Thursday, November 14, 2013

Plump and Perky Turkey

As I have mentioned before, I am a total sucker for seasonal books. The trouble with seasonal, holiday-themed books is that it seems that publishers know they will sell, just by virtue of the fact that they are seasonal or holiday-themed. Meaning, not on the virtue f the writing. There are a lot--and I mean a lot, of bad holiday books out there.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the fall. I love food. I love the harvest. I love visiting New York, and this is the only time of year I seem to do that anymore. I love the parade (we used to go every year when I was a child). I love the smells. I love the brisk walk I take after the crazy meal. Most of all, I love being with family.

Now, when you love a holiday, and you love children's books, you naturally want a good collection of books to psych your kid up for the season. The trouble is, so many Thanksgiving books are terrible.

Enter A Plump and Perky Turkey by Teresa Bateman. I happened upon it one October in the now-closed Nashua Used Book Superstore. I picked it up because of my known Thanksgiving obsession. I read it, expecting another bad holiday book, and was quite surprised. This one is very good. Good enough that Jay asks to read it year-round.

General synopsis:
"The people of Squawk Valley were downhearted and depressed. Thanksgiving was approaching, but without its special guest. They couldn't find a turkey for the feast they planned to eat. It looked like they'd be making do with bowls of shredded wheat." What ensues is a great little story about the townsfolk coming together to "trick a turkey into jumping in the pot." They decide to hold an arts and crafts fair, and invite a plump and perky turkey named Pete to be the judge. The trouble is, Pete is a pretty clever bird. As you can probably guess, Pete gets away, but the townsfolk are still grateful for their bowls of shredded wheat.

Who loves it:
I do. Good seasonal books have a special place in my heart. Jay does. He loved it from the first Thanksgiving season we read it (when he was 11 months old), and we often read it during the rest of the year, too. Kay is warming to the book this season. After our first seasonal reading on November 1, she has started calling most poultry birds "turkeys." So, she is enthused, if not necessarily accurate.

Why we love it:
This is a very lovable book. The townsfolk seem sweet, but slightly (and endearingly) dim. The bird is clever, and has a sense of humor. Actually, a lot of the book is funny. It produces little chuckles, if not belly laughs. On the page where Pete is fleeing, it is fun to have the younger kids try to find him among all the other arts and crafts turkeys. Also, the rhyme is wonderful. I've said it before--if an author is going to rhyme a book, it had better be done well. This book is written with skill. Every word rolls off the tongue, and there are no sticky points that trip up your read-aloud. This is especially important for a Thanksgiving read-aloud, because we bring it to New York with us, where relatives who ave not read the book a hundred times are reading it to our children.

The verdict:
If you love Thanksgiving, and you want to start putting some books on your child's shelf for the holiday, A Plump and Perky Turkey should be first on your list. It is a good story, regardless of its seasonality. My only warning is that it does produce a bit of a pang of guilt if you do eat turkey on Thanksgiving. The "turkey escapes being eaten on Thanksgiving" theme is extremely common in Thanksgiving books. At least this one does it very well. Still, if your child is very sensitive to the plight of Pete and other birds, I could see why you might proceed with caution.

That said, this is, by far, my favorite book for my favorite holiday.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Where's My T-R-U-C-K?

When Jay started preschool, we found out that they participated in the Scholastic Book Club. I was thrilled. I remembered the catalogs from my elementary school years, and the thrill I felt each time I brought one home. As a young reader, they were such a treat. So, I was determined to order from each catalog for Jay, to build our collection, especially with seasonal books.

Things didn't work out as planned. For the first order, I had to register online. I put my order in well before the due date, excited to be receiving a pack of three Halloween books for an amazing price. Unfortunately, I had to confirm my new user name through a link that was, unbeknownst to me, delivered to my inbox. I realized too late, missed the deadline, and felt a boatload of mommy guilt that my son would not receive books in the very first month of Scholastic ordering.

