In The Air

Misty Copeland via Elle Magazine

Misty Copeland via Elle Magazine

There's something in the air these days that I'm loving - a new kind of empowerment message aimed at young women and girls.  I'm seeing and hearing it in commercials, on Facebook, on the radio, and even at the toy store.  Take the following campaigns:

Always: Like A Girl

Pantene: Not Sorry

Under Armour: I Will What I Want

Goldie Box: Like a Princess

These campaigns are awesome!  (And all seem to draw inspiration from the groundbreaking "Dove: Real Beauty" campaign from a few years ago.)  Obviously these companies are not perfect, no monster corporation is.  Just like no mother is always the perfect example for own daughter.  I know I'm not.  I have my moments where I look in the mirror and sigh at the way my jeans are fitting, only to notice a tiny little face watching me with those big eyes that take in every little thing, that pick up on every little sigh.  All I'm saying is that I love the message.  I love that all the money, resources, and brain power that it takes to produce these kind of videos is being spent on helping girls recognize their own self-worth.  On helping them see the beauty and power within.  

It's really inspiring and it's made me a think a lot about what I put out into the world.  Because even if my voice is a small one (at least for now), more and more girls are reading my words every day.  They are taking in my thoughts and stories and, as much as I want my writing to entertain, I also want it to teach.  That's why every story I write centers around kindness.  That's why no matter where in the world Coco and Lucy go, they don't return home until they've left it a better place, until they've helped someone.  But now I want to take my message even farther.  I've got this idea turning in my head for a new spin-off series based on this awesome message that's floating in the air.  Now I've just got to get this idea down on paper.  That's the fun part.

In the meantime, I am SO proud of Star Sisters and the Best Seller, which is coming out on Monday!  It's inspired by J.K. Rowling, a brilliant woman who has been a huge source of inspiration to me.  The book centers around a little girl (K.J. Dowling) who wants to be a writer.  No one takes her seriously and she's feeling pretty down, until Coco and Lucy come to the rescue and convince her not to give up.  To never stop trying.  It's the perfect book for any girl with big dreams.  And the New York City setting is the icing on the cake.  Don't Coco and Lucy look like so happy on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art?

Fully Booked

My middle on her first day of preschool.  

My middle on her first day of preschool.  

And we're off to the races!  With three little girls in three different schools in three different parts of town and a fourth Stars Sisters book on the way, September is off to a busy start.  But you all know that tune and, honestly, aren't you tired of hearing everyone complain about how busy they are?  So I'll move on and just say that when this time of year hits, something that I particularly treasure is reading to my kids at night.  It's the one time of day when everything else comes to a stop and we can just be together.  (And cuddle.  Man, I love cuddling with my babes!).

I've been on the hunt for a new series to read to my first grader and I am thrilled to have discovered Julie Sternberg's Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, Like Bug Juice on a Burger, and Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake.  These books follow the trials and tribulations of Eleanor Abigail Kane, a spunky little girl with big emotions and a big heart.  Sternberg's writing is wonderful to read aloud, with a great flow and lots of touching and humorous moments that adults will appreciate.  But where I think these books really shine is in capturing Eleanor's emotions and presenting them in a way that children can relate to.  For instance, in Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, Eleanor's life is turned upside down when her beloved babysitter moves away.  Eleanor is determined to dislike her new babysitter (despite her pretty hair).  Add in the beginning of a new school year with a brand new teacher and you've got a little kid making a lot of big life adjustments.  What's great about Sternberg's books is that these problems are resolved with a graceful subtly that bears no hint of grown-up writer preaching moral values to child reader.  Eleanor gradually comes to terms with the situation the way a child would: slowly, with some steps forward and some steps backward.  After much stalking of the mail lady, Eleanor finally gets a letter from her old babysitter reassuring her that she will always have a special place in her heart.  Her new teacher doesn't criticize her handwriting, trims his crazy hair, and turns out to be a  pretty good guy.  And her new babysitter doesn't try to replace her old one, just to be the best second babysitter a kid could have.  In other words, life isn't quite as bad as pickle juice on a cookie after all.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, part of the reason I wanted to write Star Sisters is because I think the early chapter book genre is tricky.  At least for girls, there's a strong tendency to veer cookie-cutter princess/fairy/puppy/snarky, which can be painful for adult readers and uninspiring for child listeners.  In contrast, Sternberg's series blows it out of the park!  Add in great illustrations on almost every page and I officially love these books.  Just as importantly, so does my six-year old daughter.

