Saturday, December 31, 2016

Books of December - New Year's Eve

Soon, my granddaughter will arrive for the Annual New Year's Eve Doesn't-This-Girl-Ever-Fall-Asleep-a-thon.  That means that this is the very last Books of December of 2016.

So what books stayed with me this year?  Well, to be absolutely honest, that question always stymies me.  But here goes.

The Best Man by Richard Peck was a love of a book.  The main character makes it from kindergarten to sixth grade with the same group of kids and his loving parents and his fabulous uncle.  When a student teacher arrives in his Guard uniform, our narrator has a new favorite person.  And so does his uncle.  How our hero helps these two men get - and stay - together is told in a matter-of-fact and affectionate manner.  Peck manages to hit some of the key memes for middle grade fiction - acceptance, bullying, tattling, family problems - and love.  Yep.  I loved this book.

The Extraordinary Journey of Clockwork Charlie: The Kidnap Plot by Dave Butler.  This one sticks in the brain.  The reader can figure out Charlie's secret as he searches for his kidnapped father.  The steam punk setting, the evil villains, the action and Charlie's faithful band of friends add up to a great adventure.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman.  This one buzzed around my head for several days after I read it.  I liked the Maine setting, the "captured" runaway, and the oddly similar villagers.  Then, the wolves showed up and things got a little hairy.  (See what I did there?)

 All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor.  Perry was born in a prison and that prison is his home.  But when the new DA decides that Perry needs a "real" family, Perry has to leave the only family he knows.  The move gives him a chance to solve the mystery of how his mother ended up in jail in the first place.  L-O-V-E-D this book.

Framed!  (T.O.A.S.T Mystery #1) by James Ponti.  This mildly unbelievable romp has a 12 year old boy and his new neighbor -(he's new in town.  She's been there awhile.) - helping the FBI thwart art thieves by using the Theory Of All Small Things.  The mystery is well-plotted and the sleuthing is fun.  I am looking forward to the next T.O.A.S.T. mystery.

BTW, she DOES fall asleep - just in time for me to finish my last Books of December post in December.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Books of December - Books for Kids who "Don't Like Reading"

A friend asked me about books for her sixth grader who'd rather play sports than read.  He's a good reader, just not an avid reader.

I finally put together a list.  It is NO WAY COMPLETE.  I didn't even touch fantasy (Percy Jackson, The Ranger's Apprentice, Harry Potter) horror or adventure.  I barely touched mystery.  But, here it is, my incomplete list of authors (and some of their books) for kids that don't like to read.

Dear L,
   I am so sorry that it took me so long to get this list to you.  I will start with the names of sports authors that middle school boys like.  I linked to the author's home pages below.
Mike Lupica - He writes with boy and girl main characters - mostly boys.  The books frequently address family, friendship, responsibility, and sportsmanship issues. 
Kwame Alexander - a poet who writes in a verse style.  Don't worry.  His books read like novels and move very, very quickly with lots of sports action.  His books Crossover and Booked,  have been winning awards all over the place.  

Jason Reynolds - I particularly like his novel Ghost which centers on track and field.  His characters are likable and real. 
Robert Lipsyte - He's been around for awhile.  His books appeal to middle school and teens.  He makes it to almost every Boys Read booklist.
Fred Bowen - is a sports columnist for the Washington Post.  Check out his website.
Carl Deuker's books are for high school kids but they are so popular.  Look at one before giving them to your middle schooler, though.  They may include stuff that is meant for older readers.
John Feinstein books never stay on the shelf.  He writes for teens mostly but his books are very popular.
Josh Berk - the director of the Bethlehem Area Public Library, has written two GREAT books about baseball in middle school, Strike Three You're Dead and Say it Ain't So . I am seriously hoping he writes another book in this series.

Getting active kids to read has inspired book series and organization such as Boys  Check out their lists.  The lists include non-fiction and fiction titles.
Jon Scieszka started a whole movement with Guys Read, including books of short stories written by some of the best writers in children's lit.  Check out the Guys Read website.

Gordon Korman - his books are funny and move quickly.  A few center on sports and almost all of his main characters are boys (or animals) who are more interested in messing around than in reading or schoolwork.  Check out The Chicken Doesn't Skate for a fun book with lots of hockey action.
Gary Paulsen - Paulsen writes about the great outdoors. Check the age range because Paulsen writes for teens as well.  It doesn't look like he has a separate Paulsen only website, so I linked to his Wikipedia article.  Your son probably knows all about Hatchet.  It's a survival story and it's awesome.
Carl Hiaasen - writes for the Miami Herald and mostly writes for adults but his book, Hoot, written for young teens has been made into a movie.
Louis Sachar has written some of the weirdest books ever.  His books deal with the emotions of competition and survival in the social life of middle schoolers and teens.  His latest, Fuzzy Mud, received great reviews.
Tom Angleberger 's books all deal with middle school.  No sports here but the books are quick reads and very funny.
Varian Johnson - I just finished the second book in his Jackson Greene series, To Catch a Cheat.  Jackson Greene is a middle school con man who is trying to go straight.  His schemes are incredible!
I hope this gives you a place to start.  Ask the librarians at the public library.  I am sure they know the books that middle school kids are asking for - beyond The Wimpy Kid and Big Nate (both a little too young for your son, I think.)
Don't forget to ask about non-fiction as well.  Some kids don't like to read "made up" stories.
Good luck.  And Happy New Year!
Hey, it's December and this post is about books - Books of December works, right?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Books of December - Gifts

