105 Ways to Give a Book

Librarians and Hollywood

In reading a Washington Post article about a film company, Walden Media, that has found its calling in producing movies for kids, I found this quote:
But the bottom line is that moviemakers still have to tell good stories to keep people in their seats. How do Granat and Flaherty find success in getting families into theaters? They credit a secret weapon: librarians.

“It’s such an obvious place to look, but Hollywood never looks there,” Flaherty says.

Walden has staff members in Boston who make contact with hundreds of thousands of teachers, students, and librarians each year to find out what kids are reading. (The movie “Holes,” for example, grew out of a Pennsylvania teacher’s comment that her pupils loved the book.) “We go to 24 conferences a year... heavily focused on librarians, because who knows stories better than librarians,” says Flaherty.
Yeah, team! Since they’re listening to us, apparently, what book should they make into a movie next? My money is still on The Wizard, The Witch, and Two Girls From Jersey, starring Vanessa Anne Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale, because it reads like a movie now. It would be so easy to adapt it and then throw in two hot teen stars. And I only want to be invited to the premiere for the idea.

Poetry Friday: Forgotten Books Fibbery

Wolves,
Beach,
Flotsam,
The Best Books,
I never reviewed
(and Once Upon a Banana).
WolvesIn Wolves, by Emily Gravett, a rabbit checks out a book about wolves from the library. As he’s walking along aimlessly, nose in the book, the scenery around him changes to something ominous. He’s walking past the trees that look much like a wolf. And the grass he is walking in seems much more like wolf fur. You may feel the need to warn him that he’s getting into trouble, but then it’s too late. He gets eaten. Or at least we may guess that’s what happens, since all we see is the torn-up library book. It sounds awful, but it is played for laughs, especially since there is an alternate ending tacked on where the bunny instead shares a jam sandwich with the wolf. Clever, witty, and brilliantly illustrated.

BeachIf you are a beach lover, then you will find your comfort zone in Beach, by Elisha Cooper. In the softest watercolors, a day at the beach is laid out in little pictures on each page. It’s not a book about plot, but about mood, and it totally captures the laid-back, lazy days at the beach with a hundred things to see. A beautiful summertime book — unless you’re headed to the Bahamas this January, in which case it’s a beautiful Caribbean vacation book.

FlotsamAlways the king of the Weird-Ass Picture book, David Wiesner has done it again with the wordless picture book Flotsam. It starts off as a simple beach story, with a boy finding an old-fashioned camera in the waves. He takes the film to be developed and sees an amazing and surprising underwater world in the pictures. He also sees a picture of a boy holding a picture of a girl holding a picture of a boy... and so on. He realizes that he has to continue the tradition of the camera, takes his picture holding the picture, and throws the camera back to sea to continue its journey. Incredible illustrations and story concept have put this book on many of the best-books lists of this year.

Once Upon a BananaOnce Upon a Banana, written by Jennifer Armstrong and illustrated by David Small, is another sort of venture into the world of wordless picture books. Actually, there are words on the signs throughout the book, and when they are lined up they make a rhyming poem. In the story, a monkey steals a banana from a grocer, leading to a variety of collisions and disasters, but it all ends up fine in the end. The pictures are so very complex that you could spend an eternity on each page, but you’ll want to keep turning pages to see what happens next.

Lovely Sleepyhead

SleepyheadThis week I was planning on posting about my favorite books that were also on some “official” best-books lists, but I couldn’t resist mentioning Sleepyhead, by Karma Wilson. This is definitely one of the prettiest picture books of the year, with the soft watercolor pictures of John Segal. In the simple story, a grown-up cat tries to get the little bear to go to sleep. But the little bear wants to delay bedtime just a little bit longer. I like the sing-song feel of the text — not a straight rhyme, but with rhyming words. Here’s some of it:
Sleepyhead, Sleepyhead.
Good night, good night,
My Sleepyhead.
Your teeth are brushed
Your book is read.
Go to sleep. It’s time for bed.

One more book, says Sleepyhead.
The other thing I like about the book is the characters: a cat and bear, both of indeterminate gender. It could be a mother and son, father and daughter, aunt and niece, Tom Cruise and Suri... The two characters from different species also leaves it open as an adoption story, perhaps of a child of a different race. In any case, it’s a lovely bedtime book to be shared with a special little bear of one’s own.

Toys Go Out: The Anti-Tulane

If you are a frequent reader here, then you will know of my distaste for The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. I am not alone in this opinion, though it feels like I am as list after list comes out with this book included. In a nutshell, what I dislike about Tulane is the endless litany of Horrible Things inflicted on this toy rabbit until not only the china bunny is broken (both figuratively and literally), but the reader is too. It’s a strong delivery that isn’t necessary for children.

Toys Go OutIf you want tension, try the middle chapter of Toys Go Out. While Plastic is attacked by a dog (which he thinks is a shark), Stingray is quietly sinking under the water (she thought she could float). For a kid, this level of scariness is enough. Will Plastic be okay? Can Stingray actually drown? Keep reading — we need to know what happens!

Toys have traditionally had their adventures, even scary ones. Raggedy Ann was flown up on the tail of kite and it seemed she might be lost forever. Roo fell in the river and everyone worked to save him. The Velveteen Rabbit escaped the fire and hid. But only in Tulane will we see a toy thrown to the bottom of the sea, tossed in garbage, taken from the arms of a dying girl, and broken to pieces.

If you want the real best toy story of the year, look at Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledgeable Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic, by Emily Jenkins. It’s well written, heartwarming, and child-friendly.

I do have some mixed feelings about books about toys. While Raggedy Ann and Winnie-the-Pooh are among my favorites, I hold this type of book responsible for my total personalization of all objects with eyes. As a child, I believed in my heart of hearts that my toys were alive. I still kind of do. So, when I read a book like Toys Go Out, I worry that a whole new generation of kids will get fixated on the idea that their toys come to life.

Oh, but the book is so good. And maybe believing in the magic of toys isn’t so bad.

