Blogs: Families

On car trips, my husband and I used to pretend that there was a noise-proof window between the front seat and the back. One of us would hit an imaginary button on the dashboard, and-- in our minds-- the window would close, so we couldn’t hear our little darlings squabbling and shrieking in the back seat at all-- except that sadly, we could still hear them, due to the unfortunate imaginary nature of the window.

I wish that we’d discovered audiobooks for the car ages ago! A whole lot of library users have apparently wised up to their usefulness in the past few years;  I've been asked frequently lately for audiobook suggestions for family car trips. So I’ve made some lists of great audiobooks that can be enjoyed by listeners of various ages, one in CD format and one in downloadable. You might also consider consulting two excellent lists a  colleague of mine made: this list of classics on audio and this one for very young listeners.

It’s amazing how much kids will settle down when they’re involved in a story. I tried to find audiobooks that would be interesting and involving for the adults in the car, as well. So go ahead-- plan a summer getaway. Just don’t forget the audiobooks.

Or the barf bags. (But that’s another story.)

I have a toddler at home. She is curious, funny, likes to sing songs, is fearless on the slide. And lately she has been driving me a little crazy. If you are the parent of a young child, or have ever hung out with a two-year-old for a couple of hours, you know how things can be fine one moment before they suddenly go terribly wrong. Toddlers feel every emotion with their entire bodies. They have their own seismic counter at work, with an earthquake they have somehow swallowed that threatens to go off inside them at any moment. My block tower fell over? I will throw myself on the floor! I tore the paper I was coloring? I will rip it to pieces in frustration!

Sometimes I get a little jealous that adults can’t get away with acting out their emotions the way toddlers do. It looks so freeing to be able to let it all out and not care what anyone thinks. It’s that amazing ability children have of living forever in the present---the only moment is the here and now. It’s too bad one of us has to be the grown up and drive us home from the grocery store---otherwise I’d gladly trade places and stomp my feet up and down the aisles.

What has saved me from pulling my hair out is getting outside. There’s something magical that happens when fresh air hits her cheeks---she’s like a different kid! Tantrums turn into playing with whatever we might come across: rocks, sticks, leaves, pine cones. Everything is interesting and worth examining closely.

Activities can also help. Need something to do with your little one? A while back my colleague Joanna posted about fun things to do with kids this summer. And Portland is a great town for always having a cool festival going on in the summer months. The library will have a table at the Portland Pride Festival on June 13th and 14th, so come check us out! This year my wife and I are planning on taking our daughter to her first ever Pride Parade, as long as it doesn’t coincide with naptime. No one messes with naptime.

Five years old by September? Sign up for school by June 1!
If your child will be five years old by September 1, he or she is ready to start school. Register at your school by June 1 to give your child a good start, connect to summer activities and get access to free resources. School offices close for the summer, so don’t wait! When you register by June 1, you have time to get to know your school and your teacher, and your teacher has time to prepare the classroom for your child. To identify your school or get help with other childhood issues call 211 or email Interpretation is available.
How can the library help you and your child get ready for kindergarten? Bring them to storytime!  By the time your child is 5 years old, you may have heard many messages — on TV, in magazines, from other parents — about the importance of learning letters and numbers.
But kindergarten teachers care much more about having children who are ready and excited to learn. Kindergarten readiness includes things such as playing well with others, following simple instructions and talking about feelings and thoughts. There are lots of fun ways to develop these skills, and the library is here to help you!
At storytime we read stories and sing songs. We talk about the things we’ve read. We work on following directions with shakers and scarves and simple group games. Storytimes are a great opportunity for your child to learn to socialize with other children and adults. In storytime children also learn to ask questions and function well in a group; develop language and problem-solving skills; and perhaps most importantly, discover that books and learning are fun!
What else can you do?  Read, talk, sing, write and play!  



