the general categories of children’s literature. Have an abundance of Beautiful-Useful books. Have an abundance of Useful-Unremarkable books. Have an abundance of Beautiful books. And then the real estate space on your shelf needs to be closely monitored. I grudgingly have to allow for a small space to Unremarkable books that were gifts to the kids which I feel guilty getting rid of just yet. I don’t however, ever feel guilty about getting rid of any gifted ugly books. I’m the mom and I refuse to be guilted into making bad choices for my kids.
I am currently culling out Unremarkable books. I never have Ugly books and I never have Useful-Ugly books. They just aren’t worth my space. I’ve finally gotten to a point in my home library where I can be more and more discerning about what we are keeping. Since I now have a healthy number of children’s books, I can now start getting rid of whatever has been falling to the bottom of the totem pole. A few years ago, I couldn’t get rid of them because I didn’t have much of a selection. Now, I only want to keep the best of the best. I do presently allow books which I personally consider to be Unremarkable because my children like them so much (e.g. many books in the Lyle, Lyle Crocodile series) but I suspect that with time and the addition of more truly exquisite books, these will eventually leave the home too. It is better to have a small collection of quality books than a large mixed-bag collection. The bonus to this is that when you are exclusive with owning only a modest number of the best books possible, your appreciation for what you have deepens (I’ve found this to be true of the types of toys we allow in the house too). And thankfully, with time and and patience and a bit of money here and there… you can have a superb home library which will be loved by every family member. It’ll be so worth it to look at your bookshelves and think that every title on there is either useful and/or beautiful.
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on a side note…

I agree and appreciate these sentiments on the Rough Side of Reading… it can be applied to children’s books too. Go ahead. I give you permission to stop in the middle of a story and say “Sorry kids, this story is lame… go pick another book.” They’ll protest, but it’s for their own good and if you are matter of fact and can communicate your point in just the right way (blending charity, cheerfulness, patience and firmness coupled with an excited willingness to read something else) they’ll be fine. Besides, it teaches them to be their own good stewards of time.

Because the truth is a fact and the fact is that there are so many good books… and so little time.
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not in keeping with the goal of this blog…

(Newest baby will be here any day so don’t expect a lot of ‘action’ on the blog in the next several weeks or so; it’s easiest if you sign up to be my “follower” and get notified of a new post.)

So I want to share with you my biggest influences in the homeschooling book world. I realize not all of you homeschool and I realize this has not a lot to do with children’s literature directly. But I was thinking about it and really, the ideas and thoughts contained within the following books help to shape my views on what children’s literature should do and be. Within the entire genre of non-fiction, I’ve probably read more books about homeschooling than any other specific topic over the past 9 years (yes, I was reading and passionate about homeschooling even while still pregnant with my first child!). There are literally dozens I could write about. And I’ve gained something from each one. That is why they are important books. Besides, it’s my blog and I can write about whatever I want to. :o) In no particular order:

So I’m not a true hue, dipped in blue Charlotte Masonite, but if I had to identify myself with any one method out there, I would most closely fall into this realm: living books, avoiding twaddle, basic excercises in copywork, narration and dictation, lots of nature study. With A Charlotte Mason Companion, Karen Andreola has made Miss Mason’s 6 volume series on education quite accessible and readable to the American reader. There are a couple other books about Charlotte Mason philosophy out there and really, they are all pretty good (espcially For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School). But this one is my favorite simply because of the depth and breadth into which it goes. I felt like I got a lot of bang for my buck.

Now, you really can’t go wrong with any John Holt title. He will turn you upside down on your entire thinking about what the typical perceptions of children are. He has been a great influence on me. I think it was in Teach Your Own book that Holt explained the simple error people make in quickly labelling children as dyslexic. (By the way, I’ve been part of entire week-long workshops dedicated to learning about this ‘disability’ so I’ve a pretty good grasp on what we’re talking about here.) For example, a banana is a banana whether you point it right or left or turn it upside down. To a child, the letter “b” is a b whether to circular part is facing the wrong way or not. Very few teachers take the time to explain that letters aren’t tangible, interchangeable items… and instead we look at the writing in dismay and remark that Sally has dyslexia. Anyway, it’s a great book.

