Book Review: Love Skip Jump

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By Karen Hendricks

Is your instinct to say “yes” whenever you’re asked to volunteer at your child’s school, help a friend or relative, serve on a church committee, etc, etc? There are so many messages today that help us “deprogram” from automatically saying yes, because it’s so easy to overextend our capabilities and our time. So, as a result, is it now your instinct to say “no” to everything? Don’t get me wrong; there are so many wonderful causes, opportunities, people in need, ways to help your children’s schools/sports teams/etc, but it feels good to say “no” without a guilty conscious, and be selective about what we’re saying “yes” to, doesn’t it?

Well, I recently read a book that turned my whole way of thinking upside-down! Love Skip Jump: Start Living the Adventure of Saying Yes by Shelene Bryan is an inspiring book that challenges us to say “yes” more often.

How many times do you hear that little inner voice, putting ideas into your head? Is it really your thoughts… or is it God speaking to you? Shelene Bryan had a life-changing thought—to go to Africa and actually meet a child that her family was sponsoring by sending money for food and other vital necessities. What an incredible first leap of faith, that set countless positive results into motion!

Now, she isn’t saying that we should say “yes” to everything like Jim Carrey in the movie Yes Man: “Saying yes to everything obviously becomes problematic and is not what I am talking about. What I am talking about is listening to God’s call and recognizing the things He wants you to say yes to, then actually doing those things.”

It’s a three-step process that she describes as starting with love—the love that God has for us, and a relationship with God. It’s the foundation of our lives as Christians. The second step, “skip,” refers to giving up, or skipping something, for the sake of someone else. This illustrates God’s love, but more than that, it’s an attitude and lifestyle of giving. And skipping comfort. The third step, “jump,” means saying yes to God, and using your God-given talents to affect others. Jumping is an action.

Shelene Bryan - Photo Credit:

Shelene Bryan – Photo Credit:

She identifies lots of “things” that hold us back from saying yes: our job, spouse, relationships, addiction, success—or  the desire to have others perceive us as successful, our house, car, luxury items, or even the praise we like to receive from others. But Shelene especially felt a calling to help children and families in need.

Shelene writes about additional experiences she had, saying “yes” to ideas that popped into her head. Prior to the Christmas season one year, she contacted her friend Rachel, a neonatal nurse, and asked if she knew of a family that needed help during the holidays. As a result, the entire Bryan family bought Christmas gifts for a family that would be spending Christmas day with their baby at the hospital. In fact, they used the money that they would have used on their own gifts and shopped together. The Bryan kids still received stockings with little gifts, plus gifts from other family members, but Shelene writes about how exciting it was to watch her own children selflessly “skip” their gifts in order to help others. The icing on the cake? The Bryan family piled into their car, loaded up their surprise gifts, and visited the family, shocking them with their thoughtfulness on Christmas morning. They visited with all the other children hospitalized on Christmas morning, as well, singing Christmas carols in the hospital. How many of us would have the courage to do something like this?

One of my favorite chapters is titled “Every Jump Ripples.” Shelene writes, “We have all seen ripples moving in concentric circles away from the splash of a stone thrown into a lake or pond. In the same way, ripples happen when we say yes to God and do whatever it is He wants us to do. Our little splash has a reverberating effect on others.”

One example of a ripple: one of the neonatal nurses was moved by Shelene’s family’s visit and asked Rachel why the family would do that for someone they didn’t even know. Rachel told the fellow nurse about Shelene’s visit to Africa—to Uganda—and coincidentally the nurse was of Ugandan heritage. She had never been to Uganda but had always wanted to go. Rachel told her that Shelene planned a return trip to Uganda soon and the woman was compelled to join her on the next trip. As a result, the hospital also donated medicine… another ripple.

This book was especially thought-provoking, so much so that I’ll admit it was hard to read at times! It truly challenged me to examine my priorities, and think about being open to opportunities to “say yes” in my life. Hopefully I will not be so quick to automatically say “no” in the future… and I look forward to trying to make a difference in the lives of others,  spreading the love of God, skipping or giving up things that I don’t really need, and having the courage to take those leaps of faith, all the while involving my family. As Shelene Bryan writes, these experiences can be “uncomfortable journeys but with rich adventures.”

Every chapter in the book concludes with a prayer and there were several that especially spoke to me. I will leave you with these words and hope they are as inspiring to you, as they were to me:

Lord, help me see that my real worth is based on who I am in Your eyes, and not on my worldly successes. Help me see those who are hurting so I can show them the unconditional love You have shown me. Give me the boldness to share Your love and truth with those who come across my path. Amen.

