Christmas Books for Preschoolers 2

Last year I put together a review list of the Christmas books I’d gotten from the library and read to Little Miss. The idea was to create a reference for subsequent years as I searched for holiday books. I didn’t want to forget the fantastic books…and I wanted to avoid the awful ones. I also wanted to have a quick way to make reading recommendations to other mamas who wanted the same thing.

Below is this year’s list and review, for a similar purpose. Please feel free to add your own suggestions and recommendations in the comments.

Merry Christmas, Thomas! by A. Vesey
A cute story about Thomas, a cat (no, not the train) who really wants to know what his Christmas presents are. He even gets himself into some trouble in the process. Comically written with even a couple of lines slipped in just for the parents reading the book, the pages are colourful and cute and the story is endearing. This book may be almost as old as I am, but like good wine, good books only get better with age. I’d definitely check this book out again.

Waiting-for-Christmas Stories by Bethany Roberts
Although perhaps a bit long for a typical preschooler’s attention span, this book is actually made up of several short stories, and could easily be read in segments, one or two stories at a time. Each tale tells the story of a different rabbit family member as they prepare during the final hours of Christmas. The pictures are bright and quite adorable; the stories are simple with elements of humour, fun, and reality as well as magic; each page has a good amount of text and large pictures.

Gigi, God’s Little Princess: The Perfect Christmas Gift by Sheila Walsh
This is one of the most annoying, stupid Christmas books I’ve ever read. I’ve been tempted to hide it under the couch so my daughter forgets it exists until I can get it back to the library, but…with my luck I’d forget it was there, end up incurring a $60 replacement fee and wouldn’t that just be ironic? Gigi is an only child (and it shows) who wants nothing but princess items for Christmas. She’s been told (apparently) that she’s a princess because she’s a child of God, but she takes the concept to a whole new level. Though the drawings are well-done, their style looks more early 90s than the 2006 print date the colophon claims. Stupid story, uninteresting pictures, and absolutely no good lesson at all. I will never have this book in my house again if I can help it.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
A classic. What has always enchanted me about this book is the paintings.  They are phenomenal. I love the colour, the lighting/shading, and the emotion his pictures portray. What makes it doubly cool is that the author and illustrator are one and the same. After watching the movie a couple of times I am always surprised at the succinctness of the story in the book, but the story is no less enjoyable. The story is of a doubting boy who almost misses out on his chance to see Santa and the North Pole…and finds that he believes after all. The movie emphasizes the aspect of friendship much more than the book, which centers more around the boy’s unbelief and change of heart and the magic of believing.

Little Whistle’s Christmas by Cynthia Rylant
This book is a case of adorable illustrations making up for the fact that the story is sadly lacking. A real guinea pig who resides in a toy store (for some reason) interacts with all the toys when they come to life at night in the shop. Together the friends write a letter asking Santa if he was the one who made them. Eventually they get a note back confirming it was him, along with a pile of “spare parts” for any toy in need (including vanilla cookies for the ever-hungry lion). To say nothing of the fact that toys in a toy store shouldn’t need extra parts, the story is weak and uninteresting. At least the pictures are cute, colourful, and big.

Apple Tree Christmas by Trinka Hakes Noble
This is a super sweet book. But it really isn’t for preschoolers. It’s quite long, with a lot of text on each page, and I think a typical preschooler would have a hard time sitting through a book this long, no matter how engaging the pictures. The drawings are adorably well-done; very realistic, artistic, and colourful. This is the story about a homestead family in the 19th century whose survival is partly reliant on their apple orchard. One tree in particular is their favourite, and when an ice storm tears it down, the children are heartbroken. Their father, however, finds a way to keep the tree and make Christmas special for everyone. I wouldn’t mind owning this book, actually. It’s well-written and such a cute story.

The Hawai’i Snowman by Christine Lê
What’s adorable about this book is that it’s a married couple who wrote and illustrated it, and they wrote it for their daughters. A tiny snowman from the mountains wishes he could go somewhere for Christmas. When he sees a shooting star the moon offers him a wish and suggests he pick a place to visit. The snowman chooses Hawai’i and along the way he uses his own body to help two new friends survive. As a result of his generosity, Santa gifts the snowman a lifetime of enjoying the cold and company of the North Pole. The pictures in this book are beautiful and extremely realistic. The bright colours and vivid detail are spell-binding and the story has a good lesson, as well. I’d rate this one an A.

