Brooke’s Bookshelf: 5 Titles You And Your Child Will Love

One of the hardest parts of letting go of having very young children is feeling keenly aware of the fact that our days reading picture books together are waning. We used to read piles of stories together before bed.  With homework and other priorities, we are down to just one.  You may find it surprising that children who are twelve, ten, and eight will still sit and listen to a book with me, but I think a large part of the draw for them is that we all get a few minutes to snuggle on the bed together after a long day.  I’m determined to ride this wave together for as long as possible!

If you have young children, or are looking for great books to give as gifts, here are 5 titles we are loving right now.

 1. Owl Moon. Jane Yolen’s Caldecott winner features gorgeous pictures and a touching story of patience and finding beauty in nature on a cold winter evening.  Anyone who has seen an owl knows how gorgeous they are, yet mysterious too.  The artwork, especially of the owl, is rich and vivid.

2. Miss Rumphius.  We were given a 30th Anniversary edition of this classic story by Barbara Cooney.  The underlying message of trying to make the world a better place is inspiring, even for me at the ripe age of 42.  I’ve enjoyed our open-ended conversations at the end of the story about what the possibilities might be for leaving our own marks on the world. 

3. The Right Word: Roget And His Thesaurus.  My daughter received this from her great-aunt for Christmas, along with her first thesaurus.  My husband and I did not know the story behind the creation of this timeless reference tool, and it’s a lovely biography.  Also, if you don’t know Melissa Sweet, she is a fabulous illustrator.

My daughter’s book came wrapped with this thesaurus.

This is a great gift idea that I will definitely use again!

 4. Annie and Helen.   This is a remarkable picture book that gives kids a great introduction to the remarkable relationship that Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan shared.  The story is well told, and my kids love the black and white photos lining both the front and back covers, as well as the braille alphabet on the back jacket.

5. The Seven Silly Eaters.  For any mother who has ever felt like a short-order chef in her own home fielding special requests for food, you will love reading this book with your kids.  With lots of rhyming and the charming illustrations by Marla Frazee, you can’t go wrong.

Happy reading!




Lists: 8 Great Reads For 2014

“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all”  -Thoreau
I’ve been in a book club for several years and have enjoyed it very much.  I love the women and the conversation, and really look forward to our monthly get-togethers.  I wish I loved every book we pick, but sadly, there are some books I haven’t enjoyed.  I came to the harsh realization just before Christmas that since joining the book club, I’ve been reading less overall.  Looking back, it probably shouldn’t be that surprising.  We all have different tastes in books, so the chances of consistently hitting a home run with our choices are slim to none.   Instead of cutting my losses and moving on when I don’t like the book, I continue to schlep through, determined to finish if at all possible.  The end result is that I often wade through 3-5 pages before bed each night, and then turn my light out before falling asleep from boredom.

For 2014, I’m adopting a 50-page rule for both book club books and other books.  If a book doesn’t pull me in by then, I’m moving on.  Like many things in my life before having kids, I could not imagine putting a book down before finishing it.  In the same regard, I’ve come to leave beds unmade sometimes until noon, left dirty dishes in my sink between meals, and allowed toys strewn all over our playroom for days.  As I pass through middle age, I see that time is indeed becoming of the essence, and it’s all about prioritizing.

With this in mind, I’ve polled some friends and gathered my starting list for the first part of 2014.


Last night, I started A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, a classic that I’ve always wanted to read.  What is at the top of your list for 2014?

Happy Reading!





There are some classics that never get old (which is what I hope my kids will say about me some day!).  At eleven, eight, and seven, my children are reading a myriad of different books these days.  My eleven year-old is reading some advanced books on tough topics like the Holocaust.  My eight year-old son is finally loving Percy Jackson, and my seven year-old is loving both the Ivy & Bean and Stella Batts series.

Last night, my eleven year-old pulled out Katy And The Big Snow, and the 4 of us snuggled up on my bed to read it.  As everyone’s legs are longer now, it’s not quite as easy as it used to be to snuggle on a queen size bed, but we made it work.

I was delighted at how much they enjoyed re-reading Katy.  We spent a few minutes looking at each of the detailed pictures, which include all of the types of trucks the DPW owned and a very cool map of the town.  Each building was numbered, and we found every single one before turning the page.

