‘Tis the Season to Be Giving…Beautiful Wordless Picture Books

My mama has an obsession with beautifully illustrated wordless (or almost) picture books.  Maybe it’s because she couldn’t draw a straight line to save her life.  Who knows.  But because she feeds them to me, I’ve learned to love them, too.  These kinds of books are often paradoxical: no words seems to imply easy to digest for little ones, but in actuality, the plot lines and illustrations can be extremely intricate and definitely need an adult’s help to interpret.  So, wordless picture books make great gifts for kids of all ages.  And they’re works of art, too, which helps me learn to appreciate beautiful things.

Here’s a short list of my favorites from the past three years:

  Chalk by Bill Thomson: On a rainy day, three friends are out walking when they discover a bag hanging from a playground dinosaur’s mouth.  They look in the bag.  Chalk!  They begin to draw.  And magically, what they draw comes to life!  Everything is going well…until the mischievous boy decides to draw a dinosaur.  The solution to their predicament is both ingenious and simple.  Illustrations are to die for.  Beautifully done.  I LOVED this book when I was two.

  Flotsam by David Wiesner: A boy discovers a camera on the beach and develops the pictures.  What those pictures have to show is both clever and amazing.  Gorgeously illustrated.  My mama has checked out a number of Wiesner’s books, but this one and the next one have been my favorites.

  Mr. Wuffles! (Caldecott Medal – Honors Winning Title(s)) by David Wiesner:  Mr. Wuffles is a cat who doesn’t like playing with anything…except tiny spaceships with visiting aliens inside.  While trying to fix their broken ship and outsmart the wily Mr. Wuffles, the aliens meet some unlikely friends (ants and a ladybug).  When I was two and a half to when I was three, I really really liked this book.  Mama made up an alien and an ant language, and we had lots of fun making upset cat meow sounds.  Clever storyline and beautiful illustrations.  The best of the best.

Yellow Umbrella (New York Times Best Illustrated Books (Awards)) by Dong Il Sheen and Jae-Soo Liu:  In this book, all the reader ever sees is the tops of umbrellas on their way someplace.  The umbrellas travel through a variety of scenes, all viewed from above (a novel difference in perspective).  Soft watercolors help create a rainy day atmosphere.  There is also a CD included with the book that readers can play while “reading” (no words in this book), and there is a song with a score and lyrics printed on the last page.  I really liked this book for three reasons: 1) I “worked on” colors 2) I “worked on” counting (the umbrellas are added one by one) and 3) Mama sang the song (badly) at the end and followed the music notes for me.  I also enjoyed listening to the CD.

  Journey by Aaron Becker:  Woo!  If you have a slightly older child or a younger child who is fairly patient or a budding artist in the family, this book is a treasure.  A young girl is bored.  On a whim, she picks up a piece of red chalk and draws a door on her bedroom wall.  She steps through it to enter a magical place where her chalk helps her to escape from a number of scrapes.  In the end, she finds a friend who is just like her.

My dada gave this book to Mama for Christmas last year (to read with me, of course), but I wasn’t quite ready for it until I was almost three years old.  But since then, it’s been a favorite that I return to every few weeks.  Talk about creative!  And talk about wonderful illustrations!  The rich details will keep you opening it again and again, finding something new every time.  Fantastic.

  Red Car, Red Bus by Susan Steggall: Not a traditionally illustrated book.  Instead of hand-drawn illustrations, the author uses torn paper to create richly detailed scenes.  There are a few simple words that accompany the scenes: red car.  red bus.  yellow car.  yellow van.  As the traffic line lengthens, the reader begins to notice a simple pattern developing.  I was obsessed with this book when I was first learning to read because I could follow the pictures and read the words.  Before long, I had the pattern memorized.  I also loved discovering the little “mini-stories” within the larger story.  A great book for learning to attend to details, learning colors, and learning patterns.  It’s also about vehicles, for the vehicular obsessed child ;-)

Happy reading and happy gifting!

–Written by Luke (age 3) and Mama (age ?)

Clicking on the books will take you to Amazon.com, and if you decide to buy the book, a portion of your purchase comes back to me.  I, in turn, will use the profits to purchase books for our local library or for a children’s literacy project.

