Tag Archives: good books

What do writers read to their kids?: Five authors share their favorite children’s books

I’ve been reading a lot of children’s books lately. Never mind that Dominic seems far more interested in eating them than looking at them. No, never mind that.

I used to think that it couldn’t be that hard to write a good children’s book, but now now I have a bit more respect for children’s authors. Creating a good children’s book is not as easy as it looks like it might be.

At least, that is the conclusion I draw from the fact that there are so many seriously lame children’s books that managed to make it into print.

Luckily there are a bunch of seriously awesome ones out there, too. My selection is fairly limited at the moment (English-language children’s books not exactly being in great supply here in Laos). But of the ones I have, I love Where’s My Mom? (Julia Donaldson) – the rhymes are great, there’s a surprise twist near the end, and the pictures are vibrant. I also love the beautifully illustrated and clever Rainy Day Games: Fun with the Animals of Noah’s Ark (Andy McGuire)

Reading a couple of those good books lately (and knowing some of their authors) got me thinking. Who better to know and love good children’s books than writers?

So I’ve been polling some of my author friends about what they love reading to their own children. Here’s what they have to say …

Sundee Frazier (award-winning children’s author of Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It, Brendan Buckley’s Sixth-Grade Experiment, and The Other Half of My Heart)

“These are mostly for the very young:

  • Books by Leslie Patricelli, especially Quiet LoudYummy Yucky, and Higher! Higher! (these books are hilarious, vibrant, participatory, and the first two inspire kids to observe contrasts and opposites all around them).
  • Where Is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox (fun poem with great colorful drawings; a wonderful read-aloud and wonderful for kids learning to read)
  • The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman (brilliant rhyming story; moms will love this one, too)
  • I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More!  by Karen Beaumont (hiLARious reworking of an old folk song)
  • My Baby and Me by Lynn Reiser and Penny Gentieu (a book of wonderful photographs of older and younger siblings interacting around everyday objects; nice simply rhyming text)
  • Kiss Kiss!by Margaret Wild and Bridget Strevens-Marzo (I just loved reading this board book with my daughter when she was really little and all the affection it encouraged)
  • Freight Train  by Donald Crews (a classic board book)
  • Bird, Fly High by Petr Horacek (board book that cries out for audience participation)
  • In the Garden with Van Goghand A Magical Day with Matisseby Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober (I got these books before traveling to Paris and Amsterdam with my small children; a great way to introduce the masters!)
  • Jacob Lawrence in the City by Susan Goldman Rubin (and for a prominent African-American painter . . .)
  • Turtle’s Penguin Day by Valeri Gorbachev (just love how this story encourages pretend play and imagination–my kids love it, too)
  • All The Frog and Toad storiesby Arnold Lobel (these amphibians are one-of-a-kind!)
  • Finally, a fractured fairy tale for the younger set: Mind Your Manners, B.B. Wolf by Judy Sierra. Illustrations by a very unique artist, J. Otto Siebold. It’s entertaining for all the fairy tale allusions.”

Tracy Groot (author of Flame of Resistance and Madman)

“Here are a few favorites I read to my kids: Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, and Mother Goose Rhymes. We read to them a lot, from the Little Critter Books by Mercer Mayer, to Dr. Seuss books, but these two were always the go-to books. They were special to me simply because they were special to them.”

Sharon Hinck (author of The Restorer-Expanded Edition  and The Secret Life of Becky Miller (Becky Miller, Book 1))

“I love The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown… a classic that shows a love that pursues and never gives us.

Less familiar to many are the wonderful Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg. Beautiful poetic prose woven with fun nonsense. Reading them aloud is a joy.

And I confess to many hours of giggling while reading or reciting Green Eggs and Ham, Go Dog Go, and other Dr. Seuss books.”

Andy McQuire (author of Rainy Day Games, A Special Fish for Jonah, and Remy the Rhino Learns Patience)

“One of my favorite picture book to read to my own kids is Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson. It has the best rhythm of any rhyming book I’ve read.

My favorite chapter book when I was young (and I can’t wait to read it to my kids some day soon) was The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha by Lloyd Alexander.”

Lisa Borden (author of Approaching God)

“Moonbear forever! There’s one thing I know from reading to young kids through the many years: there’s nothing worse than having to repeatedly read aloud a book that is driving me crazy.  Fortunately, I loved the Moonbear books.

