KAM Reads

A lover of writing and reading shares her favorite books


The Power of Words to Bring Back the Light

The past few weeks have been full of such emotionally charged moments that it sometimes feels hard to breathe.

Orlando. The sheer mention is a punch to the gut. I am at once full of rage and the need to scream and rail at the sky, but also to weep and hug my friends and family tight, especially those who are LGBTQ, and never let go.

But it goes beyond that. I can’t shake memories of Sandy Hook. In an instant, it is once again crawling on my skin, making my stomach writhe and my hands tremble.

In these few weeks I’ve also watched as my community back home reels from the devastating and unexpected death of a middle schooler, the child of someone I’ve known since I was two years old.

The darkness and pain is heavy and yet…

In those same weeks I have seen beauty beyond beauty.

I watched my five year old and her friends beaming with pride and love for teachers who have provided more inspiration, care and heart than I could ever have hoped for. We wept at saying goodbye to them, but those teachers are such a reminder of the good that is in the world.

I felt heart-swelling pride as my daughter chose to donate her birthday and Christmas money to the foundation her assistant principal established for his young son, a child who became an angel much too soon. She did not hesitate for an instant, knowing that she could never think of a better way to spend those precious dollars.

Yesterday, I watched hundreds of kids come together at my older children’s school for a day that celebrated creativity and perseverance and being a force of good in the world. I had the great honor to listen to and be the guide for the day for author Paul Reynolds who reminded them (and me) how powerful their words could be and how their creativity can change the world. Be the light.

And so today, as I feel the struggle inside between the overwhelming darkness and the twinkling possibility of the light, I choose the light. I choose to use my energy and creative spirit to fight against the night, to continue to write stories and words that inspire good, to use the power of my words to bring change. I commit to doing something, to creating opportunities for children to feel empowered and encouraged and understood. Every child must feel like they belong.

And so, I give my heart one more hug, one more moment to dwell on the sadness and pain and then I will pick up my pen. I will make those first scratches on the blank page. And those words will have the chance to help save the world.

Stay tuned.



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Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty

Iggy Peck

Iggy Peck with a few of my son’s Lego constructions

I love books that honor and show value to the incredible imagination that kids are born with. “Iggy Peck, Architect” is one of those books.

Iggy is a 2nd grader who has, since birth, been enthralled by buildings and construction. Towers built from diapers, castles of chalk, and a sphinx of mud…Iggy can build anything. But then he is confronted by a teacher who refuses to allow him to build. He is told he cannot pursue his passion any longer, until the day that it is only Iggy and his knowledge that can save the day.

Iggy Peck is wonderful because it celebrates a kid with an off-beat interest. It isn’t a story about the classically popular kid or the one who loves sports or cars. It is a kid who loves to create and use his imagination. And it’s a story where, in the end, an adult not only learns from a child, but then embraces him as a teacher in his own right.

From the cover shot you can get a sense of the whimsical illustration style. The text, while utilizing a rhyming pattern, is rarely predictable. I doubt many would anticipate a stanza rhyming “the group” with “eating cheese with a French circus troupe.” It makes it as fun for the reader as for the listener.

This book is recommended for readers aged 4-8, which feels on target.

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Dog Loves Drawing by Louise Yates

“Dog Loves Drawing” inspires creativity and imagination.

As one would expect, each of my three kids has a unique set of talents and interests. It is always fascinating, though, when they combine those talents to create something together.

My son is a storyteller. He was a born talker and loves to delve into the world of imagination. I think this is why he has always had such a strong love of books. The older of my two daughters seems to be happiest when she has a set of markers in front of her and a huge stack of paper to make her way through. She wants to create and I have an ever-growing collection of artwork to prove it. (At the moment, the youngest demonstrates her greatest skill as being a great audience for everyone else — happy, full of joy, and amused by life in general.) On occasion, the first two put their heads together and try to write and illustrate stories together. Synergy is a beautiful thing.

One of the things I like most about “Dog Loves Drawing,” Louise Yates’ 2012 book, is the creativity it can inspire. In this picture book, a book-loving dog receives a special gift from his aunt — a blank sketchbook. He decides to take out his art supplies and see where his imagination takes him. He begins by creating a stick figure friend who in turn helps him create a whole cast of friends. He travels through the book with them, each of them adding to the story by drawing their own details and carrying the story along. It reminds me a bit of the storytelling game where each person adds to a story and you need to react to what someone else has introduced. Dog and his friends do just this, until one of the friends makes a surprising addition to their adventures.

A peek inside "Dog Loves Drawing"

A peek inside “Dog Loves Drawing”

This book is recommended for ages 4-8. While younger children will certainly also enjoy the story, I think preschool and early elementary-age kids will be able to take the idea and run with it.

