We bought our first home just months shy of expecting our first child. I walked through our newly-purchased fixer-upper with a round belly and stars in my eyes: I could just see the potential of the home, the beauty of its bones. With the help of a powerful nesting instinct and some adrenalin, my husband and I worked feverishly to remove old baseboard and casing, scrape yellowed popcorn ceilings, rip out the pet-clawed parquet floor, install new fixtures and update paint. It was a particular joy to remodel the room that was to be the nursery. The walls featured a paint color that can only be compared to painter’s tape blue and a dingy yellow, separated by brown faux-oak chair rail. The baseboard was also the fake oak, a hideous and unwelcome homage to the 70’s. Due to the all of the repairs being done in the master bedroom, we slept on an air mattress in the spare room, staring at the popcorn ceiling while envisioning the final product.

Countless hours, dollars — and hundreds of unexpected trips to Home Depot — later, our house had come together. But our proudest achievement — and biggest improvement — was the nursery. The walls were newly painted a fresh green, with high-gloss white chair rail and baseboard, and a vintage hanging shelf that we had refinished. Our daughter spent three years in that happy room before a job change necessitated a move to a new home in a new city.

Our then three-year old daughter seemed to handle the move marvelously well, but I’ll never forget her wistful question as we introduced her to her new room. Perched atop her tiny toddler bed, an island we’d set up in a sea of moving chaos, she looked around and asked, “But where’s my green room?”

This experience came to me vividly as I read the opening page of our August Book of the Month, Eric Carle’s A House for Hermit Crab: “He had felt safe and snug in his shell…But it was frightening out in the open sea without a shell to hide in.” This beautiful book, illustrated in Carle’s vivid hand-painted tissue paper collages, not only teaches about the habits of hermit crabs, but also addresses a concern familiar to many young readers. Any kind of change, particularly change that involves leaving familiar or comfortable surroundings, can be scary for kids. The hermit crab acknowledges this, but moves on to the advantages of moving; he talks about the need for a bigger shell house that will keep him safe. And in his search to beautify his new shell home, he meets a whole crew of new friends.

Just as our new house become our home (despite the lack of a green room), hermit crab finds that it’s the people — ahem, the sea creatures — you know, not the place you live or the stuff you have, that make life great.

Log in to share this fascinating and encouraging book with the readers you love, and start a discussion about the changes that are a part of every child’s growing-up. Discuss how you’ve dealt with the changes in your own life, and how change — even unexpected, unplanned change — can be a great thing. And please stop by our Facebook page to let us know what you think! We love hearing from you.

A big THANKS to Simon & Schuster for making A House for Hermit Crab available to read during the month of August.

Posted August 3rd, 2012 in Book of the Month, Children's Books by Kristen Johnson

When I was fourteen years old, I was invited to be part of an all-girls crew that sailed from Puget Sound in Washington State to Victoria Harbour in British Columbia, Canada. We sailed aboard The Odyssey, a 90-foot yawl originally built in the 1930’s for a member of the Vanderbilt family. Having been born and raised in a completely land-locked state, I was enthralled with the ship, the sea, and all the mystery and adventure they promised. We were immediately divided into starboard and port crews, and I quickly learned that sailing is about 90% work and 10% fun. Our tasks included hauling in and spraying the anchor, cleaning the heads (the toilets), galley duty, hourly watches, hauling the mainsail, stacking chain and rope, manning the helm, making notations in the log, bow watch, and yes, swabbing the decks (ahoy).

Though it was certainly hard work, there was a certain fierce joy in being at sea, an adrenaline-boosting exhilaration of water in all directions with only the simple integrity of streamlined wood to keep you from the rushing water. I was proud to crawl in my bunk with sore muscles and sea salt in my hair, exhausted but deeply satisfied by the day’s work.

A few shining vignettes remain with me: using the halyard as a rope swing into the Pacific, spotting a pod of orcas cresting mere feet from our ship, and the quiet hush of a midnight watch, the moon filling the horizon like a hot-air balloon. But I will never forget the sheer terror of a pounding storm that sent us scurrying into our yellow Helly Hansen suits and clinging to the rolling deck in the midst of pitching, nausea-inducing waves. We were extremely fortunate to be in the expert hands of our skipper, a veteran sailor who seemed unimpressed by the fury of the storm, and unworried by the gaggle of unpracticed girls that made up his motley crew. Eventually, the storm abated, and like all ships, The Odyssey returned to port.

All ships, that is, but the lightship: “Here is a ship that holds her place…” So begins Brian Floca’s brilliantly illustrated children’s book about a ship that “does not sail from port to port,” but “holds to one sure spot as other ships sail by.” Readers are introduced to the crew of eight (plus a cat!), each with their own important tasks that keep the ship and its parts running smoothly — and yet, the ship waits. Floca’s detailed illustrations depict scenes of ship life: the small spaces, the rocking of the waves, the constant upkeep and maintenance. And still the lightship remains anchored…waiting. At last, the fog rolls in, and the role of the lightship is made clear.

