It delivers what it promises...

It delivers what it promises…

I love coffee table books. They’re just these huge, panoramic sources of information and, as a kid, I particularly loved them because, in addition to being beautiful, they also seemed like something that belonged to the world of parents. There’s something about a kid reading an over-sized coffee table book that just feels subversive, like the kid is somehow reaching above their station and accessing forbidden knowledge. That is one of many reasons why I found impossible to resist buying my daughter a copy of Maps by Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński, a gorgeous world atlas by Big Picture Press that’s so beautiful, you’ll want to frame every two-page spread and hang it on your wall.

I encountered Maps for the first time last week during an impromptu trip to New York City. I had some time to kill, so I found myself browsing the New York Public Library (OK, I’ll admit, I was doing a self-guided Ghostbusters walking tour) and I saw Maps in the gift shop. After two minutes of flipping through it, I was hooked and it became my daughter’s souvenir from my trip.

Maps isn’t an exhaustive world atlas. It features 52 maps – including hand-drawn maps of all seven continents and individual maps of several major countries in each. (North America, Antarctica, and Australia are easily served, while the rest of the continents only get featured selections.) While that might rankle any completists out there, I should say that Maps isn’t trying to be an exhaustive cartography resource. There are other atlases for that (or even apps). What Maps is trying to accomplish is a little more interesting and a little harder to do. It’s trying to give kids a taste of what the rest of the world is like. It’s trying, through art, to convey a sense of what these countries are all about. Which is ambitious to say the least, but I think it largely accomplishes its goals.

Click to expand this to something closer to its in-person glory...

Click to expand this to something closer to its in-person glory…

Each country gets a two-page spread and, in addition to the country’s rivers and borders, Mizielińska and Mizieliński populate each map with an exhaustive series of icons and details that call out some of the distinguishing features of the country in question. The marginal illustrations show you what the people look like, they recount the country’s history, they show you the food, the flora, the fauna – each map really does try to show young readers how each country FEELS, which is a lot more impressive to me than any topography or latitude-and-longitude map. [read the rest of the post…]

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I’ve told this story before, but, when my wife told me that we were going to have our first child, the following day, I drove to the bookstore and I bought my yet-to-be-born daughter a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer.

It was the very first thing I ever bought her. We hadn’t bought any clothes or toys or diapers yet. We hadn’t even gone to the doctor’s to confirm that the pregnancy test was right. But the moment that I found out that I was going to be a father, that I was going to be responsible for bringing a child into the world, an impulse in my brain clambered above the fog created by all of my worries, fears and anxieties, waved its arms and proudly announced, “HEY, the kid needs a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth!”Tom_Burns_RR_Pic

And I listened. The best part was I already owned a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth, but I wanted her to have her own copy. It felt important to me and, to be honest, it still does.

From that first moment, I KNEW, I knew in my bones, that reading was going to be an absolutely essential part of being a father and I wasn’t wrong. During my wife’s pregnancy, as I sat there thinking about what could I EVER impart to a young child that would ever be worth a damn, my mind kept coming back to the same answer – BOOKS. I could give her books.

That didn’t mean I had to BUY her a lot of books (even though I did). It just meant I had to introduce her to books. I had to lead her to books. And that responsibility unlocked something primal in my brain that I didn’t know was there before. For the first time in a long while, I was driven. I had purpose. I was a DAD and I had a job to do.

Other dads might hunt or fish or work at a bank for their families, but me? I knew what I had to do. I had to make sure that my kid knew that, yes, there IS a monster at the end of this book, but, you know what? It’s not what you think. (It’s better.) [read the rest of the post…]

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So… it’s been awhile, eh?

Yeah, so, apparently, I am a bad, bad blogger. I know it’s been ages since I’ve updated Building a Library and that sad fact has bugged me every single day since my last post.IMG_1810

I could make excuses about life getting in the way and so on and so forth, but the real reasons are almost as mundane as that cliché.

First, I needed a break. I was burned out. So I took a break. Then I got writer’s block. And, for the life of me, I couldn’t find two words to say about the David Wiesner book, even though I’ve written THOUSANDS of words on David Wiesner in the past.

