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Allergy Friendly Party Favors

We have officially entered into the world of birthday parties with my oldest and it’s a lot of fun. Both of my boys have food allergies, so I’m always on the lookout for allergy friendly– mainly non-food options for party favors. These work great for Valentine’s Day or Halloween gifts too.

Enter Magic Painting pages! These magical books are the ultimate just add water books– really great for a wide variety of ages. You use water and a regular paintbrush and the colors appear. Depending on how precise you are with wiping your brush off between sections, they can actually be really detailed.

I used 2 pages out of the book (each book contains 15 pages), rolled them up with string & added a paint brush from an inexpensive pack on amazon, and gift tag I made in Canva and printed on card stock.

A great thing about the magic painting books is that there are tons and tons of different options, so it’s very likely you can match a theme if you’d like. Animals and butterflies. Fairy gardens and space. There are even some fun ones geared more towards older kids (& adults– it’s really relaxing!)– like the unworry and unhurry book.

Another fun option: Wikki stix— wax sticks that you can use (& reuse) to create different designs. There are many different party pack options that end up being less than $1 per pack. These were great with my 3.5 year old, though my 2 year old just likes to roll them into a ball.

Let me know your favorite party favors to give or receive. Shop the entire Magic Painting collection at my bookshop link here or request a free custom book list here.

February Picture Book Favorites

I’m back sharing our most read picture books from last month. These were the books we read over, and over, and over again, and most of them we’re still reading regularly.

Mae Among the Stars | I almost bought this book during a recent 2 for 3 sale, but ended up picking something else, then the next day we walked by it on our way out of the library, so I picked it up and I’m so glad I did, BUT also wish I had just purchased it because we’ve read it a million times. It’s about Mae Carol Jenison, the first African American woman in space. The story follows her as a little girl and shows the importance of persevering, even when others try to tell you, you can’t do something.

Hair Love was on the book list from Mason’s teacher for this month so I picked up our own copy from the library. It’s a sweet and moving story about a little girl who wants her hair to be special for the day her mom comes home– and with the help of her dad, she’s able to achieve the look

Frog and Toad are Friends— a classic, but totally new to me. I have to admit I wasn’t ever that interested in picking this series up, but starting to venture into some early readers with Mason this was highly recommended on more than one occasion. We’ve also been listening to the audiobook non-stop and I’ve found myself chuckling as we listen.

We had Stop! Bot! back in the fall/winter from the library and my youngest loved it. We returned it at some point and he started asking for it again every. single. day. I happened to find a discount copy of it and I’m really happy to have it as part of our collection now. Yang’s illustrations are fun and I love the unique shape of the book.

Someone shared Polar Bear Island on Instagram and it is a delight! It’s really fun and a bit silly with penguins wearing flipper slippers and making snow cones among other things, but there’s definitely a deeper message on the importance of inclusion & how people who are different can make where we live even better.

Bunny’s Book Club is adorable and I have to admit I was excited that both boys loved it as much as I did, because I love a good book about books. Bunny loves listening to outdoor story time, but when the weather changes and story time moves back inside, he can no longer listen. He decides to sneak in the library at night through the book return & the adventure goes on from there with his friends.

What books have you read and loved recently?

Recently Read 2022

Happy new year of reading! A few months into the year… I haven’t read as much this year because the last few months have been mostly survival mode with a non-sleeping toddler and just an overwhelmingly challenging season of life.

The Lazy Genius Way | I went into this book completely unfamiliar with Kendra Adachi and the first half was 1000/10 stars for me. I lost track of how many things I highlighted and it was just exactly what I needed to read, both from an informational standpoint, but also just for solace in so many motherhood feelings and things not being alone if that makes sense? The second half wasn’t as relatable, but I’m still glad I have a copy of the book to refer back to (I won a copy on instagram) & I’m excited for her kitchen book coming out later this year.

