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)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Lots Going on in the Caldecott World

English painter and book illustrator Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886),
for whom the award is named [source: NPR]

This year, the Caldecott Medal turns 75!  Some children's book illustrators might not have gotten a lot of sleep over the weekend. That's because they might have been wondering if this could be the year they win one of the grand prizes of children's literature: the Randolph Caldecott Medal... more here, from NPR.

This morning, this year's winner was announced:  John Klassen for This is Not My Hat...

It's a really nicely illustrated book, but I honestly thought Klassen's other book Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett, would win (and I like the story better)!  

I have not reviewed This is Not My Hat, but you can Read Roger Sutton's thoughts here at the NY Times. He notes:
A plucky little fish has stolen a dapper little hat from a sleeping big fish. The fish is upfront with us about its theft (“This hat is not mine; I just stole it”), and prattles on about just why he is going to get away with the hat and the crime (“And even if he does notice that it’s gone, he probably won’t know it was me who took it”). Meanwhile, the pictures show the big fish waking up and methodically, inexorably hunting the little fish down until they are both deep in the weeds, from which the big fish emerges alone. Only God knows what happened, but the big fish has recouped his hat. 

As was true with “I Want My Hat Back,” in which a rabbit and a bear provide the dialectic, the ethical position in “This Is Not My Hat” is complicated. Don’t steal, obviously. But given that children’s literature champions the small and the weak, there is also this: Don’t get caught. Depending on where you are on the political spectrum, “This Is Not My Hat” could be a cautionary tale of either righteous class struggle or uppity proletarians. The decision to separate the action in the cool black, gray and green under­water noir pictures from the postulates of the text (“And even if he does guess it was me, he won’t know where I am going”) means that not all picture-book audiences will be old enough to thoroughly get it. I read the book to a 3-year-old, but it was too deep for him; when I watched a 6-year-old and her father read it together, they were appropriately and gleefully scandalized.

If you didn't read my review of Extra Yarn, you can find my post here. I love the message of this sweet story:
Jon Klassen's understated style matches this quirky, sweetly told tale. At the very beginning, we're told: "This looks like an ordinary box full of ordinary yarn.  But it turns out it isn't."  A girl named Annabelle come across the box "filled with yarn of every color" on a cold winter day in her cold, drab town.  With the seemingly endless supply of yarn, she makes rainbow colored knitted creations for everyone (and everything) in the town - even the mailboxes and buildings. 

A pompous and greedy archduke appears on the scene and tries to buy the box from Annabelle, who's not interested in selling it for anything.  He manages to have it stolen, only to find it empty. In a satisfying ending, we realize the box wants to be with someone who is generous in sharing any "extra" with others!

I honestly think all the candidates for the medal are amazing picture books - it's such a personal taste thing, in my opinion, and hard to pick a winner - which is why I don't follow this stuff real closely.  (To see all the contenders, click here). Have you read both Klassen books?  What do you think?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tea, Cravats, and "Humpty Dumpty Logic": Happy Birthday to Lewis Carroll!

"There are 364 days when you might get un-birthday presents
...and only one for birthday presents, you know.
There's glory for you!"
- Humpty Dumpty (from Through the Looking Glass)

Today I'm celebrating the birthday of Lewis Carroll.  Take a peek into my cupboard as I decide which tea to take!

Did you know: Alice had tea with the Mad Hatter in Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland book; but the concept of an "un-birthday" was introduced to her by Humpty Dumpty in Alice's second adventure, Through the Looking Glass - it did not involve the Mad Hatter at all!

I've made my tea choice, and it's got to be this one!  Seriously, this Wonderland Tea is an amazing blend of loose black tea leaves with apricot and ginger bits, and calendula petals. How to make it?

Mad Hatter Tea Blend

According to the Mad Hatter's directions on the tin:
(a.k.a. Uncold Tea)
by the Mad Hatter

Start at the beginning
(and when you come to the end...stop!)
Use a teaspoon per 8 oz of water and steep for 3-4 minutes.
(We recommend your clock be two days slow).
Move down the table to get a clean cup. 

Now, sit and have a cup with me as you read the following fun exchange from Chapter 6 of Through the Looking Glass.  It's a
conversation between Alice and Humpty Dumpty - as they dicuss cravats, unbirthdays, and birthdays (can you tell Lewis Carroll was a logician and mathmetician??)...

'It's a cravat, child, and a beautiful one, as you say. It's a present from the White King and Queen. There now!'
'Is it really?' said Alice, quite pleased to find that she had chosen a good subject after all.
'They gave it me,' Humpty Dumpty continued thoughtfully as he crossed one knee over the other and clasped his hands round it, 'they gave it me — for an un-birthday present.'

