Why We Love Little Critter

006My son is 5, almost 6, and his kindergarten teacher recently sent home a form to fill out about his upcoming birthday celebration at school.  She requested that instead of sending a treat (since he’s in an allergy room), one of us brings in a story to read to the class.  The story he chose is “Just Grandma and Me” by Mercer Mayer.  This choice, may sound a little strange to you, but makes perfect sense to me and I’ll explain why.


The Little Critter books by Mercer Mayer have always been some of his favorite books.  The stories are simple and cute and are just about everyday life from the perspective of a little kid.  But it’s not really the stories that make these books so perfect.  The illustrations tell much more of the story.  For example, in “Just my Friend and Me” Little Critter is telling about a playdate with his friend and the words are saying what a great time they’re having, but the pictures show how his friend is being kind of a jerk.

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It’s also in the facial expressions of the characters.  Certain faces in the story “Just for you” have my son cracking up as soon as I turn the page.  He especially loves it when I read the book with a silly voice.  In the Christmas one, he loves the page where Little Critter sits on his dad’s head to put the star on top of the tree, because he’s naked!

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One of his favorite parts in “Just Shopping With Mom” is when Little Critter’s sister is begging for candy, and his mom asks her, “Would you like a spanking instead?”  (This would never be published these days) but it’s so funny, because it seems like a normal everyday threat by this mom.  My son just loves it, because he’s always trying to get his sister in trouble, and being the lover of anything violent, I can see those wheels turning in his head when he thinks about the possibility of his own sister being spanked.

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So one day, while reading “Just Grandma and Me”, I decided to surprise him at the end of the story, and it went like this:  “We had a good time at the beach, just Grandma and me.  AND THEN SHE SPANKED ME!!!!”


He was literally rolling on the floor laughing so hard that of course I joined in, and everyone had to come over and see what was so funny.  When I told my husband, he totally didn’t get it and looked at me like I was weird.  I guess you had to be there.  But anyway, that’s why this is my son’s new favorite book, and why he chose it to be read to his class for his birthday.  So now I have to decide if I should read it to the class that way with the”special” ending, and totally make my son’s day (and get a strange look from his teacher to be sure), or if I should just read it as it was written, and look like a completely normal mom?  I haven’t decided yet.

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One more thing I have to say about the pictures in these books.  There’s usually a little cricket and a spider on every page that are fun to look for making it kind of like an I Spy book and just adding to the general awesomeness of these books.  Good job, Mercer Mayer, and thanks for the years of fun and entertainment.  Kids grow up too damn fast, so I’ll definitely be saving these for my grandkids.  AND THEN I’LL SPANK THEM!!!!  Ha ha, just kidding.


Books to Inspire a Lifetime of Reading

First of all, I have to say that books are way better than any TV show, movie, or video game.  Even for just entertainment value alone, they’re better.  They can transport you to another time and place, even into another life!  They can make you laugh, cry, scared shitless, or fall in love.  They’re portable, pausable, cheap or free (with a library card), free of commercials and advertisements, cordless, and they won’t ask you for your email address.  When you add in all the educational benefits, such as reading and writing skills, improved vocabulary, spelling, grammar, empathy, and depending on the genre, history, geography, sciences, and every other subject known to man,  I would say there’s no question of their worth and importance.

So, how do we get our children to discover this great and wonderful world of literature?

I have to admit, there’s some sort of break, or stepping stone that is or was missing between Mommy reading picture books to the little ones, and the point when they would seek out books that they actually like and have the skill to read to themselves.  I don’t know if my kids just didn’t like the type of stories available in the early reader books, or if they just didn’t have the reading skills necessary yet to truly enjoy them.  When reading is frustrating and feels like a chore, it’s hard to love books.

Step one is finding a book that your kid will like.  This is probably the hardest step for most parents and kids.  I realized that just because I liked reading it when I was their age, doesn’t mean that they will get into it.  But I’ll share with you my childhood favorites along with the ones that my older kids really enjoyed.

The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls-Wilder –  My mom got me the set, and I think I read them all in 3rd grade.  I liked these books because they were easy to read, and I loved learning about the way people lived back in the pioneer days.

 Charlotte’s Web & Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White – Beautifully written, adorably fun books personifying animals that appeal to young readers.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – Just an amazing story with characters your kids will become best friends with.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis –  Awesome adventure books for boys and girls.  These books opened my eyes to the possibility of a fantasy world.  By the time I was done reading these, I remember wanting to marry C.S Lewis so he could tell me stories all night long.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – I have wonderful memories reading these books with my mom.  We would take turn reading chapters as we laid side by side in her big cosy bed.  I know she loved these books as much as I did, maybe even more!

