Ten Picture Books that Will Always Stay on my Shelf

Ten Picture Books that Will Always Stay on my Shelf





















By Marcelle Soviero

I began collecting picture books well before I had children, not board books, but the odd-sized hardcover books with beautiful illustrations and stories that enthralled me. There are ten I have listed here that has moved me before I was a mother and long after I was a mother. Many were introduced to me by my best friend, Susan, and together we introduced them to our children, often combining a read-aloud with an associated “story” craft. My five children are past picture book stage, but these books, ever-so-worn from rereading, will never leave my shelves.

All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan, Illustrated by Michael Wimmer (1994)

On the day that Eli is born, his grandmother holds him up to the window to see the beauty of the land around him, and his grandfather cries and carves his new grandson’s name into the barn rafters alongside other family names. As Eli grows older, he discovers that each member of the family has a special place that he or she loves best, a place that “makes all the difference” in the world. In sharing these places, they celebrate their connections to each other and to the land that sustains them.

Cherries and Cherry Pits by Vera B. Williams (1986)

Young Bidemmi draws a sequence of pictures all involving people “eating cherries and spitting out the pits.” She tells captivating tales as she draws– a large man in the subway is “so strong… he could carry a piano on his head.” And of course he is holding a little white bag with cherries in it. My children loved to repeat the words “eating cherries and spitting out the pits,” I think yours will too.

Dahlia by Barbara McClintock (2002)

Meet young Charlotte, mud cake maker, tree climber and wagon racer. One morning she gets a package from Aunt Edme. Inside she finds a doll. A frilly doll. Charlotte immediately warns the doll that “we like digging in the dirt and climbing trees. No tea parties. No being pushed around in frilly prams, you’ll just have to get used to the way we do things.” To Charlotte’s surprise, she and Dahlia the doll become fast friends. Although outings with Charlotte have changed Dahlia’s appearance, Aunt Edme is pleased to see Charlotte has given Dahlia plenty of fresh air, excitement and love. A good lesson learned for girls and boys alike.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney (1982)

As a child, Miss Rumphius promises her grandfather that one day she will do something to make the world more beautiful. Never forgetting her words, as an adult she finds a special way to add beauty to the earth. “All that summer Miss Rumphius, her pockets full of seeds, wandered over fields and headlands, sewing lupines. She scattered seeds along the highways and down the country lanes. She tossed them into hollows and along stonewalls.” Be sure to have a handful of seeds ready as you read this one as your child may be inspired to sow flowers in every crack and crevice of your neighborhood.

Mudpies & Other Recipes for Dolls by Marjorie Winslow, Illustrated by Erik Blegvad (1961/1986)

You won’t cozy up and read this one cover to cover, but you will take it outside often with your little one. Just holding this cute little book in your hands will help you recall the outdoor adventures of childhood. Enjoy the wonderful mix of recipes ranging from “Daisy Dip” to “Crabgrass Gumbo.” All of which use only the finest ingredients from outside. This book always inspired my children to make up new recipes to “bake in the sun for the fairies.”

My Mama Had A Dancing Heart by Libba Moore Gray, Illustrated by Raul Colon (1995).

In this story about nature and life, a ballet dancer recalls how she and her mother would welcome each new season with an outdoor dance. “And we’d go into the eye-blinking blue air, with mama leading in a leaf-kicking, leg-lifting, handclapping, hello autumn ballet.” The gentle spirit of the mother and the love this child, now a woman, has for her are palpable. I gave this book to a friend who lost her mother and had recently become a new mother and she said, “I didn’t know a picture book could be this powerful.” Indeed.

Sophie’s Masterpiece: A Spider’s Tale by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Jane Dyer (2001)

Sophie is not an ordinary spider. She is an artist. When she ventures into the world and into Beekman’s boarding house, she weaves wondrous webs that go unappreciated. At Beekman’s she tolerates being swatted and called names but is determined to spin webs as her gifts to strangers. She grows older and her last masterpiece, a spun blanket for a baby, is one that readers of all ages will not forget. This book meant so much to my daughter Sophia when she was young that she came home with her pictures from school all month and said “Mommy these are my masterpieces.”