The next order, I sat down with the catalog, and chose a four-pack of Thanksgiving books. Then, as was suggested by Jay's teacher (for all the students, not just Jay), I spread the catalog before him and told him to choose one book. The theory was sound--kids who get to pick their own books are more likely to read. But, the theory does not account for branded children. Or, maybe it does, and is directed toward branded children who are resistant to reading. Jay was indeed branded--I am thankful that almost-three-year-olds cannot get tattoos, or Jay might, at that point, have a Buzz Lightyear painted across his bum. Jay was also a reader, though, and did not need another character book on his shelves. He, of course, tried to get the Toy Story "how to tell time" book, which was most likely a piece of garbage.

It took a lot of negotiating. There may have been promises of additional books, or donuts, or something. I can't really remember. But, finally, he caved and we got Where's My T-R-U-C-K? by Karen Beaumont. What else came with the order? Seven Thanksgiving books. I guess my pending order from the month before went through, and, since the Halloween season had passed, they sent the current season's package.

We have not kept up with ordering from Scholastic. When Jay can read and make better choices from the catalog, we will likely resume. In the meantime, I like being able to read a book before purchasing it, and we have a steady stream of books coming in due to our used bookstore addiction, anyway. In the meantime, despite my initial feeling that this book would be junk, we actually scored a decent story.

General synopsis:
The basic premise of Where's My T-R-U-C-K? is that the main character, Tommy, has lost his beloved toy truck. He spends the length of the book searching for it, before finding that his dog has stolen it and buried it in the backyard. (Spoiler alert, I know. I'm sorry. Just don't tell the child you are going to read it to.) 

Who loves it:
Jay really liked this book. Was it because he chose it? Maybe. Was it because he was suddenly able to spell truck, due to the repetition of the T-R-U-C-K throughout the rhyme? Maybe. It's empowering to an almost-three-year-old to be able to spell one word, and get all the oooohs and aaaahs from adults who hear him do it. 

Why we like it:
I like this book. It is not an absolute favorite, but I never mind reading it. Why? Because it has a lot of little jokes for the parents that make me chuckle. The whole book starts with these lines, "'Shhh!' I hear my parents say. 'Tommy's not himself today. He's lost his T-R-U-C-K!'" Of course, Tommy, who is listening, can surmise what his parents are spelling. (They probably always can, but I, for one, like to continue deluding myself.) Throughout the rest of the book, Tommy often spells out truck, just as his parents did.

The verdict:
The book is cute. It's not deep or philosophical. It does not have a strong moral, or a story that will stick with you for the rest of your life. The rhyme is good, but not outstanding. It's just a solid, cute book. One that I don't mind reading when it gets chosen for bedtime, but I never think of it to buy for birthdays or baby showers, either. Ultimately, a good book collection will have a lot of middle of the road books. This is one. Enjoyable when it gets chosen, just not a stand out.

Monday, November 4, 2013

On Character Books and Literature

A few of our Toy Story books against a backdrop of Jay's Toy Story sheets. Branded much?

This past summer, I noticed a disturbing trend in our family reading. Namely, every book I was asked to read featured characters from a movie or television show. I started to worry about how branded my children were becoming, and began to feel pretty guilty.

While chatting with one of our children's room librarians about this problem, she said something to me that resonated. "Well, you've got to have some fluff and some stuff. Character books are a lot like fast food. It happens sometimes, but it's okay in balance." I think she was right. 

So, after that conversation, I started to make a concerted effort to bring in more non-character books. You know, books with some "stuff." But, it was also becoming clear that character books were not going away.

Here's the thing. Not all character books are created equally. There are a lot of rote, lifeless retellings of movies or an episode of a show. You know the ones I'm talking about. They are the ones you can barely follow unless you have viewed the source material. Those books are pure McDonalds. 

