Ariel’s Picks: 5 Books My Toddler Loves

We’ve been reading to Ariel since she was in the womb, so it’s no surprise she’s a book-lover like her parents. It’s never too early to start reading to little ones, and here are a few Ariel would recommend.

One Love by Cedella Marley

One Love by Cedella Marley, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton – Gorgeous illustrations, happy faces, and lots to admire about the spirit of this book: Inspired by the timeless lyrics of Bob Marley’s song, this children’s board book is about community and creating the kind of world we want to live in. Ariel fell in love the book, so one day after reading it, I played “One Love” by Bob Marley. Watching her joy and surprise at hearing the song was one of those special moments of parenthood—that and her pronunciation sounding more like “One Luff.” See a trailer of this beautiful book here.

The Colorful Mouse by Julie Durrell

The Colorful Mouse by Julie Durrell – A Little Golden Book from the ’60s. Ariel is really into colors right now, and this book is a great break from the non-narrative children’s books about color. The mouse decides to go outside despite the rain, so the book follow’s the mouse’s preparation: a search for the green umbrella, the purple socks, the brown sweater, etc., culminating in a ridiculously colorful outfit. The twist: when the mouse finally opens the door to go outside, the rain has cleared. (Ariel’s favorite part is when the mouse throws its orange hat into the air.) Naturally, the book ends with a rainbow to reinforce all of the colors just learned.

Never Touch a Dragon by Make Believe Ideas Ltd.

Don’t Ever Touch a Dragon by Make Believe Ideas Ltd. – A touch-and-feel book, the child is directed not to touch the dangerous dragon despite its “weird and wavy wings” or “lumpy, bumpy skin.” The playful rhymes and colorful illustrations work well together, and Ariel has to touch every single page. On those nights when she doesn’t want to get in the bed, we start with this one—she can’t resist!

Dream Big by Joyce Wan

Dream Big by Joyce Wan – The language is simple—“Dream Big,” “Dream High,” “Dream Fast,”—but the message is not: each page features a woman who embodied that trait—from Harriet Tubman (“Dream Bold Dreams”) to Frieda Kahlo (“Dream Vibrant Dreams”). The book takes its title from the illustration for Junko Tabei, the first woman to scale Mount Everest, and who has scaled all the Seven Summits (the highest peak on every continent). I bought the book hoping it would grow with Ariel over time—that she would one day become interested in the stories of these trailblazers. But never underestimate your children: she already knows the name of nearly every woman in the book. Hearing Ariel point to the woman surrounded by books and say “Maya Angelou” made me cry. I’m ready for a sequel! Here’s the trailer.

Baby Beluga by Raffi illustrated by Ashley Wolff

Baby Beluga by Raffi, illustrated by Ashley Wolff – This is Ariel’s final bedtime book each night—a song Daddy must sing as Ariel holds the book and flips through the stunning illustrations. Based on the song by the children’s entertainer Raffi, this captivating book continues to delight a generation after it was originally performed. An animated version with song here.

Hope you’ve enjoyed these. More of Ariel’s Picks coming soon!

Pregnancy & Ancestry

Midway through my pregnancy, I ran across an antique necklace in my jewelry box and felt compelled to wear it. Only after I had clasped it around my neck did I remember it had been my great-great grandmother’s. I didn’t know much about the woman whose necklace I wore—not even her first name. My grandma always referred to her simply as “Grandma Fischel.” I do know this: she was very dear to my grandma, having helped raise her.

Grandma Fischel antique necklace

Shortly after my great-great grandfather returned from WWII, my great-grandmother became pregnant with their fourth child. While she was caring for her three children under age five, my great-grandfather left her for another woman, who was also pregnant with his child. My great-grandmother, the toughest woman I have ever met, and who will be 100 this January, bought a motorcycle and went to work. A single, divorced mother working several jobs to support her children was not so common in the late 1940s. One might even call it a scandal.