The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brombeau, Illustarted by Gail Demarcken (2001)

A feast for the eyes and the heart, The Quiltmaker’s Gift celebrates the spirit of giving through a fable-like story about an old quiltmaker who transforms a greedy unhappy king with her quilts. “Some said there were magic in her fingers. Some whispered her needles and cloth were gifts from the bewitched. And still others said the quilts really fell to the earth from the shoulders of angels…” The subtle message – it is better to give than to receive – is told in a vivid patchwork of pictures.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (1962)

Young Peter one day wakes to the wonders of a new world. The first snow has fallen and in it Peter finds magic and limitless possibilities. The day of snowmen and sledding leaves such an impression that when Peter wakes up the next morning and the snow still blankets the city, he wants to “do the whole day over again.” Read this one with your brood when you’re stuck inside on a snowy day.

When Lightning Comes in a Jar by Patricia Polacco (2002)

An annual backyard reunion becomes the backdrop for family traditions (Aunt Bertha’s meatloaf with hard boiled egg in the middle) and stories (Aunt Ivah and Aunt Adah compete for who can tell the best tale). The narrator, Trisha, now grown, remembers the year a new tradition was started. “A small burst of starlight puffed out into the grass. Then more and more drifted out of the carpet beneath our feet, ‘fireflies’ we called out. We grabbed the jars and the dash was on to capture lightning and put it in a jar.” Share this one with your little person on a summer night.

Marcelle Soviero is the Editor-in-Chief of Brain, Child, and the author of An Iridescent life: Essays on Motherhood. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Top 10 Books on Discipline and Parenting

Top 10 Books on Discipline and Parenting

Mindful Discipline ARTBy Hilary Levey Friedman

Vanessa Lapointe, a psychologist and author of the forthcoming Discipline without Damage: How to Get Your Kids to Behave Without Messing Them Up [LifeTree Media], writes, “Of all the workshop requests I receive, discipline is by far the most popular topic. Big people everywhere want to know how to discipline. By ‘big people’ I mean parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, aunties, uncles, caregivers, and any other adult who plays a significant role in the nurturing and growing up of a child.”

Various philosophies, versions, names, and age-targeted suggestions abound when it comes to discipline, especially for toddlers and teens. But one thing pretty much every book about discipline agrees upon is that discipline is not about punishment and is instead about teaching. Most also agree that a style of parenting that experts call “authoritative parenting” appears to work best for many families. The fourth book on this list, 8 Keys to Old-School Parenting, defines authoritative parents as those who, “Set high expectations and help children live up to those standards; they enforce high moral standards with loving acceptance. They promote self-control with social responsiveness; they teach children to make responsible choices within firmly established limits.”

This group of books about discipline starts with those targeted at the broadest age range, like 8 Keys to Old-School Parenting, then narrows in on the youngest kids, tweens, and teens. At the end a few books focus on targeted populations and how guidance learned in those arenas can help all parents.

The Soul of Discipline: The Simplicity Parenting Approach to Warm, Firm, and Calm Guidance—From Toddlers to Teens by Kim John Payne

Kim John Payne is well-known for his 2010 book Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. Earlier this year he released The Soul of Discipline to help parents establish a strong foundation in early childhood that will help kids. Payne claims that in 30 years he has never met a truly disobedient child or teen, but he has met a lot of disoriented ones who react by being difficult. He details three phases of parental involvement that build upon one another: the Governor oversees the early years, the Gardener cultivates flowering of teen years, and the Guide oversees the teen years. He also contextualizes everything, like in Chapter 9 where he details the history of discipline, “Avoiding Discipline Fads.” In addition Payne offers concrete advice to parents (I especially loved the tips on pages 83-86 about how to handle serial interrupters!).

Mindful Discipline: A Loving Approach to Setting Limits & Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by Shauna Shapiro and Chris White

Unlike many other books on “discipline,” Mindful Discipline focuses not just on parents and what they can do, but also on what children can do. Shapiro and White emphasize the ways in which self-discipline enables children to learn to guide their own lives, what they call the five essential elements of Mindful Discipline: 1) unconditional love, 2) space, 3) mentorship, 4) healthy boundaries, and 5) mis-takes (this is not a typo, but their term for “missed takes instead of mistakes”). While discipline can help kids learn to be free, Shapiro and White remind is that, “Nature has intended for the parent-child relationship to be a loving hierarchy.” Each chapter ends with a mindfulness awareness practice that will help everyone in a family practice being more mindful.

Elements of Discipline: Nine Principles for Teachers and Parents by Stephen Greenspan

This short, but dense, book written by a Clinical Professor of Psychology near the end of his career is directed at all adult caregivers, so not just kin caregivers but also teachers. One of the strengths of this volume is its clear explanation of the history of discipline philosophies and its description of the three major psychological approaches when it comes to discipline—affective, behavioral, and cognitive. Greenspan places a lot of emphasis on socioemotional development and social competence, so it is no surprise that he thinks the three long-term outcomes of effective discipline include happiness, boldness, and niceness. This can be accomplished through warmth, tolerance, and influence, good advice for other pursuits throughout our lifetimes and not just while parenting growing youngsters.