I have several siblings (several- more than three, less than a dozen).  For years, I gave every sibling a Christmas present.  Then, I gave every sibling and his or her significant other a Christmas present.  THEN, I gave every sibling, their S-O and their CHILDREN individual Christmas presents.  THEN, I gave each family a box of Christmas presents.  Finally, I sent some of my siblings a “family” Christmas present.   Now, they are lucky to get a greeting card from me.  This is the evolution of my family gift-giving.
( I did not expect nor did I often receive presents in return. Sometimes I was happily surprised.  I just like giving gifts.)

A lot of these gifts were homemade.  Because homemade gifts are super, right?  Well, they are, if they come from my sisters, who all take great pride in crafting the most delightfully sewn, knitted, quilted items.  I go for the Big Effect, and that sometimes means that my gifts fall apart 24 hours after they are unpacked.  Still, it’s the thought.... Or, is it? (My food gifts are usually awesome!)

A gift can be as small as a button, as mysterious as an empty box, as ephemeral as a kiss. 

Books about gift-giving and generosity that I love.

The Best Christmas Ever by Chih-Yuan Chen.  I will mention this book every Christmas season in some form or other, because I love it so much.  I love the brown paper feel of the illustrations.  I love the feeling of winter, darkness, and struggling hope.  I love its simplicity.  And I love the joyous resolution.  The Bear family is so poor that they don’t even hope for presents this year.  On Christmas morning, they find that “Toddler Christmas” visited in the night and brought them small, precious gifts.

Birthday Surprises edited by Johanna Hurwitz.  Hurwitz asked 10 children’s authors to write a story about a birthday in which a child received an empty box.  Sometimes, the box was the actual present.  Sometimes, the box represented something else.  In one case, the box was sent by mistake and the present was delivered in person.  Imagine getting a box filled with air. 

Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant.  First published in Rylant’s collection, Children of Christmas, this story tells of a train that rolled through the mountains and gifts that were thrown from the back to the impoverished children.  Every year, a boy wishes for one particular gift.  Every year, he gets something he needs.  He returns as an adult and we find out whether his wish ever came true.

The following website offers a list of books about gift-giving and generosity to share with your young ones. 
The Best Childrens Books about Generosity.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Anthropology of Gifts - Part One

The Anthropology of Gifts - Part One

Look what I got in the mail right before Christmas! 
 -a beautiful slip-covered copy of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass with the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel.  (The book pictured comes from Atlas Books, a book marketing company.  The mention of this company is not an endorsement.  The Atlas Books catalog offers lots of lovely looking books.  However, I suggest that authors looking for a marketing company do a thorough investigation on their own.)

This is an example of a traditional "gift" book - lovely to behold and to hold.  Other traditional gift books are coffee table books, heavy with color plates, or educational tomes to enrich the recipient's mind, or inspirational volumes.  Gift books look impressive on display.

Every major publisher puts out books in the Fall that are designed to catch the eye and to answer the needs of the gift-giver.

Most book review sites produce Best of... lists before the holidays so that no one goes ungifted.  I prefer to let people do their own choosing.  I am not alone in having received book gifts that were not to my liking.  I have GIVEN books as gifts that ended up in yard sales. 

This brings me to something I have been mulling over during this season of grabbing, getting, gifting, griping, to say nothing of wrapping, worrying and wondering - the anthropology of gifts.

Part One:
Did you get what you wanted this holiday?  Did you give the perfect gift?  Are you wishing that you had spent more...or less?  Did your friend get a better gift from you than you got from him?

Does it matter?

Why do you give gifts, anyway?

We learn that there are two acceptable reasons to give gifts;
to show affection,
to earn affection.
(The second reason is, ahem, less acceptable than the first.)

It follows that gift-giving should be completely altruistic.  There should be no thoughts of, “Whoa, she will be blown away when she sees my awesome gift.”  Nor, should we be worrying that, “This gift won’t seem too brown-nosey, will it?”

In the history of gift giving there are so many other reasons;

to show power, - as in, “No gift you give me is worth as much as the gift I give you. So watch it.  I might take it back.”;
to earn prestige, - “Look how very important and special I am.  I can give so much.”;
to flatter, - “YOU deserve this wonderful gift.”;
to insult, -  “YOU barely even merit this tiny awful gift.”;
because it’s expected, - “I got invited to my cousin’s step-son’s wedding and I never even met him.  I don’t want to look cheap.”;
because it meets a need - “I noticed that your socks are worn.  Here, have some socks.”

