So many times as busy, rushed parents, we zip through reading books with our kids without really taking a minute to stop and chat about the gifts that the author or illustrator has given us.
Sure, we’re tired. We’ve got lots on our plates. And especially at bedtime, sometimes it’s all we can do to keep our own eyes open during book time. But we’ve really got to jump on opportunities when we’re reading with our kiddos; it’s during this special time–these few moments we’ve got a captive audience–when we can help our children recognize the beauty in books, the gifts that rest on the pages.
Whether the gifts be in strong characters, useful ideas, worthwhile messages, or breath-taking illustrations, nearly every book holds something.
Here are a few of our favorite books and the ‘gifts’ they have given to our family, though your crew may certainly have found different, but equally important, gifts in each. At the end, I’ll share some things to think about when searching for ‘gifts’ on your own:
- The Gift of Humor: The first time my husband and I read Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems, we were in the thick of the 2’s with our oldest, so I literally laughed so hard I cried when Trixie went ‘boneless’ on her poor dad. We read Knuffle Bunny over and over and over and to this day explain to our kids that when they were little, they, too, went ‘boneless’ when they were throwing a fit. We have grown with Trixie and love how our kiddos can use Trixie’s experience with her Knuffle Bunny to better understand how their own dependence on lovies changes as they grow.
This book got my tiny ones movin’ and groovin’.
- The Gift of Movement: Years ago, we discovered Toddlerobics, by Zita Newcome, and we immediately fell in love with its up-beat tone and invitation to move. It was a gift to have my kids loving the movement and rhythm so much that when I read, ‘stretch out your arms and zoom like a plane!!!’, they did. To this day, we use Newcome’s words when we return home donning winter gear: Hats off, coats off, all rush in. Everybody’s ready for toddler gym! Sure it doesn’t make sense for us (we’re not a toddler gym!), but it makes us laugh and surely gets everyone to take off their hats and coats. That’s gift enough.
- The Gift of Kindness: The message in one of our favorite books, The Farmer, by Mark Ludy, is something that every child needs to hear over and over again. It’s a message about treating others the way you’d like to be treated. It’s a message about love, dedication, and faith. This book is full of gifts–language, character, setting, and illustration–but the message, for us, is the biggest gift of all.
Pinkalicious teaches us that one pink cupcake is more than enough.
- The Gift of Moderation: Yes, we love Pinkalicious, by Victoria Kann and Elizabeth Kann because when we discovered it, Maddy was craaa-zy into pink. But now we revisit our old friend for a very important gift–the gift of moderation. The message is important, and it’s one that especially my kids need, as they are growing more independent and spending more time away from me. Kids need to know that things need to be done in moderation, whether it’s eating M & M’s, playing with friends, anything. Or else they’ll turn crazy colors, right?
- The Gift of History: So many of Eve Bunting’s books are jam-packed with rich gifts, but for us, Pop’s Bridge gives us the gift of history. My dad and his father (my Pappy) were both iron workers–strong men who risked their lives doing dangerous work constructing buildings, bridges, and tons of other structures. Reading this book with Maddy, Owen, and Cora allows us to share a piece of their history, a piece of their Pap whom they love and the Pappy they never had the chance to meet.
- The Gift of Character: Lydia Grace, in The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart (and illustrated by David Small) demonstrates such strength of character, determination, and love that she is a true gift for any reader, especially younger kiddos. Often, Maddy and I have talked about how strong Lydia Grace must be to leave her family to live with her uncle, how hard she works to create her gardens, and how much love she must feel for her parents, uncle, and flowers in order for her to keep going. Lydia Grace is a gift in the sense that her character should–and will–inspire all who meet her.
What gift does this book give us? The gift of . . .
- The Gift of Creative Thinking: I’m grateful that my kids are willing to try–and eat–a wide variety of foods, so I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato, by Lauren Child was not a book I grabbed so that they’d eat something other than pb & j. Rather, it’s a book I return to for its gift of creative thought; I love that Charlie helps Lola to look at regular, everyday foods like tomatoes, peas, or mashed potatoes, as things exciting and out of the ordinary. I hope this book helps my kiddos to do that in their lives, to think outside of the box a bit, and find fun in just about anything.
- The Gift of Connection: When my Cora laid eyes on Cora Cooks Pancit, by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, she literally jumped into the air with joy. We don’t run into ‘Cora’ stickers or bookmarks at the store like we do for Maddy and Owen, so to find her name on the cover of a book was gift enough. But when we read the story and found that the Cora in the book was also the youngest in the family, a lover of food, and an aspiring chef, our Cora received one of the best gifts a book can give–connection. This book really made her feel at home.
