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, February 25, 2014

Meet Molly Coxe - And Enter My Giveaway for a Chance to Win Her Book "Benjamin and Bumper To the Rescue"! (Two Lucky Winners Will be Chosen)

I'm so happy to be interviewing author/illustrator Molly Coxe today, and I'm beyond excited that she's offered an autographed hard back copy of her adorable book, Benjamin and Bumper to the Rescue, to TWO of my lucky blog followers!  (Details about how to enter the GIVEAWAY at the end of this post). 2/28/14 UPDATE:  GIVEAWAY OVER

I highlighted Benjamin and Bumper to the Rescue on yesterday's post, but if you missed it, you can watch a cute "Sneak Peek" video of the book below:

Molly Coxe's children’s books have sold 1.8 million copies.  For Benjamin and Bumper to the Rescue, she not only wrote the story, but also made the characters and designed the sets.  The photos were taken by Olivier Toppin, a French photographer. “We were like two kids playing,” says Molly. “I’ve never had so much fun ‘working.’”

Molly graduated from Princeton University with a B.A. in English Literature. She has taught pre-school and currently lives in Southern California.

It's been great getting to know Molly Coxe a little bit.  She has most recently been working on fun early readers (doing her own photography this time!) which feature felted animal characters done in the same style as Benjamin and Bumper. 

The first "short vowel adventure",  Rat Attack, is currently only available as an e-reader (in English, and 8 different bilingual editions). There will be print versions of the English edition (and possibly the Spanish and Mandarin editions) of Rat Attack by next fall.  Molly is already working on her second early reader, Princess Pig. 

Here are some more things Molly and I talked about...pull up a chair, and listen in!

GoodBooks: How did you get started in this process of creating "stuffed" felt book characters and designing miniature sets for "Benjamin and Bumper to the Rescue" and your early reader books? 
Molly: My earlier books – Big Egg, Cat Traps, Hot Dog, etc. [go here to see a list of all her books available on Amazon] - were illustrated in a more conventional manner, using paint and pen on paper. One day I realized my drawing style had reached a plateau. I wasn't getting better, and I wasn't discovering anything new. I remembered how much I enjoyed playing with stuffed animals as a child. I created stories, whole worlds, using stuffed animals and scraps of fabric, bits of this and that. I started experimenting, and many wool and fabric mice and elephants later, I realized the characters were starting to feel "real," to me at least. At that point, I just needed to create an environment for them and set them loose to see what happened!

GoodBooks:  It all seems quite involved, and the love you put into these projects shines through - the stories are so imaginative! Did you have any particular children in mind as your wrote them, or were you perhaps reminded of your own childhood?
Molly: Yes, as I mentioned above, I loved "imaginary play" as a child, and I also loved to write plays. The first one, about a lost giraffe, was "produced" in my second grade class. It was very simple, nothing at all spectacular, but I remember watching the other children assume their roles. Suddenly, the "real" world fell away, and with just a few simple props, everyone was a participant in an imaginary world. It was magical. My son, Will, now 26, also spent hours creating fantasy realms with characters he made out of sculpey clay. He just needed a bit of raw material, and his imagination supplied the rest. I'm so glad you can feel the love! It may sound odd, but I develop a relationship with the characters as I make them, and they begin to develop personalities. When I'm shooting the photographs, I find myself apologizing when I need to attach a pair of wings, or a a pair of trousers with a straight pin.

GoodBooks: What were some of your favorite children's books, growing up? How much have they influenced your own storytelling? 
Molly: My favorite books growing up were all by writers who are much much better writers than I will ever be. I loved Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White. I loved Winnie the Pooh. I love The BFG and Matilda by Roald Dahl. In college, I studied Dickens. I am really a visual storyteller. The illustrations do most of the work. I can string a maximum of five words together before I start getting muddled. That's why Picture Books and Early Readers are a perfect fit for me! You have to try to tell a fresh story in very very simple language, and you call on the images for backup!

Good Books: How did you find Olivier Toppin, the French photographer, who collaborated with you? 
Molly: Olivier Toppin was the photographer for Benjamin and Bumper to the Rescue. He lived in a village near where my parents live, in southern France.  I am taking the photos for the BraveMouse Readers. I am fascinated by photography and how you can create a world with light. I think it's fair to say I'm pretty patient and willing to spend many many hours making "mistakes".

Good Books: I read that your mission is "to create books that young children and adults love to share together, and want to read again and again." What, in your opinion, is the secret to writing books that attract both children and adults?
Molly: Good stories, period.

