Reading Before 5 Years Old (What Did and Didn’t Work)

Posted by Carly Morgan

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

We have two early readers in the house. Eva, the six year old, is comfortable with chapter books and just finished the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary. Calvin, the three year old soon to be four, can do Level 4 readers but prefers big picture books with a lot of rhyming. Both of them can read labels in the kitchen, instructions for toys, and the street signs in our neighborhood. Best of all, they can both read for an hour or more by themselves.

One of our big goals with parenting was to raise kids who loved books but our journey to reading was a little crazier than I thought it was going to be. Honestly, I think I complicated the process by buying into all of the chatter about how hard it is to get kids to read and, as a result, buying books and programs designed to make that process easier. I wasted a lot of money and time on things that were not fun and not helpful. I also stumbled into a few super helpful tricks along the way, so I thought I’d give you the hits and misses list.

Stuff that didn’t work:

1 /// Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I’m going to get pushback for this one, I’m sure, because it is the go-to book that was recommended to me by about ten different people. So, you can take my experience with a grain of salt BUT this was the worst of the worst for us. Drills, repetition, and mindless exercises that will do nothing but bore and frustrate both of you. This book also has nothing to do with learning to love books. Blah. I sent it off to the thrift store within two months.

2 /// The BOB Books Series. This was another series that I bought because everyone was using them. Yes, I purchased all of them and no, they don’t work. While not as bad as the book mentioned above, the BOB books aren’t designed to make kids love books so the stories are boring and the skill level felt a little inconsistent. We tried them a few times but never got into them.

3 /// Leap TAG system. This is a really cool system that gives kids the power to read by themselves before they’re ready by using a pen that reads aloud when the kids touch the words. The system incorporates a ton of books and familiar characters (Disney, Suess, etc.) so I had high hopes for it. While it’s a lot of fun, my kids were pretty lazy about using it as a learning tool and ultimately went from mindlessly running the pen across the words without trying to read to reading the books without a pen. So I don’t recommend it as a go-to early reading tool but I would say it’s a pretty fun toy that did get them to enjoy books.

Stuff that did work:

1 /// Alphabet Dice. This was a complete accident. I was at the grocery store and wanted to grab a little something to surprise the kids so I picked up Campbell’s Alphabet Dice Game because I thought it was funny. I have no idea how you actually play the game but the dice themselves are the best tool for learning letter sounds and building small words. After practicing phonics, each kid started with “at” and then added the other letters to make rhyming worlds (cat, bat, sat, etc.) which was a great way to get them excited about sounding things out. As their reading skills progressed, we moved into using the dice to spell sight words, rolling the dice and writing words that start with that letter, and so on. We’re still finding ways to use them!

2 /// The Preschool Prep Collection. Another semi-accident here. This was a random Groupon purchase to use up some credit I had from referrals way back when and it became Eva’s favorite DVD set. I thought she was nuts because the production quality is low and it’s repetitive and there’s no story, but she loved these. Then, Calvin loved them even harder. They still ask to watch them. I don’t get it, but these DVDs were huge on teaching them phonic blends and sight words. Plus, they’re super chill so they aren’t annoying to have on in the background or during quiet time if you aren’t opposed to TV.

3 /// Having books absolutely everywhere. Finally, we stuffed books in all the places. Sure, we have bookshelves of books but we also have bins to flip through in the playroom, in their bedrooms, and in the living room. There are magazines in the kitchen to look at while waiting for food, waterproof books for bath time, pocket books in the diaper bag, and car organizers stuffed with books hanging in front of their car seats. (The ones meant for iPads work great for this.) And don’t forget a book light or two if you don’t mind them reading themselves to sleep.

It’s not the end of the world if kids don’t read early, but that extra boost definitely raises the chances that your kid will enjoy school. The way most kids are taught is so book-based that being a little behind in reading or feeling like reading is tiring in itself just adds stress on top of the exhaustion of learning everything else. Yes, Eva found parts of Kindergarten a little redundant, but I’d rather she struggle with boredom than with reading.

