Read These Favorite New Books After Your Kids Go to Sleep

If you’re looking for something to read, here are some favorite new books to put on your radar:

We may have lives that are chaotic and exhausting. The morning routine. Chasing kids. Working. Errands. Afterschool activities. The bedtime routine. Parenting never comes to an end.
Don’t let that stop you from sneaking in a little me-time. After the kids go to bed is the perfect time to crack open a book. If you’re looking for something to read, here are some favorite new books to put on your radar:


The Gypsy Moth Summer

by Julia Fierro

In the long, sweltering summer of 1992, a gypsy moth invasion blankets Avalon, an islet off the coast of Long Island. Despite being an inescapable burden, the insects are hardly the topic of discussion. Leslie Day Marshall, the only daughter of Avalon’s most prominent family, returns with her black husband and bi-racial children to live in “The Castle,” the island’s grandest estate.
Hidden truths, scandals, and racial prejudices soon emerge in this many-faceted story about love, family, escape, and revenge. “The writing is lovely, and the story is compelling. It’s set in the 90s so it’s fun nostalgia, too,” says Jen from New Jersey.


Little Fires Everywhere

by Celeste Ng

After reading “Little Fires Everywhere”, Jessica from New York says, “The characters are so real. And I love the way that [Celeste Ng] explores issues of race, class, and privilege in a deep and meaningful way, without being heavy-handed or preachy.”
Picture-perfect Shaker Heights runs like a well-oiled machine. Elena Richardson embodies this progressive suburb’s image, playing by the rules and striving for the best. Things begin to unravel when she rents a house in the idyllic little bubble to single mother, Mia Warren, and her teenage daughter Pearl.
All four of Elena’s children are drawn to the rebellious mother-daughter pair, who ignore the status quo and threaten to upend the community. This instant New York Times bestseller explores motherhood, secrets, and the naivety of thinking that following the rules will keep you safe.


A Tangled Mercy

by Joy Jordan-Lake

“A Tangled Mercy” is an interweaving of two distinct, yet connected, narratives: the story of Harvard grad student Kate Drayton’s journey to Charleston, South Carolina, to find answers about her deceased mother’s troubled past, and the lost story of the Charleston slave uprising of 1822 – the subject of Kate’s mother’s research.
Inspired by true events, the book examines the depth of human suffering and brutality and our everlasting hope of forgiveness and redemption. “Joy Jordan-Lake’s ‘A Tangled Mercy’ is an incredibly compelling and meticulously researched historical novel that will have you thinking about it long after you turn the last page,” says Jane Healey, author of “The Saturday Evening Girls Club.”


The Golden House

by Salman Rushdie

The mysterious and eccentric newcomer, Nero Golden, and his three adult sons, each odd in their own way, take up residence at the Gardens, a cloistered community in New York’s Greenwich Village, on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration. Soon after moving to the neighborhood, Nero is charmed by Vasilisa, a sleek Russian expat, while their young neighbor, René, is captivated by their mystique and quietly intertwines with their lives.
“The Golden House” is set against the backdrop of current American politics and culture, while beaming with the realism of a timely story of love, loss, and deceit. “It’s really delicious reading. It’s like [Salman Rushdie] has the English language on his leash and can will it to do what he wants. It’s incredible,” says Olga of Zuid-Holland from the Netherlands.


The Designer

by Marius Gabriel

While Paris celebrates its liberation in 1944, Cooper Reilly’s life is falling apart. She’s stuck in an unhappy marriage riddled with infidelity. Unable to endure it any longer, she asks for a separation.
Suddenly alone, she finds a friend in a middle-aged clothing designer named Christian Dior. Hiding in a lackluster, decrepit fashion house seems counterproductive to the brilliance of his designs, so Copper urges him to take a risk while she takes one of her own – tipping her toes into the world of journalism.
“I was swept away by Marius Gabriel’s vivid descriptions of the Parisian fashion world – I could practically hear the rustle of silks. ‘The Designer’s’ evocation of Paris in the dying days of the war and the admirable spirit of the French people as they find their way again after years of occupation was simply enthralling,” says Sammia Hamer, Editor.


Turtles All the Way Down

by John Green

Azra is trying to be a good daughter. And a good friend. And a good student. She’s trying to make good decisions, even as her thoughts spiral out of control. She never meant to become tangled in the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett.
With a hefty reward at stake, and her friends eager to crack the case, she has nothing to lose. Or does she? “It’s one of the most realistic depictions of living with mental illness that I’ve ever encountered without being super depressing about it,” says Stephanie from Maryland.
What new books would you add to this list? Please share!

Picture Books That Teach Self-Confidence and Individuality

How do we talk to our children about being comfortable in their own skin? These books can help.