Well, I couldn't agree more!  And I know you will just love her well-told tale about Benjamin and Bumper - it's full of fun, friendship, and adventure!  Here's how to enter for a chance to win a signed copy (remember, TWO WINNERS will be chosen):

How to Enter the Giveaway: GIVEAWAY OVER 2/28/14
  1.  Sign in to the Rafflecopter widget (below) with your name and email. This is the only way to be officially entered into the giveaway! 
  2. You will see a list of tasks with big green buttons next to them. Each task has a point value. 
  3. Click on the ones you want to complete and follow the instructions. Please note that it is not enough to just click the green buttons; you must also complete the task to earn the points. 
  4. The more tasks you complete, the more times your name goes in the hat to increase your chances of winning. 
IMPORTANT: You must sign in to the Rafflecopter widget below in order to be “officially” entered in this giveaway! (Your email won’t be published or shared. I use emails only to contact the winner.)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway Details: GIVEAWAY OVER 2/28/14
  • The giveaway will be closed at 11:59 p.m., Thursday, February 27, 2014 . 
  • Winner will be announced on Friday, February 28, 2014. 
  • In order to enter the contest, you must sign in to the Rafflecopter widget and complete at least one task. Winner is chosen randomly by Rafflecopter. 
  • Giveaway is open to residents of the United States only. 
  • The winner will be chosen randomly by Rafflecopter and contacted via email. If the winner does not respond with the requested contact information within 48 hours, another winner will be chosen.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Everything about the picture book I'm giving away tomorrow will appeal to both boys and girls: it's got fuzzy handcrafted felt animal characters (which include two brave heroes and a villain), fun props and cozy three-dimensional sets, an adventurous plot, and a happy ending.  It's an imaginative world that's been lovingly created by Molly Coxe, and beautifully photographed by Olivier Toppin.
I fell in love with Molly Coxe's Benjamin and Bumper to the Rescue when my daughter brought it home from the library a few weeks ago (I seriously wanted to climb right into the photographs), and I immediately went on the BraveMouse Books website to contact the author for a blog interview.

Molly happily agreed to do the interview and also graciously offered to give away two copies of Benjamin and Bumper to the Rescue to two of my (lucky!) blog followers.

You'll be able to enter the giveaway for Benjamin and Bumper to the Rescue tomorrow when I post my interview with Molly, and also tell you about her current projects; but today I'd like to introduce you to the book we'll be giving away. Giveaway Over.
As you've probably deduced from the cover, the main characters of this story are a mouse and an elephant:  an unlikely pair of heroes who happen to be best friends.

Tiny Benjamin Middlemouse lives with his mother in a cozy wooden wardrobe in a little boy’s bedroom in an old house.
His mother, Mrs. Middlemouse, is late coming home one day. 
Where could she be? Benjamin asks his friend, a big, brave elephant named Bumper (who also lives in the little boy's bedroom - on the boy's bed), to help find her.
Their quest begins as Benjamin and Bumper pack up their supplies…
...and follow some clues that lead them to the garden and eventually to Sir Pouncelot, a very hungry cat.  
How will Benjamin and Bumper be able to outsmart Sir Pouncelot and save Mrs. Middlemouse?  You'll have to read the book to find out!

Be sure to stop back by my blog tomorrow for my interview with Molly Coxe and for details of how to enter our special GIVEAWAY of two copies of Benjamin and Bumper to the Rescue. Giveaway over.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

I'm Late, I'm Late!

Yes, I have fallen into the black (Rabbit) hole of our little antique mall business, and have been neglecting my blog.
Well, that's not entirely true.  You haven't seen a lot of posts here lately, but I've been working slowly - like the Mock Turtle - on some upcoming book reviews and giveaways! (I also found some cute Alice themed printables to share with you - at the end of this post).
Coming up soon:  an author who creates fuzzy characters, and a glorious new children's book for Easter.

In the meantime, take a peek at what's been keeping my daughter and me so busy:  we've tried to create a little "Wonderland" in our Bookish space...
 Alice was not a bit hurt, and she jumped up on to her feet in a moment: she looked up, but it was all dark overhead; before her was another long passage, and the White Rabbit was still in sight, hurrying down it. There was not a moment to be lost: away went Alice like the wind, and was just in time to hear it say, as it turned a corner, 'Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it's getting!' 
She was close behind it when she turned the corner, but the Rabbit was no longer to be seen: she found herself in a long, low hall, which was lit up by a row of lamps hanging from the roof. 
 ...There seemed to be no use in waiting by the little door, so she went back to the table, half hoping she might find another key on it, or at any rate a book of rules for shutting people up like telescopes: this time she found a little bottle on it, ('which certainly was not here before,' said Alice,) and round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words 'DRINK ME' beautifully printed on it in large letters.
My daughter found the really cute free "Drink Me" tag printables here, from "Sweetly Scrapped".