'I beg your pardon?' Alice said with a puzzled air.
'I'm not offended,' said Humpty Dumpty.
'I mean, what is an un-birthday present?'
'A present given when it isn't your birthday, of course.'
Alice considered a little. 'I like birthday presents best,' she said at last.
'You don't know what you're talking about!' cried Humpty Dumpty. 'How many days are there in a year?'
'Three hundred and sixty-five,' said Alice.
'And how many birthdays have you?'
'And if you take one from three hundred and sixty-five what remains?'
'Three hundred and sixty-four, of course.'
Humpty Dumpty looked doubtful. 'I'd rather see that done on paper,' he said.
Alice couldn't help smiling as she took out her memorandum book, and worked the sum for him:
 -  1
Humpty Dumpty took the book and looked at it carefully. 'That seems to be done right —' he began.
'You're holding it upside down!' Alice interrupted.
'To be sure I was!' Humpty Dumpty said gaily as she turned it round for him. 'I thought it looked a little queer. As I was saying, that seems to be done right — though I haven't time to look it over thoroughly just now — and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents —'
'Certainly,' said Alice.
'And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'
'I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't — till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'
'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

{You can read the rest of Chapter VI here at Project Gutenberg.}
For my previous posts about Lewis Carroll, click HERE.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Friday Photo: Just Can't Put This Book Down!

7-year-old Gabriella walking through Sprouts market

My goddaughter Gabriella's Mommy sent me this photo and  told me: "It just warms my heart to think she cannot put her book down long enough to walk through a store. After all the sadness last year of learning how to read.  Could I possibly be raising a book worm???" 

Whether you have an independent reader, or are looking for some really good chapter books to read aloud, here are some exceptional lists:

My own lists/reviews (right-click link):
Chapter Books For Restless Readers 
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle & Other Fun Characters
Chapter Books My Daughter Loved
Chapter Books My Sons Loved 
Books Even Busy Boys Will Come Inside For 
Good Books For Pre-teen Boys 
Books That Transport Us... 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Favorite...Take a Guess!

It's a rainy day, and I'm reminiscing. Do you know which book this is, and who wrote and illustrated it?  My baby grandson loves this story, and so did my oldest son when he was little.  

It's a sweet book that addresses the changing seasons. The cover art and my favorite page involve a bunny and a toadstool in the rain. I've highlighted the author/illustrator on my blog before...any guesses?

Monday, January 21, 2013


Ruby Bridges Goes To School: My True Story, by Ruby Bridges (Level 2 Scholastic Reader, with simple text for young readers.)

In 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges walked through an angry crowd and into a school where she changed history. This is the true story of an extraordinary little girl who helped shape our country when she became the first African-American to attend an all-white school in New Orleans. You can read a transcript of a PBS conversation from 1997 with Ruby Bridges here.

To read my review of Ruby's story Through My Eyes in her own words for 8-12 year olds, and The Story of Ruby Bridges, a beautiful picture book by Robert Coles (5-8 year olds), click here.

Over this three-day weekend honoring Martin Luther King, I've been re-reading Kathyrn Stockett's The Help, another amazing (though fictionalized) story of how brave African Americans faced some of the true ugliness of racism  in the form of segregation during the 1960's.

Stockett is an amazing storyteller.  Going beyond history, her fast-paced book carries us in and out of hilarious as well as heart wrenching scenarios...

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't.
[publisher's description]

The story is told from the perspective of three narrators: two black maids,  Aibileen Clark and Minnie Jackson, and a white college-graduate misfit who interviews them, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan.  They set out to secretly write down stories of what is experienced by "the help" of white families in Jim Crow era Jackson, Mississippi.

"Everyone knows how we white people feel, the glorified Mammy figure who dedicates her whole life to a white family. Margaret Mitchell covered that. But no one ever asked Mammy how she felt about it."

If you've seen the movie, but not read the book, I highly recommend you go out and get it! (You won't be able to put it down.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Adélie Penguins look like they're wearing tuxedo tails!
How much do you know about penguins? (I just found out there are 17 species!) "Penguin Appreciation/Awareness Day" is coming up on January 20th.  Below are some books your family might enjoy reading about penguins - I also included some research I did in order to help you better appreciate these flightless birds.


MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS by Richard and Florence Atwater, illustrated by Robert Lawson.
I did not see the recent movie, but as usual, I'd imagine the book is better than the Hollywood version! Mr. Popper is a house painter in the 1930s in Stillwater, USA.  He only works from the spring through fall seasons.  During the winter, he reads National Geographic and listens to radio shows about world explorers, such as Admiral Drake and his Antarctic Adventures.  The Admiral surprisingly responds to a fan letter from Mr. Popper by sending him a live penguin (who they name "Captain Cook"). The adventures start with one, but soon the Popper family grows to include 12 penguins - all of whom must be fed!  So Mr. Popper, his wife, and their two kids take the penguins on the road.  They're billed as "Popper's Performing Penguins, First Time on Any Stage, Direct from the South Pole". The act eventually gets old and they have a run-in with the law - only to be bailed out by the Admiral.  Mr. Popper is then faced with a moral dilemma about the penguins' future. The adventures while on tour are hilarious, as the penguins disrupt other acts and invade hotels. This classic read-aloud is perfect as a bedtime "chapter-a-night" book for ages 7 and up.

by Jean-Luc Fromental. In this oversize picture book from France, family members deal with penguins that arrive at their home--one a day, for a whole year!  The mayhem begins on New Year's Day. As the penguin population increases, Dad, Mom, and the kids use multiplication and a few other schemes to organize, feed, and care for the increasing number of birds, but the scheme they come up with is only temporarily helpful. Finally, at the end of the year, Uncle Victor (an ecologist) arrives, and explains why he has sent the birds. He takes all but one of them, "Chilly", away. The premise is goofy, but the math is fun, in this big book. Joelle Jolivet's bold illustrations, in orange, blue, and black, give a retro, almost surreal look to the artwork, which adds to the story. (ages 5-8)

 by Oliver Jeffers. Is this little penguin lost (or just lonely)? After a penguin shows up at his door, a little boy determines to help it get back home. The journey to the South Pole in the boy's rowboat is long and difficult, so to pass the time the boy tells the penguin lots of stories along the way.  Finally they arrive, but instead of being happy, they are sad. Find out what happens next, in this sweet read aloud.

LITTLE PIP...you'll love these cute picture books (for ages 4-8), illustrated by Jane Chapman, and written by talented author Karma Wilson, about a little Adélie Penguin named "Pip". These reassuring stories about Pip and her family were introduced to me by my sweet pre-school aged god-daughter, Emma:
Where Is Home, Little Pip?
Don't Be Afraid, Little Pip
What's in the Egg, Little Pip?

Hopefully, many of you have seen MARCH OF THE PENGUINS - an incredibly enjoyable and beautifully filmed 2005 documentary, narrated by Morgan Freeman (if you haven't, try to see it soon!)  It's about a colony of hundreds of Emperor Penguins as they return, in a single-file march of 70 miles or more, to their frozen breeding ground, far inland from the cold oceans where they thrive. Most of the other creatures leave, and the Emperor Penguins, are the only animals to spend the long winters on Antarctica's open ice (unlike the Adélie Penguins, who spend their winters in the cold seas surrounding the offshore Arctic ice pack).  Click here to read more (and watch video) about both of these types of penguins on the National Geographic KIDS website.  

Family Fun Magazine Online is a great resource for party and craft ideas.  Want to have a penguin party?  Click here to see lots of fun penguin craft ideas and recipes from FAMILY FUN.

These social animals are not only superb swimmers, but world-class divers - and fun to watch!
The website Nothing But Penguins has information about penguin exhibits and websites from arount the world.  You'll find additional exhibit sites here.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Pleasure Reading

"A YOUNG GIRL READING" (1890), by Charlotte J. Weeks

No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting. She will not want new fashions nor regret the loss of expensive diversions or variety of company if she can be amused with an author in her closet. 
— Lady Montagu, providing advice on raising her granddaughter, 1752

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Downton: What's this Abbey's Appeal?

That question may seem like a strange subject for a children's book blog, but I think the answer can be applied to writing in general - whether it be literature for children or, as in this case, a smash-hit public television series. I discovered the answer last week.  From one of the creators of the series, Julian Fellowes (I'll share his answer at the end of my post).

Surely you've heard about Julian Fellowes’s Emmy Award-winning show about an Edwardian family,  their servants, and their life in an English manor.  I admit I am one of the many people who has gone through Downton Abbey withdrawals in-between seasons and has counted down the days until the newest episode aired on Sunday nights.

I've asked myself more than once why this PBS Masterpiece Classic series appeals to such a broad spectrum of viewers - women, as well as men (my husband is a huge fan), Brits and Americans.

Is it because we all love history and period dramas?
Last summer (while in withdrawals between seasons) I read Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle. This biography, written by the current Countess at Highclere, Fiona Carnarvon, is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining account of the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, his wife, Lady Almina, and their grand castle, the inspiration for the popular PBS series. The fictional character of Downton's Lady Cora Crawley is loosely based on Lady Almina, the real-life American heiress and illegitimate daughter of banking tycoon Alfred de Rosthschild.

