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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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10 great gifts for pregnant women

(Looking for gift ideas for pregnant women or new parents? You might want to jump over to my updated post on this topic instead – 30 great gifts for pregnant women and new parents)

I had a dream about the baby last night! (This deserves an exclamation mark because by this stage of pregnancy apparently normal women spend many nights dreaming of their baby. This is my 2nd dream. Ever. And last time I dreamed I forgot the baby when I went out to dinner with Mike.) So, feeling all proud of myself for being so maternal-like, I was pretty excited to relay this dream over breakfast.

“I dreamed the baby fell down a flight of stone steps when I was trying to teach it how to walk,” I told Mum.

“Stone steps,” Mum repeated. “How old was this baby?”

“Oh, like, two or three months,” I said. “But that’s not the point. The point is, when it got hurt and cried I picked it up and comforted it. And then I took it somewhere in the car and I put it in a car seat!”

It…?” Mum repeated.

OK, so maybe I haven’t perfected this whole maternal dreaming thing yet. There’s still time. A couple of weeks, anyway.

So speaking of dreaming, I’ve been waking up from my dreams every morning now feeling as if the flu and my ninetieth birthday have arrived overnight. All my joints hurt, particularly my hands and fingers. Sometimes first thing in the morning I can barely make a fist. Dr Google assures me this will go away when my ligaments tighten up again after delivery. It better, or the poor little “it” will just have to lie at the bottom of that flight of stone steps and cry, because I won’t be able to pick “it” up.

I am not the only one with sore hands, however. A parcel arrived at the post office on Friday and it seems that two of my friends, Robin and Jenn, have been very busy indeed working their own fingers to the bone on my behalf.

Robin lives in Texas and Jenn in Kansas, but they decided that, “the best way to recognize the arrival of baby McWolfe, a ‘lil one born of a long distance love story, was with a collaborative project that was created via hours of phone calls, text messages, skype dates, and extensive emails that included the frequent exchange of spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations.” Then they got together in Texas to bring the whole project to beautiful completion.

(I could say something here about how this process is indeed similar to the one that led the creation of baby McWolfe in the first place, but I’ll refrain to avoid scandalizing my Nanna).

So why the sore hands and fingers in Texas, you might ask? Well these two dear friends knitted and crocheted us the most beautiful baby blanket. A blanket they insist is not meant to be an heirloom but meant to be used, get dirty, thrown in the wash, and eventually wear out. “It’s meant to be the hug that we’re not there to give,” they wrote.

The blanket is gorgeous, and Mike and I are humbled and overwhelmed by the thought, time, and love that went into making it.

In fact, I’ve felt humbled by love a fair bit since we announced our pregnancy. Other friends in the States boxed up maternity and baby clothes and mailed them to me in Australia at considerable expense – I’ve been wearing those maternity clothes almost daily. In fact, a number of friends in three different countries have gifted us second-hand baby clothes. I have not yet bought a single new piece of clothing for the bub, but don’t worry that he’ll be wanting for warmth. When he fell down that flight of stairs in my dream the little tyke wasn’t naked – he was wearing a perfectly lovely second-hand jumpsuit.

I could go on and on, but let’s just say that Mike and I have been virtually showered by gifts big and small from around the globe and we are touched and grateful.

So, in celebration of the blessings we’ve received I thought I’d share a list of ten of the more unusual gifts we’ve received. Wondering about what to give an expectant mother? Here are some ideas:

  1. A homemade breast-feeding support pillow in the shape of an elephant.
  2. An iTunes gift card to buy music to listen to while breastfeeding.
  3. Lullaby music for the baby (so far I particularly like Dreamland: World Lullabies & Soothing Songs and the Baby Einstein: Lullaby Classics.
  4. Baby items that will bring back memories (this weekend I received a bib covered with tiny whales from visiting friends – it’ll be a memory trigger as we spent much of the weekend together watching for whales spouting out at sea).
  5. Books on parenting (as opposed to pregnancy and delivery, which she has probably already procured).
  6. A My Baby’s First Year book to record important milestones.
  7. A colorful mobile to hang over the baby’s crib.
  8. A diaper bag for traveling that includes a roll-out change mat and cold storage for at least one bottle.
  9. Story books to read to the baby. Check out this post for great options: What do writers read to their kids?: Five authors share their favorite children’s books.
  10. Donate your time and energy to host a celebratory gathering or a baby shower.
  11. A wooden hand-crafted crib that the baby’s great grandfather made for the baby’s grandmother. (Yeah, OK, that one might be a bit hard to pull off, but that’s what our little one will be sleeping in for the first eight weeks of his life while we’re still here in Australia – Pa set it up for me the other day).

These are just a few of the things we’ve received that have made me smile – but the creative possibilities to bless a new family seem endless, really. If you live locally you could assemble an envelope full of take-out menus from local restaurants and include enough cash to order dinner one night during those first few weeks post-birth. You could organize for a house cleaner to come in once or twice. If she’s into yoga, perhaps look for a yoga DVD she could do at home when she can’t get out to attend a class. And, of course, practical gifts such as diapers, small toys, nappy rash cream and the like never go astray.

What favourite baby gifts have you given or received? Other ideas? Help out people who will visit this post looking for gift inspiration by leaving a comment below.

If you enjoyed this post, stick around! Subscribe to my blog by RSS or by email (enter your email address top right) to receive updates about our adventures in parenthood and in Laos, and check out some of the following pregnancy and parenthood-related posts:

  1. Koi Maan Luuk: Or, I Am Pregnant
  2. Finding Out You Are Pregnant, In Slow Motion
  3. Life Lessons on Pregnancy and Breastfeeding from Cows
  4. It’s a…
  5. Ten Good Things About Boys: Attaining Synthetic Happiness One Gender Stereotype at a Time
  6. Lessons in breastfeeding from cows, take two
  7. Tough Love Take One