Family Fridays – Virginia Lee Burton

A good friend from my grad school days is coming to visit this weekend, and I’m so excited to see her. I don’t have very many close friends in my area, so I cherish the times I get to have girl time – lots of tea drinking, sugar eating, laughing ourselves silly, and generally not acting our age. Good times.

She asked if there was anything she could bring for my son, as an early  Christmas/birthday present, and so I suggested a couple of toy options and a couple of book options. I keep a running mental list of books I want to acquire for our family library, and so I picked a couple that had nudged their way to the top, since they are both classic books that will grow with him (I like to expose him to books outside his “suggested age range” since we can talk about the pictures when he’s small, then more and more of the words and story as he gets older. Plus this keeps me from going insane reading the same board books over and over and over), and they feature construction equipment/heavy machinery, which my almost-two-year-old is really into right now. Like REALLY into. He wakes up asking about his “dumpys” [anything bigger than a car, derived from “dump truck”] and goes to sleep after saying bye bye to them. He thinks the protagonist of Are You My Mother is the steam shovel – we have to skip or flip through the rest of the pages really fast to get to the good part.

The two books I suggested were Katy and the Big Snow (we live in Colorado, so I thought this would be especially appropriate) and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. I remembered loving both these books as child, but I couldn’t remember much else about them, so I was surprised to find they were written and illustrated by the same person, Virginia Lee Burton. I did a little investigating, and found she also wrote/illustrated a book about the San Francisco cable cars called Maybelle the Cable Car which was especially perfect, since not only does it feature busses and cable cars and Things That Go, but my friend lives in San Francisco!

My friend is very generous, and when I got the box from Barnes and Noble (our deal was that I was allowed to peek, but we’ll let her give them to Mr. T) I found not only ALL three of the above books, but a fourth that I hadn’t seen called Choo Choo, also by Virginia Lee Burton. So naturally as soon as soon as I got Mr. T to sleep I sat down and read all four books cover to cover.

I loved the new-to-me ones as much as I loved the familiar Katy and Mike Mulligan books, and can’t wait to share them with my son. One of the things I love about these books is that Burton’s style is very distinctive, but also very different for each book. Mike Mulligan is the most like a “standard” picture book, Choo Choo is all black and white, Katy and the Big Snow has pages with intricate borders and maps, and Maybelle has several smaller sketches per page.

I’m so pleased with my own personal Virginia Lee Burton treasury, and would highly recommend these books for the special children in your life as well. Another thing I love about them is that these are books for kids, not “boy books” or “girl books”. Yes, they all feature vehicles and transportation, but all four of the main mechanical characters are female.

Katy and the Big Snow: Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Suggested ages: 4-8) This would be a great Christmas present!

Katy, a brave and untiring tractor, who pushes a bulldozer in the summer and a snowplow in the winter, makes it possible for the townspeople to do their jobs.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel: Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Suggested ages: 4-8)

Since its publication in 1939, Virginia Lee Burton’s Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel has delighted generations of children. Together, Mike and his red steam shovel named Mary Anne dig the great canals, cut through high mountains, lower the hills, and even make deep holes for skyscrapers. With the advent of more modernized shovels, however, Mary Anne is going to be sold for junk! Thanks to Mike’s fierce loyalty to his friend, she is spared—and guaranteed a long-term job—when the intrepid duo digs a new town hall for the people of Popperville. Burton’s winsome crayon drawings are unforgettable. A classic!

Maybelle the Cable Car: Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Suggested ages: 4-8)

Maybelle was a cable car a San Francisco cable car. . . She rang her gong and sang her song from early morn till late at night. . . . By recounting the actual events in San Francisco’s effort to keep the city’s cable cars running, this classic story illustrates how the voice of the people can be heard in the true spirit of democracy. Virginia Lee Burton’s original art for Maybelle the Cable Car was retrieved from the archives of the San Francisco Public Library to re-create this edition with all the vibrant charm of the original, which was published in 1952.

Choo Choo: Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Suggested ages: 4-8)

The adventures of a beautiful little locomotive who decided to run away from her humdrum duties.

Have you read any of Virginia Lee Burton’s books? She won a Caldecott Medal for The Little House, but I haven’t read it in the past couple of decades, so I can’t give it the Lector’s Books stamp of approval yet.

