Guest Post: Emily Anne of Kindred Spirits Blog

I have this entire list of books that I “plan” to read…and when I look at it, I sit there and wish I had more time to read them all.

So, after I picked up this book, in the contemporary fiction genre…well…I opted to remove a few from my lengthy list. It made the other choices so completely not worth my time!

Like, why in the world would I read something like THAT after something like THIS…

The book I’m talking about is: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.

Psst!…You guys!…This book is AH-MAZE-ING!!!

At first I just didn’t know what to do or think after finishing it! I didn’t have any words, and at the same time, about a million and one things filled my mind!

A simple plot description, or even the description from the inside cover would NOT do this justice! It’s so much better than a “blurb” could ever describe it.

The writing is extremely intelligent, grabs at your emotions, and fills you with excited energy at the same time! The story is {very basically} about depression, being an outcast, and why having a best friend is the most important thing in the world. Okay, okay, so I know that seems like it’s all very HEAVY…and it is…but please, hang in there with me for a little bit! Don’t stop reading here, because I promise you won’t regret it. Without giving you any spoilers, I reeeeaaaallllyyyy want to let you in on this book :))

You meet two main characters, and each chapter alternates between their two perspectives. The first one is called Finch…and I adored him! He’s so fascinated with death, but he always finds a reason to stay alive. His character is so spontaneous and lively, but also very raw and real…and so identifiable to me! The things that he deals with in his life…oh, this author KNEW. WHAT. SHE. WAS. TALKING. ABOUT. I give her so much credit for creating a PERFECTLY realistic character with mental illness. Reading about the way his brain worked, and how his thoughts spiraled around, all I could think was, “Wow. Yes. It’s like reading the words in my own mind.” Most of the time I couldn’t even believe what I was taking in, because Jennifer Niven made it so, so real, that it seemed as though it wasn’t! {If that makes any sense at all…ha!}

And then there’s Violet…Violet, who has recently lost her older sister in a car accident. While Finch does everything he can to find anything good in his TODAY, Violet has a “what’s the point of life” mentality. She is trying so hard to move on without her sister, but she is trapped in the vicious cycle of guilt, and trying to stay inside the safety of the mold of what other people think she should be.

Both wanting so badly to just escape their own pain, they are thrown together into a school project, and go off on a journey across Indiana {which, that by itself is very cool because it gave me plenty of ideas of places that I now HAVE to see in my home state!}. And during this journey, they discover beauty in the most unexpected places, and they connect in the most unexpected ways.

I think the way I’m describing this story could never really convey the awesome-ness that it is! It captures every emotion, and portrays so accurately the reality of the abyss of depression. But at the same time, the author adds a sweet, lively, quirky tone to the writing that lessens the “heaviness” of the topic, without downplaying the seriousness of it.

You don’t have to have experienced depression, or death, or pain to read this novel. It just draws you in, and suddenly you’re simply enjoying the ride with Violet and Finch. You grow to love them and feel for them. They become part of you, and you’ll want to stay long after the last page is over. This is the kind of book that will make you feel, simultaneously, numb AND frazzled. {Like I said earlier, I just didn’t know what to do or think when it was over!} It will cause you to see the world differently, and you’ll want to get up and DO SOMETHING!…to do something to SAVE people like our two main characters.

Pick it up! Read it! Share it with someone else!

But also be prepared for the fact that you may need a long, long, long time to recover from it before moving on to another contemporary fiction book ;))

Emily Anne lives in northern Indiana where she is a teacher of the performing arts. She teaches pre-K through elementary school music, and dance to all ages. When she is not busy teaching, Emily enjoys singing in a choir, continuing to take ballet class to stay in shape, discovering new things to do or simply relaxing with her fiancé, and excitedly planning a wedding for August 2017! She loves Anne of Green Gables and Downton Abbey, and thinks she should have been born in the 1910s. She has a strong desire to speak out against the stigma of depression/mental health and share her journey through that. You can find Emily at the Faith & Lifestyle blog, The Kindred Spirits Blog.

Guest Post: How to Start an Early Childhood Book Club

By Sarah Miller, Baby Toddler Book Club

 

One humid late summer morning, seven moms, each with their toddler, gathered on a big tarp in my backyard. Each child came carrying a copy of the same book, Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? by Dr. Suess. We sat in a big circle and read the book together while our children turned the pages. When we finished the book, we got out a large tub of rice for playing and for making rain-makers. Then we ate a snack that “makes a sound” – Rice Krispies in milk! This began an early childhood book club that I have continued to run every month, for nearly 5 years. Each meeting includes a group reading of a book, a book related activity, and a book related snack.

