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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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recommended reading

Our Family’s Favorite Picture Books for Reading at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is perhaps my favorite of all the holidays. I know the kids like Halloween and Christmas best. When you’re a kid nothing competes with candy and presents… but once we’ve outgrown our greedy seasons of childhood, we come to favor the holidays that focus on blessings and family. And for me, the one that takes the cake (or pie, I should say because… oh, the PIES that come with this one) is Thanksgiving.

But the cupboards are pretty bare when it comes to the family reading fodder.

It’s hard to find picture books devoted to Thanksgiving. So I had to include books that deal with fall weather, too. Which is okay, I guess, because fall weather is football weather, and that underscores yet another reason why this is my favorite holiday. If our blessings are abundant, each year our family is week-three deep in the playoffs. (Here’s hoping we’ll be counting that blessing this year!)

So this list begins with a book called Football with Dad. We received a copy as a gift a few years back by my dear friend and fellow coach’s wife, Kim.

Football with Dad,
by Frank Berrios, illustrated by Brian Biggs

It’s a Little Golden Book — so it wafts nostalgia the minute you crack the gilded cover. The storyline is exactly what you’d expect — a game of pickup football with a dad and his son, along with a few neighborhood kids (girls included — YAY). It celebrates family and tradition and football fundamentals, and we love it in our house. (Of course we do.)

Next up, is the childhood classic, Winnie-the-Pooh and the Blustery Day. This is a great one to read the day before Thanksgiving, as it is set on a “Windsday.” Piglet and Pooh and all our Hundred-Acre friends are here — including the first appearance of everybody’s favorite bouncy, trouncy, spring-filled character, Tigger. The story involves coming together to celebrate — and even sacrifice for –our friends. What better story to read the day before Thanksgiving? You can find it in The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh (which is what we have) or in a smaller book all its own.

Winnie-the-Pooh and the Blustery Day, by A.A. Milne, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard

There are two more books that focus on blustery days included in this list. The next up is also a Disney-sponsored picture book — one my mom gave the boys a couple years back. It’s Bruce’s Big Storm, and once again, there’s a bear and a storm, plus more gathering and celebrating and sacrifice. But this time the bear is an introvert surrounded by neighbors bound and determined to adopt him as their “den leader” (much to his [dis]pleasure.) As a fellow introvert, Bruce and I are kindred spirits. Sometimes in big get-togethers, I sit off in a corner and just absorb. It doesn’t mean I’m not having a great time; it just means I have to experience the shenanigans on my own terms. Just like Bruce.

Bruce’s Big Storm, written and illustrated by Ryan T Higgins

Speaking of feeling overwhelmed (which we were, in case that wasn’t clear), Sweep, by Louise Greig, is a great book to read when you have kiddos struggling to learn to control BIG emotions inside little bodies. The entire book revolves around an onslaught of leaves, collecting and swallowing everything in its path. This becomes a clear metaphor (even for little kids to pick up on) about how a bad mood can seize control of us until we become buried alive under our dark, moldy thoughts. But this book reminds us to look up. To rise above our collection of negative thoughts and remember the beauty and love around us. It’s powerful for both Greig’s message and for the stunning illustrations provided by Julia Sarda.

Sweep by Louise Greig, illustrations by Julia Sarda

Now if you love poetry like I love poetry, In November, by Cynthia Rylant, is the book for you to read out loud every single night to your littles. While not technically a book of poetry, the language is chockful of lyrical imagery that lights up your soul with all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feels of all the types of gathering, from harvests, to winter coats, to hibernation hovels, to logs for the fire, to spices for the pies, to generations of families. It’s all packed tight-to-bursting with beauty. Do yourself and your kiddos a favor and get this one.

In November, by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Jill Kastner

And finally comes the Thanksgiving addition that we discovered just last year. Thanksgiving in the Woods, by Phyllis Alsdurf is also full of sensory details, traditions, and multi-generational gatherings. Only this time the scene is an outdoor gathering. It’s as if Emerson and Thoreau begat a little children’s book full of the magic and wonder of the woods. It even includes lines from a song the boys and I would sing and sway to at bedtime when they were babies — a Shaker hymn called “Simple Gifts.”

And honestly, isn’t that what Thanksgiving should be all about? Celebrating the simple blessings we so often take for granted?

And for us, a simple gift that holds a special place in our hearts is reading as a family every night. We’ve done it since the boys were first-hatched and we’ll carry on as long as we possibly can — till they fly the nest if they let us.