Family Fridays – Moms, You’re Doing It Wrong

This post is going to be a little different than my usual Family Fridays posts, where I talk about, you know, books – this is after all a book blog. As of writing this, I’ve just entered the third trimester of my pregnancy (THE END IS NEAR!), so I’ve been thinking alot about being a mom, and especially those months after my son was first born, when I was navigating the murky First Time Mom waters.

*warning – serious navel gazing ahead – proceed at your own risk*

If there was one thing I’d like to say on behalf of all new moms it’s this: send food. We don’t have time to sleep or shower, let alone figure out how to keep ourselves or anyone else living in our house fed. Or money. Money is also good, because it can be exchanged for food.

But if I had TWO things to say on behalf of all new moms it would be this: please assume that we are a noncombatant in the Mommy Wars. Assume that we are doing our best to figure out what how to raise this tiny helpless poop machine that we have somehow become entirely responsible for, and that if we ask questions of you, or make choices that are different than yours, we are not attacking you – we are merely doing the best we can. (This goes for all moms, but especially new moms, who are sleep deprived and hormonally imbalanced on top of the other typical mom stuff.)

Let me give you an example. When my son was still little, I met another mom. I thought that I remembered hearing she worked with her husband, so I asked her that. Silence, then a tight little smile, followed by “I’ve raised [number of] children. Is that enough for you?” This was from one stay at home mom to another.

Somehow the question of “what do you do?” – which is a fairly standard ice-breaker, small talk, get to know you kind of question becomes fraught with peril when children are introduced to the mix, though typically only for women. But here’s the thing – it only is a dangerous question if we let it be. I think deep down we’re all a little insecure about the choices we make for our families (and that’s a good thing, because it means we care about making the right choice for our families), but becoming defensive and entrenching ourselves behind fortified walls is not the best response. This is where the whole “assume we are noncombatants” comes into play. Most of the time, questions are just questions – asked for information or small talk or whatever reason – and not made with the intent of being snide.

It’s kind of like the grownup equivalent of “what’s your major?” that college students ask each other (first three questions: name, major, hometown). Now, if Bob has just failed Basket Weaving 101 and is realizing that he is never going to become a Master Basket Weaver (which was his lifelong dream), then that question is going to feel a little bit (or a lot) like a slap in the face. Is it the fault of the person asking? No – it’s Bob’s insecurities that made a neutral question feel like an attack.

Similarly, if someone asks what you do, or where your kids go to school, or if you cloth diaper, or how much tv you let your kids watch, what if we all assumed that the asker is not judging us, or trying to point out their own superiority? What if we assumed that they were simply trying to get to know us, or maybe they wanted information because something wasn’t working well for their family and were trying to find alternatives? I think what would happen is that this whole mom thing – which is really, really difficult, would get just a little bit easier.

For example, I often ask about what people have decided to do for their children’s schooling. I’m genuinely curious about what they’ve decided to do (public, private, homeschooling, etc.) and why. I come from an education background and it is something I care deeply about. I want as much information as possible when it comes time to make those decisions for my kids. I also didn’t grow up in the US education system, apart from a few years (grades 7-10), so I’m not familiar with all the options or how they work from a first person perspective.

I really do understand that sometimes people are asking with mal intent. I get it. People can be jerks, that’s just a sad fact of life. But I’ve seen in my own experience that the more insecure I am about something, the more often I feel attacked. The stay at home mom thing is hard for me to get worked up about, because I actually feel incredibly blessed and fortunate in that I had a choice whether or not to go back to work, and I was able to choose to stay at home. I understand that not everyone has a choice, and I consider it a privilege to be able to do what I want. I do also really get why some women are very happy to be working outside the home, and for what it’s worth, it seems to be the more socially acceptable choice amongst women of my generation.

**second warning – I’m going to say breast! watch out!**

Here’s something I can get worked up about: I had really wanted to breastfeed my son. (I said breast!) Not only because I’m cheap (free food!), but because it seemed like the best option nutritionally. Here’s a funny twist of fate – my son has numerous food allergies (he’s almost two and we’re still struggling to find out what exactly he can and can’t eat) which culminated in three weeks of constant illness and a screaming, unhappy, sick baby (our record was going through more than a package of diapers in a day – that’s 40 plus diapers, which works out to a diaper change more frequently than every 36 minutes. Around the clock. On no sleep. And my husband was working nights! Fun times.)

