Toddler Bear’s Top 20 Children’s Books

It’s been more than a year since I last posted about my kid’s favorite children’s books. In that time, we’ve read countless stories, many of which were read countless times over (sometimes to my chagrin). As of now, I can confidently say that my two-and-a-half-year-old loves to read. Either that, or he’s spent two years building an elaborate book-loving persona with the sole objective of stalling bedtime with just one more book “for two seconds” (his favorite stalling phrase). It’s entirely possible and, to some extent, likely.

Regardless of his motivation, my bibliophilic heart just about bursts each time he tells me he wants to read together.

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My kid loves to read? Squee! Using it to distract me? Who cares?!  [Source]

Reading with him as a baby was fun, of course, but I must admit that reading with him as a toddler is next-level amazing. As a rule, toddlers are entertaining at every turn, especially once they start talking. He’s so chatty and so inquisitive that each book becomes quite the interactive adventure.

If he’s not asking questions about what he sees and hears, he’s requesting  more information about the illustrations. (I have to say, I’ve been known to use artistic license when developing the background stories for secondary or even non-existent characters.) If he’s not asking me about the books, he’s reciting pages in their entirety. His ability to memorize is incredible, as is his ability to pick up new vocabulary, test out different pronouns and verb conjugations, and analyze a story and its characters.

Reading is such a wonderful vehicle for blossoming creativity, language, and exploration, and as a parent I love how it allows me to watch him process new information. It’s like discovering the entire world all over again through my toddler’s eyes.

This level of interaction and engagement happily means we can read longer and more complex books now, too. Because reading is such a wonderfully enlightening experience for us nowadays, I decided it was high time to share some of our current favorites.

This list is fairly long–and I already made cuts, if you can believe it–but these books are all worth reading. Maybe you’re already familiar with them, but, if not, you might just come across one of your future favorites below.

Books Your Toddler Will Love

Bustle in the Bushes

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Bustle in the Bushes by Giles Andreae and illustrated by David Wojtowycz [Source]

Bustle in the Bushes is a great non-fiction option for young readers because it presents factual information with fun rhymes and bright illustrations. Like many little kids, my toddler seems pretty intrigued by insects, and this is a non-creepy way for him to learn about them. (We have another book about bugs that includes real photographs. Knowing that some spiders burrow their babies in holes in the ground before they burst out is enough to make my skin crawl; seeing it almost sends me over the ledge, and I’m not even afraid of spiders. As you can imagine, this is my preferred insect book.)

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type

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Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type written by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin [Source]

In Click, Clack, Moo, Farmer Brown faces a big problem: his literate cows decide to go on strike until he improves their working conditions. Needless to say, this story provides cheeky fun for the whole family. My husband and I love the silliness of the story and our toddler loves chiming in with the repetitive sound effects. It’s the perfect mix of interaction and goofiness for everyone (plus it’s pretty short, which means we can add it on at bedtime without taking up too much more time).

Colección de oro: Jorge el curioso / A Treasury of Curious George

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Colección de oro Jorge el curioso / A Treasury of Curious George by Margret and H.A. Rey [Source]

I love bilingual books, and this is one of my favorites for two reasons: it has several books in one, and they’re all about a character to whom my mischievous toddler can finally relate. As such, he now frequently requests the “George” book.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

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Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems [Source]

Here’s another book that’s just as entertaining for adults as it is for kids. The simplistic illustrations and minimalist bold text make it eye-catching and easy for kids to memorize and recite. Mine especially loves piping in when the pigeon rants, “LET ME DRIVE THE BUS!!!” (If there’s anything he can get behind, it’s a tantrum.)

Dragons Love Tacos

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Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri [Source]

First of all, who doesn’t love tacos? Secondly, dragons?! Yes, please. Now, combine the two, throw in a party and a jocular tone, and you’ve got this book. As far as our family is concerned, it’s a solid home run.

Giraffes Can’t Dance

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Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees [Source]

I adore reading this book aloud, so much so that it’s one of maybe ten that I have completely memorized. The story about embracing one’s individuality is important, of course, but I really love it because of the smooth rhyming structure (minus the part where they rhyme “thing” and “violin,” but I digress). My toddler loves it on his own, but I often try to suggest this book because I like it so much.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site

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Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld [Source]

What little kid doesn’t love construction equipment? Add that to its adorable and cozy rhymes and this book is perfect for bedtime. It often makes me feel ready to snuggle in bed as well (or maybe that’s just due to chasing after two kids all day, who knows?).

Green Eggs and Ham

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Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess [Source]

My kid asks us to read this classic to him all the time, and I’m not sure if it’s because he’s really drawn to the nonsensical story or if it’s actually because it takes a while to read and therefore stalls bedtime even more (this is a theme, as you can tell). It must be because he genuinely likes it, though, because he’ll randomly choose this for a midday read as well.

How to Bathe Your Little Dinosaur

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How to Bathe Your Little Dinosaur by Jane Clarke and Georgie Birkett [Source]

This is one of the simpler books on the list. It’s short and sweet, and would probably help kids who dislike bath time feel a little more excited about it (this is luckily not our problem). When the dirty little dinosaur finishes his bath, he gets a big hug. During this stanza, my toddler always leans in and gives me a big hug too, and it never fails to warm my heart.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

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If You Give a Mouse a Cookie written by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond [Source]

I distinctly remember reading this book as a kid. My elementary school’s computer lab was decorated with a cutout of this precocious little mouse (perfect background decor for playing Oregon Trail, as far as I recall). It turns out, the book holds up well with the current generation, too, since my toddler regularly requests the “cookie book.”

The Little Engine That Could

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The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper [Source]

I must admit, this isn’t really my favorite on the list (I often feel like it drags on too long), but my kid absolutely loves it. Granted, he’s obsessed with trains, but still. He loves reading along, starting with its very first line, “Chug, chug, chug. Puff, puff, puff. Ding-dong, ding-dong.” I’ve heard this more times than I care to count.

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear

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The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood [Source]

Here’s another short option, and I think it’s one of the most charming books on the list. I enjoy the imagery and beautiful illustrations, and I always end up wanting a fresh, juicy strawberry for myself after we finish reading. My toddler, meanwhile, loves to pretend to be the bear tromping through the forest.

Llama Llama Red Pajama

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Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney [Source]

This is one of the newest books in our collection, and it’s already a hit. As our kid is starting to develop an active imagination, especially after the lights go out, it’s also timely. I find myself paraphrasing “Mama Llama’s always near even if she’s not right here” almost daily. That and “please stop all this llama drama and be patient for your mama.” Two good lessons in one fell swoop!