Warriors by Erin Hunter – Autumn’s first favorite books.  She would spend hours reading these books which was amazing to me after years of struggling to get her to do her daily reading requirement for school.  These books are really good though.  I read a few of them myself, and they remind me of Native American tribes, but they’re cats!  Very cool idea.  No wonder they’re so popular with both boys and girls.

Maximum Ride by James Patterson – Gabby’s first favorite books.  She started reading these in 5th grade and couldn’t wait for he next one to come out so she could read it in one day!  These books are full of action and the characters are mysterious, powerful and hilariously rude.  Great books for teens and pre-teens.

This short list is only a few of the great books that are out there for reluctant readers to get started on.  When your child finds out how awesome reading can be, they will be readers for life.  So once you’ve gotten all the good books you and your kids picked out, they have to actually make time to read them.  There are so many more entertaining distractions now a days then there were when I was a kid.  (And I’m only 36!)

One of the ways my parents got me to want to read was with a bedtime rule.  This was before most kids had TVs in their bedrooms, so it was probably a little easier for them.  But we had to go to bed at 9 o’clock, and we were allowed to read ’till 10.  Since we weren’t that tired yet at 9, and there was nothing else to do, we read.  Though I would usually keep reading till I fell asleep, and probably strained my eyes too much trying to read in the dark after my parents told me “lights out”.  It might be a little harder these days for us to get our kids to turn off all devices and pick up a book, but if we stick to our guns and make it a rule, it will work.  Someday your kids will thank you for it.

Another way to help your young reader enjoy the books they want to read but might be getting stuck on, is to read with them.  I know it’s easier said than done, and I don’t know how my mom found time to do it with us 4 kids.  It is my goal this year to schedule 30 min. a day to read with my 10 yr old.  She hasn’t found her love of books yet.  She likes some of them, but she’s not in love.  When you know, you know.  Since she isn’t very motivated to find her true love, Momma’s gonna have to but in and help her.

Then, look out little boy… you’re next!  Ha ha ha!  (Too creepy?  Yeah, I think I went a little too far there.  Sorry about that.)

So, what are your family’s favorite books for all the young readers out there searching for something great?

Best Toys List

I wanted to write a post about the best toys we’ve ever had or those of you looking for some good ideas for Christmas presents.  These are toys that have have stood the test of time, and are the most played with and the most enjoyed by all my kids.  They aren’t the newest, and most high-tech toys, but I think they’re the ones that no kid should grow up without.

  • #1 Toy Kitchen– Our kitchen is the best, most played with toy we have.  We got our play kitchen back in 2002.  It’s a little beat up, and has needed some tightening of the screws from time to time, but considering the amount of use we’ve gotten out of it, it’s still in pretty good condition.  My kids play house, store, or restaurant with it, they pretend to cook, and make us delicious meals.  They even make food out of play-doh, and pretend to bake it in their kitchen.  Add a cash register (another good toy to have), and your kids will be entertained with imaginative play for hours.

Play Kitchen    Open Kitchen    Boy with Kichen

We got ours from Target about 10 years ago, I believe it’s a Melissa and Doug toy.  If you’re looking for something similar, here’s what I would recommend: Melissa and Doug Cook’s Corner Wooden Kitchen, or Deluxe Pretend Play Kitchen
Cook's Corner Wooden Play Kitchen
                        Deluxe Pretend Play Kitchen

  • #2 Building Blocks- Legos, Mega Blocks, wooden blocks, etc.  They’re all fun.  We started out with wooden blocks and some Mega Blocks when the kids were little.  As they got older, Grandma bought them a big bin of Legos (just watch out for little pieces if you have babies boppin’ around).  Since then, we’ve added some Lego building sets over the years, and now have a pretty big assortment.  Most of the Lego sets started off being built according to the directions, and were fun to play with.  As they fell apart, they’ve been used to build other things.  Watch The Lego Movie, then you’ll feel better about that.  By the way, I have to mention the Lego movies and video games are fantastic too and enjoyable for the whole family.

Lego Bin    Legos    Boy with Legos

Here are the Lego Bucket and Wooden Block Set that I would recommend getting started with:


  • #3 Wooden Train Track

We got our first wooden train set from Grandma when our oldest child was little.  Grandma got it for her because all of her kids liked theirs so much.  It wasn’t something our little girl had asked for, but when she saw it, her eyes lit up, and she played with it daily for hours at a time.  We’ve added some more tracks and trains over the years which has been easy since it seems they’re all universal and fit pretty well with each other. It’s not only fun to set up, but the kids have to use their sense of ingenuity to figure out how to put the pieces together to make it work.  Once it’s all set up, they can play and pretend the train is making deliveries and what not.  Add their building blocks to the mix, and they can set up a whole town!

