Welcome, fellow book lovers! My name is Melissa LaSalle–a.k.a. The Book Mommy. I live in Alexandria, Virginia, with my husband and two kids, where I’m as passionate about reading to my own kids as I am about inspiring others to create a literary culture inside their home. I’ve had over 25 years experience buying, selling, curating, and reviewing children’s books.
These days, when I’m not working on reviews for my website or Instagram account (@thebookmommy), I’m making my way through monthly reading lists for Capitol Choices, a review committee comprised of children’s literature professionals from the Washington D.C. area, or consulting on buying for the fabulous local indie, Old Town Books. If you’re interested in hiring me to speak at your school or organization about the power of book choice to engage reluctant and enthusiastic readers alike (yes, graphic novels count as real books!), you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A bit about my journey, as my love affair with children’s books began well before I had kids. During a “gap year” between high school and college, I worked at a children’s bookstore in New York City. My co-workers and I spent our weekends combing used bookstores along the East Coast, rediscovering gems from our own childhoods. After earning a BA in English Literature from Princeton University (where I took every kid lit class offered), I spent several years in the advertising business (working on accounts like Luvs Diapers and Kellogg cereals) before the draw of children’s books once again proved too strong. I partnered with a friend who had recently opened a wonderful independent children’s shop in Chicago called The Red Balloon; for the next 10 years, I became known as The Book Lady, pouring my heart and soul into expanding the store’s book offerings and matching the right books with the right families. Along the way, I gave birth to my son, and my belief in the power of children’s books grew even stronger. When my husband was offered a job opportunity too good to pass up, we made the decision to move East. Pregnant with my second, I decided to try my hand at becoming a Full-Time Mom.
Years later, I still love being home with my kids, but I’ll never shake my obsession with children’s books: finding innovative ways to continue reading aloud to my kids, even as they’re now reading independently; researching new titles (translate: spending WAY too much money on books); speaking at parenting and literacy events in the DC area; and curating my children’s school libraries and book fairs. All my adult life, people have asked me, “If you love kids’ books so much, why not write them? Why not publish them?” My answer is simple: there are no shortage of fantastic books being published every year: gorgeous, clever, inspiring books, which shape the way our children see the world. And yet, so many of these gems get lost in stacks of mediocre titles. As parents, we want our kids to grow up loving books, to develop their imaginations, to have the gumption to seek out answers to the never-ending stream of questions they have about themselves and the world. But who has the time to sift through the sludge and pull out the gems? I DO. And the knowledge. And the passion.
And so, I give you my two cents on What to Read to Your Kids.
“I just wanted to send a quick personal word of thanks. When our daughter was born and my wife was breast feeding, I decided that bedtime stories were going to be “my thing.” That was among the best decisions in my life. In the last three years, we’ve been through hundreds of different books together- always at a rate of two per night. Your recommendations resonate so well with me and also with our daughter. Your post about Snatchabook summarized my feelings on the matter concisely—“I can’t imagine a better way to end our little ones’ days than with a story filled with such kindness and compassion.”” –Ed, Alexandria, VA
“Every year around this time I make a cup of tea and pull up your blog and do my Christmas shopping for all the kids in my family (now 9 with all the nieces and nephews!). Reading your blog is one of my favorite holiday traditions, and the kids have even started saying “I can’t wait to see what books you get me this year”. Your posts make me laugh, they make me cry…and really are such a treat. Thank you so much for all the work you do to keep your blog going, for all the AMAZING book recos, and for helping me keep my holiday tradition alive!” –Ansarie, Chicago, IL
“I don’t know how many people tell you this, but I appreciate you. I love your choices, I love books, I love reading to my kids, and I love that there is someone else in this world sharing that love. And when I needed to broaden our spaces of who we read, and the characters in our books – you were there for me. Again with beautiful suggestions that were so meaningful to me. I trust your voice. Thank you for sharing it.” –Kristina
“We just so appreciate the work you do here. We purchase a book for every child in our extended family for the holidays and for their birthdays – upwards of 4 dozen a year – and every single one is directly from your recommendations and has been for years.” –Sarah
As a grandmother I certainly wish I had this annotated list of highly recommended books when I was reading to my children. Now my grandchildren will benefit. Thanks, Melissa.
I used to grab 10 books from the library and end up only liking 1 or 2 for my sons. Now I use your recommendations and end up loving almost all of them. Life is too short for OK books. Bring on good books! Thanks for helping parents do a better job
What a wonderful, thoughtful, well-crafted resource for parents and teachers and anyone who loves books and children. Bravo!!!
As you know, I too, am a bit obsessed with children’s literature. I think the librarians at our local library think I’m nuts because I bring the kids in so much, but they continue to let us in!! Thanks so much for sharing your amazing knowledge, Melissa! Love to you all 😉
Hi Melissa – I LOVE your blog! I can’t wait to share it with friends, and to enjoy your great writing…and, most of all, book recommendations.
I am so glad you are doing this blog. I have already recommended it to several librarian friends at the elementary level. I miss talking with you everyday about books and sharing your enthusiasm for new titles and book vendor visits. I still think you’d make one heck of a children’s librarian. 🙂 I miss you, friend.
I am so glad you are doing this blog. I miss talking to you everyday about kids’ books and sharing your enthusiasm for new titles and vendor visits. I still think you’d be one heck of a children’s librarian! 🙂 I miss you, friend.
