Category Archives: Books

Review: My Age of Anxiety

I have spent the last week immersed in Scott Stossel’s new book, My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind. I would like to take a moment to stand and applaud his courage in so candidly and kindly sharing his own story and those of so many other anxious individuals, including his great-grandfather. This is more than a deeply affecting (and highly compelling) personal account of Stossel’s experiences with anxiety and depression. It’s also a meticulously researched account of anxiety through the ages, including examinations of brain science, psychopharmacology, genetics, human development, and myriad treatment options.

I have long considered myself an anxious person. As a young teen, I suffered an extended period of debilitating illness that did not entirely precipitate my anxiety but definitely served to underline and accelerate the symptoms. I was diagnosed with OCD as a result of feeling my life spiraling out of my control and underwent many months of therapy where I learned methods of relaxation and stress management that I continue to use today in both my personal life and in my work with children and families.

One lesson that I will take from this book is that it’s possible to consider aspects of my anxiety (and your anxiety) a kind of gift. Anxiety is a real biological imperative. It has evolved in humans for a reason. In individuals who display certain heightened levels, it has been shown to enhance their so-called social antennae. Stossel writes, “Social phobics are, in at least this one aspect, gifted — faster and better at picking up behavioral cues from other people, with social antennae so sensitive that they receive transmissions that ‘normal’ people can’t.” Your anxiety or neuroses, in other words, could be an asset in certain situations. In my own case, where my job entails a lot of observation of children and families and navigating sometimes sensitive social waters (difficult conversations with parents about their own children), I do believe this is something that has helped me to do my best work. Stossel further examines Freud’s belief that anxiety attempts to highlight something that our psyche is trying to tell us. Sometimes, we know, we need to listen to ourselves — our gut instincts or our heart.

“Just because I can explain your depression using terms such as ‘serotonin reuptake inhibition’ doesn’t mean you don’t have a problem with your mother.” – Carl Elliott

When I was studying child development in college, I completed a case study on a young child suffering anxiety. I was teaching preschool at the time and I had a child in my classroom who suffered from crippling anxiety. I had never before seen such a severe manifestation in a child so young (she started in my class at age three). Conducting research into the topic was hugely eye-opening and has had an effect on my work ever since. After reading Stossel’s book, I have gained still more insight into the topic which will prove helpful in supporting both children and their parents. I heartily recommend this book to parents of anxious children as well as to teachers and caregivers. It could really change the way that you think of and address children’s (all-too real) worries and fears.

Stossel spends time with one of my favorite subjects, Bowlby’s Attachment Theory. He shares, “In 2006, new results from the forty-year longitudinal Minnesota Study of Risk and Adaptation from Birth to Adulthood found that infants with insecure attachments were significantly more likely than infants with secure or avoidant attachments to develop anxiety disorders as adolescents. […] Bowlby’s attachment theory has an elegant simplicity and a plausible, easily understood evolutionary basis. If your parents provided a secure base when you were an infant and you were able to internalize it, then you will be more likely to go through life with a sense of safety and psychological security.”

What was particularly fascinating to me, however, was that rather than one understandable explanation for anxiety, there are in fact layers upon layers of explanations. There is a chemical component, a genetic component (John Livingstone, a doctor of psychiatry who treats victims of trauma, told Stossel, “It’s as though traumatic experiences get plastered into the tissues of the body and passed along to the next generation”) and also the Nurture (vs. Nature) component. One of my co-workers was delighted when I shared with her that studies have found that the coddled child (that is to say the child who is well and affectionately cared for in a highly responsive relationship) rather than the over-protected child (that is, the child who is denied a sense of self-efficacy), is the more confident and less anxious child. (“I can’t wait to call my son and tell him!” she triumphantly crowed.) Stossel writes, “By now scores of studies support the idea that the quantity and quality of a mother’s affection toward her children has a potent effect on the level of anxiety those children will experience later in life.” I think it’s important to note that we can substitute the title of “mother” in this instance with every single important adult person in a child’s life. Their interactions with family, with caregivers, and with teachers can all serve to build a child’s confidence and insulate them against what seems to be an increasingly anxiety-inducing world. In examining the quality of care in childcare centers, one of the key ingredients in children’s later school success is that they have received warmth and responsiveness. In a 2008 paper, Attachment and Psychopathology in Adulthood, it is reported, “Adults with agoraphobia are more likely to rate their parents as low on affection and high on overprotection.” This serves to further validate all that is said in the early education community about how we must allow children to take risks, make mistakes, and actively and autonomously explore the world around them.

