12 Books You Won't Be Able to Read Your Kid Without Crying

While these make great bedtime stories, you may want to cram a tissue up your sleeve, grandma style for those guaranteed sniffles.


That’s Me Loving You

by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (author) and Teagan White (illustrator)

A soft breeze, a clap of thunder, a rainbow…these are the ways a child will feel his mother’s love when she’s not there to hug. This book would’ve been sweet enough if it weren’t published months shy of the author’s untimely death. I double-dog-dare any parent to read this with a kid in your lap without a box of tissues in arm’s reach.


Love You Forever

by Robert Munsch (author) and Sheila McGraw (illustrator)

A roundup of books that make parents bawl would be incomplete without this story of the enduring bond between parent and child. This book is so sweet that readers young and old overlook the creepiness of the mom sneaking into her grown son’s room to sing him the lullaby she’s sang him since he was born.

If reading this story doesn’t completely destroy you now, it probably will once you know its genesis: Munsch was inspired to write it after he and his wife had two stillborn babies.


Yo Soy Muslim

by Mark Gonzales (author) and Mehrdokht Amini (illustrator)

This is a father’s letter to his daughter, but it’s also a tale of identity, strength, love, and hope. With stunning illustrations by Mehrdokht Amini, this book is a pep talk, a love note, and a family history rolled into one.

“And there will come a day when some people in the world will not smile at you… No matter what they say, know you are wondrous. A child of crescent moons, a builder of mosques, a descendant of brilliance, an ancestor in training. Say it with me: Our prayers were here before any borders were.”


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

by JK Rowling

Reading this with my daughter – the first time for both of us – we were both captivated by the story. It has richly drawn characters, villains, heroes, magic, and suspense for days. It also has a scene where Harry discovers the Mirror of Erised, which completely slayed me. I’m talking full-on ugly-crying. If you’ve read it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, you’ve been warned.

The Velveteen Rabbit

by Margery Williams (author) and William Nicholson (illustrator)

This book is the definition of a classic: a story of friendship and love that never gets old. While the Boy’s love for the Rabbit breathes life into the Rabbit’s stuffed body, it also finds him with patches of fur worn thin and countless other “age spots.” This story offers a powerful lesson on the beauty that exists inside us when we are real – not in spite of, but because of our imperfections.



by R.J. Palacio

“Wonder” is the heartwarming story of Auggie in his quest to belong. He’s a typical 10-year-old boy – except he’s been homeschooled his whole life and is entering public school for the first time as he starts the fifth grade. And he has a significant facial deformity.

As parents, we’d take our kids’ pain a thousand times if it meant they didn’t have to suffer. Auggie’s loving parents watch him take on more than his fair share of heartache as he navigates the unfamiliar and often unkind social dynamics of his new school – which is why it’s pretty much impossible to read this book without tearing up.

All the Places to Love

by Patricia MacLachlan (author) and Mike Wimmer (illustrator)

A family welcomes a baby boy, and later, his little sister. Woven into the fabric of the family’s life are the beautiful places they love. Together in these places they play, explore, and make memories. The only thing more touching (read: tear-jerking) than the big brother showing his little sister his favorite place is the fact that the grandfather cries when each child is born.

The Giving Tree

by Shel Silverstein

This is the story of a boy and his tree, but it’s also a story of generosity, kindness, selflessness, and love. A beautiful, heart-wrenching story, it can also spark a conversation about boundaries and friendship.


I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love

by Nancy Tillman

This tender story uses rhyme and humor to show the deep ocean of love a mother feels for her child. No matter where he goes or what form he takes, be it a snowy owl or a grinning camel, his mom promises she’ll recognize him.

“I know you by heart, so my heart never misses.”

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs

by Tommie dePaola

This is for anyone who has ever felt the love of a grandparent. Four-year-old Tommy has a special bond with his great-grandmother. Basing the story on events from his own life, dePaola uses vivid language and pictures to illustrate Tommy’s joy in his connection to his beloved “Nana Upstairs” as well as the pain he feels when she passes away.


Just the Two of Us

by Will Smith (author) and Floyd Cooper, Jon J. Muth, and Kadir Nelson (illustrators)

You probably know he was born and raised in West Philadelphia and spent most of his days on the playground before he became the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but did you know Will Smith is also a children’s author?