We put him on a hypoallergenic formula and he was well in four hours. Four hours. After three weeks of hell. I had eliminated dairy and soy, and was on a “bland diet”, so I was pretty much eating plain noodles, rice, and boiled chicken, and then after we switched him to formula I still pumped for a week on the awful diet to try to give the toxins time to work out of my body and then out of his body, but the second we reintroduced breastmilk, it was back to sick baby. So I can confidently say I gave breastfeeding my best shot, and not only was my milk NOT the most healthy option for him (due to the whole malnutrution thing) we also ended up on a $200 a month formula. Ah, fate.

What’s my point here? This was something that I had really wanted to do for my son, but it just was not going to happen. So when I see all the “rah rah breastfeeding” posts on facebook, or tweets, or blog articles (it was recently “breastfeeding week”), it feels personal. I know that for the most part, these women are well intentioned, and I think trying to promote and normalize breastfeeding is a good thing, but the “everyone SHOULD breastfeed” message feels like a direct attack on me, because I couldn’t. Many women can’t. Either they don’t have enough milk, or they’ve adopted, or they are working out of the home and just can’t keep up with pumping and trying to provide for their families, or whatever. And some women can, and choose not to. Maybe they hate it, or are desperate for sleep, or know that they have to go back to work soon and just don’t feel it’s worth the effort.

So I have a choice. I can take my personal insecurities and assume these breastfeeding cheerleaders are judging me for putting my son on formula and fight back with all I’ve got, maybe changing the arena to one I can feel morally superior in (though at the moment I’m at a loss for what exactly that would be), or I can let it go and remember that they are trying to do the best they can for their children, as I am, and that they care enough about other people’s children to try to make a positive impact there as well. When we’re insecure about something, it feels like the subtext in those discussions is a whispered, “You’re doing it wrong.” But that’s what we hear, not necessarily what’s being said.

We all have a choice. Whatever the issue – breastfeeding, education, tv, electronic toys, organic food, cloth diapering, working outside the home – whatever it is, we can make this whole parenting thing easier on ourselves and each other if we start off with the assumption of best intentions on the part of the other person. Assume they are a noncombatant in the Mommy Wars, that whatever they just said was not an attack on you. I really do believe in the message of this book – if enough of us choose to be pleasant, we really can make the world a better place.

Except for those people who really are being snide. You can punch them in the face.

Family Fridays – If Everybody Did

Book: If Everybody Did (1960) by Jo Ann Stover

Category/Age: Picture Book (Older)

Blurb:

The hilarious and terrible consequences of everyone doing his own thing are portrayed by author/artist Jo Ann Stover in If Everybody Did. Children and adults alike will enjoy this precautionary tale with its concise rhyming text, and amusing illustrations.

Review:

This book resonated very strongly with me when I read it as a child. The basic message is that if everybody acted selfishly, the world would not be a very nice place. Even today, when I see adults exhibiting discourteous behaviour, this book pops into my head and I want to smack them upside the head with it, then force them to read it cover to cover.

<Side note: this was especially true when I was taking public transit every day to work. I wanted to write a special version just for adults on the light rail: “What if everybody put their bags on seats when the train was full? What if everybody screamed profanities into their cellphones? What if everybody put their feet on the seat so no one else could sit down there? What if everybody told long explicit stories about their latest medical issues?” >

Written in 1960, it is more timely than ever, especially for a generation that is being told they are special snowflakes and the only thing that matters is their own happiness. This book shows the consequences of everybody making small choices that negatively impact others, and then what would happen if everybody made choices that positively impacted the world, and how it would be a much nicer place for everyone.

It manages to do all of this while being fun and not preachy, no mean feat. I was shocked to discover that I didn’t have it, and it is on my list to buy the next time I snag a Barnes and Noble coupon.

Get it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

I’m baaaaaack!

Well, it’s been a few months, so welcome back to the blog! I hope to be bringing new content on a more regular basis. At least more regular than every three months or so! I’ve taken the summer off because I’m pregnant again (yay!) but have been feeling really sick (boo!) and tired (double boo!). I’ve been going to bed ridiculously early, which is probably good for me and the baby, but between that and chasing after a todder all day, I haven’t had a lot of time to read. However, I did manage to sneak a book in here and there over the summer, in between sweating and moaning about how hot it was, and I hope you’ll enjoy what I’ve got lined up for the next few weeks.

