Ten Tips for Reading with Kids!



Hey friends who know kids (that should be about everyone)–  Saturday we had a baby shower here for smart, articulate, beautiful Emily.  For part of the morning, the 5 hostesses (all her mom’s age) decided to give a little “Mom Advice” to Emily, just starting out on this mothering thing.  It felt a little bit like the fairies in Sleeping Beauty hovering around to bestow blessings on the new baby!!  It really was a sweet time together– and here’s my advice on reading:


#1. Start early.  One friend told me her mom read to her as an infant and since the baby wasn’t tracking stories quite yet, the mother read what she enjoyed– Shakespeare!  Awesome.  It’s never to soon to ladle all those sweet words and sounds into your baby’s head…

#2. For tiny readers, it’s all about rhythm, rhyme and repetition.  That’s why most every 3 year old is content to to read Brown Bear Brown Bear or Hop On Pop over and over.

#3.  Sing along books are great!  Even my 3rd graders loved to chime in on The Lady with the Alligator Purse!
Nadine Wescott has a whole series of sing-along books that are whimsical fun.

#4. Work reading into your schedule– the obvious before bed slot or during lunch or a wake up story…  The year Aaron was in kindergarten, we read every day while his sisters napped after lunch.  A sweet memorable time together.

#5.  Never be bookless!  Always have a stash in your diaper bag or in the car or tucked in a backpack–so waiting for appointments or in line or in traffic, you can pull out a story!

#6.  Some books are boring– Skip those!!  Look for books with color and lively language and humor, lots of humor–  Our favorite funny books include– I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More (naughty baby with a paintbrush) and Never Mail an Elephant (obvious foibles) and the Monster at the end of the Book (better read with the Grover voice!).

#7.  Wear out your Library Card!  Keep a fresh stack of books rotating through your house.  Last summer for Grammy Camp, we had a Library Scavenger Hunt.  We made an illustrated  list — a book about a cat, a Dr. Seuss book, an ABC book…   and rounded them up for a bagful of books to tote home.

#8.  Talk about the books you read together–  anticipate what will happen next.  Ask which character is the most interesting, why?  Imagine a different ending to the story.

#9.  Bribing children to read is totally acceptable!  We had summer reading charts that looked like large Candyland games with a family outing at the end for all who finished.  And when we lived in Spain, someone mailed us a set of World Book Encyclopedias. I paid my boys 25 cents a page to read entries.  When the kids were older, I would check out colorful library books on topics they enjoyed and leave them on the coffee table, pretty sure they would pick them up.

#10.  Just keep on reading!  As they get older and schedules get full, you have to be creative.  On vacations, pick up a book that relates to your trip and read together.  Jim Trelease (author of the amazing Read Aloud Handbook) would make his high school kids wash the dishes for their chores and then sit at the kitchen table and read to them!  One year we had a 30 minute ride to school and read through The Hiding Place, Brother Andrew, Tom Sawyer…  to pass the commute.

So much joy in reading with kids– Hope your lap is full of books and little “readers!”  And one last picture– our little grand-girl Mae, a book lover.

Thank you to albinfo.ch for the illustration.




30 Years of Books

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41IU-ciqOzL._AA160_  Unknown-7  Unknown-2Hello Book Reading Buddies– If it’s the second Tuesday of the month, you’ll find us, old friends,  leaning in around a restaurant table, deep in discussion.   Our Lit Group.  It’s been meeting for 30 years this August.  That’s a lot of books! 

So our intrepid leader, Jenni, sent out a note for us to list our favorite 30 books from all that reading.  After a whole lot of agonizing and editing (and a little cheating involving 10 extra favorites), I came up with my list.

1.  Reason for God– Tim Keller
2.  China Road– Rob Gifford
3.  Gilead– Marilyn Robinson
4.  Snowflower and the Secret Fan– Lisa See
5.  The Shadow of the Wind– Zafon
6.  Bel Canto– AnnPatchett
7.  Wild Swans– Jung Chang
8.  The Distant Land of my Father– Bo Caldwell
9.  I feel Bad About my Neck– Nora Ephron
10.  The Help– Stockett
11.  The Girl in Hyacith Blue– Susan Vreeland
12.  The Painted Veil– Somerset Maugham
13.  The Professor and the Madman– Simon Winchester
14.  Pride and Prejudice– Jane Austen
15.  Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress–SIjie
16.  Corelli’s Mandolin– DeBernieres
17.  The Color of Water– McBride
18.  Sister of My Heart– Divakaruni
19.  The Secret Life of Bees– Monk Kidd
20.  Memoirs of a Geisha– Golden
21.  A Moveable Feast– Hemmingway
22.  The Poisonwood Bible– Kingsolver
23.  Bonhoeffer–Metaxas    
24.  Traveling Mercies– Anne Lamott
25.  A Grief Observed– Lewis
26.  The Shell Seekers– PIlcher
27.  East of Eden– Steinbeck
28.  The Joy Luck Club– Tan
29.  Soul Survivor– Yancy
30.  The Glass Castle– Walls
31.  Emma–Austen
32.  Count of Monte Cristo– Dumas
32. Thousand Splendid Suns– Hosseini
33.  Blue Like Jazz– Miller
34.  The Guernsey Potato Pie Society– Shaffer
35.  Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhoos– Young
36. The Tale of Two Cities– Dickens
37.  The Book Thief– Markus Zusak
38.  Unbroken– Laura Hillenbrand
39.  The Namesake– Jhumpa
40.  The Kill a Mockingbird– Lee  

