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Parents of the previous generation who wanted to bestow all their mushy, gushy love on their kids–in book form–had Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever and Sam McBratney’s Guess How Much I Love You for bedtime reading. Cuddled under the covers, snug and cozy while turning pages, is there any better way to share a deep parent-child bond?

But it’s time for those books to move over and make way for new Valentine’s classics!

I can’t think of a better gift for the holiday than a book. Candy rots their teeth, plus you end up eating most if it yourself, don’t you? (Well, I do.) And where will you store yet another Build-A-Bear that gets forgotten by March?

Valentine’s Day belongs to books. And these three are perfect picks to declare all your mushy, gushy love. And grandparents, take note. These books are just right for you and your grandkids, too.

I Love You More Than Rainbows
by Susan Crites
Illustrated by Mark & Rosemary Jarman
Published by Thomas Nelson

With whimsical illustrations as bright as rainbows, Susan Crites’s book uses analogies children can easily understand to explain the concept of love. Kids are crazy about ice cream cones with sprinkles on top, puppies, birthday parties, sleigh riding and hot cocoa. But as great as those childhood favorites are, parental love still trumps them all.

Try inserting your child’s favorites while you read this book. With my kids, “I love you more than albino rock pythons, Sun Chips and Daphne from Scooby-Doo” might work well. Don’t ask about the snake, but I could use help finding something to rhyme with Scooby-Doo. Yabba-Dabba Doo? Anyone have a Hanna-Barbera rhyming dictionary?

But I digress…

With a jaunty rhyme that never gets too sing-songy, this book is a joy to read aloud, and the bold colors will delight a young audience.

Published by Thomas Nelson, I Love You More Than Rainbows won a Mom’s Choice Award and is available in hardcover and in board book form—at a great price, too. There’s even a Kindle version.

Me with You
by Kristy Dempsey
Illustrated by Christopher Denise
Published by Philomel Books

When Kristy Dempsey wrote this story, she couldn’t imagine that her editor and illustrator Christopher Denise would interpret her characters as granddaughter and grandfather. But after reading this book, you’ll agree, there’s no more perfect a pair.

Me with You celebrates the joys of being yourself around someone you love, the comfort a great relationship brings. Grandpa is always there to support his favorite young cub, even when she’s feeling selfish and gruff. The two allow each other to express themselves, always knowing their love will not waver.

Me With You also highlights the importance of spending time apart from those you love, “to be the kind of you that you can be when you’re alone.” This book is a good choice for children who are apprehensive about separation from a loved one.

This rhyming book offers a smooth, gentle beat, and the light, airy illustrations breathe of spring. Denise has mastered body language and facial expressions to demonstrate the deep bond shared by this “pair beyond compare.” A favorite page features Grandpa in a Babe Ruth pose, pointing to the outfield as his granddaughter cheers him on. (I have to mention the blades of grass, which you may think are insignificant, but I’ve never seen such luscious fields, I want to take off my shoes and run across this book.)

You don’t have to be a grandparent to fall in love with it this Valentine’s Day.

You’re Lovable to Me
by Kat Yeh
Illustrated by Sue Anderson
Published by Random House

The theme of You’re Lovable to Me is unconditional love: parents love their children no matter what they do.

Mama Bunny is having a rough day keeping track of her Bunny Babies and all their hare-y mischief. But no matter what they do, Mama Bunny reminds them that through their joy and sadness, their frolic and frustration, “You are my bunnies. And you’re lovable to me.”

Once her bunny babies are tucked in, Mama bunny crashes on the couch. Oh, how we parents can relate! Mama Bunny’s father arrives and upon seeing his exhausted daughter, he reminds her, “You’re lovable to me.”

If this review had a soundtrack, it would be Elton John’s “Circle of Life!” This book reminds our children that we were once children, too–and that everyone needs to be reminded that they are loved.

Sue Anderson illustrates in a simple, pastel style that takes advantage of white space, complementing the sweet story with a gentle, relaxed mood. The nostalgic feel of this book makes it my top pick for being a New Valentine’s Classic!