Even better?  We looked up Burton after, and I read them her biography.  The flip side of the heartache that sometimes comes with watching my kids growing up so quickly is the opportunity to have more meaningful conversations with them.  She had a very interesting life, and her connections to Boston shine through in her work.  Popperville, the town in Mike Mulligan, was created based on West Newbury.  In The Little House, you can see illustrations of downtown Boston. When I told them Burton died of lung cancer at 59, my oldest immediately chimed in, “That’s young!  She must have smoked.”  Proof positive that perhaps my kids are listening to me more than I think they sometimes are!

Burton’s other favorites include:


And perhaps her most famous:


I would give these books as gifts for ages 2-10, or just enjoy them with your kids.  Don’t assume they are too old for these classics!

Happy reading.



Bookshelf: The Girls Who Went Away


Sadly, Memorial Day Weekend is shaping up to be a bust here in New England in terms of the weather.  The good news?  You can curl up with a good book and catch up on your reading!

Looking for something to read that will undoubtedly ignite a chord within you?  I am almost finished with Ann Fessler’s non-fiction book entitled The Girls Who Went Away and I am completely astounded by the subject matter.  Fessler conducted in-depth interviews with women who surrendered their babies for adoption between 1945-1973.  Over 1.5 million women gave their babies up for adoption, most of whom were sent away in shame to homes for unwed mothers.  There, they waited out the pregnancies, delivered their babies, signed them away, and returned home.

Hands-down, the most shocking part of the stories were repeatedly hearing how poorly these young women were treated by society, and worse, by their own families.  One woman recalls having to ride around town lying down in the back of the car so nobody would see her baby bump.  Another retold how she was only allowed upstairs in her house, god forbid the neighbors find out what she had done to herself.  A third talks about a neighbor stopping by unannounced.  In a tizzy, her mother locked her in the downstairs bathroom and told her not to make a peep.  One woman talked about being egged and pelted with rotten vegetable by neighbors whenever the girls ventured out of the home for unwed mothers.  They were made to wear fake wedding rings in public to mask the fact that they were not married.

Pregnant mothers were viewed as a societal travesty.  It is shocking to think that this was only a generation ago.  In most cases, parents were far more concerned with protecting the family reputation than their daughter’s emotional well-being.  The young women were given little to no option except to surrender their babies.  Equally worse was that they were expected to return home after giving birth and integrate smoothly back into everyday life.  One woman remembers begging for therapy.  When her parents finally consented, they drove her to a psychiatrist two towns away so that nobody would see their car there.  Thankfully, she was prescribed antidepressants.  After a couple of weeks, her mother flushed them all down the toilet.  She simply was not comfortable with admitting that her daughter needed help and chose denial instead.

When I think back on giving birth, I can’t imagine going through it alone.  Yet most of these young women did.  Story upon story describes nuns or house mothers dropping girls off curbside at the hospital, or worse, sending them via taxi.  Upon arrival, they were given an enema and were shaved.  Every woman in the book recalls being shocked and humiliated by this process, followed by a sense of terror as they labored alone for hours on end.  Many said it was if they were being taught a lesson: don’t let this happen again.

After the babies were born, some were allowed to bond with their babies and others weren’t.  In all cases, stories of saying goodbye were heart-wrenching.  Many look back and describe the details as blurry, likely the result of being so emotionally traumatized that they’ve blocked them out.

Perhaps one downside to the book is that it covers over one hundred women’s stories, so does feel a bit repetitive at times.  A friend of mine who is also reading the book told me she couldn’t take reading another story.  Conversely, I felt like I couldn’t pass by anyone’s story.  I read each story, craving to share a cup of tea with each woman, to know them all on a personal level.

If this is a topic that you find intriguing, I encourage you to read the book.   It has had a profound impact on me, and will certainly ignite a thought-provoking discussion for any book group.

Happy Reading!



Bookshelf: The Gift Of An Ordinary Day


“Not a day goes by that I don’t still need to remind myself that my life is not just what’s handed to me, nor is it my list of obligations, my accomplishments or failures, or what my family is up to, but rather it is what I choose, day in and day out, to make of it all. When I am able simply to be with things as they are, able to accept the day’s challenges without judging, reaching, or wishing for something else, I feel as if I am receiving the privilege, coming a step closer to being myself. It’s when I get lost in the day’s details, or so caught up in worries about what might be, that I miss the beauty of what is.”