The Maid | Initially I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get into this, but after I reread the synopsis it really sounded like something I would like so I decided to keep going and by 20% or so I was totally invested in Molly and her story. Really great characters and I found the writing great as well– I thought the sharing of things from the past was mixed in effortlessly with what was happening currently. The ending though… I did not understand it and wondered if it went over my head, or really was just kind of random? thank you to netgalley for providing this book in exchange for an honest review

One last thing to note about the book, the night I started reading this was the night Bob Saget died– he was found dead in his hotel room like Mr. Black and at the top of my Twitter feed was Jason Alexander saying he was the definition of a good egg. I saw that tweet as I was reading a part in the book where there’s a whole conversation between Gizelle and Molly about being “a good egg” & it being an uncommon phrase/what it means. Just one of those weird things.

New Order – A Decluttering Handbook for Creative Folks (and everyone else) | This was a library suggestion when I put something else on hold, so I figured it was worth checking out & I’m glad I did. I wouldn’t consider myself a creative, but this was quick and easy to read, the chapters on paper and digital clutter had some practical ideas and it inspired me to tackle some organizing projects.

Olga Dies Dreaming | I maybe overhyped this book to myself– like was so excited to read it that I almost bought it. I ended up waiting for my library hold and by the time I got it I couldn’t remember what it was about, or why I had been so excited to read it. Here’s the blurb: A blazing talent debuts with the tale of a status-driven wedding planner grappling with her social ambitions, absent mother, and Puerto Rican roots, all in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Unfortunately, I didn’t end up loving it. As much as I typically prefer character driven novels, I think I was waiting for more to happen to propel the plot. At the same time there was so much going on in terms of social, political, or personal issues combined with the plot around Olga’s parents, specifically the letters from her mother. I did find the writing engaging and often found myself feeling like I was immersed in the scenes I was reading about and it made me want to learn more about Puerto Rico’s history.

I’m currently reading Wahala and loving it. What are you reading? Linking up for Show Us Your Books. `

January Picture Book Favorites

While I didn’t read a large number of adult books last year, picture books, or children’s books in general I guess, are life in our house– specifically with my 3 year old. We read mostly library books and when I got to the end of the year I was bummed I hadn’t done a better job keeping track of what we read.

This year I decided to use a spreadsheet and am keeping it super simple, just recording the title, month read, and whether or not we own the book– and for now just documenting the first time we read the book. At some point I might go back and add categories like trains, construction, friendship, etc., but for January at least it was easy for me to keep up with. These were the favorite– or most read out of the 50 or so we read in January. Most of the book links are affiliate links through where you can shop via your favorite independent bookstore.

I picked up a used copy of the Curious George Treasury for $3 and if I were keeping track it would probably be the MOST read book of the month. None of us were really that familiar with Curious George, I just knew this was kind of a classic and thought it was a good deal– so happy I picked it up because it has brought a lot of reading enjoyment.

Penguins Don’t Wear Sweaters— Theo’s top pick, though it was enjoyed by all of us. It’s quick and easy to read with fun illustrations, and is based on a true story about people making sweaters for penguins who were impacted from oil spills– it turned out that the sweaters are actually not good for penguins.

We have a wonderbook version of Islandborn that is read by the author and includes music and Mason adores it. The illustrations are incredible and the story of Lola collecting memories from her friends and family about the island where she’s from is a great way to talk about what home means.

I love the look inside series, but flap books are maybe my least favorite bedtime book. As much as I would try and put Look Inside Things That Go away before bed, Mason would always ask for it, so it was read a lot on top of him flipping through it on his own. I could probably recite the entire thing by memory and it is full of a lot of info. One of my favorite things though is how Mason likes to look very closely at what people are doing in the images– little things I would never take the time to notice on my own.

Stranger in the Woods— this book wins for best soundbites? We haven’t read it as much recently and I still have “strange in the woOoOoDs” stuck in my head, and Theo will regularly say “whoooo are youuuu??” Fun phrases aside, the nature photography is really incredible mixed with a fun story of animals discovering a stranger (snowman) in their woods.