There is so much about this book that is enlightening. It’s written in a very approachable style, with much of the science broken down in a way that is easy (and really interesting!) to digest. It’s unlikely that you don’t know someone who battles anxiety, even if you yourself find the topic to be unfamiliar territory, as some 40 million people in the United States alone are said to today. While I think it would be of special interest to those who suffer anxiety themselves or are caring for anxious children, I can heartily recommend it as universally appealing and educational. It was the kind of book that prompted me to sit up in bed and read passages aloud to my husband (a very non-anxious person). Perhaps surprisingly for a book on this topic written by a man who has, by his own account, been treated with various medications for anxiety for over thirty years, it left me feeling both hopeful and empowered.

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Favorite Letter-Writing Books

This is the time of year (Valentine’s Day) when many preschool classrooms explore themes related to writing notes and letters. For many programs who have a policy of not explicitly celebrating holidays, this is a way that teachers address the seasonal topics that can arise. I’m of the opinion that letter-writing at any time of the year is one of the very best activities to incorporate into your household or curriculum. It’s a unique way of connecting with people we care about while developing literacy and community skills. In our age of technological communication, there is something extra-special about putting pen to paper, sticking a stamp on a letter, and visiting an actual mailbox or post office! Allow me to put on my grandma hat for a moment and ponder whether kids today will learn how to properly address an envelope, look up a name or number in the phone book, or write an actual check. Are these lost arts? They don’t need to be.

Every preschool classroom (and home) should have a well-stocked writing center as well as a system in place for exchanging messages. In general, children love exchanging messages. In fact, who doesn’t? When I sift through the mail and find a hand-addressed card from my mom among the bills and junk mail, my heart skips a beat. If you need ideas and inspiration for creating, expanding, or maintaining a writing center, I suggest taking a peek at Pinterest (search terms: preschool writing center, writing center, preschool mailboxes), with the warning that you can easily lose hours down this rabbit hole.

There are countless beautiful books for all ages that center around writing letters or exchanging messages. Below you’ll find some of my personal favorites for preschoolers.

Dear Annie by Judith Caseley. Our heroine, Annie, has exchanged letters with her grandpa since the day she was born. This is a lovely catalog of their relationship, as well as providing great examples of the process of sending and receiving mail. A simple story at its heart, it provides rich fodder for class discussions about writing, adventures, and grandparents. Every child will be inspired to write a letter of their own to someone special.

Dear Juno by Soyung Pak tells a similar story of a grandmother and grandson, with the twist being that the grandmother writes in Korean and the little boy expresses his message with pictures. This is a gorgeous story about cross-culture communication (and cross-generational) that speaks to preschoolers who can’t fully “write” their messages. It’s an essential addition to the classroom library of every diverse program.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin. Farmer Brown’s cows have begun sending him typed messages with their requests. This is a laugh-out-loud funny book about some ingenious barnyard animals and their sophisticated negotiation tactics. Children who feel empowered by putting pen to paper will particularly enjoy the message and the story can prompt some wonderful conversation about how to peacefully express wants and needs and how to meet in the middle. I have found this book to also be a great springboard to talking about different ways of communicating (what if you couldn’t speak? how would you communicate?) and what typewriters and keyboards are for.

A Letter to Amy by Ezra Jack Keats. This is the story of a boy who wishes to invite a girl to his otherwise all-boy birthday party and he wants to send her a written invitation. On his way to mail the invitation, he runs into the girl and knocks her down. He worries that she won’t wish to attend the party. The story may not seem highly relevant to today, but I think the work of Ezra Jack Keats is timeless. Preschoolers in particular are at a heightened awareness of boyness and girlness and that storyline will appeal to them. It will prompt passionate discussion about what should be done when you knock someone down, accidentally or not, and how friendships can start in the most unlikely of ways.

From the Frog and Toad Are Friends story collection by Arnold Lobel comes the perfectly lovely story, The Letter. Toad mournfully describes the time of day when the mail is delivered as the saddest part of his day, as no one ever sends him any mail. Frog immediately realizes what needs to be done and he sends Toad a letter. This is a classic tale of friendship for any age but resonates with particular meaning for small children. This short story is best for small group readings and is really enjoyable as an audiobook.

Send It by Don Carter follows the journey of a package cross-country. The simple but engaging book is wonderful to have on hand for independent reading while a classroom explores the ideas of writing and sending.

Tell me: what are your favorite books about corresponding?

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Favorite Toddler Books

When toddlers come to love a book, they LOVE IT with the kind of love that only toddlers are capable of, from the top of their heads to the tips of their toes. It’s impossible to read the book too often because until they tire of it, their love for it is tireless. They may like and enjoy other books along the way, but there can be no substitutions for their true love. You’ll have it memorized within days and you may find yourself quietly reciting it at odd times (I myself carry a small toddler library in my mind). You’ll stealthily slip it from their grasp when they’ve fallen asleep with it clutched in their arms. You’ll make sure that you pack it each time you leave the house. In later months and years, you may go decades without picking up the book again, but then one day you’ll come across it and it will be, as they say, just like riding a bike — the words and pictures be as familiar to you as if you’d last seen them five minutes ago. Aren’t books wonderful?

