books, well read mom, yarn along

New books, new projects {yarn along}

Happy New Year!

The start of a new calendar year makes me eager to start a hundred new projects. My brain is bursting with ideas. But first, I’m finding energy to finish old things…books I’d made my way partly through, knitting and sewing projects I’d started, little jobs around the house that have sat, undone, waiting for attention. I think it’s something about my desire to start a bunch of new things and realizing that my lists already have things on them and feeling like making new lists and pretending the old lists don’t exist is somehow dishonest.

As Felix has been saying lately whenever he doesn’t believe someone, “You are not TRUE.”

In the interest of being TRUE, I’m trying to whittle down my stash a bit and finish some old projects and books before I jump headlong into the new ones I really want to be doing. So, I’m using some yarn I bought a few years ago from this farm to make a quick cowl. Working with this yarn is heaven! I wish now that I had bought so much more of it. I love the weight, the feel of it- it’s spongy and springy and has the perfect amount of twist so it never splits. The little variations in color are so beautiful, too. The pattern is Sweeping Angels Neck Cowl by Ivy Brambles (Ravelry link)…and the worsted weight is working up really quickly.

I’m hoping to finish it this weekend, because my yarn is coming for the Big Life Goal project I’m going to finish this year…and I really want to be able to start on it right away! More on that next week, I hope.

We are reading On Pilgrimage by Dorothy Day for our Well-Read Mom group, and I’m really finding a lot that connects with how my life feels right now. It seems Dorothy Day and I both like to ruminate on a broad range of things while we wash dishes, clean clothes, and care for people’s needs…and her thoughts are elevating mine these days. She’s all about the holy moments in the middle of the everyday ones, which y’all know is a favorite theme of mine.

“All things are His, and all are holy.”

                                 – Dorothy Day, On Pilgrimage

I’m also working my way through The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God by Fulton Sheen and finding it jaw-droppingly amazing. I’ve never read any Sheen before (although I’ve always meant to) and he is wonderful. This book is Smart, Occasionally Snarky, the stuff of Light Bulbs Illuminating Inside My Brain every few pages- I really love it, but I can only take a few pages at a time or my head will explode.

In addition to finishing a few books this week, I’ve decided a few other books are not worth finishing right now and have put them aside. I never used to do this, ever, but my friend Katherine has persuaded me that a busy mama’s reading time is precious and that there is no shame in ditching a book if I really don’t like it or it isn’t speaking to me at a particular moment.

I can always go back for them later, right?

What are you reading? I’m still making my To-Read list for this year, and I’m open to suggestions- I like everything!

Linking up with Ginny Sheller’s Yarn Along…I’m so glad to see it back again as a monthly linkup.

books, well read mom

To the former owner of my new copy of Wuthering Heights

Dear Gordon,

I’m not sure if I should really call you Gordon. Maybe Mr. Taylor would be more respectful. After all, you are probably older than I am, since during your life you both acquired and sold off your beautifully-bound copy of Wuthering Heights.

Since I am holding your Wuthering Heights, you are not holding it any longer. Why? What separates my life from yours…why am I in the habit of acquiring lovely books for my library while you are parting from the ones that once comprised yours?

Did you ever even read this book? If you did, you held it gingerly, barely opening the covers to be sure you wouldn’t put any pressure on the spine, the way my old friend Colleen does, wanting to ensure that her beloved books are always perfectly preserved. I searched the pages for telltale signs- your notes (not a one), a crease (no such thing), a stray pencil mark (no pencil has ever touched this book). Nothing gave you away until page 259, where I found a single, solitary crumb, maybe from some long-ago cookie. It left a tiny grease spot on the thick cream-colored page when I brushed it off. It might have once been oatmeal.

I wonder- do you like raisins or chocolate chips in your oatmeal cookies? And do you think a person needs to choose one or the other, or can someone really appreciate both?

(I’m definitely for chocolate chips every time.)

Wuthering Heights might not turn out to be the best book I read this year. I might not love it. I read it once before, in high school, and I remember almost nothing about it except the names of the characters and the windswept Yorkshire moors. I can’t predict whether I will love this book enough to read it again and again as I have some of my others. I just don’t know yet.

What I do know is that I am very much enjoying holding your book, and that even if I don’t enjoy it, I will keep it for a long time. When I buy books, I like to buy used ones, and I always buy the very nicest copy I can find.

My hunt for the very best copy I could afford, in this case, led me to your old book, now absent from you, its original owner, but still bearing your bookplate on the front page. It proudly proclaims that it was “privately printed and bound expressly for The Heirloom Library of Gordon J. Taylor.”

