105 Ways to Give a Book

Create. Connect. Comment.

Last year I decided on a mantra, rather than a resolution: Comment. Connect. Create.

I knew that commenting on blogs is a good habit, one that makes the community stonger. In connecting, I hoped to reach out to my friends, lest they become only Christmas Card friends. I wanted to write in a space other than my blog.

Halfway through the year, I checked in with myself. I found that I was doing a pretty decent job on my commenting, though one can always improve. Other than a trip to Las Vegas with my college girlfriends, I hadn’t connected much with my friends and planned to do better. As for creating, I had written articles, tried some poetry, and helped in our filmmaking projects. But not enough of a writing focus.

Now, at the end of the year, it’s time to revisit the theme for 2008.

Comment: I’d say that the Comment Challenge puts a big checkmark by this goal. I also now recognize that there are periods where I don’t have time to keep up with my blog reading and commenting as much as I’d like. For instance, the entire month of December. But by keeping the concept in focus and by bringing the idea to the attention of others, I’m keeping it relevant.

Connect: I did abysmally on connecting with my lifelong friends. However, I spent a lot of time with my extended family, particularly my niece. I also worked on connecting with my blogging friends, both online and off. I was a pretty constant member of the DC Kid Lit Book Club, even when we had to drive two hours away to visit with Jenni Holm. (Totally worth it.) I throughly enjoyed the Kidlitosphere Conference, enough so to organize it next year. (Gulp.) I don’t know if I can call this a draw, or an astute observation that you can’t fit everyone in your life at one time, regrettably.

Create: I did some creative, artistic, literary things, but I did not get as far as I’d hoped with this goal. I did write a picture book, pretty much just as the publishing industry came crashing down. I’ll come back to that project next year, for sure. I know that I have more to write, but I’ve been unable to make it a priority, to my own disappointment.

For 2009, I’m keeping my mantra, but I’m changing the order.

Create. Connect. Comment.

Will that change in word order help reset my priorities? Eh, maybe. And as Girl Scouts have a slogan and motto that are completely unrelated, I’m adding a blanket resolution to Get Organized in 2009. I’ve got the book and a growing irritation with living in chaos. Oh, and don’t forget the near certainty of time on my hands when budget cuts take my job away. Don’t worry for me; I’m looking at it as more of a sabbatical. I think I’m ready for 2009. How about you?

Looking Back at 2008

As I looked back over my blog year to find my favorite literary posts of 2008 for the December Carnival of Children’s Literature, I realized a couple of things. First, that my favorite posts weren’t about books. I’m not sure what that says, given that this is supposed to be a book blog. And second, that I haven’t reviewed very many books. Again, perhaps a problem for a book blog.

I decided that my favorite book posts were actually series of posts — ABC Storytime, which I expanded to include holiday storytime books, and Twenty-One Ways to Give a Book, which totaled more than a hundred ways in five posts and was an enormous amount of work.

Other than those series, I enjoyed looking back at my take on the Kidlitosphere Conference with its many and sundry links. While I liked the many author interviews I conducted this year, there is a special place in my heart for the informal chat-style one with Caroline Hickey and Sara Lewis Holmes.

It was a political year. Remember? Because it seems ages ago already. I certainly wrote about it enough. My favorite post was part of the fantastic Blog the Vote initiative, and focused more on my desire for an inclusive society rather than my Obama-mania.

There were big projects.

And funny stories.

And blah days (which I tried to keep light).

And periods of reflection and resolution. And even reflections on resolutions.

The next year will bring new WAPB titles and a new venture. It will begin with a Cybils shortlist that I helped create, just as last year did. Oh, and so much more is in store. So much more.

Holiday Review

So, how have your holidays been going? Personally, I’m wiped out. I could sleep in for a week — which coincidently, is what I can do for the next seven days. The kids don’t have school, and I’m only working in the afternoons a few days. And boy, do I need the rest.

