Let’s make EVERY child a reader

One week in the Spring and Fall Every Child A Reader celebrates Children’s Book Week. It’s an opportunity to remind people how important reading is, not just for children but for all. Being a proficient reader is important to succeed in life.

In my role as a speech therapist I work with adults who are having cognitive or language issues. A task we might do is make a list of items, say fruits, vegetables etc. To make that task more difficult I might ask, tell me all the things we can read. What came to your mind? Books, magazines, newspaper were probably first. Did you think about bills, road signs, recipes, food labels, medicine labels, directions, instructions, forms, information signage in stores, in hospitals, car dashboards, and more.

Reading is the key that unlocks the door into every child’s future. Let’s make every week Children’s Book Week, so that the future is bright, not just for the children but  also for the rest of us because the children are our future.

The family that reads together…

We know children learn by watching the adults in their lives. When they are small they mimic our behavior, good and bad. When they are older they may try to reject the behavior we model but that can prove difficult to do! Have you ever said or done something, good or bad, and thought I sound just like my mother or father.

So as National Family Literacy Month begins it we should consider how important it is to model reading for our children. I grew up in a house where reading was valued. Books were given as gifts, trips to the library were frequent, and those who could, read to those who were too young. My mother read fiction. I can still see her crying one evening as she read. And I still remember the book, Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn.  She showed me that it’s ok to get lost in a book, to respond viscerally to words, and to learn from them. My father was more a nonfiction guy. He read the paper and magazines. I still recall the stacks of National Geographics that he poured over and used to show us the world was a much bigger place than we could imagine.

This love of reading continued in the home I shared with my husband and our two children. Books were everywhere in our house, even in the bathroom. The Reader’s Digest Magazine lived in the bathroom too and was a source of jokes and information for all! We read together as a family at home, in the car, on vacation. Books were given and shared.

We still give books (all those gifts under the tree are books!) and talk about books even though we are all adults. And from Great Gramma (my mom) on down, we are sharing this love of books, modeling it for the next generations. May your family be so lucky as to pass a love of reading from generation to generation. The wealth of that inheritance is beyond measure.

Find additional resources for National Family Literacy month here.

Are you missing in-person events?

In the last year and a half authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, publishers and book sellers are missing in-person events. So I thought I’d share a post I wrote after I was at the ALA conference in Chicago in 2017. This is why in-person events are so special!

 I loved my elementary school librarian and her wonderful quiet space filled with books waiting to be explored. She always knew just what to recommend and, when she saw that my appetite for books exceeded my weekly check-out limit, she suggested that a friend and I pick our books together and trade halfway through the week. For me, librarians know where to find all the answers and all the good books, so it was an honor to be invited to sign copies of my new book, The Day I Ran Away, and my upcoming No More Noisy Nights at the American Library Association Conference in Chicago, where so many lovers of books and knowledge gather in one place.

Although I’d seen the list of exhibitors online, I was awestruck by the number of booths, their size and scope, and the variety of publishers and industry-related products represented. As my husband and I wandered the halls prior to my signing, I pointed out publishers with whom I’d had contact over the years (too many rejection letters to count!) and looked for books I’d seen reviewed. I noticed some LONG lines of excited attendees waiting for an author’s signature, and then other authors with no line at all. I grew a bit apprehensive, as my signing time got closer. Would people want copies of my books?

We found the booth and were met by the wonderful staff of Independent Publishers Group (IPG), who distribute for Flashlight Press and hundreds of other independent publishers. The author who was signing before me did have a line, and in fact, ran overtime into my slot to give away as many books as possible. When the IPG staff member announced that they’d run out of her books, I piped up and suggested that folks wait, because I’d be giving away books in a few minutes too. Librarians love books, especially free ones! They asked what my books were, so we handed out two samples which they looked at and passed down the line to share.

