Building a Library

Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same

Just in case you were wondering, Grace Lin’s “Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same” is one of the best kids’ books about twins I’ve ever read

A few months ago, I found out that two of my best friends in the world were having a baby. And not just “a baby”, they were having twins – twin girls – after years of unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant. Needless to say, I was overjoyed, just completely over the moon for them. But then… all my OCD impulses kicked in and I immediately thought, “Oh man, I have to make sure those girls have a decent selection of reading material.” So, for the second time, I embarked on an attempt to “build a library” for a new baby (or babies, as it were).

I used the same methodology I used for my own daughter – I would buy one book a week during the pregnancy and I would try to stay away from books that they’d probably get as baby shower gifts. (Goodnight Moon, Runaway Bunny, anything that’s available at Target, etc.)

However, a few weeks into the pregnancy, my friends turned to me and said, “Hey, remember that whole one-book-a-week thing you did for Charley? We’re doing it too.” I laughed hysterically, said “Good to know!”, and pulled out the eight-or-so books that I’d already bought them. Fortunately, we hadn’t doubled up on any of the books – but they’re twins, so I feel doubling up is OK – and it just reaffirmed my long-held opinion that my friends are AWESOME.

But it didn’t stop me from buying the books. All it did was add another variable to my selection process. So now I buy one book a week, try to stay away from books that they’d probably get as baby shower gifts, and try to stay away from books they’d buy themselves. (And I’m being a little more diligent about saving the gift receipts as well.)

They’re in around their 20th week of the pregnancy, so I haven’t finished my “40-week library for friends” yet, but I thought I’d share what I’d bought them so far to give you some ideas about buying books for expectant parents. (I’ll share the second half of my library list after the twins are born.)

If asked to “build a library” for the children of my very best friends, these are some of the books that would immediately rise to the top of my list. Yes, it’s subjective and selective and built around my own weird variables – there aren’t any Mo Willems books on the list yet because I wanted to see how many Pigeon books they’d get at their baby shower – but I think ANY of these books are great places to start.

If you’re building a library for a friend or even just looking for some great baby shower gifts, these books are definitely worth checking out. (Some of these books have been covered on the blog before, so I’ll provide links to the longer write-ups.)

1. My Friends by Taro Gomi

My FriendsLast September, I called My Friends “an ideal bedtime book. Truth be told, I literally read My Friends to my daughter at bedtime every single night I put her to bed from when she was five months old until she was about 15-months-old.” One of the best board books in history, in my humble opinion.

2. Press Here by Herve Tullet

Press HereLast November, I called Press Here “a fairly amazing book because it doesn’t wow its audience with a story or with particularly flashy illustrations, but rather it draws readers in with interactivity, with humor, and with that drive that comes with all printed books – the drive to see what happens next, to see what’s happening on the next page.”

3. Animalia by Graeme Base

AnimaliaWe actually don’t own a copy of Animalia ourselves – I don’t know if my daughter has ever read it – but it is simply one of the most expansive and beautiful alphabet books that I’ve ever encountered. Graeme Base has created this gorgeous tapestry of images, a collection of widescreen fantastical images of animal life, each accompanied by short alliterative phrases like “An Armoured Armadillo Avoiding an Angry Alligator.” I love the idea of taking the 70mm Cinemascope beauty of Base’s illustrations and plopping it in front of a young child. It will blow their minds. And they’ll think the alphabet is a million times more interesting than it actually is.

4. Jamberry by Bruce Degen

JamberryEasily one of our most read board books of all time. I don’t what makes Jamberry so appealing to young children, but my daughter loved it. The story follows a boy and his bear best friend berry-picking and wandering through a variety of berry-inspired landscapes. We start with “One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry” and, as the boy and the bear head out “looking for berries / berries for jam”, the verses quickly pick up steam. The whole book is a crescendo, throwing the friends into one bigger situation after another, escalating to the point where their travels involve marching bands and elephants figure-skating on jam. And every page of Jamberry is just teeming with berries in every way, shape, or form. It’s a lovely, energizing book to read out loud and, in my experience, kids love Bruce Degen’s visuals of his odd little berry universe.