Below you’ll find a sampling of the kind of books I have seen toddlers fall hard for. Please share your own favorites in the comments! And remember this advice from author Mem Fox, “Children need to hear a thousand stories before they can begin to learn to read. Or the same story a thousand times!“.

Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy E. Shaw. This is such a fun book to read aloud. Toddlers love the rhyming language, the hilarious flow of the story, and the combination of familiar words with more sophisticated language. I worked with one seventeen-month-old who fell head over heels for this book and, after hundreds of readings, acted out pieces of the story with farm animal toys! This one will always be high on my favorites list.

Skippyjon Jones: Up & Down by Judy Schachner. I had never heard of Skippyjon Jones until someone donated this board book to my program a couple of years ago. The book was immediately claimed by one toddler, who memorized the entire sequence of events in words and signs. His love for this book prompted me to order another Skippyjon Jones book (the delightful Skippyjon Jones Shapes Up), only to have him react with anger as it seemed to him like trickery to present a book so similar to his favorite that featured altogether different events. What he loved best of all, you see, was the predictability of the book. Many toddlers will.

Llama Llama Wakey Wake by Anna Dewdney. It’s hard to go wrong, in my experience, with a Llama Llama book. The gentle themes, rhymes, and soft illustrations are universally appealing. What toddlers love about this book, in particular, is that it mirrors their own lives. They brush their teeth! They comb their hair! And, sometimes, they have to say goodbye to their mamas too. (Dewdney’s Llama Llama books were first designed for an older audience, but toddlers can enjoy spin-offs just for them like this one and Llama Llama Nighty-Night.)

Doggies by Sandra Boynton. No book list for toddlers would be complete without at least one title by Sandra Boynton. Her illustrations and lyrical prose appeal to all ages. This book is perfect for toddlers to share with an un-self-conscious adult who is prepared to make a fantastic variety of dog sounds. In no time at all, toddlers will be assigning unique calls to each featured dog. It’s also a subtle counting book and even younger readers will enjoy pointing to the dogs in turn. (At the end of the day, do not overlook Boynton’s classic, The Going to Bed Book.) Along the same vein is the slightly more verbose Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? by Dr. Suess. It introduces a sequence of wonderful sounds that you can make along with the amazing Mr. Brown, including the moo of a cow, the boom boom of thunder, and the sound of a hand on a door, knock knock.

I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Rossetti Shustak lists all the sides of a toddler that you love. Just as they need to hear stories at least 1,000 times before they’re reading to learn to read, they need to hear these messages of love and affirmation time and time again. They’ll eat it up and you’ll see it reflected back at you. This is a wonderful book to share with a child.

From Head to Toe by Eric Carle. When it comes to reading with toddlers, it’s a toss-up as to which Eric Carle book they will prefer, but odds are pretty good that they will be drawn to at least one. This is a close contender with the classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and toddlers will choose it for it’s interactivity. The words and illustrations invite them to stretch and move their bodies in different ways, giving language to both familiar and previously un-articulated body parts and animals.

The Okay Book by Todd Parr. Most of Todd Parr’s books send a strong message that it’s “okay” to be yourself, to be different, and to do what makes you happy. This book is no exception and I love it for that. Toddlers will enjoy the bright illustrations (Todd Parr’s art is unique and delightful) and the simple, positive text.

You may also be interested in previous posts on Favorite Sensory Books and Favorite Nap Reads.

Now tell me: which books do your toddlers LOVE?

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Reading For Meaning

I recently finished reading Nicholas Carr’s excellent book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains and while it provided me with much to think about in terms of technology and brain development, an unexpected bonus was that it also gave me much to think about in regards to reading. Carr spends a good amount of time looking at the historic evolution of technology, including the period of time before and after the printing press. He examines how the act of reading, and specifically “deep reading,” changed the shape of human brains and society. He goes on to examine how we’re losing our ability to deeply engage with the written, printed word in favor of attempting to absorb an endless stream of snippets via the Internet.

About a month ago I had read (in its entirety, even when I got scared of the graphs) this Slate article: How People Read Online: Why You Won’t Finish This Article and I’m still thinking about it today. Even as I type, I’m thinking about how you may not finish this post. I’m speculating as to how your eyes may track across your screen. Have I taken away enough potential distractions with a spartan blog design? Don’t blame yourself if you can’t reach the end. I don’t blame myself and I’m ultimately the one tasked with keeping you engaged. After digesting Carr’s findings, I understand that it may all be a little bit out of your hands by now, if you’ve spent enough time mixing with digital media and rewiring your brain to swallow snippets rather than paragraphs. I’ve already given you two links, suggesting to your brain that it opt out of what I’m about to share about reading. But if you, like me, really care about reading, you may wish to read on.