There is nothing at all wrong with a paperback book. Some of my most treasured book friends have been paperbacks, the covers eventually curling at the edges and separating from the spines as the glue ages. I have literally read them to pieces. Your book, your former book which is now mine, is not going to fall apart. It’s serious about self-preservation- the kind of binding my daughter Lucy would use as a stepstool to reach something forbidden on a higher shelf- solid, heavy, and clearly not going anywhere. The cover, a sort of medium blue, stamped with gold vines and flowers is the kind of cover my daughter Nora would trace gently with her finger and then carry off to hide under her pillow, hoping I wouldn’t notice it was missing from the shelf. The blue ribbon marker, a tiny bit frayed on the end, is substantial. It’s no cheap ribbon. It’s the kind of ribbon marker my son Sam would say “indicates that this is obviously not an inexpensive book.”

And so, just like that, we are connected, and I’m wondering about you- about this bond we now share, about whether you were a fan of British literature in general or just added this one to your shelf because it was the next in the series. Was this a gift from your grandmother, who always hoped you’d be a reader? Did you have children who borrowed it from the shelf to set up risers for their toys to have a concert or to build steps for a castle, the way I used to do with my dad’s never-opened collection of Harvard Classics?

Whatever the situation, I’m grateful to have your book now that you no longer need it. I promise to give it a good home. For now, it will be living on the table at the end of my sofa or on the one beside my bed as I make my way through it and get reacquainted with Heathcliff and Catherine. After that, it will live on the second shelf of my living room bookcase, snug beside Pride and Prejudice on one side and Jane Eyre on the other. I think it’s important for sisters to be together, and besides, the divide between fans of Austen and the Brontes has been grossly exaggerated, don’t you agree? I tend toward Austen over Bronte, although I reject the need to make such a silly choice at all.

Come to think of it, I would definitely put raisins in oatmeal cookies if I had no chocolate chips.

Thanks for the book, Mr. Taylor. I hope this note finds you happy and at peace, wherever you might be.

books, reading, well read mom

Starting a book club on too little sleep {why I love Well-Read Mom}

A few years ago, when I was a chronically sleep-deprived mother of a preschooler and toddler twins, I decided to start a chapter of Well-Read Mom in my living room.

It seems like a questionable decision brought on by too few hours of consecutive sleep (not unlike when I put the ketchup bottle in the dishwasher or when I machine washed and dried my favorite wool sweater). According to lots of people who know me (and everyone doesn’t know me but sees me at Costco), my hands are full. I don’t have time to start a book club. Maybe, just maybe, I could join a book club that someone else started (probably not, though, because I wouldn’t have time to keep up with the reading).

That’s why I love Well-Read Mom.

Since Marcie Stokman and her team have done so much of the work of choosing the books, preparing great materials to foster understanding and support discussion, and even sending out monthly audio introductions to play at our meetings, I really just have to make some snacks, clean the bathroom, and open the door for everyone to come in.

I also have to read the books, of course…and I’m so glad I have a reason to do that.

Well-Read Mom only has one rule: you come even if you haven’t finished the book, and you don’t apologize. This isn’t a guilty book club that shames people if they got busy and couldn’t finish something. We have all been there. It can be a real challenge to fit our own reading into life with small children. What’s the worst-case scenario, though? What if we don’t finish The Odyssey or The Brothers Karamazov? Any amount of The Odyssey or The Brothers Karamazov that we read is more than we would have read otherwise. Any little bit of wisdom we glean from that book is more than we had before. The goal of the group is to read more and to read well…and that’s exactly what we’re doing, even if we only make it through a few pages.

(Even with this “no guilt” rule, I do push myself to finish the books. I feel extra responsibility as the host to support the discussion, and although I’m not normally a competitive person, knowing that one of my friends is finishing something does encourage me to try a little harder to finish, too.)

This group is my first real book club. My prior experience was limited to discussing Junior Great Books in the fourth grade, where we had to use popsicle sticks to keep track of how many times each person had spoken during the discussion.

(Our group doesn’t incorporate that particular discussion strategy at our meetings.)

I’m not sure what I thought it would be like, but this group has completely exceeded any expectations I had. We are reading things that matter- books that have shaped our culture and our faith and our civilization. The conversations we have had over these books stretch us beyond the limits of what is in front of us. They put us in touch with the past and the future, with different cultures and eras in which women have struggled as mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends. Some of their struggles look a lot like ours. Some look very different.

Some of these fictional characters have become my mental companions. I think about them as I would friends- pondering what they’d do in a situation, or remembering something wise they have said. This definitely makes me a book nerd, but I’ve always been a book nerd. The nicest thing about being grown up with a book club is that I don’t have to apologize for that any more. My mental landscape is dotted with prairie sod houses and Russian tenements and hobbit holes and French Canadian villages and the people who occupy them. I’m so grateful to have found a little tribe of people who are also this way and who will talk with me about what we read together.

We don’t just talk about books, of course, but we do always talk about books. Amazingly, when you discuss great books over a long period of time with interesting people, you get to know the people as well as the books. Literature’s themes have always been life’s themes- love, suffering, loss, grief, community. Discussing these themes in characters’ lives broadens our view of them in our lives…and the intersection of life and literature is a great place to start or grow a friendship.

