Storytime: Mothers

This week, our story time books all have mothers in them, frustrated moms and brave moms, comforting and visionary moms, and one mom who smells like roses and is waiting on the doorstep with a kiss for her little boy. To go straight to the summaries of the books, scroll down. I’m going to pause just a minute and share a few pics. In this first one, my mom, my sister (who wasn’t a mom yet), and my husband’s mom were all waiting outside the hospital door while on the other side I was becoming a mom for the very first time.

It perfectly captures that sense of excitement and anxiousness and I-can’t-wait-hurry-up-and-have-that-baby feeling we all had! There’s a guy at the dog park where we take Humphrey whose wife is about to have a baby, and people keep giving him a hard time telling him he’s about to lose all his free time and he’s going to get no sleep and dirty diapers are disgusting and I tell him that’s all true but it doesn’t matter. Because he’s going to have these heart-in-his-throat moments that trump it all. Like this one, when I had all three of my chicks all gathered up plus Clay on one shoulder and yellow duck on the other and Alayna full of kisses and hugs and Nate full of crooked smiles and stories and new Benji with wide staring eyes and possibilities and life was full.

And then I blinked and they grew up and were beautiful and Alayna is adventurous and ready to embark on a life of possibilities and Nate is still full of stories and smiles and Benji’s baby staring eyes are now in an 18-year-old’s body and are taking in life all around him and I love to sit across the table and hear about what he’s seeing and thinking about it all.

I love being a mom. I love my mom, and Clay’s mom, and all the mom’s in my life. Happy Mother’s Day and I hope you can harness some kids and read them some books this week! Here are our books this week:

Scarlette Beane by Karen Wallace, illustrated by Jon Berkeley

This is a good one for young kids. There isn’t much text and the pictures are nice and big and bright. I love the blessing the mom speaks over her daughter on the first page of this book, “‘We shall call her Scarlette,’ declared Mrs. Beane. ‘She will grow tall and strong and do something wonderful.'” The family lives in a house as small as a garden shed so they work outside as much as possible, gardening while their sweet baby, Scarlette, sleeps in her stroller nearby, the ends of her magical fingers glowing green. When her dad gives Scarlette her very own garden on her fifth birthday, wonderful things happen. She grows veggies so enormous it takes a forklift to harvest the onions and chainsaws to cut the parsley. They feed everyone in the village soup, and Scarlette grows a most wonderful, magical new home for her family under the light of a full moon. A castle of vegetables!

Scaredy Cat by Joan Rankin

This picture book is just the right amount of “scary” for little guys, suspense that’s resolved on the very next page with Mama Meow, the kitten’s mother, reassuring her/him (it can be either since it’s told from the kitten’s point of view and drawn neutral, I’ll go with a girl) that whatever she’s frightened of is not so scary. The “giant” is just Auntie B and the “crocodiles” are just Auntie B’s shoes. Excitement builds when the kittens sees an “eensie-weensie spider”  that turns out to be “Scratchpooch’s” nose and whiskers which the kitten takes care of all on her own. With a BONK! and a KAPOW! from kitten, Mama Meow declares her Tiger Cat. Another good one for littles with minimal text and such a sweetness.

Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild! By Mem Fox, illustrated by Marla Frazee

I’m a huge fan of both the author and the illustrator and this book is precious to me because it’s signed by the illustrator. I have to include a picture because I love when illustrators draw a picture when they sign a book (and I’m a little jealous they can do that. I can barely sign my name when someone hands me a copy of Her Own Two Feet to sign, I’m so nervous I’ll mess up and either misspell their name, or my own, ha!)

But I digress. I love that this book keeps it real. It’s about a child named Harriet who doesn’t mean to be pesky, she just is, and a mother who doesn’t like to yell, and tries her very best to keep her cool, until she just can’t. Harriet spills her juice and some jam, pulls the tablecloth (and everything else) off the table, and rips open a pillow (with the help of the dog) . . . and then there is a terrible silence (and an awesome illustration where feathers hang suspended in the bedroom behind Harriet’s mom, where she sits at a kitchen table, her eyes wide, her pen hanging suspended above a letter). Then Mom yells and yells and Harriet says, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” in a flurry of wildness like feathers flying from pillows and then comes the hugs and the forgiveness and the settling and they laugh as they clean up their mess together. Keeping it real. I love it. Perfect for littles, minimal text, lots of feelings and love.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