Then I started writing a novel. It’s a YA novel something I’ve been dreaming about FOREVER and I got really excited about finally finishing the damn thing. Don’t believe me? Here’s my first crappy paragraph, which, according to a famous Hemingway quote, is probably crap (I’m cleaning his words up a bit):

It started the same way it always did – something horrible happened to the children.

Not “chilling” horrible or anything overtly graphic, thought Stacey as she doodled absent-mindedly on the legal pad next to the cash register. She never imagined the kids being physically harmed or beaten or anything. But, every time the daydream came, if she was being honest with herself, something unspoken, something whispered and alluded to, always did come for the children first.

It was just part of the story.

So… yeah, needs work, right? Well, I was halfway through it and… I got laid off from my job. First time ever. Totally devastated. So I started writing for other websites to make the ends meet and I found I really liked it. I started serving as one of the Dads & Families editors at The Good Men Project (a very cool site), I contributed to 8BitDad (another favorite of mine), and I became a blogger at The Huffington Post (la-de-dah). Here are some of my favorite bits I’ve written for them over the past few months:

Our Family Was Handed an Anonymous Note at a Baseball Game Last Night—This Is What It Said
How and Why You Should Support the #DadsRead Campaign This Father’s Day
The Importance of Buying Normal Clothes for Our Daughters and What You Can Do About It
9 Tips for Taking Your Kid to Their First Comic-Con
Daddy-Daughter Dances: I Do Not Want to Date My Daughter
My 7-Year-Old Daughter Tried to ‘Catfish’ Me

Long story short. I now have a new job (yay!), I’m back to writing (yay!), and I MISS Building a Library. A lot.  As such, I’m going to be contributing more regularly to the site in the near future and, once you see that I actually haven’t abandoned the site again, I hope you’ll continue to check us out.

I can't blame ya...

I can’t blame ya…

Thanks for your patience, hope you remember me, and I hope you’re finding outrageous great books to share with your kids.

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It’s a sad fact, but, if you’re the parent of a young girl, at some point, there’s a better than average chance that you’ll have to deal with the creeping horror that is the princess book genre. The princess craze is an amazing thing to behold. It’s like an airborne pathogen or some kind of morphic field cultural memory download. It just worms your way into your child’s subconscious with no obvious point of entry. Even if your daughter is the most tomboyish tomboy on the block, eventually, there’s like a 90% chance that you’re going to have to buy her a princess dress and a cringe-inducing selection of princess-themed reading material at some point. (No parent should have to read their child a book this pink at bedtime.)

Cinderella

How can something this boring be considered a “fantasy”?

And, trust me, resistance is futile. I’ve spent countless hours already trying to shape my daughter into a gender-proud feminist (and she’s FIVE) and yet there I was – taking her to a Disney Princess breakfast at EPCOT (by myself!) and making sure that we saw every damn princess in that park. Why? Because she simply loves princesses and fighting against their appeal is just going to make me the common enemy of both my daughter and the princess industrial complex. And I won’t survive if they unite to take me down.

So, how do I fight back? I mostly do it through books. I am still a MAJOR gatekeeper when it comes to my daughter’s reading material, so, at the moment, I do have the ability to keep her away from cheap throwaway titles like Barbie: The Princess Shoe Party Fashion Show and Cinderella: A Sparkly Royal Thanksgiving… which are EVERYWHERE and are just as soul-crushing as they sound. While I hide those titles behind the periodicals at the local library, I spend a good deal of time searching for really engaging princess stories that I then subtly push her way.

And that’s a challenge. It’s not easy finding princess books where the princesses aren’t passive, aren’t beholden to a prince, and have lives and agendas of their own. And, on the flip side, I also don’t want to give my daughter really hacky, didactic propaganda pieces where the author is just out to scream, “AND THE PRINCESS COULD DO ANYTHING THE PRINCE COULD DO! AND PROBABLY BETTER!” (If I could find the video of 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon as her high-school football place kicker, missing an easy kick and cheering “Equality!”, I’d put it here.) Even if I agree with the message, if it’s not a well-told story, forget about it.

