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)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Have you heard? Barnes and Nobel's summer reading program is up and running -- between now and September 4, 2012, they're giving away free books! Read any 8 books, complete your Imagination's Destination Journal, and go to any B&N store to get a free book. (Details are HERE.) 

I hope you visit your local library this summer as well - they have lots of fun incentives to get your kids reading.  Not sure what to read?

26 foot tall "READ" Across America sign on the steps of the NYPL, 2011.
Helpful Links:
THE TOP 100 PICTURE BOOK POLL RESULTS These books are for children ages 4-8.  The poll is from 2009.
THE TOP 100 CHILDREN'S NOVELS (CHAPTER BOOK) POLL RESULTS These are books for kids who can read full chapters on their own and who are under the age of 13.  The poll is from 2010.

You might also find these two lists from the NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY website helpful:
100 PICTURE BOOKS EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW (this list of recommended books is in alphabetical order and contains short picture book summaries).
100 FAVORITE CHILDREN'S BOOKS (This reading list allows you to look at the recommended chapter books according to genre).

Do have musically inclined kids?  Check out the CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY'S Noteworthy Books and Music LIST.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Books as Gifts!

Artwork by Mary Engelbreit

With Graduation and Father's Day coming up, consider giving a book! Visit my past recommendations for gift book ideas here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A is for Aloha

The landscape of Hawaii is as exotic as its history and people. The picture book, A is for Aloha, written and illustrated by native Hawaiians, U'ilani Goldsberry and Tammy Yee, presents a loving introduction to one of the most-visited places on Earth. From the meaning of the word "aloha" to the plight of the state bird, author U'ilani Goldsberry answers questions that most visitors have about the lush multi-island paradise. Illustrator Tammy Yee offers her beautiful artwork of this colorful culture.

L is for Lei 
The lei is a symbol of Aloha, and can be given when greeting or parting from someone. Early Polynesian settlers introduced the lei custom to the Hawaiian Islands, when they arrived from Tahiti.  Lei were constructed of flowers, leaves, shells, seeds, nuts, feathers, and even bones and teeth of various animals. In Hawaiian tradition, these garlands were worn by ancient Hawaiians to beautify themselves and distinguish themselves from others.

Today, a hand-woven lei is an extra special gift, since it carries not only a blessing and beauty, but also represents the gift of time and care by the maker. When you give a lei, you are giving a little part of you with it.
Making a ti leaf lei.
On our recent trip to Kauai to visit friends, I enjoyed learning how to make a couple of different authentic Hawaiian lei.  After hiking around with my hostess, collecting ti leaves and bougainvillea, we set to work.  First we made a braided  ti leaf lei, traditionally worn by men and boys, at weddings and special occasions.
I'm actually securing the end of the lei between the toes of my left foot, 
while I continue twisting and adding new ti leaves to form a long cord.
Lei are worn around the neck, or head, or the brim of a hat.  Some are very intricately designed with patterns of alternating flowers and/or leaves, strung or woven delicately to create a lei that will last for days with refrigeration. After wearing them, they can be dried, to later adorn your home.
I used the lei to adorn our hotel lamps!
This is a more complicated one that my friend made.

My friend and I had also cut branches of bougainvillea for a flower lei that could decorate the brim of a hat.  I cut off each individual flower, threaded it on a special long steel lei needle, and then onto a strand of dental floss (the end of which I had securely knotted). I was especially excited to learn to make this garland, because we have an abundance of bougainvillea here in California, and I knew I could also do this at home. ("how to" link here)

Isn't it cute?
While on our visit, we learned that all over Hawaii, May 1st is a special day. If you are lucky enough to be there on that day, you will get to enjoy a holiday unique to Hawaii called "Lei Day".

Lei Day was instituted on May 1, 1928, when everyone in Honolulu was encouraged to wear a lei. Each year the festivities grew into what are now celebrations on each island with hula, music, lei making demonstrations, exhibits and lei making contests.

May Day is celebrated in almost every elementary and high school throughout the state. A Royal Court is chosen and together with the King and Queen, each Princess and Kahili Bearer represents one of the islands. They each wear the color and flowers of their respective island and by way of traditional Hawaiian song, and dancing the Hu’la, they celebrate the Hawaiian culture and beauty of the islands.

Island Colors:
Red - Hawaii
Pink - Maui
Yellow - Oahu
Purple - Kauai
Green - Molokai
Orange - Lanai
Gray - Kahoolawe
White - Niihau

Locals and tourists are invited to come and enjoy this joyful celebration.  Here are the words to “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii”, composed by Leonard and Ruth Hawk:

May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii 
Garlands of flowers everywhere 
All of the colors in the rainbow 
Maidens with blossoms in their hair 
Flowers that mean we should be happy 
Throwing aside a load of care 
Oh, May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii 
May Day is happy days out there

Click here to read my post about the picture book Luka's Quilt.  (Luka and her Tutu attend a Lei Day celebration.)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Curious George's Most Dramatic Adventure

Escape from Paris by Allan Drummond shows the Reys fleeing the city in 1940.

