Tag Archives: books

Bedtime Reading: Sharing My Love of Reading

I enjoyed reading to my son since before he could speak. I thought that we would begin that tradition and he would instantly love to read, too. However, in school they were assigned a reading log and have had to do it every night for a certain length of time.  When it was forced, he did not love reading so much. Our last teacher did not require the logs and the struggles ended. His tastes are definitely maturing and unique to him. At age 9, here is what keeps his attention:

“Captain UCaptain Underpantsnderpants” by Dav Pilkey – is done in comic book style. They have been illustrated in black and white but “The Attack of the Talking Toilets” was in Full Color! The main characters, George Beard and Harold Hutchins, came up with the super hero comics. I won’t try to come up with any educational value here—the stories make my son laugh.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney details the daily adventures of a boy named Greg Heffley. He has two brothers and a best friend named Rowley. Life can be a challenge both at school and at home and he tells it like it is. Funny and awkward, kids can relate to his frustrations and the movies based on the books have been fun to watch, too! We have seven installments of the Diaries.

“And then what happened, Paul Revere?” by Jean Fritz was a gift from his third grade teacher. This started us on a string of biographies. This one, in particular, came from Scholastic Books and it provides a balance of reading, with illustrations and plenty of historical material. It was the launching point for a book report and he foWonderund additional books to round out the source material.

“Wonder” is a book by R.J. Palacio about a boy in the fifth grade that begins at a new school. The twist is that he has a facial difference that had kept him from attending a mainstream school. So he is dealing both with entering a new situation but also being different from the others and tells how he copes. My son wanted to get it (and the accompanying “365 Days of Wonder”) because they were reading it in class. I’m going to read it myself.Civil War Soldier

“You Wouldn’t Want to be a Civil War Soldier!” by Thomas Ratliff has been a favorite because my son really loves history. There are more in the series—about being a colonist, a pioneer, and a pirate’s prisoner—but they look a bit grim. I will share that this is not for younger kids—there are some realistic details about medical treatment included along with battle information. That being said, it contains a glossary of terms so vocabulary development will definitely be a bonus.

More Bedtime Stories I Enjoy Reading

Charlie Cook coverI am constantly looking for new books for my son. We’ve made the transition from me doing all the reading to now he reads to me (mostly). Since he is in school, he is supposed to complete a “reading log” to show he has spent at least ten minutes per night reading. Does anyone else have this to do daily? His tastes run toward Star Wars. I like more variety. I decided to share a list of books (in alphabetical order) that I don’t mind reading over and over again, that have captured his imagination, too. I have included some that are holiday-oriented. I figure we can all use new suggestions, so please use the comments section to provide titles you enjoy, too.

“Charlie Cook’s Favorite Book” by Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler details the adventures of a boy named Charlie Cook who likes to sit in a big armchair reading his favorite books. There are pirates, a knight and a dragon, a crocodile, and a ghost, among others, who also enjoy books. I’m not too subtle as I try to instill a love of reading in my son!

“The Duckling Gets a Cookie” by Mo Willems is really simple and yet it gets some big laughs from my son. A duckling has a cookie and the pigeon wants it. He gets it. Turns out the duckling prefers them without nuts.

“I Can Read with My Eyes Shut” by Dr. Seuss is one of a number of Seuss books we read. It contains a rather obvious lesson: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

“Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree” by Robert Barry shows how Mr. Willowby shares his huge tree with his neighbors, including the Bear, Fox, Rabbit and Mouse families. Nothing goes to waste and everyone’s homes are made more festive with their new trees.  Mr-Willowby

“Room on a Broom” The pair of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler again offer some fun illustrations along with poetic language: “Over the reeds and the rivers they flew, the bird shrieked with glee and the stormy wind blew. They shot through the sky to the back of beyond. The witch clutched her bow—but let go of her wand.” And we are taken on an adventure with an unlucky witch and her passengers. We have 6 books written and illustrated by this duo and all are very entertaining.

“We Are in A Book,” I think we have more than half a dozen of Mo Willems’ works involving Piggie and Gerald as the main characters. They live life and tackle problems together. At some point, they come to the realization that they are being read. It is funny when they start to address the audience directly.

What do my favorite books say about me?

I was sorting through some files and I came across a list of books.  About two years ago on Facebook people were inviting their friends to “List 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you. They should be the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.”  I did it and here is the list I posted to my profile:

1.     The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

2.     Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

3.     Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

4.     The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

5.     Nancy Drew  by Carolyn Keene

6.     Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume

7.     The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

8.     The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

9.     The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

10.  Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

11.  Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck

12.  The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

13.  Harry Potter by JK Rowling

14.  Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

15.   The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

It went all the way back to my childhood. So, that first one, “The Giving Tree,” was probably read to me by my mother.  I’m pretty sure I read “Charlotte’s Web” on my own.  What strikes me, though, is that the common theme of the two most recent (“Tuesdays with Morrie” and “The Last Lecture”) revolved around death.  Both were stories about real men who were dying and how they shared their final days with others.  There were tremendous lessons to be learned.  I decided to take that last one off my shelf and read it again.  Not your typical summer/beach fare but it was worth a second look.