I learned to read before I was four. I don’t remember how it happened, but I do remember not being able to read and then being able to read. One of the first times my mom realized that I could read was when we had taken our cat to the vet and I was sounding out the words displayed high on the wall: cat, dog, fish, bird. This moment was somehow so important in my early life that I can picture the vet’s office in my mind and that was one of only two times in my life that I was there. When I ask my parents about my learning to read, they don’t talk about this instance, but they remember other times when I took them off guard by reading signs aloud. Once I started to read, I didn’t stop. I couldn’t. It was such a heady feeling — like I suddenly, independently had access to all sorts of material that hadn’t made sense this way before. I tried to read everything. I remember a few years later, at six or seven, I pulled Gone With the Wind from a shelf and leafed through. “I think I can read this,” I told my dad, “I know almost all of these words.” I read a few sentences aloud. “There is more to reading than knowing the words,” my dad explained, “Part of reading is being able to understand and think about what you read.” I nodded sagely and filed this information away because it seemed important, even if I didn’t understand it then.

I understand it now. In fact, now more than ever, having learned a thing or two over the years about the development of literacy and how our brains work (not to mention a thing or two about Gone With the Wind). Something to keep in mind, as we actively teach children to read at younger and younger ages, is that the act of reading doesn’t mean much. It’s the complementary tasks of reflecting, recalling, making connections, and finding meaning that really matter. It’s those things that make the human brain so unique and wonderful. It’s those doors that we need to keep open for children, because inside there is where all the magic happens. (We also need to trust that sometimes that magic needs to happen independently.) (Oops, there’s another link. I just lost a few more of you.)

A few quotes from Nicholas Carr on reading deeply:

“In the quiet spaces opened by the prolonged, undisturbed reading of a book, people made their own associations, drew their own inferences and analogies, fostered their own ideas. They thought deeply as they read deeply.”

“What was so remarkable about book reading was that the deep concentration was combined with the highly active and efficient deciphering of text and interpretation of meaning.”

“The development of a well-rounded mind requires both an ability to find and quickly parse a wide range of information and a capacity for open-ended reflection. There needs to be time for efficient data collection and time for inefficient contemplation, time to operate the machine and time to sit idly in the garden.”

I don’t always read deeply, and, like Nicholas Carr, I have a legitimate concern that I will read less and less deeply the more I engage in Internet reading, browsing, and mindless immersion. I have done the research and I know that my attention span and focus are being compromised by technology. I also know that we don’t need to read deeply each time we read in order to reap the intellectual benefits. We just need to unplug. We can dip our toes in the frothy and frivolous and we’re still building better brains than if we were pointing and clicking through Scientific America. What we need is the quiet and the opportunity to reflect.

A few tips for reading deeply:

  • Read something that challenges you. Not something that bores you.
  • Read something unexpected: poetry, if you don’t normally delve into poetry; try fiction if you’re a non-fiction kind of reader and vice versa.
  • Take notes.
  • Pause. Reflect. Resume.
  • Talk about what you’ve read! Not only with others who have read it, although that can be wonderful.
  • Make time and space for reading. It doesn’t have to be hours of time and it doesn’t have to be silent space, but it does have to be relatively uninterrupted by email and it does have to be relatively consistent (aim for daily).

I’m dismayed at regular intervals by reports of fewer people engaging in book reading than ever before. But I’m not sure this is true. I’m personally meeting more people who are readers, who are proud to be readers, and who introduce me to new books and new ideas all the time. This is encouraging, not only for me personally as a reader, but for society in general. Children need to see us reading (books! magazines! newspapers! cereal boxes!) and they need to think about us reading and them reading and what it means to be a reader. Children don’t become literate simply by learning to read. The literate know how to think about what they read and what they want to read and what they hope others will read.

“Literacy arouses hopes, not only in society as a whole but also in the individual who is striving for fulfillment, happiness and personal benefit by learning how to read and write. Literacy means far more than learning how to read and write. The aim is to transmit knowledge and promote social participation.” From UNESCO Institute for Education

What about you? Are you reading deeply or are you sticking to the shallows? (Hint: if you made it this far down a page, there’s hope for you.)

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Review: The LA Nanny Book

I have been looking forward to reading Larissa Neilson’s book, The LA Nanny Book, since I came across her Twitter feed, drawn in by her RIE-influenced content. When I heard the book had been released, I immediately ordered a copy. I’m so glad that I did! Although I am not currently a nanny (I once was) and do not intend to become a nanny in the near future, I still found the book to be a pleasant, positive, informative read and a practical resource to add to my bookshelf. I would recommend it to both parents and caregivers as an eye-opening account of relationships and practices in this unique but widespread field. Larissa writes of her own experiences working within a specific nanny culture (that is, in Los Angeles), but her experience and advice will, I hope, be applicable far and wide.

