My annual Black Friday tradition at Orange Marmalade is to cajole you — oh so winningly! — to resist the flood of electronic toys vying for your attention and choose juicy, life-giving gifts!

packages tied up with string

This holiday season give packages jammed with potential for creativity, recreation, and imagination. Gifts that spark wonder. Gifts that get kids moving. Gifts that promote community rather than riveting eyes to a screen. 

pottery together

This year, I’ve pulled together all my past lists so you can find them easily, with links, in a new tab at the top of the page. I have tried not to repeat myself over the years so there are lots more great ideas tucked in there. These are merely suggestions to get your creative-gift juices flowing. If it’s a hard-t0-find item, I’ve linked to a website that carries it.

Ages Birth to 2

If you’ve got a brand-new-to-the-Earth person on your list this year, these organic snugglies look mighty charming:

cuddle bunny

Cuddle Bunny

Nesting and stacking, putting in and taking out, making trains for small dollies…you can’t go wrong with nesting blocks. Here’s a charming woodland set:

petit collage nesting blocks

Nesting Blocks

A bucket is exceptionally handy. For sand and water. For mixing mud. For a hat. A chair. A drum…

tinsmith sand pail

Puzzles are yummy brain food. These are so beautiful, I think:

puzzles by melissa stewart and kevin hawkes

eeBoo puzzles 

A road-rug is a long-lasting present. Kids will play with it for years.

road map rug

A merry way to spend time relishing sunshine and breezes:

bucket swing

I don’t mention many board books on my blog, but here are several you might enjoy, plus one splendid book of nursery rhymes:

one two buckle my shoe cover image

One Two Buckle My Shoe, by Salina Yoon — A bright, clever counting book with pictures that magically transform as you turn the page.

Pantone Colors cover image

Pantone Colors — Arrays of nuanced colors will get you spotting Basketball Orange and Radish Red, and perhaps naming your own zesty shades.

old bear cover image

Old Bear, by Kevin Henkes — Journey through the seasons with this lumbering fella, a toddler treat from Kevin Henkes.

over the hills and far away cover image

Over the Hills and Far Away:A Treasure of Nursery Rhymes, edited by Elizabeth Hammill — a gorgeous, diverse collection. Read my full review of it here.

Ages 2-6

My kids would have been thrilled to hammer the real nails in this tack board set. I can’t believe this exists in our Land of Utmost Safety, but I’m glad it does!

geometric shapes tack board

geometric art tack board

Doll-house friends with varying skin tones. Yes, I love these:

multiracial dollhouse dolls

multiracial dolls

A sturdy wagon is another long-lasting gift.


For scooting around the park, the neighborhood, or the basement on a rainy day.

razor scooter

I am adamant about bike helmets, and my son is a living testament to how they prevent brain injuries in the case of unforeseen crashes. Don’t ride without helmets.

giro scamp bike helmet

Giro Scamp bike helmet

My kids and I enjoyed this satisfying craft many years ago now, and they made gifts for others with it. Buy pillar candles and go to town decorating them with these wax sheets.

wax decorating sheets

candle decorating supplies

This is a grand age to be gobbling up books. Here are four of my favorites for this age group from this year of blogging:

the teddy robinson storybook cover image2

The Teddy Robinson Storybook by Joan G. Robinson — a chapter book that would make a great first read-aloud. My review is here.

last stop on market street cover image

Last Stop on Market Street, Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson — probably my favorite 2015 picture book. The review is here.

beastly verse cover image

Beastly Verse, a variety of poems illustrated by JooHee Yoon — if you think poetry is dull, just crack this one open! The review is here.

creaturepedia cover image

Creaturepedia, Adrienne Barman — eye-popping color and wonder in this unique catalogue of animals. The review is here.

Ages 6-9

Some ideas never grow old. You can buy stilts or make your own.


If you live in the snow belt…go nordic!

cross country skiing

Puzzles are a great group or solo activity.

ravensberger puzzle

This cooperative game looks fun. Can you work together to keep the town humming during a blizzard?

snowstorm game

Snowstorm game

Building immense, complicated worlds is a lovely way to spend time alone, or with siblings and friends.