But, then there are books like the Out and About with Winnie the Pooh series, which are honestly good books. Do they rely on familiar characters? Yes. But, they also each have a decent plot, some beginner science concepts, and quite a bit of heart. I think of these as the Chipotle of children's books. Is it still fast food? Yes. But they're trying to use free-range meat and organic ingredients, and there is at least the illusion of love or care going into your meal. Most Sesame Street books (with the obvious exception of some--see my previous post) fall into this category.

My feeling nowadays is that it is almost impossible to have an unbranded child. If you do, I stand in awe of you. I would still rather see my kids reading about their favorite characters than watching them. I have just promised myself that I will read the books a little more carefully before purchase, trying to find the ones that are written with some level of skill, and which might impart a bit more wisdom than "buy our merchandise and watch our show/movie and make our company richer."

You will see character books popping up in this blog. You may even see a lot of them. I will be honest with you about whether I regret buying them, and if they are well-written. We have found some real treasures that feature our favorite characters (The Muppets Books to Grow On come to mind). But, there certainly is a whole lot of trash in this category.

Come play along with us. Comment and tell us if you allow your children to read character books. What good ones have you found? Which do you wish you could burn?

Library Mouse

All my life, I have been a reader. I cannot remember the first book I ever read, or the first book I ever loved. It was just something I was, something I did. Since I was in third grade, I have been a writer. I do remember the first time I wrote a fictional story. I remember how it felt to have that pencil in my hand (with a purple triangle grippy thing, because no teacher has ever appreciated the unique way I hold a pencil). I remember the elation of realizing that I was the one controlling the story. I remember the feeling, way deep down in my eight-year-old soul, that I was doing what I was meant to do. No matter what has come of my writing since, that moment will stick with me forever.

Now, this post is not about what a wonderful writer I am. In truth, I am rusty, and tired (two young children will do that to you), and out of touch with any sort of writing community (being a financial analyst for six years before becoming a stay-at-home mom will do at to you, too). What this post is about is the initial spark. That moment when I realized I had the potential in me to tell a story. Because that is what Library Mouse, by Daniel Kirk is all about.

We bought the book at a yard sale this summer. I had never heard of it before. But, it looked interesting, and was in good shape. For a quarter, how could we go wrong? It sat on the shelves, unnoticed for a while. Then, one day Kay brought it to me and asked me to read it. We were both smitten.

General synopsis:
Sam is a library mouse. That is to say, he lives in a library. When the people go home, he reads a lot (wouldn't you, if you had the run of the library, all by yourself, every night? I think this book had me right here--a childhood fantasy written in a book. But, it gets better.)

One day, Sam decides to write a book. When a little girl finds it, she brings it to the librarian, and, intrigued, the librarian shows it to the other librarians. (Readership! Of his first book! The fantasy just keeps getting better.) Sam writes two more books, which are similarly discovered, and read. Finally, the head librarian writes a letter to the mysterious Sam, asking him to come in for a "Meet the Author" day. Sam, not wanting to have to interact with people (he is an introvert, like many writers), spends the night making tiny, blank mouse-sized books. Then he leaves those blank books next to an empty tissue box that has a mirror taped to the bottom and a "Meet the author" banner above.

The first little girl who bends over to look in the box says, "Oh!" in surprise. "Me?" she says. "An author?" And she, and many people thereafter, write in the tiny books. "Soon there was a whole shelf full of books written by people who had never written a book before, telling stories that had never been told." How beautiful is that???

Who loves it:
I do. A lot. Library Mouse brought me right back to my third grade classroom, right back into that moment when I realized "Me. An author." The story made me sad that I don't write anymore, and happy that I ever did, and inspired that I might do it again, and hopeful that maybe, some day, my children will love to write the way I did, and still kind of do.

Kay also loves this book. She asks for the "mouse book" frequently. Often, she will ask to have the book read again the moment it closes. At 20 months old, she is too young to articulate why she likes the book. I suspect it may be because of the cute mouse. But, there is a part of me that wants to believe that she is precocious, and already recognizes that there is some spark of a writer within her. But, I do realize that I am probably projecting a lot there, and, really, she loves the cute mouse, and going to the library, and the combination is a win for her.

