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.

 

 

 

 

 

What to Read When Your Home is an Absolute Mess

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Well hello from our new home, where our petticoats are six inches deep in housewares. 

On Easter morning, my friend texted me 2.5 hours before departure time, and I told her we were running late. How did I know we were running late with almost three hours of time to accomplish tasks, you ask? Somewhere deep in a box with pink (or maybe blue?) tape, rested our Easter attire. Maybe in two different boxes. Possibly four. Plus no one had eaten or showered yet either (where is the conditioner??).

Another friend texted that moving is why God gave us wine and coffee. I responded that I couldn’t find my corkscrew or French press.

In the end, we managed to find everyone’s dress-up clothes except my son’s, who was absolutely thrilled. Is there a Greek god of loungewear?

But thanks to brilliant planning on my part total luck, our books were packed in open-top banana boxes and they were easy to find.

Following are the books that can make even clutter look beautiful.

 

Sprout Helps Out by Rosie Winstead

 

Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace

 

Super-Completely and Totally the Messiest by Judith Viorst and Robin Preiss Glasser

 

The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Marla Frazee

 


 

Happy reading! Enjoy these lovelies, whether your house looks like Marie Kondo’s or mine. And if you must choose between cleaning or reading, you know what the Asbys recommend.

 

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Kids Can Love Poetry, I Promise.

I know I joked about poetry in my last post, but it can be so much fun, really. Especially if you aren’t opposed to a little April fooling.

This absolutely silly and hilarious book by Chris Harris and Lane Smith is the Where the Sidewalk Ends for a new generation of readers. And if you’re really, really mean, you can do what I did when I read this page:

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Without missing a beat, I said, “If you’re a good child, then you’ll read it just fine—/But if you’re a bad one, you won’t.” When my little darlings protested, “NO, it doesn’t say that! There’s no fourth line!” I laughed and refused to be tricked by them. I said I knew they could see the fourth line, because they are the best kids in the world, and I wouldn’t be fooled. They looked at each other wide-eyed, while I walked away to hide my laughter in a sink full of dishes. I heard them whispering, plotting. Then they scrambled to try all their ideas. They tried holding it up to a mirror, they took it into the dark to check for glow-in-the-dark ink, they tried their invisible ink pen light, they looked through a magnifying lens. When they had exhausted all their experiments, they came back to me begging for relief, an admission of trickery. I laughed at what I called their elaborate ruse and again refused to be had by my own children.

I did eventually spill the beans, of course. They thought it was hilarious. Or maybe they were just so relieved they couldn’t stop laughing. Either way, it was a lot of fun.

Now if you’re looking for more serious books of poetry, here are a few collections my kids have absolutely loved:

I love Mary Oliver for myself, but especially for children. Her books are a wonderful starting point for future poetry-lovers, because her writing is both beautiful and accessible. Because she writes about the natural world, and children are expert observers of nature, her writing clicks for them in a way that other works that require more background knowledge just can’t. Also, every time I pulled out this book I would give her a silly last name like Pickles or Olive Juice, just to prompt the kids to say, “No! Mary Oliver!” I really pull out all the stops when it comes to poetry. The stakes are too high to play sloppy.

Speaking of a good starting point, this HBO special is lovely:

I know. A show? Come on, Meg. This is supposed to be a book blog. But while technically a screen, in The Poetry Show the actors are reading classic poetry to your children. Reading. This is the screen time you can feel good about. And guess what? They made one more: A Child’s Garden of Poetry. When my daughter was a newborn, my son watched these over and over, and I didn’t feel one bit guilty. They are lovely, truly. Buy copies for every new big sibling you know.

If you’re looking for a collection from a variety of poets, a way to dip-your-toe, find out what your children like, we loved A Child’s Anthology of Poetry:

There aren’t pictures in that one, though. If you need pictures, try Poems to Learn by Heart:

Once you’ve discovered which poets your children like, you can find all sorts of short picture books, or longer books of poetry featuring their favorite. For example, maybe they like ee cummings, so you discover Enormous Smallness and I Carry Your Heart with Me and Little Tree. Or maybe they love haiku, so you have some fun with Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku or Guyku or Hi, Koo! The possibilities!!

I started to list more of our favorite picture book versions of classic poems or biographies of poets, but the post would be almost as long as my dinosaur post and most wouldn’t realistically make it to the end. I can’t help but include A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, though, because it has double-bling on the cover, and you really need to pull out all the stops when your child’s love of poetry is on the line.

Happy reading and good luck! Please share your own recommendations in the comments!

 

 

 

Bribing My Readers – The Food Method

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I’m not going to pretend I have reluctant readers. I don’t. I wake in the morning to kids reading on the couch and I catch kids pretending to use the bathroom after bedtime but really sneaking in extra book time. My little angels can make a power play like the best of us, though, and if they know I want to read something specific (cough*poetry*cough), they may politely refuse just to be contrary. And now that they can both read basically anything they want by themselves, I’m not quite as indispensable as I once was.