When I was growing up, being self-assured was always one of my biggest struggles. Not surprisingly, as a parent, it has been one of the hardest things for me to teach my kid.
All of us, adults and kids alike, at one point or another struggle with being confident in who we are and comfortable with the things that make us unique. To some extent, we all want to fit in, but sometimes we just don’t – at least not with everyone – and that’s okay. But it still doesn’t make it fun or easy to come to grips with.
My seven-year-old son definitely marches to the beat of his own drum. He is silly, loud, and extremely stubborn, but he is also sensitive and tends to get his feelings hurt when other kids don’t understand or accept him. He wants to have friends, and I desperately want that for him. More than that, I want him to remain true to himself and be okay with who he is, however goofy or off-center that may be.
How do we talk to our children about being comfortable in their own skin? How do we help them see how amazing they are in spite of what bullies or peer pressure may say? How do we build confidence and find a way to converse with them about this big, real life struggle in a way they can understand right now?
My solution to this (and to many of life’s other problems) is books. Kids of all ages genuinely love having someone read to them and with them. Don’t believe me? My husband’s years as a high school English teacher and mine as a school librarian beg to differ.
In his book, “The Read-Aloud Handbook”, Jim Trelease argues that children who are read aloud to from a young age learn to associate books with being loved and cared for. The act of being snuggled up with a book before bed (or at any time) promotes closeness and openness between child and parent. This, in turn, fosters a love of reading and promotes confidence in themselves as readers, in addition to developing their fluency and vocabulary.
Reading books together is a great way to connect with your kids on a level they understand. It gives you a chance to slow down your busy life and just be in the moment. This time also creates space for healthy dialogues, providing a much needed chance to talk and really listen to each other. And who doesn’t love an excuse for a good snuggle session?
Here are some of my favorite picture books that teach self-confidence and encourage individuality in our kids. They are wonderful conversation starters and just plain fun to read.

Giraffes Can’t Dance

Author: Giles Andreae
Illustrator: Guy Parker-Rees

This is perhaps my favorite children’s book of all time. In this stunningly illustrated story, Gerald the giraffe spends his life watching as every other animal in the jungle dances beautifully. They tease him because he, as a giraffe, cannot dance.
But what Gerald learns with the help of a friendly cricket, is that everyone – including him – can dance if they find the right music. Gerald wows the other animals when he emerges at the jungle dance with his amazing new moves. As Gerald says, “We all can dance, when we find the music that we love.”


Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon

Author: Patty Lovell
Illustrator: David Catrow

Molly Lou Melon is small and not very graceful. She also has big teeth and a funny voice that sounds like a bullfrog. At her new school, Molly Lou finds herself the prey of the class bully. This doesn’t bother Molly Lou though. She follows her grandmother’s advice and stands up for herself.
This book is a great way to talk to your kids, not just about being self-confident, but also about dealing with bullies.


Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed

Author & Illustrator: Mo Willems

Mo Willems is, hands down, one of the best children’s authors of this generation. He is funny and relatable. His stories meet kids where they are, but never talk down to them. This book is no different.
As you would assume, naked mole rats are supposed to be, well, naked. However, this book is all about Wilbur, a naked mole rat who secretly loves wearing clothes. Reading it is a funny, light way to talk to your young kids about being who they are and doing what they love, even if other people (or mole rats) don’t understand them.


The Dot

Author & Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds

Vashti doesn’t believe that she is a good artist until one day when her teacher urges her to just “make a mark” on her paper. The teacher makes such a huge deal about the beauty of Vashti’s dot that it encourages her to make more dots – lots of dots! Vashti becomes more creative with her dots and her creativity inspires others to make their mark, too.



Author & Illustrator: Kevin Henkins

Chrysanthemum has always loved her name. At least she did until she started school and realized that not everyone thought her name was so amazing. The other girls tease her for being named after a flower and even encourage others to smell her.
Ultimately, Chrysanthemum overcomes the bullying thanks to the love and support of her music teacher and family. This is great book for kids with unique names, but really for any child who has dealt with being teased because they are different.



Author: Kyo Maclear
Illustrator: Isabelle Arsenault

Spork is neither a spoon nor a fork, and he doesn’t truly fit in with either group. He often feels left out from the other utensils. Spork tries to be just a spoon or just a fork, but nothing feels right until he finds his special purpose as a SPORK.
This book is as cute as it is clever. It could serve as a great resource for biracial families or families of mixed cultural or religious backgrounds.


A Bad Case of Stripes

Author & Illustrator: David Shannon

Camilla is a girl who loves lima beans, but she worries that others won’t understand and make fun of her. She is so concerned about trying to please her peers that she comes down with a bad case of stripes.
The cure for her stripes is finally being true to herself and not caring what others think. This is definitely one of the longer, wordier picture books on my list, but it is wonderful for older elementary schoolers.


The Hueys in the New Sweater

Author & Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers

Hueys are funny little creatures that are all very much alike until one Huey, named Rupert, decides to knit himself a sweater. Rupert loves his new sweater, but the other Hueys aren’t so sure about someone being different.
Eventually, Rupert’s sweater inspires other Hueys to be different as well. This book is short and sweet.

Not All Princesses Dress in Pink

Authors: Jane Yolen & Heidi E. Y. Stemple
Illustrator: Anne-Sophie Lanquetin

This book empowers girls to value their unique qualities. Being a princess and wearing a tiara doesn’t mean you can’t like to climb trees, play sports, or get dirty. Being who you are and doing your very best is the most important thing for any girl and the best way to reach your full potential.
Whether your daughter is a girly-girl or a rough and tumble tomboy, this book is a great, refreshing read.

