Explore a Book: A Gift for Amma

I just love when a book I am sharing with my children lead us as a family to a journey of discovery. This week we’ve been exploring a childhood favorite of mine, The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. We read the book, drew pictures, listened to the audio, hunted for a boxcar in the woods (alas, no such luck), cooked recipes inspired by the story and watched the movie adaptation. It reminded me how much I love diving into the world of a really special book. And it inspired me to start a new blog series: Explore a Book. In each post, I’ll offer ten ways that your family can explore a wonderful children’s book together. I’ll try to mix it up and offer a variety of ideas (additional reading, videos, arts and crafts, food, games, etc) so you can pick what works for your family, your kids’ interests and your budget.

Our first book exploration is A Gift for Amma by Meera Sriram and Mariona Cabassa. This story follows a young girl as she takes in the sights, sounds, smells and colors of an outdoor market in search of a special present for her mother. The art in this story is just gorgeous. And I am 100% a sucker for a good story that introduces my little ones to another culture. So when I saw A Gift for Amma was one of Barefoot Books’ 2020 releases, I knew I wanted to add it to our collection.

If this sounds like a story that your family will enjoy, grab a copy, read it together and they extend your enjoyment with some of these ideas:

  1. This story takes place in India. Locate India on a world map or in an atlas. Learn more about India in this Junior Jetsetters video.

2. The little girl in this story puts a lot of thought into what gift to give her amma. Make someone you love a very special gift that you think they will love.

3. One gift the little girl considers buying is marigold flowers to make into a garland. You can use tissue paper to make your own marigold garland.

4. The little girl plans to go back and get a yummy pink sweet treat for herself. Eat your favorite sweet treat. Or if you’d like to try Indian food, you could make Mango Lassi.

5. A Gift for Amma is a celebration of colors. Many of the people in this story are wearing vibrantly colored clothes. Wear your most colorful clothes today. Does wearing brightly colored clothes make you feel different?

6. Read other stories or children’s books that take place in India.

7. The game of Pachisi is an ancient one and is still enjoyed by children and adults in India and around the world. Learn to play Pachisi. If you don’t own Pachisi, this version is beautiful.

8. Another holiday the little girl in this story might celebrate is Rahksa Bandhan. This day celebrates the special relationship between siblings. Many children in India make their siblings special bracelets to show their love. If you have a sibling, make them a bracelet. If you don’t have a sibling, make a bracelet for a friend who you love like family. Thread of Love by Kabir Sehgal is a lovely picture book story of one family’s celebration of Rahksa Bandhan.

9. Children in India celebrate the winter holiday of Diwali, a festival of lights. You can make your own Diwali lantern. (note: you can use battery powered tea lights to avoid real flames). To learn more about Diwali, check-out Prince of Fire by Jatimer Verma, a re-telling of the original Indian epic.

10. If there is an outdoor market near you and the weather and public health conditions allow, visit. What do they sell there? For at home play, set-up your own pretend play global market. Put blankets on the floor to set up your shop. What will you sell? Food, clothes, jewelry, baskets, toys, flowers, crafts you’ve made? Create or use pretend money to buy and sell things at your market. Don’t forget to give your customers change!

One of my favorite things about A Gift for Amma is that it allows families to dive into the culture of India. For more activities that help your family explore the world from your own home, take a look at the Global Kids activity deck.

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Explore a Book: A Gift for Amma

Sing and Read to Baby Before Birth

When I was pregnant with my twins, I worked with a delightful and kind librarian who would send me home every night with a stack of picture books my wife and I would read to my babies. I had read that babies in utero develop the ability to hear at 18 weeks, so that is when we started. And we kept on reading to them until they were born. We may have missed a few days in the hospital (why didn’t I pack books to read to them in my hospital bag??), but I don’t think we’ve missed a day since. I wanted my children to hear beautiful books read from literally the very beginning.

My own bias for reading and singing to babies may be why I was so delighted when I learned in doula training about the benefits of these practices during pregnancy. I did it just because I loved it and wanted my babies to love it. It turns out my natural instincts were not far off.* And now when I gush to expecting parents about how they should read or sing to their babies, I have evidence to back me up. We ready a lot of different books to the babies, but it is best to pick one favorite and stick with it. My article for Seacoast Moms this month explains the benefits and helps you pick the perfect first song or book for your baby.

