Category Archives: Book Recommendations

Father's Day Books for Dads and Their Sons

Father’s Day Books for Dads and Their Sons


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Did you know that dads play a critical role in their children’s literacy development? Studies show that boys are more likely to read when they see their fathers reading recreationally, and boys whose fathers read aloud to them score higher in reading achievement. Reading together is great father-son bonding time. To celebrate Father’s Day (or any day), grab one of these sweet reads and cozy up with your mini-you. And if you’re a mom reading this list, these titles make great Dad’s Day gifts!

Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley

Keith Negley's Tough Guys

Keith Negley is an illustrator turned children’s book author. Not surprisingly, the pictures in this book say so much more than the text. Use them to start a conversation with your son, and help disrupt conventional ideas about masculinity.

 Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales

This is a book about that fine line between being yourself and following in the footsteps of your parents. It’s especially perfect for a child who needs to grow into his name or who feels the weight of being a Junior. Budlong and Ashman were delighted at the alternate names the narrator suggests for himself, and Morales’ illustrations are stunning.

I Wonder: Celebrating Daddies Doin’ Work by Doyin Richards

I Wonder: Celebrating Daddies Doin' Work

This book celebrates the many ways fathers play a role in their children’s lives—cuddling, styling hair, rough-housing, potty-training, etc. Beautiful photos catch fathers of all colors and ethnicities in action.

Mighty Dads by Joan Holub and James Dean

books to read for father's day

Father and son construction vehicles work alongside each other in this book. My boys like the rhyme, repetition, and cute kid names like little Vator, Dozy, Grady, and Hoe-Hoe. Scholastic offers free printable Mighty Dads activities so your child can create a father’s day card, complete a maze, or do a matching exercise after reading.

Building with Dad by Carol Nevius and Bill Thomson

Building with Dad

Can you tell my boys are into building? Dad takes his son along to a construction site in this book with rhyming text and amazing illustrations. The ant’s eye view makes you feel like you’re right there with them. If you like the style of this author/illustrator team, check out Karate Hour and Baseball Hour next.

Dad’s Bald Head by Paul Many and Kevin O’Malley

Dad's Bald Head

Budlong and Ashman can definitely relate to the dad in this book who decides to shave off what little hair he has left on his head. While it takes some getting used to, the son realizes being bald doesn’t change who his dad is or how much he loves him.

My Dad Thinks He’s Funny by Katrina Germein and Tom Jellett

My Dad Thinks He's Funny by Katrina Germein

Even if you have your own set of eye-roll inducing dad jokes, you’re bound to pick up a few more in this book.  And when I say, “Dad, I don’t want to,” he says, “Okay, then…Do you want three?”

Just the Two of Us by Will Smith and Kadir Nelson

This book pairs the lyrics to Will Smith’s 1997 song with gorgeous pictures from one of my favorite illustrators. Nothing like exposing your kids to the “golden oldies”…sigh.

Daddy, Papa, and Me by Lesléa Newman and Carol Thompson

This is a sweet book about a boy lucky enough to have two dads to play with him. While I’m a huge fan of the true story of two male penguin fathers, And Tango Makes Threeit’s refreshing to find a book that shows the variations of human families.

My Dad Used to Be so Cool by Keith Negley

Keith Negley's My Dad Used to Be So Cool

Oh Keith Negley, I used to be so cool too, and now I write a mom blog. Parents will completely relate to how this dad’s pre-child life is almost unrecognizable after his son comes along. But would we want it any other way?

Pages from My Dad Used to Be So Cool



Check It Out: Guyku


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In honor of World Poetry Day, I wanted to let you know about a charming book of poems called Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys .

Read on to see if Guyku is for you!

Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys

Guyku is a quick read!

Spring’s arrival has a tendency to disrupt our winter routines of after-school homework and bedtime books. Budlong and Ashman want to get as much fresh air as possible until the sun sets. While they are not at an age to truly appreciate haiku as a poetic form, they can appreciate the digestible length of each of the musings in Guyku. And the sooner they’re done reading, the sooner they can get back outside!

Guyku celebrates playing outside!

Divided into four collections—winter, spring, summer, and fall—this sweet little book of haiku celebrates the simple, unplugged fun kids can have when nature is their playground. Kites, snowballs, baseball cards in bike spokes, and flattened pennies on railroad tracks are just some of the subjects to which Raczka and Reynolds pay tribute.