Of course, the minute I finished reading to my daughter I raced downstairs to check out Sternberg's website.  (I always expect that author's I admire will have some kind of magic formula on their websites that explains how they write so well.  So far, no dice).  But I did send Sternberg a fan email and she was kind enough to answer some of my questions:

1. How did you come up with your titles because they are genius!

JS: I'm so glad you think so!  The marketing team at my publisher, Abrams Books, came up with the idea.  They liked the language "pickle juice on a cookie," which I used a couple of times in the first book.  (The main character, Eleanor, is having an August that's "as bad as pickle juice on a cookie.")  So they suggested LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE as that book's title.  Then it made sense to stay with the juice theme, and a consistent cover design, for the sequels.

2. How would you describe your writing style?  To me, it almost seems poetic.  Did you set out to write your books this way or was it a matter of formatting, ease of reading for young readers, etc.?

JS: I love hearing my writing described as poetic. Thank you!  But I didn't set out to write poetry. I chose frequent line breaks for the books because they help me track the rhythm of Eleanor’s thoughts and because I want the books to appeal to both strong readers and kids who struggle with longer lines.

3. When you write, are you writing for parents as well as children?  There are so many wonderful moments, like when Eleanor is sitting in bed stubbornly pretending to read Moby Dick or when she climbs into bed the night before school starts and tucks herself under her mom's arm, that made me, as an adult, fall in love with her.  Was this intentional?

JS: My drumbeat when I write is, Will this work for kids?  I don't have adults in mind.  With that said, I have to like what I'm writing. I can't move forward if don't.  So one parent's taste is shaping everything.      

What do you think is the most challenging thing about writing for this age group and what is the most rewarding?

JS: Conveying complicated emotions simply and fully.  That's the most challenging and the most rewarding. 

Oh, Anne!

Does anyone else read the title of this post and immediately hear Diana Barry's voice in their head?  I certainly do.  I've been thinking a lot about Anne of Green Gables as I go through the process of writing my own Star Sisters books.  I've been trying to figure out what makes Lucy Montgomery's book so magical.  What about Anne Shirley made us all fall in love with her?  What about Prince Edward Island enchanted us?  Why as an adult did I buy a hardback copy of the book for my newborn daughter's bookshelf?  I've also got Anne on my mind because I've recently introduced her to my own daughters.  My older girls are four and six so, sadly, we're not cuddling up in bed mutually absorbed in Montgomery's words.  Even the annotated version that I picked up at the library was too complex for them.  But one rainy day, I took a chance and rented the PBS series of Anne of Green Gables that originally aired in 1985 and it was a huge success.  My girls were just as absorbed as I was, although I think all my sighs of nostalgia were quite annoying.  But really, watch this trailer and try not to sigh (or cry).  I dare you!

I'm currently rereading Anne of Green Gables with an adult's eye and what I find so interesting is that Montgomery wrote for a mature, intelligent reader.  Her sentences are complex, her descriptions are lengthy and wandering, and her dialogue is so detailed.  As a result she created such a sense of place and person that the reader feels like they're entering a different world (the holy grail of compliments for many writers).  Yet somehow this book has become known as a children's novel.   Do children's authors write like this anymore?  Are they even allowed to?  By that I mean: would an author that wrote in a similar style get their work published these days?  I don't know.  My kids aren't reading at this level yet so I don't have any current works to compare.  But I do know that one of the first things a book seller said to me when I brought Star Sisters and the Royal Wedding to her store was: "I don't know, that third sentence is kind of long."  For the record, that third sentence is 45 words long.  Montgomery's first sentence is approximately 150 words long.  (Also for the record, they both involved descriptions of a stream.  Subconscious emulation on my part, perhaps?  Also, also for the record, that bookseller is constantly selling out of my books.  Just saying!).

Anyway, I find Anne Shirley so inspiring.  She's spunky, dramatic, flawed, smart, and she grows so much over the course her fictional life.  I cannot wait for the day when my girls are old enough to read the original Montgomery version.  In the meantime, I can only hope that some of my littlest readers out there love Star Sisters just an ounce as much as I loved this series growing up.  That would be amazing.  

