Books that Please Parents as Much as Preschoolers

Lucky for us parents, there are a lot of absolutely excellent children’s books – ones that can please both kids and the parents who read them.

We all know that reading to our kids on a daily basis improves their vocabulary and their readiness for school. It’s also a great way to spend dedicated time with our kids as we pause from the everyday frenzy of modern family life.

I think we parents also know that not every book is a good book. Have you ever gotten caught up in the rhythm of a story only to turn the page and find that the rhythm or rhyme is totally gone?

Or how about those stories that have absolutely no plot line? Then there are those books that make you want to throw them out the window – you know, the ones where all of the girls are pink princesses and get so excited about finding the perfect bow to go with their new dress? I could go on.

Lucky for us, there are also a lot of absolutely excellent children’s books – ones that can please both kids and the parents who read them. There is nothing more fulfilling than finding a book, or better yet an author, that brings joy to a kids’ bedtime routine and is also fun to read for us adults (who rarely get to enjoy picture books these days).

While there are of course classics that should be on every shelf (Good Night Moon, Blueberries for Sal, Fox in Sox, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar) there are also some more modern authors who work wonders with language, lessons, and rhythm. Many of our favorite books and authors have been recommended by other experienced parents with excellent taste and good rhythm.
So today I pay it forward. Here are some of the authors that you will thoroughly enjoy reading to your toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary kids (in approximately that order):

Sandra Boynton

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I don’t know how she does it, but Sandra Boynton can turn a simple toddler board book into a work of art that is a pleasure to read (or sing). Perhaps because my mother’s maiden name is Boynton (no relation) these books have been passed around in our family for years. Barnyard Dance is a family affair in our household when we need to work out a little pre-bed energy. I love singing Personal Penguin and Snuggle Puppy, while my husband can read The Going to Bed Book over and over again without blinking and my almost two-year old has Moo Ba La La La memorized. I’m telling you, this woman is a genius (and a millionaire I’m sure).

Mo Willems

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Who’d have thunk that Mo Willems’ simple books about stuffed bunnies, pigeons who love hot
dogs, and an elephant and pig who are best friends could be so fulfilling? When I was pregnant with my first child, a childhood friend sent a copy of Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay up Late and we set the bar for children’s books right then and there. My son has started to read the Elephant and Piggy series and seems to truly capture the lessons of friendship that these simple and funny stories convey. I mean, when piggy throws the ball behind him and gets ultra-excited because he must have thrown it around the world, who can resist a smile?

Eric Litwin and James Dean

pete the catThis musician/author/artist team created Pete the Cat, a series that was introduced to us by a cousin who is an elementary school teacher and grew up in Atlanta. Pete shows us that even if our best shoes get dirty we don’t have to fret, we just keep on groovin’. Is there a better lesson for preschoolers? The added bonus is that most of these stories have a funky rhythm (and you can visit their website to watch the videos and learn the tunes). We’re especially fond of the VW Bus in Pete the Cat Saves Christmas and we all get into the message: “At Christmas we give, so give it your all.”

Julia Donaldson

the flying bath

My college roommate and one of my lifelong friends moved to England, which is sad for me, but lucky for my kids who were introduced early on to The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. This is one of those authors who can write an outstanding book that is just a little bit complicated with its puns and plays on words, but still completely understandable for preschoolers. Just one look at some of her titles assures you they will be good: Room on the Broom, The Snail and the Whale, and Monkey Puzzle are excellent choices. An added bonus is the movie version of The Gruffalo, which is a beautifully-made rendition of the story that simply animates the well-written verse read by Helena Bonham Carter.

So if you’re getting a little tired of the books on your shelf or your child has grown attached to a book that drives you nuts, consider taking this list of authors with you to the library; it can also be a handy go-to list for baby shower or birthday party gifts.

Of course, this is just a segment of the great books that we have been lucky enough to run into (and I’ve just realized that they are all about animals instead of humans, so I’m sure we’re missing something here). Who are some of your “go to” authors?

5 Characters I’d Dress My Daughter As For World Book Day

And there’s not a willowy whiner in the lot.

It’s world book day! If my three year old didn’t happen to be taking a ride on the Winter Carousel of Sickness, she’d be at school dressing like her favorite character. We didn’t narrow it down past this list before the plague hit, so in hopes of inspiring others, here are our (ok, in some cases, my…after all, it’s my project, really, right?) favorites.