Why we love it:
I think I have already covered this quite well. But, I will sum it up by saying that this book can make anyone--child or adult--realize or remember that they have a story to tell. Anyone can be a writer. Even a mouse who lives in a library. Even you. Even me.

The verdict:
Library Mouse is one of those lesser-known books that deserves a spot on every child's shelf. It is playful, and inspirational, and reminds us that reading and writing can lead to great things. 

P.S. Further proof that writing can lead to great things: I just discovered, through searching for a link to the book for this post, that there are sequels to The Library Mouse. After I finish writing this post, you better believe I am placing holds on those titles from my local library. I love how sharing favorite books can lead to realizations like this. Please, if you have favorite children's books to share, comment with the titles. We are always happy to find new favorites.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

My Name Is Grover

Thus far, I have reviewed only books I and my kids have enjoyed. But, let's be honest. When you buy as many books as we do--especially during the summer yard sale season--there are bound to be some duds. Sometimes, we'll stumble upon a book that none of us like. That is unfortunate. But, after a few days, the newness of the book wears off, I take it off the shelves and put it in the donate pile. No harm done. But, other times, we purchase a book that is horrendous to Kurt and me, but, for some inexplicable reason, becomes a favorite of one or both of our children. Those are the cases in which we must grit our teeth and endure it, mentally cursing ourselves for not reading it through before buying. But, the damage is done, and the book is now a part of our literary landscape for the foreseeable future.

My Name Is Grover is one such book. It's not that it is a book about a character from a popular television show (though I do have much to say about that, and will, in a future post). Honestly, Sesame Street books are often quite good, especially the older ones. It's also not necessarily that it was a cheap book originally. Many of those turn out fine. No, it's that Grover seemed to have no real point to his story, and can't seem to stay focused on one topic for longer than a page.

General synopsis:
Grover's name is Grover. Then, he proceeds to list stream-of-conscious facts about himself that do not connect or flow one to the next, until he reminds you again that his name is Grover (in case you forgot, which, honestly, how could you? Because, if you are unlucky enough to own this book, chances are your child is already obsessed with Grover.)

Along the way, we learn that Grover plays "pretend" with Elmo (Kurt still questions every time, and often aloud, why pretend is in quotation marks), likes to eat blueberry muffins and milk with The Count, helps his mother do the grocery shopping, has a name that begins with G, can put his jacket on over his head (which he calls a "magic trick"), is best friends with his Mommy, and inserts his name into a nursery rhyme that, to adult ears, could have some questionable connotations.

Who loves/hates it:
My kids love it. Jay went through a few-month period where he would bring me the damn book every day, often multiple times a day. He eventually, mercifully, grew out of the phase. We all kind of forgot about the book for a bit, which was my tragic mistake. Had I remembered it, it could have "disappeared" during its lean months. But, no. I forgot about it. Until Kay found it and decided it was the best book ever, and started asking me to read it almost as often as Jay had. And now, I am back to reading it almost every day, hoping for the time when it gets forgotten, and I can really make it disappear once and for all.

Why we love/hate it:
I have no idea why my kids love it. Truly, I do not. The illustrations are not overly wonderful. The story is non-existent. We have about a hundred better Sesame Street books on our shelves. I just do not get it.

I know why I hate it, though. It has no flow. It is random, disconnected, and the writing shows no love whatsoever. I searched for My Name Is Grover, and found that it is part of an eight-book My Name Is...series. Based on this one, there is absolutely no way I am picking up the other seven to see if the bad writing is consistent. I suspect these books were churned out without much thought or care, simply to fill space on the shelves in the Sesame Street section of the bookstores, to make quick cash based on character recognition alone. It's a shame, because Sesame Street books are usually much higher quality than this dreck.