The Lump of CoalI had meant to come back with a holiday message after Festivus, but I got steamrolled by family and Christmas preparations. Had I made time, I would probably have referred to Lemony Snicket’s new Christmas book, The Lump of Coal, and its perfect beginning sentence:
The holiday season is a time for storytelling, and whether you are hearing the story of a candelabra staying lit for more than a week, or a baby born in a barn without proper medical supervision, these stories often feature miracles.
I may have even gone so far as to quote the end of the book, which doesn’t give the story away but can only add to your desire to own the book by making this great statement:
It is a miracle if you can find true friends, and it is a miracle if you have enough food to eat, and it is a miracle if you get to spend your days and evenings doing whatever it is you like to do, and the holiday season — like all the other seasons — is a good time not only to tell stories of miracles, but to think about the miracles in your own life, and to be grateful for them, and that’s the end of this particular story.
And then I would have wished you a Merry Christmas and/or a continued Happy Hanukkah.

But I didn’t do that. I was absorbed in my delightful niece, because when two-year old children come on the scene, they are all-consuming of time and energy. But in a good way. We had a wonderful Christmas being together with my family. The fourth grader has barely taken off the earphones to her new iPod shuffle, and the seventh grader was so happy with her simple cell phone, that I thought she might start jumping on the couch. Which would have certainly compromised her carefully maintained teenage dignity. The girls and my husband, finding leather Prada purses in the thousand-dollar range, thoughtfully bought me a Prada fragrance which I now love. My husband spent the days finding time for new video games Pure and Lost, and we all gathered to watch the complete DVD — with musical commentary — of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

Hold it. Book blog. Bookwise, I received Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World and Lost on Planet China or How I Learned to Love Live Squid and The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World and One Year to an Organized Life: From Your Closets to Your Finances, the Week-by-Week Guide to Getting Completely Organized for Good. (Okay, I bought that one myself in desperate hope of change for the new year.)

On Saturday, I chatted online with the other members of the Cybils Fiction Picture Book panel, and we made our final shortlist. A database that we were using made the discussion more focused, but not nearly as easy as I thought it would be. I’m very proud of our final shortlist and its variety of literary tone, artistic style, reading range, and even genre. The announcement of all the titles will be on January 1 on the Cybils site. I know — I’m all a-tingle, too.

Festivus: The Airing of the Grievances 2008

Yes, it’s Festivus, the holiday for the rest-of-us, and time for the airing of the grievances. You have free space in the comments — my gift to you this holiday season — or you can always go to the official site (you know, no guilt or anything).

Boy, was I pissed last year. I don’t have so many annoyances to vent about today, just three big ones:
  • My computer is so slow lately that I’d be better off with a telegraph and an Etch-A-Sketch. This has got to change. Soon.

  • I need a big Pause button for Time, so I can stop everything else from intruding and take care of my house so it doesn’t look like a “before” on Clean Sweep’s hit list. (BTW, it amuses me to no end that for years, my kids would stop their playing momentary by telling the other to “pause the game,” like it was a DVD or Nintendo.)

  • My kids are brilliant, loving, and kind, but can’t manage to put away their own stuff or comprehend that failure to do so is making it twice as hard for me to tackle the house clutter which makes me unhappy. Ditto on the husband. (Happy Birthday, Honey. Love you!)
Okay, your turn. Anyone want to start with the weather?

More Gift Ideas, All Wrapped Up

I am probably much prouder of this gift idea than the idea deserves, but just look at how the silver wrapping paper sets off the gray in the scarf. Masterful!

For the Hanukkah gathering at my aunt’s house, I get gifts for six girls — including my own — and I like them to be coordinated somehow. This year I had the books ready, but not the theme. Not until I ran across the scarves in six colors at Old Navy. Honestly, I am holding myself back from buying twenty more and using this idea for everyone I know.

Here’s the gift list, in case it will help your last minute shopping.

For the college freshman: Everything You Want, by Barbara Shoup
While starting off at college, Emma’s family wins the lottery. Suddenly, with everything a possibility, the choices become too much for Emma — especially with a unresolved friendship and a new crush on the horizon. With family and identity crisis taking the forefront, money is part of the problem. Or a chance to grow up. Or both. Interesting book about finding your own way.

For the tenth grader: Angel, by Cliff McNish
Angel is darker than I usually go in my own reading, but it really gripped me and held on fast. It’s the story of a girl who is so obsessed with angels as a girl that she goes crazy. As a teen, she’s making her way back into the world, only to be confronted with a dark angel, a strange new girl, and her own ultimate destiny. A haunting book that stays with you. Take a look at the Editorial Reviews. Stunning.

