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)

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Morris and Humpty Dumpty [source]

Have you seen the Oscar nominated short film, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore"?  The animation is riveting, but so is the story. The first scene opens, with "Pop Goes the Weasel" playing in the background, and the camera shot panning down to Morris. He is sitting on his (New-Orleans-French-Quarter-looking) balcony, humming to himself and writing in his journal when, suddenly a strong wind kicks up, blowing his words right off the page.  Ultimately - in true Wizard of Oz style - he and all his books are swept away as well.  This occurrence, like the song accompanying it, seems nonsensical.

"Why" and "Where" are the questions that make you want to watch until the end.  And the engaging little Humpty Dumpty flip-book character, stylized animation, and Buster Keaton dance numbers (albeit with stick-leg books!), won't let you look away.

In doing some quick investigating, I discovered that the impetus for this film, all about Book Love, was born in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  These words of author/creator/director William Joyce brought tears to my eyes:
"The main thing I guess," Joyce said, "was going into the shelters and seeing the displaced people and seeing the kids in these, usually a sports arena, with no privacy or any of the stuff they knew as home. But they had been given books -- there were different organizations to make sure kids had books to read while they were in the shelter. Seeing these kids reading these books and being able to shut out all the sadness and the uncertainty and lose themselves in a book..." [source]

I don't know how long the film will be available to view on YouTube, but here's the link - enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkJPMsWw6Z8
(And if you would like to give a book to a child in need, or support groups doing this, visit one of these sites: BookEnds, Better World Books, Reading Is Fundamental [RIF], or Save The Children.)

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine. ~Anthony J. D'Angelo 
i've got sunshine on a cloudy day

Admittedly, I am often spoiled by the weather we enjoy here in Southern California: even though it's late February, on my morning walk yesterday I was enjoying clear skies, sunshine, temperatures in the high 70's, along with the sounds of dogs barking, church bells chiming (in my neighborhood, yes, this is true!) and lots of birds chirping in the trees to keep me company.

I suppose I should blog about books that are relative to the season most of you are experiencing right now, but once home from my sun-kissed walk, I just couldn't bring myself to recommend picture books about cold, winter, or snow (although you're welcome to read about some of my favorites here).

I've got Lent on my mind and I really wanted to write about springtime!  Lent is a time for gladness, not despondency...even if you still see snow on the ground, the church fathers talk of the Fast as a spiritual springtime:

The lenten spring shines forth,
the flower of repentance!
Let us cleanse ourselves from all evil,
crying out to the Giver of Light:
Glory to You, O Lover of man!
-from Cheesefare Wednesday Vespers

Well, I've arrived at a happy medium: I've decided to stick with the topic of weather in general, along with some Lenten food for thought thrown in...

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather. ~John Ruskin  

Whether you've got rain, snow, sun, or cold in your part of the world, I think this book covers just about everything!  (And it's guaranteed to have you and your kids laughing)  First published in 1978, it's CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, by Judi Barrett, with illustrations by Ron Barrett.

Grandpa tells a bedtime story about the town of Chewandswallow, where instead of snow, wind, or rain, the citizens get a different kind of weather that falls from the sky three times a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You'll find helicopters attempting to lift a giant pancake off of a school and enormous slices of pizza draping the houses and streets...while a storm of hamburgers blows in.

And no one is too worried about the weather, until it takes a turn for the worse — the portions of food (such as donuts) get larger and larger and fall faster and faster, until everyone in the town fears for their lives. They all need to think of a plan, and they need one fast! With teamwork, smarts, and some extra-large bagels, Chewandswallow residents are able to save themselves from the torrential weather.

A cheerful approach to gearing up for a science lesson about weather, or just a fun read aloud, this book is perfect for ages 5-8.

And with Lent is starting, this book might also start a discussion about whether too much of a good thing is always the best thing!  Dr. Philip Mamalakis says, "Lent is a time that we are invited to change our lifestyle in preparation for Easter...a time for families to reorient themselves toward God".  This can be helped through choices from a "Lenten buffet" that will nourish our souls: fasting, prayer, reading Scripture and the lives of the Saints, helping others (almsgiving), and attending church more.  So turn off your television and enjoy God's creation!

