Monday, June 30, 2014

Creating a Space to Read

The other day, Jennifer Robinson from Growing Bookworms shared a post from a blog called Raising Great Readers with Great Books. She is doing a series of posts about raising summer readers. I particularly loved this post because it had to do with promoting summer reading by creating reading S.T.A.R.S., which stands for Space, Time, Access, and Rituals for summer reading. What a great concept. This post inspired me to share how we create space for reading in our home. 

In order for our home to not be taken over by babies and Barbie dolls, I created a space in each girls room specifically designated for reading. Each space is completely made from materials I had lying around the house, so the cost was next to nothing. 

Book Nook 1:

For Little Miss J, since she is only 2, I took an old down quilt and folded it up to make a big, fluffy mat. I then took a huge table cloth that I had purchased for her first birthday and cut it up to make covers for the down quilt mat and several throw pillows I had lying around. To decorate the corner and make it more inviting, I took old book jackets from several Dr. Seuss and put them in frames I had from Ikea. These frames are only a couple dollars, but I especially like them because they have plastic covers. The plastic covers are key for a toddler book nook. Finally, I put several baskets of books nearby for her to dig through to find the perfect book. I love this space because it is easy to toss on top of her bed if she needs more room for play, and since it is low to the floor, I don't have to worry about her hurting herself by jumping off of a seat.

Book Nook 2:

For Miss M's book nook, I started off by choosing an old TV stand we were going to sell from the attic to be the platform. I followed the same concept with Miss J's book nook by finding some an old mattress pad to make into the cushion and several pillows to cover. I then took an old duvet cover and cut it to make covers for all the cushions. I tucked it next to her book case so she has access to a lamp and her books. I finished the corner off with a hanging folder for storing extra books. The only snag I ran into with this one is the cushion was always sliding off the platform. To fix that, I added double sided tape used for areas rugs to the bottom of the cushion.

Book Spot #3

Outside! I encourage the girls to take blankets and books outside. Right now, we are fighting the summer mosquitoes, but I snapped this shot a month ago of my oldest curling up with Bad Kitty. Reading while listening to the birds chirping and the leaves rustling in the trees is incredibly relaxing, and it has a profound improving effect of my kids' moods. (If you look closely, you can see she is laughing.)

Book Spot #4

Living in the south, it would be sacrilege if we didn't do some front porch sittin'. This weekend we got donuts and then sat on the porch with a pile of books. I got to read the Sunday paper in peace while drinking copious amounts of coffee, and the girls go to rock in the sun before it became sweltering out.

Book Spot #5

This final spot is reserved for kids only. I am not invited to this book spot. This picture I snapped of my daughter teaching our neighbor how to read Captain Underpants books when they weren't looking. I was quite dismayed earlier that day when she spent her entire allowance at The Book Worm Bookstore in Powder Spring solely on Captain Underpants books. I was hoping to get her to pick out some classier titles, however she was dead set on "poopy" talk. I cannot complain, though, because she spent a couple hours in her playhouse reading with her friend. I got a solid, "MOOOOOOMMMMMMMM!" from her when I started signing Billy Don't Be A Hero, which Dav Pilkney references in those books. So, I had to leaver the two of them alone and keep a safe distance after that.

What kind of spots do you have for reading in your home?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Little Prince- A letter to Baby Moses

I wrote this back in November of 2009. For some reason lately, this story keeps coming into my mind. It is funny how memories have a way of disappearing for while and then creeping back up again.

For Baby Moses,

I don't really have the words to articulate what I feel. The only thing I can equate it to is that of something being lost in translation because when I write down the words, it just isn't the same.

Recently, I reread The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery in English. And even though the book said what the words in French meant, something was lost in translation. In particular, I think of one chapter about sunsets and how watching a sunset is soothing to the soul when you are sad. A quote from the French version from that chapter is all I can think of to describe the way I feel. It reads: "Tu sais...quand on est tellement triste on aime les couchers de soleil." Maybe it is the way the book was taught to me in French class or maybe it is just the memory of how I felt when I initially read it, but reading the English version does not evoke the same emotion.

"You know--one loves the sunset, when one is so sad . . ."

Late this afternoon, the sun set on little baby Moses. That is what a friend of mine named him when I told him the back story on his short life.

Several days ago, in the wee hours of the morning, my husband and his co-workers were called out to search for an abandoned baby. I saw images of my husband digging through a dumpster while wearing a Tyvek suit and gloves on the morning news. The woman on the TV told a story of a baby found alive in a storm drain after the parents of the child led the police on a wild goose chase telling them the baby was in a dumpster at a gas station. The dramatic imagery of my husband frantically digging through vile trash made great TV and seemed surreal. This image was so different from what I saw. While I watched the news story on the TV, my husband was struggling to fall asleep and wash away the images of his long night. I leaned over and kissed him. I told him I loved him and was proud of him, and then I left for work.