Before this group began meeting, if my husband had told me he would take our kids out one afternoon each month for two hours so I could do whatever I wanted, I would not have chosen “host a book club” as my number one option. I could sleep, or get a pedicure, or go for a run by myself, or eat ice cream on the porch, or any number of other things.

Today, though, book club is one of the high points of my month. Most of us knew each other when we began, but my Well-Read Mom buddies have become my closest friends. It takes commitment to read a great work of literature and discuss it, and we are committed to each other. Time is precious (and always feels in short supply), but I have never regretted the time spent reading and discussing a great book with these women.

Could a book club for moms change the world one reader at a time? I think that’s exactly what is happening. It’s not just a way to spend my limited free time. It is a way to improve my life. It makes me a better, more thoughtful person. When I’m a better, more thoughtful person, I am a better, more thoughtful mother, and my children can only benefit from that. I’m not sure that “better mothering through book clubs” is a thing yet, but if it’s not, it has to be on the rise, thanks in large part to Well-Read Mom.

By the way, this isn’t a sponsored post. I’m just sharing with you because I love my book club. I also love you. I also love the reading list for this coming year at Well-Read Mom (Tolstoy! Tolkien! Hawthorne! C.S. Lewis!). If you’re thinking about joining but have questions, please feel free to ask. If you’re on the fence about registering, go for it…you can get free shipping on your membership materials if you use the coupon code justdoit through October 1.

I hope you join us. Even if you don’t end up starting a book club, I’d love to chat with you about what you’re reading this year. And if you find yourself mentally conversing with Hobbits while you saute the veggies for your chicken curry, you’re in good company here. Kindred spirits.


Reluctant Reading, Interrupted- some strategies

I stayed up too late last night, and things feel a little loud and a little too bright this morning, even though the sun isn’t up yet…but I finished The Book!

I’ve been reading The Brothers Karamazov since May, I think, but it feels like forever since the sight of its cover didn’t cause a twinge of guilt. How many other books have I not read in the time I’ve been slogging my way through this one?

It’s more than a handful, I am sure.

I always have multiple books going at once, so I didn’t feel bad about reading other things on the side. This is a heavy read and a long-term commitment. At some point, though, I realized that I was avoiding reading altogether because I felt bad about not wanting to read this book.

I wanted to have read this book, yes…but the actual reading of it was not something I enjoyed.

Then, yesterday, the Kindle app on my phone informed me that I had crossed the 89% mark. Suddenly, I couldn’t put it down. The end was in sight! I read whenever I could squeeze in a few minutes (including a little while where I hid from my kids on top of the dryer in the laundry room), and I have finally finished.

I don’t think I liked this book. (Since it is Dostoyevsky, I understand that my dislike of it probably says more about me than about the book.)

Still, there was so much in it that I can’t fully say yet that I didn’t like it. I need to think about it some more and discuss it with my book club later this week before I can make a final proclamation…and even after that, I reserve the right to be convinced later that it was really amazing. (If you think it was amazing, I’d love to hear from you!)

What do you do when you really want to have read something but just aren’t enjoying the process of reading it? I once watched a movie instead of reading a book (for 12th grade AP English, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) but I felt so guilty about it that I went back and crammed the book in later before the exam.

These days, I love descriptive language too much to substitute a movie for a book (and am always afraid I would miss some important detail that way). Still, sometimes I struggle to fit reading in with everything else I’m doing, no matter how much I want to do it.

When I’m committed to reading a challenging book but am having a hard time finishing it, I have several strategies.

1. No guilt. If a book isn’t worth it right now, I have no problem ditching it for another one. My reading time is precious. I used to be the kind of reader who always finished her books, no matter what…but these days, I’m okay with leaving one behind if it isn’t working for my life right now.

2. I’m not married to my hardback copy. I get through really long reads by reading bits and pieces on the Kindle app on my phone while watching children ride their bikes on the driveway or waiting for them to fall asleep. It can be a pain to switch back and forth between an electronic and paper version, but if it means I get to keep making forward progress, it’s worth it.

3. Audio books save me. I listen to Librivox or Audible recordings in the car (if I happen to be by myself, which rarely happens, or if the children have fallen asleep) or at home while I’m doing the dishes or folding laundry. If I’m on a deadline (book club meeting this weekend!), I try to keep the book nearby so I can use all my spare minutes to finish it.

Sometimes, this ends up leaving me with a fragmented feel, like I didn’t have enough long stretches of time to really sink in to the story and the characters…but this is how I can read right now. I don’t have really long stretches of uninterrupted time to do much of anything, including sleep.

During certain seasons in life, you have to take what you can get where time is concerned.