Activity idea: After reading the book, give your child paper and a pencil. Ask him/her to draw a character. Ask the child how the character likes to travel — car, boat, plane, train, etc. See if he/she will draw it for you. Then ask where the character is going. Help him/her draw the setting. Continue adding details — other friends, what they eat, games they will play. This could be a one page project or you could create a whole book. Don’t hesitate to draw WITH your child. My son and I once made a story like this where one of the characters was a boy. We then printed out photos of my son and we put his face on the boy in the story.

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The Red Book by Barbara Lehman

It’s been a house full of sick kids this week. It’s come with the usual stress and worry and extra work, but it also comes with many, many opportunities to read out loud to children who are too tired to run around. I took the chance to go through the bookshelf and pull out some titles we haven’t looked at in awhile.

RedBook    Today for my 2-year-old’s pre-nap book I picked “The Red Book” by Barbara Lehman. I love the book-within-a-book creativity of these wordless pages.

The tale begins with a young girl discovering a red book stuck in the snow as she travels down city streets on her way to school. When she flips through the pages she discovers images of a boy on a far-off island. Lehman, an illustrator, then introduces a twist. The boy, walking down a sunny beach, discovers a red book of his own. His book contains pictures of the girl in her far-off city apartment. It is a set-up that would make the creators of “Lost” proud. The connections and interconnections continue in a fascinating progression. Without a single word, the story is engaging and can inspire wonderful conversation and imaginative play.

While this book is recommended for children ages 4-8, this Caldecott Honor Book has been enjoyed by both the children and the adults in this house.

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Bink & Gollie by Kate Camillo and Alison McGhee

“Bink & Gollie” by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, along with a picture my daughter once drew of her own friends.

My oldest is an enormous fan of comic book stores. It’s like he has an internal GPS that enables him to locate any shop within a 3 mile radius. His interest in these stores started with his love of superheroes but has now grown to include graphic novel adapations of books he loves — classic stories, chapter books, etc. For awhile my middle child trooped along on these excursions, picking up something that looked fun, but usually losing interest quickly. That is, until we discovered “Bink & Gollie.”

Lovers of the Mercy Watson series are already familiar with author Kate DiCamillo. She also wrote “The Tale of Despereaux,” a book many know from the film adaptation. I wasn’t familiar with her partner on this series, Alison McGhee, but she’s had a past collaboration with Peter Reynolds and that’s enough for me. The illustrator, Tony Fucille, worked on the films “The Lion King,” “Finding Nemo,” and “The Incredibles.”

Sample page from "Bink & Gollie"Bink and Gollie are two little girls with amazing imaginations and equally amazing adventures. They roller skate, they buy crazy socks, they eat pancakes together, and they take imaginary adventures to the Andes. The first volume of the series contains three stories in picture book style – large engaging images with short text on each page.

What I love about these girls is that they are fiercely independent. They each have their own likes and interests. They pursue their own hobbies, even if the other isn’t particularly interested. They also support one another. Gollie troops along on Bink’s sock-buying expedition, even though it isn’t her cup of tea. They argue, but are never mean. And in the end, you know they are true friends and that friendship will always come first.

The recommended age for this Theodore Seuss Geisel Award-winning book is 6-9. (It was also Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Children’s Book of the Year, a Kirkus Review Best Children’s Book, and a NY Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year.) There is nothing in these books that would be inappropriate for slightly younger readers. My daughter dove into the world of Bink & Gollie at age 5.

A second book is now available — Bink & Gollie: Two for One.

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Have Books Will Travel

I can think of few pleasures as wonderful as a good book. I love to open the cover of a new book, slowly turning the pages, taking a deep breath as I absorb those first words. And then I’m off, racing word by word, paragraph by paragraph. I consume it, wishing the end would never come, but unable to slow my reading for even an instant. All too soon it is over and I close the book, remembering moments and characters.  If it was a particularly good book I must pause before I start the next. I can’t leave that world too quickly.

I have always read voraciously, loving to read even before I set foot in school. I would get up early in the morning, before the sun came up, so I could read before breakfast. Finally my parents had to set a time, before which I wasn’t to awake. I obeyed, although reluctantly.

Now I’m a writer and a stay-at-home mom and I’m reveling in those moments of watching my children catch that spark. And they have. I am revisiting old favorites with them and discovering new ones. I find myself, on a weekly basis, offering suggestions to friends of books I think their kids would love. And so, we have this blog.

KAM Reads will offer up some of our favorite reads. I’ll likely stick with books for children and YA reads for now, but maybe I’ll add other selections down the road.

You can find me other places too. I write about tea over at my Tea Pages blog and as Senior Editor at Tea Magazine. I also published my first book, “A Tea Reader: Living Life One Cup at a Time” (Tuttle Publishing), in 2011. If you want to see some of my freelance writing projects, check out KAM Writes.