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Usborne Peek Inside Series

The Peek Inside series is easily one of our favorites & I’m sure you will quickly see why. They present non-fiction ideas and topics in a way that is easy to understand for young readers. The illustrations are bright and engaging with sturdy flaps on every page for added engagement and fine motor practice.

The quality and design of the books is next level with cleverly placed flaps on each page that are integrated into the illustrations. I also love the size of these books— perfect for smaller hands to hold.

While I’m usually hesitant to give age recommendations because all kids are so different, I think these are great for 18 months+, though you might need to keep a closer eye on younger toddlers if they’re on the more rough side with their books. The Look Inside series is next, for older kids— the books are slightly larger, have a lot more text on each page, but still have the great engaging material.

Peek Inside Space
Peek Inside the Zoo

This year there’s a new Christmas book and there’s also a whole fairytale series as well! Links in this post will take you to my bookshop, where yo shop or build a wishlist. If you’re interested in a custom book list click here.

Books We’re Loving for Back to School

We have our first back to school season this year so we have been reading all of the books to help prepare for the new routine. These are books my 3.5 year old has been loving.

This is such a cool book because it covers dozens of topics & is presented in a way that’s engaging without being overwhelming. It’s a great book to build vocab, or learn about different concepts— everything from shapes & colors to outdoors to foods, and so much more. It’s a giant board book, so safe for younger readers to flip through. (available through my bookshop here.)

Choo-Choo School is probably the FAVORITE-favorite of the bunch for my train lover. It has wonderful bright and lively illustrations with rhyming text that follows a group of trains as they go off to school for the day.

You really can’t go wrong with anything by Christian Robinson and this book, told from the point of view of the school, is another gem. It focuses on the school’s relationship with the janitor as they prepare, and experience the first day of school.

We love everything about this book— or almost everything— as a food allergy parent the sharing food page makes me pause😬 The overall theme of inclusion combined with the beautiful illustrations, full of so many clever details make it wonderful for reading aloud.

While some of the details of this book are still lost to my 3 year old, he loves this book and can totally grasp the importance of being kind— especially when others might not be. I love how inclusive it is, and all of the examples of ways we can be kind.

The Big Book of ABS’s

This is another giant board book that has been so well loved by both of my boys. Regardless of age, the alphabet felt very back to schoolish, so we wanted to include it in this post. Each page is full of a variety of items that begin with each letter of the alphabet. (available through my bookshop here.)

If You Take a Mouse to School

We love all things If You Give a Mouse a cookie, and this book is a great companion to any of the other books. It follows Mouse as he packs a lunch, rides the bus, and then enjoys a day at school with Oliver— with lots of silliness along the way.

6 Color Sensory Play Ideas

Happy September! August was a long month with a lot of time spent indoors on account of the heat and humidity being extreme most days. One of our favorite books is the Usborne Big Book of Colors, which inspired me to set up color themed sensory bins every few days. The book features some really cool features like an interactive color wheel and a transparent page to show how colors change.

These were all really easy to setup, using just a few key items you might already have in your pantry. Corn starch, baking soda, food coloring, gelatin mix, pasta, and paint. For the colored items in each bin I literally grabbed random things we had in those colors that I knew could easily be washed since a few of these were on the messy side.

Red: wheat-free play dough

I would have just used regular play-doh, but my youngest cannot have wheat, so I took a few extra steps to make play dough that was safe for him too. I use this recipe that uses 1 cup corn starch + 2 cups baking soda + 1 cup water + 1/8 cup oil.

I’ve made it twice and it comes out great— definitely more sticky than store bought play dough, but a great option. We paired it with a few red vehicles and made tracks & did lots of squishing.

Orange: oobleck

I think I will forever be amazed by oobleck! You take 2 parts corn starch to 1 part water & add food coloring if you wish and you end up with a texture that is solid and liquid— it’s really hard to explain, but so easy to make.

I added a few of our orange dena toys, bristle blocks, & some pom poms. To extend the play i added in their favorite mini construction vehicles.

Yellow: gelatin

gelatin sensory play, yellow sensory play ideas, flisat table

This is another favorite sensory medium to use because it’s such a fun texture + super easy to setup. I use this gelatin and follow the directions on the box, add food coloring & whatever I want to go in & then it just takes a few hours in the fridge.

I had a lemon I wanted to use & also added a few random (washable) yellow items from around the house.

Green: cooked pasta

We’ve been working on scissor skills with my 3yo, so this was a great opportunity to expand on that. I used a regular pasta, cooked according to the directions & then mixed the cooked pasta in a bag with food coloring. After letting it sit for a few minutes I strained it a second time to get the excess food coloring off & it was ready to go.