The Magical Toy Box

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The Magical Toy Box by Melanie Joyce and illustrated by James Newman Gray [Source]

The Magical Toy Box is a fanciful story with uniquely vibrant illustrations. I like it because of its bright pictures and sing-songy verses, and I suspect our toddler likes it because it proposes what toys are really up to each night, à la Toy Story.

The Mixed-Up Truck

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The Mixed-Up Truck by Stephen Savage [Source]

Here’s yet another simple but eye-catching book that really engages our toddler. It’s an amusing story of a cement mixer who’s confused about his task at hand and ends up making a few mistakes. It’s another where the repetition really encourages toddler participation, making it a fun (and short) option for everyone involved.

Newtonian Physics for Babies

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Newtonian Physics for Babies by Chris Ferrie [Source]

If you and your toddler want to learn about Newtonian physics, look no further. Sure, it’s a little overly simplified, but that’s precisely why it’s so engaging for a toddler. In only a few short pages, you’ll both learn about mass, force, acceleration, and gravity. That ain’t bad (plus there’s a page towards the end where an apple falls on Newton’s head and our toddler thinks it’s just hilarious).

Pinkalicious

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Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann and Elizabeth Kann [Source]

A stubborn little kid who loves cupcakes and lacks listening skills? That sounds awfully familiar. We all really enjoy this book, likely for entirely different reasons, but I like to think our toddler enjoys reading about how the little girl learns the valuable lesson that mom is always right (and that demonstrating self-control around pastries is a critical life skill). In reality, I’m pretty sure he just likes yelling “pink-a-boo” at the end.

Too Many Carrots

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Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson [Source]

Our toddler was addicted to this book for months when we first received it. As in, read-it-every-night kind of thing. It’s an adorable, and gorgeously illustrated, tale of a hoarder whose condition nearly costs him his closest friends. It’s a creative story that includes just the right mix of plot and sound effects, meaning that our toddler uses critical thinking to ask about the characters and has the opportunity to say “crash” as loudly as he can. To him, that’s a win-win.

Trains

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Trains by Thea Feldman [Source]

We have read this book so many times, it’s almost worn out. If he could only read one book for the rest of his life, I’m certain our kid would choose this one. Another non-fiction, it’s an early reader book all about…you guessed it…trains. It talks about where trains go, what they carry, and how they work. Now our toddler likes to tell us how we too can ride on–and even sleep!–on a moving train. Well, that is except last week when he said, “No, actually Mommy, you can’t sleep on a moving train. You’re too big.” Gee whiz.

Why Do Tractors Have Such Big Tires?

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Why Do Tractors Have Such Big Tires? written by Jennifer Shand and illustrated by Danele Fabbri [Source]

Surprise, surprise, another non-fiction (our toddler is really interested in learning how the world works right now), this is our favorite book to read at Grandma’s house. It’s a silly book about how various things function, like why airplanes leave white trails behind them and why trains have conductors. It presents the information in a really entertaining way, so much so that even a two-year-old is eager for more.

Reminder: When Possible, Shop Local

As always, I recommend you shop locally where you can. You’ve likely noticed that most of the books link to one of my favorite local bookstores, Women & Children First. I’m as much a fan of Prime’s quick delivery as the next person, but supporting a local business is such a gratifying feeling that I think you’ll find the extra couple of days (and maybe bucks) are worth it if it means you’re doing your part to enrich your community.

Happy Reading & Your Recommendations

Part of the reason I like sharing these lists on the blog is so I have a journal of the kinds of things our kid liked at different points in his life. The other part is to share our favorites in hopes that you find at least one new book to look for on your next library trip.

Reading with my toddler is eye-opening, incredible, and easily one of the most enjoyable parts of parenting thus far. Every day, he surprises me with the things he knows, many of which come from the books we’ve read together. Not only is reading with him entertaining, but I also love knowing that it’s making a huge impact on his cognitive and language abilities. I hope your experience is the same, and I’d love to hear what books your toddlers love too.

 

 

 

[Featured image source]

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The Case for Romance Novels

Happy day after Valentine’s Day! I’m taking a much-needed break from my recent Vampire Diaries binge to bring you a special edition book post, and what better day to discuss the merits of romance novels, the literature of love, than today, the day after the corporate-sponsored holiday of love?

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No, I don’t read this language. Thank you, stock photography.

[Source]

P.S. For those who are interested, I’m on season 5, episode 19 of TVD. This means that, in three and a half weeks, I’ve watched (gulp) roughly 71 hours of the show. Lord help me. #stelenaforever

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At this point, I’m so entrenched in the show I feel like these are my real friends.

[Source]

Okay! Back to a different kind of unreality.

In 2016, I read 115 books. Unlike in years past, where I’d typically read one romance out of every 10 books, last year I reversed that ratio. Yes, you calculated that correctly. I read 103 romance novels last year, and I like to think that I did it for science.

I’ve always loved romance novels. In fact, when I was young, I’d sneak over to my grandma’s hidden bookshelf, selecting the book with the most windblown, chest-bared, ruggedly handsome man I could find, and furtively rifle through its pages to read the juicy parts. (Interestingly enough, those more traditional types of romances typically include phrases like “juicy parts,” not to mention “heaving bosom” and “swollen loins.” They’re not all like this, I promise).

Nowadays, I find myself turning to romance novels when I need a pick-me-up. Last year was heavy, politically and socially, and I found myself more and more attracted to them (no pun intended) for this reason. I decided that by reading over 100 romances in one year, I’d be conducting a bit of research to help you, dear readers, discover what it is that is so delicious about reading a sultry romance novel, and why you shouldn’t discount the genre based on your assumptions or what you may have read in the past.

Listen up. If you haven’t already delved into the world of romance, you’re missing out.

Attention family members, this might be where you want to tap out. Our relationships will probably be better off if you don’t know too much about my love of romance novels.

5 Reasons to Read a Romance Novel

Today’s world of romance novels is very different from how it used to be. The proliferation of e-readers and self-publication has allowed the genre to explode (not to mention the success of erotic–albeit poorly written–fiction like Fifty Shades of Gray; trust me, my recommendations are much better). If you dig the old-school Fabio-esque covers, by all means continue to read them. But if you’re looking for something a little more updated in terms of relatability (read: less “petal-soft folds” (shudder) and more literally anything else), there are so many good reads available to you.

Why should you take the time?