The verdict:
If you spot this book, and your kid is a Grover freak, turn around as quickly as you can and run the other way. Don't let your kid spot that blue furry guy waving his hand on the cover, because you know as well as I do that it is all over after that. Then you, too, will be holding your head, and idly wondering why it looks like Grover is about to push his shopping cart right into a huge display of cereal boxes. (Is it because his mother is being sarcastic when she says Grover is her "best helper," or is it just lazy illustrating? I'm betting on the latter, but I guess we will never know.) 

Sesame Street has put out a lot of better books. Grover has been featured in much better books. Do not subject yourself to this one if you do not have to.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

John Pig's Halloween...A Little Late

I am a sucker for seasonal books. There, I said it. I am even more of a sucker for autumn seasonal books. Put an apple, or a pumpkin, or a turkey on the cover of a book, and you have me hooked. I can't explain why. My kids' books are all meshed together on the shelves, with no clear delineation for special holiday books. I once dreamed of having a "monthly basket" out in the living room, with just the books that celebrate that time of year. I even tried to execute the plan for a few months. But, the end result was that those books got forgotten at bedtime, and Jay thought they were "special" in the way that china plates are "special," and didn't touch them for some reason. So, I gave up, and gave in to the fact that we sometimes forget to read seasonal books during their season, and sometimes end up reading Snowmen at Night in the middle of July.

Yet, despite our seasonal book disorganization, I am still a sucker for them. And thus, I was rather alarmed when I realized it was Halloween night, and we had not yet read John Pig's Halloween, by Jan L. Waldron, aloud. Last year, the book had been such a favorite that we read it well into February. But, somehow, at some point, it had gotten buried in the bookshelves and forgotten. Luckily, I remembered it just in time to read to my sugared-up kids before bed on Halloween night.

General synopsis:
John Pig is a timid guy who lives with housemates. His housemates all go out trick-or-treating, while John stays home because he is scared. Then, some visitors come to the door, convince John to throw a party, and he gets caught up in the mood. By the time his housemates return, John is no longer afraid, and has had a grand time on this Halloween night.

Who loves it:
I'm going to say that all four of us like it. Kay was not as taken with the book as I expected. But, she was also high on M&Ms and having been fawned over while she was dressed as Minnie Mouse. So, I won't hold that against the book. Jay enjoyed it again this year. Last year, as I mentioned earlier, John Pig enjoyed a good six months in regular rotation.

Why we love it:
I cannot remember the exact origins of this book--it does not have the tell-tale Used Book Superstore sticker. I know we did not buy it new. I suspect it came from a yard sale. I also suspect I did not read it before purchasing it, because it was seasonal, and it had me at the picture of the jack o'lantern and the witch and the cat on the cover. What I do remember is opening the book at home with low expectations, and slowly realizing that this book is good. I mean, really really good.

First, we have the rhyme. As I mentioned in my last post, a lot of the rhyme you find in children's books is just bad. I think authors and editors should read their books aloud ten times a day, every day, for weeks at a time. Because, if they succeed, that is exactly what their readership will (be forced to, in the case of the adults) do. If there are words that trip the tongue, or that hang over the edge of the rthym, they need to change. But, that does not always happen.

Jan L. Waldron writes a wonderful verse. The rthym is easy to catch and ride through the whole book. The rhyme works, but the vocabulary is never dumbed down to make it easy on the author. Really, this book is a joy to read aloud.

Second, I really like that they focused on a character who was not excited about Halloween. We all knew a kid who hated masks or clowns or the dark, and refused to trick or treat. John Pig is that kid. Except, he meets this lovably pushy witch, and the next thing he knows, he's having fun.

Third, much of the books focuses on the wonderful treats that John Pig and his witch friend cook and bake and serve, and that John eventually shares with his slightly bewildered housemates. I love books about food (I have a cookbook collection that numbers over 300). I always have. Some of my favorite books, when I was a child, centered around food. And so, linking a seasonal book with fun food pretty much hits my personal sweet spot. How could I not be won over when the witch says, "We can make a molasses-and-spice pumpkin pie. Salt seeds and toast them till crispy and dry?"