Blue: ice & water

This is maybe the easiest, but ice and water play is always a hit! My 3-year-old was focused on rescuing the vehicles from the ice cubes, while my 1.5yo was more into scooping out the blue pom poms.

Purple: pasta & loose parts

Painting pasta has been trial and error for me, but I actually ended up using washable paint (instead of acrylic) and it still worked really well! I added dry pasta & paint in a plastic bag & mixed it up really well & then let dry overnight on a baking sheet. I think most instructions say to add a squirt of hand sanitizer, but I forgot & it didn’t seem to make a big difference. I used some of the paint on a paper towel roll & also grabbed some purple craft supplies for this open ended play. They ended up doing some threading with the pasta & pipe cleaners, but also a lot of scooping and pouring.

After we used the pipe cleaners & pasta to make a purple jellyfish! Adding a color themed craft to any of these is a great way to extend the color play.

Color Mixing

After we wrapped up the individual colors my 3-year-old had fun doing some color mixing after reading about how primary colors make new colors. We love this dropper set & just used watercolor paper, though next time I would use clear containers for mixing instead!

Whether you were here looking specifically for color focused play, or just looking for sensory play ideas, I hope you’ll leave with a fun play idea to try.

Books for Dinosaur Lovers

UBAM dinosaur books

Pop-up Dinosaurs | This short little book packs a big punch with the brightly illustrated dinos that literally come off the page.

Dinosaur Matching Games | The matching games are one of my go-to recommendations for toddlers and up, and if your little one loves dinosaurs they will love this matching game with 36 cards, 4 boards, and a fun informative paperback book. You can play as the instructions suggest— as a matching or bingo style game, or you can use the tiles to stack, lineup, or even add to a sensory bin for an ultra quick setup!

The Dinosaur Who Lost His Roar | This is one of the leveled readers that my 3yo loves. I love that it’s a book that will be great to grow with him as he learns to read + it’s a cute story about the importance of being kind.

1, 2, 3, Do the Dinosaur | This GIANT board book is so fun to read & will have everyone in your house chomping, stomping, and yawning!

Stained Glass Dinosaurs | My 3yo (who I think was closer to 2.5 at the time) has never loved a craft/coloring activity more than this book! He spent hours coloring & then had the added excitement of hanging the pages up on the window. You can use crayons, markers, or colored pencils on the translucent pages.

The 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 and I would love to put together some suggestions for your readers.

Wind-up vs Busy Books | Usborne Books & More

Confession: The busy books were one of the main reasons I decided to join UBAM as an independent consultant last year. I thought they were the coolest concept, knew my oldest would love them, and wanted a few new things as we were at the very beginning of staying home 24/7.

Since then our collection has grown and I can easily say that these books are read/played with just as much a year later— now enjoyed by two toddlers instead of one. We recently got our first wind-up book & it is SO MUCH FUN. I was a bit unsure of the difference so I thought I would share what makes these books unique in case you were also curious. All iof the 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.

Busy Books

The Busy Books feature a small vehicle (or bug) that you pull back and put on one of the four tracks. Once your child has mastered pull back toys, they’ll likely be able to play with this one on their own & it’s so fun to watch as they figure it out.

The Busy Train takes you on a trip to the zoo, while the Busy Helicopter has someone to rescue on each page— so along with the novelty of the toy, there’s an engaging storyline to follow along as well. See the Busy Train in action here.

Wind-Up Books

The wind-up books are HEFTY, they’re slightly bigger than the busy books & instead of the pullback feature, there’s a tiny knob you wind, so these require a more advanced fine motor skill for little ones to play with independently.

There are so many options and one of the cool things about the wind-up books is that they’re all slightly different. Wind-up Race Cars comes with two cars, the Wind-up Bus comes with tracks that can be taken out and combined for one big track, Wind-up Tractor has little pieces that you can use as props to tell the story. There is Wind-up Plane and Poppy & Sam’s Wind-up Train Book too.

Wind-up Race Cars contains 3 tracks (unlike the Busy Books that have 4 tracks), but it has additional pages in between the tracks that include a fun story to follow along.

I think Busy Santa might be the next addition to our collection, and I’m crossing my fingers for a space or construction themed book next.

Our Favorite Usborne Books for Babies

This is a post I’ve been excited to write for a while now because these are some of the first books that really got us hooked on Usborne. All of these books are great for babies through older kids, but I think they’re perfect for the youngest readers.  
That’s Not My… Series | I’ll start with arguably one of the most popular in all of UBAM– but for good reason! These books are engaging for babies with bright bold colors, thick black lines, and different textures on each page. They are also super sturdy and pretty “chew proof” if you have a baby like Theo who chewed on everything. The simple text on each page makes them great for new readers as your kids get older and there is a book for nearly every interest! 

