Books for Kids Feeling Presidential

img_2780

As previously established, I am spectacularly cool, so I don’t mind sharing that I sing the names of the American presidents to the tune of “Yankee Doodle,” while I brush my daughter’s teeth. Actually, when I started this ritual, I had to add all the presidents after Coolidge, and then still had a couple of lines of verse to go after Obama. To finish it off I sang, “Maybe if she had more time then next would be your Mama!” You should invite me to your next Fourth of July BBQ. I’m a riot.

In the early days of this routine, my daughter was still very young and mispronounced many words. A vocabulary staple was “bama” instead of bottom, as in, “sit on your bama,” or “wipe your bama.” When I got to “Obama” the first time, her eyes widened in delight and then she rolled over laughing. “Oh- BAMA?? Oh-bama?!

But despite my ability to crank out the names of the presidents in chronological order, I realized my actual knowledge about those presidents was less impressive. Ever on alert for personal failings, I medicated my ignorance with a very fun binge of The Washington Post‘s Presidential podcast. Then to reinforce my newfound knowledge, I stocked up on the excellent books recommended in the podcast a bunch of children’s literature featuring presidents.

If you’re like me, and absolutely loyal to Lillian Cunningham, you will note that some of the following authors get it wrong. I found myself saying, “It was the contaminated water, not the long-winded speech in the rain!” or “His legacy is MUCH more complicated than that!” or simply, “But Lillian said!” Nevertheless, I took a breath, relaxed a bit, and found the following reads a joyful jaunt into our nation’s history.

Happy reading! And don’t forget to crank up the Hamilton soundtrack.

 

Susan Katz delivers delightfully silly poetry that even the most poetry-averse young patriot will enjoy.

 

David Small illustrated this one. That’s all you need to know. (Okay, also the original version won the Caldecott.)

 

Lives of the Presidents: Fame, Shame (and What the Neighbors Thought) (Lives of . . .) by [Krull, Kathleen]

I have to say I’m always a little surprised when I pull out the dinner time books and my kids say, “The president book!” when I ask which book they want first. Lives of the Presidents provides a short bio (some very short, like Polk’s or Fillmore’s) for each president in chronological order. While the illustrations are cartoonish and really quite fun, the content itself is academic in format, but interesting and informative.

 

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library will help any young book enthusiast find our third president a kindred spirit. Rosenstock does mention that Jefferson bought and sold people, though she doesn’t emphasize the point. This can be a book that sparks a conversation about Jefferson’s complicated and contradictory relationship with liberty, but it is not a book that explores his participation in slavery in depth.

 

In another picture book from Kathleen Krull, kids learn about President Lincoln’s fondness for jokes, limericks, and the like. My son really enjoyed Lincoln’s childhood poem, “Abraham Lincoln/his hand and pen/he will be good but/god knows When.” This book manages to tackle a heavy time in our nations history in a lighthearted way that doesn’t belittle the darkness of the time.

 

Those Rebels, John & Tom explores a complicated friendship, which I find to be very relatable for children, who are no strangers to friend drama. And if they can’t get enough, try Worst of Friends, too.

 

Speaking of relatable, Don Brown presents Teddy Roosevelt’s childhood, a story of grit and perseverance and enthusiasm sure to inspire any kiddo.

 

 

My kids loved Dream Big Dreams, a collection of photographs from Pete Souza, especially this one:

When his trip director weighed himself at the University of Texas and Obama stepped on the scale for laughs

 

Grace for President because WHERE ARE THE GIRLS??

 

Madame President and John, Paul George & Ben are pure fun, two more Lane Smith treasures.

 

Lafayette! (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #8): A Revolutionary War Tale by [Hale, Nathan]

Gettysburg the Graphic Novel is worth it for the powerfully illustrated “Gettysburg Address” at the end alone. If the beginning is too slow for your kids, encourage them to skip ahead. Speaking of graphic novel histories, my kids have also enjoyed reading about American history via Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales. I haven’t read them, but I’ve seen my children disappear behind their covers for hours, so at the very least they are interesting.

For kid-pleasing independent reads about the American Revolution, check out the Magic Tree House #22 Revolutionary War on Wednesday or I Survived the American Revolution, 1776.

 

What Presidents Are Made Of is full of interesting portraits and fun facts. It’s a quicker read than some of the others, so it’s nice for the shorter attention spans of younger children.

 

And for the tiniest of readers, check out This Little President. So, yeah, they’re mostly just going to be interested in the sounds of the rhyming text and the bright colors, but, hey, you can pretend they’re little prodigies if you like.

