Long, candlelit evenings and no school in the morning.
Cocoa topped with whipped cream and peppermint candy flakes.
New Christmas jammies.
And a good book.

Sounds like a pretty great way to revel in some hygge during these darkest days of the year, right?
If you’re looking for a read-aloud perfect for that kind of holiday season, consider these old and new titles. Starting with books for the youngest listeners…

Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus, written by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia
first American edition 2010 by Kane Miller Books; 109 illustrated pages

One of my favorite little gals, Anna Hibiscus, travels from her home in Nigeria to spend the Christmas holidays with her Canadian grandmother.

It’s their first meeting and Anna’s first snow. In fact, there’s newness everywhere Anna turns, from Grandma’s quiet household instead of her boisterous, extended family, to dogs that live inside houses and chocolate cereal for breakfast!

Although Anna does miss home, she quickly feels happy and comfy in this new, cold land and has quite a merry time on her Canadian holiday. It’s a joyous read. Ages 4 and up.

A Toad for Tuesday, written by Russell E. Erickson, illustrated by Lawrence Di Fiori
originally published in 1974 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard; 64 pages

I adore Warton and Morton, two very likeable toad brothers who keep house together in a fabulous old series of early chapter books.

Morton makes an especially delicious Beetle Brittle. Warton, the more adventurous of the two, determines to deliver a batch to Aunt Toolia despite the fact that it’s mid-winter. He bundles up, straps on a pair of spiffy, homemade skis, and sets out.

Hygge, toad-style.

Alas! Shortly he is captured by a hungry owl! The owl decides not to consume Warton immediately, saving him until Tuesday, his birthday, for a special treat. That’s five days away. Will Warton’s pleasant conversation and cups of tea soften the heart of this grumpy owl? 

An ace story, plum full of high adventure, great suspense, plus lots of little mice on skis! Di Fiori’s drawings are brilliant. 4 and up.

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, written by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban
originally published in 1971 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers; this edition, 2017; 48 pages

Dear Emmet Otter and his mom eke out a meager living in their Froghollow home by taking in washing and doing the odd job here and there. Emmet is young, but he shoulders a bushel load of responsibility with grace and determination, and the two of them lighten many an evening for one another by joining their voices in song.

Just now, times are even leaner than usual causing both Emmet and Mrs. Otter to daydream of having money enough to give the other a splendid Christmas gift, even just once. When a talent show is announced with a sweet prize for best in show, both of them risk everything to make that dream come true.

Russell Hoban was an enormously gifted children’s author. Here he presents an impoverished family with dignity, hope, and love. Lillian’s charming artwork enlivens the entire community of woodland personalities. 5 and up.

The True Gift: A Christmas Story, written by Patricia MacLahlan, illustrated by Brian Floca
published in 2009 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers; 82 pages

Lily and Liam are always eager to head to their grandparents’ farm to spend the Christmas holidays. This year, however, Liam is immediately distracted by the apparent loneliness of Grandpa’s solitary cow. The rest of the herd is gone. Even the donkey’s been sold. For Liam, it’s an untenable situation. He determines in his own, quiet way, to remedy White Cow’s sorry state.

Patricia MacLachlan spins this unusual plot masterfully, incorporating community and a lovely spirit of giving into this quiet, tenderhearted story. 5 and up.

The Story of Holly and Ivy, written by Rumer Godden, illustrated by Barbara Cooney
originally published in 1958; this edition 2006 by Viking Books for Young Readers; 32 pages

Rumer Godden’s story of the Christmas wishes of one little orphan girl, one china doll, and one childless couple, has been in print for almost 60 years now. It’s an old-fashioned story full of elegant dolls, telegraphs, brown paper parcels and hot chestnut vendors.  I have to say it also shows its age with some cringeworthy comments from Mr. Jones, who responds to his wife’s wistful feelings by chiding, “Don’t be daft,” then leaves the house for his overnight beat calling, “Have a good breakfast waiting for me” in the morning. Yeesh. 

Nevertheless, Rumer Godden’s heart for the lonely, her understanding of the longing to belong, are apparent and this poignant story will touch the hearts of children able to accommodate the vintage atmosphere and abundance of dolls. One villainous toy owl, plus Barbara Cooney’s precise artwork with its solemn, colonial New England sense, help avoid treacly sentimentality. Although it’s only 32 pages, the text is much longer than an average picture book and would easily break up into more than one sitting. 5 and up.