1. They provide a wonderful escape from reality

Seriously, romance novels whisk you away to a fantasy land where awkward situations actually make you smile, fictional hotties make your heart flutter, and any bad or cringe-worthy thing that happens to the characters doesn’t actually affect you in real life. Really any fiction could do this, but romance novels are a much sexier and more pleasurable (again, no pun intended) escape than, say, a drama set in a post-apocalyptic bomb shelter. Which leads me to my next point…

2. They make you happy

Reading romance novels allows you to experience the feeling of falling in love over and over again. You know, that feeling that makes you warm and fuzzy all the way to your toes, that warms your heart and makes you swoon, and that makes you smile like an idiot, in this case down at the pages? Who wouldn’t like to experience that?! Bitter over a breakup? Read a comedic romance and believe in love again. Happy in your relationship? Read a steamy romance and skip to #4. No matter your life story, a romance novel is almost a sure-fire way to cheer you up.

3. They are short and easy to read

It seems like most romances today are between 200 and 300 pages. The language used is also very approachable and easy to understand (and many times very well-written!), making them perfect candidates for a fast read. Plus, they almost always follow a predictable arc: couple meets, couple falls in love, couple experiences some heart-wrenching moment that almost or does break them apart, couple comes together with a love stronger than ever. You know what you’re getting into with a romance novel, and that kind of predictability is especially nice in a world that generally isn’t so.

4. They are great for your own romantic life

Romance novels are great for your sex life. There’s nothing like reading about other people getting it on to make you want to as well. As a bonus, you’ll also have some fun new ideas to try out at home (or wherever the mood strikes, that is). Trust me. Read a romance and you and your partner will thank me (and if there is no partner, nothing’s stopping you from enjoying the mood by yourself).

5. There’s a genre (and recommendation) for everyone

Unless you are asexual, you cannot tell me there is no genre of romance that appeals to you. Here are a few recommendations to get you started, but Google or Goodreads can help you find more titles than you could possibly imagine. There is something for everyone (and no judgment here how dark you get; I’ve read some bizarre ones myself).

Contemporary romance

Contemporary romance is a blanket term for any romance that takes place from about 1950 to today, and there are several subcategories within it. If you start to dig around, you’ll also see the term “new adult” romance used quite a bit, which really just means a romance that takes place between 20-30-somethings. Since that’s mostly what I read, you’ll see a lot of crossover with my recommendations and those lists.

Alpha male

Right

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Right by Jana Aston
[Source]

This is the second, and my favorite, book in the Wrong series (Wrong is listed below, but I really liked all four books), so I’d recommend not reading it first. The hero is a successful and confident businessman, but unlike others in the alpha male category, he is simultaneously sensual and sweet. The heroine, meanwhile, is a know-it-all who thinks she’s destined to be with someone else. Though she’s irritating at times, I was quickly won over by the story and his rather exhilarating efforts to prove her wrong.

Friends-turned-lovers

Blurred Lines

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Blurred Lines by Lauren Layne
[Source]

Two friends who decide to embark on a no-strings-attached relationship is a trope that’s been done time and time again, but this one included just the right mix of friendship, romance, conflict, emotion, and sexual chemistry that it kept me turning the pages until I finished.

The Hookup

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The Hookup by Kristen Callihan
[Source]

There are a lot of sports romances, and I usually tend to avoid them because the characters can be so meathead-y, which isn’t really my thing. This book (and the subsequent books in the series, The Friend Zone and The Game Plan, both of which I also really enjoyed) took me by surprise because the jocks turned out to be fleshed out, intelligent, and thoughtful characters. Shame on me, perhaps, for thinking they’d be otherwise. In this friends-to-lovers, opposites attract book, the heroine tries her hardest to resist her attraction to who she assumes is nothing more than a cocky football god. She finally relents, they hook up, and the chase that follows is funny, heartwarming, and incredibly sexy. This entire series was enjoyable and well-written.

The Virgin Romance Novelist

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The Virgin Romance Novelist by Meghan Quinn
[Source]

Friends-to-lovers is perhaps my favorite category of romance, and I already wrote about this one in my Fall 2016 Reading List. It made me cringe, laugh out loud, and feel warm and tingly all at the same time.

With a Twist

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With a Twist by Staci Hart
[Source]

This is the first book in the Bad Habits series (the second, Chaser, is listed below). It tells the tale of a ballerina and a doctoral student who have been friends for a long time, but have never thought of each other as anything else. Once they start to consider their potential as something more, you’ll feel the slow burn of realization and desire, and will probably laugh a bit along the way.

Yours and Mine

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Yours and Mine by Lacey Silks
[Source]

Whereas the aforementioned recommendation made me laugh, this one made me cry some big ol’ fat tears. It’s a heartfelt yet tragic romance about two childhood best friends who become lovers. Yes, it still contains some nice sex scenes, but it’s a far deeper story than I expected and it left a mark on me in a very good way.

Non-specific romance

Friends without Benefits

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Friends without Benefits by Penny Reid
[Source]

Also mentioned in my Fall 2016 Reading List was the Knitting in the City series. This is the second of the series, but it’s the one I enjoyed the most. The heroine is a stubborn and sarcastic doctor who begrudgingly decides to let a hotshot comic back into her life after years of despising him. While she tries to resist it, the chemistry between the two is off the charts and the hero (a family man to boot) will have you hot, bothered, and swooning.

Idol

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Idol by Kristen Callihan
[Source]

This one can technically go in the rockstar subgenre, but since I don’t read too many of those, I put it here instead. Like some of the others on this list, it was another romance that surprised me by how much substance it contained. Sure, it included several titillating moments, but like The Hookup (above) before it, I was impressed by how well the author developed the characters and their relationship. I also loved the second book in the series, Managed.

I’ve Got Your Number

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I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
[Source]

While this one doesn’t have any steamy sex scenes, it does offer adorably quirky (and not surprisingly British) characters, a far-fetched but fun plot, and a delightfully engaging budding romance.

Royalty

The Royal Marriage Market

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The Royal Marriage Market by Heather Lyons
[Source]

This one is kind of a friends-to-lovers book because they befriend each other to stave off unwanted marriage pacts, but because they are royalty, it gets lumped into this category. Perhaps their friendship is why I enjoyed it so much, but regardless, I loved their chemistry (you feel the heat pretty immediately), banter, and overall love story.

Some Like It Royal

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Some Like It Royal by Heather Long
[Source]

This is a pretty classic rags-to-riches Cinderella story, where the heroine is actually a long-lost princess and is persuaded by the handsome and intelligent self-made billionaire to act as his fiancée so he can use her royal heritage to successfully enter the European market. Naturally. As wonderfully unbelievable as the plot is, the romance between the two feels genuine, sexy, and sweet.