In the book we start with the toys in a mysterious circumstance. They are bumping around in a backpack heading for a mysterious place. Is it the zoo? The vet? No, it’s to school for show and tell as the little Girl’s favorite toys. We also learn what Plastic is, worry with Buffalo about being washed, travel to the beach, get taken up the the big bed, and celebrate a birthday. Very light, very sweet, very funny. And no bunnies were broken during the making of this book. Thank God.

Clementine

ClementineI cannot say enough good things about Clementine, by Sara Pennypacker. I would put it on my list of favorites of all time. It’s Junie B. without so many of the grammar issues. It’s Ramona but more modern. It’s Judy Moody without the attitude.

No, it’s Clementine.

Here is the first page in its entirety.
I have had not so good of a week.

Well, Monday was a pretty good day, if you don’t count Hamburger Surprise at lunch and Margaret’s mother coming to get her. Or the stuff that happened in the principal’s office when I got sent there to explain that Margaret’s hair was not my fault and besides she looks okay without it, but I couldn’t because Principal Rice was gone, trying to calm down Margaret’s mother.

Someone should tell you not to answer the phone in the principal’s office, if that’s a rule.

Okay, fine, Monday was not so good of a day.
I love it! She has some great made-up words, such as saying that Margaret always makes “I-wish” eyes about a bracelet she wants and how Clementine and her mother made “corner-eyes” at each other. She calls her brother vegetable names all through the book,
because she doesn’t think it is fair that she got a fruit name. But you know she loves him because she gives him spinning rides in her mother’s wok.

And how about this:
While Margaret was looking out the window, I accidentally touched her mask.

Twice. Okay, fine.
The illustrations by Marla Frazee show off the playful, lively spirit of this girl and her family. The tone of the writing captures the language and thought process of a creative eight-year-old girl. The author also gives a fair treatment to Clementine’s parents, who are both thrilled to have such an interesting child and frustrated by her mess-ups.

I read it aloud to my daughters, ages seven and ten, and they loved it too. Actually, my ten-year-old enjoyed it more. Even though I’d say the book is written for a second or third grader, it is one that may be better with a little distance from the age.

I haven’t even told you the story, but I’m not sure it matters. An eight-year-old girl tries to help a friend with a little hair problem, but makes it worse. And then makes it worse still. And even yet again. Then she does something good by helping her father with his pigeon problems...

You know what? Just read it yourself. There is no way that you will regret it.

The Joy of Getting

I know that when speaking of a wonderful Christmas one should wax poetic about the magic of being with family, the joy of giving to others, and the spiritual nature of the season.

But honestly, it was a great Christmas because we all got awesome gifts. I’m sorry, but there it is.

I was very lucky in my shopping for the kids. An MP3 player reduced from eighty bucks to thirty. The wished-for hundred-dollar Roboraptor was now on closeout at thirty dollars. The Bratz baby house was twenty-five instead of fifty dollars. Now mix in my normal bargain-hunting finds that went under the tree. A stack of five fun activity books were about ten dollars per kid. Each girl got a three-dollar necklace (had been fifteen at Kohl’s) wrapped around a plush panda bear (maybe two bucks). Remote-control cars and plush pillows were half-price finds on the day after Thanksgiving.

All this savings meant that we could splurge on a gift that would make the whole family happy: Guitar Hero. It is only the coolest game ever.

Since my in-laws gave the girls a Playstation 2 and games (and they have Guitar Hero), we spent a lot of time today playing video games.

My husband gave me a super-nice cell phone, since mine has taken to dying unexpectedly during my calls. I only wanted a basic model, but he picked up the newer version of my current one (meaning I don’t have to start over learning how to use it) which has a decent camera with flash (meaning I can take more pictures, as soon as I figure out how to use it). I thought it was too expensive, but had to admit that I liked my husband’s thinking: “Well, we had to buy a cell phone to replace yours, so that part of the price doesn’t even count. It’s the amount over that price that’s the gift.” Who can argue with that?

This evening I am back at work. There are maybe three patrons in the library. Guitar Hero is at home with my kids and hubby. Bitter? Okay, a little. But I’m determined to spent the next few days reviewing some of the best books of the year that I forgot to mention. So while many of your other blogger friends are off on vacation, I’ll be here posting every day. Yup. Every. Day.

Suddenly that sounds so depressing.

More Christmas Titles

I am sooo embarassed that I missed Festivus. I was ready to take on the airing of the grievances for all the blogosphere. First on my list of grievances is the fact that people buy these huge SUVs and then can’t park them correctly. And as a corollary to that grievance, when are the parents at my kids’ school going to learn how to park on the street without leaving huge gaps between them? These people!

But now it is Christmas Eve, and I am here in my house with hours of present wrapping in front of me. Our traditional Christmas Eve pizza is on its way, and my favorite Christmas books are out for the evening reading session down by the tree. I’ve told you some that I use at school or storytime, but these are my personal favorites.

Santa MouseSanta Mouse and Santa Mouse Where Are You? by Michael Brown
I had these books when I was a child, and we always leave a bit of cheese out for Santa Mouse and look for his small, yellow-ribbon-wrapped present in the tree branches. (I may want to get to work on digging out a small present, come to think of it.)

How the Grinch Stole ChristmasHow the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss
Honestly, we’re just as likely to watch the film version of this as to read it, but it’s a classic.

The Night Before ChristmasThe Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore
I have a copy illustrated by Cheryl Harness because I like the soft old-fashioned feel.

One Enchanted ChristmasOne Enchanted Christmas, by Colleen Charleston
The story of a girl who was given a magical coat by her two aunts. Then one day someone Very Important needs a good coat for his midnight journey. Very sweet story.

Merry Un-ChristmasMerry Un-Christmas, by Mike Reiss
Brand new favorite, just published this year. Noelle is sick of Christmas, because in her town Christmas is every day. The kids and adults all look forward to Un-Christmas. Noelle even wishes it could be Un-Christmas every day. Very fun and silly book.

I work the day after Christmas and many of the days after that, so I’ll be posting some of my favorite books of 2006 that somehow missed getting their day in the sun. For now, I’ll wish everyone a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah just past, and I’m going to get me some Papa John’s Christmas Eve pizza.