Do you have any of these books on your own “favorites” list?  Or any suggestions for what we should be reading next?

Reading with Kids

Book time with our little Mae–it’s a “hands (and feet) on” experience for her– along with a little page tasting…

“Let me say, from the perspective of someone with two grown and wonderful kids, that your instincts as parents are correct: a minute spent reading to your kids now will repay itself a million-fold later, not only because they love you for reading to them, but also because, years later, when they’re miles away, those quiet evenings, when you were tucked in with them, everything quiet but the sound of the page-turns, will, seem to you, I promise,
— George Saunders (American writer of short stories, essays and children’s books.

Love this–it really caught my attention when I came across it.  I do love reading with kids of all stripes.  My favorite moments of our school day are as we nestle back into desks after lunch and I open our current story and begin to read.  Just now we’re deep into
A Wrinkle in Time.

I loved the years reading with my own 4 kids, settled into beds for the night we passed hundreds of hours with Laura Ingalls and the BFG, with Matilda and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, with Caddie Woodlawn and Aslan…   Some sweet shared times.

And now I have a whole new crop of reading buddies! –4 grand-girls, three of whom are coming to live at my house soon!  Get out the library card.  We’re ready to “hit the books” (in the most delightful sort of way).

I know those minutes and hours reading our way to other times and places are magical, memorable pockets of time together.  I treasure them all, readings past and those ahead…


Thanksgiving Books for Kids

Hello friends– Do you love Thanksgiving as much we do around here?  In my third-fourth grade class at school, we’re filling in those “Thankful Heart Charts” and making plans with the cafeteria lady to use her ovens to bake 30 little pumpkin breads!  And we start off every day of November with a Thanksgiving picture book– I’m hoping to drum up a whole lot of thankfulness in room #2.

Here’s some of our favorite books:



Pilgrims of Plymouth is one of those beautifully photographed National Geographic books.  It’s a slice of history for young readers, detailing a child’s life almost 400 years ago.  There were games of marbles and meals cooked over open fires, no school, but plenty chores to help the family.  It’s simple, but engaging, a great first introduction to colonial America.




This rollicking book of Thanksgiving poetry can keep you amused for days–starting with the school Thanksgiving pageant and moving on through visiting relatives, the lively feast and even the post Thanksgiving dinner nap.  The illustrations add to the fun with loads of colorful detail.  It’s a books kids from 5 to 55 can enjoy.




This Thanksgiving story is a tender tale for older readers with a decidedly southern flavor from Truman Capote.  Twelve year old Buddy and his best friend, his elderly cousin Miss Sook prepare the country house for Thanksgiving. The holiday is populated with a houseful of colorful characters, and Buddy is dismayed when the school bully, Odd Henderson is invited.  A crisis occurs in the middle of feast, but Miss Sook makes things right and consoles Buddy through it all.


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These two books make quite a pair.  The text is the same– the classic lyric, “Over the River and Through the Woods” by Lydia Maria Child.  Both books follow a family on their way to the grandparents homes, but that is where the similarity ends!  My old trusty-rusty version pictures an old time family on an idyllic sleigh ride through the woods.  It’s all “Currier & Ives-ish.”  The newer version features a wacky New York City family and includes a NYC traffic jam, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, balloons and all and a death defying arrival for the youngest member of the clan.  It’s pure fun.  They belong side by side on your Thanksgiving bookshelf.  Happy reading!

Summer Reading for Kids

Hi all-  Summer vacation is for reading.  When I was 9 or 10 I would ride my bike to the library once a week, fill the basket up with books and pedal back home.  I’d lay under the pepper tree in the backyard or sprawled on the couch and read, read.  It was the best way I knew to while away a summer.

So in honor of all those kids who are just launching into their summer vacations, here’s a list of books that would wonderfully fill those long lazy summer afternoons.