Friday, February 14, 2014

From Valentines to the Queen of Hearts

Over the weekend, my daughter and I will be transitioning the "Valentine" theme of our little space at the Brick Basement Antique Mall to an "Alice in Wonderland" theme!  I've got several volumes of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to sell, including an imaginative picture book edition illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt.
source - go here to see more illustrations
 'Off with her head!' the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
'Who cares for you?' said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) 'You're nothing but a pack of cards!'
At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her: she gave a little scream, half of fright and half of anger, and tried to beat them off, and found herself lying on the bank, with her head in the lap of her sister, who was gently brushing away some dead leaves that had fluttered down from the trees upon her face.
'Wake up, Alice dear!' said her sister; 'Why, what a long sleep you've had!'
'Oh, I've had such a curious dream!' said Alice, and she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange Adventures of hers that you have just been reading about; and when she had finished, her sister kissed her, and said, 'It WAS a curious dream, dear, certainly: but now run in to your tea; it's getting late.' So Alice got up and ran off, thinking while she ran, as well she might, what a wonderful dream it had been.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Evidence is in: Toddlers, Like Sherlock, Have Great Investigative Powers!

Sherlock for Toddlers?  Elementary, Dear Watson!
Before breakfast this morning I was perusing the Great Cases of Sherlock Holmes (I blogged about it in my last post, here).  My daughter brought my grandson downstairs and plopped him down on the couch next to me.
I barely noticed when he picked up a book from his own little stack on the couch.  My daughter grabbed her camera and said, "Mom, look what he's reading!  His "Sherlock Holmes" book!"
We laughed while she took a few photos, but later my daughter said, "You know, his favorite stories right now do all have a mystery factor!  He loves hide-and-seek-type books.   You should blog about that..."

Facts:  toddlers are into investigating - everything!

Clues:  They've moved on from crawling to walking, and are beginning to explore with language and behavior.

Evidence:  Thrown food and torn pages scattered on the floor, next to a little smiling person, who's waving a chubby hand and saying, "hi!" 

Solution:  The books below (mostly of the cardboard variety) will appeal to your little detective's new-found investigative powers, as he tries to deduce "what happens next".

Mystery solved:  My 16-month-old grandson's favorite stories right now include humorous books that stir his senses:  Where's Ellie? (Salina Yoon's guessing game in book form, with lots of unexpected objects that look like Ellie the Elephant's trunk) , Mommy, Mommy! (Taro Gomi's hilarious little story of two chicks, who while on a quest for Mommy, encounter some interesting look-alikes), Frog, Where Are You? (enchanting wordless book about a boy, a dog, and a frog, by Mercer Mayer), Goodnight Owl, (a fun lift-the-flap book by Dwell Studio).

It's Elementary! More about the Sherlock Holmes book - by "Master Conan Doyle" - that my grandson chose this morning.  (It's more of a hear-and-discover, than a hide-and-seek book.)
"Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles"...Alison Oliver’s bold illustrations correspond with Jennifer Adams’ clever, simple text to create [Sherlock-ian] pairings little observers will love to have read to them, such as “hounds howl,” “gates screech,” and “stairs creak.” 

I hope this post has you ready to share with me about your little ones' favorite "mystery stories"...  

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Between Seasons of SHERLOCK...

Let Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman lead you to the library and the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle!  
“Life, my dear Watson, is infinitely stranger than fiction; stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We could not conceive the things that are merely commonplace to existence. If we could hover over this great city, remove the roofs, and peep in at the things going on, it would make all fiction, with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions flat, stale and unprofitable.” 
 ― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

If  (like I did) you loved Season 3 of "Sherlock", I hope you'll re-visit Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works between seasons.  If you have not yet read his novels or short stories, you'll be pleasantly surprised (like I was) by how hard the writers and creators of the clever "Sherlock" series worked to keep the modernized series and characters true to Doyle's original stories! 

As I'm reading the books, I can't help but picture Cumberbatch as the violin-loving Holmes and Freeman as long-suffering Watson.  They really bring out the humor and genius that was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sherlock Holmes, literature's most famous detective, was first introduced to the world at Christmas time in 1887 - when Arthur Conan Doyle's novel A Study in Scarlet was published in "Beeton's Christmas Annual".

Here is how Sherlock Holmes is described by Watson:
His very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, save during those intervals of torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination. His hands were invariably blotted with ink and stained with chemicals, yet he was possessed of extraordinary delicacy of touch, as I frequently had occasion to observe when I watched him manipulating his fragile philosophical instruments.

...Sherlock Holmes had not finished breakfast.  I picked up a magazine from the table...One of the articles had a pencil mark at the heading.  I began to run my eye through it...'The Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study,' said the writer.  'Let the inquirer begin by mastering elementary problems...By a man's fingernails, by his boots, by his trouser knees, by the callosities of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression -- by each of these things a man's calling is revealed.'