Want more suggestions? The books I like to give as baby shower presents are all pretty good choices. And these five titles I recently got from Better World Books or my local library are beautiful options too:

Little You by Richard Van Camp

We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp

Welcome Song for Baby by Richard Van Camp

My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith

Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara Joosse

*Parents, this happens a lot. Trust your instincts!

Disclaimer: I am a Bookshop.org affiliate and earn commission from books purchased through these links. Bookshop.org supports independent bookstores.

Sing and Read to Baby Before Birth

A new blogging adventure

When I was a kid, I dreamt of becoming a writer. Obviously, this meant sitting at a desk penning novels, like Beverly Cleary or Ann M. Martin (the height of literary achievement in my 9 year old world). Little did I know that being a writer can take many forms. Rachel Carson once said that she always wanted to be a writer and when she discovered science, she found what she wanted to write about. Now I am no Rachel Carson for sure, but I have discovered two topics that I am passionate enough about to write: books and babies. So I’ll be expanding this blog to include occasional posts about life with new babies and postpartum parenting.

Also, as of this month, I am blogging at Seacoast Moms. In fact, my first article is now there. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart: supporting new parents postpartum.

I remember every kind thing someone did for me when I was postpartum. I remember my mom basically moving in with us for months to help with the twins. I remember the friend who brought us Christmas dinner, the one who brought a huge pack of diapers and a whole cooler full of food and the one who gave us burritos to put in the freezer for later. I smile every time I think of the generous ones who held the babies so we could catch a nap and the dear one who travelled across the country and kept me company for all my overnight feedings one weekend. We were pretty hungry and tired at the beginning. Twins will do that to you. We also felt pretty isolated given the logistics of taking two babies out and about during a long, cold New Hampshire winter.

Our need for support lessened as the weeks, month and years went by, but it didn’t disappear. I recently cried real tears of gratitude when a neighbor donned a mask and took my kids for a walk. Having a whole hour of quiet was rejuvenating.

Covid has taken a toll on all parents. Especially new parents. Isolation is more intense, support harder to find and anxiety is heightened. Which is why my article for Seacoast Moms offers tips and tricks to people who want to tangibly show their love and help out new parents during global pandemic. I hope you’ll read it. And then go find a parent to help!

A new blogging adventure

Sample Preschool Package

Three and four years old are bursting with energy and enthusiasm for learning about the world around them. It’s a great time to engage them in books about their burgeoning interests. Whether’s it’s dinosaurs, dragons, ocean life, animals, mermaids, or robots, you can give a child you love with twelve books that will help them continue to grow in their love of reading, stories and learning.

This sample pack includes a wide array of global, STEAM, singalong and social-emotional learning books. At $100 for twelve books, buying this as A Year of Books package would save almost $25 over purchasing the titles individually.

Your bundle will contain a different mix of books based on the input you provide. This is truly personalized service! To get started, please fill out this form.

December: Let’s Celebrate

From India to Japan to Russia to Nigeria, preschoolers will love learning how children around the world celebrate 13 special holidays.

January: Skip through the Seasons

This charmingly illustrated seek-and-find book will take children through the months of the year and visually remind them how nature changes with the passing of the year.

February: The Story Tree: Tales to Read Aloud

Seven folk tales from around the world in one volume. From the humorous “Monkey See Monkey Do” to the charming “Magic Porridge Pot” these tales will be often requested as read alouds.

March: The Animal Boogie

Shake, swing and boogie through the jungle with leopards, monkeys, elephants and a diverse cast of kids. A popular Barefoot singalong, this comes with an animated CD to listen or watch along. Singalongs are great for building literacy skills and for getting kids moving.

April: A Gift for Amma

A young girl explores a vibrant rainbow of sights in an Indian market as she searches for the perfect present for her amma. The illustrations in this book are a real knock-out.

May: Herb the Vegetarian Dragon

“You can’t be different in the dragon world and survive.” That’s what other dragons tell Herb, the only dragon in forest who doesn’t eat meat. But Herb is determined to stay true to himself. A favorite!

June: I Could Be, You Could Be

Launch your child’s pretend play into overdrive with this story of imaginative play.

July: Out of the Blue

Wordless picture books build visual literacy, start family conversations and help your child become a storyteller. The beautiful art in this picture book is an enchanting depiction of exploring the seashore after a storm.

