7 Picture Books for Kids Who Want to Learn Something New

By Lela Nargi

Every now and then, a kid stumbles upon some new information that delights him almost beyond reason. And so begins the pursuit to discover everything he possibly can about his latest passion—whether it’s machines, or artwork, or the stars, or an unfamiliar language. And although nothing can take the place of firsthand experience on a building site, or in a museum, or lying out beneath the night sky, or visiting another country, books come in a very close second.

Here we’ve rounded up seven volumes that explore themes that are sure to inspire kids who are fascinated by so much of what they see and feel and hear. Reading them along with your children, we challenge you not to learn something, too!

How Machines Work by David Macaulay.  Kids who are enthralled with machinery know they’re in for something compelling just by looking at the cover of Macaulay’s latest opus, with its moving toothed-gear mechanism that’s operated by a determined-looking sloth. The premise of the whole book hinges on an escape from a zoo that’s orchestrated by two of its unhappy residents, which sets up the introduction of all sorts of simple machines (and shown to delightful effect with pop-ups and foldouts) they hope will get the job done…eventually. Pulleys, levers, screws, wheels—it’s all in here, and then some (ages 7-10, $20).




Round is a Tortilla and Green is a Chile Pepper by Roseanne Greenfield Thong & John Parra. A welcome twist on the same-old shape and color books, these two rhyming texts offer a primer on rectangles and stars, purple and yellow—as well as introducing things that come in those shapes and hues that are common in Spanish speaking cultures, and in many cases, offering the words in Spanish, too. Thoughtful and full of heart, and centered around family and friendship, these books are certain to make children curious about cultures previously unknown to them, opening up whole new worlds of possibility (ages 3-5, $17 each).

Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park & Jennifer Black Reinhardt. Nouns can also be verbs—an infinitely tricky concept to explain aloud, but one that is thoroughly sensical when illustrated on the page—especially when those illustrations are laugh-out-loud hilarious. Word-loving kids will be inspired to bad puns and possibly naughty doings by badgers badgering, parrots parroting, and hogs hogging (ages 4-7, $17available for preorder).


I, Humanity by Jeffrey Bennet. What we know about space and the universe increases, it seems, with each passing day. This photo book backtracks to explain the history of our understanding of such concepts as a round Earth and the pattern of the planets—and how it evolved through science. This is the second in the “Story Time from Space” series—log on to watch videos of astronauts reading to children from the International Space Station (ages 7-9, $15available for preorder).


Bowls of Happiness: Treasures from China and the Forbidden City by Brian Tse & Alice MakEvery aspect of ancient Chinese art is laden with symbolism—even when that art is something as simple and seemingly utilitarian as a porcelain bowl. But colors and images all have meaning behind their beauty and this small and decidedly odd tome from the China Institute breaks it all down in a way that will appeal to visual-minded children, who after exploring its pages, will surely go on to look for greater meaning among the objects in your own drawers and cupboards (ages 5-8, $13).

Do Unto Animals by Tracey Stewart & Lisel Shlock. The more likely title for this book is “Do Unto Dogs and Cats,” since these are the house pets on which it mainly focuses (although some attention is paid to backyard and farm animals as well). But any child who’s a lover of creatures great and small will delight in the highly expressive illustrations, and thrill to knowledge that lets her become an expert in how to make animals supremely happy. Since this book is written for adults, it’s offered here as read-aloud material—all the better, since you and your tots can enjoy learning together (all ages, $20).

10 Picture Books About the Dark

By Lela Nargi

The start of a new school year presents lots of challenges, even for kids who are seasoned pros at separating from their parents and spending whole days in the classroom. Old anxieties, long thought to have been put to rest, rear up all over again, especially as night falls and a new, challenging day looms on the horizon.

One of the most common recurring anxieties: fear of the dark. To alleviate it, here we’ve rounded up 10 new picture books that are sure to show the unique beauties of nighttime and hopefully, banish any fear of it from your little one’s bedroom—this autumn and long beyond.

Moon Man by Tomi Ungerer. A reprint of an award-winning classic by beloved and prolific children’s author Tomi Ungerer. What happens when the Man in the Moon decides to take a romp on Earth? A strange and hilarious fairy-tale adventure that will make nighttime kids guffaw out loud (ages 4-8, $17).

Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett. This visually engaging book addresses fear of the dark head-on. When Dark personified comes to take terrified young Orion on a tour of all that’s marvelous about the night, little by little the boy’s fear starts to diminish—to be replaced with a sense of wonder at all the adventure a bit of dark and shadow can provide (ages 4-9, $17).

The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara. A young librarian and her three assistant owls staff a magical library that’s only open at night. A charming story told in rhyme that’s sure to be a favorite read-aloud before lights-out (ages 3-6, $17).









