Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On Vacation!

Hi folks! I'll be on vacation until early next week and invite you, in the meantime, to scroll back through some of my older posts or maybe visit and start planning for the 92nd celebration of Children's Book Week. You and your child may even want to start making your way through the Children's Choice Book Awards finalists together. Happy reading and don't forget to vote here!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Read to Vote!

Voting for the 2011 Children's Choice Book Awards opened one week ago. There are times that this 4 year old program feels brand new and times when it feels as though it's been around forever. It is the only national awards program for books where the finalists and the winners are selected by children and teens. My CBC team and I created this program and launched it in 2008. That year we received 55,000 votes. Fast forward to Year 4, in which more votes than that were submitted in this first week alone. And why not? It's a great program and it's starting to catch on in a big way. It's very exciting!

My hope is that teachers, librarians and booksellers will incorporate this program into their schedules. After engaging in story time with the young 'uns or books clubs with the older set, I hope they'll encourage kids and teens to vote as they are encouraged to do at where the voting takes place. Teachers, librarians and booksellers can submit bulk votes for their group at the site as well. I caution anyone reading this blog post that when a person submits millions of votes, they are not helping their favorites. Rather, they are depriving their favorites of the single vote that this same person should have submitted. We review the votes regularly and delete votes that are so excessive as to compromise the integrity of the program. We know that no school has 21 billion students so when we see a vote of 21 billion for a finalist, it is deleted immediately.As much as it is time-consuming and frustrating to have to police in this way, it is also gratifying to know that people are this passionate about books and the people who create them.

Since voting began, I have recommended only finalists in this blog and will continue to do so until I cover all 30 books.  Today it's time to round out the Kindergarten to Second Grade Book of the Year Category with Matthew McElligott's Even Monsters Need Haircuts. This category would not be complete without at least one book about monsters. It's easy to see why kids would love this one. Once a month, the barber's son meets monsters at the barber shop at midnight and cuts their hair. I love the illustration where the little boy is braiding Medusa's snakes, with his eyes averted, and I've always been a sucker for Frankenstein.

Voting will remain open through April 29, 2011. Encourage your children's school to get involved and give their students an opportunity to vote for their favorites! Vote at the Children's Book Week website. Winners will be announced during Children's Book Week, May 2-8, 2011.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My favorite field trip of the year

Every March I make a day trip to Washington, DC, to the Library of Congress for a Reading Promotion Partners Idea Exchange. This invitation-only event is organized by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the arm of the library that is committed to programs that promote reading. The Center for the Book has been one of my favorite partners since I entered the literacy world. We've worked together on several initiatives that I truly believe have moved the needle when it comes to promoting the joy of reading and connecting kids with books. I love this March meeting. It is profoundly inspiring to go around the table and hear people representing 80 or so different organizations talk about the good work they're doing. People exchange ideas, partnerships and plans to collaborate develop on the spot and we all get a little smarter about the literacy-related work and services that are happening and available and the vast amount of work that remains to be done. I feel very fortunate to be part of the conversation.

Almost as if she knew that I had committed to highlighting the Children's Choice Book Awards finalists in my blog, one of the partners today shared her favorite book of the year; the book that she recommends to families who are reading together and parents who are reading aloud to their children. It's How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills, which I happen to agree is a wonderful book and so do the thousands of kids who selected the finalists for the Children's Choice Book Awards. It's a finalist in the Kindergarten-2nd Grade Book of the Year category. The little yellow bird you see on the cover teaches Rocket to read and it's hard to resist cheering for Rocket when he gets the job done. It's easy to imagine kindergartners sounding out the words along with Rocket and delighting in their own accomplishments.

Don't forget to encourage the child in your life to vote here for their favorite books of the year in the Children's Choice Book Awards.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Happy Birthday Lev!