Plus, once kids can read on their own they become free to follow their own interests and find information out for themselves. Did you know that babies can taste with their cheeks or that the color in tornadoes is the dirt that the wind picks up? Learned that from my readers.

Book Reviews: #cleverkidsread 1/27

Posted by Carly Morgan

Friday book reviews are back because my book list has gotten longer and longer and it’s time to start trimming it down! I was very happy with a couple of these this week, especially the ones I read with the kids. Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means I get Amazon credit to buy more books if you click through.


Box – Min Flyte (Published Aug 23 2016)

Such a cute book! It’s a lift-the-flap book but that doesn’t even explain how creative and crazy the flaps get as these kids explore all of the possibilities a cardboard box holds. Both kids loved it and immediately went off to round up all of the empty boxes in the house so they could get started on ships, trains, and rockets.


Lila and the Crow – Gabrielle Grimard (Published 11 Oct 2016)

This is the story of Lila, the new girl at school who has dark skin and hair. I knew the book was about bullying, but I was surprised at how sad this book is. It has lovely illustrations but the basic idea is that the children at Lila’s school are cruel to her because of the way she looks until she wins them over at the end by showing how beautiful she is. I think it’s an important story but my kids wanted to know what happened next, what Lila said to the kids who were once mean to her, and why nobody stepped up to be nice to her in the first place. It gave us a lot to talk about and we did enjoy the pictures, but this isn’t one that’s destined to be a favorite in our home.


You Are Three – Sara O’Leary (Coming 15 Mar 2017)

We all loved these illustrations! The pictures are what makes this one worth a read since they’re familiar subjects (a child running through sprinklers) but so well done they’re like something you’d see in a museum. The text is nice but I think parents will the words more than the kids will because it’s mostly sentimentality about this part of childhood. That being said, get it for the eye candy.


Up! – Susan Hughes (Coming 15 Apr 2017)

We loved this book! Illustrated with sweet papercut images of babies and their families, the book talks about the different ways people carry babies. The text is simple but the illustrations are just wonderful and so inclusive with people in different situations all over the world. My older kids immediately wanted to pack their two month old brother up and start carrying him around in a basket on a pole so we had a nice talk about how not all of those methods work for every family (or every anxious mom!).


Meatless? – Sarah Elton (Coming 15 May 2017)

I was hoping this would be something like Forks Over Knives for middle readers but I actually found this book to be too one sided. Although a lot of good arguments for vegetarianism were made, I don’t think there was enough discussion about why people do choose to eat meat. It was also more graphic than I thought it was going to be, which I suppose would be an effective way to covert young people away from eating meat but probably won’t sit well with parents of less mature readers. Overall, I was disappointed that the positive messages of this book were drowned out.


Come Be Wild With Me – Kristen Maxwell (Coming 1 Apr 2017)

This is a picture book about leaving modern life behind and returning to nature to “be wild” but I would consider it more of a picture book for adults than for children. My kids only sort of caught on to what the book was saying and got a little bored toward the end because the illustrations, while beautiful and different, are a little repetitive. There’s also a lot in the text that was just about the heads of my 3 and 5 year olds so I’d call this one a near miss for our family.


Mindfulness for Parents – Amber Hatch (Coming 14 Feb 2017)

Best parenting book I’ve read in the last few months! I am a huge fan of the practice of mindfulness (being “in” the present moment) but I’m also someone who struggles to incorporate that practice into everyday life. There were definitely elements of this book that are probably unrealistic in my chaotic three kids life but the majority of her ideas and tips are solid and I was able to put some into practice right away. The chapter on Mindful Speaking and Listening was especially helpful and I’ve noticed little changes in how I interact with the kids and with my husband just because I’m paying more attention.

Sidenote – it’s a very forgiving book if you feel like your journey to mindfulness is a little rocky. Sometimes these types of books are so preachy about their inner peace I just want to throw them in the nearest serenity pool but this one wasn’t annoying like that at all. It’s out on Valentines Day but you can pre-order it!

