Saturday, January 31, 2015

Favorite Children's Books from 2014

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Here it is! Another year. Another stack of books we've come to love. 

Books are kind of like children to me. Each has a different personality, tells a different story, lives out a unique life. Each is packaged in its own color and size, every page a unique style of art. I know each one. Where it sleeps. Which shelf, which nook, which stack. I don't like them stepped on or thrown. I bandage each torn page, each loose binding. And every year I wonder, can we make room for more?

And we always do. 

(You know that's not to say we're making room for more kids, right? Although, some days I wish we could!)

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As I took photos this year, I realized these posts are like a growth chart of my children. I started writing a favorite books post in 2011. For four years now, we've been exploring new books, discovering old ones, keeping track of which books meant something to us during twelve months of living, stretching, maturing. (Check out past book lists here.)

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Watching my children grow not just in size, but in love for reading, has been so rewarding. I hope they include me in their reading journey for years and years to come.

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I revisited Madeleine L'Engle's Circle of Quiet this Autumn and jotted down a few quotes. 

L'Engle, who authored a number of children's books, believed children could glean so much from books. She never dumbed down ideas for them. She knew they were wise, perceptive, and able to draw out meaning and truth from good writing. She said,

"If it's not good enough for adults. It's not good enough for children." (p. 198-200)

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And I agree with her. 

Children's books - good ones - are for grown ups too. 

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Magical birthday cake tradition, illustrated by Tasha Tudor

I will never tire of finding a new picture book that shares a powerful message or draws me in with its unique artistry or perfectly chosen words.

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Last Sunday morning, while waiting for church, we sat on the couches and opened our favorite books from 2014. 

These two boys. Spencer (left) Gordon (right). My best buddies during the day. It's my last year with them home and I hope we're making the most of it. They're a delight. Most of the time. Other times? They're brandishing strong wills like dragons. Fierce little fellas. Sometimes I'm just outnumbered.

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This girl... she's  growing up. Doing her own hair, getting tall. Soon I'll be the one standing on the stool to weave a french braid, place a clip, or comb out the snarls after a bath.

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She's turning into quite the tease.

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Once Upon an Alphabet. Best alphabet book out there. Details below.

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Mo Willems. He's always a favorite. 

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Sometimes it's the texture of the page...

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Sami, 8 years old in just a week. Engrossed in Anamalium. She wants to research animals, be a wildlife biologist when she grows up. This book has captivated her for a whole hour some afternoons.

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Sami did a book talk on it in her class Friday. Shared all sorts of facts and told me the kids had their eyes glued on her. "I think they liked it," she said.

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Katie Scott's illustrations are so real, they're remarkable.

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Ali, also coming up on 8. Such a helpful girl around the house. Often my sidekick when it comes to meal prep or chores. She is reading The Girl that Never Made Mistakes. 

Some of my children need the reminder that it's okay to make a mistake, to try things they might not be good at. This story does it. And it's a good reminder for Mom. Who can sometimes set expectations too high.

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Ali's favorite this year. Blue on Blue.

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All the kids loved this artwork and searching for parts of the story in each scene.

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And the latest by Hervé Tullet, Mix It Up. His work is so engaging. So interactive and fun. Especially for littles. 

So here's our list of twenty books from 2014 that we loved, loved, loved. In no particular order, with several that were published earlier.

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Animalium by Jenny Broom and Katie Scott -  "Welcome to the Museum." That's what this book states on its cover. The first I've seen in a series that will expose children to a showcase of the world's finest collections - from natural history to art. This volume is an illustrated walk through a museum featuring all kinds of land animals, water animals, and birds. Complete with descriptions and interesting facts about each animal, the book is organized into "galleries" that are open 365 days a year, and not confined by the limits of physical space. Scott's illustrations are impeccable. Life-like. Gorgeous. An absolute delight for any animal lover. (More photos above.)

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Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems -  Newest Pigeon book by Mo Willems. He always makes us laugh. Pigeon is just part of the family now. Every kid will relate to the story of fighting and resisting bath time ("I took a bath LAST month!") only to get in the water and want to play for hours. As usual, Willems does not disappoint.

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Waiting is Not Easy! by Mo Willems - We also love Elephant and Piggie. This silly friendship duo are like yin and yang. Gerald worries so Piggie doesn't have to. Gerald is careful. Piggie is not. Piggie can't help smiling. Gerald can. These two always discover small (and big) life truths together. In this book, Elephant learns that waiting... is usually worth it. 