Baby’s Very First Slide and See | These are probably my personal baby favorite because they are interactive but way more durable than your standard lift the flap book. The illustrations on the pages are playful and bright and there’s a sliding element on each page– perfect for little fingers. My 2.5 year-old still has so much fun playing with our book. 

Are You There Little…  Peek Through SeriesAre You There Little Fox? was actually our very first UBAM courtesy of my mom when Mason was a baby and he still loves it. These books have gorgeous illustrations with peek through features on each page.  

Baby’s Very First Playbook Series | These books are so fun and all a little bit different in terms of their features. Depending on your baby the ones with flaps are probably better for when they’re a bit older, or with close supervision. There are textures and fingertrails and peek through elements in many of them too. 

Press a Sound | I feel like sometimes parents are nervous when I recommend a book that makes noise (lol), but not only is there an on & off switch– these are not loud and obnoxious sounds. The sound button on each page requires a gentle touch and it’s great practice for that pointer finger. 

There are some other really great books for newborns– cloth books that fold out and crinkle, milestone cards, tummy time mirror book, and these really awesome fold-out books. I love putting together baby shower gift basket suggestions— such a fun way to add a personal touch if you’re shopping from a registry.

Spring Inspired Book Pairing Ideas

Happy first day of Spring! My favorite season is officially upon us and I’m hoping we have some great weather over these next few weeks to take in all the flowers and other goodness spring brings our way. I loved putting together the gift pairing guides back in the winter for the holidays and as I was looking through some books for Easter I kept thinking of great pairings for spring– Easter baskets, spring birthdays, or just a fun themed basket for an ordinary day.

Admittedly I do not like bugs– and by do not like I mean I’m mildly terrified of any kind of flying insect… however, bugs can be so cool for little ones and there are so many awesome bug books available so I had to include a few. Bug Hotel is full of flaps and really great illustrations along with the fun shape of the book. The Peek Inside series is one of our favorites, and Peek Inside Bug Homes is such a fun option to put with a little bug house— we love all of our B. Toys.
Other great bug book ideas are the Bugs Matching Game, and the Big Book of Bugs. The Big Books are a great collection to start for any age.

Another awesome non-fiction book series is the First Questions and Answers and How Do Flowers Grow? is perfect for springtime. The flaps make the book interactive and it’s a great way to introduce science concepts in a fun, engaging, and easy to understand way for little readers. Secrets of the Vegetable Garden would be perfect for any little one starting their own garden– the shine-a-light books contain hidden images on each of the pages that you reveal using a flashlight. A simple flower pot and some seeds would be a great gift option paired with either of these books, or I love this watering can set from Green Toys– another toy brand we love! 
I love the Baby’s Very First Playbook series— and don’t let the name fool you, they are definitely not just for babies. Baby’s Very First Garden Words Playbook is engaging for both my one-year-old and my three-year-old. We recently took it to the park with us and you can use some of the pages as a treasure hunt to see what you can find. Add this garden wheelbarrow that can be used inside or outside or this and you have a perfect gift. 

One of the best parts about spring is being able to get outside– the Nature Activity Book and Little Children’s Nature Activity Book are both great options for activity books that are interactive and informative. Pair a nature-themed book with binocularsto further inspire exploring the great outdoors!
Happy Spring!

My Favorite Books in 2020

For all that 2020 wasn’t, it was a great year in reading– I think overall there were maybe only 2 or 3 books (out of 33) that I didn’t love and most were 4 stars. Star ratings are obviously not really that serious, but I had eight 5 star books and I’m usually VERY conservative in my 5 star ratings, lol. Check out Steph & Jana to see what everyone else read & loved this year. 

My FAVORITE-favorite was easily The Night WatchmanJust Mercy is one I’ll likely forever recommend to everyone. I still think about certain scenes from The Vanishing Half, and Transcendent Kingdom was another amazing sophomore novel that stuck with me long after I read it. Katherine Center was a new to me author that I really enjoyed– especially Things You Save in a FireNew Kid should be required reading for middle schooler and Mexican Gothic was unlike anything I’ve read before– creepy and eerie, but so good. 

**my last two books didn’t make this collage: Punching the Air & A Good Marriage. I shared mini reviews/reactions to all of my 2020 reads here. I’ve been intentional about reading diversely, and thought I did a good job this year, but when I looked back at my total, only 12/33 of the books I read were by BIPOC authors. I’m hoping for a better ratio of white to non-white authors for next year. 5 of 33 were male authors (Jerry Craft was a repeat– and the only author I read twice this year). I think it’s safe to say literary or contemporary fiction tends to be my favorite, but memoirs/non-fiction books almost always make my favorites of the year too.

