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 26, 2014

It's All About Cranberries Over Here!

It's a Cranberry Thanksgiving again on my blog - and at my table!

I am in awe of these little powerhouse fruits - their vibrant red jewel-like tones, their health benefits, and of course their lovely tart flavor.

Today I'm recommending the same Thanksgiving read as in years past, Cranberry Thanksgiving.  

Cranberry Thanksgiving is the story of a young girl named Maggie who lives with her Grandmother near a cranberry bog in New England. Maggie and her Grandmother traditionally each invite a guest to their Thanksgiving feast. But this particular year, Grandmother almost loses her secret recipe for cranberry bread to one of the guests.

You can check out the book's lovely illustrations - and the cranberry bread recipe from the book - here on the  Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves blog. 

This year I've got a new cranberry sauce recipe to share.  The last time I blogged about this book - and cranberries - I posted a recipe for a spiced zinfandel cranberry sauce  (go here for that one). Today's recipe utilizes your crockpot!

I adapted this year's Easy Crockpot Apple-Cranberry Sauce from Dara's Cookin' Canuck blog - here). It's got six ingredients: cranberries, apples, sugar, orange juice, orange zest, and crystallized ginger. Mmmm...My mouth has been watering all afternoon in anticipation!

You  mix the simple ingredients all together (except for the ginger, which goes in later), put them in your crockpot, and give them a stir once in a while.  Eight hours later, you have cranberry sauce! Easy. Peasy. You're welcome!

I plan to reserve some of the sauce to pour over a log of goat cheese and serve with crackers as an appetizer (might even stir in a little chopped cilantro, green onion, and lime juice).  The rest will be put in a pretty cut glass dish to go with the turkey...

Easy Crockpot Apple-Cranberry Sauce

Gather and prepare:
4 medium Gala apples - cored, peeled, quartered and sliced
1 (12 oz.) package fresh cranberries
1/2 c. coconut sugar (or brown sugar or sucanat)
1 t. orange zest
1/4 c. orange juice
1/8 c. crystallized ginger, chopped (add later)
1/2 t. cinnamon (optional, add later)

Pour orange juice into the bottom of a large crockpot.

Put sliced apples and fresh cranberries into a large bowl and toss with sugar and orange zest.  Add to crockpot, and cover with lid.

Turn crockpot to LOW, and cook for about 8 hours.  Stir occasionally, breaking up apple slices and cranberries with a wooden spoon as they soften.

When done, stir in crystallized ginger (and cinnamon, if desired).  Taste, and add an additional tablespoon or two of sugar if desired.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Quirky Fable by Aldous Huxley

Today I'd like to share with you the book The Crows of Pearblossom by Aldous Huxley, who died on this day in 1963 (July 26, 1894 - November 22, 1963).  Yes, the famous English essayist, critic, and novelist - author of Brave New World - wrote a children's book!
Illustrations by Sophie Blackall

Huxley, born in England and educated at Balliol College, relocated to Southern California with his family in 1937.  He wrote The Crows of Pearblossom for his niece, Olivia, in 1944 as a Christmas gift.  In 1967 it was published in a small-format edition chapter book (now of of print) illustrated by Barbara Cooney.

The quirky tale is about how two silly crows - with the help of a wise owl - outsmart a sneaky snake who's been devouring their eggs.  This is a story about cleverness triumphing over greed.

I recently ordered the 2011 edition because I was so intrigued that Huxley wrote a children's book - and because I couldn't resist Sophie Blackall's (Ruby's Wish) wonderful illustrations!  Happily, I was not disappointed.

You can read a great overview and history of this chapter book transformed to picture book, HERE.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Library Book Advent Calendar

Hello there, Mary here again--I'm WendyLady@Good Books for Young Soul's daughter, and mother of her grandchild! Over the weekend, I shared my reflections and memories of observing Advent in my childhood Orthodox Christian home.  Today, I'll be sharing about a new tradition that I'm hoping to make an annual undertaking as my own family observes Advent: making an Advent Book Calendar! For this my first attempt, I used mostly library books from two local libraries, and also a few books from my own stash. Thanks for reading, and I hope you'll leave a comment on today's post, my previous post, or Good Books for Young Souls' Advent book giveaway post for the chance to win the beautiful book Can It Be True? by Susan Hill and illustrated by Valerie Greeley! Entries via comment must be made by 12pm noon Pacific Standard Time today, Monday November 17. 11/17 update: Giveaway over. Congrats to my winner was TawniM!

