Back Soon!

Look for a new post in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime, enjoy this trip down memory lane:

Both of my children loved Paul Zelinsky’s Wheels on the Bus. Whenever I read the swish-swish-swish page (see top photo), my daughter would frantically point at the bus driver and say emphatically, “Papa! Papa! Papa!”

I laughed every time.

To be fair, I have included a page from The Foot Book. My son used to point to the woman in the yellow dress and say “Mama, Mama,” and Marcus found it similarly hilarious.

There is really nothing better than reading with a kid.

Happy summer reading!!

Books for Bridge Builders

(This post is full of books about literal building, not, you know, kids building bridges across cultural/social/economic barriers. In case you were wondering. )

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Here in Bridgetown, public elementary students learn all about Portland’s bridges, how they were constructed, their history, etc., and then they make a bridge of their own at the end of the year.

This is cool.

Also, you know, SIGH.

I vacillate between wishing my children’s education were more project-based and then wishing they were never-ever-ever assigned a project, especially one with the word “family” attached.

Family project?? I already did my time in third grade. I spelled delicatessen and made a jaguar diorama. So I decided to delegate all “family” engineering help to my lovely spouse, who responded by joking, “But I already made a bridge in elementary school!”

I was shocked.

We attended the same elementary. We had mostly the same teachers. How did I miss this essential part of my STEM education? Where are my engineering skills?? I needed them at this crucial moment when my son was required to build an eighteen-inch bridge that could hold a pound of weight.

If only I had just been assigned a bridge project in grade-school, then I could have helped my son create something like this:

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Ha, just kidding. My architect friend helped her son make this.

Look closely. I kid you not, that’s the topography of the land under the Steel Bridge. Also, her son ran up to us after school, stressed because a ball hit his bridge during transport and the “telescoping feature” wasn’t working. I joked that I didn’t even know what that meant. I was only half kidding.

Nevertheless, while I may be a bridge-building novice, I can read inspiring STEM books to my children, no engineering degree required.

Here are a few books to spark your inner engineer:

Iggy Peck Architect and Rosie Revere Engineer are two fun and very popular stem books. They are sure winners, with colorful illustrations and rhyming text.

 

Jonathan Bean remembers his family’s 1.5 year building project in Building Our House, which even includes photographs from the actual project at the end of the book. It’s practical and exciting to watch unfold from a child’s perspective.

 

For a more whimsical take on house-building, check out If I Built a House by Chris Van Dusen. 

 

Speaking of whimsy, your kids will immediately whip out a sketchpad to design their own imaginative tree house after reading the very fun Secret Tree Fort.

 

For more treehouses, check out the beautifully illustrated Everything You Need for a Treehouse

 

Okay, just one more tree house book. Maybe I should change the title of this post to “Books for Aspiring Tree House Builders.”

 

How about a waterfall-house, for a change of pace? 

 

Okay, I’ve veered very far. Let’s get back to bridges with Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing, which is an attention-grabbing title if ever I read one.

 

Brooklyn Bridge is not for the casual bridge enthusiast. It is text-heavy with dark illustrations and doesn’t sugarcoat the deaths and difficulties present during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Worth reading to a bridge-obsessed (or even bridge-curious) kid with a long attention span.

 

I loved, loved, loved Dave Egger’s book on the Statue of LibertyThis Bridge Will Not Be Gray about the Golden Gate Bridge is also an excellent read.

 

Happy reading and building from our popsicle-stick-laden playroom to yours.

 

 

 

Picture Books to Encourage Sibling Affection

I’m not one of those parents who thinks that if you just encourage sibling affection, your kids will be best friends. I know how ridiculously lucky we are that our two have been buddies since day one, especially given that one is a calm soul and the other is . . . well, not.

And full disclosure, my kids fight like the best of them. “Warting” is an Asbyism for purposefully annoying your sibling to the point of provoking an outburst. We inherited this word from my husband’s family of three boys, and use it regularly. Maybe every day. But I’ve also found them like this almost every day, too:

Speaking of my in-laws, when they decided to surprise their children with a swimming pool a hundred years ago, they called their three boys into the living room for a family meeting so they could share the special news. The eldest boy trudged in, sighed, and said, “Not another baby.”

I love that story.

But back to brainwashing reminding your kid that the new addition is not a screaming, smelly, parent-stealer, but rather a new friend with whom to share books.

These stories are a great place to start:

I went through a phase where I bought One Special Day for every toddler-turned-big-sibling I knew, and for good reason.

 

I discovered Sisters at my in-law’s house and couldn’t believe I hadn’t found it before. It is simple and lovely.

 

The Baby Tree is my FAVORITE book for discussing the birds and the bees. It’s hilarious, lovely, and perfectly illustrated. A great introduction for even young new siblings.

 

Loretta’s Gift is a lovely book that really empowers young helpers.