- The Gift of Sight: Little ones often notice things that busy adults miss, and Will, in How to Heal a Broken Wing, by Bob Graham, reminds us of that. He is the only one to notice a small, injured bird on a busy city street, and his love and healing eventually restores the bird’s health. It is Will’s gift of sight that reminds us to slow down a bit, to breathe a little, and most importantly, to keep an eye out for others.
It’s hard not to love these books, even though they’ll be stuck in your head for years.
- The Gift of Rhythm, Boy-Style: There’s no counting how many gazillions of times that we read Kevin Lewis and Daniel Kirk’s My Truck is Stuck or Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo over here. Lewis and Kirk gives us the gift of rhythm and language with these books, and his boy-happy topics really helped Owen connect to books in a way he hadn’t prior to meeting Truck– and Chugga–. Nothing like starting our day with, Sun’s up, morning’s here–up and at ’em, engineer!
- The Gift of Language: The Fancy Nancy series, by Jane O’ Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, is so magnificent that it gives us small gifts of language in in every book. When Maddy requested a ‘Fancy Nancy Salon Tea Party’ for her big #4, I was happy to oblige. A book that makes words exciting? That empowers children by giving them new gifts in each book? Absolutely stupendous.
This book gives us purpose and lets us know how special we are.
- The Gift of Purpose: I could weep any time I read On the Day You Were Born, by Debra Frasier because the gift it gives readers is so huge, so important, so powerful. This book tells the reader the story of her birth, emphasizing that everything–from the animals, to the stars, to the oceans, to the ‘circle of people singing with voices familiar and clear’–was waiting for her arrival. It emphasizes for children just how important they are, how special they are, and how grateful we are to have them here with us. On the eve of your birth word of your coming passed from animal to animal. . .
- The Gift of Power: Bob McLeod’s SuperHero ABC gives the letters of the alphabet power like nothing else. I love, love, love that through his incredibly amazing superhero illustrations, McLeod hands that energy to young readers. He makes learning the letters fun–cool!–and powerful. Maddy, Owen, and Cora have read–and re-read–Superhero ABC so many times, I’d swear that Cora could recite the whole thing verbatim by her little, 3-year-old superhero self.
Not sure how to uncover the gifts in the books at your house? It’s easy! And the really cool part? There’s no wrong answer: any gift you can identify works. It’s just a unique way of looking at books for emerging readers–that by writing the book or drawing the pictures, the author and illustrator, in a sense, are handing us something special, a gift of sorts.
Some things to think about when searching for book gifts:
- What helped create your initial connection to a particular book?
- What book–or books–do your children ask that you read and re-read? Why?
- Do you use a book for a particular purpose? (teaching concepts, ideas, etc)
- What’s your ‘go-to’ book for events or holidays?
- Which book to you repeatedly buy for birthdays? births? rites of passage?
- What memories does a book conjure up for you?
The focus of the 2011’s Share a Story, Shape a Future event is ‘Unwrapping the Gift of Literacy’, and this post is part of Day #2, The Gift of Reading. Please consider jumping over to the site for some inspiring, worthwhile reads.
Different aspects of this theme will be discussed each day:
- Monday: The Power of a Book – From the literal power of owning a book and a good story to the intangible power that comes with knowing how to read.
- Tuesday: The Gift of Reading – Whether you’re looking for a book to excite a reader, want to help someone learn to read or celebrate the “gift” … it’s covered.
- Wednesday: Unwrapping Literacy 2.0 – With all of the talk of digital literacy, e-readers, etc. What does “literacy” look like in this new century?
- Thursday: Love of Reading v. Homework – Do they have to be at odds? We’ll talk about ways to help readers at home and at school.
- Friday: The Gift that Keeps on Giving – To wrap up the week we’ll be remembering “that
moment” when we realized we were a reader or writer and how to celebrate it with others. Lots(!) of interviews this day.
This year’s events include a podcast interview between Katie Davis and SAS founder/champion Terry Doherty, an original story by Mrs. P, and a roundtable discussion on multiculturalism in children’s books. There will also be daily writing prompts and prizes! This year’s generous donors include Barefoot Books, MrsP.com, Elizabeth Dulemba, and Reading is Fundamental.
The contributors for Day 2 are:
- Jen Robinson of Jen Robinson’s Book Page
- Melissa Taylor of Imagination Soup
- Dawn Morris from Moms Inspire Learning
- Trina O’Gorman of Book Loving Boys
- Charlene Juliani of Adventures in Mommy-Land
- Chris Singer of Book_Dads
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