The 10 Must-Have Picture Books for Children (2013). A book is the best Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa present because it’s the one gift that keeps on giving.

The 10 Must-Have Picture Books for Children (2013). A book is the best Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa present because it’s the one gift that keeps on giving.


The New York Times just released their list of the best Children’s Books published in 2013. We selected the 10 best picture books we highly recommend as gifts for any preschooler to second-grader you know. Don’t delay – buy them now for the child you love!


The Bear’s Song (Benjamin Chaud) ~ "Sweet" has new meaning in this richly illustrated, immersive picture book about two bears on a big-city adventure. Papa Bear is searching for Little Bear, who has escaped the den. Little Bear is following a bee, because where there are bees, there is honey! When the quest leads both bears into the bustling city and a humming opera house, theatrical hijinks ensue, culminating in a deliciously harmonious reunion. Children and parents alike will savor Benjamin Chaud’s lush illustrations, and relish in the book’s bonus seek-and-find elements. Recommended for ages 3-6.


Bluebird (Bob Staake) ~ In his most beautiful and moving work to date, Bob Staake explores the universal themes of loneliness, bullying, and the importance of friendship. In this emotional picture book, readers will be captivated as they follow the journey of a bluebird as he develops a friendship with a young boy and ultimately risks his life to save the boy from harm. Both simple and evocative, this timeless and profound story will resonate with readers young and old.  Bob Staake has been working on this book for 10 years, and he believes it is the story he was born to write. "Like nothing you have seen before," raves Kirkus Reviews in a starred review.  Recommended for ages 4-8.


The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbably Life of Paul Erdos (Deborah Heiligman) ~ Most people think of mathematicians as solitary, working away in isolation. And, it’s true, many of them do. But Paul Erdos never followed the usual path. At the age of four, he could ask you when you were born and then calculate the number of seconds you had been alive in his head. But he didn’t learn to butter his own bread until he turned twenty. Instead, he traveled around the world, from one mathematician to the next, collaborating on an astonishing number of publications. With a simple, lyrical text and richly layered illustrations, this is a beautiful introduction to the world of math and a fascinating look at the unique character traits that made "Uncle Paul" a great man. A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013. Recommended for ages 4-8.


Building Our House (Jonathan Bean) ~ In this unique construction book for kids who love tools and trucks, readers join a girl and her family as they pack up their old house in town and set out to build a new one in the country. Mom and Dad are going to make the new house themselves, from the ground up. From empty lot to finished home, every stage of their year-and-a-half-long building project is here. And at every step their lucky kids are watching and getting their hands dirty, in page after page brimming with machines, vehicles, and all kinds of house-making activities! As he imagines it through the eyes of his older sister, this is Jonathan Bean’s retelling of his own family’s true experience, and includes an afterword with photographs from the author’s collection. A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Winner of the 2013 Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Best Picture Book. A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013. Recommended for ages 3-7.


The Dark (Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen) ~ Laszlo is afraid of the dark. The dark lives in the same house as Laszlo. Mostly, though, the dark stays in the basement and doesn’t come into Lazslo’s room. But one night, it does. This is the story of how Laszlo stops being afraid of the dark. With emotional insight and poetic economy, two award-winning talents team up to conquer a universal childhood fear. Recommended for ages 3-6.


Fog Island (Tomi Ungerer) ~ In this imaginative tale from master storyteller Tomi Ungerer, two young siblings find themselves cast away on mysterious Fog Island. No one has ever returned from the island’s murky shores, but when the children begin to explore, they discover things are not quite as they expected. Ungerer’s captivating drawings evoke the eerie beauty and magic surrounding this timeless adventure. Selected by both The New York Times and Publishers Weekly as one of the year’s best children’s books, Fog Island is destined to become a modern classic. "Tomi Ungerer has created another masterpiece," says Eric Carle. Recommended for ages 5-8.