Mason and I saw Corduroy at the Imagination Stage back around Christmas, so I made sure to check out a couple of the books from the library beforehand. We read the original story so much that he could basically recite the entire thing while doing a puppet show. We’ve also really loved listening to a few of the other stories read by Viola Davis via audio.

Locomotive— this book is on the heftier side, both in size and content, but it’s creative and engaging while being informative– definitely deserving of the Caldecott Medal. Mason loves all things trains, so this was an easy favorite for him– he loves the map inside the front cover and the detailed drawing of all of the locomotive parts on the back cover. We’ve also made our own recreation of the journey westward using his train tracks– complete with a rickety bridge, extra engine, and tunnel.

Hopefully I’ll stay on top of sharing these monthly picks as the year goes on.

Favorite Things 2021

My goal was to get this post up sometime in January, so I’ve just barely made it, but I love being able to look back on these things. This was never meant to be so kid focused, but I really couldn’t think of anything else– which is a very telling look back on the year in itself I guess.

kinetic sand | this easily wins for the most used sensory filler of the year. Almost always with the little trucks, but they also loved hiding gems and putting them in their treasure chest, or pretending to make muffins or cookies.

recycle truck | we have quite a few of the green toys vehicles, but this one hands down is the one that gets played with the most. You can fill it up and even ride on it if you’re small enough.

wipe clean books | these took the place of sticker books for the favorite activity book. I love that there are so many options from dinosaurs to construction themed. My 3yo is especially into the dot to dot right now and my 2yo has fun just scribbling away.

busy books | I wrote an entire blog post on these books, and even though I’m not including “regular” books in this post (it would be a million pages long), these books double as an activity. When I got our first one for my oldest he loved playing with the little figurine, but now he can pull them back on his own, and even my 2yo is able to get them going on the track by himself.

kitchen helper | I waited FOREVER to get one of these because I kept convincing myself we didn’t *need* it– they’re expensive & our kitchen doesn’t have a lot of open space, but we really did need one because it gets used every single day and is WAY safer than having a toddler kneeling on a stool. I am a little bit grateful that we waited because I found one secondhand for way less than what we would have paid if we got a new one.

portable potty | For the longest time we took our inside mini toilet in and out to leave in the car and I have no idea why because this little toilet is perfect to keep in the car. It folds up and comes with little bags, but can also be used as a seat to sit on top of a regular toilet.

funtainer | These water bottles have been our favorite– the parts are easy to clean, they don’t require any pressure on the straw to drink, and they’ve held up well in the dishwasher and being dropped.

if you give a mouse a cookie | Love the books, but this is for the show on Prime. It’s the only thing my 2yo requests to watch and my 3yo was the original fan. Thankfully new seasons seem to come out somewhat regularly and the holiday specials are always really great too.

stabilo woody 3 in 1 pencils | We got these towards the end of the year for my 2yo’s birthday, and they are definitely another thing I wish I had just purchased earlier because we use them pretty much every single day. They’re usually kept out with our easel (also a birthday gift that has been used daily), but we’ve also used them with the stained glass coloring books, and they truly wipe off windows easily too.

Our Favorite Books for Winter

As soon as the holidays are behind us I can’t wait to pull out our favorite wintery books. We had our first snowy day this week– and even though I’m not a huge fan of snow, it was maybe more magical than Christmas morning for my kids when they woke up to the blanket of snow covering everything and huge flakes falling from the sky. We’ve also already enjoyed bringing some inside to use for a super easy (& cold) sensory bin activity. Most of the links below are affiliate links through or will take you to my ubam bookshop. I also highly recommend checking out your local library– it’s our favorite way to check out new books.

A Wolf in the Snow | I love wordless picture books and this was one of our favorites from last year. I’m always amazed at what my 3.5yo picks up on from pictures alone and how he’s able to formulate a story through facial expressions.