I’ve bopped my head while listening to the lyrics of his remake “Just the Two of Us” many a time, but there’s something special about seeing those words in print alongside Kadir Nelson’s touching and colorful illustrations. All parents will relate to Smith’s love for his child, his desire to keep his son safe, and his hope that his son grows up to make him proud.

Charlotte’s Web

by E.B. White (author) and Garth Williams (illustrator)

This story of love, friendship, life, and death is one that will captivate you and leave you with your heart cracked wide open. I read this one when I was younger, so I knew what I was in for the first time I read it with my daughter. While she was surprisingly stoic, I cried enough for both of us.

Do you have any favorite tear-jerkers on your book shelves? Recommend them in the comments section below!
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These Are the Type of Books You Should Stock on Your Baby's Book Shelf

As a new study shows, some books are better than others when it comes to helping young children learn.

We all know by now the importance of reading to babies, right? Doing so promotes their language development and literacy skills. Reading to them as they grow stimulates their imaginations and expands their understanding of the world.

“It creates an enjoyable and comforting environment for both the parents and the infant and encourages parents to talk to their infants,” says Lisa Scott, a University of Florida psychology professor. The benefits of reading aloud to children from the time they come into the world are widely researched and documented.

What’s not as widely discussed is which books in particular we should be reading. As a new study from the University of Florida tells us, some books are better than others when it comes to helping young children learn. Published on December 8 in the journal Child Development, the study found that books which clearly name and label people and objects are the optimal kind to read to babies because they help them retain information and stay present.

“When parents label people or characters with names, infants learn quite a bit,” says Scott, who co-authored the study. “Books with individual-level names may lead parents to talk to infants more, which is particularly important for the first year of life.”

To reach this conclusion, Scott and her colleagues from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst studied infants in Scott’s Brain, Cognition, and Development Lab, evaluating them first at six months and again at nine months. The researchers used eye-tracking and electroencephalogram techniques to measure attention and learning at both developmental stages.

In between the lab visits, parents were instructed to read to their infants at home, following a schedule of 10 minutes of reading every day for the initial two weeks and every other day for the second two weeks, with a continual decrease until the infant returned to the lab at nine months. The storybooks were randomly assigned to the 23 participating families.

The authors explain that, “one set contained individual-level names and the other contained category-level labels. Both sets of books were identical except for the labeling. Each of the training books’ eight pages presented an individual image and a two-sentence story…

The individual-level books clearly identified and labeled eight individuals, with names such as ‘Jamar,’ ‘Boris,’ ‘Anice,’ and ‘Fiona.’ The category-level books included two made-up labels (‘hitchel,’ ‘wadgen’) for all images. The control group included 11 additional nine-month-old infants who did not receive books.”

As it turned out, the group of infants whose parents read the individual-level names spent more time focusing on and engaging with the images. By observing their brain activity, it was clear that these infants were also able to distinguish the individual characters after reading. This outcome was not found in the control group at six months (before book reading), or in the group of infants who were read books with category-level labels.

The results of this longitudinal study are consistent with Scott’s previous research on how the specificity of labels impacts infants’ learning. Books that specifically name characters improve cognition in infants. No wonder my son has always loved the “Pete the Cat” book series so much!

Some other favorite children’s book collections of ours (now scientifically proven to be educational!) include: “Little Blue Truck,” “Cordouroy,” “Llama Llama,” and “Where the Wild Things Are.”

What are the best-loved books at your house? Next time you read them you might notice, do they clearly label characters and objects? Respond in the comment section below!

If your kids love Planet Earth then they'll love Animalism

This beautifully animated series, hosted by the renowned science journalist Ed Yong, is our new obsession.

The Planet Earth Series has been blowing our minds since its first release in 2006. The slow-mo showdown on the Nile creates intensity rivaling a living room during Superbowl LI (go Pats). The feeling of a lemur jumping through the canopy is as captivating as a beautiful dance. And the iguana chase in the Galapagos may be more fear-inducing than a sewer-dwelling clown.
The third season of Planet Earth may not be released until 2026, which will make the host, David Attenborough, close to 100! If your family can’t wait that long to nerd out on nature, you may want to check out The Atlantic’s new series: Animalism. The beautifully animated series, hosted by the renowned science journalist Ed Yong, “looks at the way animals live – how they sleep, see, and breathe – and explains the latest groundbreaking research about why mammals evolved to behave in certain ways.
Check out their first two episodes below!
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These 7 Books Will Have Your Kid Searching for Bigfoot (And Other Awesome Cryptids!), While Expanding Their Minds

Books can help transition mythical creatures from horrific monster to lovable beast. Explore these titles with your curious kid.

