11 Lovely Children’s Books on Love

Valentine’s Day is truly the perfect kid holiday. You’re not old enough to be jaded by the “most romantic day of the year” and you get piles of candy and actual mail. It’s cold out but you don’t care because you’re all sugared up and shuffling conversation hearts into phrases like a little homemade Ouija board.
Consider these 11 lovely books on love the nightcap to your Valentine’s Day.

Snoring Beauty

by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Fractured fairytales are the best. They offer a refreshing twist on a familiar story. It’s what made “The Wolf Who Cried Boy” and “Wicked” and “Shrek” sensational hits. It’s also what makes this spin on “Sleeping Beauty” so hilarious.
It’s perfect for reading out loud, and you’ll love Mouse, the main character, who just wants the snoring princess to wake up already so he can get some peace and quiet on the night before his wedding. Prince Max is pretty entertaining, too.


Love Monster

by Rachel Bright

I dare you to stare into the eyes of the Love Monster and not want to knit him on a pillow. The goggle-eyed monster doesn’t mesh with the cuties in Cutesville, so he sets out on a journey to find his own version of love and end his loneliness.
Think of this one as the kid’s version of “Edward Scissorhands.” In fact, Time Burton should absolutely make a short of it.


The Velveteen Rabbit

by Margery Williams

Whatever you do, you have to buy the original version of this classic story with the illustrations straight out of 1922. The pictures are just as much a part of the story as the plot itself.
The forgotten and worn-out Velveteen Rabbit is about to be destroyed with all the other toys. His beloved owner has been whisked off to the seaside in the wake of scarlet fever and his hopes are almost up.
Then, a fairy appears out of his tears to carry him off to Rabbitland where he finally becomes the real rabbit he’s always dreamed of. It’s the ending you cross your fingers for with every forgotten toy.


Catching Kisses

by Amy Gibson

Even when my kids aren’t feeling especially “hands-on,” they’ll let me blow them kisses. Kisses in the air are so much more magical in their path from kisser to kissee. You never know where they will land.
That’s what this book is all about – the path a kiss takes from New York to New Orleans and across the country to the west coast and everywhere in between. It’s like a message in a bottle…in the air.


Paul Meets Bernadette

by Rosy Lamb

Paul is a fish who’s suffering the perfect millennial ennui. He’s circled as much as he can circle and flipped as much as he can flip in his bowl. He’s tired of his room with a view. Then Bernadette shows up.
Bernadette takes Paul on a tour of all the things he’s been missing. She’s the perfect guide to get your own imagination going on a wintery day. You’ll catch yourself reaching out to touch the thick glossy oil paint of Rosy Lamb’s illustrations.


Love Is

by Diane Adams

Just go ahead and cue up the tears for this one. A girl and her pet duck learn to take care of each other over the course of a year as they grow up and grow apart. But they never lose the love that knit them together in the first place.

You don’t have to dig too far into the metaphor to see the parent/child relationship in duck form.


In My Heart

Jo Witek

This book is the emotional equivalent of the doctor’s smiley face pain scale. It introduces the full spectrum of emotions and shows you how to pin them down. A heart can feel as shiny and bright as a star or as heavy as an elephant, but every feeling deserves to be felt.
The rainbow heart that spreads from page to page is the perfect visual for the hard-to-name feelings that can be so hard for kids (and adults) to name. Shyness isn’t so bad, and silliness makes sense once you can name it.


Roses are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink

by Diane deGroat

If you’re sitting at home cutting out hearts with your first-grader and covered in glitter and wishing Pinterest would stop already with the cutesy cards for classmates, this book is for you.
Gilbert isn’t sure he can write nice cards for the couple of kids who’ve made fun of him in school. So he writes a few not-so-funny Valentines instead. Feelings are hurt and everybody ends up coming clean in this most realistic Valentine’s Day story to date.


The Valentine Bears

by Eve Bunting

Two things make this book a must-read. Firstly, The the story is told by the epically-talented Eve Bunting, author of over 200 children’s books.
Secondly, the illustrations of Mr. and Mrs. Bear celebrating their first ever Valentine’s Day in lieu of hibernation are done by Jan Brett, the infamous illustrator of “The Mitten,” “The Hat,” and so many others. Her illustrations make every book a Scandinavian wonderland.


Love, Splat

by Rob Scotton

In the most hilarious love triangle between felines, Splat the cat is in love with Kitten who won’t give him the time of day. What’s worse, his arch rival, Spike, is after her, too. If the biggest and best Valentine card wins, Splat’s got no hope.
Lucky for him, Kitten is a little more high-minded. Let us all rise above the Spikes in the world, who think this is winning material: “You are so lucky that I like you.”


Love from the Very Hungry Caterpillar

by Eric Carle

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is in love, and he wants to tell you all about it. This book is the perfect gift for a teacher or kid who loves all things Eric Carle. Just like the original, it will make you happy, and hungry.
Here’s to keeping the magic alive on Valentine’s Day for kids and grownups alike. As everyone comes crashing down from that sugar high, read one of these and let love be as uncomplicated as ducks and rabbits and cats and caterpillars can make it out to be.

Fantastic Winter Books for Kids of All Ages

We find ourselves in the days when the holiday hustle and bustle is behind us but spring feels like it will never arrive. The days when daylight is still short and the windows are still closed. My favorite thing to do on those days is curl up with my little people to read great books.
Here are 12 amazing books to keep you and your little ones cozy this winter.

For the little littles

 
 

“The Mitten”

by Jan Brett

“The Mitten” is a whimsical, animal-filled tale that delights children. Jan Brett is masterful with her storytelling and illustrations, showing woodland animals exploring a child’s lost mitten in the snow. Funny and classic, this is a tale kids will love.


“Bear Snores On”

by Karma Wilson (Author), Jane Chapman (Illustrator)

“Bear Snores On” transports kids to Bear’s cave as his animal friends come to see if he is still sleeping for the long winter. No one is as surprised as Bear to wake and see all the commotion he has been missing! Charming and funny, kids will love pretending they are Bear, snoring for a long winter nap.


