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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Bookshelf: Your Sincerely, Giraffe

This book is strange, and maybe that’s one reason I love it. It was published in New Zealand by Gecko Press, yet another reason to love it. I generally love books coming out of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, England . . . they have a fresh perspective and seem to break the boxes of form found in American books. It’s not your typical 32 page picture book. It clocks in at 102 pages, but with illustrations on every page and sparse text it still feels picture booky.

I love that on the end flap, where you usually find pictures and short bios of the author and illustrator in US picture books, there is instead an illustration of a strange creature, kind of a winged, four-legged snake with a pelican bill standing on his hind legs. Underneath it is a simple truth, “It’s hard to imagine someone you’ve never seen.” On the first page we read, next to a picture of a giraffe pinned to the wall, “‘Write my story,’ Giraffe said. ‘It’s perfect for people who are alone. And for people who are bored. And even people who are busy might like to take a little break and read it, too.” I was so, so hooked.

What follows is a bored giraffe writing the first of many letters which he sends as far as possible across the other side of the horizon. They are delivered by a bored pelican looking for something to do, and received by a seal who delivers to a penguin going to school on Whale Island where his teacher is, of course, a whale. See, I told you, strange. And silly, and yet wonderful. It is a book about friendship and how we connect with each other and imagination. I can just see the creative writing assignment for this one: Describe what you look like to an alien who has never seen a human.

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Bookshelf: Out of the Dust

One of the things I love about a novel written in verse is that you can take the entire thing in quickly, sometimes in one sitting. With one gulp I took in the sadness and the hope of this book, dust storms and death laced with glimpses of sweetness. I read it first when my oldest was a toddler and my reading time was sporadic and brief, and again before writing this post, my oldest engaged to be married. The writing is amazing, it won the Newbery after all, and it is Karen Hesse, the first book of hers that I read but certainly not the last. It doesn’t feel right to say that I learned about the dust bowl, it feels right to say that I felt it, the grit on the piano keys, in the sheets, between the teeth, everywhere. There is a grasp of story in this book, a sense of when the reader can’t take one more bit of sorrow and so we get some lightness. It is a book to make you cry, to make you pull out your highlighter so you can capture the truths, the kind of book you have to share with someone. Like this part:

 

Ma has rules for setting the table.

I place plates upside down,

glasses bottom side up,

napkins folded over forks, knives and spoons.

 

When dinner is ready,

we sit down together

and Ma says,

“Now.”

 

We shake out our napkins,

spread them on our laps,

and flip over our glasses and plates,

exposing neat circles,

round comments

on what life would be like without dust.

 

See how she does that? Placing us in February, 1934, Oklahoma, at the table with such precise details and then using them to show us just how bad it was. The dust was relentless, quick, everywhere, and we feel it at this dinner table. This kind of writing is on every page, making up a story that is gritty as the dust bowl and hopeful as a rainstorm.

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Bookshelf: Elizabeti’s Doll

Elizabeti’s Doll, a picture book by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, illustrated by Christy Hale, is an oldie but a goodie. Alayna loved this book when she was little, a sweet story of a young girl who wants her own baby to care for while her mom tends her baby brother. I love how the illustrations flesh out this story. The text never says that the girl lives in rural Tanzania and has no access to store bought dolls. There is no pity for Elizabeti, for while her house may look different and her food may be cooked over an open fire, she has a loving family and a great sense of purpose in not only caring for her rock-baby but fetching water and helping with dinner. Kids will admire Elizabeti’s resourcefulness and see they have something in common with this child who lives such a different kind of life. It shows us, it doesn’t tell us, one of the first writing rules I learned and one I still work on today.

I recently needed a book that showed what the word “devotion” means. I can’t think of a better example of devotion than a mother’s love for her child, and this child’s love for her precious rock-baby, Eva.

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