Archive for January, 2007

Beyond Goodnight Moon: My Top 50 Best Books for the Toddler and Preschool Set

Many moms play with their children.  I’m not the world’s best playmate — the laundry or kitchen dishes start calling me after my 10th block tower that is knocked down.  But I do one thing with the kids religiously.  I read.

My favorite kids books teach tolerance, self-esteem, and understanding of the world.  Most importantly, they need to make me laugh out loud or make me cry (happy tears!).

What follows are some of my favorite children’s books for preschoolers.  I’ve left out overly-obvious choices – I assume you know and love these books already.  However I have left in some classics just in case they haven’t yet sprung to mind. So grab your library card, your kiddies and check out these great works (in no particular order):

Anything by Todd Parr.
I think I might be a little in love with Todd.  His messages of compassion, acceptance, silliness and love build self-esteem and empathy, and I can’t help but choke up each time I read them.  The colorful creatures within his stories mimic different races without being overt.  Mr. Parr’s books are appropriate for even the youngest children, but even adults can truly enjoy them.  Now if only the Bush administration would have a Todd Parr circle time! 
I especially recommend:
It’s Okay To Be Different
The Feel Good Book
The Peace Book
The Family Book
The Feelings Book

Love on your family. 
I love books that encourage hugs and kisses during storytime, such as Mommy Hugs and Daddy Kisses .  Then there are the books that express your love for your children, such as I Already Know I Love You by Billy Crystal (yes, that Billy Crystal), I Want to Say I Love You, Snuggle Puppy, and Because of You. I also have a soft spot in my heart for books about love between dads and their children, such as Daddies Are for Catching Fireflies and On a Wintry Morning My favorite lovey book?  Especially if you are expecting a new baby in the family (but even if you’re not), I strongly recommend Just Like a Baby – a folkish tale for reminding us that each family member plays an important role in building familial love.

Beyond the Cat in the Hat.
I have a special place in my heart for the Seuss-man, but most people never make it past Green Eggs and Ham. Why not try a few of his lesser-read but just as timeless books? My choices below contain wonderfully progressive messages in a fun and creative way. The Lorax gives children and introduction to environmentalism and resource conservation, or responsiblity versus greed. The Sneetches and Other Stories (Classic Seuss) remind us that individualism is always better than following the latest pointless fad. My Many Colored Days , published after the good doctor’s death, is a fun journey into color and mood and the message that it’s okay to have different feelings but you’ll always go back to feeling like you.

Be a Potty Mouth. 
Loosen up a bit and enjoy body humor – some of the funnest children’s books I know have to do with bodily function.  My favorite potty training book (written to kids, not adults) is Mo Willems’ Time to Pee! We took the mystery (and even some of the humor!) out of passing gas with The Gas We Pass: The Story of Farts and we stopped little fingers from creeping into noses with The Holes in Your Nose . Finally, in some circles it is already a classic – but I cannot have a list of favorite kids’ books without mentioning Everyone Poops .

As much as I love books that teach, I also love to read purely silly books too: books where we can laugh and imagine together as a family.  Here are some of my favorites:
The Day My Runny Nose Ran Away
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type
Good Dog, Carl

Dust off your Shel. 
And speaking of silly, I couldn’t make a children’s book list without mentioning Shel Silverstien.  We all loved him when we were young – and even in the preschool years, it’s time to share him with our children:
Where the Sidewalk Ends
A Light in the Attic
Runny Babbit

Teach sharing and empathy. 
One of Each‘s rhyming patterns reminds me much of the good Dr. Seuss and is a great story of how it is much better to share your live and home with others.  The ancient African hymn Cumbayah is now a wonderfully illustrated book that can lure your child out of the worst temper tantrums with its rhythmic cadence.  Children from all over the world and in every skin color are shown crying, laughing, hurting and singing during times of war, celebration, poverty and work. Hands Are Not for Hitting offers other, more positive uses for your little toddler’s hands other than to hurt others.  In Ebb and Flo and the New Friend, Ebb the dog must learn to share and accept change when a new creature comes to visit.  And I can’t go without mentioning one more Shel Silverstien book of which we are all aware: The Giving Tree – the ultimate book on unconditional love.

Teach acceptance early.  
There are many books about the differences in each of us, but the best ones remind us of our similarities.  I absolutely love Mem Fox’s Whoever You Are and apparently am not capable of reading it without choking up.  “More More More,” Said the Baby Board Book (Caldecott Collection) shows three families who have different skin colors (there is even a multi-racial family in there!) but all love each other in similar ways.  Many of the other books I’ve mentioned elsewhere such as Todd Parr books and the Family books talk hint towards the sometimes (percieved) sticky topics of homosexuality and religion in creative, tolerant and loving ways.
Bedtime Stories
Doesn’t it seem like every children’s book ends with everybody going to sleep in the end?  And no wonder with our love of “The Nap”.  But how many of them are any good?  I love Time for Bed by Mem Fox – it has a sweet, slow rhythm to it that encourages rocking and cuddling.  Also by Mem Fox is a book appropriately enough called A Bedtime Story that encourages love of books and self-reliance at the same time.

