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, April 30, 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011


Before saying good-by to National Poetry Month, I thought it would be fun to explore the Japanese art of writing haiku poetry.

Haiku poems don't rhyme, but they do follow a pattern and can be written horizonally or vertically.  Traditional haiku were often reflective of nature, but you can compose one about pretty much anything.  To write a haiku in English,  the simplest direction is to write your thoughts in 17 syllables, in three lines of 5-7-5.

Want to try writing a HAIKU with your kids?  CLICK HERE for an easy (and quick) lesson.  Here is my attempt:

Stories read aloud
to your children everyday -
goodness for their souls.

Have fun writing more poems with your kids on
the RIF (Reading is Fundamental) website...click HERE

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Renee Riva again stays true to old fashioned, timeless values in her newest book, HAPPY CAMPER.  It's a perfectly wholesome romantic comedy for ages junior high and up. I thoroughly enjoyed the antics of Renee's heroine, Allie Jaskie, aka "Sage Forrester".  A recent graduate of fashion and design school, Allie is desperately searching for work, and finally manages to land an interview for a job as field reporter at Happy Camper Magazine.  There is only one minor problem:  she hates camping.  Especially in the snows of Mt. Rainer, Washington.

But that's precisely what her new boss, editor Charlie Braun, wants her to report on.  He, of course, finds himself attracted to this cute, but slightly quirky girl, in spite of (or maybe partly due to) the fact that she shows up for an interview in some unique outdoor attire she found last-minute at the Goodwill (her main accessory is an old canteen slung across her shoulder!)

Allie's fairly convincing job application and interview pretty much dupe Charlie - who is desperate to find a good journalist who will help him climb another rung of the ladder at Happy Camper so he can finally move into a better, bigger office - into hiring her.

You'll smile your way through this fun book and the situations that "Sage" finds herself in as she tries to deliver on promises she can't always keep.  Hint:  Much to her own surprise, she find celebrity status in bright pink tents, Girl Scout songs, and trendy hiking attire.  A heart-warming love story! (And don't 'ya think Charlie has a great last name?)

You might also like my post about Renee Riva's other books found HERE.  All her books are available on AMAZON.
"Author Highlight: Renee Riva" (posted August 18, 2010)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Statue in Leicester Square, London
April 23rd marked the traditionally observed anniversary of Shakespeare's birth in 1564, as well as the date of his death in 1616.  The exact dates are in dispute by historians, just as the authorship of his plays is constantly under scrutiny by scholars.  In any case...
"Words, words, mere words, no matter from the heart"...We owe quite a debt to the Bard for his contribution to the English language. Scholars credit him with the invention of more than 1,700 new words -- words and phrases that we hear and we use every day. Do these sound familiar: Dauntless, deafening, dishearten? Gloomy, gossip, green-eyed? Laughable, lonely, luggage? Madcap, majestic, monumental? Scuffle, swagger, and zany?

Famous Quotes:
The words and quotes of the William Shakespeare can be found everywhere! His quotations can be heard on the radio and television on a daily basis. Did you know that "What the dickens" was one of the quotes used by William Shakespeare, long before Charles Dickens was born? Other famous Shakespearean quotations such as "I'll not budge an inch", "We have seen better days" ,"A dish fit for the gods" are all used frequently and, almost as a parody, the expression it's "Greek to me" is often used to describe a frustrated student's view of Shakespeare's work! Politicians dig deep into their pool of William Shakespeare quotes and quotations such as "Fair Play", "Foregone Conclusion ", "One Fell Swoop", and "Into Thin Air ". Furthermore, other Shakespearean quotes such as "to thine own self be true" have become widely spoken pearls of wisdom. So quotes from William Shakespeare have now become household words and sayings - and just to emphasise the point "household word" is also one of the Bard's 'anonymous' quotations! (source:  www.william-shakespeare.info)

Why Shakespeare never fails to get brains buzzing:
Robert McCrum said this, in THE OBSERVER on guardian.co.uk, Sunday April 24 2011:
The magic that Shakespeare works with language is a commonplace of literary commentary, but it also answers to neurological analysis. Since 2006, Professor Philip Davis of Liverpool University has been studying the effects of Shakespeare on the human brain.

