The 24 books of Christmas

As you know, we love us some books.

So I was immediately interested when I saw — on Pinterest, probably — an Advent tradition that used books instead of the traditional small toys or treats or candies.

Also, my parents bake enough cookies to feed 3.2 billion grandchildren and then they go to Florida for a month, sticking us with the leftovers.  So we’re set on the sugar front is what I’m getting at.

One of the things that kept me from doing this in previous years was concern about cost — even if I got the books on sale, I figured I was looking at $10 each, and $240 is more than we’ll probably spend on all the kids’ Christmas gifts, let alone the Advent preamble.  Enter Scholastic.  I ordered through Seve’s class program and ended up getting 26 books for just under $40, or about $1.50 each.  Now that was doable, especially given that the plan is to use these year after year.

advent_3

The plan was to wrap them simply, in plain paper — I just used white tissue paper from the dollar store — and to number them, so that the kids get one new winter/Christmas-themed book every night leading up to December 24.

I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I didn’t want to label each book by hand in case my penmanship was messy.

I’m cheap, so I didn’t want to run through tons of ink printing out all of the numbers in red and green.

Finally, I’m a dork, so of course I made a spreadsheet so I could figure how frequently I’d need to duplicate each number to complete a range from 1 through 24 (just zoom in for the details).

advent_1

Then I cut those printed numbers out to serve as templates on construction paper:

advent_2

Then I cut those out and glued them onto the wrapped books:

advent_4

Then I stuck them in an empty box of cocoa because after all that wrapping and taping and cutting and gluing, Cocoa Box was as festive as I was going to get.

advent_5

Cost:  Affordable
Scale of Difficulty:  Depends on whether or not you have to clean off table surface first
Paper Cut Potential:  High
Return on (Two-Hour) Investment: TBD

44 kids’ books that grown-ups don’t hate (and some that they do)

road_made_of_booksBooks make amazing gifts for kids – at this time of year or any other.

We’ll be walking that walk next month when we read 25 brand-new, never-before-seen books for Advent.  More on that later, but I can already tell you that I’m approaching that new tradition with a bit of trepidation because, let’s face it, not all kids’ books are created equal.

There are some books that we adore that our kids think are Yawn City.  And some books they want to have read to them again — and again and again – that for various reasons, grate on our more and/or less sensitive literary nerves.

To help you in your gift-giving endeavours, and to preserve your friendships with both the small recipients and their larger readers, I’ve compiled a list of 44 kids’ books that parents don’t hate.

The first three are my own personal favourites, with the balance drawn from family and friends. Big thanks to everyone who commented on Facebook (on my own page, and this blog’s) with great suggestions.

These titles are geared primarily toward the pre-reader set, and offered with the standard proviso that not every child will like every recommended book.  Kids are weird like that!

I’ve also included other recommended titles from parents that were given to me without an explanation as to the origin of their awesomeness.  They are ranked in terms of frequency (the number of times they were mentioned), so buying from the top of the list should land you a good one (or four).

Finally, for tips on what not to buy, see the Big Bad Blacklist at the end of this post – it’s a list of books that parents will read because their kids love them, or because they’re too lazy to get out of bed and grab something better. But they’re not happy about it.
 

 
THE ONES WE LIKE AND WHY WE LIKE THEM

My personal top three are Thing-Thing (Cary Fagan; a longer story filled with memorable characters that follows the descent of a rejected toy thrown out a hotel window), This Is Me and Where I Am  (Joanne Fitzgerald; featuring a neighbourhood that looks just like ours, and a reassuring message of home and place) and Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site (Sherri Duskey Rinker; perfect for truck fans and impeccably written with not a single syllable out of place).

But wait … there’s more!  Here are some other top suggestions from parents, teachers and fans of kid lit:

  • “I love Where The Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak).  I have so much fun reading it! Definitely a favourite for me! (Kristi)
  • “I love reading The Spooky Old Tree – and really, anything Berenstain Bears – with my kid. It’s really engaging and fun.” (Emily)
  • ”My favourite is Big Bad Bruce but I like most books by Bill Peet.  His books are the right length for the four-year-old set and have a really nice cadence/syntax to them. The stories are interesting and don’t get old quickly (for me).” (Cory)
  • “Harry the Dirty Dog (Gene Zion) was nightly reading here for both kiddos, that I still enjoy after hundreds of repetitions.” (Kirsten)
  • “I really enjoy reading Dr. Seuss books.  Every now and then I take over bedtime book selection and I usually pick something like Horton Hears A Who, The Lorax, or How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It’s fun (for me) to read the rhymes, and there’s good breaks to look at the pictures and make sure the kids are following along.” (Kristina)
  • “Mo Willems’ Cat the Cat series and Elephant and Piggie series are fantastic. The kids at my school – from kinders all the way up to grade two – love these books.  Even some of the older kids read them now and then.” (Denise)
  • “On the multicultural side, I appreciated the copy of Dim Sum for Everyone (Grace Lin) hat I got from my cousin, and my son likes it, too.  I also got the recent ABC of Toronto (Per-Henrik Gürth) because it has so many places we know.  The Subway Mouse (Barbara Reid) is great if you have a transit fan in the house.” (Nicola)
  • “Love, love, love anything by Margaret Mahy, the cleverest of authors. Everything from The Lion in the Meadow to The Moon and Farmer McPhee is witty, charming and entertaining for both me and my children.” (Jodi)
  • “All of Sandra Boynton’s books are great. I love how short they are too. If you have a son who insists on no less than five books at bedtime, then having a couple Boyntons in there is essential.” (Ken)
  • “I started reading chapters of The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Brian Selznick) to my son and he actually cried the first time after I stopped reading three chapters. He was mad I didn’t go on. I don’t think he understands a word that I’m saying, but he really loves the pictures (which make up a ton of the huge book)…heck, I love looking at the pictures too!” (Tara)
  • “ I love books that have a great rhythm and rhyming patterns – they help kids make predictions and learn to make associations between words.  Great choices for this are The Gruffalo (Julia Donaldson), Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See (Eric Carle) and Is Your Mama A Llama (Deborah Guarino).” (Lisa)
  • “At the moment, my go-to book is Follow That Fly (Mike McClintock) – short and sweet.” (Jessica)
  • “My son loves Pete the Cat books (Eric Litwin), and they’re so much fun, I love reading them to him. His fave is Pete The Cat: I Love My Red Shoes.” (Brooke)
  • “The Olivia series has always played well … and I identify with the tired mum!” (Kate)
  • “Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic are up there with Alligator Pie for kids poetry.  We have also enjoyed reading James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and George’s Marvellous Medicine (all Roald Dahl), to rapturous response.” (Adam)
  • ”With my older child, we read the Bob books (Bobby Lynn Maslen) together. They are great for beginning readers.” (Heidi)

(Ed note: Herewith, evidence that Heidi is a better parent than I am.  We have the Bob books but I find them deadly to read: “Mat sat.” “Sam sat.” and so on.  They are great books for beginning readers, though.)

  • “I love all of Oliver Jeffers’ books, especially The Heart In The Jar, which goes right over the kids’ heads.  Also almost all of Julia Donaldson’s books, which scan beautifully, and are a joy to read.” (Jaimie)
  • The Paper Bag Princess (Robert Munsch) helps to counteract the insidious, saccharine Disney travesty.” (Viki)
  • “Donaldson is a definite standout – The Snail and the Whale is by far our favourite. Shel Silverstein is brilliant fun on the tongue. The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau (Dan Yaccarino) always enthralls my son.” (Jenny)
  • “I read Owls in the Family (Farley Mowat) to my grade 1/2 class last year and they loved it.  They also loved the Jacob Two-Two books by Mordecai Richler. Those are hilarious – you’d love them, too!” (Lisa)
  • “I love all of Russell Hoban’s Frances books, with Bread and Jam for Frances the best of those.” (Adam)
  • “We just got Mama Hook Knows Best (Sharon Osbourne)… it’s new (so I’m not tired of it yet) but it’s super cute and has good messages.” (Airyckah)
  • All the World (Liz Garton Scanlon) is a current favourite for us both – gorgeous illustrations.  Always happy to read the Golden Books I grew up on, too, especially Tawny Scrawny Lion (Gustaf Tenggren) and Scuffy the Tugboat (Gertrude Crampton).” (Jessica)
  • Duck! Rabbit! (Amy Krouse Rosenthal) is tried-and-true.  We love that book in our house.  So simple and yet so thought-provoking.” (Kristen)
  • “I like A House is a House for Me (Mary Ann Hoberman).  It’s short enough to cater to a toddler’s attention span, with pictures they can get into.” (Sara)

(Ed note: Sara also highly recommended Guess How Much I Love You and Love Your Forever but I pulled them from this top list as both also had lots of “blacklist” mentions.)