4. My book club spurs me on. Having a group of people who are dedicated to reading and have pledged to encourage each other without guilt has made all the difference. I’m not a very competitive person, but if I know one of my book club friends has finished the book, I’ll do everything I can to get to the end so we can talk about all of it. It’s the best kind of peer pressure. And for the times that life gets in the way and we can’t get to the end, we absolve each other and move on to something else. (More about these special women and our reading together over the last few years tomorrow.)

Tell me, because I want to know- when/where/how do you read? And what are you reading now?

books, five minute Friday

Five-Minute Friday: HERE

Five-Minute Friday this week is HERE.
(If you are new to Five-Minute Friday, here is all the information you need to know. Come join us- it’s a great community!)

When I look around here, sometimes all I can see is the mess.

There are Legos trickling out into the hallway from Sam’s room, and there’s toothpaste on the wall outside the bathroom. I’m not even going to look in the sink. A tiny plastic pig is lying under the kitchen table, stranded on his back with four stick-like legs pointing helplessly into the air. He’s been there all day. I’m not sure anyone is coming to save him.

There are remnants of Spartan battle attire and swords made from PVC pipe littering the bathroom floor, and someone’s rainbow sock is on the front porch. I have no idea where the other sock is.

It is easy to see the mess here. It would be easy to let the mess be the only thing I see.

But tonight, I look at a wiggly, giggly tangle of arms and legs here on the sofa, and I see more.

They’re crowded around a book, as they always are this time of night…a book held by their dad, who always squishes himself into the middle of the chaos and reads to them before bed. How many times have they crowded around him, around this book, laughing and soaking up the words I loved as a child? This book, like so many others that line our shelves and sit in stacks on our floors and under our bedside tables, has been dearly loved. Its words have been treasures to me for years. Right here, right in the front, is the inscription from my friend Brenda on my seventh birthday…and now my almost-seven-year-old is throwing his head back and laughing at the same poems I’ve loved.

What’s going on here is a lot more than messy. It’s life. There’s so much good in it. And if things are a mess, they’re a beautiful mess, because the mess is proof we’re alive.

For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Kate’s blog, Heading Home. A special thanks today to Kate for hosting…every week…for a whole year! Happy Anniversary, Kate- I’m so glad you said “yes.”

books, five favorites, spring

Five Favorites: spring books we are loving

We are right in the middle of the #365picturebooks challenge dreamed up by StrongHaven (just finished number 125/365). Somehow, it was easier to devour piles of books when the weather was chilly and unpleasant for playing outside. Now that spring seems to be here in earnest, we are outside most of the day, and I’m having to work harder to keep our read-aloud streak going.

It’s one of those things- as soon as we find a time slot for reading aloud that seems to work perfectly, something changes, and we have to renegotiate. I haven’t found the perfect spot in our day for reading aloud now that everyone wants to run outside as soon as they finish breakfast (and sometimes even before…Sam has been taking his breakfast out onto the deck if the temperature is above 45 degrees).

We can do the before bedtime slot, but I sometimes miss that because of putting the baby down to sleep, so George gets all the fun. I might try reading while they eat breakfast today.

One of my favorite things about this challenge has been finding new books at our library. We have a large collection, but there are not enough to add up to 365 picture books, even if we read every single one we own. Today, I wanted to share some new picture books we have discovered. While I always go back to read our perennial favorites over and over again, we have been enjoying some new finds from the library that are so seasonally appropriate, I just have to share them with you (in case you haven’t run across them yet).

Heads up, local friends- I’m running these back to the library this week, so if you hurry, you can be the next to grab them!


If You Hold A Seed by Elly Mackay is the story of a child who plants a tree and watches it grow throughout his life. He dreams of the day he will be able to sit in the tree, and his dreams finally come true. I don’t know how she did the pictures, but Elly Mackay’s illustrations are the most interesting, multi-textured, marvelous pictures I’ve seen in a long time. The light glows off the page so that I almost feel it on my face. My little budding artist daughter pointed at the pages as soon as I started reading and said, “Those are definitely mixed media.” (Yes!)


and then it’s spring by Julie Fogliano is the story of waiting for things to be green. It is so beautifully written and illustrated (by Erin E. Stead, who is wonderful at capturing the essence of what it feels like to be a little kid) that it is nearly perfect. There is nothing more to say. You have to read it, and I need to buy it, because I never want to return it to the library.


My Garden by Kevin Henkes is a new favorite around here. It is exactly as it should be. A child helps her mother in the garden and dreams of the garden she would create if she could grow anything she wanted. This has led to some interesting discussions here and drawings of gardens growing light sabers and ice cream cones. I’m planning to use the concept as a writing prompt for the kids in the next couple of weeks as we work on our own garden.


Sam and Dave Dig A Hole by Mac Barnett is an odd, funny story of two boys who dig a giant hole, just miss lots of almost amazing things, and then have an inexplicable experience after which things are almost exactly the way they were before…but not quite. The pictures are by Jon Klassen, and they are priceless. It’s the kind of book that makes everyone in our family want to go and dig a hole, which is perfect for this time of year. (I’m hoping I can limit their hole-digging enthusiasm to carefully chosen parts of our yard.)