August: Home for a Penguin, Home for a Whale

After exploring the seashore last month, it’s time to take your child under the sea to meet 23 marine animals and learn about their habitats.

September: Ruby’s School Walk

Getting nervous on the first day of school is a universal childhood experience. Like Ruby’s mom, this book will help your child navigate their anxiety as they prepare for school.

October: My Panda Sweater

When her favorite sweater with panda bear ears no longer fits, a young girl decides to donate it. But the sweater and the young girl will meet again when a new classmate comes to school

November: Dinosaur Rap

Round out the year with another singalong. Get kiddos dancing and stomping with some fun dino friends.

Sample Preschool Package

Sample Baby Bundle

Building a baby or toddler’s library is a uniquely special gift. The twelve books in a baby bundle are sturdy and have beautiful illustrations. They are perfect for read aloud, bedtime or for baby to browse on their own. These can also stand up to plenty of time in baby’s mouth and being pulled off the bookshelf over and over.

At $75 for twelve books, buying this sample as A Year of Books package would save almost $55 over purchasing the titles individually.

Your bundle will contain a different mix of books based on the input you provide. This is truly personalized service! To get started, please fill out this form.

December: The Twelve Days of Christmas

The beautiful fabric illustrations in this board book version of the classic song make this a keepsake to treasure.

January: Listen, Listen

Breathtaking illustrations make the seasons of the year come to life.

February: The Chilly Penguin

A cozy, sweet read about friendship and a penguin trying to warm up.

March: Mindful Tots: Tummy Ride

Little ones have big feelings. The super simple breathing exercise in this engaging book is the perfect tool to help them learn to control them.

April: Bear in a Square

Bear is a beloved Barefoot Book tradition and this book will introduce kiddos to shapes and bear at the same time!

May: Bear’s Birthday

That lovable bear is ready to celebrate his birthday.

June: Ship Shapes

Celebrate the return of warm weather with this journey along the seaside.

July: Who’s in the Garden?

This sturdy peek-a-boo book is a delightful tour of the garden to see the animals who are visiting the flowers and veggies.

August: Who’s in the Farmyard?

More peek-a-boo fun in the farmyard. Who wakes up in the morning to a cockle-doodle-doo? All our favorite friends!

September: Who’s in the Forest?

These three together offer playful romps to meet animals in their common habitats. Surefire favorites that will be requested many times.

October: The Sounds Around Town

As the weather gets chilly, mom snap, snap, snaps up her little one’s jacket and takes him for a walk in his stroller. The sights and sounds of home and town accompany this kiddo through his day. Interactive fun.

November: Clare Beaton’s Nursery Rhymes

Finish off a memorable year with another book that will be treasured and turned to over and over. Clare Beaton’s wonderful fabric art brings seven classic, must-know rhymes to life. A staple for a family library.

Sample Baby Bundle

Chapter Books to Read to Pre-Schoolers and Kindergarteners

It’s exciting when your kids reach the point where they can sit still and listen to longer tales. Adding chapter books to your read aloud repertoire is fun, but judging by the number of parents I see asking where to start with chapter books, it can also be intimidating. Frankly, not every book is a good first chapter book to read out loud. Through trial and error, we’ve found a lot that work for us and a few that don’t.

In general, my kiddos like stories that still have a lot of pictures in them (although a compelling enough story will carry the day even without pictures). If there is a book I think they will enjoy that doesn’t grab them when I am reading out loud, I might also try it as an audio book. For us, some books they like me to read and some they prefer on audio. It’s worth trying both. But if my kids don’t get into a chapter book, I just put it away to try again later. They are still very young. We have many years of reading together to enjoy the many wonderful stories out there. I say this also because if your kids don’t want to read chapter books yet, don’t stress! Enjoy all the picture books and be patient… they will get there.

I’ve written about many of these before, but I wanted to compile them all in one place. Since we are still in the preschool phase, I hope to keep adding to this as we discover more and more chapter books that transport and delight us.

The Missing Bookshop by Katie Clapham. When her beloved local bookstore closes unexpectedly, Milly is determined to discover what happened to the owner and to make sure the bookshop isn’t converted into something awful… like a bank!