The Family Under the Bridge, written by Natalie Savage Carlson, illustrated by Garth Williams
first published in 1958; this edition 1989 by Harper Collins; 128 pages

I unabashedly love this book!

Unattached, responsible for no one but himself, Armand is a happy, old, tramp who knows his way around Paris, enjoys many friends, and glories in his carefree life. He is not on the lookout for a settled home, but for adventure. Above all, Armand wants to avoid children. Starlings, he calls them. “Witless, twittering, little pests.” His dear friend, Mireli, accuses him of being afraid of children. “You’re afraid the sly little things will steal your heart if they find out you have one,” she says.

So, on this cold December day, when Armand meets three, ragged children tucked under a bridge he considers his own, he feels decidedly grumpy. He wants nothing to do with them. Yet the Calcet children aren’t afraid of Armand’s gruff exterior. Before Armand knows what’s happening, these children have indeed wormed their way into his heart, and Armand is working overtime to help make their Christmas wishes — for a home of their own — come true.

This 1959 Newbery Honor title spills over with humor and heart and as a bonus, it’s illustrated by the one-and-only Garth Williams. 6 and up.

The Lion in the Box, written and illustrated by Marguerite De Angeli
originally published in 1975 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers; out of print; 63 pages

Sadly, this sweet story is out of print but if you live near a large library you may be able to find it.

Mama and her young family live in New York City at the turn of the century where she struggles to earn a living plus raise her five children. She relies greatly on her oldest three daughters to look after the others, and the whole crew is well trained in household chores. Even so, as a single mother she works tremendous hours cleaning offices, then setting the bread dough to rise or the soup bones to simmer after returning home at midnight.

It’s a happy household despite the deprivations. Still, little Lili longs for a real doll rather than her pinned-together tea towel, and wishes Ben had an actual toy train instead of the pickle bottle he chug-chugs around the floor. In her wildest dreams, though, she could never have imagined the strange surprises in store for them this Christmas, especially the huge wooden crate delivered to their door in the night causing such a commotion and fright.

Based on a true story told to the author by the real Lili, this story shines with contentment and a loving family, with the mutual support of immigrant neighbors and the incredible outpouring of generosity by one woman towards another. Illustrated with Marguerite De Angeli’s delicate pencil drawings. An afterword tells about the real Lilli. 6 and up.

Heartwood Hotel: The Greatest Gift, written by Kallie George, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
published in 2017 by Disney Hyperion; 176 pages

Mona the mouse works as a maid at the Heartwood Hotel. It’s situated in a great tree with root floor space for moles and voles, branch floors for chipmunks, twig floors for birds, and a kindly badger as innkeeper. Mona is quite happy in her charming community of woodland friends and ready for a bit of ease while most hotel guests settle in to their hibernation suites.

The winter is anything but peaceful and dreamy however! One petulant rabbit duchess arrives, one bumbling bear threatens their safety, and another hair-raising difficulty arises to test the pluck of Mona and the Heartwood staff.

These stories are delightful. They’ve got a bit of a tiny-animal-Downton-Abbey feel with all the gossip and goings-on among the hotel staff, lots of charming descriptions of acorn soufflés and moss carpets, and darling illustrations. This is the second of a series. 7 and up.

Odd and the Frost Giants, written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell
published in 2016 by Harper; 120 pages

This is the epic story of Odd, a young boy in medieval Norway who is fairly down on his luck. With his father drowned during a Viking raid, his leg lamed via a logging accident, his mom remarried to a lazy lout, and a long sluggish winter ahead cooped up with cranky villagers, Odd determines to hike into the forest and live independently in his father’s old hunting lodge.

Sooner than you can say Thor’s Hammer, though, Odd encounters a curious threesome — a fox, an eagle, and a bear. These three are definitely more than meets the eye. In fact, they’re Norse gods, transformed and deposed by some cunning, evil, Frost Giants. Journey with Odd and his companions to Asgard to right the wrongs in this heroic tale brimming with cups of mead and tricksters tricked, frozen landscapes, and the relentless pursuit of Beauty. Neil Gaiman spins his saga magnificently while Riddell’s ink drawings are enchanted and mythical. Ages 7 and up.