Using EEG and fMRI scanning techniques, Davis has been testing individual responses to some of the playwright's most daring innovations. "I had an intuition," he says, "that functional shifts of syntax in Shakespeare might have an impact on the pathways of the brain, which is an extraordinary internal theatre."

Davis will take a sentence, for example Albany's charge to Goneril in King Lear: "A father, and a gracious aged man... have you madded." This is an ungrammatical, highly energised compression. MRI scans suggest that it evokes a powerful neurological response. In the words of his collaborator Dr Guillaume Thierry: "The Shakespearean functional shift appears to prompt activation in the visual association cortex, ie in regions normally activated by visualisation; that is, the mind's eye."

Shakespeare and the Elizabethans loved to use language in new ways. Davis shows that this brilliance has a cerebral dividend. Lines such as Albany's, he says, are "a way of upping the attention level, what we might call the 'wow factor'". Subjecting Shakespeare to an MRI scan might seem an abstruse piece of scientific reduction, but it's an apt reminder that Shakespeare's language, like all great literature, is all about neural excitement.
 (read the whole article HERE)

For Reading...
TALES FROM SHAKESPEARE by Charles and Mary Lamb. (grades 6 and up) Product description: In the twenty tales told in this book, Charles & Mary Lamb succeeded in paraphrasing the language of truly adult literature in children’s terms. The Lambs provide a real feast of plain fare, and flavor it with as many tasty tidbits of Shakespearean language as they felt the young reader could easily digest. Tales From Shakespeare (Signet Classics)

You might want to check out Lois Burdett's series, SHAKESPEARE CAN BE FUN. (ages 7-12) To see excerpts from HAMLET, click HERE.  Though not at all pure Shakespeare verse, you might garner some fun ideas for your students/children from these books. ( The reading of them probably won't match the fun her elementary students had in creating them.) Her titles, illustrated by the students and resulting from an intensive project she did with them, include:
A Child's Portrait of Shakespeare (Shakespeare Can Be Fun series)

For Listening... (to read my past post about JIM WEISS, click HERE)
Jim Weiss Storytelling: ROMEO AND JULIET (ages 8-Adult)
Romeo & Juliet
Jim Weiss Storytelling SHAKESPEARE FOR CHILDREN (A Midsummer Night's Dream &Taming of the Shrew, ages 8-Adult)
Shakespeare for Children

For browsing...
Fun website for kids from FOLGER SHAKESPEARE LIBRARY

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


April is Autism Awareness Month and I want to share a new book with you, that was just published in March:
POINT TO HAPPY, FOR CHILDREN ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM, by Miriam Smith and Afton Fraser; photos by Margo Smithwick.  Conceived of, written, and designed for children on the autism spectrum, Point to Happy combines a picture book and a pointer to create a breakthrough in reaching children who communicate best through pictures. Ingenious in its simplicity, it was created by a grandmother, Miriam Smith, and her daughter, Afton Fraser, for Ms. Fraser’s son, a young boy on the autism spectrum.  (And the photographer is Miriam's daughter and Afton's sister!)

"Point to happy... Point to sad... Point to hug... Give me a hug," the parent reads, as the child can point. It turns reading into a joyful, shared experience. Dozens of friendly photographs are compelling to look at and easy to understand. The text is clear and direct. By pointing to the pictures in the book—moods, activities, everyday objects, the rituals of going to bed and getting ready in the morning—children will learn to convey their wants and needs, their experiences and, most importantly, their feelings.

The simple device of the pointer, with its soft, molded hand on a wand—safety-tested and 100 percent nontoxic and PVC-and phthalate-free—begs to be held and used. And using it—the motor task of holding and pointing, again and again—is an effective tool to help a child focus.

For my other recent posts on books for children with Autism, CLICK HERE.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Lilly of the Valley Egg 1898
Easter has always been the most joyful celebration of the Orthodox faithful in Russia... after attending devout church services, families gather to exchange gifts of decorated eggs, symbols of renewed life and hope.  In 1885, Tsar Alexander III needed an exceptional 20th Anniversary gift for his wife, Tsarina Maria Fedorovna.  So he commissioned an order with a young jeweler, Peter Carl Faberge.

