The Best Children’s Books You May Have Never Heard Of…

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I believe in reading to kids.

I believe in it more than I believe in chocolate’s ability to turn around a bad day.

Trust me. That’s a lot of believing.

I preached it as an English teacher, and I preach it as a parent.There is nothing better that you can do for your child (except maybe feed and water them daily) to help them succeed later in life.

I started reading to our daughter when she was less than a month old. Every night and before every nap time we’d spend at least five to ten minutes reading.

IMG_0032And do you know what the result has been of all that reading? My child LOVES books. We probably spend over an hour every day curled up reading her books over and over and over again. Every time I pick up a new one for her my husband asked “Doesn’t she have enough books?”

The answer is no. There are NEVER enough books.

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If my mom is to be believed…London even loves reading even more than I did at that age. Although, my mother also thinks she was cuter than I was at that age, had more hair, was smarter…. you get the idea.

You know everything they say about grandparents thinking their grandkids walk on water?

All true.

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Anyways…after the last 21 months of reading more children’s books than I could ever count…I’ve come to a conclusion.

All children’s books were not created equally.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I have definite opinions for what constitutes a good children’s book.

So in the spirit of the season, I thought I’d share some of my tried and true favorites. I chose not to include the obvious ones like Good Night Moon, On the Night You Were Born or The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Those books make an appearance at almost every baby shower and birthday. Which is fine, they’re great. But if you are looking for a few off the beaten path to give as a gift, check these out!

The Quiet Book

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Adorable illustrations of bunnies and owls illustrating all the different kids of quiet that happen throughout the day. Really clever idea. Bonus-teaches the concept of being quiet. Priceless.

The Pout Pout Fish

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You get to say “Blub Blub Blub” quite a bit. Always a bonus in my book, plus the words rhyme beautifully, and if you’re like me, you get to give lots of smooches to your kid at the end when the pout pout fish realizes he is really a kiss kiss fish.

All of Baby Nose to Toes

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This book is too cute for words, and it’s a great way to teach your little one where their nose and eyes etc. are.

Any book by Matthew Van Fleet

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Between things to pull and fuzzy things to pet, these books were London’s favorites very early on. The older she gets the more she enjoys them as she can now point out the different kinds of animals.

The Pigeon Wants a Puppy!

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Anything by Mo Willems really. Although, his smart alecky pigeon is my favorite. Start with “Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus” and work your way through all of them.  Bonus- the writing is LARGE so grandparents can read these without digging out their reading glasses.

Diary of a Worm

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Of all the kids books I’ve listed, I wish I’d written this one. Hilarious. The illustrations are spot on, and the writer is extremely clever when describing the day to day life of a worm.

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair

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This answers the age old question…why should I brush my hair? According to this book, the answer is to prevent well-meaning but party-prone mice from moving in. Very well written with adorable illustrations this one is a must for the little girl in your life.

How do Dinosaurs Say Good Night

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You knew I had to throw a dinosaur book in here somewhere, didn’t you? Ever since I wrote a book about dinosaurs, London has been swamped with dinosaur toys, books, clothing, pajamas…you name it…we have it. Which is great because she LOVES dinosaurs.( No gender stereotyping of toys around here thank you very much.) The dinosaur nerd in me really enjoyed the way each of the dinosaurs featured in this book are actual dinosaurs, and the message of how to go to bed like a “good little dinosaur” is an added bonus. (We also own “How Do Dinosaurs Play with their Friends and How Do Dinosaurs Pick Up Their Room”)

Duck on a Bike

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This book has all the familiar barn yard animals in it, but unlike the monotony of “Old McDonald” it’s clever and has a great ending. In my humble opinion, all ducks should ride bikes.

Press Here

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The concept of this book is simple yet brilliant. Using nothing more than colored dots, this book will keep your toddler entertained for hours… Okay, maybe not hours, but a good five minutes. Which in toddler time IS an hours.

Violet the Pilot

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Hurray for this book! Rather than the typical pretty, pink-loving princess character, this book features Violet- girl engineer. Along with her dog Orville, Violet spends her time turning bits of junk into working flying machines. She is one of my favorite children’s book characters and it is a great way to encourage girls to do and be anything.

Who knows, maybe a few of these will find their way under your tree this year. Remember, there is no better investment than reading to your child.

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Traditions

Traditions, family traditions specifically, are one of my all time favorite things. Growing up my family was drenched in traditions, and it was just something I took for granted. In fact, it took me a while to realize that other families DIDN’T have the same depth and intensity of traditions that my own did. What do you mean everyone doesn’t have a family parade on the fourth of July where they bang pots and pans and sing the first verse of “Yankee Doodle ” over and over again because no one knows the rest of the song? You mean you DON’T walk down the stairs at Christmas to the same Christmas song every year? You know you aren’t really an adult right? It’s not official until you’ve water ski’d on one ski all the way to Indiana Beach and back.

You get my point.

So even before I was pregnant with my first child, I was already thinking about the traditions I would create for my own little family. What would we have for breakfast on Christmas morning? How would we make birthdays special? What about Halloween?

Now that London is almost two, I finally get to put some of those traditions I’ve been mulling over into action, from baking cut-out sugar cookies for the major holidays…

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To the Christmas Cd that’s been playing on repeat since before the Thanksgiving turkey was even on the table.