5. The Little Red Hen and The Three Little Pigs by Paul Galdone

Little Red HenLast November, I wrote an article about “The Difficult Task of Introducing Your Kid to Folk Tales and Fairy Tales” and one of my recommendations was to steer kids towards “anything in Paul Galdone’s Folk Tale Classics series.” Galdone is a tremendous author and illustrator and his “Folk Tale Classics” represent some of the best retellings of “classic” stories that I’ve ever seen. If you want your kid to grow up with a firm knowledge of everyone from The Gingerbread Man to Red Riding Hood, Galdone is your man. For this library project, I went with two of my daughter’s favorite editions of Galdone’s folk tales – The Little Red Hen and The Three Little Pigs.

6. Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile

Bink and GollieBack in September, I waxed rhapsodic over the second Bink & Gollie book, Two for One, but the original is just as good, if not better. With Bink & Gollie, the authors – Kate DiCamillo, Alison McGhee, and Tony Fucile – have created a George & Martha for a new age. It’s a beautiful, hysterically funny look at friendship. As I mentioned in my review of Two for One, “I’ve been meaning to write about the original Bink & Gollie for months now (and I still probably will one day), but it’s one of those books that is SO good that it’s actually intimidating to write a review of it. How can I possibly convey the depth of the warmth and humor in Bink & Gollie in a simple blog post?” That’s all still true. This is a home library essential.

7. Frederick by Leo Lionni

FrederickI have never, ever encountered a book that does a better job of explaining the importance and value of art and artists than Leo Lionni’s Frederick. It takes all of these abstract concepts like art and emotion and, through the travails of these brilliant little collage mice, makes them easily understandable for young readers. This is a STAGGERING book with an amazing message, and it’s fun to read too. My daughter loves it. [read the rest of the post…]


The Phantom Tollbooth

OK, 50th anniversaries are “way” more impressive, I admit…

Today, September 20th, is an important day. It marks the birth of Alexander the Great, Upton Sinclair, George R.R. Martin, Jesus Christ Superstar‘s Ted Neeley, Slappy White, Anne Meara, the great Gary Cole, Sophia Loren, and The Walking Dead‘s Jon Bernthal, to name a few. It happens to be the ONE YEAR anniversary of the Building a Library blog!

It’s been a really great year for me personally. I’ve loved writing my long, rambling odes to the books on my daughter’s bookshelves, and I hope that some of you have been able to benefit from a few of my recommendations.

To celebrate our anniversary, I invite you to check out the two posts that kicked this whole thing off: Our “ABOUT” page (where I outline WHY I wanted to start Building a Library) and our very first review, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer (the book that inspired me to start this blog in the first place).

And come back next week for an anniversary contest and some more Tollbooth-related news…

OK, I’ll give you a hint on the Tollbooth news. This weekend, The Phantom Tollbooth is going to stop being a “Book My Kid Will Read in the Future” and, in fact, become a book that my kid starts reading with her overly-excited dad. Expect some updates on her reaction to our first forays into Dictionopolis next week.

And thanks again for reading, wonderful faceless internet people. You’re the best.



Ferndale Public Library

This is our swanky local library. We’re big fans.

As I ramp back up into a normal posting schedule (my apologies again), I thought that, rather than write my normal once-a-week, 3,000 word ode to a 32-page picture book, I’d give you guys a week-long look at what titles caught the eye of my daughter and I during our semi-weekly trip to our local library. (We don’t normally go weekly – mostly because you can keep the books for three weeks and we like to re-read titles we like to death.)

We took out FIVE books from the library on Friday, so, from Monday to Friday, I’ll share a brief profile of one book a day to give you a taste what attracted our attention in the children’s section last week.

