In the chaos of raising four kids that look like my husband and me, but (I swear!) are way more stubborn than I ever was and can hit octaves with their screams that would make Kristen Bell jealous. there are times when I just need downtime with my kids. Not away from my kids (although, if you're offering to babysit, I'm not going to turn you down), but with my kids. I want to share in a journey with them, meet a new friend, or laugh really hard. Some of this happens because honestly, life with four kids is a hilarious (and sometimes furious) roller coaster ride full of new people and experiences. But... if I'm looking for a controlled moment to enjoy with my kids, then you'll find us sharing a book.
We've got issues of the book-related kind. The shelves here are all full, the library basket is overflowing, and the weekly trip to the library is no longer optional. It's mandatory. The crazies in my house start going a little nuts if they don't have the new books in their series, and let's just be honest... I can only read certain books twice a day for a week. Those books MUST go back to their home at our local library.
Most recently, I've become an addict of the Read Aloud Revival podcast which comes out every other week. It varies between author interviews and experienced mommas sharing the books they love to read with the people they love most. It's a happy day when a new episode loads into my podcast app. And if you never have time to listen (for me this happens when I face my daily climb up Mt. Laundry-Needs-Folding), the show notes are available for you to get some great booklists. I'd highly recommend listening though.
So we head to the library, armed with our lists, and load up our giant tote with books. At this point, we know most of the librarians by first name (yes...even without reading their nametags), and nothing makes me happier than when they put a new book in my hands because they think we'll like it. Ready for our favorites? And to be honest, some of these we own because we read them so often. I'll go youngest to oldest...
Emmie Jo (1 1/2 years old)
Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins
If you haven't read this one, it'll be easy to check off your bucket list. It's short, but the rhythmic language is JoJo's favorite part. She wiggles to the beat of the words so you know she's enjoying it with her whole being.
Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt
Yep. It's the same book that your mom read to you in the 80's. It's still out there and still worth picking up for its interactive value. "Pat and Judy can do lots of things. You can do lots of things too." It's a good lesson for our littlest ones that we can do more than we realize.
Laura Lou (3 years old going on 14)
Ladybug Girl by David Soman
Any of the books in this series are amazing. I'd personally start with Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy, but I could be biased since that's the one we were introduced to first. Ladybug Girl faces real life problems in each of her books and ends up figuring out creative solutions by the end of the stories. I love the lessons these books teach without getting preachy or condescending. The illustrations are beautiful, and honestly my boys were the ones to love these books first.
Franklin series by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark
Old school, right? We grew up on these, and Laura always grabs the limit that I will let her each time we go to the library. (For the record, that limit is 2.) The characters feel safe, the illustrations are bright, and she gets closure every time. Did I mention that she might be my daughter? "Franklin could count by two's and tie his shoes. He could zip zippers and button buttons, but..."
Ben (6 years old)
Mr. Putter and Tabby Pick the Pears by Cynthia Rylant
Ben's at that early reader stage when he needs to read and be read to a ton, but he doesn't want to read anything that feels babyish. Enter Mr. Putter and his cat Tabby! This is one of a huge series of books about an elderly man and his pet cat who just happen to live next door to a very extroverted older lady and her good dog Zeke. Their adventures are so funny and unpredictable that even I get excited when I find out a new book has come out. The title I listed above is one of my favorites, but you really cannot go wrong with any of the series.
Mercy Watson Saves the Day by Kate DiCamillo
Our librarian turned us on to these. A middle-age couple has no children, only a pig... ahem... a porcine wonder named Mercy. These books have repetitive language that isn't annoying, characters that are so quirky you're gonna make voices for each of them, and illustrations that look like they came right out of the 50's. There are six books in the series, but read them in order!
Caleb (8 years old)
So here's where we get into troubled waters. Caleb can read rings around me. He reads faster than I ever have and loves genres that I don't particularly like, and (worst of all) avoids books that his mother recommends. For the record, when he does read the books I give him, he loves them. But he's 8. Somebody hold me. He still devours the stack of picture books I bring home, but to keep him busy, we've had to graduate to what we like to call "big kid books."
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
The story of four sisters who live in the cottage of an estate for a summer. They quickly become friends with the boy who lives in the main house, and their adventures had all my big kids giggling when we read aloud the first chapters. After said time, Caleb stole the book and finished it on the sly in his room. Stinker. There are sequels to this book that we haven't gotten to.
Tuesdays at the Castle by Jean Craighead George
We cheated and listened to this on audiobook (which was top notch!), but when he couldn't wait for the next road trip to find out what happened next, I broke down and checked the hardback copy out from the library for him. This is the first of a series of books about four siblings who live in and will one day inherit a living castle. Yep. The castle adds rooms as needed, prepares banquets when timely, and vanishes rooms that are no longer needed. So basically this is my dream house. But their adventures are fascinating and the story holds just enough suspense to be fun without being frightening to the little ears in my van.
It's odd and wonderful to be in pretty much every stage of reading development at once. To tuck in the baby with her Spot the Dog cloth book and demand that the big kid turn off his Kindle because Narnia will be there in the morning. To watch as one child grasps letters and sounds while another blends words into stories. And when I'm tempted to lose my cool at the crazy, if I can turn off the burners and pick up the baby, if I can get to the book basket without tripping and grab an unread hardcover, I read aloud. And, if I'm lucky, the noise stops, the bodies slow, and once again we are travelers together in an unknown land with companions we are meeting for the very first time. If I'm not lucky, well... nobody's lucky all the time. In which case, there will always be tomorrow. And if I'm really lucky, then maybe tomorrow's a library day. Happy reading!