Tag Archives: reading

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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Books, glorious books

It was a mostly quiet weekend.

I know, I know. That sentence is so boring that I should enter it into the Bulwer Lytton contest for the worst first lines of books.

This year’s overall winner was Molly Ringle from Seattle for the following:

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss–a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil.

Another one of my favorites was Rick Cheeseman’s entry for fantasy fiction:

The wood nymph fairies blissfully pranced in the morning light past the glistening dewdrops on the meadow thistles by the Old Mill, ignorant of the daily slaughter that occurred just behind its lichen-encrusted walls, twin 20-ton mill stones savagely ripping apart the husks of wheat seed, gleefully smearing the starchy entrails across their dour granite faces in unspeakable botanical horror and carnage – but that’s not our story; ours is about fairies!

Granted, in light of the eloquence of previous winners, “it was a mostly quiet weekend” lacks a little… spice. Or comic hyperbole. But I like to think that its bland equivocation is a supremely boring sort of elegant. If there were a “meh” category it’d definitely be a strong contender.

Sadly, there’s not yet a category for meh.

So, this weekend. First, it came after five solid days of working on my consultancy report all day, every day. Then it came after three solid days of noise. The guesthouse right next door hosted a 48-hour party complete with karaoke and periodic drumming (at first we thought it was a funeral, but apparently someone bought a house). On Friday the drumming competed valiantly with the circular saws going over the back fence.

By 5:30pm Zulu, who had been locked in the office with me for most of the day, was completely over the din, his toys, and the sheets of packing paper that (desperate, and awash with guilt about my necessary neglect) I’d let him shred. The office was covered with tiny pieces of white paper and he was lying on his back with his head under the bed, moaning sadly to himself and chewing on cardboard. I knew how he felt.

Instead of feeling relieved after I sent off the report draft I just felt exhausted and flat. Why, I wondered, can’t I write a draft of a report in a week that I feel is brilliant instead of just a draft that I feel is a good start?

Then a whole host of other thoughts started to feed into a familiar mental storm – the kind of mental storm that occasionally generates inner tornadoes.

Why were we even living in this blasted place of incessant noise – this place where people think it’s acceptable to drum for two days, this place where people run circular saws eight hours a day, this place where radios only seem to have one setting – loud.

This place of swarms of mosquitoes that invade our house so that our pre-bedtime routine now consists of lurking in the corners of the bedroom watching… waiting… and killing.

This place where we can’t get reliable vaccines for our puppy, or doctors for ourselves.

Where we have no oven. And where I can’t buy pesto in a jar.

Yeah, once these mental tornadoes start to form it’s truly remarkable how quickly I can generate a wide variety of things that I am unhappy about to pull into the maelstrom.

“What can I do to help?” Mike asked on Friday night.

“Nothing,” I said from the depths of my stormy darkness. “I just need to go to bed and get over myself. But I can’t go to bed and go to sleep because they are still drumming.

At some point this weekend, however, the drumming stopped, so did the saws, and the world went quiet. We played with the puppy. We had a new friend, Luzia – a Swiss vet – over for dinner and she gave Zulu a deworming shot for us and shared some thoughts on how to possibly track down puppy vaccines. I figured out that the toaster oven works quite well for roasting pumpkin. We opened the jar of pesto we’d bought with us from California. Mike pottered around happily, and I sorted my books and finally got them stacked onto our new bookshelves.

Novels. Memoirs. Essays and short stories. Poetry. Academic texts on trauma, and peace building, and aid work. Books on writing.

Some of these books have been around the world with me more than once by now, and more than a few were bought in a pre-move literary-spending-spree (or, uh, ten such sprees). Sitting on the tile floor in the silence and sifting through them was soothing. The dozens that I haven’t read were tangible promises of many hours of pleasure to come. The dozens that I have read served a double function. They are stories that I have loved – each a whole world in their own right – and they are also each a small piece of my own story, my own world. I can remember where I was when I read many of the books that I have most loved – what I was doing, and how I was feeling about life.

Whenever I handle The Time Travelers Wife, for example, I flash back to Heathrow airport and a six-hour layover after a brutal week of hard work and food poisoning in Kenya. That book was read in a single stint – lying on hard plastic chairs, amidst the cacophony of constant boarding announcements. It redeemed those six hours, and I loved it even more for that.

Hours of peaceful sorting this weekend have finally yielded some order in our book collection and in my mind. It’s also transformed the corner of our downstairs room. We may not have access to good medical care here, but we now have our own library tucked neatly under a spiral staircase.

Luzia was stunned when she walked into our place on Sunday.

“It’s so nice to see books,” she said, entranced. “I haven’t seen hardly any books during the last eighteen months. This is amazing that you brought so many.”

“Yes, well,” Mike joked as he gave me a hug. “She is the love of my life. And they are the love of hers.”

In the spirit of random

I’m having one of those mornings when I’m not quite sure what to write about. After all the hustle and bustle of the last couple of weeks the last few days have felt very still, and somewhat empty. So, today, I’m going to do a brief summary of what’s going on in life at present and wrap up with a question for you all.

In no particular order, here’s the big and small of what has been going on this week:

  • I am super excited about our puppy coming home in about two weeks, but somewhat sobered by all the people who are telling me (with the sort of passion and graphic detail usually reserved for stories about labor and delivery) how much hard work puppies are. Most people who’ve weighed in seem dead-set against getting two puppies. One friend laughed out loud when I wondered if our little puppy would be house-trained by the time Mike leaves for Australia on Dec 10. The vehemence of all the facebook comments prompted yet another facebook friend to fear that I’d be dissuaded from puppies entirely and write me a long and lovely email reassuring me that it would be worth it.
  • As a PS to the puppy commentary, is it seriously messed up that I’m already dreading possibly having to leave this puppy here if and when we leave Laos and the puppy hasn’t even come home yet?   
  • Mike’s down south in Vientiane for a couple of days. He gets back tonight, yay!
  • I re-read on old friend of a book this week that I remember loving when I was twenty. It was one of my top twenty most incandescent reading experiences ever. So I was rather disappointed to return to it and find it still engaging but no longer incandescent. On the other hand I read a new book I loved – A Girl Named Zippy – which was just a treat of a memoir about a relatively happy childhood in a town of 300 in Indiana. The author’s voice is wonderful – a study in childhood resilience.
  • And, speaking of resilience, I have started interviewing people this week for the consulting project on resilience in humanitarian managers that I am aiming to have wrapped up by Nov 28th. It’s a fun topic to be pondering, and a real treat to have a good reason to chat to some of the many acquaintances and friends I’ve made over the years in the humanitarian field and make some new ones. Three more interviews today – Kenya, Australia, and Central African Republic. Once again I think of the pure genius of skype with shivers of awed gratitude.

So now, the question. I’ve been reading a lot of articles and blog posts lately about themes in blogging, and offering your readers useful content, and the strategic use of twitter, and how to time your comments on facebook so that you get the most traffic… and it’s all leaving me a bit baffled.

This is a level of strategic thinking I just haven’t reached with social media (and am not entirely sure I want to, either). My usual blogging process is to get up in the morning on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, grab some coffee, and then figure out what I feel like writing about that day. Sometimes that is snakes, or toilets. Sometimes it’s sick kids.

So I’m really grateful that so many of you come here regularly to check out what Mike and I are up to, and I’ve been wondering this week what constitutes “useful content” for you all? What do you enjoy about this blog? What would you like to see me writing more of? What topics would you be interested in?

And, have a great weekend, all.

PS. In the spirit of random, here’s a photo I took from the back of the elephant the other day, because Laos is beautiful.