“The Emperor’s Egg”

by Martin Jenkins (Author),‎ Jane Chapman (Illustrator)

“The Emperor’s Egg” explores the incredibly cute world of the Emperor Penguin. It is full of amazing facts and illustrations about the animal while holding on to its cute, fuzzy, lovable nature. Telling the story of the father who sits determinedly on the egg for months while the mother goes out hunting, it is a wonderful way to talk about how animals, just like people, do so much to provide for the little ones.


For the school-aged littles

“The Snowy Day”

by Ezra Jack Keats

A perfect introduction to classic poetry, this delightful picture book captures a child’s day in the snow. With charming illustration and the beautiful verse by Jack Ezra Keats, the reader experiences the joys and wonder of “A Snowy Day.” This classic is not to be missed!


“Snowflake Bentley”

by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (Author),‎ Mary Azarian (Illustrator)

“Snowflake Bentley” is a true story of Wilson Bentley, a boy from Vermont that grew up seeing snowflakes as unique miracles. His scientific and artistic brain collided as he photographed snowflakes, capturing their utterly matchless shapes and designs. A delightful tale that is the perfect inspiration for making some paper snowflakes of your own!


“Winter Days in the Big Woods”

by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Author),‎ Renee Graef (Illustrator)

“Winter Days in the Big Woods” and the rest of the “My First Little House Books” are a beautiful introduction to the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. These stories of a cabin in the woods before there was internet or even electricity captivates kids for their simple beauty. Kids fall in love with these Wisconsin tales of Laura and her family, while parents fondly remember the original books and the joy they brought.


“Blizzard”

by John Rocco

“Blizzard” is a beautifully told tale based on The Blizzard of 1978 where the author’s small Rhode Island town received 53 inches of snow. As the boy watches the storm begin from his classroom window, the reader journeys with him through the changing landscape of his little town. As the snow piles high you experience the wonder of all he knows being covered in over four feet of snow! A perfect tale for a snowy day!


“The Story of Snow”

by Mark Cassino (Photographer),‎ Jon Nelson (Contributor)

The “Story of Snow” is a magical non-fiction that answers questions about snow in all of its amazing wonder. Written by a nature photographer and snow scientist, this book is full of fantastic photographs and scientific information perfect for kids. It even includes instructions for how to catch snowflakes! Perfect during a snowstorm or for kids who just wonder what snow is really like, “The Story of Snow” is beautiful.


“Mr. Popper’s Penguins”

by Richard Atwater and‎ Florence Atwater

“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is an early chapter book that has been a classic for decades. As Mr. Popper longs for things he has yet to do like visit the North and South Pole, he receives a most peculiar gift: a penguin. A family with one penguin grows to 12 penguins and the shenanigans that ensue are hilarious. Kids love reading about the eccentric Mr. Popper and his band of penguins!


Finally, for those who deny they were little

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

by C. S. Lewis

Hands down my favorite family read-aloud, this book of fantasy and adventure takes four siblings to an enchanted land trapped in a perpetual winter. Narnia is full of talking animals, a witch, trees that whisper, and a Lion that changes everything. After their journey the children – and Narnia – will never be the same. A delightful tale of bravery, loyalty, and love, this book will enchant all who read it.


“Breadcrumbs”

by Anne Ursu  (Author), Erin McGuire (Illustrator)

“Breadcrumbs”  is a tale woven with references to classic fairy tales. Two friends are separated when one disappears into a forest with a mysterious woman made of ice. Will Hazel risk everything to find Jack? A tale of friendship, fantasy, and growing up, Breadcrumbs explores fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen as well as modern stories to tell the story of Jack, Hazel, and a friendship that grows.


“The Call of the Wild”

by Jack London

“The Call of the Wild” has been famous for over one hundred years for its simplicity and raw story of a dog during the Klondike Gold Rush. The dog is sold into a life as an Alaskan sled dog where he learns to adapt to the harsh circumstances of the wild. Written with Buck the dog as the main character, this classic is hard to put down.
Take advantage of these colder days and snuggle up with a book. What are your favorites to read with your kids in the winter? Share in the comments!
We’ve selected these items because we want these great products to be on your radar! Parent Co. is an Amazon Affiliate Partner and we will earn a small share of revenue if you decide to purchase a product using one of these links. By supporting us through this program you are helping to keep the lights on and the banner ads off.

Seven Ways to Support Your Aspiring YouTuber

If your children want to create their own Internet videos for fun or for profit, here are seven ways you can guide and support their endeavor

In December 2017, the Washington Post ran an article on Ryan, a six-year-old boy who made $11 million in a year reviewing toys on his YouTube channel. The article went viral and sparked many conversations about YouTube as a way to get rich quick.
While most people on YouTube or other video hosting sites won’t earn that kind of money, making videos still has benefits. Young videographers and vloggers learn to tell stories, use editing software, and market their brand. They improve their communication skills and flex their creativity.
If your children want to create their own Internet videos for fun or for profit, here are seven ways you can guide and support their endeavor:

Talk about consent

Before you let your children upload their videos to the Internet, talk to them about the ways they need consent. Have an honest conversation about what they hope to film and what responsibilities they have with the footage.
When do they need to blur faces or leave out something they filmed? When do they need permission to film in a location or permission from a person? Talk about what they should consider when someone asks them to take down a video or delete their footage.
For older children, consider discussing “prank” videos, sensitive subjects, and the ways that they could be taking advantage of people or situations for their own gain. If you aren’t sure of an answer, have them research it.

Discuss Internet privacy

If your child is filming their own life beyond a single room, have a serious conversation about their privacy. These days, full names are often part of someone’s personal brand, but they can have a username instead.
Decide what information they should keep to themselves and what they should look for in their backgrounds. What should they do if a skateboarding video shows your street sign or house number? Is it okay for a “follow me around” video to show the name of their school? Should they call family members by their names, initials, or nicknames?
Safety and privacy are paramount when upsetting people online often leads to threats of violence.