Silent Night by Will Moses
Definitely a winner, I immediately fell in love with the story and imagery of this book. The words the author chooses to describe scenes and situations are poetic and perfect, but not flowery or superfluous. And while Moses doesn’t have a great grasp on painting attractive human faces, he did a gorgeous job illustrating a Vermont country village in the 19th century with an old-timey, reminiscent feel. The book tells the story of a family about to experience the most memorable Christmas of their lives, but it’s broken into sections titled with lines from the well-known carol. The exact situation is purposely left ambiguous until nearly the end of the book, but the story is beautiful–in more ways than one–and I absolutely love this book.

Santa Comes to Little House by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Always a fan of Wilder’s “Little House” series, I of course loved this story. I do think it’s a little long and elaborate for a preschooler, but the story is fabulous, and not just because it’s part of her “Little House on the Prairie” series. The simplicity of their lives, and the dedicated, special friendship the Ingalls family shares with Mr. Edwards are both huge lessons in and of themselves, especially in regards to the Christmas spirit we all admire and seek out. Great artwork, heartwarming story, and a first-hand look at American history.

Once Upon a Christmas Eve by Kathy-Jo Wargin
As far as imagery goes, I think this is my favourite from this batch of books. Part of it is the cool, quiet blue cover in contrast to the bright white and exciting red most Christmas books use. The story is a bit weaker than I had hoped, but I think that’s mostly the word choice and actual writing, rather than the plot itself. When a young girl decides to find out for herself if the legend is true that at midnight on Christmas Eve animals are given the gift of speech, she finds herself lost in the snowy woods…but then something exciting happens, and she has the best Christmas experience of her life. The paintings are lovely in this story, and I absolutely love the realistic detail the illustrator included. I’d check this book out again, and wouldn’t mind owning it, if only for the pictures.

Conversations with a 3-year-old

My 3 1/2-year-old likes to talk.  Talking

Oh, did you not come to my blog today for the understatement of the century?  Oops.

Anyway, my poor introverted husband has been blessed with an outgoing, people-happy, sanguine, chatty-cathy wife AND a preschooler who can’t stop making noises, even while she sleeps.  We’re all praying Miss Bennett turns out to be a little less vocal, but…she recently hit the 12-month milestone and is showing no signs of the quiet contemplation we’d all hoped for.  Sometimes when I come home from work and Little Miss immediately starts jabbering at me, I give Husband “the look.”  The one that says, “Oh boy…” before I’ve even gotten my shoes off or put my purse on the hook by the door.  His response to me often is his “the look” which says, “you have no idea” and then he mutters underneath her monologue, “All…day…long.”  It’s his way of telling me he feels no pity for me and is happy to pass the responsibility of at least appearing to listen to her off to someone else.  (It’s also kind of his super-obvious-to-me passive aggressive way of saying, “She’s your daughter.”)

Yes, I like to talk.  I’m the parent that says, “Okay, kids, let’s go!” and then ten minutes later they’re back in the play room at our friend’s house with their shoes off because I’m still chatting with the other adults in the house.  Five minutes later I’ve called them again and this time I’ve actually got my hand on the doorknob so it looks like I mean business…

Yeah…

So my point is that Little Miss comes by it honestly.  And although I expect everyone to listen to me when I’m talking to them, I sometimes struggle with listening whole-heartedly to my daughter.  (Yes, I do recognize the double standard there.)  The reason for this is because she repeats herself often, makes predictable arguments, and often starts talking before she even knows what she wants to say.  For example:

LM: Mama, I want…
Me: Yes?
LM: I want…
Me: *waiting*
LM: I…want…
Me: You want…to…???
LM: I…want…to…I want…
Me: You want to WHAT?!
LM: I want…I…want…to…tell you something!

And because I’m a talker, it’s likely that during this whole excruciating process I’m waiting to start a conversation with Husband about something important.  Or I was just on my way out the door, leaving ten minutes late for work…again.  Or I need to turn on the blender.

In addition, her bargaining style, though amusing when observed in other people’s children, is beyond frustrating.  For example:

LM: Mommy, I want a cookie.
Me: Supper is in ten minutes.  If you eat a good supper we can talk about dessert then.
LM: But I don’t want a cookie after supper!
Me: Okay, you don’t have to have one. I won’t force you to eat a cookie.
LM: I want a cookie!
Me: Little Miss, did you ask me already if you could have a cookie?
LM: …Yes…
Me: Did I give you an answer?
LM: …Yes…
Me: Then we’re done talking about it.
LM: Mommy, I have an idea!
Me: What’s your idea?
LM: How about I eat a good supper and THEN I can have a cookie!
Me: *eyes toward the ceiling, mentally mockingly crossing myself *

And now I need a cookie.