The feelings that accompany gift-giving and getting are also significant -
hope that the recipient will be pleased,
envy over what others receive,
worry that we haven’t quite discharged our gift-giving duty,
worry that someone will be empty-handed,
worry that we will be disappointed,
hurt that the giver has no idea what we like - or who we are - even what colors we hate!

Yep, it’s a mine field, this giving of gifts. 

A young friend once complained that her relatives, whom she barely saw, gave her a beautiful Christmas stocking.
 “As if I was a little kid,” she snorted.  She was in her late teens.  “They have no interest in me, at all.” 
By the way, the stocking was absolutely gorgeous.   It was not appreciated.  The relatives did not want to show up empty handed, especially when they spent so little time with my friend.

And this brings up the politics of RECEIVING gifts....  Whoo, Nellie!  Do we really want to go into that, right now?

The ONLY acceptable way to receive gifts is happily and with a “Thank you.”  Jumping up and down with glee is acceptable if you are small enough to jump up and down without shaking the floors.  Sulking is never a good thing. 

If the gift is insulting, the giver has been thwarted. You seem pleased.  They will have to try harder.
If the gift attempts to impress, well, act impressed if you want to, but it is not obligatory.
If the gift was meant to flatter, don’t make much of it - unless you want to flatter back.
If the gift feels obligatory, remember, the giver didn’t have to give you anything.
If the gift seems insignificant, perhaps it is all the giver could give you.

As mothers, and grandmothers, and maiden aunts, and crotchety old uncles are always telling us, “It’s the thought that counts.”  (Except when it IS the thought that counts, - and the thought is nasty - then we are not supposed to notice.)

This holiday season, I decided not to worry about it.  I asked my loved ones what they wanted and gave them what I could to meet those requests.

I love every gift I receive, because I love the givers.

The best gift we have is our friends and family.  So, if we remember that, it’s all good - (in the words of Pete the Cat).

Saturday, December 24, 2016

In Bleak Midwinter

Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising was the first novel I ever read that celebrated the darkest days of the year.  Cooper's story combined Celtic mythology, Arthurian legend and Christianity in a heart thumping fantasy.

It makes sense to me that all over the Northern Hemisphere, people celebrate at this time - with lights, and fires and revelry.    After all, it feels as if the sun is leaving us.  Call back the sun with noise and joy, warmth and light, peace and truth.

That's what I wish for you now and in the coming year - Light, and Peace, Warmth and Truth, Joy and Love - oh, and noise, too, of the happiest sort. 

Fight the Dark!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Fairytales - Books of December

  Snow White by Matt Phelan is a breathtaking version of the Grimm tale of treachery and vanity.

Set in New York City during the Great Depression, Phelan removes almost all of the magic and keeps the evil and the charm.

Samantha (Snow) White's new stepmother is the Queen of the Follies - Ziegfeld's Follies. As soon as she enters Snow's family, she banishes Snow to boarding school.  Then the new wife engineers the death of Snow's father, the King of Wall Street, to seize hold of his vast fortune, one of the few that remain after the Crash of 1929.

Phelan's gray scale drawings (with a breath of color and splashes of red) are full of emotion and action.  (Cue swirling ominous music....)

December  is a month of darkness, hearth sides, magic.  It's a time to tell tales and imagine what else might exist in the cold.   Gnomes, trolls, fairies made of snow flakes - imps that write on our attic windows while we sleep - as the lights come on, all those things might be true - out there - in the dark.

My favorite fairy tale - East of the Sun, West of the Moon - takes place in the winter and stars a polar bear, a peasant girl and trolls.  Just about perfect.   The link will lead you to 44 retellings of this story.

Another winter story that haunts me is the Cinderella-like folktale The Twelve Months or Strawberries in the Snow.   Marushka - and her name varies in the retellings - lives with her aunt and cousins (or sisters and stepmother) - and is treated cruelly.  She is sent out in the dead of winter to find fresh strawberries.  (One link will lead you to Rafe Martin's retelling; the other, to a whole Pinterest page of illustrations.)

Winter tales belong to the D'Aulaires.  Their books are full of creatures and mythology of the North.  Scratchy colorful paintings offer stories of strange beings like ...trolls.  Look for their books at your public library.    Whenever I think of winter fairytales, Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire spring to mind.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Books of December - Kindness (Candlewick - Publisher Spotlight)

Today in my inbox, Candlewick sent me a little post on Bob Graham's books that promote kindness.  Kindness is in short demand these days, even now, during the holiday season.

Candlewick Press concentrates on books for young readers.  

Here's a little more about Bob Graham.

One Winter's Day by M. Christina Butler.  Hedgehog must find a new home.  Along the way, he discovers friends who are even colder than he is.  Adorable pictures, simple words tell the story of kindness repaid.