Calvin Can’t Fly: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie

Author: Jennifer Berne
Illustrator: Keith Bendis

Calvin isn’t like the other starlings. All of his many, many brothers, sisters, and cousins are interested in finding worms and learning to fly, but Calvin only wants to read and visit the library.
When it comes time to migrate, he hasn’t learned to fly yet. In the end, it turns out that all of his book learning comes in handy. It’s a good thing that Calvin did all that reading despite what anyone said.

Tacky the Penguin

Author: Helen Lester
Illustrator: Lynn Munsinger

Tacky is a very odd bird. All of the other penguins are annoyed by his obnoxious clothes and weird habits. Until one fateful day, when Tacky, in all of his strangeness, saves the day – and the other penguins.
This is a fun book that is sure to get some laughs from your little ones, but it’s also a great story of about being yourself, no matter how weird or tacky you may be. Also, if your kids love Tacky, he has lots of other adventures to read about.



Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrator: Scott Magoon

Alright, so I may have a thing for utensil-themed children’s books, but I promise, this one is also fantastic! Spoon is the adorable story of a spoon who envies all of the other types of utensils and all the fun they have.
Later in the story, Spoon finds out how much the other utensils envy him! This book really highlights the fact that we all have a purpose and that it’s completely fine (in fact, it’s amazing) that we aren’t all the same.
Many kids struggle with being confident and happy with themselves. We need to find ways to encourage self-confidence and individuality as positive character traits in our kids.

Short-term action plan

● Go to your bookshelf (or the bookshelf at your local library) and find one of these amazing books or another great title. You can also order one from Amazon right from your phone.
● Find a time in your super busy week to read books with your kids.
● When the book is over, ask them what they thought about the story. Did they like the characters? Have they ever felt like any of the characters? What would they do if they were in the story?

Long-term action plan

● Make reading together a daily (or at least a regular) thing for you and your kids.
● Go to the local library or bookstore together and choose books for these reading times.
● Investigate more titles that help you engage in conversations with your kids about whatever it is they are going through.
● Read the books first to give yourself time to think through what kinds of questions or morals you might want to talk about with your kids.
● Make your reading time a special and ‘sacred’ time. Put away your phone. Get out the biggest, comfiest blanket in the house. Maybe even plan a reading date that involves lots of books, snacks, and a cup of cocoa.
● Reading with your kids is a valuable, memorable, and inexpensive way to spend time together. Don’t treat reading like homework, for you or your child. Have fun with it!

Should Cursive Go the Way of the Abacus?

Incorporating cursive into the curriculum had been on the decline. But is that in the best interest of our kids?

I watched my daughter try to sign her name just above the signature line. She looked at me a little lost. I felt sorry for her and frustrated that she had not been prepared for something so simple. Cursive hasn’t been taught in my kids’ district in years.
They’ve become whizzes on computers, but what about something as simple as signing your name? It made me wonder if cursive was a thing of the past or something worth reviving. The current state of education certainly sparks heated arguement, but the role of cursive is ambiguous at best.
One thing we can all agree on: the role of cursive in modern education has changed.
Incorporating cursive into the curriculum had been on the decline, but we saw a drastic drop in 2010. With the implementation of more technology, there was a shift to more typing. But the rigorous classroom standards instigated by Common Core made things particularly challenging.
When a child is in school for six hours a day, that doesn’t mean those six hours are allocated for traditional academics. You lose an hour of that for lunch and recess and likely a half-hour for transitions. Subtract 45 minutes for a special and another 15 for snack, and your six-hour day is down to four. And this is if everything goes smoothly. Something in the day had to go, and cursive was already questionable. It seemed like the obvious choice.
Education Week addressed this, specifically referring to an interview with Sue Pimentel, a lead writer for the Common Core Language Arts standards. In the interview she explained, “the decision was about priorities – and that learning to use technology took precedence.”
Not having enough room in the curriculum doesn’t outweigh the benefits of teaching cursive for many. While some argue to let cursive go similar to the way we abandoned the abacus and the slide rule for more modern instruments, we cannot ignore some of its benefits.
The ability to write one’s signature remains at the forefront of the cursive debate. We cannot ignore the need to sign our name to documents. If education is preparing kids for life, are we doing them a disservice by eliminating this basic skill? Something as simple as voter registration becomes an issue for those that have never been taught how to sign their names.
Signatures lead directly to the second most common argument in favor: the inability to read historical documents. This argument is much more of a personal conviction than an official one, but it should not be ignored.
Some argue, however, that the ability to read cursive is a skill independent from the ability to write in cursive and could be taught in a 30- to 60-minute lesson.
The most surprising, and perhaps convincing arguments for cursive in the classroom have little to do with such specifics. They address the more general benefits: Cursive has the ability to teach fine motor skills, increase speed of writing, and aid in the creative process.
While this may seem like a lofty argument, it goes beyond generalizations to specify the benefits to those struggling with dyslexia or brain injury.
The New York Department of Education took this further in their research, stating, “Kids were better at processing information when doing so by handwriting as opposed to typing.”
Discoveries like this have led New York – the largest public school system in the country – to announce in February 2017 that they would be reintroducing cursive to the curriculum. Similarly, states such as Tenessee, California, and Lousiana are reintroducing cursive, with Louisiana passing legislation mandating cursive in the curriculum in grades three through 12.
But maybe this is not an either/or argument. Virginia Berringer, a professor of educational psychology, claims that “printing, cursive, and keyboarding activate different brain patterns, and that in some cases, students with certain disabilities may struggle with print but do well with cursive.”
Perhaps we need to look at education as a toolbox, with teachers putting tools in and showing students how to use them. As they mature, students can pick the tools that work best for them.
It is very likely that there is no right or wrong answer here. The school day is filled with demands, and cursive is a casualty of more than just the digital age. The best we can do is evaluate the role cursive plays in each individual environment.
My son just started cursive (thanks to a rogue teacher who still sees the value). I was shocked to see that his typically messy uneven printing was countered by the smooth, thoughtful loops and curves of cursive. It made me wonder.
The best learning always starts with questions. Maybe it’s time we ask ourselves and our schools a few:
Is cursive a useful homework assignment?
Is it just a filler activity?
What role does typing play in a child’s development?
How can you implement a modern take on cursive within the full demands of a school day?
Can I teach cursive at home?
What questions do you have?