I was a little uneasy when my four-year-old recently expressed an interest in Bigfoot. He’s a scary monster, right? And my son is an impressionable child. Yet, rather than crushing his excitement and focusing on the frightening elements of this legend, I turned Bigfoot into a fun learning opportunity. Together, we talk about the colorful history of this fantastical beast, chart his whereabouts based on purported evidence, and dress up as cryptid investigators to go on our own Bigfoot hunts.
In a short time, my son has learned about history and science while honing his listening and analytical skills – all thanks to Bigfoot, who really isn’t so terrifying. Children’s book author D.L. Miller says, “Bigfoot has transitioned from a scary paranormal beast to a beloved cultural icon. He is both celebrated at local festivals around the country and also by professional cryptozoologists.”
Books have helped smooth this transition from horrific monster to lovable beast. If your child loves adventure and mysteries, these seven books will have them searching for Bigfoot (and other awesome cryptids), while expanding their minds:

Little Bigfoot Hide-and-Seek

by Alicia Van Gotten (Author)

Babies and toddlers will love this inquisitive little book where they can discover Bigfoot hiding on every page. Seek-and-find challenges engage young children’s natural curiosity and spark an early love of puzzles. It’s a bright, sunny day. Little Bigfoot is ready to play! Can your little one find Bigfoot under the table? In the forest? Floating down the river?


by Ashley Spires (Author, Illustrator)

“Larf” is an engaging picture book about a lonely seven-foot-tall, scarf-sporting Sasquatch who has wisely chosen to live a quiet life in the woods, away from scary humans, with his little bug-eyed bunny, Eric. Although he is happy with his life, he often longs for companionship. So one day he goes on a great adventure in search of another Sasquatch he can befriend. When he doesn’t find another right off, he wonders: is he all alone in the world? “Larf” is a delightful little story for young readers with huge imaginations.

Looking for Bigfoot

by Bonnie Worth (Author),‎ Jim Nelson (Illustrator)

“Looking for Bigfoot” is a step-up chapter book that examines the evidence, folklore, and science around Sasquatch. The book seeks to answer two very important questions: Is Bigfoot a descendant of the extinct giant ape Gigantopithecus? Or is it a myth turned pop-culture phenom that we want to believe is real? Illustrated with photographs and full-color illustrations, this book will catch the intention of young skeptics and enthusiasts alike.

Finding Bigfoot: Everything You Need to Know

by Animal Planet

Imagine finding a huge footprint in the woods. Or hearing a strange howl off in the distance. Clues can lead your child to the ultimate discovery. In “Finding Bigfoot,” from Animal Planet, your child will learn everything they need to know to search for Bigfoot and related creatures. The book is packed with information and illustrations to accompany them on their hunt. “This is a great book. I got it to use in my classroom for kids who were ‘Finding Bigfoot’ fans. They loved reading it and have become more interested in cryptozoology,” says one Amazon reviewer.

Bigfoot Seek-and-Find Challenge Series

by D.L. Miller (Author)

Shy and reclusive, Bigfoot spends most of his time in the deep dark woods, rarely spotted by humankind. Until he sneaks out for a vacation or to explore the cities of the world. Can your child spot him? D.L. Miller’s seek-and-find series starring Bigfoot, shows the famed creature as an adorable world-traveling hero. Fun facts and pictures accompany each scene to help your child learn more about the world around them – all while finding Bigfoot. The series is ideal for children (and adults) of all ages.

The Bigfoot Book: The Encyclopedia of Sasquatch, Yeti and Cryptid Primates

by Nick Redfern (Author)

Whether called Sasquatch, Yeti, Bigfoot, or something else, strange bipedal creatures appear in folklore, legends, and eyewitness accounts in every state and around the world. “The Bigfoot Book” explores the history, movies, and literature, the conspiracy theorizing, and the world of the supernatural surrounding this elusive beast. With nearly 200 entries and 120 photographs, drawings, and illustrations, it is the definitive guide to understanding, hunting, and possibly finding this mammoth once and for all. Ideal for older children, Cryptosightings.com calls the book “a comprehensive resource into the most notable creature known to cryptozoology.”