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Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers -  This is the alphabet book to top all others. Truly. It's brilliant. Here's the preface: "If words make up the stories and letters make up the words, then stories are made up of letters. In this menagerie we have a story made of words, made FOR all the letters." A story for each letter, replete with words that start with that letter. The stories weave into each other. Characters from one letter's story appear in a neighboring letter's story. It's enchanting. Every story works. Because Jeffer's tales are unexpected, out of the box, and tied up with a clever twist. Great letter recognition for preschoolers, charming as a read-aloud, and slyly funny for older readers ready to explore the alphabet in a brand new way.

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The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers (2013) -  This is the book that introduced us to Oliver Jeffers, author of Once Upon an Alphabet (above). It made a number of 2013 book lists but I didn't find it until 2014. One word: Hilarious. Did you know crayons have feelings too? Poor Duncan just wants to color. But his crayons? They're done, finito, going on strike. Beige crayon is tired of playing second fiddle to brown crayon. Black is tired of only being used for outlining. Yellow and Orange aren't talking to each other because each thinks they are the true color of the sun. The dialogue is comical and witty. Fun to see crayons come alive in this engaging children's read.

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Mix it Up! by Hervé Tullet -  Did you like Press Here? I would describe this book as its sequel. Mix, splatter, make colors vanish. Anything is possible with a little paint and some imagination. You will giggle and marvel at this interactive journey that teaches children all about color. Two thumbs up for another dazzling Hervé Tullet book, powered by the imagination. 

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The Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak -  Okay. This might be my favorite. The book with absolutely no pictures. Just words. And the rule? The reader has to read every word on every page. No matter what. Even if it's ridiculous, like BLORK. or Bluuurf. Or a nonsense song about eating ants and having only one friend that's a monkey. Yep, that's the deal. B.J. Novak's extremely clever (and slightly irreverent) take on words was an instant hit our house. Totally irresistible. Be sure to sit down with some unsuspecting aunt, uncle, or grandparent. It's the best when the reader comes to it unaware. 

We gave the book to both grandpas for Christmas. Here's a video of my Dad reading it for the first time. Such a good sport. He had no idea what he was getting into. I laughed so hard. We all did.

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The Pilot and the Prince By Peter Sis -  This book tells the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of the beloved book, The Little Prince. I read The Little Prince years ago but am rediscovering it now with my boys as I read it aloud to them at bedtime. I like to include at least one biography each year, and this one's about an author. Antoine's life was full of adventure. Born in the early aviation era, he dreamed of becoming a pilot and eventually got a job delivering mail by plane. He flew over mountains and deserts, battled wind and storms, sometimes he even crashed. Peter Sis' art is unusual, fascinating, and detailed. Anyone with an adventurous heart will love learning about this real-life hero and how his travels informed his writing.

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100 Things that Make Me Happy by Amy Schwartz -  Straight out of a child's world comes Amy Schwartz's endearing list of 100 happy things. They are everyday things. Things every child can relate to. I loved the rhyming and bright illustrations. Wouldn't it be fun to make your own list of 100 things? I'm inspired.

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Hi-Koo! by Jon J Muth -  The poet in me adores this book. It was so very fun teaching my children the art of haiku form. Jon Muth has the lightest, most beautiful touch in his books. Travel through the year with him and his charming panda bear, Koo, by reading 26 original haikus, a handful for each of the four seasons. Two of my favorites: 

eating warm cookies
on a cold day
is easy

tiny lights
garden full of blinking lights

Charming, surprising, a book to cherish.

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Blue on Blue by Dianne White and Beth Krommes -  Sparse couplets paired with stunning artwork made this book a favorite with all my children. Step into the world of a farming family that lives near the sea. Experience a storm with them, watch it move in over the land. Hide under bedcovers, splash in puddles when the sun comes out, hang the laundry, watch the moon rise. This book is calming, lovely, and refreshingly provincial, with a clever take on color and transformations. White and Krommes magically turn a storm into a celebration. 

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The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman and Marla Frazee -   Peter only wants milk. Lucy only wants homemade lemonade. Jack? Only applesauce. With each new child, a new demand. Mrs. Peters peels, picks, squeezes, and kneads until she's weak in the knees. Seven picky mouths to feed!? Then her birthday rolls around and the children's early morning surprise changes everything. I love the messy house in this story, the endless children under foot, the weary mother. The last two pages are so delightful (notice the homemade gifts and crown), every mother will feel loved and celebrated.