Enjoy!

Books for Kids with Rocks in Their Heads

 

img_2775

I’m not a collector. I was not a kid who collected stamps or Pokemon cards or N*SYNC posters. And as much as I love books, I rarely buy them (news flash: they’re free at the library). The only collection I did have was collected for me by my mother, and as she can attest, I did not appreciate those porcelain dolls nearly as much as they deserved. As for sentimental items, I’m more likely to get rid of something than store it because one day maybe my children could possibly . . . take it to Goodwill. That’s just the reality.

I promise I’m not heartless. I’m very sentimental about stories, and I’ve typed almost every sweet thing my children have ever done. I just don’t connect those stories to objects.

There’s one exception. For whatever reason, I like stripey rocks. I like looking for them on the rocky beaches of the Pacific NW. I like seeing them sit on my bookshelf. I love that my children will run up to me with a striped rock and ask hopefully if it meets my strict criteria.

All this to say, while the blog has been sleeping this month, I have been (among other things) strolling along the beach, scanning for striped rocks with my extended family. One evening, while looking over my haul (much too large because I couldn’t break my children’s spirit and tell them that, no, in fact, their rocks were wrong), my older brother talked about his own rocks (is this a family trait?) – one from the Berlin Wall, another from an asteroid, maybe a moon rock, I can’t even remember. My rocks are special only to me, the only history they hold my own, but it made me happy to think that we both have stones piled on our shelves.

My son briefly caught the family geology bug, and went through a serious rock phase. While my brother cares about the history of his rocks, and I care only for their beauty, my son was into the science. My quiet boy surprised everyone on a first grade field trip to a rock museum by volunteering the answers to all the questions: “Igneous! Metamorphic! Sedimentary!” My niece once filled a garbage disposal with rocks to see what would happen, but I don’t think that really counts.

Whether your child is saving her allowance for a rock tumbler or just filling a slingshot, these reads should please any rock enthusiast.

 

Rocks in His Head is a lovely family story about being true to yourself and your passions.

 

A Rock is Lively marries science and beauty in one gorgeous and informative read.

 

Rhoda is my kindred spirit. A little rock collecting makes any outing more fun.

 

Dave’s Down-to-Earth Rock Shop always makes me think of Ed’s House of Gems in Portland.

 

Roxaboxen is perfect for kids who love rocks for their pretend play possibilities.

 

You need to know the ten rules for finding a rock. Baylor and Parnall will help you.

 

Stick and Stone will be interesting to even the kid with the most desultory interest in rocks. The stone is just a vehicle for a story about friendship.

 

It’s impossible to read something written by Drew Daywalt or illustrated by Adam Rex and not chuckle. The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors is no exception. 

 

Happy reading and rock hunting!

**Just as a fun little side note, and due to my little brother’s telepathic superpowers, he and his husband sent this photo from Switzerland today:

Books for Quiet Kids

I am an ambivert.

For years, I thought I was an extrovert, but when I became a new mom my alone time dropped to essentially zero and I was quickly introduced to my introverted side.

In retrospect, I wonder how I could have missed the signs. While other kids were playing t-ball and tag and breaking windows with BB guns (it was Texas after all), I was climbing into an upper bathroom cabinet with my flashlight and the latest Baby-Sitters Club

Looking at that cabinet now, I wonder how I fit inside for so many years. I even decorated it with posters. I suppose this also illustrates that I’m sort of the opposite of claustrophobic. When I said this to my husband, he said, “What, agoraphobic?” No, I mean I love small, confined spaces. Small means cozy, small means I don’t have to move much, small means just enough space for a book and not enough space for a pile of laundry to be folded or ball to be dropped.

My children are clearly still figuring out who they are, but they both love their alone time (even my “loud” child), and my daughter definitely inherited the gift of crafting tiny cozy spaces. We have three indoor play tents (two purchased by the children at garage sales), and recently added a cardboard kitty condo:

(The only thing kitty about this condo is that my daughter often pretends to be a cat. The house number is completely random, but is clearly the right choice.)

And, of course, my husband is a ten-for-ten, nothing ambi- about him, introvert.

All this to say, the Asbys value quiet. We think solitude is absolutely lovely. And while some of us need more than others, every single one of us takes some time in the kitty condo now and then (well, not literally – my kitty condo is a hammock).

If you or your littles are Pro-Quiet like the Asbys, check out these excellent reads celebrating the softer moments:

Deborah Underwood and Renata Lewska gave us “jelly side down quiet.” I am forever grateful.

