Good books for a quiet afternoon

The snow just keeps falling.  We’re going nowhere today as a result.  Grace comes toward me with her Frankenstein-like toddle (so sweet!), a book in hand.  We read, she stands up, and is off to find the next book.  Here’s what she is reading today:

Brown Bear is always a favorite, as are the sequels. She adores the interactive book.  It’s amazing to watch her little mind work as she tried to match up the pieces.

Making interactive children's books |

She loves Sandra Boynton books, just like Jonathan did. Tickle Time is always fun.

Jonathans Bookshelf Tickle Time Boynton 2

Grace is drawn to the rhythm of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom |

These bedtime books are not just for bedtime.  I’m not sure if she quite understands Good Night, Gorilla, but I enjoy it, as did James.

4 Favorite Bedtime Books |

Grace often choose 5 Little Monkeys before nap time.  She smiles every time she sees the mommy jumping on the bed.

5 Little Monkeys book review |

Grace just went down for nap, Kyle and James are reading, and I’m taking a short break from a good novel.  Books really are a great snow day activity!

Cleverly Funny Children’s Books

Some children’s books annoy me.  You know the ones… boring plot, poor illustrations, too simplistic, blah.  Sometimes  I wonder what editor let a book go to print.

But why waste time with those?  There are so many great ones out there.

Today I’m writing about one of Jonathan’s favorites.  He seriously cracked up, as did James and me.


Caldecott Award winner Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! does not disappoint.  Like Mo Willems’ other books, his zany sense of humor prevails.


The book begins with the bus driver asking the reader to watch the bus while he steps away for a moment.  His  most important words of advice: Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus!



Throughout the story, the pigeon asks politely, demands, and begs to drive the bus, speaking directly to the reader.  This creates a fun relationship between the book and the reader, and my kids thought the pigeon’s tactics were hilarious.


In the end, the pigeon gives up on his bus driving dreams and moves on to bigger things — trucks!

This book entertains my kids and me: it’s a winner.

Library Love

Story time at the local library was one of our favorite Saturday morning activities.  Jonathan loved the songs, books, and rhymes.  He squealed during silly books, and found the felt mouse hidden in the colored houses.  Our library continues to be a favorite hang out for our family, especially in cold, rainy weather.  Here’s why…

1. It’s free!  Enough said… I’m sold.

2. Fits into lots of schedules.  Jonathan and I tried lots of different music classes through church and our community’s park and rec.  The library programs worked best for us because they were offered at a variety of times of day — evenings and weekends, especially.  I liked that they were drop in programs; we didn’t have to commit to a weekly program that we often couldn’t attend due to his health issues.

3. Something for everyone to do.  Jonathan could attend story time while big brother James played on the iPads or Legos.  Kyle and I could pick up books, too.

4. Books, books, and more books.  We always come to the library with a big bag.  Always.

5. Special programs. Seasonal reading programs with prizes, movie nights, open craft studio, drama workshops, therapy dog time, special summer speakers, and so much more… I appreciate the variety of themes and activities.

6. Staff with experience.  It was obvious our children’s librarians had experience working with children with disabilities.  They talked to Jonathan, not just me.  They let him choose his own prizes, even it took a while longer than other kids.  And they were patient as we maneuvered his wheelchair.

7. Library love.  Visiting the library is a great habit for kids to development young.  After all, every community has one, it’s a great source of information, and the programming is terrific.


Adam, Adam, what do you see?

I like connections.

Last week I posted our family’s 3 favorite children’s Bibles.  My first post on this website reviewed Brown Bear by Bill Martin Jr.  Connect those two and we have…


That’s right, a Christian sequel to follow in the footsteps of Polar Bear and Baby Bear.

Jonathans Bookshelf Brown Bear Baby Bear Polar Bear

The text follows the traditional pattern.  Bible references are added to each page.  Adam, Adam, What do you see?  I see creation all around me.  Each page features a different Bible hero — Abraham, Moses, etc.


However, the illustrations are different.  Not Eric Carle’s collage style.  More detail.  More people.  Rather than being bold shapes, the illustrations help tell the story.

James really liked this book, but Jonathan was a little young to get into it.  The original Brown Bear books are terrific for older infants/young toddlers.  Jonathan enjoyed the sequel, but James liked it better because he could appreciate the Bible references.

3 Favorite Children’s Bibles

Three years ago I stood in front of the children’s Bibles in our local Christian bookstore.  I was overwhelmed.  Shelf after shelf of colorful, beautifully illustrated Bibles sat before me.  I knew I wanted to purchase one for two-year-old James, but how to decide which one?

