How to take a road trip

arewethereyetiWe have just returned from our second road trip of the summer, and I offer you these bits of experience for any future car travel you might undertake, especially with a child.

  • The right music is key to a good road trip.  You want crowd pleasers and sing alongs for the ultimate road trip soundtrack.  The day we left happened to be a beautiful, sunny day.  Naturally, we listened to The Cure and Depeche Mode for the sing-along portion of the trip.  Later we threw in some Schoolhouse Rock for our daughter–well, maybe for us too. ;)
  • Don’t miss an opportunity to include an educational activity.  This is pretty much my motto in life for both myself and my daughter, and in this case I made a Road Trip Scavenger hunt that my daughter mostly just doodled all over.  Hey, I tried.
  • Stop to appreciate your current location when you can.  We were in a bit of a time crunch on this trip, so there were minimal stops.  We did, however, have lunch in Champaign-Urbana on our way home, which was really cool.  I hadn’t been back to my alma mater in years, and it was a neat, nostalgic side adventure.
  • If anyone in your party is prone to car sickness, stick with audio books.  On this trip, we listened to the first Harry Potter book.  My husband and daughter hadn’t read it yet or seen the movie, and it was fun to see them experience the beginning of the story for the first time.
  • For those little travelers who can read in the car, share Are We There, Yeti? by Ashlyn Anstee for a comical school bus trip that will charm readers and maybe make them forget they are stuck in a car for hours at a time.  It publishes later this month, but here is a preview:


Thursday 3: Dads in Picture Books

“Dads are so in,” Elissa Cedarleaf Dahl said in the latest episode of Pratfalls of Parenting.  I laughed when I heard that, but I think it’s true.  At least when it comes to picture books. Prove it, you say?  Here are a few new picture books that come to mind:



Dad’s First Day by Mike Wohnoutka is about a little boy’s first day of school.  The little boy is completely ready for school, but the dad isn’t quite there yet.  This is exactly how I felt when my daughter started preschool.  Very cute story for parents, especially dads.

Ask Me by Bernard Waber follows a father and daughter as they walk and talk on a fall day.  The little girl’s loquacious inquisitiveness will be familiar to many parents, and the lovely art by one of my favorite illustrators adds to the sweet father-daughter story.

Tad and Dad by David Ezra Stein is a bedtime book about a little tadpole and his very patient dad who just wants to sleep.  We’ve all been there, right?

Want more? Try these links:


An unexpected gratitude

I meant to post something about gratitude during the week of Thanksgiving, but the days were full of holiday preparations to the point that I had no time to spare on putting such words together. Now that I have a moment, let me express a surprising bit of gratitude: I am thankful for my mornings.

No one in my family is a morning person, least of all me, so any positive feeling at that time of day is outside of my usual. But things have shifted with the beginning of this school year. After years of getting up super early to take the bus to work well before my daughter woke for school, I have traded in my bus pass for a set of car keys.

My mornings are no longer a frenzied rush to make my bus. They are comparatively slower and much happier.  They have become my most treasured moments with my daughter. We talk about our dreams and plans over breakfast, and sometimes we even have time to share a story or two.  By the time I send her off to school and leave for work, I am smiling.  I can’t help it.

Best Time of Day by Eileen SpinelliOne of my favorite morning moments was from a story we read one day before school. The book was The Best Time of Day by Eileen Spinelli, and my daughter shared her own best, which was not far off from my own. She had a dreamy/happy voice when she said how much she loved mornings–at school. Her favorite time of day is that moment when she first gets to school. “There are kids and teachers talking and laughing. The piano is playing, and everyone is saying hi to each other and rushing around. I just love it so much.”

These are the moments I don’t want to miss.  It’s the stuff of happiness, right?  Watching this little girl experience the world as her own individual while sharing so much of who she is with her father and me makes me happy.   I’m grateful for moments like this.

alljoyHappiness is complicated though, especially when it comes to our kids.  Parenting is not all sunshine and lollipops.  You don’t need me to tell you that, I’m sure.  I probably didn’t need a whole book telling me that over and over in different ways, but I still read All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior.  And somehow, I even loved it.  For all the bleak stories and statistics in the book that threatened to be pretty depressing, it was all so fascinating.  She chronicles how the word “parent” turned into a verb, how kids went from being “economically worthless to emotionally priceless,” and how happiness plays a role in all of this stuff in a shifting world where there is no script for any of us.

In the absence of a script, it’s just love.  It’s just little moments where we read stories and talk about our favorite things.  It’s the days when we can’t help but smile.


