Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category

I know all the harried preparations for Christmas are on the minds of so many of us. Maybe it will help to focus on something more mainstream? These great books should all go on your list for reading after that holiday rush is over.

There are a lot of children’s books that follow just a few general plot lines:
You are special.
Don’t be a bully.
It’s time for bed.

Then. Every once in a blue moon, a book comes along that’s straight up marching to its own drum beat, telling a story in an inventively new way, catching my funny bone completely off guard.

That’s what’s on the list today: fresh stories that put a big smile on my face. Starting with this gem from an author/illustrator I’ve raved about before…

Alfie: (The Turtle that Disappeared), written and illustrated by Thyra Heder
published in 2017 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

 Thyra Heder’s illustrations alone deserve major accolades. Every page glows with warmth, radiates a generous, creative, loving vibe. And her stories are wonderfully original. I was enchanted by both The Bear Report and this newest title. You do not want to miss her work!

Nia adores Alfie, the pet turtle she received for her sixth birthday. She lavishes attention on him but, yeah… he is a pretty quiet fellow so sometimes even Nia rather forgets about him until he up and disappears the morning she turns seven! Massive searching ensues.

At this juncture in the story we rewind to the beginning and see things unfold from Alfie’s point of view, witnessing his lengthy adventures which bring us to a delightful surprise ending. So much love for this one. Share it with ages 3 and up.

Yak and Dove, written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Esmé Shapiro
published in 2017 by Tundra Books

A picture book with three chapters is a great premise right from the get-go!

It’s the masterful illustration work, though, that initially pulls us into this story. Such a beautiful palette!  Warmth and humor pour from the physiques of Yak and Dove as well as a bevy of friends. And an unusual sense of place, popping with onion domes, sprawling with taiga and looming mountains, plays its own, atmospheric role.

Yak and Dove are super friends. So much so they even daydream about how great it would be if they were twins! Just think of the Always-Together Samey-Same Things They Could Do!

Enthusiasm wears thin, though, as they make those matchy-matchy plans. In fact — they discover a pile of ways they out-and-out bug each other! Before you know it, Yak and Dove have yakked their way into a downright squabble!

Watch the lamenting Yak hold auditions for a new best friend,  then see how these two mend their fences. Completely told in dialogue. Droll, happy, honest, and gorgeous for ages 4 and up.

Pandamonia, written by Chris Owen, illustrated by Chris Nixon
first published in Australia in 2016; first American edition 2017 by Kane Miller

Prepare for a boisterous hullabaloo when you open the covers of this riotous, rhyming read.

It starts placidly enough with one quiet panda, dozing among the eucalyptus at the zoo. The only hint of the chaos to come is the warning we are given: “Just don’t wake the panda whatever you do.”

Well, I mean. What’s the worst that can happen if one cuddly, jelly-belly of a panda awakens?

Wild things! Careening, crazy things! Romp your way though the aftermath of a rudely-awakened, grumpy panda in this pandamonious tale plum full of all sorts of down-under animalia and plenty of familiars, too. Slapstick silliness, raucous art work, and rhythmic verse will bring giggles to  kids ages 2 and up.

Lily’s Cat Mask, written and illustrated by Julie Fortenberry
published in 2017 by Viking

Not every child meets the world best by running full tilt towards it, performing nicely for strangers, and putting a smiling face forward on command.

Some children, for one reason or another, prefer to size things up a bit first. Evaporate like Cheshire Cats in overbearingly social settings. Carefully tread towards friendships.

Lily is that kind of kid, and lucky for her, her dad gets it. He’s totally cool with Lily wearing her favorite cat mask here, there, and everywhere. Well, not everywhere. There are a few places Lily’s got to play by other rules. How will she manage that?

This understated, clever, upbeat account will make every introvert feel a little happy vibe of connection. Interestingly, the other day I re-read one of Tove Jansson’s short stories called The Invisible Child. An Orange Marmalade reader had alerted me that Oxfam and the Moomin world have teamed up on a book (find that volume here) to raise money for fighting poverty. Invisible Child is one of two in the book and it is masterful! Anyway, reading that in proximity to this story of Lily, I sensed some similarities between these two children who needed to be invisible at times. Insightful and loving, for ages 3 and up.

Bruce’s Big Move, written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins
published in 2017 by Disney Hyperion

The chronicle of Bruce the Bear and his adopted band of geese children continues with this funny, cranky, warmhearted, installment. Bruce is a mom that every mom can relate to!

The little mice who have barged into Bruce’s household are driving him nutso.  So busy. So messy. And so blame noisy! No matter what Bruce tries, he cannot seem to get these little buggers to move on, so he does the only thing possible — packs up and moves himself. With the geese. And without the mice.

This brings a boatload of peace, quiet, and order to Bruce’s life. So great, right? But the geese are despondent. What’s a mom to do?

Amusing, genuine, hearty in text and illustrations, the Bruce books are happy fare for ages 3 and up.


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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!


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Here in the Great North we’re looking forward to wearing our woolies, sipping our chai, and watching candlelight flicker in windows as December approaches.

I love winter! What about you? Today’s books will warm your heart towards cold weather, even if you prefer the tropics.

