Wednesday, December 31, 2014
The Biggest, Best Snowman
By Margery Cuyler
Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
(Scholastic Inc., 1998)
The Biggest, Best Snowman has the funnest characters! Little Nell is adorable and faces the problem of being the baby of the family. Consequently, she is usually told that she is too little to do anything for or by herself.
Unfortunately, Little Nell believes the hoopla passed on by Big Mama, Big Sarah, and Big Lizzie.
Enter the forest friends of Little Nell. With their encouragement and teamwork, Little Nell makes the biggest, best snowman. Ever.
I love the characters and the repetitive language used in this picture book. The story is enjoyable and lets little ones believe that they can do anything, even though they are small. The illustrations are delightful. This is a perfect book for preschoolers and kinder-aged boys and girls.
Snowman Glitter Play Dough
3 cups white flour
1 cup salt
1/4 cup silver or white glitter
1 T. alum
2 T. baby oil
3 cups boiling water
1. Mix dry ingredients in large bowl.
2. Add baby oil and boiling water.
3. Stir with wooden spoon until cool enough to handle. Pour out on counter and knead until well mixed. Warning: This dough is very hot. Only an adult should knead it.
4. Cool and store in a lidded container.
Roll glittery snowballs. Stack on top of each other to make snowmen. Provide chenille stems, twigs, and buttons to use on snowmen. Or dig out the rolling pins, roll the dough, and use snowman cookie cutters to make a snowman family.
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Two Renegade Realms, Book Two of the Realm Walkers Trilogy
By Donita K. Paul
I have almost reached the end of the second book in the Realm Walkers Trilogy. I can't seem to stop myself from reading just one more chapter, just one more...search and rescue, search and rescue...
Donita K. Paul is again over-working her imagination and creativity (for our benefit) in this new world of realm walkers.
The first book of the trilogy, One Realm Beyond, introduced new world ideas such as stacking planets, portals, mor dragons, hampers (bigger on the inside pocket type storage containers - flat to the touch from the outside, but full of great things on the inside), and special crowns that enhance the wearer's ability to do a wide variety of things.
In Two Renegade Realms, Mrs. Paul continues to add new (delightful, odd, interesting, and scary) creations and characters like Neekoh, Old Trout, and orreries. The path of our heroes-on-quest travels through the air, underground, over water, and through mountains and valleys. Mrs. Paul builds the suspense, thickens the plot, and continues the story of the realm walkers with numerous problems, detours, hazards, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
A massive and destructive collision between two renegade realms following a special orbit and the planets inhabited and visited by our story characters is quickly approaching. Cantor, Bixby, Bridger, and Dukmee must find a way to prevent corrupt leaders from capitalizing on the soon to arrive catastrophic events. Add a shortage of mor dragons, lack of realm walkers, and the urgent and necessary search for Chomountain (the right hand of Primen and famed realm walker) - the action and troubles never end!
Will they stop the invasion? Do they find everyone? Can they stop the corrupt council members? Is that romance building between Cantor and Bixby?
I don't think I can wait for the third book in the Realm Walkers Trilogy. I hope Mrs. Paul is busy writing.
In the meantime, maybe I will work on figuring out my own hamper. And it can't hurt to look for a mor dragon.
Note: I received this ARC (Advance Reader Copy) copy of Two Renegade Realms free of charge. In return, I am giving you my honest opinion of this book.
Monday, December 29, 2014
The Snowy Day
By Ezra Jack Keats
(Scholastic Inc., 1962)
I don't have snow. I really, really want snow. But it just hasn't happened yet.
So let me give you a favorite book about snow.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is a Caldecott Medal winner, so I know I am not alone in my love for this book.
Peter. Meet Peter, a young boy who wakes up to a brand new world covered with mountains of snow.
After breakfast, Peter puts on his adorable snowsuit and heads out to explore. Just as any child would do when confronted with fresh snow, he makes tracks, drags sticks, makes a snowman (who looks suspiciously like Peter), makes a snow angel, and watches big boys throw snowballs. Peter even makes his own snowball and puts it in his pocket to keep for later.