Let them do what they want, within reason

You may be surprised to know which types of videos are the most popular online. Some people enjoy watching other people open packages. Other people can spend hours watching people play board games and video games. Some people like watching people watch other videos.
Let your child decide what kind of videos they want to make, even if you don’t like or understand their choices. Consider setting a few hard boundaries, or for younger kids, consider being the only one allowed to upload the final videos.
Learn to recognize the difference between a video that isn’t to your taste and a video that shouldn’t be public.

Make sure they’re doing it for the right reasons

Some YouTube stars become household names. With the top earnings becoming public every year, it’s easy for children to think it’s an easy way to make a lot of money and become famous. Of course, many video makers never gain a huge following and don’t make millions of dollars a year.
The ones that do work hard, putting out videos often or putting time and effort into fewer, high quality videos. A lot of them have teams working for them, too. Once they see the work involved, your child may quit, and that’s okay.
If they stick with it, though, make sure they know why they want to make videos. Maybe it’s fun or interesting or they love the small following they have. Whatever their reasons for making videos, figure it out and remind them of their reasons whenever they need it.

Be honest about career possibilities

Some people can still make a living from online videos. Others use their platform as a stepping stone to filmmaking, working in animation, creating their own product lines, or becoming spokespeople. Golden Globe-nominated actress Issa Rae starred in YouTube videos before producing and starring in her own show on HBO.
Still others make their videos as a hobby or a side income while having a full-time job. In 2015, many YouTube stars spoke about how they weren’t making enough to live off their videos, but they were too famous to have a job with the public. Make sure your child knows that it’s possible but unlikely to make a career from the videos alone.

Recognize the skills it takes to make these videos

Take the time to consider what skills your child has learned from making videos. If they make films, they’re learning about scripts, lighting, costumes, sets, and working with others. Do they make animations, add graphics, or generate effects? How much is involved in the editing process? Have either of you considered how much marketing knowledge your child has acquired?
Acknowledge how much they learn so they can see how far they’ve come. Recognizing their skills might also keep morale up if their videos don’t get as many views as they’d hoped.

Don’t let their education slip

While your child can learn a lot from creating their own videos, they need to keep up with their schooling, too. Don’t discuss their education as something they will need in case they never make it with their videos.
Instead, frame it as a way to get inspiration for their videos. Maybe their history class will spark a new movie idea. Maybe physics will give them an idea for a stunt. English, literature, and creative writing classes have obvious ties to the video industry, but the other subjects might just inspire a whole new series, as long as your child is still paying attention.

I Hated Little Nutbrown Hare, Until We Watched his Show

After binging “Guess How Much I Love You,” I’ve decided Big Nutbrown Hare is everything you want a parent on kids’ show to be.

On any given day, when my two-and-a-half-year-old heads to the bathroom to brush his teeth before bed, his other mom and I find ourselves with some creature other than a human child. Sometimes he is a robot, off to brush his robot teeth. Other times he is Te Ka, the lava monster from Disney’s Moana, and he has hot teeth which he has to brush with hot paste (to keep them hot, of course). Sometimes he is simply the neighbor’s dog. But more often than not, he is a baby rabbit, someone he calls “Little Brown Hay-er!”
That would be Little Nutbrown Hare.
The classic children’s book “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney was gifted to us while I was still heavily pregnant. The illustrations by Anita Jeram are charming – Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare are rendered with feeling, but also a kind of ease. They show both visible brushstrokes and a kind of familiarity with rabbits that makes them seem more real, and they are both very animal-like and oddly human-like at the same time. I’m a sucker for classics (you should hear me wax poetic about Winnie The Pooh) so I really wanted to love it. I did.
But I did not love it. I didn’t love it to the moon and back, and I didn’t even love it as high as I could reach.
For the uninitiated, the book features two characters: Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare. Their relationship is never explained, but it can be assumed that they represent parent and child, and both are identified as male with “he” pronouns. The plot surrounds Little Nutbrown Hare getting ready for bed (so great for bedtime stories), and trying to express how much he loves Big Nutbrown Hare. He’s trying to use physical measurements – I love you this much, I love you as high as I can hop, I love you down the lane as far as the river – to describe something immeasurable and unknowable. It’s the sort of desperate reaching for language that anyone who has ever been overcome by love would be familiar with.
And Big Nutbrown Hare, his caregiver, responds by one upping him. He does this every single time. If Little Nutbrown Hare loves as high as he can reach, the joke is on him, because Big Nutbrown Hare has longer arms, so he must love more. He turns a simple expression of love into a contest, telling the smaller hare that he will never be able to love as much. It ends with Little Nutbrown Hare exclaiming “I love you right up to the moon!” and then (spoiler alert) Big Nutbrown Hare counters with “I love you right up to the moon … and back.”
I think it is supposed to be cute and all in good fun, and certainly that is how most people read it. But it got under my skin.
I hated Big Nutbrown Hare.
With time, I came to hate the book itself. I squirreled it away somewhere where I wouldn’t have to read it. I didn’t care how adorable the illustrations were or how perfect it was – Big Nutbrown Hare was a jerk, and that was that. Furthermore, the whole book was just another example of every non-human animal in children’s literature being assumed male. It wasn’t even realistic. I am not a zoologist, but I am fairly certain father hares do not care for their offspring.
Which is why I was not excited when I discovered that there is a “Guess How Much I Love You” television show. Why did there have to be a show? It’s a short book with hardly any plot. How was there even anything to expand upon? I was sure it was going to be stupid, so with the certainty of a dedicated naysayer I tried to veto it before my wife and I could even preview it.
But then reality set in. Winter had just started, we had watched every single episode of “Sarah & Duck” approximately twelve hundred times already. I got a terrible cold. Nobody wanted to go outside, and there it was, staring at us on Amazon Prime, taunting us. We cracked.
The show uses the original book as a jumping off point, to tell the story of a Little Nutbrown Hare who lives in a meadow and who is friends with a lot of other animals (Little Field Mouse, Little Gray Squirrel, Little Redwood Fox, etc). During the day he of course plays and has adventures, and at night he goes home to the hollow log he lives in with his father, Big Nutbrown Hare. Big Nutbrown Hare is everything you want a parent on kids’ show to be. He allows his son to try and fail sometimes, but he is endlessly loving, endlessly patient, and always ready to explain a full moon or show which berries are good to eat.
The show takes place in the natural world, without human characters, and despite my reservations, it is really cute and sweet. The lessons are good and there seems to be a decent amount of gender diversity among the animals of the meadow. Plus, whereas in the book making both hares male feels like an assumption about animals, in the show it reads differently. Big Nutbrown Hare is a progressive single father who just wants the best for his son, and who is more than willing to be emotional and talk about love at the end of each and every episode. He’s basically a parenting hero.
My kid was instantly hooked. He was already very interested in bunnies, but Little Brown Hay-er was somehow more appealing than any floppy eared critter he had ever seen. We had to play Brown Hay-er constantly for weeks, in endless games of make-believe in which he would sternly instruct me.
“You,” he would say, pointing at my chest, “you, dad hay-er.”
Reluctantly, I got the book back out. And you know what? In the time I spent away from it, time while my son was growing bigger and learning to walk and talk, something changed. Either the book changed or I did, because now when Big Nutbrown Hare says “I love you to the moon … and back” I don’t get angry.
Instead, I find my eyes getting wet. He’s just a parent assuring his baby that no matter what, a parent’s love is bigger than everything. It is a love big enough to always keep you safe, to be there when you need it, to always have your back no matter what. As far as you reach to try to describe it, you will never be able to reach the ends of it, because it goes on forever.
I love that right up to the moon … and back.
Find it on Amazon Prime, here. (And not because they’ve paid us to tell you that.)