By the time I began signing, I had my own line of excited librarians who were thrilled that they didn’t have to choose between The Day I Ran Away and No More Noisy Nights, but could have one of each. Although I had less than a minute with each librarian, it was exciting to speak with people from all over the US and Canada. With the ALA conference in Chicago this year, many attendees were from the Midwest, but folks also came from California, Texas, Utah, New York, North Carolina, Maine, Florida, Arkansas, and more that I cannot recall. There were public and private school librarians, university librarians, and public librarians. Many were gifting their free books to family or friends, and others were donating to their schools. I loved hearing their enthusiasm not only for my books, but for their work in sharing books with children. 

Before I knew it, my time was up, and IPG cut me off! Several people then asked my husband if I could sign for them, so we moved to the corner of the booth and gave away a few more of the remaining books. In all, we gave away about 160 books!

One last highlight: the IPG booth was located near the Library of Congress booth, and it was heartening to see Carla Hayden, the new director, being treated like a rock star with interviews and people clamoring for a moment of her time! When my first picture book was released in 2004, my son was excited to point out that a copy would be forever kept in the Library of Congress. An amazing thing to think about! 

It was such an uplifting day! Librarians know that reading is essential to understanding ourselves, our world, and our place in it. When we learn how to “find friends” in books, we are never alone. It is my hope that these wonderful librarians will create lifelong readers, and lifelong readers will help make this world a better place.

Run away home?

Have you ever wanted to run away? Maybe you are thinking, YES, just yesterday when the work was crazy, the car needed an oil change and the refrigerator had somehow eaten all the food and was wanting to be filled AGAIN. 

Now you do remember wanting to run away when you were a child? I think most children do at some point.  The injustices of childhood loom large.  Everything happens above you. Decisions big (we’re having another baby) and small (blueberry yogurt instead of cherry) are made without you.  Just when you are in the middle of something important (the biggest block tower ever) it’s bedtime, and it seems the rules are constantly changing (don’t lie, unless the neighbor got an ugly haircut).

In Noisy Nora, by Rosemary Wells and A Baby Sister for Frances, by Russell Hoban the main character feels ignored and replaced because a new sibling has arrived.  And Max in Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak has suffered the injustice of being sent to bed without any supper.  And so, they run away to escape. In my book, The Day I Ran Away, Grace feels she’s been wrongly banished to her room and packs up to run away only to be thwarted by the fact that she’s not allowed to cross the street. 

As a child I remember one time packing my little suitcase and heading down the road (I actually just went next door), but mostly when I needed to “escape” I picked up a book.  When the weather allowed, I took my book to swing under a willow tree.  Books allowed me to forget my problems big and small and they gave me examples of how others solve their problems.

Being a child or a grown up can be difficult.  Wanting to run away may just mean we need to escape for a bit so we can face our problem with fresh eyes. And when we return we might hope a good dinner is on the table!

Grace comes home for Spaghetti and Meatballs, her favorite! I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s her favorite because it’s a family favorite often requested when my kids are returning home.

In honor of Pasta Day (yesterday) this month’s recipe is early!

The Niner meatballs and sauce recipes. Be sure to use the slider to see both!

Labor Day Memories

It’s Labor Day! I hope you are relaxing from your labors. Growing up a LONG time ago and on the East Coast school began the day after Labor Day. While all the schools where I live now have already put in many days of school I still think of Labor Day as the official start. In my youth Labor Day would find us watching the Jerry Lewis telethon as we frantically finished sewing clothes for school. While my forays into sewing are few and far between these days I still get the itch to sew this time of year.

Screenshot 2021-08-16 103634I also get the itch to read new things, learn new things and cover some books with brown grocery bags🙂! I’ve never been a crossword puzzle person, but I recently tried the Washington Post’s Daily Mini (+weekly Meta) and I’m hooked. They are small and you can check each word as you do it. I know crossword fanatics would never do that, but that little bit of help has kept me playing and I find I am solving them more quickly. I’m also learning how crossword puzzle makers think!

