Power of Moms

Our house is rarely calm. Most of the time the living room is a blur of kids jumping on couches, unfolded laundry dumped out of baskets, the boys wrestling on the floor, the girls whining, screeching, laughing, songs from the "Frozen" soundtrack bouncing off the walls, granola bars sneaked out of the pantry and snarfed under the dining room table.

Can you relate?

But books do something kind of spectacular. They calm the crazy right down, draw my children together, nestle them onto the couches, shoulders touching, and conjure a quiet I believe is essential in this go-go, teched out world.

In a matter of minutes my five children are lost in brilliant, whimsical illustrations. Lost in words that paint pictures and sing songs. Words that make them think, laugh and rhyme out loud, temporarily transporting them to a new and different place.

I cannot imagine a world without books.

There were a number of excellent picture books published in 2013. Our list this year includes some old books, some new-ish, and a bunch that are brand new.

Here are 19 children's books we read the most in 2013.

"The Circus Ship" by Chris Van Dusen
Barnes and Noble

When a circus ship goes aground off the coast of Maine, a slew of animals are let loose on an unsuspecting town. The townspeople come to appreciate the animals so much that they hide the animals when the greedy circus master comes back to find them. The fabulous rhymes and brilliant illustrations, with hide and seek fun on the last few pages, makes it a fantastic read for all ages.

Charlie and Lola books by Lauren Child
Barnes and Noble

I can’t say enough about Charlie and Lola. If you haven’t watched this favorite British show, the movies are a must too! But pick up any book and you’ll be charmed. You will love the brother-sister relationship, the caring for each other, as well as the silly arguments and jests of family life. Lauren Child masterfully captures the dynamics, struggles, and joys of being little. Put all of her twenty-plus books on your library list. They are totally delightful!

"Clorinda Takes Flight" by Robert Kinerk
Barnes and Noble

I have loved everything illustrated by Steven Kellog since I was a child, but I didn’t discover this gem until last year. It’s about Clorinda. A cow who wants to fly, despite all odds. You know the saying … “when cows fly!” Her story of hilarious attempts with an intrepid trio is about caring for others more than yourself, dreaming big and surrounding yourself with friends who believe in you.

"The Quiltmaker’s Journey" by Jeff Brumbeau

This beautiful book is the prequel to "The Quiltmaker’s Gift" and tells the story of how the Quiltmaker came to be. How she escaped the protective walls of privilege and wealth into a harsher world where not everyone has what they need. Just like Brumbeau’s first book, it teaches the lesson of selflessness, that giving makes us truly happy.

"Beautiful Oops!" by Barney Saltzberg
Barnes and Noble

All my children adore this small book for its wise lesson. One that every child and parent needs to learn: It’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, hooray for a mistake! Mistakes are opportunities for discovery and creativity. Saltzberg accomplishes this with pop-ups, flaps, holes, and smudges – transitioning mistakes into something spectacular. Saltzberg’s book is super creative with a wonderful message.

"A is for Abigail" by Lynne Cheney
Barnes and Noble

This book, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (Fancy Nancy), is a short biography of some of the most influential women in US history. From suffragists to quilt-makers, the pages are crammed with details and astonishing stories. My daughter Eliza has looked at this one for long stretches of time, but it is helpful to read with a parent so you can discuss and fill in the brief histories of these amazing American women.

"Round Trip" by Ann Jonas
Barnes and Noble

Originally published in 1983 by Greenwillow books, this book is now available through Harcourt School Publishers. It’s a visual stunner with incredible optical illusions. Black and white illustrations depict a day trip to the city and back home again to the country. The trip to the city is read from front to back. The trip out of the city is read from back to front. Just flip the book upside down. I used this book to talk to my children about illusions. How sometimes things in the world are not what they seem. How some things are depicted as good, but in reality, they are not.

"Hailstones and Halibut Bones" by Mary O’Neill
Barnes and Noble

Originally published in 1961, Mary O’Neill’s renowned book of poetry about the colors of the spectrum has become a children’s classic. After reading this and "Autumnblings," our Sami was inspired to write her own poetry and it won two awards in our local Reflections contest. This book is a wonderful way to introduce children to the sound, look, and rhythm of poetry.

"Harold and the Purple Crayon" by Crockett Johnson
Barnes and Noble

Eliza and I bought this book at the UMFA gift shop last year. Originally published in 1955, this little read is all about imagination and how far it can take you. Harold decides to take a walk at night, armed only with his big purple crayon. On a big white canvas he draws himself a fantastic landscape adventure. I’m so glad we found this book because in 2013 Aaron Becker came out with a new, award-winning version of Harold’s purple crayon called "Journey."