Historical romance

Three Weeks with Lady X

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Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James
[Source]

I don’t read a lot of historical romance, and this one reminded me that I probably should. Its heroine was snarky, smart, and self-sufficient (especially rare in this genre), and its hero was strapping and headstrong, making for quippy dialogue and a fiery seduction.

Forbidden romance

There are several subgenres in the forbidden romance category, but these are some of the more interesting ones I read last year. You’ll quickly learn what you like and what you don’t if you start down this path. For instance, I learned I can’t stand infidelity, Stockholm syndrome, or abuse, so I’ve learned to steer clear of those.

Best friend’s brother or sister (or brother’s best friend)

Chaser

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Chaser by Staci Hart
[Source]

Here’s another comedic romance, this one about a scorned heroine who finds solace (if you want to call it that) in her brother’s best friend. The hero of the story is kind of a playboy, but ends up being incredibly sweet and charming as he tries to convince the girl that what they have is forever. This is the second book in the Bad Habits series (With a Twist, above, is the first).

Mr. O

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Mr. O by Lauren Blakely
[Source]

Don’t let the title of this one mislead you. Yes, it refers to the main character’s cartoon alter ego (he illustrates the dirty adventures of Mr. Orgasm), and yes he is a little sure of himself and his abilities to please women, but he’s secretly so charming and lovable. Told from the hero’s perspective, this book about a man falling for his best friend’s sister is the perfect combination of sizzling and dreamy.

My Best Friend’s Brother

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My Best Friend’s Brother by Hazel Kelly
[Source]

Another super common subgenre, I’ve read several iterations of this story. This is one of the ones I enjoyed the most, especially because it’s not just the best friend’s brother, but it’s also one of the main character’s best friends. And we all know I love that category of romance. The realization of their attraction and resulting sneaking around behavior adds to the sexiness and overall appeal.

 

Boss

The Sexy One

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The Sexy One by Lauren Blakely
[Source]

This was one of the most charming romance novels I read last year. Simon, the boss, is sexy, sweet, and smoldering, and, even better, a true gentleman, which isn’t something that can be said of all romance heroes nowadays. This one made my heart swell and my chest (and other areas) ache in the best ways.

Couple swap

The Ground Rules

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The Ground Rules by Roya Carmen
[Source]

This is about as far as I could go in terms of taboo romance genre and still enjoy it, and I’m glad I tried it. The jealousy that resulted from the swap made me a little on edge because, as stated above, I really don’t like any infidelity. But reminding myself that it was consensual, not under-the-table, and, of course, fictional, made it easier to enjoy. There were some pretty sexy scenes in there, after all, even though the writing was not all that great. I wouldn’t bother with the sequels.

Doctor

Wrong

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Wrong by Jana Aston
[Source]

Okay, stay with me. The doctor/patient relationship is quickly removed because of the obvious ethical dilemma it presents. What’s left is a powerful upper 30-something doctor and a younger 20-something student with scintillating chemistry. As stated above, I thoroughly enjoyed all of the books in this series (the others are RightFling, and Trust).

Professor/student

Losing It

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Losing It by Cora Carmack
[Source]

This was the first really good professor/student romance I read, where the dynamic wasn’t abusive or creepy, but just really sexy. Sure, it’s still a taboo relationship, but the chemistry and tension add so much to the overall reading experience. The other books in the series (Faking ItFinding It, and the novellas in between) were okay, but I enjoyed this one the best by far.

Pushing the Limits

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Pushing the Limits by Brooke Cumberland
[Source]

It’s surprisingly hard to find teacher/student romance novels that don’t take place between a high school student and his or her teacher (which I’ve read, but feel weird about), so I was pleased to find another great story that takes place in the college setting. After acknowledging but trying to deny their instant lust, the art student heroine has the unexpected opportunity to post nude for her class (and professor) and the heat that follows is reason enough to check this one out.

Roommates

Roomhate

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Roomhate by Penelope Ward
[Source]

Don’t be fooled by the Roommates title above; that was actually about stepsiblings who room together. Another popular subgenre, though, is actual roommates who become lovers. This one surprised me with its complex character development and overall story arc. While it’s as sensual as the best of them, I also really respect this romance because of how honest the characters are with each other; there are no unnecessary and immature games here like there are in so many other romance novels.

Stepbrother

Roommates

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Roommates by Hazel Kelly
[Source]

This is a very common subgenre (don’t be so shocked!), and there are some really bad ones out there. But there are some pretty hot ones, too, and this is one of them. The being-forced-to-live-together factor upped the tension and the resulting chemistry was really enjoyable. The second one in the series (My Best Friend’s Brother, above) was also worthwhile.

Need more recommendations?

Let me know what you like and I’ll help you find one!

4 Ways to Get Started

The above list of recommendations is long (and by no means extensive) and the lists you’ll find elsewhere are even longer. Don’t let that intimidate you! Here are my tips for how to start.

1. Use your e-reader

I am ALL FOR supporting local bookshops, but I’ve found that with the amount of romances I read, it’s fastest, cheapest, and easiest to read romance novels on my Kindle or Kindle phone app (which is free, by the way). Plus, you’ll be able to read those erotic scenes on public transportation without fear of embarrassment or judgment. Only your flushed face will give you away.

2. Check out the library & sign up for Kindle Unlimited

Romance novels rarely cost more than $5-7 apiece, but you’ll quickly realize how fast that adds up if you read as many of them as I did last year. My suggestion to curb the cost is to check out your local library to see if they have any e-reader licenses for the titles you want to read. I also recommend signing up for Kindle Unlimited, which has several romance titles and allows you to download as many of them as you want for $10 a month.

3. Be open-minded

Start with one of the suggestions above and go from there. You’ll learn quickly what you like and what you don’t, similar to what I mentioned about forbidden romance. I’ve been known to go down several subgenre or author rabbit holes because I’m temporarily intrigued by a particular style of writing or topic.

My favorite romance novels include some hot scenes, but also offer a good amount of substance and romance, too. Others just want to read about sex and that’s okay. Still others don’t want to read about any sex at all and just want the love stories. You’ll figure out what kinds of books you enjoy, how you like them told (POV is a big deal in the romance novel world), and what level of spice you want. Like I’ve said repeatedly, there is something for everyone. There’s even Christian romance!