The children who have participated have observed from an early age that their parents value books, that their peers often enjoy the same books that they do, and that books can be exciting and “brought to life.”

Our parent members have found the company of other like-minded parents who share a love of literature, creative play, and easy healthy snacks for children.

Both parents and children have benefited from socializing with a consistent group of friends every month. We never down-play the importance of socialization, which means the kids always have time to just play without a structured activity while the parents have time to talk, inevitably discuss parenting questions, and just enjoy adult company!

So, how can YOU start and maintain your own early childhood book club?

Here are my tips, which are adapted from our Baby Toddler Book Club Read With Us page.

1) Keep it consistent-Identify the same group of parents and kids each month and ask for a (reasonable) commitment to participate. Consistency is important for planning purposes, predictability for the children, and helps establish close-knit relationships between members.

2) Make it a manageable size– We’ve ranged from about 7 to 12 parent-child pairs at various points in time, but typically have about 8. That said, even 8 toddlers can feel very busy! Be sure to choose a group size that fits your space and comfort level. We’ve had some really nice intimate meetings with just 3 or 4 parents/children too. It doesn’t have to be a big group to be successful.

3) Chose a group of kids close in age-ideally within a year of each other.  This helps with planning snacks and activities that are appropriate to the developmental level of the kids. This is especially important for babies or younger toddlers (a 6 month old is eating very different foods than a 20 month old, for example).

4) Identify one person as the coordinator – I coordinate our group so I plan the activities, schedule the meetings, and send out reminders about what supplies we need for each meeting. I love doing it—so I don’t mind a bit, HOWEVER, don’t let it be overwhelming! If hosting everything doesn’t sound appealing to you, as the coordinator, ask your parent members to take turns hosting and planning a meeting!

5) Pick a consistent day/time to meet each month, but be somewhat flexible– For example, you might identify that you’ll meet the first Tuesday of every month at 10 a.m. and try to stick to that plan, BUT plan that there will be reasons you may need to change the day (e.g., winter weather may not cooperate, the host’s child gets sick, etc.)

6) Know where you can meet each month in advance– My favorite place to host meetings is in my home (I like the comfort of meeting in a home and not having to transport supplies), but we’ve handled hosting many other ways at points in time. Here are places we’ve tried or you could try if hosting in your home isn’t a possibility (be sure reasonably messy activities and/or food are allowed in your space):

  • local church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious building with space the public can use/rent for free or at a low cost
  • library meeting room
  • outside in a backyard or at a park when the weather is comfortable
  • rotate hosts (each member hosts one meeting at their home)

Wherever you choose, set up the plan for as many meetings as possible in advance so you aren’t going back and forth about who should/where to host each month.

7) Use our Book List or pick your books ahead of time– Planning books in advance means that there is no rush to find “any book that will do” for the meeting. Also, with advance notice, parents can order the books together to save on shipping, look for used copies, place holds on books at the library, or even work with a library to request multiple copies of the book through interlibrary loan.

8) Choose easy activities and healthy snacks (or use ours!)- I think what makes our group unique is that we find easy activities to coordinate with books and simple healthy food. You are more than welcome to learn from our years of experience! Our Book List page has loads of book club meeting plans organized by year so you have a full curriculum ready for you if you choose! We intentionally select books that represent new publications as well as older classics, cover diverse topics, are age appropriate, and are generally enjoyed by our children.

If you are a blogger or share your meeting via social media, just be sure to cite and link back to the Baby Toddler Book Club website or Facebook page as your source of inspiration—thank you!

9) Be prepared for a little (or a lot) of mess –There’s no denying that things can get pretty messy during Baby Toddler Book Club! That’s just part of the process, but here are a few ways we “quarantine” the mess a bit:

*Use a big painters tarp (can purchase on Amazon.com) to protect floors and carpet or as a large outdoor blanket. Throw it in the wash for easy clean-up.

*Put away toys with many small pieces before book club.

* Before reading, cover up the toy shelves with a sheet to help the kids stay focused on the book and activity. Take off the sheets when the activity is done so the kids can play while adults socialize.