 

More magic from Sarah Stewart and David Small; their Isabel likes small-space quiet just as much as the Asbys do.

 

Beautifully illustrated, Albert’s Quiet Quest is great for promoting understanding and compromise between introverts and extroverts in the same neighborhood, family or classroom.

 

A little Hum and Swish for the quiet creatives out there.

 

The Silence Slips In is a great reminder that silence is a friend you can take anywhere.

 

The Invisible Boy is heavier, but empowering for any kid who feels as if they fade into the background and is definitely an excellent empathy tool. Kindness steals the show in this one.

 

Even the illustrations feel quiet in this lovely read-aloud from Erin and Philip Stead.

 

The protagonist in Quiet Girl in a Noisy World is not really a girl at all – she’s in her mid- to late-twenties. That said, I think teens and even pre-teens can relate to her. Full disclosure, I don’t remember if there’s any grown-up content (I think not, but check it out yourself first).

 

Quiet for the grown ups and . . .

 

Quiet Power for the kids! My son and I just started reading this one together (lots of “that’s exactly how I feel!”), but since I really loved Quiet, I assume the teen/pre-teen version is full of the same celebration of quiet souls that I loved so much in the original version.

Happy reading, in whatever kitty condo suits you best.

Now excuse me while I peruse tiny homes on Instagram . . .

 

 

Books for Little Pranksters

img_2286

 

I have many good qualities. I am generally reasonable in a conflict. I like to bake scones. I am an above-average crossword puzzler.

I do not, however, take well to being pranked.

I have a sense of humor. I can theoretically see how the following incident was amusing:

It’s past lights out for the children, but everyone is running late. Meg walks into the bathroom to turn on the water for her daughter to try to save even three minutes of time in the marathon that is bedtime. As usual, even after months of living in her new home, she turns the knob the wrong way and the shower turns on instead of the bath faucet (this is clearly a design flaw and not a personal failing). But wait. Something is wrong! A jet stream of water is spraying her directly in the face! She manages to stop the spray and proceeds to bellow the name of her son. 

At the time, I was only mad. So, so angry. I even claimed my phone was wet, but it wasn’t really. It was safe in my crossbody anti-theft travel pouch that I wear at home as a sort of extra pocket. (I’m truly a spectacularly cool person.)  But when I retold the story to my husband, he chuckled. And I had to admit, it was a pretty solid prank. From turning the shower head just right to setting it to jet stream, my son really did maximize the effect the water had on his unfortunate mother. But unfortunately for him, he then had to deal with Meg the Aggrieved the rest of the night. She’s really a blast.

If you would like to delight your own mischievous little prankster, check out these silly read-alouds:

 

We read The Magic Word every night for months and giggled every time. Alakazoomba!

 

Speaking of Mac Barnett, my son highly recommends the chapter book The Terrible Two. I haven’t read this one, but I’ve heard about all the pranks second-hand, and it sounds like a kid-favorite for sure. There are three books in the series, so plenty of vicarious pranking to be had. For more chapter book pranking, you could check out Harry Potter (no one tops the Weasley twins), Matilda (brilliant!) or The Twits (classic).

 

B.J. Novak pranks the grown-up reader! The Book With No Pictures must be read aloud, but probably not at bedtime, because kids won’t stop giggling.

 

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes

Bill Watterson is the BEST. Every. single. strip. of Calvin and Hobbes is excellent. And for more comic strip pranking, don’t forget about Lucy in PeanutsPoor Charlie Brown.

 

Check out The Miss Nelson Collection, because kids can’t have all the fun.

 

Another silly one from the mind of Mac Barnett

 

It IS.

 

Now if I could only get my hands on one of those pens

 

Nothing like pranking a magical being, right?

 

Speaking of magical beings . . . how did I miss How to Trick the Tooth Fairy in my tooth fairy post??

 

Sometimes the prankster has your best interests at heart; Tom the Tamer certainly does.

 

And sometimes they have ulterior motives.  

 

Refe and Susan Tuma are seriously the coolest parents ever.

 

Happy reading, and now excuse me while I put a prepared bowl of cereal in the freezer.

 

 

 

Books for Little Nightmare Warriors

img_2207

My husband has always been mild, gentle, pleasant, and laid-back. For example, when accidentally left behind in a grocery store as a kid, he just waited in the aisles, thinking to himself, “They’ll figure it out and come back for me soon.”

His future wife, on the other hand, was not a particularly easygoing kid.

Had I been left in Lacey’s Grocery Store, I would have been scream-sobbing next to the gallons of Blue Bell, then running through the aisles, begging someone to call the police because I had been abandoned.