I just finished reading this book to my 3rd graders at years end. Matilda is a precocious child with some of the craziest parents between two covers.  She uses her amazing gifts to turn out the villainous headmistress from her school with the help of her beloved teacher, Miss Honey.  It’s Roald Dahl at his best– full of fun and quirky characters, including the plucky heroine who keeps you cheering her on through the whole story.



The Penderwick sisters have a delicious summer ahead when they join their father on the beautiful grounds of the Adrundel Estate.  They explore the elaborate gardens, treasure filled attic and make a new friend, Jeffrey Tifton, the son of Arundel’s owner to join them on their adventures.  But they run up against Mrs. Tifton who is not so pleased to meet them.  It’s a charming, warm, old fashioned story, perfect for summer reading.



The Westing Game  by Ellen Raskin was family favorite when my kids were young readers.  Sixteen Heirs are brought to live in the Sunset Towers apartment building and when the will of deceased Samuel Westing is read, it is a puzzle.  They are given clues to solve the mystery of Sam Westing’s murder.  The winner inherits his $2 million dollar fortune.  It’s a convoluted mystery for kids that’s hard to put down, even for grown ups.  Just fun reading.



Four children happen into the magical land of Narnia, where animals talk and all are under the curse of the white witch who has made the land always be in winter, but never Christmas!  Through a set of adventures and with the sacrifice of the great lion, Aslan, the witch is conquered and the children come to reign as rulers in the castle by the sea.  It’s a marvelous, magical tale part of a set of 7 Narnia books, so there’s reading for all summer long here.  If a child owns just one set of books, these classics should be the one.


thumb_littlehouseontheprairieLittle House on the Prairie is the account of a real family who left the wilds of the Wisconsin woods to settle in Kansas.  Second daughter, Laura wrote the stories of their travels in a covered wagon across the prairie, the resourcefulness of Pa building their new log home, the way the family met numerous hardships head on.  I love that children today can know a time when people hunted and grew their own food, when entertainment was Pa and his fiddle or cutting dolls out of paper, when a sock with an orange, a peppermint stick and a penny made a fine Christmas gift.  This is also a book set, starting Little House in the Big Woods.  I think you’ll love this brave and endearing family.


305827_10100743791802073_1216789_61465292_569526186_nI have a long and loving relationship with libraries. In elementary school, it was the dark, quiet room filled with new friends–Dr. Dolitle, Laura Ingalls, Otis Spofford and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. In summer I would ride my bike to the public library and fill the front basket with a weeks reading. In Jr. High I decided to forego the usual elective class for an hour of dusting and sorting books in the school library. There I met up with historical fiction and a wall of biographies.

During college years my part time job was shelving books at a huge public library, but on Saturdays the children’s librarian left me to sit in her place at her desk and help children locate their own stacks of books to take home.

When we moved to Spain with our small children, the biggest deprivation was the lack of books! How many times did I read Madeline over and over and over to our boys? So with the help of our church in Fullerton we collected over 1,000 really good children’s books to start a children’s lending library for the missionary families scattered across the province.

Nowadays, I prize my card from the Fullerton Library. I slip in the door to a seeming oasis of quiet and restoration. Unlike the mall, you don’t have to count up the cost of each item you select, so I stack book upon book with happy anticipation. I take a few more than I know I can possibly read, for the luxury of choice of books piled on my beside table. Cookbooks, biographies, historical fiction, travel books, something to make me laugh– all from my trip to the library.

photo:  thanks Brian for the picture of afternoon at the library with the grand-girls.

Big Bear



Hi friends– A couple days ago Larry and I decided to run up to his family’s Big Bear cabin for a quick weekend.  I packed up a stack of fresh library books and he grabbed a bag of snacks and threw in a bottle of wine.  And here we are.

We spent most of yesterday sitting on the back porch in the sunshine books on our laps, with cups of coffee and tea and occasional reports to each other on what we’d come across in our reading.  At one point Larry noted his phone read 104 degrees in Brea.  104 in Brea?!  –while we sat in the sunshine and listened to the breezes in the pine trees above.


Simple meals here.  A drive to a bakery to pick up sticky buns for breakfast on the porch, a picnic gathered at the grocers–back on the porch again,  and an evening stroll into town to try a Mexican place that was new to us.


It’s just a restoring to sit in quiet for hours at a time, sleeping as long as you wish, noticing a more alpine kind of beauty all around, gathering ideas and motive as you read and listen… Here’s my pile of books–
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen, Pearl of China by Anchee Min, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Ruben, the book of Luke and an amazing iTunes sermon by Tim Keller (Ephesians 2).  — I’m dipping a bit into the John Stott habit of reading an hour a day, on full day each week and a full week every year…


Back to School Books

Hi friends– We’re back to school this week and I’m happy to say I’m spending my days with an adorable roomful of 3rd graders.  They are little beavers, launching into place value, landforms and, of course, reading.  Instead of coffee breaks (who drinks coffee in 3rd grade?), we take book breaks. So in honor of all those readers who are back to school, here are 3 of my “faves.”