Lord, give me the wisdom to recognize the comforts that constrain my desire to follow You. Help me seek above all else the things You would have me do in my life. Help me identify the yes opportunities You are putting in my path. Amen

Lord, allow me to know You well enough so that I can recognize Your whisper. Give me the strength of mind to hide Your Word in my heart so I can match Your Word against the voices of my culture. Give me the ability to be still and reflect on who You are and what You have done and what You want to do through me. Amen.

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How to Keep Your Child Interested in Learning and Reading through the Summer


Choices, choices! Photo Credit: ProjectManhattan

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

When I checked my email this morning, I saw a message from my son’s lower school principal titled – “Summer Reading and Enrichment Resources.” Ah, yes, it took a moment for my former elementary school teacher brain to register … just because it is summer does not mean we stop reading and learning!

I wonder if any of you share the following experience raising your children:  My son is an enthusiastic learner who loves school and absorbs so much around him like a dry sponge soaking up water. However, usually if I try sitting him down for more structured learning – as in, “We’re going to learn about the – ch diagraph now;” I find him balking at this “academic” time.

Even at such a young age, my preschool son takes school very seriously and loves to learn.

Even at such a young age, my preschool son takes school very seriously and loves to learn.

I get so much more from his young mind if we learn through play; or at the very least, weave learning time into playtime. One afternoon, we were drawing pictures on our sidewalk with chalk. My son began making the –sh sound for the beginning diagraph he learned last week, as we wrote our last name and talked about the sound that starts it. When I casually wrote “ch” on the sidewalk next and asked if he had learned this letter-sound combination (which I knew he had), he immediately rattled off a long list of beginning –ch words he had learned!

My parents were leaders in the field of education and learning was of great value in our household. Yet, it was a fairly structured experience and my mother’s school teacher job continued through the summer – if you know what I mean. I don’t think I lost any interest in learning because of this. In fact, many times I even enjoyed it since I was born loving to read and write. However, now I do admit that sometimes it could be a drag.

My little boy just turned 5 years old, and he had a very successful preschool year. This was due to several factors. For one, he has very supportive and involved parents – go us! Second, the philosophy of the private school he attends is grounded in just letting children “be” and grow into who they will be – of course with the support, guidance and nurturing of amazing teachers. Third, between school and home he was not taught, but not “pushed” to the point where learning became stressful and not fun anymore. Of course, there is a structured academic program and curriculum at my son’s school; and the education actually is fairly rigorous – just through a different approach. As in: Struggling with a weak pencil grip and forming your letters? We’re certain that with a little breathing room and some practice you’ll be writing with no problem as you fill out your college applications!

So, how do you keep your child from disconnecting from all he or she learned throughout the school year? How do you get them to want to read? How do you decide which books are best for a young reader – a “pre-reader” as they are commonly referred; and how do you find books that will spark your child’s curiosity and imagination, and keep your child interested in the world of books … without any “nagging” on your part?

Don’t let reading and learning – no matter what time of the year,

become an overwhelming experience for your child.

Read on to learn more!

Parents genuinely want their children to have an interest in books and learning; however, sometimes accessing those pathways to learning can be daunting – even in a place as seemingly benign as a library.

In libraries and bookstores, the children’s sections can actually be overwhelming, especially when your child is just beginning to show an interest in books. This can be especially tough during the summer when other activities and experiences beckon your child to take part – summer camp; swimming lessons; “pee wee” (insert name of sport here); weekday playdates; parties and picnics; vacations and day trips; etc.

The question parents need to ask themselves is:

How can I generate, support, and nurture a love for reading and learning in my child

without it becoming overwhelming?

Even a Superhero needs to know how to read!

Even a Superhero needs to know how to read!

Below are several ideas and tips for how to choose, or help your child choose, books that will engage them; and have them seeking time to read, think, and learn!

In their online Week of January 6, 2014 edition, ‘Baby Center’ published an article called “How to choose the best books for your pre-reader,” which shared six suggestions from reading specialists, teachers, and experienced parents. Here they are below:

Read rhyming and word pattern books. Preschoolers love to hear books with rhymes and word patterns, especially ones that are easy to memorize. They love to join in when they know how to finish a sentence: “One fish, two fish, red fish, BLUE fish!”

Look for books with short, rhyming sentences and predictable structure: Nursery rhymes, counting books, alphabet books, and poetry books. Books by authors such as Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, and the poet Shel Silverstein are good choices.

Share your childhood favorites. Winnie-the-Pooh, Goodnight Moon, and Go, Dog, Go!: Yes, they’re still around!

Browse through the library or bookstore and look for the books you loved when you were starting to read. Find out whether your parents still have your first books packed away. The classics never go out of style.

Encourage your child to read about his favorite characters or topics–even your childhood favorites such as Pooh and Piglet!