I just want to give other parents an idea of what a trip to the library is like for our family and, in return, I’d love, LOVE to hear about your family’s library rituals and routines. How many books do you take out at a time? (I always feel like we might be taking out too many.) Do you browse for books with your kid? Do you make decisions together or do you let them go completely alone? Do you sometimes veto their book choices? Do your kids ever ask the librarian for suggestions? I’d love to know – if only so I can measure our own rituals against yours and then decide whether your routine makes me feel inferior, superior, or just right.

To give you some fodder to start judging me, here’s what our normal trip to the library looks like:

Just kidding – my daughter is marginally quieter than the Cookie Monster at the library. When we’re not looking for cookies, we generally take out 5 to 6 books every time we hit the library and maybe a DVD for the weekend. (We usually go to the library on Friday after school.) We start in the children’s section and my daughter and I browse around a bit and pick out 2 to 3 books together. I usually gravitate to the “new materials” shelves, while my daughter likes to browse the librarian’s picks (i.e. the titles that they display on the tops of shelves) and she’ll also check in on some of her favorite authors. (She always does a quick walk-by of the shelves where they keep the Melanie Watt, Lane Smith, Mo Willems, and David Wieser books.)

For those first 2 to 3 books, we make our decisions together. We look around together, we talk about what we see, and we come to an agreement on our first batch. (During this period, I usually end up reading her one short book at the kids’ tables, but we don’t do a lot of actual out-loud reading at the library.)

My daughter then asks to play with the computers for a while – usually a Reader Rabbit, Dora, Arthur, or I Spy game. While she does that, I browse by myself, picking out 2 to 4 more books to present for her majesty’s approval. After some computer time, she says “yay” or “nay” to my books – she always cuts a few of my picks, so I always pick too many – and normally does one last circuit to make sure she hasn’t missed anything good. We then might check the DVD shelf to see if there’s a movie we want to watch on the weekend. (This usually involves me saying “no” to many, many DVDs until we come to a begrudging compromise.)

Our book picks vary from week to week. There’s usually one or two old established favorites, something from the new release shelf, an easy reader, and, now that’s she’s older, maybe a chapter book. OH, and there’s at least one terrible, terrible media-tie in book – a reader or picture book based on a movie or TV show that she insists on picking out herself and that I can hardly ever veto. (Can someone please start a Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of a good Scooby Doo book? PLEASE?)

And that’s what our library trips normally look like. We check out our books, my daughter makes me walk through the anti-theft scanners first because she’s crazy paranoid about the alarm going off, and we go home with a ton of really, really great books. It’s easily one of my favorite rituals we have.

So, if you’re interested (totally understand if you’re not), check back during the work week and see what kinds of books we ended up with last week. It’s a pretty diverse mix, which should definitely give you a sense of what we’re currently reading. Hope this isn’t a pointless exercise and, most of all, hope you enjoy it.


Where's Waldo

It’s OK when Waldo disappears. That’s his frickin’ job. I have no excuse.

Readers – if you’re still out there – I’d really like to apologize for the ridiculously long break I’ve taken from posting lately. I realize it’s been almost exactly a month since my last post, which isn’t cool. When you start a blog and build a readership, there’s an expectation that, to thank people for reading your past work, you actually… you know… write new work for them to read. That’s part of the whole blogging ethos, right?

All I can say is: “I apologize.” In my defense – and because I love making excuses so much that I actually have an “excuses” tag in my tag cloud – it’s been a very weird month. I’ve been hit with a crazy work schedule, a minor-yet-annoying sleep disorder, an intense bout of writer’s block, and, most importantly, I’ve had to deal with the borderline insane end-of-the-year activities that accompanied my daughter finishing her very first year of school. She’s now a kindergarten graduate – a fact that makes me both profoundly proud and profoundly sad.

Someone should write a book about that. Well, someone probably has and I’ve just been too lazy to find it recently, so, again, SORRY! I will endeavor to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

To make up for my posting famine, I’ve scheduled a bit of a feast for next week. Today, I’m going to post the introduction to a new series we’re kicking off titled “What We Took Out From the Library Last Week.” We went to the library this past Friday and next week, every day, from Monday to Friday, I’ll profile one of the books we checked out to give you a taste of what’s on our reading radar at the moment.

