Five Children’s Books to Read for Banned Books Week


Banned Books Week is an annual event held during the last week of September (September 25 – October 2, 2010) that celebrates the freedom to read for all ages. It is sponsored by several organizations, including the American Library Association and the American Booksellers Association, and encourages people to read books that have been targets of attempted bannings or restrictions.

Take a look at the list of the most frequently challenged books from the last decade and read a few of our favorites that have caused controversy over the years.

1.     The Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey

How can you resist a super hero story that has the tagline, “Faster than a speeding waistband… more powerful than boxer shorts…”? Captain Underpants is pure silly goofiness that kids will love. Sure, the stories have some potty humor, literally (he battles Dr. Diaper, Professor Poopypants and Wedgie Woman), but it’s all harmless and hilarious good fun that will have even the most reluctant readers eager to turn the page.

2.     The Stupids series by Harry Allard

These tongue-in-cheek picture books (written by the same author as Miss Nelson is Missing) may be about a family with the last name “Stupid,” but there is nothing mean-spirited about the stories. Follow the Stupids through silly, satirical adventures that are as much fun for grown-ups as they are for children.

3.     The Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park

Junie B. Jones is a sassy, high-spirited kindergartener who is beloved by young readers but often criticized by adults for her occasional naughty behavior and lapses in grammar and spelling. Parents may have to point out to their children that “pasketti” is actually pronounced “spaghetti,” but Junie is a lovable, humorous and realistic little girl who keeps you on your toes.

4.     In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

Kids who love the classic picture book Where the Wild Things Are will be entranced by this surreal adventure from the same author. Mickey is a small boy who goes on a dream journey through a baker’s kitchen, narrowly missing getting baked into a cake and flying through the air in a plane made of dough. Mickey falls out of his pajamas and is depicted without clothes through most of the book, which is why it frequently ends up on the banned books list. Most kids don’t seem to think the nudity is a big deal, though (as parents struggling to dress small children probably understand!).

5.     A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

This science-fiction chapter book, the first in a series of three, is an engrossing adventure story that parents will love reading along with older children. The fantastic story centers around three children who travel through time and space, help good triumph over evil and learn the importance of appreciating people’s differences. Critics object to the book because of the witchcraft and magic that make the fantasy so compelling.

Did any of your favorite books make the list? Share your thoughts on Banned Book Week in the comments.


Back to Basics: Eat Better, Eat Together Month


October is Eat Better, Eat Together Month, a campaign sponsored by Washington State University, the Nutrition Education Network of Washington, and USDA Food and Nutrition Service. It’s easy for your family to participate: simply sit down at the table and eat together as a family.

With busy schedules and other distractions, it can be challenging to get the whole family to sit down for a meal at the same time, but the benefits are enormous. Eating together on a regular basis improves nutrition and communication within the family, and children are more likely to be well-adjusted and do well in school.

Improved Nutrition

A Harvard study published in the Archives of Family Medicine’s March 2000 issue showed that eating family dinners together most or all days of the week contributed to a healthier diet. In the study, families eating meals together every day or almost every day consumed less overall fat, more fruits and vegetables and higher amounts of important nutrients (including calcium, fiber, iron and vitamins C and E) compared to families who never or sometimes ate together.

When you prepare and eat meals at home, you are more aware of what and how much your family is eating than if you are grabbing take-out or eating at restaurants frequently. You control the quality and quantity of your family’s meals, and you are able to make healthier decisions. Involve your children in meal preparation and planning when you can so they start to contribute to these decisions.

Better Communication & Adjustment

Sitting at the table for dinner, without the distraction of the television or cell phones, is the perfect opportunity to talk to your family. You can chat about your respective days at school, work or play, and as your children get older, it will be easier to stay connected to what they are interested in, who their friends are and how they are doing in school.

A Washington University study found that preschoolers who eat meals with their families may develop more advanced language skills because they are exposed to longer conversations and new words they may not hear otherwise.

In a Harvard study that followed 65 children over the course of eight years, researchers looked at which activities most encouraged healthy child development: play, story time, events with family members and other factors. Family dinners were the most successful factor.

  • Learn more about the research behind Eat Better, Eat Together Month
  • Download the Eat Better, Eat Together toolkit
  • Find a few colorful personalized placemats  (dare we suggest Frecklebox?) to make mealtime more fun

How many meals a week does your family eat together? What do you like best about mealtime?


Brown Bag Boredom Already?

In some ways, it seems like school just started yesterday. In others, it seems like an eon ago. Good nutrition is essential to staying sharp during the school day, but no one likes turkey on wheat for five days straight (or five weeks straight at this point). Beat brown bag boredom by filling your child’s Frecklebox lunch box (hint hint) with these five easy, exciting and healthy recipes that will get you through the school week.