This book is absolutely beautiful, both the illustrations and the message. While the text is spare, it’s a book for all ages including adults, with so much to talk about and look at. It’s the story of a mother with a small child who travels across a bridge and becomes an immigrant in a foreign land where she doesn’t speak the language. She and her child make mistakes as they try to understand and find their way to a library where they learn to read and find their voice. There is a lot going on in the illustrations and plenty to talk about that isn’t being said explicitly. There are Spanish and English words, and lyrical language, for example, “One day we bundled gifts in our backpack and crossed a bridge outstretched like the universe,” and in the illustration the words “Adios Corazon” (goodbye, beloved) are stitched. I love this sweet mother and her determination to give her child a better life, leaving behind her beloved homeland. At first she is suspicious of a place like a library, where books are free to borrow, she finds it improbable, then “unbelievable, surprising, unimaginable . . .” What a gift, to be reminded that books and stories are . . . a gift!

A Gift for Mama by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Alison Jay

This book is set in Vienna, where a boy named Oskar wants to buy his mama the perfect gift for her birthday. He starts off buying her a beautiful yellow rose for a single coin, but on the next page an artist wants the rose and so he trades it for a paintbrush, and ends up trading that to a conductor for some sheet music, and so it goes, until he comes to a girl with a beautiful yellow rose pinned to her dress with no gift for her mama. He gives her the candies he got from the empress and is empty-handed as he goes home to his mama that evening, until the girl runs up and gives him the rose from her dress. Oskar’s mama kisses him and tells him his gift is, “Perfect.” Perfect. 🙂

 

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Storytime: Family

This week’s storytime is brought to you by books about family. Four of the five books are about siblings and one of them is a really cool book about an aunt (not ant) farm. It’s hilarious! I recently found out my three grown kids have been doing a sibling zoom call once a week or so. I can not tell you how happy it makes me to know that somehow, somewhere along the way, these three formed a bond that knit them together and keeps them pursuing each other, even when they live in three different places.

Benji was born 2001

We shared a lot of stories together, and yes, some of those stories were the kind of lived out stories. Trips we took, holiday traditions, neighbors we dug in with and houses we made into homes.

“falling off” Machu Picchu in 2008

But I’d like to think some of those bonds were knit between the pages of all those books we shared day after day, week after week, year after year after year. We read a ton of books when the kids were little, during the day, at night, nap time, play time, too-hot-to-be-outside time. They share those stories, too. The cadence and pictures and characters and rhymes. I think there is something magical about story time. So magical grown children call each other up once a week.

May it be so for your families whatever they look like, whether it’s siblings or aunts who share your stories. Here’s our picture books about families, and if you know of others, leave them in the comments. I do hope other story tellers find their way to these posts and find them helpful as they choose their books for their own little circles of kids.

Chloe, Instead by Micah Player

This book is great for younger kids. It’s got bright colors and spare text, and it addresses the age-old issue of the irritating little sibling. In this case it’s a little sister who eats crayons, tears up books, and basically gets into big sister’s business. Big sister is allowed to have her melt down. She says, “Go away, Chloe!” and then, in utter frustration when Chloe reaches out out and “boop” touches her keyboard anyway, she explodes in a double page spread with “Chloe!” But then we see a moment of big sister remorse and then with no parent interaction she apologizes and invites Chloe to dance. The resolution is really sweet, the two sisters end up sharing the same twin bed as the morning light streams in. Love!

Titch by Pat Hutchins

Another great one for little ones with short attention spans, Titch is little with two older siblings who seemingly are better at everything. Their bikes and kites and musical instruments and tools are bigger . . . ahh, but in the end Pete has a big spade, Mary has a fat flowerpot, and even though Titch has only a tiny seed it grows and grows and grows! This is a great one to do with a “growing” activity to get the wiggles out. After reading, tell the kids to be a seed and then grow, and grow, and grow until their arms are stretched waaaay over their heads.