Hitting the Jackpot: Random Library Picks That Luke Loves

Some library trips we come home with twenty books and none of them are any good.  Other trips, like this last one, we come home with ten books, and they all rock.  Luke is now three years old, but even if your child is a little older or younger, check them out!  As with all children’s books, different books appeal to different kids for different reasons.

  Batty by Sarah Dyer: Batty isn’t the most popular animal at the zoo, so he decides to try being more like the other animals.  Super cute book about being yourself.  Luke loves this book because some of the pictures are from Batty’s perspective…upside down, that is.  He loves turning the book over to view the illustrations right side up.  Very well done.

  Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard: One morning Bird wakes up in a foul mood.  He doesn’t want to eat, play, or even fly.  So he starts walking.  Along the way he meets a host of animals, each of which eventually joins him on his walk.  Soon, the walk turns into a game, and Bird’s bad mood is gone.  Illustrations are bold and simple.  Text is spare and repetitive (perfect for toddlers/preschoolers).  A super cute story.

  Froodle by Antoinette Portis: Four birds sing the same song day in and day out…until one day when the little brown bird decides to try something different.  Something silly.  Something like, “Froodle!” A really cute, well-done book about how much fun it can be to break from the usual every once in awhile.  Illustrations are great.  Text is simple enough for early readers.  Luke says that he likes the words “blurv” and “inkpadink” the best.

  Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein: Little chicken LOVES her bedtime stories.  She loves them so much that she can’t help but interrupt her father’s reading every time.  Papa starts stories only to have little chicken leap into the story (literally–she is actually drawn into the storybook pages) and save the characters from disaster.  This is a Caldecott honor book, so the illustrations are fun, and the text is simple enough for preschoolers.  Luke thinks little chicken is pretty funny.

  Cheese Belongs to You!: by Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz: This is Rat Law: cheese belongs to you…unless a big rat wants it…unless a bigger rat wants it…unless a faster rat wants it…unless… and on and on.  Luke gets a huge kick out of the dirty rat (we do lots of nose holding and ewww-ing) and the hairy rat (gross), and he enjoys watching the story build.  What’s funny is that the ending is all about how nice it is to share, but Luke usually walks away for the last two pages.  Maybe that’s why he doesn’t know how to share very well?

  Come Back, Ben by John Hassett and Ann Hassett: Luke can read this book independently.  Simple, repetitive text is great for the newest readers.  And for such an early reader book, it’s actually really cute.  Ben goes up and up holding onto his balloon, and everything he passes says, “Come back, Ben!” including the window, a tree, some bees, a big hill, etc.  He finally reaches the moon, where he fills his pockets with moon rocks and floats gently back home.  Luke really enjoys reading this book, in part because it’s easy enough for him to read by himself,  and in part because we’ve started doing baby signs with Brynn (3 months old) and we can sign almost the entire book.  Fun!


Clicking on the books will take you to Amazon.com, and if you decide to buy the book, a portion of your purchase comes back to me.  I, in turn, will use the profits to purchase books for our local library or for a children’s literacy project.

Love Lessons for My Daughter

Brynn is only seven weeks old, but she has already had a lifetime’s worth of lessons via the books she’s been read.  Here is a list of the books and what I hope they convey to her brand new brain:

   The Red Wolf by Margaret Shannon: BE CLEVER.  In this book, Roselupin is a princess who has been imprisoned in a tall, stony tower by her well-intentioned but misguided father, the king.  He wants to protect her from the wild and dangerous world, but in doing so, he also removes her from the joys of life as well.  On her seventh birthday, however, Roselupin receives a surprise present: a chest full of balls of wool with a note that says, “Knit what you want.”  That night, she knits herself a red wolf suit, speaks some magic words, and is transformed into a giant wolf that bursts from the tower into freedom.

There is more to the story, and a surprise ending to boot, but the central idea I hope you take from it, Brynn, is to be resourceful and clever and to use the tools available to find solutions to knotty problems.

  Goodnight Songs: Illustrated by Twelve Award-Winning Picture Book Artists by Margaret Wise Brown: BE MUSICAL.  Your father gave me this book for Mother’s Day this year in anticipation of your birth.  It is a collection of poems written by the author of Goodnight Moon and is illustrated by several different authors.  A CD comes with the book, but I’ve never listened to it.  I like to read the poems and make up my own melodies for you.  Music has played a huge role in my life, and I hope that you pick up on how important it is to have some form of beauty in your life.

  Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! (Big Bright & Early Board Book) by Dr. Seuss: BE CONFIDENT. “Think left and think right, think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try.”  Most people would say that this is a book about thinking and creativity, but I really like the part of the message about trying.  I’d like you, Brynn, to grow up knowing that you can do almost anything if you only put your mind to it.  Effort reaps rewards, and it’s not just about how smart you are.

  Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You : Dr. Seuss’s Book of Wonderful Noises (Bright and Early Board Books) by Dr. Seuss: BE SILLY.  Moo, buzz, boom boom boom, dibble dibble dop your way through life, Brynn, and don’t worry a fig about what other people think.  It took having kids of my own before I finally learned this lesson, but I hope you learn to have a silly, wonderful time dancing through life.

  The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams: BE REAL.  “‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’”

Oh, Brynn.  This will be one of the biggest challenges of your life.  To be Real.  People will make fun of you because they are jealous and call you names because they are insecure, but they are little people in the end and can never change who you are as long as you remain committed to this idea of being Real.

  Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle:  BE ENGAGED.  I’d love for your life’s mantra to be “What do I see?”  I used to have my Seniors do a ten minute writing on a quote that says, “Being bored is an insult to oneself,” and I can’t help but agree.  Everything in life has the potential to teach you something, even if it’s what not to do, so keeping your eyes open and taking time to think about what you see is one of the most valuable lessons I could teach you.

  I Love You Through And Through by Bernadette Rossetti Shustak and Caroline Jayne Church: BE LOVED.  Find a few really good friends and a best friend for a partner and you won’t go wrong, Brynn.  They make life worth living.  And always know how loved you are.

Your first month and a half in books, Brynn.  Be happy, girlfriend…



My Mother-in-law Must Really Dislike Me

farts in the wild

My mother-in-law must really dislike me.

On her last trip to visit, she came bearing books for my almost-three-year-old son Luke.  The book that stole the show?  Farts in the Wild: A Spotter’s Guide.

Yes.  She bought my son a fart book.

And he LOVES it.

This little gem details farts from the smallest creatures (goldfish) up to the largest creatures (elephants), with eight lovely additional animals in between.  It could be slightly educational as it also provides facts and stats about each creature’s farting habits, but that’s not what Luke likes about it.

Off to the side of the text is a panel with ten little buttons on it.  Oh, yes.  Push the buttons and you will hear a sample of the corresponding creature’s fart accompanied by the creature’s distinctive call.  The goldfish blubs, the cat meows, the elephant trumpets, but they all fart.

A preschooler’s dream.

A parent’s worst nightmare.

And yet…

As I watched Luke play with this book on day eight (yes, I was definitely counting the days), I realized he was doing something interesting with it and not just pressing buttons randomly anymore.  Luke had his music player next to him, and he had This Old Man on repeat.  As the song played, he pressed the number that the singer sang.  Woah, I thought. That’s kind of cool.  And on day nine, I watched Luke unfold his fingers one by one, counting as he pressed the ten little buttons.  Woah. That’s even cooler!

In true preschooler fashion, Luke turned an otherwise annoying toy into something pretty cool.  And, as an added bonus, without any outside help, it became something educational.  Authentic, self-directed learning at its finest.

So, even though I’d rather not hear animal farts all day long, I do have to admit my own lesson learned about the amazing capacities of children and the endless possibilities of books.

I’d love to hear about how your child repurposed an old or uninspired book.  Please leave a comment!

Mama’s Corner: The Thought of Raising a Girl–Revised


So, my husband and I are expecting a baby girl any day now now have a baby girl (Brynn!).  To be frank, when I first found out that this baby was going to be a girl, I was scared shitless.