Most homeschooling parents go through some kind of overload crisis: they look at what’s working for this family or the great methods that family employs, or they get overwhelmed with all the curriculum choices out there and they start over-thinking every little decision they make. Ruth Beechik to the rescue. The Three R’s is simply a reminder to reclaim simplicity as the best mode of learning. It is very encouraging and I try to re-read it every few years to remind myself that I’m not going to academically ruin my Kindergartener if he’s not reading by age 5. Good, simple techniques in this book.

This book was the catalyst to my actual excitement to homeschool. Real Learning by Elizabeth Foss is all about inspiring you that you can do an excellent job educating your children at home; it is full of great resources, ideas and suggestions that’ll make your life easier and help you realize that your education goals are attainable. I love this book and loaned it to someone and it’s been missing ever since (can’t remember who!)… a testament I suppose that the book was a good one.

This is pretty much a classic by now. I first got this book when I was doing some teaching with Mother of Divine Grace and I think the introduction alone makes this worth the read. While not necessarily espousing a traditionally “classic” education, some have called Mrs. Berquist’s methods in Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum more “neo-classical”… and I happen to think they are great and many families utilize her curriculum ideas with great success.

A Little Way of Homeschooling is a very refreshing read indeed. This is my latest home education book I’ve read and I loved every word of it. In fact, I wrote an entire review of it in the upcoming Autumn issue of Soul Gardening… so read about it there! This book gives confidence and hope to overwhelmed mothers. It offers a fresh perspective on the education of children and I highly recommend it.

Finally I offer Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto if you are in need of convincing that government schools aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. This book is what really helped to get my husband 100% on board with homeschooling. Gatto was the New York State and New York City Teacher of the Year and upon receiving his award, he took the opportunity to rail on the entire public school system. You can read the text of that speech here. Gatto has written a couple other books giving a black eye to public schools as well. They are worth the read. Do note that I am a supporter of free public education! I think it is a hallmark of a great nation to offer this to its citizens. I do however think it’s pretty much rotten to the core in regards to how it’s set up and the beauracracy that’s running the show. It makes me sick how we shortchange children. (Don’t mistake me for blaming this on individual teachers and staff who are doing their best within the system to make a difference. They are to be commended for their efforts… the blame goes deeper.) But I digress.

Okay, thanks for indulging me on this little detour from children’s literature. Enjoy these starter books and then I’ll give you some more! Someday, I’ll be thrilled to write a post about my favorite “Books about Books” someday… oh how juicy of a topic for a bibliozealot! But for now, back to your regularly scheduled program…

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The Gray

In the world of children’s authors, there exists gray. I dislike gray, desperately. Why can’t it be black or white? There are a couple authors who I know to avoid. Then there are those who attract me like a bear to honey. Then there are a couple of gray authors who produce superb literature one day… and hogwash the next.

They frustrate me deeply.

Two authors I would love to unequivocally recommend are Charlotte Zolotow and Jane Yolen. They have wonderful books… but I can’t automatically grab something off the shelf from them anymore ever since discovering some blemishes in their authored works.

Charlotte Zolotow is an award-winning and rightfully praised author on so many lists. She created such gems as The Seashore Book and the beautiful When The Wind Stops. She has a way with words especially in describing the natural world in a gentle, lyrical way. Then we picked up a book by her called The White Marble at a garage sale once. It started out fine, about a new friendship between a boy and a girl. But then the language got a little too beautiful. Maybe it wasn’t even her intent, but the sentiments that came across in this book turned very intimate and almost sensual at some points. I was glad I read it to myself before introducing it to the boys. I think they would’ve felt confused. That said, all it takes is one bad publication for my red flags to be up with an author. So while we’ll check out some Charlotte Zolotow books, I can not include her on my quick, safe author list.

Then there’s the example of Jane Yolen. Her name is popular in the children’s literature world; she’s written over 300 books!!! People compare her to Hans Christian Andersen or Aesop sometimes! And we LOVE some of her books. Our favorites include the haunting Owl Moon, the inspirational Emperor and the Kite, and the now-classic How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? We thought that Jane Yolen was good to go. Until we read Encounter.