Our dog Lev turned 2 years old today. We celebrated by giving him a soccer ball, a big iced cookie and lots of hugs and kisses. He was so happy. We are all ridiculously in love with this dog. Funny story how we ended up with a dog. I, for one, was never really much of a dog person. Our kids, like most kids, asked for a dog fairly regularly but seemed to know it was never going to happen. We all seemed pretty comfortable as a small pet family. Our pet for several years was a little hamster named Peanut that one of our daughters won in a raffle at camp (one of those raffles we permitted her to enter because we never win anything so we didn't feel like we were even taking a chance. Ha!). Anyhow, Peanut died some time ago and we agreed that when the girls felt they had mourned sufficiently, we would get a new small pet. They finally came to us one day and announced that they were ready. Then the twist. They wanted a chinchilla or a ferret. It never occurred to me to suggest a hamster. Instead, I knew I didn't want a ferret so we decided to get a chinchilla. The chinchilla, named Otis, turned out to be high maintenance in the extreme. Did you know chinchillas need to be taken out of their cages and given a dust bath (yes, a bath in dust) every day?! Did you know they live more than 20 years?! Oy!! After a few days of cleaning up after the little beast, I announced that if I was going to work this hard, we may as well have a pet that could reciprocate; it was time to get a dog. I don't know what came over me. I only know that I never looked back. The overgrown rat had opened my mind and my heart. The word "Lev" means heart in Hebrew and if Otis opened my heart, Lev certainly pulled at my heart strings. Happy birthday little man. We love you!

In honor of Peanut, the first real pet we had, tonight's book recommendation, another Kindergarten-2nd Grade Book of the Year finalist, is Hot Rod Hamster by Cynthia Lord and Derek Anderson. It's a book that was made to be read out loud. You can't help but cheer the hamster on! Reading it sparked a memory of my kids on vacation building their own race cars and I couldn't stop smiling. Hot Rod Hamster is ready to ROLL and you'll be rolling along with him!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Boys will be boys

When our daughters were babies, Jeff and I were determined to avoid all gender stereotypes. In other words, we dressed them in pink but also in a lot of blue and we bought them dolls but toy cars too. Jeff read box scores to the girls from the time they were born and took them to Knicks games when they were toddlers. We wanted to raise girls who knew they could be anyone they wanted to be without feeling restricted by any preconceptions. Can you imagine how hard we laughed when we gave a set of trains to one of our children and she immediately identified the mommy train and the baby train and then proceeded to play house with them?! Kids are funny and there must truly be some amount of hot-wiring that goes on behind the scenes. Many of our friends reported similar stories and lines always seemed to be drawn clearly between boys and girls in certain respects.

While my parenting experience has been limited to raising daughters, I grew up with 2 brothers and remember (often subconsciously shaking my head in amazement) how physical and competitive they could be. When I first took a look at Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld's Shark vs. Train, it brought me back. Now whenever I look at the cover, I could swear I see my brothers' faces planted on the shark and train images. It cracks me up every time. Shark and Train engage in one competition after another throughout the book. When the competition is in water, Shark is the clear winner but Train has him beat when he piles his cars on top of each other to stand straight and tall when they play basketball. Neither one is very good at sword fighting on a tightrope but., of course, no one wants wants to say uncle first. This book is an authentic depiction of little boys and a happy burst of energetic and satisfying entertainment for girls and boys alike. It also happens to be a contender for the 2011 K-2nd Grade Book of the Year. Remind your child that if he or she falls in love with this book the way many children will, they should take a little trip to and vote!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The miracle of family

Twelve and a half years ago, my twin daughters were born. They were born two months premature and had several serious health and developmental issues for their first several years of life. Their stubborn determination and will to succeed were evident from the very start, though, and over time we have witnessed them take on each obstacle in their path and forge ahead. They have amazed us over and over again - exceeding all expectations and constantly finding new ways to make us proud. This past weekend, they outdid themselves. They were called to read from the Torah as b'not mitzvah (the female plural of bat mitzvah).They were brilliant and beautiful. Over the course of a weekend full of events, they made several speeches, they sang, they danced, they ate and they were spectacular. The warmth and deep connections they feel toward each other and to family and friends was palpable every step of the way. The way they connect with other people is one of things I love most about them both. There was so much love in each room, at each event (Friday night dinner, Saturday morning synagogue service, Saturday night party and Sunday brunch).  I have never been more proud to be their mom. I have never been more aware and grateful of the fact that miracles happen.