I hope you guys enjoy the new series and I hope that there’s even a few of you still reading after my unexpected disappearance. I’m looking forward to ranting about kids’ books in your general direction soon. Thanks for understanding.

Where's Waldo?

Seriously though, can you help me find Waldo? He’s good at his job. (Click to embiggen.)


Kids Library Card

"I'm going to go check out Fifty Shades of Grey now!"

What a great way to kick off Children’s Book Week. My daughter came home from the library yesterday literally vibrating with excitement. My wife had taken her there to do research for a school project (on “Giant Japanese Spider Crabs” of all things) and she couldn’t wait to show me something. “Dad, DAD! Look what I got!” And she then proudly – very proudly – held up her very first library card. Not her parents’ library card. HER library card. Her own PERSONAL library card with her very own name on it.

It’d never occurred to me that, as a kindergartener, my daughter was now old enough to get her own library card. She’s always checked out books under my card. But my wife, suddenly realizing that our daughter was old enough, asked her if she wanted to go up to the front desk and get her own card and she INSTANTLY lit up and nodded her head. She even asked my wife to take her picture with her new card before they’d left the library.

Now, in reality, this won’t really change our trips to the library very much. Even though she might check out books under her card, as her parents, we’re still going to be the people ultimately responsible for the books, for driving her to the library, for exercising some veto power in what she can check out and what she can’t. The big change, however, is in the sense of pride and empowerment my daughter now has about having HER OWN library card. To her, the library card is a symbol of independence and maturity. She picked out a special place on her dresser for it and asked if we could get her a wallet for “all my cards now because now I’m going to have a lot of them.” She even asked at dinner last night, “the next time we go to the library…. Can I just go in and you guys wait in the car? I have my own card now.” Granted, that’s not going to happen, but I love that, in her mind, that one little library card has now transported her to such a level of maturity that she thinks she could spend an afternoon browsing the library all by herself while my wife and I twiddle our thumbs in the parking lot. (Hopefully, she’ll remember to crack a window.)

After my daughter received her library card from the front desk, my wife told her that she could check out any two books she wanted. My wife then waited for our child, left to her own devices, to return with a series of cheaply-produced Scooby Doo, Star Wars, or Disney books. A few minutes later, she got a very pleasant surprise. Our daughter chose – on her own – two completely fantastic books to be the inaugural titles for her first library card.

Kids Library Card

Every now and then, my kid has EXCELLENT taste.

The first was The Big Elephant in the Room by Lane Smith, one of our favorite author-illustrators. My daughter has, more than once, called Big Elephant “one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.” (I met Lane Smith last year and told him that my daughter said that. His playful response? “She’s right!”) The second book she picked was the Caldecott-winning picture book The Three Pigs by David Wiesner. (I wrote about Wiesner’s Tuesday back in February and suggested Three Pigs as a readalike here.) [read the rest of the post…]


Over the holidays, I received an extremely cool token from Hannah Jayanti, the filmmaker behind the extremely cool, upcoming Phantom Tollbooth documentary, all for kicking in a few bucks to the movie’s Kickstarter campaign.

Phantom Tollbooth Documentary

Hey, hey, hey... hands to yourself...

Needless to say, I absolutely love my official certificate of thanks. (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I’m kind of a big Phantom Tollbooth fan.)

More information on the in-process documentary, go here.

[read the rest of the post…]


You know that kid on YouTube who was so angry about getting books for Christmas? Well, my daughter is the opposite of him. She was crazy excited about the literary bounty that Santa dropped off this year and… as you can see from the picture below… Santa kinda didn’t know when to say “when” this Christmas.

Our Christmas Books

Next year, Santa needs to adopt a new "less is more" mentality

Because that’s a lot of books, right? I haven’t even updated the “library total” at the top of the blog because I still have to catalogue all the new arrivals.