Olivia 

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Whether she’s plotting to stay awake to meet Santa, regaling her classmates with a phony account of saving the circus, or dreaming her way into Degas paintings, Olivia is the most wonderfully exhausting and charming Pig pretty much ever. Both my son and daughter have found her antics hilarious, with the exception of one book where she puts on lipstick. As a toddler, Olivia’s wide toothy smile freaked my son right out of his gourd. But in the pig’s defense, he scared easily.

Matilda

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As a kid, this book was my literary equivalent to Friends reruns. I wore out the spine and softened the pages flipping them again and again. Born to a dim-witted mother, and a spineless crook of a father, Matilda was a tiny genius who wanted nothing more than to get lost in a book. She also showed great restraint in playing pranks on her father that were essentially harmless. I would have opted more for, oh, say, break line cutting.

Ramona Quimby

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Imaginative, endearingly irritating, and delightfully curious, Ramona Quimby is my favorite character who may or may not have had her hair cut with a Flobee. Find me a cooler kid than one who names her doll, “Chevrolet”, after her aunt’s car.

D.W. of the Arthur series

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Like I don’t envy this kid’s mastery of the side eye. I mean, it’s not like she doesn’t have plenty of practice with that square of an older brother, Arthur. No doubt she’s a little dramatic and sort of a PITA, but there’s no way that whiny chump would stand a chance in the real world if she didn’t start priming him now.

Little Sal 

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Whether she’s gathering blueberries or digging for clams, Little Sal is the cutest thing in dungarees. When she loses her tooth and tries to look on the bright side, by suggesting a seagull may have picked it up to wish on, and her dumb jerk of a father negates everything she says, she doesn’t let him misogynistic, egotistical need to be right ruin her day.

Which characters would you choose?

Jingling the Penguin is Cuter than Your Kids

A Brazilian man saved an oil-soaked penguin, and now the two are lifetime friends.

When Joao Pereira de Souza found an oil-soaked penguin on the Brazilian shore near his house five years ago, the retired bricklayer knew that if he didn’t help the little guy, the penguin would die.

So he took him home, bathed and fed him, and named him “Jingling.”

When Jingling was healthy enough to continue his many thousands of miles annual migration, Joao said goodbye and returned him to the sea. But when he got home again, his little penguin friend was there waiting for him.

While Jingling did eventually return to his migratory journey, he spends his non-migratory months in Brazil with his pal, Joao.

Awwwww, penguin bros 4ever.

FYI, this is a great nature story to share with your kids!

Except they’ll want a pet penguin. Good luck with that.

Source: WSJ

 

Our Kids’ Health: To Wifi or Not to Wifi

The impact of lead poisoning is so widely accepted that several government programs exist to prevent lead poisoning in babies and young children, complete with an annual National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.

But what if exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF/EMF) —  like those created by wifi  — is also a considerable risk for growing children?

Is it possible that our dependence on, and adherence to, our new digital lifestyles is blinding us to the reality of this health issue?

When the mayor of Borgofranco d’Ivrea, Italy ordered that the town’s schools return to cable internet after reading about the potential dangers of wifi to children, he was met with backlash from citizens. His predecessor accused him of being short-sited, demanding:

“What’s the point? We already have Wi-Fi in two of the town’s squares and in our library, places where children also spend a lot of time.”

It’s hard to wade through the information and draw any final conclusions. Last January, Forbes published this article positing that indeed wifi IS a health risk for kids. A week later, Forbes published this article refuting the claims of the previous.

Before that volatile volley of opinion, there was this Network World article unpacking the idea that, while perhaps exposure is not an issue for adults, it may be a very different kind of issue for children.

A Google search yields plenty of news alleging RF/EMF exposure to kids is not a problem. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a quieter minority asking what may be the most important question for parents:

If there’s any question at all that this poses a serious health threat to our kids, shouldn’t we take real action to understand, and possibly limit, that exposure?

Further reading:

 

Source: Forbes, NetworkWorld, The Local

 

No One More Excited About Lego’s New 1960s Batcave Set Than Boy Wonder

Lego reveals retro Batcave set will be released in March to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the classic Batman TV series. Update: it’s AWESOME.

Holy WHAT, Batman?! I would have posted this an hour ago but I’ve been entirely distracted by ALL the rad throwback details in the new Lego Batman Batcave!

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the classic Batman TV series, Lego has revealed it will release a comprehensive retro Batcave set in March. Save your pennies because this beauty comes in at $270.