“Cryptozoology A To Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature”

by Loren Coleman (Author), Jerome Clark (Author)

For teens and young adults, “Cryptozoology A to Z” is considered the bible of cryptids. The book contains nearly two hundred entries with definitive descriptions and many never-before-published drawings and photographs from eyewitnesses’ detailed accounts.
Which Bigfoot books would you add to this list? Share in the comments!

These Planners Will Help You Get It Together in 2018

With work, kids, and all of the other minutiae of daily life, how can you keep on top of your schedule? With one of these rad planners, that’s how.

With work, kids, and all of the other minutiae of daily life, how can you keep on top of your schedule? Although smartphones and google calendars are great for keeping track of appointments, there is something about writing by hand that helps with memory. Plus, there is the pleasure of striking through those items on your to-do list as you complete them!

Paper planners come in varied forms to suit different personalities. Some people enjoy lots of blank space for daily notes and tasks while others prefer a compact spread offering a bird’s eye view of an entire week. Some planners include worksheets for goal setting and challenges while others feature inspirational quotes and pretty artwork. We’ve rounded up seven great planners, each with its own unique features.


Panda Planner

Size: 5x 8.2 inches

Cost: $26.97

This 90-day, hardcover planner is undated, which saves pages if you miss a few days here and there, plus you can start any time of the year. The daily, weekly, and monthly layouts help prioritize your tasks while space for morning and end-of-day reviews help you boost your productivity.

Simple Elephant

Size: 8.3x 5.9 inches

Cost: $19.99

This hardcover, full-year planner offers a mind-map and vision board in the front to help you identify what you would like to accomplish in the upcoming 12 months. The Simple Elephant includes an accordion folder, pen holder, elastic strap closure, bookmarks, stickers, and 58 college-ruled pages in the back for notes. It’s undated so you can begin any time. The makers of this journal are so confident that you can return it at anytime! Happiness guaranteed!

Ban.do 17 month Classic Planner

Size: 5.125 x 8.125 inches

Cost: $20

This planner claims to be a cheerleader, art gallery, and personal assistant all in one. It features a back pocket to hold all of the super cute stickers you get, plus Ban.do features, color-coded month tabs, a bookmark, an elastic closure, and fun art throughout the planner. Be sure to check out all the coordinating accessories!

Erin Condren Lifeplanner

Size:7×9 inches

Cost: starts at $55

Can’t find a planner you like? With the Erin Condren Lifeplanner you can build your own. Choose your cover design; vertical, horizontal or hourly layouts; 12 or 18 months; even choose the color of the coils. It includes laminated monthly tabs, four pages of stickers, coloring pages, a pocket, inspirational quotes, and extra thick paper so that ink won’t bleed through. You can even personalize the words on your cover!

Ink and Volt 2018 Planner Signature Series

Size: 6×8.5 inches

Cost: $40.00

This goal-oriented planner helps you to set weekly, monthly, and yearly goals. Weekly journaling prompts, achievement trackers, and 30-day challenge pages keep you on track. This planner is eco-friendly too, with a cover made of vegan materials, soy-based ink, and ink-proof, bright white, rainforest-friendly paper.

Bullet Journal

The bullet journal, or BuJo, is a do-it-yourself planner method pioneered by a digital product designer named Ryder Caroll. This is a very simple method of planning that Caroll calls rapid logging. It consists of topics, page numbers, short sentences, and bullets. The idea is to have a planner that is easy to use and tailored to your way of thinking. A BuJo can be as simple or elaborate as you wish. All you need to get started is a notebook and pen.

XO Planner

Size: 6.5×8 inches (7.5x 8 inches with binding)

Cost: $50

If you like the idea of the bullet journal method but don’t want to create your own from scratch, try this XO Planner. It is laid out like a bullet journal with a daily habit tracker, and space for writing a gratitude list and personal mission statement. It even has a sticker club you can join to get new planner stickers monthly!

Whichever planner you choose, you are on your way to a more organized and productive year!

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What We're Listening To: Circle Round Podcast

While I’m a huge fan of podcasts for adults, there’s a special place in my heart for kids’ podcasts. I mean, really, what’s not to love? You can keep your kids occupied for 20 minutes with a great story that you don’t have to read to them. That means that you can, oh, I don’t know, go to the bathroom? Clean up the cat’s hairball from this morning? Or even join them for some quality time together. And all while avoiding the guilt over screen time!