The book is well-organized into three sections, which makes it both easy to read and easy to reference later on. The first part, beginning with a chapter entitled, “Choosing to Become a Nanny,” is most relevant to current and future nannies, but I found that many elements could be applied to any caregiving situation, including setting reasonable limits from the start, approaching each relationship within the job from a place of respect, and building up those relationships. I would like to share a few quotes from this second that resonated with me.

“Having the heart of a servant means exactly that. You’re passionate about serving others. This has a lot to do with leadership; true leaders serve.”

“We don’t live in a perfect world. That’s why I say my intention won’t ever be to fix, somehow change, or push parents to do or follow exactly what I’m doing. What matters is that the child is engaged with respect and therefore, you impact her life forever.”

“I knew I emptied myself into those children. I felt accomplished because I gave it all.”

The second part of the book introduces the Educaring® Approach and my favorite part is where Larissa describes “sensitive observation” of infants. This is applicable to anyone who is with children in any capacity, be it as a nanny, a teacher, a parent, or a grandparent. I hope that this section invites you, as it did me, to read slowly and thoughtfully, as Larissa shares the wisdom of experience in being with children in a truly beautiful way.

“Being present in mind means you come to the child with a sense of wonder and excitement to see what the child’s up to, what new thing she will do, what new body movements will happen today. Your mind is filled with the word and understanding of respect and you’re calm because you know what you’re doing.”

The third section of the book includes “Leaving a Legacy,” wherein Larissa talks about how and when to leave a family after your years or service. All nannies and caregivers will appreciate her guidance in this area because knowing when and how to say goodbye to a family is difficult and it is a sensitive, bittersweet time.

I should also mention that the book includes lists of resources and citations that will make it a simple matter to further pursue your education on the topics included, if you desire.

Larissa has given us a real gift in this book by sharing her years of experience in the field, her training in and understanding of the Educaring® Approach, and also her personal views on professionalism and work ethics, which I believe can be applied in myriad other situations. Thank you, Larissa!

(You can also follow her on Facebook.)

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Review: A World of Babies

I stumbled across A World of Babies: Imagined Childcare Guides for Seven Societies one day while browsing and was instantly curious. This book, edited by Judy DeLoache and Alma Gottlieb, presents fictional parenting manuals for seven different cultures across the globe, written by anthropologists, psychologists, and historians, based on their studies of, research on, and interviews with the societies. Books along this vein appeal to me (I recommend How Do Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm? and Our Babies, Ourselves) both because I’m hungry to know more about the world outside my own and because I work with parents from many different cultural backgrounds and I strive to be open to the idea that different ways of doing things are not wrong ways of doing things. It has been my experience that when a baby arrives on the scene, so too do grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles from all corners of the globe, ready to assist and advise the new parents on childrearing. More than a few times I have had the honor of giving a tour of my program to not just the parents, but their parents as well, who speak no English. I quickly learn who is really asking the questions and judging my responses on so much more than what I’m saying. I made fast friends with one Chinese grandma. Although we did not speak the same language, we spoke volumes when she held her nine-month-old grandson out to me, inviting me to hold him.

The cultures presented in this book include the Puritans (yes, those Puritans!), the Beng of West Africa, the Balinese, Turkish village life, the Aboriginal Warlpiri tribe of Australia, the Fulani of West Africa, and the Ifaluk of Micronesia. Each one is fascinating! Each chapter, or “manual” offers insight not only to how the culture cares for its babies, but as to their lives in general. For example, the type of work the parents engage in, their marriage traditions, and how they deal with illness and death. The book is classified as a textbook but reads like a novel. The chapters are well-defined, making it easy to engage with each culture individually, and the overall tone is one of warmth and humor, making it approachable and memorably human. In the reading of it, I learned a lot of details about the cultures, but the overriding message was to open my mind to how much babies are universally loved.

There is a temptation, when you read a work like this, to compare and contrast with your own culture or experience. I actively tried to avoid doing so. That is not to say that there is not value in this kind of analysis, but my goal was to simply see each culture for itself. Too often, I think, our own biases and judgments creep into the way of seeing things just as they are. I didn’t want to compare the Beng tradition of keeping the child, “strapped to someone’s back as much as possible,” to my own Pikler-influenced philosophy towards freedom of movement because that’s not fair or relevant to their lifestyle and the practices that have helped them to succeed in their way.

What I most enjoyed was reading about how each child becomes a valued member of the wider community. It was in these descriptions that I felt there were true lessons to be learned. These quotes reflect a fraction of what I found:

“You will probably talk to your baby from the first day of life in this world. […] And you know how important it is to say hello to almost everyone in the village every morning and evening to show that we are all part of the community.” – From, Luring Your Child Into This Life, A Beng Path for Infant Care

“If you have to put your child down to do some work, another person — your husband, a sibling, child caretaker, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or neighbor — should hold the child. Everyone loves to hold a baby.” – From, Gift From the Gods: A Balinese Guide to Early Child Rearing

Ifaluk Child “You should not bring your baby along to work with you, but be sure that you do not leave the baby alone. No one, especially not a baby, should be left alone, for they would feel lonely and sad. Your baby will most likely be taken care of by one or more adults or an older child, perhaps a sibling of the baby, or even someone who is not a relative.” – From, Never Leave Your Little One Alone: Raising an Ifaluk Child

I recommend this book to readers with varied interests: anthropology, parenting, child development, education, ecology, history, geography, and to those generally curious about the world. I think you’ll find it an eye-opening treat.