Read or watch more:

The words you’re not supposed to say

Most of us learn from a pretty young age that there are good words and bad words.  The “bad words” might be hidden from us at first, but eventually someone slips.  Probably while driving.  Or maybe a big kid shares them at school.  Eventually they come out from the shadows, and parents freak out.  Or at least, it seems like most parents do.  I don’t.

Frankly, I don’t swear very much myself.  But I know that other people do, and I don’t expect that I can keep such words hidden from my daughter for long.  Well, in all honesty, I haven’t even tried to keep them from her.  I shrug when my child-free friends apologize for dropping a “bad word” in front of my six-year-old.  Sometimes I’ll even say I’m less concerned about those words than I am the words that hurt people’s feelings.  If any words are bad, it’s the hurtful ones.

Maybe that sounds like some kind of hippie-tastic idealism, but this article echoes my opinion on it pretty well, and I have no doubt that my daughter, a word lover from a very young age, will continue to expand her vocabulary to include all sorts of words, inappropriate and otherwise.  From the article:

“Obviously, Shawn and I don’t want Gracie to walk up to her kindergarten teacher and ask where the bleep she can put her bleeping backpack. But we’re unconvinced that, say, when she gets to high school, she should get grounded for describing a bad day to us with words that help her to express herself.

Hopefully, Shawn and I will instill an expansive vocabulary and love of words in our daughter so that she won’t often need to resort to swearing.”

Turns out, there’s a picture book for this very situation (Isn’t there always?): The Very Inappropriate Word by Jim Tobin.   When Michael learns a new word on the school bus–never used in the book–he loves using it.  He loves words in general, and this one seems especially good.  How does his teacher handle the situation when the word gets around the classroom?  Some kind of punishment?  Washing his mouth out with soap?  Nope.  She send him to the library to find more words.

In the end, it was just one word among many.  That’s all.  No one was hurt in the speaking of the word.


There’s a more detailed write up about the book at Kirkus, and there’s a book trailer here. No matter how you decide to approach curse words in your family, give this book a chance.  It’s an opportunity to explore why words have the power they do in a way that doesn’t talk down to kids.  And that’s important no matter what words you’ve decided to use or not use.

The Freezepocalypse in picture books

I’m typing next to an open window, and there has been a steady stream of pedestrian traffic outside.  It’s up to 28 degrees today, and it’s a comparative heat wave.  Last weekend, we were preparing for a Freezepocalypse of ridiculously low temperatures (even for Minnesota), and my family spend two and a half days stuck inside our small apartment.  Here are three picture books that, together, represent our Freezepocalypse:

imbored2  babypenguinsev soupday


I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black is for my six-year-old, for obvious reasons.  I felt more like the mama penguin who needed a little time to herself in Baby Penguins Everywhere by Melissa Guion.  Side note to parents: Do you need a time out yourself? Read your kids this book to introduce the idea.  You’re welcome.

Fortunately, my wonderful partner decided it was a Soup Day as in Soup Day by Melissa Iwai, so we were well fed.  Soup makes everything better.

Books and soup.  That’s how we got through our Freezepocalypse.   How about you?

Keeping Christmas Simple

We’ve taken a step toward a more traditional holiday this year. Our DIY Christmas tree has taken several different forms over the last few years–some of which barely resembled a tree at all–but the same idea was behind them all.  We wanted to use what we had to celebrate.  We wanted a holiday that focused on creative reuse rather than consumerism.  This year we were given a hand-me-down artificial tree, and we have a small collection of ornaments that have been gifted to us, so our tree is pretty traditional.

In keeping with the DIY spirit of our holiday, we made a few ornaments out of wrapping paper glued to cardboard.  A pre-publication copy (F&G) of Holly Hobbie’s new version of The Night Before Christmas made for a few cute ornaments in the same way.  They were simple enough for our almost six-year-old to do with minimal frustration, and I think they look charming too.



In all honesty, my favorite traditions are the ones that are different every year.  They are familiar without being tired.  They grow with us, but keep us grounded to our values.  That’s all I really want in a holiday.  More than elaborate decor or expensive presents, I want to spend time with the people I love, share what I have, and think about what we value.

May your holidays be full of love, hope, and happiness. :)

This blog will probably be fairly quiet this month, but you may check out previous years’ posts for more holiday related content:

From Kissing to. . .