The Thirteen Days of Christmas, written by Jenny Overton, illustrated by Shirley Hughes
originally published in 1972; reissued in 2013 by Oxford University Press; 154 pages

It’s Christmas-time in Tudor England. Annaple, eldest in the Kitson household, has burned one too many dinners to please her kindly father and harassed siblings. They’d like to see her married off and done with their cooking detail. Francis, a wealthy nobleman is besotted with Annaple, but she won’t have him, preferring her romantic notions of country living. It’s up to Annaple’s siblings to coach Francis in the art of wooing. “Do something fanciful,” they encourage him.

And so he begins with a miniature pear tree, occupied by one plump partridge, delivered Christmas Day. Annaple is charmed. The next day, an ornate, gilded cage housing two cooing turtledoves arrives and, surprisingly, another potted pear with partridge. As Francis’ gifts become more elaborate and more embarrassingly conspicuous, Annaple’s brothers and sister fear their plan has gone seriously awry!

Such a funny story that also incorporates real and fanciful traditions for keeping each of the twelve days. Illustrated by Shirley Hughes in black ink drawings. Ages 8 and up.

Winter Holiday, written and illustrated by Arthur Ransome
originally published in 1933; paperback 2014 by David Govine; 336 pages

Winter Holiday is the fourth book and one of my favorites in the Swallows and Amazons series. It does help if you’ve met the Walker and Blackett kids in the first book, but you can read this one as a stand-alone and fare decently well I think.

It’s winter school break and these great friends are together again in the Lake District, hoping against hope for an unusually great freeze to ice over the whole lake and accommodate their epic Arctic expedition plans. Stir in a couple of new friends, sneaky adventures by moonlight, Nansen’s Fram, astronomers, mumps, and ice sledges racing across the lake at untenable speeds…and you’ve got the makings for excellent adventures, near disaster, and a fabulous, lengthy read-aloud for ages 7 and up.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, by Karina Yan Glaser
published in 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 293 pages

The Vanderbeeker family — Mom, Dad, five children, three pets — fill their Harlem brownstone with liveliness and love. So much liveliness! Too much, it appears, for their reclusive, curmudgeonly landlord living on the top floor has given notice he’ll not be renewing their lease. They’ve got to move out, and right at Christmastime, too.

Unable to fathom living in a different home and neighborhood, the five children set out to change their landlord’s mind. Kill him with kindness, so to speak. Some of their ideas are good, some definitely not-so-good, yet as the few days before Christmas tick by, none of their plans go as intended. Instead, they only make things worse. What is curdling the heart of that landlord anyway? And how can they win him over?

This is a contemporary story with a lovely glow of old-fashioned, big family, warmth. In addition, it features a biracial family, a needed bit of diversity in the canon of children’s Christmas literature. If you like the Penderwicks, or even some older books like Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy family series, you’ll love this, with at least one sequel promised. Ages 9 and up.

The Coat Hanger Christmas Tree, written by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Susanne Suba
published in 1973 by Atheneum; 75 pages

Here’s another out-of-print title and quite an unusual story. It takes place in Brooklyn when ethnic neighborhoods each held their distinct personalities, and features a young girl named Marianna, her older brother, and her deeply unhappy mother.

If that doesn’t sound like the recipe for a Christmas story, you’re right — this is not your average Christmas story. Marianna’s mom doesn’t really permit Christmas to enter their home. No Christmas trees, is the rule. But Marianna longs for a tree and this story witnesses her determination to change her mother’s mind.

Eleanor Estes was a wondrous story teller. Her books about the Pye family and the Moffats glow with warmth. This story, on the other hand, allows her to explore the longings of children in more difficult circumstances, the bonds they forge with one another, and the hidden wounds some parents carry. It’s thought-provoking and deeply satisfying for the right audience. You can read more in my longer review here. Ages 9 and up.

The Greenglass House, written by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars
published in 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers; 400 pages

Finally, this longest read, a mystery adventure with a gothic twist that won some hefty awards last year.

It’s Christmas break. Milo and his parents sigh with happy relief as they look forward to a period of no guests in their rambling old Greenglass Inn. Perched as it is atop a precipitous cliff, just getting there in the midst of the current blizzard is nigh unto impossible, so they believe, until one by one an odd assortment of folk land on their doorstep fairly bursting with dusky secrets and… there goes Christmas.

