Posts Tagged ‘imagination’

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


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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!

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 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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My annual non-electronic gift guides are idea-sparking resources for parents and grandparents…

…featuring gifts that inspire creativity, imagination, outdoor adventures, wonder, investigation.

Watch for the first one this Friday.
In tandem with REI’s awesome #OptOutside movement, that will be an Outdoor Adventures list.

Our family’s favorite memories are outdoor adventures.

This year I’ve got a couple great give-aways of items on my lists. The first one is in that Outdoor Adventures list, so don’t miss it!

Meanwhile, may I draw your attention to my new tip jar?

The thousands of hours I spend researching, reading, writing, editing Orange Marmalade are a labor of love.
The ads you see make revenue for WordPress, not for me.
In fact, it costs me to run my blog and as I consider upgrading for a better reader experience, those costs will rise.

All of that has led me to add a tip jar which you can see along the margin.
If you benefit from Orange Marmalade, you now have a way of making a donation.

My gift guides also have some Amazon affiliate links. I don’t usually add those to my posts, but if at this time of year you do some shopping at Amazon, linking through to their site from my list gives me a small dab back. Thanks to those who do!

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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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The Wonderling, written and illustrated by Mira Bartók
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

Arthur is a groundling, a curious part-animal, part-human creature whose dear fox face and lovely chestnut eyes speak volumes of the sensitive, kind heart within. 

His quiet tenderness does him no favors, however, in the dismal, dank Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures where he lives along with scores of other raggedy, pitiful youngsters. Miss Carbunkle, a woman with a dreadfully pinched heart, rules there without mercy. Not a morsel of celebration, not a squidgeon of beauty, and certainly not a single drop of music is tolerated.

One day Arthur bravely protects a little bird named Trinket from some schoolyard bullies and in so doing earns a true and valiant friend. These two not only stage an epic break-out, but wend their way into extraordinarily strange places, meet a gamut of characters — some wise, some cunning, some downright villainous. What they overhear, stumble upon, and seek, turns into an adventure with vast repercussions for their world, and Arthur’s destiny as the Wonderling is at the center of it. 

Mira Bartók’s voice is sumptuous. Her fantasy gushes with richly descriptive passages, inventive cityscapes, and highly-imaginative elements, and she’s chosen to give a starring role to Music, weaving it throughout the account. That alone makes this a more thought-provoking fantasy than many others.

  Arthur himself is a bit of an antihero. He is no swarthy, swashbuckling captain figure, but a timid soul who gradually, bravely, blossoms into all he is meant to be.

The book as a whole is not as lightning-paced and action-packed as some fantasies, yet don’t let these charming fox-drawings fool you — it is similar in many ways to Oliver Twist with its settings, intensity, and sinister figures. 

All that, and the final moments take place on Christmas Eve, making it a perfect holiday read for ages 10 and up. I thoroughly enjoyed it. This story is already in the process of becoming a movie, so do yourself a big favor and Read. The. Book. First!

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Today’s post is all about words, those miraculous bits of language that move mountains.

From the youngest wordsmiths to longtime connoisseurs of words, you’ll find something to tickle your fancy here.

Magic Spell, written and illustrated by Julie Paschkis
published in 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Come one! Come all! See the mighty magician Aziz and his beautiful assistant Zaza work wacky wonders with their wands!

This wand doesn’t cast spells. It actually…spells! With one swish a bat turns into a hat. Another swash and a wig turns into a pig! Uproarious, stupendous, fun, especially for beginning readers who can help decode the kerfuffles created by these dueling wizards and their spelling wands. Julie Paschkis’ swirling, vivacious line and zingy color add oodles of delight to the mayhem. Fun for ages 3 and up; especially fine for early readers.

Big Words for Little Geniuses, written by Susan and James Patterson, illustrated by Hsinping Pan
published in 2017 by Little Brown and Company

From A to Z — Arachibutyrophobia to Zamboni, that is — here are some astonishing mouthfuls of words to tickle the tongues and fancies of young and old alike.

Why should grown ups have all the fun? Why not add catawampus and rapscallion to the vocabularies of small persons? Charmingly illustrated, one word to a page, pronunciation guides included, with another 26 words added for good measure in a final list.

Kids will love the sounds of these juicy things and perhaps fall a little more in love with the wonder of words. Ages 4 and up.

13 Words, written by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Maira Kalman
published in 2010 by Harper

Start with 13 words: Bird, Dog, Despondent, Busy, Cake, Goat, Convertible, Haberdashery, Scarlet, Baby, Panache, Mezzo-Soprano.

Mix into one swell story courtesy of Lemony Snicket.

Illustrate with a blast of brilliance from Maira Kalman.

Makes one quirky, splash of a picture book to tickle the fancies of all, ages 4 and up. Now how about you pick 13 more words and make up your own invention!

Noah Webster’s Fighting Words, written by Tracy Nelson Maurer, illustrated by Mircea Catusanu
published in 2016 by Millbrook Press

Webster wanted words that were fully American, not British. And set about compiling just such a list. Ta da! Webster’s Dictionary. Do you own a copy?

Webster was a take-charge kind of guy, booting out those extra u’s in words like colour and humour for New World spellers, and opining that dictionaries ought to make room for new words as they were invented, a thing frowned upon at the time.

Read this zesty account, complete with editorial comments from that bossy fellow Webster himself! Ages 6 and up.

Any of the next three would make fine gifts for curious persons, language lovers, or that someone you have no idea what to give:

Speaking American*: *How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk: A Visual Guide, by Josh Katz
published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

You know when you go to college, and your roommate is looking for a “bubbler” and you wonder what planet she grew up on? Because you’ve only ever heard it called a drinking fountain. And of course — that’s the right way.

Or what about the brouhaha over Duck Duck Goose vs Duck Duck Grey Duck?

Josh Katz takes all the funny variations in what people call everything from soda-pop-coke to groh-shery vs. groh-sery stores across the U.S.A., and maps them out for us in this fascinating book.

A boatload of fun for ages 10 through adult.

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World, written and illustrated by Ella Frances Sanders
published in 2014 by Ten Speed Press

If you speak another language, you know there are certain words that just do not have any equivalent in English.

Take “tsundoku” for example, an extremely handy Japanese word that means a book — or a serious stack of books — left unread after buying it. I definitely have my share of tsundokus lying about the house.

Or “fika” an exceptionally delicious Swedish word that means it’s time for some coffee and serious pastries ’round about 4 in the afternoon. This is a word I welcome into usage here in Minneapolis, where we even have a restaurant named Fika.

Ella Sanders has gathered a delectable collection of over 50 words from a tumble of world languages that are a delight to learn about, and brought them to life with her charming illustrations and hand lettering.  This would make a fabulous Christmas gift, by the way. For word enthusiasts ages 12 through adult.

She’s also created a second volume:

The Illustrated Book of Sayings: Curious Expressions from Around the World, published in 2016 by Ten Speed Press

This time around we have idioms such as:

“I’m on the pig’s back!” an Irish expression that means you’re feeling pretty great about life.

or this fabulous saying of the Ga people of Ghana:

“The one who fetches the water is the one who is likely to break the pot.” Want to find out what that’s getting at? Well, get ahold of this clever, fetching book!

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