If there’s one thing I’ve learned from TV and movie marketing, it’s that kids love a tie-in! Take a character they love and slap it on ANYTHING – from cupcake wrappers to coloring books to catapults – and the kids can’t get enough.

But you don’t have to rely on Mattel, Disney, and LEGO to build that excitement for you. A savvy parent or caregiver can easily parlay this tendency into excitement about the books, characters and lessons that (s)he deems important.

My kids have always loved to play games and create art based on books we read together. Long before we watched Cinderella on DVD, we had read several versions of the story and spent countless hours taking turns as wicked stepsisters, glittering godmothers, and a melodramatic main character. (“My dress! It’s ruined!  RUUUUUUIIIIIIINNNNED!!!!”)

My husband and I often got to act out multiple (relatively undesirable) roles – like…

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