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Five Picture Books for Valentine’s Day that Won’t Make you Roll Your Eyes

*This post originally appeared on BookRiot.com.

Picture books about holidays have a tendency to be heavy handed, with a cloying, sticky sweet message that goes in one ear and out the other.  Valentine’s Day is one of the worst offenders:  store shelves overstuffed with chocolate roses and teddy bears, over the top jewelry commercials on TV, and hearts. So. Many. Hearts. If you can look past the red glitter everything, there are actually some really great books to read with your kids this time of year. Books that aren’t always explicitly about Valentine’s Day, but which still send a message that says, in the immortal words of Lin Manuel-Miranda: Love is love is love is love is love is love is love….

 

Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian and Mike Curato.

worm-loves-wormOh, how I love this story. Worm and Worm just want to get married! But all of the other bugs they know keep insisting that they do the traditional wedding things. Who will wear the rings? Who will wear the dress? Which one is the groom and which one is the bride ? Worm and worm, agreeable as ever, decide that they will both be the bride and the groom, dividing up the traditional garments between them. And when the stodgy grasshopper complains “this isn’t how it’s always been done!” They say, “Well then, we’ll just change how it’s done.” Because worm loves worm. And… cue the tears.

penguin-and-pineconePenguin and Pinecone by Salina Yoon.

An adorable penguin finds a pinecone on the ground in the snowy north where he lives, and can’t, for the life of him, figure out what it is! Nevertheless, they spend the day playing together, until the tiny little pinecone sneezes. Penguin realizes his friend cannot stay in the north and must be returned to the forest where he can grow and thrive. So they set out on a journey together. Kids and adults alike love and remember this book. It takes a special kind of talent to make a pinecone look cute, but Yoon pulls it off!

And Tango Makes Three  by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

tangoe makes threeTwo male chinstrap penguins meet in their home at the zoo, fall in love, and decide to mate. When they notice that all of the other penguin couples have eggs to look after, they are sad and confused that they don’t also have an egg. The zookeeper gives them an extra egg from another penguin couple and the happy couple take turns sitting on the egg until it hatches and their family grows by one more. Based on a true story, this now-classic picture book was one of the first to present a same-sex relationship.

 

Somebody Loves you Mr. Hatch

somebody-loves-you-mr-hatchMr. Hatch is a lonely man set in his ways. He follows the same routine, day in and day out, rarely engaging with anyone he sees. One day, a mail carrier drops off a package for him that contains a giant, heart-shaped box filled with candy and a small slip of paper that reads “Somebody Loves You.”  Well, Mr. Hatch is transformed by the knowledge that somebody cares for him and becomes a completely different person overnight. But when a sudden change in his fortune occurs, will Mr. Hatch revert back to his lonely ways? Read it and see! A charming classic that never gets old, no matter how many times I read it.

 

One Love by Cedella Marley. Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

one-loveWritten by Bob Marley’s daughter, this ebullient, gorgeously illustrated book is adapted from the iconic song. The story follows one determined little girl as she shows her family and her community how love and friendship can improve everyone’s life. The illustrations by Brantley-Newton are so vibrant and smile-inducing, that it is nearly impossible not to feel better when looking at this book. And of course, if you’re reading with a little one, what better time to introduce them to the song.

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In which I Vow to Return, Again.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from trying to make a (part time) living as a freelance writer, it’s that finding the time to do everything you need to do feels next to impossible. Freelance writers are always always working and looking for projects and emailing and researching and editing. Very often, the paycheck you hope for is not the paycheck you get! And when you throw another professional job and a family in the mix, it gets even more challenging!

I’ve been bobbling back and forth about what to do with this blog and, without boring you too much with my reasons pro and con, I’ll tell you what I decided:  Let’s Do This.  I want to keep writing and I want to keep sharing the books I love. I also want to write more about the work I do as a librarian: What I’ve learned, what I still struggle with, what I still hope to learn. So I’ve expanded and added some new pages to the site. Library Dose now has a section about the work of a children’s librarian. Specifically, I will write about Baby Storytime and Middle School Book Club. And, as always, I will continue to highlight books I love for children and adults.