The Game in the Dark & The Game of Light by Hervé Tullet. The French author/illustrator is a master at understanding what fascinates young minds and these two books, part of a larger series meant to be explored in the dark, are no exception. In the first, children must dim the room to create shadows of fish and faces and stars on their walls and ceiling; in the second, solar-charging pages in the daytime makes them glow in the dark once night falls (ages 3+, $10/$13).

Black Cat, White Cat by Silvia Borando. A tale of opposites, in which a day-loving black cat and a night-loving white cat set out to discover what’s so special about the 12-hour cycle they know nothing about. A great reminder to dark-fearing children that the intense beauties of stars and fireflies can never be viewed in daytime—reason enough to hit the “off” switch (ages 2-5, $14).

Good Night, Firefly by Gabriel Alborozo. When the electricity goes out, taking an all-important nightlight with it, a young girl is introduced to the joys of night play. The book makes such a strong case for the pleasures of the dark, you might find your own tyke demanding that you shut off the lights earlier than ever, to get in a little shadow-puppet action before bed (ages 3-7, $17).

Rufus: The Bat Who Loved Colors by Tomi Ungerer. Another brilliant reprint of a Tomi Ungerer classic—this one about a bat who would rather be colorful than boring all-black. Until, that is, an encounter with a scientist who mistakes him for a rare butterfly shows him the importance of being himself. Less a celebration of night than of one of its important creatures, a fact that can lead to much discussion of the special animals that emerge only after the sun goes down (ages 4-7, $17).

At the Same Moment Around the World by Clotilde Perrin. Nighttime is just another component of the usual cycle of a day. While one boy sleeps (or in our reality, fears sleep), around the world other boys and girls are eating breakfast, playing music, shopping for groceries—mundanities that will be enjoyed by everyone once a good night’s sleep has come to pass. Includes a fold-out world map that is perfect for perusing with bedtime procrastinators (ages 5-8, $18).

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd. This gorgeously illustrated book, further enhanced with page cutouts, wordlessly follows a young boy as he explores the nighttimes woods with his flashlight. A lovely visual introduction to raccoons and skunks, foxes and porcupines, luna moths and deer, as well as to the concept that what lurks in the dark is something to be celebrated rather than something worthy of fear (ages 2-6, $17).

The start of a new school year presents lots of challenges, even for kids who are seasoned pros at separating from their parents and spending whole days in the classroom.

Kid-Lit Author Linda Urban on the Joys of Reading

By Lela Nargi

Having just released her latest book, an action-packed mystery for kids age 7-10 called Milo Speck, Accidental Agent, kid novelist Linda Urban took time out of her busy author schedule to chat with us about the importance of reading, writing, and building worlds on a page to allow kids to explore who they really are.

There’s a lot of talk about why picture books are so important for kids. But what’s so special about middle grade? When we’re in kindergarten, people say, What do you want to be when you grow up? And we can say, I want to be a fire fighter, or a doctor. And people say, That’s so great! In the middle grade years, when people say, What do you want to be and you say, I want to be a doctor, they say, Well you better start studying! Suddenly, the future has this weight that before was all play, but we want that play to persist. Middle grade novels let us figure out who we are and where we fit; they let us hold on to that childish imaginative past while also recognizing that the decisions we make might have an impact on the future.

My son, Jack, is about to turn 11. He reads adult-level physics books, but he also believes it’s possible that he’s going to get his Hogwarts letter. He both knows and doesn’t know, believes and is skeptical. That’s what so perfect about writing for that age and being that age. My daughter, Claire, is 13 and it’s harder and harder for her to hold on to that magic.

Many kids still love to be read to in the middle grade years. Are you hoping that will happen with MiloMilo is written with a rhythm and I hope it will be read aloud with a parent or in a classroom. It also has a relationship between a father and son, and I hope a parent reading it aloud will get a connection with his kids as he’s reading to them.

Did anyone read to you as a kid? I have a memory of being read Charlotte’s Web in the 2nd grade by a teacher who was otherwise terrifying. She had a bad temper and was nearing retirement and could see it waiting for her outside the classroom door. But at read-aloud, it got very quiet and we all sat in what we now call criss-cross-applesauce on the green carpet in front of her chair. And her voice changed and her demeanor changed, and it was this magical bubble where we were all safe. At the time, I identified with Fern and Wilbur, but years later when I read the book aloud to my kids, suddenly I was Charlotte—I had never identified with her before. By the end of the book I was bawling and my kids were like, Mom she’s a spider and Wilbur’s fine!

What was the importance of books in your childhood? I grew up outside Detroit, a suburban existence in a subdivision—kind of a Judy Blume childhood. Although, I always felt uncomfortable reading her. I was such a late bloomer I would think, Is that going to happen to me? Am I supposed to be thinking or feeling that? Because I don’t!