Love Notes

When I was a kid, I attended a small private elementary school that provided lunch for students only two days a week.  Every night I would pack my lunch in my pink and turquoise lunchbox, beg my parents for some quarters so I could get a Snapple from the vending machine, and place my lunch in the fridge. 

The next day I would carry my lunch to school, stash my lunchbox in my cubby, and wait excitedly for lunchtime. 

It wasn’t the peanut butter and honey sandwich I looked forward to so much (though those were awfully delicious, if I do say so myself), or the Snapple, or even whatever dessert I’d grabbed (homemade chocolate chip cookies, brownies…).  What made my anticipation of the lunch hour so high was the hope that something extra would be in the box when I opened it.

My dad left for work before I made it upstairs in the morning.  At the time he worked for an insurance company and had to commute into downtown, so he left early in order to avoid the big morning rush.  But just because I rarely got to say goodbye to him before he left in the morning didn’t mean my dad wasn’t thinking of me.

I don’t remember how often it happened, but I seem to recall it was nearly every day.  When I opened my lunchbox I’d find a note scrawled in blue pen on a white paper napkin, signed with my dad’s nonsensical “Z”-looking initial signature.  The notes weren’t long; they were usually just one sentence: “Have a good day!” or “Love ya lots!” or “See you at dinner!”  But as simple as they were, those notes made my day. 

Someday when my kids are in school, I have every intention of resuming the tradition my dad started with me.  To this day I still wish I could open my lunchbox and find a napkin note from my dad.  And maybe a peanut butter and honey sandwich, too.

Bring Your Pony to Work Day

My 3 1/2-year-old loves My Little Pony.  No, not the 1980s version (can you even find that anymore?) but the new “Friendship is Magic” series that actually has an entire (large!) fanbase that’s over the age of 20.  In a moment of weakness while enjoying a relaxed Girls’ Afternoon Out with Little Miss and Miss Bennett…I caved at Build-A-Bear and she stuffed a new best friend: Pinkie Pie, the Plush Version.  Pinkie Pie does everything now – eats with us, sits on the floor next to the tub during bath time, rides in the car with us, goes to the grocery store with us, sleeps in bed with Little Miss, and even carries on conversations with family members, friends, and other toys.

Nearly every day Little Miss asks to come to work with me.  She loves the novelty of not staying home with Daddy and Miss Bennett all day (though they do lots of fun things, too), and she is spoiled nearly rotten by my coworkers.  Since I work in a small, private office, occasionally on short days I’ll let her come with me.  She has a cupboard in my office containing crayons, paper, misc. toys and games, and yes, some ponies that keep her occupied while I work.  (Well, until she ends up at our office manager’s desk playing “school,” playing with the stamps and stickers and markers, and helping sort the mail.)

Most days I tell her she can’t come with me.  Though my workplace is very kid-friendly, flexible, understanding, and accommodating, I don’t want to overuse any of that privilege.  From time to time, on some of those days when I say no, Little Miss runs to her room to find a replacement for herself.  Once she sent a tiny toy cat with magnetic feet to work with me.  Another time it was her current favourite stuffed animal.

Today…I went to work with Pinkie Pie.  She kept herself quite busy, too, so throughout the day I sent pictures to Husband to share with Little Miss.  Here’s how my first Bring Your Pony to Work Day went:

photo(29)

Pinkie Pie 3

Pinkie Pie 2

Pinkie Pie 4

Pinkie Pie 5

Pinkie Pie 6

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The Jars

Image

My 3 1/2-year-old was having trouble.  We’d ask her to put something away and she’d tell us no.  We’d request her assistance with a simple task and she’d claim she was “too tired” or “too busy.”  We’d tell her it was time to stop what she was doing and she’d blatantly ignore us.  Her whining was out of control.  She intentionally bopped her sister on the head when she did something the preschooler didn’t like.  Once she even attempted to hit Daddy when he did something she didn’t like.  And the tantrums.  Oh good gracious.  Meltdowns over silly, ridiculous things that even other 3-year-olds didn’t care about.

