We’re back!

You may have noticed that it’s been quite a while since my last post. A little over five months ago, our baby boy came into the world and turned our lives upside down in the best of ways.

Baby boy already loves being read to, especially at bedtime. When he was about a month old, I started reading a few of the best stories on our shelf. It didn’t take long for him to show that he had favorite pages, smiling in anticipation of some of them. Books with great rhythm and rhyme are the ones that really capture his attention.

Baby boy’s favorites:

Pirasaurs! by Josh Funk, Illustrated by Michael Slack

Read my review of Pirasaurs! here.

Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker, Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Read my review of Steam Train, Dream Train here.

I’m looking forward to writing reviews of great new books again and getting back to the conversation about children’s literature and learning.

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.


Reading Resource: Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

Reading to a child regularly is known to improve his or her kindergarten readiness by increasing vocabulary, comprehension and a host of other skills. On top of that, reading to little ones supports their social and emotional development.

An at-home library, however small or large, is one way to encourage a love of reading at an early age. But, developing an at-home library can be difficult, especially for parents simply trying to put food on the table and provide basic care. 

I encourage parents to check out Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The program delivers a free book once a month directly to your child. Children love getting mail that’s just for them, and this mail is a gift that can last a lifetime.

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.

Review: Finding Wild

Finding Wild
by Megan Wagner Lloyd
Pictures by Abigail Halpin
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers (May 10, 2016)
Ages 3-7

My Rating: 4 Stars


Living in the city certainly has its perks – a short commute and access to cultural and social events, just to name a few. But, whenever I’ve lived in a city, as I do now, I’ve always had a deep yearning to keep the natural world as a part of my life. Whether it’s attempting to grow a garden in the backyard or getting out of the city every now and then, a connection to nature keeps me sane. If that connection goes unattended for too long, things get ugly. There have been times when I’ve had to make do with buying a couple of houseplants to satisfy that calling. Finding Wild by Megan Wagner Lloyd with pictures by Abigail Halpin spoke to that part of me that understands finding wild in the hidden places.

Finding Wild opens with two simple questions. “What is wild? And where can you find it?” Readers follow two children as they explore their world from top to bottom and discover that nature is everywhere, even on the urban streets where it appears, at first, to only have concrete buildings that block the sky.

In this thoughtful, quiet exploration of nature, the author and illustrator take us on a journey through the many facets of the living world, including its gentleness, its roughness, its beauty and its tenacity.

Finding Wild is Megan Wagner Lloyd’s first book. I look forward to reading more from her, as this debut, in this nature-loving girl’s opinion, is a solid introduction to a concept that’s important for all children to understand. Nature is everywhere. You just have to look.

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.

Untold Stories

Untold Stories
by Laura Koennecke
10924747_10203407812172599_3398855842908337277_nWhen I was eleven, we lost my brother Kurt and almost every material thing in a house fire. It was a terrible time for my family that was softened by the kindness and generosity of the people who came together to help us. It was an overwhelming and foggy time, to say the least, but there are a few memories that stick out.

There was all the food being delivered daily. That was the year we had lasagna for Thanksgiving. There was Christmas at my aunt and uncle’s and the special gifts they picked out for us – including the stuffed bear for Sheryl that needed an x-ray at my uncle’s vet office for some reason.

And there were the socks. A boy from my bus route, a year or two older than me, showed up at my Grandpa’s doorway with a huge department store bag filled with socks. Brand new, never-been-worn socks in all sizes and colors. To this day, the thoughtfulness of this gift stays with me.

A few years later, this same boy’s father ended his own life. I cried for him, and I wanted to somehow return the kindness that he had shown my family. So I baked him some chocolate chip cookies. I put them on a plate, wrapped them in aluminum foil and set them on the table in the front hall. All that was left was for me to knock on his door and hand them to him.

They sat on that table for at least a week. I’m not sure what even happened to them. But I know I didn’t bring them to him. I didn’t know how to face that much pain, and I didn’t know if he wanted anyone to know what had happened.

I don’t know what led up to his father’s decision, but I do know that people didn’t talk about mental health much thirty years ago, at least not in front of kids. Thankfully that is changing, but there is still a dearth of information about it.

So why talk about this on a children’s literature site? Because books are powerful. Because they have the power to help heal, to start a dialogue, to let a child know that he or she is not alone, to provide an escape.

Because teachers and librarians can include books that deal with mental health on their shelves.

If you look for books addressing issues such as depression, suicide and addiction, there are plenty for teens. The School Library Journal has an excellent article by Erin E. Moulton about bibliotherapy and an extensive list of books by subject area. 