Inviting Discussion On Hattie Big Sky... and God

About a two months ago, an author contacted me about a new historical novel that she had written, wondering if I would consider reviewing it. I read the email quickly and thought she was suggesting her new hysterical novel, and was excited by the very possibility of Hysterical Novel as a new subcategory of fiction. Then, oh, I read the line again to realize that it’s her new historical novel. Yeah, that’s okay too.

But then after I received the book, it seemed like everyone was reviewing it, so I held off for a while. And then I kind of forgot for a while. And then I remembered again, but I couldn’t find my copy. And then I found my copy but I had Something Important To Say and hadn’t figured out how to say it. And then it came to the end of the year and I still hadn’t written about it, so here goes.

Hattie Big SkyIn Hattie Big Sky, Hattie is an orphan who been moved around within her extended family, but never felt wanted. So, when she finds she has inherited land in Montana, the sixteen-year-old girl is ready to face any adversity to make a place of her own. She heads west to prove up the homestead claim, taking some clothes and her cat. It won’t be easy to keep the claim on the land. The house is built, even if it looks more like a shack, but she still needs to fence in the land and produce a crop within a year. In the big land she’s all alone, but finds herself making a new family with the other homesteaders. She faces hard weather and suffers tradgedy. Set during the time of World War I, the book also captures the anti-German sentiment that Hattie sees through connection with her neighbors and new best friends. Kirby Larson has written a wonderful book with a strong female character.

But here is my Something Important To Say, that I wish to discuss with my fellow book lovers and blogfriends. I didn’t see the religious aspect of this book mentioned in any of the reviews, yet the book had numerous mentions of God. Here are two selections from early in the book:
Thinking of the Almighty’s earlier guidance, I bowed my head. “Thank you, Lord, for Uncle Chester. May he rest peacefully in your care. Thank you for Perilee, who provided this good supper, and for keeping me safe thus far. Mr. Whiskers thanks you for the mouse. Amen.”

To keep myself company, I’d taken to conducting chore-time conversations with God. My self-imposed rule was that each conversation must start on a thankful note. Sometimes that kept the discussion from really getting going.
Both of these quotes have a nice sense of humor about them and fit with the character. Now, if I had read these passages in an adult book, I would have thought is was Christian fiction. But not only is this not noted as a Christian fiction book, I don’t see that it is noted or discussed as a religious book at all.

Let me make it perfectly clear that I like Hattie Big Sky. I think that the mentions of God are in keeping with the story and the time period. I also think that the prayers offer a literary device, giving Hattie a chance to talk to someone since she’s all alone. I’m not saying that the mentions of God are overdone or wrong or inappropriate. I’m just curious about how something that I thought was so noticeable in the book — even integral to the book — was never discussed. And when I’ve thought about it, I would say that there is a lot of churchgoing and talk about God in the Little House books, and in Little Women. Is this something that we accept more in children’s literature? Is it a product of the time periods of the books? Is it something else entirely? I know that a lot of people read and liked this book, and I’d be interested to hear what people think. Spoilers will be allowed in the comments, so don’t read them if you don’t want to know anything more about the book.

As for me, I loved the Little House books growing up and I love Little Women now and I am in complete agreement with all the rave reviews that Hattie Big Sky has received. I wouldn’t really want to see a lot of religious focus for fear of pigeonholing this book. However, if you want a good book for your Christian home-school group, it would be hard to find a better written, more interesting book that also carries a spiritual theme.

Christmas Around The World

In our school system, the first graders study winter holidays around the world. As I recall, there is a special focus on India (Diwali), Israel (Hanukkah), Mexico (Christmas), and Germany (Christmas). Over the years, I’ve collected a few favorites to share in the classroom along with this theme.

The Magic MagueyThe Magic Maguey, by Tony Johnson
A large maguey plant sits in the middle of a Mexican village providing many resources to the people of the town, as well as a gathering spot. As Christmas approaches, a rich man who owns that land says that he will get rid of the maguey and build a house there. Miguel, with the help of the other children, decorate the maguey so beautifully for Christmas that the rich man realizes his error and doesn’t cut it down. A great story about resourcefulness with a little bit of Christmas tradition and a smattering of Spanish words.

What's Cooking, Jamela?What’s Cooking, Jamela? by Niki Daly
Jamela’s family gets a chicken to fatten up for Christmas dinner, but Jamela gets attached to the chicken as a pet. Tension builds as a woman comes to prepare the chicken dinner, but in the end, Jamela’s mother finds something else for the Christmas dinner and gives the chicken to Jamela as a present. A fun story of a South African Christmas,conveying a sense of the culture along with a few words of the country.

A Kenya ChristmasA Kenya Christmas, by Tony Johnson
Juma’s Christmas wish is to see Father Christmas, and his special aunt brings a red and white suit to the village. She tells Juma to find someone to wear the suit so that the whole village can see Father Christmas for the first time. He does so and Father Christmas surprises the village with his arrival. But it is Juma who is surprised later when he finds out that the man who was supposed to play the part didn’t do so after all. Who was that man on the elephant? A very different picture of Christmas in Africa with amazing pictures by Leonard Jenkins.

A Cobweb ChristmasCobweb Christmas: The Traditon of Tinsel, by Shirley Climo
In Germany, a old woman sets up a Christmas tree and some curious spiders “decorate” it with their cobwebs. Kris Kringle turns the webs into silver, making the first tinsel. A sweet story about the Christmas tree tradition.

The Borrowed Hanukkah LatkesThe Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes, by Linda Glaser
As a family prepares for Hanukkah, more guests are due to arrive than expected. The daughter, Rachel, borrows potatoes and eggs from their elderly neighbor to make the latkes, each time hoping that by borrowing food she will convince the woman to join the family for Hanukkah. She can’t make her come over, but in the end comes up with another plan to bring Hanukkah to the woman. While not a story of Israel, it is my favorite Hanukkah story, so I kind of cheat and use it anyway.

I have yet to find a Diwali story that isn’t just, “This is what happens during Diwali,” so if anyone has one, I’d be happy to hear about it. If anyone wants to write a good Diwali story, I’d say you’d have a pretty open market.

