Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

I Survived the Cutting of the Spaghetti Squash...So Bring On Those Literary Pumpkins!

October likes to tease us with hot weather here in Southern California, just when the grocery stores are starting to stock an abundance of pumpkins and other fall vegetables, er, fruits. (Did you know that pumpkins are actually berries?!)
"I'm a what?" gasped Harry.
photo source
Despite the heat, I thought I'd share a cozy fall recipe that I made a few days ago. During the short-lived cooler temperatures we had last week, I went to the market and bought a large spaghetti squash to roast for a yummy pasta-less lasagna.  

I wrestled the huge squash for quite a while in my attempt to cut it in half and scoop out the insides. Quite scary, since my big butcher knife kept getting stuck deep down in the dense yellow flesh.
Luckily, it turned out beautifully for our dinner, and I've shared the recipe below (at the end of this post).  Next time, I think I'll just buy two smaller squash - which are much easier to cut then one large one.  

Do any of you have some squash-cutting tips...or better yet, pumpkin carving tips?  Because it's time for my annual round-up of Literary Pumpkin and Party Ideas that I've gathered from around the internet.  (You can find even more ideas on my "Pumpkin/Turkey/Fall Time" Pinterest Board.)

Here's to a BOOkish HALLOWEEN -

featuring pumpkin books by Tasha Tudor and others, for ages 4-8

for OZ, Jack Skellington, Cinderella, and Edgar Alan Poe inspired pumpkins!

for some not-too-scary Halloween/Fall/Woodland Party ideas, 
costumes, and pumpkins.

 Click here for my "STORYBOOK PUMPKIN PATCH" post...
full of Book-O'-Lanterns (pumpkins carved up to look like favorite storybook characters!)

Fun costumes, pumpkins, and parties based on classic children's books.

Sherlock, Steampunk, Sleepy Hollow, Edgar Alan Poe, 
and OZ themed parties and pumpkins.

Now for the promised recipe:


2 small-medium sized spaghetti squash*
1 T + 2 t. olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
1 shallot, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 lbs. ground turkey
1 jar chunky marinara sauce (Trader Joe's)
2 T. tomato paste, to thicken sauce
1/4 c. chopped green olives
1 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. dried thyme (or a few sprigs of fresh leaves, stems removed)
1/2 t. dried basil (or 1 T. fresh, chopped)
1/4 t. dried rosemary
1 c. ricotta cheese
1 c. mozzarella cheese, shredded

*Depending on the size of the squash halves to be filled, you may have extra sauce.  It can be frozen or refrigerated to reheat for another meal.

Preheat oven to 400.  Line cookie sheets with foil.

Squash Preparation: 
1. Slice squash in half length-wise; scrape out seeds.  
2. Rub 1/2 t. olive oil into each of the 4 squash halves.  Season with salt and pepper.
3. Place squash face down on cookie sheets and bake for 30-50 minutes (to test, flip over the squash and squeeze halves gently - you'll know they're done, when the middle is soft.)
4. Set aside when done.

Meat Sauce:
1. Meanwhile, saute onion, shallots, and garlic in 1 T. olive oil over medium heat until soft. 
2. Add ground turkey, cooking until no longer pink.  Drain off fat.  
3. Add jar of chunky marinara sauce, sliced green olives, and herbs.  When sauce begins to bubble, stir in 2 T. tomato paste, reduce heat, and simmer 5-10 minutes.

To Assemble:
1. Spread about a 1/4 c. ricotta cheese into the bottom of each right-side up squash half.
2. Spoon meat sauce into each half, mounding it a little bit.
3. Sprinkle 1/4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese onto each of the four filled squash halves.
4. Switch oven setting to "broil", and place the cookie sheets in the oven.  Broil for about 2 minutes, until cheese is lightly browned and bubbly.  (Watch closely!  It browns quickly!)