Thanksgiving in the Woods by Phyllis Alsdurf, illustrated by Jenny Lovlie

5 Books Our Five-Year-Olds Love

I want to raise readers. I really, really do. I also want to raise good humans. That’s my primary concern. Lucky for me, reading aloud to my boys every night helps me accomplish both.

Colorful and clever, goofy or game-faced, the stories they love most are quite simply the ones that make them feel all the good feels: Joy, Empathy, Suspense, Silliness, Love.

For me, the stories are all about the connections we make… with each other and with the world. Connecting with my boys after a long day of living life. And reconnecting with life after a long day of living it with my boys.

Here are the books that consistently give us all the feels and help us reconnect:

#1 The Book with No Pictures, by BJ Novak

I’ve written about this one before, but it is a perennial fave around our here — for good reason. It. Is. maGRUMPH-a-doo!

This book does, indeed, have ZERO pictures, just like the title promises. Its cover is black and white — and so is the majority of the text for the majority of the book. Novak plays with font size and and a whole lot of negative space — and eventually color.

Ground rules are laid from the beginning for adults reading the book… We’re told we must read, “Everything the words say… NO MATTER WHAT.” And that’s when the brightly colored jabberwocky begins unwinding — slowly but steadily — climbing toward a crescendo of brightly colored nonsense words caterwauling across the page in gleeful abandon. Kids (and their parents) laugh till the tears roll down. Talk about bringing the joy.

#2 Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, by Patty Lovell

This one is great for instilling empathy and life lessons. Lovell’s book helps kiddos navigate the newness and nervousness of being “the outsider” — something each of us experiences at some point.

Molly Lou Melon is a bucktoothed half-pint with a voice “like a bullfrog being squeezed by a boa constrictor.

When she moves away from her hometown and her beloved granny, she has to face new challenges. Molly Lou Melon uses her unique skill set (penny-stacking on her horizontal front teeth, for starters) to overcome obstacles. The book is splashed full of lime, lemon, and turquoise illustrations by David Catrow, and reading it can only bolster the best and brightest and boldest feelings in us all.

#3 Ginny Goblin is Not Allowed to Open This Box, by David Goodner

Goodner’s story builds off every youngster’s perennial passion for monsters — albeit kindergarten-friendly ones with pea soup complexions and coveralls.

Ginny Goblin is cute and lovable and more than just a little curious. Oh, and she hates to wait. So of course, she’s handed a ginormous present and told not to open it until dinnertime. The narrator then moves the box from one out-of-reach hiding place to the next, taunting her with… . towers and serpents and moats and mountains. Vexed but not defeated, Ginny gets creative with… ninja suits and grappling hooks and ramps and catapulting goats.

Illustrated in Louis Thomas’ warm, muted earth-tones and water-color wisps, Ginny’s quest to reach the box is a rollicking good time, full of ever-escalating suspense — and some dinnertime hygiene thrown in for good measure.

#4 Dragons Love Tacos, by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmiere

If you asked the boys to name their absolute favorite, this book would probably be it. It’s clever and cute and written entirely in 2nd person, so it talks straight to them. My boys are now experts at hosting taco parties for a houseful of dragons.

They know they need costumes or accordions or maybe charades… and they’ll definitely need tacos because… title. They also know just what NOT to do so the dragons won’t get “the tummy troubles.” Because “when dragons get the tummy troubles — oh, boy.”

This book’s got it all — dragons and tacos and lists of ingredients — plus lots and lots of silliness for all.

#5 Words and Your Heart, by Kate Jane Neal

The book is paradoxically simple and profound. There’s a tiny, bobble-headed tot and her cat illustrating each major point — the descriptive power of words, the encouraging power of words, the destructive power of words, the healing power of words…. well, you get the picture.

Neal’s illustrations remind me of sweet sketches from my grandmother’s era, while the message itself is timeless. Take care with your words because what goes “into your ears can actually affect your heart (that little bit inside of you that makes you, you”).

If I were to pick a favorite book to read to my boys, this one would be mine. As an English teacher, and most importantly as a mother, there is no message closer to my heart than the care and keeping of the heart through the words we choose.

“Let’s try it together and see the difference it makes… Today, somebody’s world can be a better place because of you.”

Talk about raising good humans…

The Postmodern Family’s Recommended Reading List for Progressive Preschoolers

A dear cousin of mine with a heart of gold and less time to herself than even I have, recently reached out to me with a blog suggestion: a recommended reading list and tutorial on how to find the time to read amidst a heaping helping of tiny humans running ’round the house.