Books For... shhhhh!... Christmas

My area is culturally diverse and politically correct. Our library system and school system are both very, very careful about anything that might be taken the wrong way. The administrators must see post-Thanksgiving as a minefield of possible cultural insensitivities. I respect the intentions of both the schools and the libraries, but it can make the storytimes a little difficult. Based on my years of reading to kids in both settings, I have a couple of strategies and favorites.

Sometimes I’ve picked books that focus more on the gift-giving aspect of Christmas rather then Santa or — I can’t even imagine presenting this in this area — the Nativity. These are some books about giving, that happen to be at Christmas but aren’t so much about Christmas. Oh, and I like them.

Merry Christmas, Matty MouseMerry Christmas, Matty Mouse, by Nancy Walker-Guye
A little mouse is heading home from school with six Christmas cookies for his mom. On his way home he runs into some hungry friends and, one by one, gives all but one cookie away. In the end, mom and little mouse share that cookie, and then realize that they have the recipe to make more cookies. They make more and invite all the forest friends. Very sweet book about sharing and being kind.

Okie-Dokie, Artichokie!Okie-Dokie, Artichokie! by Grace Lin
A monkey gets a new neighbor, who lives below him. The neighbor, who is a giraffe, is getting on the monkey’s nerves banging on the floor all day. Monkey tries to keep quiet in his apartment, but the banging goes on. He is so mad at the giraffe that he stops talking to him. One day, near Christmas, he gets a package meant for the giraffe. He’s about to throw it away, but then realizes how mean that is. He delivers it to Artichoke and finds out that they are ceiling pillows. Artichoke hasn’t been banging the ceiling on purpose, he’s just too tall! A book about gifts and misunderstandings, with a little bit of Christmas thrown in.

The Perfect PresentThe Perfect Present, by Michael Hague
A bunny buys a toy for his sweetie, but it takes off without him. He chases it down the streets and around the town (letting kids look for it in the highly detailed pictures) and then it rolls in a snowball right to his sweeties house. There are Christmas colors and some decorations in the background, but actually only a couple of mentions of Christmas at all. Hague’s illustrations are, as could be expected, amazing.

Shall I Knit You a Hat?Shall I Knit You a Hat? by Kate Klise
A mother rabbit knits a special hat for little rabbit, and together they decide to make some very creative hats for all of their friends. Mentions Christmas, but not a lot. It’s a very cute book.

My Penguin OsbertMy Penguin Osbert, by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
Joe gets a penguin for Christmas from Santa after years of misunderstandings, but having a penguin turns out to be a lot of work. This is one of my favorite books for the “be careful what you wish for” message, but it is handled with humor and grace.

Jingle BellsJingle Bells, by Nick Butterworth
Two mice are threatened by The Cat. They make Christmas stockings out of glove fingers, but the Cat puts up a note at Christmas saying they went away. They decide to teach cat a lesson, that involves a noisy jingle bell as a present. A twist on the idea of the present, where the present they give the cat is actually much better for the mice.

The Christmas CrocodileThe Christmas Crocodile, by Bonny Becker
A crocodile is left under the tree at Christmas and he wreaks havoc on the family. Illustrated by David Small and very funny.

The Gift of NothingThe Gift of Nothing, by Patrick McDonnell
Not a Christmas book at all, but a story from the Mutts comic strip about how friendship is really the greatest gift of all. Simple, sweet, and refreshing.

Tomorrow, I’ll present my Holidays Around the World collection.

Woe Is Not So Much Me Anymore

Today, a new perspective, because I generally don’t stay down for long.

If my mother, brother, and niece aren’t coming for Christmas — bad thing number one — then I don’t really have to worry if my house is clean — bad thing number two — meaning that two negatives cancel each other out. My maternity cargo pants are no worse than sweat pants, and they look better. Perhaps the oddly wide elastic waistband should have tipped me off when I was trying them on, but it’s not like they have a tummy pouch, so I can stand by my error in buying them and enjoy them without guilt. I am still a little down that blogs seem to be un-linking me, but that will just inspire me to do something exciting in late January. Maybe a contest of some sort.

And of course, I am cheered by the restored equilibrium between me and Mo. We have a relationship of sorts. I semi-stalk him online and in person, and he doesn’t have a personal restraining order issued. There’s a comfort in it. And now that he’s actually commented here, we are that much closer to being BFF — best friends forever. Especially after I gave him his own category in my blogroll.

Oh, and thanks to my husband, I’m now on beta Blogger. I’m not even sure what that means, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to comment on my blogfriends’ sites again without using the “anonymous” button — which has been slightly humiliating.

I am proud of my Twenty-One Ways to Give a Book and my Twenty-One More Ways to Give a Book, because with my knowledge of books and my love of shopping, I can contribute something unique. I’ll move the links over to my template for permanent reference.

Today I’ll celebrate Hanukkah with my aunt, cousins, and my cousins’ four kids. We exchange presents for the kids, and I bought all of them books — commitment to the cause. We’ll eat lots of latkes and tons of sweets. I’ll give my ninety-five-year-old grandmother a calendar I made through Snapfish with pictures of my kids and my baby niece.

Thanks to my blogfriends for sending me uplifting comments. I’ll tell you, I love this blogging community. It makes me realize why I spend so much time online and so little time, say, cleaning my living room. Or buying better pants, even.

Twenty-One More Ways to Give a Book

When the going gets tough, the tough get going... making more obsessive lists of books ’n stuff. I went back to look at some of my favorite books of the year — and ever — to see if I could match ’em up. I’ve already covered many of the ideas with the first list, but here are some more.
  1. Pair Mo Willems’ book Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus with a toy bus and a cargo truck.

  2. Pair The Moon with a flashlight and a promise for a nighttime walk or two.

  3. Pair new-classic Duck and Goose with a bright spotted ball (fans will know why).

  4. Pair MotherReader favorite The Day the Babies Crawled Away with a baby doll.

  5. Pair the funny wordless book Once Upon a Banana and a stuffed monkey — but show your sense of humor by throwing a banana into the gift bag.