If you’ve read a book along a similar vein and would like to share a recommendation or review, please leave a comment below or contact me (Jenn) via email at likewetcement at

Favorite Nap Reads

When I was teaching in a full-day preschool program, one of my favorite times of day was nap time. Not for the obvious reason (all the children sleep for a couple of hours and teachers get to catch up on paperwork), but because of the routines we had established in my mixed-age classroom. Each student was responsible for getting their napping mat, blanket, and comfort item and taking it to their designated spot to set up for sleep. The younger children needed help with putting on sheets and laying out blankets, and sometimes the older children would assist them. It was a point of pride to get the sheet fitted over the mat properly and they would congratulate one another on their efforts. Each child wanted to be “tucked in” in a different way — some with their blankets wrapped around them (“Make me a taquito!” they begged), some with their blanket laid gently on top of them (“Float it over me like a butterfly,” one girl instructed), some with it simply beside them. Before we dimmed the lights, each child would go to the library and choose a book to “read” on their bed before sleep. Another book would be chosen, sometimes by a child and sometimes by myself, to be read aloud when they were all settled and their own books set aside. We would choose books that were peaceful in tone, but interesting enough to generate some quiet discussion and eager anticipation of the ritual. The best part of the routine, in my opinion, was the nature of the reading. It differed from our usual booksharings in that the children were laying down in the dark, unable to see the book and examine the pictures. I would encourage them to close their eyes and see the story in their minds. One especially enthusiastic little boy would exclaim each day, “I can SEE it, Maestra! I SEE the pictures IN MY HEAD!” Magic. These were some of our perennial favorites.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. This classic is near and dear to my heart for personal reasons. As a child, I would go on walks at night with my dad, looking for owls in the woods near our house. This book is visually beautiful, but also a lovely, peaceful story with evocative language. If you haven’t shared this with a child, I encourage you to do so. It can prompt the most wonderful discussions and explorations (nature, night, winter, snow, hikes, etc.). Also try Jane Yolen’s How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?

Amos and Boris by William Steig. Call me sentimental (guilty as charged!), but I think this is one of the best books ever written about friendship, love, and courage. Amos is a mouse who is rescued by Boris, a whale. Years later, Amos is faced with the opportunity to help Boris. Who could believe that a small mouse could come to the aide of a whale, such a massive, noble creature? There are layers of gentle, moving lessons in this lovely book. William Steig has been a favorite of mine since I was small and I also had great success sharing and reflecting on his story of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble with this age group.

Llama, Llama, Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney. Little llama has trouble going to sleep alone in his bed and his mama offers him reassurance. Preschoolers who are away from their moms and dads for an entire day love the reassurance of knowing that their parents are thinking of them and loving them every moment that they are apart.

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams. This classic has stood the test of time so well. My students related to this structure of this family unit, the idea of saving pennies, and they loved hearing about a mother and about love. Terrible things happen in the story, but also wonderful things and preschoolers appreciate a true-to-life tale. This is a well-told story for any time, but it lends itself to snuggling up for nap.

How Do I Love You? by P.K. Hallinan. There is nothing more reassuring than drifting off to sleep knowing that you’re loved. This simple, rhyming book tells children that they’re loved on their “very best and very worst of days.” My students would request this one again and again. I recommend the bilingual version.

When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old’s Memoir of Her Youth by Jamie Lee Curtis. In my experience, children love to reflect on their youth. This book always prompts fun discussion, but it’s also just fun to listen to, like all of Jamie Lee Curtis’s books for children. Preschoolers will find much to identify with and mine always found it very affirming of their own routines and habits. When it’s no longer naptime, engage with some of her other titles including Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day, Big Words for Little People, and (my personal favorite), Is There Really a Human Race? (my nieces cannot get enough of the illustrations in this one).

A few classics that require no introduction, but should not be overlooked: Caps for Sale, Where the Wild Things Are,Harry the Dirty Dog, Little Bear, and of course Goodnight Moon, which most of us can recite by heart but truly stands the test of time for a soothing bedtime read.

What are your favorite naptime reads?

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Favorite Sensory Books

As a follow-up to my post about reading physical books, here are a few of my favorite sensory books for all ages.

Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg. This book is so much fun to read and explore, and it also demonstrates a powerful lesson about mistakes and resilience. It’s pretty irresistible for ages 3-103.