Encounter is the story of white men coming to America as told from the perspective of a young Native American boy. Now, I’m not one to claim that the whole “Columbus discovered America” bit was all peaches and cream and that happy, chubby Thanksgiving scenes were the norm. I know better, and I teach my kids better. We discuss how the “discovery” was bittersweet, the conflicts with the natives, some of the ways Europeans took advantage of the situation. But Yolen’s book is really over the top with the whole thing. The little boy talking in first person is at first scared, and describes how he senses the corrupt, evil intentions of these pale people. The pictures show surly, ugly white men with greed in their eyes. The boy gets kidnapped but manages to escape to tell the story of how much he regrets white people ruining his land. Now come on, I’m not proud of all of America’s history… but I’m not sorry we came here. And this book seems to want to lay a guilt complex on every white American and a dose of racism against us in the eyes of every minority American. It’s a bunch of hogwash. And it has made me very leery of Jane Yolen now.

So those are just a couple examples of “gray” authors. They are part of the reason why parents need to be especially vigilant to what kinds of words, stories and messages are being imparted to our children. We would be naive to think that all of children’s books are meant in good fun without any kind of underlying motive whatsoever. Still, it ought to be easier to identify “bad” books… which is why it’s so frustrating when the bad gets easily mixed in by authors from whom we’ve come to expect good. Guard your heart and guard your mind, and guard especially the minds and hearts of children who are unable to do so themselves.

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EDITED TO ADD: Thank you to Rachael for pointing out her disappointment with Patricia Polacco when she checked out “In Our Mothers’ House.” I had no idea…. Polacco was on my safe authors’ list!!! But I can’t recommend her 100% anymore because some of the content of her books run contrary to the value system I’m trying to hold my family up to… a great pity though. Patricia Polacco has some real gems and I’d encourage you not to write her off totally. Just be selective and thorough when evaluating her books.
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Overcoming Reading Resistance

Rachael asks what can be done to help her daughter love story time. Some kids are just wiggle worms and don’t like sitting still and reading books… and this can be very disheartening to mamas who want to raise up little readers. Rachael did mention that her little one did love Richard Scarry (good taste that one!) so there is hope! Stick to what she’s interested in for now. Some other ideas that may help:

  • Don’t mandate sitting still. Allow her to draw or color or even jump around while you read… she still may be listening.
  • Read during snack or lunch time! I think this is one of the best ways to “force” listening among squirrely children. Two year olds can be strapped in a high chair and older kids have to sit at the table to eat. You can read and show pictures, librarian-style during this time.
  • Lunch time is a great time to introduce stories that are longer and with fewer pictures since the kids are preoccupied with their food, they will generally sit still and just listen to what’s going on. I made special “tea time” for fairy tale (the old, picture-less, non-PC kind) reading with my boys. The stories are rich and the vocabulary tough but I literally sweetened the deal by making muffins or somesuch, put a dollop of honey in their tea and read while they sipped and nibbled. I’m sure a significant percentage of what I read went right over their heads, but I think it’s important to challenge them and get them familiar with rich language and tough vocabulary words.
  • Another place where children have to be naturally still is in bed. Night-time reading next to their bedsides is a fantastic habit to get into, and it makes for warm memories as a bonus.
  • Consider books on CD. Go for a long car ride and pop in a book on CD to start instilling the habit of attention. Soon, you can transfer this habit to home during ‘quiet time.’ Five year olds are old enough for beginning chapter books like Charlotte’s Web or James and the Giant Peach.
  • You can check out picture books at the library that have a CD accompaniment. The great thing about this is that many children who don’t read yet like to flip the pages at the special “page flipping” sound so they are attentively listening for that.
  • Don’t be afraid to deviate from the story line. I used to substitute the names of my kids into the story as the protagonists, maybe adding in a sibling or friend also, and they loved hearing books about themselves.
  • Talk about what you are reading. Ask her what she’d do in such and such situation or what part of the picture she likes best. Try to mimic some of the artwork. Play ‘finding’ games with rich illustrations.
  • Try letting her work some beeswax in her hands while you read. Beeswax is pretty tough before it gets warmed up in little hands so it’ll take some of her fidgety energy out while she’s trying to mold it. If it proves too frustrating, just go to a basic clay or playdough.
  • Get some beautiful, wordless books (e.g. Tuesday or Anno’s Counting Book) and see if she is receptive to just talking about the pages or even better, telling the story herself.
  • Create a lovely space for reading. Consider refashioning a closet into a reading nook or using some creative pipes, boards or framing materials to hang cloth over. If you make a space inviting enough… kid appealing enough… they’ll want to be there: “If you build it, they will read.”
  • Same thing goes for book display. Most of our books live on the shelf. Select seasonal and library books are placed in beautiful baskets around the house. We’ve been known to employ the rain gutter system too; get something forward facing at least! For resistant readers, you have to put a little extra effort into marketing! But it is worth it!