On cable TV they have a weather channel - 24 hours of weather. We had something like that where I grew up. We called it a window. ~Dan Spencer

Good Lenten Reading:
The Tale of Three Trees, by Angela Elwell Hunt

The Book of Jonah, by Niko Chocheli

The Life of St. Brigid, by Jane Meyer

Saint Patrick, Enlightener of the Irish, by Zachary Lynch

The Blackbird's Nest, St. Kevin of Ireland, by Jenny Schroedel

Song of the Swallows, by Leo Politi

Saints: Lives and Illuminations by Ruth Sanderson

Great Lent: Journey to Pascha by Alexander Schmemann

The Lenten Spring by Thomas Hopko

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Scholastic's Parent & Child Magazine recently completed its 100 Greatest Books for Kids list. Their Number One Pick?  E.B. White's beloved book, Charlotte's Web.  I think it was a perfect choice...a wonderfully illustrated story (thank you, Garth Williams), told from the perspective of animals, revealing many truths about humanity, friendship, sacrifice, and the fleeting nature of life.
Don't you love the innocence of Garth Williams' pen and ink illustrations?
I'll never forget my third grade teacher reading Charlotte's Web aloud to our class. We all loved the plot and characters:
the Terrific, and yet Humble Pig, Wilbur;
Fern, the compassionate farm girl who is Wilbur's loving owner;
Templeton, the sneaky rat who always has food on his mind;
and finally Charlotte, the kind spider who be-friends Wilbur when none of the other animals will, and who ultimately saves the pig from being butchered.
Original illustration [source]
My schoolmates and I were so drawn into the story, I doubt we realized E.B. White was helping to expand our vocabularies (did you utilize Strunk and White's The Elements of Style for a college-prep English class?  Yes he's that "White"):

And then, just as Wilbur was settling down for his morning nap, he heard again the thin voice that had addressed him the night before.
"Salutations!" said the voice.
Wilbur jumped to his feet. "Salu-what?" he cried.
"Salutations!" repeated the voice.
"What are they, and where are you?" screamed Wilbur. "Please, please, tell me where you are. And what are salutations?"
"Salutations are greetings," said the voice. "When I say 'salutations,' it's just my fancy way of saying hello or good morning.”

We were also being led by E.B. White to not only consider the treasure of true friendship, but to look at the wonder of nature:

“Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider's web?"
"Oh, no," said Dr. Dorian. "I don't understand it. But for that matter I don't understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle."
"What's miraculous about a spider's web?" said Mrs. Arable. "I don't see why you say a web is a miracle-it's just a web."
"Ever try to spin one?" asked Dr. Dorian.”

Original illustration [source]

The list of 100 Greatest Books for Kids was selected by the editors of Scholastic's Parent & Child Magazine from more than 500 titles suggested by ten contributors  The books were chosen from 4 categories:
"Books to Cuddle With": Ages 0–3
"Books to Explore Together": Ages 4–7
"Books to Grow On": Ages 8–10
"Books to Discover": Ages 11+

Click HERE for the interactive virtual bookshelf, with all 100 titles.

Monday, February 13, 2012


It was a dark and stormy night. In her attic bedroom Margaret Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of the bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind...
-opening sentence from A Wrinkle in Time
Taeeun Yoo [source]
Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the publication of Madeleine L'Engle's classic novel (fantasy sci-fi), A Wrinkle in Time.  I wrote about it in my monthly column for the website "Travelin' Local", HERE.

There have been many different covers by a variety of talented artists for this book. The one above is from the current edition, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. Below is one of my personal favorite covers, the hardback, done by Diane and Leo Dillon.  I also found the original hardcover with artwork by Ellen Raskin (scroll down).  To see more cover art for A Wrinkle in Time, go HERE.
Leo and Diane Dillon's hard cover [source]
Original hard cover artwork, Ellen Raskin [source]

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Button Hearts (for some reason, I called Candy Dots "buttons" when I was little):
These are the easiest homemade Valentines ever - make a bunch in a hurry!
From Martha Stewart [Source]

Try these cute last-minute Valentine's Day ideas I recently found on Follow Me on Pinterest (click the red "button" to follow me there, but I'm warning you: pinning all those ideas/recipes/crafts/books onto virtual bulletin boards can be addictive!).  Look what I found to make: Button Hearts,  Valentine Pretzel ButtonsCute-As-A-Button Valentine Cards, and a Sorted Button Valentine Heart.

At the end of my post you'll also find some fun books about buttons (and about something else, that most of us can't resist!)

