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)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Give Thanks for Your Blessings" and More Wise Words from...a Basketball Coach!

Be true to yourself, help others, make each day your masterpiece, make friendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books - especially the Bible, build a shelter against a rainy day, give thanks for your blessings and pray for guidance every day.

-Coach John Wooden

John Robert Wooden (Oct. 14, 1910 - June 4, 2010) was an American basketball player and coach. Nicknamed the "Wizard of Westwood", he won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period — seven in a row — as head coach at UCLA, an unprecedented feat.

Wooden remained devoted to his wife Nellie until his own death decades after hers. He kept to a monthly ritual — health permitting — on the 21st of every month, when he would visit her grave then write a love letter to her. After completing each letter, he placed it in an envelope and added it to a stack of similar letters that accumulated over the years on the pillow she slept on during their life together. Wooden only stopped writing the letters in the last months of his life due to failing eyesight.

Did you know Coach Wooden wrote a book for children?

The book is titled Inch and Miles: The Journey to Success. 
An inchworm and a mouse collaborate on building a pyramid to success, helped along by their teacher - an owl named "Mr. Wooden".

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers.  I'd like to say "thank you" to my son, Jon, who first introduced me to John Wooden and his inspirational life (and wonderful quotes).  

And speaking of givingRemember to leave a comment up through December 5th to enter my Book & Cookie GIVEAWAY for St. Nicholas Day (go here for details). updated 12/6: Giveaway OVER

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Giveaway Part Two: A Saint Nicholas Tale

I'm adding a book to my St. Nicholas Day Springerle Cookie Giveaway! UPDATED 12/6: GIVEAWAY OVER

The Baker's Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale, was written by Aaron Shepard, and sumptuously illustrated by Wendy Edelson.

If you saw my last post, you know I'm really excited about my "sweet" Cookie Giveaway from Springerle Bakery (go HERE for details).

Did you know that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of bakers?

I know your kids will love The Baker's Dozen - it's a story about a baker from "the Dutch colonial town later known as Albany, New York."  His name is Van Amsterdam, and he is well known for his honesty as well as for his fine Saint Nicholas cookies. 

He always gives his customers exactly what they paid for -- not more and not less. So, he was not about to give in when a mysterious old woman came to him on Saint Nicholas Day and insisted that a dozen was thirteen!

The woman's curse puts an end to the baker's business, and he believes it would take Saint Nicholas to help him. But if he receives that help, will it be exactly what he expects? 

You'll have to read this story to find out the surprising ending.  It teaches a good lesson about the joy of giving.  And you can make your own St. Nicholas cookies! Aaron has included the recipe at the end of the book (it's also on his website, HERE).

(The Springerle Bakery can only ship to addresses in the U.S., so to be eligible for this giveaway, you must live in the U.S.)
How to enter -
1- Leave a comment here between now and December 5 at 11:59 p.m. (PST) on this post and any others I post through December 5, 2013, to enter this giveaway.
2- Leave a comment on Facebook ("likes" don't count, must be a comment) when I link to any blog posts between now and 11:59 p.m. (PST) on December 5, 2013, to enter this giveaway.
3- Enter as many times as you like between now and 12/5/13.
Giveaway winner announced -
Giveaway ends at 11:59 p.m. on December 5, 2013. The winner of this giveaway will be chosen using List Randomizer and announced on St. Nicholas Day - Friday December 6, 2013, at 7:00 a.m. (PST).
Shipping -
1- The winner needs to contact me via e-mail (wendyb[spam]1963@[spam]sbcglobal[dot]net) with their mailing address by 11:59 p.m. (PST) on Saturday, December 7, 2013.  If not, a new winner will be chosen.  
2- The winner's mailing address will also be given to The Springerle Bakery so that the cookies can be shipped on December 10, 2013.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Sweet Giveaway for St. Nicholas Day

updated 12/6: Giveaway OVER St. Nicholas Day falls on December 6 each year, and will be here before you know it!  Why am I doing a cookie giveaway in honor of St. Nicholas, the good Bishop of Myra, who gave gifts and did good works in secret?  

Giveaway from The Springerle Bakery

Well, in central European countries such as Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland, it is a time-honored tradition to bake and give specially molded Speculoos (gingerbread spice) or Springerle (orange, anise, or lemon flavored) cookies throughout the Christmas season, but especially on St. Nicholas Day.

The Springerle Bakery has kindly partnered with me for this special cookie giveaway! Their cookies are little works of edible art!