After "The Very Hungry Caterpillar": Six New Board Books That Babies Will Love

While the classics are thrilling, sometimes babies need something a little more than “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

Board books and babies go together like cookies and milk. You can have one without the other, but together they become something magical. Watching a baby’s eyes light up while reading a book he can touch, hold, and experience is one of the great first moments of a child’s journey.

While the classics are thrilling, sometimes babies need something a little more than “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” After the pages have been closed on that one, here are six unique board books that babies will love:

LetterHeads

by Stefan G. Bucher

Letters are people too in this unique alphabet book. “LetterHeads” is the first book of its kind to use 3-D modeling software to sculpt letterforms into human faces. Infused with unique personalities, playful vocabulary, and an intriguing color palette, the letters reflect just how alive language can be.

The book includes an index that explains each color, along with a few Easter egg details. The characters reflect diverse backgrounds, allowing for more grown-up associations and making it fun for parents to read along.

“It’s really fun to watch kids scrutinize each letter for its details. When they turn the pages, they’re fascinated to discover that they can inspect each letter front and back. For babies, there’s the happy head-tilt of ‘human, but also not human’ when they encounter the faces,” says author Stefan Bucher.


Tails Chasing Tails

by Matthew Porter 

Known for his wide-eyed animal art and vibrant acrylic paints on distressed pinewood backgrounds, indie artist Matthew Porter brings playful tigers, foxes, and pigs to life in his creative board book, “Tails Chasing Tails.”

Using green and blue paint, babies can only see one part of each animal until the pages are turned. Then the face and front end of each fanciful creature are revealed. Help your baby guess the animals she sees.

The School Library Journal calls the author, Matthew Porter, “the undisputed king of the hipster board book genre.”


 “Alice in Wonderland: A BabyLit Colors Primer

by Jennifer Adams (Author) and Alison Oliver (Illustrator)

Jennifer Adams takes classic literary stories and reinvents them so that babies can learn and interact with the characters and stories. In “Alice in Wonderland,” babies journey with Alice in her black shoes as she follows the white rabbit down the hole into Wonderland. There she meets an orange cat, a blue caterpillar, and the Queen of Red Hearts.

“The many peculiar characters in Carroll’s novel, such as the Red Queen of Hearts and the time-conscious White Rabbit, lend themselves to a natural introduction to colors. The literary ties are creative, but the illustrations take these primers to the next level and make them shine,” says Whitney Butters’s Deseret News.


 

The House in the Night

by Susan Marie Swanson (Author) and Beth Krommes (Illustrator)

A Caldecott Medal Winner, “The House in the Night” is an intriguing board book that uses dark colors contrasted with vivid gold to provide a mesmerizing experience for babies. In pages that nearly glow, little minds can explore the inside of a house at night.

“Executed in scratchboard decorated in droplets of gold, Krommes’ illustrations expand on Swanson’s reassuring story (inspired by a nursery rhyme that begins, ‘This is the key of the kingdom’) to create a world as cozy inside a house as it is majestic outside,” says Booklist.


 

Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball

by Vicki Churchill  (Author) and Charles Fuge (Author)

“Sometimes I like to curl up in a ball, so no one can see me, because I’m so small.” What a great reminder for children that it’s okay to be small.

In this captivating picture book with soft-toned illustrations, babies can follow along as a little wombat does all its favorite things. Each page is filled with extraordinary details and a menagerie of adorable animals. Does your baby like the same activities as the wildlife?


 

 “Paris: A Book of Shapes (Hello, World)

by Ashley Evanson (Author and Illustrator)

“Hello, World” is a board book series that pairs early learning concepts with colorful, stylish illustrations of cities around the world.

Paris is an enchanting destination with all sorts of wondrous shapes – triangles at the Louvre Museum, rectangles at Notre-Dame Cathedral, arches at the Arc de Triomphe, and stars in a beautiful Parisian night sky. Your baby can find them all in this beautifully illustrated book.

What’s your favorite board book for babies? Tweet us and let us know @HelloParentCo or post them in the comments section below!

We’ve selected these items because we want these great products to be on your radar! Parent Co. is an Amazon Affiliate Partner and we will earn a small share of revenue if you decide to purchase a product using one of these links. By supporting us through this program you are helping to keep the lights on and the banner ads off.