What are your New Valentine’s Classics?

cheerios

Who doesn’t love Cheerios? Little circles of oat goodness! The TV show “Glee” pays homage to Cheerios by naming their cheerleading squad after the superior cereal. And since we’re already cheering, let’s whoop it up for the Spoonfuls of Stories program! Cheerios distributes 6 million children’s stories in its specially-marked bookish boxes. Bravo!

Well, I do love Cheerios.

When I’m not hating them.

You see, my love/hate relationship with the ubiquitous toddler treat runs deep—deep in my carpeting, that is.

So for the new parents out there, take heed. Sure, run out and buy What to Expect When You’re Expecting. But then, expect Cheerios to be on your grocery list for a lifetime, so pay attention to these lessons:

  • Do not purchase carpeting that is the same color as Cheerios. My sand-colored shag disguises stray O’s. We’re endlessly grounding whole grain cereal into the fibers and getting little circles stuck to the bottom of our feet.
  • Do not enter the ceramic tile of your kitchen with said Cheerios attached to your heels. You will go flying. It won’t be pretty. (Hey Mom, is that a new dance?)
  • Do not buy Cheerios at Costco. The enormous box won’t fit into any cabinet. You will be forced to let it live on the kitchen floor, within easy reach of a newly-walking toddler. You will soon have 5,392 Cheerios dumped onto your floor…with 5,391 rolling under the refrigerator. All the money saved by buying in bulk will be beneath your icebox.
  • Do not buy fruity Cheerios in rainbow colors to solve the carpeting dilemma. They will not be eaten, these strange, colorful cereal mutations. Instead, necklaces will be made. Bracelets. They look so beautiful glued to construction paper. If you lick them and press them against the wall, look—they stick!
  • Murphy’s Law of Cheerio Consumption: if you place one Cheerio at a time on the baby’s tray to avoid cereal being thrown on the floor, she will eat each quickly and cry for more. If you put more than one on the tray, they will be immediately swiped onto the ground. (Corollary: number of Cheerios provided to your child is inversely proportionate to their hunger.)

I’m sure you other parents have your own Cheerio life lessons. Please share them! (The lessons, not the Cheerios. I have enough all over my floor to make a meal, thankyouverymuch.)

P.S. While I have your attention, please vote for the books to be included in the 2010 Spoonfuls of Stories program. Me, I like Bear’s New Friend by Karma Wilson and The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Corollary

barnaby“Pooh-pooh on the blue,” Barnaby said.
“I’m Barnaby Bennett and I only wear red.”

Young children declare their emerging independence in many ways. They don’t cling to Mom and Dad so tightly. They insist on doing simple tasks by themselves. And they choose their favorite things—a huggable stuffed toy, a cherished blanket, or a bright, cheery color.

Come on, what kid doesn’t have a favorite color? Every morning my toddler asks to wear “pretty purple.” My Kindergartener’s closet is filled with “Shrek green.” So when we read Barnaby Bennett for the first time, we instantly understood Barnaby’s passion for pigment.

With a jaunty rhyme, author Hannah Rainforth dresses Barnaby Bennett in toe-to-head red. But there’s a problem: Barnaby wears the same red clothes every day. He loves them so much he won’t take them off. His shirt, shorts and socks get stinky. (Let’s just say we’re happy this isn’t a scratch-n-sniff book!)

Barnaby’s family tries to convince him to change colors. Dad thinks navy is nice. Sissy’s keen on green. And Bro? He’s mellow for yellow. But Barnaby is no chameleon!

Then Barnaby’s clever Aunt finds a creative way to break Barnaby of his crimson obsession. Does he become partial to pink? Go ga-ga over gold? Get smitten with silver? You’ll just have to read it to find out!

Ali Teo’s mixed-media illustrations combine quirky cartoon characters and photographed elements—blue jeans, fabric patterns, toys—resulting in something “real” to discover on every spread. The pages seem textured; alive. Even the words jump out with clever use of funky fonts. “Yanked” stretches across the page and “sludge” squirms.