This intensity of mine was ever present, but most certainly at bedtime when I was desperately afraid to go to sleep because of The Nightmares. My nightmares today consist mostly of social faux pas, like arriving at my in-law’s Christmas celebration only to realize I forgot to buy presents for anyone or accepting a job only to have to back out because I didn’t think about childcare options or being publicly shamed for forgetting to write a thank you note. When I was a child, though, I was being chased by abominable snowmen or about to be run over by a truck and my legs wouldn’t work.

So I did the only reasonable thing I could do and refused to go to sleep.

Following should probably be a story of how my mother coaxed me to sleep night after night, but parenting is a thankless job, so this is a story about my cool older brother assuaging my childhood fears.

My brother suffered from night terrors, so my dreams must have seemed like small potatoes to him, but nevertheless he sat across from me at the dining room table (no chance of falling asleep there!), took my fears very seriously and suggested a solution to all my problems.

What if he hopped into his bed at the same moment I lay down in mine? Then he would travel to my dreams, meet me there, and take me flying through the world to see beautiful and amazing sights and keep all the nightmares at bay.

Because everything Neill said was absolutely true and he certainly had magical powers (he could travel to the moon at the speed of light, in case you were wondering), I believed him wholeheartedly, and skipped off to bed where I fell asleep quickly, so as not to miss my aerial appointment.

Unless you have a cool drum-playing, light-speed-traveling high-schooler at your disposal, this approach may not work for your child, but you can at least enjoy these read-alouds for little nightmare warriors.

**It’s hard to make a list of “nightmare” books that aren’t at least a little scary. Check out these feel-good books or maybe these if you’re looking for a distraction from the scaries at bedtime**

Everyone needs a Nightlight to guard against Pitch, the Nightmare King.

(And William Joyce is certainly a fantasy king, in my book.)

 

Full disclosure, I’ve forgotten most of this book. But I love Jessica Meserve’s cheerful illustrations and I’m going to pop this one on our holds list again, because everyone needs a story about learning to be brave when your protector is missing.

 

Humor is the best armor against fear! 

 

Speaking of humor, there’s No Such Thing as a boy on top of the bed.

 

Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen collaborating on childhood fear? YES.

 

Yarlett’s Dark is not close to as scary as Snicket and Klassen’s, if you’re looking for lighter (and fabulously illustrated) fare.

 

There’s an Alligator Under My Bed and There’s a Nightmare in My Closet are classics, but couldn’t be left off this list.

 

Speaking of classics, nothing is more classic than Seuss. And this one apparently glows in the dark!

 

I’ve mentioned Tiger vs. Nightmare before (it is excellent and warrants mentioning more than once), but fair warning – it is definitely scary. Don’t let the cute tiger fool you.

 

For your chapter book readers, check out these:

Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King brings Joyce’s brilliance to the big kids.

 

My son recommends The Last Kids on Earth, but says you should definitely start with book one. I haven’t read these, but if Netflix is investing, it’s probably solid, right?

 

We just put Nightmares! on hold; it has great reviews and falls solidly in this category.

 

Join the BFG and watch out for those trogglehumbers!

 

Happy reading and lovely dreams!

Books for Tooth Fairy Surrogates and Their Little Ones

At a Fourth of July barbecue last week, one of the kiddos in attendance lost a tooth during dessert. Upon hearing the celebratory news, another kid let out a deep sigh.

That’s the sigh of a kid with all his tenacious little baby teeth, I thought. (It was.)

There is something really special about the tooth milestone. Turning the pages of my kids’ elementary yearbook and hitting the first-grade page with all the toothy little grins makes my heart melt a little. I mean, when your kid starts crawling it’s thrilling, but also you’ve now lost the ability to plunk them down in one spot and expect them to stay there. First solid foods means cleaning high chairs. First steps are also first falls. And I don’t even want to think about the pre-teen and teenage firsts that are around the corner. But with teeth, the only thing you’re really losing is maybe the ability to pronounce the letter s. And there is, of course, the tooth fairy tax.

All in all, I’m a pretty terrible fairy surrogate. Not only am I cheap (the value of baby teeth is severely inflated, in my opinion), but I’m also forgetful. Mornings are my jam; in the evenings I’m worthless, and I’m likely to forget there is a gross leftover body part under my kids’ pillows that I’m supposed to somehow extract and replace with nonexistent cash (do kids Venmo these days?). My one shining moment was when I bounced into my kids’ room wearing my daughter’s fairy wings, to bestow the (gloriously remembered!) treasure on my sleeping child. My oldest was awake and thought it was hilarious.