If Your Child Loved “Charlotte’s Web”, They’ll Love These 8 Books About Unexpected Animal Friendships

Although “Charlotte’s Web” is forever in a league of its own, the literary world is filled with books about fanciful and unexpected animal alliances.

“Charlotte’s Web,” the beloved book by E. B. White, has captivated generations of children with the unlikely friendship between a sassy barn spider and a humble radiant pig.
To the very end, this magnificent duo would do anything for one another: turn webs into linguistic miracles, chase off grumpy rats with rotten cheese, raise orphaned babies with the same kindness and charisma exhibited by their mother. It was a friendship like no other.
Although “Charlotte’s Web” is forever in a league of its own, the literary world is filled with books about fanciful, unexpected, and terrific animal alliances. Here are eight that your child will love:


Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships

by Catherine Thimmesh

In this beautiful preschool book, author Catherine Thimmesh makes us smile with these highly unlikely animal friendships. From a polar bear that befriends a sled dog to an ostrich who connects with a giraffe, in the animal world, boundaries are often broken and unusual relationships form.


Odd Dog

by Claudia Boldt

Peanut is an odd dog who worries about his next-door neighbor, Milo. When Peanut notices an apple growing over the fence into Milo’s yard, he becomes frantic. Surely, no dog can be trusted. And surely the dog on the wrong side of the tree will eat his delicious fruit. Peanut is quick to judge his neighbor. But what his neighbor does next sparks the beginning of a truly great friendship.
“The real treat is observing neurotic, slit-eyed Peanut and oblivious, wide-eyed Milo, both of whom are completely huggable,” says “Booklist.”


Horsefly and Honeybee

by Randy Cecil

“Horsefly and Honeybee” is a simple story about two insects who learn to share and work together. When Honeybee tries to take a nap in the same flower as Horsefly, a slight scrimmage ensues and, unfortunately, they both lose a wing! No longer able to fly, they are forced to walk everywhere…even by a hungry frog who wants to eat them for dinner. Working together, they learn they can fly once again and escape the green monster.
“This book speaks directly to kids in a language they understand, and when you combine that with illustrations that are simple, colorful, and incredibly endearing, you get a book that is sure to become a favorite for any preschooler or toddler,” says one Amazon reviewer.


Bat and Rat

by Patrick Jennings

Creative collaboration describes the friendship between Bat and Rat, two nocturnal animals living in the big city. Bat lives in the attic of Hotel Midnight, while Rat lives all the way down in the basement. Although it seems unlikely that they could ever be friends, they spend their days together doing all sorts of wonderful things: dumpster diving, riding the subway, and playing in a band.
They agree on everything until they get ice cream one warm afternoon. Which is better: Mosquito Ripple or Butter Beetle Pecan? Can their friendship survive this sticky test?


Amos & Boris

by William Steig

Amos the mouse and Boris the whale are devoted friends with absolutely nothing in common, except their generosity and willingness to help a fellow animal. They meet when Amos’s boat goes adrift at sea. In need of rescue, Boris arrives to save the day. Not long after, it’s Amos in need of rescuing. Can a little mouse help his gigantic friend?
“A simple, matter-of-fact story about the friendship between a mouse and a whale. Lovely watercolor pictures and a funny, well-written text which presents its plot coincidences in tongue-in-cheek manner fit together admirably in this faintly Aesopian tale,” says “School Library Journal.”


The Cricket in Times Square

by George Selden

Chester Cricket finds himself smack dab in the middle of the Times Square subway station. Rather than fret, he makes himself cozy in a nearby newsstand. Not long after, he makes three new friends: Tucker, the fast-talking Broadway mouse, Mario, the little boy whose parents own the newsstand, and Harry the Cat, Tucker’s unorthodox sidekick. Together, the escapades in New York City never end!