Now, while Anne is clearly the star of the show, Prince Edward Island is a close second.  And I thought it would be fun to imagine a modern-day Green Gables.  A house that was warm, yet stylish.  The kind of place that would enchant a visitor and inspire a young orphan to pinch her arms so many times that they turned black and blue from the elbow up, for so amazed was she at her new home that she could hardly believe it was real.

The kitchen would be warm and tidy, as Marilla would stand for nothing less.  A mix between these two:

Via  Pinterest

And the entry way would be welcoming, but with a strong sense of the past:

Via  Pinterest
I mage via  Heather Bullard

There would obviously be a library where Anne would spend hours with her beloved books and wild imagination:

Via  Pinterest

And Anne's bedroom would be a combo of fun and cozy.  The perfect place for a young girl to look out the window and daydream the day away.  A cross between these two:

P.S. This is a great article about how the series has spawned a whole arm of tourism on Prince Edward Island.   

House Guests

Image via  Patrick Ahearn , one of the architects featured in the article.  

Image via Patrick Ahearn, one of the architects featured in the article.  

In the current issue of The Wellesley Weston Magazine I wrote an article about fabulous summer homes.  I had the privilege of visiting three talented architects at their offices where I drooled over the plans and photos of a few of their favorite summer homes.  It was a lot of fun.  We talked about what clients want in a summer home and every single architect said that one of the top things clients request is a separate sleeping space for guests.  I get it, everyone enjoys having house guests at cocktail hour but not so much before breakfast (which can actually be more like hours and hours before breakfast if your house guests have young children who are sleeping in a foreign room with no shades).

Which is why every house guest needs a fabulous gift to present upon arrival.  Now, I know it's tempting to go the home decor route and buy beach-themed serving platters or throw pillows.  But I'm going to propose something better - books!  Real, physical books that can stay in the house summer after summer and entertain visitors for years to come.  After all, into every summer a little rain must fall and what better way to pass the time than reading a good book.  

For the lady of the house, I recommend Jojo Moyes' new novel, One Plus One, which is being released on July 1st.  If it's even a smidge as good as Me Before You or The Girl You Left Behind then I'm pretty sure it will be a smash hit this summer and I CANNOT wait to read it.  

For the under two crowd, I'm absolutely loving the BabyLit board books.  With titles based on Jane Austen novels, Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre, and many more, they are a breath of fresh air in the baby book category.  The pictures are lovely, with plenty for little people to look at and the text is awesome.  It's just so refreshing to read about the Bennet sisters instead of animals and their noises.  (No offense Brown Bear, Brown Bear.  I'll love you forever, sometimes a mama just needs a little change).  In Pride & Prejudice there's even a love diagram about Mr. Collins, Lizzy, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, and Jane.  You can point out the eyes, ears, and noses on the pictures to your baby all while enjoying the most classic of love escapades.  And take a look at this guy:

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For the preschool crowd, I would do anything Mo Williams.  Anything.  If I had to chose just one of his books, it would have to be Knuffle Bunnywhich is one of my all time favorite books and I will keep my girl's copy forever and ever and ever.  If you need to read more about my deep love for this book, I blogged about it here.  If you think I go totally overboard with my emotional attachment to books, please don't click the link, you will not enjoy it.  

Now on to the older preschool/lower elementary school group and Star Sisters!  The perfect gift for any family with kids ages 4 and up.  After a long day at the beach, every mom will love to curl up in bed and read these books with her kids.  If you're looking for a book that's specifically about summer then go for Book 2, Star Sisters and The Big Show.  The books are meant to be read sequentially but they can also stand alone.  Or better yet, pretty soon you can buy all three books and a star necklace all wrapped up and ready to go!  I'm thinking the packaging will look something like this, give or take a few green stars.   

photo-16.JPG

(And speaking of star necklaces, thank you to everyone who wrote an amazon review.  The winners of the two Star necklaces have been emailed and I can't wait to see these special kids wearing their stars!)

Finally, while I know very little about teenagers or what's hot in the men's book market, I do think these bad boys would round out any book present quite nicely.  They're kind of gross but also kind of awesome, right?  Available on etsy here.