An example of spring haiku for boys

Guyku connects boys to poetry!

What about that title, you ask? Is it right to imply that only boys will enjoy this type of poetry? Probably not. But if it’s going to help connect a boy to poetry, a genre often considered feminine, I’m okay with it alienating half the population. These are not the crude, sing-songy “beans, beans the magical fruit” kind of poems that are often associated with boys. The haiku range from silly and mischievous to sentimental and contemplative. When we first sat down to sample the pages of Guyku, I didn’t call it poetry because…ahem, (whisper) it doesn’t rhyme. You might want to lead with something like, “Let’s read this boy’s thoughts about playing outside and see if you can relate to them.” Or don’t say anything at all; just leave the book lying around (Jedi Mindtrick #3, my friends).

I also recently discovered the book’s website where you can get teacher resources to help your young readers write their own haiku. There’s even a page about girls who have protested and started a “Galku” movement!

Reading this book will inspire you and your kids to go outside and play. Get to the library and check it out!




Jazz: A Black History Booklist for Preschool Cats


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A few years ago, my good friends and fellow educators entrusted me to play preschool with their son Ben, who is the same age as Ashman. Pretty naive of me to think teaching high school for ten years could prepare me for teaching three-year-olds, right? Ben and Ashman turned out to be the wriggliest force I had ever reckoned with! Nevertheless, I relished the challenge of finding topics and activities that held their interest. Jazz, a topic I selected in honor of Black History Month, turned out to have immense toddler appeal. Ben and Ashman loved learning about the instruments, rhythms and rhymes of this music born in New Orleans. I loved introducing them to notable Black musicians who made this style part of our American history. Here is a list of books we used to learn about jazz. Whenever possible, I’ve tried to explain the sensory activities we paired with the book…because if there’s one thing Ben and Ashman taught me, it’s that kids gotta move! Continue reading


Check It Out: a Valentine’s Day book for boys (and other pragmatists)


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“Check It Out” is a new series in which I recommend gems we’ve discovered by chance at our public library. Since it’s February, I wanted to share this Valentine’s Day book:

The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever by Brenda A. Ferber

Yuckiest Valentine book cover

That moment Valentine ’s Day becomes less about candy and more about declaring your love for a classmate can be, well… AWKWARD!!! (to use Ashman’s new favorite word). Romantic, risky, gross, terrifying, this book understands that immature love is complicated.

Join Leon as he chases his mortified Valentine card through town only to run smack into his crush, Zoey Maloney. What will she say? And will his Valentine card cooperate?

Valentine's Day Book

This is my favorite page. I love the teenagers’ reactions!

This book has been a February favorite in our house for the last three years. The boys love the comic book layout and vibrant full-page drawings by illustrator Tedd Arnold (Fly Guy; Parts). But I’m pretty sure it’s the Valentine card’s refrain that keeps Budlong and Ashman coming back:

Love is yucky. Stinky too. It will turn your brain to goo!

Sweeten your little reader’s V-Day with a trip to your local library to check it out!


Tried and True: Nonfiction Series for Beginning Readers


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My boys LOVE nonfiction. When I lose Ashman in the library, I know to look first in one of three sections: trucks, police, or Titanic.

Ashman checks out police books in the nonfiction section

I’ll admit it took me a while to get excited about reading nonfiction with them. I’m a fiction girl myself. I don’t mind biographies or other narrative nonfiction that reads like a story, but reading something that looks like a science textbook is pretty painful for me. Most boys, when given the choice, will choose informational books over fiction. For many, it’s precisely this textbooky layout that contributes to the genre’s appeal. With short bursts of focus, readers can gain a ton of information from nonfiction text features such as photos, diagrams, charts, captions, labels, and headings. Even if the genre is not your child’s first choice, it’s a great idea to introduce nonfiction into his/her reading life. Reading books with these features prepares kids to understand the structures of academic text they’ll see in school.