Self Esteem, Individuality and Feelings
Loud Emily is a sea chanty about a little girl with a very loud voice who finds her place in the world and is a joy to read both for its story and its illustrations. Jamie Lee Curtis has given up her day job to pursue children’s literature – and it turns out she’s great at it.  She scores high with Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day.  And don’t we all love The Story of Ferdinand – yes, there are some allusions to the violence of a Spanish bull fight – but in the end, just as we remember, gentle Ferdinand holds his ground.  Another classic from my own childhood is I Wish That I Had Duck Feet (strangely enough now credited to Dr. Seuss instead of Theo LeSieg like the copy from my youth) which simultaneously encourages both imagination and reminds us all that we are great just the way we are.

See the World.
We love to travel, so we might as well get the kids used to it now.  Usually given to adults or as a high school/college graduation gift, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (yes, another Seuss! Shoot Me!) has proven to be entertaining even on the surface.  Another oldie but goodie is Come Over to My House which shows children living, playing, and eating in different ways all over the world.  I’m generally not a great fan of the older Babar books which have a few gender and racial slurs, but the more modern Babar’s World Tour talks about language and culture on an international level.  Connor loves maps, so the National Geographic Beginners World Atlas is fun to peruse together – and it is amazing how much his sponge-like brain retains.  Finally, The Noisy Airplane Ride was the perfect way to introduce Connor to the sights and sounds of air travel – and has easily become one of his favorites.

Beyond the Basics. 
Books about A-B-Cs, 1-2-3s and planes-trains-automobiles are required reading in children’s lit.  But how many of the books are fun for parents to read?  Chicka Chicka Boom Boom turns the alphabet into a fun poem.  Counting Kisses: A Kiss & Read Book is a much more fun and interactive way to learn to count than the “4 ducks, 5 pencils” status quo.  Freight Train is a book about a train that also sneaks in teaching colors.

49…and 50.
Okay, so neither of these books fit nicely into any of the above categories, but we’ve enjoyed them nonetheless.  Connor’s favorite song hands down is I’ve Been Working on the Railroad and we’ve spent hours singing this song over and over with this book as our guide.  He also loves to cook, so while it’s not especially healthy or gourmet, we’ve been picking a meal for him to cook each week out of his Better Homes and Gardens New Junior Cook Book.


Letter to my future grown children

It always seems like a cliche: the mother who is constantly annoying to their grown children…but there is a reason that movies, books and tv has perpetuated this myth.  It’s actually true.

I once heard a story of a woman about to have her baby.  “I’m going to raise this child right.  I’m not going to make the same mistakes you made,” she told her mother.  Her mom’s answer: “Of course you won’t honey.  You’ll make different ones.”

Already, Connor and Siena, I’ve made my own mistakes.  Mostly they are little but we moms tend to throw life out of proportion when the subject matter is as precious as you.  Let’s just get the horror stories out on the table now, shall we?  Connor, one day we had guests and I didn’t realize they had left the bathroom door open and you crawled out of there chewing on a toilet brush.  Siena, once when you were a very tiny baby I accidently left the monitor off and I’m sure you screamed much of the night away while I slept like a log.

Past mistakes have been made as much as I tried to be “perfect”.  But worse than that, they’re proof positive that I’ll make future ones.  And I’m especially afraid of who I’ll be as an older woman.

So I’ll be upfront about it.  I have some major personality flaws which will be especially unbecoming as you grow up and I’m no longer “perfect”, if only in your eyes.  Now that you are grown, here’s some things you should know (but I’m sure you already know) about me:

1.  I’m horribly airheaded.  I can drive by a place a hundred times and never realize a building has been there for years.  I forget names of people.  I’m awful with directions.  Trust me, it’s not the start of Altzeimers – I’ve always been this way.  It’s a genetic thing that’s been passed down for several generations (your Gram will also readily admit to having this affliction)…I hope you don’t get it too.

2.  In the interest of honesty and transparency, I say pretty much whatever comes into my head at any given moment.  Most of it should stay there.  And as an added bonus, often the words come out sounding like the worst possible version of what I meant.  I hope I never say things that will hurt you, but I’m afraid I probably will.  I’ll let you know now that it is never my intention.

3.  Occasionally I’ve been known to pull a bender and drink myself into a stupor.  It doesn’t happen often (once a year?), but when it does I always think of myself as the life of the party and the effects of items #2 and #3 are magnified.  Siena, you should probably pass on taking me to your bachlorette party unless you like the image of your mother stuffing dollar bills down the pants of whatever that moves.

4.  I truly care about other people – perhaps too much sometimes – but occasionally I get a little wrapped up in Me.  Like any idealist, I believe deeply in My politics, My way of doing things, My life.  (Hint: It might be harder for you if you end up as Republicans.)  When the Me monster comes out, take cover.  Eventually I’ll realize whatever I’m doing and I’ll try to shut up.  Connor, when you bring your intended home to meet Mom, I hope I don’t go on and on about myself and never ask him/her about themselves.  A swift elbow under the table usually works…ask Dad.

5.  Socially I’m an idiot.  I’m sure this is no surprise.  The effects of numbers 1 through 4 add up to a social nightmare.  Unfortunately I enjoy entertaining.  (You know, because it’s about Me.)