Through the luck of the library hold list draw I went from reading an ARC of Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan to a library copy of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  I think I had tears in my eyes the entire time I read these books back to back.

twoboysTwo Boys Kissing a a teen novel about a couple of gay teens trying to win the world record for the longest kiss.  In the hands of David Levithan, one of my personal favorite YA writers, the story becomes about more than winning a record or about making a statement about gay rights.  He uses an unusual narrator to tell a larger story.  Our storyteller is an omniscient view from the collective voice of gay men who have passed.  They watch the characters being so open with their sexuality and speak of their experiences before being out was okay, before AIDS was a thing.  It was very powerful, and it is easily one of my favorite books of the year.

tellthewolvesimhomeThen I picked up Tell the Wolves I’m Home from the library.  I’d been waiting for the book for months, and it seemed serendipitous that it arrived in my hands when it did.  This book is set in the 1980’s, when AIDS was just beginning to be a thing.  June’s uncle whose relationship to the family is strained because he was gay has just died, and June is devastated.  She tries to understand the choices her family made.  But it’s hard to make sense of why we choose to cut off the ones we love the most when they make choices we don’t understand.

I was reminded of these words from the collective narrator of Two Boys Kissing (quoted from ARC):

“So many of us had to make our own families. So many of us had to pretend when we were home.  So many of us had to leave.  But every single one of us wishes we hadn’t had to.  Every single one of us wishes our family had acted like our family, that even when we found a new family, we hadn’t had to leave the other one behind.  Every single one of us would have loved to have been loved unconditionally by our parents.”

It’s gotten better for LGBT kids, I think.  I hope.  But I know that there are still some who have to deal with families who want nothing to do with them.  It breaks my heart to think about the people I know personally who are separated from their families for reasons like this.

Stories like these make me hug my daughter tightly and promise to love her no matter what.  I hope she knows that she can make different choices than the ones I made without fear of losing us.  We will always act like her family.

Find Two Boys Kissing at your library or buy it from an indie bookstore.  Then you’ll probably want to do the same for Tell the Wolves I’m Homelibrary or indie bookstore.

Wedding Stories


“I didn’t want a big wedding myself, but I love when other people do,” I said to a friend this past weekend while people bustled all around setting up, taking photos, and practicing their roles in the day’s event.

I was very early for the festivities since my partner was playing a role in the wedding, and my role was mainly staying out of the way while trying to explain to my daughter why she wasn’t chosen as the flower girl.  If I had been thinking like a librarian I would have made sure to reread Lilly’s Big Day by Kevin Henkes or some other not-the-flower-girl picture book before we left for the out-of-town wedding weekend.  But I wasn’t thinking like a librarian.  I was thinking like a romantic.

At this wedding, it seems they were thinking like storytellers.  The vows were more than promises to each other.  They were thank yous to every one of the guests for sticking with the couple through what had been some ups and downs in their history.  The bride told her story of how they met and courted, and the groom his.  Then they promised to use their strengths to take their story into the future.

The best thing about stories is that they are contagious.

On the way home from Duluth, my daughter asked for our story.  “How did you and Papa meet?”  I smiled as I thought about how far our story stretches back now.  It’s hard to believe it’s been over ten years since our meet-cute moment, and it’ll soon be nine since we spoke our promises in front of a small group of our loved ones.  A lot has changed since then, and we are still speaking promises to each other.

Since we got home, my daughter has been thinking like a matchmaker.  She’s already wondering which of the couples we know will be the next to wed and who their flower girl will be.

It was, indeed, a lovely wedding.


Photo above from A Kiss for Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.  Get it from your library or an independent bookseller.  I also mentioned Lilly’s Big Day.  Check that out or buy it.

Friday Find: Pratfalls of Parenting

“We make cool stuff. We make people too. How has that affected you?  Along the way we try to stay creative types at the end of the day.” –The Pratfalls of Parenting theme song

pop-itunesI recently discovered the Pratfalls of Parenting podcast about life as a parent in the arts, and I’ve become a bit obsessed with the show.  I am far from being a working artist myself–that isn’t even on my map really–but that doesn’t matter.  The sense of camaraderie in the casual conversations between the artists in the podcast extends to the listener, and turns people whose names I see on advertisements for gallery shows or theater performances into real people whose struggles are not far off from mine.

All the interviews that I’ve listened to so far seem to circle back to the idea that you have to be you to be a good parent.  You might be able to put parts of you in the background at times, like when your kids are quite young, but you have to keep making things or whatever it is you are into.  For me that means writing and making zines.  For my husband, it means making music.  We’ve made these things priorities in our house, and it’s nice to know that there are other families out there who are making the same kinds of priorities we are.