Choose books with colorful illustrations. Words aren’t the main attraction for pre-readers. Pick out books with vibrant colors and beautiful pictures, and talk about the pictures with your child.

When you’re reading the story to your child, stop once in a while to discuss the picture and how it relates to the story. This prepares your child for the early reading stage, when he’ll use pictures for clues about what each page says.

Pick books that fit your child’s interest. Choose books about his favorite subjects: Cars, trucks, zoo animals, kids his age — even television characters such as Dora the Explorer or Elmo. The idea is to develop a love of reading, not a love of reading a certain kind of book.

Take your child along with you to the library or bookstore. Don’t restrict your child to one age group or subject. With reading, anything (within reason!) goes.

Look for books your child can manipulate. Pre-readers are drawn to books that do things. Show them how fun reading can be with bathtub books, pop-up books, big books (oversized books are often sold in teacher supply stores), squeaky books — anything to keep your child turning the pages.

Seek expert advice. Librarians and preschool teachers know from experience what kinds of books preschoolers love. Ask for their recommendations.

What experiences and advice can you offer our Off the Merry-Go-Round parents and community for capturing and keeping your child’s interest in books, reading, and learning? Was there a time in your childhood when you recall your love of books started to develop? Whether you are a reading specialist, a parent, an educator, or even a grandparent who reads with their grandchild – we will appreciate hearing your thoughts!


Recommended Reading: Children’s Book List for Adoptive Families

Photo credit: Lutheran Services of Georgia

Photo credit: Lutheran Services of Georgia

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

When your family is built through adoption, it is natural to want some of the literature in your child’s book collection to reflect positive story lines and images of this special way to create a family. Yet, believe it or not, families searching for positive children’s books about adoption need to be very cautious in their choices. There are children’s books about adoption that do not use positive adoption language throughout the text; nor portray adoption in a consistent positive manner through the story line, and illustrations and images used. Whether your adoptive family members are all of the same race, or you are a multi-race / multi-cultural family, it is important to help your child develop a healthy perception of how he or she came into this world and became a part of your family. Therefore, the concept and portrayal of adoption must be presented in a positive light, and positive adoption language should be used throughout the entire story.

It may sometimes be difficult to explain to your young child or children how they came to be a member of your family, and to tell them their “story.” It may also be hard to explain why the members of your family have different skin colors, or even different skin shades within the same color. In my family, we have found it helpful to be open and honest with our son about his adoption “story” from the very beginning. In addition, we celebrate our different skin colors and heritages. Letting our little boy know that the way we became a family is special, yet not unique to just our family, has given him a tremendous sense of appreciation – and even pride, for who he is; and for our close-knit, loving family. Our deliberate efforts to communicate positive feelings of adoption to him, and to educate him about the concept of adoption (dispelling some of the ridiculous myths out there!), has also been supported by positive adoption literature.

There are so many books with adoption-related themes for young children that it can be overwhelming to sort through them all. Photo credit:

There are so many books with adoption-related themes for young children that it can be overwhelming to sort through them all. Photo credit:

There are so many adoption-themed books for children of all ages and types of families that you could spend an eternity trolling through them online. In addition to ones I am familiar with, in putting together this blog piece I found an overwhelming amount of others I was interested in exploring further – yet far too many to review in a short block of time! After you explore the book list I have to share, feel free to conduct your own online search as I think you will be surprised at the variety of literature that exists. I just caution you to choose carefully from among them as some can be deceptive.

An example of a book that “looks good” upfront is When God Found Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren (Ages 3 – 7). For any adoptive family, the words you choose to explain your child’s adoption / birth story will greatly impact how they feel about themselves and how they came into this world. It is bad enough listening to the words complete strangers – even family and friends, utter that just perpetuate the myths about adoption. In this story, when Little Fox asks his Mama why he couldn’t stay with the mother who had him (referring to his “birthmother”) her response is, “She must have had very big reasons to give you up. She must have thought it was best for you.” What??! Ugh – This book is so beautifully written otherwise; and in other places the book does positively explain the “concept” of adoption. That is why it greatly disappointed me to read those three words: “give you up.” Now you may think, “Well, I know what the author is trying to/means to say, yet the reality is that she isn’t saying it in a way that uplifts what adoption really is all about. Those three words perpetuate a major myth, and perhaps one of the most misunderstood concepts, of adoption: that a birthmother simply “gives up” / “gives away” a child she has given birth to – an easy-as-pie decision, right? Wrong! Anyone who has been through the adoption process (on either end – birthparent or adoptive parent) knows the decision to make an adoption plan and to adopt a child are far from frivolous, spare of the moment … or easy! If the author would just revise this part of the book it would be much improved! Do you see how just that one little word or phrase in a story can make all the difference in what determines a “positive” children’s book about adoption?