Thankfully, a friend from church happened to be in the store.  As we chatted I shared my dilemma.  She showed me the Bible their son enjoyed when he was James’ age.  I purchased it and we loved it, reading it most nights after dinner.  It got a little grubby from dinner fingers, but that’s ok because he loved it.  And he learned.  He learned so much at a young age.  Even though James is now five, he occasionally pulls this one out for fun, although he has a new favorite.


What I look for in a toddler Bible:

  • Simple yet colorful, cartoon-ish illustrations — so kid-friendly that they invite a young child to read.
  • Short stories written with toddler-appropriate language.  I wanted each story to be 2-4 pages.
  • Sound effect words (bam, dong, clip clop, etc.).  Seriously, kids loves these, especially toddlers.
  • Parent suggestions for additional activities.
  • A full survey of Bible stories.  We have other beautiful books with individual stories.  However, I wanted the kids to have a book they could call their Bible with a collection of common stories from the Old and New Testament.  Reference books, like a Bible, are important so kids learn the big picture timeline of history.


It’s easy to see in this example the inviting, colorful illustrations.  I like how we count the stones together in the text.  Sound effect words like “Whirr! Whirr!” are perfect.  Each story is 2 full pages like this, and parent suggestions are included at the end.


When Jonathan turned two, we read from James’ toddler Bible.  But then I realized that Jonathan may enjoy a board book more.  I avoided board books for James because I wanted lots of stories, more than could fit in the thicker board book pages.  However, Jonathan could more easily turn pages in a board book.  So I found this one:


Again, each story was short, but filled with simple, colorful illustrations, not too artsy or so detailed that a toddler would get lost.  Since this is a board book, this version has fewer stories, but the major highlights were included.



James’ current Bible was a gift, and I’m glad it was because it probably wouldn’t have been my first choice for a preschooler.  Its length would have encouraged me to wait until he was older.  However, it’s perfect for him now, as well as when he’s older.


Here’s why I love this for preschoolers and early readers:

  • Detailed pictures open conversation for great discussion and questions.
  • Short stories — 2-4 pages
  • Simple sentence structure, yet recognizable phrases from the Bible.
  • Excellent survey of stories from the Old and New Testament.
  • Discussion questions included at the end of each story.


I included photos of each Bible’s telling of David and Goliath.  The differences in artwork and sentence structure clearly indicate the appropriate audience age.


These are our three favorites so far.  As the kids get older, we will continue to find Bibles that are a good fit for their reading level and interest.



Imaginative play (that works for YOUR kid!)

This morning Batman, Batgirl, and I went on an adventure.  Our “guidebook” showed us the location of each bad guy.  After defeating each, we regrouped at the Batcave.  It’s amazing to think we could have such fun without leaving the house.

Kids are incredibly creative.  As caregivers, it’s our job to encourage and give opportunities for kids to use their imaginations… all kids, including those with special needs.

Providing props is an easy for parents to create opportunities for imaginative play.  Over the years, we’ve purchased many items — kitchen sets, doctor’s kits, fishing gear, adventure bags — the same stuff you probably have at your house.  We’ve also made a number of items… including animal masks.


Sounds simple, right?  It is!  But with big rewards.  Jonathan’s physical disabilities made it difficult for him to make noises and act like farm animals, but I wanted him to the opportunity to learn his animals like other toddlers his age.  Specifically, I wanted to create the masks in a way that he could play independently (or as much as possible).  As a result a lot of thought went into these simple masks.  And he loved the result!


These are the materials we used.  Your child may have different needs.  Please adapt our instructions and materials to fit your child’s needs so they can have fun with animals, too.

1.  A little google search brought up exactly the printables I wanted, so we printed the animal masks on cardstock.

2. After cutting them out (including eye holes!), I made them a little stronger by adding contact paper, although I could have laminated them if preferred.  These were thick enough for Jonathan.  I could have added a cardboard layer to make them even stronger.

3. Next, I needed a way for Jonathan to grasp the masks.  I knew slipping them on and off his head would be difficult for him, so I wanted to add a handle to the bottom of the mask.  I wasn’t impressed with various sizes of popsicle sticks.  Then, I remember the smoothie straws at Panera Bread = Perfect!  I asked our local restaurant if I could have a handful, and the employee cheerfully gave me some while telling me about grandson’s developmental delays.  I taped those straws on, and Jonathan was ready to go.


Jonathan liked these masks so much I purchased a whole bag of thick straws on Amazon so I wouldn’t have to continue to beg Panera.  Once I determined that these straws worked well for Jonathan, we used them to create other activities.  We used these to make actions for songs like Itsy Bitsy Spider, holiday poems, puppets, and much more.  Making masks to accompany Brown Bear or One Little Monster would have been fun.