For the eighth grader: Beige, by Cecil Castellucci
Nice, orderly Katy is forced to stay with her former-punk-rocker father while her mother goes on a trip. Katy, nicknamed Beige for her bland personality by a new friend, finds herself able to shed some of her self-imposed rules and insecurities as she crashes into the music scene. Fun, fresh, and well-done. Can’t go wrong with Castellucci.

For the seventh grader: Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer
Okay, this was for my daughter, who has been bugging me to get it from the library — but it’s never there. All her friends have read it. Peer pressure rules.

For the sixth grader: The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex
For an essay contest, Gratuity Tucci recounts the story of Earth’s takeover and occupation by the Boov from a personal point of view, which includes her own unlikely friendship, wild cross-country trip, and the eventual saving of mankind. Simply one of the best, funniest books ever written.

For the fourth grader: Jenny and the Cat Club, by Esther Averill
I love this classic book so very much. I gave it to my daughter with a red scarf like Jenny’s and a stuffed black cat. The gentle story follows Jenny, a shy house cat, and her adventures with the neighbor cat club. Absolutely adorable.

And in case you need an adult book, I highly recommend The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World, by Eric Weiner
Part travel diary, part self-help book on happiness, and all humor, Eric Weiner takes the reader all over the world to apply the tenets of happiness. Wonderfully done, and would be a perfect gift for any adult. Strangely, it’s only available at Amazon for the paperback pre-order, so I’m linking to Barnes & Noble.

Oh, come back tomorrow for the Annual Airing of the Grievances at Festivus. The things you can’t bitch about on your site because the people involved might read it? You can bitch about it here. Tomorrow.

Happy Holidays From MotherReader (and Stephen Colbert)

I know that some of you are starting your vacations for the holidays. Me, I’ll be here, adding a few posts in the next two weeks — including the Annual Airing of the Grievances on Festivus, December 23rd. Do stop by and vent freely. For now, what better way to start off the holiday vacations than with videos from Stephen Colbert?

The first is clearly a song — a duet, in fact — but there is so much poetry in it that I’m making it my Poetry Friday entry.
There are cynics, there are skeptics
There are legions of dispassionate dyspeptics
Who regard this time of year as a maudlin insincere
Cheezy crass commercial travesty of all that we hold dear

When they think that, well, I can hear it
But I pity them their lack of Christmas spirit
For in a world like ours, take it from Stephen
There are much worse things to believe in

A redeemer and a savior
An obese man giving toys for good behavior
The faith in what might be
And the hope that we might see
The answer to all sorrow in a box beneath the tree

Find them foolish, sentimental
Well you’re clearly none too bright, so we’ll be gentle
Don’t even try to start vaguely conceivin’
Of all much worse things to believe in

Believe in the judgment, believe in Jihad
Believe in a thousand variations on a dark and spiteful god
You’ve got your money, you’ve got your power
You’ve got your science saying the planet’s going to end within the hour
You’ve got your dreams that don’t come true
You’ve got the ones that do

Then you’ve got your nothing
Some folks believe in nothing
But if you believe in nothing
Then what’s to keep the nothing from coming for you?

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year
Now if you’ll forgive me there’s a lot to do here
There are stockings still unhung
Colored lights I haven’t strung
And a one-man four-part Christmas carol waiting to be sung

Call me silly, call me sappy
Call me many things, the first of which is happy

You doubt, but you’re sad
I don’t, but I’m glad
I guess we’re even
At least that’s what I believe in
And there are much worse things

And with Hanukkah starting this weekend, let’s hear a little bit from Jon Stewart. My favorite part can’t be called poetry, but it makes me laugh every time.
Jon: I can’t interest you in Hanukkah?
   Just a little bit?

Stephen: No thanks, I’ll pass.
   I’ll keep Jesus, you keep your potato pancakes.
   But I hope that you enjoy ’em
   On behalf of all of the goyim

Jon: Be sure to tell the Pontiff
   My people say Good Yontif

Stephen: That’s exactly what I’ll do

Both: Happy holidays, you...

Jon: ...too!      Stephen: ...Jew!

The Thursday Three XX: Teacher Gifts

Instead of showing new picture books, today I’m focusing on three books that would make good teacher gifts. I always give books to my kids’ teachers for the holidays and for the end of the year. My favorite book to give was Earth from Above for Young Readers. It’s out of print now, but it embodies my perfect gift for teachers as a book that the adult can enjoy and appreciate, and can also be used in the classroom. That particular title could be used for such a wide range of ages that it was absolutely perfect. Seriously, I bought six of them when they went to a discount price and gave them out for three years straight — and my kids are three years apart.