Alice has baked up a special collection of 15 cookies just for my lucky winner.  You can see them pictured above.  There are 8 Gingerbread and 7 Springerle (vanilla-orange or lemon): from cookie molds depicting St. Nicholas, Nativity Scenes, Angels, and even a Gingerbread Man. The cookies range in size from approximately 2-1/4" to 4" tall.

I hope you'll take a minute to peruse The Springerle Bakery website.  These beautifully detailed cookies would make a very special (and tasty) gift - you still have time to get in a Christmas order!  There are large single cookies available, or collections of smaller cookies - each one handmade. (Note: they only ship to the U.S.)

A little bit about these cookies: To make these Springerle, very cold, stiff dough was rolled thin and pressed into a mold. The dough was unmolded and then left to dry for about 24 hours before being baked at a low temperature on greased, baking sheets. The leavening caused the biscuit to at least double in height during baking. This "pop-up" effect may be the source of the name in German. The baked biscuits are hard, and are packed away to ripen for two or three weeks. During this time, they become tender.

(The Springerle Bakery can only ship to addresses in the U.S., so to be eligible for this giveaway, you must live in the U.S.)
How to enter -
1- Leave a comment here between now and December 5 at 11:59 p.m. (PST) on this post and any others I post through December 5, 2013, to enter this giveaway.
2- Leave a comment on Facebook ("likes" don't count, must be a comment) when I link to any blog posts between now and 11:59 p.m. (PST) on December 5, 2013, to enter this giveaway.
3- Enter as many times as you like between now and 12/5/13.
Giveaway winner announced -
Giveaway ends at 11:59 p.m. on December 5, 2013. The winner of this giveaway will be chosen using List Randomizer and announced on St. Nicholas Day - Friday December 6, 2013, at 7:00 a.m. (PST).
Shipping -
1- The winner needs to contact me via e-mail (wendyb[spam]1963@[spam]sbcglobal[dot]net) with their mailing address by 11:59 p.m. (PST) on Saturday, December 7, 2013.  If not, a new winner will be chosen.  
2- The winner's mailing address will be given to The Springerle Bakery so that the cookies can be shipped on December 10, 2013.

If you're not familiar with St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6) and its traditions, you will find lots of information in my past posts below (click on the titles to read):
Will the Real Santa Claus Please Stand Up?

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Gingerbread Baby

Many kids love to help with baking for Thanksgiving and Christmas - but even better is the eating!  (Watch for my Giveaway tomorrow - hint: it's something very yummy!)

What goodies do you traditionally bake?  How about gingerbread cookies?

"I am the Gingerbread Baby,
Fresh from the pan.
If you want me, 
Catch me if you can!"

Author/illustrator Jan Brett's version of the well known "Gingerbread Man" story doesn't end with the little guy being eaten - she wanted to give her story, Gingerbread Baby, a happy ending.

Here's a fun video showing how Jan used her own homemade gingerbread baby cookies to help her with the illustrations - she had to bake quite a lot of those spicy little treats!

Gingerbread Baby is a picture book for ages 3-6 - it is also available as a board book, perfect for toddlers' hands.  Look for the sequel story, Gingerbread Friends!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Real Santa Train

I used List Randomizer to chose the winner of my Silver Packages Giveaway:  Congratulations, Jen! (Thanks to all who left comments - I have another giveaway next week!)

As I mentioned in my last post, Cynthia Rylant's story was inspired by a real train, the "Santa Special" which rolls through the Appalachian Mountains each Christmas season. 

From this train, tons of toys and treats are tossed by volunteers to the children of coal towns who wait patiently by the tracks. This has been happening every Christmas since 1943.

Photo still from TIME Magazine

You can read more about the real train here, on AppalachianHistory.net.

And there's a free unit study for Silver Packages from the website Homeschool Share, here.

Want to learn more about Appalachia?  Look for a second book by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Barry Moser: Appalachia, The Voices of Sleeping Birds. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Advent Books and GIVEAWAY

Just like opening windows on an Advent Calendar, your children can open books each night during Advent until December 25.  So I start blogging about Christmas books in November to give you a head start in planning your Book Countdown to Christmas!

Your Advent Book Calendar can be as simple or as involved as you want to make it: you can line up the (wrapped or unwrapped) books across your fireplace mantle, stack them in a basket, or put them under your Christmas tree...

photo - Detailgalblog

GIVEAWAY: I like to choose a theme each year, and this Advent I'll be blogging about Children and Christmas.  The book I'm giving away today is by master storyteller Cynthia Rylant:  Silver Packages, An Appalachian Christmas Story. update: 11/16/13 - Giveaway over.  