Train Set    Kids Train Set    Train

Here’s one I found on Amazon that looks pretty good:

  • #4 Schleich Animals

Schleich animals are awesome!  They’re durable, educational, very realistic looking, and offer some great imaginative adventures to be had.  We started our collection when our little horse-loving girls wanted some toy horses to play with.  They had a few Breyer horses, which are also nice, but the Schleich line has so many more animal choices.  After a few birthdays and Christmasses, we had a decent size collection.  These animals are one thing my kids still haven’t out grown.  They love to dump out the bin, and organize the animals into groups, then they set them up, and play!  They have all different animals from all over the world, even mythical ones like unicorns, fairies, and dragons.

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We’ve had different doll houses and even barns over the years.  Some things we’ve had to get rid of when we’ve moved due to space.  Right now we have this Barbie house.  It has it’s pros and cons, but in general, doll houses are lots of fun.  I would suggest getting one that’s big enough to fit dolls the size of Barbies, since they’re such a popular toy, if you have girls.  My little boy has the Imaginext Bat Cave, which is basically like a dollhouse for Batman and his other guys.  They’re fun to set up, and my kids play little scenarios inside and out of their houses/playsets.


If I had it to do over again, I would probably get one like this KidKraft Sparkle Mansion.  It looks huge, and it costs less than what I paid for our Barbie one:

  • #6 Keyboard

Keyboards are great for little kids because they don’t have to know how to play it to make some beautiful music.  As they get older, they can learn the notes and once they learn how to read music, they can play actual songs on it.  Most keyboards also have buttons that play prerecorded songs and drum beats.  They also have buttons that change the sounds of the music to sound like all different kinds of instruments.  My kids like to jam out on it and dance to the music.  It’s a great way to introduce music to your children’s lives at a young age, and they are so proud of themselves when they can show off the songs they’ve made.  I’ve always wanted a piano in the house, but never had the space or money for one.  Keyboards are a great alternative, and relatively inexpensive depending on what you’re looking for.

Keyboard    Boy Playing Keyboard    Keyboarding

This 54 Keys Keyboard Electronic Digital Piano looks like it would be good for kids to play on, and not too expensive:

This year, I’d like to get the kids one of those easels with the paper on one side, and chalkboard on the other. I’m thinking about getting this one from Melissa and Doug:


Any recommendations?

What are some of the great toys your family has enjoyed playing with?

Old Movies Your Kids Should See

Looking for some good movies to watch with your kids?  Here’s a list of our favorite old movies.  There’s something about sharing the old classics that we grew up watching, that makes them even more enjoyable seeing them again through the eyes of our children.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

–  The Wizard of Oz is definitely one of our favorites.  It’s full of amazing characters, has an exciting story, and the songs are wonderfully catchy.  The Wizard of Oz is about a young girl, named Dorothy, who gets caught in a tornado with her dog , Toto.  They end up landing in the magical land of Oz.  While she’s there, she meets some friends who help her in her quest to find the Wizard of Oz.  The Wizard is supposed to be able to get her back home and grant her friends the gifts that they desire.  After defeating a pretty scary wicked witch, they find out The Wizard is a fraud.  Dorothy eventually makes it back home learning that the power to get what she wanted was with her all along, and that there’s no place like home.

Dumbo (1941)

–  Dumbo is an adorable story that your kids will love.  It has some pretty sad parts in it, but also some silly ones.  Your little kids probably wont notice this, but my older kids thought it was weird that Dumbo gets drunk.  Oh, well, Dumbo is about a cute little circus elephant who is constantly ridiculed because of his huge ears.  When his mother tries to stick up for him, she is locked up and considered dangerous.  Dumbo is all alone until he meets Timothy Q. Mouse who quickly becomes his friend.  The mouse feels sorry for Dumbo and convinces him that his ears are a blessing.  Dumbo has to truly believe in himself to triumph in the end.  “The very things that hold you down are going to lift you up.“- Walt Disney

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

–  It’s a Wonderful Life is an uplifting movie that your older kids will like.  The younger kids might not understand what’s going on, and there’s not many attention-grabbing events in it to keep them entertained.  But, it’s a great movie to watch with the family, especially at Christmas time.  George Bailey is a nice guy who has always put others needs before his own.  When everything in his life seems to be going wrong, and he thinks he’s a failure, he contemplates suicide.  He decideds that everyone he loves would be better off if he had never been alive.  But the prayers of his loved ones result in an angel named Clarence coming to earth to help George, with the promise of earning his wings.  He shows George what things would have been like if he had never been born.  The town is horrible and the ones George loves are either dead, ruined, or miserable.  He realizes that he has touched many people in a positive way and that life is wonderful.