The story is perfect. The illustrations are simple yet speak volumes. The Snowy Day is a classic. And a must for any reader.
~ If you have snow, go outside! Copy the things that Peter did in The Snowy Day.
~ Make a snowball. Where can you keep it so that it stays frozen? Experiment. Make three snowballs. Put them in different places. Which one stays frozen the longest? Which melts the quickest?
~ No snow? Get out the white tempera paint and a big piece of dark paper. Use fingers to make your own snow prints.
Friday, December 26, 2014
Snowmen at Christmas
By Caralyn Buehner
Pictures by Mark Buehner
(Scholastic Inc., 2005)
Don't you just love snowmen?
I do. I'm at the age that I may not want to play in the snow, but I definitely want someone to build a snow family in my front yard. Without a doubt.
And while the lovely volunteers are busy creating my snow family, I will be inside, wondering what my snowmen will do at night while I slumber. How will they celebrate Christmas? What will they eat? What will they drink? Do they give gifts? Sing songs? Dance?
I do enjoy the Snowmen series of books. I'm glad a gifted writer and illustrator have explained the night mysteries of snowmen. For a fun time, read Snowmen at Christmas.
Now all I need is snow. And volunteers. Any takers? Hot cocoa provided.
~ Build a snowman. Make sure he/she has a scarf, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and hat. Maybe add a few arms and feet. You can spray on color to make clothes. Mix food coloring in a water bottle. Spray where you want the colors to go.
~ Use large and small marshmallows to build mini snowmen. Stick toothpicks in to marshmallows to make them stay in place. Use frosting to stick on raisins, chocolate chips, and little candies for features and clothes. Eat carefully! (First remove toothpicks.)
~ Use white crayons to draw snowmen on blue construction paper. Choose other colors to add details. Add white glitter glue to make snowmen sparkle!
Thursday, December 25, 2014
The Berenstain Bears and the Joy of Giving
By Jan & Mike Berenstain
(Scholastic Inc., 2010)
Giving. That's what The Berenstain Bears and the Joy of Giving is all about.
Maybe you've heard it. The gimmee's. Are there any more presents? We're all done? Why can't I have more? I didn't get...
Actually, there is one commercial from this season that I do not like at all. I'm not even sure who the company is that the commercial represents. But I do know that the entire focus of the commercial is "Wha'ja'git?" That question is repeated, repeated, repeated, and repeated from numerous famous cartoon and imaginary characters.
That is NOT the message I want children to learn and inhale about the Christmas season. Not one bit.
Rather, I would have them learn about the joy of giving.
Reading The Berenstain Bears and the Joy of Giving is a great tradition that speaks to the important character trait of giving. Or we could call giving a positive social habit. Or a generous human social trait.
Brother and Sister Bear enjoy the usual trappings of a family and church Christmas. But the ending is what promotes the true spirit of giving. Read this book to find out more.
It's Never Too Late.
~ Give away old toys. Some families have children choose one toy to go out for each new one that comes in.
~ Save change in a jar throughout the year. Carry coins as you go about your errands during the holidays. Let your child put money in the red buckets or donate cash to a shelter.
~ Adopt a family with same-aged children as the ones in your family. Let your child shop for the child his/her age. Wrap the gifts and deliver.
~ Ask your child what he/she would like to do to give. Find a way to do it.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
The First Night
By B. G. Hennessy
(Puffin Books, 1993)
The First Night, a Christmas picture book about the Nativity, is filled with delicate and beautiful paintings. The simple language is perfect for retelling the story about the birth of baby - Baby Jesus. Young children will enjoy both the story and the illustrations.
For young children, The First Night gives a story in simple format. As parents, teachers, and caregivers read aloud, preschoolers will internalize concepts of print - reading front to back, front and back, text, illustrations, and story features.