I was thinking how picture books, while glorious in their own right, are also a mini step for readers into the world of reading and how story works; for that matter how life works. The pictures give clues to help with the words. The new reader builds confidence as they read book after book. Eventually the reader moves on to bigger things, hopefully returning on occasion to the rich worlds offered by picture books. I don’t know if I’ll ever “move on” to bigger crossword puzzles, but my daily mini is perking my interest and giving me confidence.

Now for some book reviews

If Kids Ran the World, Leo and Diane Dillon,  The Blue Sky Press 2014

Inviting, bright illustrations show the world as it should be where kindness reigns and food, shelter, medicine, education and love are there for everyone. This world exists if Kids ruled the world. Until the world shows them otherwise kids assume all things are possible. May this book inspire us to find the child inside, see the world as it should be and strive to improve it each in our own way. An afterward suggest ways to make the world a better place.

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And kids now that the most important thing in the world isn’t money, or being king or queen, or pushing other people around. It’s love: giving it, sharing it, showing it.”

A Perfectly Messed-up Story, Patrick McDonnell,  Little Brown and Company 2014

A quirky, humorous mixture of real images and drawings that break the 4th wall. Louie is a character in HIS story. He’s happily going along when he find that someone has dropped jelly on the page, thus ruining the story. He is talking to the reader about it when plop some peanut butter drops on him. Then Louie finds fingerprints and orange juice. He gives a lecture on the importance of books and begins again only to find someone  has colored in the book. He tries to start again but decides it’s just a messy old book no one will want and he gives up. The story starts without him and he finds out that everything is just fine. And Louie decides it is just fine, messes and all!

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“Everything is fine. I’m still here. You’re still reading. And it is a pretty good story. Messes and all.”

I am a Thief!, Abigail Rayner, Illus Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books, 2019

20210420_160813Eliza Jane Murphy, who sees herself as a model student, becomes a thief when she takes a sparkly stone from a display of green things in her classroom. But then her “heart stopped singing”, her letters “went wonky” and she was “too heavy to swing.” She begins to explore her feelings by asking the adults in her life if they’ve ever stolen something. It turns all of them, except her dad, admitted to some minor thievery in their lives. But that doesn’t make Eliza Jane feel any better. So she tells her parents and knows what to do. When she returns it and confesses her teacher said she was brave. She realizes that “nobody is just a thief. Everyone is a lot of things”. Just as she is about to close her investigation on the family thieves she discovers her dad stealing the last piece of cake! Nice lessons showing we are all more than our mistakes, that adults make mistakes too,  and that admitting to and learning from mistakes is what counts.

The Impact of Fathers

Yesterday was Father’s Day. A day to reflect on and celebrate the men in our lives that had a positive impact on us or those we love.

I was lucky to have my father in my life until he passed away at the age of 79. I was born in the late 1950s when fathers were not often seen doing the inside household chores and that was true of my father. Although he did flip the Sunday morning pancakes!

But Dad was very much a part of our lives. He was strict. One look and you know you’d done something wrong. But he was interested in all we did.  We ate dinner together as a family. He helped with homework, attended extracurricular activities, chauffeured us, interacted with our friends and always had LOTS of advice!

20210505_101354Dad and Mom had a huge impact on my love of reading. Both of them encouraged us by doing. Mom always had a book going (as do I)! Dad was not a fiction reader, but read the newspaper every night (as do I) and read magazines (as do I). I have memories of reading the comics in the newspaper with Dad, of him reading to us at bedtime or sometimes telling us stories. Trips to the library were frequent and books were given as presents.

As an adult, I began writing because my mom suggested I take an aptitude test for a children’s writing course. When I was accepted Mom and Dad supported me by giving me a state of the art (then!) word processor which save me time as I squeezed writing in around raising two toddlers. And of course they always LOVED my stories.

 Even at my age I trace my love of reading and writing all the way back to my parents. Think about that…If your children were asked, at the age of 60+, why do you like to read or why don’t you like to read; will they mention you in their answer? 

Get Caught Reading!!

I have a confession to make. I always keep a book in the bathroom and I always read a little anytime I’m in there. I’m not sure exactly when this started, but I think for those minutes throughout the day I slip into whatever world I’m reading about. It’s Get Caught Reading Month and we don’t need any bathroom pictures, but what are the strangest places you read a book?

