Lindsay Bayer

Children's Author, Child/Family Yoga Instructor, Curriculum Developer, Education Consultant

What We’re Reading This Week: Preschool Book Ideas

We’ve recently checked-out some EXCELLENT picture books at our library.  I typically let Stella pick out 1 or 2 books on our visits; whatever she’s drawn to at the time.  Then I find a few that have been on MY to-read list…and (if I’m honest) I pretty much make her read them with me.  (She typically likes the ones I pick out, although I’ve been known to totally choke on occasion.)

But the stars have aligned for the past couple library visits, and we’ve found harmony in a mutual affinity for our chosen books.  Here I’ve listed the ones that we’ve particularly liked based on their ability to engage us both in the plot, detail in illustrations, humor, and Stella’s overall interest in the subject matter:

Loved by the both of us due to Stella’s infatuation with the concept of camouflage AND her study of bugs at preschool. (Stella’s choice)

Loved by the both of us because…well…who doesn’t love Mo Willems? This book is hilarious AND it’s the first of the ELEPHANT & PIGGIE books we’ve read together. (Stella’s choice)

Loved by both of us because it’s fun to say “Fi-Fi,” “Foo-Foo” and “Ooh-La-La”! It’s also beautiful to see how the characters journey to find the place where they belong. Super cute illustrations, too! (My choice)

Loved by both of us because it hits very close to home: it’s much more fun to be dirty than take a bath, right? The banter between the pigs sounds very familiar to our daily conversations, so I think we both got a kick out of that. Plus, Stella has a really strange and strong love for pigs. Weird. (Stella’s grandpa’s/my dad’s choice)

Loved by both of us because it’s just a great concept. How would a bug respond to a new life in a vacuum tank? By going through the five stages of grief of course! (Seriously, this book provides a crash-course in the Kübler-Ross model.) There’s some great humor in this one for kids and adults to appreciate. (My choice)

chicken chuck.jpg

Loved by both of us because the illustrations are gorgeous and very whimsical. Loved even more by Stella because it features a pig. (Stell’s choice)

*This post contains affiliate links, but I only recommend and link products that I’ve used and love myself.  Remember when I said we LOVED these books?

Creativity Series: Is it Possible to be an Orderly List-Maker AND a Creative Individual?

Hello, folks! I’ve sorely neglected my blog and website upkeep, but I thought I would jump back into the swing of things with a series on a topic that has deeply engaged my work and personal life recently: CREATIVITY. I’m certainly not an expert, nor am I an outwardly hyper-creative individual. (In fact, I’m certain that I’m not even the most creative member of my household.) But I’ve really enjoyed reading the works of various “creativity experts” and learning their views on how creativity works and how it can be developed.

The first issue I wanted to discuss in this series is the concept of order. Does structure and organization help or hinder an individual’s creativity? Here’s my personal experience in how I used my need for order to actually bolster my creativity:

I’ve always had a hard time reconciling my creative predispositions with my orderly tendencies. I am an idea-generator and am frequently inspired by what I see, do, and feel throughout the day. This means I take lots of photos, jot down assortments of quotes and notes on napkins and receipts, and try to absorb meaningful experiences as they happen. But I’m also a planner, a list-maker, and a big-time scheduler. This means that I immediately feel jittery if I don’t download my photos, turn my scribbled notes into systematic lists in my planner, or tidily record my meaningful experiences in my journal. My ideas have to live on paper or in a schedule, not just in my consciousness.

I’ve found myself wondering if the two sides of my brain are in such direct competition with each other that they are actually prohibiting me from making true strides in either personal organization or true creativity. While I know that I’m both pretty creative and fairly organized, I still think, “I’m sure I could be much more creative if I weren’t such a color-coded scheduling nut-job,” and “If I didn’t stop the car and jump out to take a picture of that cloud, I bet I would have remembered to pick up the dry cleaning.”

For my fellow FRIENDS enthusiasts, I’ve diagnosed myself as both a Monica AND a Phoebe.