Valentine Pretzel Buttons - Lately, when I go and visit my sister's kids, we make some form of these.  It started when a friend gifted them to me for Christmas one year (using the square butter pretzels, Rolo candies, and red and green M&M's)  I can't wait to try this version!
Recipe found HERE

Cute-As-A-Button Valentine Cards - A great way to use all those extra buttons you've collected through the years. I think these are adorable, but to make them with kids, I would just glue or tie on any cute "extra" buttons you have (without first making them into earrings).  The dowloadable card template is free...
Download the cards and tutorial HERE 

Sorted Button Valentine Heart - Look at this little guy, sorting his buttons into a muffin tin and gluing them onto his red paper heart!  What could be more fun?

Check out the finished MASTERPIECE!
[Source - Hands On: As We Grow]

Corduroy, by Don Freeman. Remember the teddy bear in green overalls who lives in a department store and wants a home? One day a little girl named Lisa comes and wants to buy him, but her mother tells her she's already spent enough money; and besides, the bear doesn't look new: he's missing a button. This fact sends him off in the middle of the night to search for it...maybe someone will buy him if he can find his button and fix his broken strap!
All at once he saw something small and round. "Why, here's my button," he cried. And he tried to pick it up. But, like all the other buttons on the mattress, it was tied down tight.
Will Corduroy ever find his button - or a home?

The Button Box, by Margaret S. Reid, Illustrated by Sarah Chamberlain.  This little book takes me back to a rainy day during my childhood, when I remember my mom getting out her Mason jar full of "extra buttons".  My siblings and I spent the afternoon counting and sorting all the colorful buttons. We eventually ended up threading one onto a sturdy, but thin piece of string or ribbon to play "Button Button, Who's Got the Button?" The colorful illustrations in this book show the buttons the boy discovers in his grandmother's button box - how they can be sorted, and where they may have originally come from.

The Belly Button Book, by Sandra Boynton. Okay, well I know this isn't really a book about "buttons", but who can resist bare-bellied hippos and reading aloud the word, "Bee-Bo"?
Did you know Sandra wrote and illustrated a book for us grown-ups, too:  New York Times bestseller Chocolate: The Consuming Passion (you knew I had to work chocolate in here somewhere for Valentine's Day!  That was for you, Carol B-McK!)  It's out of print now, but hopefully you can find it at the library.
From the book jacket: Boynton's apologia for chocolate misses nothing. Myths are debunked: "chocolate is not fattening", she argues, "especially when the caloric expenditure of carrying it home from the store and hiding it from company is factored in". Directions are supplied: "to remove stains, lick them". Plus, "how to grow chocolate at home", a foolproof method for determining if chocolate is in season (does the name of the month contain the letter A, E, or U?), and a recipe for Hippo Pot de Mousse.

Follow Me on Pinterest

Friday, February 10, 2012


...about an old man, "tall and thin, who did not smile, and ate cheese and mustard sandwiches".  His name is "Mr. Hatch".  He learns a wonderful lesson, that we can all take to HEART (pun intended).

I have to thank talented author/artist Carol Baicker-McKee for mentioning this lovely book at the end of her hilarious post yesterday (read it here) on her blog, Doodles and Noodles.   She said Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, by Eileen Spinelli, is her favorite Valentine's Day book (her kids all loved it too). I had never heard of it, so I googled the title and found this fun reading of it by actor Hector Elizondo (source here).  I'm still smiling, and I know you'll enjoy it.  The picture book would make a lovely gift (along with a box of chocolates!)

Thursday, February 9, 2012


The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization, Edited by John Mark Reynolds
Book Description: Great Books programs have become increasingly popular among Christian colleges, high schools, and even home schoolers. This one-of-a-kind book is designed for those who do not have the opportunity to attend such a program but are still interested in directly engaging with the Western Canon. It contains substantial excerpts from thirty of the most important books in history, with each excerpt followed by an essay placing the work in historical and Christian context. Readers can learn directly from such authors and thinkers as Plato, Homer, Augustine, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Tolstoy, Austen, and Chesterton.  The essays are written many prominent Christian writers, lecturers, and professors including Frederica Mathewes-Green, Peter Kreeft, Hugh Hewitt, Gary Hartenburg, Robert Llizo, Melissa Schubert, Fred Sanders, and John Mark Reynolds.