Here are my new suggestions, and I hope to hear about more perfect teacher titles in the comments. You know you have them.

How to Heal a Broken WingHow to Heal a Broken Wing, by Bob Graham
A pigeon is hurt on the sidewalk, and everyone walks by — except one boy and his mother. They take the bird home, take care of it, and let it fly away. I’m keeping the plot simple, so that I can leave room to say that I have not shown this book to one adult yet who hasn’t been deeply moved by it. Kids may see the simple story first, and then the kindness beneath. Adults can see the deeper levels of helping others, healing wounds, and letting go. Or even, as I told my seventh grader, “that sometimes we’re the bird.” Bob Graham’s illustrations are wonderful, and truly tell the story more than the simple text. It’s a beautiful book and would be great for preschool through second grade teachers. (Or for yourself — trust me on this one.)

One Voice, PleaseOne Voice, Please: Favorite Read-Aloud Stories, by Sam McBratney
Elementary school teachers have tight schedules with all the pressures of different tests and required curriculum. It can be hard to fit in reading as much as they might like. But this book is perfect to use in those extra five or ten minutes. Filled with familiar stories from around the world, it can be shared with a few minutes to spare while ensuring kids are hearing the stories that make up our common understanding. (It’s also currently crazy cheap at $8.00 at Amazon.)

Side by SideSide by Side: New Poems Inspired by Art from Around the World, edited by Jan Greenberg
Poetry and art. Multiple languages and multicultural images. This comes pretty close to my new perfect book for teachers, only losing a mark for being too sophisticated for the early elementary kids. The art is amazing. The poems represent a wide range in style and subject. Each poem is written in the poet’s native language, as well as in English. Each page is perfectly illustrated by a related work of art from that area. This is an amazing book that will be enjoyed by the adult who receives it and as a classroom tool. (If you’re dying for a poetry book for a younger classroom, I can never mention Poetry Speaks to Children enough.)

Amazing Carnival and Lists — Free of Charge!

The Biggest, the Best Carnival of Children’s Literature is over at Jen Robinson’s Book Page, where she rounds up our favorite posts of the year. Honestly, you could spend hours there checking out the links, and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing this evening in my Dedicated Blog Reading Time.

Do. Not. Miss. It.

I’m keeping it short today, but before I go, I also wanted to mention again the excellent resource available in Chicken Spaghetti’s List of Lists of Best Children’s Books of 2008, featuring a stunning amount of sources. My personal favorites for this time of year are the Best Books lists of School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and The Horn Book. In January, I look forward to the Cybils shortlists and the ALSC’s Notable Children’s Books List to round out my reading year.

If you’re still shopping this holiday season — and who isn’t — consider my hundred-plus ways to Give a Book. I’m ready to share my Starbucks gift card with Mary Pearson as we discuss her book The Adoration of Jenna Fox — only my favorite YA book of 2008. Her suggestion. Perhaps because she’s safely located on the opposite coast.

Newbery, Schmewbery

Oh thank you, Washington Post, for voicing your so-very-educated opinion about the Newbery awards. And to do so only two months after Anita Silvey’s article, “Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?” was published in School Library Journal. Way to stay on top of things, Post.

(Again, I ask the Blogger gods: WHERE IS MY IRONY FONT?)

Today, The Washington Post takes on the topic of all topics in children’s literature with its article “Plot Twist: The Newbery May Dampen Kids’ Reading.” The article notes that, following the SLJ article, “the literary world is debating the Newbery’s value, asking whether the books that have won recently are so complicated and inaccessible to most children that they are effectively turning off kids to reading.”

The Post presents points from both sides of the issue, but any sense of objectivity is lost by the headline. For instance, the article doesn’t mention that in the blog of the same School Library Journal, Nina Lindsey wrote a rebuttal to the original article. Two Kid Lit Divas going head-to-head on opposite sides, and both of them know their sh... stuff. Truly, there is certainly some worthy debate in the Newbery arena, but I don’t think we need the Washington Post chiming in — unless they’re going to start a Series of Obvious Debates:
Teachers Think “No Child Left Behind” May Be Leaving Children Behind

Tax Attorneys Debate Whether Tax Law is Too Complicated

Pimps Say, “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp
Every professional arena has its areas of debate and compromise, and the nuances of those topics are often lost in the mainsteam media. That’s why the New York Times annual article about Young Adult books or summer reading programs gets stuck in our collective craws. Because we realize that they don’t have all the information, that they’re throwing ideas out there almost randomly, and that they may actually reach people with these half-assed conclusions because they have the readership. It’s frustrating.