To kick things off, I’m recommending my favorite pregnancy book: Expecting 411 (Amazon, Barnes and Noble). I found this while pregnant with my first, and I really liked it. It’s conversational without being annoying, and informative without being alarmist. I like the paper version better than the e-book version, since it’s easier to flip through when you have a specific question. I found it a helpful guide to pregnancy, and keep meaning to get the others in the series, particularly Toddler 411 (Amazon, Barnes and Noble), but I’ve been too busy chasing after said toddler to actually sit down, buy it, and read it! The toddler years are fun, but they sure are exhausting!

What are your favorite pregnancy/parenting books?

 

Family Fridays – the Non-Weirdo’s Guide to Cloth Diapering

Well, it was earth day this week, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about poop. I’m coming out of the closet and taking a stand: I cloth diaper my baby! I thought I’d write up the Cloth Diapering for Non-Weirdos guide to hopefully give a little nudge to any parents who might be on the fence about trying it out.  Why non-weirdos? Well, I’m not really sure, to be honest. There’s a stigma that people who cloth diaper are weird – it’s the strange choice, the not-normal thing to do. My favorite conversation about cloth diapering happened with a man, who when told we were cloth diapering, just stared at me and went, “why?” in a tone of voice implying I’d somehow taken leave of my senses.

This might seem like a fairly rational response (it’s certainly not uncommon), but what makes this interaction particularly hilarious is that this man was, at the time, living in a Winnebago heated by a wood stove (he’d hacked out part of the shell for the chimney to fit), on the other side of a river that had to be either forded or kayaked across (no road/bridge), growing his own crops, raising and slaughtering his own meat, and using an outdoor composting toilet with a door but no walls. It says something about where society is when this kind of man thinks cloth diapering is weird. (His wife informed him that they would be cloth diapering when they had kids.)

So – why DO I cloth diaper my son? I’m not really a crunchy granola hippie type, but I do try to conserve where I can. When those areas also save me money, I get especially excited. So I do it because it saves us money, it’s better for the environment (it takes a lot of water to wash the diapers, but I believe this is better overall than importing from halfway across the world, then putting into landfills, every single time I change a diaper. In our global economy, people forget that India and China are actually quite far away, and that big container ships are really, really bad for the environment), there’s no weird chemicals or artificial scents pressed right up against his man parts, and they’re really, really cute. Also, I’ve found that they leak less. We’re not hardcore about it – when travelling or when he goes to mother’s day out we put him in disposables and don’t worry about it. I think parenting should be a realistic mix of idealistic goals and practicality. Strive for your ideals, but do what works best for your family and move on.

Here’s our current cloth diaper setup. We have 19 BumGenius 4.0 Snap Pocket Diapers, 2 PlanetWise Large Hanging Wetbags, 24 Thirsties Hemp Inserts, and 12 Thirsties Fab Cloth Wipes (if we have another kid, I’m buying a whole bunch of these and throwing out all my other baby washcloths. They’re SO SOFT.)

IMG_1799Why, yes, that is a nerdy math diaper. Squee!

I really love the website Kelly’s Closet (all the links above are to them), and buy most of our cloth diapering supplies from them. They have fabulous customer service, a great rewards program, and a big enough selection to find what you want, but not too big that it’s overwhelming. You could buy all of these supplies there for full price for about $500, and that does not include sales or rewards or volume discounts. I haven’t found that our utilities went up when we started cloth diapering, so that hasn’t been much of a cost for us. We do buy special cloth diaper detergent, and I think we’ve bought maybe 3 bags of that over the last year, for an additional $48. So all told, you could spend $550 for the first year of diapering your child, plus the second year will be free except for laundry and detergent costs. And the diapers will also last through multiple children.

We’d tried Fuzzibunz (yes, everything in the cloth diapering industry has a ridiculous name) previously, and found they just didn’t fit our son very well, so we switched to BumGenius when he was around 4 months, and they’ve worked fantastically (he’s currently 15 months). The BumGenius diapers are a “one-size” which means that theoretically you can use them from birth (though you’d have to have a pretty big newborn) to potty-training. You start with them on the smallest setting and the “newborn” insert (the inserts go in a slot/pocket in the diaper which is why they’re called pocket diapers), then as your baby grows, you change the snaps to a bigger size, and as he starts to pee more, you can change out the newborn for the regular insert, then you end up using both inserts together. We just had to buy the Thirsties inserts because he was starting to saturate and leak out of his diapers, but these inserts (coupled with the BG regular insert) will give us more time before he outgrows the diaper capacity (oh, and we use a regular insert plus two Thirsties inserts for overnight – no more wet baby in the morning!).