Plan wooden city

wooden city

Wool felting is an ancient craft. Set your artist to work with a kit like this one:

friendly fox needle felting kit

wool felting kit

Some children this age are happy independent readers, but all are happy to curl up with you and enjoy a good book together. Here’s a variety to suit this age group:

finn family moomintroll cover image

Finn Family Moomintroll, by Tove Jansson — Read aloud these classic Scandinavian tales and enter a new world! My review is here.

dory and the real true friend

Dory and the Real True Friend, by Abby Hanlon — One of the most endearing, spunky, imaginative kids in literature. My review is here.

atlas of adventures cover image

Atlas of Adventure, Rachel Williams and Lucy Letherland — Explore and dream together about our magnificent world. My review is here.

winter bees and other poems of the cold cover image

Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold, Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen — I think it’s one of the most beautiful books of 2014. Poems and prints about wintering animals. My review is here.

Ages 9-12

In case you hadn’t noticed, coloring books for adults are taking over the world. Here’s a good one full of intricate designs to color with ink pens.


Build your own camera obscura?! Now that is a cool idea.

camera obscura kit

camera obscura kit

Hammocking is a thing, you know, indoors and out. Buy one for your child, or, you know, buy a bunch and try this:

tower of hammocks


This sounds like rambunctious fun for a wide age range. 



Giving your child a piece of outdoor gear is a fantastic way to equip them for a life of adventure. A good daypack is one of the basics. Here’s one from REI:

REI Tarn 18 Pack


Perhaps the most accessible musical instrument out there. Set up some beginning lessons and let ’em fly.

child's guitar

 Here are just a few book suggestions for this age group: 

harry potter and the sorcerer's stone illustrated edition cover image

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: The Illustrated Edition, by J.K. Rowling and Jim Kay — This brand new edition, awash in atmospheric paintings, would make a grand gift for a Potter fan or newbie.

canoeing with the cree cover image

Canoeing with the Cree, by Eric Severeid — The astonishing and true account of a couple of adventurous teen-age boys in the 1930s. My review is here.

the wacky and wonderful world through numbers cover image

The Wacky and Wonderful World Through Numbers, from Barron’s Educational Series — Kids this age are fact-hounds. This lively volume is just the ticket. My review is here.

where children sleep cover image

Where Children Sleep, James Mollison — In this year of refugees, take the opportunity to engage social issues with your kids.  James Mollison’s photography powerfully opens up the world . My review is here.


Happy Holidays to you all!

this bridge will not be gray cover imageThis Bridge Will Not Be Gray, story by Dave Eggers, art by Tucker Nichols
published in 2015 by McSweeney’s

The more you read, the more you discover things you didn’t know that you didn’t know.

And here is one of the things I just discovered I didn’t know that I didn’t know: Why the Golden Gate Bridge is orange.


Here I am, ready to walk across the foggy, orange bridge.

I mean, I knew it was orange because they painted it orange. Yes.

But why orange? That was not something I had thought to ask myself.

this bridge will not be gray illustration tucker nichols

However, now I know why and I am here to tell you: it is worth discovering. It is a curiously interesting story, and leave it to Dave Eggers to tell us in a curiously interesting manner.

In his winning, new, book you will also find out about Life Before the Bridge and Who Built It and Who Designed It and a Number of Other Interesting and Somewhat Obscure Facts. All presented in a  most engaging voice.

this bridge will not be gray illustration2 tucker nichols

Tucker Nichols’ cut paper illustrations are brazen, bold, Matisse-esque figures in colors as unusual as…as…as an orange bridge! 

The storytelling and art works together swimmingly, captivating us, regaling us with this slightly-quirky,refreshingly-original story of a guy who saw beyond gray and stuck with orange.

A treat for ages 5 through adult.

a fine dessert illustration by sophie blackall

We’re gearing up for American Thanksgiving this Thursday, so today’s five are focused on gratitude. There are lots more Thanksgiving titles in the Subject Index under Holidays.

thankful cover imageThankful, by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Archie Preston
published in 2015 by Zonderkidz

This first title is a breezy, cheerful catalogue of folks busy about different jobs — waitresses, dancers, doctors, beekeepers — and what they are thankful for in particular.

That’s everything from afternoon tea to the green sprouts in the garden.

thankful illustration archie preston

The brief, rhyming text is accompanied by carefree, sunny illustrations of a brother and sister play-acting all these different roles. There’s no diversity here, unfortunately, but it’s a playful happy world for ages Under-Two and up.

how many days to america cover imageHow Many Days to America?: A Thanksgiving Story, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Beth Peck
published in 1988 by Clarion Books

This decades-old story has poignant new relevance this year as it traces the harrowing flight of a group of refugees towards peace.