Outside Your Window by Nicola Davies is a new collection of original poetry for the seasons. There are poems and gorgeous illustrations for every season of the year, so it isn’t (strictly speaking) just a spring book. Maybe it was the cover that pulled us in (since Lucy is currently fascinated by birds)- I’m not sure- but I am so glad we brought this one home from the library. The poems are simple, lovely and relatable- if you are intimidated by reading poetry with your kids, this book makes it easy. This would be a good choice to add to your family library and keep out all year long…but since spring is the first season of the year, now is a perfect time to start! I now have it in my Amazon cart and am just waiting for the right moment to buy it.

What’s your favorite springtime book? (And what’s your favorite time of day to read aloud with your kids?)

Linking up today with Rachel for Five Favorites, because sometimes good things come in fives.

Those are all Amazon links, so if you click through and end up purchasing any of these, your purchase helps support this blog (at no extra cost to you). Thanks for those of you that do that sometimes! 

bedtime, books

Snuggly Bedtime Books..our top ten picks

The summer solstice is here…which means our nights are bright until well after 9:00 pm. The sun comes up bright and early, too, working its way into the children’s east-facing windows despite the blackout curtains that line them.

We have all the good stuff…room-darkening shades, clips to hold the curtains together, white noise machines, and snuggly, comfy beds. Still, though, one of our three (want to guess which one?) refuses to sleep at night until it is dark and cannot seem to stay asleep if there is any light in the sky at all.

(The month of June feels very long sometimes where bedtime is concerned.)

We’ve found it works better to try to extend the bedtime ritual in positive ways when we know SuperSam isn’t ready for sleep. We often read an extra book or tell an extra story. If he’s not sleepy when we leave, he has the option of lying in bed and reading to himself until he falls asleep. Sometimes he reads for over an hour. Although I wish he were sleeping, this staying up late for extra books with us and then having quiet reading time is a lot better than the way we used to do things, which resulted in his coming out of his room 6, 7 or 8 times after we had tucked him into bed…totally frustrating for everyone involved!

Since some of you might find yourselves with restless little ones, too, I want to share our top ten favorite bedtime books. You never know when you might have the kind of night where you just need to read an extra one. We all love Goodnight, Moon…but if you’re feeling the urge to broaden your reading list, try one of these:

(This post contains lots of Amazon affliliate links…you can’t miss them, I promise.)

1. The Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown

This one is a classic. It’s great fun to go through the animals with a young child and make all the appropriate sounds. The verse is so pleasantly rhythmic…there’s some rhyme, but not enough to be annoying. We always speculate about where the children might be (“in this story the children are away/Only the animals are here today”), and SuperSam changes the part about the weather vane to “a golden flying pegasus.” Since it makes him oddly happy to do this, we never correct it, and the Sisters have learned it that way. The pictures by Felecia Bond are beautiful and realistic (the animals don’t look like cartoons- a pet peeve of mine!), and the final pictures of the moon floating in the washtub full of water always take my breath away a little bit.

2. The Goodnight Book for Moms and Little Ones edited by Alice Wong and Lena Tabori

This isn’t a single story, but a collection of poems, prayers, songs, stories and recipes for bedtime snacks. There are even instructions for making shadow puppets with your hand on the wall. If you don’t have a bedtime ritual that you’re happy with, or if you’re looking to add some things to the bedtime routine at your house, you might get some good ideas from this book. It includes classic as well as modern tales and songs, and the poems are drawn from different cultures and traditions. This book contains several great songs for singing before sleep that I just hadn’t thought of on my own- songs I’ve always known, but have never considered as lullabies. My children particularly like “Moon River” by Henry Mancini and “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (I think I sing it a little like Mama Cass). The gorgeous illustrations alone are enough of a reason to have this book in your collection. Try the preview feature on to get a sneak peek at some of them.

3. Switching on the Moon compiled by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters
 Although I believe we can never have enough poetry in our lives, I’m guilty of getting caught up with reading story after story and forgetting to read poems (despite our healthy poetry collection). This book contains poems chosen by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters for their sleep-inducing qualities. SuperSam enjoyed the shorter poems even as a toddler, and now that he’s older, he will often ask to read ten or twelve in a row. There’s something about the carefully-chosen words and the charming illustrations that makes this feel like the perfect bedtime book to snuggle up and read together. Plus, it’s easy to agree to “one more poem? pleeeeease?” even when you are tired- they’re so short that reading lots of them takes little effort.

4. Time for Bed by Mem Fox
 A new favorite at our house, especially with the Sisters, this book goes through parent-child pairs of animals with each parent telling the baby that it is time to go to sleep. It rhymes, but not in a sing-songy way. I like that the animals represented go beyond the usual suspects- there are fish, bumblebees, and even snakes involved in the story. My favorite part is when the mama cow asks her baby, “What happened today that made you laugh?” and both of my girls laugh loudly in a very theatrical kind of way. We’ve been reading it nearly every night.