The Sneaky Science Behind Your Kid’s Tech Obsessions

Son won’t turn off his video game? Daughter obsessed with “likes” on Instagram? It may not be entirely their fault.

Son won’t turn off his video game? Daughter obsessed with “likes” on Instagram? It may not be entirely their fault.
Like the high-octane sugar in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and that irresistible chemical spice in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, the ingredients in social media, video games, apps, and other digital products are carefully engineered to keep you coming back for more. While researchers are still trying to discover whether kids (and parents) can be addicted to technology, some computer scientists are revealing their secrets for keeping us hooked.
Resisting the urge to check your phone or shut down Netflix after another cliffhanger “Stranger Things” episode should be a simple matter of self-control. But according to so-called whistleblowers, such as Tristan Harris, a computer scientist who founded the Time Well Spent movement, and Adam Alter, author of “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked”, we humans are totally overpowered.
Features such as app notifications, autoplay – even “likes” and messages that self-destruct – are scientifically proven to compel us to watch/check in/respond right now or feel that we’re missing something really important.
Behind the apps, games, and social media, a whole crew of folks make it their job to make their products feel essential. Many of the techniques they use are ones outlined by experts in human behavior, including Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and BJ Fogg of Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab.
Harris argues that these methods “hijack” our own good judgment. Most teens care deeply about peer validation, for example. So it makes sense that friends’ feedback on social media – both the positive and the negative – would tug until you satisfy your curiosity.
You have a phone in your pocket, so why not check now? And now. And now?
More and more industry insiders, including some who designed these attention-claiming features, are coming forward to cry foul on digital manipulation, and even suggest ways companies can limit it.
In fact, it’s not just people who are going public. In 2017, a leaked Facebook internal memo showed how the social network can identify when teens feel “insecure,” “worthless,” and “need a confidence boost.” That’s not a problem “likes” can fix.
Until recently, big tech companies would only defend their products. Facebook, for one, says it polls users daily to gauge success of its features. But when mounting concerns led two Apple shareholders to ask the company to design solutions to potentially addicting technology, Apple said yes.
The shareholders also called for more research on the impact of technology use on young users. Such studies could help developers create what Tristan Harris calls “ethically designed” products with built-in features that cue us to give tech a rest.

There is a way to fight back now. Thanks to the folks who are calling out these methods, you can spot specific tricks and reflect on how they affect your thoughts and behavior. Remember: The other side wants to reduce the time between your thoughts and actions. Putting that pause in will help you resist your urges.
Below are some of the key features designed to keep their grips on you. Also check out some ideas you and your kids can use to resist temptation.

Autoplay

Most notable on Netflix and Facebook, autoplay is the feature that makes videos continue to stream even after they’re over. Tristan Harris calls this the “bottomless bowl” phenomenon. With a refilling bowl, people eat 73 percent more calories. Or they binge-watch way too many movies.

What to do

Autoplay is typically on by default, so you have to turn it off. The feature can usually be found in the app’s account Settings. Here’s how to turn it off in Netflix.

Notifications

Studies show that push notifications – those little pings and prods you get to check your apps – are habit-forming.
Push notifications align an external trigger (the ping) with an internal trigger (a feeling of boredom, uncertainty, insecurity, etc.). Every app uses them, but some, such as Musical.ly and YouTube, have discovered that when notifications tells us to do something, such as “Watch Sally’s new video!” or “See who liked your post!”, we respond immediately.
These calls to action not only interrupt us, they cause stress.

What to do

Turn them off. Most devices have a Settings section where you can turn off notifications. You should also be able to turn off notifications in the app’s settings.

Snapchat’s Snapstreaks

A Snapstreak begins after two users send snaps (pictures) to each other for three days straight. You might think competition is the motivation behind Snapstreaks, but it’s more likely due to a psychological theory called the rule of reciprocation. Humans have a need to respond to a positive action with another positive action. Voilà, a Snapstreak is born.
Kids can become so obsessed with sustaining a streak that they give their friends access to their accounts when they’re unable to maintain their own streaks (which is actually a privacy risk). The rule is also at play with “like backs” – when you like someone’s post and ask them to like yours back to bolster your total number of likes.
Of course, companies exploit the rule of reciprocation, because more data points for them means more opportunities to understand their users and try to sell them stuff.

What to do

Help kids understand how companies like Snapchat are using their (positive) desire to be nice to their friends to get them to use their product more. If your kids’ streaks are getting out of control, try allowing one time per day that they can send snaps – for example, after they take out the garbage, clean their room, and finish their homework.
Finally, if your kids’ streaks are merely annoying and not harmful, you may need to ride out this phase until your kids go on to something new.

Randomness

If you knew that Instagram updated your feed at precisely 3 p.m. every day, that’s when you’d check in, right? But that won’t keep you glued to your phone.
Instead, social media companies use what’s called “variable rewards.” This technique keeps us searching endlessly for our “prize,” such as who friended us, who liked our posts, and who updated their status.
Not coincidentally, this is also the method slot machines use to keep people pulling the lever. Since you never know what’s going to come up, you keep coming back for more.

What to do

Turn off app notifications, usually found in your phone’s Settings but also in the apps’ settings themselves. Schedule a timer to go off at a certain time every day and check your feeds then.

In-app purchases

Free games, such as Clash of Clans and Candy Crush, lure you in by promising cheap thrills, then offering in-app purchases that let you level up, buy currency to use in the game, and more. But the real sneaky stuff is how companies keep you playing, and buying.
The more you use the game and the more in-app purchases you make, the more companies learn about you. Thanks to games that connect to Facebook, they also know who your friends are. That lets them tailor specific products to you at the precise times you’re most likely to buy.

What to do

Spring for the full, paid version of games. They’re cheaper – and safer – in the long run.
Written by Caroline Knorr for Common Sense Media.

What We’re Listening To: Story Pirates

What do whoopee cushions, dino bank robbers, and dogs’ rights have in common? They’re all subjects of the hilarious podcast Story Pirates.