Back To School

I did my first school presentation!  And I survived!  While I spend a lot of my days writing, I'm also a pretty good talker.  I can chit chat with the best of them and in my former life I was an Assistant District Attorney, spending my days arguing in very crowded courtrooms full of very angry people.  But let me tell you, this classroom of kindergartners gave me a run for my money.  There is nothing quite like the feeling of nineteen fidgety little people slowly encroaching on you.  They start out all nice and quiet on the rug, but as the minutes pass by and they begin participating in the presentation, they slowly start to move closer and closer.  It's intense and I think kindergarden teachers deserve so much respect.  I'm pretty sure that I sweated my way through the entire presentation.  

I started by showing this pint size crew my notebook where I scribble story ideas and do a fair amount of doodling.  Then I passed around the word documents of my books so they could see what the text looks like before I add the illustrations (they were not impressed).  Finally, I explained the illustration process and showed them all the sketches that Annie and I went through before we settled on the perfect Coco and Lucy.  I got some very helpful suggestions for future books, like Star Sisters and the Giant Eye Ball, as well as many requests for a Star Sisters movie.  I like the way these kids think!  

If you live in the Boston area and are looking for a visiting author to visit your classroom, send me an email.  I would love to do some more of these.  And if you're a parent anywhere in the world and are facing the end of the school year with a small amount of fear, I have to tell you about this children's book series that my six-year old and I are loving.  It's called The Doll People and it follows the adventures of a family of dolls who come to life when their human owners leave them.  My daughter is captivated by the concept and the gorgeous illustrations and  I'm captivated by the writing.  It's beautifully descriptive with a great flow and I find myself studying the sentence structures as I read aloud.  There are three books in the series so I'm hoping it will put a good dent in our summer reading.

Of course, the first thing I did after we finished reading for the night was google the authors, Ann Martin and Laura Goodwin.  And all you ladies of a certain thirty-ish age will be thrilled to learn that Ann Martin is the author behind The Baby-sitters Club series.  Be still my heart!  I loved that series (as well as The Sweet Valley Twins) and remember devouring book after book after book.  Look at these covers and tell me they don't bring back childhood memories!  I'm signing off to write Ann Martin a long overdue fan letter.....

The Vacationers

Last week I was able to sneak away from real life and escape to St. Barths for a few days with my husband.  Like every good Vogue and US Weekly reader, I was familiar with St. Barths' reputation as a tropical playground for the rich and famous and I am here to say that Beyonce is no fool, there is a reason why she and Jay-Z vacation there.  It is beautiful!  But you also have to be Beyonce to hang there in the shopping department.  For example, I found these adorable bathing suits that I thought would be perfect for Coco and Lucy's next adventure, so I took a picture to send to my illustrator, Annie Zimanski.  They were so well made that I figured I'd grab a few suits for my own girls who are, after all, the inspiration behind my two fictional characters.  Then came the price tag.  No go!  It was crazy, even in euros.  So sadly those suits are still in St. Barths waiting for some adorable little European sisters to take them to the beach.  Maybe their super stylish mom will pack Star Sisters in their beach bag once the series is such a huge hit that it gets translated into many languages.  Dream big, right?

Anyway, while on vacation I managed to devour three whole books (!) and I have to recommend one in particular - The Vacationers by Emma Straub.  It was a great summer story about a family of New Yorkers who travel to Mallorca for a two week vacation.  Every family member is struggling with something heavy but Straub keeps the book light by showing the complicated ways that family members dance around each others' problems.  It was both funny and deep, with a touch of love and a great European island setting.  A perfect summer read.  Plus, check out this cover.  Man, I love a good cover!

And of course, the perfect pint size companion to any adult summer novel is Star Sisters and The Big Showon sale now!  In this book Coco and Lucy rock some pretty cute bathing suits, even if they aren't St. Barths inspired! 

