Fall Reading with my Toddler

It’s time once again for a book roundup. Here’s what Sky and I have been reading this fall.

Sky, 2 years old

If You Listen, Charlotte Zolotow

I chose this book the way I usually do when in the library with Sky: hastily, based on the amount of text on each page and the quality of the illustrations, while simultaneously making sure Sky puts books back before she takes more from the shelves. I was thinking about how much I’d like for Sky to listen to me, i.e., do what I say, and hoping this book was about being still and paying attention.

It’s actually a beautiful, moving book about grief and loss. Though the book doesn’t explicitly discuss death, it describes a mother’s response to her daughter’s question: “How can I feel someone’s love when they’re far away?” When I realized what the book was about, I was hesitant to read it to Sky. But she chose it from the book basket every time we sat down to read, and listened attentively to the words. “She miss her Daddy?” she would ask me, pointing to the little girl in the story. It’s amazing how much kids can pick up on, even when they’re this small.

Puddle, Hyewon Yum. So, I love everything we’ve read by this author/illustrator. The Twins’ Blanket, which I found at the library’s Title Wave used bookstore, quickly became one of Sky’s all-time favorites, something we’ve kept on the shelf in our living room since she was about 16 months. As I’ve discovered favorite authors in my own reading, I’ve naturally requested and read as many of their books as I could find in our library’s collection. I don’t know why it’s only just now occurring to me that I can do that for Sky, too.

Puddle is a cute little story about a mom and a little boy stuck inside on a rainy day. The little boy is complaining about the rain, and the mom invites him to come draw with her. Together, they draw scenes of what it might be like to take a walk in the rain, taking turns “splashing” each other in the imaginary puddles with colored-pencil rain. Eventually, the pictures convince the little boy that taking a real puddle walk might be okay. Sky loves puddles, and puddle walks, and colored pencils, so needless to say, this was a big hit.

Blueberries for Sal (Audiobook), Robert McCloskey

I’ve been reading up on homeschooling options for Sky (see my book picks below), following a really informative education overview on the Coffee + Crumbs Podcast (“Mama’s Getting Schooled,” September 19, 2017). I’m investigating the Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling, and one thing that struck me is the level of reading material many Charlotte Mason homeschool parents choose for their children.

One mom wrote about playing audiobooks for her children as a way to give herself a break during a hands-on school day. I decided to try this one out, and I was really surprised by how much Sky responded to it. It’s wordier and slower than many of the books we read, and the pictures are simple– but she really loved listening to the tape and turning the pages on cue. We listened to it quite a bit as the weather turned rainy. I like how an audiobook is not quite a book, and not quite a tape. As a reading experience, it’s somewhere between watching an episode of Daniel Tiger and a cozy read with mom on the couch– I get a bit of a break to relax and listen with her, but we’re not dipping into our daily screen time allotment.

Frog and Toad are Friends, Arnold Lobel

In the same vein, I checked out this old favorite even though it’s geared much older kids than Sky. She always seems to gravitate toward the “I Can Read” bookshelf at the library, so I let her pick one out from the Frog & Toad series and carry it to the checkout herself. She felt very proud of herself, and again I’ve been surprised by her focus when we read these. We even brought it along to urgent care one weekend when her persistent cough got scary-worse and our doctor’s office was closed. She sat still through two or three “chapters,” though she definitely liked the one about Toad’s bathing suit the best.

 

My Body! What I Say Goes, Jayneen Sanders

I follow “A Mighty Girl” on Facebook and I always love their topical roundups on teaching kids about tough subjects like racism, war, and personal boundaries. Sky has been asking me lots of questions about my body and hers as the baby grows and my stomach gets rounder. I wanted to find something to read with her to help explain private parts, and how to trust your feelings when someone is asking you to do something with your body that you don’t want to do– even giving hugs to a new grown-up friend of mommy or daddy’s. Especially in light of sexual assault awareness month and the #metoo campaign, I want to start talking with her about her right to her own body in regular, daily conversations, and so far this book is helping us do that.