What do whoopee cushions, dino bank robbers, and dogs’ rights have in common? They’re all subjects of the hilarious podcast for kids (and the grownups who love them) by Gimlet Media: Story Pirates.
It’s on heavy rotation in our household, with my kids requesting some of the episodes by name. And on more than one occasion around the dinner table, we have sung “Some day … some day you will turn into spaghetti!” (From the episode “The Girl Who Turned into Spaghetti,” obvi.) Because, well, my daughter seriously might turn into spaghetti. Apparently it’s been known to happen.

What it’s about

Each episode of Story Pirates is done in three parts. In the first part, the two hosts – Lee and Peter – read a story written by a child. The kid can be as young as two, right on up to tween. Given the age of the authors, the stories are not always linear and are often adorable.
In the second part, talented improv actors take the original story and turn it into sketch comedy. The fundamental story remains unchanged, but the actors take liberty with dialogue, often add in a song or two, and generally make podcast mayhem.
Finally, one of the hosts interviews the author of the story to hear a bit more about the child’s inspiration for the story, and a bit what life is like where they are.

Why we love it

The kids love this podcast because it’s hilarious. I mean, a story about whoopee cushions? You can bet my kids are all over that.
But the podcast is also empowering. This is a podcast where the kids write the stories! I mean, how cool is that? It has even inspired my daughter to submit a few stories of her own for the show. Her “The Big Pirates Steal Mate” was an instant classic, though, alas, not picked up by the Story Pirates crew.
Despite (or perhaps because of?) the potty humor, I love this podcast for those reasons too, but also because of the interviews with the kids at the end. The host, Lee, has a way with kids that gets them to open up about little aspects of their lives in Iowa or Minnesota, or wherever they are. It’s a unique opportunity to catch glimpses of kids’ lives, what they love, and why they love to create.

Start with this episode

We have two absolute favorite episodes in our house. First, as mentioned above, “The Girl Who Turned into Spaghetti.” It’s about – spoiler alert – a girl who ate so much spaghetti that one day she woke up to find that she actually was spaghetti. Double spoiler alert – it all turns out okay in the end, after a surprising twist that her mother also turned into spaghetti when she was a kid!
Our other favorite is “Dino Bank Robbers Who Actually Stole for Charity.” Perhaps you think you can tell what the episode will be about based on the title? Well, yes. You’re right. But oh my gosh, this one is so funny. My favorite line, when the police officer dino tells bank robber T. Rex to put his arms up: “This is as far as they go!”

If you like this podcast, you might also like:

Check out The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian, a serialized science-fiction podcast where you follow along with the adventures of eight-year-old Finn and his friends Abigail, Elias, and Vale as they explore space, meet aliens, and try to prevent their planet from being vaporized. You can contribute your own ideas to this show, too.

The details

Rating: Listen with kids. Specifically recommended for ages three to 103.
Subscribe to Story Pirates on iTunes here.
Find our review of another great podcast for kids, Circle Round, here.

All Your House Is a Stage: Babyproofing as Safety Theater

Babyproofing may offer more safety theater than actual safety.

In his 2009 critique of the TSA, technologist Bruce Schneier argues that most anti-terrorism resources are wasted in response to movie-plot threats.
Whether the threat is real (terrorists flying planes into buildings) or imagined (“terrorists contaminating the milk supply”), Schneier argues that movie-plot stories have an outsized effect on our decision-making. Our collective response to those movie-plot threats, Schneier argues, is “security theater,” that is, “measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security.”
Babyproofing – the various steps taken to protect babies and young children from hazards in their homes – is more similar to the TSA’s responses to terrorism than we might like to think. Many baby safety devices are movie-plot driven responses to isolated or extremely rare events that parents attempt to ward off by investing in expensive and often underperforming to ineffective gear. Babyproofing may offer more safety theater than actual safety.

Many dangers aren’t that dangerous

Some babyproofing measures, like fencing pools and securing dressers, can lessen life-threatening dangers. But many of the other dangers we attempt to avert through babyproofing aren’t as dangerous as we imagine them to be.
Outlet covers are a useful example. Cheap tiny plastic plugs and more expensive sliding plates are intended to guard against electrocution. These devices fall far short of their promise, not because they fail to prevent electrocutions but because electrocutions are so rare to begin with. A child who puts a finger or fork inside an electrical outlet is not going to get “electrocuted.” That’s because the word “electrocuted” specifically refers to a person killed by electricity.
And although people do die from electrocution each year, those people are largely adult men who are killed by a hazard at their occupation, such as high-voltage wires. The likely outcome of tampering with a home outlet is electric shock, which still happens surprisingly little. One 2013 estimate was 68 children under the age of one, all of whom were released from the emergency room, which suggests that their injuries were relatively minor.

Babyproofing doesn’t work

Of all types of babyproofing gear, the baby gate is probably considered the most important. A study released in Pediatrics in 2012 used the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) – a database of injuries from 100 representative emergency rooms across the country – to estimate the overall rates of pediatric injuries from falls. The researchers found that in the U.S., a child is injured by a fall every six minutes.
Although newsworthy, that six-minute claim is probably misleading, at least about the need for baby gates.
The study looked at a wider age group than would normally be considered for babyproofing: children ages zero to five. Using NEISS data, researchers estimated over 900,000 stair-related injuries, but that number included the daredevil kindergartener antics of jumping off or riding a tricycle down the stairs. Approximately 439,000 children between zero and two were estimated to have been injured between 1999 and 2008.
That figure, however, is not an accurate reflection of the number of injuries that could be prevented with baby gates. 25,000 of the falls occurred from baby walkers, which are no longer sold in the US out of safety concerns. Another 9,500 were in strollers, which suggests that some falls occurred in public places that could not be expected to have baby gates. 45,000 of the falls occurred when children were being carried, meaning that a baby gate, even if installed properly, could not have prevented a fall.
One additional comment from the researchers suggests that babyproofing may provide some false confidence and even a potential safety hazard. The researchers also examined the narrative reports of injuries in the NEISS fall data, and found that having a gate doesn’t necessarily prevent an accident: “A review of the case narratives in this study showed that the gates were often removed by another household member or the young child was able to knock or climb over the gate.”
The gates themselves can also lead to other unintended injuries. Another group of researchers studying NEISS data specifically on baby gates estimated that between 1990 and 2010 children sustained an average of just under 1,800 injuries a year from baby gates. Kids aged two and under were most likely to be injured by falling, while kids between ages two and six were most likely to crash into the gate.
Furthermore, that injury rate is climbing, from 3.9 children per 100,000 children in 1990 to 12.5 children per 100,000 in 2010. It’s unlikely that gates are getting less safe; rather, it’s likely that more parents are buying gates, and with more of any baby item, there are going to be more injuries.