As a service to you parents out there who may have children suffering from princess mania or who just simply can’t face down another royal Disney bedtime, here are six really impressive princess books that your kids will enjoy and that won’t make you curl your fists in post-feminist rage.

1. The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane and Herm Auch

The Princess and the Pizza

The Princess and the Pizza

This is an extremely fun title – particularly if your child is already familiar with the normal Disney princess canon. Princess Paulina is struggling with peasant life now that her father, the king, has given up his throne to become a wood-carver. So, when she hears that Prince Drupert is seeking a wife, she hurries over to “get back to princessing” and finds herself in a competition against other potential princesses to be his bride. The humor in Princess and the Pizza is really irreverent and clever – it reminds me a lot of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre – particularly as Princess Paulina realizes how ridiculous the competition is. She’s competing against nicely exaggerated versions of classic princesses like Snow White and Rapunzel and, after a cooking competition where Paulina accidentally invents pizza, the book ends with a great twist – Paulina sees the value in what she’s created, tells Drupert to shove it, and opens a successful pizza joint. This is a very silly take on the whole notion of princessing, but Paulina is such an expansive, resourceful character that your princess-jonesing kids will love her. (Age range: 3 and up. It’s more of a storybook than a picture book, so there’s a fair bit of text on its 32 pages.)

2. Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Lane Smith

Readers of this blog won’t be surprised at all to hear me praising a book by Florence Parry Heide and Lane Smith, but, all of my preferences and biases aside, Princess Hyacinth is one of the best books either of them has ever done. (I will one day write a much, much longer appraisal of Princess Hyacinthfor the blog, but I couldn’t leave it off this list.) The concept is elegantly absurd – there was a princess with a problem. She floats. She can’t stop herself from floating into the air at any time. And, around that premise, Heide and Smith craft a story that just feels fresh and unique – you’ve never read a princess book like this before. Hyacinth is annoyed that she can’t play outside with the other kids (particularly with Boy, the young man she has a crush on), but she also longs to take full advantage of her unique condition and soar among the clouds. After a close call where she almost floats away into the stratosphere, Hyacinth becomes much more comfortable with who she is and decides to stop fighting against her problem and learn to enjoy it.

Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated

Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated

Smith delivers some of the best work of his career here, but, for me, it’s Heide’s prose that really makes Princess Hyacinth a classic. Her text reads like it was mined directly out of the mind of a kid, like the smartest seven-year-old in the world is telling you the greatest story she’s ever heard and, in my experience, kids eat that up. They can’t get enough of it. In my mind, the closing words of the book say it all: “The problem about the floating was never solved, and that’s too bad. But Princess Hyacinth was never bored again. GOOD.” Yes, it is. (Age range: 3 and up. There’s more text than some picture books, but it’s fairly large and fun to read.) [read the rest of the post…]

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Wonder Woman: Princess Superhero

Wonder Woman: The Ultimate Princess Superhero. Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired.com

Following up on the discussion that got started yesterday (and, wow, thanks again for the epic response on that one, guys), when I first set out to find some non-traditional princess books for my daughter, my mind leapt immediately to one of the most iconic female characters in all of literary history – Wonder Woman.

Because, c’mon, can you think of a more kick-butt, take-no-prisoner, I’ll-rescue-myself princess than Wonder Woman? In my mind, I imagined my daughter in her bed late at night, pouring over the adventures of Diana, princess of the Amazons, marveling at her great deeds and bugging me with endless questions like, “Wonder Woman could beat up Superman in a fight, right?” or “When I grow up, can I get my own invisible plane?” Say what you will about Wonder Woman, but she’s no shrinking violet. She’s not going to wait up in a tower for someone to rescue her. She’s an active, forceful princess who isn’t just strong and self-reliant, but she’s also altruistic and actively works to help the less fortunate. She’s the whole package!

I was CONVINCED that Wonder Woman was going to be the answer to every one of my over-worrying dad, princess gender-identity woes, because you know what’s cooler than a princess? A princess SUPERHERO. How the heck can Snow White or the Princess and the Pea compete with that?