  6. Pair silly beginning reader book The Monster in the Backpack with a cute backpack (monster additional).

  7. Pair classic A Bargain For Frances with a tea set.

  8. Pair the offbeat book Pecorino Plays Ball with a bat and ball. You can throw in a coupon book for practice sessions.

  9. Pair Take Me Out of the Bathtub and Other Silly Dilly Songs with a kazoo.

  10. Combine sweet Jenny and the Cat Club with a red scarf (don’t worry if it’s too long — so is Jenny’s) and a black cat.

  11. Pair Clarice Bean Spells Trouble with a game of Scrabble, and some of your time to teach it.

  12. Pair a drawing book like Draw 50 Airplanes, Aircrafts, and Spaceships or Draw 50 Cats with a couple of nice sketch pads.

  13. Pair Phineas MacGuire... Erupts! with a science kit, or the next book in the series, Phineas MacGuire... Gets Slimed! with the slime science kit.

  14. Pair a spy-themed book like Steal Back the Mona Lisa! (picture book), The Case of the Climbing Cat (beginning reader), Harriet the Spy (chapter book) or Secrets, Lies, Gizmos, and Spies: a History of Espionage (nonfiction) with rear-view sunglasses and/or a fingerprint kit.

  15. Bigger girls like stuffed animals too. How about Hoot with an owl, The World According to Humphrey with a hamster, or Room With a Zoo with a puppy?

  16. Pair a magic book of your choice with magic tricks.

  17. Pair The Crafty Diva’s D. I. Y. Stylebook: A Grrrl’s Guide to Cool Creations You Can Make, Show Off, and Share or The Girls’ World Book of Friendship Crafts: Cool Stuff to Make with Your Best Friends with a gift card to a local craft store, and maybe some shopping and crafting time together.

  18. Pair Knitgrrl: Learn to Knit With 15 Fun And Funky Projects and/or Chicks with Sticks: It’s a Purl Thing with yarn, knitting needles, and a promise for some lessons.

  19. Pair Ductigami: The Art of Tape with... well, rolls of duct tape.

  20. Pair King Dork with a CD of The Mr. T Experience.

  21. It’s not really a toy or separate gift, but take a special book, like Wow! It Sure is Good to Be You (which is about an aunt loving her far-away niece) and make a CD recording of you reading it.

Woe Is Me

It’s not been a good day for me. Here’s why.
  • My mom and brother had an argument, and now I don’t think they will be coming for Christmas — meaning I won’t see my beautiful, baby niece whom I adore. Presumably, I will also have to negotiate the peace settlement.

  • You know those scenes in movies where the bad guys search the good guy’s house to find something of value and they’ve left it completely trashed with stuff all over the place? That is how my living room looks right now.

  • With a lot of work to do today, I put on the only comfy pants I could find. And between the advent of lower rise jeans, which slip down, and my... ahem, weight, the most comfortable working pants I’ve got are maternity cargo pants. Even sadder, I bought them recently. My youngest child is seven.

  • While my readership is going slightly up, my Technorati rank is going slightly down because I now have fewer links from other sites. I have somehow gone from attracting people to actually repelling them.

  • As if it isn’t enough that Fuse#8 meets the cool authors at cool receptions at her cool library, y’know, along with having the top kids’ literature blog, she breaks the news that Mo Willems — my Mo Willems — has a new blog. On his site he shares some of his drawings and doodles and...
...I’m sorry, I can’t even go on.

Twenty-One Ways to Give a Book

I can be a little bit obsessive. When I get an idea in my head, I can’t let go. And lists... oh, am I obsessive about lists. So after thinking about the idea of books as gifts and talking it over with my ten-year-old daughter about how to make it more exciting, we came up with a few ideas. Then I thought of a few more. And then I thought how cool it would be if I found some of the places these items could be found. And then the list took on a life all its own, after successfully taking over my life for most of yesterday afternoon and a good part of this morning. Now, while I don’t approve of Scholastic packaging trinkets with books to make kids buy them, in terms of gifts, I come down solidly in favor of pairing a book with something extra to give it that fun factor. The links to products are to make it easier for devoted online shoppers. Many things could be found cheaper at discount and even dollar stores. Anyway, here are some suggestions.
  1. Pair a classic Raggedy Ann or Winnie-the-Pooh book with its character stuffed animal.

  2. Pair a book with a related stuffed animal, like Where’s My Teddy? with a teddy bear. Or Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type with a stuffed cow — or if you prefer, a slingshot cow.

  3. Pair Bubble Bath Pirates or Beasty Bath with a cool rubber duck at Captain Quack... or hey, even a rubber duck version of the nativity.

  4. Pair The Snow Globe Family with a snow globe.

  5. Pair Lilly’s Big Day or Fancy Nancy with dress-up clothes.

  6. Pair Toys Go Out with a red bouncy ball, or a stuffed stingray or buffalo.

  7. Pair a nonfiction book about dinosaurs, like Boy! Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs, with a bunch of plastic ones.

  8. Pair Amazing Sharks! and A Shark Pup Grows Up for beginning readers and throw in a shark on a stick.

  9. Pair a book like The Spiderwick Chronicles with a gift card to a local movie theater to see the movie when it comes out.

  10. Pair a theme book like Katie and the Mustang with a horse charm and a satin cord from a craft store.

  11. Pair a theme book like Fairy Realm with a charm bracelet.

  12. Pair a detective book with a magnifying glass.

  13. Pair Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon with a homemade coupon for a visit to the Air and Space Museum (okay, this might only work around Washington, DC) or astronaut ice cream.

  14. Pair any book with another book from the bargain section, maybe something silly or crafty or gimmicky.

  15. Pair a diary-format book like Lucy Rose: Big on Plans (3rd/4th grade), Amelia’s Notebook (4th/5th grade), or The Princess Diaries (6th/7th grade) with a journal and a cool pen or two.