But the books that made the biggest difference to me when I was young were all the Beverly Cleary books. I loved Ramona; she was so not like me. I was very well behaved and wanted to please. The audacity of Ramona was just so appealing to experience on the page. I loved the Little House books, too, and I was Laura Ingalls for many a Halloween. I also was child of the bicentennial year, which was so formative. I read every revolutionary biography that there was. I begged to stay up late to see the Bicentennial Minutes on CBS. It made me wish I was an East Coast person, so I could be truly a patriot.

But after 4th grade, I went to a Catholic school where the library was locked all the times unless there was a volunteer, and most of the books were 30 or 40 years old. So when you did get to take a book out, it was about a girl who was deciding whether to become a nurse or just get married. I kind of stopped reading then. But when I did read, I liked a book that saw me in one way or another, and that’s what I want to do for kids—write about small things that matter in a big way to them. Milo Speck is an exception, because it’s an action adventure, but even then, Milo is a small boy in a big world who’s in over his head. That is how I felt often.

We’re sitting today in BookCourt, a great independent bookstore in Brooklyn. Do you think it’s important to bring kids to places like this? Very early on, kids learn by watching us what things are important to us. I lived with my parents near Detroit during a recession and there wasn’t a lot of disposal income around. But when my parents had the money, we got a book. That said to us, This is a valuable thing, and we value you enough to give you this thing. It can be hard at the picture book age to spend $17.95 on a book that has 32 pages that may or may not become that favorite book the kids reads over and over. But when you get one of those for your kids, you’re telling them, This is where our priorities lie. My own kids know I never say “no” to books and art supplies.

Your son is about Milo’s age. Does he identify with him? Milo was actually written for Jack. My first three books are very introspective and, even though I don’t believe in girl books or boy books, they have girl protagonists and they’re quieter. But my son came to me and said, Your books are pretty good but I want you to write something for me. I said, What’s that? And he said, I want HAM. I said, Like lunchmeat? No, like Hero, Action, Mystery.

As I was writing, Jack was reading and he would tell me when he didn’t understand something and he’d laugh at the good jokes and squint at the not-so-good jokes. He was incredibly valuable to me. As far as identifying with Milo, Jack is not as mechanical as Milo is, but he liked that Milo could look at the internal workings of a dryer and figure out how that would work and how you could ruin it, and foil the plot. For Jack, that whole idea of “even a kid can make a difference” was really, really appealing.

Everyone has their own answer to the question, Why is reading important? What’s yours? On a hard day, my daughter can go to the stairs to the attic, where we keep our picture books, and she’ll take down some of her favorites from when we were little, like Miss Rumphius, and some that I didn’t even know meant something to her. She’ll grab those and will be in her bed with them for the evening. It’s a total comfort.

But I think one of the best things that books do is they allow you to say, What would I do in that situation? What would I do for my friends? What skills do I have, abilities, weaknesses? Am I strong enough to say “no” in a terrible situation? Both my kids are really good at “what if.” They don’t always make the right decisions, but they’ve practiced through stories to think outside what everyone else is doing. And that gives them power.


Chudney Ross is Bringing Literacy to a New Generation at LA’s Books and Cookies

Ross and daughter, Callaway
Ross and daughter Callaway enjoying the sunshine out on the Books and Cookies turf.

By Lela Nargi

On a low-slung strip of street halfway between the skate shops of Venice’s Muscle Beach and the boutiques of downtown Santa Monica, Chudney Ross has opened her kid-centric outpost, Books and Cookies. Twice.

Aiming to provide what she calls a “literacy-based experience” for the area’s burgeoning young family population, in 2011 Ross fell in love with a storefront that was wedged in among the area’s myriad coffee shops and palm trees, even though she knew the space was much too big for what she had in mind. “I had positive aspirations!” she laughs.


Books are arranged at toddler height, so kids can easily select their faves.
Books are arranged at toddler height, so kids can easily select their faves.


Those aspirations began even before Ross was a mom herself—to daughter Callaway, now age two. Back then, she lived in Venice (as she still does, with Callaway and fiancé Joshua Faulkner), rode her bike “everywhere,” and was writing her first children’s book at a nearby branch of the Coffee Bean. Wherever she looked, she says, “I noticed there was nothing at all for children. There’d be moms in the Coffee Bean but it was just a place for them to meet up with each other and chat before going for a walk somewhere else with the kids.”

That vision of a klatsch of moms-without-a-base stuck with Ross. And so it was that when this former teacher and youngest daughter to legendary Motown singer Diana Ross opened Books and Cookies in its first incarnation, she already knew that she wanted to create an environment that was welcoming and nurturing, not just for children, but for their parents as well. It’s an environment she likens to the ’80s TV show Cheers, “Where everybody knows your name,” Ross says.


