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)

Friday, January 31, 2014

Red Envelopes - and a Wish - for Chinese New Year!

"Gung hei fat choi!"

That’s the traditional Mandarin greeting many will say today - "wishing you prosperity" - to mark the beginning of Chinese New Year.  This important Chinese festival, also known as "Spring Festival", marks the start of new life and the season of ploughing and sowing. The holiday is traditionally linked to honoring the household, heavenly gods, and ancestors.

Today I have a fun book about how a little girl's wish conflicts with traditional Chinese customs and culture:  Ruby's Wish, by Shirin Yim Bridges. The story was inspired by the author's grandmother!

Ruby is a determined little girl who loves the color red.  She also loves to learn, and wants to go to the university like her brothers.  Finally one New Year's Day, Ruby gets something very special in a red envelope from her grandfather. You'll love Sophie Blackall's bright illustrations (like the Ruby in the book, her favorite color is red).

In Ruby's Wish, we learn about the Lantern Festival that is held at the end of the Chinese New Year celebration (traditional Chinese New Year is a two-week holiday divided into two parts. The first week is designated time to spend with family and friends. The second week involves traditions designed to bring good luck. The festivities end with a Lantern Festival.)  Click HERE for a wonderful Chinese New Year craft source, which includes the paper lanterns pictured below.
Before the holiday begins, families tend to clean their homes, but throughout the holiday, dust brushes and brooms are hidden so that good luck won't be swept away. Typically, the holiday begins on New Year’s Eve, when families gather for a large traditional meal in which regional foods are served. At midnight, fireworks are set off to “frighten” evil spirits. Red is a common color for the holiday because it symbolizes fire, which wards off evil.

The holiday itself is usually spent with relatives, shopping, watching fireworks and, in some cases, a religious ceremony honoring heaven, earth, and other deities. Other traditions include stuffing red envelopes (like the one Ruby gets) with money and candy and placing them under children's pillows, to open on New Year’s Day. [source]

You can read my past posts about Chinese New Year (with more book recommendations!) here.
According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2014 is the "Year of the Horse".  For my posts about horse books your kids will love, go here.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Feelings of nostalgia rise (along with the hot-air balloons on the cover of this book) every time I look at this fun recommendation that I'm re-posting from last year: 
The Great Valentine's Day Balloon Race

Published in 1980, it is one of Adrienne Adams' stories involving The Easter Egg Artists (1976), about a Rabbit family by the name of Abbott.  They have a son named Orson (get it? "Orson Abbott"/Our son Rabbit.)

In this particular tale, the Abbotts return for another adventure: Orson is determined to enter the Valentine's Day balloon race, but first, he must figure out how to build a hot-air balloon....with help from his parents and his neighbor, a bunny named "Bonnie".

They know how to make a balloon fly..."You just fill it with
something lighter than air, and it must go up."  They even tie
a big clothes basket to the bottom of the balloon to ride in...
Father goes first, but does not have a successful flight.
After the mishap, Orson figures out they need to make some
changes, so the whole family works on the balloon -
Bonnie, too.
Spreading the balloon on the ground, they puff it up
with a big electric fan.
They finally get it up and flying.  Orson names it
"Bonnies Valentine".  But the balloon needs some color....
After decorating it with some red hearts and flowers, it's
all ready to go! You'll have to read the story to find out
if they've got the know-how to win the race!
Any boy or girl would love this picture book (and will learn something about the science of hot-air balloons at the same time). Adrienne Adams' clear, colorful art is a perfect accompaniment to the fun adventure - for Valentine's Day or any day!!

Adrienne Adams was a very prolific illustrator of children's books.  I especially love her stylized work of the 1960's. Her Snow White and Rose Red (1964) and Twelve Dancing Princesses (1966) - both Brothers Grimm fairytales - were childhood favorites of mine (click the titles to see her illustrations).  Another of my childhood favorites (published in 1968) is Mouse House, illustrated by Adams and written by Rumer Godden (they also teamed together for Holly and Ivy, 1958.)

You can read more about Adams and see some of her other books here and here.

You can read my previous Valentine's Day posts here.