* If you meet at a public location, be sure to also have cleaning supplies, paper towels, disinfectant wipes, and wet wipes.

Once you accept the mess, you can relax and enjoy the process (plus, our members always help clean up)!

10) Have fun! Enjoy the time playing with your child and connecting with other parents! Don’t stress if it doesn’t go exactly as you planned or if every child isn’t engaged at every moment (they won’t be—they are babies, toddlers, and young children)!

Baby Toddler Book Club has been an important part of my parenting experience during early childhood. It has created meaningful connections and friendships for both parents and children and allowed us to discover and immerse ourselves in favorite books.

We feel so strongly about the power of book club that we also donate a replication of our Baby Toddler book, activity, and snack every month to a low-income family in our community through an early childhood outreach program. We call this program, Book Club Pals.

I love to help parents start their own Book Clubs and would love to start a network of book clubs across the country (or world)! Please Contact Us anytime for support, like us on Facebook, and Share With Us what your book club is doing!

We can’t wait to hear from you!

Do you have a parent/early childhood book club?

What is your favorite book that you would like to see us pair with an activity and snack for a meeting?

We hope you’ll start your own group full of reading, playing, eating, and giving!

 

-Baby Toddler Book Club-

 

 

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Day 12 of 12 Days of Guest Bloggers: Adam Jones

For our final day of 12 Days of Guest Bloggers, my brother-in-law Adam Jones is sharing about a special family tradition he and my sister are continuing with their kiddos (my ADORABLE nieces).

See the Previous Days of Guest Bloggers:

Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11

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Four years ago, for our second official Christmas together as a married couple my parents gave my wife, Lydia, and I a very special gift: our own copy of The Night Before Christmas. It has been a tradition of my family for as long as I can remember to read the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve before we go to bed. I am excited to continue this decades-long tradition with my children.

When my brother and I were little we would put on our pajamas and curl up with my parents around the Christmas tree to read this story before we finally called it a night. The house was decorated in endless strands of tinsel and hundreds of lights, a myriad of candles and ornaments from babies’ first Christmases, an angel on the tree, manger scenes, and even a small, waxy set of four red and white candles shaped like Santa’s boots that belonged to my Father – one of the few artifacts that remain from his childhood family memories.

On Christmas, Eve Dad would read with excited anticipation how this magical character named Santa Clause, shrouded in mystery, was on his way to bring us toys. Even though it was always terribly difficult to go to sleep amidst all the excitement of Christmas this timeless tale encouraged us with visions of sugar plums on a sleepy, dreamy, snowy night. Through its colorful imagery we imagined how silent our house would be as we lay sleeping, how Santa would come down the chimney in a flash delivering presents and be gone long before we ever awoke Christmas morning. We learned a great majority of the typical, American traditions of Santa and Christmas from this story, including the names of Santa’s eight, tiny reindeer. It taught us all of the magic and wonder of Christmas.

img_20161203_141437This Christmas we are officially beginning a number of Christmas traditions, including this one, with our growing family. On Christmas Eve our girls, Nova (age 2) and Thea (8 months) will be dressed in their Christmas pajamas and will open their stockings. We plan to fill stockings with a Christmas movie, popcorn, hot cocoa, and Reese’s Christmas Tree chocolates. After the movie and treats from the stockings, we’ll get settled in for the night, and sit down around the Christmas tree to read the Christmas story. My hope in continuing the tradition of reading The Night Before Christmas to our girls is that they will be filled with the same sweet, dreamy anticipation that I felt as a child of magical flying reindeer, of Santa bringing presents down the chimney, the excitement of a joy-filled Christmas morning.

The Night Before Christmas is a more abbreviated version of the classic poem originally titled “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” from 1823. Our copy of The Night Before Christmas: The Classic Edition. It is full of beautifully illustrated pages with a perfect jolly Santa and handsome reindeer. It also has the poem written in one of the first pages and we plan to read the poem to our girls as well. Our children are little now but we look forward to many future Christmases where we can continue our special family traditions and build more memories.