Plus DC Comics has been publishing Wonder Woman since 1941, so there HAD to be libraries full of Princess Diana stories just waiting for my daughter to discover them, right?

However, I very, very quickly ran into a series of problems that I just never anticipated. Because, while Wonder Woman, on the surface, should be an incredibly easy sell to young readers as the coolest princess they’ve EVER seen, in reality, the character has a whole, whole lot of baggage that prevents kids – at least most kids younger than 11 – from embracing her as anything other than a Halloween costume.

Basically, I think there are two BIG, essential issues holding Wonder Woman back from being every five-year-old’s favorite princess.

PROBLEM #1: IMAGES

Wonder Woman

This is a very tame example of WW looking like a “Glamazon.” There are much, much creepier examples out there.

OK, while I might roll my eyes at the over-frilly, completely impractical ball-gowns in most princess stories, at least they’re not wearing star-spangled panties and a steel-plated halter-top in public. Wonder Woman’s costume is, indeed, iconic, but it’s also way too easy to sexualize and the vast majority of Wonder Woman comic book art can be described with adjectives like “heaving” or “engorged”. Fine, I understand why the ongoing “appropriate for teens and older” Wonder Woman comic book indulges so heavily in the cheesecake sexuality. They’re pandering to their 18-35 male demographic. However, it just seems to strange to me that, given Wonder Woman’s global appeal, DC Comics, WW’s publisher, doesn’t seem concerned with trying to find ways to introduce Princess Diana to younger readers. It’s like they’re purposely leaving money on the table.

Wonder Woman: Disney Style

THIS is a Wonder Woman a young girl could fall in love with…

There was actually an amazing recent post on the Tumblr blog “DC Women Kicking Ass”, where Tom Bancroft, an artist and former Disney animator, drew some fantastic sketches of Wonder Woman in the “Disney” style, as if she was a classical princess rather than a hyper-sexed valkyrie. And I LOVE those sketches. THAT looks exactly like the kind of young, tenacious, non-passive princess character that my daughter would INSTANTLY fall in love with. The author of the Tumblr post even commented that, “I’ve never, ever figured out why DC and Warner Bros. don’t do more to market Wonder Woman to young girls. She’s a princess for heaven’s sake.” [read the rest of the post…]

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Lonely Planet Not For Parents Travel Book

This is a fun book about travel for kids, but it’s not actually about kids travelling – which is an important distinction.

One of the most common grade-school writing assignments is the classic “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” However, if you go to a bookstore or library and look for books where real kids actually explain what they did do on their summer vacations, family trips, or any other travel experience… you’re not going to find much. Or at least I didn’t. Maybe I’m just not Googling correctly, but, if there are books out there collecting really superior examples of travel writing for kids, they shouldn’t be this hard to find.

First, let me explain what I’m NOT referring to when I say “travel writing for kids.” I’m not referring to books about geography or other cultures. I’m not referring to nonfiction books that open with “Hello, my name is ____. I am from _____. Let me tell you about my country.” And I’m not referring to maps, atlases, or any kind of reference book. (If you want a particularly good example of a fun, readable geography book for kids, I’m a big fan of the Lonely Planet Not For Parents Travel Book.)

What I am talking about are travel memoirs, first-person accounts of people travelling across the globe and sharing with their readers how those experiences made them feel. And there are so many fantastic travelogues and travel memoirs that are written both by adults and for adults – for example, the nonfiction works of V.S. Naipaul, Alexis de Tocqueville, Paul Theroux, Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing is, technically, travel writing), Bill Bryson, Colin Thubron, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck (and his Travels with Charley) – the list goes on and on.

Personally, I’m a big fan of Michael Palin, the former member of Monty Python-turned-world-explorer, who’s responsible for a remarkable series of BBC travel documentaries and accompanying volumes of travel memoirs. (Palin’s Around the World in 80 Days is a particular favorite.)

But, while the world of adult travel writing is robust and varied, there are almost no works of travel writing that address the experience of children travelling, either coming from the perspective of adults travelling with their children or the perspective of the kids themselves. Which feels like a hugely missed opportunity.