Fleeing from an ominous threat of soldiers, a family of four hurries out in the night. Secrecy, fear, an overcrowded boat, a journey that becomes a miserable ordeal, and finally the welcome arms of strangers. As it happens, they’ve arrived in America on Thanksgiving Day. Clearly the giving of thanks for safety in a new land has double meaning for this particular dinner party.

how many days to america illustration beth peck

Beth Peck’s beautiful illustrations portray these seekers handsomely, with dignity, throughout their plight. Their country of origin remains unnamed which nicely keeps the story ever-timely.  Ages 4 and up.

the thanksgiving door cover imageThe Thanksgiving Door, written and illustrated by Debby Atwell
published in 2003 by Houghton Mifflin

Here’s another story of welcoming.

Ed and Ann are alone for Thanksgiving this year and unfortunately, Ann has just the thanksgiving door illustration debby atwellmajorly burned their dinner. 

With black smoke curling up from the oven (my smoke detector would be shrilling off at this point) Ed suggests they try the little restaurant down the street. The doors are open, and a long Thanksgiving-looking table has been set, so all seems well.

What they don’t see is the ruckus they’ve caused in the back kitchen as the restaurant owners, an extended family of Russian immigrants, debates what to do about these folks who have wandered into their private family gathering.

the thanksgiving door illustration debby atwell

Leave it to Grandmother to set everybody straight and extend an Old World welcome in this New World. It’s a lovely, warm story with Atwell’s equally warm, primitive-style illustrations. Ages 3 and up.

gracias thanks cover imageGracias = Thanks, by Pat Mora, illustrations by John Parra
published in 2009 by Lee & Low

What are you thankful for?

The little boy in this book describes the many pieces of his life that make him thankful, such as the ladybug that landed on my finger, a little red flying surprise, and his Abuelita, who always winks and gives me a dollar when nobody’s looking. The text is in both Spanish and English.

gracias thanks interior mora and parra

John Parra’s bold, colorful paintings have a distinct Hispanic-mural quality to them. The vivid pages create an exuberant tone for the brief text. A happy choice for ages 2 and up.

thank you and good night cover imageThank You and Good Night, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
published in 2015 by Little Brown and Company

Clement, Jean and Alan Alexander are three little stuffed animals belonging to Maggie. Tonight is a very special night because they are having a lovely pajama party!

Dancing and games, yoga and goodies, then it’s time for brushing teeth and a bedtime story. Maggie is a whiz at organizing one swell party and tucking her tired peeps into bed.

thank you and good night interior patrick mcdonnell

The last moments of the day are for talking about what they’re each thankful for. It’s quite a happy little list and such a peace-inducing way to fall asleep.

Darling and tender, with charming illustrations of this little crew that will steal your heart. References to Goodnight Moon are scattered among the pictures, which observant eyes will notice, as well as a few other classic storybook characters. It’s a clear winner, a lovely bedtime read, for ages Under-Two and up.

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child

By far the most popular post I’ve written in five years of blogging is my musing on the role of children’s literature in a sorrowing world.

I wrote that in March of this year. Here we are in November, and what a year it has been, with earthquakes of suffering reverberating across widening circles. So, I thought I’d bring that post into the light of day again.

Read it by clicking on this link: In a World of Sorrow, Shall I Dish Up Green Eggs and Ham?

May we all strive to spread peace, empathy, and goodness in our spheres.

the teddy robinson storybook cover imageThe Teddy Robinson Storybook, written and illustrated by Joan G. Robinson
this edition published in 2014 by Macmillan Children’s Books

I know Pooh Bear and I know Paddington, but I’ve never before met Teddy Robinson, though his stories have been around since the 1950s.

He’s a nice, middling-sized bear belonging to a small girl named

A well-loved vintage edition of Teddy Robinson stories.

A well-loved vintage edition of Teddy Robinson stories.

Deborah. The two of them happily share in adventures, holidays, and sundry outings, chatting amiably together all the while.

The 15 brief, stand-alone stories collected in this volume are the essence of quaint British children’s fare. Tea parties and afternoons

dolly mixture!

dolly mixture!

at the park, Wellington boots and miniature jellies in egg cups. Sunny days and pleasant friends. Heaps of imaginative play. And a little something called dolly mixture, just the ticket for birthday tea.

Joan Robinson based these warmhearted stories on her daughter’s stuffed bear, and illustrated them with uncomplicated black line drawings. Whether the two of them are going to the seaside, the teddy robinson illustration2 joan g. robinsonhospital, or dance class, Teddy frequently faces some wee problem, not dramatic enough to disturb a young child, but still,  just the sort of niggling concern a small person feels — feeling left out, feeling upstaged, feeling afraid — which must be navigated. Never clobbering us with any tiresome lessons, Robinson winsomely brings the little bear through every trouble with all of his pluck intact.