All night it was raining. Raining hard. And in the vastness of our urban wasteland, rain equates flooding. But, for some strange reason, the little boy, for hours after his parents abandoned him, he kept kicking, crying, and fighting for life. Simultaneously, an entire army of people were searching for this little body. And in the wee hours of the morning, my husband and his co-workers found him in a storm drain. I cannot tell you how proud I am of him. He is my hero.

I asked him for details, and all he said was, "He is so small."

The day passed on. It rained and rained and rained. I drove home and spent time with my beautiful daughter in my warm, dry home.

And then, today, my husband called to let me know that he went to visit the little guy in the hospital and that he had died.

What do you say? I don't know.
He fought to be found.
He did not die in that storm drain.
He did not drown.
He did not get swept away by the water.
He died in a warm bassinet. And for that I am thankful.

After I got off the phone with my husband, I went over to let my dog out the back door. And for the first time that day, I saw the sun as it was setting.You know, I love the sunset when I am sad.

I was thankful for the setting sun breaking through the rainclouds.

Godspeed little Moses. May you know that you were loved.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Love Books Summer Exchange- If I Built a Car

I should begin this post by saying that my husband is a total gear head. He loves his car. In fact, I am fairly certain that the engine of his car is cleaner than the floor of our kitchen at the present moment. He is Zen and the Art of Car Maintenance. I have gone out to the garage to find the entire engine of his car in pieces on the floor with him examining each individual part. His running joke with Miss M is that she is going to be a race car driver when she grows up. Little Miss J spends lots of time looking at the "Big Cars" in her daddy's Road and Track Magazine. Car talk is one of the ways my husband bonds with our girls.
And this is why we were all so excited when we received our package from the wonderful Lauralee over at Switching Classrooms. As part of the #lovebooks Summer Exchange, hosted by The Educators Spin On It, Ms. Lauralee sent us a copy of If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen and some awesome activities to go along with it. 

I love this book selection because it is something I never would have picked out myself. This book sings with imagination and creativity. And Lauralee's selection of activities were perfectly paired for this book. 

We started off with a brainstorming activity, letting the girls talk about and write down what would make the perfect car. For Miss M, she had a worksheet to write out some ideas and then draw what the car would look like.
Always a perfectionist, Miss M was not satisfied with her first try at creating her perfect car.
Here is take two. MUCH more detail.

 Let me translate her description for you: "A blue car that has a roof that can fold, 2 seats and 2 red stripes at the bottom, also 4 golden wheels, and 3 strips of white at the back and front."

Then, we read the book! If I Built a Car has a retro 1950's feel to it. In the story, Jack describes to his father what his perfect car would look like. The creativity is unbounded and promotes the type of inventive thought process you want in your children. Pool in your car? Yes please!

Instant snack bar? I cannot tell you how many times I would have payed good money to have one of those in my car.

After finishing the book, my kids were chomping at the bit to get to the best part of our gift: making the dream car. Lauralee sent an adorable Melissa and Doug car making kit for us to live out their dreams inspired by If I Built a Car.
My girls LOVED this activity.
Seriously, add paint to anything, and they are ecstatic.

They spent the longest time working and  reworking this car. (In truth, Miss M spent time putting the stickers on the car, and Little Miss J took time ripping the stickers back off.)

And here is their finished car.

Overall, this was a fantastic activity, and we have an awesome new book. Make sure to take a moment to go over and check out the book and activities we sent to Lauralee on her blog Switching Classrooms.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Love Books Summer Exchange

I am so excited to be participating in the Love Books Summer Exchange, which is hosted by The Educators Spin On It. For this exchange, they pair you with another blogger, and then you put together a book and activity to send to the other blogger for her to do with her kids. I got paired with Laurelee from Switching Classrooms.
Well, we are working on the amazing book and activity that Laurelee sent to us, but I couldn't wait to share her post about the book and activity we sent to her. Miss M and I decided to send her one of the Mercy Watson books we love. Since Mercy Watson loves hot buttered toast, we sent an activity on how to make butter from heavy whipping cream. The post Ms. Laurelee wrote is awesome, and her kids doing the activity are adorable. Go check it out. Make sure to check back in next week to see the exciting and inventive book she sent us.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ten Reasons to Read Aloud During Times of Tragedy