Adding to Milo’s discomfiture at giving up his holiday is a mysterious map one of the guests seems to have dropped which Milo would very much like to puzzle out. And a series of thefts. And the cook’s daughter who annoyingly shows up and insists Milo join her in a role-playing game to solve these baffling events — not Milo’s normal cup of tea. And the Inn’s history as a haven for smugglers. And before you know it, we’re entangled in a fantastical, dangerous, adventure!

Running throughout the story is Milo’s unease as an adopted child who dearly loves his parents but yearns to know his birth parents as well. As you can tell, while this book is set during Christmas, it has very little actually to do with Christmas. Nonetheless, for older listeners who may want to enter a more sinister world together by candlelight, it could make a good, lengthy holiday read-aloud. Ages 10 and up.


Searching for just the right gift for an adult on your list?
 Books marketed for children can be spot-on for grown ups, too!

Here are a few ideas:

Are they passionate about immigration?

Her Right Foot, written by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris
published in 2017 by Chronicle Books

This is the only book on today’s list that hasn’t been on my blog yet so just let me say: It is tremendous!

Dave Eggers, with his nonchalant, conversational tone, wows us with fascinating tidbits about our treasured Statue of Liberty, all building up to a surprising reveal about that Lady’s right foot! Shawn Harris knocks it out of the ballpark with his strong, vibrant artwork. 

This one sneaks up on you with understatement, then moves you to tears. One of the best of 2017, for ages 5 through Adult.

Do they treasure the beauty of flora and fauna?

Try: The Lost Words (review here)

Are they enamored with words?

Try: Ounce Dice, Trice (review here)

Do they dream of world travels?

Try: City Atlas (review here)

Did they recently become parents after a long, difficult wait?

Try: Wish (review here)

Have they loved books since they were knee-high to a grasshopper?

Try: A Child of Books (review here)

Are they allergic to morning?

Try: Pug Man’s 3 Wishes (review here)

Is Norse mythology their thing?

Try: Odd and the Frost Giants (review here)

Do they cry every time they watch You’ve Got Mail?

Try: Skating Shoes (review here)

Need a book for your favorite feminist?

Try: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (review here)

Have someone interested in African-American history? 

Try: Freedom Over Me (review here)

Or: Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph (review here)

Or: One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance (review here)

Or: March Trilogy (review here

Would they appreciate a gorgeous Minnesota read?

Try: Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold (review here)

Are they jazzed by Art Deco?

Try: Snow White: A Graphic Novel (review here)

In addition, you might consider…

…a children’s book written by an author they love. I’ve reviewed children’s books by Sylvia Plath, Salman Rushdie, Aldous HuxleySherman Alexie, Chinua Achebe, Jane Gardam, Frank McCourt, Sigrid Undset, and a number of others you might consider.…a favorite book from their childhood that’s out of print now. It might take some tricky questioning to find out which stories they loved best decades ago, but especially for friends or family members getting on in years, this might be a lovely gift. Amazon and Abe Books are great sources for purchasing out-of-print titles.

Know any other children’s books that feel like perfect grown-up gifts? Let us know in the comments!

I had a social media meltdown the other day.

Not a meltdown on social media, mind you. Thank goodness for that! This was a meltdown over social media.

I’ve been thinking about how I can reach more people with my blog. Discouraged, some days…okay, many days… over these idiotic numbers WordPress and Facebook feed me every time I open my account. Numbers of clicks. Number of likes. Numbers that represent to me — on the gray days — how few, instead of how many.

The solution, so they say, is more social media presence. More tweets, more pins, more posts, more videos.

I dutifully scroll through others’ pages to figure out how to do this thing better. Tink through Twitter feeds. Glaze over at Instagram accounts. And suddenly, everything seems utterly hopeless. All the pristine, perfectly-staged snapshots, the threaded tweets, the young media blitzers out there who have integrated every detail of their on-line presence to accumulate tens of thousands of followers. I am competing with this?

More accurately, I have no hope of competing with this. What’s more, it makes me feel mean in an Old Sneepish sort of way, this gazing at numbers. More often than not, social media is an overwhelming, soul-withering exercise for me. 