Courtesy Houghton Mifflin Company
Did you know that Curious George was originally known as "Fifi" and that he had a narrow escape from the Nazis with his creators -- on their bicycles??

May 16th marked the day Margret Rey was born to Jewish parents in Hamburg, Germany in 1906.  She is best known for co-creating the beloved Curious George books, illustrated by her husband Hans ("H.A.") Rey.  In 1935, her job as a reporter and advertising copywriter took her to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. While there, she came in contact with Hans, also originally from Hamburg - whom she had met years before.

They married and moved to Paris, where their first children's book, Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys, was published in 1939.  In that story, one of the monkeys — "Jimmy, the brave monkey" — is standing next to his brother, Fifi.  It is Fifi who would later become known as "Curious George".

Margret and her husband were living in Paris when the Nazis invaded, and the couple fled the city on bicycles just hours before the German Army arrived. In their luggage was the manuscript of the first Curious George book. Eventually the Reys reached the United States, along with the unpublished story featuring their mischievous little monkey protagonist.

I've included a link to the fascinating interactive timeline: "Margaret and H.A. Ray's Life in Paris and Narrow Escape", here.

There is also a biography about the Reys, in picture book format, The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H. A. Rey, by Louise Borden and illustrated by Allan Drummond.  (You can click on Amazon's "Look Inside" feature to see inside the book.)

The Reys became naturalized citizens in 1946.  H.A. Rey died on August 26, 1977. The couple had been married for 42 years, but never had any children of their own. Margret continued with her career in writing after her husband's death. When she turned 90 in 1996, Margret gave $1 million to the Boston Public Library and its branches to improve their Children's Rooms. She also gave $1 million to Beth Israel Hospital for its Center for Alternative Medicine for Research, which studies nontraditional therapies. She died on December 21, 1996 in her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

source: Greenville Public Library page

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Remember the whimsical scene "Brazzle Dazzle Day" from the 1970's Disney movie, Pete's Dragon?  Pete, an orphan boy, is helping Lampie (Mickey Rooney) - an old lighthouse keeper - and his daughter Nora (played by Helen Reddy) - clean up the lighthouse, Disney-style: dancing all the way.

I recalled this scene during our recent trip to Hawaii, where we stopped by a beautiful lighthouse on the island of Kauai.  This Kilauea Lighthouse has been standing sentry out on a point as a lone beacon to ships since May, 1913.
Kilauea Lighthouse on Kauai.
The old (which needs refurbishing)
 and the modern new signal light.
The grounds around this lighthouse are home to many species of birds, including the "Wedge-tailed Shearwaters", which make their nests by tunneling down into the dirt, below the ground cover plants that are all around the point.  We saw many of them nesting along the pathways...

There is something safe and hopeful about lighthouses, that children really relate to. Below I've shared two of our family's favorite books about lighthouses.  The first is a picture book and the second a historical easy-read chapter book...

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, by Hidegarde H. Swift, illustrations by Lynn Ward. This lovely book about a "fat and red and jolly" little lighthouse and a great gray bridge was first published in 1942.
source here
Interesting true story about this particular lighthouse:
In 1921 it was relocated from Sandy Hook New Jersey (where it had been built in 1880) to Fort Washington Park, on the New York bank of the Hudson, where it became "Jeffrey's Hook Lighthouse" - the only one on the island of Manhattan.  When the George Washington Bridge opened in 1932, the lighthouse was decommissioned.  In 1951 public outcry prevented it from being sold at auction, and it was given instead to the city of New York.  It eventually fell into disrepair and its light was left dark. It was restored in the 1980s and was designated as a city landmark in 1991. Then in 2002, marking the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of this book, the lighthouse, dark since 1947, was outfitted with a new lens, allowing its beacon of light to shine across the waters of the Hudson River again.

Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie, a well written and nicely illustrated "Beginning to Read" book by Peter and Connie Roop, illustrated by Peter E. Hanson. This simple but true story brings new meaning to the concept of duty. It's about a courageous young girl - Abbie - who is determined to keep her father's lighthouse lamps burning while he is away on the mainland.  She is resolute about her responsibility, despite of the fact that a terrific storm threatens to sweep her family's little house into the sea, the fact that her mother is in bed sick and must be kept warm, and that even the fate of their chickens is in her hands. (Based on a true story of an 1856 storm off the coast of Maine.)

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Suzanne Marsh - source

 I had a mother who read to me 
 Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea. 
 Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth; 
 "Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath. 
 I had a Mother who read me lays 
 Of ancient and gallant and golden days; 
 Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe, 
 Which every boy has a right to know. 
I had a Mother who read me tales 
 Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales, 
 True to his trust till his tragic death, 
 Faithfulness lent with his final breath. 
I had a Mother who read me the things 
 That wholesome life to the boy heart brings- 
 Stories that stir with an upward touch. 
 Oh, that each mother of boys were such! 
You may have tangible wealth untold; 
 Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. 
 Richer than I you can never be -- 
 I had a Mother who read to me.
-by Strickland Gillilan (1869-1954) 

Friday, May 11, 2012


Lately I've seen more and more parents on their phones checking and sending text messages when they're with their kids - at the park, at restaurants, at the library, at home...
source here
Last night I came across a blog post from Hands Free Mama, poignantly titled, "How to Miss a Childhood".  This mom enumerates the damaging ingredients for lost moments, as she offers: "All it takes is one child and one phone and this tragic recipe can be yours."