Truman’s Aunt Farm by Jama Kim Rattigan, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

I loved this illustrator! And this book is hysterical. I mean, the premise is right in the title. Truman receives a gift from his Aunt Fran, she thinks she’s sending the ant farm he asked for but instead he gets aunts! Around two hundred of them who make such a fuss, pinching Truman’s cheeks and baking cookies. He cares for them as best he can and eventually gives the aunts away to deserving kids. Then one day, after all the hubbub, a big box arrives. What in the world could it be? It’s another aunt! But this time it’s Aunt Fran 🙂

And You Can Be the Cat by Hazel Hutchins, illustrated by Ruth Ohi

This book addresses the scenario where the little kid gets stuck with the worst part in every make believe game. At first Norman is fine being a cat while Neil and Leanna are pioneers, but when they play store and then fancy restaurant and Norman is still relegated to the role of cat he’s bored and the “cat” misbehaves and is thrown out of the game. Norman makes a fort in the living room by himself that becomes the coolest castle anywhere. When Neil and Leanna see it, they are so impressed they tell Norman he can be king, but he smiles and says “No thanks, I’ll just be the cat.” I love the imagination the kids have in this book, and Norman doesn’t go running to his parents with his grievance but makes a better game. May it be so with all young kids!

The Seven Chinese Sisters by Kathy Tucker, illustrated by Grace Lin

I love that these seven sisters take care of each other, each using their own gifting, even the youngest sister who wasn’t sure what her gift was yet (we find our her gift on the last page, she is the best storyteller, and she always tells this story first, I adore this!). I all their gifts, from riding a scooter fast as the wind to talking to dogs to counting to five hundred and beyond, and how this story cleverly incorporates all these gifts to defeat a dragon. I love that the first word the youngest sister speaks is “help” and this line: “it was an excellent word.” What a great message for girls and boys, that “help” is an excellent word! I also love that we find out the dragon is so mean because he’s hungry. It’s a nod to look past the scales to what’s underneath and find out the “why” when someone is grouchy or mean, to have compassion. There’s so many reasons to love this story about these seven adorable sisters. Did I mention they are adorable? I love Grace Lin’s illustrations.

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Storytime: Pets

When my good friend and critique partner, Jerri Romine, said I could come raid her shelves for story time books, I was thrilled. She is a former preschool teacher with a fantastic eye for what makes a great read aloud, she recently got her second vaccine and I’ve had my first, we were golden! And a special surprise, another critique partner Paige Britt showed up (also recently vaccinated). We haven’t seen each other in over a year! As Kathi Appelt says in her book Bubba and Beau Meet the Relatives, it was jubilation galore!

left to right Jerri Romine, Paige Britt, and Meredith Davis

We first met way back in 2005 when we started reading each other’s work, cheering each other on, and going gaga over the best in kidlit. Jerri baked fresh banana bread and made hot coffee and had stacks and stacks of awesome books on her kitchen table. We caught up on life and went gaga over some of the best in kidlit all over again, separating all those great picture books into stacks by themes. I’ve got enough books to get our story time kiddos through the summer, starting with this week’s theme on pets.

If anyone follows me on social media, you’ve met our “mini” double doodle Humphrey who is often muddy-footed and full of energy. Kind of reminds me of some kids I know! I think the kids will love this week’s books, and if you’ve got others you’d recommend, leave them in the comments!

The Stray Dog retold and illustrated by Marc Simont, from a true story by Reiko Sassa

This is a great book for young ones, not a lot of text and a simple storyline with lots of emotion. A family leaves the city and drives to a nearby park for a picnic, where they play with a cute little dog. They call him Willy but when it’s time to go home they assume he belongs to somebody and leave him behind. In the next two page turns the week passes, and the family thinks about Willy. The following weekend they return to the park for another picnic, see Willy being chased by a dog catcher, insist that he belongs to them (the boy’s belt becomes the leash, the girl’s bow his collar) and take him home. Sweet! I love that it’s based on a true story, love the spread where the boy and girl have the dog in the tub with them giving him a bath, just love the whole darn book and how it’s told so simply.

The Bravest Cat The True Story of Scarlett by Laura Driscoll, illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan

I love that this is also a true story, and such a heartwarming one. A mother cat rescues her little kittens from a building that’s on fire but they’re all burned in the process, especially the mother. They’re taken to an animal hospital and stories run on TV and in the newspapers about the brave mother cat. They slowly recover and get adopted (except one who dies, it’s handled with honesty and a simple explanation I appreciate). Scarlett, the mother, receives over a thousand letters from people who want to take her home and ends up going to a woman who was also in an accident and took a long time to recover, a woman who lost her cat but waited to replace her because she didn’t want another “unless it was a very special one . . . just like Scarlett!” And there’s a real photo at the end just so you’ll get good and weepy.