Monday: A Tasty Wrap 

For a new twist on the traditional sandwich, substitute a whole-wheat pita or tortilla for bread. Here are some simple ideas for yummy fillings:

  •  Classic: Turkey or ham, Swiss cheese, lettuce, sliced red bell peppers and honey mustard
  •  Greek: Cooked chicken (diced or shredded), feta cheese, diced olives and cucumbers and a spoonful or two of hummus
  •  Veggie: Sliced bell peppers, sprouts cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach and any other favorite vegetables and a generous serving of herbed spreadable cheese

Tuesday: Bagel Pizza Sandwich

Create a delicious treat that is half sandwich, half pizza. Spread marinara sauce on both sides of a whole-wheat bagel, and top with slices of mozzarella cheese, pepperoni or salami, bell peppers, olives or other favorite veggies. Put both sides of the bagel together, slice in half and serve sandwich style.


Wednesday: Crunchy Tuna Salad

Fill a small food storage bowl with this fresh and filling tuna salad, and serve with crackers, pita chips or sliced carrots and celery sticks. Mix canned tuna with diced celery, carrots and onions, and add chopped pickles or a spoonful of pickle relish if you want a bit of zest. Stir in a few spoonfuls of mayonnaise, hummus, salad dressing or plain yogurt, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Include a bag of crispy wonton strips or fried onion sticks to mix into the salad just before eating. For a different variation, try this recipe with canned chicken, crabmeat or boiled shrimp.


Thursday: Easy Pasta Salad

This recipe is great to make in a big batch for a dinner side dish, then eat as leftovers the rest of the week. You can adjust the vegetables depending on the season and tweak for your family’s preferences. Mix cooked pasta (bowtie and other fun shapes are a hit with kids) with diced tomatoes, celery, red bell pepper, marinated artichoke hearts and sautéed broccoli and summer squash. Toss with a generous amount of grated Parmesan cheese, and add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. It tastes just as good cold as it does warm!


Friday: Fun With Peanut Butter

The same old PB&J sandwich can get boring after awhile, but try these fun alternatives:

  • Peanut butter and honey triangles: Spread peanut butter and honey on bread or tortillas and cut into small, bite-sized triangles
  • Ants on a log: Fill small celery sticks with peanut butter and arrange raisins along the top
  • Peanut butter dip: Fill a small bowl with peanut butter and include different sliced fruits and veggies to dip (favorites are apples, celery, carrots and bananas)

What are your secrets for creating a delicious and nutritious lunch? What meals are always a hit with your kids?


My Family Tree Project


Are your children curious about their family history? Do they understand how their cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents are related to them? Spend an afternoon teaching them more about their extended family with this easy and creative family tree project.

Making a family tree can be as simple or complex as you want, and it’s a fun way for kids to see how they fit into the context of the family. Start with a very basic tree, then expand it as much as you like.

Take out family photo albums to flip through so you can put faces with names and tell stories as you work on the project. Help your kids through each of these steps:

1.     Take out a piece of paper or open to a new page in your journal or notebook.

2.     Draw a large tree with a trunk, several branches and lots of leaves (you can add color and more details later). Starting at the bottom of the tree, draw apples (or oranges or birds or whatever you choose to represent family members) for yourself and your brothers and sisters. Write each person’s name in an individual apple.

3.     On the branch above, draw two more apples for your parents and write “Mom” and “Dad” in them. Draw a line connecting your parents to you and your siblings. For blended families, don’t forget to add in step-parents and step-brothers and sisters.

4.     On the branch above Mom and Dad, add the two sets of grandparents. At this point, if you are on a roll, you can keep going and draw apples for cousins, aunts, uncles, even great-grandparents. Add something personal underneath each person’s apple if you have room. For example, under Grandma Jean’s apple, you could write “loves to cook” and under Dad’s apple, you could add “plays the guitar.”

5.     Enhance your family tree by adding color and detail to the picture. Add more leaves and fill them in with fall colors or draw a landscape around the tree. Be artistic and make the tree represent how you see your family. If you love to spend summers at the lake with your family, draw the tree next to a boat dock. If you like to read books together, draw a stack of your favorite books next to the trunk of the tree. Have fun with it!

Have you ever done a family tree project with your children? What did they enjoy the most?


Kid-Friendly & Homemade Fall Treats


Nothing is more comforting and inviting on a cool autumn day than a warm kitchen smelling of cinnamon and sugar. Dust off your cookie sheets and measuring cups from their summer vacation, and cook up some delicious, kid-approved fall treats with your family.

