14 Books I Will Never Regret Reading With My Daughters

There are a thousand books that I have loved down through the years as a father reading together with my daughters, but this list (in no particular order) represents those works that changed something within us and so often caused us to keep reading beyond our normal one-chapter limit before bedtime.  These are the books that I think of without looking in the book room to remember them.  As I type their titles here below, I am immediately transported to the moments I was reading them with the girls, wondering what in the world was going to happen next and hoping they were half as excited as I was about the title of the next chapter or the illustration on the next page (and they were, most of the time).  I love them for allowing me to read to them.

1.  Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett – another world and cool weather!

Cloudy

2.  The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis – how it all began and from where that wardrobe came!

3.  The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum – our first chapter book together and better than the wonderful movie we know so well!

4.  Doll People by Brian Selznick – before Toy Story, there was this gem!

DollPeople

5.  Psalm 139 (that’s right, this is in the Old Testament of the Bible)
-good medicine when it has been a tough day at school!

6.  Danny, the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl – a dad who loves his son and proves it every day!

7.  The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick – an invention and old movies and a yearning to know your past!

Invention_of_Hugo_Cabret

8.  The Meanest Doll in the World by Brian Selznick
– toys come to life and make one of the best to read aloud!

9.  The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo – a short novel that packs a profound punch!

the-tiger-rising

10.  Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles – only one word: wow! You’ll never forget it!

11.  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis – more hope packed into this story than you can even imagine! Dragons included!

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

12.  A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni – simply powerful for its friendship!

13.  Here I Am by Patti Kim – a book without words about life in a new country, and that says more than a dozen books with words!

Here-I-Am-by-Patti-Kim

14.  Snot Stew by Bill Wallace – laugh out loud funny from start to finish!

SnotStew

 

Reading in the In-Between

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Books can fill up the in-between places. And in this busy world, there are so many in-between places.  I have seen the girls take a book with them nearly every time we get in the car. Sometimes, they take two or three – even on a short trip into town! When I asked one of them why, she responded, “You never know what kind of mood you’ll be in so you have to bring a couple along for that just-in-case feeling. And why take just one, when you can take two!”
Good point. We all find ourselves in those in-between places during the day…times when we are stuck in traffic or waiting at the doctor’s office, or taking a car trip across town or across the country.
So however old you are, taking a book along can be just the thing to get you through those in-between places.
And “why take just one when you can take two!”

5 Great Kids Reads for Halloween

Halloween books

Thirteen years ago I was assigned to a student teaching position in Kindergarten at Windsor Hills Elementary School in Putnam City, a suburb of Oklahoma City.  It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget, but one of the moments that stands out to me was the day my assigned classroom’s wonderful veteran teacher told me what she wanted me to use as my theme to teach when my professor came to evaluate me as I taught that roomful of 20 young children in late October.  She said one word – ‘monsters.’

She had always used that as her theme for this particular week and so that was the theme she wanted me to use, as well.  I was crushed.  As a boy, I was scared to death of monsters and spent many creepy nights sleeping outside my parent’s bedroom in my Battlestar Galactica sleeping bag.

Now here I was faced with having to create a five-day curriculum for little girls and boys about the one thing that surely sent them fleeing on most nights – monsters!  To make a long story short, it went wonderfully well (this was one great teacher and I trusted her) and I had the time of my life.  We used the puppets of Where the Wild Things Are and learned Monster tunes for Kids that my daughters and I made up at night and I taught to the children the next morning in circle time.  We completed math lessons with monsters and wrote stories and talked about scary monsters and funny monsters and fears and worries and everything in between.  The whole room was a monster wonderland!  I also collected quite a variety of great children’s books with monster themes during that semester of my life.  Here are a few of our favorite short read-alouds to celebrate some reading time with your little ones during this especially monstrous week of the year:

1.  Ten Creepy Monsters by Carey Armstrong-Ellis (Harry N. Abrams, 2012) – Julie Roach and School Library Journal reviewed the book for Preschool to Grade 2 and wrote, “When ten creepy monsters meet beneath a pine tree, they get into all sorts of trouble that helps readers count backward from ten to one…After the second to last monster-a vampire-rushes off in the sunrise, readers are left with one monster hurrying home. An abandoned mask, strewn candy, and a sleeping boy tell the rest of the story. Fun for Halloween or for counting anytime.”

