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 – If Everybody Did

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

Category/Age: Picture Book (Older)


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.


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.

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?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I’m not a huge celebrator of Valentine’s Day, but I do love those little conversation hearts, the ones that taste like pepto bismol and have cutesey sayings on them. I can easily eat a package of them by myself – by which I mean, I do eat a package of them by myself, at least twice a year because my husband detests them (he also doesn’t like brownies). The other good thing about Valentine’s Day is that it’s a wonderful excuse to read a sappy romance.

Here are my current favorite romances. Warning: there’s no bodice ripping in any of these, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll be disappointed.

  1. Gaudy Night (1935) by Dorothy Sayers (Barnes and Noble, Amazon) – I know, I know! I’m forever going on about it. But I can’t help it if the greatest love story ever written comes packaged in a well written mystery full of great characters and wonderful ambience.
  2. Persuasion (1817) by Jane Austen (Barnes and Noble, Amazon) – While I love Pride and Prejudice as much as the next girl, I think Persuasion slightly edges it out as my favorite Austen. This movie adaptation (Barnes and Noble, Amazon) is excellent.
  3. Edenbrooke (2012) by Julianne Donaldson (Barnes and Noble, Amazon) – I first read this a year or so ago, and I immediately fell in love with it. It’s just fun.
  4. Sorcery and Cecelia (1988) by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (Barnes and Noble, Amazon) – see my review here.
  5. Black Sheep (1966) (Barnes and Noble, Amazon) and Frederica (1965) (Barnes and Noble, Umm…Amazon apparently only carries the Russian edition?) by Georgette Heyer – I couldn’t decide, so I went with both. I went through a Heyer phase when I was pregnant and couldn’t handle reading anything even remotely stressful. Some of them I hated, and some of them I really enjoyed. These are two that are pretty much guaranteed to put a smile on my face.

Ok, so I just realized that all of these are either written or were set a very long time ago. I’m not sure what that says about me, but there you have it.

As a bonus, because it is Friday and I need to sneak in a “Family Friday” bit somewhere, I’ll present you with my favorite love book for children: Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram. (Barnes and Noble, Amazon). One of the many things I love about this book is that it features a dad as the loving parent. Moms often take center stage (not that I’m complaining) in these types of books, so it’s great to see a dad trying to explain just how much he loves his child. Sweet without being smarmy, it is a great way to show a kid (or adult!) how much you love them.

What are your favorite romances? What is your favorite love book for kids? How can someone not like brownies?!?

*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 – Lost In The Woods

Book: Lost in the Woods (2004) by Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick

Category/Age: Picture Book (Older)


The authors of New York Times’ best-seller, Stranger in the Woods, bring you this beautiful springtime fantasy about trust, patience and waiting for your time. Woodland creatures are concerned for a newborn fawn they believe to be lost.


One thing I’ve never understood about human brains is the connections they’re able to make between the symbolic and the concrete. It’s really mind boggling, especially in very young children.

Take the following:







What is it? Well, obviously it’s an elephant. A rather well done elephant, if I do say so myself. But it’s not really an elephant, it’s a collection of lines on a screen in a vaguely elephant-like shape. How is it that people can immediately recognize, “oh, elephant!”? It doesn’t have the same actual shape, texture, depth, color, etc. as a real elephant. It kind of boggles my mind.

Here on the other hand, is an actual elephant:

Real Elephants






Well, again, it’s not really an elephant, but at least it’s the photograph of a real elephant, so we’re much closer to the real thing. I’ve always been curious to see if a child brought up on cartoon pictures of animals would be able to recognize the real animals from their simple, stylized drawings, if they had never before seen the real, live counterparts. If you think about it, much of what makes up the visual part of the animals: color, texture, movement, etc. is just not captured in most children’s books. To say nothing of the smell.