But, hey, don’t sweat the price, it’ll be well worth putting aside 600 pennies a day (for the next 45 days), and not just for the hours of inevitable Batcave fun. Keep in mind that the more popular Lego sets — keep all the parts! — will eventually fetch a better return than gold.

Ok, WHATEVER WITH THE FINANCES, check out the set!

Batcave Lego Minifigs

First up: A smattering of throwback minifigs including Batman and Robin, both plainsclothes and suited-up. One disappointment here: the one and only Eartha Kitt Catgirl. WHERE IS SHE? (All due respect to Julie Newmar.)

Batman Robin Batcave Lego

Look at Robin, he’s SO pumped to be riding down the golden pole from Wayne Manor to the secret hideout. And yes, YES, the poles are labeled (see below). Nobody can use Batman’s pole except Batman, ok guys?

Lego Batcave

So that you know, YES, there’s a retro Batmobile, a retro Batcycle, AND a retro Batcopter. BOOM. That’s pretty much all you need. But, wait, there’s MORE.

Wayne Manor

Lest ye forget, Wayne Manor is a place of great elegance and many leather-bound books. Oh, and a red phone for when Bruce gets the call.

Lego Batcave Box

The count comes in at a whopping 2526 pieces, so settle in, families.

Say it with me: na na na na na na na BAAAATMMMANN!

Source: Gizmodo, Comic Book Resources

Ashima Shiraishi: Rock-climbing Girl Wonder

Ashima Shiraishi is rocking the world. Of rockclimbing, that is. The New York native is widely regarded as the best female climber in the world. And she’s only 14.

Ashima Shiraishi’s Twitter bio (@ashimashiraishi) says simply, “I like chocolate and sour candy” giving away nothing of how this 14-year old girl wonder has become rock climbing’s tour de force.

Regarded by many as the best female rock climber in the world, Ashima is straight outta Manhattan. You know, that flat NYC island borough with the big park? That’s where Ashima got her start.

Born to older parents self-identified in this New Yorker piece as artists — not athletes — they had an idea for their first and only child.

[su_quote]When Ashima was born, I have an idea for her,” Tsuya said. “She grow up, create things, and make people happy. It came true. Now kids want to be like Ashima.[/su_quote]

Why do kids want to be like Ashima? Because she’s badass, that’s why.

[su_quote]In August, Ashima won gold medals in bouldering and sport climbing in the 15-and-under bracket of the world championships in Arco, Italy. She was the only climber, of any age, to complete the four bouldering problems, and she completed three of them on her first try.   – New York Times[/su_quote]

If you’re looking for role models to share with your kids, and worthy content to spend time watching together, take a look at this New Yorker video about why she climbs.

Or this Vice Sports video of her mad rock skills, complete with back story:

There’s also this — Ashima’s TedxTeenTalk:

Who run the world? Girls.

Like Ashima.

Source: The New Yorker, Vice Sports, NY Times

 

Read These Books Before They’re Movies!

These books are headed for Hollywood, read them before you don’t!

ATTENTION, PARENTS: The Little Prince will hit the silver screen in 2016!

As will The Great Gilly Hopkins, Tarzan of the Apes, and a re-booted The Jungle Book. Snuggle up with your kiddos and devour the written words before you’re lured by gummy bears and popcorn to the theater.

Since the dawn of moving pictures, we’ve debated the integrity of a good book’s adaption to film. So, you best get busy if you want to be able to say: THE BOOK WAS BETTER.

Find the full list of books headed for Hollywood in this post over at Common Sense Media.

Need more book ideas? Check out The Best Children’s Books of 2015, a list curated by the master, Maria Popova (@brainpicker), over at Brainpickings.org.

The Best Children’s Books of 2015

Source: Common Sense Media, Brainpickings.org, imdb.com

7 Human Values Kids Learn by Caring For a Family Dog

A dog is an invaluable friend – and, in some cases, a surprising teacher.

Before my wife and I had our son, we adopted Tiki. Tiki is a Pit/Lab mix who we brought in just a month after we bought our house. He’s a good dog: it’s clear that he loves us deeply, and he mopes around the house when I leave. Plus, he’s energetic and excited, even as we work on to train him to listen a bit better.

When our son arrived, we found that there wasn’t some magical bonding that occurred. It’s been as much a learning experience as anything else.

1 – New relationships can take time to grow.

When we brought Bram home, I was half expecting this sort of moment where Tiki understood exactly what Bram was and that he’d immediately take to him. The exact opposite happened: the first moment we introduced the pair (with Bram sleeping), Tiki fled up the stairs, where he proceeded to mope for a couple of days. He got over that, but there was something that we learned: dogs can get jealous or worried about the intense attention that another member of the household, especially a baby, gets.