This summer I was on a kick to read the books that have been on my “on-deck” list for ages. One book was The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. This book has been around for a while but artistically-blocked individuals still turn to its pages to recover or reignite their creative ways. At this time I had a ton of partially-finished poems and stories floating around my computer and in my brain, so I wanted to see if this book could help me feather the dust off of my words. After starting the book (which is more like a class or workshop), I immediately realized the importance Cameron places on writing every day. She starts her book emphasizing this practice and continues to insist upon it throughout the text.

Three pages of writing, first thing in the morning, no rules, no matter what.

Now I’m not one to do any serious writing before I’ve checked my emails, kissed my daughter, and inhaled a gargantuan cup of coffee. But the purpose of this habit is not to produce serious writing. It’s to produce ANYTHING. Cameron states:

These daily morning meanderings are not meant to be art. Or even writing…Pages are meant to be, simply, the act of moving the hand across the page and writing down whatever comes to mind. Nothing is too petty, too silly, too stupid, or too weird to be included (10).

Now I’ve done “free-writing” exercises before…but not every day…at 6:30 in the morning. And as you might imagine, I’m the type of person that needs to look at a list of to-do items when I wake up so I can create the semblance of order to start my day. I’m not in a creative headspace when my alarm goes off…or even two hours after my alarm goes off.

But I still wanted to commit to the process of reigniting my creativity…which meant committing to the process of writing every sleepy-eyed morning. Very quickly I realized that this writing was going to be a monumental waste of time. This is because I was only writing lists. Three pages of lists. Page after page of full-blown list-making took place day after day. I made lists of groceries, lists of people to email, lists of books to get from the library, and lists of gifts to buy for birthdays. I took the to-do lists from my planner and just re-wrote them in my notebook. I felt like a kid being punished in school by writing sentences on the chalkboard over and over again. But instead of writing, “I will not chew gum in class,” I was writing, “Drop off Stella at my dad’s by 10, finish grant reports, go to the post office, write the vocab quiz for chapter 6, buy liquid Vitamin D.” A real page-turner, right?

My lists of daily activities, items to buy, and errands to run quickly filled up the pages of my notebook for two straight weeks. TWO WEEKS! If this process was supposed to make me more creative, it certainly wasn’t apparent by the first 42 pages of my notebook. But then one day as I was reading the weekly “class” in The Artist’s Way, Cameron presented a list-making task as a separate assignment from the regular morning writing. It went something like, “List five things you liked about yourself as a child.” It was a thought-provoking heading and a fun list to make. Once I completed this task, I started thinking about other things I could list in my morning writing that didn’t involve work responsibilities or groceries.

My lists finally evolved each morning: lists of people I admire, lists of weird dreams I had as a child, lists of things I wanted eliminated from the world, lists of things I secretly enjoy doing, lists of words that rhyme with “eat,” and lists of my bad habits. Once again, these were obvious lists, complete with underlined headings and numbers down the left margin of the page. But these were fun lists, thoughtful lists…creative lists.

As I looked back at these lists during my times of work and “serious writing,” I found support in the pages. I was able to use these lists to develop creative writing prompts during my curriculum work. I turned some list-items into new poems and children’s stories. One list helped me articulate the purpose of a new community program when writing a grant for a local non-profit organization.

And I was quickly reminded of the importance of list-making as I turned to my favorite therapeutic activity: reading children’s literature. One of my favorite collections of children’s poetry is Falling Down the Page edited by Georgia Heard. The jacket flap states, boldly and unabashedly, “Lists of everyday things become the stuff of poetry…”

(Insert self-inflicted slap upside the head here.)

The poems in this book are beautiful and are exquisitely simple in that many are comprised of lists: lists of ways children spend their day at school, lists of how to say “hello” in different languages, lists of common items kids collect, lists of objects in a lost and found box. I love these poems…probably because I love lists. It’s amazing that I spent so much time being ashamed of making lists and being preoccupied with making lists and thinking that lists wouldn’t flip the switch of my creativity when all the while lists were the essential ingredient in one of my favorite children’s books.