But anyways, the point of all this rambling (I do have a point!) is that this book, Lost In The Woods, is a different style children’s book in that it’s photographs of animals instead of illustrations. It makes a wonderful addition to any young child’s library, and has a great cast of woodland animals. The pictures are absolutely lovely; you’ll find yourself wanting to reach out and touch the baby animals.

It also makes the point that newborn deer are abandoned by their mothers for the first few weeks of life to keep them safe from predators, so if you come across one in the wilds, leave it alone! Apparently they are born without a scent, so the mother only comes back to feed, then leaves again until the fawn is strong enough to keep up with the doe. I didn’t know that. You learn something new everyday.

Amazon, Barnes & Noble

P.S. They also have another one in the series, Stranger in the Woods, that shows forest animals reacting to a snowman. That one is definitely going on my wish list for next Christmas!

P.P.S. Who DOESN’T need an adorable stuffed fawn?!?

*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 – Tillie and the Wall

Book: Tillie and the Wall (1989) by Leo Lionni

Category/Age: Older Picture Book, 2+ Years


All her life Tillie the mouse has wondered what lies on the other side of the wall. Imagining all sorts of fantastic possibilities, she digs a tunnel to get to the other side, where she discovers . . . other mice, just like her! Together, Tillie and her friends work to bring down the wall and unite mouse-kind. Written just before the fall of the Berlin wall, this seemingly simple fable has a powerful message for all children—and all people.


Huh. I just learned, about two seconds ago, about the Berlin wall context of this book. Even without the historical significance, this is an awesome, awesome book. I think the two words from the blurb, “seemingly simple”, capture it perfectly – story and illustrations. There are so many great things layered into this book: a character who questions the status quo, fights against a seemingly insurmountable barrier, fails again and again before succeeding, then unites her people (well, mice). Not to mention the adorable mice in the illustrations. I defy you to find a more adorable mouse than any of Leo Lionni’s mice.

I’ll try to limit myself to talking a little bit more about only two of the above points: failure and the subtle “her”. I recently read an interesting (despite the annoying GIFs) blog post about failure, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it. I think it’s wonderful that Tillie and the Wall can be used to encourage kids (and adults) that it’s ok to fail; in fact that it’s a normal part of life. I am by nature a very cautious person, and when I encounter failure my first reaction is to curl up in my shell and retreat (as much as one can retreat in a shell). I’ll try to be more like Tillie in the coming year: if something doesn’t work the way I want it to – or at all – I’ll regroup and try again.

The second thing I wanted to mention is how refreshing it is to have a book that has a female main character without making a big deal about it. I think it’s important for there to be diversity in books, both to show our kids that not everyone looks like us, and also that there are other people out there that look like they do. We all like books – to some degree at least – when they feature people we relate to, and all children should be able to pick up a book and say “look, Momma, that character is [a girl/black/redheaded/short/adopted/wears yellow polka dot socks] just like me!” However, the cynic in me sometimes has to roll her eyes a little bit with the books that are so carefully diverse you feel like you’re being hit over the head with it. This book is a story about Tillie. She happens to be a girl mouse. Done.

Get it! Amazon, Barnes and Noble

What is your favorite Lionni book? Wouldn’t you love to have a cute little mouse like Tillie?

*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 – Five Minutes’ Peace

Book: Five Minutes’ Peace (1986) by Jill Murphy

Series: The Large Family

Category/Age: Older Picture Book, 2+ years


All Mrs. Large wants is five minutes’ peace from her energetic children, but chaos follows her all the way from the kitchen to the bath and back again.


How could you not love a book that starts out: “The children were having breakfast. This was not a pleasant sight.”? And besides, what does any mom really want? Just five minutes’ peace, of course! If you want to give a mom the gift of her dreams, give her a couple hours of babysitting and this book. Or cash. Your call.

I remember loving this series when I was young, and in fact, the Five Minutes’ Peace on my bookshelf is the one my mom read to us as children. One of the reasons I loved this book as a child was that it closely resembled my own family (the elephant version, at least) – three kids: boy, girl, boy, and the middle girl loved to read.