― Katrina KenisonThe Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir

I’ve been thinking about Katrina Kenison’s wonderful memoir entitled The Gift of an Ordinary Day a lot this week after a recent conversation with a friend.  With April break upon us, some are leaving town for fancy and exotic destinations while others are staying local.  This friend seemed a little down when she revealed to me that money was tight this year, and they wouldn’t be headed away.  Kenison’s story is for every mother in my estimation, but it is timely this week in particular for anyone wishing they were headed to the beaches of St. Barth’s or the bistros of Paris with their families.  Her memoir will bring you to tears, and provide you with the perfect reminder that the greatest gift is often found in the most ordinary days.  Look for the silver lining at every turn in the road if you can.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Happy Reading!




Bookshelf: Five Great Easter Books For Kids


I was raised with religion, but my husband really didn’t spend much time in church.  The net result is children who are in the middle of the spectrum.  I was a little flabbergasted when one of my kids asked me yesterday “Why do Jewish people celebrate Good Friday?”  After taking a few minutes to explain how Jesus hauled his cross all the way to the spot of his own crucifixion, their eyes lit up, as if to indicate that what was I was telling them sounded vaguely familiar.  Then one of them said, “That must have been really heavy.  Like carrying a piece of our fence around”.  Clearly we have work to do to help them better understand this important holiday!

That being said, we all love to read, and there are plenty of Easter books that we’ve shared over the years.  Undeniably, Easter symbolizes the start of Spring for me.  As a result, many of the books I love reflect the arrival of this new season with their colorful illustrations.

Here are five Easter choices sure to please your young readers from 4-12:

1. Easter Parade by Irving Berlin.  My mother is a kindergarten teacher and she gave this to my kids several years ago.  They love the colorful pictures, as well as the fact that the whole book is a song.  They love hearing me (attempt) to sing!


2. The Easter Egg by Jan Brett.  Any book written by Jan Brett will make a wonderful gift.  Not only are the stories wonderful, the artwork is amazing as well.  I recently gave this book to my godson for his birthday.


3.  The Berenstain Bears and the Easter Story by Jan Berenstain.  There are actually a few Easter titles by the same author, but this one is great because it spells out the true meaning of the holiday.  I know the Berenstain Bears seem to have a book for every topic, but my kids just love them.  They are so timeless.  We have read The Messy Room and Visit The Doctor over and over, always with keen interest.


4. Easter Eggstravaganza Madlibs by Price/Stern.  OK, now I know it’s not literature, but I had to mention Madlibs.  I recently re-discovered these funny books, and I do them with my daughter almost nightly before bed.   We laugh so hard at some of the stories we come up with.  It’s the perfect bonding activity to do with your 9-12 year old!



5. Daddy Long Ears by Robert Kraus.  For me, this book reminds me of my childhood as I read it with my parents over and over.   It’s short and simple, but a darling story.  Your kids will probably ask you several times why the rabbit has glasses like that stuck on his nose.  We’ve also had a few interesting discussions about the mother, who runs off with a muskrat! You will have to track down a used copy on Amazon, but it’s so worth it!


Bookshelf: Raising Boy Readers


Last night I had the opportunity to see Michael Sullivan give a talk at our town library entitled “Raising Boy Readers”.  Michael is an expert on this topic, and I soaked up a lot of useful information that any parent of a boy may find helpful.

We started out with some simply frightening statistics highlighting how the deck is stacked against boys from the outset in school.  Consider that girls have outscored boys on reading tests for over thirty years.  On average, boys are reading 1.5 years behind girls.  By eleventh grade, the average boy is reading three years behind girls.  Adolescent boys reported in studies to read 2.3 hours a week and girls claimed to read approximately 4.5 hours a week.  Even worse, if you ask ninth grade boys how much they read, half of them will tell you that they don’t read. 

