Carnation Days

“IMAGINE YOU HAD ONLY ONE DAY LEFT ON EARTH. WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH IT?”

 

I read Ms. Bixby’s Last Day in a single sitting, on an airplane en route to California for 
vacation. My mind, filled with excitement of the week to come, full of big events and 
exciting outings, slowed and focused as I turned the first pages of 
John David Anderson‘s novel.

 












Three hours and many tissues later, I set the book down as we hit the tarmac, looking 
at vacation in a new light.

There are many things to say about this book. I could write about teachers and the 
tremendous impact they have in the lives of our students, or tell you about the ones 
that mattered most to me. I could write about boy friendship and the way it is honestly 
explored and depicted in Topher, Steve, and Brand. I could write about the ways our 
small acts of kindness to one another have a ripple effect, beyond our wildest
 imagination, or about what it means to be truly seen by another person and 
celebrated for who we are. All of these themes appear in the pages of this at times 
vulnerable, at times laugh-out-loud funny, always perfectly voiced novel.
But instead, I’m going to write about carnations. As in, the flowers.
Please continue reading at All the Wonders

Bring a Book!

I’m delighted to be featured at All the Wonders this week talking about one of the most often heard phrases in our home – bring a book!

Summer has always been analogous with reading for me, as far back as I can remember. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the other summery things too—the swimming pools, the backyard barbecues, the roasted marshmallows, summer camp, the fireflies, the road trips, all of it. But for me, those things all had one thing in common—the book that was (and still is) always tucked safely in my bag. Just in case.

Now, as a mother of two young boys, these are the reminders as we get ready to leave the house:

Did you brush your teeth?
Yes, you have to wear shoes!
Bring a book!

And at least one member of our family takes that last reminder very seriously.

Reading at Six Flags…
and at Go! St. Louis marathon…
poolside…
in between customers…
and at the beach. Like mother, like son here.

 

 

Today, I’d like to share a few book recommendations for all the places you or your children might find yourselves this summer. They range in age from picture books to young adult. So, brush your teeth, grab your shoes, and above all, bring a book!

Please continue to All the Wonders to see my recommendations for books for the beach, summer camp, the pool and more …

Finding Courage in Raymie Nightingale

My very first post at All the Wonders is up today, and it’s been such a joy to work with this team of talented and creative people who love to talk about children’s literature as much as I do.  

Today, I’m on the site exploring the theme of courage in Kate DiCamillo’s newest book, Raymie Nightingale.  I adore Kate DiCamillo’s work.  For me, she is right up there with Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume when I think of authors who authentically capture the heart of children in their writing.  Her latest book is no exception, and I’d encourage you to pick up a copy to share with your kids.  It’s a perfect summer read.  


“Have you ever in your life come to realize that everything, 
absolutely everything, depends on you?”
Raymie didn’t even have to think about the answer to this question.

“Yes,” she said.

Raymie Clarke is certain that absolutely everything depends on her. Everything having to do with getting her dad to come back home where he belongs, that is. And she has a plan. She is going to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, and when her dad sees her face in the newspapers, he will realize he has made a terrible mistake and come home.

Please visit All the Wonders to continue reading …

Meet Emily Arrow + a Giveaway!

I love introducing readers to new books for kids, and today, I’m excited to introduce you to someone whose own love of children’s books inspires her music.  Meet Emily Arrow! 

Emily Arrow is a music educator, singer, and songwriter who has carved out her own musical niche she calls kidlit tunes.  You already know how I feel about children’s books, and many of you have seen the plentiful ukuleles that adorn the walls of our home.  So, when I first heard this talented, ukulele-strumming artist singing a song about Be a Friend, I became an immediate fan.  

Ukuleles + Kid Lit = YES!



I had a chance to catch up with Emily and ask her a few questions about her music.  She had some great things to share about her sources of inspiration, favorite books, and more.

What inspired you to write music based on children’s books?  It’s certainly a unique niche!
As a classroom music teacher, I began using my favorite picture books in the classroom in conjunction with my music units. For example, for Earth Day, I read The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Then I wanted to infuse music into each lesson that involved literature. After scouring the internet for resources and finding virtually nothing, I decided to create my own songs to go with books! I then began offering storytimes at local bookstores and developed my style, and ultimately genre, of kidlit tunes.