Art time at Books and Cookies!
Art time at Books and Cookies!


The old place, like the new, significantly more manageable place—which Ross opened across the street from the original locale just this past September—was conceived as part bookstore, part event space. Parents could shuffle in for Books and Cookies’ ever-popular storytime, order up cups of strong hot coffee for their own bleary selves and some home-baked cookies for their kids. Then casually spend the morning hanging out with like-minded moms and dads who were elated to have a safe, fun place to park their strollers and veg out for a while. If they were feeling slightly more ambitious, they could drop in for a Mommy & Me yoga class or a craft-making event. Above all, says Ross, it was a place where “parents could bond.”

It’s been a work in progress since its inception. Says Ross, “Originally I thought of it as three separate businesses: a bookstore, a café, and an enrichment center.” Re-conceiving it as an all-in-one destination not only streamlined her original concept; it helped her create a place that is not quite like any other. “There are a lot of baby classes in LA that teach parents how to do all kinds of things. I’m not trying to teach parents anything—I’m learning everyday myself. What I know how to do is make reading fun.”

The fun starts when you walk in the door of the new narrow but bright space. Right up front is Ross’s continuously revolving and highly curated selection of books for kids of all ages, within easy reach of even the smallest of mobile tots. “We may not always have exactly the book you’re looking for, but we’ve got unique bestsellers and classics from when I was young,” says Ross. Certain titles are always on tap, like James Dean and Eric Litwin’s Pete the Cat. “It’s got singing, and fun colors—basically, it’s a good read for all the age ranges we see in here,” says Ross. Infants and toddlers dominate the morning; toddlers on up to kids around age 6 show up after nap time and stay well into the afternoon.

Whether or not to keep such tender merchandise within grabbing and gnawing distance was a matter of some debate. “People cautioned me from letting families pull down books,” says Ross. “But for me it was more important for them to spend time reading. And our families are pretty good about buying a book that has a bite mark in it, or a cover that’s a little mangled.” Ross also set up a bargain bin near the cash register—one of many unique solutions Books and Cookies adopted right from the get-go.

Another is found in the small details that turn up all throughout the shop, which welcome children to stay. And stay. And stay. Says Ross, “I found a picture of an amazing bookstore in Hong Kong, where kids could climb into holes in the walls and sit in there with pillows and books to read. I didn’t have the resources to recreate that, but Mimi Shin, who helped me design the space, made shelving structures you could climb under, and a hammock up front the little ones can sit in.” Also inviting intimacy with reading material is the teepee in the shop’s turf-topped, 600-square-foot outdoor playspace.


Sneaking a peek
Sneaking a peek.

Since babies and toddlers often prove to be such fickle and short-attentioned visitors, that playspace, which was tiny and indoors in the old location, was an unexpected boon to the business. “People love it—they walk in and say, ‘This is awesome!’” says Ross. Kids can run amok and burn off energy in the almost-always-balmy So-Cal weather—including Callaway, who Ross says used to be content to sit in the shop, propped up by books, but who now “tears the store up.” And parents don’t have to worry about losing a toddler, since the area is enclosed. It doubles as a party space for the myriad birthdays the shop hosts.

Although literacy always remains a focus. Says Ross, “A lot of times when they come in to book a party, people will say, ‘Oh we don’t need to do storytime—our four-year-old won’t like that.’ And I say, ‘Please give it a shot.’ Their kids always wind up loving it. They see us read with enthusiasm.” More often than not, they’re excited to bring that positive energy home with them.

Ross says it was simple enough to reinstate all the old favorite classes from Books and Cookies’ old outpost to the new. Although storytime remains the shop’s most popular recurring event—it happens four mornings a week at 9:30AM, led by one of Ross’s personally-trained staff members—there is also toddler yoga, and sensory playtime, and various music classes, run by a cadre of local kid specialists. But even these activities contain a subtle literacy bias. After all, says Ross, “We can also story-tell thorough our bodies, and through music.”

One thing that didn’t quite make the full transition: the cookies that comprise half the shop’s name. In the old space they were hand-baked daily on site. But in planning for the new space, Ross says, “I met with some of our regulars and asked what was the most important part of Books and Cookies for them, what would they be sad to find missing? Mostly they said they liked the sense of community, the classes, the varying array of books for kids in a broad age range. No one said food.” Which was lucky, because the new space had no room for a full kitchen. So, the cookies and a whole array of healthy snacks were taken off the menu. And Ross discovered that even without a health permit she could have 100 square feet of pre-packaged food available for purchase: cookies and muffins, mostly. But she says customers noticed a difference between store-bought and homemade, which are “baked with love.”