Now, onto the tutorial:
Step one: get some good tea--this project does take time! But is well worth the effort!

My son absolutely loves to read (though I understand that this is not so typical of a barely-two-year-old). He can sit with me reading to him for an hour if he's focused enough, but he also enjoys "reading" to himself. SO, making him an Advent Book Calendar seemed like the perfect way to really introduce him to the Advent season of anticipation, and especially to the story of what we are waiting for: the Nativity of Jesus Christ! We are Antiochian Orthodox Christians, and so observe a 40 day Advent from November 15-December 24. But whether you observe a 40 day Advent season or a 25 day Advent season in the month of December, this is a wonderful project and a great tradition to share with your family!

As I said about my son, he's barely-two-years-old, so for our first Advent Book Calendar this year, I tried to get a mixture of books. Finding nearly 40 GOOD Nativity and Christmas books at my local libraries--I felt like I was on a treasure hunt! Of course, I chose many books about St. Nicholas and different tellings of the Nativity story. Grandma gifted us with two wonderful Nativity books, Room for a Little One and Christmas in the Manger last year. But my local libraries provided other great versions in The First Night The Donkey's Christmas SongLittle Bunny Finds Christmas, The Friendly BeastsThe Story of Christmas, We Three Kings and a lovely 1952 vintage copy of Christmas in the Barn! I did also get some "seasonal" books that are by some of our favorite authors and illustrators...Jan Brett, Olivier Dunrea, Nancy Tillman, Jean de Brunhoff, Richard Scarry, Karen Katz, and Alexandra Day, to name a few. 

Gennady Spirin's ethereal illustrations depict the lyrics of the well-loved song in We Three Kings.
This might be the book I purchase this year! It looks like a medieval masterpiece!

I was so pleased to find this lovely book, Jane Ray's The Story of Christmas, at my local library!
The illustrations are absolutely beautiful and captivating, and the text is adapted directly
from the Gospel texts about the Nativity. A real treasure!

The Spirit of Christmas by Nancy Tillman.
Am I the only one who wishes my dreams were Nancy Tillman illustrations?!?!
So beautiful, I just want to jump into the book!

Here's how I did it:

Step 1 - Compile the books!

I am on a Budget (with a capital "B").  Advent is 40 days long, and buying 40 books is just not something I can afford to do right now. So I headed to my local library, and while my son played and looked at books, I went to the "Christmas" shelf in the Children's section. I found some books that were favorites from my childhood, but also some "new" treasures. Lucky for me, my library does NOT have a limit as to the amount of books I can check out (woohoo!), and I can also renew online twice (woohoo x 2!) so long as no one has requested one of my books. So off I went to the checkout with 22 Christmas books...in the second week of November. I had a couple books of my own at home, and the rest I got from another local library (I didn't want to "hog" all the good ones at the nearest library. SHARE the bookwealth, by all means!!) *NOTE: My mommy has listed some FANTASTIC Advent and Christmas books on her blog in past years, which you can see here and here and here!

Step 2 - Get organized!

Since I checked out SO many books, I needed to make a system to be sure I returned the right books to the right places. I didn't want 40 wrapped packages and then to get a notice that I had to return some due to requests and have to unwrap them all to figure out which one. I organized the books into categories: Nativity books (a big stack!), saints books (St. Nicholas, St. Lucia, the Magi), Toddler/Concept books (counting, alphabet books), and "other" (where I threw in The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers and How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss). I kept my receipt printouts from the checkout so I could reference the titles and due dates to easily renew the books online.

Step 3 - Wrapping the books!

Plan ahead--this step takes time! I bought a giant roll of Kraft Paper at Michaels that cost $5.99 but I had a 40% off coupon for the WIN! Once I wrapped each book, I lightly wrote in pencil on the back the title and author/illustrator for each one, so that in CASE I need to return one, I know exactly how to find it. 

It saved time and paper to wrap books of the same size at the same time!
I just sliced the paper between the books and voila!

Step 4 - Number the books!

I went through and compared the books to my calendar...the first books I numbered were those surrounding feast days (St. Nicholas books were the week around his feast day on Dec. 6, St. Lucia book on her feastday Dec. 13, etc). Next, I knew we'd be out of town for a few days at Thanksgiving and did not want to risk losing library books during the weekend, so I made sure to number those books from my own stash. Finally, I chose my favorite Nativity books for the week leading up to Christmas. The rest of the books, I spread out across the remaining days using my "categories". Phew-that was hard to explain, but really quite easy to execute! I'm SO glad I wrote the names in pencil on the back!!