 5. Sing Along Song by JoAnn Early Macken

We ran across this book years ago at our local book fair and loved it. It’s musical from start to finish. The story is about a young boy who goes through his day from morning until bedtime hearing music in all the ordinary sounds around him: buzzing flies, chattering squirrels, whistling daddies coming home from work, cooing baby sisters being put to bed. He’s an adorable little boy- you will love him, I promise.

 6. So Sleepy Story by Uri Shulevitz
 This might be my favorite bedtime book of all time. A sleeping boy awakes to find his house is coming alive with music that is floating in the window…the plates and cups begin dancing, the furniture boogies with the beat, even the cuckoo clock gets into the music. As the music fades away, the house goes back to sleep. Uri Shulevitz is the master of using the right word at the right time, and the story flows like poetry. I always feel sleepier and more relaxed when it’s done. It even got the seal of approval from our former foster son, who read it with us when he was about 15 and said, “I can’t believe how just repeating the word ‘sleepy’ over and over makes me feel tired.”

If it can work on a surly teenage boy, it can probably work on anyone.

7. Hush, Little Baby by Sylvia Long

We received this as a gift and immediately fell in love with it. The basis for this story is the familiar folk song, “Hush, Little Baby.” Instead of a string of things that the mama will buy for the baby to get it to sleep, the author has the mama choose things in nature and around the house to comfort the child. Mama shows the baby a hummingbird outside, and they look at a sunset together. They listen to crickets and see a shooting star. Mama reads a book, finds a lost teddy bear, and plays her out-of-tune banjo, all in an effort to help her little one fall off to sleep (which he eventually does). The pictures are of a mama rabbit and her baby and are really beautiful. (Lucy says the baby bunny is “coot.”)

8. A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na
This is a newer one- definitely worth checking out if you haven’t seen it before. The wide-eyed, watchful owl goes around watching other animals sleep and pointing out how different they are. “Some sleep in peace and quiet. Some make lots of noise when they sleep! Some sleep peacefully alone, while others sleep all together, huddled close at night.”  At the end of the story, the sun comes up and everyone wakes up…but guess who is too tired after his night adventures and can’t stay awake with everyone else? (Says SuperSam: “That’s not why he’s tired. He’s tired because it’s daytime and he’s nocturnal.”)

Thanks, SuperSam, for taking all the mystery out of it. Sigh.

9. Who Will Tuck Me in Tonight? by Carol Roth

This is the sweet and funny story of young Woolly, a lamb who is ready to go to bed and can’t find his mama to tuck him in. A funny lineup of neighborly farm animal mommies come by to help, and each tries her own favorite tuck-in technique. None of their ideas work for Woolly, who is squeezed, licked, and generally frustrated to the point of despair before his favorite tuck-in person finally arrives. SuperSam loves laughing at all the ways the other mommies “do it wrong,” and when Woolly’s mama comes home, their reunion is very sweet. (I’m still trying to come up with a way to let Woolly’s mama off the hook for not telling him where she was going and when she’d be back- it seems so thoughtless of her to worry such a sweet little lamb. I still like the book, though.)

10. The Cozy Book by Mary Ann Hoberman
This book has been on my list for a long time, but we only got a copy recently. It seems to be out of print, maybe (?), but there are lots of good used copies available. The last page of this book is included as a poem in Switching on the Moon, above, and we loved it so much that we knew we needed to read the rest of the story.

Mary Ann Hoberman goes through a child’s day naming all the cozy things you could possibly think of (and some that you probably couldn’t think of). It’s a longer read, and she might define “cozy” a bit differently than I would (I would probably not describe sucking on an ice cube as “cozy”). Still, the book and all the many images in it are very happy, simple pleasures- experiences that most of us can relate to enjoying. Hoberman obviously loves words- the language is delightful. The writing and the pictures make me smile every time, and the poetry of the last page is the perfect ending for a going-to-bed book.

“…Droopy…drifty…drowsy…dozy…Dream of everything that’s cozy.”

books, parenting, reading

Ways to encourage your child to love reading

I sometimes get questions about how we got SuperSam interested in books so early and how he began to read at such a young age. I can’t take credit for his learning to read, since he basically did that on his own. One thing we do to encourage lots of reading in our home is try to create a print-rich environment. This means that there is a lot of reading and writing in our home, so our children are constantly exposed to it and see it as part of their daily life.

We have books everywhere, and our children have access to them. They have baskets of their own books in every room of our house. They have bookshelves or cubbies with books in their bedrooms. They pull the “grownup” books off the shelves in our living room or off our bedside tables and open them up to see what’s inside. They look at catalogs and magazines. They see us making lists. The Sisters see SuperSam making his own lists and reading the grocery list at the store (which we know is already making an impression on them because they copy him!). We leave notes and letters for each other around the house. We write their names on everything. (This backfired when SuperSam wrote his own name on all the furniture and walls in his room one day while he was supposed to be napping.)