It’s even more annoying as these same papers cut their reviews of kids’ and teens’ books. I almost laughed when I saw The Washington Post’s Best Kids Books section in Book World. This edition had credibility when the paper was reviewing a decent number of kids’ books. Now, the books are listed with “excerpts from the most favorable reviews of the year,” and I just have to wonder. Specifically, I wonder how many books they were looking at in the first place, and — given that I’ve not seen many mentioned in the paper — if every book they reviewed had to be included. Oh, and how they chose those few books that they did review. Having read more than two hundred picture books in the last three months, I can say with some authority that the Preschool selection is surprising random.

Anyway, my feeling on the Newbery Awards is that they are what they are, and perhaps it is less that the Newberys should change than that teachers, librarians and parents should change the way they choose their books. There are lots of resources that select good books — with the ALSC Notable Children’s Books being a good place to start, as it includes all the ALA award winners plus other great titles. Personally, I couldn’t finish my yearly reading without the Best Books lists of School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and The Horn Book. (For more 2008 Best Books lists, visit Chicken Spaghetti’s amazing round-up.)

But perhaps most importantly for the kidlitosphere, this continuing debate emphasizes the need for the Cybils awards — where literary value is balanced with kid appeal. I’m proud to be a part of that process, now more than ever.

ABC Storytime: J and K are for...

I’m combining the letters J and K for two reasons. One, because I’m still behind schedule in putting these up, and two, I don’t appear to have ever done a storytime for J. Back on track with...

The Letters J and K

Book: This is the House that Jack Built, by Simms Taback

Rhyme: “Jack and the Candlestick”
Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack jump over the candlestick.

Book: One, Two, Three... Jump! by Penelope Lively

Book: I Love You, Blue Kangaroo, by Emma Chichester Clark

Fingerplay: “The Brown Kangaroo”
The brown kangaroo is very funny
She leaps and runs and hops like a bunny
(two fingers up and hop)
And on her stomach is a pocket so wide
(place other hand on tummy)
Her baby can jump in and go for a ride
(first hand jumps into “pocket”)

Book: Katie Loves the Kittens, by John Himmelman

Fingerplay: “Five Little Kittens”
Five little kittens standing in a row
(hold up five fingers)
They nod their heads to the children so
(bend fingers)
They run to the left, they run to the right
(run fingers to the left and then to the right)
They stand up and stretch in the bright sunlight
(stretch fingers out tall)
Along comes a dog who’s in for some fun
(hold up one finger from opposite hand)
MEOW! See those little kittens run!
(let fingers run)

Alternate Books: A Kiss Like This, by Catherine Anholt; Jumpy Jack and Googily, by Meg Rosoff, and Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems.

Poetry Friday: The Third Level

I have permission from my seventh grader to use her poem today. She continues to amaze me.

I’ve been struggling this week as a mom, feeling like a failure because my house is beyond messy and my voice is too quick to rise. And then my fourth grader shows me an excellent acting job in her Drama Class performance and gives me extra snuggle time in the morning just because I need it. And then my seventh grader tells me how glad she is that we can really talk about things and writes a poem that makes me shake my head in wonder. I guess I’m doing something right.
The Third Level

Someday,
But nobody can tell you when,
Somewhere,
But nobody can tell you where:
Something
Will change your life.

The choice is a door,
Open one path, close the other.
The opportunity is a bird,
You have to catch it before it flies away.

True,
Life goes on,
As it did,
A life of two levels.
But someday,
And nobody can tell you when,
Somewhere,
And nobody can tell you where:
That third level opens
And we have to choose,
Which life
to let go.
Today’s Poetry Friday round-up is hosted by Wild Rose Reader.

