Saturday, May 28, 2011

My Mother-Talent

There are lots of different ways to be a good mother. Some mothers get down on the floor and play with their kids. Some mothers keep a perfectly clean house, somehow teaching their children to always take their shoes off at the door and eat sitting down at the table. Some mothers teach their kids to be bilingual. Some mothers are ultra crafty or take photos of their kids that are so cute they look like little Pottery Barn models. Some mothers know the secret to getting kids to eat anything they cook. And then there are the sporty mothers who can teach their kids to do cartwheels and shoot basketballs.

Press Here
Every mother has her special thing—lets call it a “mother-talent”—that make her kids idolize her; something that really makes her know that she is a good mother; something that gives her that reassuring feeling that even though she might make some mistakes there is at least one thing that will bring everything back to balance again. And someday, when her kids look back on their childhood and they write their memoir they’ll say, “my mother and I always did this, and it was our special thing.”

But I am not the kind of mom that gets on the floor and plays with her kids. I don’t keep a clean house. My kids prefer whole wheat Ritz crackers over anything I cook. I don’t teach my kids other languages and contrary to what I try to make you believe, I am only semi-crafty. My kids are much cuter in real life than in the photos I take of them, and anyone who knows me knows I am most definitely not the sporty type.

A Little Prairie House [Book]
No, those are not my special mother-talents. And I am okay with that, because I know that there is more than one way to be an excellent mom. I have another mother-talent that I love, and I would never trade it for anything. My special mother-talent is reading.
In the eight years that I have been a mother I think I have read at least a thousand picture books, most of them twice. I have also read dozens of chapter books outloud. We listen to books on tape in the car, and my daughters and I all love to write our own stories to share with each other, illustrations and all.
Reading to my kids is my therapy. It is one thing I can do with my kids where I know there will be no fighting and we will all have a good time. We go to the library once a week and always check out as many books as the library allows, and if I smile and bat my eyes sometimes they will let me check out more.
Then we come home, we sit on the couch and stack the books next to us in a big tower and I read until I’m hoarse. Don’t call me while I’m reading to my kids, because I don’t answer the phone. It is our very favorite thing to do together.
Since this pastime is a big part of my life, I definitely have some opinions about good childrens lit, and since I have opinions that makes me an expert, right? J And now that summer is here, I wanted to share my vast knowledge with you. Okay, not my vast knowledge, but maybe this will give you a short-cut to weeding through all the not-so-great books at the library so you can find the ones that are really worth the trip.
I am of the opinion that for every Caldecott-winning book there are about 200 other great books out there that never got an award but are still just as fantastic. Also, since I sit on the couch reading picture book after picture book I crave books that have some adult appeal. And, being an artist myself, I am a sucker for breathtaking illustrations.
But first, here are some books I always steer clear of:

Picture books written by celebrities. The illustrations are usually good (because the publisher pairs the celeb up with a PROFESSIONAL ARTIST), but the story isn’t.
Books that are trying to push agendas or beliefs not in sync with your family’s beliefs. Sometimes you can tell by the title what you are getting into, but other times you just find out later at home. These go on my black list.
Books that smell like urine. There is a bit of roulette when it comes to checking out library books. Usually the smelly books really are the best stories, and that is why some little kid was dragging it around to all parts of the house. Unfortunately, those books seldom get weeded out of the stacks because no one wants to go back to the librarian and say, “hi, we checked out this book and it smells like toilet water. But I promise it wasn’t our toilet water.” If you don’t want the credit for the smell, just put a sticky note over the bar code that says, “this book smells bad,” before you drop it in the book drop and when the librarian goes to check it in she will see the note and incinerate the book (usually with her eyes if she’s like some librarians I’ve encountered) and order a new one. That way you and your family can still hold your heads up in public and the rest of us don’t have to check out the book you ruined. J
By the way, if you find the above book at Chapel Hill Library and you smell something bad, I promise it wasn't my family's fault. Good story, though.

Picture books that have more than 100 words on a page. Too tedious.
Picture books that have less than 3 worlds on a page. Not worth it. These might be good for young kids, but they take up too much room in your library bag to bring home. Read them at the library and leave them there. The exception to this is “worldless” picture books, which are different.
Now that we have those out of the way, here is a running list I’ve kept over the past two years of my very favorite library books. I’ve tried to choose books that you may not have heard before. I hope you and your kids find them as delightful as we did.