A Little House Traveler: Writings from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Journeys Across America

Wilder’s diaries aren’t just historical nonfiction, but they’re also solid examples of travel writing that’s actually about a young person travelling.

(The only big exceptions to my “no travel writing for kids” argument – that I’m aware of – are Laura Ingalls Wilder’s diaries from her family’s journeys across the American frontier, which, I’ll admit, I haven’t read.)

Personally, I love travelling with my daughter. We’re not an exceptionally well-travelled family, but, whenever I take my daughter somewhere she’s never been before, the best part of the trip is always seeing the place through her eyes. Travelling with a child forces you to adopt an entirely different perspective as a traveler. Because, when you travel with your kid, you have to be both their steadfast travel companion, the person who’s going to lead them out into the big scary world, AND you also have to take on the responsibility of placing that big scary world into context for them. [read the rest of the post…]

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Don't Stay Up So Late: A Treasury of Bedtime Stories Written for Children by Children

Good advice that kids never listen to…

As I’ve mentioned, 826 Michigan’s Don’t Stay Up So Late is a brilliant book, a “treasury of bedtime stories written for children by children” that was crafted with an obvious sense of affection and pride by both its publishers and student authors. But, despite all my praise, I don’t really know if I’ve been able to properly convey how much this anthology is packed with impressive details and inspired ideas. Don’t Stay Up So Late is a book that just begs for you to linger and appreciate it. So, in order to make sure that you truly get a sense of what this book is all about (and to encourage more of you to buy it), here are ten completely amazing items, details, and flourishes you can find within the pages of Don’t Stay Up So Late:

1. The book’s dedicationDon't Stay Up So Late

2. This disclaimer on the copyright pageDon't Stay Up So Late

3. The handsome title page illustrationDon't Stay Up So Late

4. Section headings like this:Don't Stay Up So Late [read the rest of the post…]

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Don't Stay Up So Late: A Treasury of Bedtime Stories Written for Children by Children

No one tells better bedtime stories than kids…

Reading at bedtime is a big deal in our house. My wife and I alternate putting our daughter down each night and our nightly rituals always involve reading before she goes to bed. Sometimes she reads to us. Most nights, we’ll either read her two or three picture books or a few chapters from longer kid-friendly novels. (We’re reading a lot of J.K. Rowling and Rick Riordan lately.) The bedtime story ritual is very, very important to our family, That said, even though we have literally read HUNDREDS of night-time books to our daughter over the years, I’m confident in saying that the hands-down coolest bedtime book we’ve ever bought for her is Don’t Stay Up So Late: A Treasury of Bedtime Stories Written for Children by Children, an AMAZING collection of stories, published by 826 Michigan, that was entirely authored by elementary school students.

Are you not convinced that a grade school kid could write an engaging bedtime story? Here’s the first story in the anthology, written by a first-grader:"The Alien in the Attic" by Zachary Smith

When I woke up I heard a rat-a-tat-tat. I went straight down the hallway and turned right and opened the attic door. I saw a green alien. The alien had eight eyes and four arms. He could make things in one minute. I grabbed him. He punched me in the nose. I called the army but the army didn’t believe me. I put him in the basement. He ran up the stairs and I picked him up, put him back, and put a gate up. I gave him some food. I wanted to keep him. I wanted to keep him forever.

The End. That’s the whole story. Admit it – that story was ten times more engaging, heartfelt, and AWESOME than 95% of the movie tie-in, Disney, or kidlit spin-off picture books that your kid begs you to buy at Target. It’s direct and honest and Don’t Stay Up So Late is FILLED with stories just like that – stories with titles like “Supersnake,” “A Cow and a Mouse at Dance Class,” “The Super Dog That Helps People,” “The Mermaid Disappeared?”, “Dr. Jell-o’s Jell-o Plan,” and “Tiny’s Tale,” to name a few.