4. Don’t settle for terrible writing

Many romance authors write beautifully, some write a little less beautifully, and some are just plain terrible. Don’t read the latter! If you start a book and you’re appalled by its writing, stop! Life is too short to settle for crappy quality. The nice thing about the Kindle is that you can return a title after you’ve started it. I’ve done this on more than one occasion and I don’t feel guilty in the least.

The Last Word

While I don’t plan to read another 103 romances this year, I do openly acknowledge that I love the romance books and will continue to read them for as long as I can read.

It really irritates me when people discount the entire genre, because it seems awfully presumptuous and close-minded to believe there is no good literature in such an enormous category. If you fall into this group of people, then I hope to have given you a little motivation to at least try to change your mind.

If you are a little more excited about the prospect of reading a romance, then welcome to the club. I hope you can find something here that suits your fancy.

As always, I’d love your recommendations. Please feel free to comment with your favorite romance novels; I’m always adding to my list.

 

 

Shelf Love Reading Challenge

Happy November! In the spirit of giving thanks, I’d like to propose another challenge: this month, be thankful for what you own. When it comes to reading, simply select from the books already on your shelves and refrain from procuring new ones.

If you’re anything like me, or any of my book-loving friends, you have a whole stack of books you’ve bought, but just haven’t gotten around to yet. For just this month, let’s avoid excuses to expand our collections and turn to our oft-forgotten previous purchases instead.

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Just some of the many, many books I have yet to read.

The Challenge Defined

Refrain from acquiring any new books that are not already in your possession.

This means no purchasing books, renting books from the library, downloading free books online, taking free books (e.g., from a Little Free Library), or anything else someone sneaky may have thought of that I’ve omitted here.

Benefits

Why should you do it with me?

  1. Everyone likes to check items off a list. Think of how productive you’ll feel crossing off the books you’ve had on your to-read list all these years.
  2. Think of your wallet! If my recent romance novel binge has taught me anything, it’s that $2.99 can really add up quickly. You might as well get your hard-earned money’s worth from the books you already own.
  3. It’s so easy to download a new book with just the simple click of a button. This challenge will be a great way to break that nasty habit.
  4. Because why not? It’s just one month.

Whaddya say? Can you commit to 30 days of reading from your current collection?

I vow to keep you posted by updating the blog with my current reads. Please comment with your own progress!

Mama Bear’s Fall 2016 Reading List

Now that we are almost a month into the new season, I’m back to deliver my fall reading list. Since I was perhaps a little overzealous with my summer list, I’ve kept this one a tad shorter. The goal is to inspire you to pick up some of these books, not overwhelm you with too many options. Happy reading!

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Fall Recommendations

Remember, I strongly encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and read something in a new genre. It’s healthy to try new things!

Biography

The Chris Farley Show

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The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts by Tom Farley, Jr.
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If you, like me, are a longtime fan of Chris Farley and all of his larger-than-life characters, then you should read this book. It chronicles Farley’s life through the eyes of his closest friends and family.

Everyone who was around in the 1990s and tuned in to popular culture knows some detail around his premature death, but this book reminds us how he was so much more than his boisterous comedic abilities and drug addiction. By all accounts, he was a kind, sincere, loyal, and tortured soul. Some stories are heartwarming and charming, others are heartbreaking, but all in all, this book does a phenomenal job of differentiating, remembering, and celebrating the man, the myth, and the legend of Chris Farley.

Fiction

Geek Love

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Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
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Geek Love is not for the faint of heart. Though it’s essentially a story of the powerful ties that can both bind and break family, its central characters are not at all as ordinary as that description makes them sound. No, they’re “circus freaks,” and proud of it; in order to secure their future as successful carnival owners, the Binewskis decide to breed their own freak family by having the mother consume chemicals, drugs, and radioactive materials during pregnancy. (Note: this was very difficult to read during pregnancy.) The survivors of such experiments include the story’s central characters: Arty, a boy with flippers instead of hands or feet, Elly and Iphy, conjoined twins, Oly, a hunchbacked albino dwarf, and Chick, a boy who looks normal but has telekinetic powers.

As bizarre as this already sounds, the story continues to darken as the children age and struggle to adjust to their familial roles. Then, of course, there’s Arty’s pro-self-mutilation cult and subsequent battle for dominance and Oly’s tailed stripper daughter to really round out the story. Stick with me.

If you can handle a little dose of horror, you’ll find that this book is beautifully and hauntingly told. While the characters are extraordinary and their actions often grotesque, each one is unmistakably human and relatable in the most unexpected of ways. This book will make you think about everything from your relationships to other people’s motives to what is right and what is wrong. It’s a pretty deep read, but one you won’t regret.

Serena

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Serena by Ron Rash
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The tale of a Depression-era timber baron, George, and his arguably more powerful wife, Serena, is one that takes readers on a bit of a wild ride. The time period alone is one that makes me shiver in its bleakness, but Rash goes above and beyond to richly pit his characters against both the unforgiving landscape and each other.

The story is interesting in itself, but the real reason I recommend this book is because Serena is one of the most interesting characters I’ve read about in a long time. She’s self-assured, confident, strong, and, well, basically just a boss. That’s not to say she’s good–she does try to kill her husband’s illegitimate son, after all–but it’s just so hard to come by such a strong female character, especially one from this time period. The thrills, passion, and heartbreak threaded throughout this novel will move you and make you feel a little like you’re staring at a car crash from which you can’t seem to turn away.

Humor

Me Talk Pretty One Day 

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Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
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I am often asked for book recommendations and this is usually the first one I suggest. Sedaris has a slew of hilarious memoirs, but this one has stuck with me the most and I think it’s because of the way he recounts trying to learn and adjust to French culture. Rather than talking about his distinct voice and trying to convey his particular brand of humor, I’m just going to quote my favorite passage.

“On my fifth trip to France I limited myself to the words and phrases that people actually use. From the dog owners I learned “Lie down,” “Shut up,” and “Who shit on this carpet?” The couple across the road taught me to ask questions correctly, and the grocer taught me to count. Things began to come together, and I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. “Is thems the thoughts of cows?” I’d ask the butcher, pointing to the calves’ brains displayed in the front window. “I want me some lamb chop with handles on ’em.”

You’re doing yourself an injustice if you don’t pick this up. In fact, I’m doing myself an injustice by not rereading it right now.

Romance

Knitting in the City Series

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Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid (book one in series)
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At the center of this series is a group of women who are part of a knitting circle and each book features one of their love stories. (For what it’s worth, the second book was my favorite because it’s got the whole friends-turned-lovers trope, which I unabashedly love.)