We develop a gear-based approach to problem solving

If babyproofing is safety theater, it’s a large-scale production with expensive props.
Bath thermometers – as well as color-changing tub inserts, bath mats, and rubber duckies in coordinating patterns – are designed to tell parents when the water temperature isn’t safe for their babies. Many of these items are made redundant by your own hand, which can easily test the safety of water temperature. And if you don’t trust yourself to accurately gauge the temperature, you can always lower your hot water heater to 120 degrees.
More gear makes parents feel confident that they have done something, that they have made their babies safer. But that reassurance comes at a cost. Imagining that you buy all of the standard recommended babyproofing items, and that you had to buy impermanent ones (say because you’re a renter or because you don’t want the locks affixed to adulthood), here’s a rough cost estimate of the least expensive babyproofing items available, according to their current prices on Amazon:

  • Removable drawer locks, two packs for kitchen and one for each bathroom: $30
  • Removable oven door lock: $5
  • Universal stove knob covers, pack of five: $8
  • Entry-level wall-mounted baby gates for top and bottom of stairs: $60
  • Insertable outlet covers: $3
  • Pack of screw-in sliding outlet covers for objects you want to plug and unplug frequently: $12
  • Toilet seat cover: $8
  • Tub faucet cover: $8
  • Table cover bumpers: $9

You might look at this list and think that $143 is a small price to pay for a safety, but is that what you’re really purchasing with these babyproofing items? You’re not buying a guarantee of safety. Your child could fall from lots of things other than the stairs, and even the stairs if you forget to close the gate. Instead, you’re buying a talisman that makes you feel safer.
Encouraging parents to buy more gear to make their babies safer also obscures much more effective and coordinated approaches that could increase safety for all babies. The National Electric Code requires tamper-resistant spring-loaded electrical receptacles in new and renovated homes, which decrease risk of accidental injury from electric shock without requiring outlet covers. The authors of the Pediatrics fall study advocate for new building codes for home staircases, which could reduce falls more successfully than inconsistently-used gates.

Children will always devise a more creative solution

The basic premise of babyproofing is that you crawl around to get a “child’s eye view” and then install barriers to prevent your child from killing or maiming himself. One problem with this approach is that the barriers are ineffective or inconsistently used. Another far bigger problem is that although we’re at a child’s level, we are not actually seeing the world through those eyes, because that child doesn’t see “danger,” but rather “exciting new challenge.”
In his profile of Schneier and his analysis of security theater, Charles C. Mann recalled a conversation briefly after 9/11. Schneier bet Mann that the United States would not see another large terrorist attack in the next decade, at least not using airplanes. That’s because, Schneier argued, Americans were now prepared for the specific occasion and would attack airplane hijackers. The same goes for shoe and snow globe bombs, methods that aren’t likely to be used because they’re now highly publicized. Terrorists are constantly innovating.
Babies will also invent a solution around any new obstacle. There’s scant data on babyproofing effectiveness, but some of the existing data suggests that kids are creative problem-solvers when it comes to dismantling safety devices. Install a baby gate? The baby will learn to climb over it. One small study of outlet covers found that kids ages two through four could remove even the most difficult covers in an average of 39 seconds.

Babyproofing robs parents and children of valuable lessons

We buy table corner protectors to avoid cuts, stove knob covers to prevent burns, door guards to avert pinched fingers. We buy drawer locks to shield our kids from sharp things. But tables aren’t the only household objects that have corners. There are walls, doors, and the ubiquitous IKEA MALA easel, to name just a few household fixtures. Stoves aren’t the only things that can burn kids. Doors aren’t the only things that can pinch them, and knives aren’t the only things that can cut them. When we babyproof selectively, we’re robbing kids of the category learning that hot things burn or sharp things cut.
When parents stage elaborate safety theater, we rob ourselves of valuable lessons as well. When we’re constantly preparing for what might happen rather than what is happening, we increase our parental anxiety. When we’re always anticipating and neutralizing potential hazards around our children, we miss the chance to trust our children to explore and learn from the world around them. When avoiding homes without stove knob covers and drawer locks, we further isolate ourselves during a period when many parents already feel cut off from the world.
Are you a believer in babyproofing? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Calling all Kid Artists! Now's Your Chance to Doodle for Google

If you’ve got an artistic kid in grades K-12, you should know about Google’s annual Doodle contest.

For the last 10 years, Google has run a contest that is open to students in grades K through 12, in which the students are invited to create a doodle that may be featured as, “an interactive experience on Google.com.” In addition, they are eligible to win great scholarships and tech packages for their schools.
This year’s theme is, “What inspires me?” If your child is artistic, this is an amazing opportunity for them to get wide exposure by having their artwork displayed on Google.com. Students should create a doodle and describe what it is and how it represents something that inspires them.
Parents, teachers, non-profits, and after school programs may enter doodles on behalf of their students, but only one original per student may be submitted. Any medium may be used to create the doodle.
The winners will be in the following categories: State and Territory Winners, National Finalists, and the National Winner. The doodles will be judged on Artistic merit: Based on artistic skill, Creativity: Representation of the contest theme, use of the letters in the Google logo, and the unique approach to the doodle Theme communication: How well the contest theme is expressed in both the artwork and the written statement.
The contest is judged by grade groups (Grades K-3, Grades 4-5, Grades 6-7, Grades 8-9, Grades 10-12) by a panel of guest judges selected for each year.
The national winner will receive a behind-the-scenes experience with the Doodle team and a $30,000 college scholarship, a $50,000 Technology package for their school/non-profit organization, a trip to Google Headquarters in California, and Google hardware and swag.
The four national finalists who do not become the national winner will have their doodles featured on the Doodle 4 Google gallery and receive a $5,000 college scholarship, a trip to Google Headquarters in California, and Google hardware and swag.
State winners will have their doodles featured on the Doodle 4 Google gallery and receive Google Hardware, an assembly celebration at their school, and Google swag.
Once the entry period is closed and the judges have narrowed the field to the 53 best doodles, the public will be asked to vote online by selecting their favorite doodles, one from each grade group.
See previous winners here and apply here.