Look at the illustrations. Dig out a black permanent marker or felt tip pen. Let your child draw a picture on heavy paper. Use watercolor pencils, water, and brushes to color in and paint the picture. Discuss the different techniques used by illustrators and artists. Maybe your child will grow up to become an artist or illustrator. How awesome would that be?
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
The Christmas Song, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire
By Mel Torme and Robert Wells (1946)
Illustrated by Doris Barrette
(Scholastic, Inc., 2007)
Here is a beautifully illustrated Christmas picture book you can read and sing!
Everyone knows "The Christmas Song", though I would hazard a guess to say we instead call it "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." Each year, as I go around humming this song to myself, I am again urged to go hunt down some chestnuts and throw them on an open fire. Tried that once and managed burnt chestnuts.
Now that certain home and cooking magazines have shown the correct way to prep and cook chestnuts, should I venture to purchase those chestnuts (which magically appear in the produce section of the grocery store come every December), I think my success would be much greater. Perhaps even tasty.
Go for it. Sing the song. I mean read this book. And sing the song.
And while you are at it, pick up some chestnuts. Watch an online video on how to cook them up proper.
And have a wonderful, beautiful Christmas.
Monday, December 22, 2014
The Christmas Story
By Patricia A. Pingry
(Ideals Children's Books, 2005)
Welcome to a children's picture book that tells the story of the birth of Jesus using the language of kids.
Yes, the story is familiar to many adults, and even many children. But when it comes to easy to read and understand, Patricia A. Pingry does a wonderful job in simplifying and keeping the story accurate. The illustrations by Wendy Edelson are colorful and perfect for this book. I like the way the text, in red and black, is set apart on a field of white. This text feature helps young readers locate the words.
Thumbs up for this version of The Christmas Story.
And while we are at it - celebrating the birth of Christ - why not add a birthday something to your Christmas traditions?
~ share a birthday cake or cupcakes complete with candles for Christmas Day
~ sing the birthday song to Jesus
~ wear birthday hats and bounce balloons as you cheer for Jesus' birthday
~ take an annual photo of your kiddos holding the birthday cake for Jesus
~ add a new Nativity ornament to your tree each year, letting the children remember each and putting them on the tree
Peace and Merry Christmas to you!
Friday, December 19, 2014
Illustrated by Darcy May
(Scholastic Inc., 2001)
"Jingle Bells" is a simple and very much loved song, and now picture book, that children over the ages have repeated - ad nauseum. I don't think there are many that are not familiar with this melody and seasonal favorite.
The picture book, Jingle Bells, is just as delightful. Beautiful illustrations combined with song lyrics add meaning and help beginning readers to figure out text. The only problem is how fast one can turn the pages of Jingle Bells while singing a spirited version of "Jingle Bells."
If only I lived where loads of winter snow was the norm and I had a horse and a sleigh.
That would be a truly fantastic white Christmas.
Sing the song! Come on, jugs of jingle bells are on sale all over the country. Buy one and add bells to chenille stems. Twist the ends together and jingle away as you sing.
Better yet, head down your street and sing at the top of your voice(s). Neighbors love caroling!
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Morris's Disappearing Bag
By Rosemary Wells
(Scholastic, Inc., 1975)
I absolutely love Morris's Disappearing Bag. What a fabulous book that showcases the imagination of children!
As the baby of the family, Morris is often overlooked and not included in play with his older siblings.
That is, until he discovers one overlooked present under the tree. A disappearing bag! Suddenly, his family social standing switches place with all siblings. And the fun begins.
The story and illustrations are perfectly married and give the gift of a wonderful story. Look for this book. And expect requests for disappearing bags to jump onto the Christmas list.
For added fun?
I can't advise you to locate disappearing bags, since I doubt they exist. Or do they?
But do add gifts of toys that encourage make believe play and the use of imagination. Your child's brain will thank you.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
By Jan Brett
(Scholastic, Inc., 1999)
I love naughty characters. Meet the Gingerbread Baby. He reminds me of my kitties. Naughty but adorable and delicious.