What artists/singers/songwriters influence your music? 

The most influential children’s musician I’m influenced by is Raffi. I was raised on his music, specifically his album pioneering a movement to respect the Earth and its resources. His message-driven music gives me inspiration to create music that’s simple and meaningful to all ages.

Music is a huge part of our family’s life.  I started singing to my kids before they were born, and this blog is named after the Bob Dylan song that was our morning anthem all through their preschool years (though we usually sang the Elizabeth Mitchell version).  Now our home is filled with instruments and music of all kinds.  How do you encourage families to incorporate music into their daily lives?  What about parents who don’t feel particularly musically-inclined themselves – any tips for sneaking more music into the day?  

I love to hear how musical your home is!! YAAAAY! There are lots of fun ways to include music in the home, starting with accessibility. An instrument should be just as accessible as an iPhone in the home. Percussion instruments like drums, egg shakers, and tambourines encourage rhythm and musical participation. I also recommend creating playlists together –  “coloring” playlist, “getting ready for school” playlist, “packing for a trip” playlist. This gives young listeners a sense of ownership over their music choices and builds a lovely relationship between experiences and music.

How about books?  What are your favorite tips for sneaking in a little extra reading time with the family?
 Not having a family of my own, I can imaging reading time is hard to come by. But I have a cool project that I recommend to parents of young readers: Video record yourself reading the story the night before during bedtime (or whenever your preferred reading time is). Then during the chaos of the day, why not sneak an extra read in by letting your kiddo watch? Parents tell me their kids get a kick out of this and it’s fantastic modeling for them to watch a read aloud-even if it’s their own parent!


What was your favorite book or books growing up?  What are some of your favorites now (that aren’t featured in music on this album)?

So many! Growing up, I loved Corduroy by Don Freeman, Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, and when I began reading on my own, I was obsessed with The Boxcar Children series. 

My favorites in 2016 (in addition to the album books of course) include Be a Friend by Salina Yoon,  I Love You Already by Jory John & Benji Davies, the newly released Hannah and Sugar by Kate Berube, and the upcoming Explorers of the Wild by Cale Atkinson.

What’s your favorite part of performing for children?

Audience participation. We make kazoo sounds, we yodel, we draw in the air, we basically do everything fun you ever wanted to do at a show but couldn’t because you’re an… adult. 

I love Emily’s creative ideas for integrating music and reading into our homes.  I think I need a “putting away laundry” playlist!  

Emily’s debut album, Storytime Singalong, features songs based on some truly delightful picture books including Louise Loves Art, The Curious Garden and The Dot as well as several original pieces.  The sweet and memorable songs are a great way to extend the pages of picture books for your youngest readers.  
 

I’m giving away a copy of Emily Arrow’s award-winning Storytime Singalong to one lucky reader!  If you’d like a chance to win the album, do any of the following for an entry in the random drawing:
1.  Comment on this blog (or on the social media outlet you read this post) and share one way your family incorporates music or reading into your daily life. 
2.  Check out Emily’s YouTube Channel, then come back and let us know your favorite song!
3.  Share this blog post.

Make sure to tag in me in any of the above options so I see it and add your name to the drawing!
 
If you’re not the lucky winner, you’re still a lucky reader because you can purchase your own copy of Emily’s album right here.   The deadline for entries is March 31st at midnight CST.  I’ll announce a winner on April 1st – no fooling.  😉   Good luck!

Three Things the Presidential Candidates Can Learn From Children’s Books

It’s voting day in Missouri.  In a couple of hours, I’ll head up to the polls to cast a vote in the presidential primary, after what felt like the longest campaign on record.  And it’s not over yet.  The behavior of the some of the candidates on the campaign trail has most of us ready for the finish line.  I can’t open Facebook without seeing a parent bemoan the behavior of the current presidential candidates, and with fair reason.  The content and conduct at the debates has been embarrassingly less than presidential, and the rhetoric off stage far worse.  I’ve seen teachers say that their kindergartners have better manners and parents compare the tantrums of one candidate in particular to those of their toddlers.

