Here we are in the thick of summer, and in Calgary at least, some rainy days are looming ahead. What is a parent to do with these unfilled hours, rather then just pray September arrives sooner? Books are always my go-to, and I’m thankful that my 4 year-old is getting better and better at reading/sort of reading/looking at pictures on her own for a few quiet minutes, so it’s not surprising that I’m got some hopes pinned on some specific books to help fill our remaining summer weeks ahead.

Stomp, written by Uncle Ian Aurora and illustrated by Natalia Moore is a quick, simply-written picture book that invites kids to literally stomp along as you read. It includes basic instructions like “Stomp six times while you’re tapping on your nose” but it also asks kids to pause and stretch, so there’s a wide range of instructions for them to follow. There’s no story, it’s basically just a rhyme set to mixed-media pictures of kids dancing around, occasionally a few adults are included too. Of note is the fact that the cast of characters is extremely diverse-there are kids of all colours and sizes in this book so children from all four corners of the globe are represented in these pictures- it’s likely your children will recognize themselves in many of the pages.

I really like this book! I’ve only read it a few times so far, but my daughter loves it, and happily plays along as I read the ‘instructions’. And because she’s dancing along, my 1-year-old is laughing at her even though he doesn’t understand what I’m reading, thus keeping them BOTH entertained! #parentingwin

I actually like to think of this book as a ‘reset’ technique. If the kids are getting tired or cranky, offering to read this book inevitably brings back the smiles. Plus, it tires them out, so they’re happy to go back to playing on their own for a bit while I cook/clean/work on my neverending to-do list.

For those parents who want to tire their kids out outside, (i.e. every single one of us), this next book is written for adults, but the topic is outdoor play for children. Nature Play at Home by Nancy Striniste was first brought to my attention by Lorillin at Bug Bug Books (thank you!), and it’s full of ideas for creating play spaces for children outdoors, or simply seeing the value in nature-based experiences for our little ones. Think of it like a Kids Cottage book, but for parents. It includes simple instructions on how to build a bunch of different things including an herb spiral, tree branch stacks for climbing, even custom stepping stones out of pizza boxes! Reusing items from your house is the focus, for instance a ‘music wall’ outdoors out of various jars, medal spoons and old frying pans. Winter and snow isn’t really dealt with in this book, but most of the projects and ideas can be done in Canada, even the lists of suggested trees and plants for activities are North-American based. Warning to Canadian readers though, this is an American book so some plant species listed may be untenable in our climate, except for those southern Ontario people (of which I used to be one!). Up here in Calgary we’ve got a very specific gardening zone.

What I truly learned from this book is how useful it is to just ‘be’ in nature for a kid. Sure, you can set up one or two of these activities for your children in your backyard or a nearby park, but what’s most valuable to them is time outdoors with little to no parental involvement. Let them pick up a stick and drag it in the dirt, sit in the sandbox for an hour and bury rocks, jump on all the tree stumps, etc. I used to build a ton of tree forts when I was young because I lived in the country and had nothing else to do-I desperately want this type of boredom and independence in nature for my kids too, and bringing them outside for at least an hour each day, rain or shine is a great way to start them on this path. There’s a section of the book with a wonderful title, which also happens to be a Scandinavian folk saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” (p. 209). Isn’t that great? Words to live by, truly.

Lastly, we’ve got an interactive picture book by the popular best-selling adult author Dave Eggers. Abner & Ian Get Right-Side Up, with art by Laura Park is a fun (if slightly long) book that follows Abner, a goose, and Ian, a prairie dog (?) who are trying to get right-side up in their book. They talk directly to the reader asking them to shake the book in an attempt to right themselves. The character’s dialogue is the focal point in this book because the illustrations are fairly similar from page to page, therefore that’s lots of humour in what the animals are saying to keep the interest going.

I’m always happily surprised when I start reading a picture book that encourages kids to join in, whether it be helping turn the page a certain way, shaking the book, or doing a funny dance to help the character in the story. I see it as a stepping stone to choose your own adventure books that come in middle grade, and it makes reading to your kids so much better for everyone involved. Bonus: if you’ve got the extra reading partner handy, make one person Ian and the other Abner (or swap in your kid as the other person if they’re able to read the book themselves) and read this book as a script-it really makes the words come alive, and you’ll find yourself giggling along as you struggle to get ‘right-side up’ again.

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