Sure, I’m female, but as anyone who knows me will attest, I’m not exactly normal, and the thought of raising a girl in this day and age seemed like a Herculean task.  So, I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do: I started reading.  I read The Feminine Mystique, Mighty Be Our Powers, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Rescuing Girlhood, and Pink Brain Blue Brain.  I read blog articles, sought out girl-power websites, and perused newspaper op-eds.  I talked to other moms and dads of girls.  Next to none of it helped.  In fact, the picture seemed even bleaker than before.  Mass marketing, pigeon-holed pink and purple clothing, insidious commercials, Disney princesses, risque clothing for first graders?!  How do I raise a girl in such a gender-specific world? At last, I gave up reading.

And I thought, instead.  I thought about all of the little girls that I know.  Even with a small sample size, I know girls who climb better than boys, who are more physical than boys, who love cars and trains, and who still wear pink.  I thought about the little boys that I know.  I know boys who read better than girls, who speak better than girls, who have tea parties with their grandmas, and who still love cars and trains.  I also thought about all of the confident, self-possessed, intelligent young women and men that I met in my eight years of teaching.  Young women and men who bucked the stereotypes and pressures of high school cliques and were purely and simply their own people, true to their ideals and their goals for themselves.

In the end, I took to heart the two bits of advice that I could glean from all of the reading and talking and thinking that I did.

First, every child is unique.  The most obvious epiphany ever, right?  Even my own son Luke is not like any other boy we know, so why would I expect to think of my daughter any differently?  She will be unique.  Her own person with her own agenda, just as Luke is.  Following her lead will be my joy and privilege, just as it has been with Luke.

Second, talk.  The idea that open communication is the key to, well, pretty much everything.  If I talk to my daughter about the shows she watches, the clothing she wears, the idols she adores, then I have the chance to help her become a critical consumer of the world.  And teaching her (heck, both her and Luke) to think instead of just blindly follow is, I believe, my most important job as a parent.

I never thought I’d say this, and I know the people who know me well are going to laugh at me, but for maybe the first time in my life, I’ve decided to keep it simple.  Raising a child is difficult enough as it is, right?

Reading Tip: “Can You Find?” The Most (Annoying) Amazing Reading Game

It’s late.

It’s been a long day.

All I want to do is read a few books with Luke, say goodnight, and put him to bed.

No can-do.  Luke wants to play “Can you find?”

I want to be annoyed that I’m going to have to think when I’m drop-dead tired, but I just can’t bring myself to be.  Because here’s the thing: “Can you find?” is an amazing game.

Essentially, “Can you find?” is our personal version of “I Spy.”  It began as a curiosity when Luke was about 16 months old and he began pointing to letters when we named them.  It quickly morphed into a fantastic way to communicate with Luke before he could speak himself.  We would ask him to find letters, numbers, colors, and shapes.  Despite sounding like we were quizzing him, Luke genuinely loved the game, and our proof is that it has persisted through a year and a half, has changed to meet his needs, and he still loves to play it.

Here are a few of the stages we have gone through with “Can you find?”

“Can you find….”

  • letters
  • numbers
  • shapes
  • colors (straight colors: red, green, yellow, etc. and then shades of color: light blue, turquoise, dark green, etc.)
  • words (started with known words, but quickly moved to unknown words–great for learning phonics and sounding out words)
  • directions (left, right, up, down, top, bottom)
  • other descriptive adjectives (long, short, big, small, skinny, fat, etc.)
  • emotions
  • unusual objects

The biggest benefit we have seen from playing “Can you find?” is the rapid vocabulary growth.  As we have to stretch our descriptive powers, Luke learns tons of new words.  We have progressed from “Can you find a yellow two?” to “Can you find three little tiny pink fish with spikes on their backs?” It also helps him hone his observational skills and provides us with a great game to play while we’re waiting in line out in public.

Here are a few of the books that Luke initiated “Can you find?” with:

For numbers:

  1, 2, 3 to the Zoo by Eric Carle: Inside the hardcover edition, the numbers 1-10 are repeated in different colors.  Luke STILL loves to play “Can you find?” with these numbers.  We’ve had to get very creative with our descriptions to avoid going insane: “Can you find the yellow two that’s farthest to the right?”  “Can you find the blue and purple number 45?”

For letters:

  Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Chicka Chicka Book, A) by John Archambault, Bill Martin, Jr., and Lois Ehlert: For letters, nothing beats Chicka.  Luke loved playing “Can you find?” with the page where the letters all fall out of the tree and are a jumbled mess.