The animal masks came in handy when playing with big brother James or singing “Old McDonald.”  Sometimes, it was just fun to pretend to be different animals. It didn’t matter what we played as along as it brought a smile.


Accessible Easter carnival game: Fun for all

Our whole family loved last year’s Special Egg Event.  Like I wrote about in our last post, some of my favorite Jonathan memories were the magnetic egg hunt.

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Before the hunt began, though, we enjoyed Easter crafts, food, and carnival games.  Well, our family did.  Jonathan just enjoyed the carnival games.  Parents of a child with special needs become pretty good at making changes in activities to fit their child’s needs.  We adapted the ring toss and soccer games; the duck pond was tougher to adapt, so James picked a duck for Jonathan.

This year we decided to volunteer at the event by creating and running a carnival game that Jonathan would have loved.  My husband had the idea of a fishing game.

jonathans bookshelf special egg event7

The traditional game includes kids “casting” a fishing line behind a curtain.  A volunteer (hidden under the curtain) attaches a prize to their fishing line, tugs on the line, and the child “reels in” their prize.  Kid-friendly and cute, right?

We made a few minor adaptations to this basic design, making it work well for kids with special needs.  I’m sure there are ways to improve it, though.  Leave us your ideas in the comments!


Materials for the fishing booth:

  • Blue sheet (any size)
  • 2 lawn chairs
  • 4 clamps
  • Fleece and sewing supplies (optional)
  • Small prizes :)

Materials for the fishing poles:

  • Dowels of various widths
  • String
  • Clothes pins

1. Set up two lawn chairs with their backs facing each other.  Allow about three feet between the lawn chairs (enough room for your prize box and “fish” person attaching prizes!).  Cover the lawn chairs with the blue sheet, so the space between the chairs is completely hidden from view.

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2. Cut out fish shapes.  My son looked up different sea creatures on google images and I cut them out free hand.  Printing out shapes and tracing them would have worked, too.  Loosely sew the fish shapes to the sheet.  (Our sheet will be used on beds again soon, so I wanted the fish to stay well on a windy day outside but easy to remove after the event.)

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3. Use clamps to secure the sheet to the lawn chair.  If it’s especially windy, have volunteers sit in the lawn chairs so your game doesn’t blow away.

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4. We purchased 1/4 inch and 3/4 inch wooden dowels from a home store.  My husband cut them in half and drilled a hole in the end.  I tied on three feet of string.  At the end of the string, I tied a clothes pin.

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It’s the same game concept as before, but using lawn chairs lowered the fishing area so that small children and kids in wheelchairs could cast their lines independently. Some children with special needs find different widths of dowels easier to grasp, so we included a variety.  We made sure the curtain was barely touching the ground so gait trainers and wheelchairs wouldn’t catch it.  When choosing prizes, we purchased items that required varying levels of fine motor skills.  We also had plenty of volunteers to assist children that day.

We saw such precious smiles.  And there were some kids that were too cool for a little fishing game.  But that’s fine.  They’re kids; that’s how it works.  But oh the smiles.  I loved helping the kids in wheelchairs who struggled to grasp the fishing pole, but were so proud as they “reeled in” their prizes.  They reminded me of Jonathan and how he would have adored this game.


Special Egg Event

Our family had a great weekend!

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We volunteered at the 2nd Annual Special Egg Event.

Last year Jonathan had a blast at the event.  Adaptations are made to the traditional Easter egg hunt so that all kids can enjoy. There are four egg hunts:

  • Magnetic egg hunt: Eggs have magnets in them.  Kids are given wooden poles with magnets on the end so that they can pick up eggs from wheelchairs or gait trainers.
  • Beeping egg hunt: Children with visual impairment listen to determine the location of eggs.
  • Quiet egg hunt: Perfect for kids with autism or sensory processing issues, this egg hunt is quiet with little stimulation.
  • General egg hunt: Children who can hunt for eggs unassisted enjoy this hunt.  Siblings were also encouraged to participate.

Mix in carnival games, free food, pics with the Easter Bunny, and you’ve got  really really fun family festival!

A local news channel ran the story over the weekend.  Check out footage of the event.  (Due to pouring rain, we were inside this year, but it was still awesome.)

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Jonathan adored the Magnetic Egg Hunt last year.  He had such proud smiles each time he found an egg.  Plus, the atmosphere was fabulous, seeing so many people loving kids with special needs.  James was such a helper, rearranging eggs so that Jonathan could more easily pick them up.

We knew we wanted to participate again this year, only as volunteers.  We helped purchase non-food items to fill eggs, and we ran a fishing game at the carnival.  We designed the fishing game with Jonathan’s special needs in mind.  I’ll share our design in a later post.