Dara’s Clever Plan by Liz Flanagan. Princess Dara is no damsel in distress. She is famous throughout the kingdom of Cambodia for her wisdom, beauty and design and building skills. When she leaves home to find building material for a special project, three evil men plot to get rid of her husband so one of them can marry Dara and become rich. But Dara has a plan to set things right.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. If you accuse me of having children partially to have someone to read Beverly Cleary’s books to, I will not contradict you. Reading our first Cleary novel together just felt right. We started with Two Times the Fun, which is a very early chapter book and a great starting point for kids as young as 2 or 3. From there we moved on to Ramona the Pest, who was my favorite scrappy heroine as a kid, but it was when we hit the Mouse trilogy that my young audience became as hooked on this author as I am. Once your kids have fallen in love with this funny little rodent, you can move on to Ralph S. Mouse and Runaway Ralph. Don’t worry, I am saving plenty from this prolific author for the elementary school years.

Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures by Jackson Pierce and Maggie Stiefvater. Young fantasy fans rejoice! Pip Bartlett is a chapter book with multi-age appeal. This is a great one to turn to if you want something with cross appeal to older siblings. Pip has trouble talking to adults, but can easily converse with magical creatures. It’s a handy skill to have when mysteries abound, like why creatures that constantly burst into flames have suddenly come to town. The sequels to this lighthearted tale, Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Unicorn Training and Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Sea Monsters follow Pip as she trains a nervous unicorn, solves the mystery of who is stealing unicorn tails and saves a vacation town from some seriously large and hungry sea monsters. Plenty to entertain readers up to age ten, with nothing scary or inappropriate for the much younger set. My little ones request this trilogy on audio all the time.

Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke. A charming series of stories about Anna Hibiscus who lives in amazing Africa on a family compound with her parents, her twin brothers and many, many loving cousins, aunts and uncles. I just love Anna Hibiscus!

Freddie Ramos Takes Off and the Zappato Power series. When Freddie receives an anonymous gift in the form of cool new sneakers with super-speed capabilities, he must figure out how to be a hero an average everyday kid at the same time. Start with the first one and follow Freddie as he gains other super-powers in the sequels.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming. A classic for sure, my kids are delighted by the antics of this magical car that outwits bandits and saves the family of a mad-cap inventor.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. Another classic tale, my kids love the antics of the irrepressible redhead with no adult supervision and super strength. When reading, I omit references to cannibals and I am skipping the problematic sequels and sticking with just the first one.

Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo. This porcine wonder has my kids in stitches each time we read about the butter loving pig who is always stirring up a ruckus on Deckawoo Drive. Mercy is the main attraction but the supporting casting is equally entertaining. Another one that is requested often around here.

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon. If your kids like funny stories, this is a surefire hit. Dory is a highly imaginative six year old who drives her brother and sister so crazy that they make up a tale with an evil villain to scare her. But Dory isn’t easily scared, but if your kids are, wait a year or so on this one. The Dory books are absolutely hilarious and even with a young main character, they will entertain much older kids. I think this is currently my kiddos favorite book series.

Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters and Iggy Peck and the Mysterious Mansion by Andrea Beaty. I love the popular picture books that introduce the Questioneers: Rosie Revere, Iggy Peck, Ada Twist and Sophia Valdez. This kid quartet represent an engineer, architect, scientist and community organizer. And now they are back in chapter length books working together to put their wits and curiosity to good use. Clever, funny and inspiring for creative kids.

Mia Mayhem by Kara West. There is a new superhero in town and she causes chaos and mayhem wherever she goes. Mia is delighted when she discovers that she is the newest trainee at an after school academy for superheroes. But it turns out being a superhero isn’t as easy as she hoped! This was one of the books I discovered when I went looking for more early chapter books featuring BIPOC characters and it’s one of the kids’ favorites. Now, I need to get my hands on the sequels.

Max Loves Munecas by Zetta Elliot. This independently published book is hard to find (although as of today, it is available on Amazon) and it’s a shame because my kids were enraptured by this story and I am completely in love with it. Max desperately wants to learn to make dolls like the ones in the local shop, but he is afraid the kids will make fun of him. When he meets the shops owner, Pepe, Max gets more than he expected as Pepe shares his gripping life story with the aspiring doll maker. This story was much deeper than I expected and may be too serious for some kiddos in this age range, but if you can find it, grab it. It’s well worth it, even if you wait a bit to share it with your kids.