For colors and other descriptive adjectives:

   The Pout-Pout Fish (Pout-Pout Fish Adventure) by Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna: For colors and other descriptive adjectives, Luke discovered Pout-Pout Fish.  On the first two pages of the book, there are a whole bunch of fish and other sea creatures surrounding Mr. Fish.  Luke LOVES finding the various creatures.  We can’t even read this book all the way through anymore.  We get stuck on the first two pages.  Annoying or amazing?

For objects and colors:

   Yoo-Hoo, Ladybug! by Mem Fox and Laura Ljungkvist: For objects and colors, this book is a new one that we just discovered.  Not only are you trying to find the ladybug (she’s pretty well hidden!), but there are all sorts of other items to identify as well.

And for “Can you find?” with words, Luke really enjoys looking at the inside of the dust jacket flaps.  The flaps are usually written for adults, so the vocabulary is more varied and more difficult than typical picture book fare.  It is here that we have seen his decoding ability and phonics knowledge soar.

Happy reading and finding!

–Erin (blog Mama)


Dear Dada, Read With Me: Why Dads Reading With Boys Is Important

Dear Dada,

Did you know that you’re more important than Mama?  Wait, Mama!  Before you go on strike and refuse to take me to the Mirror Park tonight, let me explain!  When reading with me, you, Dada, are more important than Mama.


There she goes.

Well, Dada, this letter is for you anyway.  I’ll talk Mama down later.  A hug and a kiss and she’s putty in my manipulative toddler hands.

So, Dada, check out these facts and stats:

  • Boys are trailing behind girls in reading, according to a 2010 report by the Center on Education Policy, which called this lag, “the most pressing gender-gap issue facing our schools” (www.greatschools.org).
  • Last year, only 40 percent of college graduates were male.  Many education experts believe this difference is linked to poor reading habits and literacy skills that boys developed in the elementary and middle school (www.greatschools.org).
  • The job market has changed.  Before, there were employment opportunities for boys who didn’t read or write well.  Now, jobs for unskilled workers have been outsourced (www.greatschools.org, Acredolo and Goodwyn 2000).
  • Few boys entering school call themselves nonreaders, but by high school more than half do (www.ala.org).
  • If reading is perceived as feminized, boys will go to great lengths to avoid it (Smith and Wilheim 2002 in http://www.ala.org and http://www.guysread.com).

These are just a few of the alarming facts that I found about boys and reading.  After digesting them, my next question was, “What can be done to encourage boys to read?”  That’s where you come in, Dada.  Here are some ideas that the experts have suggested:

  • Get caught reading.  Obviously, children watch everything their parents do, so to cement a reading culture in a family, it’s important for kids to see both parents reading books.  But for the best, long-term benefits, boys especially need to catch dads and other male role models reading (www.pbs.org, http://www.forbes.com, http://www.greatschools.org).
  • Read aloud.  Reading aloud to children starting in infancy helps them learn to love stories, relish the positive, peaceful interaction with you (thus creating a positive link with books), and build a critical foundation for later reading (www.pbs.org, Acredolo and Goodwyn 2000).
  • Broaden definition of “reading.” Read more than just picture books with young ones and have more than just chapter books around the house for older boys.  Newspapers, websites, magazines (like Highlights and the younger version called High Five), graphic novels, joke books, how-to books, off-color humor books, “gross” books, signs, posters, non-fiction books (Cat in the Hat non-fiction books are a nice alternative to picture books) (www.pbs.org, http://www.ala.org, http://www.greatschools.org).
  • Have books available.  Lots of books.  A huge variety of books.  All over the house.  And not just stuck on shelves but lying around in plain sight against couches, on tables, and on low bookshelves so covers can be seen (www.greatschools.org, http://www.ala.org).  And not just children’s books, but adult books, too.

To be fair, you already do most of these things, Dada.  You really are the best Dada in the world.  Patient.  Kind.  Funny.  Smart.  And almost as handsome as me!  Happy Father’s Day!



P.S. Should we go find Mama now or wait until she’s finished her bowl of ice cream?  Wait?  Yeah, that’s probably best….


Acredolo, L. and Goodwyn, S. Baby minds: Brain-building games your baby will love. (2000).