I can’t promise that I will faithfully write a post every week. There may be huge gaps, due to my other writing and family commitments, as well as the time I’d like to put aside for creative writing pursuits.  But I really want to keep this up. I have gained so much from reading other librarian’s blogs about stoytime, and I hope to give that back a little bit.

As always, I will keep writing about books, with five minute book prescriptions and lists, and thoughts on the power of reading and sharing literature in our current political climate.

Chin up everybody. I know the world feels like the beginning of a dystopian book series right now, but we have to moving forward. Remember the wise words of the late, great Carrie Fisher :

take-your-broken-heart

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Meanwhile, at Book Riot…

This month I published two pieces on Book Riot. Most of the books recommended in these posts were from my lovely summer o’reading. I largely avoided kid lit this summer in favor of long, beautifully written “adult” books that were getting a lot of buzz.

I’m proud of these lists as they encompass some of my favorite topics to read about. First, I wrote about Rock and Roll love stories. For this piece, I gathered as many music related books as I could in search of the perfect Rock and Roll read. What I really wanted is the book equivalent of everything I love about the tv show Nashville. Most of the writing on that show is painfully soap opera-like. The back and forth, breaking up and making up between the characters can be too much. However, I really love the duets that make up a good chunk of the show’s musical performances. I particularly love the scenes between Scarlett and Gunnar. Their love story on the show can be infuriating, but damn, do they make beautiful music together.

Sadly, I didn’t find the ideal rock duet love story.  I did find two gorgeous books about music and love, but not exactly what I’m looking for. I’m going to have to keep looking, or write one myself! Check out my article on Book Riot here. 

Next, I made a list of women’s coming of age stories set in New York City. I noticed this summer that a lot of the books I am naturally drawn to read are about young women in NYC.  I had no trouble putting this list together. In fact, I had to cut it down because I had so many options.  Read my piece here.

I recently quit Facebook out of frustration and my own lack of self control during this election season. I just can’t with the political arguing and the rampant sexism that seems to be dominating this election. Quitting Facebook, however, has been amazing. I suddenly have more time! Hopefully it will result in more posts.

 

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Reading as Religion

I’m sharing the very first post I wrote for Book Riot. I spent a lot of time wondering what kind of personal reading story to share as part of my application to write for the site.  I decided to look back on the book that had sparked the biggest change in me during my teenage years. Without a doubt it was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, a choice which kind of seems odd  in retrospect. I was a particularly naive and cautious teen. I didn’t do drugs and I didn’t have a boyfriend until college. On the Road is  about 80% sex and drugs. But whatever, right ? Kerouac’s infectious tone really got to me in a way that nothing else had, including religion. My heathenism has always been a source of guilt and anxiety for me. My parents are aware that I lost my faith a long time ago, but I was still nervous about publishing this. I knew I would want to share as widely as my social networks would allow if I actually got published, but I worried that people would judge me or even unfriend me for my lack of faith.

As it turns out, I was overthinking it. It was not an issue. I published the piece and it was well received. And, perhaps most importantly, I learned how good it felt to publish something true and to find an audience, no matter how modest.

Read the original post here.

 

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I’m Baaaaaaccck!

Forgive me, please, for the very obvious post title. I couldn’t resist. It’s been a damn long time since I’ve written a new post. But I am determined, dear readers, all 12 of you, to start updating again. If just for the habit.  Let me tell you a little story about where I’ve been.

You see, more than anything else, I really want to be a professional writer. I want to make a living wage from writing. But I don’t want to kill myself in the process. I have a professional gig as a children’s librarian and I freaking love it. I work about 20-25 hours a week and it’s perfect. I honestly don’t know if I would love it as much if I worked 40 hours a week.  With this particular balance, I am able to divide my time in a satisfactory way between professional work and home life, taking care of my kids, cooking things, cleaning things, and every teeny chance I get, writing things.