At this point, let me just say that Little Miss is a really really good kid.  I know that last paragraph makes her sound like a contestant for the next big family reality show on MTV, but truly, she is a good kid.  But her age, developmental stage, and surrounding environment had all combined to create a temporary mini-monster and we were much less than pleased.

So…I tried something new.

I’ve learned that parenting is really one big giant lifelong experiment.  You posit theories daily (perhaps hourly in some cases) and put your idea to the test, trying to find something that will generate the desired outcome.  This science laboratory doesn’t come with goggles, a lab coat, and protective rubber gloves, either.

Anyway, this time my theory was that a visual goal would help Little Miss willingly act like she should, make better choices, and be, in general, a more pleasant person to be around.

I used some recycled baby food jars and dug out my old glass fishbowl stones.  I found basic happy face and frownie face images on Google and then printed and taped the images onto two of the jars.  The third jar I left blank and filled with all the stones.  To be generous, I put a few starter stones in the jar with the happy face on it, to give her a head start.

Here’s how the jars work:

  • For every positive thing she does – responding “okay!” to requests, voluntarily doing something helpful or kind, remembering her manners, taking responsibility, etc. – she gets a stone taken FROM the Frownie Face Jar and placed in her Happy Face Jar.  (If there are no stones in her Frownie Face Jar they’re taken from the stockpile jar.)
  • For every negative thing she does – arguing, whining, acting rude, misbehaving, disobeying, ignoring Mommy and Daddy, breaking the rules, etc. – she gets a stone taken FROM her Happy Face Jar and placed in her Frownie Face Jar.
  • Once the Happy Face Jar is full, she gets to choose a special fun activity for us to do as a family, such as going to the zoo or the children’s museum.

At first it didn’t work.  She didn’t care enough about the stones to act the way she should, so she began filling her Frownie Face Jar much more quickly than the Happy Face Jar.  After a day or so, however, she finally started to catch on.  We were able to say, “Well, that looks like a stone in your Frownie Face Jar…” and she’d suddenly remember how she should be behaving.  I quickly became excited every time I got to tell her I was going to put a stone in her Happy Face Jar, and the smile on her face from the verbal affirmation we gave her each time a stone was placed in the Happy Face Jar was great.

Eventually we got to the point where we would just go move stones into her Frownie Face Jar if she made a poor decision, and the sound of it dropping into the jar would remind her that she should change her behaviour.

After 2 1/2 weeks of hard work, Little Miss finally put the last stone in her Happy Face Jar.  And the good choices have (so far) stuck around.  No, she’s not perfect.  This is (sadly) not a magical method that will turn any preschooler into an angel.  But she has been doing much, much better.  She offers to help set the table, rather than waiting to be asked.  She takes things to her room instead of dumping them on the floor when she’s done with them.  She cheers her sister on when Miss Bennett is trying something new, like walking independently.

She may change her mind before we find time to go, but her current choice for a fun family activity is going to the zoo to see the baby elephant, the baby river otter, and the new flamingo exhibit that just opened  a couple of weeks ago.

I may be more excited (and proud) than she is.

Children and Their Most Prized Possessions

Children and Their Most Prized Possessionsitaly

This photo essay (click the title above to view it) is fascinating to me.  Not only does it speak to the differences in wealth between countries, but it also says something about each place where these kids reside.  A few observations from my relatively brief study of this collection of photos:

  • The text accompanying this photo essay is interesting and jives well with my experience in the Philippines back in 1999: Those who have nothing want to give or share what they have; those who have much want it all for themselves.  This is not just true of children.
  • The only smiling boy is the one from Morocco.  All the other boys are serious, straight-faced, or downright sullen.
  • All but the Thai child identify their prized possessions as things to play make-believe with.  Nothing in the pictures (aside from the Thai child’s portrait) is electronic.
  • The Ukrainian child’s choice of items says a lot about his environment and his portrait struck me more than any of the others.
  • I adore what the Haitian girl chose – it really speaks to her personality.
  • The Thai child’s portrait actually looks a lot closer to what I expected for the American child’s portrait.  The modesty of the American child’s picture was, to be honest, a pleasant surprise.
  • I could stare at the view out the Moroccan child’s window all day!
  • Girls everywhere love dolls, stuffed animals, and dresses.
  • Justin Bieber is not just invading homes in America.

And last, but most importantly: I know SO little about the world.