One of my favorite podcasts for kids is new to the scene. It’s called Circle Round, and it’s produced by the NPR Boston affiliate WBUR. Here’s what you need to know.

What it’s about

Circle Round is a weekly podcast that presents 10 to 20 minute folktales. Out of all of the stories so far (14 at the time of writing this), I’ve only heard two of them before, and I read a lot of children’s books. So chances are that you will get to hear something new.

The stories come from around the world and embrace many different cultures. They also all have a moral, although not a hit-you-over-the-head moral. In general, the stories practice and teach inclusivity, tolerance, and kindness. And, spoiler alert, they all have happy endings.

The podcast is hosted by Rebecca Sheir, who also narrates each story. Each character is played by an actor, with at least one being played by a well-known actor like Jason Alexander or Sela Ward.

Why we love it

I have three kids, ages three, five, and seven, and this is the one podcast that they all ask for by name every week. Despite their different ages, they all get a lot out of the podcast. My youngest loves the voices. My oldest loves to try to guess what will happen next.

My middle child’s favorite part is my favorite part too. At the end of each podcast, the host turns the story over to us. “Now it’s your turn,” Sheir says, and poses a question to us that is related to the story. These questions can range from the practical to the more philosophical.

For instance, after the episode “Why the Ocean is Salty,” a morality tale from Asia about the importance of knowing when enough is enough, Sheir asks us to think about what we would wish for if we had a magic jar that would fill up with whatever we wanted. 

In “The Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle,” an English tale reminiscent of “The Fisherman and the Sea,” Sheir asks us to think about what or who we are thankful for, draw a picture of it, and then ask someone else what they are thankful for. The questions are great for sparking discussion and, often, for feeling good about ourselves and those around us.

Start with this episode

You cannot go wrong with episode 14, “The Shepherd’s Disguise.” It’s a story from Germany about an advisor to the queen who steals ideas from others in order to make himself look good and ultimately pays the price. The advisor is expertly and hilariously played by Tony Hale, who plays Julia Louis Dreyfus’s assistant on Veep and Buster Bluth on Arrested Development. It didn’t matter what he said, his intonation and delivery was so perfect we were all laughing hysterically.

I would caution that if you have easily-scared kids, you might want to avoid episode 5, “The Rice Cakes and the Oni.” While it is ultimately funny, it does involve a boy and his mother being captured by monsters. It took my daughter a few tries before we made it through.

If you like this podcast, you might also like:

Stories Podcast is another great choice for families who love a good story. These are almost all told by a single narrator and has an original song performed in each episode.

The details

Rating: Listen with kids. Specifically recommended for age three to 10 , although I’m thirty-(cough cough), and still enjoy it.

Subscribe to Circle Round on iTunes here.

Want more podcast suggestions? Find all our picks here

3 Things Frog and Toad Got Right

The simplicity, the friendship, the lessons- turns out these amphibians were right about a lot of things.

Do you remember the books by Arnold Lobel all about Frog and Toad? Anyone who learned to read in the 80s and even the 90s has had these simple stories lay open on their school desk in an effort to decode words. I loved these stories. The simplicity, the friendship, the lessons.
It turns out these amphibians were right about a lot of things.

1 | Hold your list loosely and be the person your friend deserves.

I love lists. They create order in the world that sometimes feels too chaotic for my Type A brain. I’m not always good at completing lists, but they make me happy just the same. The problem comes when I hold on too tight.
Toad gets it. He wrote a list of his own. He even included things that I think we all should, just so we have the pleasure of checking them off.
Waking up, going to sleep, and all the things in between made his list. Even things like eating meals and naps and time with his friend. I like his lists. But what happens when the list gets blown away in the wind of the day?
I often wonder that very thing.
The best part about Toad losing his list is the thing I want. He has a friend, Frog, who tries to get it for him, and when that proves impossible, he just sits with Toad. He is the exact friend Toad needs. He doesn’t try to change Toad. He is just there with his friend.
We all need a friend like that. A friend that will be with us when life is giving us a beating, when we don’t make any sense, and the only thing we can think to do is sit with our head in our hands. We all need that kind of friend. And the best way to find one is to be one.

2 | Sometimes we have to wait in life. Books, music, and sleep are among the best ways to do so.