So, I have a melt down. I move rapidly from being overwhelmed by social media to sheer, existential doldrums. What is the point, anyway? What do I have to say to the world that’s worth hearing in the midst of our present, shattering noise-level of nonstop messages?

The gracious small voice that answers me, does so with a question: What do you give, when you give the gift of reading?

And I know the answer to that question. At least, part of the answer to that question.

The gift of reading, of loving books, is the gift of a magnificent doorway into a rich world. An expansive world albeit a much quieter world.  One that enhances our lives.

This door swings wide to reveal things we never even knew existed, acts as a portal connecting us to human thought across time and space so we can learn seemingly without boundary, be taught directly from the originators of ideas, the seers, the tasters, the handlers, hear the wrestlings of questioners, catch the insights of people remarkably unlike ourselves who may well have thought their thoughts in other languages and millennia. When we give the gift of reading, we put children in touch with ideas and know-how and experiences and insights and viewpoints far beyond our own limited ones. We give them rocket ships to the farthest reaches of knowledge, bridges to cultural landscapes we’ve never traveled, tête-à-têtes with powerful thinkers in areas of expertise we’ve never dabbled in. 

Reading serves as a gateway to empathy and understanding as we meet people utterly unlike ourselves, hear their stories, some so bitter, so intense, see life from their vantage point. This gateway frees us from hedged-in viewpoints, ushers us out of the small neighborhood of our acquaintances and into other communities,  other witnesses of the human experience. Sometimes these encounters rile us, frustrate us, push us to meet folks we disagree with. Sometimes they introduce us to a kindred spirit. Sometimes our new vantage points surprise us, stop us short with exquisite beauty, poignant insight, electrifying connections. When we give the gift of reading, we give access to a barrier-breaking range of human stories and voices — voices that sing and wail, remember and predict, challenge and commiserate.

Reading’s door is a passageway to a world of characters who become as dear to us as flesh-and-blood friends and who make us better people, be they a straight-talking lawyer from Maycomb, Alabama, or a house elf with a penchant for socks. What a gift these book-friends are. They understand us, articulate our pains and pleasures, amuse us, inspire us, accompany us throughout life. They are always there, unchanged by time, ready to invigorate a spare moment come what may. Reading transports us into imaginary and real places that mark us as intensely as human personalities. Middle-earth and Klickitat Street; Cather’s Nebraska and Dickens’ London. When we give the gift of reading, we open provocatively imaginative doorways .

That is part of what we give when we give the gift of reading. Teachers — blessed teachers — from ancient days to the present, keep making millions of copies of keys to that doorway so others can enter in. When we read with our children and grandchildren, when we spread books in classrooms and libraries, hospitals and refugee camps, prisons and shelters, we scatter pass-keys to rich storehouses.

 Here’s to pressing on.

As I step gingerly into more avenues in the hopes of spreading this love of books — which to be honest feels like stepping into busy traffic without knowing the rules of the road! — I invite you to follow me, say hello, help me do this thing better!

Facebook: Orange Marmalade Books
Twitter: marmalade_books
Instagram: orangemarmaladebooks

The first order of business today is awarding the give-aways of that splendid nature journal and those jazzy magazines. As always with these giveaways, I wish I could give one to everyone who enters! However…

Charity — congrats on winning the Small Adventures Journal!
Kristie Hammond — congrats on winning the Anorak and Dot issues!

Please e-mail me at jillswanson61@gmail.com with your shipping addresses and I’ll get those right out to you in time for gifting 🙂

Today I have some new Christmas stories to brighten your holiday bedtime reading stack. There are every so many more titles in the Subject Index under Holidays: Christmas so look there to find lots  of favorites.

The Little Reindeer, written and illustrated by Nicola Killen
first published in Great Britain in 2016; first American edition 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

This simple, dear story is about a little girl named Ollie who awakens on Christmas Eve to a jingling sound. Out into the frosty night she goes, speeding on her sled to find the source of that ringing.

Turns out it’s a scarlet collar trimmed with silver bells, caught on a bare branch! Ollie returns it to its antlered owner, and in exchange receives a breathtaking ride back home! Beautiful, tender, gray-scale illustrations feature smidgeons of crimson, shimmers of silver, and enticing cut-outs to make the whole story feel magical. Ages 18 months and older.