  16. Pair a book like Eragon or Charolotte’s Web with a gift card to rent the movie.

  17. Pair The Art Book for Children with watercolor paints or an art set.

  18. Pair Poetry Speaks to Children with hot chocolate, a mug, and a gift certificate for time to read it together.

  19. Pair a teen or tween poetry book with poetry beads, alone (provide some stretchy cord) or in a kit.

  20. Pair a special teen favorite with a gift card to Starbucks and a promise to talk about the book over coffee.

  21. Give a book all on its own, carefully picked and lovingly wrapped, with no excuses and no guilt.
Update: The list continues with Twenty-One More Ways to Give a Book!

Give A Book

Sometimes I think we book lovers hesitate to talk about buying books. We review great books. We make reading suggestions. We promote literacy and the joy of reading for pleasure. But we don’t come out and say, “Buy a book.” Maybe it seems crass. Maybe it’s our love and support of the public library system. Maybe it’s just that books and reading seem too pure for commercialism. And maybe that’s partially why DVDs and video games get all the Christmas hype and glamour.

Alan Silberberg, author of the great and funny book Pond Scum, says it best in his cartoon video. Books make great gifts.

For my small part in promoting books as presents, I’ve completed my MotherReader Suggests column under my blogroll. It lists all the funny books that I profiled in articles for The Edge of the Forest and some extra choices for adults. If you’re struggling to finish a shopping list, they’re all fun books — nothing educational or dismal or heavy. Let me disclose that I, like many other bloggers that link to Amazon, make a six percent referral fee from any purchase you make at Amazon if you go there from my site. It’s not much, but this month I bought myself this and this with my first gift card. So thanks.

As for my purchases, I’ve bought a fair number of books as gifts, along with the Roboraptor for the kids. Or me — we’ll see who really plays with it more.

It’s a Tradition

I make the rounds of a few mommy and daddy blogs, but only if they’ve got a bit of the funny about them. Notes From the Trenches is written by a mom of seven kids who seems to handle it all with a laid-back style and a sense of humor. On her sub-blog she talked about a special holiday tradition with Christmas books. She wraps them up and opens one a day as sort of a literary advent calendar. I think that is so cool.

When she opened up the comments to other holiday traditions from readers, I could only think of two long-standing traditions. We always order pizza on Christmas Eve because we’re so blown out from all the holiday preparations. We did it a couple of times, and then it seemed funny to keep doing it, and that’s how traditions start in my family. Also, for years we had the tradition of the Domino-experience Christmas tree. We wanted a tree that we could pick out, pay for, and bring home in thirty minutes or less. For years my in-laws would try to get us to go to this Christmas tree farm an hour away to trudge through the cold and chop down a tree. They could not get it that we wanted a tree with minimal fuss. Last year my mother gave us her artificial tree, and though I don’t love it — it’s pretty skinny — I don’t care enough to get a better one or pay seventy dollars for a live tree.

But I forgot our most important Christmas tradition. I always take my kids for a Christmas picture at JC Penney (the $9.99 package of one pose, 37 pictures) and then to see Santa in the mall. We have done this every year, except the one year I tried Target’s photography studio, which appeared to be staffed by employees on rotations from the stockroom. They were rude, used bad poses, and took terrible pictures. At JC Penney the employees are nice, actually seem like they do this job often, and keep taking pictures until they get a good one.

This year we were early for our photo session. I know, unprecedented. We finished quickly and were on to see Santa in no time. My husband skipped out of work early to join us for what will probably be my seven-year-old’s last Christmas of believing in the mall Santa Claus. It was very sweet, especially my ten-year-old playing along and sitting beside Santa. Our picture of them with Santa is total crap. The seven-year-old is squinting, and Santa looks like he has a hangover, but it’s still special.

Hanukkah at Valley ForgeMy other holiday tradition is reading to my daughter’s classes. Today I’ll go to the fifth grade and read Hanukkah at Valley Forge, by Stephen Krensky. For my oh-so-careful-it’s-politically-correct school system, the book is a little heavy on the religious history of Hanukkah. However, since it continually makes the connection between the fight of the Maccabees and America’s fight with the British, I’m calling the whole thing historical and I’m going with it. The book does have basis in historical fact, as it was noted in an American Revolution period diary that General Washington had learned about Hanukkah from a Polish soldier.

A Christmas Tree in the White HouseI’ll also read A Christmas Tree in the White House, by Gary Hines. It’s an interesting book with a historical background that makes it ideal to share with fifth graders. The book recounts the fictionalized story of the Roosevelt children sneaking a tree into their bedroom in the White House when their father said that they couldn’t have a tree. Theodore Roosevelt was concerned about conservation of the forests and didn’t think that the president should set an example for the country by cutting down a tree. Can you imagine — a president who cares about conservation? It seems so quaint.

Kicking Butt

I have noted that I am generally unlucky in an irony-prone way. I am also endowed with the useless gift of bargain shopping. So how will these two traits of mine coexist in this holiday-shopping season?

My ten-year-old girl is convinced that she wants a Roboraptor for Christmas. My husband and I thought that the kids were not going to get $100 dollars of enjoyment out of this toy and decided to pass on it. However, we’re also not getting her the iPod she wants, and as I looked at the gifts spread out on my day off, I noticed that they seemed lame. Majorly lame.

And then this morning, I’m sipping my coffee and making headway into feeling like a human being when what to my wondering eyes should appear, but an ad in Circuit City’s flyer for a Roboraptor for — it’s exciting — $30. I almost did a spit-take with my coffee. I had my husband calling the store to see when it opened while I looked online. The store had opened an hour earlier. There was no way that robotic creature was still there, but I’m a mom. A mom with hope and lame pile of presents in the closet, so off I went.

When I got to the store, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I asked one person who pointed me in a vague direction. I asked another person who didn’t know, but who asked a third person. And that third person, oh bless him, retrieved the last Roboraptor from the back room. I was so happy that I think I actually jumped up and down.

Later that day, I remembered that I had wanted to stop by the fabric store for this storage case that I could get with a fifty-percent-off coupon. The stacks of cases were gone, but a week ago I had brought one of the cases to the jewelry department and left it there when I found a cheaper case. Amazingly enough, it was still there, and I bought it for half price. Then to the craft store where, also a week ago, I had seen a planter that would be perfect for my seven-year-old’s gardening project. I forgot to buy it then, but maybe it would still be there. It was, along with some beads that were now seventy percent off.