Another such example of a negative portrayal of adoption actually comes from a very well-known book called A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza. I would like to say that is due to its copyright date of 1992, though I am sorry to say that even in the year 2014 adoption myths have not changed much. It appears that this story is helping children to see that in the end family members do not have to look the same to be a family – definitely a positive theme. Howeverin the story, Choco the little yellow bird sets off desperately looking for a mother. Now, that is not a typical adoption scenario for a baby or young child – even for an older child. I just found the story line odd, and depressing – at one point in the book, Choco cries, “Mommy, mommy, I need a mommy!” How heartbreaking

One thing I found helpful before considering the purchase of any of these books is to listen to a reading on You Tube. Whereas I could not locate all of the stories, and sometimes the people reading the books weren’t always – well, shall I say, “readers” this was a wonderful way to preview the complete book and view the illustrations to get a truer sense of the story line. I listened to I Wished for You: An Adoption Story by Marianne Richmond (listed below) and discovered it is a beautiful book – now in my Amazon shopping cart! ( Other adoption book titles that may be worth exploring, since the online reviews from professionals and readers were overwhelmingly positive, are: A Blessing From Above by Patti Henderson (c 2004 – Little Golden Book; has a religious theme), Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale by Karen Katz (2001; explores international adoption), and Sweet Moon Baby by Karen Clark (2010; explores adoption from China).

My son's birth and homecoming were very special, and we want to be sure he knows that!

My son’s birth and homecoming were very special, and we want to be sure he knows that!

Below is a list of books which beautifully reflect two concepts: 1) adoption and what a special way it is to build a family; and 2) how differences in skin color, race and culture actually unite us in a global heritage. Through supportive, uplifting and inspirational language, imagery and pictures, these books help you and your child celebrate your special family (which may be a glorious mixture of colors and heritages, as is ours) in a joyful way!

Children’s Book List for Adoptive Families

1) Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born

Copyright 1996 by Jamie Lee Curtis

A young girl asks her mother and father to tell her again about the night of her birth, a cherished tale she knows well. This is a heartwarming story, interspersed with humor shared through the illustrations; not only of how one child is born, yet of how a family is born. Rather than delving into the complex dynamic that adoption brings to a family, the book simply affirms family love and how excited children are to hear the story of their birth and adoption – over and over again! Recommended Age: 4 and up.

2) I Wished for You: An Adoption Story

Copyright 2008 by Marianne Richmond

This beautiful story follows a conversation between Barley Bear and his Mama as they curl up in their favorite cuddle spot and discuss how they became a family. Barley asks Mama the questions many children who are adopted have, and his Mama lovingly answers them all. Recommended Age: 2 and up.

3) The Day We Met You

Copyright 1997 by Phoebe Koehler

This is a special picture book that takes a peek at a couple lovingly preparing their home for a baby whom they will adopt. Children who are adopted really enjoy and appreciate hearing their homecoming stories over and over, and this book encourages those retellings. Recommended Age: 2 and up.

4) Happy Adoption Day!

Copyright 2001 Lyrics by John McCutcheon

This book shares an adaptation of McCutcheon’s song which commemorates the day when a child joins an adoptive family. It also comes complete with musical notation and full-color illustrations. The joyful, rhyming verses reassure children who are adopted that they are special! Recommended Age: 3 and up.

5) All the Colors of the Earth

Copyright 1994 by Sheila Hamanaka

A celebration of children and all the beautiful colors they come in – the colors of love!

6) My Little Miracle

Copyright 2002 by J. Beck

A delightfully written little book welcoming babies of all colors and cultures to the magic of discovery this world holds.

7) The Skin You Live In

Copyright 2005 by Michael Tyler

A wonderful rhyming book showing how very special it is to be in the skin you are in – no matter what its color!

8) The Colors of Us

Copyright 1999 by Karen Katz

Bold, delightful illustrations and a wonderful story celebrate our diversity, and deliver a poignant message: Love the skin you have!

9) Whoever You Are

Copyright 1997 by Mem Fox

A beautiful and poignant book, this links us all together despite our different appearances, languages, interests, and lives.

Has your family been built by adoption, or do you have ties to one that has? Do you work in the adoption field in some capacity? Or, have you simply discovered any “must reads” for children that reflect adoption in a positive way – with words and through images? If so, please help us grow the list above for our readers who are part of the adoption community!

Books that Help Nurture Your Child’s Faith

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

A Bible you can sleep with!

A Bible you can sleep with!

No matter what your religious beliefs, practices or denomination, if you are looking to nurture your child’s faith there are some wonderful children’s books that can help. You may also find that one or more of these books would make a nice christening or baptism gift, or would be welcomed by family and friends and their little ones on any occasion!