The bedtime stories in Don’t Stay Up So Late are overflowing with exuberant, imaginative storytelling leaps, the kinds of ingenious flights of fantasy that always seem to crop up when a kid sets his mind to tell you a story. As a parent, I found the stories in the collection to be immediately endearing and couldn’t help feeling both proud for the kids and grateful to 826 Michigan for attempting to catch such lightning in a bottle. [read the rest of the post…]

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Art & Max by David Wiesner

If I rub my chin and look thoughtfully at the painting, maybe people will think I know what I’m talking about…

I don’t know much about art. I couldn’t tell an impressionist from an expressionist if my life depended on it. That being said, I love art and art museums, and I think viewing and talking about art is an incredibly valuable experience for a young child.

I grew up near a wonderful art museum – The Detroit Institute of Arts – and I spent a lot of time there as a kid, mostly because they had fantastic children’s programs and admission was free. And, while I never did pick up on the myriad differences between impressionism and expressionism, I did spend hours upon hours browsing the collections and forming opinions about the paintings and statues. Some I adored, some I hated. Some stirred emotions, some left me cold. Even if I never picked up on the historical context of the collections or the art-world lingo, I definitely “experienced” the art, for lack of a better term, and I deeply enjoyed that experience.

The great thing about spending time with art is that it helps teach you how to process abstract concepts. If you look at a painting and really ask yourself, “Why does this painting make me feel this way?” or “Why do I interpret the color red as anger?”, it can give you some amazing insights into how your brain works. And, when you talk about something as abstract as art, it helps you develop this vocabulary that, believe me, really comes in handy later in life when you’re struggling to talk about abstract concepts like pain, loss, joy, and love. So, yes, art is pretty and it’s nice to look at, but experiencing art isn’t just about aesthetics alone. That’s why I think exposing kids to art at a young age is a terrifically enriching activity and I just couldn’t encourage it more.

But, I realize that talking about art isn’t easy, particularly when (like me) you don’t know much about it, and many families don’t have world-class, free-admission art institutes right down the street. So, if you need help introducing your kid to the joys of art, here are six books that I think do an amazing job of helping kids grasp the illusive, abstract wonders of really appreciating both art and the creative process.

1. Art & Max by David Wiesner

I once wrote that “David Wiesner is one of reigning Grand Poobahs the modern picture book and ANYTHING he publishes is totally worth your time.” I still stand by that statement and Wiesner‘s most recent picture book, Art & Max, is no exception. Across Wiesner’s gorgeous desert landscapes, we meet Arthur (or “Art”), a stately lizard who’s painting a very traditional portrait of a small red companion. Suddenly, the hyperactive lizard Max knocks into Art and declares “I can paint too, Arthur!” But Max doesn’t know what to paint. When Arthur suggests “you could paint me”, Max interprets this literally and starts splashing colors onto his exasperated friend. After Arthur screams in fury, the paint explodes off of him, leaving behind a vague color outline. This leads into a series of transformations where Arthur’s body evolves through several distinctly different art styles – pastels, watercolors, penciled outlines, Jackson Pollack-esque splatters, pointillism – his body is like a living history of art.

Art & Max by David Wiesner

The best buddy movie about art EVER

Max’s playful antagonism exposes Arthur to a whole new perspective on what art can be and, as the book ends, both lizards are attacking their new canvases with renewed vigor. But don’t let my references to Jackson Pollack and pointillism scare you off. First and foremost, Art & Max is a very, very fun picture book. My daughter always cackles as Max paints all over his best friend with wild abandon, and Art & Max is filled with some of the funniest physical humor I’ve seen in a picture book in ages. Who knew art could be this fun?

Art & Max by David Wiesner

Insert your own “painted lizard” joke here…

2. Seen Art?, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith

This is an odd little picture book that my daughter adores. (Seen Art? might be one of our most frequently checked out books from the library.) To commemorate the opening of the new location of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in late 2004, Scieszka and Smith created this long, thin tribute to the museum, in which a young boy, looking for his friend Arthur, gets directed into the new MoMA building after asking around, “Seen Art?” (Characters named “Art” or “Arthur” are a common recurring motif in kids’ picture books about art.) The boy eventually wanders through the museum – the book features a large series of wonderful reproductions of many of the museum’s most notable pieces – learning while he goes how other people define what exactly “art” is. The offbeat characters throughout the museum present to the young boy a fantastic series of questions regarding art – questions like “Is it trying to capture dreams? Or is it making images everyone can recognize?” And those questions have sparked some really fun conversations with my daughter.