In another story, we see Frog’s great friendship again. When Toad plants a garden he wants instant results.
I can relate.
And it’s not even about the garden. It’s about everything I do. When I discipline my kids, I want them to learn and move on. When I need to make dinner I want to whip it up and clean it up and move on. Sometimes I lack the patience life requires.
When Toad is trying to help his seeds grow, he does three things: reads, sings, and sleeps. We know that these are no magic formula to grow a garden, but sometimes in life we need to pass the time. And when we are stressed and anxious, pushing for something to happen that is simply not ready, we would do well to read, sing, and sleep.
Even the hardest things look a lot better after we do.

3 | Give yourself permission to enjoy the cookies with a friend.

My favorite story has nothing to do with waiting or lists. It’s all about cookies. When Frog and Toad find themselves unable to stop eating cookies, they work together to develop will-power.
Each step of the way, they put an obstacle between them and the beloved cookies. And each time they find a way through the obstacle to eat yet another cookie.
I’ve eaten many a cookie with my best friend. We could find other things to do. We could avoid the cookies. We could still be friends without the cookies. But the truth is, friendship can be much more delicious with them.
Pick up a copy of Frog and Toad today – your little ones will love the stories of these simple characters and you’ll love the walk down memory lane.

8 Peculiar Chapter Books for Inquisitive Kids

If your child is particularly adventurous or curious, consider stories with unusual characters or plots. Need some help? Check out these titles!

Jacqueline Kennedy once said, “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” A good book can feed a child’s imagination and desire to learn. When the time comes, chapter books add depth to this reading experience. Unlike picture books for younger readers, a chapter book tells a story primarily through prose, rather than pictures. Yet, unlike books for older readers, they still contain lively and poignant illustrations. If your child is particularly adventurous or curious, consider stories with unusual characters or plots.
Need some help? Here are eight peculiar chapter books for inquisitive kids:


Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

by Jonathan Auxier

Peter Nimble is a thief. And a blind orphan. One day, he steals a box from a mysterious traveling haberdasher. Inside are three pairs of magical eyes. He thinks this could be his lucky day. But after trying a pair, he is transported to a strange hidden island where he must complete a quest: to rescue the people of the Vanished Kingdom. Can he complete such a complicated task? Will he use his new eyes or his trusted instincts to save the day? “Auxier has a juggler’s dexterity with prose that makes this fantastical tale quicken the senses,” says Kirkus Reviews.


The Wild Robot

by Peter Brown

Can a robot survive in the wilderness? This wonderfully curious book sets out to answer this question! Roz is alone when she firsts opens her eyes, alone on a wild and desolate island. She has no idea how she got there or what her purpose is being on the lonely stretch of land. All she knows is that she needs to survive. Soon, she encounters raging storms, ferocious bear attacks, and unforgiving surroundings. She endures, and soon makes friends with the animals inhabiting the island. It finally feels like home, until her past comes back and changes her world.


Mirette on the High Wire

by Emily Arnold McCully

Mirette, the daughter of a widow, lives at a boardinghouse where life becomes a little humdrum. One day, a mysterious stranger arrives. Mirette discovers him crossing the courtyard on air, and pleads with him to teach her how to do it too. She doesn’t realize that the strange gentleman was once the Great Bellini, a master wire-walker. Now, after an accident, he is filled with fear. Can Mirette teach him to believe in himself again? The text is accompanied by “sweeping watercolor paintings carry the reader over the rooftops of 19th Paris and into an elegant, beautiful world of acrobats, jugglers, mimes, actors, and one gallant, resourceful little girl.”


The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School

by Fowler DeWitt (Author) and Rodolfo Montalvo (Illustrator)

Something very peculiar is happening in sixth grade, and student scientist Wilmer Dooley is determined to crack the case. Wilmer notices his classmates changing color. Some are green. Others are orange. And a few have turned chartreuse-fuchsia polka-dotted. Now, using his keen sense of observation, he’s set out to find the cause and cure this strange illness. Does he have what it takes to save sixth grade from the mysterious case of the contagious colors?


The House of the Scorpion

by Nancy Farmer

Matt was not born. He was harvested. His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium. Matt was grown in a petri dish, and then his womb was placed inside of a cow. Although he is an ordinary boy, so he thinks, most consider him a monster. As he grows, Matt struggles to understand his existence and place in the world. Escape is his only hope. But soon he discovers his differences are more profound than anyone, including himself, could imagine.