 Old Yeller (1954)

–  This movie brings me to tears every time we watch it.  It’s about two boys and their mother, who live on a farm (the father leaves to go on a cattle drive).  The older brother, Travis, is trying his best to do everything his father would want him to do, and the younger brother, Arliss, is busy playing in the mud and capturing little creatures.  When a big yellow lab shows up on their land, little Arliss is ecstatic, and wants to keep him.  Travis thinks the dog is trouble, and tries to get rid of him.  After Old Yeller proves himself worthy, Travis and he become good friends.  Old Yeller saves their lives more than once, and then tragically becomes infected with rabies.  The ending is sad, but after their father comes home, he helps Travis put things in perspective, and Travis learns that he should remember the good times he had with Old Yeller, and that his life is better off having known him.

Pollyanna (1960)

– This movie was one of my daughter, Gabby’s, favorites when she was only 3 years old.  Having watched it again, recently, I think it’s kind of weird for a 3 year old to like it so much.  It starts out kind of slow, with subtle changes in the attitudes of the people Pollyanna comes in contact with.  Pollyanna is a little girl who’s parents have died, and she comes to live with her rich Aunt Polly.  Pollyanna is super nice to everyone and soon the whole town loves her.  She plays the glad game, and teaches it to all her friends.  The movie picks up at the end with the excitement of the town fair. After the fair, Pollyanna gets hurt pretty badly and loses her positive attitude.  Aunt Polly, who was kind of mean to her in the beginning,  realizes how precious Pollyanna really is and gets everyone help to cheer her up again.  I like it, because it teaches about the power of kindness and positive thinking.

Mary Poppins (1964)

–  Mary Poppins is a fun movie with great songs and dance numbers.  Mary Poppins is a nanny with magic powers who comes to the Bank’s residence at the request of the children, Jane and Michael, who really just want someone to love and care for them.  While she’s there, they have fun adventures, but the whole time she’s teaching them all these lessons.  The parents, who were too busy with their own lives before, learn that their children are growing up fast, and they should be spending more time with them before it’s too late.  It all works out in the end, and they all go fly kites.  This movie is really full of all kinds of important life lessons that both kids and parents will pick up on.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

–  The original movie is much better than the newer one called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in my opinion.  It’s about a poor little boy named Charlie Bucket who wins a golden ticket to go to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory.  There, Charlie meets the other winners who are all spoiled little brats.  They all go through the crazy factory guided by the strange Willy Wonka.  Each child is disposed of according to their misconducts except Charlie.  Charlie has the chance to sabotage Mr. Wonka, and get some much needed money for his family, but he decides to do the right thing.  In the end, Charlie is rewarded for all his good deeds, and his family never needs to worry about money again.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

E.T. is a story about an alien who gets left behind on Earth, and the little boy who finds him.  The little boy, Elliot, becomes friends with the alien and they start to communicate.  His brother and sister help him hide E.T. and keep him a secret.  E.T. makes a device to contact his alien friends, but soon he gets very sick.  Because of the connection Elliot shares with E.T., Elliot becomes sick too.  All the kids help E.T. escape the task force that is out searching for him, and help him return to his home planet.  The lesson here is that we should help each other, no matter how different we are.

The Goonies (1985)

–  The Goonies is a great adventure story about a group of kids who go hunting for lost pirate treasure.  It’s one the whole family will love although, it does have a few swear words in it.  I actually caught my little boy quoting the movie and had to explain why he can’t say certain words.  No big deal though, this movie is worth it.  So, the Goonies (Mikey, Brand, Mouth, Data, Andy, Steph, and Chunk) find this secret treasure map, and decide to find the treasure and use it to save their homes from being demolished.  They enter this hidden cave, and follow the map, past booby traps left by One-Eyed Willy the pirate.  The whole time they are being chased by a creepy family of criminals called the Fratellis.  One of the Fratelli brothers is Sloth, a huge, disfigured, scary looking guy who was kept as a prisoner in the Fratelli’s basement.  Sloth is cool though, and becomes friends with Chunk.  He decides to help the Goonies at the end, and they are able to save their homes.  The Goonies never give up, and never say die.

What’s your family’s favorite old movie?