The most important thing we do, though, is read together frequently, multiple times each day (not just at bedtime!).

Here is our list of ways that can help encourage book-love in your kids:

Read together frequently. (Yes, I know I just said that, but it’s the number one, primary, super-duper most important thing you can do to help your child learn to love reading. Quality time with you plus a story? What could be better?)

Make little spaces inviting places for reading. Use cozy corners to create reading nooks. Try to find moments to curl up there together and read something. If your child isn’t a “snuggle up and read” kind of kid, find another scene- the front steps, a playhouse outside, the swing set where you read while he swings or the sandbox where you read while she digs. You don’t have to be sitting still to enjoy a book.

Display books attractively. If they look appealing, our children are more likely to want to pick them up. If you have a lot of books crowded onto a shelf, it can feel overwhelming to a child. Consider rotating your book stash so there are different ones out on display at different times. Most of our books for the children live in baskets right now for easy access and easy cleanup, but we have some books with similar themes displayed together by our favorite reading spot in the living room (currently, the books there are our favorite snow books…we’re still holding out hope for a good snow before spring). Low shelves are another great option, especially if you need some books within children’s reach but out of younger babies’ reach. I love these DIY bookshelves at Carrots for Michaelmas for keeping library books visible and easily accessible (but safe from baby fingers and mouths).

Lucy’s first trip to Powell’s with Aunt Laura

Put books everywhere! Kitchen. Bathroom. Your closet, so the children can look at them when they inevitably follow you in while you are getting dressed. Everywhere.

Pick quality over quantity. Yes, there are books in the dollar aisle at Target. Although it won’t hurt anything to have some of those around, remember that you are building a library for the future. Try to focus on adding quality titles with interesting characters and writing that will capture your child’s imagination and draw her into the story. Good art is important, of course – pay attention to the illustrations – but listen to the language of the book, too (and make sure you won’t mind reading it over and over and over again, because you’ll probably be doing just that).

Make books and stories part of your family’s culture. Tell stories about your day at the dinner table or at bedtime. Find ways to remind your family of favorite stories while you are out living your own story. (“Remember in A Snowy Day when Peter found the stick? Want to look for one now and see what we can do with it?”) It might feel awkward at first, but when your child starts spontaneously talking to you about his favorite characters and plot lines during lunch or making up stories about his Celestial Buddies while you’re in line at the grocery store, it’s a really amazing thing.

Listen to audio books together in the car or while you’re doing something else, like morning chores or folding laundry.


Books make good gifts! Consider starting a tradition of giving books to each other at traditional gift-giving times (and consider letting grandparents and others know that your kids would enjoy receiving books instead of another toy).

Personalize your books. Inscribe them when you give them to each other as gifts. Use bookplates.

Take books along with you in the car and to restaurants. Board books are especially good for this – they wipe clean and are so sturdy, they can go anywhere.

Make your own books. Shutterfly and Snapfish photo books can make great family stories if you add text. Even a photo album with prints of family photos can be a story without words that you tell to each other (or try writing the text of your story on labels to add to the photos). Construction paper, folded in half and stapled, makes an easy book for children to author themselves. (Try laminating the pages before stapling to make it more durable.) Plastic zip-top sandwich bags with cardboard inserts and hand-drawn or magazine cutout pages make great (and cheap!) books for little ones. Make your own versions of your favorites. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle lends itself well to becoming a personalized family story…just replace the animal names with people in your family (“SuperSam, SuperSam, who do you see? I see Daddy looking at me,” etc.)


Get your kids their own library cards. There’s a real sense of pride in being able to check out your own stack of books with your own card – it feels really different than just having your parent use his or her card for you.

Never use reading as a punishment. That’s a great way to make it more likely that your child will resent reading and not want to choose it for fun.

Let your kids see what you’re reading. At an appropriate age, teach them how to respectfully handle books so you won’t be afraid to let them handle “grownup” or “real” books.

Track your progress. Reading is its own reward. Don’t bribe them to read, but keep records of what you and they read. Make it visual- fill in a bar graph, or fill in squares on a game board, or keep a reading journal with lists of all the books you have read…just do something to show you are proud of what you and they are accomplishing.

If your efforts to grow your children as readers don’t feel like an immediate success, take heart. What we are attempting to do is to invite children to discover a love of reading that will last them a lifetime. When a journey is lifelong, even little steps taken in the right direction count.

What ideas have worked for you in raising your kids to be readers and lovers of books?

books, snow, SuperSam

7 books to read when you wish it was snowing

We are a household of snow lovers.

We have been waiting all winter for some decent snow. There was some over Christmas, but we missed it while we were away visiting family.

Finally, we got enough snow to put on our snowsuits and head outside to play.