 

 
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE …

Thanks to everyone who contributed these additional titles, especially Sandy, Diane, Fay, Janice, Stephanie, Sue, Tom, Jill, Carrie, Megan, Christina, Angela, Ken, Heather, Andrew, Joy, Nicola, Kris, Heidi, Lauren, Jenny, Sarah, Sharon and Shauna.

  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Michael Rosen)
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle)
  • Any of the Scaredy Squirrel and Chesterbooks (Mélanie Watt)
  • The Pout-Pout Fish (Deborah Diesen)
  • Any of the Frog and Toad series (Arnold Lobel)
  • Where Is The Green Sheep?, Time For Bed and Koala Lou (Mem Fox)
  • Any of the Maisy books (Lucy Cousins)
  • There Were Monkeys in My Kitchen (Sheree Fitch)
  • Bear Snores On (Karma Wilson)
  • Grumpy Bird (Jeremy Tankard)
  • Any of the Curious George books (Margret Rey)
  • Alligator Pie and Garbage Delight (Dennis Lee)
  • Llama Llama Red Pajama (Anna Dewdney)
  • Little Blue Truck (Alice Schertle)
  • I Love You Forever (Robert Munsch)
  • Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown)
  • The Napping House (Audrey Wood)

(Ed note: These last three titles, while recommended by more than one person, also figured prominently on La Lista Negra (see below))

  • Sheep in a Jeep (Nancy E. Shaw)
  • Lost and Found and How To Catch A Star (Oliver Jeffers)
  • My Daddy And Me (Tina McNaughton)
  • The Monster at the End of This Book (Jon Stone)
  • Over in the Ocean (Marianne Berkes)
  • Good Night, Gorilla (Peggy Rathmann)
  • Hush Little Baby  (Sylvia Long)
  • Bear on a Bike  (Stella Blackstone)

(Ed note: The “Bear” books were one of the things that got me curious about books that other parents like!  There are a few in the series that I love (eg: Bear at Home) and a few that make me want to punch holes in the walls (eg: Bear on a Bike) so this might be one case where it’s best to read-before-you-buy.)

  • Any of the Hairy Maclary books (Lynley Dodd)
  • The Pencil and Each Peach Pear Plum (Janet and Allan Ahlberg)
  • Professor Wormbog’s Gloomy Kerploppus (Mercer Mayer)
  • Fortunately, the Milk (Neil Gaiman)
  • The Quangle Wangle’s Hat (Edward Lear)
  • Frog in Winter (Max Velthuijs)
  • Barnyard Dance (Sandra Boynton)
  • Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)
  • Click, Clack, Moo and the Duck books (Doreen Cronin)
  • Any of the Little Critter books (Mercer Mayer)
  • Any of the Stella and Sam books (Marie-Louise Gay)
  • On the Day You Were Born (Debra Frasier)
  • The Queen’s Knickers (Nicholas Allan)
  • Peace At Last, Five Minutes’ Peace and Whatever Next (Jill Murphy)
  • Any of the Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny books (Mo Willem)
  • Diary of a Wombat (Jackie French)
  • Miss Rumphius (Barbara Cooney)
  • 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore (Jenny Offill)
  • Five Little Monkeys (various authors)
  • I Spy (Jean Marzollo)

(Ed note: My kids love “I Spy” style books, but they’re definitely a daytime read, unless you want to stay awake until midnight confirming the correct identification of every butterfly, bee, blade of grass …)