My morning writing still hasn’t changed. I occasionally throw in ideas for new stories or projects, but I primarily still write lists. I’ve realized that I need those lists to make my brain function in a manner that allows for any creativity to take place at all. I often wish I was still more creative or more structured, but I’m now realizing that I can use my inner Monica to strengthen my innate Phoebe-ness.

Book Ideas for Toddlers and Preschoolers

A wonderful pal of mine, with two young sons, asked me to suggest some new page-turners for her growing toddler and preschooler. This request was like handing me a beautifully wrapped box with a huge bow on top: I LOVE making book lists…and lists of books for kids and families are my favorite lists to make (she said as she pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose).

Despite my passion for book-list-making and overwhelming nerd status, I’m always happy to talk to anyone about children’s books. So for this task, I thought of some of my favorite humor, action and emotion-oriented picture books that I’ve read lately (admittedly, not always with my kid) and also asked some of the educators I work with to do the same. Here are the titles we came up with after receiving this request this morning. And, of course, these books are wonderful for both boys AND girls and most would probably be suitable for toddlers through kindergartners (but books that MAY be more enjoyable for toddlers, I’ve marked with *; those that MAY be more appealing to preschoolers and up with **).

Parts by Tedd Arnold**
Being a Pig is Nice by Sally Lloyd-Jones**
Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig
The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood
The Loud Book by Deborah Underwood
Be Happy by Monica Sheehan
One Naked Baby by Maggie Smith*
Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Press Here by Herve Tullet (A book/game/activity/sensory experience)
This Book Just Ate My Dog by Richard Byrne

Books about Children’s Books

The world of children’s literature can be overwhelming for new teachers, parents and those working with kids and families. I was fortunate to be exposed to some great children’s books while I was working as a preschool teacher and administrator, but I became aware of the enormity and possibilities of children’s books, not by randomly grabbing at books displayed at the library or in the classroom, but by (stay with me here) reading books ABOUT children’s books.

My graduate school professors recommended some great scholarly resources and friends offered some great “user-friendly” guides when I was expecting our Bucca. Here’s a short list of SOME of my favorites. I think these are great starting spots, but I have many others that I love that I will post at a later date. Until then, here are my inagural 6:

Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art, Ed. by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art – This book features 23 of the most well-known picture book artists discussing their processes of creating illustrations that engage and educate readers. Although each artist writes in an informal manner in order to relate to child readers, I think the book is invaluable for teachers and parents as well; it can certainly encourage adults to reconsider their attraction to certain images in the picture books they grew up with, and also make connections to the favorites of their children/students.

Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt – I sang the praises of this book in my Bucca Books Blog and I still am so thankful to the friends that gifted it to us at our baby shower. FYI – this makes a great gift for expecting parents! The title of the book implies the basics that parents offer to their children: milk represents a child’s physical needs and honey represents the richness of life. While many parents are primarily concerned with providing the milk, the honey is just as important. Hunt goes on to describe why children’s books are so full of honey and can be powerful tools for individual growth and communication with others. The book is more of a parent guide, but would be useful to educators as well due to the fact that Hunt provides various book recommendations listed by age.

Tell Me: Children, Reading, and Talk by Aidan Chambers – I love this book. This is another one that I praised on my Bucca Books Blog and I still use the text frequently as a resource for work and for home-life with Stella. In a nutshell, Chambers realized that teachers and parents can often experience great difficulty when attempting to prompt conversations with children about books. He created a framework for adults to engage children in reading thoughtfully and responding articulately to the books they’ve read called, “The Tell-Me Framework.” The framework is insanely simple but extremely impactful. If you’re having a hard time getting the children in your life to discuss books or read books with you, GET YOUR PAWS ON “TELL ME” AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!