Something else for Valentine's Day:  February 14th (here before you know it!) is also "International Book Giving Day"!  Consider "Leaving a Book, Giving a Book, or Donating a Book" for a child, a friend, a school - anyone! 
Go here for details.  Remember,
A Book is a Gift you can open again and again
-Garrison Keillor

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Some Valentine Love for the Whole Family From Tasha Tudor!

This rich and varied collection compiled by beloved artist Tasha Tudor explores the beauty of all kinds of love through a combination of poems, letters, songs, and stories. 
Each eloquent expression of love is interpreted through Tasha's exquisite watercolors, from the sincerity of Yeats's enduring love to the passion of Cathy in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights
Also included is a charming section about Tasha Tudor's own family traditions for that very special day of love -- Valentine's Day. 
You'll find directions for making valentine bouquets, delicious cakes, and even unique decorative cards, as well as descriptions of holiday projects and events for the whole family. 
Beautifully designed and lovingly illustrated, this distinctive treasury invites parents and children to explore together the meaning of love...every day of the year.
All For Love by Tasha Tudor was originally published in 1984.  This edition is a second printing, published in 2000.  

One of the first posts I wrote for my blog was about the life and work of Tasha Tudor and another favorite author/illustrator, Virginia Lee Burton.  If you care to read it,  go here.  You can read my post about Tasha Tudor's Christmas books here.

Monday, January 20, 2014

An Update on Our Bookish Venture - We "Heart" It!

My daughter and I have been working hard on our new business, and after spending a full day on Saturday sprucing up our little "Bookish" space at the Brick Basement Antique Mall, we were tired - but it was a "good tired"! 
Anticipating Valentine's Day, my daughter has been crafting away, while I've been searching high and low for good vintage books.  Take a little tour...
(Back to front:) To the Heart of a Bear (I found a 1985 first edition); Brother Rabbit Works Magic, a rare find, one of the "Alder Bottom Stories" (pub. in 1929); and The Golden Age by Kenneth Grahame, with illustrations by E.G. Shepard.
I was beyond excited about finding this set of six Louisa May Alcott favorites, reprinted from the years 1911-1925!
A.A. Milne's When We Were Very Young in a red cup atop the classic Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field, 1930 edition. And a beautifully illustrated version of Anne of Green Gables...
Two more treasured volumes: Gulliver's Travels and The Good Master.

So many books, so little time!  Next post I'll be sharing about a beautiful book for Valentine's Day by Tasha Tudor...for the whole family!


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Snowy Book That Will Warm Your Heart

It never fails.

The rest of the U.S. seems to be under piles of snow - while here in Southern California the Santa Ana Winds kick up and we get 80-degree temperatures!

 Growing up in Illinois and then Tennessee, I know how challenging everyday life can be with all that comes with snow and ice, but I do love it!

So I'm going to the snow today!  

As scheduled, with the sun shining brightly out my window and an 80-degree (now gentle) wind blowing, I'm typing up this post about an enchanting story, When It Snows, the debut picture book (new for the U.S. this year) from British artist, Richard Collingridge. For ages 2-6.
A little boy and his teddy bear go on an adventure.  Follow them through this book to experience the magic that happens "when it snows"...
The boy travels to some wondrous places, and the "Queen of Poles" even takes him to the North Pole (note: this book is really more about snow than Christmas). 

The story and illustrations are very dreamlike, and in the end the boy (along with the child reading the book) realizes he can go there everyday...

Go here for my other posts of favorite "snow books".

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

All Aboard! Trains, Trees, Traditions and...Books

My family moved from Memphis to the little town of Grand Junction, Tennessee, when I was in fourth grade. (The town, founded in 1858, was named after the "Grand Junction" of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, which ran through the area.)

To the residents - my family included - it was a kind of comfort to hear the distant train whistle throughout the day.  And even though we moved away from that small town when I was in high school, trains have remained a family favorite.

My past blog posts have included Rev. W. Awdry's original Thomas the Tank Engine book series, as well as a post about the book "Silver Packages", a book about a real Santa Train in Appalachia.  And what child doesn't love the "I - think - I - can" lesson from Watty Piper's The Little Engine That Could.