Most of all, don’t give up! Even if you feel like your efforts are in vain and she’s getting nothing out of it, she is! She’s hearing stories (don’t let the frustration drip out of your voice!) and lovely language and will be all the better for it. If you need some reconvincing on the importance and value of reading aloud to children, check out Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook. This book is incredibly important for parents to read. While I don’t agree with 100% of his book recommendations, the information and statistics in this book are very, very good. They will make a big impact on you and help you feel better about your goals when read-aloud time seems useless.

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Book Clutter

My husband and I have declared war on clutter (trinkets, knick-knacks, things, STUFF!). Well, there is one notable exception to this: book clutter. While it drives him crazy, I love seeing piles of books in heavy use all over the house. It is a sign of a healthy, inspired home. If I had the money and willing partner, I’d probably paper entire hallways in this superb book wallpaper. Still, there must be some sort of order. I’ve half-seriously considered implementing the Dewey Decimal system in our home. But the books are getting pulled off shelves and put back much too frequently for me to expect order to stick. And shelf space is limited here! When you marry a builder-type no press board, MDF, “beaver puke” bookshelves will do. So you are left with one or two solid wood shelves that are laboring under the weight of being shackled with too many books. Or you find alternatives… here are a couple of my favorite ideas while I’m waiting for my built-ins like those shown above to make it to the top of his ‘honey-do’ list:

Good old baskets. I love seeing baskets of books in little corners of the house. They are an excellent way to keep library books together or seasonal books fresh by rotating different selections in and out of baskets. Aside from finding great [sturdy] baskets at yard sales and the like, some excellent sources for lovely weaving include The Peterboro Basket Co. whose wares are crafted right here in the U.S.A. But my very favorite baskets are sold through a very favorite organization of mine, one that supports artisans and fair trade all over the world. You can know you are purchasing quality and improving the quality of life for people everywhere when you make a purchase through SERVV. At least get their free catalogue and drool…

Then there is the gutter option. Some people refuse to “trivialize” their homes in this way wanting to keep up a certain vibe of formality or good taste, but I love gutters. In our last home, my husband installed one right underneath the giant bay window in the living room and it was a delight for the kids to see different books being displayed at different times. You can see a photo of what I mean here (pardon the birthday-boy litter strewn about). Tutorials exist all over online on how to do this.

The next items on my sewing to-do list are bed pockets for books. With our boys’ excellent triple-bunk, each railing would be dressed up grandly with a personal book pocket for each child. Here is a tutorial for how to make one that slides in between the mattress and box spring.Now we don’t have box springs on bunks but I think it would be easy enough to sew on some straps to wrap around the rail and button or velcro it to the pockets. What a great treat this would be for children to have their favorite stories and a small flashlight tucked in next to the bedside. (We allow a “reading” light for the kids to almost any hour. There is a philosophy or two behind this but we’ll skip that for now.)

I wish I had an empty staircase with dead-space to use for book storage; it would be such a practical solution. Look at this website for some interesting examples. Then I stumbled on this blog post which had a plethora of ideas for people big on books (and time… and money…). Imagine bathing near your favorite novels! But I loved most of all the imagery in this photo:Isn’t it a delight?! If I had my way, books would be decorating our entire home (well, in a careful and DELIBERATE way, not in the way they “decorate” the home now… ha!). Alas, it’s not to be… I’ve stretched my dear husband’s tolerance of books probably as far as it will go and I have to be thankful that we do have other great options. Right now, our giant, e-bay found, Mexican crafted bookshelf is mostly filled with children’s books. More spill out in a basket or two in the front room, those pertinent to our studies or seasons sit on the piano upright and ajar (library style) inviting little hands to pick them up to peruse (currently the piano is holding books on Native Americans, Pocahontas, St. Isaac Jogues, Holling C. Hollings superb Paddle-to-the-Sea and the like), and books sit at the end of the kids’ mattresses, in between car seats and all over my own dresser… not to mention those especially favored friends that get tucked into tote bags and backpacks for our adventures out of the house. If you have a clever way you store books, do share… our collection is only growing!

“Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house.” ~Henry Ward Beecher
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