In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Dear Aunt Debbie,

Suddenly, Isabel can read.

Of course, it isn't sudden at all: we've been reading together for more than five years, pretty much since the day she was born. She's been "reading" on her own for quite some time as well, poring over picture books and graphic novels, staying up on weekend nights with her own reading light and our copy of Smile or one of the Olympians books while Eleanor whizzes through another chapter book in the bunk above and Will sings to his stuffed animals.

But, like Eleanor when she was first learning to read, Isabel has been resistant to reading out loud at home. Her fabulous kindergarten teacher sends her home every night with a book baggie containing a small pile of early readers. As part of her homework, she's supposed to read these books aloud to an adult, and practice the sight words taped to the baggie.

Cue the misery: resistance to reading aloud, complete resistance to trying to sound out any word she didn't know (or hadn't memorized). Book baggie evenings often culminated in hysterical wild guesses and dissolving onto the living room floor in boneless refusal. Needless to say, we weren't doing this every night. The level of the readers Isabel was bringing home (first A and B, then C and D) was rising based on what her teacher saw at school, but we weren't seeing any difference in her reading at home.

A few weeks ago, I went in to meet with Isabel's teacher to talk about her reading. Ms. Mazor took me through Isabel's school work, showing me how Isabel has been telling stories: first in pictures, then through accompanying words, and in her latest story, writing the words first so that she could get them down, leaving space for the pictures to come later. The writing she showed me was dramatic and vivid, and her message was clear: silly mama, you have nothing to worry about here.

Here is Isabel's story of her own birth:

For Isabel, clearly, writing and reading are happening hand in hand. The comprehension is there, and the mechanics are catching up.

The week after this meeting, Isabel picked up a note I was sending in to her teacher and read it aloud. Then it was a couple of pages of P.D. Eastman's Go, Dog. Go! Then every other page of The Cat in the Hat.

On Sunday, we sat down with The Cat in the Hat and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and Isabel read 100 pages of Dr. Seuss in one sitting. (As our guest blogger/kindergarten teacher Clara noted when Eleanor was learning to read, some of those early readers are weirdly long.)

Her mom and her dad and her sister are so delighted.

Love, Annie

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Guest blogger: Brooklyn baby books

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Despite your protestations, your Newbery picks this time around did very well! Brown Girl Dreaming didn't take the top prize, but it was named a Newbery Honor Book, along with the marvelous El Deafo. You've got skills!

Our house has been a whirlwind of birthday celebrations and fevers for the last couple of weeks, and I've been feeling a little overwhelmed. Happily, our regular guest blogger and new mom Emily has some thoughts about several Brooklyn-themed baby books that have entered her life since the arrival of her daughter Alice. Here she is:

A realtor gave us a copy of Brooklyn Baby, by Lisa McKeon, which has quickly become one of my eight month old daughter Alice’s favorite board books. Both of us love illustrator Violet Lemay’s busy, happy streetscapes featuring familiar food carts and subway signs. I also love the silly local touches. “Brooklyn baby, now it’s time to go to sleep,” instructs the last page. High up in an apartment window, a little Brooklyn baby responds with a big “Fuhgeddaboudit!!” 

Alice is still too young for books she can’t eat, but when she can handle paper pages she has a lot of local options ahead of her. In Homer the Little Stray Cat by Pam Laskin, a scruffy street cat finds a home in the arms of a Brooklyn boy named Adam. Reluctant about having such a yowly new addition, Adam’s parents are won over by the ways Homer draws their shy son out. One of the more endearing aspects of this story is that Kirsi Tuomenan Hill’s illustrations present Adam’s interracial family without making them the center of the story. 

We discovered Mermaids on Parade at a public library sing-a-long when the author Melanie Hope Greenberg stopped in [Note: Mermaids is also a huge hit at our house, introduced to us by our guest blogger Denise. With bright, pastel illustrations featuring all sorts of costumed characters, Greenberg tells the story of a young girl’s trip to the Mermaid parade amid lavish descriptions of Coney Island’s steamy summer electricity. 

It almost goes without saying that Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, by the inimitable Mo Willems, is a total gem. Against photographed backdrops of brownstone stoops, a bespectacled cartoon dad makes an alarming discovery during a trip to the laundromat with his daughter. This one is wonderful to read out loud, filled as it is with onomatopoeic kid language – “’Aggle flaggle klabble!’ said Trixie again” – and the flustered, outer-borough dad is completely recognizable. 

I suspect it will be fun for Alice to see her world of brownstone stoops and corner laundromats - a world that would have been unrecognizable to me as a suburban kid - reflected in the books she reads as she grows up.


I'm sure it will. More from our crazy house soon.

Love, Annie