"Journey" by Aaron Becker
Barnes and Noble

This whimsically illustrated book is just like "Harold and the Purple Crayon," except it is wordless and about a girl – a lonely girl, armed with a big red marker. The girl draws herself a door, a balloon, a boat, and even a flying carpet. All of which take her on a mysterious and magical journey, full of mystique, danger, and a courageous rescue that lends itself to friendship. "Journey" won the Caldecott for 2013. This one goes down as an all-time favorite for me.

"Cinders – A Chicken Cinderella" by Jan Brett
Barnes and Noble

Jan Brett has yet to create a book we haven’t loved. Her incredibly detailed illustrations always sweep us off to magical places. Cinders is her latest release. On a snowy evening, a little Russian girl falls asleep in a henhouse, where Cinders, a picked-on chicken, is transformed into a beautiful chicken princess and taken to a ball where she meets her prince Cockerel. You’ll love the double foldout of all the chickens dressed to the nines, the hair on Silkie (her fairy god-chicken), and the amazing russian architecture woven throughout. Jan Brett is one of Eliza’s favorite illustrators.

"The Dark" by Lemony Snicket
Barnes and Noble

Meet Laszlo. He’s afraid of the dark. And unfortunately, the dark lives in Laszlo’s basement. Mostly it stays there, but one night it doesn’t. And when it comes to Laszlo’s room, it invites Laszlo downstairs to discover something. Thus begins the story of how Laszlo stops being afraid of the dark. With great emotional insight and a clever storyline, this book addresses the age old fear of the dark.

"If You Want to See a Whale" by Julie Fogliano
Barnes and Noble

This book is all about seeing. What we can see if our eyes are open, what can surprise us when watching for something else, and how sometimes, the thing we are looking for is right beneath our feet. Fogliano’s story of a little boy hoping to catch sight of a whale in the ocean, is a sweet ode to the imagination. If you love the ocean you’ll love the sea foam colors of Erin Stead’s illustrations and the way she captures the innocence of childhood.

"Once Upon a Memory" by Nina Laden
Barnes and Noble

When a feather drifts into a boy’s room he follows it on a magical journey, accompanied by forest animals who help him discover the power of origin and memories. Laden poses questions like, “Does a feather remember it once was a bird?" "Does a book remember it once was a word?” And at the end she asks the reader to come up with images of things they remember from their own beginnings. Like eating grandma’s chocolate chip cookies, learning to ski, finding a fossil, getting a letter in the mailbox. This is a darling book for young children.

"Anna May’s Cloak" by Christiane Ciciolo
Simply Read Books

These days we think nothing of filling a box with unwanted clothes, but in "Anna May’s Cloak" we come to understand the economy of a piece of fabric – how it can be used again and again. When Anna May is young her mother makes her a beautiful blue cloak. Each time she wears it she feels like a queen. Soon the cloak is too small for her, but Anna May never forgets it. Over time her cloak is transformed to lovingly meet the needs of Anna May’s growing posterity. With a snip, snip, snip it becomes something new, for someone new. We loved this tender read.

"The Mischievians" by William Joyce
Barnes and Noble

Remember "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore?" This book is written by the same fellow. And it’s just as good. Ever wonder why a sock goes missing, your homework disappears, you can’t get that song out of your head, or you have lint in your belly button? Dr. Zooper has the answers. It’s … dun-dun-dun … "The Mischievians." An ancient race of global mischief-makers who do all things that embarrass or bug you. Things YOU get blamed for! This book is a must-buy. It will broaden your vocabulary and give you something to laugh about for years to come!

"I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love" by Nancy Tillman
Barnes and Noble

Every child is unique and special. This book emphasizes that truth, while acknowledging that sometimes children want to imagine they are something different. But no matter what they pretend to be, where they go, or what they do, you (the parent) will love them. Because you would know them anywhere. Tillman’s life-like illustrations are gorgeous.

"Nelson Mandela" by Kadir Nelson
Barnes and Noble

With the death of Mandela this year, I wanted to find a book that told his life story with strong illustrations and some of his own words. This book does just that. It tells of his growing-up years, law school, marriage, and imprisonment, finishing with his eventual win as president of South Africa. It is just right for kids. Simple and engaging. With an author’s note at the end that further explains his fight against apartheid and his receiving of the Nobel Peace Prize.

"No Fits, Nilson!" by Zachariah Ohora
Barnes and Noble

Nilson and Amelia do everything together. But if one little thing goes wrong, Nilson throws the biggest, house-shaking fit ever! Amelia helps Nilson control his gorilla-sized temper with a promise of banana ice cream. But in the end we see Amelia sometimes needs calming down too. This darling book with a twist is great for preschoolers when discussing tantrums, discipline, and the need to control our tempers. But it’s not just for children. This book made me realize there’s a gorilla in all of us. Sometimes lurking too close to the surface.