The verdict:
So many holiday books are disappointing, put there to rake in the cash, but are not well-crafted. John Pig's Halloween is an exception. It is enjoyable, both for its story and verse. It celebrates the season with just the right mix of fun and spookiness. This is one of those books that you will be happy to see each October, rather than pulling it out thinking, "This one again?"

I should note that while searching for links to the book, I discovered that it is out of print. I am very sad to see that. However, there are still used copies on Amazon for as low as fifty cents. It is well worth snagging one before you cannot find it.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Big Red Barn

Our very "well-loved" board book version of Big Red Barn

It only seems appropriate to begin the reviews on this blog with the first book my first-born child fell in love with.

Big Red Barn, by Margaret Wise Brown, arrived in a package of little gifts on the day we got home from the hospital with Jay. I had never heard of the book before (and was too groggy to immediately connect Margaret Wise Brown to her other, better-known book, Goodnight, Moon). The gift came with a note saying that the giver's son loved it. Since the family who sent it lived in Vermont, it seemed an appropriate gift. I did not realize how phenomenal the book was until Jay & I began our bed-reading sessions three weeks later.

General synopsis:
It's a day on the farm, starting early, and ending with all the animals asleep while "the moon sailed high, in the dark night sky."

Who loves it:
All four of us. You can begin reading it to your child from birth, and Jay has yet to completely outgrow the book, at almost four years of age.

Why we love it:
Let me count the ways. First, there is the seemingly effortless rhyme and rhythm to the book. So many authors feel compelled to make children's books rhyme, but few do it well. The rhyme in this book never feels strained. It flows so naturally that it is hard not to read the book in a soothing, sing-song voice. Yet, it does not feel cheesy or sugar-coated. Just a nice, relaxing, happens-to-rhyme day on the farm.

Second, "but in this story, the children are away. Only the animals are here today." I get it. Kids like to see other kids in books...usually. But, the complete lack of focus on children, or the farmer, or any other humans really works in this book. It makes the barn and farm seem so relaxed, and very harmonious.

Finally, this book offers a great vehicle to work on animal sounds. If you read the book as often as we do (and I think you will), the pictures are very familiar. Some animal sounds are presented right in the text. For others, it's an opportunity to point to each picture and practice "mooing" and "neighing" and "cluck clucking" as much as you please.

The Verdict:
In the end, I think this is one of those books that should be on every shelf. I like Goodnight, Moon as much as the next person, but it is so common now. Parents often find themselves with multiple copies of it before their child is even born. But, to me, Big Red Barn is Margaret Wise Brown's real masterpiece. I cannot understand why bookstores stock one copy of it for every ten of Goodnight, Moon. This is the book we buy for every baby we know. I often include it in shower gifts, or welcome gifts, or, if I have been very lax, first birthday gifts. It is that good. I just don't want any child I know to miss out on this book. 

Buying Books without Breaking the Bank

Jay's bookshelves. Please excuse their state--Jay cares nothing for organization, and I'm just happy to have them put away.

I promise I will post a book review soon. But, first, I wanted to talk a little bit about building a child's library without breaking the bank. Walk into Barnes & Noble, and it's easy to think that you need to have a whole lot of money to have bookshelves that are as packed as ours. That's not true at all. As a matter of fact, the only time I buy books at full price are for gifts--for my kids, and especially for other people's kids. So, how can you afford a brimming bookcase?

Used Bookstores:
Used bookstores are awesome for children's books. We have a local chain called The Used Book Superstore. It lives up to the name. They take over locations where failed big box stores were. Our favorite one was once a CompUSA, for an idea of scale. Most books there were donations, and the profit goes to charity. Pretty much all of the children's books are priced under $3.99, with the vast majority at the $1.29 price point. But, here's the great part--each month, different colored tags receive different discounts. Two colors will be full-price, one 20% off, one 40% off, and one 60% off. If you find titles you want with the magical 60% color, you can walk away with a $0.52 book. That's awesome. But, even $2.99 for a good hardcover isn't bad.