Journey (Aaron Becker) ~ Follow a girl on an elaborate flight of fancy in a wondrously illustrated, wordless picture book about self-determination — and unexpected friendship. A lonely girl draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and through it escapes into a world where wonder, adventure, and danger abound. Red marker in hand, she creates a boat, a balloon, and a flying carpet that carry her on a spectacular journey toward an uncertain destiny. When she is captured by a sinister emperor, only an act of tremendous courage and kindness can set her free. Can it also lead her home and to her heart’s desire? With supple line, luminous color, and nimble flights of fancy, author-illustrator Aaron Becker launches an ordinary child on an extraordinary journey toward her greatest and most exciting adventure of all. Recommended for ages 4-8.


Mr. Wuffles! (David Wiesner) ~ In a near wordless masterpiece that could only have been devised by David Wiesner, a cat named Mr. Wuffles doesn’t care about toy mice or toy goldfish. He’s much more interested in playing with a little spaceship full of actual aliens—but the ship wasn’t designed for this kind of rough treatment. Between motion sickness and damaged equipment, the aliens are in deep trouble. When the space visitors dodge the cat and take shelter behind the radiator to repair the damage, they make a host of insect friends. The result? A humorous exploration of cooperation between aliens and insects, and of the universal nature of communication involving symbols, “cave” paintings, and gestures of friendship. Recommended for ages 4-8.


Something Big (Sylvie Neeman) ~ A big one and little one talk together. The little one is frustrated because he wants to do something really big, even though he’s still small. The big one asks if he means something big like a mountain. No, a mountain is too big. Big like an elephant? No, that’s too gray. More like a lighthouse by the sea, muses the boy, though not exactly. Father and son take a walk by the ocean, and there something surprising and deep and big occurs. Lyrical and gentle, Something Big is a touching story about childhood, parenting, and experiences that repeat generation after generation. Here the author beautifully grasps the tension between a child’s smallness and his ability to dream big dreams. Recommended for ages 4-8.


This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration (Jacqueline Woodson) ~ The story of one family’s journey north during the Great Migration starts with a little girl in South Carolina who finds a rope under a tree one summer. She has no idea the rope will become part of her family’s history. But for three generations, that rope is passed down, used for everything from jump rope games to tying suitcases onto a car for the big move north to New York City, and even for a family reunion where that first little girl is now a grandmother.  Newbery Honor–winning author Jacqueline Woodson and Coretta Scott King Award–winning illustrator James Ransome use the rope to frame a thoughtful and moving story as readers follow the little girl’s journey. During the time of the Great Migration, millions of African American families relocated from the South, seeking better opportunities. With grace and poignancy, Woodson’s lilting storytelling and Ransome’s masterful oil paintings of country and city life tell a rich story of a family adapting to change as they hold on to the past and embrace the future. Recommended for ages 5-8.

When Is Being Too Unique Not a Good Thing?

When Is Being Too Unique Not a Good Thing?