Jan Brett works her book magic in both the story and the illustrations found in Gingerbread Baby. Borders give clues about what happens next, a feature that captivates my listeners when I am doing a read aloud. As always, I adore her detail and intricate illustrations.
One might expect the Gingerbread Baby to meet the same fate as gingerbread cookies worldwide. No spoilers here. But don't expect the expected.
By Jan Brett
(G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2008)
And after reading this book, look for Gingerbread Friends to find out what happens next.
In her second book about gingerbread, Brett includes the recipe for gingerbread. But instead of a one page recipe, she adds the recipe, page by page, in border illustrations. Lovely.
So get going. Make some gingerbread cookies. And follow the recipe exactly.
Or you never know what might happen.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Written by Cooper Edens
Illustrated by Daniel Lane
(Green Tiger Press, 1991)
Santa Cows is one of those picture books that crack me up. I once did a skit at church, complete with the handing out of little cartons of milk and the reading aloud of this book. I believe I wore a Santa hat, possibly horns, and my cow helpers wore the same. It was quite the fun treat.
Set in a similar cadence as 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, this rhyming picture book tells the story of cows that visit a family. These red-hat wearing bovines bring not only gifts, but sing Christmas songs and lure family members out into the snow to play a game of baseball.
If you have any sort of quirky sense of humor, this book is a must. The illustrations are wonderful (makes me wish I had a cow) and the story delivers comic relief and a unique experience.
Read this book with milk and cookies. And then dress warmly and head out to play baseball.
Monday, December 15, 2014
The Christmas Baby
by Marion Dane Bauer
(Scholastic, Inc., 2009)
The Christmas Baby is an unusual version of the biblical Christmas story in that the telling ends with both the celebration of the birth of Jesus and the birth of a human baby. What starts out as the retelling of the Nativity ends as the family of the new human baby looks on in joy. And the new baby (not Jesus) watches his mobile of angels dance and spin. This story shares how the joy of the new birth is retold and enjoyed by all.
One phrase that impressed me was when the author talked about Baby Jesus smiling "God's own smile." The other baby gets the same phrase "God's own smile."
I love imagining God's own smile. Isn't that what Christmas is all about? God smiling upon us as He gives us the best and most perfect gift - His Son.
Make your own angel (or other Christmas shape - tree, star, gift, heart, candy cane, gingerbread boy) mobile.
Draw, color, cut out, and add glitter glue accents to your choice of mobile shapes.
Tie different lengths of gold thread or yarn to the shapes.
Make the mobile from bent wire hangers or branches that are tied together.
Hang the mobile from a hook as you tie on the characters to make sure they hang at different lengths and balance each other.
Of course, this activity should be enjoyed by all family members, young and old.
Hang the mobile where a gentle breeze will make it move, like near a heater vent. Remember the Baby as you watch the sparkling mobile flutter.
Friday, December 12, 2014
This Is the Stable
by Cynthia Cotten
(Scholastic, Inc., 2006)
This Is the Stable is another example of a book with captivating illustrations.
Written in rhyme, This Is the Stable tells the story of the birth of Christ. Simple text shares the biblical account with readers. Young preschoolers and children will love reading this version.
Offering a variety of picture books that tell the same story allows readers to compare and contrast what lies between front and back covers. And invites deeper understanding of story and events.
I keep This Is the Stable in my Christmas collection of books for just those reasons.
Add a song:
Listen to songs that tell the Christmas story -
"Away in a Manger,"
"The First Nowell"
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"
"O Little Town of Bethlehem"
"Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come"
Hearing and learning stories put to music is an age-old way to remember details and story line.
Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
The Twelve Days of Christmas
Illustrated by Jan Brett
(G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1986)
Move over Youtube. It's time to sing some books. You know, those paper things with words and pictures?
Welcome to a favorite version of a much loved Christmas carol. The Twelve Days of Christmas, illustrated by Jan Brett, offers delight for the mouth and the eyes.
I may have mentioned previously on this blog how much I enjoy books that can be read - with words and by illustrations - and books that can be enjoyed through song. Kids love that stuff!