Happy Easter!

One Hungry Monster

A number of qualities combine to create a favorite children’s book.  One in particular — it can’t drive the parents crazy.  Seriously, the book cannot be annoying if I’m going to read it repeatedly to my kids.  Some children’s books are not fun to read.  You know the books I’m thinking of.  I won’t name any names, but they are out there.  And I cave and read them aloud occasionally.  But not repeatedly.

One Hungry Monster |

My point?  Today’s featured book is a fun one.  I enjoy reading aloud One Hungry Monster: A counting book in rhyme by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe.

It’s cute.  And funny.  And there are monsters involved.  Children’s book authors can’t go wrong with silly monsters.

One Hungry Monster |


Monsters appear under the narrator’s bed.  Not just any monsters, but hungry monsters.  As they make their way to the kitchen, they stop to invade his closet and parents’ room, chewing his sneakers and licking the flower painting in the hall.

One Hungry Monster |

The monsters won’t leave unless the narrator feeds them.

One Hungry Monster |

So he grabs 1 jug of apple juice, 2 loaves of bread, 3 bowls of spaghetti… it’s a counting book, so you get the idea.

In the end, the monsters leave.  Hurray!

This book belonged to Jonathan, but preschooler James giggled as much if not more than toddler Jonathan.  It’s nice when a book appeals to kids of various ages.  Some books like Brown Bear or Chicka Chicka Boom Boom were Jonathan’s favorites, but others like Pete the Cat and One Hungry Monster were requested by both boys.

One interesting note… we have the board book One Hungry Monster.  It’s great, but it actually leaves out a significant portion of the story.  Jonathan’s nurse read him the board book often and noticed immediately the second half where the monsters clean up is missing.  She shared her son’s paperback copy, and it’s cute.

Easy to read, rhymes roll off the tongue, good story.  Enjoy!

5 Fun Things to do with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom |

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is a fun classic.  It’s hard to just read; your kids will get involved without you even realizing.  Here’s five simple activities we did with the book:

{Ok, a little note… I know some of the activities sound rather academic.  In fact the word “activities” sounds like a teacher word.  However, that’s not how it worked.  At our house we rarely just read a book; we always play with it, too.  These are not pre-planned “follow up activities,” rather they come naturally, just in the moment.  We simply like the book so much we want to continue the fun past the last page.  We hope you do, too.  Leave your fun ideas in the comments.}

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom |

1. Chicka Chicka lends itself to reader participation.  Throughout the text, the lines “Chicka chicka boom boom, Will there be enough room?” repeat.  When they were toddlers, James and Jonathan loved reading these lines with me.  We added a rhythm element to it when James patted his legs on “Chicka Chicka”, clapped his hands on “Boom boom”, and then held his hands out asking the question “Will there be enough room?

2. Jonathan loved participating, too, although made some adaptations.  Since Jonathan’s surgery complications affected every muscle, including those needed for talking, he used his “talking box” to speak for him.  I recorded my voice reading the lines on separate levels of a Little Step-By-Step Communicator.  He pressed the red button to read along with “Chicka chicka boom boom” and then pressed it again to read “Will there be enough room?”  Pressing the button was a struggle for his muscles, but Jonathan loved the activity so much he fought for it.  He knew exactly when to press the button.  Before I paused for his participation, his arm was winding up and ready to push the button.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom |

3. Sometimes I wonder how much my kids understand before they can speak.  The answer = a lot.  When he was very young, I noticed Jonathan smiled when the tree falls down on the last page.  Every time.  Rather than just being excited (like I should have been), I quizzed him.  I hid my smiles (in case he only smiled because I was).  I tried reading the last page monotone (which is really really hard… it’s like reading Sandra Boynton books without rhythm… impossible!).  It didn’t matter what I did, he always smiled for the last page.

I finally accepted that he understood the story and simply loved the ending.  Even though he couldn’t verbalize it, his face said it all.

4. I learned a lot by asking my kids to turn the pages.  Jonathan knew exactly where to turn the pages and his arm was ready.  In our experience, board book pages were easier to turn.

5. Out of this list, what’s the one activity the kids didn’t love?  An alphabet tree!  Each week when James was a toddler, he and I reread the book, made a paper letter, and did activities with that letter.  Organized, simple, and educational — great for me, but not for him.  He didn’t exactly love it.

In hindsight, I realize that he was too young.  And uninterested.  I should have kept reading to him, interacted with fun activities, and realized that phonemic awareness would come when he was ready.  It took several weeks for me to realize this and back off.  I still the alphabet tree is a cool application of this book, especially for a preschool class.  But not for James at that point.


Tell us about your family’s fun with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom in the comments.