Another advantage to this preference for nonfiction? My role as book matchmaker is easy peasy. Oh, you’re into tornadoes this week? You’d like to know more about football? You want to see pictures of the inside of an ambulance? There’s a book for that! Below is a list of our favorite nonfiction series and collections.  Continue reading


Check It Out: Chapter Book Series by Steve Brezenoff


Budlong is currently on a mystery fiction kick thanks to his teacher’s awesome third grade reading unit. During winter break, we went to the public library to stock up. While Budlong went in search of Zombie Zone, the last book in Ron Roy’s series A to Z Mysteries, I went on a desperate hunt to find his next favorite series. Gotta stay one step ahead! That’s when I discovered author Steve Brezenoff and three of his series that were guaranteed to meet Budlong’s (unspoken) criteria:

  • Pictures (Like many boys his age, Budlong judges a book worthy of his time by whether it has pictures. The full-page, color illustrations in these books score huge points with him),
  • Just right reading level (Grade 2-3)
  • Adventurous, fast paced plots with relatable (but slightly older) characters

Series are particularly useful in creating positive reading experiences at this age. A story’s exposition (that part of the book that introduces the characters, the setting and the conflict) is often the most challenging to get through but also the most essential to understand. When readers already know the background information, they are motivated to read more books in the same series.

It’s only been a week and a half since my discovery and Budlong has read six books from these series. If you are wondering what your grade school reader should read next, check these out!

Museum Mysteries

The Capitol City Sleuths are four friends with exceptional access to the city’s museums, thanks to their parents who work there. They solve crime and learn a little culture along the way. Currently, there are eight titles in this series.

Museum Mysteries Series by Steve Brezenoff

Field Trip Mysteries

Help four best friends in Mr. Spade’s sixth-grade class solve crimes on their field trips before they get back on the bus to school. With field trip destinations that range from national parks to big cities to bowling alleys and amusement parks, your reader is sure to find a topic that interests him. This series contains at least 20 titles and is now branching into another series called “You Choose Stories.” They feature the same characters but allow the reader to choose from multiple possible endings.

Field Trip Mysteries by Steve Brezenoff

Return to Titanic

Tucker and Maya discover a collection of special Titanic artifacts that have the power to transport them back in time to the ship’s maiden (and final) voyage. After meeting a new friend traveling aboard, they decide to race against time and fate to save him. This series has the added benefit of also appealing to Ashman. If you know Ashman personally, you know he is our resident Titanic historian. He builds Lego replicas, draws diagrams and subjects random strangers to Titanic trivia quizzes. The three of us started this series as a read aloud, but Budlong went rogue and is just finishing the last book today!

Return to Titanic Series by Steve Brezenoff



Book Giving Day 12: Book Pairings


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Oh my goodness, we made it!  It’s day 12 of the “12 Days of Book Giving”!

Book Giving Idea #12

Reading and cooking go together like red wine and chocolate, coffee and donuts, tea and shortbread, milk and cookies. I could go on, but what I mean is kids get exposure to so much good food while reading, and so much good reading while cooking. This holiday season, pair a children’s book with homemade food or a cooking experience to maximize this symbiotic relationship. Here are some possibilities to get you thinking:

The Ninjabread Man

Book Pairing: Ninjabread Man and cookie cutters

Saint Nicholas brought my ninjas this book with some matching cookie cutters.  After reading the story, Budlong and Ashman are eagerly anticipating our cookie making, baking, frosting, and eating experiences!

Who Made This Cake?

Who Made This Cake? paired with cake mix

In this picture book by Chihiro Nakagawa and Junji Koyose, miniature construction vehicles and their operators work to make a life-size birthday cake for a mother. If you have a young child who’s crazy about construction vehicles, pair this book with a box of cake mix. It’s sure to be an unforgettable baking and imagination building experience!

Food in Literature Blog

Food in Literature is an amazing blog whose founder, Bryton Taylor, creates recipes inspired by novels and children’s literature.  In addition to the recipes, you’ll find gorgeous, mouthwatering photos and how-to videos. I am most intrigued by…

Book pairing: Lion Witch and Wardrobe with Turkish Delight

Book Pairing: HP and treacle tart

Book pairing: BFG and frobscottle

Get the book, print off the recipe, shop for the ingredients, and you’ve got yourself an amazing gift basket to give to an older child!

Kids Cook with Books from What’s Cooking with Kids

This is a gift that has potential to last the whole year. You can sign yourself or a child up for this book club, and each month you’ll receive a recipe that complements a children’s book geared toward kids ages 2-8. The 2017 list of books is already posted. Check it out and track down the first few books!

