Books: Becoming Us

I’m reading Becoming Us: Loving, Learning and Growing Together by Elly Taylor right now. It’s a book about how becoming parents affects relationships, and it’s about about understanding the changes you feel in yourself, in your partner and in your relationship. I think it’s one of the best relationship books I’ve ever read. It made me feel calmer about my relationship, like the changes we’ve gone through since having a baby together weren’t something “wrong”; they’re part of a bigger pattern of how women and men approach parenting. It made me feel gentler and more accepting of myself and my husband. It made it easier not to take things personally that aren’t done the way I would do them. It helped me see what we both bring to parenting, and it helped me feel how much our son needs both of our approaches.

Thanksgiving picture books

It’s hard to find good Thanksgiving books! Halloween books and Christmas books are everywhere, but Thanksgiving books are a little thin on the ground. We did find enough to fill up our holiday book basket, though. Here are our favorites this year:

Thanksgiving Is Here! by Diane Goode

I love this book. Last year I went looking for Thanksgiving books about family and friends and food. I didn’t want stories about cartoon turkeys trying to escape being eaten, and I was reluctant to introduce the Pilgrims and Indians story because the truth about what happened is complicated and ultimately brutal. I didn’t want to tell my child nice lies about Thanksgiving; I just wanted to celebrate what it is today.

Fortunately, I found Thanksgiving Is Here! It’s a beautiful, repetitive, rhythmic story about relatives and friends arriving all day long, and cooking and cleaning up and visiting and eating and making music and going for walks together. This is my favorite book about modern Thanksgivings.

The Night Before Thanksgiving by Natasha Wing is also a cute book about how we celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s silly in some parts, and sometimes the rhythm and rhymes stretch a little, but it’s a fun book to read together.

Over the River and Through the Wood was a surprise favorite for me. First, I thought the poem in the book was about Christmas, but it turns out it was originally about Thanksgiving.Then, I wasn’t sure my toddler would like it, but he does–he asks for it over and over. He is fascinated by vehicles in general and seems interested in the sleigh and in the family’s puppy who follows them all the way to the grandparent’s house and who ends up snuggling with his mother (the grandparents’ dog) on the last page.

My First Thanksgiving by Tomie dePaola

As you can see from the cover of this book, it has Pilgrims in it. I was talking to Gavin about my discomfort with reading Pilgrim and Indian stories and he said he thought kids should know the common stories their culture tells, and that you can explain the truth as you go along, but that raising a kid who had never heard of Pilgrims didn’t seem like the right approach. That made sense to me. Tomie dePaola’s book starts out with what are probably realistic drawings the people we call the Pilgrims wearing brightly colored clothes (not the fictional black and white ones) and having a feast “to thank God for their being together in their new home.” On the next page “their friends” (Indians/Native Americans) bring food as well. Then the book moves on to how we celebrate Thanksgiving now. The illustrations are beautiful.

Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson

Bear Says Thanks isn’t specifically about Thanksgiving, but it’s about friends who all contribute something for an autumn feast that they share and that they are all thankful for. Part of me is perturbed that a real life bear would probably feast on most of this fictional bear’s friends, but most of me likes this book. There is a lot of repetition, especially of the word, “Thanks!” and it is easy for our little one to chime in.

Thanksgiving Treat by Catherine Stock

In Thanksgiving Treat, a little boy goes from group to group looking for something he can help with as his extended family gets ready for Thanksgiving dinner. Everywhere he goes he’s gently told to move along and try somewhere else. He feels glum until his grandfather finds him and invites him to collect chestnuts. When they bring the chestnuts home, the family is surprised and delighted with their contribution. Since we started reading this book, my little one has been talking about chestnuts. I’ve never had them, either. Clearly we need to find some and roast them.

An Awesome Book of Thanks! by Dallas Clayton (Note: We got a copy of this for free at a book reading by the author.)

I tend to like more traditional children’s book illustrations the best, but this book has won me over. The text is quirky and the rhymes are funny. My son seems to really dig this book, especially the last page where there is a photo of the author holding a sign that says, “Awesome.” This is a book about thankfulness, not about the Thanksgiving holiday, but I have definitely enjoyed having it in our Thanksgiving book basket this year.

