One evening, as I was tucking my daughter into bed, she said, “When I grow up and you grow down . . . .” Then she went on to chat about what fun we would have if she were my mother and I were her child.
My daughter’s words flew like a spark to my imagination and eventually became Mama’s Day with Little Gray. Little Gray, too, dreams about switching roles with his mama. He would fetch her tasty leaves, shade her from the sun—even roll in the mud with her.
I wanted this story to celebrate the joy found in the ordinary. Rolling in the mud would be unusual for us, but it’s just what elephants do. What makes their activities special is that Little Gray and Mama share them. They are together.
I love this image of Mama and Little Gray sitting side by side at the close of the day. Our culture seems to pride itself on doing more and trying harder. But it doesn’t need to be difficult to simply be together. And if we pay attention, we can see the beauty of right now. Of how our child’s eyes crinkle when she laughs. Of hanging around in our pyjamas at the Saturday morning breakfast table. Of one more story. Of watching the clouds roll by.
Let’s appreciate the good times we already enjoy.
In celebration of everyday beauty, l’ll be giving away some gifts that I hope will enliven your time with loved ones.*
You can enter in one of three ways:
1. Post a comment below about one way you have enjoyed spending time with a child.
2. Subscribe to my blog, Good Books to Share. You’ll read stories of how children’s books have enriched people’s lives.
3. Subscribe to my newsletter. It features behind-the-scenes stories of the creation of children’s books and includes tips straight from their authors and illustrators on how to make story time fun and memorable.
Let’s cherish the many ordinary, awe-filled moments we share.
Enjoy your time together!
*Contest details: Entries must be received by May 11th (midnight, EST). Prizes will be drawn at random on May 12th. Winners will be contacted by email. One entry per email address.
I’m especially pleased to have Jen Arena, editor of my book Mama’s Day with Little Gray, as our guest for today.
Jen Arena is lucky to have been surrounded by great children’s books her whole life. As a teenager, she worked at a children’s-only independent bookstore in Pennsylvania, and after graduating from college, she made her way to New York City, where she found a job as a children’s book editor. Since then, she’s written many books for kids. Her latest is 100 Snowmen, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin. You can find out more at jenarenabooks.com.
When Aimee invited me to write this blog post, she mentioned she was looking for authors to share how children’s books had touched their lives. The idea of children’s books “touching” my life kind of made me laugh. When I look back, it’s more like children’s books grabbed me as a kid and never let go—first I was a reader of kids’ books, then a bookseller, then an editor and a writer. Instead of little inky fingerprints, children’s books have left bright red, blue, and yellow tempera paint handprints throughout my life.
Please share about your experience of connecting with books as a child. What positive memories do you have?
When I was little, my mom told me I was born on a Thursday, and my older sister never failed to remind me that, while “Monday’s child is loving and giving,” “Thursday’s child has far to go.”* Looking back, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but as a kid, I felt like I was light years behind everyone else. Since my sister was four years older, no matter what I did, I could never catch up to her, could never do what she did easily.
It’s no surprise then, that my favorite picture book was Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus and Jose Aruego. Leo’s friends can all speak and read and write. They braid flowers and make awesome snow animals, but Leo can’t do any of those things. His parents are worried about him, and watch and watch until one day Leo blooms in a big and beautiful way. Part of what I loved then (and still love today) about the book is how Leo’s blooming centers on creativity—reading, drawing, and writing. Of course he also learns to eat neatly, one of those perfect little details that turns a good book into a great one.
* Funny story—when I was in my thirties after years of thinking I had “far to go,” I found one of those websites that checks the day you were born. Turns out I was actually born on a Friday. My mom, notorious for her bad memory, had gotten it wrong. MOM! My five-year-old self would have been thrilled to be a “loving and giving” Friday’s child, but by now I’m kind of attached to having “far to go.”
Please share about your experiences of being an adult and reading to a child or children. What are your favorite aspects of sharing good books with kids?
Unlike many grown-ups, kids are completely unselfconscious about the books they like. At one point, my four-year-old nephew simultaneously loved Lucy Cousins’ Noah’s Ark and a dinosaur encyclopedia. What do the two things have in common? Animals, I guess. But in art style, text, theme, genre, everything else, they couldn’t be more different. I once found out my niece’s favorite book by asking her the name of one of her stuffed animals. “Chinchilla,” she lisped. How does a three-year-old learn the word Chinchilla? From a book, of course. I read that book to her many times. And you know what? She was right—it was fascinating.
Please share your thoughts and tips on reading to kids.
