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.
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.
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.
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!