Somehow the two of you have already grown into fun, caring, intelligent children in spite of the cliche that I am.  Keep Dad around – he seems to tone down the effects of my syndrome.  And the two of you can form your own support group – I give you permission.  I’ll even bring the milk and cookies.

Much love,


Support our troops: send them home

If you listen to a lot of conservatives, they’ll tell you that the difference between them and us is that conservatives love America and liberals hate America…. They don’t get it. We love America just as much as they do. But in a different Way. You see, they love America the way a 4-year-old loves her Mommy. Liberals love America like grown-ups.  To a 4-year-old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad. Grown-up love means actually understanding what you love, taking the good with the bad, and helping your loved one grow. Love takes attention and work and is the best thing in the world.
Al Franken

I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.
I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.
Abraham Lincoln

What follows is a political rant.  I usually leave this sort of stuff for the big guys who are smarter and more articulate than me although I definitely have my opinions…but today I cannot sit idly.

Yesterday I read an interview of book author and war correspondent Chris Hedges in  In the interview he compares the current US government leadership to the beginnings of facist movements he has seen while standing in the middle of war.  Do I buy that Dubya knows he is a bad guy; that he has evil in his heart?  No.  But do I think he is purposefully deceptive and secretive to the American public and to the world?  You bet.  After all, when God him/herself is leading your actions, who else do you need to answer to?  Democracy goes right out the window.

This rings true to so many cases of facist government in the past.  Bush’s methods: secrecy, media control, creation of a blind following through flag waving and fear spreading, and encouragement of the idea that it is unpatriotic to disagree.  It reeks of lessons we should have learned decades ago and it’s scary. 

I’m not saying we’re presently in a fascist situation.  But I’m saying that we’re closer than what I’m comfortable. 

Reading this article followed quickly on the heels of my learning that George Bush’s grand plan for fixing the war in Iraq is to send more 21,000 more troops. 

I was hopeful that after the recent election when Bush announced it was time for him to do some thinking on how to approach the conflict in Iraq differently.  I wished that he might collect some bright minds and come up with a plan that involved apology, a plan to get our troops home, working with other countries instead of against them, sanctions & embargos or humanitarian aid (I’m not one of those ‘bright minds’ smart enough to figure this one out), and a worldwide agressive alternative fuel plan.

Well, we did get a weak apology although it is not clear what he is apologizing for.  The rest was just more fear-based propaganda and “stay the course” – except let’s do it bigger and better this time.

It’s time to end this nonsense.  Ladies and gentlemen, if you are a United States citizen I urge you to act.  Let’s stop this resolution from being passed.  Write to your congressmen and women.  Ask them to vote against increasing troops in Iraq.  Ask them to get our disillusioned troops home to their families.  Support them and love them – by helping them get back to the arms of their loved ones alive.

Write to your US Representatives

Write to your US Senators

And if you feel like throwing in a request for presidential impeachment, who am I to argue?

God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam [Hussein], which I did.
– George W. Bush

Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.
– Adolph Hitler

Life Update

  1. We still do not know if we are moving to England, but for a number of reasons that I can’t yet discuss online, it is looking less and less likely.  i’m bummed out about it, but there’s not much I can do at this point.  The only thing for sure is that our immediate life is in the states, which at least will be for the next several months.  We probably won’t know anything definite for quite some time, but when we do you’ll be the first to know.
  2. Item #1 makes me wonder if I should keep updating this blog.  I’ve decided that I should as writing often makes me a happier person, although for now topics will probably be a hodge-podge of stuff probably unrelated with the UK.  I feel like a poser when the blog is called “American Mum”, but what can I do…
  3. I’ve been busy in life doing actual work for which I’ll recieve money.  My family’s company needs a new web site.  The hack who created the last one really dropped the ball when she quit working four years ago.  (Pause.)  Fine, yes, that hack was me.  But what is better than reaping financial rewards from my own past mistakes?  I’ve spent a few hours updating content and putting everything on a new template, which once approved will hold us until Rich and I can hire a real interactive design company to do the “real” web design in the next few months.
  4. How do at-home working parents find the time to work and take care of/joy in their kids?
  5. FedEx came through for us the day after my last post.  No harm done – the kids didn’t seem to mind in the least that they had to have FOUR Christmases.  It has occurred to me that they probably would have been totally stoked to get just a stocking full of nonsense from Santa and that’s it.  But I’m not thinking about that too hard or my practical (read: cheap) side will start screaming.
  6. Because of the Christmas carnage, we have had to clear out the old to make way for the new.  On Christmas Eve instead of going to mass, we donated a truckload of old toys to our local hospital’s pediatrics department.  When Siena was there just about a year ago, they only had a handful of old toys for her to play with.  The whole family left with much, much more in the Christmas spirit than all that stand/sit/kneel/sing stuff could have provided.
  7. Even after the hospital giveaway, more stuff must be disposed of.  Garage sales in January are unheard of in these parts, so I’m looking into dropping it all off at a consignment store.  Lots of baby/kids gear to be had for cheap – anyone interested?

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