Books! Books! Storytime Singalong Vol. 1, Emily Arrow

Okay, this was a CD we checked out from the library, not a book, but since it’s about books and since I have listened to it by myself in the car when Sky was home with her daddy, I figured it was worth including here. Kids’ music you actually like to listen to?! Sort of a rare gem. My favorite tracks are “The Dot Song,” about making your mark as an artist and making it “matter,” and “Are We There, Yeti?” a funny song about whining in the car. It makes Sky laugh. (I mean really, how cute is this lady?)

 

Melissa, 30 something

Saints for All Occasions, J. Courtney Sullivan

I put this on my TBR list early this summer when it was mentioned ever-so-briefly in an NPR interview as the “sleeper” novel of the year (or something like that.) I wrote the title down on a receipt in the sticky center consul of my car before running into Dollar Tree. I carried that receipt around in my pocket and then wallet for a while until I remembered to place a hold on it at the library, and then it took about three months to rise up the impressive wait list– I guess others heard the same interview clip. ANYway, point being: this book was well worth the wait. I finished it in a few days and even now, the characters are still fresh in my mind and I kind of miss them. (I can only say that about one other novel, The Brothers Karamazov, which I used to read every summer, pre-kids.) I liked it so much I checked out and devoured her earlier novel The Engagements, which is a linked novel about the evolution of the ad campaign for diamond engagement rings. Educational and thought-provoking and very entertaining. Excited to read through her backlist.

Reading People: How Seeing People Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, Ann Bogel

This one was mentioned on a blog I follow, and sounded right up my alley. It’s a survey of personality types through various popular methods: Meyers Briggs, Enneagram, Strengthsfinder, and the like. I’ve always known and struggled with the fact that I’m an introvert, and earlier this year as I was preparing to launch my freelance grant-writing business, I took an official Meyers-Briggs test to confirm it. I came out pretty solidly INFJ, and reading through the author’s description in Reading People only reaffirmed it. Ann Bogel’s description of the spectrum of introversion and extroversion also helped me see how my nature is something I can work with, rather than something to hide or feel ashamed of. I was also interested in the chapter on Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) and Highly Sensitive Children (HSCs), something I hadn’t heard of. I saw myself pretty clearly in the HSP camp, and there were several parts of the descriptor for HSCs that struck me as fitting for Sky, too– though I’d say it’s still too early to know for sure, since 2-year-olds in general can be pretty sensitive people. I appreciate how Bogel presents each method using stories and examples from her own life, and then offers resources for learning more. This was an engaging read for a subject that could easily become overwhelming or dull.

Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, David Rock

Not sure what it says about my brain right now that this took me FOREVER to read, and that I didn’t quite finish it before it was really overdue at the library. Sigh. Nevertheless, I did glean some strategies for working more efficiently by understanding a teeny bit of neuroscience, and so I’m including it in this list as a worthy read. Returning to work, even the moderate 5 hours a week I’m doing right now, has brought up a lot of old baggage and anxiety for me. I’ve noticed myself struggling with some powerful feelings of unworthiness, even though I know intellectually that my academic training and years of experience in education and writing have prepared me for exactly this kind of work. David Rock’s book helped me look at the triggers that might send me down this anxiety spiral. Like Bogel, he uses stories to illustrate concepts. Each chapter starts with a work scenario that did not go so well, unpacks the neuroscience behind it, then recasts the same scenario using simple, alternative strategies. Some of them will be familiar (take a walk or do the dishes to clear your mind, schedule prioritizing tasks first-thing) and others might surprise you.

The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling, Rachel Gathercole

This is the first book I picked up on homeschooling because it focuses on what is apparently THE question homeschoolers hear from the curious and the skeptical: “Yeah, but how will your kid get any social time?” I’ll place myself firmly in the curious camp, because I know a handful of families who homeschool and what they do seems pretty creative, varied, challenging, and FUN. Nevertheless, I’ve often wondered how homeschooling might impact a child’s social development, because the only experience I know first-hand has been “traditional” public schooling– something that’s really not so traditional at all, as it turns out. This book is somewhat academic in style. It parses out each element of the “socializing” question through definitions, studies, and lengthy excerpts from interviews with homeschooling children and parents. But it’s definitely approachable and readable, and it really challenged my preconceptions about how normal public schooling really is– and if we should use it as a healthy standard when it comes to raising well-adjusted kids.