With Thanksgiving coming up, I chose this story (based on actual events) because at its heart, it is about selfless giving and being thankful.

A rich man who wishes to repay a debt of kindness begins a tradition: an Appalachian "Christmas Train" that travels through the mountains each year in December.  The man faithfully returns to the coal town where he received help many years before, and tosses silver packages from the caboose to the local town children who wait by the tracks.  Frankie is one of those children.  Year after year, he hopes that one particular gift will be tossed to him.  It is this enduring hope that will guide him to the true meaning of the season.

Leave a comment here (or on my Facebook page) for a chance to win a hardcover copy of this beautifully illustrated book. 

Need help finding good books for your Advent book countdown? Look at my Favorite Christmas Books list.  You can easily supplement books you already have with library books (also try used bookstores).

Be sure to visit my Advent and Christmas Resource Page for more specifics how to make an Advent Calendar of Books.

Silver Packages Giveaway ends Friday at midnight; winner announced on Saturday, 11/16/13. update: Giveaway over (pssst:  I've got a second GIVEAWAY coming next week!)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Honoring Our Veterans Today...

"The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him."  
-G.K. Chesterton

“Hero’s Welcome” by Norman Rockwell
Saturday Evening Post cover,
published February 22, 1919.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hip Hip Hooray for Our Veterans!

Our family vacation last month to San Diego made me appreciate our veterans more than ever!  We toured the USS Midway, a Navy aircraft-carrier-now-museum docked in the bay right next to the city's downtown high-rises.

The proud veterans who were conducting tours on the USS Midway were quick to answer any questions we had.  I gained a new appreciation for the sacrifices so many made on our country's behalf.

It was quite sobering to see the tight quarters (many of which I was too claustrophobic to enter!) where the men ate, slept, and lived during the years this huge carrier - really a "city on the sea" - was in service.  

Why November 11th?  A quick history of Veteran's Day:
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as "the Great War." Commemorated as Armistice Day beginning the following year, November 11th became a legal federal holiday in the United States in 1938. In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, a holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars. [source]

Memorial Day is the day set aside to honor America's war dead. Veterans Day, on the other hand, honors all American veterans - both living and dead - but especially those veterans sill living who served our country and sacrificed for the freedoms we enjoy today.

Books for Veteran's Day:
The USS Midway had a great little giftshop - I immediately headed over to the kids' area with my daughter and grandson.  Of course, there were quite a few books...

We ended up buying a little sailor hat and the board book, My First Counting Book: *NAVY*for my grandson.

"6 jets perform with amazing precision."

The last page of this little board book says it all:
You just counted from 1 to 10!
For the Navy's brave women and men!
Let's give a big
thank you
for all that they do, to keep our country
for me and for you!

Another good read for Veteran's Day, for older children: 
The House of Sixty Fathers (click on the title to go to my past post).

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Dahl in his flying gear (source here)
This Veteran's Day, consider hunting down two obscure books by much-loved British author Roald Dahl, who served his country during World War II...

Dahl was 23 years old when WWII broke out in 1939.  He joined the Royal Air Force and became a fighter pilot. He flew missions in Libya, Greece, and Syria, and was shot down in the Libyan desert, suffering serious injuries..  He was sent home as an invalid, after "surviving a direct hit at the Battle of Athens".

Eventually he was sent to Washington, D.C., where he was enlisted to help publicize the British war effort by writing a piece for THE SATURDAY EVENING POST.  His writing career was underway.  This account is from the Roald Dahl Official WEBSITE:

Roald Dahl's first book for children was not, as many suppose, JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, but THE GREMLINS, a picture book published in 1943 and adapted from a script written for Disney. Walt Disney had invited the 25 year-old Roald to Hollywood, given him the use of a car and put him up at the Beverly Hills Hotel.  
The story of THE GREMLINS  focused on the mischievous spirits that, according to RAF legend, cause aircraft-engine failures.  In the end, the project to make a movie version was abandoned but the book was published.  Roald was never very keen on THE GREMLINS and didn't really think of it as a children's book.  Nevertheless, it caught Eleanor Roosevelt's eye and Roald became a not infrequent guest at the White House and at FDR's weekend retreat, Hyde Park.

“A life is made up of a great number of small incidents and a small number of great ones. An autobiography must therefore, unless it is to become tedious, be extremely selective, discarding all the inconsequential incidents in one’s life and concentrating upon those that have remained vivid in the memory.” – R.D.