  • Extra Yarn (Mac Barnett)
  • Ponyella (Laura Numerof)
  • Santa Claus, the World’s Number One Toy Expert (Marla Frazee)
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon (Crockett Johnson)
  • Any of the Madeline books (Ludwig Bemelmans)
  • Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss)
  • Whose Nose and Toes? (John R. Butler)
  • Any of the Fly Guy books (Tedd Arnold)
  • You’re All My Favourites (Sam McBratney)
  • Mommy, Do You Love Me? (Jeanne Willis)
  • Albert and Sarah Jane (Malachy Doyle)
  • Happy Dog, Sad Dog (Sam Lloyd)
  • I Kissed the Baby! (Mary Murphy)
  • The Velveteen Rabbit (Margery Williams)
  • Lyle, Lyle Crocodile (Bernard Waber)
  • The Goodnight Train (June Sobel)
  • Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo and My Truck is Stuck (Kevin Lewis)
  • Where’s Wally (aka: Where’s Waldo) (Martin Handford)
  • The Story of Ferdinand (Munro Leaf)
  • Down By The Bay (Raffi)
  • I Want My Hat Back (Jon Klassen)
  • It’s Time To Sleep, My Love (Nancy Tillman)

Recommended Authors
Some commenters didn’t share specific titles but instead recommended “any books” by the following authors: Eric Carle, Graeme Base, Roald Dahl, Oliver Jeffers, Dr. Seuss, Sandra Boynton, Mo Willems, Jeremy Tankard, Marie-Louise Gay, Mem Fox, Julia Donaldson, Jane Yolen, Emily Brown, Sheree Fitch.
 

 
LA LISTA NEGRA

These are the books that grown-ups will read if they have to.  Like, if the requesting child is feverish or if The Walking Dead is coming on in 12 minutes.

These were also some of my favourite comments because they feature the kind of no-holds-barred honesty you only get from frustrated parents:

  • “I personally cannot stand reading The Napping House (Audrey Wood), and Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown) makes me want to tear my eyes out.” (Tara)
  • Robert Munsch is lazy and horrible, although The Paperbag Princess, while lazy, isn’t awful.  Amelia Bedelia (Peggy Parish) was too irritating to read a second time.  The Franklin books (Paulette Bourgeois) are surprisingly not terrible. The books by the original authors are better, although there’s not the same drop-off as with the Olivia books (any of them not written by Ian Falconer are dreck).” (Adam)
  • Love You Forever (Robert Munsch) is kind of creepy.  And Guess How Much I Love You (Sam McBratney) with that awful Type-A Big Nut Brown Hare that just has to have the last word.” (Jaimie)
  • “The books that I would love to ban are all the Learn-to-Read Star Wars/Lego/Power Ranger books that my son used to love but that felt like nothing more than product placement. Now we go to the comic book store and buy The Avengers or Justice League. At least that product placement isn’t trying to be educational.” (Ken)

(Ed note: Lego City books are truly, truly horrid. We get a new Lego catalogue in the mail every month or so and no word of a lie I just make up stories while we flip through it.  I don’t think the kids can tell the difference.)

Thomas (Wilbert Awdry) didn’t fare well:

  • “I hate just about any book based on a TV show (Thomas books, Dora books, etc.) or any book based on a Disney movie – I find them so hard to read!” (Shauna)
  • “Blacklisted?  Any and all Thomas the Tank Engine books.  I just can’t read another one. I won’t do it.  (Also, can’t stand Goodnight Moon; the kids don’t like it either, so that helps).” (Jessica)
  • “If I never ever read another Thomas book … I will be very happy!” (Jenny)

And sometimes, the reason isn’t just poor rhyme scheme or over-the-top commercialization …

  • On the Night You Were Born (Nancy Tillman) is blacklisted because I can’t get through it without voice wobbles.” (Kirsten)
  • Someday (Alison McGhee) because I can’t read it without ugly-crying.” (Jaimie)

I have to give the final word to Jessica, though, who sums up the reading parent’s reasoning so perfectly:

“No permanently blacklisted books – they just land there temporarily after readings enter triple digits.”

Bananacone

I wish I could say that this will be one of an ongoing series but the truth is that I don’t have great ideas very often.

parenting_hack

One of the “tricks” I use to get Seve to eat bananas is to give it to him still in the peel (aka: “monkey banana”).  Sometimes the banana is too ripe, though, or he’s too efficient with his peeling and … plop … sticky, denuded banana on the table and he wants nothing to do with it.  Having suffered the indignity of eating a frozen banana on a stick, age 13, I empathize.

In an attempt to salvage the snack, I reached for a kleenex to wrap around the nakey ‘nana, and handed it to him, saying, “Look, Beast, just like an ice cream cone.”  At which point I remembered that we have ACTUAL mini ice cream cones and BAM: Parenting Hack, Part I of I.

