My Hot Library Dates

Did you know that with your single library card you can check out boat-loads of books at one time? I didn’t either. But my incredibly resourceful friend did and this little fact changed how much I love going to the library with my kiddos.

Before I knew this, I’d walk into the library with my two kids and my purse. My big, not-so-detailed plan would be to have them pick out a couple of books that they would enjoy. In reality, they’d run all over the place while hurling the books they’d want to take home in my general direction. All while begging to play on the computers. And not whispering. And not staying together, or next to me, or near me. Mainly they would get lost in the maze of large bookshelves and plop down on the floor in a corner where inevitably I could not see them. Thus, I would spend my entire library outing looking for my two library bandits on my hands and knees.

I’d end up at the counter with an armful of books, mostly falling to the floor, worrying already that I was going to lose one or five. By the time I’d get to the car, I’d be in a full sweat and on at least one occasion have already lost a book. Plain and simple, it was not fun. The version of “Going to the Library with My Kiddos” that played out in my head was always a great experience. We’d enjoy the book selecting process, go home, get completely engrossed with reading and looking at great illustrations while soaking up happiness and knowledge. And there would be rainbows. While eating kale. And speaking Mandarin.

Realistically, we’d get home and they’d look at 2 or 3 books for 2 or 3 minutes. Those books would without a doubt end up mixed in with all of our other books on our bookshelves at home. If not the bookshelves….in both kids’ closets. Or under my bed. Maybe a few in the bathroom. More in my car. I’m pretty sure I found one in the freezer.

Needless to say, we loved having a few new books to read, but it did become a big hassle to me because I knew we would end up losing a few and having to pay fines. Because of this, for a while I decided it was best for us not to go to the library at all. I know, I know, I am a stellar mother. See here, Bandits of the Books, I give up! No library experiences for you the rest of your entire childhood. See how I fixed that problem!

Well, real problem was, I actually like going to the library and so do my kids. And my mom is a retired librarian, so you can imagine how well that new plan sat with her. And I knew in my heart that giving up the library experience entirely was a completely dumb and irrational idea.

Enter the NEW system! Remember my resourceful friend? It’s her system that we totally stole. But now we enjoy going to the library, rarely misplace books, avoid late fees and I no longer have books hurled in my general direction, or at my face. I called our local library to confirm how many books we can check out at one time. 50. We can bring home 50 books. So, here’s how the system for library dates with my kids works:

Main component: a library book bin or basket. It’s sturdy, has handles and everyone in our house knows that it is the library book basket—this is key. Once at the library, we all peruse the shelves and pick up any book that looks interesting to us and walk it over to the library basket which I strategically place next to a shelf in the corner (AKA not my face). We put in whatever books we pick. We pick and pick and pick. Remember, you can check out 50 per library card (here in Houston anyway, check your city’s library for all your rules).

Once the basket is full, we go check them out. We ask for a printed receipt and tuck it into one of the book jackets. This beautiful receipt lists what books we’ve got, when they are due and a grand total of how many books we have. For you fancy people, yes, you can view all of this information online. But my kids can’t. Our printed receipt, which we treat like gold, is how MY KIDS can keep track of how many books we have and precisely which ones we have.

When we get home, we take the entire library book basket upstairs and place it right next to their bed where they can unload, read, snuggle, whatever they like (well almost) with those books. They know that when they are done reading or looking at a library book, it goes right back into the basket. So every night, the library books sleep with all their library book friends in their little library book basket.

Our new system brought the joy back to our library dates. Since they basically bring home their own personal, mobile library that lands right in their room, they truly enjoy sitting and reading and reading and reading. Granted, no one is speaking Mandarin or eating kale while they read, but I’m pretty sure I have seen rainbows coming out of their ears and mine because we are all so happy about our books and getting to spend a ton of time reading them.

Once 2-3 weeks have gone by, we count the number of books to ensure we still have them all and dutifully take them back to the library. That same day, we load back up with new books. We’ve been doing this for a few years now and it has so many advantages for my family.

First, they get the time-tested true library experience. For zero money, borrow 50 books and read them at your leisure with the promise to return them in a timely manner. Sweet! We also get the experience of community because we always seem to bump into people we know there.

Second, they get to choose books that I normally don’t buy for our home library. By this I mean books about things they may be interested in for a hot minute, but not into the next.

Books they pick:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
every Marvel Superhero ever created
DK Readers on every TV show they have ever watched
Mo Willems entire library

These differ from the books I buy which include:
Timeless stories without TV characters
Books from authors we love
Books illustrated by artists we love
Caldecott winners
Most of Mo Willems entire library

And hey, don’t get me wrong, I am not the all-knower of great books. Sometimes my kids pick out books I’ve never heard of and they become books we LOVE. When that happens, sometimes they get a little surprise via Mommy and Amazon. We can add books to our home library this way, knowing that we really love them because we’ve checked them out a few times and still enjoy reading them.