On September 18, 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch stepped in front of an audience of 400 people at Carnegie Mellon University to deliver a last lecture called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” which sparked his book.  He was battling cancer and chose this opportunity to give a final lecture that could be saved for his three young children after his death.  I saw the video of it which had gone viral (as of today, there have been more than 13 million views of it on You Tube). Then I watched a television profile of him, and I also read Wall Street Journal columnist Jeff Zazlow’s coverage of Pausch. When I finally read his book it was one of those bittersweet experiences where I was touched by his lighthearted stories and I also cried.  It made me wonder how I would behave if I was in a similar position.  I am impressed by the grace some people exhibit as they die. Zazlow wrote that “Randy had a way of framing human experiences in his own distinctive way, mixing humor here, unexpected inspiration there, and wrapping it all in an uncommon optimism.” So while we face death with the author as we read his words, we come away inspired.

I think that we can learn a great deal from death: how people react to it; how families cope with the loss of a loved one; and how our lives can impact others even after we are gone.  It is a sad event but so much positive can come from it.

The book, “The Last Lecture,” is dedicated: With thanks to my parents who allowed me to dream, and with hopes for the dreams my children will have.  This sets the tone for what follows.

As a parent, I was struck his early memories of his youth and that he thought of his family as “winning the jackpot” of parents. One glowing example was that they let him paint/draw all over his bedroom to illustrate his dreams and passions.  I can be rather controlling and I like having everything in its place. I’m all about order. So I can learn something about giving over some control on the décor of my son’s room and what some early encouragement might eventually help him obtain.

Pausch ran through a number of key thoughts that were worthwhile to share. Here’s a sampling:

  • Never lose the childlike wonder
  • Help others
  • Loyalty is a two-way street
  • Never give up
  • Apologize when you screw up
  • Brick walls (obstacles) are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something
  • Be engaged, appreciate this day and this moment

I just paused to look back over the Facebook list and am struck by the thread of death in other books here. I hope I don’t have spoilers in writing here, but “The Giving Tree,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Little Women” and “The Diary of Anne Frank,” all included main characters who died.  Which leads me to ask myself, what is with my curiosity about the end of life? I’ll ponder that one for a while…

At this point, you might be wondering if I gave away all the content of “The Last Lecture.” I have not—there is plenty for you to explore on your own.  I highly recommend it for those who want something real and inspiring.

Want more recommendations (and some variety)? Here is a number of other blog posts with books and movies from the summer:


My Favorite Bookstore: After-Words

After-Words is located in downtown Chicago ( 23 E Illinois St, Chicago, IL) and it is a hidden gem.  I think it is an odd location, surrounded by offices and restaurants.  It is hustling during the week but rather quiet on the weekend.  I cannot remember how I found it but I love it.  It is a two-story building with a mix of both used (downstairs) and new (upstairs) books.  You can drop off books at the front desk and begin browsing immediately.  I love that!  I live in the suburbs and had once tried a used bookstore that needed a week to evaluate and estimate a value for books you intended to exchange.  What is the point?  I’d rather drive downtown and have the immediate satisfaction of leaving the store with some new items.  They have a great selection from which to choose.  I’ve ventured into different areas on each visit.  I’ve gone in looking for a new cookbook and came out with a fun, huge one to try.  I’ve gone with nothing in mind and found some books by authors I’ve read previously (Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book was a recent acquisition).  More recently, I focused on the children’s section and came out with some great new additions for my son’s collection.  Dr. Seuss is well-represented but I also got something by Mo Willems (Piggy and Elephant), as well as Inkpen (Kipper).

Another compelling reason to go here is that even if they do not want to resell your books, they can donate the rest to charity.  Either way, your books find a new home.  I feel good clearing some space on my shelves and sharing my books with other people.  As I sit here typing for a blog, I realize fewer people are buying books and e-books are more a thing of the future.  As long as we do continue to own bound editions, why not keep the cycle going via independent stores like this?







Lessons from an unexpected source

I recently bought two new books for my son that were by Dr. Seuss: “Green Eggs and Ham” and “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”  I was motivated partially because I had a bunch of Dr. Seuss books when I was little.  Then, I went to Amazon.com and found this list of essential books for children ages 5-6.  My son has recently started enjoying the Cat in the Hat cartoons, and I figure their appeal will connect him to the books.  My husband and I both love reading and it is my hope that my son will share this trait with us. I hoped he’d learn to read with the help of these books.  I did not expect to learn from them, too.

“Green Eggs and Ham” has lines and phrases that are so memorable.  As I stood there reading it in the book store, I was struck by its simplicity.  The back cover explains that there were fifty words used for all the text.  As a writer, I tend to avoid repeating words or phrases but now I may rethink that strategy.  It was drilled into my head, in my first professional job, that it was the mark of a lazy author to repeat oneself.  But here is a classic and Dr. Seuss does nothing but repeat himself and I can remember it after an absence of so many years.  That sort of impact speaks volumes to me.  Not being overly complicated, he crafted this story rather carefully.  And, it contains a valuable lesson.  How many battles have I had with my son over a meal?  There have been quite a few and he is only 4.  I ask him to try something and get the response he does not like it.  Even when I explain that I know it is something he has never tried, he is firm in his conviction he does not like it. I can tell you he smiled at the ending and he knew the message was there for him.