My great-great grandmother was well into her years by the time she moved in to help take care of her grandchildren. The house had two rooms, a parlor/kitchen and a room where everyone slept. Despite the hardship of those years, my grandma always spoke fondly of that time. Of course, as a child she was somewhat shielded from the pain of the adult world. Still, her happiness says a lot about “Grandma Fischel” and the special person she must have been.

My daughter Ariel, now just over a year old, is the sixth generation from Grandma Fischel. I ran across my grandma’s memoir a couple weeks ago and finally looked up my great-great grandmother’s name. Florence.

But I learned more than that. My great-great grandfather died when she was pregnant with my great-grandmother, her ninth surviving child. I can’t imagine the loss of her beloved (as well as provider and protector) on top of the strain, vulnerability, and emotional rawness of being pregnant. Florence’s life, of which I know so little, was fraught with difficulty from then on, as she cared for her newborn and struggled to support the four other children still at home. Then years later, after surviving that hardship, she saw her youngest in a similar crisis and came to her aid. She knew what to do.

It is no surprise, then, that I was drawn to her necklace. Pregnancy, though natural and beautiful, is also uncertain. The health of the mother or child could change at any moment due to any number of factors. Nothing is guaranteed. It’s easy to forget that I had those fears now that everything has turned out fine. At the time, the necklace helped me draw on the strength of those who had come before.

I have her necklace, and now I know her name.

Latte e L’arte: Breastfeeding Abroad

View of the Duomo from Palazzo Vecchio

Days before our trip to Italy, a woman in South Dakota was kicked out of a Chick-fil-a for breastfeeding. She knew a state law protected her, and said as much, but it didn’t stop the manager from asking her to leave.

Despite another controversy over a magazine cover of a woman breastfeeding, one can only hope that was an isolated event. But truth be told, my breastfeeding has been an adjustment for friends and family. Everyone has been super supportive, but some can’t help but feel awkward or shy or embarrassed (or something). I get it. I haven’t seen anyone breastfeed since I was little—and it was my mother. Before I started breastfeeding even I wasn’t sure about the appropriate way to act—do you look or not look? Engage or give privacy? Does the response depend on the situation?

Until leaving for Italy, I had mainly breastfed in the comfort of my home (usually my bedroom). I had my special stack of pillows. I didn’t have to think about the logistics of Ariel’s position, the right clothes to wear, time limits, or being discreet.

The biggest anxiety I had about traveling and teaching abroad was breastfeeding. What if we were at a museum and Ariel wanted to nurse? Or at a restaurant? Touring a church? Standing in line outside in the cold?

We’ve been living in a Tuscan villa with 33 students for just over a month. Most days we go into Florence or are traveling. I could write a Dr. Seuss book called Oh, the Places I’ve Breastfed!

The day after arriving, the program director took our group on a walking tour of Scandicci. The day before had been a crisp, sunny 50 degrees and skies an optimistic blue. This day was a soggy 45. Ariel was closed up in the stroller bouncing along contentedly until, naturally, she became hungry. In the café where we sought refuge, not only did people not mind my breastfeeding, but I was praised for it! Strangers struck a balance between encouragement and privacy, and the owners themselves were sure to make me feel welcome.

Since that auspicious start, Ariel has nursed on a bench in front of the Duomo, at restaurants, cafés, the tram to Florence, the train to Rome, in a bookstore, at a pizzeria, and in front of one of my favorite paintings—Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes.

While at the Carlo Bilotti museum to see the exhibition of the sculptor Jago (called “The Modern Michelangelo”), I sat in a room full of de Chiricos nursing Ariel. My former professor and longtime friend accompanied me into the room and encouraged me to take in “l’arte” while I gave Ariel her “latte.”

It struck me in that moment how much a nursing mother needs nourishment, whatever form that may take—encouragement, understanding, inspiration, mobility . . .

Taking care of a baby is not just physically challenging; it is psychologically demanding as well. I love nursing Ariel in the privacy of my bedroom, but I also need to be able to move freely in public spaces without fear of admonishment or giving offense. But this isn’t just about me–it’s about giving my baby what she needs when she needs it, wherever that may be.