I'm sure you'll enjoy seeing the images in this Youtube video of the beautiful Imperial Easter Eggs that were created by Faberge for the Romanov Family.  In 1894 Tsar Alexander died and the traditional gift-giving of the opulent Faberge eggs was continued by Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra until 1917, the year Nicholas was forced to abdicate after riots, strikes, and a government take over by the revolutionaries.

American historian and writer, Robert Massie, who has devoted much of his career to the study of this royal family of Imperial Russia, says..."there still are those who for political or other reasons continue to insist that Nicholas was "Bloody Nicholas." Most commonly, he is described as shallow, weak, stupid—a one-dimensional figure presiding feebly over the last days of a corrupt and crumbling system. This, certainly, is the prevailing public image of the last Tsar. Historians admit that Nicholas was a "good man"--the historical evidence of personal charm, gentleness, love of family, deep religious faith and strong Russian patriotism is too overwhelming to be denied-—but they argue that personal factors are irrelevant; what matters is that Nicholas was a bad tsar....Essentially, the tragedy of Nicholas II was that he appeared in the wrong place in history."

Here are my favorite books (mostly for older readers) about the Romanov children and family, who have long been surrounded by mystery and controversy.  Despite what your impressions may be of Tsar Nicholas II and his role in the Russian Revolution, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the intimate encounter with the Romanovs in these books whose content is derived mainly from primary sources.

Anastasia's Album: The Last Tsar's Youngest Daughter Tells Her Own StoryANASTASIA'S ALBUM: THE LAST TSAR'S YOUNGEST DAUGHTER TELLS HER OWN STORY by Hugh Brewster. 
(Ages 8 and up). Publisher's Weekly: Designed to resemble a scrapbook, this striking, profusely illustrated volume presents a sympathetic and affecting portrait of the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last Romanov ruler. Brewster juxtaposes remarkably pristine period photos (some artfully hand-colored by Anastasia) with Christopher's carefully composed shots of the palaces the family inhabited and of several family possessions: a doll, a Faberge egg, a Red Cross uniform worn by one of Anastasia's sisters. His prose is equally atmospheric: Anastasia at three is "a blue-eyed whirlwind." Well-chosen excerpts from Anastasia's own correspondence and from memoirs by Romanov friends and staff heighten Anastasia's very real presence in these pages. This immediacy renders the sudden end to the siblings' carefree youth, and eventually the Romanovs' violent deaths in Siberia in 1918, all the more tragic and haunting. 

Anastasia: The Last Grand Duchess, Russia, 1914 (The Royal Diaries)ANASTASIA THE LAST GRAND DUCHESS by Carolyn Meyer (Grades 4-8.)  School Library Journal: Given to Anastasia by her grandmother as a keepsake, this diary begins on the day after the Winter Ball, January 3, 1914... Through careful research, the author successfully provides interesting glimpses into daily events, family relationships, and growing up royal. Russian terminology, unobtrusively explained, is carefully blended into the narrative. Entries are simply written, brief, and sometimes unexciting. Lulls occur in some of the everyday events; yet little expressions, mini-tantrums, and exasperation reveal Anastasia's personality, her temperament, and feelings. The epilogue details events leading to the family's assassination. Black-and-white pictures, a bit grainy in quality, pique readers' interest in the Romanovs. Additional information on life in Russia in 1914, historical notes, a family tree, information about the Russian language and calendar, and a list of characters all provide wonderful background information.

Ella's Story: The Duchess Who Became a SaintELLA'S STORY:  THE DUCHESS WHO BECAME A SAINT by Maria Tobias, illustrations by Bonnie Gillis.  
(Grades 4-8.) Product description: This story brings to life the amazing journey of Princess Elizabeth (granddaughter of Queen Victoria, sister of Tsar Nicholas' wife, Alexandra), from privileged childhood to eventual martyrdom. While her biography, as St. Elizabeth the New Martyr, is available to adults, this is the first such book for girls, written in an approachable appealing style. Maria Tobias tells the Princess' story in such a lively way that the book is hard to put down. A true role model for today--Elizabeth, a real princess, is gifted with all those qualities girls still seek (intelligence, beauty, wealth, renown), converts to Orthodoxy and subsequently sheds all of this for the greater prize of the martyr's crown.

by Lubov Milar (High School/Adult.) Granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Elizabeth married the Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich, uncle of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas. Adopting wholeheartedly the Orthodox Faith, she dedicated herself to the commandment of love — nursing the sick, rescuing children from Moscow's slums, establishing the Martha-Mary Convent of Mercy, and ultimately receiving a martyr's crown. Ample, richly illustrated life of one of the great spiritual lights of our times.  A beautiful, but sad story, with lots of historical photographs.