Set to the cadence of “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More,”  this whimsical, chuckle-filled book traces a naughty little painter who paints himself head to toe and in the process manages to paint up the house, in spite of his mom’s attempts to keep things clean.  The rhythm and rhyme and sheer enthusiasm of the quirky protagonist make this book pure joy!



This old classic, Go Dog Go, is a must read aloud for preschoolers and a great first reading book for kindergartners.  It’s chock full basic vocabulary words and moves along quickly from one scenario to another with surprises and gentle humor along the way.  The repetition and pertinent illustration make it super accessible for new readers.  It’s just a lot of fun between 2 covers.

Finally, here is a book I read to my 3rd graders every year right off the bat.  (It helps if you can summon up the Grover voice to read his character!).  And they beg to hear it over and over as the year goes on.  Old Grover is terrified of the Monster at the end of the Book and does everything he can to stop you from reaching that last page– authentically silly– with a heart warming little ending.  It would be sure to be a favorite of any kids you share it with.  (My copy here’s been around for a while– you can barely see the 69 cent price on the cover!)

I realized when I pulled these books off the shelf, that what they have in common is the downright humor that runs through each of them.  If you want some rollicky reading, here it is– 3 of my favorites!

My Life in France

Hi there reading friends–  This is the book I packed along for our Paris trip this summer.  A whole lot of eating/cooking inspiration on these pages!  It’s part memoir, part culinary history written by Julia Child with her grand-nephew Alex Prud’homme.

From her first memorable meal in Rouen– Sole Menuniere, perfectly browned in butter with a sprinkle of parsley, Julia falls in love with the people and food of France.  She called it. “the most exciting meal of my life.”

Ever pragmatic yet extravagant, she studies French cuisine and eventually produces the definitive French cookbook for American kitchens, through her great exuberance and dogged determination to test and retest every recipe.  There are records of meals shared with friends across France and a lovely picture of Paul and Julia’s devoted marriage.  More than a book about food, it’s a book about life.  It invokes the sights, smells and tastes of a France from another era.   A worthwhile look into Julia’s life, richly lived.

Books –and C.S.Lewis

“I am a product […of] endless books.  My father bought all the books he read and never got rid of any of them.  There were books in the study, books in he drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in the bedroom, books piled high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents’ interest, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not.  Nothing was forbidden me.  In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves.  I had always the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass.”

                                                                                              — C. S. Lewis 

C. S. Lewis, to my mind, the greatest Christian thinker of the 20th century, shaped by books and the gift of his written works have influenced millions of the faithful.

Day on my own in San Francisco

Hi friends– Every once in a while it’s the loveliest thing to have a day, a day all to yourself.  One of those days you wake up and don’t have a plan.  So here was my lovely day in San Francisco.

I was staying with old AA and Jessica.  A woke to Jessica at the (noisy) coffee machine and bid her a good day as she sailed off to work.  Then I made myself a mug of tea and plopped myself down on the sofa, the marvelous bay view competing for my attention to my book.  I read and sat for a couple hours (how often does that happen?!) and finally tore myself away to walk over to Filmore street, a map sketched by Aaron in hand.

Around the corner I came upon an Open House sign in front of a magnificent Georgian brick home (built 1899).  I couldn’t resist the chance to peek inside.  I loved the butler’s pantry with the warming cupboard, the sweeping foyer staircase, the coffered ceilings, the stately study and the views across SF from the third floor terrace.

Once down on Filmore, I popped into magical little shops full of pretty things I don’t really need, but love to look at.  I did buy a cunning old white gravy boat at the second hand shop.  And I ducked into a pretty bakery for a pistachio macaroon to eat along the way.

I took a detour around the corner to the St. Dominic’s Catholic church, neo-gothic and grand.  Time to think, time to pray, time to sit and examine the glorious space.  It was a peaceful, restoring rest in the day.



Then I came upon a tidy little banh mi
shop.  I sat at the counter and watched them put together beautiful exotic salads and spicy Vietnamese sandwiches–  I pulled out my book and read my way through a sweetly marinated/grilled pork sandwich with vinegared carrots, daikon and cilantro on the crunchiest perfect little baguette.  I think this will be on the menu at home next week.

I wandered down to a book shop, one of those old fashioned rambling types that has all the books you’d really love to read.  I purchased a picture book Larry gets lost in San Francisco (Larry is a puppy).  It’s full of touristic good fun.

Finally, I trudged back through the park to watch kids (and their moms) on the playground and headed back home to sit on the sofa with my book, back where I started.  It was a pretty great way to spend a lazy day.

Here are a couple last views from the walk home– on a perfect SF day…