The Most Perfect Snowman by Chris Britt.  Drift, one of the first snowmen of the winter has been thrown together and forgotten.  Then, he gets everything he dreams of, scarf, hat, gloves.  When a terrible storm blows in, Drift has to decide... does he keep his wonderful gifts or share them with others?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Best Books Lists - Books of December

'Tis the season of Best Books Lists, fa lalalala la la la la!

We'll start with Shelf Awareness for Readers.  Shelf Awareness is one of my best web friends.  I get advance notices on the Pro newsletters, and the Readers newsletter let's me know when books I want are available.

AND they publish a yearly list of the Best Books in various genres - just in time for holiday giving.

Here it is:  Shelf Awareness 2016 Best Books for Children and Teens.    First, there is a handy dandy list to take along to the book store.  Then below, all the lovely reviews. 


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Another Wednesday, another website

Short and sweet. Bookworm 4 kids offers reviews of books for littles, middles and almost grown kids. Check it out. Nuff said.

Thank you Brain Pickings

I bow to the superior reviewing of the writers at Brain Pickings.These articles are more complete than any review I have read this year.  Enjoy.

The Best Children's Books of 2016 - from Brain Pickings

Monday, December 12, 2016

Books of December - Look What's New!

Kwame Alexander has penned a book with two other poets, Chris Colderley and Marjorie Wentworth, titled Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets.  The three write poems in the style of - and to honor - their favorite poets.  The book is so pretty, with illustrations by Ekua Holmes.
Soooooooo PRETTY!


I learned about it on Shelf Awareness, one of those book industry websites that keep my mouth watering with notices like this one right here.

Iceling by Sasha Stephenson sounds like the beginning of a beautiful YA sci-fi series.  Lorna's father, a scientist, has rescued several children from the Arctic Ocean.  Lorna calls them "icelings".  None of them talk.  But Callie, an iceling who has fits, is Lorna's favorite.  Callie appears to love Lorna, too.  Then Callie's fits get worse and she draws a place she has never been.  Lorna and Callie set out on a road trip.  Oooh!

Five Days of Famous by Alyson Noel.  Nick Dashaway should really be famous - he is THAT cool and smart.  So he enters a  talent show, hosted by a teen heartthrob, which he hopes is his ticket to stardom.  Things don't go the way Nick is sure they should and his loyal, though less-than-cool friend, Plum, bakes him a consolation cupcake.  Poof!  It's ma-a-a-gi-i-i-c!  And Nick gets EVERYTHING he's always wanted.  Read the title.  Right.  I suspect that Nick's behavior while lucky is less than stellar.  I also suspect his friends don't really care.  Set during the holidays, this looks like a fun middle school read.

Here's one for the little ones - and for people who love to sing "Five Gold Rings" with gusto.
The Twelve Days of Christmas: a Peek-Through Christmas Books by Britta Teckentrup.  The gifts mount up and each page has a cut-out peeking into what will happen next.  And, look, sweet little gnome like children!!!

BTW, as the holidays approach, I won't be posting every single day.  I have stuff - wrapping, making, baking, etc.  Don't give up.  I will return.  I have a whole bunch of newly read books to tell you about.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Twofer - Cricket Media Gifting, Fuse #8 Production

 Cricket Media is my all time favorite producer of magazines for young people.  Betsy Bird over at Fuse #8 Production featured the following press release at the beginning of the month.


With Each Magazine Subscription Purchased, Cricket will Donate One to
a Child in Need in Partnership with Two Award-Winning Literacy Charities:
Libraries Without Borders and Parent-Child Home Program
Visit and Join a Charitable Movement
Guaranteed to Spark a Lifetime Love of Reading!

So this Sunday, we celebrate TWO delightful children's book/reading entities; Cricket Media and Betsy Bird and the Fuse #8 Production blog.  

I wish you kindness and joy!


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Books of December - Advent

Advent means "waiting" or "something good is coming".  This is why history professors are always talking about the advent of automation, the advent of industrialism, even the advent of the Stone Age.  Mostly, though Advent is about dancing around wondering if you can be good enough, long enough, to get that pony you asked for. (I never asked for a pony.  I wanted a horse. No half pint measures for this girl!)

Advent calendars are all over the place - chocolate, small gifts, even money, Babyccino made up a book advent calendar back in 2009 which she updates every year.  It's a simple enough concept.  Collect as many winter or holiday books as you can, wrap them in paper and number them.  Open one each night from December 1st through the 24th.

For suggestions on how to make another Bookish Advent calendar - with a list of book suggestions, visit Delightful Children's Books.

It's not too late to make a partial calendar for the dancers in your family.  Whatever you are waiting for this time of year - a baby, a miracle of lights, a fat man in red, snow, a magical star, the dragons of winter - a count down calendar can slow down the dance.

Here is another idea for a countdown calendar.