Unlike many contemporary romance novels, the women in these books are multi-dimensional and smart and the men are respectful and gentlemanly. They are a reminder that good romance heroes don’t need to be borderline abusive to be sexy and that sweet and smoldering can and do co-exist.

The Virgin Romance Novelist

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The Virgin Romance Novelist by Meghan Quinn
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Here’s another friends-to-lovers book that made me laugh out loud and smile until my cheeks hurt. Rosie is an extremely awkward yet incredibly lovable aspiring romance novelist. And, as you guessed it, she’s a virgin. When she realizes she can’t possibly write sex scenes without some experience, she throws herself into the dating world. This, of course, forces her resident playboy best friend and roommate, Henry, to realize his attraction and make his move. Yes, the arc might be a little cliché, but I cringed, I laughed, I swooned, and I loved every minute of it. (Note: I wasn’t as big of a fan of the sequel, unfortunately.)

Thriller

Sharp Objects

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
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Lovers of Gone Girl need to read Gillian Flynn’s debut novel if they haven’t already. Sharp Objects is a psychological thriller about Camille Preaker, a journalist who is sent back to her small hometown to cover the investigation of the murder and disappearance of two young girls.

Once there, she is thrown back into the complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with her estranged mother and younger half-sister. Flynn brilliantly weaves together Camille’s tormented past as it relates to the crimes about which she is there to report, all the while leaving you unsure who can be trusted. At its core, this quick-paced novel is about secrets, family, jealousy, and mental health. You’ll read it late into the night, sweating nervously under your sheets until you finish. And it’ll be worth it.

Your Thoughts

Have you read any of these? If so, what were your thoughts?

What are your favorite books to read in the fall? Let’s start a conversation!

Volumes Bookcafe: A Chicago Spotlight

There are several things to love about Wicker Park’s five-month-old Volumes Bookcafe, but chief among them is its goal to bring the community together around a shared passion for books. Also high on the list? This place combines coffee, pastries, wine, and books. In other words, there’s really no reason to ever leave.

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Upon entering, visitors note the sleek, modern decor with just the right number of quirky embellishments to draw them in: a reading nook covered in colorful hardbacks, a high-contrast Don Quixote poster, quote-ridden chalkboard walls, and a decent-sized shelf of board games (squee!).

While it’s not the biggest bookstore in the city, it is apparent that a lot of thought has gone into what’s on the shelves. In fact, Volumes prides itself on having a well-curated collection, and from what I could see, it’s one that would satisfy any reader’s palette.

Like any bookstore worth its salt, personal recommendations are peppered throughout each section, many of which I wholeheartedly second (lookin’ at you, Geek Love). But what’s different is that in most cases, there are only one to three available copies of any book. This place isn’t aiming to pump out the latest best-sellers; they’re looking to spark conversation and engage their customers on a quest to find their next favorite novel.

And, importantly, the staff with whom I’ve spoken are readily available, knowledgeable, and able to provide thoughtful next-read suggestions.  They are also more than willing to special order anything not found in the store.

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The Paper Bag Princess is by far one of my favorite children’s books, too.

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If I didn’t feel like I’d be defiling books, I’d create something like this at my apartment. There’s probably a second-hand market for book covers, right?

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A reading bench in the children’s section helps even the youngest readers relax a while.

Then there’s the cafe, which, on a weekday around noon, was pleasantly populated but not overcrowded. Serving Metropolis coffee, (local) Dollop pastries, wine, and beer, it seems there’s something for everyone to enjoy while they walk the store, read, chat, or work away on their computer.

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Just in case you want to flaunt your nerd status via bracelet.

Overall, the ambiance of the store and cafe is inviting, relaxed, and enjoyable. It’s very fitting that Volumes is owned by two sisters with backgrounds in education because it feels welcoming to children and adults alike. Even though I had a baby and a stroller with me, I didn’t feel receive any side-eyes or feel the pressure to GFTO as I do in so many other places that are traditionally quieter and/or less kid-friendly.

With a ton of events, book clubs, and even an incredibly attractive sounding NaNoWriMo project, it truly is a place that encourages community interaction, which just makes me appreciate it all the more.

Plan Your Visit

Location and hours

Volumes is located at 1474 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622. It’s open Monday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Those are pretty generous hours, if you ask me.

Parking and transportation

In my experience, parking in Wicker Park is kind of a nightmare because space is so limited and several areas require permits. However, metered parking is available.

I personally recommend public transportation, though, especially because the store is only a four-minute walk from the Damen Blue ‘L’ stop.

Stroller or carrier

With only my jogging stroller at my dispense on the day of my first visit, I can attest that there is plenty of room for a stroller–especially a normal-sized one–at Volumes Bookcafe. Plus, a stroller makes it substantially easier to sit down and enjoy a cup of joe.

Final Word

If you’re looking for a bookstore with spunk and substance, check out Volumes Bookcafe. If it were possible to be friends with a bookstore, I’d sign right up with this one.

And, after all, you know here at Baby Brown Bear, I am a fan of keeping it local.

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Baby Bear’s Favorite Children’s Books Part II

We just completed Rahm’s Little Readers, the Chicago Public Library’s summer reading program that challenges kids to read at least 500 minutes between June and September. In addition to reading, participants must complete two activities from each of the following categories: talking, singing, writing, and playing. Technically speaking, Baby Bear doesn’t write yet–or talk or sing much, for that matter–but luckily for him, his Mama Bear had some crayons and a strong grip to force his hand.

Nonetheless, when you read for at least 500 minutes, you end up repeating a lot of the same books. It’s necessary, then, to find books you, the reader, genuinely enjoy as much as your babe.

The following books are among our favorite right now, be it for their illustrations, text, and/or interactivity. Take a look and maybe you’ll find your next favorite, too! (See part one for more ideas.)

Another Short List

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

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Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle
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It’s only fitting that the first book on this list is a nod to one of the very things this blog’s name references. Eric Carle is undeniably one of the most beloved children’s book authors and illustrators of all time (he’s 87 now!). Fun fact of the day: Brown Bear was a collaboration. It was this book that actually kicked off his career in 1967, followed by the arguably more famous The Very Hungry Caterpillar in 1969.

Baby Bear and I started reading Brown Bear mostly because liked it so much, but before long, I noticed that he’d reach for it on his own. He seems captivated by Carle’s signature bright and blocky illustrations (much to my chagrin, he wiggles in excitement every time we land on the damned purple cat) and eagerly turns the pages to see which animal is next. What’s especially fun is when he points along on the last spread as we recap all of the animals.