I spent a morning this month gathering picture books at the Garrett Public library. The children’s librarian is a friend and she and her staff helped me find a large stack of picture books about various topics. So I thought I’d review a few and maybe you “get caught reading” one of them this month!

You Nest Here with Me
Jane Yolen & Heidi E. Y. Stemple
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Boyds Mill Press, 2015

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Soft, earth-color water color and mixed media illustrations bring a variety of birds to life as a mother puts her daughter to bed telling her that like a baby bird her nest is anywhere, they are together. Each bird species is seen in its environment. Pigeons on concrete ledges, catbirds in greening hedges. The mother concludes that birds are safe in nests while they grow, “learning all they need to know. So till you’re big as big can be…You’ll nest right here in our house with me.” Informative back matter gives a few facts about the 14 birds depicted in the text. This would be a great book to read this month for Mother’s Day and if you looking for screen-free things to do, bird watching is fun!

You Be Mommy
Karla Clark
Illustrated by Zoe Persico
Feiwel and Friends, 2020

20210420_141942In a role reversal, mommy is tired and asks her daughter to be mommy tonight. Colorful illustrations show all that mommy has done from working, cleaning up messes, being a chauffeur, caring for pets, and little things like wiping noses and granting wishes! As her daughter tucks her in, going through their bedtime ritual, she gets tired too and wants Mommy to be mommy. So Mommy rallies and carries her little one to bed. As she tucks her in she says, “for you’ll always by my little treasure. And I’ll be Mommy forever and ever.” A gentle reminder to a child of all that parents do in a day, but reassuring too.

A House for Every Bird
Megan Maynor
Illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
Alfed A. Knopf, 2021

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Told in the first person, the main character talks with the birds she’s drawn when they don’t choose to live in the bird houses, she’s drawn for them. Then the birds begin to chat with each other and trade houses. But our young creator wants to be in charge. She wants the birds to stay where she put them. In frustration she says, “but I was trying to help. I made a house for every bird. How was I supposed to KNOW what you like?” To which a bird replies, “ask us.” And so, she learns that you “can’t tell a bird by its feathers.” To know birds or people you have to take the time to get to know them! In the final spread the birds are around a table. Before she draws birdseed for all she asks what they like to eat and it turns out her birds like things like nuts, bugs, fruit and veggie burritos!

The illustrations are warm and inviting with lots to look at and discover-bird wearing hats, houses made of grapes and more.  The main character’s drawings looking like a child drew them. I think seeing them in a book will give confidence to other young artists.

Gifts of the Magpie
Sam Hundley
Capstone Editions, 2021

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Very clever book as Magpie (a bird known for collecting objects) makes things for her friends, but she misunderstands what her friends want because of homonyms! So, the mouse wants another mouse for a friend and gets a computer mouse, the goat wants Spring (the season) and gets a metal spring, the squirrel wants nuts and gets a nut that goes with a bolt. At first the friends are disappointed, but they begin to see how useful Magpie’s gifts are. Everything that creates the illustrations were “dug relics”-treasures unearthed by hunters using metal detectors and shovels. End pages explain the scrap art, give information on magpies and homonyms and suggest you make scrap art and send the author a picture.

“Mistakes happen, but creative thinking can turn blunders into wonders!”

And then it’s Spring
Julie Fogliano
Illustrated by Erin E. Stead
A Neal Porter Book, 2012

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I love Erin E. Stead’s illustrations in this quiet and hopeful book.  The colors are soft and earthy, the faces expressive and there is so much to look at. When the white of winter ends all the world is brown and a little boy, dog, bunny and turtle plant seeds and wait for green. The sun and the rain come but still it’s brown. The boy and his companions engage in other spring activities and wait. And wait.  Until finally all the world is green. Waiting is hard, but good things come.

“And it is still brown, but a hopeful, very possible sort of brown.” Haven’t we all seen this in Spring!