Dare I try my luck with one more store in the same complex? Oh, why not. In Ross, maybe a month ago, I remembered thinking there was a perfect gift for my seven-year-old that I would have to come back and buy when I had more time. Today, I couldn’t even remember what that gift was, but I thought I might as well walk through the store and see if I remembered. Now Ross is one of those discount stores with a little bit of everything, and stuff goes fast, so there was little chance that something I saw there a month ago would still be there. And yet it was. A house for Bratz babies at a whopping $25.

In the race of the MotherReader traits, apparently bargain-shopping is kicking irony-prone’s butt!

I still have to make daily pilgrimages to Toys ’R’ Us for their mega-cheap MP3 player, which we hope will tide over the ten-year-old’s iPod hunger. It can’t be found online, but the store is supposed to get more players in some time during the week. Which will win out this time? Stay tuned.

Oh, and since this is a book blog, I’ll assure you that I did buy books for those I love as well. I have bought I’m With Stupid; Sippy Cups are not for Chardonnay; The Wizard, The Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey; I Was a Teenage Popsicle; Clarice Bean Spells Trouble; Goose Chase; Te Amo, Bebé, Little One; Lilly’s Big Day; Snoozers; The Little Green Goose; and Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late.

Poetry Friday: Sick

“I cannot go to school today,”
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
“I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I’m going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox
And there’s one more — that’s seventeen,
And don’t you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut, my eyes are blue —
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I’m sure that my left leg is broke —
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button’s caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle’s sprained,
My ’pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb,
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my spine is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out,
My elbow’s bent, my spine ain’t straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is — what?
What’s that? What’s that you say?
You say today is... Saturday?
G’bye, I’m going out to play!”
I’ve always loved this poem — “Sick,” by Shel Silverstein — and the book Where the Sidewalk Ends itself (it would be a mighty fine gift, in fact), but I chose it today to represent my week of feeling like crap. Why is always when you need to get it together and get stuff done that your body falls apart? Very annoying.

On Monday I took my Girl Scout troop shopping for stocking stuffers for the Salvation Army. Then we celebrated our shopping success with pizza and talking. I came home to supervise homework for an hour, cooked dinner, and then went to the Girl Scout leader meeting. There we had a supposed-to-be-short-but-really-a-freaking-hour-long-meeting and a gift exchange, with lots of laughing and talking. On Tuesday, my throat hurt (see the “talking” references) and my head ached, but I went to work because I had traded shifts with a co-worker and it seemed like bad form to switch hours and then not show up. Afterwards, I rested at home for an hour and then went to the drama club rehearsal (not a lot of talking) and then to the drama club play (much more talking with the parents). The play went very well.

On Wednesday, I felt so bad when I woke up that I took a sick day. I cleaned up some photo stuff on my computer and read and napped. And that’s about it. On Thursday, I have no idea where the morning went, but I spent the afternoon and evening at work.

Now, on none of those days will you see that I “did Christmas shopping” or “cleaned the house” or “put away laundry.” Here it is Friday, and I don’t work today. I do feel better (Yeah!), but I have a week’s worth of chores to do (Boo!). I have some reviews that I would love to get up soon — like today — but that may just have to wait. I haven’t seen who’s doing the Poetry Friday round-up today, but I can guarantee that it’s not me.

Not On My Christmas Eve

On Christmas EveWith Christmas fast approaching and the gift-buying frenzy in full swing, I had decided not to waste my precious book recommendation space with any more reviews of books that... well, stink. And then I read Ann M. Martin’s On Christmas Eve and all bets were off, because I can see the possibility of folks buying this book as a gift knowing nothing about it.

Allow me to correct that. I will also give away pretty much everything that happens in this book. Why? Because when it comes to Santa, parents better know what they are putting in front of their kids, that’s why.

When Tess is eight, she is determined to stay up on Christmas Eve and talk to Santa. She knows that her older sister Evvie doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, but Tess has something really important to ask him. Tess’s friend Sarah has a very sick father who has cancer. The family doesn’t know if he’ll be out of the hospital for Christmas, or if he’ll even recover. Tess wants to ask Santa to use his magic to help Sarah’s father get better.

Tess has some odd experiences and she takes these as a sign that she’ll see Santa. She stays up until midnight on Christmas Eve and sees all sorts of magic. The animals gather outside, there is an angel who appears, and her dog Sadie talks to her. Santa comes and gives each person a small present in their stocking or under the tree. Tess does talk to Santa and he mostly agrees with her theories of why he can’t help everybody, rather than give the explanations himself.
“Evvie says that if there really is a Santa, he should give lots and lots of gifts to poor children, but that poor children sometimes don’t get any presents at all. I said that’s because you try to do other things for their families, like find houses for them to live in, or find jobs for the grown-ups. Is that right?”

“I do my best,” replies Santa...

“So is it true? You do something for everyone, but you do different things for different people? Like for us, you just leave a couple of presents, because we already have so much. And you give magic to other people.”

“Yes, that’s so,” agrees Santa.
Even though Tess believes that Santa has said he will help Sarah’s father, early the next year the dad dies. Tess eventually comes to think that Santa can’t make people well, but that Tess herself can help Sarah. She realizes, “Sarah didn’t get the gift I asked Santa to give her last year, but she found hope — Christmas magic too, I think — and that is a powerful gift.”

I have multiple problems with this book, including the cancer Christmas story, the over-the-top magic that happens on Christmas Eve, the explanations for how Santa helps people, and the talking dog. If this all sounds delightful to you, fine. Just be sure that you’re comfortable with the elements of the story before you give the book as a gift.

We Interrupt This Blog...

Later today I’m coming back with some honest-to-goodness reviews. Or life stories. Or updates on my cold. Or something of true readable value. However, I have to stop the presses for a possible new contestant for my favorite search strings. I listed a few beauties in my post, “I am Thankful for StatCounter,” and I am still pretty attached to the search Winnie the Pooh look like a pimp (True dat, I say). I’m amused that many searches (six yesterday alone) for Mo Willems and say, cute or married, lead to my blog. But I’m dazed and amazed by this search from yesterday:

statistics how many children call their mothers bitches

OMG! What!!!???