8 Keys to Old School Parenting: For Modern-Day Families by Michael Mascolo

Mascolo focuses on “old school parenting,” but what exactly is that? To him it’s parenting techniques that have stood the test of time. One thing that has definitely been dropped is violence, but the sense of authority remains. Mascolo, also a psychology professor, begins 9 Keys to Old School Parenting by articulating the parenting attitude that informs the whole book: “I am your parent. I’m not your friend, your playmate, your maid, or your chauffeur. You are not my equal. I am responsible for your safety and development. I am here to teach you how to be successful in the world.” Not surprisingly the first key is to value your parental authority, but others include “cultivate your child’s character,” “solve problems,” and “foster emotional development,” and you definitely can’t go wrong there.

Discipline with Love & Limits: Calm, Practical Solutions to the 43 Most Common Childhood Behavior Problems by Jerry Wyckoff and Barbara Unell

About 30 years ago Wyckoff and Unell published a book called Discipline without Shouting or Spanking. In the intervening years the book’s title and content have gone the way of more positive discipline, so now we focus on love and limits and do not even mention spanking. The authors position the book as one you will pick up when a problem arises, much like many books out there for health issues like rashes or sore throats. You can read the first 30 pages or so to set the scene, but then turn to the “problems” as they arise, like “plane travel stress” or “sibling rivalry.” Each problem section briefly defines the problem, gives advice to try to prevent the problem, and what to do (and what not to do) to solve the problem. The sections close with a case history, which are not always helpful. Overall this is a good little resource to keep on your shelf.

Nelsen, Jane, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Ann Duffy. Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, From Infant to Toddler—Laying the Foundation for Raising a Capable, Confident Child by Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Ann Duffy

Back in the Winter 2015 print issue of Brain, Child I wrote about this book in a round-up of how to deal with the emotional storm of toddlerhood. Earlier editions or Nelsen et al’s work helped establish the positive discipline mentioned above that we know today. Different “positive discipline” books exist for different age groups and scenarios, but it’s always good to start at the beginning. Some of my favorite parenting advice that I have found to be so true is in this book: “No parenting tool works all the time. Be sure to have more than just time-out in your toolbox… There is never one tool—or three, or even ten—that is effective for every situation for every child.”

How to Unspoil Your Child Fast: A Speedy, Complete Guide to Contented Children and Happy Parents by Richard Bromfield

In this short book with lots of punchy advice, Bromfield lays out a 7-day plan to unspoil children aged 2-12. While not a discipline book in name, it is about discipline because spoiled children often do not listen or respect their parents. Bromfield focuses on natural consequences and less on concrete activities parents can do themselves or with children to change their behavior. Each chapter starts with an interesting quote that will speak to parents, making the book an easy one to digest in small doses. The advice is more general, but it is worthwhile, like suggesting parents study actions of those who have more control over your child that you do, like teachers.

1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Thomas Phelan

Now in its 6th edition with over 1.6 million copies sold, 1-2-3 Magic is certainly doing something right! In February 2016 the newest edition will be released, which continues to focus on what clinical psychologist Phelan denotes are the three jobs of parenthood: controlling obnoxious behavior, encouraging good behavior, and strengthening relationships with children. Previous edition have focused on start and stop behaviors and utilizing timers when raising kids, and presumably the newest edition will suggest using cell phone timers and not just egg timers. Phelan also provides simple, but effective, suggestions to parents, such as: agree to keep your child’s bedroom door closed so you won’t see the mess inside and nag, but in exchange your child has to pick it up once per week. Seems like everyone ends up happier when following advice in 1-2-3 Magic.

10 Days to a Less Defiant Child: The Breakthrough Program for Overcoming Your Child’s Difficult Behavior by Jeffrey Bernstein

Bernstein says that in the past 25 years he has worked with over 2000 families who have defiant children. What is a defiant child? It is one who is quick to anger, overly dramatic, and almost constantly resistant to doing what is asked. A defiant child is different from a disobedient child, but s/he is also different from a child who has conduct disorder, destroying property or physically attacking animals or people (which would require being seen in person by a specialist). Targeted at ages 4-18, Bernstein suggests reading a chapter per day over the ten-day period. First published in 2006 and now in its second edition the book advises parents to think you are on a reality show, someone is always watching, so be careful of what you say and how you say it to model good behavior and emotional processing.