Over the past year, I have been using sites like Flexjobs and OneSpace, in search of temporary writing on demand gigs, in which I create content and get paid a very, very modest amount of money. This has been fine because it’s the kind of work where you only take on what you can do in a few hours. Since my schedule is constantly changing, this works great.

The other writing work I sought for a while was more focused on bookish content. I wanted to write for Book Riot, a site dedicated to all things literary. I applied a few times, but never read the directions as thoroughly as I should have (I have a bad habit of rushing!) and didn’t send original content, which they asked for. Instead, I kept sending pieces I’d written for this blog.

Anyway, I finally got my act together and properly submitted an application. Et, voila! I was accepted as a contributor. A PAID contributor. How exciting! Since May, I have been creating original content, two pieces a month to be exact, and submitting them to Book Riot. It’s been fun and just the right amount of motivation and pressure to keep me writing.

So, one year after my last post on this blog, things have changed a bit and I have accomplished a few long standing goals. But I let this blog fall by the wayside. Which is a damn shame! Library Dose was a fun idea I had, and I would like to keep it up.

Because I have to keep fresh, original ideas coming for Book Riot, I  may not always post book lists on here that haven’t first appeared on Book Riot. I will however, continue to write here about what I’m reading and what I’m writing and about the general process of my literary life. I will post occasional book reviews as well as images from my favorite picture books. Check out my Facebook page for updates and pictures as well.

I hope you’ll stay tuned. Thanks for listening!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Favorite Picture Book Dads

Despite their growing presence as the main caretaker for small children, dads remain frustratingly absent from many children’s picture books. Although we are slowly, but surely, moving away from the completely absent dad, or the dad who comes home at the end of the day with a briefcase, picture books could still benefit from portraying dads in everyday situations: cooking, cleaning, running errands, etc. In honor of Father’s Day, I present four of my favorite dads featured in picture books. Who are your favorite literary dads?

nelly gun

Daddy Gnu” from Nelly Gnu and Daddy too  by Anna Dewdney

Nelly Gnu, close friend of Llama Llama and a frequent character in the wonderful Llama Llama books,  gets her own story in this sweet tale of daddy and daughter. Daddy Gnu and Nelly spend the day together:  planning, shopping for and ultimately building a playhouse. Daddy also cooks and puts Nelly to bed.  Dewdney’s lilting, rhyming prose makes this a great read aloud and her illustrations are as endearing as ever.

“Daddy” in the  Knufflebunny books by Mo Willems

Knuffle Bunny 1Who doesn’t relate to the beleaguered dad in KnuffleBunny? Taking a story from his own life, author Mo Willems describes taking his toddler daughter Trixie to the laundromat with him. She gurgles and points and narrates in her own toddler language, whiKnuffle Bunny 2ch grows increasingly frantic when she loses her beloved lovey, a stuffed rabbit named Knufflebunny. Dad is clueless to the cause of his daughter’s distress and grows increasingly frustrated as he drags a screaming Trixie home. Of course, the second his wife opens the door, she asks “Where’s Knufflebuny?” A frantic rescue mission ensues in which Daddy ultimately redeems himself when he finds the poor bunny. Knufflebunny and its sequels feature great daddy/daughter interaction as well as parents working and reacting together in a natural setting. Like all Mo Willems books, Knufflebunny is funny for both kids and their grown ups.

“Papa” from Papa, please get the moon for me by Eric Carle

Papa please getThis classic Eric Carle title features a little girl who asks her Papa to get the moon for her, so that she can play with it. Crush your urge to feel annoyed at the entitled little girl who thinks she can play with the moon (ha!) and revel, instead, at the dedicated Papa who climbs the world’s tallest ladder and does, indeed, fetch the moon for his little girl. She plays and dances with the moon until it fades away completely (reappearing in the sky a little while later). Sweet papa and daughter interaction, along with Eric Carle’s gorgeous, unique, foldout-style artwork, makes this book a classic you will return to again and again.