Bio: Adam Jones and his wife, Lydia, recently moved to Nashville so Adam could pursue songwriting. He plays whatever instrument he can get his hands on. He enjoys comic books and movies in his downtime. He and Lydia have three daughters, Nova (2), Thea (8 months) are in here in their arms, and Phoenix is in heaven. They are expecting their second set of twins due summer 2017.

http://adamrjones67.wixsite.com/adamlydiajones

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Day 11 of 12 Day of Guest Bloggers: Carlye from Carlye’s Cakery

I thought it would be really fun to include a guest blogger who provides a baking activity you can do with your kids. Thankfully, my college friend, Carlye runs Carlye’s Cakery. Go check out her Instagram or Facebook, because Carlye is incredibly talented. Her confectionary masterpieces practically leave me drooling on my phone screen. So, it is a real treat to have Carlye on my blog WITH a yummy cookie recipe!

Check out the Previous Days:

Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10

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picture2I have a business – Carlye’s Cakery – so this baking session was very different for me. The girls love to bake but most of the time it happens at their Mimi’s instead of mine. I am a perfectionist but when Bethany asked me to join in the 12 days of Christmas, I just had to get the girls in the kitchen! They were thrilled!1

Here are some pictures of my girls making the cookies. If I would have made the cookies, I would have made stiffer royal icing in order to make cute decorations. But the I gave the girls full reign! I just advised what to do. They chose the drizzle effect (and blobbing.) 😂 I love how they turned out and all the cookies are already to gone! Our family loved them! Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

picture3Chocolate Drop Cookies

Makes about 30 cookies or more if kids scoop them.

1.5 cups flour (try substituting whole wheat flour)

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp coarse salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted

1/3 cup milk (I used vanilla soy milk)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Best in an egg and vanilla. Blend in the cooled melted chocolate. Alternatively add the flour mixture and milk, ending with flour. Drop dough by about 1.5 teaspoons onto baking sheets 1 inch apart. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until edges are set and the centers are still soft. Remove to cooling racks.

Vanilla or Peppermint Icing

Put 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup powdered sugar in three bowls. I colored one bowl with red, one with green and one white. Start with a small amount of food coloring until you get the desired color of red and green.

Add 1 tsp milk and slash of either vanilla or peppermint extract. You can really use whatever flavor you would like. Get creative!

 

 

www.facebook.com/carlyescakery

www.instagram.com/carlyescakery

 

 

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Day 10 of 12 Days of Guest Bloggers: Keyosha of @WeeBookLovers

I’m sure you’ve seen by now that Instagram has been a tremendous tool in helping me find my book community. This collection of bookstagrammers have shown me that there are others out there who love books and reading to their children as much as I do. Keyosha is another gem in the book community and I’m honored to have her here.

Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9,

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What traditions do you hold dear for the holidays? Is it dressing up for Christmas dinner? Decorating the house together as a family? Playing a family flag football game together?  As I write this post, I am reflecting back on traditions from my childhood.  The traditions I hold the closest and dearest to my heart.  The traditions I want to share with my kids from my childhood,  because they make my heart extra happy.  Before I tell you the traditions that now make this time of the year special for me, I feel I should tell you that traditions AREN’T sacred in my household. GASP…did I just say that?  Yes, why yes I did. You see we are a military family that has lived thousands of miles away from our families for years.  Fast forward to over a decade of marriage, 3 kids of our own, and being a military family my husband and I have fond memories from our childhood holiday seasons, but knew we had to make our own family traditions for our kids childhood memories. It’s not that traditions aren’t sacred to us they are, just in a different way.  A few of my holiday season childhood memories that makes my heart sing was spending Christmas Day mornings devouring a delicious breakfast with my huge extended family at my Uncle Ben and Aunt Evelyn’s church, gathering my childhood church’s choir and driving around to sing Christmas carols to our sick and shut in members, tailgating on Turkey Day before the big game, and eating scrumptious food all holiday season long.  After serious thought one year during the holiday season when I was missing my childhood family traditions, I realized it wasn’t so much of the traditions themselves I was missing, but the fellowshipping and memories created that I was missing because they meant the most to me.