Also, a reminder that Monday is the last day to submit your favorite/best post of the year related to children’s literacy or literature to the December Carnival of Children’s Literature. It will be hosted by the amazing Jen Robinson, and posts can be submitted through the Carnival website form, where you should select “carnival of children’s literature.” (Though I have to admit, I’m tempted to investigate “carnival of the vanities.”)

PBS and Me

PBSAlways late. I’m always late on these things.

Jen Robinson and Susan Kusel have both announced that we’ll be working together on a PBS blog in January. They’ve expressed their delight and excitement at this new venture. They’ve helpfully petitioned the creative kidlitosphere for a name for the blog. And I can add... um...

Ditto?

That’s what happens when you’re late. Everyone’s expressed all the good stuff. But truly, I am excited about blogging for PBS and about blogging alongside great people. I just have to look at Jen’s Expert Q&A article and the numerous comments it commanded to get all tingly about the opportunity to reach parents through PBS’s site. I’ll be contributing one day a week, so I’ll still be here doling out the book drivel as usual. And we could use a name — a matter that has been complicated by the large number of book blogs out there who took all the great names. (Book Whisperer, I’m looking at you.) Any ideas?

Comment Challenge Prize Winners

I know. You’re wondering how it is that we’re still on that Comment Challenge thing. Well, I extended the time to finish, and then couldn’t figure out where among my two thousand emails people may have offered prizes, and then there were some family issues, and then the whole holiday shopping thing. Factor in my normal state of complete chaos, and here we are finally with the Comment Challenge Prize Winners.

Twenty bloggers completed the challenge making more than a hundred comments over the three-week period. Kudos to Reading Tub, Miss Rumphius Effect, HipWriterMama, Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup, Teacher Ninja, Write for a Reader, Book Scoops, Abby (the) Librarian, Bookie Woogie, Ms Yingling Reads, Kelly Polark, Write About Now, Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Charlotte’s Library, Bildungsroman, Check It Out, What Adrienne Thinks About That, Book Nut, and of course, Lee and me.

The two prize winners were selected from this elite group of SuperCommenters through the Random Integer Generator, and will each receive a lovely box o’ books. Congratulations to...

HipWriterMama, who wins:
  • CD audio book of Jazz, by Walter Dean Myers
  • Nathan Fox, Dangerous Times, by L. Britney
  • Lincoln Shot, by Barry Denenberg and Christopher Bing
  • Kandiade and the Secret of the Mists, by Diana Zimmerman
  • Lost Island of Tamarind, by Nadia Aquiar
Bookie Woogie, who wins:
  • Inside the Slidy Diner, by Laurel Snyder, Illustrated by Jaime Zollars
  • Kiss! Kiss! Yuck! Yuck!, by Kyle Mewburn, illustrated by Ali Teo and John O’Reilly
  • Elephants and Golden Thrones: Inside China’s Forbidden City, by Trish Marx, photographs by Ellen B. Senisi
  • The Magic Half, by Annie Barrows
  • The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex
Three prize winners were selected among all the participants using the Random Integer Generator and, in the words of Lee, will each receive “cool flashlight pens from SCBWI. They glow blue, they’re a great way to scribble in your notebook at night without waking up your loved one lying next to you by turning on the main lights, and they’re super-fun after dark.”

The lucky winners are...

Jama Rattigan, Sarah Rettger, and Michele Thornton.

Forty participants checked in on the final post, thus fulfilling the only three requirements of the challenge. Namely: sign up, comment at blogs, and check in. So I’ll donate forty dollars to Adam Rex’s fundraiser, Mustaches for Kids.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Comment Challenge. We hope you’ve found that commenting gets easier as you do it, increases your feeling of connection, and boosts your own blog. In that respect, I’d say that we were all winners for accepting the challenge.

Christmas Books Lite

Today is another repost, but a good one. The focus is Christmas books that aren’t so very heavy on the Christmas — a trait I’ve found useful for classroom readings and library storytimes. In fact, the titles form the core of my holiday library program, “It’s a Gift,” where I throw in a fingerplay about Five Little Presents and whatever new adapted storytime song I can find on the Internet.



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. There’s a lot more text to this one than many of the other picture books, making it a good choice for classroom reading. 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.

Holidays Around the World

I’ve noticed that a post I did in 2006 about Christmas Around the World is getting a lot of hits, so I’m reposting it today, figuring that it must be useful.



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.