The Lighthouse Family series by Cynthia Rylant. A cat, a dog and three young mice form an unusual family that live in a remote lighthouse. These gentle and enchanting stories have an old fashioned atmosphere to the sweet adventures. Get the whole series and prepare to be enraptured.

Thumbelina retold by Xanthe Gresham. The vibrant, gorgeous illustrations totally steal the show in this Barefoot Books version of the classic tale of a tiny girl who is carried away on unexpected adventures.

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. Elmer Elevator wants to be a pilot when he grows up so he can fly. When a stray cat he befriends tells him that he can fly now if he goes to a remote island and saves a baby dragon, Elmer doesn’t hesitate. Like any good hero, he immediately sets off. Saving the baby dragon leads to more adventures in books two and three of this series.

Meet Yasmin by Saadia Faruqi. Yasmin is a curious and creative second grader who can be a builder, an explorer, an artist or a fashionista if that is what the moment calls for. This is a quick read with colorful illustrations and a Palestinian- American main character that will have wide appeal.

Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin. Ling and Ting may look the same to outsiders, but the identical twins know that when they are making dumplings, getting haircuts and learning magic they are not just alike. These are early readers that would make solid first chapter book read alouds. Several sequels follow Ling and Ting through everyday, relatable, gently paced experiences.

One final word: as you dive in and enjoy chapter books with your kids, make sure you don’t abandon the picture books. There are so many treasures, new and old, in picture books. And the vocabulary in them is rich and beautiful. Make space in your reading journey for both!

Disclosure: As a Barefoot Books Community Bookseller, I earn commission on any of the Barefoot Books ordered from these links. I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.  Bookshop.org supports independent bookshops.

Chapter Books to Read to Pre-Schoolers and Kindergarteners

My Top Ten Barefoot Books

I have written about many of these before, but I realized I never compiled my list of all time favorites from Barefoot Books. This list covers a couple of board books, a bunch of picture books, a sing-a-long, an anthology and an early chapter book. What do they all have in common? Beautiful artwork and compelling stories and/or information that will draw children and adults in. Some of these books we have owned for years now and our copies are quite worn because I love reading and re-reading them. As my kiddos grow and new titles come out, the pile of well-loved books from Barefoot just grows larger.

Note: In addition to the usual book covers for each title, I am including a inside spread from most books because you simply have to see the art to understand why I am so enthusiastic about Barefoot Books.

The More We Get Together by Celeste Courtright. It may be a classic song for little ones, but the creative team who turned it into a sing-a-long book have breathed new life into this tune. The vibrant pictures and message of community is simply heartwarming. Read more of my thoughts on this book here.

Mama Panya’s Pancakes by Mary and Rich Chamberlin. If I could only keep one Barefoot Book on my shelves, it would be this one. While it’s a story that can easily grow with your family from toddler years right up through early elementary ages, I started reading it to my kids when they were a month old (they didn’t complain!) and it’s still one we visit regularly. I love the Kenyan village setting, I love Adika’s joyful exuberance and confidence that they have enough to share with all their friends and I love the neighbors of all ages who come together in the end to create a shared feast.

Dara’s Clever Trap by Liz Flannagan. Years ago I read an article that suggested that one key to getting more young girls interested in science might be found in storytelling. Personally, I think it is human nature to be drawn to stories and I rely heavily to stories to introduce science to my little ones. They in turn, love stories of scientists, inventors, and makers. And if these creative characters outwit people of… ahem … bad intent, so much the better. I credit this combination with making this book a winner both at our house and from my old library story times. This tale of a Princess in Cambodia omits the damsel in distress in favor of an engineering mastermind, who traps the kingdom’s most dishonest schemers and saves her husband. And instead of simply living happily ever after, Dara and her prince contentedly live out their days designing, building and governing with great wisdom. Highly recommend!

Story Tree by Hugh Lupton. If you’d like to create a home library filled with folktales from around the world without spending a fortune, Story Tree would be my top suggestion for your shelves. It contains classic tales from Germany, Russia, India and more. My kiddos favorites from this volume are “The Magic Porridge Pot” and the funny “Monkey-See, Monkey-Do.” In my experience, anthologies can be quite hit or miss, but this one and several other of collections published by Barefoot are well worth the money and bookshelf space.