One of the best parts of reading to kids is when you let them choose the books themselves. I’ve been introduced to books that I would have never picked up myself, and learned something from every one of them. As a writer, you get to see what attracts kids to a book—the cover, the title, the topic—and what they react to in the story. But I do have one very important piece of advice, learned from experience—AVOID DINOSAUR BOOKS! Sure, they’re informative, and you’ll learn a lot, but every other word is a ridiculously long, multisyllabic scientific dinosaur name. And if you think the four-year-old you’re reading to won’t know that you’ve just mispronounced Coelophysis, you’re WRONG. They always know.
How about you? How have children’s books influenced your life? Let us know in the comments section below.
If you’re in the market for a fun and educational read, check out Jen’s picture book 100 Snowmen. It’s a perfect choice to celebrate the 100th day of school!
Connect with Jen:
Website: jenarenabooks.com Twitter: @hallojen
Don’t miss out! If you’d like to be eligible for giveaways, hear the inside scoop on how authors’ books came to be published, and gain tips for sharing good books with children, sign up for Aimee’s newsletter below.
Lisa Dalrymple has lived with chickens in South Korea, cats in Scotland, lizards in Thailand and her two sisters in England. She has never EVER lived with a Polar Bear. Lisa wrote her first mystery adventure book for kids when she was 10 years old. She sent it to Grolier—the encyclopaedia company—to see if the editors wanted to publish it. (They didn’t.)
Since then, though, Lisa has published three books. Two of them are about polar bears, and one is about a skink! Lisa lives with her husband and three children in Fergus, Ontario.
Welcome, Lisa. Please share about your experience of being read to as a child. What positive memories do you have?
I know I was read to often as a child. I’m certain because books were always a part of our lives, because the stories we shared are still on my parents’ shelves and because my parents now share these same books with my own kids whenever we take them for a visit. Yet I don’t have any one particular memory of these interactions. Reading together was just something that occurred daily and so became a part of my childhood and who I am.
I do remember the thrill of visiting my own Nana & Grandpop, of finding the books they had saved that were my Dad’s when he was little, and of cuddling up in their front ‘box room’ (as we called it in England) to enjoy their copies of the Enid Blyton books we didn’t have at home.
What are your favorite aspects of sharing good books with kids?
I love sharing stories, particularly my own stories, with a group. There is no greater delight than seeing the looks on kids’ faces as they’re pulled into one of my books and that moment in time when we’re all connected through written words and spoken language.
I love how a story itself comes with no restrictions about who can experience it, that there needs to be no concept of difference or sameness, of gender or age between listeners. Recently, I was asked to present to a group of adult writers at the WordSpring festival of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick. The weekend started off with an evening in the very well-appointed salon of the Shadow Lawn Inn. Many talented authors shared their newest creations of historical fiction, literary fiction, and some very (ahem) grown-up poetry. I was the last reader of the evening, and I was feeling completely out of place with my brightly-illustrated picture book, nervous that the members of the audience would wonder why I was reading to them.
I began to present in the same manner that I read to every audience, regardless of age. I held up the full-size artwork so that everybody could see it, and I “performed” the story as I always do (just not very often in high heels). It was truly amazing to see the transformation in front of me. I wonder when was the last time many of the audience members had experienced a picture book being read out loud. As I looked into the faces of each of the listening adults, I saw in their eyes the same delight that comes to children engaged in story-time. It was a magical experience that illustrated for me just how much stories—and the remembrance of growing up sharing children’s books—can have an impact on all of us.
Please share your thoughts and tips for sharing good books with children.
When people ask me the age range for my books, I tend to say something along the lines of: children up to about 8 will especially enjoy them. No child is too young to share a good book. Even if a child can’t yet comprehend the entire context of a story, or if an infant doesn’t understand all the words, there is a special connection in sharing that snuggle time and of interacting with the images on the page and the cadence of the text.
I’m a particular sucker for good picture books with meter or rhyme. Often these books read like a song (or a nursery rhyme) and I think the youngest audiences sometimes enjoy these stories all the more. Because they can be easier to remember, the words often root themselves in young children’s minds, assisting them in making that connection between the letters they have seen repeatedly on the page and the words they hear spoken every night. These early books can help to create that magical space where a child doesn’t necessarily learn how to read but rather absorbs that knowledge through a kind of osmosis.
Thank you, Lisa!
What about you? What memories do you have of books that generations of people have enjoyed? Please let us know below.
Lisa’s book Skink on the Brink was a Canadian Toy Testing Council Recommended Read for 2014 and recognized as one of the Best Books for Kids and Teens in Fall 2013 by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. It also won the Writers’ Union of Canada’s Writing for Children award in 2011.