So a typical (wet) diaper change is as follows, take off wet diaper, and remove the wet inserts, then toss the whole shebang in the PlanetWise wetbag that’s hanging nearby. Then use either a disposable wipe or a cloth wipe wet with some water, or water/soap mixture (I keep an old handsoap dispenser by the changing table for this purpose) and clean him up. Toss disposable wipe in trash or toss cloth wipe in the wetbag. Snap a new diaper on the baby, either using or not using a disposable liner, and you’re good to go! If there’s only wet diapers in the diaper bag, I typically don’t zip it up, but if there’s a poopy one in there, you WILL want to zip it up. (Side note, these wet bags are awesome. I have a medium sized one I use as a laundry bag when we’re travelling and they do an awesome job of holding in leaks and smells and the usual gross baby stuff.)

One of the things that scares parents off of cloth diapering is the poop. Yes, poop is gross. Babies in general are pretty gross. Yes, you will end up touching poop no matter how you diaper your child, which is the common response from the cloth diaperers. However, I’ll be honest with you – it is more gross to deal with a poopy cloth diaper than a poopy disposable. But not that much grosser. With a poopy disposable, you just toss it in the trash (which, by the way, you’re not supposed to do, and yes, I know that everyone does it). With a poopy cloth diaper, you generally want to remove as much poop as possible from the diaper before putting it through your washer. (If you have a baby, there will be poop and pee going through your washer anyways, I promise you that.) You can use disposable liners, some of which are flushable, or some people use diaper sprayers or scrapers to put the poop in the toilet. Sometimes I just swipe at it with a disposable wipe to get the bulk off. Then you remove the inserts and dump everything in the laundry bag. Occasionally my son will go through phases where he’s pooping on a schedule, which is awesome, because then we’ll just use a disposable diaper for the poopy time. However, if he’s not on a schedule, we typically use the disposable liners in the morning (higher probability poop times), and just the plain cloth diapers later in the day, dealing with the consequences as necessary. As I said, it’s grosser, but not really that much grosser.

When it comes time for laundry, I unsnap the bag from the door handle, and invert over the washing machine, dumping everything in, including the bag. (You don’t have to touch anything gross at this point). I run a cold wash, no soap, no extra rinse, then soak it overnight. Then the next day I run a hot wash, with cloth diaper detergent (Rockin Green), and an extra rinse cycle. When that’s done, I’ll either hang up the inserts or dry them in the dryer, and I always hang up the shells (the colored part of the diaper). Since we’ve been using the hemp inserts, it takes two dry cycles to get them dry (they hold a LOT of water!), or some combination of hanging and drying. While this is happening, I’m using the second wetbag as our diaper pail. Once everything’s dry, I’ll assemble the diapers – some for day, some for night (with the extra inserts), and carry them up to his room, where they sit in neat, adorably colored stacks. Once a month, I throw in some bleach as per the BumGenius guidelines, and twice now (over a year) I’ve “stripped” the diapers – there was starting to be a build-up of smells, so you wash the diapers with Dawn dishwashing liquid and then do a bunch of rinses and the diapers are as good as new.

IMG_1797A good overall picture of our cloth diapering setup. I hang the nighttime stuffed diapers off the edge of the basket so it’s very clear which ones are which.

If you hate laundry, cloth diapering is not for you. Laundry happens to be about the only chore that I don’t hate – I mean, really, you put nasty, dirty things in a magic box, go away, and when you come back, they’re clean! Awesome! Also, I have a SpeedQueen washer and dryer, which I love more than words can express. The whole process does take a lot of time, it’s true. BUT – not much of that is hands on time. I’m a stay at home mom, so for me to walk downstairs a couple of times to hit buttons on the washer is not a strain. I’d say it takes maybe 3 minutes to set up the initial wash cycle (this gets rid of any solids and washes away a lot of the pee), another 2 minutes to go down and start the soak cycle, go to sleep, wake up the next morning and spend 2 minutes closing the lid so the soak cycle drains, then 3 minutes to go down and set up the hot wash cycle with detergent. Maybe 7 minutes to separate out the shells, inserts, and wipes,  and hang some and put some in the dryer, then another 2-5  minutes to go down and either restart the dryer or hang up the inserts to finish drying. It takes maybe 10-15 to assemble the diapers (mostly depending on how distracted you are while doing it) and bring them back upstairs. So I’d say, generously,  it’s an active 37 minutes every two days. Most of that is me walking up and down the stairs – our main living areas are upstairs and laundry is downstairs.