Again, Yet, Even Twenty-One More Ways to Give a Book

Mission Accomplished! Here’s one more list of gift suggestions, this time with a number of adult titles that should also be fine for older teens. Thanks to Boni Ashburn and Lorie Ann Grover (where are your blogs, ladies?), who gave great suggestions — and made my job that much easier.

I hope that you find these lists helpful in giving books for the holidays and for gifts through the rest of the year. Hey, tell your friends. December is the only time of year I can really earn any money as an Amazon Associate, and that tiny referral fee allows me to rationalize my enormous amount of time on this blog.
  1. Pair Toy Boat with toy boats.

  2. Give Go to Bed, Monster! with a pack of fat crayons and a stack of copy paper from an office supply store.

  3. Give little superheroes Wombat And Fox along with a superhero cape.

  4. Pair Abe Lincoln Crosses A Creek with Lincoln Logs.

  5. What else can go with Monkey With A Tool Belt but a tool belt?

  6. Inspire young builders with Iggy Peck, Architect and a building set.

  7. Take to the ice with book choices Angelina Ice Skates or Katie Kazoo, On Thin Ice or Mia (American Girl) and passes to the local ice-skating rink.

  8. Pair fantasy book Savvy with with an assortment of temporary or henna tattoos.

  9. Take a road trip with Could You? Would You? and passes to a museum or zoo or activity some distance away, so you can use the driving time to ask each other the interesting questions from the book.

  10. Blooming fashionistas will appreciate Paper Fashions (Klutz) (all thirty-five Amazon reviews gave five stars!) along with Fashion Kitty.

  11. Give Inkheart with a movie theater gift card to see the film in January.

  12. Give Looks with the CD Acoustic Soul.

  13. Pair House of Dance with ballroom dance lessons.

  14. Give Life is Sweet with chocolate, any kind.

  15. Buy two copies of The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World  — one for you, one for a friend — and make a lunch date to talk about the book and one’s personal quest for happiness.

  16. Give This I Believe II with the first book This I Believe and a journal to capture great revelations of inner truth.

  17. Election withdrawal? Buy Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope or Life’s The American Journey of Barack Obama and throw in an Obama finger puppet just for fun.

  18. Give nonfiction book Fruitless Fall with real honey from a whole foods store.

  19. Match travel memoir-themed books with the... um, drink of the region. Like In a Sunburned County with Yellow Tail wine from Australia or The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific with coconut rum. (Adults only for this gift, obviously.)

  20. Colbert fans and soon-to-be converts need I Am America (And So Can You) along with the greatest gift of all, the DVD A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All.

  21. Give The Devil Wears Prada, Bitter Is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, or Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office, and This Little Piggy Went to Prada in a Prada bag (from eBay! C’mon, a girl can dream...)

Yet, Even Twenty-One More Ways to Give a Book

All right, here are 2008 books with gift suggestions. Thanks to Abby the Librarian, whose suggestions got me a quarter of the way through the list. She is also running twelve days of great book suggestions, so stop on by and pick up more ideas. Fresh ideas also came from The Reading Tub — where you’ll also find more wonderful titles to read and give — and from The Kiddosphere — now with comments!

I’d like to do one more list and bring the total suggestions up to a hundred. For this one, I’m taking suggestions for any book from any year. I’m also looking to include some new title suggestions to my original ideas. Maybe there’s another great bathtime or bedtime book I should highlight. The only thing I ask is that the book be something that you know and would recommend. Have fun.
  1. Pair Monsters on Machines or Building with Dad with toy construction vechicles.

  2. Give your little dragon-lover Hush Little Dragon or Guess What I Found in Dragon Wood with the cutest dragon ever.

  3. Is there a doctor in the house? There will be with picture book Doctor Ted along with a doctor kit.

  4. Future firefighter? Give Firefighters (People in the Community) and Firefighters A to Z and firefighter gear.

  5. Pair picture book stunner How I Learned Geography with an inflatable globe.

  6. What else can go with Lester Fizz, Bubble Gum Artist other than gum — and perhaps an early apology to the parents.

  7. Nature lovers will enjoy Birdsongs along with a guidebook like Backyard Birds and some binoculars. (BTW, these look like a good deal.)

  8. For more nature, pair Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly with a butterfly garden kit.

  9. Cat lovers can enjoy three new picture books, Grumpy Cat, Katie Loves the Kittens, and Wabi Sabi with a cat card game.

