Explore a Book: This Way Charlie

It’s been way too long since our last Book Exploration, so let’s jump back in with a new title today: This Way Charlie. Author and social worker Caron Levis has created a delightful story that offers so many options for discovery and connection. There’s lovable animals, lessons about friendship and examples of mindfulness. Plus illustrator Charles Santoso’s artwork is just gorgeous. I’m not always a fan of animal stories, but this one really surpassed my expectations.

If this sounds like a story that your family or class will enjoy, grab a copy, read it together and then extend your exploration with some of these ideas.

First, make sure you download the author’s free activity guide. She provides activities that work for a variety of ages (best for ages 5-10 or 11). I’ve included my favorite activities from the guide in this list, but you may want to use others with the children with whom you are exploring this book. These other activities will be especially helpful to teachers or librarians doing this exploration with their students.

  1. To calm everyone’s body and minds before you start reading, try the Honeysuckle Breath for Bravery activity found in the activity guide. Honeysuckle is a scent that makes Jack feel calm in the story. Is there a scent that makes your body feel peaceful and confident? You can use your scent to make a sachet to smell when you need to feel calmer or braver.

2. Watch the author read her book. If you can’t purchase the book or borrow it from the library, you can just use this read aloud video. If you do read the physical book, read it slowly, savor the beautiful illustrations and let the story sink in. Then watch this video with your kids. She reads the story quickly, but her questions and invitations to readers add value.

3. While you read or watch, use the coloring page in the activity guide to keep your hands busy. For many people (kids and adults) having something (quiet) to do while they enjoy a story actually improves concentration!

4. Talk about the book. If you need ideas to starting the conversation, think about these questions: how are Charlie and Jack the same? How are they different? What are some things Jack does that show he is a good friend to Charlie? What are some things Charlie does that make him a good friend to Jack? Are you more like Charlie or Jack?

5. The author ofThis Way Charlie was inspired by a true story. Watch the news story of the real life horse and goat friends. Discuss what details the author changed when she transformed the story into a fictional book.

6. This book has been nominated for children’s choice awards in Maine, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia and Washington. If you live in one of these states, read some of the other nominated books and then vote for your favorite. Talk as a family or class about why you picked the book you voted for. If you want to go all out, create a ballot box and vote by secret ballot. What is your family or class choice? Is it the same book that won the statewide vote?

7. In the video, Caron Levis encourages you to make moon medals for people There’s a simple template in the activity guide you can use, but feel free to get more creative. Pull out some cardboard, paper, paint, markers, glue, tissue paper and other craft supplies and have a blast. Hang your moon medals on your fridge or bulletin board for awhile to remind you of your special moon people. Then give them the medal so they know how important they are to you.

8. In the story, the Open Bud Ranch provides a safe place for Charlie, Jack and the other farm animals. There are probably animal sanctuaries or shelters in your community that provide safe places for animals. Research these places, visit if you can and consider doing a service project to help the animals there. Check with the sanctuary or shelter to find out what would be helpful, but a few ideas: donate animal food, litter or toys, volunteer to walk animals or clean up pens, stalls or cages or run a fundraiser for the organization.

9. Create your own story about animal friendship. Page 9 of the activity guide has an activity to help you come up with your tale. You can come up with your own individual story or work together with your family or class group. For extra fun, use animal puppets you own or make your own puppets to act out your story. Here’s some puppet making inspiration to get you started.

10. Finish up with the Favorite Field grounding activity from the activity guide. Do the visualization activity and draw your special place. Over the next few weeks, remind each other that when you feel frustrated, nervous or sad that you can imagine yourself in your special place and feel safe and peaceful.

Illustrations done by Charles Santoso.

If you enjoyed This Way Charlie, author Caron Levis has written several other books, including Stop that Yawn, Mama’s Work Shoes and Ida, Always.

Check out our first book exploration, A Gift for Amma by Meera Sriram and Mariona Cabassa.

This post contains affiliate links. I earn a commission for any items you buy by clinking on these links. Thank you for supporting my small indie business.

Explore a Book: This Way Charlie

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

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.


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

This feels urgent

As much as I desperately want to raise kind children, peacemaking children, anti-racist children, I am not an expert. Far from it. But gratefully, there are those out there to guide us in the steps we must to take to seek justice for children of all races.

Instead of posting my own booklist today, I ask you to check out this list from EmbraceRace.

Image from EmbraceRace

I would also suggest that if you decide to purchase any new books for your shelves that you think about purchasing them from a black-owned bookshop instead of your regular source. Instead of spending time curating a booklist for you to today, I am going to read suggestions from Anti-Racist educators and encouragers and purchase some books from Ashay by the Bay.

This feels urgent