Below is a list of books which retell familiar Bible stories and set Biblical themes in accurate historical contexts as far as the culture and people of those times. Likely, Jesus was not as fair skinned as some artwork and pictures in books portray, nor were all the people of the region He lived in! Babies, young children, and families from different cultures and countries are represented in these beautiful, true-to-life books. Additionally, many of these books retell a prayer or Psalm against the backdrop of various cultures, or within a particular situation. Through uplifting and inspirational language, imagery and pictures, these books will delight and comfort children while developing their knowledge of the Bible and promoting their religious growth.


There are wonderful books that can help you nurture your child's faith.

There are wonderful books that can help you nurture your child’s faith.

1) Baby’s Hug-a-Bible

Copyright 2010 by Sally Lloyd Jones

Yes, a Bible you can snuggle withThis board book with begging-to-be-cuddled cover shortens and retells familiar Bible stories in a rhyming format for babies to enjoy too!

2) The Beginner’s Bible

Copyright 2005 by Mission City Press

Timeless Bible stories are shortened for your toddler to enjoy with lots of colorful illustrations – complete with dictionary in the back.

3) Children of Color Storybook Bible

Copyright 2001 by Children of Color / Illustrated by Victor Hogan

For the older child, this is the first translation of the Holy Scriptures for children. It relates their current heritage and history to the events and stories in the Bible, helping them to understand that these stories are a part of that heritage. A wonderfully written introduction helps parents and religious instructors with suggestions for how to best use the book.

4) Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Copyright 1994 by Debbie Trafton O’Neal

With large, bright illustrations, this is a truly fun book to enjoy with action prayers, poems, and songs for bedtime.

5) My First Prayers and Psalms

Copyright 1999 by Random House Lap Library / Illustrated by Anna Curti

A sturdy board book for little ones to enjoy prayers and Psalms throughout all times of the day.

6) The Lord’s Prayer

Copyright 2000 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers / Illustrated by Tim Ladwig

A beautiful book illustrated in watercolor using a glazing technique, The Lord’s Prayer is based on the true life of an African American man and highlights the way he gives back to God’s Kingdom. A positive role model for us all!

7) Psalm Twenty-Three

Copyright 1993 by African American Family Press / Illustrated by Tim Ladwig

This amazing book, by the same illustrator as The Lord’s Prayer, is set against the dramatic backdrop of the inner city and features an extended family raising two children in a safe home filled with an abundance of love. These powerful images bring this prayer to life for us all, no matter what our race or background.

8) A Child’s Prayer

Copyright 1989 by Jeanne Titherington

Featuring a beautiful little boy, this book takes a familiar prayer and turns it into an exciting bedtime adventure that will uplift your spirits and lift up your faith!

9) My Spiritual Alphabet Book

Copyright 2000 by Holly Bea

This book is a wonderful way to introduce and teach the alphabet to young children within a biblical and multi-cultural context.

10) 5-Minute Bible Stories

Copyright 2006 by Publications International, Ltd. / Adapted by Brian Conway and Illustrated by Claudine Gevry

This book contains familiar Bible stories, appropriately shortened and accompanied by illustrations which feature multiple cultures and skin colors.

11) God’s Dream

Copyright 2008 by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams / Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

What is God’s dream for us – children and adults alike – and the world in which we live? Read this moving, poetic book and find out! A must-read for us all!

Please feel free to add other books to this list, and share with us any that particularly stand out for you. Perhaps that will be a book that nurtured your faith as you were growing up!

A Twist on Summer Reading

By Karen Hendricks

How hard (or easy) is it to encourage summer reading time for your kids? Even if your kids are voracious readers like mine, it’s good to change up the reading routine with a fresh approach. And if it’s a struggle to keep your kids reading through the summer, this idea might also help hook them on books. The idea? Audio books!

Listen Up

There’s no question that reading is one of the most valuable skills our children can acquire during their school years. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that audio books are the best format for kids to latch onto during the summer. Here are a few reasons why:

  • The change in format makes reading more fun, less like “homework.”
  • The narrations are entertaining, and the art of listening / focusing is so important. Kids who can truly listen and comprehend a book will be able to better listen to adults, instructions, speeches, etc.
  • Listening to a book allows the narration, sound effects, music, etc. to paint a picture of the book’s events in your child’s mind. I think it’s a great way to spark the imagination! This would be as opposed to “seeing” the book come to life in movie format. Movies are never as good as the books. But I would argue that audio books are usually as good as the book—sometimes even better because it gives your child’s imagination a jump start.