To Serve:
Scoop out about 1/2 a lasagna-filled squash for each person - or if the squash are  really small, just eat right out of the squash half!  I serve this with sauteed spinach.  YUMMY!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

It's Finally Fall, and Our Owl is Back!

Our neighborhood owl is back!  A couple of nights ago I heard him:  the "hoo-hoo-HOO" of a Great Horned Owl, in one of the big trees just outside our window. Somehow, he knows it's fall...
(Illustration by Valerie Greeley)
Just like the owls, we are all thankful for cooler mornings and evenings here in Orange County!  We don't get freezing temperatures or huge amounts of fall color, but I love the deeper slant of the sun, and the still-warm breezes that scatter the fallen, dry sycamore leaves across our brick patio in the autumn.

That must be a cue for the Great Horned Owls to start looking for a mate - their breeding time is from October through December here in SoCal.  Below is a photo my son took at sunrise early one spring morning a couple of years ago, of two of them after nesting season was over.

Today I have to share an adorable children's book about owls! (you can also go here for my past post featuring other owl book recommendations.)

The book is Owl Babies, written by Martin Waddell and beautifully illustrated by Patrick Benson.  It's a story about waiting and reassurance...
And it is my grandson Peter's current favorite library book (my daughter told me he's checked it out three times!)  Last week I found a cute board book edition that came with a little stuffed owl, which I mailed off to Peter - he was quite ecstatic.

Toddlers and preschoolers can really relate to this simple story because, like most young children, the baby owls - "Sarah", "Percy", and "Bill" - miss their Mommy. Especially Bill, the youngest, whose only line (my grandson's favorite to chime in on) is: "I want my Mommy!"

The story starts as the worried owls wake up one night, in their little owl habitat (which the author describes perfectly), to find that their Owl Mother is gone.  They do lots of wondering and thinking - "all owls think a lot" - and waiting.  It's dark and things are moving all around them.  They have to be brave and stick together, and finally, just as they closed their eyes and began wishing... sure enough, "SHE CAME!"

Watch the charming animated version of the book below to find out what Bill's one line of input changes to at the end of the story...and Happy Fall, dear readers!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"The World Was Hers for the Reading": The 10 Book Challenge

“Oh magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words.” 
“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived. 

As she read, at peace with the world and happy as only a little girl could be with a fine book and a little bowl of candy, and all alone in the house, the leaf shadows shifted and the afternoon passed. ”
-from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith (1943)

Facebook statuses have recently been overflowing with The 10 Book Challenge: "In your status, post 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes and don't think too hard. They don't have to be the 'right' books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way." 

I was tagged and have decided to share my faves here on my blog.  I have to say that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn quickly came to mind!  

Here is my quick list of books that have had an impact on me (sorry, I couldn't quite keep it at 10, so here are the Top 15 Books I Love)...
1.    Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
2.    Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
3.    Heidi by Johanna Spyri
4.    Hinds Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard
5.    The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
6.    Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
7.    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
8.    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
9.    Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries (& Harriet Vane) by Dorothy Sayers
10.  Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
11.  Kristin Lavransdatter Trilogy by Sigrid Undset
12.  84 Charing Cross Road (and all others) by Helene Hanff
13.  Andy Catlett: Early Travels: A Novel by Wendell Berry
14.  Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C.S. Lewis
15.  Father Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father translated by Vera Bouteneff

Honorable mention/Not to be missed: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien; Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren; Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene; James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small series; Little Britches books by Ralph Moody; The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett; Mama's Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes; Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth Jr.; Pride and Prejudice and Emma by Jane Austen; David Copperfield by Charles Dickens; Mitford Series by Jan Karon; Grand Duchess Elizabeth by Lubov Millar.

Did I leave out any of your Top 10...15...or 20???