Forget the jarred stuff; homemade applesauce is better than anything you will buy in the store and only requires a few ingredients. This makes a small batch of about four servings:

  • 4 apples, peeled, cored and chopped (Fuji or Golden Delicious apples work well)
  • ¾ cup water or apple juice
  • ¼ cup sugar (brown or white or a combination)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cover and cook over medium-high heat for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the apples are soft. Let the apples cool slightly, then mash with a potato masher and serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Cranberry-Orange Relish
This delicious sauce isn’t just for Thanksgiving. It is a tasty addition to everything from turkey sandwiches to cheese and crackers (and it’s also a very pretty gift when you save it in glass jars).

  • 1 lb. fresh cranberries
  • 2 oranges, peeled, seeded and quartered
  • 1 to 2 cups sugar, to taste

Place cranberries, oranges and orange peels in a food processor and grind until coarse. Sweeten to taste with sugar.

Zucchini Bread
Kids won’t even realize this rich bread has vegetables in it! Try not to burn your mouth eating it straight out of the oven.

  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 3 cups flour
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease and flour two loaf pans. Add oil and sugar to beaten eggs and mix in oil and sugar. Mix in zucchini and vanilla. Stir in all the dry ingredients and nuts and divide batter into the two pans. Bake for about an hour or until cooked through. (If any of the bread lasts until the next day, pack a small piece in your child’s Frecklebox lunch box as a surprise dessert.)

What are your kids’ favorite homemade fall treats?


Awesome Autumn Crafts


The weather is cooling down, school is back in session and it is finally starting to feel like fall. Bring the fall spirit into your house by making these colorful autumn crafts with your little ones.

Leaf Rubbings

One of the best parts of this season is watching the leaves turn brilliant shades of red and gold. Create your own art from autumn leaves by making simple rubbings.

  • Take out two pieces of plain white paper and arrange a few leaves of different shapes, vein side up, on one sheet of paper.
  • Place the second sheet on top of the leaves.
  • Pick out several brightly colored crayons and take off their paper wrappers.
  • Turn the crayons horizontally and rub across the top sheet of paper, revealing the leaf images in detail.
  • Repeat with different leaf and color combinations for unique works of art.

Stained Glass Windows

Hang these beautiful faux stained glass crafts in a window where they will catch the sunlight.

  • Take a sheet of contact paper (clear laminated paper) and peel half of the backing  away, being careful not to get it stuck to anything.
  • Tear small pieces of colored tissue paper and overlap them on the sticky part of the contact paper. Go wild with the shapes and color combinations!
  • Peel back the rest of the backing and carefully fold the contact paper over the colored tissue paper so you both sides are laminated. Smooth over air bubbles.
  • Fold a piece of black or colored construction paper in half and trace and cut out a leaf shape (this will give you two leaves). Cut the middle of each leaf out, leaving a small border.
  • Trim the contact paper so it is in the same shape as your construction paper leaves but slightly smaller.
  • Glue the construction paper on each side of your contact paper leaf, forming a frame.

Macaroni Skeletons

Get ready for Halloween early by making these fun and funky skeleton crafts.

  • Take a paper plate or piece of colored construction paper and arrange different kinds of dry pasta (macaroni, penne, shells, spaghetti, etc.), as well as dry lima beans in the shape of a skeleton.
  • Glue each bean and piece of pasta to the plate or piece of paper and add details with crayons, markers or colored pencils.

What are your favorite autumn crafts? Leave your suggestions in the comments!


September is Library Card Sign-up Month!


September is Library Card Sign-up Month, which means it is the perfect opportunity to make sure everyone in your family is decked out with a card. A library card is a magical all-purpose pass to new adventures, and checking out books is only scratching the surface of all that it has to offer.


Six Fun Ways Your Kids Can Use a Library Card

1.     Reading and checking out books: First and foremost, a library card gives you access to thousands of books you can read on a comfy couch at the library or take home to enjoy. Want to know how electricity works? Find a book of science experiments. Interested in ballet? Read a novel about students competing in a dance school. Love art? Check out exciting comic books. The sky’s the limit when it comes to the library’s selection of books (and it’s free!).

2.     Get recommendations: Take advantage of recommended book lists, reading clubs and other extras at your local library. You might discover a new favorite book!

3.     Rent DVDs: For family movie night, look no further than the library’s selection of DVDs. It’s much cheaper than renting at the movie store, and libraries often have a great variety of educational, foreign and family-friendly movies, television shows and lessons. Heat up some popcorn and cuddle up with a good flick.

4.     Attend story time: Most public libraries host regular story time hours for children and their parents, so stop by and get lost in a great tall tale.

5.     Get homework help: Ask your librarian about available tutoring services. Many libraries offer free reading help and homework tutoring for kids of all ages. Grab your Frecklebox notebook and get started.

6.     Get online: Use the library’s Internet access to research class projects, find fun events to attend in your area and look up kid-approved recipes. If your kids are just learning how to navigate the web, the library is a safe and easy place to start.

Do you make regular family trips to the library? Do your kids have their own library cards? Add your experiences in the comments below and have a great Library Card Sign-up Month!