Image result for paper chain image

The Kindness Chain:  Cut and decorate strips of colored paper, longer than they are wide.  (Say five inches by an 1 1/2 inches.).  Make one strip for each day of waiting.  On each one write a kind deed; for example,  hold the door open for someone; let someone in front of you in line; help someone with a chore; talk to someone you don't know well.  You know your family well enough to choose the right acts.  Every so often add something fun, for instance, bake cookies; dance to holiday music; make a cotton ball beard. 
Make a ring of one strip; slip the next strip inside and make it into a ring. You will end up with a paper chain.  Each morning, pull open one strip and read the suggestion for the day.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Cookies!! - Books of December

I wanted to feature books on gingerbread.  The multitude of gingerbread man, baby, girl, woman, twins, doll, bear, dog, computer mouse (joke) books out there have raised my blood sugar to dangerous levels.

Cookies are less sweet but there are some winners available - and most of them are holiday free!  Read them now.  Read them months from now.  Still tasty.

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems.  The cheek of that little duckling!  He asked for a cookie - politely - and he got one.  The Pigeon wants a cookie.  Does anyone ever give HIM a cookie?  Another delightful meltdown by the world's favorite pigeon!  And cookies.   And a very cute Duckling.  (And too many sentence fragments.)

Cookies : Bite-size Life Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Jane Dyer.  Oooooh, Jane Dyer artwork.  Now that IS sweet!  Rosenthal uses the process of baking and eating cookies to introduce concepts such as the difference between "fair" and "unfair" or what it means to cooperate.  And the pictures?  Well, they are by Jane Dyer.
Read Christmas Cookies : Bite-size Holiday Lessons by the same team to feel all warm and yule-tide cozy.

Gingerbread bunnies, gingerbread husbands, gingerbread hearts, wives, foxes, ponies, dreams, AAAHHH!!!

The Gingerbread Boy by Paul Galdone.  This is the version I grew up with.  The text is straight forward and the illustrations are bright and snappy.

The following book is for teenagers.   

Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn.  Cyd Charisse - no, not the long-legged actor from the '50s - is a young teen with a lot of attitude.  She's been thrown out of school - again.  Her mother and stepfather are fed up.  So across the country to NYC, Cyd goes, to meet her biological dad and her half-siblings and, hopefully, get straightened out.  There are not many cookies in this book.  There is a lot of smart-a** dialogue and convoluted thinking.  Cyd makes some blunders but the reader cheers her on.  There might be some dated phrases here (c2004). 
BTW, Gingerbread is her rag doll, her talisman and best friend.  I relate.  I still have my kid-hood best friend.  (In the attic.)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Books of December - Nighttime

It's dark by 5 pm.  The longest night of the year is only two weeks away.  Here are some great books about nightime.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen won the Caldecott award for the illustrations by John Schoenherr.  This is a quiet look at a winter night and the beauties of nature.  A father shares the night with his daughter as they hope to see an owl. 

Bear Snores On Karma Wilson.  Animals find their way into Bear's cave making more and more noise.  When Bear finally wakes up and wants t join the ensuing party, his friends are fast asleep.

The Snowman by Raymond BriggsWhen a boy invites his snowman into his home, the snowman takes the boy on a night flight over the countryside.  This wordless book has been turned into a popular animated short.  View the full 1982 version of the film with an intro by David Bowie by clicking above.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday Website

If you have kids and you want them to grow into super readers, visit Brightly.   This website has more lists about more interests and age groups, arranged in the most appealing way, than any other kids' book website I've run across so far.

Actually, I think I might have shot myself in the foot here.  Well, check Brightly out, anyway.  You won't be sorry.

Books of December - Poetry

Joyce Sidman is one of my all-time favorite poets.  Her books concentrate on the natural world and evoke beautiful images.  Coupled with excellent illustrations, these poems are great for sharing with young readers, or for paging through with a cup of tea.

Sidman's latest effort, Before Morning, is illustrated by Beth Krommes!!! (Caldecott award winner, Beth Krommes, that is.) 
I have this book on hold at my public library. 

Check out Sidman's earlier book, Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold.   In it, Sidman, examines how various animals and insects survive through the cold months.

Doug Florian is an American poet/painter whose poetry books delight kids everywhere.  Winter Eyes is one of my favorite Florian titles.  The words and pictures remind me of brisk cold skies and the coziness of winter sunsets.  His palette is perfect. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Books of December - the Feast of St. Nick

And I forgot to put out my wooden shoes last night!!!  So, this morning, I got my Hub to pay for breakfast.  Hmmm, I have never seen St. Nick and my Hub together at the same time.  Is it possible?... Nah!

In honor of good old St. Nick, let's feature the Guardians of Childhood series, originated by William Joyce who is assisted by Laura Gehringer.  The series contains picture books AND chapter books.

The chapter book series begins with a book about St. Nicholas, Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King by William Joyce and Laura Gehringer. 
He looks so serious and full of purpose.

Who was the REAL St. Nicholas?  He was a Greek Bishop in what is now modern day Turkey.  He was born in March of 270 C.E. and died on December 6th, 343 C.E.  He is the patron saint of children, sailors, merchants, brewers, pawnbrokers, students and repentant thieves.  Miracles attributed to him include bringing murdered children back to life, saving a ship in a horrible storm and bringing one of the sailors back to life, taking wheat from a shipment destined for the Emperor without depleting the shipment at all.