Dog’s Colorful Day by Emma Dodd

I’ve loved reading this book out loud for many years, it’s just got a lot of great elements and while it’s a bit of a stretch to call it a “pet” book, this white dog (with one black spot on his left ear) is indeed a pet who accumulates different colors of spots throughout his day, a red splat of jam, a blue splish of paint, and on it goes. You get to count, and do colors, and play with different fun sounds like squash and splosh, and at the end I love playing a memory game with the kids to see if they remember what made all those fun spots. It’s got bright, engaging illustrations, simple text, it’s a story and a game all wrapped up in one, this one has it all, so I say do it for pets, do it for counting and colors, just do it for fun!

I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloff illustrated by David Catrow

In a series of increasingly creative letters a boy tells his mom why he really wants his neighbor’s iguana when he moves, and his mom very patiently explains why it’s a really bad idea. Catrow’s art is over the top, bright and weird, and the mom is a tough cookie. She’s eventually won over, but only on a “trial basis” and she reminds her son, “If you clean his cage as well as you clean your room, you’re in trouble.” All this back and forth in letters, brings us to a really sweet double page spread where we see an in-person mother and son interaction. Mom stoops down, son clasps his hands, page turn, and then, and then, suspense builds on the next double page spread . . .Yesss! He gets that iguana by golly. So satisfying!

The Dog Who Had Kittens by Polly M. Robertus, illustrated by Janet Stevens

I get sentimental about this book because the author, Polly, was one of the first children’s book authors I met when I started writing for kids, and I had this book on the shelf when my daughter was born even though it’s a bit text heavy and I had to wait a while for her to sit still and listen to it. It got lost somewhere along the way so I was so happy when I saw it in Jerri’s pile, like finding a long lost friend. It’s a sweet one, about an old, grouchy Basset Hound named Baxter. When Eloise the cat has kittens he’s shoved off to the side and kept away but one day the family leaves, the door to the laundry rooms is left open, and Eloise is gone. Baxter becomes the kittens’ new favorite,  and all is well again, until one day when Baxter goes off with his boy and when he comes back, the kittens are gone. He ends up snuggling up in their old box with, guess who . . . Eloise! She licks his ear, just as if he were a kitten, ahhhh. A good picture book always has a zinger of a last line and a final illustration that stays with you. This one doesn’t disappoint.

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Storytime: Home

This week I’m reading books to the kids that all touch on the theme of home. Clay and I moved into a new home fall 2020, away from doggy doors and backyards and neighborhoods to a building with an elevator that takes us up to our condo on the 26th floor. Some of the things I most looked forward to we are still looking forward to, because they still haven’t happened! Going right across the street to work at the library, walking to concerts at Moody Theater or catching a movie at the Violet Crown still can’t happen due to Covid. BUT, we have loved being close to the hike and bike trail, the library is still open for pickups, and there are still tons of things to love about our new home. The sunsets are spectacular, and covid can never take those away.
We also love watching the skyscraper going up next door, walking to the grocery store and restaurants to sit outside with Humphrey, and maybe our favorite, we love the dog park where we’ve met wonderful people and dogs. I would love to write a series of books about the whole world of our dog park, a world of drama and intrigue that brings us much delight.
I also love my new office in our home, where I zoom with the kids to do storytime every Tuesday morning. This week, we read these books about home. If you’ve got more books you’d recommend about home, leave them in the comments, I’ve love to add them to my list!

The Home Builders by Varsha Bajaj, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani

A perfect book to share with kids about all the different sorts of homes animals live in, and the illustrations are gorgeous. There’s lots to look at, lots to find as the text asks “do you see?” and homes house growing families. The book culminates in a spread showing all the animals sharing our cumulative earthly home, what a blessing of a book and a special bonus that it’s written by a dear friend.