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Let the traditions begin! (Say that in the voice of the announcer from The Hunger Games and it’s much more impressive.)

One of the things I KNEW I wanted to do for London and for all my future kiddos, was an advent calendar. I don’t mean the chocolate kind, although trust me, those have a place in our home too. I still buy one for myself every year. In fact I bought two…only one actually made it to December. Sorry. Not sorry. Anyways, I wanted to have an advent calendar of fun surprises, activities and treats leading up to the December 25th.

I’ve been eyeballing potential advent calendars for around three years now, and I found myself drifting back to the Pottery Barn website. Their website is the shopping equivilant of double stuffed oreos. You tell yourself you’ll just have one…but you look down to discover you’ve eaten half the package. Or the whole package. Depending on the day you’ve had. My criteria for an advent calendar was pretty simple. It had to be pretty. And it had to have pockets. Unfortunatly, champagne taste on a beer budget meant I always passed the pottery barn ones by due to the price. Until this year. We were out and about and this beauty was on sale. I stood there drooling over it for a while and took a picture.

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Then I had one of those conversations with myself that went a little something like this.

Me: I could totally make this. It’s just felt. My basic sewing skills could totally handle pockets.

Self: Your mom will tell you your nuts, but you totally could.

Me: Do I have time to make this?

Self: No. You should be spending your spare time preparing for baby number two and writing. Or maybe cleaning the house. It’s a hot mess.

Me: But it would be more meaningful if I made it. Family heirloom type stuff I could hand down to my kids.

Self: True. Unless it was a complete flop, then it would be a huge waste of money and time.  Plus, when are you going to find time to pick up everything you need? December is two weeks away.

Me: Hmmmmm

Self: By the time you buy everything to make this, it would be cheaper to buy it.

Me: Probably. Why does my sub-concsious sound more and more like my mom?

Self: Because you’re getting smarter in your old age.

Now this argument could have gone on for a long time despite my insistent toddler in the stroller demanding cookies, but then my lovely hubby stepped in. He noticed the drool and the picture taking and asked what was up. I explained that I was fairly confident that I could make the advent calendar, and which point he made “the face.”

If you are married, you know which one I’m talking about. It’s a look that combines “you’re crazy” with “be serious women”.   Then he said the magic words. “Just buy it.”

Done.

One command hook later and this baby was on my wall. Now came the fun part. Filling it.

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The requirements for the calendar were simple. The activity/surprise/treat had to be either cheap or free. Also-toddler friendly. Not as easy as you’d think.

A little brainstorming, and a trip to the Target Dollar Spot though and I was set.

Here is the list I came up with:

  • Bake Christmas Cookies
  • Decorate Christmas cookies
  • Decorate Gingerbread house
  • Snowman craft (prep ahead)
  • Christmas Tree craft (prep ahead)
  • Drive around and look at lights in the neighborhood
  • Read Christmas books in mom and dad’s bed
  • Write a letter to Santa
  • Visit from Nani
  • Visit from Oma and Boppy
  • Hang ornaments on Christmas tree
  • Watch Christmas Movie
  • Watch Christmas Movie
  • New Christmas ornament
  • New Christmas ornament
  • Drink Hot Chocolate
  • New Window Stickers
  • New Window Stickers
  • Holiday Craft (sticker house)
  • Holiday Treat (Maybe her first candy cane?)
  • Visit Santa
  • Make a snowman with dad
  • Sing Christmas Songs
  • Go to the Library and read Christmas books
  • Christmas Party at School

I typed the list into a word document using the label format, printed them out, and started stuffing . Now, thankfully this year…my child can’t read. So if for some reason the card I pull out for that day says “Bake Christmas cookies” and we are out of butter….well I can easily switch it out for something else like new window stickers or a craft. In a few years…I’m going to have to up my game, and probably the contents of the advent calendar. I can’t picture a teenager being thrilled about reading Christmas books in mom and dad’s bed. But luckily, a one year old is!

There was a little prep involved for some of the crafts I plan to do with her, but nothing a good pair of scissors and Netflix couldn’t handle.

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We are two days in, and so far it has been a success! Day one was “Hang Ornaments on Tree.” She LOVED it.   Only one ornament came to a shattered end thanks to my horrible reflexes. (Please ignore the bow I’m wearing. A certain toddler asked nicely for mommy to wear the Mini Mouse bow.)

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Day two was new window stickers, and you’d have thought I’d bought her the winning lottery ticket. Best dollar I ever spent. Although, it spoiled the Norman Rockwell moment a bit when she pulled them all off the window in one glob and demanded I turn the snowmen into penguins. Toddlers are great like that. Sigh. Oh well.

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As a side note, almost every activity in our house is given added excitement by the ever present “keep it away from the hungry bulldog” element. Tilly thought those window stickers looked like a good pre-dinner appetizer. We are now mysteriously missing one of the snowmen’s arms…coincidence? I think not.  My apologize to Frosty and his kind.

Anyways, I  can’t wait to see what she thinks of all the other days, and I have my drawer of goodies all ready to go.

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In sixteen years, she will probably think this is lame, but in thirty years my hope is that she will look back at the advent calendar activities and smile. And who knows…maybe her children will get to experience this same tradition. And maybe their grandmother will actually make an advent calander for them instead of buying one. But probably not…