"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
March 11, 2015
Sweet Reads for Babies and 'Tweens
by Laurie Williams Sowby

With 18 grandkids, I’m always on the lookout for good books that will foster or continue an interest in reading and good literature.

Utah publisher Gibbs Smith has a series based on the premise that it’s never too early to introduce the classics. It does it with simplicity and charm in its BabyLit board books, with 18 titles to date.

For example, Frankenstein’s Monster is used to illustrate parts of the body in Little Miss Shelley: An Anatomy Primer; Little Miss Austen presents A Counting Primer with characters and places from Pride and Prejudice; and Little Master Baum offers A Colors Primer with words and illustrations from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Little Master Twain teaches camping vocabulary via Huckleberry Finn.

Written by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver, these durable books ($9.99) are a clever concept and a winning way to begin a love of literature.

As kids grow, we want to find books that fit their interests or encourage them to develop new ones. There’s plenty in the way of kid-friendly popular novels (some of the old Newbery winners are perennial gems), but engaging non-fiction appropriate for the middle school/junior high age slot is harder to come by.

Bart King to the rescue. A longtime Oregon middle school teacher with an evident sense of humor, he has his finger on the pulse of ‘tweens. He’s firmly focused on that audience in two great books for kids that age. He speaks their language, tells their jokes, and offers scientific background as well as advice for things like B.O. and acne.

The Big Book of Boy Stuff is chock full of things like camping survival tips, lists of great books to read, instructions for making rockets and creating lightning, ready-made insults, and recipes for “man food” ranging from simple and edible to gross and disgusting (but still edible). An entire section is devoted to practical jokes. I can see my 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old grandsons devouring this book.

At the behest and with the aid of his five sisters, King also produced the fabulous Big Book of Girl Stuff, which I plan to give to my granddaughters. I laughed out loud at some of the jokes and the practical instructions on how to potty in the great outdoors (in the “Emergencies” section).

Lacking the edginess of teen magazines, it covers things like fashion, boys, manners, hobbies, hair and makeup, babysitting, and spending money with pragmatism and humor. One part explains how advertisers lure buyers with various tactics.

There’s great advice on having a friend and being one, with emphasis on avoiding and not being “mean” girls. Good conversations with parents and good relationships with siblings are also covered (thanks, I suspect, to the author’s having grown up in a family of nine kids).

King credits his vast sources in a long bibliography in both books, but cautions that some of the activities may be dangerous and should have adult guidance or approval. Good idea: For one thing, adults may be as delighted with these books as the kids are. Both are from Gibbs Smith 2014, $19.99 for about 300 pages of info, laughs, creative inspiration, and good reading.


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About Laurie Williams Sowby

Laurie Williams Sowby has been writing since second grade and getting paid for it since high school. Her byline ("all three names, please") has appeared on more than 6,000 freelance articles published in newspapers, magazines, and online.

A graduate of BYU and a writing instructor at Utah Valley University for many years, she proudly claims all five children and their spouses as college grads.

She and husband, Steve, have served three full-time missions together, beginning in 2005 in Chile, followed by Washington D.C. South, then Washington D.C. North, both times as young adult Institute teachers. They are currently serving in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs

During her years of missionary service, Laurie has continued to write about significant Church events, including the rededication of the Santiago Temple by President Hinckley and the groundbreaking for the Philadelphia Temple by President Eyring. She also was a Church Service Missionary, working as a news editor at Church Magazines, between full-time missions.

Laurie has traveled to all 50 states and at least 45 countries (so far). While home is American Fork, Utah, Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have provided a comfortable second home.

Laurie is currently serving a fourth full-time mission with her husband in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs. The two previously served with a branch presidency at the Provo Missionary Training Center. The oldest of 18 grandchildren have been called to serve missions in New Hampshire and Brisbane, Australia.

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