If you are inclined to reject the whole money-for-teeth business, you could slip these lovely reads under your child’s pillow instead:

 

The Tooth Fairy Wars by Kate Coombs and Jake Parker began a total obsession with trapping the tooth fairy at the Asby house. Our kids wrote (slightly disturbing) stories about destroying the tooth fairy, planned elaborate traps, and generally had a blast with this pretend play. You’re welcome.

 

The Tooth Mouse by Susan Hood and Janice Nadeau is beautifully illustrated and a fun introduction to the Tooth Mouse tradition in France.

 

Check out Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat, which features a cat AND a mouse.

 

Speaking of milestones, join April and Esme: Tooth Fairies on their first tooth expedition.

 

Okay, so Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO is on order at my library, which means I am on the hold list and haven’t read it yet, but it LOOKS fantastic.

 

And finally Josie’s Lost Tooth, for kids like my little friend at the BBQ, who feel like everyone else is losing their teeth first.

 

Happy reading!

 

 

Feel-Good Books for Kids Who Love Ramona

I’m not used to feeling old. Maybe it has something to do with dating your grade-school sweetheart. High school doesn’t feel that long ago because we’re still writing the same story, just, you know, less let’s-play-house and more let’s-buy-a-house. Add to that the fact that we decided at the wise old ages of twenty-three and twenty-four that we were ready to be parents, and you can see how I often find myself as the youngest adult on the playground.

But I finally had my first oh-my-gosh-I’m-aging moment this week.

It was not a grey hair (my husband has had those since he was sixteen). It was not my child saying something like, “Did you have cell phones back in those days?” (We did!) It was in fact a reference to Harry Potter in a Judy Blume book.

Since Blume’s first children’s book The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo was published in 1969, you’ll forgive me for not realizing that the fabulous Fudge books are from the 1990s and early 2000s. Plus, the covers look like this:

Fudge-a-Mania book cover.jpgDouble Fudge book cover.jpg

And anyway, how is it possible that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in 1997? I remember it. My brother’s toast at my wedding included a jab for scheduling the event on the night of the release of Book Seven (how could I, really?).

So you see why this moment felt so anachronistic to me. Fudge shouldn’t know about Harry. They belong to different ages. How can Potter be over twenty years old if I remember reading the first edition? It can’t be true.

All this is going somewhere helpful, I promise. Let’s get back to the Fudge books and why children love them. There are some authors like Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume and Margaret Wise Brown, who never forgot what it’s like to see the world from a child’s point of view. And when people like that write stories about family life, stories that are so relatable and lovely, children can read them for hours.

So please enjoy these fabulous stories by authors who truly get your kid.

The Ramona Quimby Collection and The Henry and Ribsy Box Set by Beverly Cleary (of course)

There is no fictional world that feels more a part of our family than this one. We refer to Ramona and Henry almost every week. Whenever there are claims of injustice, we say, “Having been the youngest . . . she had learned to watch for unfair situations.” Tonight at dinner when one child was leaning halfway off her chair, still technically sitting down, we said, “Just like Ramona on the curb, teasing Henry!” For Christmas one year, we found an Etsy artist who would make a Ramona “Q” for us (see below). We can’t get enough. I highly recommend the audiobooks, read by Stockard Channing and Neil Patrick Harris. 

IMG_0214

(I love this ornament so much.)

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

Clementine has been compared to Ramona and for good reason. She’s an absolute delight and Frazee’s illustrations are perfect.

 

The Gooney Bird Greene books by Lois Lowry

From the mind that brought you The Giver, comes a delightfully fun and quirky series, featuring yet another strong young woman.

 

The Lulu Collection by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lane Smith and Kevin Cornell

While I like Lulu and the Brontosaurus best, they are all full of Viorst’s signature wit.

 

The Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

There are so many instances when you need the phrase, “toughy little buffalo.” This three-book series is both laugh-out-loud funny and also surprisingly poignant. I loved these books, which was not surprising at all, since Jenkins’ What Happens on Wednesdays is a big favorite of mine (and a totally unsung delight – you can get Wednesdays for less than four dollars on Amazon because the world apparently hasn’t discovered how absolutely perfect it is). They aren’t from a child’s perspective (rather, toys’), but for whatever reason they seemed to fit in this category.

 

And, of course, the Fudge Books by Judy Bloom

If you love Henry Huggins, you’ll probably also be a fan of Peter Hatcher and his crew.

 

Enjoy these feel-good chapter books with your littles, and happy reading!