The City of Ember

by Jeanne DuPrau

It is always night in the city of Ember. But there are no moon or stars. The city is illuminated by floodlamps that cast a yellowish glow over the streets 12 hours of the day. Ember is the last refuge for humans. Now, 200 years later, the lights are flickering. When friends, Lina and Doon, find an ancient message, they’re sure it holds a secret that can save the city. But have they run out of time?


The Extincts

by Veronica Cossanteli (Author) and Roman Muradov (Illustrator)

“Fans of unusual animals and mythology will enjoy this exciting mix of fantasy and realistic fiction, and Muradov’s swoopy spot illustrations make most of these cryptids and other creatures more cute than menacing,” says “Publishers Weekly.” George wants a new bike, so he sets off and tries to find a job. A help wanted ad at Wormestall Farm catches his eye. He decides to take a leap of faith and go for it. Much to his surprise and delight, he gets the position. But what awaits is not what he was expecting. Extinct creatures, mythological beings, new friends, and a maniacal taxidermist will keep him busy.



by Andrew Clements and Brian Selznick (Illustrator)

Nick Allen might be a troublemaker; a troublemaker that loves to egg on his teachers. One day, he decides to show his vocabulary-obsessed fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Granger, that if he wants to, he can invent a new word, and that word will end up in the dictionary. He’s sure of it. With the help of his friends, Nick succeeds in renaming a “pen” a “frindle.” Although Mrs. Granger acts annoyed, secretly, she’s rooting for frindle, and, Nick, despite his typical time-wasting schemes.
Which peculiar chapter books for inquisitive kids would you add to this list? Share in the comments!
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How to Introduce Your Toddler to Percussion Instruments

Of all age groups, young children are probably our most enthusiastic music-makers. I remember my four-year-old son coming home from the beach one day where he’d collected a variety of shells and small pieces of driftwood. He began to click the shells together like castanets and tap the driftwood pieces. He smiled at me and said, “I’m a drummer!”

Kids are fascinated by all kinds of sounds, either making them or hearing them. Their impromptu music-making is often rhythmic and they can frequently go into action by simply clapping hands, snapping fingers, or jumping to the beat.

 In his book “The Joy of Drumming,” Tom Klower writes, “The enormous wealth of sounds from percussion instruments astonishes and fascinates nearly everyone. The timbre or ‘color’ of the sound strikes the imagination. This is percussion’s great charm: its timbre carries messages from the soul.”

Percussion instruments are untuned, which means they just make noise. They make a sound when one hits, scrapes, or shakes them. As a result, they provide an easy and fun way to introduce pre-schoolers to rhythms and music play. Small hand drums, rhythm sticks, wood blocks, or shakers are perfect instruments for tiny musicians since they can experiment with rhythm and improve fine-motor skills at the same time. 

In his book, “The Parents’ Book of Facts: Child Development from Birth to Age Five,” Tom Biracree writes, “Fine motor skills and activities are extremely important in preparation for school. Developing small-muscle strength and coordination are necessary for writing, drawing, and other creative activities.”

To start children off with rhythms, it’s best to find instruments that are easy for them to play. Look for small drums such as the hand drum, bongo drum, frame drum, or tambourine, all which can be played with the hands. As well, try experimenting with lummi sticks, which are great starter instruments for young children. Named after the Lummi Native American peoples, they are hardwood sticks, about seven inches long. They’re easy to hold and to tap out simple rhythm patterns for young children.

There are a number of rhythm games you can play using percussion instruments that will promote interaction between you and your child as well as developing listening skills. Here are some simple rhythm games:

Mother Goose rhythms

Children love to drum or tap while accompanying their favorite songs. Begin with nursery rhymes as they are a rich source of ideas for drumming. Tap the beat on the drum while chanting rhymes such as “Hickory Dickory Dock” or “Hot Cross Buns.”

How many beats or what time is it?

This is a counting game. The leader plays a number of steady beats on the drum and asks the child, “How many did I tap?” or “What time is the clock striking?” Keep it simple. Once your child is confident, he can take a turn being the leader.

Echo game

The leader taps out a simple rhythm on the drum. Next, the child taps back the rhythm on her drum. Keep the phrases short and simple. It may take a little time for your child to succeed with this activity. Always give encouragement, even if the echo is not exact. 

Lots of fun variations can be added to this game. Add dynamics and ask, “Can you play this pattern loud? How about soft?” Or change the tempo to fast and then slow. Ask her, “Can you march and play the drum?” Have fun with your little drummer!