Hoot & Peep A Song for Snow | The original Hoot & Peep is such a fun one to read aloud that I was really excited when I saw this one at the library. While there are a few Christmas trees in the book, there’s no mention of Christmas and the story is all about the magic and sound of snow.

Secrets of Winter | These books are such a treat– you use a flashlight to reveal a hidden image on each page. The shine-a-light part is awesome, but I love that the information and illustrations could easily stand on their own.

Snow | This classic from the late 90s is so perfect as you wait in anticipation of a snowy day. The story follows a boy and his dog as a single flake falls– which turns into an entire city covered in snow.

A Polar Bear in the Snow | This book is truly stunning with crisp whites and bright blues making you feel like you’re in the story with the polar bears, told through minimal text and torn-paper style illustrations.

Snowy Places | The peek inside series is one of my favorites. It’s smaller in size, perfect for little hands, but still engaging with thoughtfully placed flaps and informative.

Good Morning Snowplow | This was another favorite from last year, and I imagine it would be a favorite for any truck or vehicle lover. The book focuses on the snowplow drivers and those who work through the night to clear the roads while most people are asleep.

Ten Ways to Hear the Snow | New to us this year, I was drawn to it loving Kenard Pak’s illustrations only to find out it’s about an Arab American family who spends time with their Sitti (very similar to what my kids call my mom) & roll grape leaves together– one of my favorite things to do with my own mom. A wonderful intergenerational story about how one girl spends her snowy day.

The Snowy Day | This is one of my oldest’s favorite books– we love Peter and his snowy adventure. The Amazon video adaptation is one of our favorites too.

The Snowman | Admittedly this one became a favorite of my boys after watching the movie version, though I have strong memories of reading (or maybe watching), when I was younger.

Bear Snores On | If you haven’t read any of the Bear books yet, this is a great one to start with– the illustrations pull you into the cast of adorable forrest animals & tales of friendship.

Stranger in the Woods | This beautiful photographic book is so fun to read aloud and really incredible when you think about these photos being captured and turned into a wonderful story of the animals discovering a stranger (snowman) in the woods.

Winter isn’t my favorite season, but having fun books to look forward to makes it a little bit better. What are some of your favorites?

Favorite Books of the Year

In January I remember thinking that maybe I should increase my reading goal for the year because I started the year in such a good reading groove. I decided to just keep it the same and ended up one book short of my 24 book goal. I had started Room to Dream, which felt like an appropriate last book because Front Desk was my very first book of the year, but in the end I wasn’t in the mood for middle-grade and I didn’t want to force read it just to reach a number of books.

For the first time all year, TV is actually taking priority over reading (or mindless scrolling). I made it through five and a half seasons of Younger before I decided to start rewatching The Wire. It was definitely an odd year in reading (& in general, I guess) for me. I DNFed a lot of books– even after reading 100+ pages, not because they were bad, but I just wasn’t in the mood.

Anyway, on to the books… Without a doubt Dial A for Aunties was my top favorite of the year & the one I’ve recommended the most. It had a little bit of everything from romance to a murder with fun characters and an exciting setting. I also really, really loved Crying in H Mart— it was gutting and hard to read at times, but I loved reading about Michelle’s relationship with her mom and her experience exploring her identity as a Korean American.

I finally read Happiness for Beginners after being on my TBR forever, and it was just as good as everyone said. The story is about a woman who goes on an intense hiking trip in an attempt to find herself after her divorce– but I feel like that’s not really a great summary of what the book is actually about. The whole hiking/wilderness part of it is what made me pause prior to reading the book because it’s not my interest at all, but in the end, after reading, I had wished there was more of that. People We Meet on Vacation was another favorite that lived up to the hype. Friends to lovers told going back and forth between the present day and years of past vacations. Even though I didn’t love everything about how things played out, I really think Emily Henry writes great characters that feel so real to life.