I have a few reading goals for 2021, but I would really like to finish two audiobooks I started (in 2019), Becoming and Born a Crime. I really liked both, and I love hearing the author’s voice telling their own story, but I just can’t focus enough on audiobooks (unless I’m on a roadtrip or something). If you’ve read them is it worth trying to keep going with the audio?

Let me know your favorite books of the year– and cheers to all the excitement of new books to read in 2021!

Five More Gift Pairing Ideas

I don’t know who I am anymore but I think we’re going to wait until after Thanksgiving to get out our Christmas tree this year. I did have fun, and feel a little festive, putting together another book pairing gift guide though. This one includes a few things for older kids too. In my next post I’m hoping to highlight some of the books for all ages– I know I always thought of little kids when I thought of Usborne Books & More, but there are SO. MANY. great puzzle/activity books and even really stunning illustrated classics.

1. I absolutely love the Peek Inside series— they are an awesome way to get little ones interested in nonfiction titles. They are the perfect size, super durable, and have flaps and peek through holes. There’s also an entire line of fairy tales! We love the Peek Inside Space book– one of Mason’s favorite pages includes lifting the flaps to put a spacesuit on an astronaut. I paired this one with a fun astronaut dress up outfit to really get in the spirit while reading ;).

2. Pop-up books are really special and Alfie and Bet’s ABC is a great option for a toddler or preschooler. I paired it with one of the wooden alphabet puzzles from This and That, etc. Mason is hopefully getting one for Christmas or his birthday– they also make really great custom name puzzles.

3. The Slide and See books are always one of my go-to recommendations for babies and toddlers because they are interactive, but so durable! I picked the Under the Sea book to pair with these Ubbi bath toys that both of my boys love. The book features bright colors and fun illustrations and a little slider on each page.

4. Where Happiness Lives is an adorable storybook about three little mice with rhyming text and a great message that we can be happy with what we already have. We are big fans of many of the Green Toys vehicles, so when I saw this sweet toy house playset (it even includes little mice!) I knew I wanted to include it with this book.

5. I think the Academy Series is one of the coolest set of books offered by UBAM for older kids (ubam recommends 7 years & up). The books offer SO MUCH information on really cool topics/jobs and are also interactive with stickers, quizzes, and other fun ways to have fun learning about a topic. I paired Architect Academy (my dream job) with this set of legos— there is also an entire line of really cool architecture lego sets, but I like that this set is open-ended.

Are you in full on holiday mode yet?

Five Great Gift Pairing Ideas

We are just a few weeks (ok two months😂) away from Christmas, which is hard to believe. It’s hard to believe it’s so close, but equally hard to believe March was so long ago- sometimes it feels like yesterday. I had so much fun putting together this post & hope it gives you some ideas to pair a book with a fun little toy for a great gift. I tried to be very intentional with what I picked so these are all things we own, or are on our wish list. Book links will take you straight to my personal bookshop.

1. I so wish I would have known about these foldout books when Theo was a newborn— so perfect for tummy time! It might just be us, but I can never find a clean teether when I need one- so I love the idea of pairing a cute animal teether when the animal foldout book. We have the cactus version of this teether and have really loved it!

2. If you’ve talked to me about UBAM, you’ve definitely heard me go on about the sound books— we love them! The buttons are easy enough for babies to push, but the books are entertaining all the way up through older kids too! For this pairing I picked a fun set of wooden stacking animals to go along with the Zoo Sounds book.

3. The Big Book of Colors is a favorite of ours— there are so many fun things you could add, but I love watercolors, or any paints, because of the pages on mixing colors and the color wheel.
I also think a great gift idea would be the 3 Big Books of Colors, Numbers, and ABC.

4. There are A LOT of construction book options, but the shine-a-light booksare truly magical & so unique! you just use a flashlight to uncover hidden images in the pages. I paired it with this little Melissa & Doug wooden set— Mason has a similar one my dad got him last year and it is his favorite! He especially loves the little guys (& girl) it comes with! (you can also add a mini flashlight to go along with the book too!)

5. I’m sure it goes without saying that the Big Book of Big Dinosaurs is perfect for any dino lover! A fun little feature is the pages fold out, making the book seem even bigger. Mason has been loving these jumbo dinosaurs– so fun for encouraging independent play & using his imagination.

Other great dinosaur book options: Lifesize Dinosaurs, 1 2 3 Do the Dinosaur, 199 Dinosaurs & Prehistoric Animals
I’m hoping to have part two in the next week or so— I’ve been having to post from my phone & it is not ideal to say the least. Let me know your favorite gift ideas.