6 Novels Featuring Dads You’ll Love

If you’re in the mood to snuggle up with a novel featuring an awesome dad, here are six that won’t let you down.

My dad taught me how to ride a two-wheeler and float on my back. He taught me how to drive a car, how to check my oil and tire pressure, and how to haggle with a car salesman. He also taught me the pleasure of getting lost in a book, something I watched him do regularly.
If you’re in the mood to snuggle up with a novel featuring an awesome dad, here are six that won’t let you down.

Jimmy Markum from “Mystic River

By Dennis Lehane

Set in Boston, the plot is set in motion when three boys, Jimmy, Sean, and Dave, are playing in the neighborhood and Dave is abducted. Though he escapes his kidnappers, he is never free from the prison of his mind, where he is tortured by memories of the sexual abuse he endured at their hands.
Thirty years later, Dave is a blue-collar worker, Jimmy is an ex-con, and Sean is a detective. Their paths intersect when Jimmy’s 19-year-old daughter is murdered. The love Jimmy has for his firstborn daughter and the pain of losing her drives his quest to find her killer. Jimmy suspects Dave, and Sean is assigned to the case.
When you get your hands on the book, be prepared to ignore pretty much everything else in your life until you’ve reached the last page. It’s a murder mystery, but it’s also Lehane’s astute observations on trauma and how it can impact the rest of our lives.


Daniel LeBlanc from “All the Light We Cannot See

By Anthony Doerr

Set in Europe during World War Two, the story focuses on two characters and how their paths eventually converge. When Marie-Laure goes blind at the age of six, her father, Daniel, builds her an exact replica of their Paris neighborhood in miniature, so she can navigate independently.
When the Nazis invade France years later, Daniel flees to the safety of an uncle’s coastal fortress with Marie-Laure on his back. Unbeknownst to Marie-Laure, they are smuggling a sought-after jewel her father took from the museum where he worked before their exile.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the Nazis have plucked young Werner from his orphanage because of his incredible aptitude for radio repair. Initially thrilled for the opportunity, Werner is soon horrified by the atrocities he witnesses in the Hitler Youth Academy.
Eventually, he is tasked with following the activities of the French Resistance, an assignment that nudges him ever closer to Marie-Laure’s hiding spot.
This is a novel about morals, hope, and growing up. The beautiful prose and masterful storytelling beg you to ask yourself what you would do in the same circumstances, while compelling you to keep turning pages.


James Lee from “Everything I Never Told You

By Celeste Ng

Though it appears the story is set in motion with the mysterious death of teenage Lydia, it actually begins before she is even born. In this mystery-meets-love-story-meets-tragedy, Ng expertly peels back the layers of the family history that led to the unfortunate series of events that precipitated Lydia’s demise.
Born to Chinese immigrant parents, her father, James, grows up in the 1950s with a longing to assimilate into U.S. culture. He hopes to fulfill that longing by marrying the blue-eyed, blonde-haired Marilyn. Marilyn, however, is desperate to forge a path as a doctor, a dream that is derailed when she and James start a family.
This is the heart-wrenching story of the failed dreams, expectations, and desires of a family who, despite their love for each other, are strangers to one another.


Jack Salmon from “The Lovely Bones

By Alice Sebold

The story begins when the narrator, Susie, is raped and murdered. (Yes, you read that right, the narrator is a dead person.) Specifically, she is a dead teenage girl whose ability to tell a gripping story is unmatched.
Though Susie’s mom, dad, and siblings share the same crushing loss, they process their grief differently. While Susie’s mom retreats to grieve privately, her father, Jack (played by Mark Wahlberg in the film adaptation), dives in headfirst in a tireless mission to bring justice to his daughter’s killer.
Though nightmarish, the tone is much lighter than you’d expect for such a heavy topic. There’s a reason Oprah recommended this story of family, love, loss, redemption, and letting go.


Tom Sherbourne from “The Light Between Oceans

By M. L. Stedman

Set in Australia just after the first World War, this is the story of Tom, his wife, Isabel, and the baby they find alone in a rowboat washed up on the shore of the desolate island where Tom works as the lighthouse keeper.
After surviving the horrors of the war, Tom enjoys the predictable life he shares with Isabel and wants nothing more than to make her happy. Despite his misgivings, he gives in to Isabel’s desperate wish to keep the baby. Tom must grapple with the reality of what they took from another family when they claimed the baby they found as their own.
Tom is caught in a moral dilemma that will keep you turning the pages way after your bedtime. This is a book about truth, love, and loyalty that you should not read without tissues nearby.


Denny Swift from “The Art of Racing in the Rain

By Garth Stein

This touching story is told from the perspective of the protagonist’s dog. Garth Stein does such an excellent job of letting the dog tell the story, it never even feels weird that a dog is the one giving you all the details. (And, no, I am not the kind of person who shares a bed/hamburger/french kiss with her dog. I don’t even have a dog.)
Enzo, the dog, is a shrewd (if biased) observer of human nature. He is also fiercely loyal to his owner, Denny, who is a racecar driver, a mechanic, and an all-around stand-up guy.
Through Enzo’s loving eyes, we watch Denny face loss and the unimaginable challenges thrown at him in the wake of that loss. In this unputdownable tale of friendship, loyalty, life, and death, we also see how Denny uses the wisdom he’s gleaned from racing to steer his life.