2.  Monster Mischief by Pamela Jane (2001, Scholastic) – This is a wonderfully inventive book of creative monsters visiting a monster home to trick or treat for Halloween.  This quote from the book sums up the fun, “On Halloween, for trick or treat, five monsters mixed a stew to eat of which they never ate a bite, because their stew ran off that night.  A few, I know, are glad of that – spider, lizard, frog and bat!”

3.  Haunted Halloween:  A Choose Your Own Adventure Book #37 by Susan Sanders (1986, Bantam-Skylark) –  If you grew up in the 1980′s in America, this was the hottest series on the bookshelf.  It is still around and still exciting and interesting and interactive.  If you don’t remember how it works, the reader reads a few pages and then at a key point in the story there are two questions at the bottom of the page.  You must choose your own adventure at this point, sometimes for good and sometimes for not!  These are so much fun and your kids need to be reading them – there are many choices so I was happy that we had this one for Halloween week here at Father Knows Books!  In this book, “it is halloween night and you’ve been invited to a costume party at an old, spooky mansion.”

4.  Monster Pops Counting 123:  How Many Monsters Can You See by Gill Davies (2002, Parragon Publishing) – “Discover a pop-up surprise on each page as you enjoy a monstrously good counting rhyme.”  This book is super for preschool and Kindergartners, as well…and who doesn’t love a pop-up book!

5.  The Teeny Tiny Ghost by Kay Winters (1997, Scholastic) – a wonderful children’s picture book with a great read-aloud style and wonderful illustrations by Lynn Munsinger.  It is the story of a “timid teeny tiny ghost.  He lived in a teeny tiny house with two teeny tiny black cats.”  He is scared of scary stories and hides when he hears himself say “boo!”  When his friends come for a surprise costume party, things indeed take a turn for the better.

Look at this book! The Library

* Every Tuesday we introduce you to a favorite book from our secret book room, and give you a unique recipe over on our Book Cook page…

The Library book review

Today’s great book: The Library by Sarah Stewart (1995, Farrar Straus Giroux) and illustrated by David Small.
Time to Read: short and sweet, just right after a long day at work; this book has a great rhythm to it.
Summary: From the back cover…Elizabeth Brown doesn’t like to play with dolls, and she doesn’t like to skate. What she does like to do is read books. Lots of them, all the time. Over the years her book collection grows to such enormous proportions that Elizabeth Brown cannot fit one more volume into her house. But this dilemma is nothing our heroine can’t overcome, and a splendid solution is promised.
Best Quote: “Books were piled on top of chairs and spread across the floor. Her shelves began to fall apart, as she read more and more. Big books made very solid stacks on which teacups could rest. Small books became the building blocks for busy little guests.”

Our View: This book has become a bit of a trademark at our house, a slogan if you will. We love books and we own many. You can find a single book, a shelf of books, a stack of books, a box of books, a row of books, a river of books, an ocean of books, a hallway of books in this house. The same can be said of Elizabeth Brown, the heroine of today’s book. It is a book like The Library that gives us permission to love every one of our books, a goodwill grant to own as many as possible and a double dare to read every single one of them before we die. Simply put – we need more shelves because of the inspiration that shines through this wonderful book!

Remember to visit our Book Cook page for an “Eat this Book” library recipe created by the kids to accompany this particular book.

The Book of People

Book of People

Monday’s blog has got me thinking more about the analogies between books (which I love) and people (which aren’t so bad either). It happened again the other day…

My brother-in-law and I met up for lunch in a hospital cafeteria. A family member was having surgery and it proved to be a good time for two busy dads to catch up while he was captive for a few hours in such a place.

The interesting thing about this hospital is its profound personal relationship with our family. This was the place where he and his sister’s (my wife) mother worked as a nurse before her untimely death more than twenty years ago. She gave her heart and soul to the place and worked the long and many times heartwrenching hours that nurses like her have given in places like this for centuries before and since. It had been her dream to do such things as far as back as her teenage years, and it fulfilled a place inside her that few other things ever did. I never knew this complicated, devoted lady and she has no other living relatives nearby, so her story for me and all of our children lies with my wife and her brother.