The One and Only Ivan

by Katherine Applegate

Winner of the Newbery Medal and a “New York Times” bestseller, “The One and Only Ivan” is a powerful narrative about unexpected friendships. Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan and told from his vantage point, the book takes readers inside his 27 years in captivity at a shopping mall. He never thinks about home back in the wild, until he meets a baby elephant named Ruby. They instantly bond, and through Ruby’s eyes, Ivan sees his home again.
“Katherine Applegate’s beautiful, life-affirming story will soar directly from Ivan’s heart into your own. Read it out loud. Read it alone. Read it,” says Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor author of “The Underneath.”

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

by Kathi Appelt

A chapter book of unimaginable surprise, “The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp” tells the story of Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers on a mission to save Sugar Man Swamp. Together, they’ll have to defeat a gang of wild feral hogs and world-class alligator wrestler, Jaeger Stitch, to save the home they love. The familial bond transcends to best friends forever in this delightful children’s book.
Which books about animal friendships would you add to the list? Share in the comments below.

Why Your Kid Should Read Banned Books

Reading banned books offers families a chance to celebrate reading and promote open access to ideas, both of which are keys to raising a lifelong reader.

What do The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Catcher in the RyeThe Great GatsbyNative SonTo Kill a MockingbirdFahrenheit 451, and The Adventures of Captain Underpants have in common? At one time or other, someone has tried to ban them from classrooms and public or school libraries.
The American Library Association (ALA) — champions of free access to books and information — launched Banned Books Week in 1982 to celebrate the freedom to read. Libraries, bookstores, publishers, and teachers across the country use the week — this year it’s Sept. 24-30 — to highlight great books that people have banned and to spark a discussion about censorship. At Common Sense Media, we think reading banned books offers families a chance to celebrate reading and promote open access to ideas, both of which are keys to raising a lifelong reader.
Why do people ban books? Often it’s for religious or political reasons: An idea, a scene, or a character in the book offends their religion, sense of morality, or political view. Some folks feel they need to protect children from the cursing, morally offensive behavior, or racially insensitive language in a book. Or they think a book’s content is too violent or too sexual.
The American Revolution novel The Red Badge of Courage has been banned for its graphic depictions of war. The edgy teen best-seller The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky) has been banned for its descriptions of sexual behavior and alcohol and drug use. Profanity and an explicit scene featuring oral sex got Looking for Alaska (John Green) on the banned list. And Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has been banned for religious irreverence, discussion of masturbation, and offensive language, including the N-word.
Who’s challenging these books? Parents, school board members, individuals, groups — yet what’s considered offensive may depend on the era or specific community. As the ALA argues, these challenges pose a threat to freedom of speech and choice — freedoms that Americans hold dear and are worth standing up for.

Here are five good reasons for kids to read banned books:

Today’s edgy is tomorrow’s classic. Original work pushes boundaries in topic, theme, plot, and structure. What’s shocking today may be assigned in English class five or 10 years from now if it has true literary merit. The Great Gatsby is high school staple today, but was shocking when its gin-soaked pages were published in 1925.
There’s more to a book than the swear words in it. Many books have been banned for language that your kid has encountered before or will soon. Even potty humor (like in Captain Underpants) has caused people to call for a ban. A character’s language may add realism to the story, or it may seem gratuitous or distracting — your kid can evaluate.
Kids crave relatable books. Banned books often deal with subjects that are realistic, timely, and topical. Young people may find a character going through exactly what they are, which makes it a powerful reading experience and helps the reader sort out thorny issues like grief, divorce, sexual assault, bullying, prejudice, and sexual identity. The compelling teen rebels story The Outsiders has been banned, yet many middle schoolers cite it as the book that turned them into a reader.
Controversial books are a type of virtual reality. Exploring complex topics like sexuality, violence, substance abuse, suicide, and racism through well-drawn characters lets kids contemplate morality and vast aspects of the human condition, build empathy for people unlike themselves, and possibly discover a mirror of their own experience. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is an eye-opening story of an African-American family facing racism in 1930s Mississippi, yet it’s been banned for having racial slurs.
They’ll kick off a conversation. What did people find so disturbing in a book that they wanted to ban it, and to what extent was it a product of its time or did it defy social norms of its era? For example, Harry Potter was banned by people who felt it promoted magic. Reading a challenged book is a learning experience and can help your kids define their own values and opinions of its content.

Why I Take My Kids to the Library and You Should, Too

In the age of two-day Prime shipping and the instant gratification of eBooks, do people even go to the library to get books anymore?

Parents know that reading aloud to their children is important. But in the age of two-day Prime shipping and the instant gratification of eBooks, do people even go to the library to get books anymore?
Library usage data says yes. Recent figures show an overall decline in library use, but tie this to a decrease in investment. User interest is still high. When libraries receive more funding, more people use them. Libraries are serious about evolving to meet the needs of today’s patrons.
September is Library Card Sign-up Month, which is a great reason to visit your local branch. Here’s why my family goes to the library all year long:

It’s free and easy

It costs me as much to take my three kids to the trampoline park for two hours as it does to foot our family grocery bill for a day. A stop at the library, whether for 20 minutes or a whole morning, costs nothing and pays extra dividends with the time my children spend poring over new-to-them books when we get home.
It’s cozy in the winter, cool in the summer, and the fish in the fish tank are always waiting for us.