As my family's joyous celebration comes to a close, life at work is picking up speed. Voting for the Children's Choice Book Awards opened today at This awards program is the only national book awards program where the finalists and winners are selected by children and teens. My team and I created this program four years ago. The excitement begins to build as we get ready to open voting and then explodes when voting opens. Voting will continue through April 29. The winners will be announced at a gala evening on May 2, during Children's Book Week, May 2-8. The host of this year's gala is the amazing Jarrett J. Krosoczka, the creator of the Lunch Lady books and Punk Farm. Jarrett's Lunch Lady 4 is also a finalist in the 3rd-4th Grade Book of the year category. Jarrett has been reaching out far and wide to spread the word. We couldn't have asked for a better host. The goal this year is 500,000 votes so grab the kid in your life, experience books together and encourage them to vote (click here to get to the voting site).

In honor of the Children's Choice Book Awards, every blog post going forward will end by referring you to a different finalist until I've covered them all. There are 30 all together and it should be interesting to try and link the book themes to the mommy topics I focus on in the first part of each post. Inspired by my daughters, I'm up for the challenge. Inspired by their dedication to family and the fact that they asked their friends to donate in their honor to the Animal Cancer Foundation in lieu of buying them bat mitzvah gifts, the very first finalist covered on this blog is Little Pink Pup by Johanna Kerby. A piglet named Pink  is adopted by a dachshund named Tink as one of her pups. True story! At the risk of incurring the wrath of my oldest daughter who has forbidden me from using the following expression - OMG! This book is sheer delight. The story and photographs are compelling and both you and your child will want to read it over and over again. It's a finalist for K-2nd Grade Book of the Year. You can read the book online by clicking here. And remember to encourage every child you know to vote at

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Like many kids, mine sometimes get caught up playing the insult game. They hurl insults at one another or call each other ridiculous names and burst out laughing. Of course, there are also times when someone forgets it's a game and, eventually, the tears flow. I don't particularly care for this game. However, every once in a while the kids draw on the new vocab words they learn at school or make up completely new words, pretend they're insults and hurl away. I like that game much better. In fact I like that game so much that I'd like to try and further it. Consider the following 10 rare and amusing insults:1. Cockalorum: a boastful and self-important person; a strutting little fellow; 2. Lickspittle: a fawning subordinate; a suck-up; 3. Smellfungus: an excessively faultfinding person; 4. Snollygoster: an unprincipled but shrewd person; 5. Ninnyhammer: ninny; simpleton, fool; 6. Mumpsimus: a stubborn person who insists on making an error in spite of being shown that it is wrong; 7. Milksop: an unmanly man; a mollycoddle (a pampered or effeminate boy or man); 8. Hobbledehoy: an awkward, gawky young man; 9. Pettifogger: shyster; a lawyer whose methods are underhanded or disreputable; 10. Mooncalf: a foolish or absentminded person.

Good books with good insults in the title are easy to find. Here are some worth considering. How about Jerry Spinelli's Loser for middle graders? Or Ursula Vernon's Dragonbreath? Middle grade and young teen readers will also enjoy Meg Cabot's Airhead.