But according to the Educational Research Newsletter, “School personnel need to be aware that many learning disabled children appear to experience depression during the elementary years.” 

Obviously, this is important for parents to know too.

So where are the books for younger kids? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m curious. And I’m not talking about “how to” books; I’m talking about books with nuanced characters that young readers and listeners can relate to.

And, are we as parents, teachers and counselors misreading the signs of mental health issues? According to the Journal of Learning Disabilities, “The presence of depression in school-age children may not be adequately recognized by teachers. Teachers may be misdiagnosing depressed children as having a specific learning problem.” 

Saying that teachers are misdiagnosing is a bit misleading as they aren’t doctors, but they are often the first people to see signs that a child is struggling.

The Educational Research Newsletter also notes that “Researchers do not agree on which is the primary condition; does being learning disabled lead to depression or are learning problems a symptom of depression?”  

There is so much to learn and so much more research that will be done, but ultimately we need to be aware that mental illness can affect anyone, even young children – either as someone suffering from it personally or someone trying to understand what a parent or sibling is experiencing.

So where do we go from here? I guess we keep talking about it, sharing our stories and reading about it. We talk to our children’s doctors. And we stop being afraid to knock on the door and deliver the cookies.

Do you know of a children’s book that addresses mental illness? Let us know in the comments.

About Laura Koennecke
Laura Koennecke has been writing and editing for about 15 years. She first started contributing to Aunt Sheryl’s Book Nook in November of 2015 with her essay titled, Another Christmas Story. One of her biggest joys is reading to her kids.

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.

Take Your Child to the Library Day


Saturday, February 6th is Take Your Child to the Library Day, which encourages families to take their children to the library with a day of celebration and fun activities. Check with your local library to see if they are participating.

What if my library isn’t participating?
You can still make a fun day out of going to the library. Many libraries have regular storytelling times for kids. And once you’re home with your pickings for the day, you can encourage your kids to write or draw their own stories or act out the scenes in their favorite book.

What is the point when all my kid wants to do is play online?
Finding alternatives to screen time is more important than ever these days. Why not share some of your favorite stories and let a librarian help your kids find books that will be of interest to them? Make it a special trip by topping it off with a stop at the ice cream shop or another point of interest that’s near and dear to your little one.

I’m interested, but I just don’t have time to get to the library this month.
Take a look at this Take Your Child to the Library Day program guide for librarians. See if you can modify some of these activities for fun at home. Even setting things up for your kids for play where they act out going to the pretend library reinforces the value of reading and familiarity with this special resource.

Do you have a regular habit of taking your kids to the library? If so, what drives you to make it a part of your lives? If not, what’s holding you back? Let me know in the comments section.

To stay connected with Aunt Sheryl’s Book Nook, follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Another Christmas Story

Another Christmas Story
by Laura Koennecke
snow globesBright red mittens and peppermint candy. The bracket Pa made Ma for her china, with its hand-carved curlicues and crescent moons. This is Christmas, I like to think.

As we approach the holiday season, the picture of the Christmas I feel I need to create is shaped in large part by books: Little House in the Big Woods, Little Women, and the lesser known Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.

My heart broke a little when I realized my daughter, Anna, didn’t share my love of these kinds of books. She loves a good hero quest, the more broken and conflicted the protagonist, the better. A map at the front of a book is always a good sign, and dragons are a bonus.

It made me wonder why I loved my poor little families. It became clear that their appeal wasn’t in their poverty, but in what they did for each other. In a nutshell, it was their Christmas stories. They fought the scarcity and darkness of winter with warmth and light and community.

The authors, through the families they shared with us, created what I imagine to be hygge, the comradery and coziness cherished in Danish homes and amongst friends. As readers, we can wrap ourselves in the warm embrace of a quilt that was carefully sewn by Laura and Mary at a quilting bee.

When the March girls of Little Women brought their Christmas breakfast to the hungry German immigrant family, they lit a fire and brought warmth and friendship to the home.

Polly and Ben Pepper created a Christmas for their younger siblings by bringing in a tree from outside and decorating it with popcorn and nuts wrapped in bits of bright paper. And they convinced their mother to give them leftover nubs of candles to brighten it. They have memories of better times and want to share those with the little ones.

Sometimes, in adult life, I find moments of soul warmth – the smell of wood burning in fireplaces that evokes images of warm hearths drawing families together, or the way headlights and holiday lights reflect on wet streets in winter. In these moments, decades wash away.

