Barefoot Books: A treasure, from cover-to-cover

Creativity, while arguably something each of us is born with, is inarguably something that needs to be cultivated and encouraged in order to flourish. Enter Barefoot Books! With a belief that creativity is every child’s birthright, this independent publisher — founded by two working moms — has been doing its part to "act as springboards for children’s hearts and minds" since 1993.

Actress Debra Messing and musician Sir Paul McCartney are doing what they can to spark creative growth in their own children. Debra, mom to 3 1/2-year-old Roman, and Paul, dad to 4 1/2-year-old Beatrice, have both chosen Barefoot Books for their little ones, and for good reason. The books tackle topics like adoption, cultural diversity, tolerance and the environment with kid-friendly zeal. Debra calls Barefoot Books "a much needed and welcomed resource," while Paul calls the Herb The Vegetarian Dragon series "a magical read for all new thinkers, young and old."

We recently had the pleasure of reading more than a dozen offerings from Barefoot Books, and have chosen to highlight four titles — Mama Panya’s Pancakes, My Daddy is a Pretzel, Motherbridge of Love and Whole World. From their extraordinary illustrations to their award-winning content, each of these books is a treasure, from cover-to-cover.

Click ‘continue reading’ for our complete review of Barefoot Books.

I think what we enjoy the most about Barefoot Books is the comprehensive approach they take to capturing your child’s interest — and keeping it. Owen’s favorite book of the bunch,Mama Panya’s Pancakes ($7.99), is a perfect example. It tells the story of Mama Panya’s young son, Adika, who on his way to the market invites everyone he sees to a pancake dinner at his home in a Kenyan village. As Mama Panya tries to figure out a way to feed each of her unexpected guests, the underlying theme of the story emerges: The importance of sharing, even when we have little to give. It’s a great lesson for children, particularly those with an aversion to sharing, like Owen.

But as important a lesson as that is, the book continues to educate its readers — both big and small. It contains the recipe for Mama Panya’s spicy pancakes, a map of Kenya and its surrounding countries and a glossary of Kiswahili (a mixture of Bantu and Arabic languages, spoken by most Kenyans) greetings with their English translations. We love this book, and we’re not alone: It was named one of the Notable Books for a Global Society in 2005, winner of the Oppenheim Portfolio Gold Award in 2006 and won Storytelling World Honors in 2007.

Mama Panya’s Pancakes isn’t isolated in its critical acclaim, however. There are dozens upon dozens of award-winning titles available, and there’s literally a little something for everyone.

Know a yoga enthusiast who also happens to be a parent? Buy them My Daddy is a Pretzel ($11.99, on sale). It provides kids with a great introduction to a range of basic postures while, at the same time, showing them how they can incorporate the principles of yoga into their everyday life. Author Baron Baptiste, a world-renowned yoga teacher, advises his young readers "if you are feeling afraid or nervous, you can boost your courage with the lion pose" and "if there is a lot of change happening in your life … you can be your own bridge." Baron’s wisdom strikes a chord with actress Helen Hunt, herself mom to 3 1/2-year-old Makena’lei, who calls My Daddy is a Pretzel "a wonderful book." And, we agree! Besides a brief experiment with prenatal yoga, I’m essentially a yoga newbie, but Owen and I had an absolute blast trying out the various poses in this book. The illustrations and instructions are clear and easy to follow, no matter what your age.

Motherbridge of Love ($16.99) is without question a must-buy for adoptive parents. Named the #3 book on Time Magazine’s list of best children’s books in 2007, it’s a beautifully illustrated poem that tells the story of a young Chinese girl and her adoptive mother. The text of the poem was submitted anonymously to the charity Mother Bridge of Love, which reaches out to Chinese children all over the world who have been adopted. From the opening lines "Once there were two women who never knew each other. One you do not know. The other you call Mother" to the book’s conclusion, which reads "This place or your birth place, which are you a daughter of? Both of them, my darling — and two different kinds of love" it makes a loving point about mothers everywhere — both birth and adoptive. As if that weren’t enough to sell you on this book, consider this: Text royalties from sales of Motherbridge are donated back to the charity for which it is named.

If you’re not quite ready for preschool and school-aged books, Barefoot Books has a wide assortment of offerings for younger children, like our 1-year-old Sam. Of all those we reviewed, I’d have to say that we like Whole World ($9.99) the best. And we’re in good company! Oprah recently chose this book for The O List and we can certainly understand why. Printed on ancient-forest friendly paper and containing a catchy sing-a-long CD by Fred Penner, Whole World is truly a celebration of the planet — introducing young ones to trees, flowers, deserts, plains, the sun, the moon, and so on. It makes learning about the earth fun and, at its conclusion, the book explains the importance of preserving our planets resources in kid-friendly terms.

Flowers, for example, "are bright in order to attract insects and birds to their blossoms," the book reads. But pesticides used in industrial farming have destroyed certain species of flowers and, if allowed to continue, "more insects and birds who depend on them for food will also disappear." Our house has made a concerted effort to ‘go green’ in the last two years and I love how this book makes that effort appealing to our two young boys. As an added bonus, Barefoot Books donates a percentage of their sales of Whole World to support global conservation, making this book a win-win in our book.

To purchase these books, or any of Barefoot Books hundreds of other titles, visit their website or locate your nearest homeseller.

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