Curious George Pat-A-Cake!

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Curious George Pat-A-Cake! by H.A. Rey
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Who wouldn’t love Curious George in finger puppet form? Baby Bear sure does, and has been grabbing George’s little monkey hands for as long as he’s known how to move his own.

With five brightly colored pages of pat-a-cake rhymes, from the classic “baker’s man” verse to an appropriately themed “yellow hat man” one, babies can’t help but to smile and clap along. This is a great diversion book, too, having stopped at least a few crying fits in this household.

My First Slide-Out Book of Colors

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My First Slide-Out Book of Colors written by Early Start Editors and illustrated by Abdi Moshiri
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No, the text in this one isn’t exactly Newbery material, but it’s straight-forward and easy for even the youngest listeners to understand. Each page shows a color followed by two objects of that color. A third object is shown in black and white until the reader pulls out its corresponding tab and its color is revealed. For example, “This is the color yellow. The chick is yellow. The taxi is yellow. What color is the banana?” When you pull out the tab, you learn that the banana is yellow! Good job; you’re getting the hang of it!

Just recently, Baby Bear has become a little obsessed with pulling out and pushing in each tab. Every time we read it, he is engrossed to the point where he actually wants to flip it back and start over. At this pace, this kid is going to know his colors early!

What I also like about the book is that it contains ideas for the reader to encourage more interaction so the book won’t grow stale. The orange page suggests pointing to and discussing each image in addition to talking about the color (e.g., “What do you do with a carrot?”). It’s always helpful to have new ideas like this.

Where Is the Green Sheep? / ¿Dónde está  la oveja verde? 

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Where Is the Green Sheep? / ¿Dónde está la oveja verde? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek, translated by Carlos E. Calvo
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We have quite a few bilingual books, but this one is my favorite. Depending on how long I need to or can occupy Baby Bear, I typically read it all the way through in one language, then start over in the other. The illustrations are simple yet whimsical. The sheep in the story aren’t just any old boring sheep, either. There’s a sheep in the bath, a Singin’ in the Rain sheep, a surfing sheep, and even an astronaut sheep! “Here is the wind sheep. And here is the wave sheep. Here is the scared sheep, and here is the brave sheep. But where is the green sheep?” or “Esta oveja juega con el viento. Y esta oveja juega con las olas. Esta oveja está asustada y esta oveja es valiente. ¿Pero, dónde está la oveja verde?”

My only complaint about the book is that the English version rhymes but the Spanish one does not. While I appreciate a straight translation, I would prefer the content to be changed slightly enough to make both versions equally fun to read aloud. Either way, this one is in our diaper bag at all times.

Peekaboo Kisses

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Peekaboo Kisses by Barney Saltzberg
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As you can tell, Baby Bear is really starting to enjoy interacting with his books. This one is a particular favorite because it has the baby trifecta: flaps to lift, textures to touch, and a mirror at the end.

Each page begins with, “Peekaboo! I see…” along with a picture of an animal hiding behind its hands. The reader must lift the flap to reveal what animal is hiding and what kind of kisses it offers. For example, “Peekaboo! I see…furry puppy kisses.” As a bonus, said furry puppy has a nice, soft patch of purple fur for baby to feel.

Babies pick up on rituals, and, as such, Baby Bear has started to preemptively cover his eyes/forehead before each new page. It’s adorable.

Quick as a Cricket

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Quick as a Cricket written by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Don Wood
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Baby Bear received this book for his first birthday, and it’s quickly become one of my personal favorites to read to him. Self-described as a “joyful celebration of self-awareness,” Quick as a Cricket uses contradictory animal similes and beautiful illustrations to capture the many dimensions and colorful imaginations of children. My favorite stanza (and corresponding imagery) is, “I’m as brave as a tiger, I’m as shy as a shrimp, I’m as tame as a poodle, I’m as wild as a chimp.” Plus, Baby Bear’s version came with a cool personalized touch: his aunt wrote the Spanish translation on each page. Thanks, Aunt B!

Little Blue Truck

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Little Blue Truck written by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Jill McElmurry
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I mean it when I say that Little Blue Truck is a great read for children and adults alike. It’s short enough for Baby Bear to stay engaged but long enough to develop a thoughtful arc about the old golden rule and contains language that’s extremely fun to read aloud.

“Little Blue Truck came down the road. ‘Beep!’ said Blue to a big green toad. Toad said, ‘Croak!’ and winked an eye when Little Blue Truck went rolling by.” You’ve no choice but to enhance your animal noise skills if you read this enough.

I also enjoy this book for its illustrations, which evoke in me a Norman Rockwell-esque nostalgia for the countryside I didn’t know I had.

LMNO Peas

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LMNO Peas by Keith Baker
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I’m passionate about this book because it is exceptionally playful and creative, an alphabet book like no other. Perhaps the most talented and diverse group of peas in existence scatter across these pages to teach kids the ABCs.

“We are peas–alphabet peas! We work and play in the ABCs. We’re acrobats, artists, and astronauts in space. We’re builders, bathers, and bikers in a race.”

Not only are these fun rhymes to say aloud, but the illustrations are surprisingly detailed and clever, too. Who would have thought two peas roasting marshmallows could be so cute? In what is an outwardly simplistic book, I find something new and equally entertaining each time we read it. This book earns a Baby Brown Bear Golden Star.

More Books, Please!

At some point in the near future, I may need to admit to a slight children’s book hoarding problem, but I’m not there yet! What are your favorite children’s books?

 

Mama Bear’s Summer 2016 Reading List

It’s been quite a while since my last list of book recommendations, and since I can’t in good conscience claim to be a book blog without them, here we are.

Before you hit the beach, pool, campsite, or couch, consider checking out some of my favorite summertime reads.

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Summer Picks

I’ve organized these suggestions by genre. Before you jump ahead to your tried and true favorite, I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone this summer and pick something you normally wouldn’t read. You never know what you might end up liking.

Humor

Galápagos

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Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut
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Kurt Vonnegut was an incredible author whose vast body of work would make any bookshelf better. This book in particular is my favorite and is one I’ve recommended and gifted countless times. It’s a little bit sci-fi, a little bit post-apocalyptic fiction, and a whole lot of satire.

The book follows a small, strange group of people stranded on an island in the Galápagos. After a pandemic leaves the rest of mankind sterile, they become the last surviving humans with the ability to procreate. Therefore their descendants alone are responsible for how human beings evolve (hint: life is a lot less complicated with a small brain). Told by an omniscient, ghostly narrator, this book will make you laugh and cringe at some of the more painfully accurate portrayals of our society.