Alas, I have plenty of recommended reads – just not too many suggestions on how to get them read while driving the juggernaut that IS motherhood with multiples. When you have two boys who are wilder than wildebeests revved up on red dye number 5, and a husband you don’t see often enough as it is, and the rather lofty goal of one blog per week to write (and writing comes slower and less-steady than a tortoise in a muck of molasses), plus a full-time job with unwieldy demands of its own, you just don’t get much reading done – or at least not the way I used to before twins. But I do accomplish a tad bit of reading — every, single night.

I’m talking about reading children’s books. To my little lads. At bedtime. And while that may not be the kind of recommended reading list my sweet cousin had in mind for my blog, I do have a couple of selections I am eager to share with you.

Both promote imagination, instill empathy, and most importantly of all, fortify young minds for the eventual challenges of adulthood.

The first is BJ Novak’s The Book with No Pictures. It is a piece of literary brilliance that sparkles with silliness and sass. It is all about the value and FUN of reading books without – you guessed it – PICTURES!

Now, as a literature teacher, reading is my bread and butter. And sadly, there are whole populations of students who take pride in the fact that they no longer read. They take pride in their own ignorance. And I’m sorry, but pride should be reserved for accomplishments and sexual preference, not ignorance! (But more on that in selection number two…)

As for The Book With No Pictures, it is full of colorful language and diversity. And I mean that literally — as in, there are lots of words in lots of different colors and lots of different fonts and sizes. There’s also an abundance of negative space on nearly every page. Novak’s book juxtaposes pared-down pages with wild and whimsical wording. The result is a little book making a big splash with a big message: Words. Are. Powerful.

And it is so true. Words are powerful, whether written or spoken. Because make no mistake about it, Novak’s book is meant to be read aloud. By adults. To kids.

Words can make us “say silly things and make silly sounds.” They can make us laugh, and sing, and see heads “made of blueberry pizza.”

Words can empower. And words can manipulate.

Words can make us believe in ourselves — or believe just the opposite.

Words are so very, very, VERY powerful.

And Novak’s work makes sure we realize their power. And my use of the word work here is quite calculated — because with good books, reading is far from passive. It should make you work. It should provoke thought and promote action. And this book stirs kids to action at a very young age. It dares them to listen, to create, to imagine, to believe.

So we’ve read our boys BJ Novak’s A Book With No Pictures nearly every night for over a year to cultivate their imaginations.

marlonnopics

The second book in my preschool recommended reading list is A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, by Jill Twiss. This one is a fairly recent find for our family. (In fact, it was only published in mid-March.) My big-hearted baby sis gave it to our boys as a birthday present. And just as we read A Book With No Pictures to cultivate active imaginations, we read Marlon Bundo to cultivate good humans.

Twiss’s book is a parody of one written by Mike Pence and featuring the pet BOTUS (Bunny of the United States), Marlon Bundo. But rather than telling the story of the bunny and his Vice President-owner, Twiss features Marlon Bundo and the love of his life, Wesley, whom he meets while hopping ‘round the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory. Twiss wrote it to counter the homophobia promoted by Pence and (for the most part) his political party.

Marlon Bundo sports a bow tie and Wesley wears spectacles, and they fall madly in love and want to live hoppily ever after. So they decide to marry. And their friends – like all good friends do – say, “Hooray!” But the establishment — namely, a giant Stink Bug who is In Charge and Important (even though nobody is really sure why he’s In Charge or Important) – says, “YOU CAN’T GET MARRIED!” He denies their right to love, to marriage, and to the pursuit of hoppiness. But after some lessons in electoral science as it should function — every vote counts! — the bunnies are successfully wed.

We’ve been reading this book to our boys every night for the last three months — not to promote our own political viewpoints or our dislike of the current administration (although that’s an added perk), but to teach our boys that Love is Love is Love is Love.

Because when you have several members of your extended family who share a love that the Stink Bug declares WRONG — as well as a four-year-old son who loves Disney princesses with a passion traditionally acceptable only if you are a girl — it is important to us that our boys know and understand that love is never wrong.

IMG_9638

So yes, we read A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo every night, and we hear that “Boy bunnies can marry boy bunnies and girl bunnies can marry girl bunnies” and that being “Different is not bad.”

After all, each of us is different in some way, shape, or manner…

And that is a very good thing.

And so is the fact that “Stink Bugs are temporary,” but “Love is forever.”

So there you have it. These are the two books currently on our postmodern family’s recommended reading list for progressive preschoolers. Hopefully they will cultivate bookworms out of your own little wiggle worms. And in so doing, also cultivate great humans with really good hearts and really solid senses of humor.

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