Step 5 - Display the books!

Pinterest search for "Advent Book Calendar" and you'll be amazed at some of the cute and creative ideas that comes up! As for me, I'm all for cuteness, but let's be practical--my kid is two. I decided to try to make part of this project reusable: I made 40 felt ornaments for a felt Christmas tree for him (so cheap and very easy!) Each package has an ornament attached, and so each day he gets to fill up his tree a bit more. And I stuck with some sticker numbers leftover from another project to number the packages. I displayed them with my son's manger scene, which is great because then it's right there to reference and re-tell the story whenever we read a Nativity book!

Step 6 - Enjoy the books!

I think that my son will really love this tradition, and I can't wait to recreate it every year as my family grows.  I hope that it will help to teach him the anticipation and even fasting that we practice during Advent. We limit ourselves to one a day, but as we open each book, we get one day closer to the Nativity! My plan is to buy my children one or two books each year for our Advent Book Calendar, so that by the time they've "outgrown" this tradition, they'll have a wonderful arsenal of Advent and Christmas books to pass along to their children! I think that using library books is GREAT for this idea because it's a FREE way to discover what books your family will love most, and to THEN make the investment into those books.

Here is Peter, opening his first book, Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown.
He so enjoyed reading it and putting his little felt ornament on his tree!!

Other Ideas:

So thank you for letting me share my thoughts! Here are some additional thoughts I have that I wanted to share that might tailor better to your needs. If you've done an Advent Book Calendar with success in the past, please feel free to share your ideas in the comments section below!
- If you don't like the idea of wrapping, try a large box or chest with a lock (or without and trust your kids not to open it!) and let them choose one book each day!
- If you want to be even more "economical" with this project, in addition to using library books, why not wrap them in newspaper, last years' wrapping paper, Trader Joes bags (seriously, I could write a book about things I've made with these!), or even cloth! 
- If you are looking to buy books, consider buying used books online, at thrift stores, garage sales, or (my personal favorite!) find a fantastic Library Used Book Store!
- For older children, why not print out the lives of the saint(s) of the day for them to read? There's a great resource on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Website for this!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Memories of Advents Past

Hello there! My name is Mary, and I am daughter of the fantabulous Good Books Lady, Wendy. Nice to meet you! Today I'll be sharing a post about some of my childhood memories of the Advent season that we celebrated in our Orthodox Christian home (on the "new calendar," from November 15-December 25) and about how I'm now the mommy of a sweet two-year-old-boy and working to keep the Advent season a special time in my own home. I'll also be guest posting next week when I'll share with you about the Library Book Advent Calendar I'm making for our son! These posts are specifically about my experiences and ideas, but I've tried to include lots of hyperlinks to past posts and external sites for your reference. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy the journey! Blessed Advent!

*Don't forget to check out Good Books for Young Souls Giveaway on the beautiful book Can It Be True? by Susan Hill, Illustrated by Valerie Greeley. Comment on today's post or yesterday's post for a chance to win this beautiful book!*GIVEAWAY OVER!

This is me...25 years ago in our church's Christmas Play!

Childhood memories and the foundations of faith during Advent

I remember Advent from my childhood. Advent was a time of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, but also of great blessing and anticipation! In the Eastern Orthodox Christian Faith that I practice, Advent is a 40 day observance as we journey to be with Christ when He comes, glorified in the flesh, born of the Virgin in a humble manger.  Advent means “coming” or “arrival”, especially of something important or anticipated: in this case, the Incarnation of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  

We would light the candles of our Advent Wreath each night, and sit around the table in the darkness, save for the flickering flames. My dad was usually the one to read the scriptures for the day, and we would each get to build our own advent chain with illustrations based off of what we listened to.  We would sing an Advent hymn. My brothers and I especially loved the journey of Advent through the Old Testament, beginning at the beginning with creation, and then on through the stories of the prophets and saints who were awaiting the coming of the Messiah. As children, you don't really understand all of the imagery and prophecy and foreshadowing and perhaps don't quite grasp what it means that Jesus is coming to be born among us as the incarnate God, but WOW, looking back, when I hear these verses as an adult and hear the genealogy read on Christmas Eve, I think back on these childhood memories, and appreciate how those times laid the foundation for a faith that has become my own.