Singing Away the Dark, written by Caroline Woodward, illustrated by Julie Morstad
first published in 2010; special edition published in 2017 by Simply Read Books

Julie Morstad’s elegant artwork graces the pages of this nostalgic, glad story of one little girl’s mile-long walk through morning dark and winter frost to catch her school bus.

At age six, she’s stalwart enough to sing away the sometimes-eerie woodland shapes and sounds she encounters along her way. Tender, delightful, gorgeous. Ages 4 and up.

When the Moon Comes, written by Paul Harbridge, illustrated by Matt James
published in 2017 by Tundra Books

Those of us who grew up in small northern towns where ice skates were standard issue and ponds froze for the sole purpose of hockey will revel in this fiercely glad story of a bunch of kids anticipating their first frosty game on perfect ice under a full moon.

The hardiness and happiness of those freezing cold nights, breath forming icicles on scarves, pale rings encircling the moon, pucks cracking against sticks, cocoa scalding tongues, is perfectly captured in text and masterful illustrations in this book, coming to us from where-else-but-Canada. I love this collaboration!! Outstanding for ages 4 and up.

Pablo in the Snow, written by Teri Sloat, illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet
published in 2017 by Henry Holt and Company

Pablo has never seen snow before and it turns out to be quite the curious stuff. Meeting one woodland friend after another, this undaunted lamb joyfully discovers what those falling pieces of cloud are for! So much fun!

When a snowstorm covers his tracks so his path home is lost, suddenly the fun is over, until Mama and Papa appear to usher him home to a cozy barn. Sweet and comforting for ages 2 and up.

Snowflake In My Pocket, written by Rachel Bright, illustrated by Yu Rong
first American edition 2017 by Kane Miller

Burly old Bear and small, enthusiastic Squirrel are dear friends. One icy night, Bear suggests snow might be on its way and sure enough, a magical fairyland awaits Squirrel in the morning!

He cannot wait to explore it all with Bear! But, oh dear. Bear has the sniffles and can’t go out. What can Squirrel do to share this perfect winter morning with his old friend? Charming and warmhearted, just right for ages 2 and up.

Lines, by Suzy Lee
published in 2017 by Chronicle Books

Suzy Lee again infuses a wordless story with sparkling artistic creativity.

Starting with a blank page, a pencil, and an eraser, what can the artist bring to life with a line? A scribble? What happens when her graphite world spins out of control in seeming failure? Or when the artist forges ahead, fashioning a world bustling with icy energy? Elegant, joyous, fantastical for ages 4 and up.

The Storm Whale in Winter, written and illustrated by Benji Davies
first published in the UK, 2016; first American edition 2017 by Henry Holt and Company

If you haven’t followed the story of this small boy and his father over the years, you can pick up the series’ opener with my review here.

Noi and his dad live a spare life by the sea, warmed by their close-knit relationship, and buoyed by Noi’s friend, the whale. In this wintery installment, Noi grows worried when his fisherman dad doesn’t return home one evening. The sea is iced over around their island and darkness has firmly set in, but Noi is sure that faint light flickering out at sea is his dad, and he’s determined to rescue him.

It turns out to be quite the harrowing adventure, and Noi’s dear whale plays a heroic role. Exciting stuff, anchored in love, for ages 3 and up.

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You’re busy.
I get that.
Holidays approach.
10-word teasers to tempt you towards books I adore!
Guaranteed to make your day better.

Fort-building Time, written by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Abigail Halpin
published in 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf

Orange Marmalade gold! Charming forts, outdoor fun, every season. Jubilant!

City Moon, written by Rachael Cole, illustrated by Blanca Gómez
published in 2017 by Schwartz & Wade Books

Gorgeous jaunt to spy peek-a-boo moon. Sweet togetherness. Preschool brilliance.

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna
originally published in France, 2016; first U.S. edition 2017 by Harper

Explore outdoors! Ditch electronic games. Doing “nothing” can be spectacular!

No One Else Like You, written by Siska Goeminne, illustrated by Merel Eyckerman
originally published in Belgium, 2016; first U.S. edition 2017 by Westminster John Knox Press

Diverse people make a captivating world. You make it lovely.

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s (the Hard Way), written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
published in 2017 by Little, Brown and Company

Clever, funny, surprising, hair-raising alphabetical adventures!  Jolly, surefire pleaser!

Hilda and the Runaway Baby, written and illustrated by Daisy Hirst
first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick Press

Rapscallion baby rescued by indefatigable, racing pig! Sweet, happy friendship. 

Wee Sister Strange, written by Holly Grant, illustrated by K.G. Campbell
published in 2017 by Schwartz & Wade Books

Enchanted nighttime woodsy ramble…searching for what? Lush, hushed, magical.

But I Don’t Eat Ants, written by Dan Marvin, illustrated by Kelly Fry
published in 2017 by POW!

Loquacious anteater gourmand, plainly peeved at ant-eating expectations! Wowzer!

The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse, written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

Quackily-quirky! Howlingly-ingenuous! Home is where the wolf is?!

Terrific, written and illustrated by Jon Agee
published in 2017 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Curmudgeonly Eugene + plucky parrot = crack Caribbean sailing team! So droll!

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