Road Scholars

One of the best times to listen to an audio book is in the car while traveling. My family has listened to numerous audio books while traveling on vacation, or during regular road trips to summer camps, sports practices/games, etc. It’s made the miles fly by and I really enjoy the fact that we’re sharing the experience of listening to the same book. We often talk about our reactions to the plot—great discussions! This brings up another topic: Do you have family rules for traveling? Are the kids allowed to listen to iPods, MP3 players, etc? Or is there one “family” radio station / CD / etc. playing for everyone to listen to? Or do you watch DVDs while traveling? This might be a great topic for a future blog! Reminds me of Jen’s previous blog on screen rules.

Recommended Reading

Back to books… Sometimes the narrator or characters’ voices can “make or break” an audio book. If you don’t enjoy listening to a particular voice, give another audio book a try. Most of the ones we’ve tried have been very good. Here’s a list of suggested titles or series to try—all enjoyed by my family through the years:


  • The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osbourne (Ages 8+) – A wonderful collection of books that combine a love of nature and history with learning, in an entertaining way. Fairly short audio books are perfect for shorter car rides or shorter attention spans.
  • The American Girl series by various authors (Ages 8+) – This series instills an appreciation for history in young girls and is beautifully done. My husband and son deserve special pats on the back for listening to many of these books during vacation treks!

Charlotte's Web

  • Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (Ages 8+) – A classic that “children” of all ages enjoy. Even if you have a range of ages in your family, hopefully the older children will enjoy revisiting this childhood favorite.
  • The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (Ages 9+) – These audio books will transport you straight to Hogwarts! Even if your children have read the books, it’s fun to experience the audio versions, and again, I think there’s appeal to children of all ages. I have to say, I truly enjoyed listening to the series!
  • ShilohThe Shiloh trilogy: Shiloh, Shiloh Season and Saving Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (Ages 8+) – From Amazon: When Marty Preston comes across a young beagle in the hills behind his home, it’s love at first sight — and also big trouble. It turns out the dog, which Marty names Shiloh, belongs to Judd Travers, who drinks too much and has a gun — and abuses his dogs. So when Shiloh runs away from Judd to Marty, Marty just has to hide him and protect him from Judd. But Marty’s secret becomes too big for him to keep to himself, and it exposes his entire family to Judd’s anger. How far will Marty have to go to make Shiloh his? Great family discussions can come from this series.
  • Holes
  • Holes by Louis Sachar (Ages 8+) – From Amazon: This winner of the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award features Stanley Yelnats, a kid who is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnats. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the warden makes the boys “build character” by spending all day, every day, digging holes five feet wide and five feet deep. It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake: the warden is looking for something. Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption.
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry (Ages 8+) –’s review: In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy. With echoes of Brave New World, in this 1994 Newbery Medal winner, (Lois) Lowry examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society. Gradually Jonas learns just how costly this ordered and pain-free society can be, and boldly decides he cannot pay the price. This book, I have to admit, freaked me out a bit, but ultimately, led to some great family chats.

If you enjoy audio books, let us know which ones you and/or your children recommend! Happy reading (or listening)!




“Recommended Reading: Children’s Book List for Multi-Cultural Families”

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

First thing in the morning, we early risers welcome the day with my son's "warm cocoa dream" skin and my Irish-red "cherry topped, candy dropped" skin -- a beautiful contrast! For the record, daddy's skin shade is "butterscotch gold." (Skin shades determined from the book, The Skin You Live In).First thing in the morning, we early risers welcome the day with my son’s “warm cocoa dream” skin and my Irish-red “cherry topped, candy dropped” skin — a beautiful contrast! For the record, daddy’s skin shade is “butterscotch gold.” (Skin shades determined from the book, The Skin You Live In).

Whether your family is multi-race or multi-cultural due to an interracial marriage or adoption, it may sometimes be difficult to explain to young children why the members of your family have different skin colors or even different shades within the same color. In my family, we have found that whereas it is helpful to be open and honest with our son about his adoption “story,” it has also been beneficial to celebrate our different skin colors and shades as unique to us. Letting our little boy know that even within his skin color there are many different shades, and that his skin is special, has given him a sense of appreciation for who he was created to be and a foundation upon which to help build his self-esteem. All these books are absolutely wonderful and I recommend reading every one of them. However, if I had to pick the top two “must-reads” they would be The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler and The Colors of Us by Karen Katz.

Below is a list of books which beautifully reflect babies, young children, and families from different cultures and countries.  Through uplifting and inspirational language, imagery and pictures, these books build self-esteem while respectfully acknowledging our differences, and joyfully celebrating our similarities – and our global heritage!

Children’s Book List for Multi-Cultural Families 

1)Global Babies

Copyright 2007 by The Global Fund for Children

Brightly colored, delightful photographs of babies from countries around the world!