Monday, September 1, 2014

Traveling In Lincoln's Footsteps

I was born in Illinois, living there until first grade, and was always proud to know that Abraham Lincoln, though born in Kentucky, lived much of his life in my home state before becoming our 16th President.  I moved away from Illinois without ever having visited a home he lived in. It took a road trip back to the mid-west, with our little grandson in tow, to finally get there!
At a fun coffee shop across the street from the Lincoln
Home National Historical Site in Springfield, IL.
We were able to make a stop at the only home Abraham Lincoln ever bought when we visited The Lincoln Home and Neighborhood in Springfield, Illinois, where he practiced law.  We found it fascinating to follow in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln while exploring the beautifully restored historic neighborhood homes surrounding his home of seventeen years.

Below is a photo of the house, that I took from the same vantage point as the black and white photo (taken in 1860) in which you see Abraham Lincoln and his son standing behind the wrought iron fence.

The house was originally constructed in 1839 as a one-and-a-half story cottage.  It was later expanded by the Lincolns into a two-story house with corner columns, moulding and other Greek revival features, to accommodate their growing family.  The Lincolns lived in this house from 1844 until Lincoln's election as President in 1860.

We stopped by the museum gift shop, which was full of books about Lincoln's life.  Go here to read about two exceptional picture books I reviewed about Abraham Lincoln in a past blog post.

Did you know...?
In 1860, eleven-year-old Grace Bedell wrote to Lincoln suggesting he grow a beard: "let your whiskers grow...you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President."
Last beardless photo - August 13, 1860
The President-Elect responded, "As to the whiskers, have never worn any. Do you not think people would call it a silly affection if I were to begin it now?" 
Photograph taken two days before
he left Springfield en route to Washington, DC,
for his inauguration - February 9, 1861
Well, the next time he visited his barber William Florville, he announced, "Billy, let's give them a chance to grow." By the time he began his inaugural journey by rail from Illinois to Washington, D.C., he had a full beard.  [source and more photos: go here]

In 1909, President Lincoln appeared on a one-cent coin and became the first American president to have his face appear on a regular-issue American coin.
Go here for more information, photos, and virtual tours of the Lincoln Home.

Travel Tip:  Stop in for food, fun decor and art, and great coffee at Wm. Van's Coffee, right across the street from the Lincoln Home historical site.
If you're interested in visiting more Lincoln sites, there are quite a few places that you can visit, as outlined in the book In Lincoln's Footsteps: A Historical Guide to the Lincoln Sites in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Road Trip Sightseeing: Storybooks Around Every Corner (Well, Almost)!

Of course our road trip itinerary had to include stops at some libraries. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that storybooks and storybook characters are alive and well in the Mid-west - but not just in libraries...

Kansas City, Missouri - Storybook Parking? 
Check out the K.C. Public Library's awesome parking garage!  It is the highlight of the city's library district, situated across from the Central Library.  Each book spine is a 9-by-25-foot rectangle!

Historic St. Louis - Libraries and Pinnochio in a Park!
Loved this old branch library that we drove past.

We found some good St. Louis BBQ for dinner (thanks to my daughter and Yelp) and took it with us to Citygarden Park in downtown St. Louis. It's a fun place to have a picnic - lots of fountains and statues, including Pinocchio! 

I took this photo of the beautiful St. Louis Central Public Library after hours.  So sad we couldn't pop in for a visit!  (Go here for a virtual history tour.)

Fun in a Chicago library - A Storybook Dollhouse!
Downtown Chicago's grand old neoclassical style Public Library, located across from Millennium Park, no longer houses books - it is now the City Cultural Center.

The new Central Library is the impressive post-modernist style Harold Washington Library...

There is a beautiful winter garden on the 9th floor, but we only had time to check out the children's library with my grandson.

We discovered a fun Storybook Dollhouse, full of tiny characters, animals, and objects - clues to over 75 children's books, poems, and nursery rhymes!  If you're ever traveling through Chicago with children, make a quick rest stop at the library and play a fun game of "I Spy".  Here were some of our favorites...
See the shadow in the bureau drawer?

Who's this Crocodile in the tub?

See the Giant Peach? Collie? Wanted Poster of a "Dirty Dog"?

Recognize this bear in the yellow hat?  How about that Little Lamb?