This book makes a great read aloud with the predictable repetition of each animal coming along and doing something different with the book, from making it a home to a hat to a meal (love that little book worm) when along comes a different sort of human animal who knows just what to do with this strange-looking thing. All the animals gather around to hear the story, their story. What a wonderful book indeed!
This book is written by an Austin author, shout out to Vanessa who also wrote Lucy and the String, another great read aloud I shared with my kids when we did a storytime all about kindness. In this book, a little box turtle hatches without a shell. His parents give him “a name and a shell that fit just right” (Terrance, and a cardboard box) but after getting bullied by some turtles with more traditional shells, he sheds his box and with the help of a crab is off to find something different. A mailbox, a jack-in-the-box, a treasure box . . . even a litter box (so much humor in the illustrations!), but nothing works and he eventually returns and with the help of friends dons his old, fixed-up box and realizes he’s more than his shell. Ahhhhh.
Shout out to another Austin author, Christina, who has won tons of starred reviews and awards (two Newbery Honors!) I won’t even try to list them all. This picture book came out this year and I love that I got a sneak peek at it in a workshop we did together years before. It’s the story of five siblings who live together in a ramble shamble house who hear about a proper house and think that’s what their house needs to look like, too, so they get to work. I often remind myself, and my kids, of the famous quote often attributed to Teddy Roosevelt, “comparison is the thief of joy.” The kids in this book soon learn that their old house and their old ways may not have been “proper” but they were better, and in the end they all stay up watching the youngest make a proper mess. Thank you, Christina, I want to hug this book.
This book came to my attention because I tuned in to a live storytelling Bookpeople was doing on Instagram and fell in love with it. While it’s perfect for kids, I read it to my 22-year-old son who is currently on the job hunt, and I’d absolutely read it to my critique partner for encouragement. It’s for anyone who’s heard too many no’s lately, and it’s for any kid wanting a good story. This dog just wants a good home, he keeps sending letters to potential people, moving on down the list until he resorts to the grouchy junkyard owner and even the abandoned house, but he keeps getting “no’s”. But, as my friend Bethany Hegedus likes to remind me, there’s this famous line from a Wallace Stevens poem, “After the final no there comes a yes/And on that yes the future world depends.” The dog gets his yes from an unexpected place-this book makes me swoon and gives me goose bumps-best wordless double page spread EVER!! It’s told in a series of postcards, I’ve probably written more words in this synopsis than are in the whole picture book. Highly recommend.

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Storytime: Easter/Spring

Clay and I were out of town the Tuesday before Easter in Utah seeing the newlyweds, Alayna and Choi, who are living their best van life. We saw some absolutely awe-inspiring, magical places.

And we got to laugh around the table like we haven’t done since they left in January.

I have to say it was worth leaving my sweet little storytime kids in their zoom boxes to take our trip, but I sure did miss them and I’m excited to read to them again this Tuesday, and I’m excited to start sharing our read aloud books here on the blog and on the new storytime page in the hopes that it will help other parents and storytellers as they look for books to read their own groups of kids.

Our theme this week is books for spring! Our Texas snow woes are a thing of the past and bluebonnets are cropping up on the side of the road. I snuck a few Easter books into my storytime even though it’s after the holiday, combining them with a few books about spring because you can never have too much of good things like Easter and spring, right? Here’s our picks for this week:


Peter Easter Frog
 by Erin Dealey, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

This is a great book because it’s a familiar tune (hippity, hoppity, Easter’s on it’s waaaaay) so you can sing it, but you keep interrupting yourself. Instead of “Easter’s on its way” it’s Hey! or Whoa!  or No way! as the frog keeps meeting up with various animals that are definitely not the Easter bunny, who, by the way, is not pleased when he sees others taking over his job. Don’t worry, (SPOILER ALERT) he softens up when someone gives him an egg.

The Tale of Three Trees retold by Angela Elwell Hunt, illustrated by Tim Jonke

This book is based on a folktale, and tells the story of three trees with high aspirations. One wants to hold treasure, one wants to be a strong ship that carries kings, and one wants to be the tallest tree in the world so that when people look at it, they’ll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. Years pass, the trees grow, eventually they’re chopped down and their hopes are dashed, BUT, all is not lost. There is beautiful redemption, this book can be used for Christmas or Easter. One becomes a manger, one the ship where Jesus calms the storm, and the last, the cross.

 

Max’s Chocolate Chicken by Rosemary Wells

We had this book when the kids were young, and it stands the test of time. Max is obsessed with the chocolate chicken but his bossy big sister, Ruby, tells him he has to do the egg hunt first and whoever finds the most eggs gets the chocolate chicken. Guess who finds the most eggs, and guess who grabs the chicken, hides in a tree stump and eats it up anyway? All is well in the end, there’s a spare chocolate goose wrapped in a bow that matches Ruby’s dress and mischievous Max with chocolate on his face only eats the tail and leaves the rest for his big sis. Spare text and cute pics with lots to point at make this a great book for young and old.