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The Rock Star on the Shelf

Writing a book is often compared to giving birth.  I'm not going to go there because way too many people already have.  (Pop quiz: which Real Housewife threw herself a book shower as pay back for all the baby showers she had attended?  Answer at bottom of the post.)  But I will state with authority that having a book out in the world is nothing like having a child out in the world.  When I walk into a bookstore and see Star Sisters and the Royal Wedding on the shelf, I don't simultaneously kiss its sweet head, want to know everything about its day, offer to hold its sweater, and field a bazillion questions about what's for dinner and can its new best book friend come over for a playdate.  I simply look at my first book and smile, knowing that when it gets invited over to some nice family's house it will remember all its manners and be a wonderful addition to their bookshelf.

However, if I simply had to compare a book to a child, then Star Sisters and the Big Show (which will be out in just a few days!) would definitely be a rock star kind of kid.  She would have started sleeping through the night at approximately six weeks of age, wake her parents up at 8 am with the sound of singing, and have an awesome sense of style that includes aviator sunglasses and pink cowboy boots.  (See inspiration photo of my daughter above).  I LOVE this book.  I've read it dozens of times to my girls because we all can't get enough.  Really, I smile just looking at it.

Star Sisters and the Big Show is inspired by a certain fashionable blond-haired star who writes killer songs about the men who've toyed with her heart.  It features the hit song, "We Are Never Ever Going Down The Slide Together" and provides lots of important lessons about how words, no matter how well intentioned, can hurt people's feelings.  But it's also a book about the joys of summer and the feeling of being young and jumping into a cool swimming pool on a hot day.  If you need more convincing check out one of my favorite images from the book:

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And here's a peak of the star of the story, Trina Fast.  Anyone else think there's nothing better than a little girl in cowboy boots?  My middle daughter had a great hot pink pair with sequined stars from Target that she wore all winter long.  It's quite possible I will save those darling boots forever and ever and ever.       

Pop Quiz Answer: Carole Radziwill from Real Housewives of NYC (which is my favorite Real Housewives city of all time just in case you needed to know that sort of thing)!

Springing

Yep, it's Spring.  The time of year when I alternate between marveling at the gorgeous colors bursting from every tree and cursing the pollen that is wreaking havoc on my daughter's body.  It's also the time of year when my Pinterest account is full floral decor and beautiful gardens.  I LOVE Pinterest.  Probably a little too much.  Whenever I have a few moments to kill in a pick-up line or at Starbucks, my finger automatically goes for that tiny red icon like it needs a hit of some home decor e-drug.  I'm sure there are many problems with this addiction of mine, but one obvious one is that all these beautiful images tend to blur together.  Who knew there were so many stunning white kitchens with subway tile and brass hardware in the world!

But one set of pictures that always stand out and stop me in my tracks every time I see them are the ones from landscape architect Miranda Brooks' Brooklyn town home, originally featured in Vogue last year.   Her whole house is stunning, but it's her daughters' bedroom that I love best.  (And, of course, that garden pictured above.  Can you believe that's the city?)  

brooks girls bedroom 2.jpg

I definitely went a little more traditional/formal with my girls' bedrooms.  So far I have designed five little girl bedrooms (two when we lived in the city and three when we moved to our house in the suburbs).  The first few times I would patiently explain to my husband that I needed to go all out because who knew, it could be the last time I got to decorate a little girl room.  By bedroom number five he just threw his hands up in the air and admitted defeat before we even got to the decorating conversation.  Victory!  

I think what I love most about the little girl room above is the vibe of happiness that it gives off.  Clearly a lot of thought went into the wallpaper and the fuchsia trim on the drapes which is picked up by the red rug and the pop of color on the throw quilt.  But you can also picture Brooks's daughters running inside (after they tire of being in the garden with their fluffy pet bunnies) and plopping on the floor to play with their doll house.  That's what catches my eye on Pinterest these days - the feeling that a room gives off, as opposed to the design of the room.

Want to see the Star Sisters version of Pinterest?  Here's an image from Star Sisters and the Big Show, which I promise is coming out the first week of June!  Sweet Lucy, she's been dreaming of a canopy bed ever since she saw one in a magazine.  And thanks to the power of her magical star necklace, she finally gets to sleep in one.  I feel ya, Lucy.  I definitely dreamed of having a canopy bed when I was little.  If only I had had a magical necklace to make all my dreams come true.  Sigh. 

