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, January 26, 2021

Need a Hug?

Around this time of year (and especially this year), we all could use a warm, cuddly hug. With  Groundhog Day and Valentine's Day approaching, I thought I'd share a heartwarming book with you that features a hedgehog (hey, it's pretty close to a groundhog!)

"Why will no one hug me?" Hedgehog sniffed. 

"You're just a little bit tricky to hug," replied Owl, "with all your prickly prickles.  But don't worry, there's someone for everyone."

The Hug, written by Eoin McLaughlin, and illustrated by Polly Dunbar, is a unique format picture book that flips over, providing two narratives - and two characters - to love.

Book description: Both a hedgehog and a tortoise are feeling sad and looking for a hug.  They ask all the animals they come across, but for some reason, no one will hug them. Until a wise owl explains: Hedgehog is too spiky; Tortoise is too bony.  And that's when they find each other!

What your child will like about this book: The story read from the front cover to the middle is Hedgehog's story; you turn the book upside down and read from back to middle for Tortoise's story.  Both creatures have the same problem: no one wants to hug them and everyone has an excuse.  Both their stories collide - with a big hug - in the middle of the book.  These two just had to wait until they found their match. 

One more from this writer/illustrator duo: While We Can't Hug, a new picture book for kids in response to social distancing. Hedgehog and Tortoise find other things friends can do besides  hugging - they can wave at each other, write letters, make funny faces, and sing songs...all in a show of their friendship.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Good-by Amazon, hello bookshop!

I don't know about you, but I'm doing all I can for local businesses.  Yesterday I visited a new independently-owned little bookstore in quaint Old Town Tustin, here in Orange County, CA. It's the Arvida Book Co. 

I've often dreamed of opening a little bookshop like this on Main Street, USA, complete with used and new books, a great children's area, cozy reading spaces, bookish merchandise, local art, and good coffee

Our local newspaper had carried a story about the bookshop, and I finally made it for a visit. The owner, Sam Roberston (who chose the name "Arvida" in homage to her South American grandfather) has really gotten this book space right - with tons of help from her friends and family. 

She and her husband Mike opened the shop in October of 2020 - right in the middle of a pandemic situation that has had everyone shopping online!  

Brave Mama (she has two young children) - good for her!

In a second interview (here), Sam said, "The pandemic has given Amazon this crazy leverage over everything. We're not going down without a fight. We're not going to play their game." 

Don't you love her?

Shopping here is waaaay more fun than Amazon anyway! And everything at Arvida is very Covid-conscious, in a non in-your-face way.  They've got cute little book pages and pillows on all the chairs and couches, as a gentle reminder not too stay and read (until this is all past us).  Masks required, of course.

Did I mention there's coffee? From White Sparrow Coffee. (The Robertsons' landlord introduced them to the local vendor.) I didn't get a cup, since it was too late in the day for me, but I can hardly wait to go back for a morning visit! 

With hanging plants and succulents, the whole space is light, bright, and open, but still cozy.

There's a hip, creative funkiness...

...but all the books and antiques make it timeless as well.

And, saving the best for last, there is an awesome children's corner!  Take a closer look...

Sweetly curated, but not too precious. Lots of rustic cubbies for used and new books, 

...and billowing cloth for a tent-like ceiling that hangs over a little table and tree stump stools. What child wouldn't want to plop down here with a book?

There's a campy feeling of the outdoors, with lots of greenery around (even lining the backs of the bookshelves!) It reminded me a little of Neverland.

This place is so fun and inviting. Truly a little "Shop Around the Corner".  Lots of other unique shops and restaurants surround it, all ready and waiting for customers. 

Here was my take-away: a gorgeous new Chiltern's Classic edition of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility and a $2 used hardcover 1952 copy of Charlotte's Web. A good day. Even with a mask.

You might also like my past post, "Word Lovers UNITE! (With E.B. White and Others...), here.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Thumbelina? No, Saint Ia on a Leaf!

Melinda Johnson has a new picture book about St. Ia.  Her hagiography (which we'll get to in a minute) is fairytale-like and her mode of transportation reminded me of Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina

Children love fairytales, which, much like stories of the saints, have a lot to teach us. When I was a little girl, Thumbelina was one of my favorite fairytales.  We had the Little Golden Book version, with illustrations by the Swedish artist, Gustaf Tenggren

Thumbelina was as small as your thumb. As fairytales (and some saints' stories) go, the beautiful girl had several mishaps involving unsuitable and unwanted suitors.  But luckily, several creatures took pity on her and came to her rescue.

Thumbelina may have been defenseless, but she was not helpless. She made do with what nature could give her to survive (a leaf for a boat, blades of grass for a bed, honey for food...). One day she found a swallow, numb with cold and near death. She wove him a blanket from hay and took care of him all winter long.

To repay her kindness, in the spring the swallow let her fly away with him on his back to avoid her unwanted marriage to a mole.  The swallow took her far away to a lovely lake and put her down on a flower petal right next to a little man just her size.  He was the King of the flower spirits. 

You can guess the ending: they got married and lived happily ever after.  Is it irresponsible to read children fairy tales, or can they point us to our King? Go here for thoughts from Fr. Stephen Freeman: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2015/10/28/about-fairy-tales/

So now to Saint Ia of Cornwall, an Irish Virgin-martyr, remembered on February 3. 


I first came across Saint Ia's story in a lovely new book, Seven Holy Women, just put out by Ancient Faith Publishing.  This not-to-be-missed collaborative book was Melinda Johnson's brain child.  I could hardly wait to gift Seven Holy Women to several close friends, my daughter, and our new daughters-in-law for Christmas.

The lives of the saints are important for us to read, especially now during our Covid-enforced isolation - many of the saints certainly lived in isolation. We can definitely learn from their example of time spent with God. 