However, I did not expect that the subject matter of “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” would be so mature.  I guess I do not really remember it.   I’ll share an excerpt of it here to provide some context: “You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself any direction you choose…You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights…I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you…the Lurch…in a Slump…The Waiting Place…” The adventure continues through the choices one faces in the journey of life, and the influences awaiting the reader, to the conclusion that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.  Really?  This is something I am coming to terms with as an adult.  Why are children learning this?  Well, given all I hear about Millennials and their sense of entitlement, perhaps this book got missed somewhere in the past generation.  I do like it and we’re keeping it.  I wonder how much of an impact it will have on him.  Will I find out soon?  Or, will it be much later that we might stumble upon it and I’ll find out he was inspired by it?  It is always possible he won’t remember it all.  But for now, we’ll give it a try.

5 More Bedtime Stories I Enjoy Reading

Some time has passed since I last shared books we’re reading in my household.  I decided to share a list of five more (in alphabetical order) that I don’t mind reading over and over again.  We can all use new suggestions, so please use the comments section to provide titles you enjoy, too.

“Big Al” by Andrea Clements and illustrated by Yoshi introduces children to a fish named “Big Al.” The lesson learned via Big Al is not to judge someone by appearances.  He seems scary and the smaller fish avoid him so he’s lonely.  However, he is able to demonstrate his bravery and, in the process, becomes a hero and friend to many.

“Duck at the Door” by Jackie Urbanovic.  We like ducks around here and this is a funny story of a household that gets a visit from a duck with surprising results.  A quick read.

“If You Give a Moose a Muffin” by Laura Numeroff continues the series we started with a mouse.  The cautionary tale of what happens when a little boy decides to give a moose a muffin: it results in a string of events that is illustrated beautifully by Felicia Bond.

“My Friend Bear” by Jez Alborough is another tale about friendship which brings together a boy, Eddie, and a bear.  The great big bear thinks his teddy can talk but it is actually the Eddie hiding behind it.  Nice rhymes and lesson on finding friends in unexpected places.

“The Three Little Javelinas” is the story of the three little pigs done in a Southwest theme.  Written by Susan Lowell, she replaces straw with tumbleweeds and bricks with adobe.  A coyote is the antagonist and they are beautifully illustrated by Jim Harris.

10 Bedtime Stories I Enjoy Reading

I’m sure we all have our nighttime routines.  Children thrive on us being reliable.  We read books before going to bed and sometimes my son will grow fond of a book and make me read it every night for weeks at a time.  Some I like more than others.  I decided to share a list of ten (in alphabetical order) that I don’t mind reading over and over again.  I figure we can all use new suggestions, so please use the comments section to provide titles you enjoy, too.

“Big Red Barn” by Margaret Wise Brown introduces children to all the inhabitants of the barn from “a pink pig who was learning to squeal” to “the little black bats (that) flew away out of the barn at the end of the day.”

“Duck Tents” by Lynne Berry and illustrated by Hiroe Nakata shows five little ducks going on a camping trip.  They have a fishing adventure and roast marshmallows, then settle in for the night.

“How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?” is one of a series of dinosaur books by Jane Yolen & Mark Teague.  We enjoy a number of them, but this one was the first I found.

“If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” by Laura Numeroff is the cautionary tale of what happens when a little boy decides to give a mouse a cookie: it results in a string of events that are illustrated beautifully by Felicia Bond.

“Kiss Good Night” by Amy Hest This story mirrors anyone’s evening: Mrs. Bear is putting her son, Sam, to bed.  But she is forgetting something.  When she remembers, she kisses him “once and twice and then twice more.”  It is a fun way to get some extra kisses.

“Llama Llama Misses Mama” by Anna Dewdney is a sweet, rhyming story about the first day at school for baby llama.

“One is a Feast for a Mouse” by Judy Cox is actually set at Thanksgiving-time but I think the message of being thankful for getting what one needs instead of being greedy is a good one to repeat anytime of year.

“Snowmen all Year” by Caralyn Buehner is also a seasonal sort of tale but it is magical to think of life with snowmen being around all year.  (Unless you live in Chicago, then enough already.)

“The Tale of Custard the Dragon” by Ogden Nash is perhaps my favorite of all time.  My son was on a knight kick, so I was looking for some books with knights, when I found this via Amazon.  The words are lyrical: “Belinda lived in a little white house, With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse, And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon, And a realio, trulio little pet dragon.”  And the illustrations by Lynn Munsinger are charming.  There are no knights but there is a pirate.  There is also a strong female character, so this really should appeal to both boys and girls.

“Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak is a classic from my childhood.  I still like the original book.  Every now and then I bring back something I enjoyed years ago.  It does not always meet with my son’s approval but this one did.