Book Shower: Complete Amazon Registry for Baby Books

Posted by Carly Morgan

I love the idea of books-only baby showers. I’ve seen them done when it’s not the first time the parents are expecting or when the parents are overwhelmed with hand-me-downs from friends/family so they don’t need as much baby gear.

The hard thing about being invited to books-only baby showers is that you don’t know if you’re buying the same books everyone else is buying so I always feel like I have to go for the really unusual books. There are a ton of great books out there, but that might mean that the new baby doesn’t get a few great classics that no kid should miss.

For this reason, I would find a book registry SO helpful when shopping for baby. Even if you aren’t doing a books-only shower, here are a couple of titles you might want to add to your list:

Great gift books for the expectant parents

Books for the expectant parents:

What to Expect the First Year /// The Sh!t No One Tells You: A Guide to Surviving Your Baby’s First Year /// Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Year: From Doctors Who Are Parents, Too! /// Lucy Darling Little Animal Lover Memory Book /// C.R. Gibson Memory Book, Linen Tree /// My Baby Book: A Keepsake Journal for Baby’s First Year

Must have baby books to add to your registry

Must-Have Board Books for Baby:

Corduroy: Giant Board Book /// Good Night, Gorilla /// We’re Going on a Bear Hunt /// Look, Look! /// Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? /// Goodnight Moon

Board books that let you play with baby

Interactive Board Books:

Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Softly Book (Dr. Seuss Nursery Collection) /// Where’s Spot? /// Flaptastic: Colors /// The Very Hungry Caterpillar /// Whizzy Wheels: London Bus /// No Biting! (Lift-The-Flap Book) /// Bottoms Up! (Yonezu Board Book)

These gorgeous picture books make wonderful baby shower or holiday gifts.

Gorgeous Picture Books:

Waiting /// This Is New York /// Journey /// Home /// The Day the Crayons Quit /// Mix It Up! /// Beautiful Birds

Classic childrens books to add to your library

The Books Everyone Knows By Heart:

Hop on Pop /// Chicka Chicka Boom Boom /// Llama Llama Red Pajama /// Are You My Mother? /// The Paper Bag Princess /// Olivia

Great books to read at bedtime even for baby

Books to Read at Bedtime:

Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings /// The Wind in the Willows /// The Story of Ferdinand /// Charlotte’s Web /// The Real Mother Goose /// The Complete Adventures of Curious George: 70th Anniversary Edition

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Complete list of books to add to your Amazon baby registry

The Bookstores of Salt Lake City

Posted by Carly Morgan

We took a tour of Salt Lake City bookstores last weekend. With the rise of online book shopping, the book scene isn’t quite what it was when I was younger, but there are still some holdout independent booksellers in the area who can provide all sorts of gems if you know where to look.

I didn’t get out to all of the bookstores in SLC – we skipped the ones that are faith-focused and didn’t make it to the new age stores in the area that offer reasonably large selections of books in the new age genre. I also skipped a couple of boutiques that have healthy book selections (for example: The Children’s Hour at 9th and 9th) because we were looking for “books only”.

Just to cover my bases, I should tell you that we buy more books at thrift stores (like Deseret Industries) than anywhere else because the charity turnover in Salt Lake is crazy and you have a good shot of picking up a New York Times bestseller at any given time. However, we didn’t visit the D.I. for this project since those are neither bookstores nor pleasant shopping experiences. (Typically thrift store smell if you know what I mean.)

Also, I cheated and started with a bookstore that isn’t even in Salt Lake. Because…well, you’ll see. Ok, let’s begin:



The Book Garden
2 North Main Street
Bountiful, Utah

The Book Garden is up in Bountiful, which is about a ten minute drive from downtown Salt Lake City, but I had to include it in the SLC roundup because it’s exactly what you think of when you think of finding a little independent bookseller. This shop is pretty teeny but the shelves are positively crammed with used books.



The Book Garden takes books on trade so on the Saturday we went there were quite a few people coming in with boxes of books in the hopes of getting some credit and I feel like they do have a lot of stock coming in and out. That being said, it’s a chaotic and tight interior and only organized in the most general of senses (nothing alphabetized and books are divided into genre according to bookseller whim). We always find some happy gems in the children’s section up front, though, and the pricing is reasonable. If you have kids who need chapter books or classics for school, this would be a good place to visit…so long as you’re prepared to dig.