“Roy” and “Silo” from And Tango makes three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. Illustrated by Henry Cole

There are all kinds of families– families with two moms, families with two dads, families with one dad and one mom, families with one mom, etc. and Tango makes three tells this true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who met and tangoe makes threefell in love. They made a nest like all the other penguins, but were dismayed and confused at their inability to produce an egg and a penguin baby like the other penguin couples. The zookeeper finds an egg that needs a home and puts in the penguin’s nests. They immediately get to work keeping the egg safe and warm and eventually hatch a baby penguin, named Tango. Possibly the sweetest story ever; I dare you not to cry. A great way to remind your children that there are many kinds of families.

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Audiobooks for Family Road Trips

With summer vacation looming, chances are many of you will find yourselves in the car for an extended period of time. Long car rides can get boring for everyone, but families, in particular, often face the challenge of  endless “are we there yets?” and “he’s bothering me” and “waaaaaaaaa,” etc., ad infinitum.  To keep your kids engaged, or, at the very least distracted, try listening to an audiobook that will entertain the whole family.  Many beloved series can feel like a whole new experience when listened to on audiobook. The best audiobook narrators are superb actors who can slip in and out of different character voices without the listener even noticing, and some audiobooks are even given a full cast who will voice-act the whole book. I am a huge fan of audiobooks and have made it a personal goal to encourage people to remember them as a great source of entertainment.

Your local library is a great place to pick up audiobooks on cd. Many libraries also offer digital downloads that you can play through your smartphone or m3 player. If you insist on paying, check iTunes or Amazon.com for downloadable titles.

Llama Llama books by Anna Dewdney

llama llamaAnna Dewdney herself reads several of her pleasingly rhymed story books about little Llama and his adventures navigating the world of sharing, shopping with mama, bedtime and preschool bullies. Each book runs about 4 minutes long, which is just enough to distract your toddler from the tantrum he/she may be having in the back seat.

Ideal for kids aged 18 months – 3 years old.

The Three Little Pigs by James Marshall

Read by a hilarious gentleman who sounds alarmingly like the actor who plays Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies (It’s not him, I checked!) , this humorous version of the Three Little Pigs runs for about 11 minutes and will keep your 2- 4 year olds silent and engaged. I know it three little pigsdoes not sound like a long time, but it works wonders for breaking up moments of tension or whining brought on by boredom in the car. Other audio editions of James Marshall’s fairy tales (although not quite as entertaining as this one) are also available through iTunes.

Ideal for kids aged 3-6 years old.  

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

betsy tacyBetsy and Tacy first meet at Betsy’s fifth birthday party and become such close friends that everyone starts to think of them as one person: Betsy-Tacy. This is a very sweet and charming series about two kids having adventures in their neighborhood in the early part of the 20th century. Betsy-Tacy is the first book in a series that takes you through the girls’ lives all the way up to their weddings. Will appeal to fans of The Penderwicks, Ivy and Bean, and Little House on the Prairie.  If you can find it, there is a wonderful audio version read by Sutton Foster, the broadway and television star.

Ideal for kids aged 5 and up.

Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie – Laura Ingalls Wilder

It doesn’t matter if you have already read these books, the Little House on the Prairie series, as little house in the big woodsperformed by the actress Cherry Jones, will appeal to your entire family. Kids as young as five can enjoy this series, as Wilder did her best to provide almost non-stop action, particularly in the first two books: Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie. The many descriptions of Pa’s fiddle playing are enhanced by an actual fiddle performance, which, combined with Jones’ rich narration, makes for a listening experience filled with nuance and wonder.

Ideal for kids aged 5 and up.

What happened on Fox Street  by Tricia Springstubb

fox street11-year old Mo Wren has lived on Fox Street her whole life with her father and her little sister. Every year, Mo looks forward to when her best friend Mercedes comes to stay with her grandmother across the street. One summer, a series of unexpected changes and mysterious happenings threaten to change the world as Mo knows it. The combination of an interesting plot and lovable, fully realized characters make this an unforgettable and bittersweet tale about growing up.