As you read, point out the various crew members (can your reader find the helmsman? The cook, the captain, or the engineer? How about the cat?) and discuss what they are doing in each illustration. Younger readers will delight in guessing what the ship could be waiting for, and older readers will enjoy the detailed diagrams and cutaways of the ship’s inner workings. Talk about the dangers endured by the lightship and her crew, and ask your reader whether they’d enjoy a life at sea and why. As the author notes, lightships are no longer in service, but the book is a fascinating peek into the careers of heroic men and women who keep others safe.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for making Lightship available to read for free throughout the month.

Happy reading!

Kristen

Posted July 11th, 2012 in Book of the Month, Children's Books by Kristen Johnson

As Father”s Day approaches, I”ve had a quirky song from childhood stuck in my head (my mom informed me it is entitled “My Dad,” by Janeen Brady) and the lyrics go a little something like this: “My dad’s the biggest guy, and my dad’s the strongest guy, and my dad’s the nicest guy of any guy in town. / He can do anything, he’ll fix your bike or fly your kite, “cause my dad, my dad’s the greatest guy around.” There was something more about knowing the name of every kind of jet, and always having money for bubble gum…And as I thought about all the different fathers I know (my dad, my grandpa, my own sweet husband, my brothers and friends), the one commonality they share–the thing that makes them heroes to their children and the people who know them–is time. Time–spent compassionately, patiently, lovingly, unselfishly and endlessly–with their kiddos and the people they care about.

A funny example from my then four-year old daughter: we had taken her to see Disney”s “Tangled” in theaters, her very first “big-screen” experience. She was absolutely enthralled with everything, from the popcorn to the 3D glasses and stadium seating. If you haven”t seen it, there”s this handsome, roguish thief named Flynn Rider, who mistakenly winds up in Rapunzel”s tower as her captive. He”s a smooth talker, and obviously used to being in tight situations. After spending some time trying to talk Rapunzel into releasing him, he says something like, “Okay. I didn”t want to have to do this. Here comes the smolder…” whereupon he fixes Rapunzel with his most dashing look. My daughter had been pondering this and asked her dad, “What”s a smolder?”

Her dad explained about the live coals that can smolder after a campfire, burning slowly without flame, but with a lot of heat. He connected it back to Flynn, noting that he apparently thought himself to be quite a handsome guy. “Do you think he”s good looking?” my husband asked.

She thought for a moment. “I like his face okay,” she said finally. “But I don”t like his hands.” A pause. “Or his arms. They”re all….puffy.” We sat, confused, for a moment.

“You know, like your arms aren”t very puffy. Well, the top kind of is. But not this part,” she explained, indicating her dad”s forearm. We began to laugh as we realized: puffy = big muscles.

“Oh good,” my husband said. “I”m glad we”re training our daughter to think the right kind of men are tall and skinny like me.” I love that her personal experiences with a loving, hands-on father trumps pop culture.

This month”s featured book, Blue-Ribbon Dad by Beth Raisner Glass and illustrated by Margie Moore, celebrates the time fathers dedicate to loving and raising their kids. The story begins with a young squirrel telling his mother that he is planning a big surprise for his dad, who is coming home in just five hours. He begins to recount all the small, yet important, tasks his dad undertakes daily, like packing the young squirrel”s lunch, cheering him on at his swimming lessons, or encouraging him in his reading. The hours count down (“My dad is coming home soon, / And with one more hour to go…”) until at last the father returns, and the young squirrel presents his dad with a homemade gift.

As you read, ask your little reader to guess what the surprise might be, and point out the activity of the mother in the background. After reading, use the story to generate a discussion about all the things fathers do to care for their children, and come up with a list of special things for which a child could thank his or her father. Share a personal story about your own father, a memory or time when he showed his love.

Above all, remember to say “thank you!” to the fathers and important men in your life who have loved, encouraged and taught you. Happy Father”s Day!

A special thanks to Abrams for making this story available to read for free throughout June.

Happy reading,

Kristen

Posted June 7th, 2012 in Book of the Month, Children's Books by Kristen Johnson

Read The Biggest Job Of All for Free on Readeo

A close friend of our family was visiting the other night and was carefully scrutinizing my five-year old’s latest artwork–our friend was being silently observed by the artist herself. Though I can readily acknowledge that I am not immune to the motherly bias of believing my children are smart, talented, and beautiful, I like to think that I can sometimes take a step back and have an objective eye.

And objectively, my eldest daughter’s creations are quite amazing. She uses her afternoon “quiet time” to create collages made of tiny pieces of colored paper, pieced together like a mosaic featuring our family under a sunny sky. The sky is made from undulating pieces of alternating blues, creating waves of atmospheric strata. Her school teacher tells me that while the end-of-year goal is for each child to draw a “five-part person” (head, arms, legs, eyes and mouth), my kiddo draws five fingers and five toes, eyelashes and eyebrows, nostrils, colorful outfits, and different hairstyles (Daddy always has hair resembling Alfalfa from Little Rascals). But my little girl is also afflicted with an almost-painful case of perfectionism, and waits somberly for my friend’s opinion.

“This is very, very good,” my friend observes in a serious tone, speaking to her as one peer to another. “I think you could become an artist when you grow up, and sell your art for money.” My daughter thanks her quietly and takes the picture up to her room.