 

A few family traditions we’ve started with our own family and close friends is inviting a few friends over for a baking playdate. We will get together and make pans and pans of sweet homemade holiday treats such as peppermint bark popcorn, danish shortbread cookies and candied nuts to share with other loved ones.  Another tradition my husband and I look forward to every year is packing is packing up our crew, going to the store and letting each child pick out a special ornament to hang on the tree that is unique to them. This year to make that tradition even more meaningful, we will have our kids tell us the story of why their 2016 ornament is special to them. My husband and I will then transcribe their stories into their own personal notebooks and each year add to it, so one day we can wrap it up, put it under the tree and watch them look back at the memories we shared as a family when they read it years later. This particular tradition didn’t start out as a tradition, but has honestly taken on a life of it own and is now considered a tradition. On Christmas Eve, before bedtime the kids open and wear their Christmas pajamas for Christmas morning.  When they wake up, we immediately FaceTime our families and walk down to the Christmas tree together to open gifts, snap pictures (screenshots) and share the moments together over FaceTime.  Lastly, my kids love books so we read loads of books during the holiday season that celebrate giving, love, peace and most of all Jesus. Besides reading the story of Jesus from the Bible a few other books we enjoy reading as a family during this time of year that reads well for toddlers and up are:

the-little-drummer-boy

 

 

 

eric-carle-dream-snow

the-invisible-thread

 

What are some of your family traditions that you look forward to doing every year with your family?

Bio:

Keyosha Atwater is an avid reader, Instagramer and blogger. When she isn’t reading to her own kiddos or reviewing books on Instagram @weebooklovers, you’ll find her working on her brand new blog, Wee Book Lovers, where she’ll be reviewing even more books and suggesting the best of the best kid-tested, mom-approved books to try with your own family.

My blog: http://weebooklovers.typepad.com
My IG: weebooklovers
My Twitter: weebooklovers

 

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Day 9 of 12 Days of Guest Bloggers: Carrie White

Carrie and I are internet friends. We met in a Facebook group and have been following each other’s adventures on Instagram for several months. Our kids are the same age, and that helps in comparing book notes (LOL). I am so excited to have Carrie here today!

Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8,

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Reading At Christmas Time

I love books. And I also love holidays and traditions. As a little girl, one of my favorite parts of Christmas was sitting near the tree and reading Christmas stories by the glow of the Christmas lights … anything from the Christmas chapters of the Little House books to the story of Jesus’ birth straight from the book of Luke.

My love for books has grown with me into adulthood, especially now that I’m raising my own little readers. img_20161128_170947195Books help us create a home that challenges our hearts and minds to grow and promotes big imaginations, dreams, joy, enthusiasm, love, and acceptance. And the warmth and joy and giving that most of us want to experience during the Christmas season are perfectly complimented by … books!

How to incorporate books and reading into your holiday traditions? I’m all about simple and this is as simple as it gets: get some holiday books. Read them. Read them snuggled by the tree, or in bed before everyone goes to sleep. Throw in some hot cocoa or candy canes or Christmas cookies if you like. Just read, and read often.

Christmas stories transport us to worlds where animals talk and experience the wonder of Jesus’ birth up close, where grinches steal all the Christmas stuff and then reform, where a little girl’s nutcracker doll comes to life, and where families long ago and far away celebrate holidays that are very different from ours –and yet in many ways, not so different. My little Kentucky boys may not experience many white Christmases during their childhoods, but we can join Laura and Mary Ingalls in Christmas in the Big Woods where they make candy out of fresh maple syrup and snow, and cousins come visiting in horse-drawn sleighs. Or we can join a particularly chilly Christmas celebration when we read Snowmen at Christmas.

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Christmas books are a big part of our holiday, but this year will be our first using books to count down the days to Christmas –definitely not an original idea, but a good one! I’ve wrapped twenty-four Christmas books in brown paper (technically twenty-five, there’s a bonus book to read on Christmas Eve!) and attached a numbered tag to each package. Every day, beginning on December 1st, we’ll unwrap a book and read it together. Most of the books I wrapped are old favorites I’ve collected through the years, but there are some new surprises mixed in as well!

Over the next few weeks we’ll be reading The Night Before Christmas and Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd- JonesA Pirate’s Twelve Days of Christmas and The Jolly Christmas PostmanMr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree and The Crippled Lamb … plus many others, some serious and some silly.

img_20161128_110657But my personal favorite is a book we discovered last year, Mortimer’s Christmas Manger. This lovely story is by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman, the duo who brought us the “Bear” books such as Bear Snores On and Bear Wakes Up for Christmas. Mortimer is a mouse who tries to find shelter in a family’s nativity by kicking baby Jesus and the rest of the figurines out of the little stable. But when he overhears the humans in the home telling the story of the very first Christmas, Mortimer has a change of heart. It’s a story that lends itself to a fun hands-on activity: last year I bought a little stuffed mouse and we reenacted the story with our own little Mortimer + a kid-friendly nativity set!