I’m a Stranger Here Myself

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I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away by Bill Bryson
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Bill Bryson is an American author—he famously wrote A Walk in the Woods–who spent a couple of decades living in the UK. This book is a collection of essays he wrote for a British paper about returning and readjusting to the U.S.

Bryson is hilariously observant as he contemplates some of the bizarre and seemingly mundane features of our culture. Though a few of the essays are a bit dated as the book was published in 2000, you can’t help but smile as Bryson artfully describes things like his nostalgia for motel room showers and the perplexing differences between American and English postal systems.

Fiction

Gone with the Wind

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Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
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Okay, let’s pause. If you haven’t read this book, then it should be the first on your to-read list. If you haven’t even heard of this book, then you need to climb out from under your pop culture rock.

Topping out at about 1,000 pages (I recommend reading the book on a device for this reason), it is arguably one of the finest pieces of historical fiction ever written, as evidenced its accolades, notoriety, and sheer sales volume.

Gone with the Wind is the story of Scarlett O’Hara, a persnickety and stubborn, yet intelligent and loyal Southern Belle whose life is drastically altered by the Civil War. She alone makes the book worth reading, as you will simultaneously love and hate her, but perhaps the real main character is the American South itself before, during, and after the war.

An epic, Gone with the Wind will be captivate you with its rich writing and complex characters. Though it’s long, you will not want to stop reading it, which makes for a perfect summer reading candidate. For what it’s worth, I also love the movie. If you’re not going to read it, at least make sure you watch it.

Ella Minnow Pea

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Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
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Mark Dunn’s Ella Minnow Pea is charming, interesting, and very short. Like many other books on this list, I’ve recommended it time and time again.

It’s the story of a little island that bans the usage of various letters of the alphabet. The story unfolds in a series of letters between characters, forcing the author to very creatively manipulate the English language in order to have the characters comply with their new, letter-less laws. It’s witty and clever, and makes you appreciate how much you can bend the rules of grammar and syntax all while expanding your vocabulary. Note: you really have to read this one with your eyes in order to properly appreciate it. You will not get the full effect in an audio book.

Swamplandia!

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Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
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This book fittingly takes place in Florida, where real life can be stranger than fiction. Like some of the other fiction on this list, it is the story of a family. In this case, it’s a family whose livelihood depends on a gator-based theme park that falls from greatness following the death of its star, the mother of the family.

An adventure builds as the main character, a 12-year-old girl, must put on a brave face in an attempt to save her home and family from spiraling out of control. This book has a little bit of everything: outlandish characters, fantastic scenery, and even a bit of mysticism.

Cold Sassy Tree

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Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
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Apparently, something about the summertime makes me want to read stories that take place in the American South. I think it’s because I like to imagine myself sipping ice-cold tea (albeit unsweetened), in a rocking chair, and on an old wraparound porch when I read them. Mosquitoes and heat aside, doesn’t that sound lovely?

Anyway, this is another great historical fiction that chronicles life in a small, turn-of-the-century Georgia town. It’s been quite I while since I read it, but I distinctly remember falling in love with the characters as they navigated the ups and downs of life as well as the gossip that runs rampant throughout it. I smiled with their triumphs, cried with their tragedies, and didn’t want it to end.

Romance

No beach or pool vacation is complete without a little dose of romance. While I used to be embarrassed and secretive about my love of love stories, I’ve come to embrace it in recent years. Say what you will, but romance is a genre that has its own literary value.

The Royal We

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The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
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If you, like me, are strangely obsessed with England’s royal family, then you should read The Royal We. It’s loosely based on Will and Kate’s life, to the point where some consider it to be fan fiction. I’d argue that it’s much more elegant than that. In fact, I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I started it, but I was pleasantly surprised how engaging and intelligent it was. It’s a novel you’ll want to stay up reading.

Sookie Stackhouse series

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Dead Until Dark (book one) by Charlaine Harris
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If you’re looking for a ridiculous-but-fun series of books, here you go. These novels track the exceedingly at-risk life of Sookie Stackhouse and her friends in Bon Temps, Louisiana. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen True Blood, the HBO series loosely based on these novels.

There are 13 main books and each is more far-fetched than the last (which says a lot seeing as how the first already starts you off with vampires). The writing takes some getting used to, meaning it’s not all that great, but I seriously could not put down these books. You’ll get a nice dose of, ahem, love scenes, and have fun tagging along with Sookie and all her Southern charm.

Nonfiction

Into Thin Air

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Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer
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You might be justifiably wondering why would I recommend a book set in a such a cold, severe landscape as part of my summertime list. Well, chances are good you will feel a little chilled as you read this harrowing tale. Trust me when I say that reading it in the winter when you are also freezing is a rookie mistake.

Jon Krakauer’s account of his fateful Everest misadventure is famous because it is–to most of us–unimaginable. So much so that it reads more like a thriller than a true story. You’ll read this one quickly and can use it to keep you cool at the pool. Fun fact: when I mentioned this list to Papa Bear, he said, “Oh, will you add Into Thin Air, too?” Doubly recommended.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

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Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
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Need another bitterly cold story to keep you cozy outside this summer? Let’s move from the Himalayas to the Antarctic. Endurance is also a survival story, but this time about Ernest Shackleton’s failed attempt to cross the Antarctic in 1914. Shackleton’s ship, after which the book is named, was trapped and eventually crushed by ice, leaving its crew stranded and scared for their lives.

Author Lansing had access to real diaries kept by crew members and was able to interview surviving members as he was writing this book, making it incredibly honest, scary, and arresting. As it is a tale of near hopelessness, it is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re able to read it, you’ll find yourself talking about it for a long time.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

born to run

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
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If keeping cool is not your goal, check out Born to Run, which is partly about the author’s path to self-discovery and partly about the history of human beings and our innate ability to run long distances.

This book was recommended to me because I like to run. And while it did inspire me to get out and run more–I only partially subscribe to McDougall’s running philosophies–it ended up appealing to me in a much broader sense, too. Anyone who is interested in learning about new cultures, meeting quirky and nearly certifiably insane characters, or anthropology in general should check this out. You might even find yourself thirsting to be outside to test his theories.

Your Thoughts

I’m going to make this a regular, seasonal feature, so stay tuned for Mama Bear’s Fall 2016 Reading List.

In the meantime, please feel free to comment with your summer favorites!