2)All the Colors of the Earth

Copyright 1994 by Sheila Hamanaka

A celebration of children and all the beautiful colors they come in – the colors of love!

3)My Little Miracle

Copyright 2002 by J. Beck

A delightfully written little book welcoming babies of all colors and cultures to the magic of discovery this world holds.

4)Welcome Precious

Copyright 2006 by Nikki Grimes

An African American family welcomes their new little one to the world, and to their loving family.

The Skin You Live In5)The Skin You Live In

Copyright 2005 by Michael Tyler

A wonderful rhyming book showing how very special it is to be in the skin you are in – no matter what its color!

6)The Colors of Us

Copyright 1999 by Karen Katz

Bold, delightful illustrations and a wonderful story celebrate our diversity, and deliver a poignant message: Love the skin you have!

7)Marvelous Me

Copyright 2003 by Lisa Bullard

This book is part of a series featuring different children who describe themselves, their feelings, and their worldMarvelous Me is about an African-American boy and his twin brother.

8)Whoever You Are

Copyright 1997 by Mem Fox

A beautiful and poignant book, this links us all together despite our different appearances, languages, interests, and lives.

9)Incredible You

Copyright 2005 by Wayne W. Dyer

This children’s book, featuring kids of different races, is based on Mr. Dyer’s 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace for adults.  Here, he frames those same ten ideas in language easily related to by young children – to help them feel good about themselves and know that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to do.

ImGonnaLikeMe10)I’m Gonna Like Me

Copyright 2002 by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell

Illustrated with children of different races, this book gives everyone a healthy boost of self-esteem!

11)Bright Eyes, Brown Skin

Text Copyright 1990 by Cheryl Willis Hudson and Bernette G. Ford

Adapted from the original poem published in 1979, four African American children enjoy their time together and celebrate their skin while at preschool.

12)Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

Copyright 2008 by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury

Although at first glance this appears to be a simple counting book, it is so much more. These two picture book creators help us celebrate baby fingers and toes from all over the world!

Have you come across books that celebrate differences among people and encourage us to do the same? If so, please help us grow the list and add your “must read this book” choices!

How to: Make Little Changes to Your Home to Create a Fab New Look!

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Our Little House in the Big Woods

Our Little House in the Big Woods

When we bought our home in 2006, we had a small house and BIG plans. We would take this quaint, though somewhat neglected, “bungalow” with barely-enough-room-to-squeeze-into bathrooms, tear it apart – one room at a time – and give it a (major) facelift!

Then, without warning, life happened. You know what I’m talking about … transition into new job life; loss of new job life; kid on the way life; I wasn’t expecting that expense life. Suddenly, all the money those fancy renovations take to make happen wasn’t there.

Big plans and shattered dreams. Or were they? Could this little house with great potential, yet in need of much work, ever become our dream chateau in the country?

As it turned out, yes it did – and so can your home … no matter how small. It may appear otherwise, but few of us live in those sprawling 7 bedroom houses we so often drive by. Since we live in a Washington, DC suburb our monthly mortgage is more than some people pay for a mortgage and two car payments! Yet, at just 1,184 square feet, our house is very small compared to what most people would consider livable square footage.

What we began looking for was balance. Balance between making our wish to turn our house into a home come true – and knocking down a wall to expand our square footage in order to achieve it!

Just one of Susan Saranka's many helpful decorating books for small houses and spaces!

Just one of Sarah Susanka’s many helpful decorating books for small houses and spaces!

That’s when I finally picked up a book I bought some time ago: The Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka (she has written a number of books on this subject). The premise of the book is that a “Not So Big House” exchanges space for soul, and that their owners, rather than spend their budget on spaces they never use, tailor their houses to fit their lives. Additionally, their home design expresses something significant about their lives and values without going overboard. So this past fall, we began those upstairs renovations we had longed for and they are now nearly complete. Ms. Susanka’s book gave us the help we needed to find that balance, and to “have our cake and eat it too!”  

Do you face the same dilemma, or just want to give one area of your house a “lift?” If so, use these tips and suggestions to get started on home renovations, upgrades, and design and decorating ideas you put off in the past due to cost and logistical concerns.

Go for It!

+ Read, research, and write/map out your ideas. When I put my researched ideas and creative thoughts on paper and carried them around my house as I considered them, I finally saw our ultimate dreams could come true.

+ Contractor is key. Hiring a professional, skilled contractor helps you get what you ultimately want and gives you peace of mind in the process! I believe in the “don’t try this at home” philosophy. Painting the walls in your guest bedroom is one thing – creating arched entrance ways or installing crown molding is entirely different.