There’s something for everyone

Libraries want families to use their resources, so it is in their best interest to make visiting pretty appealing. The library programs we’ve enjoyed in the various places we’ve lived include baby sign language classes, drum circles, toddler stay-and-play, art activities, parenting talks, community meetings, and more.
We pat the therapy dog who comes to listen to older kids practice reading. My kids usually run into a friend (or make one), and I get to commiserate with other tired parents.

You take the books home and bring them back

When I was expecting my first child, a book-loving friend wisely advised, “Don’t let a book into your house that you aren’t willing to read a thousand times.” Given children’s love for repeated readings, this is a good mantra.
Library books, however, supply a loophole. Christmas books in June? Sure, but we have to return them next week. Ten books about fire engines? Yep, and when we’ve read them all, it’s someone else’s turn. When my kids are older, I hope they’ll find series they want to devour, just as I remember doing. I don’t want to buy dozens of installments, though, or store them. Cue the library.

Libraries are shared spaces

Our visits to the library always begin with negotiations about which child gets to push which buttons for the automatic doors and elevator. Then there’s a reminder about using our “library voices.” The children’s section is a great place to practice this voice because there are other kids practicing, too. And practice is good, because it turns out a library voice is similar to a “restaurant voice”, a “bank voice”, and a “post office voice.”
Learning to take care of public property is a life lesson. It’s good for kids to know that another child probably wants to read “The Skeleton Pirate” just as much as they do, and the book just isn’t as good with the giant whale page ripped out. Let’s just say that the time one of my kids had to empty his piggy bank to pay for a library CD he broke in half made a lasting impression.

Waiting can be good

My on-demand kids don’t know what it’s like to wait until Friday night for a show to be on TV. They don’t know even know what it’s like to wait for a cassette to rewind. At the library, though, they have to wait. A book they want might be checked out by someone else. The newest story by a favorite author may take a while to arrive on interlibrary loan.
So we wait, and then we enjoy.

Before Google, there was the nonfiction section

Kids ask a lot of questions. While it’s flattering to be considered a fountain of knowledge, I’d like for my children to become self-directed learners. Looking for answers to questions about what sharks eat or the rules of soccer in the nonfiction section is a concrete and satisfying way to respond to kids’ curiosity.

When I’m bigger, I’ll read that book

Libraries are not only full of books, they are also full of people who read them. What better place for young children to envision fulfilling reading lives stretching before them than in the company of picture-book loving peers, students curled up with chapter books after school, and adults engaged in research or work or reading for pleasure?
Parenting is busy and full of feelings of obligation. It’s easy to feel like you “should” take your kids to the library and not make it there. Make the library work for you and your family. The fish in the tank will be glad to see you.

Behold the Wonder of a Book Nook

A book nook can be fancy or simple, so long as it can transport you to the places in your book and escape real life for a little while.

After a school day, my boys need some quiet time on their own. We live in rural Arizona in a spread out ranch style house, so space isn’t the problem. They’re just magnetically drawn to each other and are very likely to start fussing and fighting.
My solution? Transforming the bedroom closet into a tiny reading space. Bean bag, battery powered push lights, plastic milk crate, and some throw pillows. My eight-year-old or his 12-year-old brother can climb in to read or just be away from everyone else for a little while.
A book nook can be fancy or simple, but the most important elements are these: privacy and comfort. You want to be able to transport yourself to the places in your book and escape real life for a little while.

via Pinterest

I love the simplicity here, and the functionality. You could set up as many of these little tents as you need to for the kids on hand, inside or out. And each kid still feels the delicious sense of being in her own world.
via The New York Times

This may not be the most practical, but without a doubt, this design by Japanese furniture designer Sakura Adachi is my favorite reading spot I’ve seen. Even better? There are sizes for adults, children, and even pets. Imagine your public library shelves with built-in spots for reading. This book nook may lack some privacy, but it is so well integrated you might not even see your child after a while.
via Houzz

With a home renovation, just a few square feet were captured to make this reading space in a hallway or landing area. That’s the beauty of a book nook – small spaces are preferable for feeling secure and cozy.
via Pinterest

This igloo-like construction doesn’t cost a penny and could easily be made with children. If your family drinks a lot of milk, you might be able to gather the supplies yourself. Otherwise, it could involve a little community outreach. The dome structure provides the isolation a book nook needs, though the jugs do take up a little more space than other materials.
via Archello

I love these reading pods for their vertical design and how they don’t take up floor space. They are used in a school here, but could certainly be utilized in a home with some structural support. Book nooks create an opportunity to think about space in different ways, and they don’t have to be a permanent structure.

Another simple way to create a discrete space is with sheer curtains. A few pillows suddenly seem isolated, special, otherworldly, and way more fun than sitting on the couch to read.
via Houzz

This is my life dream book nook. Doors that close. A mini library, space for books. A little funky, a little cool. When I get paid for that up-and-coming bestselling series, this will be on the top of the list.
Till then, I’ll enjoy the perfect reading chair I finally found.

How Wordless Books Can Help Your Kid Learn to Read

And even though kids aren’t reading words, it turns out that wordless books can develop important skills.