As mentioned above, Front Desk, is an amazing middle grade series that follows Mia Tang, a young girl who immigrates from China with her parents. and it’s their story of working at a motel. Before reading, I remember hearing criticism about the book because the cover is so bright and cheery, and it is not a bright and cheery story. It’s hopeful, but it dives deep into the hardships and realities of life of immigrants.

What books were your favorite of the year? Linking up with Steph & Jana.

5 Gift Ideas to Pair with a Book

1. Look Inside Construction Sites

This is definitely one of my 3.5 year old’s favorite books. He loves when I read through it with him, but he also loves to sit and explore all of the flaps on his own— there are A LOT. This is such a great book to pair with almost any construction vehicle, but I chose this kinetic sand kit because kinetic sand has been on heavy repeat for us over the past few months. There’s a page in the book on demolition, so I love that you could tie that in to using the crane with the sand.

2. Peek Inside How a Firetruck Works

Another flap-favorite! These books are smaller in size and much lighter on the text, but the flaps are equally creatively placed with amazing detail. I love this Hape wooden firehouse. We got a similar, smaller version for Christmas last year & have been really impressed with the quality. Another totally different option is this fun pop up firetruck tent.

3. First Book About the Orchestra

This was our first press a sound book & it continues to be one of our very favorites. These books really span so many ages because the buttons require such a gentle touch that even the youngest toddlers can play the music. Older kids can engage more with the text & this book specifically is a great jumping off point to learn about instruments and composers. We love toobs for sensory play & while this one isn’t specific to only orchestra instruments, it would be such a fun pairing for a musical themed gift. Sticking with a music theme for younger toddlers, this Melissa and Doug puzzle is a great option.

4. Woodland Puzzles + Book

If you guessed I was going to say these puzzle + book sets are a big favorite, you would be right😂. I think my oldest was around 2.5 when we introduced these puzzles & initially it was just a lot of stacking pieces and matching them to the pictures in the book. A really great book comes with the 3 sets of 12-piece puzzles. I loved these wooden woodland animals— they’re so great for imaginative play, sensory play, or as an extension activity to the book & puzzles, matching the animals.

If you want something holiday specific there’s a Christmas puzzle set too. And a huge selection of puzzles of all different sizes.

5. Wipe-clean Zoo Activities

If you’re gifting an experience or membership, but still want to add something small (& engaging) adding a book is perfect. The slide and see series is great for little ones & we are obsessed with the wipe-clean books over here. There is also a great aquarium sticker book. Museum or Art books would be great for a museum membership.

All of the book links in this post will take you to my bookshop, where you’re able to shop or build a wishlist. If you’re interested in a custom book list click here.

Recently Read

I’m so excited to finally share some of the books I’ve read over the past few months. I’ve gone from months of not reading at all to reading 3 books in a little over a week, and am now kind of in another lull– mainly because the book I’m trying to read (city of girls) keeps crashing my iPad.

Soulmate EquationThis was cute, though not super memorable for me. I liked the premise of a DNA matching making service as the backdrop for the story and both Jess and River were likable characters. While there were a couple of swoony moments, I think I enjoyed the relationship with Jess & her daughter as well as Jess’ relationship with her grandparents a little bit more than the romantic one. If you’re a fan of other CL books I think you’ll like this one too!

People We Meet on Vacation – This one totally lived up to the hype for me– and I think it was similar to Beach Read in that I liked it more after I finished it, and really missed the characters once I was done. I definitely felt like the big conflict was going to be something else because of how much it was built up, Then enter a huuuuge reading lull. I kept starting books and wasn’t in the mood for any of them. Then I read nearly 200 pages of Free Food For Millionaires and even though it was really good and I was SO invested in Casey, it was taking me forever to finish and I felt like I needed the satisfaction of finishing a book, you know?

Instructions for Dancing | I’ve only read one of Nicola Yoon’s other books and it wasn’t for me, so I’m glad I still decided to give this one a try because I really loved it. I loved Evie and X– maybe two of my favorite characters I’ve read this year. I loved the dance competition setting, the scenes with their friends– I could really just visualize the entire book happening.
Then another mini reading lull, I started The Midnight Library and I liked it, but not enough to ever feel like picking it up? It’s another one I’ll request again though one day.