Third, they learn a bit of responsibility and autonomy. If we do have a late fee (which we haven’t since we started this system, although I’m sure I’m jinxing it right now while typing this sentence) we all chip in to pay it. It’s not about shaming or placing fault. It’s just that we all got the books, we all said we’d take care of the books, so we all chip in to fix it if we don’t. Live and learn. Together.

So, the next time you’re at the library and a book is being hurled at your face by a 5 year-old book bandit, remember they just haven’t learned how to aim. Then buy a library book basket. It will change your life.

Photography by Rebecca Sanabria, the hippest bookworm I know.


“I really regret playing,” said no one ever. Here is where I will share a photo that could make me happy forever. If you’d like to see all of the photos in my PLAY, PLAY, PLAY series, click here.

{ Our home has been full of little viruses and therefore lots of big time playing. }

Feliz fin de semana everyone!
Photograph by Rebecca Sanabria.

Blobs on blobs on blobs

This little guy of mine has been very into painting lately. We had been using watercolors for the longest time because he loved to paint the entire 9”x12” sheets solid with a variety of colors all washing into each other. It was an easy thing for me to set up for him at the kitchen table while I made breakfast in the morning. But recently I could tell he was getting a little tired of the same old same old.

So I went to our local art supply store and bought some huge sheets of thick paper. These sheets are 24” x 26” and have a slight texture to them. I’ve been taping them up and letting him loose with bigger brushes. He picks 2-3 colors and I pour them into little individual trays or on a bamboo plate and let him do all of the rest by himself.This set-up is in my studio, so I can watch him create while I create, too. And in my studio we don’t worry about paint splats on the floor. The unfinished wood floors were purposely installed for stress free paint splats, spills and smears—all which add to the character of the floor.

And yes, his works of art are mostly blobs of paint running into other blobs of paint, but he’s making those blobs all on his own. And watching him create is such a sweet experience for me. How he’s brushing, swashing, splatting and moving is just as artistic as the end product. To me art (in this case painting) is about letting my little one just be, and not worrying about opinions. Making something tangible and allowing his mind to grow. Squatting, bending, standing, mixing, talking, laughing, playing and experimenting.PS I’ve written before about the beauty of easy art projects for kids. Ones you can do with minimal prep, minimal supplies and minimal cleanup. See others here and here. Supplies needed: Large sheets of paper and any type of paint. We used acrylic paint that I mixed with water because I like the drips. And you don’t necessarily need little individual paint cups, but they are extra fun.Photography by Rebecca Sanabria, only she didn’t take these last two. As I was laying it out, I realized it would have been nice to have asked Rebecca for some shots of his other works, not just what he was painting on the day she took photos. So I pulled these out and snapped some quick shots on my iPhone because I think it’s interesting to see more than one. Enjoy! Go create!


jill-smith-holiday-2016It’s that time of year when holiday catalogs fill up our mailbox, and I get lost looking at pretty fireplaces decorated for the season on Pinterest. Um, weird because we don’t have a fireplace.

It’s also that time of year to order holiday cards. Since I work on designing for the holidays pretty much year-round, it is a treat for me to see all the final designs online and finally place the order for our family’s card. We’ve got a tradition in our house where once the cards, liners, stamps and address labels are all here, we set up a Christmas card assembly line. My kids like to stick the stamps on and stuff the cards in the envelopes. Since my oldest kiddo can read the recipient address labels, it always generates great conversation about who the families are that will be receiving our cards. Some he knows very well, gets excited and writes a little extra note on their cards. Some names he doesn’t recognize at all because they might be college friends or friends that we don’t see very often. So, it becomes a chance as a family to chat about the special people in our lives, how we met them and when we might get to visit them again.

Whether you are planning a photoshoot for your family or browsing through a year’s worth of memories to find what photos to include on your holiday card, I hope it all comes together beautifully for you. It makes me so happy to see which design my friends choose for their card year after year. I am grateful to get to be a small part of how people spread joy during the holidays.

I have a Tiny Prints discount code good for 40-percent off your order, plus free shipping. Send an email to if you’d like me to email the code back to you so you can place your holiday order. Once this is crossed off your list, you can spend the rest of 2016 drinking hot cocoa or cocktails (or both!) with those you love.

Go spread some joy.


Explore my 2016 Holiday photo card collection for Tiny Prints.
Explore my 2016 Holiday photo card collection for Shutterfly.