I was soooo excited when my husband dug out our little battery operated train from the garage.  It had been many years since we'd set it up under our tree. My grandson is delighted with the "coo-coo"!!!  (Confession #1: our Christmas tree is still up because, confession #2: we broke with tradition and got - gasp - an artificial tree this year!)

The train-under-the-tree-tradition (and the train itself, complete with bell and whistle) was handed down to us from my parents.  I can't hear the whistle without remembering how excited my dad would get every time he'd run the train around their tree for my kiddos.

So of course, a few days ago when my daughter and I realized that there was a model train exhibit near our home, we packed up my grandson and his little conductor hat, and went to see it.  Lots of train loving kids and adults were there (many of the adults were without kids - trains after all, are for the young at heart!)

I hope you liked touring the exhibit with us.  Please pass on any train book recommendations you might have.  What are some of your family traditions during the holidays?

Monday, January 6, 2014


After the Advent fast, our family is always ready for the fun and feasting of the "Twelve Days" from December 26-January 6.

In my next couple of posts, I'll be sharing some of what we did this year (book recommendations too, of course).

On the Ninth-Night-after-Christmas, I hosted a Nutcracker Tea Party for Nine Ladies (but only the four little girls in attendance did the dancing - my five adult guests happily looked on.)

The inspirations for my party were happy memories of my daughter's many childhood performances of the ballet, and a cute pop-up book of The Nutcracker, with wonderful illustrations by Phillida Gili.  You can go here to view a short movie of the book's pop-up action.  

On the first page of the book are double doors that fold back to reveal a beautiful pop-up Christmas tree. My daughter and I tried to create the same effect in our dining room: we hung a curtain across the doorway, pulling it back with great drama for the little girls as they entered the "Land of the Sweets", complete with my daughter's hand crafted snowflake ballerinas and our Nutcracker theme decor.

After enjoying our tea and sweets, the girls put on a little show of their own.  We were able again to employ our makeshift curtain, opening it with great bravado to reveal each little dancer as she gave her performance before a rapt audience.  We watched Clara, the Dew Drop Fairy, and the Sugar Plum Fairy (the Chinese Tea Dancer got a bit of stage fright).

I hope you enjoyed a peek into our TEA party.  Now you know why my table was all decorated for yesterday's Mouseton Abbey post.   My next post:  TRAINS!

Printables for Nutcracker paper dolls and theatre can be found hereYou can read my past posts about two other favorite Nutcracker books, one by Avril and Frances Tyrrell - here; the other by Susan Jeffers - go here. Lastly - directions for the snowflake ballerinas my daughter made are here.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


A couple of years ago while between seasons of PBS' Downton Abbey, I satisfied my withdrawals with the fascinating book, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle. (I quickly reviewed it in my past post, "Downton: What's this Abbey's appeal? Go here to read it.)

This year I found a happy diversion in the adorable new picture book Mouseton Abbey, The Missing Diamond.  

While you're waiting for the first episode of the Season IV to start tonight, take a peek...I think you'll be smitten!

The cast of characters: The family - Roquefort, Earl of Mouseton; Lady Brie, Countess of Mouseton; Lady Ricotta; Lady Mozzerella; Lady Fontina; Lady Gouda, Dowager Countess of Mouseton.  And their servants: Wensleydale, the Butler; Miss Swiss, the Housekeeper; Mrs. Cheshire, the Cook; and Monterey Jack, the Footman.

It's Cheesemas at Mouseton Abbey.  And at Cheesemas, the Mouseton family pass around their most precious treasure - the Great Big Cheesy Diamond - and everyone gets to make a wish.

But this year there's a problem. The house is clean, the feast is being prepared, but the Great Big Cheesy Diamond is missing!

Join Lord Mouseton and his servants as they search for the missing diamond.  Will Cheesemas be ruined?  Will anyone get their wish?  Or will they find the Cheesy Diamond in time?

Fun stuff!  Come back and read my next post to find out why my table was all set for teatime - perfect for this book's little photo shoot today!

Mouseton Abbey by Joanna Bicknell and Nick Page, with photo illustrations by Tim Hutchinson. (Mice by Jo Bishop and Carole Meredith - photos by Andy Snaith).