The Great Books Reader will most likely become a sought-after handbook for teachers and parents alike. Reynolds believes the book is helpful as a guide for facilitating the "necessary and practical" virtue of being well-read. He says, "Reading books can be like going to the dentist: a task we know we should do, but put off for dread of the torture. This reader tries to lessen the pain and increase the initial pleasure of taking one's intellectual medicine."

John Mark Reynolds —(Ph.D., University of Rochester) Founder and Director of the Torrey Honors Institute, a Great Books program, and Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. Dr. Reynolds lectures frequently on ancient philosophy, philosophy of science, home schooling and cultural trends.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


“Every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.”
- Charles Dickens

Yesterday, I took you on a little "deskchair journey" of Charles Dickens' haunts in and around London, as they look today - via photos from the internet, thanks to Google.  (You can take it again, by clicking HERE.)

In honor of his 200th birthday today, I'd like to tell you about a beautiful biographical picture book illustrated by Diane Stanley. Her paintings will take you through Dickens' life - from his boyhood to adulthood - showing how the places he lived looked during his lifetime. You'll be delighted with Stanley's accurate portrayals of 19th Century fashion, architecture, and design.  The book is Charles Dickens: The Man Who Had Great Expectations, co-authored by Diane Stanley and her husband, Peter Vennema.

For a comprehensive list of books by and about Charles Dickens (for all age ranges) go HERE.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Several children's book illustrators have partnered with Save the Children to help raise money for poverty stricken families.
If you donate $25, today, you will receive a set of 30 limited-edition Valentine’s Day Cards (6 cards of each design). It's all part of Save the Children's "VALENTINE'S DAY 2012: READ TO LOVE...LIVE TO READ" program.  Today is the last day to order, if you want the Valentine's by February 14th.

This limited-edition set includes cards designed by your child's favorite children's book authors and illustrators: Ian Falconer (Olivia!), Kevin Henkes (Kitten’s First Full Moon), Leuyen Pham (Freckleface Strawberry), Brian Selznick (Wonderstruck) and Mo Willems (Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!).

You'll find details HERE.  Remember, today, February 6, is the last day to place an order, if you want your Valentines to arrive by February 14th!


Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
at his writing desk [source]

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dickens! Tomorrow, February 7, marks the bicentenary of the birth of one of Britain's most beloved authors. There is a lot going on this month in London to celebrate (go to Dickens2012) and I'd give my eyeteeth to be there, wouldn't you?  Since that can't happen, I thought I'd take a virtual tour of some of the important places from Dickens' lifetime and works. Want to come along?

Let's start with his birthplace in Portsmouth, England. It's been a museum since 1904...
Dickens' birthplace [photo source]
According to the city's website, "the Dickens family stayed in Portsmouth until 1815 when John Dickens' job forced the family to move to London. Although Charles Dickens' time spent in Portsmouth was short, he did return on three separate occasions; on one occasion he carried out research for his book Nicholas Nickleby."

Number 48 Doughty Street, London
The Charles Dickens Museum: Number 48 Doughty Street in the heart of London's Bloomsbury, was Charles Dickens' family home, where he lived from 1837 until 1839. He described it as "my house in town".  Some of his best-loved classics were written here, including The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.

The museum (which opened in 1925) holds over 100,000 items including manuscripts, rare editions, personal items, paintings and other visual sources. CLICK HERE for a video that gives you a peek of the museum's public archives.

Stained glass window from Dickens Museum, London [source]

Little Dorrit meets St. George... The Church of St. George the Martyr has strong connections with Charles Dickens. The surviving wall of Marshalsea Prison in the Southwark section of London, where Dickens' father was imprisoned for debt, adjoins the north side of the churchyard.

Original gate arches of Marshalsea Prison wall. [source]

Dickens himself lived nearby, in Lant Street, in a house that belonged to the Vestry Clerk of St. George’s. This was during the darkest period of Dickens' life when, as a teen, while his father was in debtor's prison, he had to work in the blacking (shoe polish) factory.

Later, he was to set several scenes of the novel Little Dorrit in and around the Church of St. George the Martyr. St. George's has come to be known as "Little Dorrit's Church," because it was where Dickens' young heroine was baptized and later married. Today, her likeness is represented in a corner of the stained-glass window found on the east side of the church.

Where is Dickens buried?  Poet's Corner, in Westminster Abbey.

David Copperfield has long been at the top of my list of favorite books. Which is your favorite book by Charles Dickens?
Click HERE for Library School Journal's excellent LIST
of books for all ages, written by or about Charles Dickens.