So, of course, this made me think of children’s books.  Wait, stay with me for a minute.  Think about it.  Our children learn so much through the books they read.   As Kathleen Kelly so famously said in You’ve Got Mail, “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.”  I believe this is true, and it also makes me wonder what kind of books a few of our candidates read as children.

Maybe they need to go back to the basics and pick up a picture book.  They might learn a few valuable lessons they missed the first time around. Here are a few that come to mind:

“It’s okay to change and grow.”

The classic narrative arc of a picture book features a character who changes or grows over the course of the story.  Maybe they change a previously held belief, or grow to unearth something they had within them the whole time.   

In Where the Wild Things Are, Max escapes to the land of the wild things when he feels confined by the rules, only to discover that while making wild rumpus is every bit as much fun as he expected, he misses the comfort and belonging of home and family. 



In Julius, the Baby of the World, Lilly is unimpressed with her new baby brother Julius, but when another family member makes fun of him, she finds a fierce sisterly loyalty exists within her. 

Without these character changes, we’d end with Max living with the wild things forever (and possibly being eaten up) or Lilly perpetually spiteful to a new sibling.  It’s the characters’ capacity for change and discovery that makes them memorable and relatable. 

Yet, in current American politics, to admit to a change of heart or policy in the face of new information or experiences  is considered a weakness.  We end up with a candidate doubling down on racist speech rather than owning mistakes.  We end up with candidates refusing to confront their own past rather than admit to being a normal human being, capable of new ideas and discoveries. 

Be like Max.  Be like Lilly.  Embrace change and growth.


“Show, don’t tell.”

Sometimes, our candidates do express a change of opinion, but it still rings untrue to voters.  This is because they told us, but they didn’t show us.

The best children’s books let the readers come along for the ride of discovery.  Rather than page after page of past tense narrative, they offer readers a chance to see the growth and change in the characters through their actions rather than their words.


In Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, Mr. Tiger is tired of the way things have always been.  He’s ready to leave behind convention and get a little….wild.  The readers get to travel with Mr. Tiger as he sheds some of his formal self and heads into the wilderness on a path towards discovery.  He doesn’t just say, “I’m tired of the way things are.  I’m ready for them to change.”  He changes himself, and in turn, the town is inspired to get in touch with their wild side too.

When candidates say they stand for something, but nothing in their records or personal history or even present behavior demonstrates what they say, it reads false.  And we don’t believe them.

Be like Mr. Tiger.  Show, don’t tell.

“Give the reader a reason to turn the page.”

Voters are looking for a leader who casts a compelling vision for the future and invites us to join in that course of action.  Anyone can stand at a podium and talk about what they believe, but it is harder to cast a vision that is both inspiring and achievable.  

In One Word From Sophia, Sophia wants a pet giraffe more than anything, and she has a plan to get one.  She casts her vision to every member of her family, using the stories and language she knows will resonate with each of them.  It’s a lofty goal, yet we keep turning the page and rooting for Sophia the whole time.  She makes the readers believe in her vision by telling us exactly how she can achieve it, even if it seems a little too big to accomplish.

Our candidates could learn something from Sophia.  Tell us what you want.  Tell us how you plan to accomplish it.  Spend less time explaining how someone else won’t be able to accomplish his or her vision and instead invite to us to come with you while you get the job done.

Be like Sophia.  Cast a vision that keeps readers turning the pages.

There’s still six more months until the general election.  Plenty of time for the candidates to pick up a few children’s books and learn something.  Because President Squid, though a wonderfully funny read for our bookshelves, does not belong in the White House.


“I’m great at doing all the talking.  I’m doing all the talking
right now.” – President Squid



Eleven Books for Eleven-Year-Olds (Recommended by an Eleven-Year-Old)

Some of you may remember when my oldest son Ronan became my first guest-blogger last year with his Ten Books for Ten-Year-Olds (Recommended by a Ten-Year-Old).  I’m excited to welcome this voracious reader back again to share eleven books for eleven-year-olds, now that he’s a year older and hundreds of books deeper in his reading repertoire.   Ronan recently started his own (private) blog in which he writes about cats, books, D&D, video games, and as he puts it, “all things geek.”  I’m excited to have him here today!