The Homegrown Preschooler: Teaching your Kids in the Places They Live, Kathy Lee and Lesli Richards

This book is inspiring and fun to read, with lots of color photos and activity ideas for teaching preschoolers at home. In tandem with the more scholarly style of the book above, it’s getting me pretty excited about planning a homeschool curricula for Sky when she turns three next summer. There’s also a helpful website, The Homegrown Preschooler, with more articles, ideas, and resources for homeschooling the littlest learners.

 

Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend, Kim Frederickson

Another read inspired by one of my favorite podcasts, my friend Sarah’s Beautiful Brave. I wrote a post earlier this year about having trouble finding ANY books on self-compassion in the Christian tradition. At least two other writers must have been thinking the same thing, because two awesome books on the topic came out in 2017: Catherine McNiel’s Long Days of Small Things, and this book. Anyone who’s read Brene Brown’s work on shame understands the importance of recognizing the impact of negative self-talk– and yet the actual practice of working with what Frederickson calls the “inner critic” can be mysterious, even frustrating. I’ve read a lot about self-compassion and I STILL have trouble actually doing the simple mindfulness exercises well-known writers like Kristen Neff and Tara Brach describe. I loved McNiel’s and Frederickson’s books for that reason: they show you how you can practice mindfulness and self-compassion as a mother of small children. I like Frederickson’s no-nonsense style and the simple, doable exercises she describes. Excited to read her parenting-themed sequel, Give Your Kids a Break, next.

I also think I’m going to be ready for a thick stack of novels after this fall’s heavy non-fiction list.

What are your favorite reads from this fall? What novels should I check out as we head into winter?

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Summer Reading with my Toddler

I love our county library system.

Last summer when Sky was one, we participated in the summer reading program. My little reader and I picked up a stack of books every week after story time, took them home, and read them until we had memorized them. Then we traded them the following week for a new stack.

I’m a big fan of relying on the library system to feed my little one’s voracious appetite for books, while keeping a small stash of favorites at home. Her interests change so quickly, and she likes to read a book over and over again until suddenly, she decides she’s had her fill and won’t pick it up again.

We are diligently crossing off boxes on the little summer reading game board, turning it in every two weeks for a prize and eventually that coveted summer reading T-shirt. (Insider tip: toward fall, you can pick one up for 50 cents at the Title Wave bookstore.)

Meanwhile, I’m making it a personal challenge to cross out as many squares as I can on the adult summer reading Bingo board. Just for fun.

Here are our favorite books so far:

Sky, 2 years old

 

The mixed-up truck/ Steven Savage
A cement truck is new on the job, and he keeps mixing up the wrong stuff! In the end, all of the trucks take a bubble bath and go to sleep. The bubble bath was Sky’s favorite part.

One gorilla : a counting book/ Anthony Browne.
Really beautiful illustrations of ALL kinds of primates, finishing with a group shot of a diverse mix of humans– We’re all one family. I was shocked when Sky began naming the species she saw: “That’s a MANdril. Those are baBOONs.” We both learned a lot. Plus, this book is oversized, and she loves “big, big books.”

Piggies/ Don & Audrey Wood.
Do you love King Bidgood and the Napping House? Here are more of those arrestingly odd and sweet illustrations, plus a story about the different sized fingers on our hands, and, if you’re as lucky as we were, an accompanying CD with truly weird songs about the “piggies.” Sky loved this book best of all.

Walter’s wonderful web / Tim Hopgood.
This book teaches shapes through the story of a little spider who try-tried again. It features a repeating narrative– “‘Whoosh!’ went the wind” and  “Walter sighed”– and Sky loved helping to tell those parts of the story. It has also come in handy as the early fall spiders start making their webs across our front door step. Despite my best efforts, Sky is already scared of spiders. I tell her the spider is just like Walter and his wonderful web. It kind of helps.