The two are firm friends now: Bram crawls all over Tiki, who doesn’t seem to care, or enjoys the attention from a third person. Once Bram learned to hand over food that Tiki liked, he came around a bit more.

2 – Taking care of a dog teaches responsibility.

Want a practical lesson in responsibility? A dog needs human interaction: otherwise, they can’t eat, go outside or take care of themselves. We’ve started teaching Bram how to feed the dog, with the idea that it’s a way to drive home the importance of this one particular chore. Once he’s big enough, he’ll learn how to walk the dog.

3 – Generosity is surprisingly rewarding.

More than just responsibility, though, there’s good things to teach one’s child when it comes to sharing and being generous: with your time to play, attention, or just a treat when he’s good.

4 – It’s ok to take your time in new situations.

Recently, while playing at a local dog park with a friend, Bram got to meet another dog who was much smaller than Tiki. What surprised me was how nervous Bram was around the newcomer. While he was smaller, she was faster, and fairly interested in him. It’s good to remember that even when children are familiar with animals, their relative sizes are intimidating: these are animals that move quickly, can be loud and can come up to a child before one’s ready. It’s good to let both animal and child come to terms with one another on their own time, rather than forcing the point.

5 – Getting knocked down isn’t a catastrophe.

He’s a 30 lbs kid, and Tiki weighs twice that. When the dog is rocketing around the kid, playing with a ball, some collisions are inevitable, and they’re not catastrophes. Slowly, Bram has begun to learn that Tiki is bigger than he is and that he tends to play rough with me. At the same time, Tiki has learned to be a bit more careful with Bram.

Children are durable, and there’s a bit of a learning experience here: Bram’s not afraid of a larger animal, especially one that he’s known since birth.

6 – There’s value to consistent companionship.

Tiki is more than a family pet to Bram: he’s a constant companion, a constant element of his life who is just there for him. That’s a bond that will grow for years to come.

7 – A dog is an invaluable friend.

Bram is two, and he’s known Tiki for his entire life, along with our two cats, Arthur and Merlin. He knows each by name, and can list off a whole slew of characteristics for each. What gets me every time though is catching Bram talking to Tiki. He’ll ask Tiki questions, pet him, and tell him that he’s a good dog; he’ll throw a ball or stick, or will light up when we come home after a long day.

Breakfast tips for real-life weekday mornings

You’ve heard it a million times: breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  You probably also have heard of studies suggesting that kids who eat breakfast will be more focused, do better in school and and consume more nutritious diets overall. As a nutritionist and journalist covering food for nearly half my life (damn, I’m old), I’ve reported this information dozens and dozens of times, sharing lots of tips for how to put together optimal morning meals.

Given all that, I’d love to say that I serve my boys bowls of warm whole grains (quinoa! oatmeal! millet!), topped with antioxidant-packed fruit, heart-healthy nuts and protein-and-calcium-rich milk every day. I’d like to say that I sit at the table with them, sharing heart-warming conversation over bites of breakfast. But I’d be lying.

So let me tell you how breakfast typically goes down at my house—because it’s not perfect, but I think we have a good thing going.

Every day starts with juice.

100% fruit (or fruit plus vegetable). Served in an 8-ounce mason jar, no refills. Sometimes it’s apple/cranberry. Sometimes it’s orange. Sometimes it’s a mashup of flavors created by mixing juices from fruits and vegetables that are not necessary the ones emphasized on the label. (Fine.)  But the juice is always delivered at 6:30 sharp, the very instant my husband is depositing our boys’ sleeping, slumping bodies onto two dining-room chairs.

First, I offer a bagel or some toast.

My primary goal on weekday mornings is to get groggy, grumpy kids fed, dressed, brushed and out the door in under 50 minutes. Years of nutrition study has taught me nothing if not this: Simple carbs supply fast energy—so bread in some form wins. (That’s what they want anyway.) I buy whole-wheat bread products, but a leftover (white) baguette is fair game too. Typically the topping is cream cheese or butter. If I can convince them to go for avocado or peanut butter, awesome. But any fat is bound to give a bit more staying power than bread alone.

No dice? I propose a yogurt parfait.

If our standard “carb special” is a bust, I offer yogurt. Typically, it’s Greek. Usually vanilla. Sometimes strawberry. Or plain, and I let them add a little maple syrup. We almost always have berries, fresh or frozen (the little dude prefers them still frozen) and top with granola.