Coffee for the parents had to go, too. And although Ross admits that’s something of a problem, despite the profusion of coffee shops in the neighborhood—“People like to stop once”—bringing it back is beyond her capabilities. But she is working on resurrecting the homemade cookies. The week she spoke with UrbanFamily, she was trying out deliveries from Jojo’s Dozen in Inglewood. “We’re experimenting with having multiple kinds of homemade yumminess,” she says. “The cookies will be small, so you can mix and match: maybe one oatmeal raisin and one red velvet. We’ll get new deliveries of different kinds of cookies every two days. Our books rotate; why shouldn’t our cookies rotate, too?”

Visit Books and Cookies to learn more.


Books and Cookies


Photographs by Kyle Monk

Meet Kate Talbot: Successful Author, Content Creator, and Digital Strategist… and an UrbanSitter Babysitter!


Kate Talbot has built her successful career by using digital storytelling to empower communities at brands like Kiva and Virgin America, as well as scale early-stage startups for growth. In her free time, she writes for online publications like Social Media Examiner and KISSmetrics, educating small business owners and entrepreneurs on how to successfully use millennial social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat to build their brands. Recently, she published a book on the topic of Snapchat Marketing. Of course, like any city girl she was at the Dry Bar downtown on a recent Monday morning getting glam for an important event and ran into UrbanSitter CEO Lynn Perkins (whom she babysat for years back) and they got to chatting…

Here, Kate shares with us her experiences with UrbanSitter, what it’s been like having written a successful book, and more insight into her career and life.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you know UrbanSitter CEO and Co-Founder, Lynn?
For me, I am all about the side hustle. SF is expensive and any avenue in which you can use technology to create multiple revenue streams is important. My girlfriends and I (as many of us) have babysat since our tween years, and after business school in 2012 we all signed up for UrbanSitter. This was a great way to supplement our job incomes off the bat.

I learned from my friend Lisa, who is a babysitting all-star, that the best way to build your babysitting profile is to reply to jobs right away and babysit on a Saturday night. From doing so, I ended up replying fast to a query and booked a job during the 2013 holiday season for Lynn. I had a wonderful time babysitting for her son and she was highly supportive of my own story and helping me succeed. We connected on LinkedIn, and I always loved following all the news about UrbanSitter; especially this amazing feature in the First Round Review on Lynn and UrbanSitter.

As fate happens, I ended up running marketing for a First Round Capital companywhich also funds UrbanSitter—so at a dinner roundtable I met Daisy [Downs, Co-Founder of UrbanSitter] too! I let the other attendees know that even though I was in the tech space, I also was an UrbanSitter babysitter, which delighted everyone.

You mentioned going to business school, where did you study?
I went to the University of San Francisco, where I focused on Marketing and Entrepreneurship.

I grew up in Moraga in the East Bay —I have lived in New York City, too—but I knew I wanted to be in the Bay Area long-term. My dad and brother both went to USF for law school, so I knew I’d be getting a great education.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now?
I have my own consulting firm where I lead growth marketing for early stage startups—whether that’s influencer marketing tools or cybersecurity technology—it really runs the gamut but I love it all.

I also write on the side. I do that because it’s a passion of mine.

In fact, when I babysat I am able to write when the kids are asleep. One of my favorite articles I wrote on Snapchat was written in a Pacific Heights apartment overlooking the Bay, while babysitting for a great family.

You just wrote and published a book about Snapchat, what was the process like?
I combined the writing which was already published on the topic and leveraged my community. I’m extremely fortunate to have contacts across all industries at big brands and media entities, and they were able to provide case study insights into their own execution of the platform. My mentor, a VC from Onset Ventures, who encouraged me to write the book, wrote the foreword about the future of enterprise marketing and Snapchat.

I also mentor at Stanford for an undergraduate course in media and technology. From this class, I was able to hire a recent graduate to design all the creative assets. That was probably my favorite part, because we had so much fun thinking outside the box and what would help the audience understand the platform from a visual perspective.

What interested you about Snapchat enough to write about it ?
I’ve always been really in tune with the millennial, and now Gen Y, audience on what the next trends will be. As a user myself and talking with my 22-year-old god-sister and her friends, I realized the power of Snapchat as an authentic way of telling stories and connecting with friends. Since I’d already been writing about social media for Social Media Examiner, I pitched the topic of Snapchat for Business. I was one of the first writers to do so, and it’s led to amazing opportunities speaking at business schools and conferences. I figured next steps, why not write a book!  

What has the reception been like for your book?
It did amazingly well! I felt so thankful for my community that downloaded it. During the 5-day free promotion, it went to the #2 spot in all of Business Marketing and Sales on Amazon. It was also #1 on Amazon for Advertising and Professional Development and #1 on Product Hunt books.

