The Empty Pot by Demi


This week’s featured title is . . .

The Empty Pot by Demi

An aging Chinese emperor gives each child in his country a flower seed and after a year’s time the child with the most beautiful pot of flowers will be named his successor.

A young boy named Ping tends to the seed with care all year, but is unable to grow any blooms. Will Ping present his pot to the emperor?

The Empty Pot, through its timeless tale and exquisite illustrations, teaches children the importance of honesty and integrity.

Recommended for ages 4-7.


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Best Picture Books for Toddlers

My eldest daughter Lucy loved pulling books from the little shelf in our apartment living room as a toddler. She would sit with them tucked between her chubby knees and turn the pages continually. The books began to tear from her daily routine. My first instinct was to put them high where she could not reach them so they could be preserved for her future siblings.

It took me a few years–and two more children–to realize that often the best picture books are the ones that end up torn, taped, re-taped, and broken at the binding from being opened so many times. They are the ones that end up in my lap for the tenth day in a row with the words, “Mama, book?”

Lucy, 2015

Here is a list of books that have been beloved by my toddler-aged children (you better believe I have these memorized!):

Appley Dapply’s Nursery Rhymes by Beatrix Potter, also Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes

Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman

Blue on Blue by Dianne White

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Corduroy by Don Freeman

Diggers Go by Steve Light

Freight Train by Donald Crews

The Gingerbread Boy by Paul Galdone

Going to Sleep on the Farm by Wendy Cheyette Lewison

Go Dog Go by P.D. Eastman

Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

Have You Seen My Duckling? by Nancy Tafuri

The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson

I am a Bunny by Richard Scarry

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff

Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? by Nancy Carlstrom

The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton

Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss

My First Counting Book by Lilian Moore

My First Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne (poetry)

My Very First Mother Goose by Iona Opie

The Napping House by Audrey & Don Wood

1 is One by Tasha Tudor

Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt

Pelle’s New Suit by Elsa Beskow

A Picnic with Monet by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober, and others in the “Mini Masters” series

Poems to Read to the Very Young by Josette Frank, illustrated by Eloise Wilkin

Prayer for a Child by Rachel Field

Put Me in the Zoo by Robert Lopshire

Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever by Richard Scarry

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

Ten Red Apples by Pat Hutchins

The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr

The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats

Who Made This Cake? by Chihiro Nakagawa

Click here for a printable PDF booklist!

Which picture books does your toddler pull off the shelf again and again? Please share in the comments below.

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New Year, New Plans

Hoping you had a merry Christmas and are having a great start to the New Year! I have been looking forward to beginning a new year with Beloved Bookshelf as I enjoy the fresh start that a new calendar year provides.

These are my plans and priorities for 2020:

. . . finding editions of classics like Mother Goose, Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Andersen, and Aesop’s Fables to recommend. Call it my nursery essentials list, if you will. Many booklists recommend these classics but do not always suggest which editions. I want to provide you with some great suggestions. All editions must have top-notch prose (when dealing with translations and adaptations) as well as beautiful illustrations.


. . . recommending more chapter books. My children are six and under, so most of my time has been spent searching for picture books and nursery classics. My eldest daughter and I are now beginning to read chapters books together! I am also planning on reading a handful on my own this year. If your children are older and you need chapter book recommendations now, please check out this page where I list my trusted resources for finding book recommendations.

. . . book cover photographs above all of my book titles. Photographs are so helpful and this is my top priority in the coming months.

. . . and the project I am most excited to announce: grade-specific literature lists for homeschool and the classroom, beginning with preschool, kindergarten, and first grade!

Please send me an email if there is anything you would like to see on Beloved Bookshelf this year. I am grateful to several readers who informed me that they prefer age or grade-specific booklists rather than master lists. While I do think most of the books on my lists can be read at various ages, I do understand the convenience of organizing booklists this way. For example, “Put Me in the Zoo” is a splendid early reader, but my two-year-old toddler can’t get enough of it. Just something to keep in mind even after I reconfigure the booklists.

Finally, I want to make sure you don’t miss an article I added to my resources page a couple of months ago titled “Awakening the Moral Imagination” by Dr. Vigen Guroian. It is the best article I have read on the subject of why children should read fairy tales. I encourage you to read it! Dr. Guroian also wrote a book on this subject which I hope to read and review sometime on the blog titled Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child’s Moral Imagination. And . . . if you are looking for fairy tales to read with your child, here’s my great big list of illustrated fairy tales.


