Posted in book lists, family life, Uncategorized

books for the youngest dinosaur lovers

When Rondel fell in love with dinosaurs this fall (with Limerick close on his heels, as always), I was at a bit of a loss at first as to how to feed this love with good books. I spent a lot of time searching through recommended book lists online, as well as combing through the library catalog, and ended up bringing home quite a few of various genres, lengths, and reading levels. While I think that all of the books we ended up trying out were good books, some were definitely better than others for a young preschooler and a toddler! Two important aspects that stood out to me were quality illustrations and accurate but accessible information. In other words, mediocre art or dumbed-down language made a book annoying to me and, what mattered more, less captivating or engaging for the boys. Drawings that captured the wonder and drama of the dinosaurs could keep them riveted, and detailed information at an accessible level answered their questions and gave them a foundation for their own imaginative dinosaur play. All of the books we ended up truly loving had at least one if not both of these attributes.

disfordinosaur

D is for Dinosaur: A Prehistoric Alphabet, by Todd Chapman and Lita Judge

This book was one of the best. The alphabet format allowed it to move through a wide range of dinosaur topics (some pages focused on types of dinosaurs, others on specific species, others on basic scientific concepts, and still more on fossil discoveries and paleontologists) without becoming overly long and unwieldy. Each page had a short poem to go with the letter and a well-crafted illustration to accompany the poem, but the unexpected bonus on each page was the extensive sidebar of supplemental information. I never read a full sidebar to the boys, but I almost always grabbed one or two sentences from them to give them more information about the drawings (which were incredibly detailed and thus led to detailed questions from the boys). This book also spent some time on extinction and what happened to the dinosaurs, which helped Rondel understand why he couldn’t just go out and find some real dinosaurs!

monsterbones

Monster Bones: The Story of a Dinosaur Fossil by Jacqui Bailey

This book tells the story of a dinosaur who comes to an untimely end, slowly fossilizes, and is eventually discovered and reassembled. The science is good (one section describes how bone turns into stone at a microscopic level!) and punctuated by humorous thought bubbles from the dinosaur himself; information is broken up into segments and sidebars so that the discerning adult reader can add more or less information and time to the story as is appropriate for the listeners’ attention span at the moment. Sometimes we read them all and sometimes we skipped most of them… But more than any other book we found, this book explained fossilization and described paleontology in a way that a very young child could understand and get excited about. And since it’s rather incomplete, at least in my opinion as a scientist, to just learn about dinosaurs without understanding how we’ve obtained that knowledge, this was an invaluable resource (not to mention that most other dinosaur books will just casually mention “dinosaur fossils” and expect the reader to know what that means). It was an enjoyable book for me to read aloud and surprisingly to me, since I thought it might be a few years beyond them still, it was enjoyable for the boys as well. They even asked for it at bedtime!

In addition to these books, we had a few Eyewitness/Atlas type of books that gave broad overviews of the dinosaur era; they weren’t the sort of thing we could read straight through, but they tended to have excellent illustrations and exposed the boys to the vast spectrum of dinosaur species that existed. We also borrowed the Wee Sing Dinosaurs CD from the library and Rondel begged for it every car ride to the point of tears… but while it was a huge success with him, it drove my husband absolutely crazy! The songs are cute but far from high musical quality, and they will be stuck in your head forever once you’ve heard them a few times…

The rest of the books we brought home were either over the boys’ heads or not really at the same level as the two above. I am looking forward to reading the Magic School Bus books with them when they’re older, as I loved them when I was a kid and the dinosaur one seemed quite good when I skimmed through it this time around, but so far the boys have very little interest in them. It would also be nice to find some decent dinosaur fiction! Rondel doesn’t need the storyline aspect to stay engaged, because the dinosaurs themselves are the draw and poorly done stories detract from that, but I would enjoy it and I believe Limerick would as well (and a book that appeals to both of them is always welcome).

So there is my very short list of excellent recommended books for the very young dinosaur lover! With these, some dinosaur atlases, and some dinosaur figurines (accurate ones of course!), you should be set. Even your one-year-old may go around saying things like “metriacanthosaurus” and correcting you if you don’t pronounce “parasaurolophus” correctly, and your three-year-old should be prepared for months of dinosaur pretend play involving such things as turning into a dinosaur fossil (by being buried under pillows and blankets for “millions of years”), hatching from a dinosaur egg, roaring like a giganotosaurus, being eaten by a T. rex, and ramming his head into everyone like a pachycephalosaurus. (Results not guaranteed).

Posted in family life

Library time!

I think I’ve finally figured out how to make the best use of our local library! We have always enjoyed visiting it, but finding good books to read there or take home with us was always fairly unpredictable and dependent on what other patrons had been leaving out – it’s hard to browse the shelves with two babies/toddlers wanting to get out and play and read RIGHT NOW MOMMY!