Me and my brothers with our godparents and godbrother around my mom's
German Christmas Pyramid, fondly known to us as "the whirligig."
It has beautifully carved nativity scenes displayed on each of three tiers!
The Advent Season also meant the celebrations of two of our favorite saints: St. Nicholas of Myra and St. Lucia of Syracuse! These feast days were landmarks of the season, and brought more church services with beautiful hymns. And as the Nativity drew closer and our Advent candles burnt lower, it meant our parish's annual St. Lucia procession and Christmas program! Things we loved; things I still love!  
My parents seemed to strike a healthy balance of helping us to keep focus on the season of Advent in the midst of the consumerist “holiday season” all around. They didn’t expect us to be monastics, and we still had our fair share of cheer, a Christmas tree, and did activities that helped us to anticipate the Nativity! 

Me and my younger brother, Jonny, making gingerbread to give to friends and family on Christmas

But we ended our days with our thoughts turned heavenward, to the Christ who was coming to save us. For 40 days we fasted, and once us kids were old enough, we participated in abstaining from meat and dairy products together with our parents. We gave charitable donations as a family, whether we gave away clothes and toys and food, or gave financially to organizations. And of course, we attended church services that helped us to maintain focus on the season of Advent!
I am so blessed to now be a wife and mother, raising my son in the Orthodox Faith and in an Orthodox Christian home. I have been married to my wonderful husband for almost 7 years (we met at my home parish 11 years ago!) and our sweet son was baptized into that same parish that I was baptized into 27 years ago. I find such guidance and peace in the wisdom of our Mother the Church, and the beautiful faith we practice there! I remember last year when my son was just 15 months old at Christmas, I would show him an icon of the Nativity at church and he would say "Jesus!" "Baby!" and "Tokos!" (for "Theotokos"). I thought How incredible! Even in infancy he has a frame of reference and is learning his faith through looking at icons! This Advent, he is just over two, and is quite the talker. He absolutely loves going to church, will make almost anything he finds around the house into a censer, and prays daily for our clergy. He already has his manger scene out and it is one of his favorite storytelling toys (though we try to treat this toy with the special respect it deserves)! 

For myself, I have found that the blessing of motherhood has challenged and increased my faith, and being equipped with the tools and pillars of the Church (scripture, services, prayers, sacraments, feasts, saints, etc) I feel so blessed to hold my son's hand as he learns his faith and learns to love God on his own. Advent is such a rich time to help to teach him the beginnings of that faith as we anticipate the birth of the Godman Jesus on Earth, come to save us from our sins. So as we await this coming, I hope to teach him to the best of my ability, as I learn anew myself! There's a saying in Orthodoxy, that you cannot and should not ever "know it all" in regards to faith. We are always learning! So I learn humbly to stand in awe before Jesus our Lord alongside my little ones, my husband, and the Body of Christ--His Church.

The "whirligig" Nativity is still captivating, all these years later!

Next week I'll be sharing a "how to" post about how I made a Library Book Advent Calendar for my little guy! In the meantime, my mama has compiled a helpful list of Advent and Christmas Resources you can take a look at. And here are a few additional Advent ideas that I remember our family carrying out in my childhood...
- Wake up at dark-thirty on St. Lucia's day (Dec. 13) and dress up like this amazing saint to bring coffee, cocoa and Lucia buns to your family!
- Make a tradition of giving gift-filled stockings or shoes on St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6--since really, Santa has nothing to do with the Nativity, but coincidentally the feast of St. Nicholas falls during the time of preparation for Nativity, and he's famous for giving gifts!) Just a note since I know some families are hesitant about this...my brothers and I never once thought it was odd that St. Nicholas visited us on his feast day, while Santa visited most other kids on Christmas. :)
- Spend the day and evening on St. Nicholas Day doing charitable works in secret. We would sometimes donate clothes or toys to a needy family at church or in the community, and it was such a joy for us when we pulled it off without them knowing!
- Minister to the homeless and the elderly. For years, our family regularly visited a sweet wheelchair-bound elderly woman, Margaret, who was paralyzed from MS. She was a treasure! We would spend extra time with her during Advent!
- Give charitable contributions as a family. My parents used to sit us down with a stack of Monopoly money (representing our available funds) and a stack of donation letters to various organizations and let us help decide what to give where. They'd encourage us to give from our own allowances!
- Go to church, celebrate the feasts, fast and pray and sing together! Your Nativity celebration will be much the richer when the time finally comes to say "Christ is Born! Glorify Him!!!"