Anyone who’s “read” a picture book can tell you that you don’t need words to tell a story. Prereading toddlers and preschoolers can follow a story told in pictures, a parent or child can narrate the action, and the cozy, empowering experience can help kids develop positive associations with books. (See our full list of Wonderful Wordless Books!)
And even though kids aren’t reading words, it turns out that wordless books can develop important skills:

  • Literacy. Toddlers and preschoolers can learn how a book works: front to back, left to right, top to bottom. They practice listening, comprehension, and interpreting visual images. Following a story helps kids understand the structure of storytelling: cause and effect, conflict and resolution, character development, and a narrative arc with a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Vocabulary and verbal skills. By reading a wordless book with an adult or a more knowledgeable peer, kids can learn to identify objects, people, places, animals, and actions and narrate a story based on visual cues. This helps kids understand stories once they start reading and can inspire them to write their own stories — an expression of literacy.
  • Confidence. A toddler or preschooler is proud to have finished a favorite book and to have understood the whole story from start to finish without adult help.
  • A love of books and art. Wordless books can be enjoyed by readers of all ages and can develop a taste for reading for pleasure and delight in illustration.
  • Easy access. Books without text are great for kids who speak different languages, are learning English, or have developmental or learning difficulties that make reading words challenging.

And wordless books are growing in popularity and garnering kudos. Since 2007, four wordless books have won the prestigious Caldecott Medal — the top U.S. literary award for illustrated books:
A Ball for Daisy, age 3+. The tale of a cute little dog who loves, then loses a favorite ball and is restored by getting a new one.
Flotsam, age 4+. A boy discovers an undersea fantasy world when he develops the film from an underwater camera he finds washed up on the shore.
Journey, age 5+. A dreamy fantasy adventure that starts with a lonely girl drawing a door that leads into a colorful enchanted world where she finds excitement, danger, and friendship.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret, 8+. A middle-grade novel about an orphaned boy who lives in a Paris train station (the book was made into the film Hugo).
Kids still need exposure to print, especially kids who may not have a lot of books at home. And how many literacy skills a child gains may depend on how involved the adult reader is in pointing out and reinforcing elements and vocabulary in the story. But the bottom line is that wordless books are loads of fun to read together and can be entertaining and empowering for kids of various ages to read on their own.
Written by Regan McMahon for Common Sense Media.

5 Ways to Get Outside in Autumn and Why Science Says You Should

All those hours kids spend climbing trees and following bugs really do soothe their psyches. Fall may require another layer, but it’s well worth it.

Summer beckons you outdoors. It waves from open windows and whispers, “Come play.” It’s easy to throw swimsuits and t-shirts on the kids and launch them into the big wide open. Autumn, though, takes a bit more effort: one more layer of clothing, a little less daylight, a little more scheduling around homework. But nature is a necessary part of our existence. It’s the reset button we all need for our minds and bodies, and autumn wants to play too.

According to a study in The Atlantic, patients recovered faster from surgery when given windows with a view. They reported less symptoms of depression and also required fewer pain medications. A picture of nature alone was enough to be a balm and boon to spirits. Another study geared specifically towards children found that kids who grew up in more rural areas with greater access to the outdoors reported lower levels of anxiety in stressful situations. In the same way, children with ADD who spend more time outside have seen improvement in the classroom. Parents stated that “green activities – like fishing and soccer – left their children in a far more relaxed, focused state,” and more able to do all the things the world asked of them.

It appears all those hours kids spend climbing trees and following bugs really do soothe their psyches. It also works on the grownups as well. It’s why dentists’ offices have fish tanks and spas play soundtracks of waterfalls and chirping birds. We are all soothed by the great outdoors in a way that nothing else can. Nature, it seems, is a universal restorative.

In light of all this research, here are five outdoor autumn activities to refresh and reset your family in the new season:

1 | Bike share

Many cities now have bike sharing stations like this one in Portland. You can rent bikes for an hour or a day and tool around town or into the nearest parks. You just check them out at one bike stand and return them to another, like catching the bus but so much better. This lets you explore with a little more freedom and without the hassle of hauling your own gear.

2 | Nature trail

Kids love to scramble off the beaten path, which makes nature trails the perfect way to ease them in to hiking. They might not be up for a fourteener just yet, but they could handle these gentle forays into nature. Use the this site to find easy hikes near you. You can map out long and short hikes by degree of difficulty and scenery and then save them to your favorites.

3 | Nature photography

Let them use their iPads and iPhones for the greater good by capturing photographs of what nature looks like from a kid’s eye view. It’s easy and comes with the instant gratification of a well-captured moment. Or, if you want the real deal, rent a camera, have it shipped to you or pick it up at a nearby location, and then return it when you’re done. Your kids will see what professional equipment can do without all the expense.

4 | Scenic drive

The leaves are changing from green to vermilion before your very eyes. Now is the time to pile in the car and hit the road, Jack Kerouac-style. Pretend you’re on Route 66 with all the time in the world and just look. Not sure which way to go for the best view? Find the scenic routes near you and map out something memorable.

5 | Color walks

Color walks are “Eye Spy” on foot. Let the kids pick a color and then track down all the natural things they can find from their back door and beyond. You’d be surprised how far you can travel in search of all things teal. For a culminating activity, let them create a nature rainbow by collecting one item for every color on the spectrum.