Christmastime can be harried and hectic. Taking time to enjoy reading with your littles can be the perfect antidote to the stress of the season, providing a simple but profound way to connect meaningfully as a family. Merry Christmas y’all, and happy reading!

Bio:

Carrie is a book addict & homeschool mama who lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband, two boys (ages 4 and 2), and their dog. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

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Day 8 of 12 Days of Guest Bloggers: Rebecca of @SnowyOwlReads

Rebecca is another book lover I’ve “met” from Instagram. Her Instagram feed is full of great books! Be sure to follow her!

To see the previous guests check out:

Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7

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Over the Thanksgiving holiday I spent some time pilfering through my parents’ picture book collection and came across a lost but not forgotten influence on my childhood moral compass. Claude the Dog: A Christmas Story, by Dick Gackenbach, may have been one of the first books to move me to tears. It was originally published in 1974 by Houghton Mifflin Company, but I had a slim 1980’s Weekly Reader paperback edition. The premise is simple. Claude receives three presents from his owners—a pillow, a blanket, and a toy mouse. He’s just snuggling into his new blanket and pillow when along comes Bummer, a homeless dog. Claude begins by showing off his presents to Bummer, only to discover that Bummer has never seen or had anything like them. One by one, Claude gives away his gifts to Bummer before running home for his best present: the love of his family.

dsc_2158When I first read Claude the Dog as a child living in a rural area, obvious homelessness, either human or canine, wasn’t something for which I had much context. But my own children are growing up in a dense neighborhood of a big city, and homelessness is increasingly obvious them. My oldest notices the men and women standing with signs at street corners or sitting on busy sidewalks with all their possessions, and she has begun to ask more pointed questions. Child development specialist, Betsy Brown Braun offers some helpful talking points for addressing homelessness with kids. She adds that sometimes the hardest part for a child to understand may be why homeless people often don’t have friends or family who can help them.

In addition to Braun’s wise words, I would also add that picture books can open a window of understanding for children grappling with difficult topics including but of course not limited to homelessness. As for myself, no amount of parental preaching about gratitude and “the true meaning of Christmas” could have pierced my selfish, Santa-obsessed little heart quite like the story of Claude and Bummer. Amen for the bookish miracle of empathy! And so I’m reminded that while I craft my children’s December reading around the fun of receiving and the excitement of anticipation, I also need to include books about sacrifice and compassion.

Although Claude is now out of print, there are other picture books predicated on similar issues—most recently The Christmas Eve Tree written by Delia Huddy and Illustrated by Emily Sutton. img_1051In this case, a spindly little tree, ill-planted from the start, is given to a homeless boy to enjoy on Christmas Eve. Later, the tree finds second life when planted in a neighborhood park where it grows and flourishes. The final page shows the boy, many years on, smiling at the tree and also clearly flourishing. While it’s certainly important to be honest with children about the realities of homelessness, I love that The Christmas Eve Tree provides hope of something better even while not skirting the darker details along the way.

Of course we can also help our children turn their compassion into action. At this time of year in particular homeless shelters and food pantries are stocking their supplies for winter and collecting cold weather gear for those most vulnerable to extreme temperatures. Contact a local shelter and simply ask what they need. You might be surprised by what they say and how eager your kids are to help.

Bio:

Rebecca Schisler is a recovering academic and English instructor turned stay-at-home mom of two girls in St. Louis, MO. She reviews their favorite picture books on Instagram as @snowyowlreads.

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Day 7 of 12 Days of Guest Bloggers: Tracy with Lu and Bean Podcast

Tracy is today’s guest blogger. I’ve been following her Instagram, but I highly recommend the book podcast she does with her kids!

To see previous Guest Bloggers, check out:

Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6

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Arturo and the Navidad Birds
Written by Anne Broyles
Illustrated by KE Lewis

Some of the favorite books our family owns are those we would never have found on our own. When people give us books, we often uncover hidden treasures that never came across our Amazon recommendations or our Instagram feed. It’s no surprise, then, that some of our favorite books are Christmas books given to Lu (6) and Bean (4) over the years by grandmothers and friends of the family.
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Arturo and the Navidad Birds was a special gift sent from the girls’ grandmother Mary in Illinois. It’s inscribed, “May you always be surrounded by people who love you and share stories with you.”