Originally published in New Zealand, Star Bright Books recently brought this colorful Kiwi to the US. (Thanks, Star Bright!) This vibrant tale will knock your socks off, even if they aren’t red. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to jump into my cherry jammies and read Barnaby with the kids.

barnaby2Barnaby Bennett
Story by Hannah Rainforth
Illustrated by Ali Teo
Star Bright Books, November 2008
Want it? Get it!

preschool1

  1. “What did you do in school today?” elicits complete silence or the popular refrains, “I don’t know” and “I don’t remember.”
  2. You are the “only mommy” who did not pack a lunch dessert for your child.  Apparently, strawberries don’t qualify as dessert, especially not if your child cannot open the Ziplock baggie in which they were stored.
  3. Your child must have a backpack even though they don’t have books or papers to carry back and forth on a daily basis.  Carrying an empty backpack is completely normal and necessary.
  4. The details you do learn of your child’s day are superfluous: “My teacher wears high heels!”
  5. Smiling while looking at the camera is an endeavor more difficult than the decathalon.
  6. Stopping to chat with other mothers for only a minute or two turns into over an hour and you wonder if you will soon be referred to as a yenta.
  7. Even though your child concedes that the Dora the Explorer pillow you provided for naptime is not actually alive, Dora still managed to grab and pull your child’s hair with malicious intent.
  8. Your child whines of hunger the second you pick them up.  Refer to #2 above.
  9. Once greeted by six hours of free time (even though that free time is spent with a 10 month-old baby) you should not start promising owners of Gymboree franchises that you will teach infant classes three days a week.
  10. Do not provide your child with the coolest new underwear from the most popular new Disney movie if you do not want her lifting her dress every five minutes to show her classmates.
  11. You can get up at 6:30am without being a zombie—just go to bed at 6:30pm.
  12. If you send your child to school in sandals, they will return home with black feet.
  13. Never before have six hours gone by so slowly…and yet so quickly.

Rarely do I stray into my mommy life on this blog, but if I’m writing for kids while raising them, then a little parenting humor has its place. Enjoy, mommies! (P.S. This article may or may not be based on actual events!)

flyingclockThis is for all the stay-at-home mothers who are exhausted at the end of the day only to be greeted by the words:

“What did you do all day long?” 

I realize our husbands work hard so that we may stay home and care for our families, and I appreciate their sacrifices.  They sit in traffic jams, discuss process and procedure at redundant meetings, and stress over outsourcing and layoffs.  They eat lunches of bland, bark-dry chicken and imagine the blissful hours we spend in the safe, comfortable confines of our own home, children playing happily at our feet while we page through the latest romance novel. 

Umm…no. 

To dispell the  soap-opera-and-bon-bon-eating-couch-dweller myth of stay-at-home mothers I present to you an average day in husband perceived time (herein referred to as HPT, not to be confused with home pregnancy test) versus actual time.*

Task: Wake children and get them bathed
HPT: 30 minutes
Actual Time: 60 minutes

First child wishes to remain in the bed she so desperately tried to avoid the night before.  While removing second child’s diaper, she pees all over herself, your pajamas, and the floor.  Throw pajamas in the wash, scrub floor with antibacterial yet environmentally-friendly cleanser, and place children in bath.  Second child makes poop-ready face, so she immediately must come out of bath water with shampoo still in hair.  Wrestle new diaper on, rinse hair, clothe her, bathe first child.  Slip on floor, ice sore ankle, let first child run around wet and naked.

Task: Feed children breakfast (and yourself if you have the chance)
HPT: 15 minutes
Actual Time: 45 minutes

First child refuses to eat and throws food on floor.  Sit child in time-out.  Clean floor.  Second child spits food out like a machine gun.  Clean floor.  First child returns to table, lifts cereal bowl to drink like cat, spills milk.  Calm tears.  Clean floor.  Remove second child from highchair, half the breakfast you thought was eaten falls to the ground.  Slip on floor,  ice sore ankle, let baby lick crumbs off ceramic tile. 