 

For books that don’t sugarcoat sibling trials but are heart-warming nonetheless, try Big Red LollipopDear Sister (an Asby favorite), Carmela Full of WishesWhatever Happened to My Sister?, and The New Small Person

 

King Baby is just for giggles, which is totally worthwhile. Not everything needs to be imbued with deeper meaning here. Babies are funny.

 

And on that note, also check out Mission: New Baby. I’m so surprised it only has two reviews on Amazon as of this writing. It’s hilarious, too!

 

Gentle and lovely, Mama’s Belly will encourage your little one to feel comfortable asking all the questions.

 

For lovely adoption stories try A Most Unusual Day or A Family is a Family is a Family, the latter of which includes many different types of families, not just families by adoption.

 

You Were the First is a celebration of firstborns. The sequels include The Second: Meh, We’ve Done This Before, and The Third: You’re Just Lucky to Be Here. (I’m totally kidding.)

 

And how could I not include this sibling book with a big sis desperate to read to her baby brother??

 

Happy reading (and warting)!

 

 

Star Wars Books for People Who Can’t Sense The Force

My daughter was recently the only girl in attendance at a Star Wars Jedi birthday party. I love everything about that, despite the fact that I immediately forget the plot of every Star Wars film after the credits roll. What’s a ewok again? Is “young padawan” a compliment or an insult when someone calls me that? Does Nerfherder predate Nerf guns? Are they related? Are Stormtroopers humans or robots? Clones! The Clone Wars . . . right? Right??

My son’s lego robotics competition has a Star Wars theme next year, and instead of thinking, “Wow, I need to learn more about coding for this next level of competition,” I’m actually thinking, “I have GOT to re-watch all those movies this summer so I don’t make a fool of myself in front of the kids!”

Side note: that awesome birthday party featured a back-flipping Jedi master who taught light-saber technique was pummeled by twelve foam light sabers for the duration of the party. It was really fun to watch.

But back to business – here are books even someone afflicted with Ackbar-amnesia can enjoy.

Just from the cover, you can tell Are You Scared, Darth Vader is hilarious. I won’t ruin any of the jokes for you here – just check it out.

 

I’m not sure who the audience is meant to be in Darth Vader and Son, but my son and I both loved it.

 

I knew BB-8 on the Run was meant for people like me when I saw Drew Daywalt’s name on the cover.

 

Tony Diterlizzi’s take on Star Wars is a good primer for kids who think the movie is a little too scary but still want to be in the know. Actually, maybe I should take another look.

 

Happy reading and may the force . . . oh, you know.

In Praise of an Abundance of Books

I first learned about creating a rich print environment from Jim Trelease, and I really decided to take that advice to the nth degree and be as ridiculous as possible. We always have (literally) hundreds of books checked out from the library. Four cards, with a 150 book limit on each card means the Asbys have a filthy rich print environment. A new mom friend came over to our apartment a few years ago and said something like, “Are these . . . all library books?” Um, yes. Yes they are. Is that weird?

Children, of course, think their family is normal until they grow up and learn otherwise. We were re-reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe this week, and my son responded to, “In one corner there was a door which Lucy thought must lead to Mr. Tumnus’s bedroom, and on one wall was a shelf full of books,” with, “One shelf? Only one shelf? Geez!” My work here is done.

Happy reading, and here’s hoping I’ve skewed your definition of a reasonable number of books. The only reasonable amount is the most you can carry (or in our case, roll) out of the library. Throw a few sturdy bags in your car and check out these lovely books that celebrate the written word:

 

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a huge favorite of mine. I won’t tell you anything else to avoid spoiling the magic.

 

I have this cover illustration of The Library framed on my wall . . . for obvious reasons. This book is perfect for book lovers of all ages.

 

Pair Building Books with Iggy Peck, Architect to gift to your favorite little builder.

 

The Children Who Loved Books reminds us that all you need is love . . . and books.

 

Castle of Books was actually a little tricky to find (I had to search by Bernard Clavel to find it on Amazon). I don’t remember it well, but I remember liking it, and now that I realize it’s hard to find, I’m feeling the need to check it out again at the library to make sure it stays in circulation!

 

But Excuse Me That is My Book is one of those manufactured books that has the original author’s name slapped on the front, but is totally franchised and written by other people. They’re usually terrible. This one isn’t. It’s actually quite fun. Lower your expectations (it’s not really written by the brilliant and hilarious Lauren Child), and you’ll enjoy this one.

 

The uber-talented Oliver Jeffers created this beautiful celebration of books and reading. Enjoy.

 

Speaking of Oliver Jeffers and books, you should also check out the very silly and very fun The Incredible Book Eating Boy

 

The Little Red Fish is an imaginative and dream-like little adventure.

 

 

And a little something for the grown-ups: First read The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe, and then follow that heaviness with the light and funny Dear Fahrenheit 451One may make you a little wistful and weepy, the next will make you laugh, both will make you fill up your library holds requests with new books and old favorites.

Happy reading, all you bibliophiles! Remember, there’s no such thing as too many library books.