Here’s another great series by Scott Westerfeld.  Midnighters is a very interesting concept and an exciting read.  Like the Uglies books by Scott Westerfeld, My oldest daughter, Gabby found these books and turned me on to them.  I couldn’t put them down!  If you like Sci-Fi/ Fantasy books, you’ll like this trilogy.  The series starts out with The Secret Hour.  A review from the School Library Journal explains the plot well:  Moving when you’re in high school is difficult enough, especially when your parents can’t seem to hold their own lives together and your younger sister is being more obnoxious than usual. However, for 15-year-old Jessica Day, these concerns pale when bizarre things start to happen and she discovers that she now has unwanted magical powers. Part science fiction, part horror story, this novel is the first in a series about the midnighters, a select group of individuals whose birth at the stroke of midnight gives them the special ability to move about in a mysterious 25th hour. As Jessica takes her place among these extraordinary teens, she must battle the increasingly dangerous slithers and other darklings that have suddenly become more violent and aggressive. The story is exciting and the writing compelling. Gaps in the account will not bother readers, who will be totally absorbed by the paranormal elements as well as the intriguing characters, and who will be eagerly awaiting the next book.–Sharon Grover, Arlington County Department of Libraries, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The second book in he series is called Touching Darkness.  Normally the first book in a series is the best.  This is not the case with the Midnighters series.  Touching Darkness is even more exciting, and the character developement is amazing.  The overview of the book explains enough without giving anything away: 

Bixby, Oklahoma, is full of secrets.
some come out at midnight.
some should stay hidden.

As the Midnighters search for the truth about the secret hour, they uncover terrifying mysteries woven into the very fabric of Bixby’s history, and a conspiracy that touches the world of daylight.

This time Jessica Day is not the only Midnighter in mortal danger, and if the group can’t find a way to come together, they could lose one of their own . . . forever.

As they continue to battle evil creatures living in an hour hidden at midnight, Jessica and her new friends learn about Bixby, Oklahoma’s shadowy past and uncover a deadly conspiracy that reaches beyond the secret hour.

Blue Noon is the third book in the Midnighters series.  We found it just as exciting and fun to read as the first two. 

The five teenage Midnighters of Bixby, Oklahoma, thought they understood the secret midnight hour—until one morning when time freezes in the middle of the day.

The noise of school stops. Cheerleaders are frozen in midair. Everything is the haunted blue color of the midnight hour.

As the Midnighters scramble for answers, they discover that the walls between the secret hour and real time are crumbling. Soon the dark creatures will break through to feed at last . . . unless these five teenagers can find a way to stop them.

The ending is crazy, but we loved the whole series and can’t wait to try Leviathan (also by Westerfeld) which sounds kind of steampunky and cool.


We love Scott Westerfeld!  Here’s a link to his blog- scottwesterfeld.com.  My oldest daughter, Gabby stumbled across the book Uglies by Scott Westerfeld when she was searching for a book to read at her school library.  She liked the book so much, that she read the whole series, and recommended them to me.  The books in the series are Uglies, Pretties, Specials, and Extras.  I also enjoyed the Uglies books immensely even though they’re written for teens.  Now, my second oldest daughter, Autumn is reading them, and asked me to buy her the series for her birthday.  She liked them so much, that she wanted to own them.  Here’s a link to the series you can purchase on Amazon.  It’s gotten some pretty good reviews on there too, like this one:

Your teens will love it, December 4, 2009
This review is from: Uglies, The Collector’s Set: Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Extras (The Uglies) (Paperback)
The “Uglies” series is one of those rare cases when both I and my daughter (not yet 11) absolutely agree in our judgment of these books as absolutely brilliant – interesting, original and well written, as well as “mind-twisting”, in Westerfeld’s definition. If I think back, only Harry Potter books in our house received the same unanimous positive feedback.Even though the “Uglies” series are targeted for teen audience, I would recommend these books for younger readers as well, especially if these readers are interested in Sci Fi books. Just be aware of mature themes and some frightening moments – think “Fahrenheit 451”. The world of “Uglies” is definitely dystopian, even though in a different way than the world of Ray Bradbury. This world is strange and frightening, but also cool at the same time; it is future with mandatory cosmetic operations and endless parties, time where almost everybody can choose the way they want to look and even change it by will … And as always, there are people – teens – who try to fit, or rebel against the existing order, or…
I liked the series, because it talks about very serious subjects (price of perfection, relations between individual and government/society, true identity of the person, love and friendship – to name just a few). However, at the same time it is engaging, very well written and resonates with many things that happen in modern teens’ life.
With all this, it is incredible fun to read!

PS : I almost forgot : the book doesn’t have any vampires in it – rarity in the modern teen fiction. It is original, refreshing – and very good reading.