books

Get Your Kids to Read More with Your Local Library

I grew up in a library family. We went to story time at the library from when we were toddlers. We knew the children’s librarian by name (and she still works there and recognized me 30 years later). My mom would take us to the library with a brown plastic milk crate, and once it was full that meant we had to check out. The librarian carefully stamped the due date on the inside cover of each book before my mom lugged the full crate to the car. I still remember laboriously printing my name on my first library card when I was 5 years old and proudly checking out books to my own account.

My family uses the library system a lot, but it looks much different now. My oldest does have his own library card, but the mini version dangles from my key fob. He knows how to scan it in the self-checkout machine where he stacks his own selections that he put on hold using my phone. The kids argue over whose turn it is to push the button that prints the receipt that I don’t want since I track all the due dates in the library app. 

How to Use the Library So Your Kids Love to Read

My kids love reading, and books are expensive in large quantities. It’s much easier to get one from the library and if you don’t love it, you can just take it back. Who doesn't love free books for kids? I’ve talked to friends who haven’t started using the library much, and they were surprised by how easy it is, and the variety of ways we use it. As my friend Julie put it, “Library books are a great way to keep reading exciting and interesting without me going broke.” 

So here are a few strategies we use to find awesome library resources, and how we support local libraries. We do live in a large metropolitan area with both city and county library systems, so that will affect the resources we have, but that’s the personal experience I have to share with you.

Taking Kids to the Library in Person

I’m writing this during the pandemic, so in-person browsing is a thing of the past here! Hopefully you can take your child to the library soon and try out these ideas, and much of it translates to online browsing. I’ll explain in a minute.

When my kids were younger, the library was a great place to spend an hour or so with storytime, and then wandering the kids area. As they get older, there are arts and crafts events, classes, and some locations even have science and Lego clubs. Even now when we're limited to no-contact pickups, they've had craft bags for the kids.

When they’re really little, it doesn’t matter so much what books you (or they) choose since it’s mostly to add variety for YOU at home. Whether that’s you picking up a few board books, or a toddler clinging to a book about cats, it helps a lot when you’re ready to throw Chicka Chicka Boom Boom out the window. 


via GIPHY

Three ways I tend to browse for my kids when they’re young are:

  • upcoming seasons or holidays
  • themes like letters, colors, counting, animals, etc.
  • library displays like Black History Month

Librarians put a lot of work into those themed displays, and they want you to read those books! 

Once mine got older (read: faster, louder, and outnumbered me), hanging out at the library wasn’t as attractive. That’s when I order books to put on hold, then just run in to pick them up. If I’m feeling really benevolent, I let each kid choose 1-3 books off the shelf, too. 

How To Help Your Kids Choose Library Books

Now that we can’t go inside the library, how do we choose which books to check out? Here are a few of my favorite sources.

Diverse Reading Lists

I am constantly watching sites for book lists. I save a lot of lists on my Book Suggestions for Kids Pinterest board. A Mighty Girl is another great resource.

Our library website (see image above) curates book lists on various topics for kids which are great. Our city library uses BiblioCommons, along with many others--you can see if yours does here--and have the same interface on their local websites. I cover using the mobile app below. 

And various librarian groups also give awards with lists of nominees and winners. 

Children’s Books Social Media Accounts

Instagram and Facebook are a gold mine of book suggestions and reviews. Some of my favorites are:

 

Two More Book Search Tips

If we have a book the kids like, or I see an interesting one online, I look it up on Amazon and see which related books come up to get more ideas.

I also love the Library Extension plugin for your browser which tells you if a book is available in your local library system when you look it up on Amazon or another bookstore site. On the left you can see what came up when I searched for the third How to Train Your Dragon book.

Using Your Local Library App

When I learned that our library had an app, my life became a billion times easier. I could place holds, check my due dates, and look up books without having to get to the computer that my children wanted to touch and pull off my desk. I could browse for books while nursing a baby or making lunch. I was thrilled. It even stores my barcode so I can't forget my library card!

My kids and I regularly use the app to find books. The most common searches we do are:

  • Browsing through new arrivals
  • Searching a topic of interest (previously: pirates, currently: chickens)
  • Looking for other books by authors they like

Bibliocommons Library app screenshotBibliocommons Library app screenshot

I regularly pull up the New Arrivals section and refine the results. I choose Format: “Books” -> Audience: “Children” and then choose a topic, content, form, or genre if desired. My kids wedge themselves on either side of me and point out the ones they want, poking the + button to put them on hold. 

Bibliocommons Library app screenshotBibliocommons Library app screenshot

Sometimes if a topic has come up, I ask if they want to order out some books about it. Then I search for that topic, sort by format and audience again, and see what comes up. Sometimes it takes more digging, or adding a year of publication after a certain date. Worst case scenario is that we take it back! 

Bibliocommons Library app screenshotIf we find books that they like, we’ll often look up the author for other books they’ve written or illustrated. That’s how we stumbled across Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot, written by Dav Pilkey (best known for Captain Underpants) and illustrated by Dan Santat (we love many of his books, including his Caldecott award winning book Beekle). 