The Princess and the Christmas Rescue, written by Caryl Hart, illustrated by Sarah Warburton
first published in the UK in 2016; first US edition 2017 by Nosy Crow

Princess Eliza lives in an ethereal palace, blush pink, festooned with crystal icicles. What she loves most is inventing, spending her days tinkering all by herself. This, her royal parents decree, is not what princesses do. Too dusty. Too lonely. Time for her to play normal games with other children.

In her quest for neighborhood friends, Eliza comes upon a small house overflowing with chaotically-busy elves. It seems their boss has the flu and they’re swamped with toy orders. Just the kind of problem Eliza’s schematic drawings are made for!

Vivacious rhyming, wonderfully appreciative of science-y girls, this is a bright blast of fun for ages 3 and up.

A Christmas for Bear, written by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

I do hope you know these two by now — Mouse and Bear. If so, your heart will skip a little happy beat to discover this new tale about two unlikely friends.

Christmas rolls around, and what to our surprise but Bear is feeling some Christmas spirit! Some, mind you. He’s particularly fixated on poems and Christmas pickles! Mouse, of course, is more interested in presents. Read this warm, funny story to discover how each enjoys a merry holiday. A treat for ages 3 and up.

Finding Christmas, written by Lezlie Evans, illustrated by Yee Von Chan
published in 2017 by Albert Whitman & Company

Hare, Squirrel, and Mouse are happy housemates. The air in their snug burrow is festive with tree-decorating and hazelnut cookie baking. There’s just a wee bit of shopping left before the celebrations can begin.

Suddenly, an emergency presents itself in the form of a swallow, sick, collapsed on a drift of snow, who needs tender nursing care to survive. Bit by bit, the gifts our friends secretly bought for one another are urgently needed to treat their ailing guest. These sacrifices prove to be the truest display of Christmas in this heartwarming story. Charming illustrations will captivate ages 2 to 3 and up.

The Lost Gift: A Christmas Story, written by Kallie George, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
published in 2016 by Schwartz & Wade Books

A group of animal friends huddle atop Merry Woods Hill. It’s Christmas Eve, and they are terribly excited to spot Santa flying by on his sleigh. But as he whooshes past, one package tumbles out!

 The tag says it’s for the New Baby at the Farm. Delivering it will take some doing, and not all members of the party are happy about it. But generous hearts prevail, and in the end everyone happily gets a share of Christmas treats. Ages 3 and up.

Have I saved the best for last? Giving books and bookish gifts is obviously what I love to do! Here are some great ideas for the kids in your life, plus a give-away

Litograph t-shirts

Text and illustrations make up these clever t-shirts. I am partial to Blueberries for Sal, but there are lots of choices so check them out.

Out of Print t-shirts

Favorites old and new beautifully printed.

Bookplates for those special books

I had bookplates as a child. It is lovely to feel ownership of a really special book, one to keep for always.

Anorak magazine or Dot magazine subscription

Magazine subscriptions sashay into a child’s mailbox all year long.
I recently discovered these tremendously creative magazines coming out of the UK. Gorgeous graphic design. A lalapalooza of imagination-sparking, brain-fizzing stuff for ages 2-5 (Dot) and 6-12 (Anorak.)

Visit their awesome webpage to get the details. Keep in mind these are British magazines so embrace the British English and some UK-oriented features. To me, that is an added bonus!

GIVE AWAY ALERT! If you’d like to win the two copies Anorak so graciously sent me — the Food issue of Dot and the Art issue of Anorak — just comment with a “sign me up!”. Winner will be notified on the blog, December 4th, so don’t delay!  U.S. mailing addresses only, please.

Literary cookbooks

Jama Rattigan’s delectable blog, Jama’s Alphabet Soup, has a round-up of delightful cookbooks based on favorite characters from Goldilocks to Star Wars.  Kids will love mixing up Diana Barry’s Favorite Raspberry Cordial or Hans Soloatmeal!! You can find Jama’s entire list here.

A boxed set of classics

Wow. Gorgeous design work courtesy of Rifle Paper Company. Many happy getting-lost-in-a-book moments all packaged up for you! I love tempting new readers with old classics.
Amazon Link

And a few more ideas for book-giving — one classic and one new title for each age group. I had to limit myself or the list would get too long! Browse through my blog for gobs more ideas.