Monday, March 7, 2011


One of our daughters approached me this evening and asked me to help her make flashcards as part of a study blitz that would assure her an A on a test later this week. This child almost never asks for help with homework. She's a motivated and self-directed student and the only role the rest of us tend to play when she's doing her homework is annoy her. Just by breathing. When she approached me tonight, she began with, "Mama, are you very busy?" and before I could answer, followed it with, "Because if you're not, do you think you could help me make flashcards?" I think we both knew that anything I was doing would be promptly put aside because my child needed my help! I remember a time when I couldn't wait to be done with homework of my own and here I am now, a mom who can't wait to jump in with homework help! Of course, it's not about the homework at all. It has a lot more to do with the fact that parents want to help their kids when they can. And when kids enter the terrifying tween and teen stages mine have entered, there's something to be said, from the mom's perspective, for having them turn to you and let you know they need you. Even if it's for something that's not particularly substantive. Even if it's for flashcards. In addition to feeling needed, I may just get a little goodwill out of this for a day or two and I could always use a little goodwill when it comes to parenting a teenager!

A fun middle grade selection tied to this theme is Dan Gutman's The Homework Machine and the sequel, Return of the Homework Machine. Hmmmmm... a machine that does your homework for you automatically...As much as I enjoyed being called on for help this evening, there are far more nights when my help is not requested but imposed on one child or another and it's never a pretty sight.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Take me seriously!

One of our daughters was very upset this evening and complained that no one ever takes her seriously. While that generalization is untrue, I have to confess that my husband Jeff and I have certainly broken a cardinal rule of parenting on more than one occasion - the one dictating that you should never laugh in the face of your child's turmoil (at least not in front of your child's face). On the one hand, it's easy and important to remember that whatever your child is going through is monumental and maybe even earth-shattering to them at the moment. Empathy and sympathy are key. On the other hand, what's wrong with a little perspective? My kids hate to be called self-centered but being self-centered (to an extent) is one of the perks of childhood. As kids get older, self-centeredness is not tolerated so you have to guide them out of it at some point. Maybe laughing at their perceived disaster or pain isn't the best way and I realize this will come across as cruel and uncaring (which couldn't be further from the truth), but sometimes you just have to laugh. In our family's experience, laughter, due to its contagious nature, will spread to all parties and humor really is the cure close to 75% of the time. The rest of the time, as you would expect, laughter just makes things worse. In those cases, we start by apologizing for the laughter and then dig a little to find the real cause of concern, which, after digging, almost always turns out to be something quite different from the predicament expressed at the outset that made us laugh in the first place. Never a dull moment!

Parents struggle to find the appropriate reaction to childhood calamity. It's not easy to walk a finely balanced line. I think it's okay to fall over to one side or another (between validating the plight and infusing perspective) every now and then as long as we are always listening seriously and actively. I, for one, want my children to know that they can overcome challenges now and in the future. I want them to feel successful at dealing with childhood disappointment so they feel equipped to handle the challenges of adulthood.

Some of the best books ever written are books where the author takes the reader through a real life catastrophe and both emerge stronger and braver and a little more satisfied at the other end. If you've been following this blog for a while then you know that I enjoy pairing up adult and children's books. Today's book recommendations are of that nature though the connection is not readily apparent. At the children's end comes the strongest plea that you encourage your kids (middle school and teen) to read Raina Telgemeier's Smile. At the adult end is Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken. It is conceivable that two more different books could not be paired together but, at the same time, each book features a protagonist who endures unimaginable hardship given their state in life and state of mind. Each is a story of unimaginable horror, resilience and survival.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Who do you think you are?

Before getting this post underway, I would like to extend my most sincere apologies to Evelyn and Liat, two loyal followers of this blog and, more importantly, two very good friends, who check up on me to make sure everything's OK if I miss a post. It's an awfully nice side effect of blogging! You may have noticed that last night I did not post to my blog. My day had been busy and I wasn't feeling great and, as a result, I fell asleep early and slept through the hours when I normally attend to my blog. Before falling asleep, though, I had the most interesting conversation with my almost 15 year old daughter. 