Also, keep an eye out next week for my youngest son Liam’s first guest post – you guessed it – Nine Books for Nine-Year-Olds! 



Hi, I’m Ronan and I’m here with a post that introduces eleven books I recommend for eleven-year-olds, or anyone of any age willing to expand their literary palates.  Here they are, in no particular order. 





The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak 
by Brian Katcher

When an academic girl meets a fun-loving, nerdy boy at a comic con on a quest to find her lost brother, a series of strange events follows.  A great book that references a lot of geek culture, including Star Wars, RPGs, trading card games and other geek stuff. 



Eragon
by Christopher Paolini

If you do not read this book you are missing out on a good portion of life.  I named my cat after this book.  Also, here is my cat:





The Age of Miracles
by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles is about a girl who faces the side effects of a world-wide catastrophe that effects the entire population.  An awesome, if sometimes confusing book that is a must read for anyone that watches Doctor Who.


See You at Harry’s
by Jo Knowles

A very sad book about a girl named Fern who feels alone in a busy family managing a struggling ice cream business.  When a family tragedy happens, Fern wonders if her family will ever find happiness again.  Don’t forget your tissues!


Magisterium Series
by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

There are only two books so far in this series and I’m waiting for the next book.  These are amazing books about a boy with an injured leg who is accepted into a school of magic.  But it’s NOT Harry Potter!  (Harry Potter is also awesome though).  The books have a powerful plot and a surprising twist.



Thing Explainer
by Randall Munroe

A hilarious book in which web comic author Randall Munroe explains complicated stuff in simple words, like cells (“tiny bags of water”) or ISS (“shared space house”). 


The Amazing Spider Man (the new version)
by Dan Slott (writer) and Humberto Ramos (illustrator)

Following an already dramatic story line, the Amazing Spider-Man learns new things about the spider that gave him his powers and the future of all of the Spider-Men in the world. 


Counting by 7s
by Holly Goldberg Sloan

A beautiful book where a girl genius named Willow faces emotional struggles when her parents die.  Again, with the tissues.


The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins

A dystopian novel about an evil future in which the president has split the population into twelve districts.  Every year, two children from each district must face each other in a fight to the death as a punishment for an earlier rebellion against the wealthy Capitol.  When the main character Katniss learns that her sister has been chosen for the games, she volunteers to go in her place, setting off an unexpected series of events. 


The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman

This book has an amazing author and story in which a boy raised by ghosts tries to understand the world outside of  the graveyard that is his home.


The Chronicles of Narnia
by C.S. Lewis

When a group of children find a wardrobe in a mansion where they are staying during the London Blitz, they are surprised that it leads to another world filled with magic and mystery.  The children become unlikely heroes aided by a mystical talking lion who travel to stop villains from corrupting the magical land of Narnia.

Ten Books for Ten-Year-Olds (Recommended by a Ten-Year-Old)

I love talking about children’s books almost as much as I love reading them, and the conversations that these reviews have sparked have been such a joy to take part in.  It is so much fun to hear your opinions of the books I review, and even more, learning what your kids are reading and recommending.  I recently sat down with my own boys to ask them what books they would recommend to kids their age, and their lists were long, fun and even a little surprising.  I asked my ten-year-old son Ronan to contribute to today’s post and he was happy to offer his “Ten Books for Ten-Year-Olds.”

Before I get to his list, I want to tell you a little about this reader.  Ronan was born with a book in his hand.  I know, it sounds crazy and the nurses said they have only seen it happen a handful of other times, but there he was, clutching his copy of The Bus Stop and demanding hourly readings (and feedings, he demanded hourly feedings too).  He moved onto Mo Willems and Kevin Henkes and then we blinked and he was finished with The Magic Tree House series. Then Harry Potter.   He is never without a book.  Ever.  He’d rather be reading than almost any other activity in the world.  I’m sure his first tattoo will be of the literary sort and he’ll probably get married in a library. I’ll let him take it from here.







Hi, my name is Ronan.  It was hard to come up with this list because in the literary world I have read nearly one percent of all books written (that’s my estimate but it’s on the Internet now so it must be true).  The following list are not necessarily my favorites (though some are),  but they are books I hope your ten-year-old will enjoy just as much as I did.