The most famous story about Nicholas is the one about the poor man who had three daughters.  In the 4th century, C. E., young women who had no dowry were forced to take the most menial of jobs or go into prostitution.  Nicholas wanted to help the young women so he secretly tossed bags of gold in through the man's open window.  One version of the story has the Saint tossing the bags down the chimney so he wouldn't be caught by the father. 

Although Wikipedia is full of information about the good saint and his feast day, the St. Nicholas Center has the same stories in shorter and more accessible forms.  Enjoy the day.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Author Adoration - Matt Phelan

Squeeeee!  I think that's what fangirls say.  I don't really qualify as a fangirl.  Fanwomen tend to grin broadly and talk too fast.


Here's proof.  That's me.  That's Matt.  That's his new graphic novel, Snow White, set in New York City in the 1930s.  Oooooohhhh!  And THAT's Let's Play Books, in Emmaus, PA.

Matt gave a great talk about the creative process he used while writing and drawing this book.  He also read the first picture book that he wrote and illustrated by himself, Druthers.  

He answered a lot of questions, that may, or may not, have had anything to do with what he was talking about.  And he was funny and clever and nice and..... sigh.

 This all happened at Let's Play Books in Emmaus, PA.   Thanks to all the wonderful people at Let's Play Books!

Books of December - Some Favorites!

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.  Cold, frosty winter stretches through Narnia, as the White Queen reigns.  But when the Pevensie children step through the wardrobe into the frozen land, they bring hope and call forth the lion, Aslan, to fight for Good.   Pauline Baynes' illustration of the lamp post in the snowy forest would make a GREAT holiday card.

Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby.  Solveig, her brother who is crown prince, and her older sister are trapped in a fortress at the end of a frozen fjord.  They wait news of their father's victory in battle.   As the winter stretches on, and on, tensions and suspicions grow.  Solveig watches her father's storyteller control the moods of the entrapped warriors and royal family, and stir them up.  And she learns from him.  Treachery is afoot. Can Solveig's new found voice stem the mutiny?  Storytelling and winter- two of my favorite things.

A Certain Small Shepherd by Rebecca Caudill.  A young boy in Appalachia has never spoken, even though the local doctor can find nothing wrong with him.  When he gets to play a shepherd in the school's Christmas pageant, the boy is heartbroken that snow cancels the performance.  Then strangers arrive at his family's poor home.  OK.  I cannot tell you how very, very, very much I love this book.  Period.
Also, I love William Pene Du Bois.  There, my secret crush is revealed.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Books of December - Penguins

Okay, okay.  Penguins are not very holiday-ish.  They don't even live on the right tip of the world.  Most penguins live in a wintery climate.  So, penguins, it is.

Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant.   Full disclosure; I am such a BIG fan of Cynthia Rylant that I liked this book before I saw it.  Then I saw it.  The text is so simple and the penguins are so delightfully cute.  They hurry to get dressed for the snow.  They play in the cold.  They hurry to throw their snowy clothes around.  They rush into the warm kitchen.  That's the whole story.  You still have to SEE the book.   It is a wonder to me that an author can take a handful of words and arrange them to create a winning book.

Penguin's Christmas Wish by Salina Yoon.   Penguin knows that he can't find a Christmas tree where he lives.  He packs up his friends and family and they go in search of a forest.  Hints of earlier Penguin books show up in that forest and so do lovely pine trees, just right for decorating.  Then winter weather strikes!  There is no time for disappointment.  Penguin and his crew find joy in the simplest gifts.
Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater.  Here's an oldie but goody!  When a penguin arrives on Mr. Popper's doorstep, he gets another penguin from the zoo to keep the first one company.  Nature takes it course and soon - penguin MANIA!!  A Newbery honor book, Mr. Popper and his penguins have delighted young readers for years.  This chapter book is for good third grade readers and up.  Younger children will enjoy listening to the book.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Books of December - Snow

No snow in our forecast!  The six snowflakes that fell on the last day of October do not count.

Up here in the Northern hemisphere, we expect snow for the holidays.  I remember some very, very, white and deep Christmases.  But that was then, long ago, when (insert your nostalgic holiday memory here).

Number 1 book on snow - ever:
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.  This was the very first mainstream book to ever feature a child of color as the main character.  Although that is notable in itself, Keats' artwork and the simplicity of Peter's play raise this book to Book Idol level.  A gazillion stars of loving this book!!

While we are talking about The Snowy Day, Amazon Prime Video has tapped the talents of Angela Bassett and Boys II Men in its new animated version of Keats prize winning book.  Here's the story, on The Mary Sue, with a video clip and everything.   The video should be available now.

Red Sled by Lita Judge.  The book has no words - well, almost no words.  The illustrations of woodland animals "borrowing" a child's sled during the night are so precious.