So over the past couple months I’ve been doing a lot of preliminary research online, finding 5-10 books at a time that fit a theme of interest to either myself or the boys, placing a hold on them all, and then making a trip to the library when they’re ready for pick up. The library gives me a week to pick them up after they’ve been set aside for me, which helps when some are ready earlier than others for various reasons, and gives me some flexibility with actually getting over there.

At the end of September we found 3 books on apples and apple pies to celebrate fall and complement our apple activities (apple-printing in the archives, apple-pie baking at Grandma’s house, and apple fizzy painting coming soon!), as well as 5 dinosaur books to accommodate Rondel’s recent enthusiasm. All the books lived on our new display shelf and so were pulled out constantly to be read, re-read, and thoroughly enjoyed during their 3-week stay.

(Have I shown you the new shelf yet? It is one of the best simple changes we’ve made to the house:

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It lets me get books off the bookshelf – where the boys can’t see them well or find what they’re looking for easily – into a visible space, and has encouraged significantly more read-aloud time! In fact, I liked it so much that we put a smaller one in the boys’ bedroom for their bedtime books.)

Today we took all of those books back to the library and were able to pick up another batch of books, mostly fall-themed this time, with a few extras that had caught my attention. Rondel especially is going to miss the books we had to return, but I’m hoping the excitement of the new books will help 🙂 This serendipitous timing did require me to be proactive enough to start finding and requesting new books about 5-7 days before the old books were due 🙂 I think a trip to the library just for returns would have left me with two very sad little boys, so I’ll need to continue to stay on top of the library cycle for this to keep working… we’ll see how that goes.

How do you all integrate the library into your family’s reading? Any great ideas you’ve implemented or challenges you’ve faced?

Posted in family life, links

thoughts on connection from the Read Aloud Revival podcast

One of my current favorite parenting/homeschooling podcasts is the Read Aloud Revival podcast; the host is an upbeat, faith-filled mom who manages to be idealistic and practical at the same time, and who together with the rest of the podcast team puts together a deep line-up of interviewees for each season of the podcast (they’re on season 9 now, so they have some experience!). Topics range from reading with toddlers, to exploring the world of fantasy literature, to developing high school curricula, and more.

This most recent episode, #50, was ostensibly about building upon picture books with simple and natural projects for young children, but what stood out the most to me was the emphasis on connection with your children, and using the books and the projects as a means to that end. The guest, Jennifer Pepito, said among other things that

I feel like connecting with our kids is probably the best antidote to any of the social ills that people struggle with… when kids aren’t well-attached to their parents, they’re not interested in carrying on the values of their families. Projects serve as a starting point for that attachment.

We get so busy with the planning and the researching that a lot of the time that we could be connecting with our kids is lost. Your kids are really better off having you look them in the face and chat with them about what they’re doing… they’re better off having you than all the fancy ideas.

I am definitely guilty of being an obsessive researcher and planner; I get lost in the world of my ideas, too wrapped up thinking about what I could do with the boys that I lose the time I have with them in the present. So it was a really good reminder to me to hear this veteran homeschooling mom say that no matter how good a project is, if it requires you to spend a whole day researching, planning, and preparing, it’s made you lose a whole day of connecting, a whole day of spending time with your children, a whole day of showing them just how valuable and precious they are to you – and that’s just not worth it.

In the end, what I took away from this episode was that it’s better to just read good books together, and play the simple pretend games or do the basic activities that naturally spring from the stories, than to make everything as perfect and wonderful as possible, because nothing can replace the love and connection you have with your children. And that is something I can totally get behind 🙂

Posted in family life

Limerick’s letters

At 18 months, Rondel had no interest in letters, writing, drawing, or the written word, except for being read to. (He was so obsessed with cars that he could distinguish makes and models more accurately than I could, though!)

Limerick, however, is utterly captivated by everything having to do with writing and words. He can identify all 26 letters in both their uppercase and lowercase forms; he sings the alphabet song all day long; he draws on every surface in the house and cries if you take his crayons or pencils away; and he is starting to realize that the letters can work together to make words.

Last night, my brother was writing names on a paper for Limerick, spelling them out and telling him what they said. Sometimes Limerick would ask for a specific word and my brother would write that one. And every time he picked up the pencil to write, Limerick would crane his head around to get a better view of the writing process, his whole face animated with focus and fascination. It was so neat to watch!

It is always special to see a young child become intellectually excited by something, whether it’s patterns and puzzles, cars and trucks, or colors and art, and Limerick’s interest in letters is especially fun for me because of how well it ties in to our family culture of books and reading. A love of books and a love of language are such good foundations for a love of learning and the ability to think and critically, coherently, and eloquently – and those are things I definitely want for my children. I see how crippled many of my peers are by an inability to assemble words beautifully or even functionally, and I believe that it is at least partly due to a lack of sophisticated and eloquent aural language input during their childhood years. When we read silently, we can skim over the sentence structure to get the content faster, but in the process we lose the repeated exposure to high-level style that helps develop good language skills.

Ok, enough of that soap box 🙂 I am just glad to see Limerick enjoying himself so much with his letters 🙂