Because of Mr. Terupt (Rob Buyea) – A heartwarming book about a group of fifth grade kids who are not all alike.  Throughout the year, they learn more about themselves and how to solve conflict because of their great teacher, Mr. Terupt.


Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (Chris Grabenstein) – A funny, interesting and quick story about a group of kids who are trapped in a tech-heavy library and must escape in order to win a grand prize.  It boils down to the conclusion before you know it and leaves you wanting to read it again.


The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook (Joanne Rocklin) – When a family’s cat gets sick, Oona tries to keep her little brother Fred in good spirits by telling tales of the fives lives the cat has already spent, while simultaneously trying to hide the identity of the cat’s true owner.


Flora & Ulysses (Kate DiCamillo) – A silly book about a girl that saves a squirrel that is sucked up by a super vacuum while the owners were vacuuming their lawn.  They proceed to have lots of adventures about a cat, a family that hates squirrels and SPRINKLES!!!!!


Harry Potter (J.K.Rowling) –  If you haven’t read this series, you are missing out on life.


Jake and Lily (Jerry Spinelli) – Jake and Lily are twins that share a connection that begins to fade as Jake meets new friends and Lily feels left behind.  I liked the way the book alternated chapters between the twins. 


Liar and Spy (Rebecca Stead) – A depressed boy that has moved into an apartment from his house with a bed made out of a fire escape must work through problems and figure out the history of the mysterious boy in his building,  Rammed Safer.  


Merits of Mischief  (T.R. Burns) – This is a great book for people who want a funny, quick read and also love trouble-making.  After an unfortunate incident involving a substitute teacher and an apple, Seamus Hinkle is sent to a reform school that teaches kids how to be professional trouble-makers.  


Rain Reign (Ann M. Martin) –  This book is about an autistic girl living with her father who doesn’t know how to raise a girl like Rose Howard.  When a hurricane comes, she loses her dog Rain and goes on a search to find her but ends up finding something more.


Tuck Everlasting (Natalie Babbitt) – When Winnie finds a pebble-covered spring in the woods, a boy tells her not to drink from it.  They become friends and she discovers his amazing secret.

 

Absolute Mayhem

Absolute Mayhem
Written and Illustrated by Kelly Suellentrop
Publisher: Striped Socks Publishing
IPN: 9780692311011
Category: Picture Book

Our culture is awash with declarations of love for weekends.  From the old TGIF catchphrase to the 80’s classic “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend” there is little doubt that those 48 hours hold a very special place in our collective hearts.  They represent a respite from work and school, a chance to engage in the things we want to do with the people we love most, or even just an opportunity to sleep in.  And for Lulu and Milo, they mean absolute mayhem.

In Absolute Mayhem, we meet Lulu and Milo, two siblings who work hard all week to follow the rules, complete their schoolwork and eat their vegetables all in an effort to arrive at Friday where the rules go out the window and absolute mayhem ensues.  If you can imagine what your home would look like if weekends were a free-for-all, that gives you some idea of what you will find in the pages of this book.  What starts as innocent, imaginative fun quickly gets out of control and much like many a family feels at the end of summer vacation, everyone seems a little ready for routine again come Monday.  The illustrations range from black and white during the weekdays to increasingly colorful as the mayhem starts to spin out of control and are a great complement to the story.  My kids spent quite a while going back through the book after our initial reading to “explore the drawings” in more detail.  They were delighted when they did because they discovered new things as well as a hidden friend on all of the pages we missed the first time around.  

I’m particularly excited to share this book because it is self-published by a  first-time local author Kelly Suellentrop.  She shared more about the process behind the writing of this book in the Idea Chasers series.  One of the things she shared was that the idea for Absolute Mayhem came from her own children, and that to this day, when the whole family is home on Friday, someone yells out “absolute mayhem” and the fun begins.  Not long after reading this book I heard an interview with Jamie Oliver on NPR about his new cookbook, Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food: The Ultimate Weekend Cookbook, in which he confesses to eating primarily comfort foods on the weekends after a week of clean eating and I immediately thought of Absolute Mayhem and wondered if both he and Kelly weren’t onto something that I am absolutely missing.  Now I’m counting the minutes to this weekend and dreaming up my own version of absolute mayhem.