Jan Brett is one of my favorite illustrators (just ask my students). Not only does she do an excellent job telling stories with her drawings, she adds so much detail that one is always finding something new. Her love of complete illustrations is obvious, as is her love of the Christmas and winter season. Animals and fantasy characters are evident in most of the books she has illustrated.
But her borders! I adore the way she gives story hints and adds complexity to the storytelling process by what she includes in her decorative borders included on most pages.
The Twelve Days of Christmas is a beautiful example of her signature artwork.
Sing, read, and look at The Twelve Days of Christmas. And while you are at it, check out Jan Brett as an author. She has quite the list of excellent books.
Do your own 12 days of Christmas. Count back from December 25 (that should be the 12th). On each day, make an ornament that matches the verse in the song (and book). Or add store bought ornaments that match. For example, add or make a partridge (or any bird) and a pear for day 1. Continue daily through the song. You will have a beautiful tree.
Have fun singing the song!
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Too Many Tamales
by Gary Soto
(Scholastic Inc., 1993)
I love the tradition many Hispanic families have of making tamales for Christmas. What could be tastier?
Too Many Tamales is the story of Maria. Maria feels grown-up when she gets to help her mother mix the masa for tamales. But she is tempted to try on mother's beautiful diamond ring. And it disappears!
The question becomes how can we find the ring - in all of those tamales?
My own children loved me to read and reread this book when they were younger. I think they identified with helping the mother yet losing something important and having to solve the problem of how to find it. And then having to go and confess what had happened.
I love the marriage of the illustrations and text in Too Many Tamales. This delightful book has been a favorite in our home and my classroom for many years.
It's time for a new tradition! As a family, learn to make tamales. Or adopt yourself into a family that makes tamales each year (that means you will need to help cook them). Or go out for tamales at a Mexican food restaurant. You can't go wrong with any of these yummy choices.
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Claude the Dog, A Christmas Story
by Dick Gackenbach
(Weekly Reader Books, Field Publications; 1974)
Some of the best books are the old ones. I doubt many can find Claude the Dog, A Christmas Story, but it deserves a mention because of the message.
Claude the dog has a homeless friend, Bummer. Bummer came to visit right after Claude had received three very special Christmas gifts from his family. Bummer, who had nothing, appreciated the gifts. And Claude unselfishly gave Bummer his gifts. Bummer finally noticed what was happening. But was Claude upset?
No. Claude understood the importance of something bigger - his family and his home. He was happy to share his gifts, because he could simply go and enjoy the love of his owners.
I love the generosity of Claude and how he helps his homeless friend.
I suppose you could say that Claude sets an example for all of us. And isn't Claude the cutest dog?
Do you have a dog? Let your child act out the story with a pillow, a blanket, and a toy mouse. Use the real dog. Substitute a stuffed dog or other favorite animal. Want to be like Claude and help out this season? Collect pet items and donate them to your local pet shelter.
Monday, December 8, 2014
A Child Is Born
By Margaret Wise Brown
(Hyperion Books for Children, 2000)
I love sharing a variety of books with children, as we are a world filled with diversity and uniqueness.
I discovered A Child Is Born at the public library when I was searching for Christmas books for my classroom. It perfectly fits my interest in giving children a not-everyone-is-white worldview and let's-check-out-other-colors-of-skin.
And the Lord God made them all.
I secured my own copy of A Child Is Born so that I could use it at school, church, and home. The board book I have has compelling illustrations and simple text, perfect for any age. A Child Is Born simply retells the story of the birth of Jesus, the Christ.
It's a big, big world out there. Let's be (skin) color-blind.
Tip: Do you have a library card? Is there a bookstore near your home? Visit and see what wonderful books you can discover.
And remember, a book makes a great Christmas gift!
Friday, December 5, 2014
The Olive Farm
by Carol Drinkwater (Penguin Books, 2001)
The Olive Farm has nothing to do with Christmas. Though there are several delightful scenes in the book that occur during the Christmas season.