We place books on hold (at the San Diego Public Library, you can have 25 items on hold, and 40 items checked out at a time), watch for an email, and pop over to pick up our reserved items when they arrive! Right now the library buildings aren’t open; it’s just no-contact pick ups. When the library is open, they have the hold section by last name, but they hold CDs/DVDs behind the desk. 

Using Your Library For Audio Resources

We get more than books from the library, too! Though my kids love podcasts, they're also huge audiobook fans. Audiobooks are a great bridge for new readers who can understand more complex plots but can’t yet read them on their own. It's also great for kids who want you to read chapter books, but younger siblings aren't ready for them (or need you to put them down for a nap).

We get them on CD from the library to listen to at home or in the car, or we download audiobooks from the online catalog. The upside to the electronic version is that it’s usually faster. The downside is that it requires a device to play it. My oldest is currently listening to the How to Train Your Dragon series read by David Tennant, and I'm not sad about that.

You can check out music CDs and DVDs at our library, too. We’ve borrowed items from Sesame Street songs to Halloween music to Peter and the Wolf (there's a David Bowie version, y'all). We don’t do TV, but if you don’t have cable, or you don’t want Netflix to autoplay an entire season of a kids show, you can pop a DVD in instead.

There are also plenty of eBook options available without even leaving home. We have both a city and county library near us, and they use different digital catalogs--you can have accounts at both. The city uses cloudLibrary and Overdrive, and the county uses the Libby app. Libby has a great feature where you can "skip the line" and immediately check out popular items, and you can read them on your Kindle app if you want. Audiobooks are also available for download.

We’re lucky to have so many ways to get information so easily.

Virtual Library Events

Story time may be canceled due to COVID, but many libraries are still hosting virtual events. Check your local branch's website or Facebook page for science demos, homework help, author talks, and more. 

My kids love the reading programs our library does. We track their books, report the results, and collect goodie bags with coupons for local restaurants, and a free book from the library. Check out the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program on Beanstack.

Last, watch for fun contests. My oldest submitted a drawing to a contest at our local branch and won $25 and an award from our city council. (He used the money to buy a robot.)

Managing Your Borrowed Items

We have a separate shelf for library books versus our own books. Sometimes they do get co-mingled, but it helps. By using the app, I can figure out what’s due back next, or how many books I need to collect for return. We go to the library frequently, and it’s only a mile away, so it’s a constant in and out.

My friend, Julie, shared her solution: “I have two baskets by the door: one for library books we are still reading, one for books we're ready to return.” I took her idea and got a bin to put books the kids want to return, or for me to put books that are due soon. Then I just grab that bin when I'm heading out.

How Do You Use The Library?

I realize this is a lot of information, but I love the library so much! What was most useful? Did you learn anything new?

I hope you're inspired to take advantage of some of the many resources the library provides. If you found it helpful, pin it on Pinterest or share it on Facebook so others can benefit, too!

My Favorite Parenting Books

My Top 3 Parenting Books

I’m a research nerd. When I was expecting my oldest, I read a ton about pregnancy and birth to help manage my expectations of that process. But pregnancy is a much shorter time period than parenthood, and most of us spend more time preparing for the hours of birth than the years after it.

I try to share helpful (or funny) resources on the Semi-Crunchy Mama Facebook page, but I have managed to read a few books in the last few years that stand out as having influenced my parenting in a big way.

My Top 3 Parenting Books for Semi Crunchy Parents

Don’t have time to read? My secret is to download the Kindle app for your phone. I make the background black so it’s not as bright, and I read while I put my kids to bed or am up nursing at night. There are tons of ebooks available from the library, too! Another option is audiobooks if you have a commute, or you can listen while doing chores.

Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn

Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn

This is a great book to read even before your kids are born. (You also have more time to read when you don't have children yet.)

This book is more overall philosophy than practical application, but it offers a big picture view of what kind of parent you might want to be (and why) backed up by studies and research. Most parenting books tend to be based on social and cultural norms, but Alfie Kohn goes beyond that and talks about the kind of society and culture we could have if we parented in a way that was best for our kids, not that was best for the views of other adults.

It's an incredibly eye-opening book, since most of us base our approach on what our parents did, but don't always examine if that's the best approach or just the familiar one.

The downside is that it can make you think about what your childhood might have looked like if your parents had read this book, and you may be disappointed. The book made me rethink my views of praise, school, and discipline. When I'm feeling frustrated or disconnected from my kids, revisiting the principles found in this book help me remember what kind of parent I want to be so I focus more on our relationship than on my kids’ behavior.

There is also a summary of the book HERE.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham

I originally discovered Dr. Markham through her website, ahaparenting.com, and was lucky to hear her speak locally here in San Diego when my oldest was about a year old. I appreciate her approach, which is grounded in attachment theory, and provides a roadmap for “authoritative parenting” -- the happy middle ground between controlling authoritarian and unsupportive permissive styles.

She offers specific phrases and concrete examples that I can use in my actual life. I can't promise that my kids actually react like the dialogues in the book, but I have found it very useful, and her focus on empathy is incredibly important and valuable. Luckily, before I had my second baby, her book Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings was released as well. (I'll do a separate post on sibling resources another time.)