Task: Take preschooler to school
HPT: 10 minutes (even though school is 15 minutes away)
Actual Time: 70 minutes

Spend 15 minutes getting shoes and jackets on children and buckling into Houdini-quality childseats.  Drive to school.  Wrestle stroller out of car, get baby into stroller, carry backpack, lunchbox, stuffed animal du jour and walk (limp) child to classroom.  Get stopped by parent #1 requesting an RSVP to their child’s birthday party.  Get stopped by parent #2 requesting a playdate.  Get stopped by parent #3 requesting you chair a PTA fundraiser.  Preschool director says you did not sign a precious piece of paperwork.  File into her office and wait 10 minutes while she finds crucial document: a pledge to provide a peanut-free lunch.

Task: Put baby down to nap
HPT: 5 minutes
Actual time: 30 minutes

Baby fights sleep.  A cough appears out of nowhere, causing her to awaken just as she is about to fall asleep.  Get in car and drive around neighborhood.

Task: Free time while baby naps
HPT: All day long
Actual time: 37.2 seconds

Chores done in beat to William Tell Overture: sort clothes for laundry, run a wash, put this morning’s soiled jammies in dryer, empty the dishwasher and reload, make yourself a sandwich, go through mail, schedule a doctor’s appointment, return phone calls to your mother-in-law, your babysitter and the YMCA for swim lessons that have been cancelled and rescheduled for a day and time that is most inconvenient for you.  Sit and eat lunch.  Thirty seconds of bliss.  Bite into sandwich as baby wakes from carseat flashnap.

Task: Pick-up preschooler from school
HPT: 0 minutes (you mean she doesn’t take a bus?)
Actual Time: 45 minutes

Preschooler is starving when you arrive.  Examine lunchbox.  Entire lunch remains.  Sit at school while child eats lunch that should have been consumed three hours ago.

Task: Play with kids
HPT: 60 minutes
Actual Time: 60 minutes

Draw with chalk on driveway.  Skip.  Roll on grass.  Blow bubbles.  Have tickle contest.  Giggle and make goofy faces.  Collect acorns; plant them.

Task: Make dinner
HPT: 30 minutes
Actual Time: 60 minutes

“Hey honey, how come Rachael Ray can do it in 30 minutes?”  Like Jane Jetson, you press a button on a little silver box and dinner magically appears in a cloud of steam, hot and ready, on a table already set with placemats, forks, knives, spoons, napkins, plates, glasses and everyone’s favorite beverage.

Task: Prepare for tomorrow
HPT: 0 minutes (what, can’t you do that tomorrow?)
Actual Time: 60 minutes

Make lunch and pack it.  Check weather report and take out clothes for tomorrow, jackets, gloves, hats, boots, gloves.  Throw out junk mail, sort bills, tack invitations on the fridge and check calendar.  Make grocery list.  Fold laundry.  While helping first child go to the potty, baby grabs pile of laundry.  Refold laundry.  Put laundry away.

I’ll skip bedtime and instead point you to this poignant little ditty on YouTube.  This husband’s inner HPT clock is working perfectly.

So, let’s add it all up for the day…drumroll please…

Husband Perceived Time of All Tasks: 1 hour (only playing with the kids counts)
Actual Time of All Tasks (including 30 minutes potty time): 7.7 hours

Hmmm, out of an eight-hour day, that gives us exactly 18 minutes to blog.

*Please note that HPT exists in households where mothers work outside the home as well.  In this case, the HPT may be even more distorted.

A big storm’s a-comin’, says the weatherman, pointing to a white map.

Here in New Jersey, we’re expecting at least six inches of the fluffy stuff by tomorrow. My eleven-year-old neighbor began dancing in front of my fridge and told me about her snow day superstitions: silly but important steps she must take to ensure a snow day tomorrow.

She wears her pajamas inside-out.

Sleeps with a big spoon under her pillow.

Flushes one ice cube down the toilet for each inch of snow she wants.

Eats ice cream.

And dances beside the Frigidaire.