The Snow Day by Komako Sakai.  A small rabbit is so happy when school is cancelled because of snow.  The falling snow mesmerizes him.  He has so much time to play.  But his father is grounded in another city because of the snow.  Sakai's muted paintings evoke that muffled quiet of a snowy day.  Her palette matches the grey sky and city streets in the snow.

 What is your favorite snowy day book?


Here's what I did yesterday.
1.  Got up super early and took my Mom to the eye doctor for laser surgery.
2.  Finished reading Lockwood and Co. #5, The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud.★★★★
3. Read/skimmed A Song to Take the World Apart by Zan Romanoff.★★★
4.  Hung out wash; did  housework-y things.
5. Went to lunch with Hub and Mom.  (I love these people!!!)
6.  Read the first book in the series, The Extraordinary Journeys of Clockwork Charlie: The Kidnap Plot by Dave Butler.★★★★
7.  Stuff.
8. Ate the wrong things.
9.  Watched some Miss Fisher on Netflix.  They're all reruns.  Sigh.
10.  Read The Best Man by Richard Peck.★★★★★
11. Went to sleep way late.

Reviews to come.  I promise.  I owe you a review of Wolf Hollow, as well.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Books of December - Patricia Polacco

The vibrant colors of Patricia Polacco's artwork brighten the winter months.  Her family background,  Eastern European and Jewish on one side, Irish and Christian on the other side, give her two rich cultures to explore.

The Trees of the Dancing Goats.   Trisha loves Hanukkah and she loves the brightly colored animals her grandfather carves as gifts during the season.  Trisha also loves her neighborhood and sharing her neighbors' traditions.  When she visits her neighbors, she finds that many of them are sick with scarlet fever.  There would be no Christmas for them.  Then Grampa comes up with a wonderful idea.

Uncle Vova's Tree.   Polacco visits her Eastern European background to tell a story about her Uncle Vova and his fantastic Christmas tree.

Christmas Tapestry.   When a pastor's new church in Detroit is damaged by rain, his son helps him find a beautiful tapestry to hang on the wall for Christmas Eve services.  The tapestry has a secret that leads to a real holiday miracle. 

Welcome Comfort.  Foster child, Welcome Comfort, finds it hard to believe in Christmas.  But his new friend, Mr. Hamp, the school custodian, gives Welcome a wonderful surprise.

An Orange for Frankie.  A young boy worries that his father won't return from a trip with the Christmas oranges.  Remember Christmas oranges?  My orange was always a bulge in the toe of my stocking, but Frankie's orange nestles with others on the mantelpiece.  This is another story from Polacco's family.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Books of December - The Nutcracker

Cozy Classics - those board books that attempt to encapsulate great literature in needle-felted illustrations - have produced their own cozy little version of the Nutcracker!!

Is this not the cutest thing???!!!

Lisbeth Zwerger's artwork spins a world all its own.  A new version of her book about E.T.A. Hoffman's odd little story came out in September.  The Nutcracker with illustrations by Lisbeth Zwerger.

Every year, ballet companies all over the USA, put on versions of The Nutcracker.  If you have more than one little dancer in your life, you can probably hum all the movements AND identify them.  And so it has been since the dawning of time.  Tchaikovsky did not write his ballet until 1892. 

Well then, American ballet companies have had dancing mice, soldiers, and sugar plum fairies since, 1910 at least, right?   Not so, my little Chinese mushroom.

The Nutcracker Comes to America by Chris Barton tells the story of three brothers who loved ballet and danced whenever and wherever they could.  They performed America's first full length Nutcracker ballet during World War II. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

KBWW - Storylineonline, BuggyandBuddy

Kids' Book Website Wednesday, - a weekly look at websites and blogs dedicated to sharing and reviewing Children's Books.

Storyline Online presents books read aloud by members of the SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actor's Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists).  The text and illustrations are revealed alongside and below the people reading. 

Besides viewing, and listening to, well read books, children and parents can download activity guides for dozens of books, purchase the books presented, and sign up for an e-newsletter. 

This site is NEWS to me and I can't wait to share it with my librarian and parent friends.

Buggy and Buddy, an early learning blog, offers a great list of art activities and games based on favorite picture books.  Storytime folks, librarians, parents and teachers can add this list to their resources.  I will.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Little hearts - Book Trailer Tuesday!

The Best Possible Answer by E. Katherine Kottaras - just out this month - looks like a teen romance - right?

The reviews promise a bit more than "does-he? doesn't-she?" sweetness.  This one is on my to-read list. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Framed! I'm TOAST!

Florian Bates is new in Washington, D.C. - new to the United States, for that matter.  His father designs security systems for museums.  His mother works in the National Gallery as an art conservator.  When he meets a girl from his neighborhood, Margaret, he finds someone that he can share his system for sorting out people's small mysteries.  Florian calls it the Theory Of All Small Things, or T.O.A.S.T.

There you have the set-up for what I hope will be a whole series of mystery/spy novels.  This first book, Framed!: a T.O.A.S.T Mystery by James Ponti, starts with Florian's abduction by a Romanian thug.  Since that's in the very first chapter, I'm not giving much away. 