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

In this story, a girl makes her most magnificent thing. For most of the book she’s really frustrated. It’s about what you do when things don’t look the way you want, about taking breaks and getting perspective. It’s about the creative process, and I love it because it’s exactly how my creative process looks! This may seem a strange pick for Easter or spring, but it’s actually a great conversation starter for asking kids, “what is the most magnificent thing” you can think of? Look at the flowers, the newborn deer, the budding trees. Talk about the Easter story. Is there anything more magnificent than the resurrection? This book is a great spring board, and just a fun read. It could also go in a storytime about feelings or anger or creativity. I may have to reuse it. 🙂

And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

This author, and this illustrator, I swoon. I just love the style and the vibe. I could live between the cover of this book for a long while, soaking up the illustration and the world, but that’s not what storytime is all about. This book takes you from brown to green, from seed to grass and sprouts. Read this one through and notice all the wonderful details before you share it so you can point out to your little ones the turtle with his magnifying glass and the bear with the flowerpot on his head and all the other fun things. It is a noticing kind of book, great for a kid on each side in a nice cozy chair and lots of repeat reads, but I couldn’t resist sharing it with my zoom kids.

I’ve had several parents ask me about recommendations for books telling the biblical story of Easter for really young children, like 2’s and 3’s. One that is excellent but I didn’t have on hand to read so it isn’t included in the list above is from the Read Aloud Bible Stories Series, Vol. 2 by Ella K. Lindvall, illustrated by Ken Renczenki which has several Bibles stories compiled in it. The Easter story is A Sad Day and a Happy Day. Another Christian Easter book for older kids (because it has more text) that I love but didn’t include above because our church already read it to our storytime group of kids is The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross by Carl Lafterton, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri.

If you’ve got more suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments!

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It’s Time for Storytime

I was recently zooming with another writer who asked me about my blog and so I screen-shared to give him a look at it. I was surprised to see entries going back all the way to 2011. I was blogging way back then? And then there’s the link to Faces in the Street in the right hand corner that takes you to our old 2007-08 website, so I was blogging even earlier than that!

Definitely a blog-worthy moment in London!

Over the years I’ve primarily used the blog as a place to keep people posted when “big” things have been going on in our life. The Big Trip we took around the world, our attempts to adopt, the year Rebeka lived with us, and the story of Her Own Two Feet, the book I co-wrote with Rebeka that was published in 2019. More recently, the blog was added to an updated website with great resources for the book, and then I added a “bookshelf” to the blog and website so I could start talking about some of the favorite books on my shelves.

Since then some pretty huge things have happened in the Davis household that I haven’t blogged about. Beyond Covid, which has impacted all of our worlds, we’ve acquired a puppy who is now a year old, and we moved downtown.

We also sent our youngest off to college . . .

married off our oldest . . .

credit to Courtney Cope Media for picture

and waved goodbye to the newlyweds as they set off to travel the US in the van they spent six month renovating. You can follow their adventures at: http://alongwego.com/

Thank you Courtney Cope for one of my all time favorite family pictures ever!

I don’t know why I didn’t blog about any of that. Maybe I’m still processing it all and it will spill out over the next year, sort of a storytime in retrospect. I’m writing this post to introduce a new series of posts about Storytime with a capital “S” because I am back in the saddle and getting to do Storytimes with little kids again, and it is filling me with great joy and also a new idea.

Each week I’m pulling a stack of read-alouds and grouping them in themes that I read over zoom to the sweetest group of kids you ever did see, and it started me thinking. I should share them online so other storytellers could use the lists as a resource. I reached out to  Miss Anastasia who does storytimes for The Twig in San Antonio. She once worked with me at Toad Hall, and we reconnected during a book signing for Her Own Two Feet last year when The Twig supplied the books.

She shares her lists on her instagram account and there’s lots more out there, too. I hope to be a hub and share links to storytime resources for everyone, young and old. I am a firm believer that you are never too old for storytime. Just ask my kids, who are often corralled so I can read them a picture book. I just read one to Nate today. He’s twenty-two, and I read him Can I Be Your Dog by Troy Cummings.

I first heard it being read online during Bookpeople’s live storytime on instagram, and it’s a great story for anyone on a job search, or submitting manuscripts, basically anyone who’s heard some “no’s” and is waiting to hear a “yes.” It’s about a dog named Alfie that just wants a home. He sends letters to a bunch of likely prospects but gets no after no until it looks like all is lost. But all is never lost in the world of picture books. Maybe that’s why I like them so much. Maybe that’s why I like storytime so much. It is a happy place.