Ideal for  kids aged 7-12.

Okay for Now and The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Schmidt’s two  coming of age novels about middle school boys are absolutely stellar.The Wednesday Wars Cover copyWednesday Wars focuses on Holling HoodHood, a seventh grader who has to spend Wednesday afternoons alone with his teacher while his classmates attend religious instruction. Unable to read his teacher, Mrs. Baker, Holling is convinced that she hates him. It is 1967 in suburban upstate New York and the world feels on the verge of exploding. Schmidt manages to weave together many themes in this thoroughly moving and entertaining book.

If the Wednesday Wars is good, Okay for Now is outstanding. Middle schooler Doug Swieteck doesn’t care if you like him or not.  A tough kid from a tough family, Doug goes into every situation assuming that people think the worst of him.  When he discovers an affection for the work of John James Audubon and develops a slow friendship with Lil Spicer, a girl in his town, Doug starts to open up, little by little, and we are reminded that there is usually much more to “troubled” kids then we may realize. This book will simultaneously break and warm your heart. Both audiobooks are narrated well by young, male actors.

Ideal for kids aged 11 and up.

Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

harry-potter-series1627I hardly need to tell you what this series is about. By now, most people know the story of Harry Potter, whether they have read the books or not. What you may not know is how wonderful the audiobook versions are. Actor Jim Dale narrated all seven books and developed detailed and distinct voices for each of the many many characters in Rowling’s story.  No matter how well you or your kids know the books, I can promise that these audio versions will sweep you away and provide a new Harry Potter experience.

Ideal for kids aged 10 and up. (This is my humble opinion, but the perfect age for Harry Potter is constantly up for debate).

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolff

A full cast acts out the many narratives in this wonderful, harrowing recreation of the doomed watch that ends the nightvoyage of the Titanic. Featuring a wide variety of stories, from the captain of the ship all the way down to a bilge rat, The Watch that Ends the Night is an unforgettable experience that will entertain kids and their grown ups. Be warned that it is harrowing, as not all of the voices survive. Descriptions of the recovery of bodies frozen in the sea are featured throughout and may upset younger or more sensitive listeners. However, older elementary aged kids familiar with the Titanic and other large scale disasters will be enthralled with this well-done story.

Ideal for kids aged 11 and up.

Revolution and Countdown by Deborah Wiles

countdownCountdown and Revolution share some characters but are two separate stories told during  pivotal moments in  1960s America. Countdown centers around Franny Chapman’s experience living in Maryland in 1962, as the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis playout. Revolution takes place in Greenwood, Mississippi during the summer of 1964, otherwise known as the Freedom Summer. Twelve year-old Sunny is thrust into the middle of the tumultuous events of that summer as volunteers pour into town to help register black voters are were met with considerable resistance and violence from the townspeople–many of whom Sunny has known her whole life. What sets these stories apart is the creative use of primary source material throughout. Actors read speeches, excerpts from memoirs and newspaper articles, and even recreate popular ads and jingles to fully evoke the era.

Both of these stories are wonderful, affecting and engaging audio books, particularly Revolution, revolutionwhich brought me to tears more than once. Listening to 12-year old Sunny experience the violence of a civil war protest right in front of her eyes, and watching her struggle to understand how people could behave the way they did, was a powerful emotional experience for me.

Ideal for ages 11 and up.

Life as we knew it by Susan Beth Pfeffer

life as we knew itLife as we knew it is a harrowing suspense thriller that follows what happens on earth after an asteroid knocks the moon out of orbit and closer to earth. As the rest of the world experiences catastrophic tsunamis and floods, earthquakes and volcanoes, 10th grader Miranda and her family struggle to survive. The young female narrator reads this story with the perfect amount of urgency and innocence. Your family will beg to stay in the car just to find out what happens.

Ideal for ages 13 and up.