Parenting Children with Health Issues and Special Needs by Foster Cline and Lisa Greene

The first book on this year’s Top Ten Books for Parenting Children with Disabilities, this slim volume provides needed advice for all parents, regardless of their children’s needs. It reminds parents that to effectively communicate and influence their children they should strive to be consultants and not drill sergeants. And the best piece of advice for all of these situations, as Cline and Greene so succinctly state, “I love you too much to argue.”

Hilary Levey Friedman is Brain, Child’s Book Review Editor.




Top 10 Books to Gift at a Baby Shower

Top 10 Books to Gift at a Baby Shower

By Hilary Levey Friedman

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One of the best pieces of advice I received while pregnant for the first time was to not focus on books about being pregnant, but to use the time to learn about the after part since while it may have felt hard to believe at times, you aren’t pregnant forever. And not just the first few weeks with a newborn, but the first few months because you might not have time to read (let alone process) any suggestions that books might offer in that postpartum period. By the time my own baby shower rolled around I read 6-8 weeks ahead in my infant books, and was glad I did. But even now I wish I had known more about introducing solids, or learned more about the different types of gear I would need just a few months down the road. This list is motivated in part by that spirit and also by the knowledge that while it may feel like it at times, you are not alone in this parenting game. Others have traversed this sometimes rocky path and survived and have worked to offer others their hard-fought wisdom. Below you will find books that offer a mix of how-to, tips, knowledge, philosophies, perspectives, and entertainment. Any of these on their own, or in combination, would make an ideal baby shower present, along with those blankets and booties.

The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp

Making a second appearance on a Brain, Child Top 10 List because it is just that good. As I previously wrote, “When people ask me to recommend one book to new and expectant parents, this is my go-to title.” Karp’s tone is informative and entertaining and will help you attain the number one goal of most parents of newborns: sleep, and hence sanity. Because sleep is so all-encompassing for infants, Happiest Baby on the Block also addresses other concerns like feeding, development, and play. While it focuses on the first 90 days of life, you can use suggestions here far beyond this important, but transient, period of life.

Your Baby’s First Year Week by Week by Glade Curtis and Judith Schuler

The point of this book, now in its third edition, is not to overwhelm the reader with information about any one topic. Each weekly entry has a section on what might be new (either to baby or to you) that week and milestones you might expect to see around this time. By the end of the 52 weeks all the other major topics and minor topics will be covered, from what to look for in first shoes to how to prevent frostbite on a baby. As experienced parents know, but new parents have to learn, often as soon as you settle into a pattern your child changes, and Curtis and Schuler provide advice about how to deal with that. I read ahead in this book, and then would read 3-4 week chunks at a time; this book also has a very useful index for looking up the questions that pop up when the Internet sources aren’t as reliable.

Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality by Laura Jana and Jennifer Shu

Sometimes you might wonder if the author of a parenting book is the most qualified source to offer advice. You won’t wonder that if you gift Heading Home With Your Newborn because this book is published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (a third version is forthcoming in June 2015). Pediatrician-mothers Laura Jana and Jennifer Shu offer an informed, but engaging, voice that reassures and entertains—for example, I love section and chapter titles like “Other Unmentionables and Inconveniences” and “All Dressed Up but Now Where To Go?” The strength of this book is Part VI, “Just for the Health of It,” which focuses on the science of a baby’s body, from head to toe, and common childhood illnesses like jaundice and fevers. They discuss sometimes controversial topics, like cloth diapers and vaccines, with a direct and up to date style similar to how they discuss baby books and preserving digital memories.

Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t by Suzanne Barston

Before she gave birth Barston fully expected to breastfeed (so much so that she worried she would be judged if she put any bottle supplies on her baby registry). But it didn’t work out for her and her son for a variety of reasons. Not being able to nurse sent her into a depression, but starting a blog called Fearless Formula Feeder—a place where she tried to share science and facts about the use of formula—helped her. Bottled Up is the outgrowth of the blog and it is a “hybrid of memoir and reporting will speak for the scores of other women who wanted very badly to do the best for their children and found themselves in conflict about what ‘the best’ truly was.” Barston’s short and well-researched book (it is published by a University press and notated) based on two years’ of interviews with pediatricians, researchers, sociologists, statisticians and fellow feminists will either help expectant moms make personal decisions, or potentially reassure them if they find themselves unable to breastfeed when they had wanted to do so.

Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett

While it is true that mothers and babies are hardwired to breastfeed, breastfeeding isn’t as simple as expectant moms often expect it to be. Breastfeeding Made Simple by lactation consultants Mohrbacher and Kendall-Tackett seeks to make the case why breastfeeding can in fact be simple. The “laws” and their application in Part II are clearly explained, along with possible complications, and the tone is less strident than other books on breastfeeding. New parents reading this book along with Barston’s will begin to understand that having children means making a variety of small and large complicated and super-complicated decisions that have to work for you, your child, and your family. These two options provide advice and facts and a dual gift means no judgment of the growing family. Since many mothers no longer live close to their families Breastfeeding Made Simple tries to be the collective female wisdom from the Red Tent of yore.

Baby Bargains by Denise and Alan Fields

Now in its 10th edition, this perennial favorite is a fixture on many mothers’ shelves, especially those looking to save a few dollars (and who doesn’t want that?!). The first edition debuted in 1994 after the married authors had a son. Now in its 11th edition the Fields’ book looks a bit like a doorstop at over 600 pages. But the authors are very comprehensive covering gear with wheels, things with straps, things with music, etc. Even if don’t end up saving a dollar from the book—though that is unlikely—new parents will get a sense of what equipment is useful at every stage, and how much to budget for each new stage of their newborns’ first year and beyond. The only problem is that some shower guests may have wished they had read Baby Bargains before purchasing their own shower gift!

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman

It has recently become de rigueur for books about particular parenting philosophies to generate headlines, and sometimes amp up parental anxieties. Druckerman’s 2012 book definitely got a lot of press, but in many ways helped lower parental anxiety. Rather than prescribing precisely how parents should act, Bringing Up Bebe instead focuses on a way of life that is meant to enable parents to feel empowered. She writes, “It quickly becomes clear that having a child in France doesn’t require choosing a parenting philosophy. Everyone takes the basic rules for granted. That fact alone makes the mood less anxious.” Just like previous generations of Americans survived without diaper genies, so too did they successfully raise children without “philosophies.” Druckerman puts that into context, and shows us another way.

The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control by Walter Mischel

Walter Mischel’s new title, recently reviewed here at Brain, Child, is based on over fifty years of research on children and self-control. Mischel and a team of researchers have found that delayed gratification is one of the most significant predictors of success later in life on multiple dimensions including health, finances, and education. But instead of assuming that self-regulation is pre-programmed, Mischel offers tips on how parents can inculcate in their children to develop this life skill, starting at even early ages. And because the advice applies to adults as well, it may help during the tumultuous post-partum period. What’s also great about this book is that there is much to learn about parenting here, but it’s not a “parenting” book making it an even more useful baby shower gift because it can live on a bookshelf for years to come.

Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession by Erma Bombeck

Because sometimes the best way to survive (new) motherhood is to laugh. One of the greatest columnists ever, this volume collects Bombeck’s most enduring writings on motherhood. It isn’t long, but it is full of clever observations that will resonate long past the last page—and for years to come as understandings of parenting continue to evolve. Plus, this is your chance to introduce Bombeck to another generation of mothers! While the print version is out of print (but used copies abound online), you can gift an e-copy to your favorite mom-to-be.

The Husband’s Secret by Lianne Moriarty

If laughing doesn’t help, a smart, engaging, page-turning novel might. Sometimes, you need to escape, or find something to engage your mind and be sure it isn’t mush. Any great novel will suffice, but I really loved this one by Australian writer Moriarty (note that I find Moriarty is a sociologist at heart with a reporter’s eye and a thriller’s pen, so any of her novels will do as well). I had been warned in reviews that once you start The Husband’s Secret it is hard to stop, and that was true for me (sometimes I wanted nursing sessions to last even longer!). This is the kind of novel I slowed down to read because I didn’t want the interesting, tangled web to completely unravel. As a mom it made me sad, as a wife angry. I guess then it shouldn’t surprise me that Moriarty is labeled “chick lit,” but I honestly didn’t think of this novel that way at all. I also appreciated the Australian setting as a mental escape from the nursery.

I have to add that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to read as much after giving birth. But I was wrong. I actually read more because for me nursing prompted a switch to reading on the iPad using the Kindle app—turning the page with a flick of the finger made it possible. I still read paper books, but I now love reading electronically as well, even though I too have passed out of the baby phase.


Photo: Megan Dempsey