06 December 2017

How We Read My Son's Favorite Children's Books

First and foremost, let's just get this out of the way. What I am sharing is what works for my son. There is no magical solution for every child, and it takes time to figure it out. Sometimes it takes longer than other kids, and THAT'S OKAY. No child is perfect. What worked for your parents or another parent and their kid, may not work for you. And again, THAT'S OKAY.

Every child is uniquely different and does and likes things a certain way. It's our challenge in life to figure out our kids and by the time we do, time has gone by so fast, anyway. Don't judge yourself as less than another mom or dad because their kid does something different than your kid, or their kid is doing something you wish yours would do. Stop self-shaming. Stop allowing other parents to shame you. And ask yourself this question, "have you judged others and maybe made them feel less than you because you feel your parenting skills are better?" It happens. I've done it. I've sat there and judged others for small things. It's a slippery slope, but I have to pull myself away from the toxicity and remind myself that just as our kids aren't going to be perfect, neither are we. We all make mistakes, we all choose different things to teach our children. Sometimes that means a doughnut and not a carrot. It happens. I guess the only real "rule," if there is one, is that when you notice yourself judging others, apologize. When you notice others judging you, walk away, remove the toxicity, pray for them, whatever works for you. I want my teeny, tiny little corner of the internet to be a judgement-free zone.

Phew. Done with that part. On to the books!

When my four-year-old son likes a book, he doesn't just like it, he LOVES it. To the point where we read it for nap time, bedtime and any other random time in-between for about two weeks. We exhaust it to the point of no return. If he likes it and I don't, oh boy. There be a struggle, insurmountable beyond an average stressful day, right? But if we both like it, an adventure we shall have!

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is one such book that will always make our all-time favorites list. I absolutely choked up on the final pages, and my son still brings this book up when certain moments in our day remind him of the story. The fifteen-minute short-film on YouTube is beyond amazing. You can find my review with all the links by clicking here.

Our current favorites, in no particular order, are the ones pictured above and listed below. He loves them all, but right now, he really leans towards Nightsong, by Ari Berk and Loren Long. And I can't blame him, it is quite a sweet tale.
  • Little Cub, by Olivier Dunrea - a little bear cub in the woods with no one to care for him meets an Old Bear who has no one to care for either.
  • Boy + Bot, by Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino - A boy meets a robot and they become instant friends.
  • Gracie, the Lighthouse Cat, by Ruth Brown - Based on events in the late 1800s of a daughter and her family's lighthouse when she helped save a shipwrecked boat, this story is based on a cat named Gracie who saves her kitten from the storm as well.
  • Angry Dragon, by Thierry Robberecht and Philippe Goosens- A boy with big emotions and how to process anger or disappointment.
  • Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak - the classic tale of the adventure of a little boy meeting the wild things.
  • Nightsong, by Ari Berk and Loren Long - a baby bat learns how to use his voice to "see" in the night and grow braver in his flight.

But how does any book become our favorite?

My son's default answer is usually "no" to everything new at first, so getting him to try a new book can be a struggle. When he does agree to it (normally because I start reading it out loud for myself), then he begins to listen and absorb.

It becomes "our favorite" with these three things:
  • Beautiful illustration
  • Meaningful story
  • Presentation, presentation, presentation
The last one is the key, at least for me and my son. If I really like a story's message, or appreciate the artwork and want my son to experience it also, I have to get my game on. I have to be ready to act out the story as much as I can. I've sometimes even gotten up and acted out a page. But it's usually in my voice only and how I deliver the words that matters to him. I'll sometimes change words or sentence structure, adapting it to the way I know the message will become clear for him on the first few times reading it. There's no rule that says you have to read each word exactly as it's written on the page, right? After all, when you read a book and there's a complicated scene or sentence, doesn't your mind try to translate it to something you're more familiar with? Why not use that same tactic when reading to your children? I know how my son looks at things and what words he likes to hear, so I'll add them in where I can to help the story move for him and he can better understand it. I don't change it drastically, of course, or permanently; I simply insert extra words he knows into the sentence, or I replace one word with another.

There have been books I read alone at first. I want to see what is important to the story, or what pages might be more meaningful for my son, so I'll focus on those pages by really voicing those sections and pointing out hidden pieces of the artwork. Just reading it flatly, with only slight variations in my tone, makes the story less interesting for both of us. I am as invested in what my son reads, and I want to spend those precious few moments with him in a substantial way. I work full-time and my husband is gone Monday through Friday for the next few months training for a new job, so everything becomes harder and significantly more important for each minute with my toddler.

This is what works for me, but it is different for every child. Don't get caught up in what the "perfect" moms and dads are doing. Don't let the judgments of others make you feel less than anything. You are YOU. You are just as important and only YOU know your child better than anyone else. I believe it's true that evaluating yourself to see what you can improve is important, but what I have to remind myself of is that this should make you feel good, cleansed even. Because while change is always hard, if the process results in something good for you and your family, then it is absolutely healthy.

I recently had to go through this self-evaluation and assessment of what my family needs and I'm not going to lie, it was emotionally SO hard. But, it made such a positive change for my entire family. And while I can't be the full-time stay-at-home mother right now, I have to try what I can, but definitely throw that awful mom guilt right out the door.

At the end of the day, what matters is that you:
  • "Show up" as much as you can for when your child needs you. Just show up. I don't mean for just special school performances, but showing up and being there for them when you think a change needs to happen for their benefit. And be ALL IN when you do show up.
  • Try something different.
  • Do what you can, but be realistic and don't be afraid of your limitations.
  • Always, always keep your school looped in to expand your network. They understand. They get it. They understand a lot better than us first-time moms do sometimes, you know?
Love is supposed to be pure and good and you know in your gut what is right. I strongly believe this extends into everything in your life. Choose what you know is the right thing to do for both yourself and your child.

Sooo... this became less of a post on favorite books and how I read books to my son, and more about being a first-time mother and not letting others self-shame... :) Oopsie!


  1. I actually miss those days of the kids snuggling while we read together. The kids had their favorites and we had ours. What makes me happiest though was when it came time to put away their baby/toddler/early childhood toys and things, they each kept one book that meant the most to them. Even now, my youngest (at 13) is finding it difficult to part with books we kept from when we would read together. If you can get your child to that state later, I think whatever you did worked!

  2. Lovely post. Like Michelle, those years when my daughters snuggled against me while I read to them are some of the most precious. Excellent choice of books - especially the Ruth Brown. Hope you enjoy some more reading time with your son over the weekend, Merry Christmas!