Thank you so much for following this series.  I hope you have been inspired to give a child a unique book in a creative way. Whatever your cause for celebration this season, Budlong, Ashman, my husband and I would like to wish you peace, joy, and tons of time for reading!

Featured image based on "Presents" by Andrew Butitta, CC-BY-SA-2.0
Day 11: A Blank Book

Book Giving Day 11: A Blank Book


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We are nearing the end of the “12 Days of Book Giving,” my friends, but don’t despair. You still get two more days of Book Giving inspiration!

Book Giving Idea #11

“If you can’t find the book you want to read, then go write it.”

This is what fabulous young adult author Kwame Alexander tells students during his Page-to-Stage writing workshops.  I recently read The Crossover, his novel written in verse about a seventh grade basketball star. By deftly combining sports and poetry, he has written a book many boy readers will absolutely want to read. I am counting down the years till I get to enjoy it again with Budlong and Ashman!

Similarly, Keith Negley, another of my new favorite children’s authors, explained in an interview,

“ I always liked the idea of making picture books for children, but it wasn’t until I became a parent and started reading a ton of picture books to my son did I realize there was a lack of the kind of books we enjoyed. Honestly the books I’ve been working on were born out of necessity because I wanted to read them and no one else had made them yet.”

Keith Negley's Tough GuysKeith Negley's My Dad Used to Be So Cool

As it did for these authors, being a reader can naturally lead kids to being a writer. When the boys got into the I Survived! series by Lauren Tarshis, I encouraged them to start thinking of their own titles. One particularly rainy camping weekend prompted them to declare they were going to write a book called I Survived!: the Camping Trip to Bluemound. 

And much to Ashman’s disappointment, there just aren’t many books written about bucket wheel excavators. I promise. We’ve read. them. all. So I’ve tasked him with writing and illustrating his own.

If you have aspiring authors in your home, here are some tools of the trade that would make excellent gifts:

            1. felt tip pens–Ashman uses these in school as his special writing workshop pens. They are fine enough to help him work on dexterity but not as finicky as ball point pens when you hold them at a weird angle. Kindergarten teachers are geniuses.
            2. hard cover blank books–my fourth grade teacher gave me one of these, and I will  never forget it. There’s just something about a hardcover that makes you feel like an official writer. In mine I wrote a sequel to Mary Poppins. (White Blank Books with Hardcovers 6″W x 8″H (6 Books / Pack) by Ashley Productions)
            3. publish your own book kits–these are commercial kits that let kids write and illustrate their story, mail it away, and receive a professionally printed book. The whole process sounds so exciting! (you might like this one: Crayola Story By Me Hardcover Kit)

That’s all for today!  We’re going out to enjoy the snow! See you back here tomorrow for the very last day of Book Giving 2016! Don’t forget, the winner of the Snowy Day hat and book giveaway will be announced tomorrow as well.  You have until midnight tonight to enter (or re-enter)!

Featured image based on "Presents" by Andrew Butitta, CC-BY-SA-2.0
Day 9 Book Giving

Book Giving Day 9: Tickets Make Good Bookmarks


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If you’ve been following us from the beginning, you know it’s day 9 of the “12 Days of Book Giving“!!! If this is your first visit, welcome!

Budlong is spending two weeks in South Dakota with my parents this summer, which got me thinking about how I could best prepare him for the trip. The answer is books, of course.  Books about South Dakota can give him valuable background knowledge that he’ll be able to connect to his travel experiences.  Books will also focus his interests and build anticipation for his trip.

Because we’ve read Mount Rushmore: Myths, Legends, and Facts by Jessica Gunderson, Budlong now understands that the monument is on land stolen from the Sioux. He’s also excited about the prospect of seeing the secret chamber hidden behind the faces and going to visit the still unfinished Crazy Horse Memorial.  Next up we’ll read Flat Stanley: The Mount Rushmore Calamity and Four Famous Faces.

This trip is not a surprise to him, but imagine how awesome it would be if we had announced it by giving him one of the above books.  Even more awesome and more tangible if we had tucked an Every Kid in a Park Pass into the book as a surprise bookmark!  And that’s how I came up with your book giving idea for the day!

Book Giving Idea #9: Tickets Make Great Bookmarks!

Step 1: Brainstorm experiences you can offer your child.