She swears “everyone” does this. At first I wasn’t sure if “everyone” referred to her sixth-grade friends or the rest of the school-age country. Have these snow day superstitions made their way across America, much like the Mikey-of-Life-Cereal Pop Rocks and Diet Coke rumor of my youth?

snowdaydance1Yes, they have! Darn it, because I thought this was a charming idea for a picture book. Alas, it’s already been written. Check out “Snow Day Dance” by author/illustrator Will Hubbell.

According to my young friend, the final snow day superstition is to say a prayer before bed, so I wrote one for her…and for the rest of the kids in America who are wishing hard for a day off.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray for snow twelve inches deep.
Should it melt before I wake,
I pray school’s canceled by mistake!

obamaHow many of you have a budding young author in your home? Now’s little Johnny’s chance to see his words in print. Random House will be releasing Kids’ Letters to President Obama in 2009.

Editor Bill Adler wants your letters…err, I mean your children’s letters. The funnier, the better. But get them in soon. Deadline is December 31!

Click here for the announcement.

I’m the Library Mom! Yes, that’s me behind the desk, collecting the picture books. You forgot yours, Jacob? That’s okay. You can still check out another. (Oh the joy on his face!)

I’m the Library Mom! I’m not allowed to kiss or hug my own daughter, so we sign “I Love You” across the room. I suggested tugging on my ear like Carol Burnett, but my five year-old didn’t appreciate the nostalgia.

I’m the Library Mom! It’s taking me twice as long to put the books back on the shelves because I’m busy reading them. Ooh, I love Bark, George! And I never saw this Mo Willems before!

I’m the Library Mom! “You’re good for a rookie,” the library aide says. “Have you done this before?” No, ma’am. I just know my alphabet.

I’m the Library Mom! It feels like 10 minutes ago I was skipping into Mount Pleasant’s library, excited to see my mother behind the desk. Aren’t I the coolest kid in Kindergarten, having Mom in charge of so many books? You can’t take one home until she stamps it. That’s my mom, you know.

In another two weeks, I’ll be there again, Miss G’s class. And I’ll be skipping through the doors just like I did 30 years ago, but this time…I’m the Library Mom!

Despite 40 years in business, changes in ownership, renovations and a fire, the names carved into the tables of PJ’s Pancake House remain a permanent record of all who have dined at the Princeton landmark. PJ’s must be the only restaurant that encourages patrons to slice into the tables and deface the walls with black Sharpies.

This morning my husband, youngest daughter and I sat at the “Table of Awesome.” How do I know the ranking of this booth? It said so right above the salt shaker.

Janine sat at our table the day she got her braces off: September 12, 2008. Katherine and Tate ate there in 2006 and they were in love. (I wonder if they’re still together?) Lena and Jeff traveled all the way from Gibson, GA. Dan drew a picture of the cigarette he wished he was smoking.

If a writer needs inspiration, a few minutes scanning the surfaces of PJ’s Pancake House promises to uncover thousands of stories.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to scold my two year-old when she took a red crayon and scribbled outside the lines. For once we had a peaceful meal out.

If you ever find yourself on Nassau Street in Princeton, definitely stop by. They serve fluffy, generous pancakes all day long, and if there’s a line to get in, don’t worry, it goes quickly. Plus, the griddle faces the window so you can decide upon your pancake order by watching what’s most popular. There’s chocolate chip, banana pecan, blueberry, pigs in blankets and even corn. Yeah, they serve other stuff, too…but when a food is in the restaurant’s name, you must order it! (Do you go to a steakhouse to order chicken?)

You might even dine next to friendly strangers if you’re seated at the long table in front, so say hello. Or, just listen to Groundhog-Day-like tales of Pennsylvania RV travels, like my husband did. One man’s peculiar voice rose above the plate clatter.

And the service goes miles beyond any restaurant I’ve ever seen. Today the hostess took a restless baby from her mother and bounced the little girl in her arms until the infant fell asleep. She held the baby while the mother enjoyed her pancakes. Wow. I hope the mother gave her a good tip!

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


BLOOP
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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