The days may be shorter, but the air is crisper and the trees are showing their colors, so no matter what you choose, get outside and make the most of what the world has to offer: itself.

3 Ways Your Kids Learned This Summer Even Without Workbooks

Just because they didn’t sit and “study” every day doesn’t mean they weren’t learning. They were learning differently. Maybe even better.

Today I was hard on myself. As I evil-eyed a pile of second-grade workbooks, most of them unfinished, I chastised myself for not making my son get through them this summer.

Oh, we’d started out strong in June – two or more pages out of each book plus a lesson on ABC Mouse every weekday. I even had a good schedule going for my three-year-old with preschool books too, and I’d stocked up on “prizes” from the dollar store that the boys could win after completing enough pages.

Within about five weeks, we’d all run out of steam. Fights were had, prizes got boring, brains were fried (mostly Mommy’s), viruses hit that threw us all off schedule, and basic survival with three kids (one being a baby) took precedence over pencil, paper, and books.

Basically life happened.

Now, with the oldest going back to school, I’m grumpy because I feel like I failed at this getting-ahead education thing.

Hold up…Get over yourself, woman!

I have to remind myself that just because my kids didn’t sit and “study” every day doesn’t mean they weren’t learning. They were just learning differently. Maybe even better.

So what did they do all summer and why does it matter?

1 | They spent time outdoors

This is perhaps the simplest and easiest way for kids to learn all kinds of stuff! You can only do so much sitting at a desk staring at pages. Stepping outside leads to a whole new world of real, experiential learning.

They chased butterflies, kept beetles in bug jars, dug for worms to feed our chickens, played with caterpillars, and had a blast catching lightning bugs (who knew a three-year-old would be so good at that?). They dug in the dirt and played in the mud (and learned to follow Mommy’s rules of such messy activities – well, almost).

I even heard the oldest teaching his brother how to count with rocks (that is before they started throwing them, which ended in tears and a bit of blood…and more learning to follow rules!).

Many of us will recall spending lots of time outside as kids. Are your own kids getting their daily dose of nature? Truth is, most kids are lacking in unstructured, outdoor play-time, turning instead to too-much screen time. This has led to an increase in behavioral and attention disorders, not to mention increased obesity and worse overall health.

Nature-deficit disorder is a fitting term for this situation.

Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods – Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” explains that this “leads to diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.” So it’s easy to see that the simple act of getting outside has a huge positive impact on physical, mental, and emotional development – not to mention kids are actively learning about the world around them. Science class reinvented!

I feel extremely blessed to have a good amount of land for my kids to explore, but even if you don’t have much space, you still have options. There are plenty of adventures to be had in a backyard, park, public school field, or on vacation. You can also go for walks around town or on trails (good for you too!) or simply hang out on the porch for some fresh air.

If your kid went to summer camp, you’re gold. Add in social skill building for the win!

2 | They were super active

Those little bodies need to move!

All that outside time meant lots of water play with slip n’ slides, water balloons, kiddie pools, and squirt guns. They were also able to get in some great swim time, thanks to the amazing hubby who set up an above-ground pool. Worthy investment!

The older one learned to ride his “real” bike and actually, finally, loves it. We went for walks (sometimes with running involved), which is good for all of us! They burned off energy and had a ton of fun on the trampoline. (Believe me, that is a real workout.) They climbed trees. (Okay, Mom was not too excited about this one. Enter more rules about not going to high.)

Of course, we all know that exercise is important for physical growth, fitness, and health with many benefits to the body, but it also carries some major brain benefits. Studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between physical activity and better academic scores. The more active they are, the better kids do in school.

It’s really not too surprising considering exercise is proven to create changes in brain structure and activity that increase cognitive ability, boost mood, clear brain fog, and improve memory. It doesn’t have to be a structured workout. They get plenty of cardiovascular and strengthening moves in with all the hopping, running around, squatting, stooping, bending, pushing, and lifting that kids naturally do.

3 | They got bored

Yes, this is a good thing. Boredom is not the enemy.

In today’s world, we think we need to immediately come to the rescue with iPads, games, and ready-made crafts and activities when someone says the dreaded b-word.

When the b-word arises, tell them, “Okay, you can help me clean…or go find something to do.” Believe me, they will find something to do. Plus, this is an important habit they will need the rest of their lives.

(Side note: Depending on age, though, you might need to make it clear what kind of things are okay. We are still working on understanding there is no taking things without permission, destroying anything, or teasing siblings. More rules, oh my!)

Boredom has some amazing benefits. It fosters creativity, improves mental health, and boosts motivation. Bonus: It helps parents too since they don’t feel obligated to constantly entertain (phew.) Now I just smile when I hear those two little words, because it’s an opportunity for them to go learn something on their own.

In short, there’s no reason to feel guilty for an academically “wasted” summer.

You know what surprised me? By the end of the summer, my anti-reading seven-year-old started reading books more on his own…for fun…because I wasn’t “making” him.

They learn so much more than you realize. So how about when next summer comes around, just relax a bit and let life (and learning) happen!

How did your kids spend the summer? Share below!