Step 2: Purchase passes, tickets, or gift cards good for this experience

Step 3: Hide the tickets inside a book about this experience and wrap it up!

Need some ideas? Continue reading

Day 8 Book giving

Book Giving Day 8: A Storytelling Basket


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One full week of the “12 Days of Book Giving” in the books! Drum roll and fanfare for day 8…

Book Giving Idea #8

Today’s book giving idea is a storytelling basket. This is a kit that includes a book and puppets, small toys, or other props that would help your child retell the story. Props can be purchased or made. Gathering them is half the fun of putting this gift together. This could finally be a reason to use some of the random crap—I mean, toys—that you’ve collected from garage sales, thrift stores, birthday party favors, dentist office prize machines, or happy meals. I’ve also seen storytelling baskets containing wooden spoon puppets painted to resemble the characters in a book. If you possess this talent that would put my storytelling basket examples to shame, by all means…

Why a Storytelling Basket?

A dramatic retelling of a story is a fantastic way to extend the benefits of a book. Acting it out deepens your child’s understanding of the story, develops his/her verbal skills, and connects reading to physical and social play. I would recommend this type of gift for readers ages 3-8. Reciting a story from memory or from looking at the pictures is an important step in early literacy. Even if your child can’t read words on a page, this activity helps develop his identity as a reader. Folktales or other stories that have cumulative or repetitive plots make the best storytelling baskets. Below is a list of titles to help you get started making your own.

Seasonal Folktales for Storytelling Baskets

The Gingerbread Man

Gingerbread Man Storytelling Basket

So many versions of this tale exist, each with different animal characters that try to eat the gingerbread man. The one constant is the sly fox, so make sure you include him in your basket.  Other ingredients seen in the photo are a rolling pin, cookie cutter, pan, and gingerbread man ornament. Ashman and I made the ornament from dough containing mostly cinnamon and glue. He smells wonderful!

There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow by Lucille Colandro and Jared Lee

There Was a Cold Lady Storytelling Kit

All the things this woman swallows accumulate in her belly until she hiccups twice and out pops a snowman. Most of my ingredients are made of paper. I know you can do better. Wouldn’t it be fun to include some white play dough for the snow? You can find the old lady template here.

The Mitten by Jan Brett

The Mitten

This Ukranian folktale is another cumulative story. While playing outside in the snow, a boy loses one of the white mittens his grandmother knitted him. Subsequently a mole, rabbit, hedgehog, owl, badger, fox, bear, and mouse all snuggle into the mitten to sleep. When the mouse climbs on bear’s nose, the bear sneezes and they all go flying. The boy is reunited with his mitten when he sees it falling from the sky. This storytelling basket requires a lot of animals and a very large white mitten, but Jan Brett’s glorious illustrations make it SO worth having.

Storytelling Baskets for the Overachiever

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Caps for Sale

This basket must contain hats in five different colors: grey, brown, blue, and red, and one checkered. Oh, and you’re going to need some monkeys. I know we have a partial set of the game Barrel of Monkeys around here somewhere, how about you? Your kid will love walking around balancing a tower of hats on his head and shouting, “Caps for sale, caps for sale. Fifty cents a cap!”

20 Big Trucks in the Middle of the Street by Mark Lee and Kurt Cyrus

20 Big Trucks

Ashman loves to act out this book and he would LOVE to receive a storytelling basket with exact replicas of the trucks in this book. You’ll need an ice cream truck, mail truck, hay truck, pickup truck, crane truck, two moving vans, 4 delivery trucks, farm truck carrying pigs, cement mixer, tanker truck, tow truck, truck towing a tar kettle (what?!), bread truck, meat truck, and a garbage truck. Totally doable, right?  If not, make sure you have the crane truck (the solution to the traffic jam) and 19 other trucks of any kind will do.

The Three Little Pigs by James Marshall, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by John Scieszka and Lane Smith, and The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Dan Santat

Three Little Pigs, three versions

Extend the use of your storytelling basket by including three versions of this traditional tale (a.k.a. “fractured fairytales”). The characters and building materials (straw, sticks, bricks) remain the same, but the plots, points of view, and settings change slightly.

That’s all for today. See you tomorrow for Day 9!

Featured image based on "Presents" by Andrew Butitta, CC-BY-SA-2.0