The Stories We Keep

You’re sitting around the picnic table with your family. It’s the 4th of July, and you’re enjoying the food. Then, you hear Aunt Mary telling your daughter that when you were a kid you once made mud pies in her backyard that ended up on her kitchen window.

Your real stories may involve more or less dirt, but most of us have personal stories about our childhood that our families tell when we gather for special occasions. They are part of our family story – the bits and pieces of our past that are told to the next generation. The funny anecdotes about your uncles’ antics or your sister’s championship win – these are the stories that are kept for us by our families. Some of these stories we, consciously or unconsciously, begin to keep for ourselves.

Because I grew up in a family that values reading, one of the stories sometimes told about me involves a favorite children’s book. It goes something like this: When Aunt Sheryl was little, her favorite book was The Berenstains’ B Book. We read it so many times that she started to flip through the pages and “read” it on her own. But, she was too young to be reading, and we realized she had memorized the story page by page.

I was a fortunate child with a patient mom.

I keep this story because it reminds me that I am fortunate to have a mom who read to me before bedtime. It seems like a simple ritual, yet it influences a child’s growth in so many ways – from bonding with a parent to learning empathy to opening up a way to understand the world.

I keep the old copy of The Berenstains’ B Book because it is a symbol of what I am thankful for. Plus, I still love the story’s repetition, its tongue twisting and the ridiculousness of the story’s impending calamity. It will definitely stay on my shelf – ready for the next generation.

Do you have a children’s book that’s a part of your personal story or a story that you tell about your kids?

What books from your own childhood do you read to your kids?

The Berenstains’ B Book
by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Pulbished by Random House (1971)

The Berenstains' B Book


What Are The 10 Best Things About Your Dad?

It’s almost Father’s Day, so naturally I was planning to create a list of great children’s books about dads. Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino and Owl Moon by Jane Yolen are two books that celebrate the special relationship between father and child. These two stand out for their award-winning illustration, and I certainly recommend them. But, when I was considering The 10 Best Things About My Dad by Christine Loomis for my list, I realized this post wasn’t going to be a list of books for Father’s Day. There are plenty of book lists out there already.

Instead, this post is about nurturing the bond between father and child and about letting our fathers know how much we love them.

Father’s Day is a great time to think about creating special rituals, like the one in Every Friday. Maybe you already have one, such as reading before bedtime or going to the park on Saturdays to throw a ball around. These moments that you give to your child create a sense of stability and strengthen your relationship. If you take a second to be in the present moment, you may see just how important these times are to you, too.

So, you’re still trying to think of a gift that your young child can give for Father’s Day? What better gift would there be for a father than a personal list from his child that mirrors the one in The 10 Best Things About My Dad? Golf clubs, you say? Sorry, this isn’t about material gifts. Dad needs to know he is loved, whether he admits it or not. And young children need ways of expressing themselves, just like adults. Why not help your child make a list, and then make one of your own for your dad?

For me, this Father’s Day is an oddly special one. It’s the first one without my dad, who passed away in January. In his honor, here is my list of the 10 best things about my dad.

  1. Dad loved his family. It was obvious that my parents loved each other. They treated each other with respect, and they treated their kids the same way. They had nine children, and we were lucky to have a father who made us feel like we were more important than anything else.
  2. Dad loved all children, not just his own. He believed in the potential of kids and, together with my mom, was involved in activities that were geared toward helping them grow, like the church youth group.
  3. Dad loved people. His kindness and generosity came across when he spoke to people. And he often thought and talked about others with empathy and a caring heart.
  4. Dad had a soothing voice. It was an understanding voice. More than one of us kids had a school friend or two that liked to come around to listen to him talk and to be around his fatherly presence.
  5. Dad loved to tell stories about his family history. He would talk about how his father came from Germany as a boy to work on a relative’s farm. He would tell of how his father ended up owning the farm where we all grew up. Hearing these stories always gave me a sense of connection to the people I came from.
  6. Dad loved music. His face would light up when he heard a favorite song. Johnny Cash, The Kingston Trio, Pavarotti, Alison Krauss. The list of his favorites is endless, because any good song brought him joy. It’s a feeling I share, and I always felt connected to him because of it.
  7. Dad worked hard. He was a farmer. That’s no nine-to-five job. That’s early mornings and late nights. It’s not only physical labor, but having the smarts and integrity to run your own business.
  8. Dad hung on to his sense of wonder. Late in life, after he retired, he took up gardening. Every winter he would start to peruse the seed catalogs, looking at all of the beautiful flowers and fun new vegetables. Planning out the garden was a way to make the dead of winter bearable. One of his favorite moments, though, was when the seedlings started to sprout up through the dirt. He saw it for the miracle that it is. Something that we, mere humans, have no control over, even though we do our best and do our part by planting the seeds and nurturing them.
  9. Dad was grateful for everything he was given. He rarely complained. He, like the rest of us, had stuff to grumble about, but he didn’t put those worries on us or anyone else. He chose to be positive and do his best when facing adversity, which is a lesson I still aspire to learn completely.
  10. Finally, for my number 10, I simply must steal the final line from The 10 Best Things About My Dad. “My dad is extra special – just because he’s mine!”