I love reading books that take place in France. France is the country near and dear to my heart. So when I found this book, I was eager to secure a copy so I could read it.
Written by Carol Drinkwater, actress in All Creatures Great and Small, The Olive Farm takes place in the South of France. Drinkwater and her fiancé discover an abandoned olive farm. They cannot resist. They hock everything to buy the dilapidated farm. Extremely dilapidated.
Thhe story leads readers through the challenges of farming. And particularly, farming and fixing up a property in France. From other books I've read set in France, the difficulties are a common theme. Sometimes depressing and amazing, other times hysterical and unbelievable. This tale of the redemption of a lonely, overgrown piece of land, is captivating.
Through it all, Drinkwater transparently shares her life, struggles, successes, problems, and victories. The Olive Farm made me want to move to the south of France and grow olive trees so I can share my own home grown bottles of olive oil.
Perhaps I will just go and visit my new friends at their farm, Appassionata.
Thursday, December 4, 2014
By Matthew Sturgis
Illustrations by Anne Mortimer
(Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Books, 1989)
What attracted me to this Christmas picture book ages ago when my children were young was the illustrations. That seems to be a theme for me. I adore great illustrations. What caught me next was the story about naughty Tosca, the beautiful fluffy feline who desperately tries to join Christmas festivities.
Only to be tossed outside on a cold winter's night. And who should she meet on the roof, but a jolly old soul wearing a red suit!
Matthew Sturgis creates a wonderfully explorative character in Tosca. I see my kitties in this book as I read, for they adore Christmas and at times cause just as much trouble.
Anne Mortimer has illustrated this book in such a way that it appears that we can reach out to touch and cuddle furry little Tosca.
Tosca's Christmas is a beautiful story about a cat at Christmas. Not only does it have a great story and gorgeous illustrations, this book has sentimental associations to the childhood of my children. I can still hear their little voices requesting the tale of Tosca - just one more time. Please!
Memories of a very special season. It is the most wonderful time of the year.
Curl up with a favorite stuffed animal and cozy pajamas to have the best of times when reading books with your child.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Watch For The Light ~ Readings for Advent and Christmas
A Collection of Thoughts from a Variety of Authors
(Plough Publishing House, 2001; Orbis Books, 2004)
This year I am going to do it.
Last year I was finally able to track down a copy of Watch For The Light - Readings for Advent and Christmas. I had read about this book and was interested to add additional readings to my season of Christmas.
And then life happened.
I was unable to complete the book, which begins with a reading for November 24. The book continues through with daily readings until January 6, the day after Epiphany.
Again. I do love second chances.
This year, I began early and reread the entries I had read last year. This collection has been penned by a huge variety of authors, including some of my favorites like
And many, many more.
I look forward to delving into these contemplations about Advent and Christmas. With all of the commercial focus on the season, I think my soul will breathe a sigh of relief to be considering things not-physical.
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Illustrated by Julie Vivas
(Voyager Books, Harcourt, Inc., 1994)
Please. Let me wax eloquently about illustrations that I absolutely adore!
Julie Vivas has illustrated this picture book, The Nativity, so beautifully and whimsically that it is always one of my favorites to read. To myself. To my grandchildren. To students and other children.
As the text of The Nativity is composed of Scripture verses, Vivas cannot lay claim to penning the words. But all credit is given to her creative, adorable illustrations about the very first Christmas.
One of the reasons I enjoy this Christmas story version so much is that Vivas gives the characters - well - character. Delicate yet vibrant watercolor illustrations tell what is going on behind the words. And just wait until you see the page where Baby Jesus is born. And the angel sitting down to have tea with Mary. And Joseph trying to help Mary get on a donkey.
You get my drift. Look up a copy of this delightful book. The Nativity will please everyone.
Be sure to have a child-proof Nativity set available. Preschoolers and children will want to reenact the story about the birth of Jesus. I am fortunate enough to have both a crocheted one with a wooden barn, made by my mom and dad, and a self-storing resin set. Both are sturdy and loved by all the kids who place themselves in the middle of the Christmas story.