But I don’t want to judge or even deeply wonder about why such a thing is needed or is an issue. Let’s just give an answer. I’ll say... seventeen.

Who’s Your Blog Crush?

Mitali Perkins, author of Rickshaw Girl, asks, “Who’s your blog crush?” Is there a blog that you wish would notice your blog? Would mention — and love — your new book? Would list you on their blogroll, especially after months of commenting back and forth on each others’ blogs but someone you haven’t made their blogroll making you wonder if they just forgot or didn’t get around to updating it or if they aren’t really crazy about your blog after all? I gave my answer over at The Fire Escape — now you can, too.

Just a Few Short Films

I’m tired. And I’m sick. My throat hurts and my head aches. I’m back from work this morning, and now I need to get in a rest before my afternoon really takes off. At 3:30 I have the drama club’s rehearsal, then it’s a Brownie ceremony, then to the store for flowers for the drama performance, then make the kids do homework, then heat up some pizza, then go to the drama club play, then put the kids to bed, and then — and only then — can I pour the wine. Little Penguin is my new favorite.

I was going to skip a post, but when I went to Yahoo to check my mail this little miracle came to my attention. It’s a hamster in a video game. Kind of. Not at all book-related, but very clever and amusing.

And while you’re on You Tube, visit the Tohubohu Productions channel for our recently uploaded films. Give them a viewing, and hopefully a favorable rating. Bonus points if you see me in any of them (my favorite role was as “girl who flips her hair” in “The Big Lie”).

New Alice in Wonderland

Classic children’s literature meet graphic novel. Graphic novel, meet classic children’s literature. Now, duke it out.

Alice in WonderlandI wanted so much to like this adaptation, New Alice in Wonderland by Rod Espinosa. Maybe the graphic novel format would update this wonderful book and bring it back to kids. Well, that wishful thinking lasted until Alice fell down the rabbit hole, which as you may recall, is pretty darn early on in the story. In this case, by page six.

It’s not the illustrations, which are great. Though occasionally Alice loses the pupils in her eyes — usually when she is smaller in the picture — and that creeps me out. The pictures are a good depiction of the plot of the book and are quite well done.

The problem is that without the rich, full, evocative text of Lewis Carroll, the whole thing feels empty. It’s just a strange dream, with no meaning. The value to Alice in Wonderland is allowing the words of the story to assist the reader in conjuring up this magical, strange world for themselves. When the pictures are already done, then the reader has nothing left to contribute. It’s a weird trip, nothing more.

Now, a few days ago Fuse#8 reported on a new Alice book coming out soon that is supposed to be amazing. That book does incorporate more stories, so maybe it will won’t have the same issues as this little manga volume. But I’ll be interested to see if it brings something new to the classic story instead of just taking away the reader’s involvement in imagining Wonderland.

Not a Box

I remember reading that the long-awaited publication day of your first book — or second or third, for that matter — is not all it’s cracked up to be. There’s no fanfare, no parades, no phone calls from friends. Unlike a movie premiere, there’s no paparazzi or televised interviews. But still, it’s your baby’s birthday, even if you’re the only one who knows it. So, before this day closes out (it kind of got away from me), let me wish a Happy Birth Day to Antoinette Portis’s book, Not a Box.

Not a BoxNot a Box shows a little bunny having fun with a box, as all little kids will do. With a little imagination the box becomes a mountain, a rocket, or a robot costume. The bunny goes in the box and on the box. He (or she) wears the box and waters the box. And all through the book, the unseen adult voice questions the bunny’s actions. The little bunny insists all along that “It’s not a box,” and the reader can see how right the little bunny is, even if the questioning adult can’t see it.

The line drawings are very simple, just bunny and box. When the bunny asserts that it’s not a box, the reader sees the box the way the bunny sees it. The book cover is boxlike brown paper with a weight indication on the front and “This End Up” on the back. The text is simple and allows for the child to take the bunny’s part in the story.

When I drove my seven-year-old and her friend to ballet, this book was in the back seat with them. They read it over and over again, taking turns being the grown-up and the bunny. It would have been much more heartwarming if the reading and the resulting laugher — and apparently necessary yelling — hadn’t taken place about two feet from my head. For a solid twenty minutes. But I can safely say that it was a hit.

The Best Poetry Book Ever: Redux

I haven’t been at this blogging thing long enough to be recycling posts, and yet that’s what I’m doing today. I didn’t have a great Poetry Friday selection — not even a picture book that I could use. So I’m going back to the best poetry book ever, which I wrote about in July. But now it’s the holiday season, and this would make a great gift.

Poetry Speaks to ChildrenPoetry Speaks to Children is a collection of modern and classic poems from a diverse group of poets that includes Ogden Nash, Langston Hughes, Sonia Sanchez, and Roald Dahl. This diversity is what I love — love — about this collection. “Gas,” by C.K. Williams — a poem that uses the word “fart” multiple times — is one page away from a poem from Macbeth. A Native American poem taken from a Osage prayer is followed my a poem by Rudyard Kipling. There is something in this book for everyone to enjoy and to relate to. The eclectic collection exposes the reader to many different styles of poetry.

And if that weren’t enough to sell this book, it is accompanied by a CD of the poems read by the poets. Thanks to archival copies, today’s children can hear readings of Robert Frost and Langston Hughes, among others. There are also readings by Nikki Giovanni and J.R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien, I said. Not all of the poems are included on the CD, but enough for an hour’s worth of driving. (Well, when do you listen to CDs?)

And there is still more, because the book involves three illustrators who bring these poems to life. One illustrator may have led to an overly consistent style of art that wouldn’t have reflected the very different kinds of poems. But with three, we get a mix of styles — while still keeping a general consistency. It would have been jarring to see radically different art styles, but though the illustrators each bring a unique flavor to the poem, the pictures flow well from one to another.

For the holiday season, package this book with a coupon for one-on-one reading time with the recipient, as it is truly a book to be shared.