Sometimes, I present pancakes.

On weekends, we often make whole-grain, or buttermilk, cakes from scratch. We cook up extras and stash them in the freezer for weekday mornings. Once, my friend Maria told me how she always makes pancakes any time her kid asks for them, no matter the day, because these little ones are not little for long. That stuck with me. But I’m not nearly as organized as Maria, so I keep my freezer stash, and a box of Trader Joe’s whole-grain mix, on hand for such requests and days when we get the urge to deliver something special. I let the kids add their own syrup, but from a squeezy bottle, the condiment kind you can get at a co-op. My friend Amanda taught me this trick and it not only keeps the kids’ sugar consumption in check but also saves us from rinsing loads of of expensive syrup down the drain.

I whip up green smoothies.

My kids won’t drink them—they’re for me and Jon—but many of the kids who come to visit love them. My standard formula (serves 2) is this: 3 cups of almond milk, 1 orange, 1 banana, 1-2 cups of strawberries (frozen) and a bunch of spinach. The recipe is a riff on one by Kris Carr, who has many more to try.

Occasionally, I serve leftovers.

Turkey meatballs. Salmon. Chicken and/or veggie stir-fry and rice. My older dude eats this stuff up; his little bro, not so much.  If this sounds strange, consider what kids around rest of the world eat for breakfast (click—it’s a beautiful New York Times photo story): fish, fermented soy beans, squash, olives, cheese. Nutritious stuff. And, as it turns out, our dinner-for-breakfast days are probably the healthiest ones of all.

Under dire circumstances, I take my show on road.

We’ve all had those days: you’re flying solo, needing to drop multiple kids at multiple locations then make an 8 am meeting. When this happens to me, I do one of the following: 1) load the kids in the car and hand them each a chocolate-chip granola bar and a banana or an apple, (I bring a Ziploc for the peels or cores) or 2) wake them up at the crack of dawn to head to the bagel shop for a “special breakfast” that includes chocolate milk. It’s easier to keep them moving once they’re out of the house. This kind of “bribe breakfast” isn’t the healthiest morning offering but it does deliver nutrients and, as part of the breakfast repertoire, it is definitely essential.

What do you feed your kids in the morning?

 

I can’t believe I wasted $1 on these crappy stock photos of kids

If you’ve never wasted hours of your life digging through cheap stock photos of children, you’re luckier than I am completely missing out.

When you write a blog post, you need a photo. I’m a fairly decent photographer with tens of thousands of photos, so for most articles I simply use an image of my own. Occasionally, however, I need a specific image. That’s when I’m damned to the stock photo sites. And what a treasure trove those sites are. I’ve decided that from now on, if I’m stuck on a subject to write about, I’m just going to search for an image first, then write the article. Starting with these ideas below. The New York Times should follow my lead.

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Little boy sitting on potty with newspaper

Appropriate for post titled “Screen free potty training: A how-to”

Novelty glasses= height of stock photo comedy.

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Close up little girl doing fun saliva bubbles

 This gives me flashbacks of third grade when a gaggle of heathens decided to perfect the skill of drooling as long a strand as possible before slurping it back into their cave-boy mouths. Kids are disgusting.

Appropriate for post titled “Racoons Don’t Like Hugs” or maybe just “Cujo”

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Babe enjoying chocolate icing

Appropriate for post titled “I put him down for a nap and came back to a nightmare.” 

Listen, I know changing diapers is no easy task, but there’s no excuse for this.

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mother yelling at children

Appropriate for post titled “How to avoid raising a serial killer”

Buffalo Bill’s childhood was as traumatic as one could imagine.

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girl holding shopping trolley side view

Appropriate for post titled “Grocery shopping on a budget”

Look! A cart as useless as one of those insufferable truck carts. You know, the ones with no turning radius that are designed to completely wipe out towering displays of produce while your shrieking child swipes everything within reach off the shelves?

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Vacuum-packed boy

Appropriate for post titled “Vacuum Packed Boy”

 Sometimes the actual image title gives you all the inspiration you need.

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little boy with a laptop

Appropriate for post titled “I had Rick Moranis’ love child”

See? What if that kid’s face was just totally naked? HUMORLESS. Also, as I said – novelty glasses= height of stock photo comedy.

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creepywtf

Appropriate for post titled “WTF WTF WTF”

Someone thought this up, staged it, and photographed it. And then put it on the internet for sale.