This practice in and of itself could be considered a very modern (mainly American) naming trend; and one which is showing no signs of ending.
All I can ask is how much is too much? When does more become less? The number of baby girl names in circulation has increased by 771% since 1900. For boys, that number is 839%. When will our modern creative naming practices backfire on us? When is being too unique not a good thing? We truly respect the individual rights of parents to name their child whatever they choose. It just seems this trend to be unique has gotten out of control. Not to mention the term "unique trend" is an oxymoron. Being unique now means being like everybody else. Oh the irony!
Made up names and creative respellings are looked upon with a fair amount of derision in certain corners. I have to come clean: many of these names prompt a little eye-rolling from me, too. Yet in many circles, such names are considered super cool. Like, totally dif’rant and yooneek. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and tastes, right? That’s a philosophical belief by which I try and live. So…I thought I’d tackle at this subject from an entirely different quasi-scientific perspective. You know, the politically-correct kind. People are so easily offended these days. And the name of one’s child is an immensely personal choice.
Now that there are almost 20,000 baby girl names in circulation and 15,000 baby boy names, I started to think: how many names can we actually absorb and commit to memory – just as regular human beings? And if there’s a limit to this notion, then which names are we most likely to forget? What capacity do we have to remember non-conventional names in general?
It is difficult to ascertain exactly how many words we already have at our disposal in the English language. Words have more than one meaning (e.g., the noun “bear” vs. the verb “bear”). There are about 170,000 top-level entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. Expanding that number to include several meanings per word, obsolete words, words from other languages which have become part of the English lexicon, and slang terms – that number is likely closer to half a million. However, the typical person only uses 5,000 words (usage vs. understanding). The average adult understands at least 50,000 words (super smart people with large vocabularies may understand 300,000+ words but still only use 30,000 of them in regular speech). There seems to be a general rule that English-speaking adults use about 10% of the words they actually understand. So if I use 10,000 words in my general verbal communication, then I probably truly understand the definitions of 100,000 words in the English language. And I like to think of myself as “pretty smart”. Not genius, but well-educated and well-spoken.
The human brain is unique in its ability to absorb, contextualize, retain and recall information. This information includes the names of people we meet. Yet for some odd reason, peoples’ names are one of the hardest things for us to remember. In fact, some people attend occupational seminars just to learn how to remember names. Why is this? We are visual animals, so we tend to remember what a person looks like rather than what they are named (unless we actively contextualize the name with the visual memory of that person). Not to mention the visual aspect of memory is stored in an entirely different section of the brain than the name aspect.
Many “memory” scientists believe that our capacity for memory is actually limitless. Everything we learn is stored somewhere in that mysterious organ called the brain. It’s the ability to recall that stored information that’s really the challenge. We subconsciously yet efficiently store the information we learn based on easiest recall. So that which is distracting, nonsensical and/or unfamiliar is more easily forgotten in order to free up brain-space for the information that we are more likely to recall. How we store information is how we effectively recollect it. The buried memories become harder to access whereas the familiar and rehearsed memories enjoy quicker recall. For instance, we’ve all rehearsed the name John in our minds – one of the most common masculine names in the Western World. Same goes for Mary. The recall is immediate. It’s natural. Our ability to retrieve common, traditional names is inherent because we have been practicing and rehearsing them throughout our lives.
There are probably about 2,000 male and female names (each) we have the ability to quickly recall – having been exposed to them regularly through history lessons and real life. We hear the name Kennedy and we think of the Irish surname borne by a former U.S. President. But we see the name Kenadee and we think, WTF? It sounds like a duck….but it doesn’t walk like a duck. Is it a duck? Kenadee requires us to give up more brain-space in order to accommodate her different spelling, but guess what? We’re not likely to bother with the extra effort. Kenadee is on her own. It’s her that will go through life repeating the following phrase: “My name is Kenadee. No, not Kennedy. Kenadee. Spelled K-E-N-A-D-E-E.” The person on the receiving end is more apt to quickly forget her name (due to the required extra work), or, worse, be annoyed (and remember her in a negative way). Hopefully it’s not a future perspective employer deciding upon her ability to make a living.
Ironically we think our children will stand out with a more unique name – and in many cases this is true. I had a friend in college named Eurydice (u-RID-Ó™-see). Weird name, but I never forgot it after learning the Greek mythological story behind Orpheus and Eurydice. The name was so different, but it was meaningful; from this perspective I thought it was such a cool name. Many of the made up names and altered spellings today feel so arbitrary and, I dare say, a little goofy. Nonsensical. And the human brain isn’t programmed to retain/recall the nonsensical. You may want your child to stand out, but he/she is more likely to be forgotten.
Just something to think about.
A perspective by Julie Hackett, Onomastics Consultant and owner/author of
Disclaimer: I understand this is a highly complex and controversial subject, and I only speak in general terms. There are always exceptions to every rule. But if you’ve studied names as long as I have, and you see so many arbitrary respellings (e.g., Hailey, Hailee, Haleigh, Haley, Haylee, Hayleigh, Hayley, Haylie, etc. etc.) you would start to wonder “What’s the point?”, too. Trust me. I know I’m not alone in this opinion.