Scanimation books from Rufus Butler Seder amaze me. They have won awards, are sold in museums all over the world, and continue to dazzle adults just as much (if not more) than children. I advise you to start with Waddle, then Gallop, then Swing. Or vice versa. Try them all. You’ll come back to them again and again.

Fluffy Chick and Friends by Roger Priddy is a perennial favorite in my program, along with the others from the same line: Fuzzy Bee and Squishy Turtle. When my friend Anelie visited from Germany with her baby (now toddler), Finn, he had the book in German and we compared notes on how the verse, which I had read so many times that I had it memorized, differed in the translation (turns out the German version is less poetic). Cloth books can be pricey to buy, but these particular ones hold up very well to repeated machine washings and all the brutality groups of babies can inflict on them. Take my advice and never run Squishy Turtle through the dryer by mistake, however.

I really can’t say enough wonderful things about Sandra Boynton’s books for children of every age. They make people happy and they’re always a lyrical, enjoyable read. They’re designed for reading aloud, which puts them in the sensory book category, I think, along with the likes of Shel Silverstein and Dr. Suess. Your Personal Penguin is one that I know for certain comes with a digital song download to enhance your experience. Perhaps some of her others do as well?

Roger Priddy and Eric Carle teamed up to create a series of “Slide and Find” books like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Slide and Find, which adds a level of interactivity to the traditional story that can’t be beat for toddlers. This book has been tried and tested in my program and it’s a hands-down success. I recommend it for both shared reading experiences and solo discovery (great for a car trip, when little hands are big enough to support the fairly heavy book). We have tried a few of the other “Slide and Find” books and also enjoy Priddy’s Trucks, which will hold attention and appeal through preschool.

Another delightful Eric Carle sensory experience is The Very Quiet Cricket, recommended for ages three and up. My preschool class never tired of the surprise of hearing the cricket sound at the end of the book. It prompted many thoughtful discussions about crickets, insects, and sounds. As a result of discussions started by this book, we spent one lovely afternoon relaxing to an insect sounds CD, eyes closed.

I’m not a huge fan of the “Play-a-Sound” books, with the panel of sound buttons to the right of the story. In my experience, they distract (like an enhanced e-book) from the book a little too much. I like my books a bit more simple. However, this version of Puppy and Friends is not too offensive and provides a great tactile experience as well. Recommended for toddlers, rather than infants (there is a little too much happening at once for the younger audience, in my opinion). Priddy offers a whole line of “Touch-and-Feel” books, sans sounds, which appeal to infants, including On the Farm and Mealtime.

Tails by Matthew Van Fleet has become a really popular sensory book — I see it everywhere! With good reason. It’s a wonderful concept (children are drawn to animal tails) and beautiful execution. It’s not as sturdy as a board book, which is something to be aware of with infants and young toddlers, but it’s a very tactile experience.

Was this post helpful to you? Let me know and I will follow up with more reviews. Please share your own in the comments below!

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Reading in Our Changing World

Mari Passananti posed the most interesting question in her blog post, “If You Read But Your Child Doesn’t Realize It, Does It Count?” She writes,

Many of you will remember a widely reported twenty-year study that concluded that the mere presence of books in the home is as important as parental education level in determining children’s educational level. Everyone knows reading to your kids is good for their brains. And since children learn by example, it follows that seeing adults reading is beneficial.

But the study about the mere presence of books was a ground breaking testament to the power of suggestion. If a child sees things, in this case books, treasured and valued, the reasoning goes that s/he will grow up to share those priorities. Which in turn will hopefully set off a desirable chain reaction: I.e. value books, love reading, love learning.

So here’s the gazillion dollar question:

Do ebooks count?

What do you think?

I love this question and the dialogue that it can prompt. The Pew Research Center reports that parents prefer physical books for their children, even while they value e-readers for themselves.

Parents of minor children do not necessarily read more than adults who do not currently have minor children (“other adults”), but they are heavier consumers of audio books and e-books. Sixteen percent of parents have read more than 20 books in the past year and an additional 13% have read 11-20 books while two in ten parents (22%) report no reading in the past 12 months. [more]

In-person focus groups by Pew revealed what I would have speculated:

  1. Parents want to recreate for children the shared reading experiences that they themselves had as children.
  2. Parents want children to know that they’re reading, so choosing a physical book seems a better choice than a device that could be used for other activities like games, Facebook, etc.
  3. Parents value the sensory experience offered by physical books as opposed to e-books.

As a teacher and reader, these are the same things that I argue in defense of physical books. Although a study conducted in Germany found there is no difference for your brain between reading a print page and reading a screen, readers often insist that the experience is different. (Please note that the study in question involved adults, not children.) That’s because the act of reading a book is more than your “reading behaviors” and eye-tracking. The act of reading a book may be the experience of turning pages, smelling paper and glue (and maybe some mildew or smoke or other traces of the book’s journey through the world), marking it up, and sharing it with others — it is undeniable that there is a difference between passing a book to a friend over coffee, with your dogeared pages and broken spine, than sending a link via email. I fully, deeply acknowledge the sensory pleasures of books and reading, even while I do the majority of my reading via e-reader these days. My house is still packed with books, stacked on tables and floors and overflowing their shelves. If I love a book, I want to see a physical embodiment of it in front of me. I just do.