Everyday noises

Sounds of rhythm are everywhere, and you can help your child tune into them. Try these prompts:

  • Can you make your sticks sound like the clip-clop of a horse?
  • Can you make your sticks sound like the tick-tock of a clock?
  • Let’s see if we can sound like the pitter-patter of raindrops.
  • How about a woodpecker tapping on a tree?

Encourage your child to choose sounds that he wants to make. How about popcorn popping? The ideas are endless!

Drumming with your child will build a strong foundation for further music studies in the future. It may lead to drumming in a band or a playing percussion in an orchestra or an interest in other musical instruments such as the piano.

What We’re Listening To: "By the Book" Podcast

Each week we suggest a new podcast to add to your playlist. Up this week: the half reality show, half self-help podcast “By the Book.”

Like pretty much everyone else, when Sarah Koenig’s “Serial” podcast came out, I was hooked. The gripping tale of the murder of a high schooler, and the possibly wrongly-convicted (or sociopathic) culprit was addictive in the best way. It was like a mystery novel that you couldn’t put down. But you didn’t have to put it down, because you could listen to it while getting in your workout, tidying up the ever-growing mountain of Lego bricks, or commuting to work.
“Serial” got me hooked, and the abundance of really excellent – and free – podcasts out there have fed my obsession. So I am excited to get to share with you, over the next few months, some of my favorite podcast discoveries. I have listened to scores of podcasts for kids, real crime podcasts, just plain fun podcasts, NSFW podcasts, and yes – parenting podcasts. Every few weeks, I’ll tell you about one of the best out there, often a hidden gem, and why it’s worth listening to.
To start out, let me tell you about “By the Book,” produced by Panoply. “By the Book” is tagged as half reality show, half self-help podcast. But that really doesn’t tell the half of it. (Ba-dum-dum.) More than anything, this is a podcast about relationships and friendship and that nagging worry that many women (read: I) have that we just aren’t good enough. But also guys – it’s funny!

What it’s about

The premise of “By the Book” is that serial self-improver and comedienne Jolenta Greenberg and her more skeptical friend Kristen Meinzer dive deep into a different self-help book every episode. For two weeks, they follow every tenet of the book, from the helpful to the downright bizarre, in an effort to improve their lives, their bodies, their memory, their relationships, and whatever else life throws out them.
Although not an official part of the cast, the duo’s husbands play an important role in the show, as they help them along on their journey, offer words of support, and occasionally get roped in. (Most memorably in the episode on Marie Kondo’s best-seller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” when Kristen’s husbands goes apocalyptic about having to open a drawer to take out the soap. “Did you say thank you, soap?” Kristen asks helpfully.)

Why we love it

True confession: I used to be a bit of a self-help book addict. As a new parent, when I had that “oh-my-gosh-these-things-don’t-come-with-instruction-manuals” moment (or years) of panic, I read every parenting book I could get my hands on. Through my reading, I learned that you should never co-sleep, that you should always co-sleep, that you should take time for yourself, that you shouldn’t take too much time for yourself (because attachment parenting), that you should never say “good job,” that you should encourage your child, and don’t even get me started on the toddler years.
By the time I got to kid number three, I settled on the parenting philosophy of “keep them alive,” and let the self-help books go by the wayside. But this podcast speaks to that desire (doubt?) that compels the search for betterment.
The best part of this podcast, though, is the relationships. Kristen’s relationship with her husband is almost too perfect, but you love them for that (even as you envy them, maybe just a little). But it’s the relationship between the co-hosts that really makes the show. They so clearly care about each other and see the wonderfulness in each other that they are trying so hard to achieve. Their honesty with themselves and with us make you feel like they’re your friends too. (BTW Kristen and Jolenta, if you’re reading this, my contact info is below – call me!)

Start with this episode

All of the episodes are worth a listen, but the one that got me truly hooked is the episode on “French Women Don’t Get Fat.” The book was triggering for Kristen, who struggled with disordered eating in college. The book took her right back to that place. Her honesty about her struggle – as well as Jolenta’s and Kristen’s husband concern and support for her – will have you in tears while nodding along with her.

If you like this podcast, you might also like…

“Try “My Favorite Murder.” The podcast also features two women friends, with the draw as much about their relationship and rapport as the underlying show.

The details

Rating: Listen with teens/earbuds, mostly due to explicit language.
Subscribe to “By the Book” on iTunes.
Want more podcast suggestions? Find all our picks here