So that’s our routine. I find it to be totally worth the initial monetary investment and the continuing time investment. An added perk for me at least is that I have a very sensitive nose, and the artificial scents in disposable diapers can give me a massive headache. Plus, cloth diapers are really, really cute*.

IMG_1801*I told you they were cute. In my defense, I do normally put pants on him.

One last bit of advice for those of you thinking of trying cloth diapering is that you can’t really dip your toe in the water with it. You don’t really know if it’s going to work for you unless you have a full day’s worth of diapers and can test out your washing routine. So I recommend using a store that offers (like Kelly’s Closet)  a 30 day trial period, where you can buy all the diapers you need, and try it for a couple of full cycles (there is a bit of a learning curve) to see if it’s going to work for your family. If you hate it, or it feels like too much extra work, send them back in and get your money back. Life is too short to do things you hate.

Have you cloth diapered? Would you ever consider it for your kids?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Family Fridays – I Kissed the Baby

Book: I Kissed the Baby (2003) by Mary Murphy

Category/Age: Picture Book (Younger)

Blurb:

It’s so exciting! News of the baby is buzzing from animal to animal, with each one — fish, bird, squirrel, insect, frog — boasting of seeing, feeding, singing to, tickling, and kissing the tiny little thing. With bold, graphic black-and-white illustrations, Mary Murphy’s simple, singsong story captures the giddy commotion that only a baby can bring.

Review:

Because I am a nerd, I love it when books for kids – including babies – have some educational value. This board book is aimed at young babies, with a mostly black and white style, with some pops of color. But, it includes something for each of the five senses, which I think is cool. Plus, when you’re reading it for the 5,000th time (it’s a board book, so you WILL end up reading it approximately that many times) you can add in hand motions or asides talking about the different senses.

Speakin of asides, I think the best boards have enough text that you don’t have to make up your own words (books that have hardly any text at all are difficult to read), but are rich enough image-wise that you can add in your own comments or things to talk about if you can’t handle just reading it straight ONE MORE TIME!

Anyways, this is a cute and charming book, and maybe the best part of it is the page where the momma kisses her baby again – be sure to take full advantage of that, complete with loud kissy sound effects.

Get it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Family Fridays – The Boxcar Children

Book: The Boxcar Children (1924) by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Series: The Boxcar Children

Category/Age: Early Reader / Beginning Chapter Book :  ages 6 and up

Blurb:

One Warm Night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from.” So begins Gertrude Chandler Warner’s beloved story about four orphans who run away and find shelter in an abandoned boxcar. There they manage to live all on their own, and at last, find love and security from an unexpected source.

Review:

Let’s pause for a moment, shall we? 1924. This book was published in 1924. That’s just a few years after the end of the first world war – and 90 years ago. The language does feel a bit dated in places, but not nearly as much as you might think. This classic has been beloved for almost a century because it’s easy to read, and just plain fun.

I’ve always been a sucker for survival stories, from Julie of the Wolves to The Martian (review forthcoming). The nitty-gritty, mundane details of survival I always find fascinating, and this book falls solidly into the survival genre for much of the book, which I hadn’t remembered going into it. Where do they sleep? What do they cook in? Where do they get clean? Those types of details are answered in a realistic way for the children, and you can definitely see why it would resonate in the minds of young readers – it’s like the ultimate game of playing house.

As an adult, my only quibble with the book was how fast the ending was resolved – I felt like the major conflict set up (with the grandfather) was glossed over for expediency – but overall this is a fantastic chapter book for early readers.

I vaguely seem to remember reading dozens of the other books, and enjoying them greatly as well.

Did you read The Boxcar Children in your childhood? What did you think?

Get it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Family Fridays: Good Night Our World Book Series

This will be the last entry in my impromptu “Travel Month” books for kids. Good Night Our World is a series of board books for very young kids and takes them through a day, and all the seasons, for a given location.