Eborn Books
254 S. Main Street
Salt Lake City, Utah

Eborn Books took over the Main Street location where Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore used to be. I worked at Weller’s for almost three years in college and loved it madly, but we rarely visit the store anymore because the change of hands wasn’t very kind to the building. However, the Coffee Garden space at the front of the store is delightful and remains my favorite place to get coffee downtown so if you want a place to sit and visit, I recommend it.


As for Eborn Books, the method behind their madness remains a mystery to me. They have a fair amount of stock in the building and categories are clearly labeled but the shelves are more chaotic than you think they’d be given how much space they have. My biggest problem with the store, however, is that it isn’t a pleasant shopping experience. The space itself is always lacking when we go in there (carpets torn and in need of a good Dyson, lightbulbs that flicker on and off if they work at all, half empty cups jammed in between books on the shelves) and every five feet there’s another sign that reminds you to check your bag so you don’t steal anything.

I completely understand dealing with an old building, since I battled the exact same dust ten years ago, and I know how much of a problem shoplifting and customers littering used to be. I could even handle dirty if the books I wanted were easy to find or chaos if the people selling them seemed excited to be there or checking my bag if the place felt charming and welcoming anyway. But I can’t do all three just because the coffee place up front is good, especially when it’s $4 to park in the garage out back.




Ken Sanders Rare Books
268 S 200 E
Salt Lake City, Utah

Ken Sanders is a rare book store located in a small building within walking distance of Salt Lake’s beautiful downtown library. True to their name, they only deal with used books (with a little art and ephemera thrown in) and the buyers are particular here so you’re much more likely to find ten awesome books you’ve never heard of than a used copy of that one book everyone has.


I like shopping at Ken Sanders because I have a soft spot for unusual vintage titles and the people who work there know an unreasonable amount of stuff about their merchandise so they’re more helpful about knowing what they have in stock. Personally, I stick to the bins of vintage postcards and their small children’s section so I don’t even browse through the really rare stuff but if you’re looking for something very special and hard to find, this would be a good place to start.

Fair warning: this is definitely the “cool” place to buy books in Salt Lake City so you might have to duck in between young people taking pictures of themselves or each other or the books, etc., while you browse. We ran into 5-6 cameras on Saturday alone. Oh, and don’t take your toddler unless you have someone who can trade off dragging your kid outside while you browse. This isn’t that kind of store.



Weller Book Works
607 Trolley Square,
Salt Lake City, Utah

Weller Book Works is the new name/location for Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore. Again, I used to work here so my review of this store might be a little biased but this isn’t a store you can miss if you’re checking out the book scene in Salt Lake City.


Weller Book Works stocks both used and new books and they’re mixed together so you’ll be able to browse all of their stock by genre without moving to different parts of the store. The exception to this is their rare book room, which is upstairs and definitely the best part of the shop. They always have someone staffed in the rare book room who can help you with whatever you’re looking for.

I personally prefer their old space to the new one, which has very high ceilings, cement floors, and the general vibe of browsing in a Costco. We always leave with books in hand but I admit that it’s hard to spend as much time browsing in the new location because it just doesn’t feel like the kind of place you can hang out for hours in. It’s a million times cleaner than the old store, though, and has the advantage of being located in Trolley Square which makes it a good stop if you have some time for window shopping.




King’s English Bookstore
1511 S 1500 E
Salt Lake City, Utah

King’s English is our neighborhood bookstore and my personal favorite in the city. It’s located in a little house that has been cleverly converted into a tidy shop with an incredible selection of books. The stock here is 98% new with the occasional exception for something exceptional or signed or both.


The real gem of the bookstore, in my opinion, is their large children’s book area which is tended with so much love that I don’t even mind paying full price for books that I could buy on Amazon for less. I confess to using new bookstores as something of a showroom for books I want to eventually buy on Amazon, but King’s English is so cute and the staff is so good at what they do that we make it a point to shop here and support this little local business.