But we’re not talking about me or us as adult readers. We’re talking about the experiences of children and what children need to be successful readers. An opinion piece by Amira Hood entitled Physical Books Provide Tangible Benefits mentioned a study reported on by The Guardian.

This is an age where, according to a study reported by the Guardian UK, children are being deprived of the joys of reading a physical book. The study determined that when children used e-books, it “prompted more non-content related actions (eg behaviour or device-focused talk, pushing hands away)… Children reading enhanced e-books also recalled significantly fewer narrative details than children who read the print version of the same story.”

Even though the campaign to get kids to read is nothing new, new attention is being drawn to the subject due to the many lifelong dangers presented by e-books for both children and parents. “Some of the extra features of enhanced ebooks may distract adults and children alike from the story, affecting the nature of conversation and the amount of detail children recall.” In the article, researchers say that the priority of “literacy-building experiences over ones intended ‘just for fun’” will give children a better foundation.

The study in question looked at so-called enhanced e-books, which offer bells and whistles not found in physical books, which frequently distract from the reading experience. The thing I found most interesting from the study was the report on non-content-related actions. “The enhanced ebook was less effective than the print and basic ebook in supporting the benefits of co-reading because it prompted more non-content related interactions. When adults prompt children with questions pertaining to the text, label objects, and encourage them to discuss the book contents in terms of their own experiences and curiosities, this elicits increased verbalisation by the child and can lead to improved vocabulary and overall language development.” I think this is really the most important aspect of the study because it gets to the heart of this discussion as it highlights the parental behavior. Are you teaching your child to use an e-reader or tablet or are you sharing a story? There have been studies in the past that reveal the same sort of behavior-correcting actions with physical booksharing. We know, in child development, that the best booksharing with young children allows for them to skip pages, to “read” back-to-front, to stop “reading” the story altogether to talk about the picture of the dog or to ask questions like, “What do you think is going to happen next?” When we bookshare, we don’t just open to the first page and read each word on each page from front to back until The End. It’s a shared experience, a conversation, a dance. When parental corrections intrude on the experience, they intrude on literacy and relationships with books.

When we read with babies, they learn how to turn pages (fine motor!), to track with their eyes, to make meaning of symbols, to understand conversation. They also hear our hearts beating, feel our arms around them, feel the rhythm of the language from our throats and chests, hear emotion, and — often, I hope — taste, smell, and feel the book itself as a physical object. Many of these aspects of booksharing can be effectively created with “basic e-books,” that present the words and pictures without the bells and whistles. A large portion of the sensory experience, in terms of holding a physical book, will be lost, but will a child miss them? A child will choose the sensory experience of a parent’s arms over the sensory experience of a book just about any day.

The question becomes: Do we want our children to live in a world without physical books? Will this happen? It could, but I think it will be a long time coming, due to our own nostalgia. Parents who were raised on physical books can’t resist passing that tradition down to their children. Last night, my husband leafed through one of his childhood books before bed, having unearthed it from a closet in his parents’ house while they packed to move. He was transfixed, a wistful smile on his face. Books, like so many sensory experiences, can be portals to another time. We live in a nostalgic society. For example, Polaroid cameras are very in (again). I have a weakness for old typewriters. My generation obsessed over 60s and 70s fashion and now I see young kids in 80s-style clothing. In this kind of world, books will never fade away.


So what are parents to do? READ WITH YOUR CHILDREN. Read books, real books! Go to libraries. Read e-books. Explore enhanced e-books and resist the urge to correct what your child may be doing “wrong” in the process. Listen to audio books. Read store and street signs, magazines, newspapers, online articles, letters, junk mail, cereal boxes. Read, read, read. Model reading: read cookbooks, read warning labels, read driving directions, read books and read e-books. Write, and model writing. Make lists, leave notes, draw maps, send letters, and write down stories. Type. Let your children type. Most surveys seem to indicate that in the era of e-books, people are reading more. Let’s go for it, full-force. Don’t let the bells and whistles of brain-draining technology distract you. Your child’s brain will develop at a rapid pace, so make sure that yours continues to work at it as well.

Literacy and a love of learning don’t develop in a bubble, with an iPad. They’re developed through curiosity and enthusiasm and relationships. Follow your child’s passions and consciously bring books and reading into the equation. That’s your job, in fostering a future reader. And if you’re really dedicated to the task, demonstrate how books — physical books — can be used for research purposes, not just Google. But that’s another post for another day. Stay tuned!

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