 One for the whole family: The Lost Words

Read my review here to see what’s in store in this gorgeous, remarkable book.
Amazon Link

Ages 0-2:

something old: More More More Said the Baby (regular and board)
Amazon Link
review here

something new: Night and Day: A Book of Opposites, by Julie Safirstein
published in 2017 by Princeton Architectural Press
I haven’t reviewed this on my blog but it’s exploding in clever, exciting pop-ups for careful fingers! And yes, many small children can be careful with books. Plus: tape.
Amazon Link

Ages 2-5:

something old: My Father’s Dragon
Amazon Link
review here

something new: The Street Beneath My Feet
Amazon Link
review here

Ages 5-8:

something old: A Bear Called Paddington
Amazon Link
review here

something new: This Is How We Do It
Amazon Link
review here

Ages 8-12:

something old: Swallows and Amazons
(The new paperback from David Godine has a wretched cover! Here’s a link for this one which is available from 3rd party sellers.)
Amazon Link
review here

something new: The Wonderling
Amazon Link
review here

If you are able — please shop at a local Independent Bookstore. That’s who will keep the great books coming to us, trust me.

If you’re going to shop at Amazon anyway, then consider using my Amazon affiliate links. If you click through to Amazon on one of my links, I get a small dab back from Amazon no matter what you purchase. Thanks to those of you who do.

That’s it for 2017’s gift lists.
I’ll be back next week with some cheery new Christmas titles!


Playing games together is a great alternative to screen time. Check out these well-loved suggestions gathered from real families like yours! Then tell us your favorites!

Perfect for Preschoolers

Life on Earth matching game from Eeboo. Isn’t it beautiful?

Amazon Link


Sneaky Snacky Squirrel — darling and super popular with small fry.

Amazon link


Busytown — an I-spy-it favorite of many families.

Amazon Link


Uno — Do not forget the basics. This game has serious staying power!

amazon link


Go Fish — ditto. There are a bajillion varieties of this card game. This one matches babies and parents.

Amazon Link

Penguin bowling — Not a board game, but does this look fun, or what?

Ages 5 and up:

Orchard — a classic from Germany with charming game pieces. Everything Haba makes is  beautiful.

Amazon Link


Who Am I? — I watched some people demo this game and it looks like tricksy fun! Comes in a keen little tin.

Amazon Link


Knuckling Knights — This looks like a riot. Watch those knights come tumbling out of the keep!

Amazon Link


Outfoxed — Get your detective groove going. Cooperative games offer a clever change of pace.

Amazon Link


Labyrinth — One of our family’s favorites. Younger players will need help with this one.

Amazon Link


Best for ages 9 through adult

Codenames — Awesome mental-gymnastics game for adults and kids to play together.

Amazon Link


Concept — Hands down our favorite new family game in 2017. We have invented many ridiculous variations of it as well.

Amazon Link


Colorku — This is Sudoku played with colored balls. Looks like a great game for solitary play.

Amazon Link


Don’t forget the jigsaw puzzles!

Four Seasons — four little puzzles for preschoolers

Construction Site — All of Mudpuppy’s puzzles have tantalizing designs. 

Amazon Link

Fairy Garden — so pretty 🙂

Amazon Link

Rainforest — This puzzle glows in the dark! Extreme coolness.

Amazon Link

Hot Dogs A-Z — Now we’re into puzzles for the whole family to build together. This one’s got 1000 pieces of brilliance for dog-lovers!

Amazon Link


Farm Calendar — The New York Puzzle Company carries so many gorgeous puzzles. If this isn’t your style, follow the link and choose another.

Amazon Link


What are your family’s favorite games? We’d all love to hear. Please share with us in the comments!
Tomorrow: Bookish ideas + another giveaway! Join us!

 Cardboard, dirt, sticks, water — these are some of the best tools of play out there!

The gift ideas on my blog today may come in stores, but are still geared toward creative, imaginative, investigative pastimes.
There are lots more ideas in past years’ lists which you can find via the gifts tab at the top of the page.

All items are linked to websites.

Amazon links are affiliate links. That means if you click through to Amazon, I get a little dab back from them no matter what you purchase. It works a bit like a tip jar 🙂 Thanks for those of you who use my links at this time of year!