Lately I have been overwhelmed with a sense of sadness and hopelessness each night as I watch the news. School shootings, murders, rape, flooding, fires, conflict and war fetter the evening news in proportions that seems to be growing and becoming more pervasive. I try so hard to shelter my children from these tragedies, but my oldest daughter is getting to the age where she overhears, talks to her friends, and just knows that horrific and unspeakable tragedies are happening every day. 
The questions she asks keep getting harder, and I find myself without the words to answer her. Frankly, what do you say to a child that hears about school shootings and wonders if she will be safe going back to school in August? It makes me wonder how I could have brought children into such a mean and cruel world? However, I am reminded of a conversation I had with my friends mother. She confided in me that years ago they too were reluctant to bring children into such a cruel world. The more things change, the more they stay the same? Yet still, I need help preparing them for this brave new world. And so, we read together, and it helps. 
  1. Reading Aloud Reduces Stress: The organization Reach Out and Read cites that reading aloud to a child during times of stress and tragedy has been proven to reduce stress. I know that my daughters look forward to reading aloud each night as a way to relax and unwind. It creates a pattern and routine that children desperately need to feel safe.
  2. Reading Aloud Teaches New Words to Express Emotions: Right now my daughter and I are reading Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. The book contains a wealth of advanced words that are not typically used in daily conversations. This means that my daughter has been repeatedly asking me to explain what different words mean. A good example of a  word the brilliant Kate DiCamillo uses is in this book that I had to explain is "arch nemesis." I am always amazed how she is able to connect these new words to her own emotions and experiences. Invariably, these words slowly creep into her lexicon, giving her a more complex vocabulary to explain exactly how she feels. 
  3. Reading Aloud Opens the Door for Conversation. We try to eat dinner together as a family every night. We try to talk about our day and share stories at the table. However, it always ends up just staying right there on the surface. It is during those quiet moments just before bed as we read aloud that the complex, philosophical questions about life pop up. "Do they allow guns at the campground we are going to?" "What does it feel like to be in prison?" "Why are there bad guys that kill people?" "My friend told me that bad guys only come to public schools? Is there going to be a bad guy coming to my school?" These are all questions that have come up while reading aloud. These are difficult, blindsiding questions, that as a parent I would have never guessed these thoughts would be in my seven year old child's mind. However, I venture to say that she would never have asked them if I didn't make a point to spend that quiet time reading with her each night.
  4. Reading Aloud Allows Parents to Broach Subjects That are Uncomfortable to Talk About: You know how as adults, if we want to ask advice on a topic that we are not comfortable talking about you ask about it as if for a friend in need? This same concept works when reading aloud books to your children. Need to discuss a difficult topic? Find a character that has gone through the same emotions. It is so much easier to have a discussion of the range of emotions a character goes through, leaving the door open for a conversation about your own child's emotions, than coming out directly and asking, "How do you feel about a friend's parents getting divorce?"
  5. Experiencing a Tragedy with a Character Helps All of Us to Feel a Little Less Alone. I remember crying when Aslan died in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. But, I also remember crying when my dog died. C. S. Lewis knew that children experience grief and would take comfort knowing they were not alone, which is why he addressed this directly in his books. 
  6. Reading Aloud Teaches Empathy for Those That Suffer. My family and I are so incredibly blessed. We have a home to live in, food to fill our bodies, and enough books on our shelves to fill our souls. My children do not understand what it means to be homeless, hungry (although they would attest 30 minutes prior to dinner being served that they are starving to death), or to not know love. However, we can talk about what it might feel like to be homeless, hungry, or not know love when we read books by Roald Dahl like The BFG, Matilda, or James and the Giant Peach. Tragedy doesn't seen like a far off thing anymore, but instead those children become characters that my child can relate to and feel empathy for. 
  7. Reading Aloud Provides an Escape. During especially difficult times, I often it find it most helpful to pull out the silliest, zaniest, goofiest children's books I can possibly find and laugh and laugh and laugh with my children. Laughing through the tears helps heal the pain.
  8. Reading Aloud Provides Perspective.  Today Little J broke one of Miss M's toys. It was a tragedy of epic proportions. The paper fan she got as a favor at a birthday party yesterday was priceless in her eyes. To her, this was a tragedy. I acknowledged her hurt feelings, all the while thinking in my mind how ridiculous she was being.  I would never tell her she is being ridiculous, because to her, the feelings of loss and sadness are real. With age and experience comes perspective, but to gain an early perspective, reading works wonders. I remember her reactions when we first read Matilda. She was in shock that parents could ever treat their daughter so horribly. It helped tremendously to prove that making her clean her room didn't make me the worst mom ever.
  9. Reading Aloud Promotes Oral Storytelling. I wrote previously about my experience reading Grandpa Green for the first time and how the book reminded me so much about my grandfather. The book Grandpa Green by Loren Long describes the journey of one man through life and how his gardening helps him remember his experiences long after his mind has failed him. That book provided the perfect springboard from which I could share story after story about my own grandfather. We could talk about how he had died, but I could also talk about all the amazing things he did in his life. If you are reading a book aloud and it reminds you of a story from your life, what better time than right then to share the story?
  10. Reading About Tragedy Helps to Prepare us for When Tragedy Will Happen. It is a terrifying thought that someday your own children will experience a tragedy. However bitter a thought that may be, I know that at some point their hearts will break whether it is from being stood up for a date, losing a loved one, or having a dream dashed. Reading stories about loss, tragedy, or when things just don't go a person's way helps to create a blueprint for how to be brave, face fears, triumph over evil, or just learn to live again. I pray that the challenges my daughters may face will be few, but I know that sadly life isn't all rainbows and butterflies. I don't want to dash their dreams or destroy their idealist view of the world, but I do want them to learn that in spite of all that is horribly wrong with our world, beauty and love remain. More than anything else, I want my children to learn to be resilient, fight challenges with grit, and to remain hopeful. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Bookshelf in Thomasville, GA