From Moongame, Moonbear’s Friend, and other Moonbear books we learned that friendship is sweet, books are wonderful, life can be funny and moonlight is naturally magical.  Asch’s Moonbear books present wonder in everyday things.”

What about you? What books do you love reading to your children? What books do you remember loving as a child?

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Great books I’ve been reading (but not writing)

Happy Monday. I’m still pretty busy with consulting work at the moment, and it’s usually very interesting stuff. Today, however, not so much. I’ve spent most of the day going through facilitator handbooks, slides, and handouts, checking and synchronizing reference numbers for a series of workshops on stress and resilience. O holy tedium.

Part of the problem is that I’ve combed through this material so many times during the last month that I’ve been helping content edit this course. Now, whenever I open the project files the peanut gallery that lives at the back of my mind starts yelling things like, “boringboringboringboringboringboring!!!….” And they throw things – not nice things, either. And sometime they spit.

It’s remarkably similar to the reaction I get whenever I venture to open the draft of my next book, actually.

I like to tell people that I’ve been letting my book sit a while, getting creative distance, so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes for the next (hopefully last) edit before I send it to my agent later this year. Sounds good, huh? Just between you and me, though, I suspect that the following two facts have at least as much to do with my recent dallying on the memoir:

(1) I have not committed to other people to meet certain deadlines.

(2) No one is paying me quite nicely to tell the peanut gallery where to stick all their shrieking and mocking, grit my teeth, and plow forward.

As my husband frequently remarks, I can be bought, so if anyone wants to remedy point 2 let me know.  The currency Mike typically uses is white wine and massages. As one of these bribes, however is currently unavailable to me (thanks a lot, baby), and the other I can source myself with a bike ride and 5 dollars, any offers will therefore have to up the ante a bit.

So, speaking of books, here’s a look at several I’ve read since we arrived in Laos that have provoked an entirely different reaction from the aforementioned peanut gallery – cheers and claps and showers of caramel popcorn.

Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood (Robyn Scott): I just finished this last night and loved it – a wonderful, often funny, very well-written and thoughtful memoir of the author’s unstructured childhood in rural Botswana.

What Is the What (Vintage) (Dave Eggers) This fictionalized memoir of Valentino Achak Deng – a refugee from the Sudanese civil war – packs a real punch. It’s interestingly structured for a memoir-esque book, poignant, soul-stirring, and thought-provoking.

A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana (Haven Kimmel) This memoir is a great example of how a talented storyteller can turn the most prosaic of raw material into a compelling narrative. I don’t know how Haven Kimmel managed to turn a childhood in Indiana into one of the funniest books I’ve read in ages, but she did.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story (Donald Miller) Part memoir, part meditation on story itself as well as the sorts of stories we are all writing with our lives, I read this book with a pen in my hand. Lots to reflect deeply on in here, and lots of wonderful gems on the writing process (My great author friend, Nicole Baart, loved this book so much she did an entire blog series on it, starting here).

Found Art: Discovering Beauty in Foreign Places (Leanna Tankersley) This memoir of meeting, marrying, and then leaving immediately to spend a year overseas, was a perfect book for me to read at a perfect time. It was wonderful to read someone else’s honest, lyrical, reflections upon transition and marriage. I immediately looked Leanna up and subscribed to her blog.

Water for Elephants: A Novel (Sara Gruen) Really enjoyed this novel. Set in the colourful world of a traveling circus it’s an escapist read that is really fun but is also laced with plenty of depth and poignancy.

Belong to Me: A Novel (Marisa De Los Santos) De Los Santos is also a poet, and her novels are lush, dense with insightful gems on relationships and life, but also compulsively readable. This book helped me pass several hot afternoons inside a guesthouse just after we arrived in Laos.

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (James H. Silberman Books)(Normal Doige) This is an utterly fascinating look at brain plasticity. Highly recommended for people interested in understanding learning and combating learning disorders, brain damage, and aging. I found chapter four on Acquiring tastes and loves: What neural plasticity teaches us about sexual attraction and love particularly intriguing. There’s a very interesting discussion in there on how pornography changes neural wiring around attraction pathways.

I think that’s enough from me today about other people’s amazing books. What about you? What books have you read recently that caused your peanut gallery to whistle, stamp their feet, and give two thumbs up?