Garage Sales:
We are avid yard/garage salers. At this point, we pretty much only look for books--for ourselves and the kids. (Although Jay went through a huge puzzle phase this summer, and those were also awesome to buy at yard sales, for 25 or 50 cents a piece.) At yard sales, we often pick up kids' books for 25 or 50 cents. These books usually have only had one home, so they are often in good condition. We always check for "artwork" done by a previous owner--no one wants a scribbled-upon book, even for a quarter.

Also, don't forget your local library. We go twice a week--once for Jay's story time, and once for Kay's. We have taken out some real gems--books so good that we take them out over and over again, until I finally feel guilty that other kids are not having the chance to read them, so I finally buy them (often as gifts for birthdays and holidays). Use your library. And use your librarian--they are treasures, full of great recommendations. I cannot say enough wonderful things about our children's room librarians--they are three of my favorite people in my community.

To keep myself organized, I have an awesome app called Journals on my phone. I keep my running "want list" of children's books there, so I can access it anywhere. These include books I have read great reviews of, books recommended by friends, books Jay has loved in his preschool classroom, and books my kids have loved from the library. Of course, I am always apt to buy off-list when I find a great book that strikes my fancy...and that happens far more than I like to admit.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Introducing Ourselves

Hi. Before I begin reviewing books, I thought a short introduction was in order. I am Allison, the writer of this blog. I am a stay-at-home mom of two children. Once upon a time, I was a Writing, Literature, and Publishing major in college. And, for as long as I can remember, I have been a reader and a lover of books. Since having my first child almost four years ago, I have spent a lot of time cultivating a love of reading in my children, carefully (and sometimes not so carefully) choosing books for them and spending hours upon hours reading aloud to them.

This blog would not be complete without the opinions of my children, and so I will introduce them here, as well. Jay is my first-born child. He was born in December of 2009. He has loved books from the beginning. I remember, three weeks after he was born, all of my help was gone--my husband was back to work and my mother had flown back to Florida. We were alone in the house, and I had no idea what to do with him, other than feed him, change him, and encourage him to sleep. So, I did the only thing that seemed natural to me. I laid Jay down on my bed. I laid head-to-head with him, held a book over our heads so that he could see the pictures clearly while on his back, and I began to read aloud. In those early months--before he talked, before he walked (and, yes, those milestones came in that order), before conversations, and running around--we spent hours every day, on the bed, reading. To this day, when we have downtime, Jay can often be found sitting on the floor, on the couch, or in his bed, with a book in his lap. And, to me, the best part is that his sister is often sitting right beside him, doing the same thing, with a different book in her lap.

Kay was born in February of 2012. She is a spitfire, and it took her a bit longer to warm up to books. While Jay had stared intently at the books as an infant, still and seemingly enthralled, Kay used the time to kick her legs, try to grab the book, practice rolling over, or to babble over my voice. I started to fear that she would not love books the way the rest of the family did. Then, right around her first birthday, Kay started to show more interest in books. By the time she was walking, she used her new skill to wander into her bedroom, park herself in front of her bookshelves, and flip through one book after another. Now, I have no fears about her love of reading. Yes, she is more likely to wiggle--or even wander off--during a read-aloud session. But, she also spends long periods of time--sometimes a half hour stretch or more--flipping through books, absorbing them in her own way.

The introductions would not be complete without mentioning my husband. Kurt is just as avid a reader as I am. We went to a bookstore on our first date (this wasn't necessarily the plan--we stopped in while walking around the city). Trolling around used bookstores is still a favorite pastime together. Long before Jay was born, we talked about how important it was to create a family of readers--for books and literature to be completely ingrained in the culture of our household.

I am looking forward to reviewing and discussing our books here with you. And, please, if you have a favorite children's book, let me know. I am always looking for new recommendations.