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog. All reviews are my own opinion. The commission that I make through Amazon helps me maintain this blog without other types of advertising. 

Every Friday
Written and Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Published by Square Fish (May 8, 2012)
2007 New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of the Year

Owl Moon
Written by Jane Yolen
Illustrated by John Schoenherr
Published by Philomel Books (October 23, 1987)
Winner of the Caldecott Medal

The 10 Best Things About My Dad
Written by Christine Loomis
Illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic
Published by Cartwheel Books, an imprint of Scholastic (May 1, 2004)

Review: Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

Flora & Ulysses

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
Written by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by K. G. Campbell
Published by Candlewick Press (2013)
Ages 8-12

My Rating: 5 Stars

I’d wanted to read something by Kate DiCamillo for a few months. Her name and face kept popping up all over the place. It makes sense, seeing as she was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2014–2015. When it came down to choosing which book to read first, I simply couldn’t resist the one with a young girl and a flying squirrel on the cover.

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures is a middle-grade novel about ten-year old Flora Belle Buckman, a self-described “natural-born cynic.” Her parents are divorced, and Flora feels alone in the world. She lives with her mother, a distracted romance novelist. Flora only sees her father on the weekends and misses the special bond they had reading comic books together. Flora’s favorite comic book, The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto!, helps her make sense of a seemingly crazy world. When a squirrel is surprisingly sucked up by the neighbor’s vacuum cleaner, Flora Belle runs to the rescue. What follows are a whole lot of “unanticipated occurrences” that change Flora and everyone around her. Would you find reasons to hope if your champion was a flying superhero squirrel who writes poetry? I sure would.

Kate DiCamillo has been called a master storyteller. It’s a well-deserved description. What makes Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures special is that it addresses tough issues, like loneliness and divorce, with a sense of humor.

There is so much love in this book. The way that Ulysses feels passionately about life after being born anew as a superhero squirrel is genuinely heartwarming. His love of poetry and love of Flora make it seem like anything is possible.

Another element that enriches the story is Flora’s discovery of friendship with William Spiver, a quirky kid who is in many ways a mirror for Flora’s loneliness. His quirks annoy her, but she can’t help but find comfort in his presence. He chips away at her cynicism, while the larger story elements propel her toward hope.

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures is a journey of discovery. A young girl in a mixed-up world discovers that not everything is what it seems to be. She is loved, and sometimes, it’s okay to have hope.

The comic-book elements, illustrated by K.G. Campbell, are integral to the story – and they’re funny – making the book an excellent choice for younger or more reluctant readers.

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures is the winner of the 2014 Newbery Medal.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog. All reviews are my own opinion. I am not paid in any other form to write reviews.

Review: Rosie Revere, Engineer

Rosie Revere, Engineer

Rosie Revere, Engineer
Written by Andrea Beaty
Illustrated by David Roberts
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

My Rating: 5 Stars

As an adult in my 30’s, I hadn’t donned a costume for Halloween in over a decade, but 2 years ago the friends I’d recently made were into that kind of thing, so I chose a character that was close to my heart. I was Rosie the Riveter. Although the icon’s original purpose had nothing to do with feminism, she was subsequently taken up as a symbol for the message that a woman can do anything if she puts her muscle and her mind to it. It’s that message and my love of history that led me to pick up a copy of Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty with illustrations by David Roberts. What I found was much more than a feminist message.

Young Rosie loves to build gadgets out of what other people think is trash, but she starts to hide her inventions and her creativity after being laughed at by someone she loves. A visit from her great-great aunt Rose, who used to work on planes, sparks another attempt at sharing her work. She wants to help her great-great aunt fly. Her first attempt at making a flying machine is a total flop and she’s ready to give up forever – to give up her dream of becoming an engineer. That’s when she learns a lesson about perseverance from her old aunt. She learns that you can’t be a success without first attempts and failures.

I wish Rosie Revere, Engineer had been around when I was a kid. I immediately related to Rosie’s descent into shyness because of her early embarrassment, and I imagine there are a lot of kids out there who hide themselves away because of the messages they’ve received from adults. Adults often say or do things that seem harmless or are meant in good fun, but those words and actions can sometimes take a toll on the how a child thinks about himself or herself. I can still hear one of my early art teachers telling me, “you’ve got talent, but you work too slowly.” I did not become an artist.

Rosie Revere, Engineer also portrays what it is like to have a creative mind. Rosie stays up at night working on her inventions. The creativity doesn’t leave her because she is too shy to share them. The ideas take hold anyway. Ultimately, this book is about not giving up on your dreams and recognizing that you only fail if you never try. That’s a message I think most of us need to hear.

While this book is a clear nod to women’s history on an adult level, even sneaking in some real facts about women and the history of flight, the story is universal. It offers inspiration to anyone, child or adult, who’s ever dreamt about becoming something or doing great things.

The engaging, rhyming text by Andrea Beaty, combined with the humorous and magical mixed-media illustrations by David Roberts, deliver an immersive story experience that is both heartrending and heartwarming. Rosie Revere, Engineer has the potential to be one of those books that stay with your child into adulthood. Why not give it a try?

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog. All reviews are my own opinion. I am not paid in any other form to write reviews.