Those few words summarize Arturo and the Navidad Birds perfectly. The book shares the story of Arturo, a young boy who is decorating a Christmas tree with his grandmother. The pair share stories of the past and of their family as they dig through boxes of ornaments and place them on the tree. The ornaments recall stories of Abue’s (pronounced ah-BWAY, meaning grandma) childhood, of a trip to her hometown when she had children of her own, and of the Christmas story itself—the real reason we celebrate.

While Abue makes a quick trip into the kitchen, Arturo finds a cherished dove ornament given to Abue by a friend who has passed away. He happily flies the bird around the room until—oops!—the ornament comes crashing to the ground in pieces. Gathering the many shards of glass in his hands, Arturo faces the dilemma of how to tell his grandmother that he’s broken something that can never be replaced.

Arturo and the Navidad Birds is a heartwarming story that teaches young children the importance of telling the truth even in the most difficult situations. In the end, Arturo and Abue realize that while things can be shattered, memories stay with us forever.

English readers will pick up on a few new Spanish vocabulary words while being able to follow the whole story regardless of their Spanish language proficiency. Spanish readers will delight in having the full story available in Spanish alongside the English text on every page. Everyone will enjoy a new holiday reading tradition that leaves us knowing that being surrounded by people who love us and share stories with us is the most important thing in life.

Tracy Babler is a freelance writer from Minneapolis, MN. She writes about children’s literature at luandbeanread.com and produces the Lu and Bean Read children’s story podcast with her four- and six-year- old daughters. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

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Day 6 of 12 Days of Guest Bloggers: Jennifer from @Jenjustread

Jennifer has an awesome book Instagram account. I really enjoy seeing what books she and her son are reading. I’m excited to have her guest blogging today!

See previous guest posts:

Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5,

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Traditions

When I was younger I imagined how my life would be when I was married and had children. That vision definitely included books…and lots of them!

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However, I rationalized that until I had children I wouldn’t buy any children’s books. I stayed true to that decision for the most part.

One of the two times I caved was the Christmas before we were engaged. I knew it was coming, (I actually expected Erik to propose during Christmas. He didn’t, but that’s another story) and I wanted to start our life together with the tradition of opening a new Christmas book each year. I imagined years down the road we’d cozy up as a family and read the massive pile of books I’d accumulated. That first Christmas I bought The Night Before Christmas by Jan Brett. I thought it was the most classic story and most beautiful copy available. I treasure that book. In addition to the spirit of Christmas it exudes, it reminds me of a bright and joyful future.

I haven’t done so well since. To my regret I did not buy a Christmas book for our first Christmas as a married couple! I don’t know what I was thinking. I suppose I figured the lovely copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens we’d been given as a wedding present counted (it totally does). Last year was our son’s first Christmas and again I didn’t buy a book (tradition clearly hasn’t gone so well). I’m counting a book we received as a gift for his birth, Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett.

This year though, it’s gonna happen!

fullsizerender-2In fact it already has! For months I’ve been on the lookout for the perfect Christmas book for this year. I have been so excited to restart this tradition. I originally planned to only buy hardcovers, but now that I have a young son I realize how unrealistic that is. This year I went with a board book: The ABC’s of Christmas by Jill Howarth. It is so gorgeous and I have a soft spot for ABC books! I want my son and any future children I have to be able to enjoy these books without losing my mind worrying about torn pages.

Erik and I have been considering what other traditions we want to incorporate into our Christmas holidays. He loves A Christmas Carol so we came up with the idea that we would read that story aloud as a family starting the day after Thanksgiving each year. Eventually, as our family grows we plan to make it an event. Music, props, different speaking parts for each person, we want to go all out!

The last two years have been crazy to say the least. I’m thrilled we are settled in a home where our son will have opportunities to make memories year after year, starting with this Christmas holiday.

Bio:

Hi! I’m Jen and I love books. For the past year I’ve been reading and reviewing children’s books, seeking out the best of the best! I love good design, clever and meaningful text, and eye-catching illustrations. I love books so much that I studied English Literature in college but somehow never took a class on children’s lit. My son is what brought me to this incredible world of picture books and I hope to instill in him the immense love I have for reading.