When I was a child, malls were being built everywhere. The closest one to us – in Fayetteville, New York – had a store that’s marquee was a wall of golden-hued lights. At night, Sibley’s glowed like a harvest moon but in a season of snow and short days.

Just before Christmas in those years, Dad would finish up chores in the barn a little early; we’d have a quick dinner, then head out to shop for Mom’s gift. We would climb into the station wagon – as many of us kids who were home and could fit – to go to the mall for Dad’s one and only shopping trip each year. The space between the back seat and the rear-facing third seat was my prime real estate. We’d drive to Fayetteville Mall with its beckoning wall of light.

There was something magical about going out at night in the winter, against the inclination to stay inside, to approach the light and energy of bustling shoppers. There was something magical about going on this adventure with my Dad.

I’m less inclined to go to the mall now. I more look forward to places like Jay Street – a fellowship of independent businesses, coffee shops, antiques and arts, with its brick pedestrian walkway and cobbled paths for skipping. It’s Schenectady’s Diagon Alley – the magical street in Harry Potter’s world – with its quirky store fronts and buildings of a certain age.

Now Harry Potter, this was a series that Anna and I read and loved together. Underneath all the epic battles and mythical creatures, J. K. Rowling created warmth and community and gave Harry a family. The big, loud, crazy Weasley family, with its misshapen hand-knit Christmas sweaters and no money, meant more to Harry than his piles of gold at Gringotts.

And Christmas always comes back to family – the ones we started with or the ones we pulled near to us – and the memories we create together.

I wonder what my 5-year-old will remember – maybe the cobbled street or the brightly lit window displays that reveal themselves as dusk settles or the warmth of hot chocolate chasing away the chill. Alas, it probably won’t be last year’s homemade snow globe that leaked all over the mantel and was quietly thrown away. (Thanks, Pinterest.)

Maybe he’ll remember going with his Dad to pick out my gift, and the way they conspired to sneak it back in the house without me knowing. Or maybe it will be the time that he and Anna, separated in age by 14 years, sat together painting green icing on sugar cookie trees way past his bedtime.

A few years ago, when my parents were downsizing, they had a garage sale. Drawers, closets and shelves were emptied onto tables, jarring memories loose from the deep storage of our minds. My sister Kris and I saw the Ziploc bag full of cookie cutters. Neither of us was going to let those get sold. So many of our memories are caught up in the preparation and in the anticipation that what we are doing will bring happiness to someone we love and in the moments that allow us to step outside the mundane.

It’s as likely as not that presents will end up on a garage sale table someday, but memories of shopping with my Dad and rolling out hundreds of leaping reindeer and lopsided angel cookies with my sisters and Mom, who didn’t even flinch when I tripled the already tripled recipe, will remain. The warm glow of the time we spent together will remain, and the glow is what matters.

Although that doesn’t mean I’m above dropping some heavy hints about the handmade bag in the bookstore on Jay Street.

About Laura Koennecke
Laura Koennecke has been writing and editing for about 15 years, though never under her own name. Her writing has been recognized through a recent Yelp “Review of the Day” and several well liked Facebook status updates. Another Christmas Story is her first attempt at “someday I’m going to write about this.” One of her biggest joys is reading to her kids.

Links to books mentioned in this post:

Little House in the Big Woods

Little Women

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew

Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7)

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.

Kid Magazines: 3 Reasons to Subscribe for Your Child

My copy of Ladybug magazine arrived in the mail a couple of days ago. It’s always colorful and full of stories and poems to read, plus it’s not junk mail or a bill, so I get a little excited whenever it comes.

Do you remember being a kid and getting something in the mail with your name on it? I do. It made me feel special, adult-like, as if I really existed. That special feeling is just one reason why a magazine makes a great addition to a kid’s reading resources. What else does a child receive when you give them a subscription to a magazine?

Activities that engage
Most kid’s magazines have at least a few activities in addition to stories. These puzzles, cutouts, recipes, experiments and more encourage a child’s natural curiosity. They offer parents of young children ways to further connect with their kids in a manner that goes beyond reading. Magazines for older kids will often have crossword puzzles that children can accomplish on their own and drawing or writing contests that allow kids to engage in creative endeavors with a wider community.

Cultural exposure
Children’s magazines often contain stories about cultural differences and similarities. A story about the games children play in countries around the world or a poem about the bedtime rituals of children living in the city vs. the country, for example, show children what they have in common with other kids, plus some fascinating differences. There are books out there, of course, that address tolerance of other cultures, but children’s magazines provide steady exposure to these types of stories, which ask kids to think outside their own worlds.