Other startling statistics:

–85% of special education students are boys

–95% of children with ADHD are boys

–1/3 of boys are in remedial reading by the third grade

–Girls brains are fully grown by 11.5 years old, yet boys not until 14.5

–On standardized tests (right through SAT’s), boys typically test 16-20% below girls on reading

One of the first things we covered was the importance of giving boys control of their reading.  Letting them choose their own books is key.  Don’t focus on the fact that they have picked something up that is below their grade level, focus on the fact that they are actually reading.   Many boys love to read non-fiction and comic books, yet school focuses on fiction as required by the curriculum.  Sometimes as parents we may try to direct our boys to high-level fiction.  We want them to be challenging themselves, and get ahead because we believe it is key to a brighter future for them.  Yet multiple studies show that reading harder books does not affect your ability to become a wonderful reader as an adult.  What matters is that you read often, over and over. Don’t hone in on Harry Potter as the next best thing for your son if he shows no interest.  Consider adults who would describe themselves as well-read yet spend their time on authors like Tom Clancy and John Grisham.  While both have been wildly successful, Sullivan candidly informed us that their books are written at a 5th grade reading level! 

One idea to create an environment of choice would be to put a book basket in your son’s room with 5-6 books of different levels and genres and let him select those that interest him.  

Read to your son and never stop.  I found this point extremely interesting.  Reading out loud to your son actually becomes the most critical before third grade and beyond.  Third grade introduces most children to the idea of reading to learn, and early testing involving reading comprehension begins.  Sullivan indicated that this is where many boys are lost to reading.  Suddenly, they are being tested for comprehension and might score poorly.  The truth is, they may just love to read, and want to be left alone to enjoy it.  We know that boys brains develop more slowly, so they aren’t even ready for many of the tests we throw at them.  Then, they perform badly on the tests and start to believe they aren’t good at reading or that reading now feels like a chore.  This can lead to a downward spiral for many of them.  Sullivan proposed leveling with kids about the bureaucracy of the tests, and really not taking the results too seriously if your son loves to read.

If you can get them to twelve, the outlook is very good.  If you can help your son develop a love of reading that continues until age twelve, chances are high that he will become a life-long independent reader.  Don’t be afraid to branch out and find what he is passionate about!  I have a friend whose son is very bright, is in the fourth grade, and is currently reading a non-fiction title about the atomic bomb.  Celebrate their interest in reading and don’t micromanage their book choices.  Your son is not your project, he is himself, and needs your support to develop a love of reading that molds to his personality.

For more information on Michael, visit his web site:  You will also find lots of book suggestions and a list of his upcoming appearances.  If he is coming to speak near you, I really think you would enjoy hearing his ideas firsthand.

Happy Reading!



Brooke’s Bookshelf: Owney


Gordie is going into Tom’s class this week as a Mystery Guest reader and he needed a book idea.  He came up with Owney, and it’s a fabulous idea.  Owney is written by Mona Kerby, ( and she even maintains a blog about this inspirational story that you can follow:

All of my children love the true story of Owney, who walked into a U.S. Post Office in 1888 and then spent the next nine years of his life riding mail trains around the country.  The book would make a perfect gift for children ages 5-8, or check it out at your local library.   All animal lovers will feel immediately attached to Owney. as you follow his journey.  It’s fascinating to see all of the places he goes!  Also, if you are ever in Washington, D.C., you can visit him (well, a stuffed version of him…) at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum!

Here is a link with more information on the book:

Of course even dogs have their own Facebook pages these days!  Check out Owney’s here:

Happy reading!



Brooke’s Bookshelf: Facing The Lion

My daughter is ten, and is a voracious reader.   I was thrilled when she came home from my mother-in-law’s house with a copy of a wonderful book called “Facing The Lion: Growing Up Maasai On The African Savanna.”  Two days later, she had read it cover-to-cover and told me how much she enjoyed it.

The book is about the life of Joseph Lekuton, whom I first met amidst preppy white kids, plastic solo cups, and cheap beer in the basement of Sigma Chi my freshman year at St. Lawrence.  It was a frigid winter night, and I remember him telling me he had never seen snow until his arrival in America, not even in pictures.  He was funny, interesting, and kind.

Joseph is from Kenya.  He doesn’t know his exact birthdate, as it was never documented.  His mother does not know how to read or write.  Half of the people in his country live below the poverty line,  and the average annual income is $1,100.  His village sold off over 90 goats and cows to pay for his plane ticket to America so he could attend St. Lawrence in 1989.

He went on from St. Lawrence to get an advance degree at Harvard.  Many believe he may be the President of Kenya someday.  This is an interesting  article that will tell you more about him:

His story is worth a read, for you or for your children.  He is an extremely inspiring person.