One prerequisite to being a teenager seems to be some degree of certainty that you are misunderstood and nobody knows the real you. With that as the implicit starting point, our teenager asked me to tell her who I think she is; to describe her in some way other than in a "you're so smart - you're so beautiful-you're such a fabulous package" typical mommy way; with a little more depth. What could I say? She really is very smart and she really is strikingly beautiful. Taking my cue, I shared what I thought were her strengths and I shared what I perceived as her insecurities. When I was done, she challenged me on a few of my perceptions but I think she was generally pleased that I got so much right. Then I told her it was her turn to describe me. I realized that, like my teenager, I didn't really expect her, or anybody for that matter, to truly see me as I see myself, the way I believe I genuinely am. She did amazingly well. I'm not sure if she's exceptionally perceptive or I'm more transparent than I thought or it's some combination of the two or maybe, just maybe, we know each other that well. What I do know for sure is that the young woman I described and the one who described me is the one I'll be thinking of lovingly next time she pulls that teenage werewolf trick and transforms into a person I don't recognize. I'm also fairly certain that feeling as though people do not know the real you is not unique to us. For some reason, it's important to many of us to believe that we are a little misunderstood or, perhaps, mysterious. And it's important to know that there's someone out there who really gets us. We are all complex creatures, though, and it can take a while to peel away enough layers to get to someone's core.

Literature is full of characters who are not what or whom they first seem. One of my favorite children's books growing up was Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, where we first encounter a most disagreeable Mary Lennox whose own complexity and layers are revealed as the story unfolds.  More recently, I thoroughly enjoyed Judy Blundell's new novel Strings Attached, where we meet Kit Corrigan who proves to be far more complex and ultimately braver than anyone would have expected of a 16-year old dancer. As a fan of Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games trilogy, I also enjoyed peeling away the layers of a secondary character, Katniss Everdeen's beloved sister Prim who came into her own in the third book, Mockinjay.

Perhaps we think people can't see us clearly because we recognize that we are ever-evolving. The person I am today is a little different from the person I used to be and likely a little different from the person I have yet to become.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In less than 2 weeks time, our family will be celebrating the coming of age of our 12 year old daughters. The girls will be called to read from the Torah as B'not Mitzvah on March 12. In addition to the synagogue service in the morning, we will be dancing the night away at a party that evening. Our daughters have worked hard and prepared admirably and meaningfully for this celebration. We are all very excited. This evening, as I was counting the final numbers of guests that will attend the party, one of our daughters remarked on the fact that the list is a long one and suggested that we (the grownups) had invited too many of our own friends. Truth be told, the Saturday night party is very much a kids' party. We invited only a handful of our own closest friends as well as our close family members. The vast majority of guests will be under the age of 13.

The ultimate suggestion, which I think was made fairly explicitly, was that she and her sister should have had veto power over who was invited to their party. We certainly gave them free(ish) reign over the kids they wanted to invite but I drew the line at adults. I explained that when you have a big celebration such as this, it's up to the parents to decide what kind of function they want to organize and, beyond the kids, who they would like to have present. She challenged me a little further and I drew on the "who do you think is paying for this bash" card. That was followed by my insistence that "you can invite anyone you want when you're paying the bill" and if I hadn't stopped myself, I'm pretty sure I would have ended up at "my house, my rules". I looked at Jeff and admitted that I never thought I'd hear myself utter those words and, yet, they seemed to come to me so naturally.  Kids, since the beginning of time, have asserted their right to do what they want though they are unable to financially support whatever it is. Parents, since the beginning of time, have fallen back on the tried and true lines that best address the predicament. Opting for the stock answer, I decided, didn't mean I was a bad or unimaginative mother. By contrast, it was one more rung on my own coming of age ladder as a mom.If you're a mom, you know that ladder; it just keeps going and going and going... Just like you!

Virtually every young adult (YA) novel out there is a coming of age story on one level. The books I'd like to recommend are both for middle grade readers (grades 4-6). To be honest, I haven't read either one yet but they're both on my short list of must reads so if you happen to get to either one before I do, please let me know what you think by posting a comment. The first, Maryrose Wood's The Incorrigible Children of Ashron Place: The Mysterious Howling is described as  "Jane Eyre meets Lemony Snicket." How can you go wrong with that? The second is Nature Girl by Jane Kelley. I look forward to hearing what you think!