And now, here we are in this hospital, in the very place where she had written much of her life’s story. The moment we finished lunch and began to walk the winding hallways back to the small waiting area, my brother-in-law pointed out some favorite spots of childhood visits here, of seeing his mom do this or that…just remembering and reliving a page or two of the connections they made together inside these walls. Her memory, and his, still lingered in the shadows of an otherwise unassuming hospital hallway.

If you are in the book business, it is surprising how many people will tell you that they want to write a book, that they have a story to tell. For one reason or another most never take pen or keyboard in hand and begin the process. But let me tell you a secret that I recognized in that hospital..you’ve already started. As long as you are breathing, the story is being written. And when you are no longer here, bestseller status and wide distribution, even a publishing deal, won’t matter at all because this unprinted story will only be read by the very people who mattered to you most in the first place.

My brother-in-law simply opened one of those books that he knew and loved and read and lived…and began to read it to me. And the story of a life came to life once again.

Food Surrounded by Books

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Books and food – in the same place! When my daughters surprised me at the office today with a lunch invitation, I knew there was only one restaurant on their mind…the Garden Cafe inside and surrounded by the two-story high bookcases of Oklahoma City’s Full Circle Bookstore.
Nestled in a corner of 50 Penn Place, this legendary spot is home to all kinds of books and fireplaces and reading chairs…but our reason for being here is the most creative, dreamlike children’s book section we have ever seen. Replete with tall red ladders and two “coves” filled with more childhood to older teen book pages than you can imagine, this is our kind of place!
While I was taking these photos, the sales lady was stocking a shelf nearby and I asked her if it was alright to take a photo. She said of course and told us that many grown-ups now visit this very section and tell her, “My parents used to bring me here all the time when I was little, and it is so good just to see it and be in the middle of it all now as an adult.”
I like that kind of memory created in part by a place filled with books. When my kids come here for a visit 20 years from now (in 2033!), we’ll sit together to enjoy the awesome food, the gourmet gelato…and surround ourselves once again with the sweet smell of books that stretch as far as the eye can see.

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Hello world!

July 4 is freedom.  From the famed red, white and blue parade of our small town to crackling fireworks that burst across these vast Oklahoma night skies; memorable war movies like Bridge Over the River Kwai and Tora! Tora! Tora! to stars like James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy and Robert Preston in The Music Man; smoke bombs and blackcat firecrackers; watermelon, junebugs, American flags, and homemade butterfinger ice cream.  These are just a few of the ingredients that have thoroughly mixed themselves into my memory after just a little more than four decades of celebrating this holiday, from childhood to manhood.

My college bound 18 year-old and I recently spent a week in Washington, D.C., our first in the nation’s capital, and marveled at a night tour of that city’s extensive and awe-inspiring landmarks like the Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Wall, and the Marine Corps Memorial.  Freedom was everywhere and we could feel its power and its heartbeat throughout the city.

I write all of that to remind myself and my daughters, and maybe a reader or two as well, of why I have created this website and blog on the eve of this freedom-infused holiday.  It is no accident that this blog debuts on the eve of America’s rowdy July 4th celebrations.  I believe that books are an ingredient for freedom.  They bring life and adventure, instruction and hope, pride, envy, sadness, pain, grief, joy, and peace.  They are words let loose onto a page or a screen, in a title or across a dustjacket, embedded in the hardback cover and across the rigid spine, written, typed, spoken, translated.  Words can bring freedom to one or millions, while age and time cannot bind them.

When our first daughter was nearing the end of Kindergarten, she was desperate to read the words in her favorite books all to herself.  She would sit on our big couch just a few feet from where I am writing this nearly fifteen years later and stare into the pages of books piled up around her and covering her tiny legs, trying with all her might to sound out the words and make sense of it, without our help.  It was right then, at that very moment, that I sensed the gravity with which learning to read holds every human being captive.  It was not an easy thing to learn to read and tears would eventually come as she so often sat there on that couch so motivated to read and so unwilling to let us help her.  It was as though reading a book consumed her, taxed her, worried her, needed her – it was amazing for me, her father, to behold.  For something inside her must have already known that freedom lingered there among those words, even within the pages of her childhood books…especially within the pages of her childhood books.

So here’s to freedom…and to books…and to the children and their dads who have learned the power of both.

Row, Row, Row the Boats by Michael Dahl - See the “Book Cook” tab on our Home page for a special recipe to accompany one of our favorite 4th of July books.

Row, Row, Row the Boats by Michael Dahl, 2004