But can you blame Santa? That is a very cool collection of books that he and Mrs. Claus put together this year. And he probably got a lot of great deals from local indie book stores, children’s book sales at his office (new hardcovers were $4! FOUR DOLLARS!), reduced-priced school book orders, and amazing used book store deals that he just couldn’t pass up.

In fact, Santa went SO nuts this year that he asked me to stash about 15 other books in a box under my workshop desk because he overbought to such a degree that he simply couldn’t justify giving my daughter that many books all at once. Santa has a pretty serious impulse-control problem… apparently.

So, expect reviews – lots of reviews – of our new additions to the library soon. In the meantime, I’ll be on Web MD, checking to see if I have the psychological symptoms of a chronic book hoarder.

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Faithful readers – looking at you, Mom – I want to really apologize for the lack of updates on the site lately. It’s almost been a month since I last updated, which is an epoch in internet time, but December was the cruelest month of my 2011 with a really unexpected amount of stress, sickness (which I’m just now getting over), and family death thrown into the mix. (Ugh.)

Building a Library is back!

I know, I know - world's smallest violin...

So, long story short, I’ve been preoccupied. But, hopefully, the content drought is coming to an end and we’ll be back to normal updates ASAP. If you’re reading this, thanks for your patience.

And, as partial payment for your kindness, check out this lovely video of legend Maurice Sendak talking about his work and career. (The bit where he talks about why he’s never considered revisiting Where the Wild Things Are is both EPIC and hilarious.)



This has been me all week. I'm totally moving to Australia.

Hiya readers – I really, really do have to apologize for the ridiculous lack of updates over the past week. I had some issues with my hosting account and… trust me, the rest of that sentence is pretty darn boring and self-pitying. (You don’t want to know how the sausage is made.) Hopefully, all of my technical issues are now resolved and I can get back to regularly ranting about the books that my daughter reads – as if I was a crazy stalker person, obsessively cataloguing her daily activity in a journal that the FBI will one day present to a jury of my peers as “Exhibit A”. (I fear that the line between “dad” and “maniac” is disturbingly thin.)

Hope everyone is having a great pre-holiday and I’ve got some great recommendations and rants on the way. Thanks for sticking with me, people that Google Analytics assures me actually exist.



Hiya faithful readers (i.e. very chartable people I know and can easily guilt into reading stuff) – sorry for the delay in posting over the past two weeks. You can normally expect much, much more regular content updates, but I’m still getting used to balancing family, holidays, work, freelance work, house work, other freelance work, and, you know, sleeping and eating.

New posts will start again tomorrow, but, in the meantime, I wanted to share with you two really great links with some fantastic book recommendations.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

An illustration from "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick

The first link comes from the very cool site Gwarlingo. It’s Brian Selznick, the amazing author-illustrator responsible for The Invention of Hugo Cabret (a home library must-own and the basis for the new Martin Scorsese movie, Hugo) recommending twenty of his favorite kids’ books of all time. The article itself gives a very cool introduction to Selznick’s works – his new book, Wonderstruck, is supposed to be epic – and Selznick’s recommendations are extremely strong.

Some are no-brainers (Where the Wild Things Are should be issued to new parents by their OBY/GYN), and some are revelations. (I’ve heard a lot about Remy Charlip, but haven’t read any of his books. However, after this article, I’m officially tracking down his works at our local library now.)

The second link is related to my article about the importance of coffee table books earlier this month. That article was inspired by a book review from BoingBoing contributor Maggie Koerth-Baker. And, as a follow-up to said article, Ms. Koerth-Baker posted a link to a very cool article on The – 10 Great Science Books for Kids. They recommend a nice selection for titles for different ages. The only one we’ve read is 11 Experiments That Failed by Jenny Offill and Nancy Carpenter and it’s a HUGE favorite of ours, a wickedly funny take on a kid using the scientific method in her everyday life.