Of the ones I’ve seen, I think they do a fantastic job of picking locations to highlight that are evocative of the place, and I really like the inclusion of the times of day and seasons aspect. The illustration style is fun and bright. One downside is that the writing is really geared towards very young babies, so some of it’s a little on the cutesy side. These are not books I would be able to happily read over and over out loud, but they’re fun reminders of trips you’ve taken or want to take. I seem to pull them out when I’ve got the travel itch. I’ve even given a couple of my hometown one (Good Night Denver) as gifts to family and friends with babies located out of state, generally to try to entice people to come visit.

Here’s a link to their website, which lists all the books they have out, and you can also find more information on the series there.

I think travel is so important for everyone, but especially children. Even if you can only afford to pack up the kids and head to your local downtown, do that. Many museums and zoos and other cultural things offer free days, and you can always find somewhere to eat a picnic lunch.

What’s your favorite trip you’ve taken with your children? Or where do you hope to take them one day?

Family Fridays – “This Is…” Travel Series Review

I’m belatedly declaring March “Children’s Travel Month”, mostly because I had fun writing up last week’s post about books being the best souvenirs for children and wanted to keep going.

My all time favorite travel series for children is the This Is … series by M. Sasek. The books were published between 1959 and 1970, though there has been a reprinting of all or most of them in the last decade or so (including some updated information listed at the end of the books).

The illustrations will draw you in, but the chatty narrative will hook you for life. Reading these books is a bit like looking at trip photos while your friend (but wittier and less rambly than your REAL friends) gives highlights and funny stories about the places you’re looking at.

These would be great souvenirs for adults or children, but they’d also make great trip preparation for older children. The books tend to give little historical snippets or details about the places which are genuinely interesting, and could help engage reluctant history students. They’re also fun because Sasek wasn’t about poking fun at his subjects. When I reread the books on London, Britain, and Texas, one of my favorite bits was: “King Stephen was supposed to have sat in this chair. He reigned over England – rather inefficiently – during the first half of the twelfth century.” Also fun are the self-portrait sketches on the inside of the front and back covers. It usually shows Sasek coming in and leaving with his easel, but the Britain one shows him arriving as a conquering Viking, and ends with him in the stocks.

Eventually I hope to have all of the books about places I’ve been to (or maybe the goal should be go to all of the places that he did a book about? there’s even one to the  moon…). I currently have This is London (my favorite so far!), This is Britain (really fun, but there is a LOT crammed in here, so you miss some of the chattier tone from his other books), This is Texas, and This is Paris – in Portuguese (long story).

Age range wise it varies depending on the book. The This is London is recommended for 4 and up, and the This is Britain is recommended for 9 and up, both of those seem about right to me. If you’re thinking about getting a specific destination, I’d make sure to check the age range to make sure your kids will be able to appreciate it.

Here’s a link to the Amazon Author Page for Sasek, where you can see all his available books, and here’s a link to the corresponding Barnes and Noble page.

What are your favorite travel series for children?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

P.S. As I’ve mentioned before, I use some of his books as artwork in my baby’s nursery.

Family Fridays – The Best Souvenirs for Children

Well, duh – I’m going to say “books”. I absolutely love getting travel and regional books to commemorate trips taken, a part of your heritage, or just as a snapshot of your hometown. One of the great joys of travel is wandering around in new bookstores and coming out with a treasure (or two!). On our last trip, my son and I travelled to Las Cruces, New Mexico to meet up with family and enjoy some wonderful Mexican food (an area in which Colorado is sadly lacking). We ate at La Posta (a family tradition), then ambled around the historic plaza while trying to digest the last bits of sopapilla (dairy free! this is my version of heaven).

The Mesilla Book Center on the plaza had a great selection of regional children’s books, and the hard part was deciding what to leave behind, not what to take home. I finally settled on the fun “Guess Who’s in the Desert” by Charline Profiri and Susan Swan – the combination of illustrations, facts and desert animals made it a winner for us. We can enjoy it now, and it will grow with my son as he gets older.

Wherever you go, there will be a place to find regional children’s books, and I highly recommend them as a souvenir. Beautiful, practical, and a great way to remember a place, you can’t go wrong with these.

What are your favorite regional books for kids?