Comforting routine
As adults, we have our routines and rituals that help keep us sane in a hectic world. For some of us, it’s a cup of coffee and reading the morning paper or news websites. For others, it’s hitting the gym before work. Kids need routines just as much, if not more than, adults. The arrival of a beloved magazine on a regular schedule acts as a symbol of stability. Regular characters that show up in the mailbox in the form of a magazine story can feel like good friends coming to visit. Ladybug magazine, for instance, begins every issue with a story called Max and Kate and ends with a cartoon called Molly and Emmett. Plus, throughout each issue there’s hilarious commentary from a trio of delightful characters: Ladybug, Muddle and Thud.

Do you think a magazine subscription would be a great gift for a child in your life? Here are 6 sites to explore to find just the right one:

1. Cricket Media publishes a variety of magazines for different ages and interests, including literary fiction, such as Ladybug, and non-fiction, like Dig.

2. Highlights publishes three magazines, each for a different age range. These publications are chock-full of activities and brain-stimulating puzzles.

3. National Geographic Kids, much like the adult version, is for kids curious about exploring the planet, natural science and geography.

4. For your little sports lover, there’s Sports Illustrated Kids.

5. U.S. Kids puts out two magazines, one for ages 2-6 years called Humpty Dumpty and one for ages 6-12 called Jack and Jill.

6. Does your kid love to help you bake or cook? Ingredient might be just the right magazine to spark their own culinary creativity.

In addition to these, there are also super niche magazines for kids who are into things like riding horses and creating their own fashion designs. They can easily be found by going to any of the magazine subscription sites like magazines.com.

Did you have a favorite magazine when you were growing up? Do your kids already have a favorite that they can’t wait to receive in the mail? Let me know about it in the comments section below.

Building a Joyful Life: A Beautiful Legacy

GrassRoots 2014
Wassa Pan Afrika Dance Ensemble at the 2014 Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival

Life is not all about books. I know this is hard for some of us to grapple with, but it’s true. At the very least, we need to eat, sleep and stay in touch with others. And then there’s all the stuff we’d rather not do – the stuff that feels like drudgery – but needs to be done.

There is a rhythm of life that involves the pleasant and the unpleasant, the necessary and the frivolous, the yin and yang. Life is both chaotic and beautifully ordered. We may not get to choose some of the things that happen to us, but we do get to choose the tone of our song. And, we can choose to give our energy and time to activities and thoughts that bring us happiness. I believe that this is, in part, how we build a joyful life.

My version of a joyful life is filled with books, obviously, but it is also filled with music. That’s why I’m taking a break from reading for the next four days to enjoy the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance with my sister and her family. There will be music and dancing at four different stages. It isn’t for everyone. Not everyone likes music or the type of music played here (Roots, Bluegrass, African, Zydeco, Reggae, Latin and more), and some think four days of this is torture, but that’s not me. I love music! The GrassRoots Festival has become my annual pilgrimage – my yearly reminder that there’s more to life than working to make a living. You’ve got to enjoy the living. As an added bonus, the GrassRoots Festival donates its profits to local education and health programs, including its own initiative called Roots in the Schools, so I know my vacation money is doing some good in the world.

All by itself the GrassRoots Festival is a great time, but one of the most fulfilling parts of my annual trek to Trumansburg is watching my young nephew revel in the music and dancing. He’s the kind of kid who can’t stop himself from dancing when he hears a great song. It’s enough to warm the coldest of hearts.

Without delving too deeply into the nature vs. nurture argument (I believe most things this is applied to are a mixture of both), I will say that I have a deep appreciation for how my sister and her husband expose their son to a wide array of culture. How do they do this? They take the time to enjoy their own lives. By appreciating the world around them, they immediately teach him how to do the same. I think that is one of the greatest gifts they give to their son. It’s a beautiful legacy.

How are you passing on your love of life to your children?

When you’re not reading, what do you enjoy doing?

Leave a comment below, and let me know how you’re building your joyful life.

Here are some of my favorite pics from past years of the GrassRoots Festival.

GrassRoots Festival 2013 Happiness Parade
GrassRoots Festival 2013 -Happiness Parade
GrassRoots Festival 2013 - Happiness Parade
GrassRoots Festival 2013 – Happiness Parade
Prayer Flags - GrassRoots Festival
GrassRoots Festival 2014 – Prayer Flags
Wassa Pan Afrika Dance Ensemble - GrassRoots 2014
Wassa Pan Afrika Dance Ensemble – GrassRoots 2014
GrassRoots Happiness Parade 1014
GrassRoots Festival 2014- Happiness Parade