Your Uncle Bill shared your blog with me, and I’m so grateful. I’d never heard of the British writer and we’ll be checking her out asap. Many thanks for sharing your book knowledge & experience!
BTW, have you experienced Barbara Berger’s beautilful books, e.g. “Grandfather Twilight”? She’s been one of our favorites for years. Susan Singleton
Thanks, Susan! So glad you are enjoying the blog. And yes, I love “Grandfather Twilight”–we read it all the time! I’m definitely planning to do a post soon about moon books…so many great ones…
so glad to have discovered your blog! actually, my family and i relocated from chicago (from dickens in bucktown and thus up the street from red balloon– oh do we miss that place!) a year ago! i wish we could find places like that here! at least i can have access to your recs virtually!
Yay for a fellow (former) Chicagoan! So glad you found me. Keep reading and enjoy!
Melissa! I LOVE your blog! I have shared it on facebook with all the parents I know and they LOVE it too! I just shared with with a friend who needed a non-Disney book to read to his son’s kindergarten class. Thank you so much for sharing your brilliance, your keen eye, and your expertise. But one thing…you did not answer the question of why (or when) are you going to write a children’s book!!! We are all waiting!!
Melissa — I was just thinking about reaching out to you this morning to get some book recommendations, when lo and behold, I found your blog. Thank you!!! My kindergartener is enthralled with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory right now (after being initially disappointed that he received a brown-colored book from Aunt Alice), and I’m thinking about what to put on the reading list next.
I still visit the Red Balloon whenever I get a chance. Hope you’re doing well!
Debbie, what a wonderful surprise to hear from you! I hope you and your family are well. I had to chuckle when I read your comment about the “brown book” because we just finished reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with our kindergartener (but please, don’t make the mistake that we did and go for the sequel: Charlie and the Glass Elevator is a far cry from the original–read: mind-numbingly boring). Other suggestions for read-aloud chapter books for your son would be My Father’s Dragon (I did a post on this gem here), Cricket in Times Square, James and the Giant Peach, Charlotte’s Web (my son ADORED this and we both teared up at the ending), Trumpet of the Swans, the Little House on the Prairie series (that’s right, it’s not just for girls–my son loves them!), The Penderwicks series (newish and absolutely fantastic), How to Train Your Dragon series (much better than the movie), The Borrowers series, and I could go on and on. You should definitely enter your email (ie. “subscribe”) and then you’ll get an email with every new post. Also, six and seven are GREAT ages for long picture books and (especially for boys) non-fiction like picture book biographies (I also did a recent post about these here. Enjoy and stay warm in Chicago!
Hi book obsessed mom. I love your blog. Thanks for your lovely write up of PUDDLE PAIL, which I just discovered. So glad it resonates with you and your children. Warm wishes, Elisa
Jordan told me about your blog, so I wanted to come visit. I still buy children’s books despite the fact that I have no kids of my own to read them to. One of my latest favorites is a counting primer inspired by Pride and Prejudice. Any way, if you feel like visiting the blog I’ve been working on, thesaltwatertwin.wordpress.com, stop on by! Maia
P.S. I also noticed the comment above about read aloud chapter books — I adored (and still do) the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series.
Hi Maia, thanks so much for taking the time to read some of my posts! Your blog is lovely as well–I especially like the piece about why you write. I too feel like I’ve been doing both since as long as I can remember and it’s impossible to divorce the two. And yes, those BabyLit board book (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and the like) are pretty funny, especially for baby shower gifts. 🙂 Cheers!
Dear Melissa–I’ve been following your blog for a bit–as a mom with young kids who is always looking for great books and also as a co-founder of IN THIS TOGETHER MEDIA. We publish “great books about real girls” – early chapter books, middle grade and YA fiction with a focus on authentic female characters. We were recently profiled in Publishers Weekly and I’d love to chat with you about our wonderful books!
Thanks, Saira! I’d love to chat. The world always needs more books with strong female role models. You can reach me at email@example.com.
Do you have a section of your site that lists recommended books by age?
Hi! Currently I only have the posts grouped thematically rather than by age. But I totally agree that there needs to be a way to sort by age group. It’s on my radar: if not for the holidays than definitely early in the new year! Thanks!
I am across the board not a comment-leaver and I have to leave a comment here to tell you how much I love your blog.
I’m a fellow Chicagoan addicted to children’s books. We have enjoyed some of the most delightful finds through your recommendations. My daughter is almost two. Some of our favorites are Beach Feet, Little Mouse, Little Gorilla and Following Papa’s Song. Thank you for inspiring wonderful story times (and lighter wallets) in our house!
Margot’s Mom, I am so flattered that you would break your no comment rule for me. 😉 AND you clearly have great taste in books. Sounds like your daughter is a lot like mine–which is great news for you (since I have soooooo many more awesome books to tell you about this fall) and bad news for your wallet. Thank goodness for libraries! And holiday wish lists! Although I still spend wayyyyyyyyy too much time in bookstores. 🙂
Wow, this is the blog I have been looking… it’s like you read my mind when you created this haven of amazing books from a mom’s perspective. Since I began homeschooling my 10 year old and 4 year old two years ago, I have become completely obsessed with QUALITY amazing childrens books and I applaud this amazing blog!
Thank you so much, Lesley! I’m thrilled that you are finding the blog useful. I can imagine you have your hands full homeschooling a 10 and 4 year old–I applaud you!!! I always joke that, if I were to start homeschooling my kids, we would just sit around and read books all day. There’s a book for everything, right? 🙂