When Counting Makes you Long to ‘Hit the Road


If you’ve ever loaded up a family and taken a summer trip, you will immediately connect with Counting Our Way to Maine by Maggie Smith (1995, Orchard Books). In this concept book, Smith is able to capture the moods and nuances that accompany a summer vacation trip beautifully and nostalgically (especially as I write on a chilly March morning). You feel like part of the family, and you know just want she means as she evokes, through her illustrations, the multiple expressions of the hope that gets packed into our suitcases.

At its basic level, this is a counting book. But it’s also, wondrously, a kid-friendly memoir of a family’s trip to Maine. Not everything Smith counts on the trip is related to a good experience, yet it’s all wrapped up in one big meaningful memory-making trip. If you take such family trips, you will understand. You and your young reader can write your own counting book based on your personal trip. And if your young reader has never had a beach vacation, this book might make her ask for one. Start counting your pennies. It’ll be worth it, except maybe for those 18 mosquito bites!


Henry Found It!


What is it and who is Henry? It is a word and Henry is the main character in Henry Finds His Word by Lindsay Ward (2015, Dial Books for Young Readers). Henry is a baby who tires of hearing those around him wonder about his first word, especially when he felt he was communicating just fine. So he sets off to find it.

This book is fun, silly and charming. Parents will love it and young readers will delight in Henry’s quest for a milestone they probably don’t remember having, but of which they’ve likely been told. If a reader has a sibling Henry’s age, I can imagine the layered thinking that may occur as they wonder what their sibling thinks when trying to communicate. Or maybe your young reader will ponder if words really do look like anything. Despite its simple theme, Henry Finds His Word is sure to bring up some engaging questions.

If you plan to read this book to your child, you can start with a question of your own. When you come to the page where Henry sets off to find his work, ask, “What do you predict Henry’s first word will be?” You don’t have to of course, but predicting will add a little spice to an already fun reading session.


What a Cool Place to Be


On Earth by G. Brian Karas (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2005) is a wonderful book to show your young reader the vastness of their home, planet earth, in space. I like this book because it could be used for an introductory science lesson on seasons and movements of the earth and sun, but it also makes for a book parents can share with younger readers because of its easy to grasp illustrations and simple text. Starting with, “On earth we go for a giant ride in space, spinning like a merry-go-round,” Karas explains how the earth is tilted, why we have day and night, how the tilt causes our seasons and how months and years go by, all in kid-friendly illustrations. We are meant to pause and dwell over many of the pages in order to fully grasp the science. These pages are balanced with other pages that only need a brief pause to harness a sensory detail such as the warmth and light of the sun, but that promote a caring for this special planet that is our home, and produce a nice pace to the reading experience.

This book lends itself to rereading since the science concepts are new to young readers, and not necessarily easy to grasp quickly. The bold, yet simple illustrations will help; I love the scenes of beds or beaches taking up a quarter to a half of the globe and suspect kids will too. And as your child ponders the pages, you too should stop and share. You might catch a distant memory of your early awareness and awe of living on our special planet. I found myself reflecting on my many journeys around the sun, and hope you will too.


Dog is Back!


OK, I know, Dog didn’t go anywhere. I just found a book new to me about him. I first fell in love with Dog when I read Dog Loves to Read by Louise Yates. https://lisaconnors.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/dog-loves-read-across-america-day/

Now I’ve discovered an equally endearing read in Dog Loves Drawing (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). Your young reader will delight in Dog’s imagination as he and his friends not only take, but also create their own journey though the blank pages of an art journal. I won’t give it away; you’ll need to see for yourself – but there is a monster!

You and your young reader will delight in sharing Dog’s journey. Just make sure you’ve a new blank journal and some crayons for when you finish. There’s sure to be some wild imagination flying about.


When You Need a Little Hug



This week’s recommendation is not a Valentine’s Book, but it easily could be. Hedgehugs and the Hattiepillar by Steve Wilson and Lucy Tapper (Henry Holt and Company, 2015) gives the reader a heavy dose of cuteness and love. Hattie and Horace, two adorable hedgehogs, are best friends. One day they come across a caterpillar egg and embark on a wonder journey very similar to that which young children experience when observing the life cycle of a butterfly. However, Horace and Hattie take their wonder a step further, hoping they too can transform from a caterpillar to a butterfly – a notion that might enter into young minds too*.

I won’t steal the magic of how they try to transform for you. Obviously, hedgehogs can’t turn into butterflies. However, if you’ve ever marveled at nature – whether a grand event, a glimpse of something rare, or the daily happenings in your backyard – I dare say you may agree with me that Horace and Hattie indeed were transformed.

So for this time of year, a time when we’re often feeling a little down, I highly recommend Hudgehugs and the Hattiepillar. It will have you humming, and it just might get you excited about finding some magic of your own.


* My son loved to count the callies on my asclepias in the mornings of our Houston home. When he was three, we moved to Virginia. One day soon after arriving, he told me that he was once an egg in my belly, and then a caterpillar, but that he turned into a butterfly and flew to Virginia.


Kate Scarborough Takes Us Inside a Wasp Nest


A Wasp Builds a Nest by Kate Scarborough and Martin Camm (Firefly Books, Ltd. 2016) is a masterpiece almost amazing as a paper wasp nest itself. If you don’t know how amazing and intricate a paper wasp nest is, you need to read this book. Its pages build along with the description and illustrations of how each layer of cells is constructed, making it easy to understand what is going on inside. There are close-up illustrations of the cells and larvae, and informative text to explain what is happening.

That’s all pretty magical, but what struck me the most is the layered concept of the seasons in the description of all this nest building. I already knew that wasps build new nests every year, but I was still overcome with awe. Why? Once I saw what’s happening inside and understood the detail of the nest construction, all the work involved, and the cooperation among the wasps – with all this occurring between March or April and September – and ending in the death of the original queen, well, awestruck is the only way to describe how I felt.

This is not just a book for insect or nature lovers. It’s a book for everyone, because a daily dose of awe-inspiring nature is sure to enthuse, and hopefully motivate a reader to care for the world around him or her.


I Dissent


“She made change happen and she changed minds.” These words are in the 2016 picture book I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes her Mark by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (Simon & Schuster). I came across this book last week when I discovered that the author would soon be in town visiting a creative writing class. And Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself is speaking at Virginia Military Academy on February 1st. Yes, I’ll be there!

This book is incredibly timely to help encourage young readers in understanding that dissent in the name of progress is their right as a citizen and their duty to humanity. I know that such a book would have empowered my twelve-year-old self that wrote letters to my representatives to save the whales. I still have their response letter, naively thinking at the time that they actually wrote the reply. My much older self knows that staffers write these replies, but I also know that calls and letters work, most recently evidenced in the stopping of a new proposal that would overhaul the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The biographical information on Ruth Bader Ginsburg is engaging – from her early childhood up to and including her position as a Supreme Court Justice. It is filled with adjectives for dissent in bold print, and illustrations that help cement the messages of progress and hope in the reader’s mind. The features of big text in places and the large images work to pull the reader in, to help the reader feel what Ruth was feeling and even to imagine that we, the readers, can do this too. I Dissent is definitely worth reading over and over.

I saw so many  women, men and children marching for human rights at the Woman’s March on Washington this past Saturday. We made history. Now it’s time for us to make change happen and change minds. I Dissent can help inspire your young readers to keep up the hard work.