Much of her advice can be found on her blog and newsletters, but having the book as a resource I can revisit has definitely paid off.

Pro-tip: sometimes the Kindle version goes on sale for just a few dollars. It’s still worth it at full price!

Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen


I recommend this book so often that I ended up writing a blog post about it because I couldn't find a good summary to send to clients and friends. Cohen is a play therapist, and also a father, so he draws from both his personal and professional experiences.

My oldest was a toddler when I read it, but the activities apply until at least the tween years. He explains various approaches to enter the world of our children to meet them where they are, and how to use play to connect to our kids and give them an outlet for their emotions and struggles.

Being playful and silly does not come naturally to me, but having specific ideas gives me a starting point and ideas to at least get started. When I get it right, it’s like magic!

There are many activities and games described in the book, or he has an entire separate book called The Art of Roughhousing which has diagrams. He also wrote The Opposite of Worry (I’m halfway through) which discusses playful approaches specifically for kids with anxiety.

Two other books I’ve heard are great:

  • The Whole Brain Child by Dan Siegel I've started, but not finished. It explains normal brain development and what that means for managing expectations of behavior in young kids.
  • The Conscious Parent by Dr. Shefali Tsabary comes highly recommended and sounds interesting as it explores the "parent-child journey" as we learn alongside our kids.

Have you read any of these? What are your favorites?

* I do use affiliate links for books, so if you purchase through me, I make a few cents for the referral. It goes toward feeding my kiddos who eat 9 zillion times a day, so I appreciate it.

5 Thanksgiving Books by Indigenous Authors

Thanksgiving Books by Indigenous Authors

I remember going to the library with my oldest child when he was about two years old. I asked the children's librarian if there were any age-appropriate Thanksgiving books that were somewhere between "blatant lies" and "smallpox blankets." She winced.

So how do we navigate a holiday that originated as a celebration of a massacre without either lying to or traumatizing our kids?

Many families choose to focus on gratitude and family, and introduce Thanksgiving as a historical myth. Here is a helpful history about the biggest lies most of us learned about the holiday (I definitely learned the "Pilgrims and Indians" narrative at school).

5 Thanksgiving Books by Indigenous Authors

Instead of perpetuating harmful stereotypes, here are five books that focus on happiness and gratitude - and are written by native and First Nations authors - that are great any time of year.

If you purchase these books through my Amazon links, I do receive a very small percentage of the price. This money goes to feed my kids and I appreciate it!

My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith

My Heart Fills With Happiness / Ni Sâkaskineh Mîyawâten Niteh Ohcih by Monique Gray Smith

This dual language picture book celebrates the joyfulness in small moments and serves as a
reminder to parents and kids alike to focus on moments that bring happiness.

 

 

 

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Tracy SorrellWe Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Tracy Sorrell

From the viewpoint of a member of the Cherokee Nation, this book brings a modern perspective to gratitude for both the big and the little things in life. It includes a glossary of Cherokee words for additional depth.

 

 

 

 

Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes by Wab KinewGo Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes by Wab Kinew

From start to finish, this book is a celebration of the stories of Indigenous people throughout time, in both Canada and the US. Your little hero is bound to be inspired by the stories of figures such as Crazy Horse, Net-no-kwa, former NASA astronaut John Herrington and Canadian NHL goalie Carey Price, and more.

 

 

Wild Berries by Julie FlettWild Berries by Julie Flett

Celebrating the connection that we all share with the natural world, this book is also a dual language title, written in both English and Cree. Spend the day picking wild blueberries with Clarence and his grandmother. Meet ant, spider, and fox in a beautiful woodland landscape, the ancestral home of author and illustrator Julie Flett.

 

 

 

Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk

This title by Inuit author Celina Kalluk celebrates the ancestral connection to the natural world, and emphasizes on respect and love for the earth and all its inhabitants in a lovely bedtime poem. A sweet book, indeed, and great for bedtime. Baby-loving toddlers will love it, too.

Looking for more books like these or a selection for older kids? Here are links to more resources available. Be sure to check your local librarian for even more great options to share with your littles.

And if your child is school-age and their school still does a whitewashed history, this is a great resource with sample letters to send the administration to effect change. Please say something, especially if you're a white parent.

Have you read any of these?

If you live near me, all except Go Show the World are available through the San Diego Public Library -- read more about using the public library system. They'd also be great additions to holiday wishlists to support those authors!

Playful Parenting Techniques That Work

Playful Parenting Techniques That Work

If you've ever found yourself sweating and on the brink of tears in the back of your car trying to shove your child as gently as possible into their car seat after 30 minutes of struggle and hysteria in 90 degree weather, you're not alone.

I've been there more times than I care to admit.

Then I read the book Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen. I tried a few of his suggestions. Within a few days, it got easier. He didn't struggle as much. It didn't take as long. I wasn't crying. It was like magic.

Sold.

Cohen is both a play therapist and a dad. I appreciated his perspective as a professional mixed with his personal experiences at home with his own daughter.
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