Here are some pictures- smiles all around, even from the baby girls who hadn’t ever been in the snow before!

Instead of real snow, we’ve mostly had flurries, dustings and clouds that look like snow but don’t really make any. We’ve had rain. We’ve had fog. We even had thunderstorms one day.

“Rain, rain, go to bed…why can’t you be snow instead?” 


Ah, well.

In addition to being a household of snow lovers, we are a household of book lovers. We keep a basket of books together near our favorite reading spot in the living room. Really, we have baskets of books in every room of our home (and generally books are loose from their baskets and lining the hallways and doorways in a kind of breadcrumb trail where children have pulled them out and traveled with them), but these books in this basket rotate with the seasons or with topics of interest. Right now, the basket is full of books about snow. We have been reading them over and over and living vicariously through them while we wait for snow of our own.

In hopes that we might create some strong “snow buzz” among you readers and increase our chances of getting some more of our favorite precipitation, I’d like to share some of our favorite snow books with you. (These book images are NOT Amazon affiliate links, just so you know.) I’d also like to ask that you join us in the snow dance by wearing your pajamas inside out and dancing around with your pillow on your head (unless you have an aversion to snow and are hoping against our hopes, in which case you are both a spoilsport and exempt).

Snow by Uri Shulevitz is my very favorite snow book ever. (That’s saying a lot.) It is about the simple joy of snow and how it overcomes the naysayers. “Snowflakes don’t listen to radio. Snowflakes don’t watch television. All snowflakes know is snow, snow, snow.” I love everything about it…the simple text is so memorable that we quote it all the time when the topic of snow comes up (which is often, this time of year). “‘Snow,’ said the boy.” Sigh. It’s just perfect.

Mooncake by Frank Asch is the book that started SuperSam on his interest in all things space. The bear in the story wants to know what the moon tastes like and builds a rocket so he can travel there to find out. (There is definitely snow involved…you’ll have to read the story to see what happens!). SuperSam traditionally makes a mooncake from the snow each time there is enough on the ground to scrape it into a cup. And yes, he eats it. And no, I don’t stop him, even if the snow doesn’t pass my own personal standards of edibility. A little dirt will probably strengthen his immune system, right?

Mooncake, 2010
Mooncake, 2013

Flannel Kisses by Linda Crotta Brennan is currently Lucy’s favorite book. I love it, too. The illustrations are the coziest kind of cute, and the text is simple and straightforward. Although this book is wishful thinking for us so far this winter, I can remember snow days from childhood that felt as free and light as the one in the story…the day feels spacious and long, but the story is over before you know it (and the day with it). A great before-bed read for everyone.

The Mitten by Jan Brett is a retelling of a folk tale involving a lost mitten that gets bigger and bigger as more and more woodland creatures crawl inside. If you aren’t familiar with Jan Brett’s art, it’s amazing – she adds great story details in the sidebars of each picture that older children will love to notice and point out. The story is funny and simple, but the pictures are what really make this book a classic. It lends itself well to retelling with finger puppets or paper animals and a large mitten (paper or knitted)…a fun thing to try with your little ones after you’ve read the book together.

The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett (an author/illustrator who is definitely worthy of being on this list twice) is a retelling of the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. This version of the story is happy and totally toddler-appropriate (although we tend to summarize for our littlest family members instead of reading all the words to them). In Jan Brett’s beautiful pictures, the story seems to have been about an Inuit girl, her sled dogs and this family of three personable snow bears (with such expressive faces!) all along. It’s a family favorite. (Special thanks to Megan for introducing us to it.)

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is one of those books that never gets old, no matter how many times we read it. This is a good thing, because everyone likes it and demands to have it read over and over. Ezra Jack Keats’ bright, eye-catching art draws readers into the story (and as a mama, I can’t help but love how cute little Peter looks in his bright orange snowsuit!). SuperSam really relates to Peter at this point in his life, and he always wants to discuss Peter’s disappointment when things don’t turn out exactly as he hopes with his snowball. This book has inspired us to create art both indoors and out with its bright colors, textures and patterns. It also served as a nice jumping off point for a lively discussion about freezing and melting.

Froggy Gets Dressed by Jonathan London is one of those books that is more fun for me if I read it with funny voices. It’s a bit repetitive, like all the Froggy books, and it can get tiring if I am asked to read it many times in a row. SuperSam loves it, though, as do most preschool-aged boys and girls I know. The repetition of the dialogue between Froggy and his mother and the taking off and putting on of the same clothes repeatedly are just perfect for them. The reference to underwear is like icing on the cake. If I start to feel bored with it or am reluctant to read it again, I just look at SuperSam’s delighted face and remember that reading together isn’t about me (and that I love reading all the other books on this list so much that I don’t ever have to pretend to be happy when my children ask for them!). It’s worth it.

There you have it…our wishful-thinking list of snow books. I’d love to know your favorites…what winter weather books should we add to our collection?