So this post is a catch up, and an introduction. I’ll still blog about the big things that come along in the Davis family, but I’ll post on the bookshelf and soon on the new storytime page, too. They feel like conversations about books, one of my most favorite conversations to have.

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Bookshelf: Fauja Singh Keeps Going

I first found this picture book through Betsy Bird’s excellent blog for School Library Journal called Fuse 8, in a post she did as part of her 31 Days, 31 Lists series. For this post she listed 2020 Nonfiction Picture Books. The field of children’s literature is wide and deep and rich, and how wonderful are the people who make lists like this for us to mine and discover new treasures? If you haven’t found Betsy Bird and her blog yet, I highly recommend it. Your library cart will always be full and your bookshelves will sag with goodness.

Why does Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon by Simran Jeet Singh and illustrated by Baljinder Kaur have a spot on my bookshelf? Why did it give me goosebumps the first time I read it? Not only is it an incredible story, but it has some uncanny similarities to the book I coauthored with Rebeka, Her Own Two Feet. In Fauja Keeps Going, he is born in a small village unable to walk, just like Rebeka. In one of the first illustrations of the book, Fauja is pictured sitting under a tree eating a mango. In our book, we talk about Rebeka sharing a mango with her sister, Medeatrece.

Fauja’s mother encourages him with the words “Today is the chance to do your best,” a refrain that comes back later in the text. In our book, Rebeka’s father tells her “Chance comes once,” a phrase that is also repeated throughout the book. After years of crawling on the ground, Fauja teaches himself how to walk, just as Rebeka teaches herself how to walk. In the illustrations, a butterfly flutters around Fauja as he takes his first step, and then another, and that butterfly appears at the end of the book as well. A butterfly is a powerful symbol in Her Own Two Feet! In both books, Fauja and Rebeka fly across the ocean to countries where they don’t speak the language and encounter hardships they eventually overcome as they make new friends and learn new skills. Are you catching all this? The “chance” refrain, learning to walk, butterflies, flying across the ocean . . . do you have goosebumps?

Both of our books have themes of resilience, perseverance and strength. They deal with overcoming rejection, and the importance of faith. I can’t wait to share Fauja Singh Keeps Going with Rebeka next time I see her. One significant difference is that the picture book doesn’t stop when Fauja is still young. As the subtitle explains, the book shares the story of how Fauja leaves his village for the first time at age 81, runs his first marathon at age 89, and finishes the Toronto Marathon at age 100. Rebeka is just 18 years old, and her future spreads before her with great promise and possibility. What a wonder to find a book with so many similarities, and what a delight that a Sikh man born in India, and a Christian girl born in Rwanda, would share so much in common. If only they could meet over a cup of tea and a plate of ripe mango, the friendship that would bloom and the stories they would trade!

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How’s the Book Doing?

I reached into the front pocket of my purse a few weeks ago and pulled out a little stack of postcards advertising the launch party for our book, a year ago! (It’s been a while since I cleaned out my purse!) People often ask, “How’s the book doing?” and on this day, a year after the launch party, it feels like a good time to reflect. How do you judge how a book is doing? After six months it sold over a 100,000 copies and earned out. That means Rebeka and I earned back our advance, something that can take years and sometimes (often!) never happens in the publishing world. So, if you judge this book by the numbers, it’s doing really great.

But I have never been a numbers person. Recently someone asked me for the last four digits of my phone number, and I gave them the last four digits of a phone number I haven’t used for over seven years. I am a word person, and I have many more words than anyone would ever care to read about how great the book is doing, but I’ll just share a few. For one, Her Own Two Feet gave me the chance to gather people from all the many circles in my life at the launch party, the writers and family and neighbors and friends. That little bright yellow book gave us a common story to celebrate, a story of courage and resilience.

It’s given us the chance to reach people across the country. The first time I heard from a teacher that her class was reading the book was such a thrill, and that thrill doesn’t change as classes continue to find our book and get inspired by Rebeka’s story.

There are kids who have also been bullied, or had club feet, or who have dealt with other disabilities or hardships who tell us Rebeka’s story encouraged them to be strong and take chances to change their lives. Sometimes they send pictures or letters. Each one is a treasure.