Ages 0-2

Stacking Cups
Discovery Toys makes my favorite set of these. Lots of details make ’em good for play long past the baby stage.
Amazon Link

Pat Bells
Older siblings will try to steal these away from the little one! Even very young children can make a beautiful sound and eventually follow the colors to play a tune.

Ferry Boat
Green Toys are awesome! Made out of recycled milk jugs to help keep the planet cleaner. Huzzah!  This ferry is a nice hefty size. Comes with a couple cars to load on. Check the Green Toys site for many more well-designed, Earth-friendly toys.

Colin Camper Van
Darling! Retro! If you click the link, you can see what a nice big size this is. Load the people in, take ’em for a spin. Groovy.

Playground Ball
Simple as that. How can you not smile at that frog face?!

Amazon Link

Natural dough
Feel a bit more peace of mind when the kids eat it. Because…they will.

Ages 2-5

Magna Tiles
I have heard from many moms that these are the cat’s meow. Sets come in various sizes.
Amazon Link

Play Silks
Fabrics for dress-up and imaginative play are foundational. Remnants work great for this, but Sarah’s Silks has lots of beautiful choices so take a peek at their website.

Sugarbooger Aprons
Oh my gosh! The prints at Sugarbooger are charming as can be. This jolly hedgehog print is just one of many. Let’s get those kids cooking and baking!

Haba Geomix Wood Mosaics
I played with a set quite like this as a child for hours and hours. Classic toys have staying power for good reason. Great choice for creative, solitary play.
Amazon Link

Wooden dough tools
This is a particularly nice variety of tools.
Amazon Link 

Wooden Tree Fort
I’ve drooled over this set for years. Quite pricey, but if you have a special present in mind, this is amazing. Lots of scope for kids making more furnishings and expansion sets themselves.

Ages 5-9

Lego decals
My kids actually made clothes for their Lego guys. And wigs out of Sculpey dough! Sometimes you just have to alter the Legos to fit the scenario. Now you can do that with easily-removable decals. From mad scientists to pet shops, kit your Legos out with pizzazz!

Fort Building Set
Chairs and sofas make great forts. With this giant set of curved and straight “pipes” and gobs of connectors and clips, you can make one much bigger. Prepare for entire rooms to be taken over! Awesome rainy day fun.
Amazon Link

Soda Powered Science Kit
Power a geyser car and have lots more fizzy fun with this keen kit.

Doodle Adventures
For burgeoning cartoonists. Help create this book by following prompts and adding illustrations! There are other Doodle Adventures besides this one.
Amazon Link

Art Play
This looks like a truly splendid activity book! From marbelizing paper to creating a pictogram language of your own. Take a peek at some of what’s inside at the link.

Sew and Knit Valise
Isn’t this sweet? A charming way to introduce children to needle crafts.

Beeswax Candle Rolling
Our children really enjoyed making and decorating candles to give as gifts with this kit. The beeswax smells and feels soothing. 

Ages 9-12

Little Bits
I know basically nothing about electric circuits. This kit is pricey, and it’s the least expensive of the Little Bits kits. But my research says it’s the best kit out there for actually learning a bit about circuitry.  And the projects sound quite tantalizing!
Amazon Link

This Book is a Camera
It really is a camera! With film. And the supplies to develop it! Astounding! Watch the demo at the link

642 Things to Write About: Young Writers Edition
642 prompts to tempt young writers. It would feel like homework to some, candy to others. Give it to the candy crowd.
Amazon Link

Felting Kit
Create this darling squirrel or choose another kit from Wool Pets.


Art Snacks
A subscription to Art Snacks brings a new package of art inspiration to your door monthly. Check it out here. These are geared to adults, but may appeal to more serious artists at the upper end of the age range.

Bath Bombs by Klutz
Make your own bath bombs. Great gifts and fizzing fun to boot.
Amazon Link

The beautiful cover of this set unfolds to reveal origami paper. Inside, you’ll find art-inspired origami from The Met.

Don’t forget about giving classes or family outings as a gift. Bonus: They don’t collect dust.

In Minnesota, you can find a few kid-friendly classes at the fabulous North House Folk School, and lots at The Loft Literary Center, and MacPhail. There are community art centers, rock climbing centers, circus schools, concert tickets, horseback riding lessons…you name it.

Come back tomorrow for games and puzzles tested and approved by families like yours!

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