Later that evening, my husband compliments her patience and skill as she teaches her two-year old sister to pronounce a word correctly. “Maybe you’ll be a teacher when you grow up,” he says. Instead of looking pleased, our daughter looks concerned–and a little resigned. “But I can’t be a teacher or an artist when I grow up. I’ve already decided to be a mom.”

What a pleasure it was to explain to her that she could be a teacher AND an artist AND a mom! And, as a mother, she would also be an entertainer, a chef, a nurse, a tutor, a maid, a diplomat, a cheerleader, and a therapist…all in one.

So, in honor of Mother’s Day, our May Book of the Month celebrates the many roles played by women in The Biggest Job of All, written by Harriet Ziefert and illustrated by Lauren Browne. In this sweet tale, Lulu tells her mom that she wants a really big job when she grows up. Her mother guesses at all the big, important jobs that could await little Lulu: a teacher? (Lulu is not very enthusiastic, “Teachers have to wipe noses, tie shoelaces, and fix stuck zippers.”) A doctor or a nurse? (“I don’t like medicine and I don’t like shots,” Lulu replies as her mother applies a band-aid and dispenses some medicine to her little brother).

Your reader will be tickled at the silly suggestions of what this big job could be: operating a big crane? Or washing an elephant? But when Lulu asks the all-important question, “What’s a really big job–the biggest job you know?” Lulu’s mom cuddles her close and tells her the important truth we’ve known all along, underscored by the series of images illustrating the myriad tasks of a mother.

Share this beautiful story with your little readers this month, and talk about the things your mother did that were special to you as a child. Use the storyline to talk about all the future possibilities of what your reader would like to do and be when they grow up; but above all, don’t forget to say “Thank you!” to all the women who have influenced you and inspired you.

Thank you to Blue Apple Books for providing this heartwarming story to enjoy for free during the month of May.

Happy Mother’s Day, and happy reading,

Kristen Johnson

Posted May 3rd, 2012 in Book of the Month, Children's Books by Kristen Johnson

Dear Readeo Friends,

As April rolls on, Colorado has recently enjoyed the blossoming of spring. I woke up to the cheery ruckus of twittery birds one morning last week, and the uncommonly warm weather had me removing my jacket while my two-year old inspected the tender shoots of hyacinths and daffodils, the bold leaves of tulips. As a Utah native, I grew up in the snow, and have a great affection for the particular beauty of winter. But there is nothing that compares with the beauty of a world shaking itself from winter sleep and becoming renewed in budding, green Spring glory. Nature’s new beginnings often parallel with our own, I thought, and we look forward to our own renewing and the changes that each new season brings.

This month, I’d like to introduce three new additions from Clavis, each a unique kind of coming-of-age story. Our youngest readers will enjoy Ian’s New Potty, by Pauline Oud, the story of a young boy who is learning all about being a big boy. He builds a tall “big boys’ tower,” enjoys a “big boys’ sandwich” for lunch (with his big boy appetite), and spends his afternoon playing in a “big boys’ tent,” with his stuffed bunny, Flap. With all of these new abilities comes another important step in being a big boy: wearing big boy underpants and learning to use the potty. With simple, bright illustrations and clear language, this story is a helpful and encouraging introduction to toilet training and the joys of becoming a little more independent.

For readers aged 4 and older is the beautifully written story of Nina, a little girl struggling with the aftermath of her parents’ divorce in I Have Two Homes, by Marian De Smet and illustrated by Nynke Talsma. Told from Nina’s perspective, this book brilliantly and sensitively explores the feelings a child might have as they face an extremely difficult transition: from living together as a happy family in one home, to the confusion of separation, and finally the realities of living in two different homes. Nina remembers standing in her parents’ happy embrace, like a “hotdog in a bun,” and then recalls days of fighting. She remembers Mom spending long hours talking to Grandma, so intent in their conversation, that they don’t notice Nina misbehaving. But Nina also talks about the bright parts of her new life, like having two different birthday parties, or both parents coming to watch as she takes her first dive into the deep pool at school. Most importantly, Nina–and we as readers–are emphatically reassured that while Mom and Dad are no longer happy with one another, their love for Nina will never change.

Our final new addition, Amy, by Ritva Lukkarinen and Pirkko Vainio, is a coming-of-age story for older readers. While exploring her snow-covered backyard, Amy discovers a sick duck taking shelter under a woodpile. Amy fixes up a bed of warm straw for her new friend, whom she names “Lucky,” and provides him with food and water. During the ensuing holiday season, Amy and Lucky spend all of their time together, eating and even napping together. But as Lucky recovers, Amy’s mom gently reminds her that ducks belong outside. Share this important coming-of-age story about responsibility and doing what’s best for those we love, and read about Amy’s final decision as she seeks to do the right thing for her friend, Lucky.

Please let us know what you think of our newest additions on our Facebook page, and share your reader’s reactions, comments, or questions about these characters and their new beginnings.

Happy reading,

Kristen Johnson

Posted April 23rd, 2012 in Books, Children's Books, New Additions, Readeo Reviews by Kristen Johnson