Rock, Paper, Scissors | This was 10/10 for spooky vibes for me– it gave me The Guest List or Mexican Gothic vibes in that it was very atmospheric in the beginning– it also reminded me of One By One with the snowy setting. I struggled with the beginning because I found both characters pretty unlikable and it felt like the same things were being said over and over again and we weren’t really learning anything new about either of them or their motivations. Eventually the suspense picks WAY up and there was a WAIT, WHAT?! moment towards the end. I thought I was confused, but it was actually just a big twist I didn’t see coming. **after finishing it, it did remind me of a twist that happens in another book– sorry for being vague, I don’t want to spoil anything just in case.

The Show Girl | I have no idea how I ended up with this book because I rarely prioritize reading historical fiction, but I really liked it. It’s about a young woman in New York who joins the Ziegfeld Follies as a show girl and there’s romance and family drama and it moves quickly and is a quick read. The second half of the book had waaaay too much going on with too little character development for me, but I still really enjoyed it.

One True Loves | When I started this I thought I was really going to like it, but I ended up getting too distracted by details that annoyed me and then the ending was a big NOPE for me. TJR’s writing really is great– I felt the angst and frustration of so many of the characters, even when it started to be very dramatic with the I love you, I’m so in love with you dialogue– but nothing actually happening to actually make me feel like they were in love, which made it hard to care about what happens. I don’t know, nearly everyone I know LOVED this book, but two of her recent releases were DNF for me and I also disliked one of her two older books that I’ve read, so likely just an author that isn’t for me.

And not to end on a totally negative note, if you’re looking for book recommendations, Show Us Your Books with Jana & Steph always has the best ones.

3 Easy Sensory Play Ideas for Halloween

Happy October! We love sensory play around here— especially my almost two-year old. Not only is it great for learning through play, it’s easy to setup and depending on what it is, I often leave it out for the week.

Rice Jack-o-lantern

Rice was not a hit with my oldest when he was younger, in fact I think he dumped the entire bin on the floor after playing with it for .45 seconds😂, so it took me a long time to try again, but now it’s one of my favorite sensory bin fillers.

To color the rice I used a good amount of orange acrylic paint + a squirt of clear hand sanitizer and mixed it up in a large container, then let it dry on a sheet pan for a few days and it was ready to go. To make the jack-o-lantern puzzle I used leftover cardboard and my hot glue gun! People make some truly incredible cardboard designs, but this was my most intricate yet.

While we have the orange rice out I’m hoping to also fill clear jars, like this, for a similar but different scooping and pouring activity. It will also be great for naming feelings/emotions using different faces on each “pumpkin”. I just haven’t found plastic containers yet.

I also love the idea of just creating a pumpkin to fill and then using card stock or felt to add a face on top of the rice.

Alphabet Spooky Bin

We use the word spooky very loosely around here. Spooky-cute? Black beans are the ultimate easy sensory bin filler and I added some festive $1 erasers from Target with our alphabet letters & a fun Halloween letter printable.

This is fun with any kind of puzzle & later on we added mini plastic fillable pumpkins to fill & of course added in our favorite construction trucks.

Candy Corn Pumpkin Oobleck

Earlier this year I made oobleck and added candy hearts and it was so much fun that I’ve been waiting for months to do a Halloween version. Oobleck is so easy to make with just 2 parts corn starch to one part water (+food coloring if you want). It’s definitely messy, so I love using a liner under the bin on our Flisat table to make cleanup easier.

I went with an orange theme for the oobleck, but I’ve seen people use cocoa powder to make brown “dirt” to replicate a pumpkin patch— another fun oobleck idea!

You can read about the books we were loving for Halloween last year here, and I have an updated post for this year coming soon.