GOING SOLO is Dahl's fascinating autobiography, told with the quirky, humorous style only Roald Dahl can deliver. Beginning with his travels in 1938, at the age of 22, to east Africa, he describes his experiences while working for the Shell Oil Company.  There he encounters lions and battles snakes. His descriptive memoir continues with his war exploits during World War II as an RAF pilot, when he took part in some unbelievable aeriel combat "dogfights".

Altogether, Dahl flew missions from April 1941, to June 1941, sometimes as often as five times a day. He was sent back to England when he began to experience terrible headaches from his old crash injuries that caused him to blackout while flying.

GOING SOLO (for ages 7th grade and up) is the sequel and continuation of his autobiography, BOY: Tales of Childhood.

15 Exceptional Character-Building Stories You Won't Want Your Child to Miss!

"Good books not only capture the imagination, but cultivate the conscience as well"  
-from Books That Build Character

Can reading aloud good books to your children really help develop their character? According to William Kilpatrick, one of the authors of Books That Build Character, the answer is "yes!"  

Are you uncertain about how to choose "good books"? Read my past post here.

Below I've highlighted some excellent points Kilpatrick makes about how stories can affect character development:

- Stories create an emotional attachment to goodness, or a desire to do the right thing.
- Stories provide a wealth of good examples to kids - the kind of examples that might be missing from some children's day-to-day environments.
- Stories are a good way of introducing "codes of conduct" to kids.
- Stories can help kids make sense out of life.

Books about Bravery and Duty
1. The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto by Natalie Standiford.  Click on the highlighted title to read my past review of this book and others about the Iditarod Race.
2. The Emperor and the Kite by Jane Yolen.  A quiet, yet brave young princess rescues her father from a prison tower.
3. Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie by Peter and Connie Roop. This simple but true story brings new meaning to the concept of duty. Abbie is a courageous young girl who is determined to keep her father's lighthouse lights burning while he is away on the mainland, despite the fact that a terrific storm threatens to sweep her family's little house into the sea; that her mother is in bed sick and must be kept warm; and that even the fate of their chickens is in her hands.
4. Clara Barton: Angel of the Battlefield by Rae Bains.  Clara's childhood biography.  She showed remarkable courage and vision as she overcame great shyness to dramatically serve her fellow man.
5. Ride on the Wind by Alice Dalgliesh.  The story of Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927.
6. Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully. Beautifully illustrated Caldecott Medal book about a young girl who learns to walk on a high wire and dramatically helps a high wire veteran overcome his feat to go back on the wire

Books about Friendship
7 & 8. Betsy-Tacy; and Betsy-Tacy and Tib by Maud Hart Lovelace.  Originally published in 1941; set in Wisconsin around 1900. The series - based on the author's life - is set in a small town in Minnesota at the turn of the twentieth century. The first book, Betsy-Tacy, takes place with Betsy and her best friend, Tacy, being five years old. By the second book, they've added a new friend, Tib. The series follows the girls' friendships all the way through to Betsy's wedding! There is so much heartfelt humor, detail, and realistic emotion in the writing, you really get a feeling for life at the turn of the century - from school days and friendships, to falling in love and travel. Girls will have fun growing up with Betsy, Tacy, and Tib as their friends!
9. The Milly-Molly-Mandy Story Book by Joyce L. Brisley.  Originally published in 1928.  Another delightful novel, set in an English village and its surrounding countryside.

Books about Sacrificing for Others
10. Leah's Pony by Elizabeth Friedrich. Set in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, this is the story of family love and the kindness of neighbors. A girl of 11 is willing to sell her beloved pony so her nearly bankrupt family will not have to lose their farm.
11. Miss Fanny's Hat by Jan Karon.  A plucky 100-year-old lady becomes willing to offer her favorite hat for her church's fund-raising auction. (3-8)

Books about Faith and Endurance
12. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  How the Ingalls family, living in a new town on the South Dakota prairie, survive a harsh seven-month winter filled with blizzards.
13. More than Anything Else by Marie Bradley.  Beautifully and poignantly told story of how Booker T. Washington learned to read at the age of 10. Click the highlighted title to read my past review.
14. The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot, by Alice and Martin Provensen. A story about the first solo flight across the English Channel in 1909, and about building the plane that made the flight. (4-8)
15. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. "Whatever comes," she said, "cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it." There never was a sweeter, more unselfish heroine than Sara Crewe, a young girl from a wealthy family who humbly and heroically endures the scorn, hatred, and jealousy of the headmistress and some of the other students at her English boarding school while her father is away in India. (8 and up)

So many more out there!  What are some of your favorite character-building stories?