Contact Info/Social Media:

Jenjustread@gmail.com

Instagram: @jenjustread

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Day 5 of 12 Days of Guest Bloggers: Author Todd Tarpley

My son, Madden, is obsessed with Ninjas. He loves reading books about Ninjas and he most certainly love pretending to be a ninja. When we discover a Ninja book, we read every book by the author. Then we eagerly wait for more.  I have been following NinjasRead on Twitter for quite some time. It’s a group of authors who have all written Ninja books. They get the need for Ninjas. I am SO very honored to have author Todd Tarpley join us for the 12 Days of Guest Bloggers. Appropriately, today is also National Ninja Day.

Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4

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It’s December, which means two things: Christmas and National Ninja Day! Here is a poem to celebrate.

 

The Ninjas ‘fore Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the village

Not a pirate was stirring to plunder or pillage.

The wind ‘gainst the windows was all one could hear

‘Til at last came the voice of a wee buccaneer.

 

“Is Santa here yet? Is he coming tonight?”

“Blimey!” cried Papa, “he’s coming, all right!

“But ye must close yer eyes and not make any noise

“Then Santa will bring us all presents and toys.

 

Just at that moment, up high on the hill

Nine little ninjas sat perfectly still.

There was Baxter and Bixler and Burpy and Blinky,

Ethan and Ella and Slurpy and Stinky.

 

And up in the tree was a ninja named Fin

Whose nose had turned red from the cold winter wind.

They crouched ’neath the moon in the fresh-fallen snow

And peered toward the enemy village below.

 

“You have to remind me of something,” said Fin.

“Why don’t we like them? Please tell me again.”

“Because,” whispered Ella, “as everyone knows,

Pirates and ninjas have always been foes.”

 

All of a sudden there came a loud crash

A boom and a bang, a screech and a smash

They saw two straight tracks leading into the snow

Then they heard the faint sound of a soft “Ho, ho, ho.”

 

“Santa’s the name,” said the jolly old man

As he brushed off the snow and reached out his hand.

“My reindeer got lost in the fog and the snow.

Now our sleigh’s broken down with just one stop to go!”

 

“Hooray!” cried the ninjas. “The town will be joy-less!

The pirates will wake to find Christmas is toy-less!”

Santa frowned toward his reindeer, cold and exhausted.

He looked toward the village, forsaken and frosted.

 

“Wait,” began Fin, “I’m not saying we WOULD,

Be we COULD help deliver the gifts—yes, we COULD.

It IS Christmas Eve, and just maybe—who knows?

Maybe pirates and ninjas don’t HAVE to be foes.”

 

“Let’s do it!” cried Stinky. “I’m in!” added Slurpy.

“Me too!” shouted Bixler. “Brrrrppp!” bellowed Burpy.

And when they were finished the sleigh was like new,

With a giant black cloak and new skis of bamboo.

 

“On, Baxter! On, Bixler! On, Burpy! On, Blinky!

On, Ethan! On, Ella! On, Slurpy! On, Stinky!”

With young, red-nosed Fin at the front of the pack

And Santa Claus steering, dressed only in black.

 

From rooftop to rooftop so nimble and swift

They slid down each chimney and dropped off each gift.

And just as the very last package was brought

The littlest pirate crawled down from his cot.

 

He tiptoed across the old wooden-plank floor,

And caught a quick glimpse of the closing front door.

Prying open the shutters with rusty old hinges,

“Papa?” he said. “I think I see NINJAS!”

 

Every lamp in the village was instantly on.

Every doorway flew open, every pirate sword drawn.

“Shiver me timbers!” the pirates commanded.

“Ye’ll walk the plank now—we caught you red-handed!”

 

Surrounding the ninjas, their faces aghast.

“Wait!” said the littlest pirate at last.

“The ninjas aren’t evil! They’re not here to pillage!

They came to help Santa bring toys to the village!”

 

“Blimey!” cried Papa, “I reckon it’s true–

Thar’s a ninja-ized sleigh with two skis of bamboo!

From this moment forward, our rivalry ends!

Now pirates and ninjas will always be friends!”

 

And when it was time, Santa sprung to his sleigh.

With a call to his reindeer they lifted away.

And they heard him exclaim with a final hurrah,
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a HEE-YAA!”

 

Todd Tarpley is the author of picture books including “Beep! Beep! Go to Sleep!” and “My Grandma’s a Ninja!” He’s also a member of “Ninjas Read!” which celebrates National Ninja Day on December 5 and encourages ninja readers year-round.