Seen Art?

My kid loves this picture book/museum guide book hybrid…

Seen Art? is a great overall primer for teaching kids how to appreciate and talk about art. And it’s the reason why my six year old can recognize an Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein print on sight, which is pretty cool. Plus, when I was finally able to take her to MoMA this past summer, my daughter was over-the-moon excited and recognized her favorite pieces from the book on almost every floor of the museum, which was also pretty cool. [read the rest of the post…]

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Today, I have a special treat for you – the very first GUEST POST we’ve ever had at Building a Library. It was written by a dear friend, Megan McKnight, a lawyer and mom to two wonderful boys, who has been one of this blog’s biggest cheerleaders from day one. Megan actually sent me the bulk of this article in an email, asking me to give parents tips about picking titles from school book order catalogs. Her email was so full of her own great advice regarding book orders that I wrote her back and said, “Um, can I just post your email as an article? I’m never going to write anything better than what you just wrote.” And, after bugging her enough, she finally let me publish it (with a few edits and additions from her end). I love this article and think it’s a fantastic resource for any parent struggling with their monthly book order selections. Take it away, Megan!

*****

The Book Fair from the Black Lagoon

Do you ever feel like this around book order season?

By Megan McKnight – I am a huge Building a Library fan. It is a great resource and stokes my enjoyment of reading children’s books. However, Building a Library does not help much with one of those familiar rites of the school year: BOOK ORDERS. We have been buying books from the Scholastic book order program for a few years and my track record is dubious at best. Distracted by the low prices and pretty pictures, I bought several awful books for my family. I recently recycled a stack of book order paperbacks — instead of donating them — because I do not want them to end up on another unsuspecting family’s bookshelf.

So, I developed my own set of Rules for use in ordering from the monthly book order that I follow to save my family from terrible books. Now, my family actually enjoys the books we order. My Book Order Rules are the following, in no particular order:

DO NOT BUY…

1. Books that do not list an author and illustrator. If no one has the pride to acknowledge writing or illustrating the book, it is not worth reading.

2. Books based on television, movie, or toy characters. Usually, these books are also eliminated by Rule #1. This rule is inapplicable if the book preceded the show. Olivia by Ian Falconer is a good example of this – my boys love this book!

3. Books with the exclusive purpose of teaching manners and improving behavior. Instead of making your child more patient and kind, these books will probably leave you and your child annoyed and bored. There are a few entertaining books intended to reinforce good behavior — seek these outside of the book order.  For example, we enjoy these books: Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners by Laurie Keller, Monsters Eat Whiny Children by Bruce Eric Kaplan, and Potty Animals: What to Know When You’ve Got to Go by Hope Vestergaard.

Monsters Eat Whiny Children

That’s tough but fair…

4. Book collections centered on the same character(s). For example, if you and your kids love Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney, you do not need three more Llama books. Chances are that you will get Llama-ed out, very quickly, and it may sap some of the magic from that first book, too. Instead, use the book order as a chance to expand your horizons. However, see Rule #12 below for a very important exception.

5. Books accompanied by a CD or DVD. The usual running time is 3 1/2 minutes per book, which is hardly worth the trouble of getting it set-up. Just sit down and read to your child for three minutes.

6. Books in hardcover. These are usually more than $10, and it is not worth paying more than $10 for any book from the book order, given the remote likelihood that the books will impress both you and your kid. If the book is good, it will be published in paperback soon..

7. Book collections that are exclusively seasonal. For example, “Books About Fall” or “Books About Easter.” For some reason, these are generally terrible and you will have squandered another opportunity to read an amazing story.

8. Non-books like games, shoe-tying activities, puzzles, toys and chore-charts. I have  bought them all and the quality is universally poor.

9. Books that are accompanied by an accessory such as a car, a rock, a necklace, or 3-D glasses. The accessory is always of poor quality and the book rarely stands on its own. [read the rest of the post…]

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