The closest parallels I can think of for the feel of these stories areteddy robinson illustration joan g. robinson the Milly Molly Mandy books. They would make an ideal read-aloud for young children, ages 3-6, who are ready to try stories without many pictures. Short and happy, these will hopefully inspire imaginative, non-electronic ideas for playtime and daydreaming.

child soldier cover imageChild Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War, by Jessica Dee Humphreys and Michel Chikwanine, illustrated by Claudia Dávila
published in 2015 by Kids Can Press

There is no shortage of terrible realities to mourn in our world, but one of the bitterest must surely be the use of child soldiers.

Some subjects are almost too painful to look at, and for me, this is one of them, but look we must if we would respond with humanity, justice, generosity towards the precious victims of such abominable crimes.

child soldier interior2 humphreys, chikwanine, and davila

double click on image for a larger view

Michel Chikwanine was kidnapped and brutally forced to become a child soldier when he was just 5 years old, living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His heartbreaking, courageous account of captivity with the rebel militia is here to open our eyes to the needs of all such children.

child soldier interior3 humphreys, chikwanine, and davila

This book is Michel’s story, told in graphic novel format, of his happy early years, his traumatic time under rebel control, his escape, and the nearly-impossible task of reestablishing a sense of normalcy. In the years following his abduction, Michel’s home and community were torn apart by the ongoing violence. Michel and several family members were eventually able to take refuge in Canada, where he now lives.

child soldier interior humphreys, chikwanine, and davila

One important reason for Michel’s story to be told just now, at this moment in time, is the message of insulation and callous indifference being voiced even as overwhelming numbers of traumatized refugees flee unspeakable violence in their homelands. ISIS gloats over their use of child soldiers. If I were a mother in that region, I would do anything, anything, to get my children out of their reach. I challenge you: read Michel’s account, and then consider what it means to relegate these desperate people to a life of such appalling danger.

Additional material in the book includes statistics and further information about the use of child soldiers around the world, what is being done to help, and how you can take action.

Michel Chikwanine

Michel Chikwanine

This is not a book for young children. I might suggest ages 12 and up. It would be a good book to read together with your kids. While it is painful, it also provides rich insights and introduces us to an incredible hero — an endurer. We are definitely the richer for hearing his story.

Another terrific entry in the Citizen Kids collection from Kids Can Press. Thank you, Canada.

this is my home this is my school cover imageThis is My Home, This is My School, written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean
published in 2015 by Farrar Straus Giroux

Okay. This is a book I’ve been waiting for.

Jonathan Bean has delivered an authentic, marvelously-chaotic, loving glimpse of a homeschooling family who charge into the juiciness of life, explore and experiment with abandon, make messes, cultivate curiosity, and embrace the world as their classroom.

this is my home this is my school illustration jonathan bean

Relying on his own experience growing up in this environment, Bean is able to capture — finally! — that mixture of mayhem and creativity and mom, energy and inventiveness and freedom; the seamless intermingling of learning, living, playing, and working; the feast of ideas spread everywhere and responded to by various ones in their various ways.

this is my home this is my school illustration4 jonathan bean

This is how our homeschool looked, too, and it is a curious joy, and somehow a validating experience, to see it presented so positively, so artistically, with such verve and good humor.

If you’ve read Bean’s earlier book, Building Our House (and if you haven’t — you should) you will easily recognize the setting — that homey house set among Pennsylvania’s rolling, wooded hills — and family. The children are older now, though, and their independent, high-spirited lives are portrayed in much more rambunctious line and color than previously. There’s a grand lot to take in, in every scene.

this is my home this is my school illustration2 jonathan bean

Homeschooling is an unfamiliar world to most families, and its portrayal in children’s literature is, understandably, scant. A character might be homeschooled out of some sort of dire necessity, but soon enough they return to “real” school. (Surviving the Applewhites is a delightful exception.) I applaud Farrar Straus Giroux and Jonathan Bean for publishing a new viewpoint of this odd lifestyle some of us have adopted. Thank you.

Certainly homeschooling is not a practical choice, nor the best choice, for most families. I hope that if you’re part of the vast majority of the population who aren’t home educators, you’ll still treat yourself to this book. The delights of living and learning together belong to all of us, to cultivate all our lives. For that reason, I think you’ll come away from this brief tour of one boy’s homeschool encouraged to, as Bean says, scavenge for something to learn in every moment.

this is my home this is my school illustration3 jonathan bean

Ages 3 and up. And P.S. — There’s a swell scrapbook of vintage Bean family photographs in the end pages. Too fun.


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