My Granny Went to Market by Stella Blackstone. Oh, but I would have loved it if one of my grandmothers had bought a magic carpet and travelled around the world picking up unique treasures when I was a child. It would be even better if she eventually met up with me and handed off said flying carpet so I could trot around the world myself. Since a trip around the globe, via carpet or any other mode of transportation, is in not in my family’s immediate future, I’m glad we can travel by book along with this adventuresome granny. Fun rhymes and colorful pictures help this book stand out from the hoards of other counting books.

Barefoot Books Children of the World by Kate DePalma and Tess Strickland. If Barefoot Books has a “signature” book, this is probably it. And with good reason. The straightforward and compelling text, along with David Dean’s striking hand-painted illustrations, embodies the company’s manifesto, which proclaims a commitment to “honor diversity in every sphere of life” Children of the World has won all sorts of awards and accolades. I love how it celebrates (without being the tiniest bit didactic) the many types of families, homes, holidays, beliefs, bodies and feelings experienced by children around the globe. Plus it’s both a great read aloud and an attention-grabbing one to simply leave out at home or in a classroom for children to discover and examine on their own.

Herb the Vegetarian Dragon by Jules Bass. If Mama Panya is my personal favorite Barefoot title, Herb takes home the Kids’ Choice Award in our family. Knights setting out to stop dragons who are intent on devouring the sweet princesses and crunchy knights of a kingdom is the stuff of a standard fairy tale. But in a twist, the true hero of this book is not a sword wielding knight, but rather a lovable dragon. Gentle, unique, true to himself and steadfast ’til the end, Herb, with the backing of a very loyal and brave friend, ultimately brings peace to both people and dragons.

Chandra’s Magic Light by Theresa Heine. This is a beautiful story about sibling love and enterprising young children set in Nepal. The two endearing sisters in this book see a solar lamp at the market and realize immediately that their family needs one. The smoky lamp that they currently light their home with has caused lung trouble for their baby brother. When they bring the idea home to their father, he sadly tells them the family can’t afford it. Undeterred, the sisters set out to earn the money and restore their brother’s health themselves.

Sounds Around Town by Maria Carluccio. The last two on my list were early editions to our home library. This board book is filled with pictures and sounds that are familiar to most babies and toddlers. The well-done cut paper illustrations, gentle pacing and simple scenes are perfect for parents to read and talk about with their youngest children. A lovely book to help with early language development.

Peek-a-Boo Set by Phillis Gershator. The three books in this set can be purchased individually, but personally I would want them all in my home for my babies. Children are fascinated by animals from their earliest months and these amazingly illustrated volumes, which introduce the inhabitants of the farm, the garden and the forest, are given an extra dose of fun with the peek-a-boo holes that effortlessly turn reading into playing for babies and their adults. If I were making my baby registry again, this collection would be on it for sure.

Bonus

These aren’t books, but I love them enough that they get an honorable mention. My kiddos love when I make up stories to tell them, so I am frequently spinning yarns about tractors that get stuck in a ditch and twins with super powers. Every once in awhile, I can use a bit of a boost to think of something new and it’s fun to stretch my creativity. That’s where these storytelling cards really shine. Barefoot Books Storytelling Cards are a marvelous edition to your home. You can get a set that contains the Community Helpers, Ocean Adventure, and Magical Castle cards or if you have a budding astronaut or alien lover, you can try Space Quest. There are a number of ways to play with these, but we keep it simple: pick three or four and tell a story about the characters, scenes and scenarios on the cards. My kids are starting to get in on the action too, so if your kids are preschool aged or older, they can flex some storytelling muscles too.

Disclosure: As a Barefoot Books Ambassador, I earn commission on any of the Barefoot Books ordered from these links. 

My Top Ten Barefoot Books

What We’ve Been Reading: June Edition

Between the many, many packages of books that have arrived on our doorstep and our library starting curbside pick-up (Hallelujah!), June has been a great month for us in terms of having new stories to dig into. Here’s a few we’ve enjoyed. Stay tuned for more soon!

