Books We Heart - Favorites from The Winter Beard April 27 2015

This month's selection of Books We Heart comes from Beth Ann Knowles, a local mom to two sweet and muddy little boys, who kicked off 2015 with a creative assignment for herself.  Known to the blog world as The Winter Beard,  Beth Ann has tasked herself to complete and post a new creative endeavour each week to woo a giant children's book publisher and become the next J.K. Rowling.  Be sure to head to The Winter Beard's FAQ page to read some funny and juicy details about Beth Ann. In the meantime, check out what is on the Knowles' overdue library account reminder when they aren't creating their own tales from the heart. 

Reading with The Winter Beard

by Beth Ann Knowles

Do you ever find yourself at the library and your kids are everywhere and the books they’ve pulled off of the shelves are everywhere and the puzzles and blocks they’ve unearthed are all dumped and mixed and scattered? In moments like these we don’t always have the time or patience or wherewithal to choose good books to bring home. We grab the five most colourful books we can see; their vibrant covers popping off the shelf and into our hands. And then we settle down with our brightly coloured books to find they are just the worst children’s books we have ever read. The story is so terrible we think there must be pages missing. Or perhaps the story is moving along great and we’ve fallen in love with the little girl and her dear Granny and then we realize dear Granny is about to die. 

I’m all for books that help children deal with difficult situations, such as the death of a loved one, but I like to know in advance. It isn’t fun when, after a long day of kids sliding down banisters and jumping off top bunks, when we have finally settled them into a cozy pile of pajamas and we open up the new library book only to read dear Granny gets Alzheimers and dies of cancer. That is not fun at all. Try to get your wonderfully sensitive five your old to sleep after that. 

Has any of that ever happened to you? It has happened in our house; except the kids being wild part. My kids are never not ever wild. Ahem. Sometimes, it is the colourless books that are the best; the smallest and the plainest books that make their way into our homes and hearts and library late fee log.

I can’t help you with the wild kid in the library situation. If you figure that out, please let me know. But, if you do have a few moments to select books, or, better still, if you can reserve library books from the comfort of your home whilst sipping wine and watching Netflix, I have a few recommended reads for you.

In our house everyone loves Julia Donaldson. Our most recent favourites are Zog and The Paper Dolls.


Like her most famous book The Gruffalo, Zog was illustrated by Axel Scheffler so you can bet the pictures are amazing. The rhymes you come to expect from Julia Donaldson won’t disappoint and the message is fantastic. While our boys love it, I especially recommend Zog to anyone with princess-obsessed daughters; if you are trying to wean them off of that infatuation.

Julia Donaldson’s, The Paper Dolls was illustrated by Rebecca Cobb. The story is very lyrical and whimsical and does a beautiful job of embodying the adventure of growing-up and the fun and importance of preserving our inner child and the memories from our childhood.

We’ve only recently gotten into Oliver Jeffers’ amazing children’s books. My favourite is The Hueys in the New Jumper. I love when books have powerful messages but deliver them in subtle and hilarious ways. A great book to entice conversations about how great it is to be ourselves, to be different and unique.


Nicholas Oldland attended Mount Allison University in New Brunswick where he earned a degree in Fine Arts. Not only does he write and illustrate hilarious children’s books, he also designs clothes for his family’s company Hatley. Big Bear Hug was the first of his books we discovered. It is a great read, especially if you love nature as much as we do, and it is filled with charming illustrations and a positive message for all of us preservers of the earth.


My sister lives in England and her love of books has helped us discover some great ones from across the pond. A couple of years ago she sent the children Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack by Lynley Dodd. It is an adorable story of friendship and the wonderful silliness comes in contagious rhymes which you’ll have in your head for days.


When I asked the boys which is their favourite book there was no hesitation. They have been obsessed with Crosby’s Golden Goal by Mike Leonetti ever since we first found it at the library. My four year old, who cannot read, can find it within minutes of arriving at the library. The story is about a boy who quits hockey but then joins again after witnessing Team Canada’s win at the Vancouver Olympics. While it is not my favourite book to read over and over and over again, the story is a good one and can stimulate conversation about the importance of balance when it comes to extracurricular activities. 


I remember Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina from when I was a child. The book is a fun one and is great for early readers. In our house the peddler always sounds like JFK. I’d be interested to know how he sounds in yours. 

Another book my sister sent us is Bob the Man on the Moon by Simon Bartram. Most kids are interested in space travel so this book is an easy one to love. The idea of a man who travels to work each day to his job on the moon is incredibly captivating for little ones. And while you’re enjoying the story there are lots of opportunities to spot the aliens who are hiding on every page.


We score a lot of fantastic reads at secondhand stores. The Wild Girl, by Christopher Wormell, is one such book. Our kids love stories about children who do not-so-childish things, such as grow up alone in the wilderness with only a dog as a companion. The illustrations are simple and beautiful and when the plot twists and a bear shows up, any child will be completely roped in.


Our favourite self-help children’s book is Do You Have a Secret by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos. This book is fantastic for stimulating conversations about good secrets and bad secrets and what to do if someone does something bad to you. It is so difficult to talk to kids about stranger danger and predators; especially without scaring them. This book makes things a lot easier. It is a great one to have on hand and read on a weekly basis as it helps open up those lines of communication. Most recently the ‘secret’ in our house was that “someone said the ‘b’ word at school”. Interestingly, the ‘b’ word was “boobs”. Someday a secret that is not so innocent may emerge from our Do You Have a Secret talks. This book will help with those awkward or sometimes scary conversations we all need to have with our children.


I probably don’t need to mention this book because most people love it, but I will because it rocks. I think Love you Forever is one of the best children’s books of all time. My kids like this book but not as much as I do. Perhaps they don’t like all the pauses; when I am choking back tears and searching my pockets for tissue. This book gets me every time. To be fair, so does Crosby’s Golden Goal. I get choked up each time Crosby scores the winner against the US in the gold medal game.

About seven years ago I taught English for a year in South Korea. I read Love You Forever to my junior high students who did not understand much English. Even they loved it! No matter the age, race, gender or culture, Love You Forever will affect you. 

Lastly, I highly recommend making your own book. I made books for the boys a couple of years ago and they are starting to be able to read them on their own now. Kids love books about themselves so it is a great way to get them reading on their own. I simply did an ’S’ is for… type of book with all of the letters of their name. Add pictures of your kids or things in their life and you have a hit. I used Photolab for this but I’d also recommend Blurb

So those are some of our family’s favourite reads. I hope you too will have the opportunity to enjoy a few of them with the young readers in your life; there are some true gems among them. And I can’t recommend enough, going online to your library’s website and putting some great books on hold for you to pick up the next time you’re in. If you don’t, you might end up with some winners but you may come home with something like the 1964 early reader, Barbie Goes to a Party by Jean Bethell. A great book for you to read aloud to fellow adults, for a good laugh, but not a good book to read to your children, unless you are rearing a Kim Kardashian type.

Beth Ann lives in Riverport, Nova Scotia with her husband, children and dog.  She will be sharing her stories with the Bozzy Book Club this week at the Lunenburg Public Library.  To read more of her work, visit The Winter Beard.