The real Downton Abbey: Highclere Castle

Is it the Downton Fab-bey set and scenery?  Downton Abbey is filmed at Highclere Castle, and the fabulous manor house has a starring role in the series each week (click here for more beautiful photos).

Highclere's library holds 5,000 books!
Beautiful salon

Is it the authentic costume design? Many of us look forward to the gorgeous gowns and dapper dinner jackets!

The Crawley sisters: Edith, Sybil, and Mary

Maybe it's Maggie Smith's one-liners? (Can you imagine having Violet Grantham as your grandmother?)

Dowager Countess: "What is a weekend?"
One of her most comical moments so far, was from last week's Season 3 opening episode...
All of Lord Grantham's formal shirts are mysteriously missing from his room and he has no choice but to wear an inappropriately informal shirt under his dinner jacket. His mother, the Dowager, mistakes him for one of the staff and asks for a drink.  As she turns and sees that it is the Earl of Grantham, without missing a beat she quips, "Oh I’m so sorry, I thought you were a waiter…”

Remember these gems?
Don’t be defeatist dear, it’s very middle class. 

I’m so looking forward to seeing your mother again. When I’m with her I’m reminded of the virtues of the English. 

No guest should be admitted without the date of their departure settled.

Is it the characters and romance? Now we're getting closer to Julian Fellowes answer...

Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley

Mr. Bates and Anna

Can you pinpoint what the main appeal of "Downton Abbey" is?  Consider Julian Fellowes answer: 
Over the last two rather extraordinary years, at the risk of sounding vain, I have often been asked why I thought Downton Abbey has been quite such a success.  Of course, it is hard to be definite about these things.  If television were an exact science, there would be nothing made that did not break records.  but supposing I were to put my finger on one element, it might be that we have made the decision to treat every character, the members of the family and the members of their staff, equally, in terms of their narrative strength.  They all have emotional lives, dreams, ambitions, and disappointments, and with all of them we suggest backstories, any of which are to be found in my own history...

The upper class family of Downton

The working class "family" of Downton

I was brought up in a class minefield.  My father's birth was grander than my mother's, his relations therefore disapproving of both her family and her, and she was condemned to the unenviable task of making everything in their life seem smooth and seamless when it was in fact riven with stitching...I suppose standing, as it were, on both sides of the divide has influenced my work...It is precisely because I identify with both teams that my writing, if I am allowed to say so, aspires to a kind of social justice which, I believe anyway, is one of the reasons it as reached so wide an audience.
[source: Parade Magazine, January 6, 2013]

Fellowes' honest answer is why we love classic children's literature such as Frances Hodgson Burnett's  The Secret Garden (Mary Lennox, Colin Craven, Dickon); Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol (Ebeneezer Scrooge, Bob Crachit, Tiny Tim); Charolotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (Mr. Rochester, Jane); Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess (Sara Crewe, Becky); Johanna Spyri's Heidi (Heidi, Clara, Peter); Sid Fleischman's The Whipping Boy (Jemmy, Prince "Brat" Horace); and fairytales such as Cinderella.

Well, here's to Sunday night!  Excuse me while, I go and  feed my weekly obsession...

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Road Trip and A Library Pit Stop

Yesterday was another beautiful January day in sunny Southern California.  Cold, but sunny. 

Driving back home along the coast after a visit with my sister and her family, I decided to make a quick "pit stop" just five minutes off the 101 freeway to the Camarillo Public Library.

I have a friend who just raves about the children's area. Well, the children's section isn't the only amazing thing this library has to offer: the outside of the library and the entryway have the feeling of a nice hotel!

This library was designed by TDS (The Design Studio).  They have created several other beautiful civic buildings in California, including nine libraries.  Click this link, to see if there is one near you. This 65,000 square foot library in the Spanish style has areas inspired by Antonio Gaudi, the California Craftsman, and a children’s area reminiscent of the Spanish explorers and the great children’s novels.

I walked across the parking lot, and was pleased to find a nice "friends of the library" bookstore and patio eating area.

No, this is not Peet's Coffee & Tea (though it is served here), it's the Library Cafe!  I got a sandwich and a latte, then set off to explore...

Walking inside, I was greeted by the sight of fresh flowers and a check-in desk. The columns in the children's section were made of huge volumes of books.

Peter Pan and Captain Hook looking down over the story time area that is centered around a huge sunken ship, complete with a tattered masthead.

The ship's hull is full of bookshelves...

And a lantern that stays lit night and day...

Before I left, I looked in this nook that feels like a submarine, complete with portals, where audio books and DVDs are displayed.

All in all, I'd say that was a perfect pit-stop!  Would you like to read about other libraries I've visited in Southern California? Click the links below:
Huntington Beach Central Library
Los Angeles Public Library
Placentia Public Library
Orange Public Library
Tustin Public Library