Have You Thanked an Inventor Today? by Patrice McLaurin and Whoosh: Lonnie Johnson’s Super Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton. My kids love anything invention related. They like to create models of inventions out of Legos, they like to hot glue junk from our recycling bin together and call it inventions and they love stories about inventors. The… ummm… quirkier… the inventor the better. Between that and their love of humor, sometimes I think I have the next Fred and George Weasley on my hands. But I diagress… Anyhow, I knew that these two nonfiction picture books about Black inventors would be winners in our house. I was right. When I read them Have You Thanked an Inventor Today? they were delighted to discover they share a last name with the inventor of the lunch box (John Robinson). That is until, one of them declared he is changing his last name to Crum to honor George Crum, inventor of the potato chip. Meanwhile, they sympathized with Lonnie Johnson’s desire to have a workshop of his own to store his parts and junks for inventions. Plus, after learning about his struggles to find a toy company that wanted his iconic Super Soaker water gun, they were overflowing with ideas for toys they are going to invent.

The Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson. I love Angela Johnson’s writing. I did a book discussion group with a class around her book The First Part Last when I was a librarian and gosh, did that book resonate with the at-risk teens I was working with. None of them were teen fathers that I knew of, but Johnson just has a way of drawing a reader into her story. After reading The Sweet Smell of Roses with my kiddos I know she can do the same with a picture book. The Sweet Smell of Roses brings the reader along with two young girls who join Dr. Martin Luther King on one of his Civil Rights marches. I think Johnson’s use of repetition (“the sweet smell of roses”) throughout the story that I so enjoyed was lost on my tiny listeners, but they too were enthralled. They asked a lot of questions, which of course, is just what I want them to do when I read them this type of book. They wanted to know more about Dr. King and Eric Velazquez’s remarkable illustrations made them ask about the white people who were yelling at the marchers and the police officers at the protest. I am really glad we read this one together.

The other Angela Johnson book I bought recently is Joshua by the Sea. It’s a board book and the simple text is really too young for my kids now, but we live near the beach ourselves and have had many family excursions to explore the seashore just as Joshua does. We’ve read this one a couple of times and even if it only takes a few minutes, it’s a great, if too rare, story of a Black child enjoying nature.

Cooking with Herb the Vegetarian Dragon by Jules Bass. I like to daydream about becoming one of those people that grows her own food, cooks homemade bread, and makes yogurt and berry jam in her kitchen. But it’s really never going to happen. You could say it’s laziness or you could say it’s because I’m an Enneagram 4. But whatever the reason, I simply do not really like to cook. It’s very unfashionable to admit it, but hey, I’m all about the truth. Still, my kids are obsessed with Herb the Vegetarian Dragon by Jules Bass. And I am a fan of this lovable dragon who dares to be different too. So when we found out that Herb has his own kid’s cookbook, I was willing to purchase it. Sadly, it’s out of print, but Better World Books still has a few copies. In the back of my head, I figured there was a better than 50/50 chance that we would never make anything from it. But my kids are more motivated chefs than I am. After they made me sit down and read through the mini-storylets about Herb included before each recipe, they were eager to get out their mixing bowls. I dug around and discovered that I actually had the ingredients to make the Rosemary Pan Bread, even the yeast. I get really invested in my dreams of becoming a domestic goddess. So we whipped up a batch of bread and to my wife’s shock, it was good. Which is all by way of saying, this is a worthy cookbook. If it can teach me to make decent bread from scratch, it can teach your kids too. Next up, my kids tell me, are corn fritters. And in case you know me in real life and doubt the veracity of this story, here my friends, are photos to prove that yes, I baked and no, I didn’t burn the house down in the process.

Rain School by James Rumford. We have recently made the official decision to keep the kids at home for another year with me instead of starting them in preschool. So we’ll continue on our adventures of home learning. One of my learning priorities is to expose them to as much of the world as possible through books. In my humble opinion, seeing people of color from countries outside the United States is a part of raising anti-racist children. Plus, there are just so many great stories out there that are set in other countries. Rain School is one of them. The children in one village in Chad are ready for their first day of school. The youngest kids, new to school, are excited to get pencils and notebooks and learn to read like their older siblings. They arrive and are greeted by their teacher. There’s just one thing missing. A school. The children are told that their first lesson will be building their school. After constructing the building and making desks out of mud, the children dig in to book learning. By the end of the year, their heads are packed with knowledge, the rainy season starts and the story comes full circle. My boys and I both loved this book.

Your turn! Tell us in the comments what you’ve been reading lately.

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What We’ve Been Reading: June Edition