Abominable Snowman Movie AdYetis sounded so much scarier when I was a kid. There was only one yeti, The Abominable Snowman, (the terror of the Himalayas!) His malicious smile was complemented by nails long enough to pierce a person’s heart.  These days, Bigfoot, Sasquatch and yetis are still popular, but they’ve been rehabilitated. Two recent books for children show the loveable side of yetis. In fact, I found I found them to be yeti-sized funny!Yeti Files cover

Kevin Sherry’s The Yeti Files overflows with illustrations of yeti Blizz Richard’s home in the big trees, complete with an “epic tire swing,”a “zippy zip line,” and a “highly polished fireman’s pole.” Blizz is a happy-go-lucky guy, except for his need to keep hidden. And keeping hidden when you’re that big is hard work! Especially when your cousins are careless...and your friend, Bigfoot, is missing. The Yeti files is a great choice for kids who are moving up from easy readers into chapter books.The Abominables cover

Eva Ibbotson’s yetis in The Abominables are also happy-go-lucky creatures. A little girl named Agatha gets lost in the Himalyas and discovers a small group of yetis living peacefully together. They shelter and feed her and adopt her as one of their own. In turn she teaches them all she knows about civilization and lives with them into her old age. But when the yetis’ lives are threatened, Agatha comes up with a plan to ship them to England. This dangerous plan that involves keeping yetis quiet, calm and hidden in a refrigerator truck and soon becomes a series of near misses and misunderstandings.

For more laugh-out loud funny reads for kids reading chapters, try the attached lists.

When it seems like the rain is never going to stop, don’t despair! Whether your tastes run more towards Portland puppets or Troutdale trains, Multnomah County has no shortage of fascinating and quirky museums that won’t cost you anything. (Check the links for updated hours and contact information.)

Whimsy. Revisit the toys of your (or your grandparents') childhood at Kidd's Toy Museum. And if your pipsqueaks are pleading to ponder a plethora of puppets, perhaps Ping Pong's Pint Size Puppet Museum is your pleasure.

Safety. Witness the evolution of fire fighting at The Safety Learning Center & Fire Museum. You also might find the Portland Police Museum rather arresting.

History. We love that the Gresham Historical Society museum is housed in an original Carnegie library! Not to be outdone, the Troutdale Historical Society has three museums: The Barn Exhibit Hall, The Harlow House, and The Rail Depot. And don’t forget, the expansive and amazing Oregon Historical Society is free to all Multnomah County residents; just be sure to bring a proof of residency that includes photo identification.

Miscellany. Check up on medical history with the fascinating exhibits in the Main Library of Oregon Health & Science University or the Dr. Ernest E. Starr Memorial Museum of Dental Anomalies in the OHSU School of Dentistry. If you're interested in "the art and industry of the cast letterform," then the Museum of Metal Typography is definitely your type. Then float on over to the Lincoln Street Kayak and Canoe Museum to learn more about indigenous small watercraft and suck up some cleaning history at the Vacuum Museum at Stark's Vacuums.

Free Museum Day Portland and Portland on the Cheap both have information about when paid admission museums might cut you a break. And for more on free and not-free-but-still-great museums definitely check out the Hidden Portland website, which was an invaluable resource for this blog post!

P.S. More in the mood for an art gallery ? Check out Rainy Days, Part 1: Free Art.

When it seems like the rain is never (ever) going to stop, don’t despair! Multnomah County has a lot of hidden art to see that will get you out of the house and won’t cost you anything.

The area’s colleges and universities are a treasure trove of free art galleries! Here are links to some all over town:

Government buildings are a great place to see rotating exhibits, usually by local artists. Experience interactive and experimental media installations in the Portland Building Installation Space; visit the art gallery in the Gresham City Council Chamber Foyer; and check out the current exhibition at Central Library’s Collins Gallery.

The Regional Arts & Culture Council has a searchable database of public art around the county. (Tip: Click on Advanced Options to search by Collection and Discipline.)

View work by local photographers at Blue Sky Gallery, originally founded as the Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts.

Learn more about contemporary art in the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Resource Room. It is both an archive and library, housing over 3,500 artist publications, magazines, and audio and video recordings, as well as a video archive of performances and lectures presented by PICA over the span of the organization's history.

But wait, there's more! Check out Rainy Days, Part 2: Free Museums!

“You need a rest, and so do I," I'd say firmly, and then I'd close the door (also firmly) and brew myself a cup of tea. Then, with a sigh of happiness, I’d pull out a book or pop in a DVD and take at least an hour for myself. My kids both stopped napping at about three and a half, but I didn't stop being a quiet time-enforcer until both of them were in the care of Portland Public Schools five days a week. Days with young children can be very long, and I found that if we had this time to refuel, the rest of the afternoon and evening would be much more pleasant for everyone.