I have a confession. You know that whole challenge to admit what you would do if you weren't afraid? If I could do anything in the world, I would own a bookstore. And if I could own a bookstore, I would want it to look exactly like The Bookshelf in Thomasville, GA.

Over the past couple of days, I have had to travel for work. Long hours driving and equally long hours working made me eager for some fresh air on my lunch break yesterday. I decided to walk around downtown Thomasville, GA and was overjoyed to stumble upon this bookstore. The store is open and inviting, with beautifully decorated bookshelves and thoughtfully staged nooks for sitting down to read.

Unlike many bookstores I visit, this store did not try to shove as many books as they could onto the shelves. Instead, the owner has chosen to showcase eclectic and thought provoking titles that may not get the same retail space in a chain bookstore.

I love how each area showcases an amazing selection of books, but they also make room for other carefully selected items.

I wish my time wasn't limited to my lunch break, and that I could have stayed all afternoon. Among other things, I picked up a copy of Farm Fresh Georgia by Jodi Helmer. Traveling so much around the state of Georgia, I am excited to now have this handy guide to almost 400 farm and farm related attractions, such as farmers markets and festivals, to find fun things to see and do.

 I promise the next time I find myself driving to Thomasville, I plan on making a trip to visit The Bookshelf and allowing for a longer visit. The owner, Annie is warm and inviting, and I read on their website she has a dog named Junie B, which is simply adorable. Thomasville, GA is a bit off the beaten path, but well worth the drive. (There are some amazing restaurants in downtown Thomasville, as well.) But, if you are too far to make the drive, check out their website, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mighty Dads by Joan Holub - A Review

Mighty Dads 

Basic Book Information: 

Ages: 2-6
Hardcover picturebook
ISBN 13: 978-0-54-560968-5
Length: 40 Pages

About the Author: Joan Holub has authored and/or illustrated more than 130 children's books. With Suzanne Williams she is the author of the popular Goddess Girls, Heroes in Training, and Grimmtastic Girls series. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina and can be found at

About the Illustrator: James Dean is the creator of Pete the Cat from the bestselling series. Before James started painting Pete the Cat as a full-time profession in 1999, he wanted to paint cars and trucks. James loves things that go, and he currently drives a 1971 VW bus camper and a 1959 Chevy truck. He worked as an electrical engineer for fifteen years before he decided to quit and try to make a living with his paintings. James lives with his wife, Kimberly, also an artist; five cats (Bob, Frida, FeFe, Audrey, and Abbey); and Little Emma the pug.

Check out the awesome book trailer for Mighty Dads: 

My review: 

Mighty Dads just might be one of my favorite picture books I have read with my girls in a long time. The story is playful and engaging, and the illustrations are exceptional. The author and illustrator pairing of Joan Holub and James Dean is absolutely brilliant. James Dean brings the magic of his illustrations from Pete the Cat to this picture book, and Joan Holub uses simple words and repetition to draw even the youngest readers into the story. My youngest daughter has absolutely fallen in love with this book, reading it repeatedly saying "Dadda Truck, Baby Truck" as she points to each truck.

On its own, this book is a great read. But, the fact that it is about dads being great role models for their kids makes Mighty Dads a must have book for children to read with their dads. My husband enjoyed reading it with our daughters. He pointed out how, despite all the books in our house, there are so few about dads and their kids. We enjoyed each delightful page, taking time to talk about how each daddy truck was helping teach their baby truck how to do their jobs. This book will make a perfect father's day gift or a baby shower gift for a soon-to-be dad. Mighty Dads is destined to be an instant classic.

Want to learn more? Check out the websites for the author and illustrator:

Author: Joan Holub 
Illustrator James Dean

Want to buy the book? Check out any of these options or head to your nearest bookstore:


* I was given this book free-of-charge by the author in exchange for my honest opinion. All opinions expressed are my own.
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