"What ineffable twaddle!"  I cried, slapping the magazine down on the table.  "I never read such rubbish in my life...I see, Holmes, that you have read this article since you have marked it.  It is evidently the theory of some armchair lounger who evolves all these neat little paradoxes in the seclusion of his own study.  It is not practical.  I should like to see him clapped down in a third-class carriage on the Underground, and asked to give the trades of all his fellow travelers.  I would lay a thousand to one against him."

"You would lose your money," Holmes remarked calmly.  "As for the article, I wrote it myself."

Kids love mysteries and detective stories (they're important for critical thinking), but after they get past the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys stage, they'll want more!

I found an excellent Reader's Digest "Best Loved Books For Young Readers" Great Cases of Sherlock Holmes, that is very nicely condensed, without sacrificing Doyle's original text in the eight short stories that are presented.

Another excellent Sherlock Holmes option for kids ages 8 and up is storyteller Jim Weiss' riveting Greathall Productions recording, Sherlock Holmes for Children, which includes four stories (available here) - my husband and I enjoyed them as much as our children did!  Jim's also done a recording of The Hound of the Baskervilles - not to be missed! (available here).

By the way, have you seen the cute cameo Benedict C. had on Sesame Street?

Want more mysteries?  Check out my past post, Who-Dunnits for Pre-Teens, here.  Do you have any to recommend that I missed?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

First Feasts of February: St. Brigid's Day and a Day for Candles and Hedge- um, that is - Groundhogs

St. Brigid's Day is today, February 1st.  Celebrate by reading a special book and making a St. Brigid cross!
"Brigid saw Christ in everyone she met, and had
a particular love for those less fortunate than herself."

St. Brigid, a contemporary of St. Patrick, founded a monastery in Kildare in the 6th century. It is said that she converted her father to Christianity while making a cross from rushes. You can try your hand at making a St. Brigid cross, like this one, by going here.
In those early Christian times the farmers adopted the custom of making crosses of straw at the beginning of spring to protect their holding, placing the St. Brigid's Crosses in prominent positions in their houses and buildings.The tradition of making St. Brigid's Crosses on St. Brigid's Feast Day continues to the present day.
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THE LIFE OF SAINT BRIGID, Abbess of Kildare, has been lovingly told by Jane G. Meyer. Zachary Lynch's captivating and colorful illustrations are full of Celtic influence. 
Brigid's father, a chieftain, becomes weary of Brigid's generosity and takes her away to be sold to a neighboring king.  While the deal is being settled with the king, Brigid gives away her father's sword to a poor leper.  The king, realizing that Brigid would give away his wealth as well, advises Brigid's father to release her from slavery and grant her freedom. 

Her prideful father yields to the plan, but tries to force Brigid to marry - which leads Brigid to scar her own face, in order to be left alone by her family.  They finally understand her desire to devote herself purely to Christ, and she is allowed to become a nun,
"...marrying Christ and His Church instead of man.
And as a sign of God's hand upon her, the scar on her cheek was healed
as the priest placed the white veil upon her head."  

In this book, your child will learn how Brigid, Abbess of Kildare, tended sheep and the poor, founded convents, worked miracles, and visited kings.  St. Brigid is known today as a patron of travelers, healers, and midwives; and a protector of flocks and herds, and newborn babies.

A second February Feastday:
Tomorrow is another big day - many of you may be thinking about the Super Bowl or even Groundhog Day, but February 2 is one of the important 12 Feasts of the Church, when we bring our candles to be blessed.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, we refer to it as "The Presentation of Christ in the Temple" (described in Luke, chapter 2); it is known as "Candlemas" in the West.

Why the emphasis on candles and light?  Because of St. Simeon's prophecy in Luke:
"Lord now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people. To be a Light to enlighten the nations and to be the glory of Thy people Israel."
Traditionally, if the sun shone on "Candlemas Day" - February 2 - Europeans believed the hedgehog would cast a shadow and another six weeks of winter was inevitable.

If Candlemas be fair and bright, 
Come, winter, have another flight. 
If Candlemas brings cold and rain,
Go, winter, and come not again.
A Hedgehog stand-in: The Groundhog
When the first Germans arrived in North America, no hedgehogs were to be found. But another similar animal, the groundhog - or woodchuck - was here.
Believed by the native Indians to be "a wise and sensible animal," the groundhog became a hedgehog stand-in. So that is how the American the tradition of "Groundhog Day" was born.

Find my past posts, HERE about some literary hedgehogs (they're waaay cuter then groundhogs)!