Halloween books: My First Halloween

My First Halloween by Tomie dePaola

A mom, a dad and their four kids carve jack-o-lanterns, make Halloween decorations to hang up around the house, dress up in non-scary costumes (the mom is a friendly looking gorilla), go trick-or-treating together and then come home with their friends for a Halloween party with apple bobbing and orange frosted cupcakes. Tomie dePaola’s illustrations feel like home. This is the book that got me started loving Halloween picture books. We got it last year, and we’ve been reading it all year long.

Halloween books: Ghosts in the House!

Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara

A little girl moves into a house that happens to be haunted, but there’s no cause for alarm because she happens to be a witch and she knows just what to do. She puts on her witch’s hat, and her white cat puts on his black cat costume, and together they catch all the ghosts in the house, stuff them into a hamper, wash them in the washing machine and then put them to work around the house as curtains, table cloths and sheets. The illustrations are beautiful and all of the ghosts are printed in barely transparent white ink, so you can see through them. This is one of my favorites.

Halloween books: AlphaOops! H Is for Halloween

AlphaOops! H Is for Halloween by Alethea Kontis

This book is super cute. The letters of the alphabet are putting on a Halloween show and they get all out of order in the process. The letter “B” keeps picking costumes that other letters have picked synonyms for until he finally finds the perfect word starting with B. At the end all the letters have a big Halloween party. The pictures are cozy little kid Halloween style instead of creepy, and the text is both short and interesting enough that you can read it to toddlers over and over and both of you will enjoy it.

Halloween books: Pumpkins / Field trips: Tanaka Farms Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkins by Ken Robbins is a beautiful book. There are gorgeous pictures of pumpkin farms, and pictures showing the life cycle of pumpkins from seeds to decomposition. It also shows how big and small they can be and how different they can look. The farm pictures include a wagon like the one on the cover and a tractor in the background, which were some of the most excitedly exclaimed over pages in our house. It also devotes a few pages to Halloween and jack-o-lanterns. It’s the perfect book to read at the beginning of October just as pumpkins start showing up everywhere.

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We read it before visiting the Tanaka Farms pumpkin patch in Irvine, and it was a great preparation. At Tanaka Farms, you can pick pumpkins off the vine, and you can ride around the farm in a wagon attached to the back of a tractor.

The Tanaka Farms pumpkin patch, as seen from a wagon ride around the farm.

Unlike the book, it had a petting zoo, and it was the best petting zoo we’ve been to so far consisting of relatively sturdy, small animals that are unlikely to stress kids out and that kids are unlikely to stress out in return. There were no rabbits or chickens, for example, which was wonderful, and there were lots of pygmy goats and baby pygmy goats, and young normal goats and a few sheep and pot bellied piglets. There were three separate pens, each one a good, respectable petting zoo on its own, and one of the pens was getting a rest period while we were there to give the animals a chance to relax. The animals we visited with seemed pretty comfortable with the whole situation.

It also had a produce stand, old-fashioned games for older kids (bean-bag toss sorts of games with no flashing lights or loud noises) and a track surrounded by large potted plants where kids could ride gas-powered mini tractors around.

We’ll definitely be going back.

Tanaka Farms Pumpkin Patch
5380 University Drive
Irvine, CA 92612

Halloween books: Just Say Boo!

Just Say Boo! by Susan Hood

I love Just Say Boo! The pictures look like they are from a beautiful, platonic New England-y (or Pasadena-y) suburbia where neighborhoods are full of kids and everyone dresses up  — kids and adults — in homemade costumes and goes trick-or-treating at twilight. It’s like a fantasy childhood Halloween. The book teaches kids what to do if they get a little scared by all the Halloween decorations and costumes (Just say “Boo!”), and the rhythm and rhyme of the words makes it fun to read out loud over and over. Little ones can chime in with a “Boo!” every other page or so.


Halloween books: Excuse Me . . . Are You a Witch?

Excuse Me Are You a Witch? by Emily Horn

I love picture books, and I especially love Halloween picture books. I like my Halloween books to be more cute than scary, and we found some very cute Halloween books this year. This one — Excuse Me Are You a Witch? by Emily Horn — is about a lonely black cat who hangs out at the library when it is cold out, and who discovers from his reading that witches love black cats. He goes out in search of a witch, and eventually he finds a whole school of little witches in training right back where he started — at the library.