These cases call for desperate measures, and I have been known to resort to bribing in the cause of good literature and quality family time. I feel no shame. If you, too, are willing to lower your ethical standards to expand your children’s literary horizons, here are my proven methods:

  1. The Blatant Bribe: This one is simple and works 100% of the time. Simply say, “Whoever wants to read with me may grab a lollipop from the candy bin!” Your children will trip over themselves to get at the forbidden candy. The secret is to offer something long-lasting, to allow them to eat it on the couch (gasp!), and make clear that the treat is totally transactional. As long as you start reading quickly, they’ll eventually be so hooked on the books that it will be absolute Greek tragedy when you have to, you know, stop reading so you can make dinner or something unreasonable like that.
  2. The Subtle Bribe: Whip out your Trader Joe’s chocolate croissants, your homemade cookies (if you’re feeling fancy), a mug of hot cocoa, anything that smells divine. When your littles follow their noses to the kitchen table, immediately whip out the book and start reading. Don’t announce. Don’t ask for opinions. While their mouths are full of warm, sweet goodness, dive deep into the book. They will likely stay glued without you having to acknowledge your trickery.
  3. The Force Feeding: As stated before, I parent early risers. For this and other reasons, our family dinner is a 6:45a family breakfast. This means that I fly solo at dinner time, and sometimes we three larks are just a hot mess at 5:30PM. Instead of micromanaging their manners failures or making some floundering attempt at “how was your day,” or “what made you sad/mad/glad,” I pull out our dinnertime book box, full of poetry and nonfiction and sometimes historical fiction. So many books my children would never have read on their own time have been absolutely loved over plates of grilled cheese or curry. This is also the one and only place my children have managed to memorize poetry. When I hear one of them recite, “The bee is not afraid of me,” I suddenly care a lot less how they hold their fork. But if your readers aren’t hiding books in the bathroom closet, you don’t have to pull out the hard stuff at dinner. This is absolutely a perfect time to introduce something with a fast moving plot or something to make them giggle, and I definitely do that, too. One more positive about the force feeding method – no sugar is required. This method is approved for all you rockstar parents with children who think a fresh peach is dessert. I am not of your kind, clearly, but I admire you from afar. From very, very afar.

Now that you are armed with the tools you need to bribe your children, here are some lovely food-themed books to pair with your snack or meal:

 

Eddie’s Kitchen and How to Make Good Things to Eat by Sarah Garland

Was there ever a cozier, more quotable children’s book? We Asbys will often say, “But Eddie knew what to do!” or “What a floury little fairy princess you are,” and immediately we love each other more. Extra points if you read this one with a British accent.

 

I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child

This one is absolutely hilarious and as a plus, convinced my daughter to try “green drops from Greenland.”

 

A Few Bites by Cybèle Young

Another story of a sibling and a reluctant vegetable eater, beautifully imagined and illustrated.

 

Bebe Goes Shopping by Susan Middleton Elya and Steven Salerno is the only bilingual book about which my youngest did not yell, “No Spanish!” when she was in her English-only phase. It’s funny, musical and cheerfully illustrated, and definitely one of my favorites for introducing new Spanish words.

 

Max Explains Everything: Grocery Store Expert by Stacy McAnulty and Deborah Hocking

Speaking of cheerful illustrations, this one is a delight. It even features a little potty humor, so you know it’s a win even for the older kids.

 

Can I Eat That? by food critic Joshua David Stein and Julia Rothman is silly nonfiction, which is the very best kind.

 

 

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall

Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall working together on the same book? I knew I was in heaven before I opened this one and I was not disappointed. Light enough for my kindergartener and heavy enough for my third-grader, inclusive and diverse, perfectly written and illustrated, I can’t say enough good things about this one. Definitely make your own blackberry fool from the recipe in the back. Unless you are a rockstar vegan, of course.

 

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri

Perfectly hilarious, whether your kids like spicy salsa or not.

 

Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony

Great for the youngest of readers, and it features donuts. Asby family win for sure.

 

 

A is for Artichoke is a board book, and even my kids, who are way past the alphabet book stage, enjoyed going through to see if they had tried all the foods in the book. This is great for parents who are reading to a toddler and an elementary-schooler and are struggling to find common ground.

 

 

Speaking of those older kids, you can whip out James and the Giant Peach or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or the Clementine series, the last of which is not about food at all really, but her name is Clementine, so I think it counts. The series collection is even called “A Box of Clementines.”

 

 

My maybe favorite food book is this memoir in disguise as a cookbook by Jenny Rosenstrach. It’s an oldie but a goodie. I also loved It’s Not About the Broccoli and French Kids Eat Everything.

 

What are your favorite food-featuring reads??

Happy bribing!