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Singing Away the Dark by Caroline Woodward and Julie Morstad (2011) -  This classic picture book tells the story of one girl's walk from her lonely farmhouse through the woods and farmland, to catch her school bus. She has to leave early in the morning, before sunrise. She climbs over gates, past wild animals, head-first into a wickedly cold wind. How does she stay brave? She sings the dark away. A sweet story of courage. Children will love the rhyming text and simple illustrations.

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Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Peter H. Reynolds (2011) -  Little Miss planted a kiss... And what happened? It grew, and grew. It sparkled, it shined, and it needed to be shared. Some said it was too precious to give away; she'd never get it back. But Little Miss shared anyhow. And no surprise, her bowl never quite emptied. The glitter and sparkle of this book makes for enticing feel and texture. And teaches a great lesson about love and kindness.

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The Blizzard by John Rocco -   This book is based on John Rocco's childhood experience during the (now) infamous blizzard of 1978 that brought 53 inches of snow to his hometown in Rhode Island. From the excitement of that first snowflake to the huge sigh of relief when neighbors finally saw the snow plow coming, you journey with the Rocco family, who was housebound for days. During this time John found an opportunity to put the needs of others ahead of his own, to become a hero of sorts in his little community. Kids feel empowered reading this book. It helps them realize they can do big things. Definitely a fun read for snowy days and a mug of hot cocoa.

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Blackout by John Rocco -  This book, also by John Rocco, is about a summer blackout in a big city. As the power goes out, the TV goes off, daughter can't use her phone, son can't play video games, Mom can't use her laptop, and Dad can't finish cooking dinner... What's a family to do? I love this book because it teaches principles like resourcefulness and the need for quality time, away from devices or screens. The family, after power is restored, realizes, life has much more potential than they realized. They switch the lights off and pull out the board game again.

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The Library by Sarah Steward and David Smalls (2008)  Elizabeth Brown doesn't like to play with dolls, doesn't like to skate. But she does like to read books. Lots of them. All the time. As she grows older, her collection outgrows her house. Books everywhere. She loans them out like a library. But when there's no room in Elizabeth's house for Elizabeth, she realizes she has to do something. The way she solves this problem will warm any book lover's heart. (Eliza loved this book so much it inspired a painting she recently did for school which she titled, Every Good Book.)

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Sarah and Simon and No Red Paint by Edward Ardizonne (2011)  Originally published in 1965, this book was republished in 2011. A timeless story of two children, Sarah and Simon, who live with their parents in a big room called the Studio. Their father is a painter and they have very little money. Sarah and Simon make friends with a second-hand book shop owner, where they spend much of their time as father works on his masterpiece and tries to appease his wife that once it sells, they will have enough money. The children try to help, and the surprise ending, which ends up reconciling their family with an estranged uncle, is simply priceless. You will love discovering this tale of kindness and family bonds.

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The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubenstein (2011) -  Meet Beatrice Bottomwell: a nine-year-old girl who has never (not once!) made a mistake. She never mismatches her socks, never forgets her math homework, and ALWAYS wins the school talent show. Life is sailing along pretty well, until the unthinkable happens. She makes a mistake! This is such a great book for kids. To understand we can learn from our mistakes, it's okay to let go of imperfection, and there is so much life to experience if we aren't afraid of making... a mistake.

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A Time to Keep by Tasha Tudor (1996) -  Did you grow up with Tasha Tudor? I did. Remember her book of fairy tales? The Dolls' Christmas? (Sigh. I loved that book. Pored over it again and again.) Pumpkin Moonshine? If I had a boatload of money and time to spend gathering all her books no longer in print, I would. This one, however, is still in print! It's a month by month collection of family traditions and celebrations, full of beautiful scenes and ideas for making holidays meaningful. My girls adore this book. We're planning to adopt some of the traditions, like floating a birthday cake, an archery contest, advent wreath, handmade valentines in a family mailbox. Makes me long for an earlier time when things were simpler. Reminds me we can adopt some of that simplicity and homemade charm, even now.

And.... that's all folks! Watch for a post listing our favorite chapter books (for young readers) sometime in the spring. And maybe a post on what Mom's been reading. 