Friday, November 14, 2014

An Advent Giveaway: "Can It Be True?" YES!

Just like opening windows on an Advent Calendar, your children can open books each night during Advent until December 25. Advent is, after all, about anticipation - it's a time to prepare our hearts and draw nearer to God in anticipation of His coming.
source:  Valerie Greeley
My Eastern Orthodox tradition observes Advent for 40 days before Christmas, with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  That's why I start blogging about Christmas books in November. Hopefully it helps give you a head start in planning a Book Countdown to Christmas for your children (whether you do a 40-day countdown, or just the 25 days of December). 

~~Go here for my recommended Christmas book list Resource Page. (And watch for my daughter's guest post tomorrow - she'll be sharing about the Advent Book Calendar she's making for my grandson.)~~

My Advent Book Giveaway offering this year, Can It Be True (by Susan Hill, with illustrations by Valerie Greeley) is, like Advent, full of anticipation.  And it's just the right size for little hands to (carefully) hold!  
It's small  - only 4 and 3/4" x 5 and 1/4" - and perfect as a stocking stuffer, or for your Advent Calendar of Books.  

Leave a comment here on today's post (and/or my daughter's post tomorrow) to enter to win your signed copy, donated by my blogger friend, artist Valerie Greeley, from Acornmoon (the book is signed by both her and the author.) 11/17/14 Update: Giveaway now over.  Winner:  TawniM.  Congrats!

I know your child will love reading along about a message passed 
from animal to animal...
On Christmas Eve.
And can it be true?
(The animals banter back and forth.)

You'll have to read it, to find out what the animals do...

Valerie's illustrations are, as expected, exquisite and the perfect accompaniment to Susan's engaging prose poem.  This little gem will be appreciated by readers of all ages!

In addition to this special book, I'll also be sending my winner two little Dover Christmas sticker books.

Giveaway winner announced Monday, November 17, 2014.   Leave a comment here to enter!  I'm happy to mail anywhere inside or outside the U.S.

Monday, November 3, 2014


Do you have a child who is sounding out his/her letters and showing an interest in reading?  Well, I've got the books for you! Aspiring young readers will love Molly Coxe's exciting BraveMouse Readers, and the stories are so much fun, most kids probably won't realize they're learning phonics in the process!

So far Molly has also created two "Short Vowel Adventures" (Rat Attack and Princess Pig) and is working on a third (Wet Hen).  Molly Coxe is also the author of Benjamin and Bumper to the Rescue, and I interviewed her here on Good Books back in February. (You can read my past interview with her here.)

I've linked Molly's books below to her website, BraveMouse Books, where you'll find resources for parents and educators; a fun "Toybox" tab for children; and examples of the photo illustrations from each story.  These exciting books make phonics fun!

Rat Attack features the “short a” sound, some sneaky rats, a kind grandmother ("Gram"), and her courageous and clever grandchildren ("Ann", "Fran", and "Stan").  A Rat, who keeps donning different disguises, tries to trick Gram into "handing over the jam".  Luckily, her grandchildren "have a plan"!  Your child will love the funny ending.

Princess Pig features the “short i” sound, a bossy pig, and a mouse named "Twig", who knows when to say “No!”  This little tale is about wishes ("Princess Pig" wants lots of wishes!), forgiveness, and friendship.  Find out what happens when the familiar fairytale "three wishes" turn into six!

Coming in the Spring of 2015...
Wet Hen features the "short e" sound, a kind mouse named Ben, and a wet Hen who wants to keep her  eggs dry.

I can't say enough about these adorable early readers!  I LOVE these books, and I think you will too.  Young children will immediately be engaged by Molly's fun photographs of her homespun wool and fabric stuffed felt characters and the imaginative and humorous scenarios she sets them in.
source: BraveMouse Books

Take a look at this short video, which gives us a quick peek into the process of "mouse-making" and  fun photo shoots for these books...

One last thing about these readers: Rat Attack is available in English, and in eight bilingual editions. Princess Pig is available in English, and a Spanish Bilingual Edition. (More languages soon.) Now I just need to know where Molly gets all her cute fabric!