I don’t want to discourage checking references, yet keep in mind that these (and even photographs of project work) are easily faked. We no longer check references for things such as paint jobs and house cleaning services. Instead, when we find a service provider we like, we hire them for a small, less significant job first to see how that goes before launching into a bigger project. We also never give a paymentupfront,” and always make sure one of us is home during the work phase.

We hired an experienced gentleman who tended toward a perfectionist nature. He took a little longer than another contractor might have, however he finished the job in a reasonable amount of time. He was upfront and honest, produced what we wanted, charged just for materials and time, required only smaller payments throughout the scope of the project, and provided invoices with a service/cost breakdown.

+ Proceed slowly and with caution. No matter how well thought out and prepared you are, little glitches do happen along the way. It is easier to add something to your project than take it away so consider your plans carefully!

+ Do it right the first time. The do-it-yourself projects of previous owners created the need for a good bit of repair and renovation on our house that would not have been necessary if handled properly the first time. When the bathtub in our son’s bathroom needed new piping, we were unable to get to the pipes from the access door located in his bedroom. Shelves, in the form of sloppily sawed wood boards painted white, had been nailed directly over it! Needless to say, those are no more. If you do it right (and well) the first time, it really will last forever!

+ Live with it! Once you have a renovation idea, think about it for awhile. Make the project come to life in your mind and then once complete, live with it before moving on to something else. We did not add objects to our beautiful new hallway display case until a “theme” came to mind a few weeks later.

We have many options to consider for showcasing items in our new built-in display case.

We have many options for showcasing items in our new built-in display case.

+ Simply updating furniture and accessories can change the look of a room. Rather than spend thousands of dollars to replace the white IKEA-style cabinets in our kitchen, we unscrewed the thick plastic white handles and installed simple silver ones we picked out at our local hardware store. This little change immediately gave the cabinets a sleeker, updated look for little expense and effort!

Kitchen Cabinet Handles - After

Kitchen Cabinet Handles – After

Kitchen Cabinet Handles - Before

Kitchen Cabinet Handles – Before

+ Small touches make a big difference. When redecorating, you may wish to keep the essence of your original home. Built in the early 1960s, our house has elements of the “retro” style popular then and remnants from the more simplistic era of do-it-yourself home projects. We gave a “nod” to our home’s original style – for example, leaving the tiny square floor tiles in the upstairs bathroom, and keeping the homemade closet shelving in the bedrooms. We created a more current look throughout our house by tweaking the appearance of what we chose to keep and adding fresh, modern paint colors to the walls!

+ Let your interests inspire your decorating, not overwhelm your surroundings. Part of turning a house into a home is reflecting your interests, cultures and memories. We have an affinity for Native American culture, value nature and the outdoors, and feel connected to our son’s African American heritage. Rather than clutter tabletops and shelves, and cover every inch of wall space, we share our interests by carefully choosing and arranging items of special significance. As an example, we enjoy our beautiful native bird species so a mysterious painting of an owl waiting out a storm hangs on one wall, a custom-framed arrangement of birds common to our woodland property is clustered on another – and we left the rest of the birds outside! A good friend has also successfully incorporated this decorating tip. When you visit her home, you see what holds meaning and value to her family on display in a corner dining room china cabinet. Rather than being haphazardly scattered throughout her house, these treasures are enjoyed in one special place.

The perfect wall to show off our custom-framed bird paintings

The perfect wall to show off our custom-framed bird paintings

+ Your house and its appearance is a reflection of you. De-clutter! Purge thy surroundings! If you haven’t looked at it, worn it, remember where you got it, or even thought about it in a year – it’s time to toss it! If you feel you really can’t part with that stack of “antique” books old Aunt Martha passed along to you, arrange them in front of a pretty backdrop, take a photo, and put it in a frame to display on your end table. Now send those books a-packin’ down to the local book store. You might even get some extra spending money in exchange! Another easy way to cut down on “stuff” in your house is to regularly sign up for charity pickups; we do that monthly. When I know a donation truck is coming, it makes it so much easier to get rid of unused items – after all, I have to give them something. I keep an empty box in the corner of my office at all times, drop things in as I purge, and there you have it – an instant tax write-off!

Everyone has their own decorating style and sense of what “looks good.” My husband and I just happen to be super-organized, and like clean lines and well-defined, clutter-free spaces. Our home renovations and decorations reflect this. As you consider what you ultimately want your home to look like, consider your personality, interests, how you live – and design your home accordingly. Use some or all of the above tips to get started, yet remember that the most important thing is that your house feels like home!

Our "new and improved" Home Sweet Home!

Our “new and improved” Home Sweet Home!

Do you have additional decorating tips and renovation stories you can share with our community? Many people begin work on home projects in the spring and summer so please join the conversation!