Bling It

My husband's been in California all week for work which is 99% terrible and 1% good.  Terrible because he's the best guy in the world and we all miss him.  (Especially this morning when my 20 month old came down with the stomach bug right as I was trying to get everyone off to school, that was awesome!)  But good because, as someone who is responsible for the feeding, dressing, bathing, entertaining, and general sheparding through life of three little people, I love having the house to myself at night.  I can order sushi and plop on the couch for some serious Bravo TV time without anyone questioning how in the world I can stand to watch such crap.  I just can.  There's no rational explanation.

I've also had more time to read at night and I'm currently loving The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier.  It's my favorite kind of historical fiction, one that intersperses a historical story line with a contemporary one.  A great example of this literary style is The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Meyes.  If you haven't read that or Meyes' other recent novel Me Before You please stop whatever you are doing and buy them.  Her novels are amazing.  I promise.  

But I digress.  In The Lost Sisterhood there is a bronze bracelet that is of great significance and weaves the two stories together.  It got me thinking about the emotional importance of jewelry.  I'm not just talking about engagement rings or wedding bands (although if you want to read a great novel about the history behind diamond engagement rings pick up The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan).  I'm thinking about unique jewelry that tugs at us for other reasons.  For me, one piece of jewelry that I feel really emotional about is my Heather Moore necklace.  Moore makes engraved custom pieces that are beautifully subtle.  Her golds and silvers are worn and antique looking, as if handed down from an older generation.  My necklace has four charms, one for each of my daughters and one for my husband.  It hangs low and makes this great clanking sound when I walk.  But what I love most is that my girls will often come up to me and ask to see their name charm, almost like they are checking on it.  And when my perfect little angels are less than angelic and get in trouble, they will reach out to find their charm and play with it while we are discussing their latest antics.  My littlest one still loves to put the charms in her mouth when I am leaning over to change her diapers.  I just love it.  

Maybe this is why when I needed something of significance for my Star Sisters ladies, Coco and Lucy, I chose a pendant necklace.  Coco finds her necklace on the streets of Paris and Lucy finds her necklace in the bottom of a trunk of her grandmother's clothes.  When the necklace are brought together magic occurs.  You'll have to read Star Sisters and the Royal Wedding to learn all about the necklaces' mysterious origins!  But here's a sneak peak from Star Sisters and the Big Show of the ladies in their magic necklaces.  They wear them everywhere, even to the local swimming pool!  Aren't they cute in their bathing suits?  I love these girls!

On The Shelves

This whole Star Sisters process has been rather awesome - except for the sleepless nights caused by anxiety over every little detail that goes into making a book.  But hey, I'm a mama, I have a lot of experience functioning in a state of exhaustion.  One of the single best moments in this whole journey, however, happened on Friday morning when I saw my book on the shelves at my favorite local book store, Wellesley Books.  

I love book stores.  Not the kind with Starbucks inside, I find those way too overwhelming despite the fact that I do enjoy a good magazine display featuring every home decor magazine known to man.  I'm talking about independent book stores, the ones that have their own unique smell, well worn oriental rugs, and the owner's dog sleeping in the corner.  I LOVE those kind of places.  Yes, I sell my books on Amazon.  And I think the ability to get a case of diapers, a pack of fresh onesies, and a great children's chapter book shipped to my doorstep for no additional charge is one of the best things to happen to parents in the past gazillion years.  But the excitement that I felt seeing Star Sisters and the Royal Wedding available on my computer screen did not hold a candle to the insane joy and pride I felt seeing it on the shelves.  It just didn't.    

If you feel the same way about book stores, you have to read the The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.  It tells the story of the most endearingly grumpy bookseller you'll ever come across, AJ Fikry.  Fikry owns Island Books, a book store located on a fictious island that reminded me of Martha's Vineyard.  Fikry is set in his cranky and lonely ways when an abandoned baby left in his store turns Fikry's life upside down.  The book is good, but what makes it great are the letters that begin every chapter in which Fikry writes his personal thoughts about the books that have impacted his life (the one that starts the final chapter made me sob).  This book oozes a love of literature.  It's what I wish every English class had been about - the way books make you think about life.  My only complaint is that the child in the book is just way too perfect.  She's the most mature toddler you'll probably never meet.  But I guess that's the beauty of fiction - we can all dream that our children would be content to spend hours leafing through picture books while we browse the shelves!