  10. Expand the idea of giving with Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival and a Pawsitively New Orleans T-shirt, and throw in some Mardi Gras beads.

  11. Give One Hen — How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference with a loan to Kiva or a donation to Heifer International to buy chicks.

  12. Give What the World Eats with a promise for an international dinner out or in.

  13. Give Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank You Notes with, um, cute stationery.

  14. Pair Every Soul a Star with The Kids Book of the Night Sky and plan a date to look at the stars together.

  15. You can’t go wrong with the funny poems and outstanding art in Frankenstein Takes the Cake along with a cake-baking session, followed by reading the book together. As a matter of fact, throw in Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and make a whole day of it.

  16. Speaking of the amazing Adam Rex, give the hilarious book The True Meaning of Smekday with a the related T-shirt Regarding Stickyfish Teams, I Favor the Bigfield Fighting Koobish.

  17. Buy a teen My Life the Musical or Dramarama along with tickets to a show.

  18. Give Young Adult book A La Carte with personal cooking lessons

  19. Match casino gambling themed Drop with a deck of cards and a family game of penny poker or blackjack.

  20. I’ve used this before, but there is no 2008 book that more deserves post-reading discussion at Starbucks than The Adoration of Jenna Fox.

  21. I left this picture book for the end, because I think it has many levels and can be enjoyed by all ages. Give How to Heal a Broken Wing in a quiet moment and have a heart-to-heart talk.

Even Twenty-One More Ways to Give a Book

I’m still working on this year’s titles — I’m really hoping for some suggestions in the comments — and reposting my first three lists. Today’s list is from last December, focusing on 2007 titles. It should be noted that all the lists have some combinations that will work for other titles. Of course, you can always give your book blogger buddies BACA logo mugs, T-shirts, and bumper stickers — available for purchase at the MotherReader store — with any non-celebrity book. But we won’t count that suggestion.
  1. Take a bedtime book like The Bunnies are Not in Their Beds or At Night and add a personalized pillow.

  2. Give your favorite girly-girl Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy with dress-up jewelry and/or a fancy poodle.

  3. Give your rough little boy Pirates Don’t Change Diapers along with genuine pirate gear.

  4. Take sweet picture book Lissy’s Friends and pair it with an origami kit.

  5. Picture book stunners The Zoo or Pssst! would be perfect with a zoo animal collection or game.

  6. Taking a Bath with the Dog and Other Things That Make Me Happy is a book that deserves its own bathrobe and/or bubble bath.

  7. Looking for something a little offbeat? Maybe Cowboy and Octopus with a cowboy hat or an octopus.

  8. For business-minded kids, pair The Lemonade War with a coin counter bank.

  9. All the elementary school kids will love The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but you can pair it with tin wind-up toys for extra flair.

  10. Give Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little with um, Stuart Little.

  11. Give Kimchi & Calamari with a promise for a dinner out Korean style, or Italian style, or both.

  12. Perhaps Fabulous Hair with a hair accessory kit will make someone smile.

  13. Wrap up A Crooked Kind of Perfect with excellent socks like the cover.

  14. Treat a tween to Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf along with pink nail polish, lipstick, post-it notes, and special bubble bath, as mentioned in the book.

  15. How about Diary of a Wimpy Kid with a the Do It Yourself Journal?

  16. Or maybe Here Be Monsters! with a Nightmare Snatcher Journal.

  17. Or Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer with a fairy diary.

  18. Buy His Dark Materials Trilogy along with tickets to The Golden Compass.

  19. Give Young Adult book Beige with a mix CD of the songs in the chapter titles (or an iTunes gift card).

  20. Give Young Adult book The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl with How to Draw Comic Book Heroes and Villains (or an iTunes gift card).

  21. Match poetry books with poetry beads or magnetic poetry. Some 2007 suggestions: Animal Poems, This is a Poem That Heals Fish, Tap Dancing on the Roof, This is Just to Say, or Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems.

Twenty-One More Ways to Give a Book

While I’m working on my goal to match 2008 books with a little something extra — and feel free to make suggestions in the comments — I’m reposting my first three lists. Like yesterday’s list, this one focuses on 2006 titles with some older books. It should be noted that all the lists have some combinations that will work for other titles.



  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 The Real Spy's Guide to Becoming a Spy (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 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.