A library patron recently told me that she uses audiobooks to entertain her preschooler during quiet time and I think this is a brilliant idea. Let them be diverted for a while by Frances, a badger who likes to make up charming little songs, or let them spend some time enjoying the sweet friendship of Frog and Toad. I’ve made a couple of lists to give parents ideas for audiobooks that would be perfect. The first list contains audiobook CDs and the second contains downloadable audiobooksI offer them with the sincere hope that the stories you'll find on them will provide enough time for both parent and child to feel refreshed.

Adult Nonfiction

The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs

by Greil Marcus

An entertaining and rewarding look at music history by one of the major musicologists of today.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

by Karen Abbott

A remarkable story about bold and cunning women told with passion.  Has book club potential.

Adult Fiction

10:04: A novel

by Ben Lerner

Beautifully written novel which weaves contemporary life, art and writing in a New York City setting.

The Miniaturist

by Jessie Burton

A debut novel which takes place in a rich historical setting about love, betrayal and retribution. Book club potential.

The Marco Effect: a Department Q novel

by Jussi Adler-Olsen

From Denmark's top crime writer, another sinister and engrossing tale taking place in the underbelly of Copenhagen.

Teen Fiction

Clariel: the Lost Abhorsen

by Garth Nix

Another tale in the Abhorsen series with compelling characters and strong magic. Sure to be a hit with fantasy readers.

Kid's Fiction


by Mac Barnett

A witty and engaging picture book about birds on a telephone wire attempting to relay a single message with the usual mixed-up results.


My brother is a fifth grade teacher and he sometimes asks me for ideas for books he can read to his class. With all the hoopla that attended the release of the first couple of movies, his class was trying to get him to choose The Hunger Games, but he thought that it contained too much violence and romance for 10-year-olds. I agreed and then suggested Lois Lowry's classic dystopian novel, The Giver.

I’m excited about the movie based on The Giver, which is being released on August 15. I really love the book, about Jonah, a boy living in some future world in which individuality, intense emotion and even color are outlawed, and in which all of life’s important decisions are made by the community’s leaders. Everything seems very calm and ordinary in this world-- but then Jonah is assigned a new and mysterious job that allows him to discover the truth about his community.

Parents should know that the book contains no sexual content and not much in the way of overt violence, although there is definitely some darkness. Jonah was twelve in the book, though, and in the movie he's about sixteen, so the filmmakers seem to have taken some liberty with the story. Do have the kids read the book before they see the movie, and read it yourself, too. It’s a very good novel, beautifully written and thought-provoking. And if you have kids who are interested in young adult dystopian fiction, but you think they’re a little young for The Hunger Games and Divergent, check out this list.

I'm a library geek, so of course I was disappointed when  someone in the press asked Michelle Obama if she and Barack still read to Sasha and Malia at bedtime, and she replied, “No-- the girls are old enough to read their own books themselves now."  The Obama girls were about 8 and 11 at the time.  I know that the President and his wife are very busy, and they seem to be pretty wonderful parents, but I was still a little sad.

Working in the library, I am often asked to help parents find books to start with when their children are ready to begin listening to chapter books. And don't get me wrong, I'm very enthusiastic about Charlotte's Web and The Boxcar Children. But I'm always especially excited to get a question about read-alouds for older children, kids who are at least 8 or 9 years old. Reading to older kids is a great way to keep your bond with them strong, and it's so much fun! They get the jokes. They're more able to feel compassion for the characters, to follow an intricate plot, to feel surprised by what happens, more likely to be moved and delighted by a story in the same exact way that you are, which is such a pleasure. 

I basically decided to have children so that I could read to them, and reading books together has been a deep and sustained joy, just as good as I imagined it would be. My younger child, who is 10, still lets me read to him if I find something that grabs him right from the start. I finished reading Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately the Milk to him just last night. This rollicking little book features the following: a brilliant, time-traveling scientist who is also a stegosaurus; pirates, vampires, a volcano, snotlike green aliens with a penchant for redecorating new planets, and two innocent children who are in desperate need of something to pour over their cereal at breakfast. At one point, we were laughing so hard that if we’d been drinking milk, it would have squirted out our nostrils. We laughed so hard that we cried.  I couldn’t read the next line until we settled down after a full five minutes of helpless laughter-- at which point, we started all over again. When I thought of it this morning, I started laughing out loud in the shower.

It won't last forever, but reading books at bedtime has been a wonderful thing to share with my kids. Here’s a list of great read-alouds for you to enjoy with the not-so-little children in your life.


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