Dorothy and Toto in Lincoln Park, IL?
Yes, along with the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion. Where?  At Oz Park, of course!

Children's Library in Highland Park, IL - Storybooks and...Hampsters!
My daughter took some fun pictures of the inside the wonderful Highland Park Public Library (near her new home) for me when she visited the children's area with my grandson.

The library even has little hamster friends for the kids named "Yankee Doodle" and "Dandy".
Hope you enjoyed this little tour - get out there and explore libraries (you might be surprised at what you find along the way!)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Road Tripping Through Laura Ingalls Wilder Country...(or: "The Yellow Brick Road Trippers")

With the help of Roadtrippers.com, our daughter has planned some adventures and sightseeing for us as we make the looong drive from California in order deliver her and our grandson - and their "stuff" - safely to her husband near Chicago, Illinois.

Kansas, the "Sunflower State" - source

After traveling to Utah's Zion National Park and some sites in Grand Junction, Colorado, we're moving on to....Kansas!

Yes, we'll be road tripping through Dorothy Gale and Laura Ingalls Wilder country on our way across several Midwestern states to Illinois...

The Road to Oz...
I'm hoping we can visit the OZ Museum in Wamego, KS!
According to the Kansas Historical Society website,
Kansans have mixed feelings for Baum and his story. Dorothy, a little girl from Kansas, lives in a bleak, drab environment...The Kansas Baum describes was based on his experiences living in South Dakota in the 1880s.  Many Kansans found this description of Kansas unjust and untrue...but after having traveled through the colorful and exciting Land of Oz, Dorothy exclaims as she taps together the heels of her ruby slippers, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home." Many Kansans point to Dorothy's desire as the more important message of the work.

The "Real" Little House on the Prairie...
This map shows the Ingalls' family travels in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Unfortunately our route won't take us as far south as Independence, Kansas, to see a replica of the real Little House on the Prairie...
...so we'll just have to settle for a tour in the video below from the awesome website about Laura Ingalls, Frontier Girl.


In 1869, the Ingalls' family moved to this location, 12 miles southwest of Independence, Kansas. They stayed here about a year before returning to their earlier home in Pepin, Wisconsin. Laura Ingalls Wilder was only 3 when the family lived in Kansas, but when she started writing the "Little House" books, she based Little House on the Prairie on memories of her older family members: Pa, Ma, and Mary. The Michael Landon television series Little House on the Prairie was not set at this location, but at Walnut Grove, Minnesota, where the family moved in 1874. The small Little House on the Prairie cabin at this location is a recreation [of the original home] based on the description found in the book. The foundation of a small house believed to have been the home of the Ingalls' family, was found at this location in 1977.  [source: kansastravel.org]
(Click here for my past post about Laura Ingalls Wilder.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Road Trip Detours: Frozen Custard and Zion National Park

"Those who live on the mountain have a longer day than those who live in the valley.  Sometimes all we need to brighten our day is to climb up a little higher."  ~Ella Flagg Young
When our children were young, we loved escaping the busy pace of life by camping at Zion National Park.  So of course we had to plan a little detour to go there during our road trip to Illinois...

But before we detoured to Zion, we had to "pre-detour" for something even more important – Nielsen's frozen custard in St. George Utah!

It's seriously the best dessert ever - the texture of it is smoother than ice cream.  Definitely worth the detour!!  If you're ever near one, GO.

On to Zion...I liked it when you could drive through and sightsee yourself; but now because of the park's popularity and to save on car emissions, they only allow visitors to experience Zion via shuttle buses.  

You catch them at the visitor center, where we saw some great books (and lots of other fun stuff) for kids.

There are tons of amazing hikes - quite a few are easy enough for children.  My husband and sons went on the challenging Angel's Landing hike, then we all went (with my grandson in the stroller) to Emerald Pools. 

It was a lovely way to "brighten our day".  Now we're on the road again heading to Colorado. 
July 29, 2014