It has won lots of awards and stars and honors, and was an NAACP Image Awards nominee which brought Rebeka back to America for the first time in seven years. I got to see my two girls all dressed up in Hollywood.

I got to do school visits with Rebeka and see how she bloomed on stage and in front of a crowd. Her confidence and grace make me so proud, and it was right and good that we got to do some visits together so she could experience the wonderful reception the book has had. She also got to see her doctor again, and so many old friends.

How is the book doing? Wonderful. It is changing lives, starting with mine and Rebeka’s. There is much we can’t control in the world of publishing, and we are so grateful for the good numbers. It means there will be more readers who will read Rebeka’s story. We hope it is an encouragement to many, and while we may never know all the stories, the ones we do get to hear are such a gift. Like the boy who was run over by a car and almost lost his life. He came across Her Own Two Feet while enduring months of hard therapy and was so encouraged by Rebeka’s story he shared it with his teacher, who shared it with his class. His teacher reached out to me and I was able to do a virtual author visit with them and this boy shared how Rebeka’s story helped him to be strong when he hurt. Stories like these show how the book is doing, putting flesh on the numbers and a song in our hearts.

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Bookshelf: Brotherhood

This book is written by A. B. Westrick, my roommate all four semesters while we both attended Vermont College of Fine Arts and earned our MFAs in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She is a lovely, hysterical, compassionate woman and when this book came out I was so, so proud to know her because this book is smart, and gripping, and eye-opening. Also, the title? Brilliant. The cover? Perfect. I hadn’t read a lot of historical fiction about the period in our country known as Reconstruction, and I learned a lot. My favorite way to digest nonfiction, and historical fiction, and let’s be honest, pretty much any genre, is through children’s books. Does that surprise anyone?

One of the things this book explores is the Klan in Richmond, Virginia in 1867, where many families had lost husbands to the war and were struggling to survive. The Klan came along and gave families food and clothes. The first time the main character, Shad, tells what he knows of the brotherhood, he says, “I know it protects people. I know brothers ride the streets at night, keeping evil away.” Really? That was the Klan’s marketing message? Later, Shad is asked by a Klansman, “Do you promise to protect and defend the weak and innocent, especially the widows and orphans of soldiers who gave their lives in sacrifice for our noble cause?” Wow. I guess I always thought from the very beginning a Klansman knew what he was signing up for, he had a hatred for black people and being in the Klan was about persecuting and killing them.

This book is about how those with evil intent can disguise themselves as the good guys, can harness frustration and anger and sorrow and use it to do unspeakable things. It’s also about a lot more. It’s about how Shad becomes friends with a feisty, intelligent freed slave named Rachel. It’s about friendship and loyalty and history and how hard it is to do the right thing sometimes, but how important it is. I love the last line of Anne’s note to the reader: “My intention in writing this story was not to justify his [Shad’s] view, but to draw readers so closely into his world that they experience his emerging capacity to question his circumstances.” Well done, roomie. May we all have the capacity to question our circumstances and the courage to do what is right.

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Bookshelf: The Empty Pot

 

I love the design of this beautiful picture book, Demi’s intricate drawings framed in circles on each page (like you’re looking down into the Empty Pot), but what I love most is the emotion this story evokes in me and those who take in the story during a read aloud (it’s an excellent read aloud). I’d glance up during story time and see worried eyebrows, maybe a kid would creep closer to study the pictures, and then there was the surprised “Oh!” at the end.

Ping, the main character, takes pride in his skill and works hard to grow the seed the Emperor gives him. He’s got this great gift of growing things, but the seed won’t grow, no matter what he tries. Months later, it’s spring and all the other kids in the land rush to the palace with their beautiful flowers but all Ping has is an empty pot. The child with the best flower will be the next Emperor, so the stakes are high.

Oh, how I feel for Ping. My writer self knows how it feels to run out of words, or not be able to find the right words. Sometimes my pot is empty, too, and there’s no explanation for it. Or if there is, I don’t know why the words aren’t there.

There is an explanation for Ping’s empty pot, but I won’t ruin the awesome ending. I will tell you this story makes me so proud of Ping. It takes great courage to offer only the empty truth, but sometimes what’s needed more than a full pot is an honest answer. Maybe what I’m looking at to judge whether I’m good enough, isn’t where I need to be looking. This is a story for everyone, not just kids, like most great picture books.

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