AND I love when people get caught reading books from my Flashlight Press family. Check out all their books here!

Screen-Free??

When my children were young the only screen we had to worry about was the TV. And since we didn’t get cable, the few channels we got weren’t a big problem. But now, as my children raise their children, screens are as much a part of our lives as a refrigerator. Let’s face it, we are all addicted to them. So a screen-free week might be impossible, but maybe intentional screen-free time can be achieved with some planning.

Hide the screens

If you wanted to have an ice cream free week, you wouldn’t keep any in the freezer, so when it’s screen-free time put the screens out of sight. Tablets, iPads, laptops, e-readers, phones-put them in the closet. You could even cover that big screen TV with a white sheet and do shadow figures!

Stock up on substitutes

If you are trying to keep away from ice cream or some other not good for you food, you stock up on food to replace it. So if it’s a screen-free evening plan what you’ll do instead. Will it be board games, crafts, baking, hide-n-seek, a hike to look for birds or pick up trash (hmm-screen-free and doing something for the environment!).

My favorite substitute

AND of course I think books are a wonderful way to fill screen-free time. I read to my children daily, often several times a day when they were young. The picture book age saw us snuggled together on the couch or a bed. Or sometimes at the table while they ate. When we moved on to chapter books and novels, they’d each stretch out on a couch and I read from my comfy chair. And, though not daily, we had a book we read together through middle school. We explored places, topics, feelings, fantasy worlds and had discussions.

A book to get you started

Old MacDonald had a Phone
Written by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Tony Ross
Andersen Press, 2021

To the tune of Old Macdonald we learn about a farmer and his smart phone. When he drops it in the lake he orders another one online and buys a hundred by mistake. All the animals take one and suddenly “Nobody would put them down so nothing else got done.” So the farmer takes the phones and locks them in the shed but the animals are mad and still do nothing. Finally his son suggests they use them sensibly. SO there’s a farm meeting and the creatures all agree. Humorous illustrations of animals doing all sorts of people-things with and without phones. A reminder that phones are good, when used correctly!

One more thing…

If you do pass some screen-free time reading, take a picture because it’s Get Caught Reading Month! More about that next week and a book giveaway!

Peanut Butter & Jelly

I would have been seven with Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban hit the shelves. Many years later I read it to my children and now my grandson enjoys it.
What makes a picture book timeless? It’s the writing and illustrations, but it also has to touch on a universal feeling or truth. Francis is a picky eater. There will always be picky eaters and their parents. It’s frustrating for the adult, but as we see in Bread and Jam, it’s the picky eater that is losing out. Mother and Father know that. They give Frances the space to figure it out. They don’t say “I told you so” or “I knew you’d get tired of it”.
Another universal truth, in parenting patience isn’t easy, but it can pay off.

Frances only liked jam on her bread but when I was a child a peanut butter & jelly sandwich was often in the brown paper bag for lunch. And I have memories of my dad eating it right out of the jar, often immediately after dinner! It was his dessert.
I still love a PB & J or a peanut butter cookie or a Reese’s cup or any ice cream with peanut butter something stirred in! So, when I ran found a recipe for Peanut Butter & Jelly Cheesecake, I tried it! It was loved by all the PB & J lovers in my family!

Peanut Butter & Jelly Cheesecake
Prep: 35 min + chilling
Bake 1 ¼ hours +cooling

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
6 Tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp cinnamon sugar
1 jar (16.3 oz) creamy peanut butter
2 Tbsp milk
Filling:
3 pkg (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 Large eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ cups seedless raspberry preserves
1 Tbsp lemon juice

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Place a greased 9-in springform pan on a double thickness of heavy-duty foil. Wrap the foil securely around the pan. Place on a baking sheet. In a bowl, mix cracker crumbs, sugar and cinnamon; stir in butter. Press onto bottom of prepared pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake until crust starts to brown, 6-8 minutes. Cool on wire rake. Reduce oven setting to 325.
  2. Beat peanut butter and milk until combined. Spread over cooled crust; set aside. In a large bowl beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Add eggs; beat on low speed just until blended. Pour over crust. In a saucepan stir together preserves and lemon juice over medium heat until preserves melt. Spoon mixture by tablespoonfuls over top. Cut through the batter with a knife to swirl. Place springform pan in a large baking pan; add 1 inch of water to larger pan.
  3. Bake until center is just set and top appears dull, about 1 ¼ hours. (Center of cheesecake will jiggle when moved). Turn oven off and leave cake in oven with door closed for one hour. Open door. Seal with plastic wrap and let cool in oven. Chill before serving.