For laughing out loud:
Press Here by Henre Tullet (my vote for best book ever!)
Piggy and Elephant easy reader series, by Mo Williams
Knuffle Bunny books by Mo Williams
“Wordless” picture books:
Rainstorm by Barbara Lehman
Boy, Dog, Frog series by Mercer Meyer
Other great books:
Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen
Crictor by Tomi Ungerer
The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie de Paola
Little House on the Prairie Picture books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illus. Renee Graef
Hurry Hurry Mary Dear by N M Bodecker
While You Are Sleeping by Alxis Deacon
The Rough Faced Girl by Rafe Martin
And the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon by Janet Stevens
Heckity Peg by Don and Audrey Wood
Birds by Kevin Henke
Baby Brains by Simon Jaes
The Tale of Tricky Fox by Jim Aylesworth
Mary’s Penny by Tanya Landma
Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale (for tweens)
Just Like A Baby by Rebecca Bond

I have more, but I’ll save those for future posts. I can’t have you checking out all my favorites at once.
Last word:
My friend has a “Mommy and Me Bookclub” that I think is such a great idea. You should check it out.
I’ll start posting our Mermaid Crafts on our Mermaid Treehouse website in two weeks. Hurray for summer!


  1. Sweet! What wonderful advice and definitely a mother-talent worth boasting about. We LOVE the piggie and elephant books! Thanks for plugging my club. I can't wait to get crafty with your mermaids!

  2. Yay! What a great post (and thanks for the great book suggestions)! I don't know what my Mother-Talent is yet. Maybe when Gigi is five I will ask her. But whatever it is, I hope that reading comes in as a close second.

    I think that another of your Mother Talents is that you are securely loving. I see your kids flock to you for love, and your calm, centered parenting attracts them and provides them with the confidence to spread their wings and pursue all of the things that will make them as interesting and cultured and creative as you are.

  3. All I can say is ditto! I love to read and hope Finley will as he gets older.

  4. Some of my fondest memories of you are the books we would recommend to each other or trade. What a wonderful mom-talent you have!

  5. Hi Chelsea, I love your mother talent! You are one of the most gifted people I know, so what a sweet choice for you. I appreciate your viewpoint; it creates a grace for what we DO with our children, as opposed to thinking of the many things we omit, each day. I think back to this past year when I made a hot breakfast (waffles or eggs or pancakes) almost every morning. This was hard especially with an infant, but it made me feel happy. Something concrete & healthy to do for my girls before sending them out the door. My mom used to do this, too. I also love to read poetry to my girls (my dad did this) and I'm amazed by how young children love the REAL stuff. They love to let the cadence of the words wash over them. Oh, and I love to sing to them every night before bed. (I have a hunch you might do this, too!) Ahhhhhh, see, you've made me feel like SUCH a good mother (in spite of the messy kitchen I'm ignoring right now).

    Here are a few of our favorite books to read together: The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher, the Georgie books (at Halloween), Eve Bunting books like The Night Tree and Anna's Table. Oh, I love James Herriot's Treasury for Children (great if you have animal lovers). And any poetry book from your English major days ;)--the two compilations by Caroline Kennedy are good (Best Loved Poems of Jackie & A Family of Poems).

    I love talking books! One last thing: I just started Motherstyles: Using Personality Type to Discover Your Parenting Strenghts. It's based on the Meyer-Briggs model. It's very reassuring. For example, it gives me "permission" to be an introvert & not feel less capable if I need more downtime or home time during the day. Your post fits its message very well. xo

  6. So I've thought about this post several times since I first read it and....I love it. Ditto what Rachel said about not being bogged down by all we don't do. I think I spent the first 5 years of being a mother making myself feel guilty I didn't have it 'all' down. I love the idea of a Mother Talent!And I love the book suggestions. Knuffle Bunny stresses Kathryn out. She started crying in the library when I read the new one. She has a bunny too and she gets slightly worried about losing her. I think her reaction is funny though. I think I'd have to say my mother talent is singing to my kids at night and having good talks with them. I sure hope the talks continue. (PS I brought 7 kids to the library today and I am pretty sure I am blacklisted. 2 librarians asked me why I had all those kids. I was too frazzled to come up with a clever answer to make her wish she hadn't asked.)