An Englishman in the Court of the TsarAN ENGLISHMAN IN THE COURT OF THE TSAR (High School/Adult) Subtitle: The Spiritual Journey of Charles Sydney Gibbes. Charles Sydney Gibbes travels abroad in a crisis of faith, and his world is changed forever when he becomes a tutor to the children of the Russian royal family. Gibbes eventually returns to Great Britain, there dedicating his life as an Orthodox priest to the memory of the Imperial Family and the faith he discovered in their distant homeland.  I absolutely loved this book - it's a good account, with excerpts taken from actual letters of Sydney Gibbes, who was intimately connected with this pious family before and during the Russian Revolution.  A fascinating read.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


(This Easter song was performed by ''Stupovi'' and various Serbian singers and celebrities, dedicated to the resurrection of Christ, made as a part of an action of raising funds for reconstruction of medieval Serbian orthodox monastery ''Pillars of Saint George'')


English Translation:
People rejoice, all nations listen:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Dance all ye stars and sing all ye mountains:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Whisper ye woods and blow all ye winds:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
O seas proclaim and roar all ye beasts:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Buzz all ye bees and sing all ye birds:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
O little lambs rejoice and be merry:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Nightengales joyous, lending your song:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Ring, O ye bells, let everyone hear:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

All angels join us, singing this song:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Come down ye heavens, draw near the earth:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Glory to Thee, God Almighty!
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Glory to Thee, God Almighty!
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

People rejoice, all nations listen:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Dance all ye stars and sing all ye mountains:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Whisper ye woods and blow all ye winds:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
O seas proclaim and roar all ye beasts:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Buzz all ye bees and sing all ye birds:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
O little lambs rejoice and be merry:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Nightengales joyous, lending your song:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Ring, O ye bells, let everyone hear:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

All angels join us, singing this song:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Come down ye heavens, draw near the earth:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Glory to Thee, God Almighty!
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Glory to Thee, God Almighty!
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
-Vladika Nikolaj

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I loved reading this letter sent by some students to the Editor of the NY TIMES in reference to that now infamous article "Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children" (Oct. 2010) - which I, and many other bloggers, posted about.  This was no ordinary letter, but a 15-ft. scroll, delivered in a tube.  (Click HERE to see the NY TIMES Opinion Pages, April 13, 2011.)

Monday, April 18, 2011


During this last week leading up to Easter (we call it "Pascha" in the Orthodox Church), I won't be posting much about books, since Holy Week is in full swing!  Beginning over the weekend with Lazarus Saturday and then Palm Sunday, the week continues with many more services to attend, baskets to prepare, goodies to make, and an Easter Egg Tree to decorate...

When our children were young, during Holy Week they looked forward to hanging beautifully decorated eggs (that I had collected) on our Easter Egg Tree each day.  By Easter - Pascha - the tree would be full.  I made my own last year with pussy willow branches stuck into florist foam, which I nestled down into a pretty tin.  In Europe, pussy willow branches are used in place of palm branches on Palm Sunday, since palms are not available in that region.

A variation of this Easter Egg Tree would be to hang these beautiful little "Miracles of Christ" icon cards on the branches at the beginning of Holy Week (Lazarus Saturday).  Each card is about 31/2 by 4 inches and would just need a hole punched at the top with a ribbon threaded through it in order to tie it to a branch.  On each successive day of Holy Week, your children could take down a card, read the story from Christ's life on the back, and replace the icon card with an Easter egg.
"Miracles of Christ" icon cards are
available HERE at Orthodox Marketplace  
Tonight we will be attending the Bridegroom Matins.  Christ the Bridegroom is the central figure in the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13); Christ is the divine Bridegroom of the Church as described in the Book of Isaiah (chapter 54), as well as the primary image of Bridegroom Matins. The title is suggestive of his divine presence and watchfulness (“Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night…”) during Holy Week and his selfless love for his Bride, the Church.

"Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom he shall find watching, and unworthy is the servant whom he shall find heedless.
Beware, therefore, oh my soul. Do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death, and lest you be shut out of the kingdom.
But rouse yourself, crying, Holy, Holy, Holy are Thou O God."

To hear this beautiful Orthodox hymn, “Alleluia, Behold the Bridegroom”, click HERE.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


When insomnia hits (which happens more frequently, the older I get!), I sometimes get up and work on my blog in the middle of the night.  Once in a while, just outside the window, I'll hear an eerie "screeech!"  I decided to google "owl calls" and found a website, THE OWL PAGES.  It has everything you'd want to know about owls, including both sound and photo galleries.   The owl screeching in our backyard was a Common Barn Owl.  (I discovered that Screech Owls don't actually "screech", they have a very lovely "hoo-hoooing" call.)

The downside to staying up late is that I miss lots of sunrises...but my husband and son, who are Early Birds, make up for it!  They went on an early morning walk last week and snapped some great pictures of two Great Horned Owls, up in a tree, watching the sunrise.  

Maybe I could get some tips from these "Morning Owls" on how to wake up after a night of no sleep!  They reminded me of some of the beautiful artwork by artist and children's book author and illustrator Valerie Greeley...
Visit Valerie's Etsy site, Acornmoon
One particular house we lived in years ago had rather interesting (and outdated!) wallpaper in several rooms when we bought it. An upstairs bedroom that was to be my daughter's was plastered in greenish-gold owls.  She was afraid she'd have nightmares with dozens of "owl eyes" staring at her all night and refused to sleep there until she'd helped us peel it off the walls.
This print, "Wisdom to the Nines",  by Rachel Caldwell had to have been
influenced by our retro wallpaper.  A little scary for a little girl, huh?

I love this Baby Snow Owl - you can find it
HERE on Etsy by Myko Bocek.
Well, all owls aren't scary and maybe our daughter wouldn't have been as squeamish, if she'd grown up reading some of these irresistible picture books about owls that I've discovered since then:

GOOD-NIGHT, OWL! by Pat Hutchins.  Will Owl ever get any rest?  His sleep is constantly disturbed by neighboring animal noises!  Just when it starts to quiet down, someone new lands in the hollow tree and wakes Owl up.  Your kids will love Pat Hutchin's artwork and the fun twist at the end of the story. (ages 2-5)
Good-Night, Owl!

WOW! SAID THE OWL by Tim Hopgood.  This is the story of a little owl who decides to take a nap one night in order to stay up all day and see what the world looks like by daylight.  She discovers all sorts of colors that are "WOW" worthy. (Preschool-1st grade)
Wow! Said the Owl

IN MY TREE by Sara Gillingham and Lorena Siminovich.  This cozy little book comes with a finger puppet owl.  Simple, sweet story - perfect for toddlers.
In My Tree

THE OWL WHO WAS AFRAID OF THE DARK by Jill Tomlinson, illustrations by Paul Howard. Howard's stunning illustrations give new life to the late British author's 1968 tale of an owlet frightened of the night. "The dark is scary," Plop tells Mommy Barn Owl, who wisely instructs him to learn a bit more about it before passing judgment. Soon, Plop is off to find new friends, both human and animal, who tell him their favorite things about the evening, from fireworks and campfire singalongs to viewing constellations.  Ages 3-up.
Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark

OWL MOON, by Jane Yolen. A girl and her father go owling on a moonlit winter night near their farm. They trudge through snow "whiter than the milk in a cereal bowl"; here and there a fox, raccoon, fieldmouse and deer, hidden in the shadows, watch them pass. An air of expectancy builds as Pa imitates the Great Horned Owl's call once without answer, then again. From out of the darkness "an echo/ came threading its way/ through the trees." I love that many of the water-color illustrations offer a bird's-eye view of the farmhouse and its surroundings, as if we're flying with the owl.  Ages 4-8.
Owl Moon

(Owl lovers, don't miss this CUTE website:  MyOwlBarn.com)