Did you have favorites this year? I'd love to hear about them.


  1. Thanks, Cath! I always love your book recommendations. I can't wait to get some of these!

    1. Thank you Adri. And I got your sweet email about the girls' birth story. I am anxious to read yours and will do it as soon as I get the chance. Then I'll respond via email. Love you and your kindred heart.

  2. We always love Mo Willems. I'd also add Girls Who Chose God, because I think it's such an important book, children's or otherwise.

    1. Rosalyn, I forgot about Girls Who Choose God. Thank you so much for the reminder. I put it in my cart. xoxo

  3. Hi Cath. I love reading children's books so much I sometimes daydream about being a school librarian. Have you read "Piggy in the Puddle" with your smalls? While my nephews were here we read it a bunch and they just loved it, the rhyme and rhythm are so fun. It's a great book to elicit giggles!

    1. Cute book! I added it to my list. Thank you Shelley! You'd make a great librarian btw. xoxo

  4. Thank you so much for the wonderful list of children's books, many of which I will definitely check out! Tasha Tudor has always been one of my favorite authors and illustrators. Her "A is for Annabelle" was a favorite of my girls...I think I still have it memorized. I once did a study of all of the Tudor books I could get from my library and it was a joy. From Tasha was a tradition that went on with our family for a long time...a Cupid's Tea. A week or so before Valentine's Day we made home made Valentine's for all our friends and relatives and then had a "tea" using the special china and silver and having heart shaped sandwiches, heart shaped sugar cookies, special hot chocolate served from a china tea pot...all in our pajamas (that part was our own touch!). I only had little girls to share this with, but although they have their own babies now, they still talk about the Cupid's Tea. That is how a good author can inspire. Love, Jacque

    1. Such a darling tradition!! I loved picturing it. I think I'm going to start a quest to acquire as many Tudor books as I can. Love you and Happy Valentine's Day!

  5. Tasha Tudor-I loved that book when I was young. Do you have any by Gyo Fujikawa? I think you would love those Cath! The kids might be getting too old for them, but the illustrations are wonderful. Come Follow Me is wonderful with gnomes and fairies and little stories and poems. I love your book lists!

    1. Okay. Come follow me looks like a gem of a find. I'm looking for a used copy right now. Thank you so much for the recommendation! Love being in touch with you on occasion. Wish we were next door. xoxo

  6. Tasha Tudor-I loved that book when I was young. Do you have any by Gyo Fujikawa? I think you would love those Cath! The kids might be getting too old for them, but the illustrations are wonderful. Come Follow Me is wonderful with gnomes and fairies and little stories and poems. I love your book lists!

  7. Thanks for this list. We have enjoyed:

    1. Shir, these are great recommendations. Thank you so much! Adding all to our library list. xo

  8. Beautiful Catherine, you have been on my mind and in my heart this weekend especially. After peeking at Segullah this morning and finding that incredible story of your twin girls' miraculous arrival, I just wanted to pop over here and send you love. I cannot believe what a crazy, crazy time it has been for you!!! With the sewer line disaster (right in the middle of Christmas), kidney stones, back issues, and everything else going on. Whew!! I am always amazed by your ability to see the truth and light in the middle of the struggle. You have such a deep, Christ-centered soul. How I wish I could come and help you as you continue to do such amazing things. Sending you hugs and prayers today. I can't believe how much your kids keep growing! Absolutely gorgeous! Last year with your boys home. What?! Eliza is looking so grown up and so much like you. And, now your twin girls turning 8! Happy birthday to those lovely girls!

    1. Dearest Anne Marie, oh my soul. I'm trying to keep it centered and open and soft. But it's been hard lately. Hard when you don't feel well. Hard when you lose your cool. Hard when life is moving too fast you feel you can't ever keep up or get to those things you really want to. Those moments that really matter. But thank heavens for every new morning, every new start to an unspoiled day. You are always so kind. More than I deserve. And I'm so grateful for your encouragement. Yes, the girls turned 8! Everyone is changing so much, growing up so. How are you? Your sweet boys? Life? Please drop me a line with more details. Happy Valentine's Day!

  9. Can't wait to get to the library! We need some new books with all this snow we've had.
    And I love Tasha Tudor too. My August birthday tradition was inspired by A Time To Keep. I've floated my cake every year since can remember. It's the greatest tradition ever. You should definitely adopt it for one of your littles. Miss you Cath.


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