The science and news of Covid has become for many a distraction during the boredom that can come from isolation. We want connection with life outside our small space. We want answers. So we turn to the news/internet, and as we are inundated with daily (even hourly) updates, science and politics become THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. Suddenly everyone has an opinion to share on their facebook and instagram feeds because we also want people to pay attention TO US. And the more urgent, the more of a possibility that we'll get people to pay attention to us, but unfortunately away from THE ONE THING NEEDFUL. We all need to try our best to use this extra time found in isolation for meditative and fervent prayer and inspiration from our Saints. The last thing we need is more distraction from this.

Some in the world may tell us our saints' stories aren't important, that only truly historically accurate and scientifically explainable stories are to be taken seriously. For more thoughts on this, please refer to Orthodoxartsjournal.corg for excellent articles, especially several from Nicholas Kotar regarding the truth of the Lives of the Saints, here.

Nicholas Kotar says: Seen from the prism of today's mundane reality, which has been rendered practically black and white by the precision of the scientific method, these events [he is referring to a historical mythical event he previously recounted] are simply impossible. But every wise man from time immemorial has warned about judging the past through the lens of the present. Who's to say dragons didn't threaten the monks of the Egyptian desert...that's a question one would be foolish to try to answer until one has tried to understand what these dragons really are, and not in the sense of trying to find a specimen to dissect.

The poet, then, instead of assessing the truthfulness of a certain aspect of a Life or of the Life itself, has a much more important calling - as an apologist of the mythical and improbable in the lives in general.

Back to today's picture book...

As mentioned at the top of my post, Melinda Johnson is also the author of this new little board book, Saint Ia Rides a Leaf. I think it will help parents to know a few details of the life of St. Ia before reading the picture book to their children. 

Saint Ia was an Irish virgin-martyr saint born around 480.  She was baptized into the Christian faith around the tender age of thirteen and wanted to go to Cornwall with missionaries Sts. Fingar and Piala to help teach the Gospel of Christ. 

However, when she arrived at the shore the morning of their planned trip, the ship had already set sail (they probably thought the undertaking too dangerous for her and left early).  Distraught, Ia prayed to God for help.  And He brought it - in the form of a miraculous leaf.

The leaf grew when St. Ia's staff touched it, and she stepped in and was transported across the Irish Sea to England. This is where the simply-told picture book story ends in its telling. 

Saint Ia ultimately ended up landing in St. Ives in Cornwall. She actively evangelized across the countryside. There was a chapel erected by her in Troon, fourteen miles inland to the east. You can read about it here, on historicengland.org.  Ia was eventually martyred under the persecutions of the wicked Breton Prince Tewdwr in the middle of the sixth century.

Author Melinda Johnson is an excellent story-teller, and you will love her fun, energetic portrayal of sweet Ia.  Young children will enjoy Kristina Tartara's cute, colorful illustrations as well as Ia's three companions - a fish, a crab and a sea bird.  

Did Ia really sail to England on a leaf?  She certainly did get there, as history shows. As much as we can learn from a fairytale Thumbelina, we can learn much more from a historical young girl named Ia who loved God with all her heart.  Saint Ia, pray for us! 

Saint Ia Rides a Leaf is available here, from St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.  It can also be found from the Ancient Faith Publishing Store, along with Melinda Johnson's other books Letters to St. Lydia, and the Sam and Saucer chapter books. 

Go here, to Raisingorthodoxchristians.com, for some fun activities as well as a cute coloring page to go with this book!

Monday, January 18, 2021

The People Could Fly: Remembering Those Gone As We Continue To Move Forward

If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. The will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

-Isaiah 4:21-31

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, I offer two beautiful books written by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon:

The People Could Fly. 

William Kilpatrick (from Books That Build Character) writes, "Myths and folktales reflect man's attempt to understand both his greatness and his ability to inflict and to endure suffering". The 24 folktales in this book were mostly shaped by the "given" of slavery in America and are offered in a wide range of imaginative telling...the title story is a hauntingly beautiful tale of slaves on a plantation who recall the ancient African incantations that allow them to fly. There are also riddle stories and the comic tales of Brer Rabbit - which represent the slaves' need to find ways to maintain dignity while evading their masters' cruelty.

Many Thousand Gone. 

From Publisher's Weekly: "The inspired pairing of this Newbery winner and these two-time Caldecott recipients has yielded a heartfelt and ultimately heartening chronicle of African Americans from the earliest days of slavery to the 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery in this country. Made up of succinct yet compelling profiles of celebrated and lesser-known individuals, Hamilton's narrative deftly peels back time's layers and lends an unusual immediacy to this critical chapter in American history."

The stories are heroic and the illustrations are beautiful. Many Thousand Gone is a must-read in helping our children understand the horrors and honor the bravery shown by so many during the time of slavery in our country. It traces the history of slavery in America in the voices and stories of those who lived it. 

Both good reads for this day, as we remember a courageous man who wanted to change the world through his life example of non-violence, belief in equality for all, and civil rights activism.

You may also be interested in my past post about Ruby Bridges, here.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Good-bye to the Twelve Days...

Yesterday marked the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

There may not have been twelve drummers drum-ing, but there was definitely rejoicing in heaven and on earth as God incarnate became manifest to the world: in the East, "Theophany" - the appearance/manifestation of God Triune, Father, Son and Holy Spirit at Christ's baptism - is celebrated and remembered on January 6, across the Orthodox World. (In the West, this January feast is referred to as "Epiphany", the appearance of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi.)

Thus ends the festive Nativity season. And thus, I must now un-decorate my house of all things Christmas and get back to blogging. 

Good-by Nutcrackers, St. Lucia, and my tree.  Hello to more Good Books for 2021!