The Pleasures of Children’s Literature by Perry Nodelman and Mavis Reimer – This was one of my graduate school textbooks. It can be a bit pricey to purchase, but if you can find it at your library I would suggest giving it a go. While much of the information is pretty scholarly and research-heavy, the authors also break down the multiple ways individuals take pleasure in children’s literature: from the pleasure of having books impact our emotions, to the pleasure of identifying with characters, to the pleasure of gaining knowledge about the world. Perry Nodleman also has many resources on his homepage for educators and students using this text in their classrooms.

Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang – This is a great tool to understand how images communicate emotions and ideas. The book uses basic shapes and visual elements to show just how emotive pictures can be for readers/viewers. If you’ve wanted to understand more about how images can tell a story, give this book a try. Plus, it’s a pretty quick and engaging read!

Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age — From Picture Books to eBooks and Everything in Between by Jason Boog – I’ll admit, I haven’t read this one completely. But I’ve started it and really like what I’m reading. Boog starts the book by laying out a “playbook” for parents and children to interact together while reading books. The items in the “playbook” aren’t complex and Boog also incorporates conversation prompts for each item, such as: “Did that book make you happy? Would you like to read that again?” Simple, right? Boog then elaborates on each item and backs them through research and interviews with experts in children’s literature and education. As a result, parents are given tools to cultivate their child’s love of books from an early age. This would also be a great new-parent gift!

Audiobooks for Toddlers

I love listening to audiobooks during my lengthy commutes, but Stella started getting antsy playing with toys in the backseat during these drives…and she probably didn’t REALLY enjoy listening to my books so much. We’re pretty non-techy, so Stella does not get DVDs to watch or an iPad to maneuver during our drives. In actuality, she doesn’t get much of these luxuries at home either (besides the song scenes in Julie Andrews musicals), but that’s just our style. She’s always been a book girl, so I started thinking that she may want to enjoy audiobooks as well. I started playing versions of some of her faviorite picture books and she now LOVES listening to these stories; she hears the familiar words and recites them along with the audio, even when she doesn’t have the book in front of her.

Stella has the following playlist for the car. These are all books that she knows and doesn’t mind listening to without the book in her lap. For new books that I find at the library, I always make sure we read the book a few times at home before having her listen to the audio in the car. This way, she’s somewhat familiar with the story and can follow along much better when we listen to the CD while driving. I love any way to share books with young children, so I feel this is a practice that will continue and grow for years to come!

Read the Books you Want to Write – Children’s Book Journal

I am a firm believer that reading is a key component in the process of writing well. This concept has always been in the back of my mind because I love books, but it was firmly implanted in my mind during a writing course in grad school. It was drilled into me and my fellow classmates that writing (and editing, re-writing, fine-tuning and writing some more) forces the author to be in tune with communicating layers of humanity and emotion within a piece of written work. Because this is the case, it only follows that authors become more emotionally invested in the books they read. Like I said, I’ve always had this in the back of my mind, but the idea was reignited for me this week as I was reading Picture Writing by Anastasia Suen.

In the first chapter of the book, Suen discussed the “whole-brain process” of writing, which is invigorated by READING. She states that it is especially beneficial for writers to read the books they long to write. Recently I have become so involved in the processes of writing and editing and submitting that I’ve forgotten to be a reader. I read a lot to Stella, but my mind is in a different place when I’m reading to my daughter; I’m a mom first and I’m concentrating on Stella’s reactions to the stories and pictures. So…this week…I went to the library…by myself…grabbed a handful of children’s books…hunkered down in a chair in the corner of the building…and read.

Suen also discusses the importance of listing or journaling the books an author reads. I LOVE lists, so I was all over this one. So…without further ado…here’s the start of my children’s book reading journal; to keep me accountable to be a READER and provide ideas for new books to share with children in the lives of others.

  • This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt
  • Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  • Hand Book by Jeff Newman
  • We’re Going on a Picnic by Pat Hutchins
  • Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  • Buster by Denise Fleming
  • Fireflies for Nathan by Shulamith Levey Oppenheim
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle
  • It’s My Birthday by Helen Oxenbury