 

There’s No Such Thing as Little/ LeUyen Pham
Here’s one of those books I would not have guessed would be such a hit– but it was. Easily her first choice book the week we picked this up, every time we sat down to read. This book has sweet circle cutouts that reveal the ways in which something that may appear little– a tree, a fish, a candle flame– can actually turn out to be more meaningful and significant than you think. Just like your little one. (aww…)

Melissa, 30 something 🙂

These are some of my own favorites, along with the adult summer reading Bingo game prompts that inspired them.

Request a recommendation from My Librarian.
Reinventing American health care : how the Affordable Care Act will improve our terribly complex, blatantly unjust, outrageously expensive, grossly inefficient, error prone system / Ezekiel J. Emanuel.
This one took me forever to finish, and I’m more than a little late to the game in reading it, as you can see by the subtitle’s hopeful future tense. I requested suggestions from the library’s (awesome, free, online) My Librarian service. I wanted a few recent titles that would help me understand the appalling state of health care in the U.S., as the current “administration” gets ready to dismantle the few pieces of it that actually function. Next on the list is Elisabeth Rosenthal’s 2017 An American Sickness, but there’s such a lengthy list of holds placed on this one I figured I’d start in the past and work my way (queasily) forward.

Read a book with a single word as its title./Read a book you’ve always wanted to read.
March : a novel / Geraldine Brooks.
Little Women was a favorite for me growing up, and Brooks’ spinoff book, detailing the March girls’ father’s Civil War service, has been on my reading list for years. This was a suspenseful and emotional read. Not for the faint of heart– and ordinarily I’d count myself among that group– it’s more than a little gory in some chapters, but then, it’s a novel set in the Civil War. It’s hard to go back to Alcott’s flowery prose after reading March.

 

 

Read a book with a map on the endpapers.
A midwife’s tale : the life of Martha Ballard, based on her diary, 1785-1812 / Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
This won the Pulitzer in 1991, and it’s a meticulous contextualization of one of the oldest intact diaries we have in the United States– the story of a seemingly tireless woman who delivered over 800 babies in a small Maine town in the 18th century. (!!) I was fascinated by the details of Martha’s day-to-day life. Things that must have seemed so mundane for her– riding sidesaddle to attend midnight births, planting hundreds of beans in her “garden,” pulling candles and weaving flax, administering herbal medicine to her neighbors– filled me with admiration and curiosity. It was interesting to read the terse, factual diary entries that begin each chapter, and then to see how Ulrich, a gifted writer and history scholar, unpacked and set everything into context in terms of familiar U.S. historical events and feminism.

 

Read a biography of someone you admire.
Becoming Maria : love and chaos in the South Bronx / Sonia Manzano.
I happened to catch an NPR interview with Manzano in 2016, just after this memoir was released. Manzano had a 44 year run as Maria on Sesame Street, and in the past six months as I’ve introduced my toddler to the likes of Big Bird and Elmo, let’s just say she has become a very, very familiar face in our house. It was interesting to read about her tumultuous but colorful childhood in the Bronx.

 

 

Read a mystery
Big little lies/ Liane Moriarty.
I’m not sure this technically counts as a mystery, since I had watched the addictive HBO mini-series first, and already knew whodunnit. Still, the book added depth and nuance to the TV version, and it was interesting to see what had been changed/omitted on screen. For instance, the book is set in the author’s native Sydney, Australia– not a fictitious California coastal town as filmed in Big Sur. I read it in less than three days, so make sure you’ve got some downtime available when you pick this up. **Also, trigger warning: both the book and the series contain graphic imagery/language about abuse.**

 

Read a book that teaches you something.
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame/ Janet Lansbury.
Strangely, this book was nowhere to be found in the library catalog, and neither were there any other titles by Lansbury. I picked it up online and hope to buy an additional copy to donate to the library. It has smoothed out so many edges in my days with Sky. Though bringing this level of awareness and intention to my parenting takes more energy, it saves so much time and heartache, for both of us, in the long run.

 

I can’t recommend this enough for any parent of a spirited toddler– and show me a toddler who isn’t spirited.

Certainly not this one. 🙂

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