The series overall is excellent: Murphy has a way of poking fun at family life from a mother’s perspective (incidentally, I can’t think of any other picture books that are told from the mom’s point of view), while still managing to entertain kids. Five Minutes’ Peace is my favorite, though All In One Piece and A Piece of Cake are excellent also (don’t worry, not all the titles have peace or piece in them). One of the things that has delighted me the most when rereading a few of these books for this post is noticing the layers of fun details in the drawings. For example, the first glance shows an elephant family sitting around eating breakfast. Then you notice fun little things like “crayon drawings” of elephant stick figures tacked on the walls, and little elephant pictures in the newspaper.

It’s a fun little story that will appeal to parents and children, and the illustrations are utterly charming. If you haven’t yet met the Large family, I’d strongly recommend checking them out. It is an “older picture book” which means that for the amount of text on a page, you’ll probably have a hard time keeping a very young child interested all the way through. I generally can’t get all the way through it with my one-year old, but we do occasionally.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

Side note: I will give a caveat about A Piece of Cake: I looked it up for this post and was surprised to see that a few Amazon reviewers absolutely tore it to shreds. The book is about the Large family exercising and going on a diet, and not having much success. It also uses the f-word (fat) which apparently has become more taboo in our culture than that other f-word. I don’t remember being permanently damaged by reading it as a child – although, come to think of it, from that day forward I’ve had absolutely no luck being diligent about exercising or dieting. Hmmm… So anyways, if this is a concern in your family, consider steering clear of this title.

*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 Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Book: The Snowy Day (1962)

Genre: Children’s Picture Books

Ages: 3+


No book has captured the magic and sense of possibility of the first snowfall better than The Snowy Day. Universal in its appeal, the story has become a favorite of millions, as it reveals a child’s wonder at a new world, and the hope of capturing and keeping that wonder forever.


I won’t promise that this will be the last wintery book I post, but it will be the last for a while, and we’ll get back to our regularly scheduled programming (whatever that is). I absolutely love this book, and couldn’t miss the opportunity to recommend it. The joy and excitement Peter feels about his snowy adventures are contagious, and will make you and your little ones want to get out and play in the snow, too.

The age categories I saw online suggested 3+ years, but it’s worth reading to younger kids as well. If I catch my wiggly one-year-old in the right mood, we can make it all the way through (it is fairly long for the baby/toddler age range) and I think it’s always worth trying books that are aimed a bit older to stretch their minds. Also, it helps keep you from going insane as you read the same, 5-sentence picture books over and over and over.

This book ranked as one of the “must-buys” for me while I was pregnant, and makes a fun gift for a fall/winter baby shower (or anytime, really). Snuggle up with some hot chocolate and your little ones and read all about Peter’s fun day in the snow!

Is this book part of your library? What are your favorite winter books?

Get it! Amazon, Barnes and 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 – Red Sled by Lita Judge

Book: Red Sled (2011)

Ages: 2-5 Years


In this almost wordless picture book, a host of woodland creatures take a child’s sled for a nighttime joy ride. Their whimsical ride is gorgeously depicted in bold watercolor, complemented by humorous expressions and pitch-perfect sound effects. With a timeless tone and classic characters, RED SLED will become a wintertime favorite.


This is a really fun picture book. It would be perfect for a toddler who loves books, but can’t quite read themselves, as the story is told entirely without dialogue. There is some text, but only sound effects (“scrunch scrunch scrunch”). For that reason, I actually struggled with reading it to my almost-one-year-old, since he isn’t quite old enough to appreciate the pictures and there wasn’t a lot going on for him to listen to. Next year, though, I know he’ll love it. The animals’ expressions are hilarious and it’s just a funny, sweet winter tale. Highly recommended, even for those adults on your list who still enjoy the pleasures of a good sledding!

Get it! Amazon, Barnes and 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.