But I don’t think you have to be some sort of artist to know the tension between keeping your pre-parent self alive and being a good parent, and I don’t think you have to be an artist to appreciate the Pratfalls of Parenting podcast.  For one thing, it’s a fascinating angle on the Twin Cities arts scene.  I’ve discovered so many artists and arts organizations in the few weeks I’ve been listening.  :)

Here are some of the highlights I’ve found so far:

  • Seniz Lennes (improvisor/actor/photographer) talks about parenting as part of her creative practice and the way that her work as an improvisor informs her parenting.  She blogs about this at Yes And Parenting.
  • Carolyn Swiszcz (painter/video maker) references children’s books as a great inspiration, and she mentions several illustrators in particular that she likes.  While I’m on the subject of books, I’ll also point out that Susannah Schouweiler mentions that having free reign of the library as a kid influenced her decision to become a writer and William Alexander (children’s book author) talks about writing, the book industry, and all sorts of other things kidlitgeeks like me love hearing about.
  • Jena Young  (comic/theater producer) brings up the topic of humor in that what is funny to kids is often not the same as what is funny to adults.  I wonder what she and host Levi Weinhagen (of all-ages theater company Comedy Suitcase) would think of my assessment of Kid Humor in picture books. ;)

I highly recommend the podcast to parents of all sorts, but especially to those who make stuff and make that a priority.

The Night Before Christmas

The blog has been unexpectedly quiet for the past week, and I apologize for that.  I had a few holiday posts planned, but I wasn’t quite able to make them happen.  Part of that is the busy-ness that is December in our family.  We hit the cascade of holidays in the middle of the month with my daughter’s birthday (I now have a 5 year-old!), and it was followed quickly by our wedding anniversary (8 years!).  Now, of course, it’s Christmas Eve.  We have full days planned today and tomorrow, but right now I’m waiting for my cookies to cool and I wanted to share one book related aspect of our holiday that I thought my readers might appreciate.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse”

I knew those opening lines to this classic poem, but I didn’t know the rest of it until last year when I found a picture book version to read with my daughter on Christmas Eve.  I wanted to do the same this year, so I went looking for another picture book only to find that there are approximately eleventy billion versions of this poem for kids.  I decided to let my kidlit-geek colors show (and bring my daughter along with me into kidlit geekiness).  We checked out as many library copies of “The Night Before Christmas” as we could get our hands on in the weeks before Christmas.  I apologize to any other Hennepin County Library users who wanted one of these books.  We didn’t mean to hog them all.  We were doing very important literary comparison. :)


Here are the results of our survey:

  • Most of the picture books we looked at took us back to the time and the place when the poem was written (late 1800’s New England), and it was interesting to have my daughter look for similarities and differences in the setting–and to talk about the ways that life was different then.  We liked Tomie De Paola’s version for its old fashioned charm.
Tomie De Paola's version

Tomie De Paola’s version

  • My daughter especially liked looking for the ways that the illustrations diverged from the text.  For example, the text refers to the mom wearing a ‘kerchief, but in some of the books she appears to be wearing a bonnet, at least that’s what it looked like to my 5 year-old.  Also, the poem has Santa filling the stockings and leaving, but a couple of the books we looked at had him also leaving presents under the tree.
  • There were also the times when the illustrations took the text more literally than expected, like in Tasha Tudor’s version in which Santa is “miniature.”  He actually looks like a little elf himself, which surprised us.

Tasha Tudor’s elfin Santa

  • I have read there was some controversy about whether a children’s book should mention Santa’s pipe or include that in the illustrations even though it is in the text of the poem, but all of the books we perused did have the pipe and the “smoke that encircled his head like a wreath” except the Christopher Wormell version.
Christopher Wormell's wood cut illustrated version

Christopher Wormell’s wood cut illustrated version

  • Not that it was a contest, but the winners from my daughter’s perspective seemed to be the books that were quite different.  Rachel Isadora’s African version generated the most discussion and kept my girl’s interest longer than the others.  Until we discovered Mary Engelbreit’s version, which is too adorable for words.  It was by far the most kid-friendly version we read, and my daughter’s preference showed.  And why not?  It has elfin fairies following Santa around as helpers, even cleaning up after his sooty footprints.
Rachel Isadora's African version

Rachel Isadora’s African version


Mary Engelbreit’s adorable fairy elves

Do you read the poem with your kids?  What is your favorite picture book version to share?

More Christmas related books are in this post, if you missed it.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  All books mentioned were library copies.