 

A Few Books I Reckon Y’all Should Read

I’m from Texas. So is my husband Marcus, and technically so is my son, though he only spent 18 months living there. My daughter, however, is quick to tell anyone who will listen that she was born in North Carolina, that she is unique among her family members, who are so boring in their Texan uniformity. She claims none of it. In fact, one August, when we stepped out of the airport in Texas, my little girl, hit with a wave of real Texas heat, gasped in shock and said, “How do Annie and Granddad survive this??”

Here is my daughter, pretending to be a Texan and my son, the technical Texan:

Here I am in the background, the real deal, at about age 4:

My feelings about Texas are pretty much the same today.

Surprisingly, though, my daughter is the only Asby who slips into a rural accent regularly. This has very little to do with us, with her brief time in NC, or even the grandparents, and everything to do with Stockard Channing’s performance in The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection. Channing’s Miss Binney would fit right in in our rural Texas hometown.

My own Texas accent may have been drilled out of me by my fabulous high school theatre instructor (“Get not git! Just not jist! Poor rhymes with sewer, not four!”), but I can still sound like George W. when the occasion calls for it.

Pull out your own rural accents for the following lovely read-alouds:

 

Why hasn’t Maripat Perkins written more books? I can’t get through Rodeo Red without laughing. If you, too, like reading phrases like, “cantankerous lemon custard,” “sawing logs,” or “slippery as a snake’s belly in a mudslide,” this book is for you. It’s not designed to encourage sibling affection, so don’t read it with a moralistic bent. This one is just funny. Enjoy it.

 

Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse does have a moral compass – it’s a lovely book, with perfect illustrations. And it has a horse. Sort of. So I think it counts.

 

A book about books and David Small illustrated it? Yes, please.

 

This one will make you want to go someplace special yourself. It deals with racism and civil rights, but has a hopeful inclusive bent.

 

This one’s for the grown-ups. A friend gave me God Save Texas as a birthday gift one year, and I have to say that it did rekindle some love for my home state. Wright clearly loves Texas, even as he criticizes aspects, and it helped me remember you can be happy and sad at the same time, you know?

And now I have quips like, “Did you know there may be more tigers in Texas than in the wild thanks to lax exotic animal laws?” I sometimes forget how strange it is that one of our Texas cousins was licked by a camel in east Texas while out for a ride on a four-wheeler.

That’s definitely surprising, now that I think about it.

Happy reading, y’all!

 

Be Yourself Books for Kids Who are Lovely, Just as They Are

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I just love compliments from my little ones. Recently one child said, “Ooh, Mama, the purple lines on your legs are so pretty!”

Thanks kid, really.

This moment reminded me of a mom I knew when I was younger and purple-line-less who used to joke that whenever her kids began a compliment, she would run away before they could finish. “Mom you look beautiful [Mom wearing fishnet hose runs away], like Spiderman!” “Mom you look awesome [Mom wearing go-go boots runs away], like a Power Ranger!”

I wish I could bottle up that ability to like what you like for whatever reason you like it (purple is a pretty color, after all) and swallow it whole. But I’ll take the closest thing – these BE YOURSELF books, celebrating unique individuals who like what they like and who are who they are.

Now excuse me, while I re-read some Brene Brown.

 

The Junkyard Wonders is just one Polacco’s many masterfully told stories, so feel free to check out her entire shelf in the P’s at your local library when you look for this one. Her picture books are generally long (which is ideal if you are reading to a mixed age group) and can sometimes be heavy (this one is), so be sure to preview before you read with your littles. Her books are worth reading more than once, so you won’t be sorry. I still remember reading one of Patricia Polacco’s books for the first time in elementary school. She has that effect.

 

The parents in I Love My Colorful Nails are pure gold. And if you aren’t misty-eyed with happy tears at the end of this one, you may need to visit Oz.

 

Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom’s What Do You Do With an Idea? is a New York Times Best Seller for a reason. Every page is beautiful and it will no doubt give many children the confidence boost they need to take risks and let their inner creative out.

 

Every page of Pearl is a piece of art. You’ll be tempted to rip them out and frame them. Don’t! I bet Molly Idle sells prints.

 

I Am Small,  and Oliver: The Second-Largest Living Thing on Earth are perfect for any kid who plays the comparison game.

 

Another Oliver, finding his place in the world!

 

I don’t even need to sell Julian is a Mermaid. Look at that cover. It’s perfect.

 

Check out Julian’s kindred spirit Morris, too!

 

Ideal in its simplicity, Red is a fabulous intro book on this topic but is great for any age (including mine – I loved it).

 

Work that fabulous neck, Edward!

 

Pair Perfectly Norman with the short story “The Flyers of Gy” by Ursula Le Guin for your next family book club (the Flyers link will take you to Lavar Burton’s short story podcast, which will radically change your next commute or workout session).

 

Happy reading and remember there is no one alive who is you-er than you.