To wrap up: If you could give advice to sitters using the service, what would it be?
My advice would be to think of your profile as a personal brand. Fill out your profile in the best light possible. Also, remember parents are really looking forward to their date night or event they are off to, so be as professional as possible and always make sure you are doing your best! I know it can be tough sometimes, but keep trying to babysit more and more even if you get overwhelmed.

Babysitting in SF is a great way to explore the different neighborhoods—I didn’t know about all the parks that were out there—and connect with the families! If I hadn’t followed up with Lynn, I wouldn’t be in this position. You never know what will happen!

You can pick up a copy of Kate’s book, Oh, Snap! You Can Use Snapchat for Business, on Amazon, follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and see more of her work on her website at http://www.katetalbot.me/.


Meet Katie: Nurse Practitioner, Hockey Fan, & Babysitter

Katie Bell

As a pediatric nurse practitioner at the top hospital in the US, Katie makes her living helping children. Since joining UrbanSitter in 2015, she’s expanded her services to include babysitting for some of Boston’s coolest families. A lifelong Chicago Blackhawks fan, she says she uses her own passion for sports as a tool for connecting with new families and kids, and loves babysitting because of the lasting relationships she builds with families.

A Chicago-native, Katie recently moved to Boston to attend graduate school. Here, she tells us more about her life as a nurse practitioner, her passion for helping others, and what she loves about living in Boston.

You’re from Chicago originally. What brought you to Boston?
I came out here to go to grad school at Boston College, where I studied pediatric nursing.

Tell us a little bit about your work as a nurse.
I’m on the inpatient general surgery service as a nurse practitioner, and I manage children ranging in age from hours old to well into their 20s. Patients come from all over the world to have the surgeries that our hospital offers. My job mostly entails before and after surgery; getting patients prepared for the operation and making sure they are healing appropriately afterwards. At the end of the day, you have this goal of doing something good and changing a child’s life for the better. It can be hard, but it’s also really rewarding.

As a pediatric nurse and a babysitter, what is your schedule like?
I work four shifts of ten hours a week and then every fifth weekend, so I have random periods free time during the week. I have a lot of families that I sit for regularly, and I’ll send them my work schedule and they’ll work around it. A lot of families I babysit are not typical 9-5 families; they’re doctors or lawyers and so the changing hours work for both of us.

Can you tell us a little bit about some of the families you sit for?
Boston is such a big city and so the families you meet are all very unique. I have babysat for dozens of families in Boston; some just once and some regularly. I’ve built relationships with parents who are professors, prosecutors, doctors, stay at home moms, and families traveling together for vacation or business who need a break from their kids.

Each family is unique and I enjoy the challenge of having to adapt to each family. I have one family that doesn’t even have a TV and another family that is fine with just giving the kids the iPad and letting them entertain themselves.

How did you first get into babysitting?
I was probably 12 when my neighbors asked if I could watch their kids for a few hours. I did it all through high school, and it was never about the money but more about helping out families that I knew. I’ve always loved kids! I was also a hockey coach in Chicago. I had a family that I met when coaching hockey and I loved the kids so much that I would have offered to sit for that family for free.

How did you first discover UrbanSitter?
When I was in grad school, I chose not to work. So when I graduated it was top of my list to get back into babysitting. Before I sat for my nurse practitioner boards, I was working at a prep school summer camp and one of the girls working there told me, “You have to get on UrbanSitter!” I’ve been using it for about a year now. I babysit maybe 3-4 times a week, and I make enough that I can afford the monthly payments on my student loans.

What do you do in your spare time?
We live right in the heart of downtown Boston, which I think is so fun. Being able to afford to live in the middle of the city and experiencing everything here is so great. My girlfriend and I also travel a lot, which we’re very fortunate to do. We’ll go skydiving, book an impromptu trip in Europe, or jump on a flight to visit friends across the US. We figure, why not do the fun stuff now?

10 Ways to Tackle Reading Homework

Most school-aged children are required to read as part of their daily homework. It’s typically not much, 15-40 minutes of reading, but busy families with limited after-school time can have a tough time squeezing it in. It’s difficult to find time in their busy schedules and convince tired kids, especially early readers, to hit the books each night.

Rather than fighting with your little one to get the work done, why not help by making reading a family affair? After all, there’s no disputing how important it is for new readers to get consistent reading practice. Here’s how to help your child clock the time by doing it together as a family and by expanding his reading materials beyond the books he brings home from class. You’ll be surprised at how much your child enjoys the time and how quickly the reading minutes add up.

image via mytudut at compfight


Tips for Logging Reading Time:

  • Read a recipe and cook something together. Check out the UrbanSitter Cooking with Kids Pinterest board for delicious recipes that are just right for cooking with kids.
  • Make sure the books you have at home are the appropriate reading level. Experts suggest using the five-finger rule. Open a book to a random page and ask your child to read it to you. Put one finger up every time your child does not know a word on the page. If you have to put up more than five fingers before turning the page, the book is too hard for your child.
  • Play a board game together. Start by having your child read the instructions aloud. Fun, educational options include Scramble Junior and Boggle Junior, but any board game with cards to read will work.
  • Take a family trip to the library and have your child choose books that appeal to his or her interests. A reluctant reader may change her tune when she dives into a story she can relate to or that piques her interest.
  • Create a comfortable spot in your home for lounging and reading, and hang out there together as a family. No electronics allowed.
  • Have your child help you make the grocery list and read it aloud to you if you are shopping together.
  • Task your child with reading the menu at a restaurant.
  • Keep plenty of reading materials in your home, including books, magazines, newspapers and comic books. Make it a habit of having your child grab something to read while in the car or while waiting at an appointment or at his sibling’s soccer practice.
  • Commit to making bedtime stories a regular part of your nightly bedtime routine. Even older grade schoolers enjoy being read to and appreciate hearing a story they may not be able to tackle on their own. You might take turns reading, switching every page or every chapter.
  • Try interactive literacy websites, such as Starfall, Speakaboos and Spelling City for fun games that promote literacy.

The next time you have a sitter, be sure to share your reading tips and requirements and encourage her to read with your children and to supervise independent reading time. How do you encourage your kids to read each and every day? We’d love to hear your tips!

Jumpstart Your Child’s Pre-Education

Whether your preschooler is just starting to learn her letters and numbers or she’s gearing up to start kindergarten in the fall, there are simple ways to help her learn and practice reading, writing and arithmetic – three of the key learning aspects of early childhood development that teachers use to gauge kindergarten readiness. Consistency and practice are essential to mastering these skills, but fear not, you can easily incorporate these fun learning opportunities into your child’s summer routine and encourage your sitters to do the same.



  • Research has shown that the single most important thing that a parent can do to help their child acquire language, prepare for school, and to instill a love of learning is to read to them. Check out the Scholastic Reading Recommendations List for Ages 3-5 if your bookshelves need some replenishing.
  • Schedule a time every day to read to your child and talk about the letters and words, characters, and what happened first, next and last. It’s helpful to children if you use your finger to follow the words as you read so they can follow along.
  • A rich vocabulary and strong language skills are building blocks for learning to read. Engage your child in regular conversation, avoiding baby talk in order to enrich their vocabulary.
  • Enrich language by singing songs and reciting nursery rhymes together.
  • Encourage your child to tell stories by giving you a puppet show, playing dress-up, and playing other make-believe activities.
  • Have your child put photos of herself at different ages into the correct sequence.
  • Let her play with magnetic letters on a cookie sheet or other magnetic surface. Practice the sound each letter makes.
  • Cut out letters from magazines to spell her name and other simple words.


  • Tracing helps kids to make the precise movements necessary for forming letters and improving hand/eye coordination. Very young children can trace a straight line – have them trace from left to right to mimic the process of printing from left to right. Ages 3 and 4 can handle tracing zig zags and curves, and by age 5 most children can trace letters and numbers. Here are several printables to help with tracing.
  • Help your child practice writing his name, ABCs and numbers 1-10 using different tools to make it fun – colored pencils, chalk on the sidewalk, shaving cream, sand and finger paint.
  • Keep a summer journal. Ask her to draw a picture of something she did each day, and with your help writes a word or more to describe it.
  • Let little ones help with writing grocery lists or making cards for friends. This helps to see the different ways we use writing in our daily lives.
  • Make labels for belongings, such as an art box, notebook, or cup so that your child routinely sees words she can start to associate with objects.

Numbers and Counting

  • Take advantage of warm summer days by spending time outdoors on a nature walk. Turn your walk into a scavenger hunt where you not only find but also count the items on your list. Go Explore Nature has a good scavenger hunt list and guidelines.
  • Encourage kids to think of the world in terms of numbers by consistently getting them to see and recognize numbers in their world. For instance, say, “Let’s get out three crayons to color with today,” or “Will you help me put five plates on the table for dinner?”
  • Use coins or items around the house to experiment with adding, subtracting and the use of “more” and “less.”
  • Look for and point out numbers in her world, such as addresses, page numbers, recipes, and price tags.
  • Read stories and sing songs about numbers, such as “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.”
  • Cooking with your child offers many opportunities for practicing numbers. Count your ingredients, measure and talk about how ingredients are added together to make a whole.

With a little help from you and your sitters, your child will master these important skills and be ready to tackle kindergarten. Check back with us for simple ways to help your child adopt the other key aspects of early childhood education, including physical, social and emotional development.