Bonus: their events and book clubs are not to be missed so check their calendar or subscribe to their newsletter for updates.





Central Book Exchange
2017 S 1100 E
Salt Lake City, Utah

Central Book Exchange is located not far from King’s English in the shopping district at Sugarhouse. More importantly, it’s located a stone’s throw from the big Barnes and Noble for this part of the city and the people who shop Sugarhouse are the kind of people who would make it a point to shop local instead of big box, giving this tiny store a serious location advantage.


The Morgans are a house divided when it comes to this shop. Kyle feels like they have a good selection of new books with lots of current titles and less dust/dirt/grime than some of the other book shops dealing with used merchandise. I feel like the pricing is a little off and just high enough to make me want to put all the books back and shop for used copies in my Amazon app.

Part of that is because of their dual pricing system – they take trades but then you earn points which count toward the book AND you still have to pay a certain price OR you just pay a higher price without points, so you end up trying to figure out if the $10 book you just brought in which earned you 2 points and means you now only pay $9 vs. $13 for this book was a good deal or if you just practically donated a book and bought another book anyway. What??? I don’t get it. Point me in the direction of the Barnes and Noble.



Frost’s Books
1980 E 2700 S
Salt Lake City, Utah

Ok, if there’s a bookstore I really don’t understand, this one would be it. Frost’s Books is confusing because I really really want to like it. It’s fairly close to where we live, it’s small, it’s independent, and it’s kitty corner from the best Jewish deli I’ve ever been to outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. That’s like a whole book romance waiting to happen.


So what is happening??

I think my problem with this store is that I really want it to be a little used book store and it’s not. Theoretically that’s not something I can really hold against them, but something about going into a tight chaotic space and realizing that you’re just looking at new books (full price) and a bunch of discount books (remainders other stores couldn’t sell)…I don’t know. It’s not welcoming. It’s confusing. It reminds me of being at a book fair held at the local elementary school. You want to be supportive but it’s all kind of expensive and everything smells like old gum.

I’m going to keep visiting on occasion just because it’s here and I’m here and why not, but if you’re visiting the city and you don’t have time to hit every bookstore on my list, miss this one first.




Dr. Volt’s Comic Connection
2043 3300 S
Salt Lake City, Utah

This is an honorable mention, since it isn’t really a bookstore, but as the hands-down best place to get comics in Salt Lake City, I felt like it needed to be on the list. The store is small but it has all the stock you need if you’re into comics, graphic novels, etc., and the people who work there are the nicest geeks in town. They know a little about everything and a lot about most of the mainstream fandoms plus they always have people playing games, eating snacks, and talking toys. If your inner teenage boy wants to come out to play, this is where you should be.


Chinese New Year Picture Books

Posted by Carly Morgan

Chinese New Year is coming up fast! The Year of the Monkey starts on February 8th so you have just about a week and a half until the dim sum starts rolling in.

Chinese New Year 2016 for Kids

Sadly, there isn’t a huge selection of good holiday picture books out there for Chinese New Year. I guess it just doesn’t have the marketing draw that Christmas and Halloween have. We’ve bought our fair share of books that ultimately had poor illustrations or stories that fell flat, so I wanted to do a little round up of books that passed the Morgan children readability test. Not all are strictly Chinese New Year, just to warn you, but each is beautifully done and a good addition to your home or classroom library!

Picture Books for Chinese New Year
Bringing In the New Year by Grace Lin /// Dragon Dance: a Chinese New Year Lift-the-Flap Book by Joan Holub /// My First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz /// Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim /// Hiss! Pop! Boom!: Celebrating Chinese New Year by Tricia Morrissey /// Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year by Kate Waters /// The Runaway Wok: A Chinese New Year Tale by Ying Chang Compestine /// Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn /// A New Year’s Reunion: A Chinese Story by Yu Li-Qiong /// Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes by Nina Simonds /// Red Is a Dragon: A Book of Colors by Roseanne Thong /// Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin /// In the Snow by Huy Voun Lee

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