Books to Make You Smile

April is National Humor Month so a trip to the library and I found a few books to share. Humor in kids’ books can be the in-your-face laugh-out-loud kind or more subtle. It can be a dance between the pictures and the words as they contradict each other or used to soften the blow of more serious moments in the book. Here’s a few I liked.

Snail Crossing

Written & Illustrated by Corey R. Tabor
Balzer & Bray, HarperCollins 2020

Snail spies a luscious cabbage patch, but he needs to cross the road to get to it. His attempt is not without adventure. He saves some ants from the rain by inviting them into his shell home. We only see dark and eyes until “click” and the home is the wondrous snail home I’d love to crawl into. In his attempt to evade a crow he gets turned around and ends up back where he started. In the end kindness pays off as he sees a head of cabbage coming toward him across the road, carried by-the ants, of course! The illustrations were warm and inviting and showed the world from Snail’s perspective. One of the things I love about picture books is that the vocabulary can be rich as an adult is present to help explain unknown words. Snail was full of wonderful words like ponder, grumbling, antsy, evasive maneuvers and had a lesson in persistence and kindness.

Book’s Big Adventure

Written by Adam Lehrhaupt, Illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell
A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021

Book is brand new. He finds himself on the best shelf in the library where he is sought after and taken on many adventures. In time his newness wears off, his cover fades and he is moved to less and less prominent shelves and has fewer adventures. He is lonely and ignored for new fancier books. Eventually he falls under a shelf and loses hope, but he is found and put in a box of books that are donated. Book is loved again and goes on new adventures. The text is simple with much shown in the inviting illustrations that show diversity of people and communities. The feelings Book is experiencing are perfectly depicted by just two eyes and a mouth. It is a heartwarming story that helps the reader experience sadness, empathy, hope and joy. Bonus-the author included information on where to donate books so they aren’t forgotten. After all, a book’s purpose is not to live in a box, but to share adventures with readers!

We Found a Hat

Written & Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press 2016

This is a story in three parts told with simple text and illustrations. Klassen is a master at dry humor while showing honest emotions. Part 1: two turtles find a hat and decide it looks good on both of them. Since it is not right for only one to have it they decide to leave it. It is made clear one turtle still covets the hat. Part 2: they watch the sunset and one turtle thinks about the sunset and the other is still thinking about the hat but doesn’t share that. Part 3: they are going to sleep. The turtle that wants the hat is trying to confirm that the other turtle is sleeping so he can go get the hat, but when he finds out the other turtle is dreaming about them both have a hat he goes to sleep too and dreams they both have a hat. A lot is packed in a simple story that leads to discussions of sharing, making good decisions and thinking of others.

How to Catch a Clover Thief

Written & Illustrated by Elise Parsley
Little Brown & Company, Hachette Book Group, 2021

A boar named Roy finds and claims a clover patch. His neighbor Jarvis, a gopher, quietly steals the clover while distraction Roy with various books-a clover recipes cookbook, a book about camping and one on aerospace engineering. Roy finally realizes Jarvis has tricked him and he goes to the library where he reads and looks up words. Later we see Jarvis tunneling under to get to Roy’s clover but Roy has built a machine (Rube Goldberg style) that shoots Jarvis to the sky on a rocket. And Roy is seen holding a book, How to Catch a Clover Thief. The full-page illustrations and expressive faces are a great example of how the illustrations tell the story with the words. The story shows ingenuity, that you can find answers and solutions in books, and is very funny.

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