Tips for Summer Reading

Summer is all about unwinding and taking a break from the routine and demands of the school year, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to take a vacation from reading. Experts tell us that kids lose core reading skills and are at risk of falling behind when they don’t read over summer break. Reading keeps them sharp and improves skills to prepare them for the next school year, and it helps to foster a life-long love of reading and learning. Whether it’s scheduled quiet time for toddlers or emerging readers to look at a book, young readers to read alone, or for a parent or sitter to read to a child, time with books is time well spent.



Here are helpful tips for encouraging kids to stick with the books this summer:

  • Schedule time during your day, at least an hour, for kids to spend with books. The quiet time will be a welcome break for all of you.
  • Be a good role model. When your kids see you read, whether it be a newspaper, magazine or a book, they see that reading is enjoyable and rewarding.
  • Ask your sitter to spend time reading with your child.
  • Have kids keep a reading journal. Keeping a record of the books they’ve read will give them a sense of accomplishment, which is a great motivator.
  • Join a library story hour or reading group to make the time social and a good way to connect. Many libraries have parent/child story time or book discussions or programs for older kids to read to younger children.
  • Make a visit to the library or book store a regular part of your summer routine. A weekly visit allows you keep your selection fresh.
  • Encourage (and incentivize!) older siblings to read to younger siblings. They’ll both benefit from the time.
  • Start a book swap with neighbors or friends so kids to share favorites and expand their reading choices. They may discover they enjoy genres they never would have chosen on their own.
  • Join an online summer reading program or challenge to motivate kids. There are several good national programs, or find one locally: Barnes and Noble Summer Reading: Read 8 books, record them in a journal and win a free book. Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge: Kids Read for the World Record, enter sweepstakes to win fabulous prizes, and earn digital rewards when they complete weekly reading challenges. Scholasic provides an excellent app for recording reading time.
  • Make sure books are easily accessible throughout your home. Make it as easy to grab a book as it is to turn on the TV or reach for the iPad.
  • Make a habit of packing books to read on road trips and vacations, and keep a few in your car for easy reading while traveling. Many parents swear by audio books for car trips.
  • Keep your Kindle or iPad well stocked with books for each of your children, and encourage them to read or look at a book, rather than choosing a game.
  • Keep up the bedtime routine you have during the school year, including reading together at the end of the day.
  • Spend some time exploring books that are age-appropriate so your child has choices that are engaging and a bit challenging, without being too difficult and frustrating for early readers. Amazon provides a good list of summer reading picks, divided by age groups starting with the baby – age 2 set.

We’re betting these tips will help even the most reluctant readers and the busiest toddlers learn to appreciate the joy that comes with reading a good book, even when the summer sun calls!

What are your tips for getting kids to read? Share them in the comments!

Reading Roundup: New Children’s Books for Fall

UrbanSitter asked Susan Kundhart, children’s book buyer for Book Passage, an independent book store in Corte Madera and San Francisco, CA, to share with us some of her favorite new children’s books with us. Enjoy!

You Were the First
Book Passage

You Were the First, by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, $17.00, ages 2-5.

Plenty of new-sibling books aim to persuade young children that they will learn to love the new baby, or to take comfort in being able to do things the baby cannot. This lovely new picture book from a beloved author affirms every child’s feeling about a new sibling: Hey, I was here first! “You were the first to cry. You were the first to smile. You were the first to lift your head, to look at the trees and flowers and sky.”



Book Passage
Book Passage

How to Train a Train, Jason Eaton, $16.99, ages 3-7.

Lots of kids are obsessed with trucks and trains, but these kids love trains so much they keep them as pets. Written like a manual for pet ownership, this helpful book gives advice on selecting, naming, training, and caring for your new friend. The illustrations showing full-size engines rolling over on command and snuggling in for a bedtime story contrast hilariously with the straightforward “instructions.”



Flora and Ulysses
Book Passage

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures$17.99 Kate DiCamillo, ages 7 up.

From a true genius storyteller comes the story of Flora, who resuscitates a squirrel that has been sucked into a powerful vacuum cleaner. The squirrel awakes with superhero powers: he can fly, he has super-strength, and he even writes poetry on a typewriter. Newbery-winning Kate DiCamillo’s own super-power is, in the squirrel’s words, to “make the letters on the keyboard speak the truth of the heart.” This human-animal friendship ranks with that of Charlotte and Wilbur.



Bugs in my Hair
Book Passage

Bugs in My Hair! by David Shannon, $17.99, ages 4-8.

If anyone can make a case of head lice fun, it’s David Shannon. He humorously captures and normalizes the panic, embarrassment, and tedium of this common school affliction. Even the mom’s reactions—first panic, then phantom head-itch, then mountains of laundry—are perfect.



You can visit Book Passage any time online to purchase the above books or just browse their fantastic array of staff picks, new book analysis, and other juicy tidbits most avid readers can’t get enough of. Happy reading!

Find and book babysitters and nannies at UrbanSitter.com.