One of her tips in following this Recipe for Missed Moments?  Keep your phone turned on at all times of the day.  Allow the rings, beeps, and buzzes to interrupt your child midsentence; always let the caller take priority.

But then she recommends another recipe, "How to Grasp a Childhood". (It's very easily followed if you just put down your phone.)

One of her steps for this Recipe: Take time to be with him -- really be with him by giving your full attention...The gift of your total presence is love to your child.

I've linked to this not-to-be-missed post, here.

Happy Mother's Day and happy reading with your children. I hope you pick up a book and put down your phone!


Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Our dear friends who hosted us during our stay on Kaui have quite a family history with Hawaii:  they are descendants (have you seen the movie with George Clooney?) of some of the first missionaries that ventured forth from the East Coast of the United States to the"Sandwich Islands" back in the 1840's!

Dr. James W. Smith (a great-great? grandfather of our friends) was the first Western-trained physician on the island, who arrived as a missionary with his wife, Melicent.  They raised a family while struggling to save a remnant of the Native Hawaiian population from the ravages of Western epidemics, which the Native Hawaiians had no immunity to.

I've been engrossed with their story from the book, 100 Years of Healing: The Legacy of a Kauai Missionary Doctor, researched and written by Evelyn E. Cook.

Missionaries first began arriving in the "Sandwich Islands" in the 1820's, bringing Christianity and some other influences to the Hawaiian culture, including melodic music and...quilts!

Before the missionaries arrived, Hawaiian women had always made bed coverings from kapa, a cloth made from the inner bark of native trees. Strips of this bark were beaten and felted together to make it into a cloth that was smooth and soft to the skin. The top layer of kapa was dyed and stamped with an overall design.  Women of higher status had the leisure time to decorate more extensively.

As cotton fabric became more available with the westernization of Hawaii, it was possible for the missionaries to help the native women create durable and beautiful bed coverings with applique on solid fabric: quilts.  These appliqued quilts had a single design radiating symmetrically from the center covering the whole quilt.  The pattern was made much like we might make a cut paper snowflake, but with fabric.  These traditional Hawaiian quilts were made with only two solid colors, one for the background and one for the appliqued design pattern.

I found a beautiful shop where these two-colored "Hawaiian Quilts" are sold.  And I found a picture book by Georgia Guback about a young Hawaiian girl named Luka, whose "Tutu" (grandmother) wants to make her a special traditional Hawaiian quilt.
Luka's Quilt by Georgia Guback

From the book jacket:  Luka and her grandmother Tutu are best friends. They spend lots of time together and enjoy each other's company. But everything changes when the quilt comes along. The traditional Hawaiian quilt Tutu makes as a gift for Luka isn't at all what her granddaughter expects. Luka is disappointed, Tutu is hurt, and they don't feel like they can be friends anymore. When Lei Day arrives, Tutu suggests putting aside their differences so they can enjoy the festivities. The celebration makes them feel better--and also sparks the compromise that will make Luka and Tutu best friends again. 

I was a little disappointed in the ending, given that the grandmother puts forth such a great effort to make amends, but Luka never apologizes to her about not being grateful for the quilt gift and all the hard work her Tutu had to do in making it.

But the author reveals a lot about the cultural detail of traditional Hawaiian quilts through the beautiful paper cut illustrations.  Luka anticipated a colorful "garden" quilt, and is disappointed that her grandmother has pieced it with only two colors.  I think the book could have greatly benefited from a little more explanation and a historical note about the history of traditional Hawaiian bed covers, "Kapa Moe".
Inspiration for many of the designs on these quilts comes from the natural beauty of flowers and leaf patterns of the Hawaiian Islands.  Here are some of the beautiful flowers that we saw on Kauai and Maui...

I also came across a beautiful vintage flower journal in a little museum we went to.  I would absolutely love to have an old book like this, so that I could frame the color plate pages!

Indigenous Flowers of the Hawaiian Islands
by Isabella McHutcheson Sinclair.

Here's a link to the whole collection here, on Flickr, if you are interested. Isabella Sinclair moved to Hawaii after marriage to her husband in 1863 and engaged herself in collecting botanical specimens, painting watercolor sketches of the plants and preparing a collection that eventually became a book. She documented the authenticity of her 44 colored plates, sending specimens of each plant to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England.  The director encouraged her to publish her work and assisted her in this when she and her husband came to London in 1885.  Reviewers commented that although Mrs. Sinclair did not profess to be a botanist, she was a keen observer and gifted artist as evidenced not only by her drawings but by the written descriptions that accompany them. -Digitized by Michael B. Thomas. 2008. University of Hawaii, Joseph F. Rock Herbarium.