NOTE: This is not “banana ice cream” or “frozen banana treat” or “paleo soft serve” or whathaveyou.  It’s a banana in an ice cream cone.  Let’s not get carried away, here.

So what do you do all day?

I appreciate that this is not the first time that question has been asked (and answered).

I’m not talking about what parents do all day, though.  I know what I do, even if the “knowing what I’m doing” part is sometimes elusive.

What I don’t know is what my school-aged child does all day, because despite information sessions and regular contact with his teacher — I see her twice, sometimes four times, a day — the actual daily routine is still a bit of a black hole.  And the kid’s no help.

“What did you do this morning?” is regularly met with “fun stuff” or “we did some things.”  AND HE’S THE CHATTIEST CHILD I’VE EVER MET.  A friend advised that I ask him about routine activities; instead of the open-ended, “what did you do …” to ask, “What story did your teacher read today?”  Or since kids this age are all inveterate snitches, “Who got in trouble today?  What did they do?”

Yeah, that doesn’t work, either.

Every so often, when swine take flight and Earth’s satellite feels unfulfilled, he’ll offer up something spontaneously.  Onto which I grasp, desperately.

So it was when he came home and started saying to Juno, “That’s good monster manners!” or to me, “She took my train I was playing with and that is below the line!”

Cue furious Googling.

Turns out there are many (many!) books titled “Monster Manners” and none of them had anything to do with what he was talking about.  The above the line / below the line language is from a program developed to teach appropriate behaviour and self-correction — which I can imagine might be lacking in a room filled with 30 three-, four- and five-year-olds — and the images Seve identified as being “our monsters” are from an adaptation (actually a multi-page PDF that you can download and use anywhere, like, say, our living room).

As I understand it, behaviours are grouped into three categories: Above the line, Below the line and Bottom line.  In a school setting, Bottom line behaviours are those that are likely to get you ejected from the classroom.  At home, they’re our no-way, no-how, nunh-uh, don’t-even-THINK-about-it behaviours.  Those are actually well understood, even by Juno at just north of two years old.

monster_manners_lines

Distinguishing between Above the line and Below the line behaviours is where kids — and if I may, some adults — could use a little work.  I liked the pictures of the monsters from the PDF, and wanted to include them because they both reinforce the imagery Seve sees in the classroom, and because they’re cute.  But as a pre-reader, seeing words like “participating” or “interrupting” weren’t going to have much traction with either kid, so I spent an evening searching for images that show the desired/objectionable behaviour.

Then I made them into little cards with both the photo and description.  And then I cut them out and had them laminated because I actually am, on occasion, that person:

monster_manners

And then we spent some time together actually sorting the behaviours into categories.  This is where, if my ego was healthy enough to assume that anyone might actually “try this at home,” I would yell into the camera: “DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.”  It’s a really neat opportunity for you to see how your child has internalized your family’s expectations and for you to have a discussion about where things out to fall on the naughty –> nice continuum.  It was after doing this that I decided that “breaking toys” was Below the line (not great) but not Bottom line (truly egregious) because, as Seve explained, “Sometimes it’s a accident.”  Fair enough.

This is what they looked like, when posted inside our front door:

monster_manners_in_action

You’ll notice that there are no actual lines.  I figured the laminating was sufficient to earn a passing grade in pedagogical pedantry.

One interesting thing I’ve noticed — remember how I said that kids this age looooove to rat each other out? — well, that applies to grown-ups, too.  More than once, Seve has called me to task for “bad monster manners,” usually interrupting, sometimes yelling.  I’ll give him this much: he’s never wrong.

If you are interested in creating your own monster manners wall, you’ll obviously want to use behaviours that are meaningful and relevant for your own family, but if you want a starter list, here’s what I used:

Above the line  Below the line Bottom line
  • Sharing
  • Sitting criss-cross*
  • Raising hand*
  • Working quietly
  • Helping others
  • Keeping hands to
    yourself
  • Asking politely
  • Participating
  • Walking
  • Cleaning up
  • Breaking toys
  • Interrupting
  • Not listening
  • Hitting
  • Kicking
  • Pushing
  • Spitting
  • Yelling
  • Biting

* these are only applicable at school but I wanted to create a visual reminder of their importance as they were brand new behaviours that needed some reinforcing

Congratulations, you reached the end of this book!  Here’s a monster for you:

happy_monster

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.