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Simple & Meaningful Advent Traditions

Today I want to share with you the ways we observe Advent with our small children. I have also added suggestions for how these traditions can be adapted if finding, preparing, or affording materials is burdensome.

Simple & Meaningful Advent Traditions

Playing with the Manger Scene

Playing with the figurines of the manger scene is especially impactful for young children because it helps them understand who are all of the persons involved in the Christmas story. I will catch my children acting out the Christmas story quietly with the figurines, especially after we read the Nativity story in their Christmas books. I recommend acquiring a set that is durable for little hands, preferably made of wood or plastic. We put our set away during the year and take it out only during Advent and Christmastide so it is extra special.

Here are a few sets we own or my children have played with that I recommend, at different price points: Wooden Nativity Scene from WoodenYaSay on Etsy (pictured below, handmade, buttery soft); Melissa & Doug Classic Wooden Christmas Nativity Set (inexpensive option); Ostheimer Nativity Set (handmade from Germany, heirloom quality)




Filling the Manger with Straw

This is my favorite tradition because I think it brings the spirit of Christmas into our home. Children are encouraged to perform acts of kindness, service, and generosity. For every good act they place a piece of yarn in the manger, in order to give Jesus a nice, soft place to lay his head on Christmas. Late on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, the infant Jesus is placed in the manger.

For this tradition, you will need a wooden manger or a small box (like a cardboard shoe box), yellow yarn cut into 4 inch pieces, and a large Jesus figurine. You could also make an infant Christ by wrapping a baby doll in a white cloth or use straw purchased from the craft store. Look around your home and see what you can use! My manger is made of a small plastic box covered in batting fabric.



Christmas Books

Many of the books we read during Advent center on the Nativity or have characters that exhibit generosity. The books seem to work their magic all Advent long as we prepare our hearts for Christmas morning! I put our Christmas-themed books in a basket in the living room and adorn the basket with a festive bow.

I request the ones we don’t own from the library a week before Advent begins. Here is my booklist of our most beloved Christmas stories. 

I also recommend this wonderfully curated booklist from the blog Shower of Roses: Feasts & Seasons :: Advent & Christmas Collection.




Advent Wreath

The Advent wreath is a lovely way to incorporate daily prayer into Advent and it reminds us how Christ’s coming is light entering the darkness. My children love the pageantry of lighting the candles every evening. You can learn more about the rich history and symbolism of the Advent wreath here

Traditionally, the Advent wreath has three violet candles and one pink candle, but four white candles can be used too. Many families keep their wreath in the middle of their dining table. A devotional booklet can also be used with daily scripture and prayer.


Another option is making a paper craft wreath. I especially like this printable wreath from the blog Look to Him and Be Radiant, because you can hide the paper flames and lift them up on the appropriate week.


Advent Calendar

Advent calendars are a great way to countdown the days until Christmas and can be found at most stores. Look for one that shares a piece of the Nativity story each day. We don’t personally own this, but I know my children would go nuts over this fabric Nativity calendar with pockets.



Jesse Tree

This is the most involved of the traditions on my list, but it incorporates daily scripture into our Advent and connects Jesus’s birth to all of salvation history.

You will need a small tabletop tree, Jesse Tree ornaments, and a family bible and/or children’s picture bible. Each ornament has a symbol which corresponds with a biblical moment in salvation history. My ornaments are made of paper and string using this tutorial from Catholic All Year. You can also purchase handmade Jesse Tree ornament sets on Etsy

My children look forward to putting the ornaments on the tree every day. Because my children are younger, we will often read and look at the daily scripture in their picture bible. My favorite picture bible for little ones (ages 3-6) is: Maite Roche’s The Beautiful Story of the Bible.



Celebrating Feast Days

We also celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6th and the feast of St. Lucy on December 13th with special prayers, food, and activities.

For the feast of St. Nicholas, our children sleep in their Christmas pajamas and we fill their stockings with a candy cane, orange, chocolate coins, and a small gift. We spend the day learning about the great life of Saint Nicholas and how we can imitate his holiness and generosity.

Free coloring pages, activities, crafts, and recipes can be found at:



On the feast of St. Lucy, we eat lussekatter (Swedish saffron buns) or a wreath-shaped pastry for breakfast and Swedish meatballs for dinner. My eldest daughter dresses up like St. Lucy and her younger sisters dress as her attendants. We sing the “Santa Lucia” song and read a book about the life and martyrdom of St. Lucy called Lucia: Saint of Light by Katherine Bolger Hyde.



O come, O come Emmanuel!


Please leave me a comment below sharing your family’s favorite Advent tradition.


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