Then, Florian goes back and explains just WHY he has been abducted, and how he became a "covert asset" for the FBI, and how he promised to help Margaret solve a family mystery.  Add in some art theft and lots of T.O.A.S.T. training and stir in some Quantico physicality and you get a darn good book for middle grade readers - or anyone who loves action, puzzles, and solutions. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanks for Raina Telgemeier

Tomorrow, we celebrate all the things we have.  We gather, with people we love, to give thanks.  Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a National Holiday during the Civil War.  The tradition has continued through the invention of the automobile, the telephone and manned flight; two World Wars; the Great Depression; the Civil Rights movement; The Cold war; peaceniks and hippies (Me!  Me!); the Space Race; the invention of the Internet; 9/11; reality TV.  No matter what is happening, we all set aside a moment or two to appreciate what we have.

One of the people I am grateful for is Raina Telgemeier, cartoonist.  I picked up Ghosts, her latest novel, and sped through it.  The story is a simple one, of a 12-year-old who has to find her way in a new town.  But here's the twist; Cat's younger sister, Maya, has cystic fibrosis.  The family has moved to a small town on the North California coast to help Maya's breathing.

Little do they realize that their new hometown is riddled with ghosts.  To Cat, this is horrifying.  To Maya, it is fascinating.  She has questions to ask the spirit denizens of her town.

Telgemeier does not sugar coat the realities of Maya's disease, or the strain it puts on Cat as she works to be accepted for who she is at her school.  Her characters' faces are so expressive, that often words are not needed.  This book won't stay on the shelf.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Hipy Papy Bthuthdy

Facebook just told me that it's Winnie-the-Pooh's 90th birthday today.  It's not.  The book, Winnie-the-Pooh, was 90 years old in October.  (Wikipedia gives the date of Milne's first children's story about The Bear of Little Brain as 1924.  History!  It's a puzzle.) The Queen (Elizabeth II) turned 90 in April.  Coincidence?  Hmmmm.

Still, since the Winnie-the-Pooh books count in my Top Five All Time Favorite Books Written for Young People, I jump at a chance to praise them again.

Click here, for an interview with the author of a new Winnie-the-Pooh picture book, Winnie-the-Pooh and the Royal Birthday by Jane Riordan.  I am grateful that the illustrator, Mark Burgess, tried hard to mimic Ernest H. Shepard's iconic artwork - and not the cutesy cartoons of the Disney studio.  (This is a Disney book.)

I love the book, Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick.  So, here's another chance to plug THAT book. 

90 years of Winnie and Piglet and Owl and Rabbit (and Eeyore who is the embodiment of a parenthetical remark) - it's hard for me to imagine an English-speaking world without them!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Just a piece of news!

March: Book Three (March, #3)

The National Book Awards were handed out on Wednesday night.  John Lewis' final entry into his graphic memoir, March: Book Three, written with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, won the 2016 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

Here is the School Library Journal article about the book, the prize, the event.

The book is stunning in its timeliness.  We cannot forget the fight for equal rights and equal respect.  And we must continue to uphold the American ideal that all people are created equal.  That's ALL - as in Every Single Person. 

As the banner at my place of worship says, "Love Thy Neighbor - No Exceptions".

PS.  The winner, in books for grown-ups, was The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.  Pay attention, readers. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

BUTTONS - The gift of losing things

Image result for buttons images
I need my button box.  TODAY is National Button Day and the craft I plan for tonight's storytime uses buttons.  When I went upstairs to the attic yesterday, the button box was not where I thought it was.  Our attic is, ahem, less than neat.  I shoved things around and looked on shelves and opened bins.  Nope.

So, today, I gave myself one hour to clean the main attic room and find that button box.  I threw things away!  (It was painful but I hope to be fine in a few days.)  I filled THREE huge black garbage bags with junk.  I stacked bins and reorganized my crafty items and THEN, when I was 99.7% done, I looked at the bottom of a shelf unit in the corner.  There was my button box.  Not lost at all, really.

I have an organized attic room with neatly stacked and labeled bins.  I got rid of junk.  I found my buttons! Losing things is a gift.

Books about Buttons:

Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean.    Pete loses his buttons, one by one, but never loses his cool.  The publisher's website features a video and Pete the Cat songs.

Three Little Firefighters by Stuart Murphy.   Three little firefighters have to get dressed for the parade but they don't have any buttons on their coats!!  This is a great book about sorting.

 The Button Box by Margaret S. Reid.   A little boy loves looking through his grandmother's button box. The book introduces sorting concepts.

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback.    Joseph, the tailor, loves his overcoat so much he recycles it into every smaller items until all he has a button.  And, then???  Based on a yiddish folk song, this book has wonderfully colorful pictures.

Dear Levi: Letters from the Overland Trail by Elvira Woodruff.  This wonderful historical fiction book features an orphan boy traveling across the country.  The wagon train's cook collects buttons -  (I am not alone!) - as a way to remember the people he meets.