Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Gift Ideas

Finding the right gift for a child can be challenging.  When I became an auntie, I realized that my dear nieces and nephews didn't need yet another person giving them toys that they would use for a month or so and then break or forget about.  So, I became the-aunt-who-gives-books. 

Before you roll your eyes and/or groan, it has been very successful, even more so now that my own children are grown and gone.  If you do your homework, you can't go wrong with a book.  My most recent batch of nieces and nephews receive a book each month (thank you, Amazon Prime!) from what I call "Aunt Carrie's Book of the Month Club."

I created a private wish list on Amazon and I loaded all my go-to books onto the list.  Whenever I come across a book that sounds interesting, I add it to the list and then try to find it at the library to preview it before I buy it for the wee ones.

My go-to books are books I truly believe every child should read and will enjoy.  Here are some of my favorites:

Chapter Books for Elementary Students
The Indian in the Cupboard
The Castle in the Attic
The Great Brain
By the Great Horn Spoon
Stone Fox
Dear Mr. Henshaw
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Sarah, Plain and Tall
The Forgotten Door
The Sign of the Beaver
Because of Winn-Dixie
Ramona the Pest
Little House in the Big Woods

Picture Books
Brown Bear, Brown Bear
Strega Nona
Fancy Nancy
Bubba, The Cowboy Prince
Miss Nelson is Missing
King Bidgood's in the Bathtub
The Wolf's Chicken Stew
Fanny's Dream
Miss Smith's Incredible Story Book
Wild About Books
Stephanie's Ponytail
The Paper Bag Princess
There's a Nightmare in my Closet
The Very Hungry Caterpillar

New favorites:  Memoirs of a Goldfish, The View at the Zoo, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site and Interrupting Chicken

As I started this list, I realized this is just the tip of the iceberg.  I'm going to have to do another post (or two) and share some book ideas for older kiddos.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Mighty Santa Fe

Most children relish in the thought of their toys coming to life and taking them on an adventure and I was no exception.  Perhaps that is why so many of my favorite children's books revolve around that premise :)

The Mighty Santa Fe opens with a grumpy William heading to his great-grandmother's house to celebrate Christmas with his large extended family.  Like many children, William is uncomfortable around his great-grandma because she is so old and "shriveled-up."  Granny Blue, of course, focuses a great deal of her attention on him, which just makes him more uncomfortable.

After a fun family Christmas Eve, William lies sleepless in the room he is sharing with his parents and siblings.  Granny Blue comes in and beckons him to follow her.  He doesn't want to, but acquiesces and follows her up to the attic.  She chants a strange chant and whips an old sheet off of an old-fashioned village with a little railroad station. 

William can hardly believe his eyes - snow is falling, the train is pulling into the station and he and Granny hop on to the mighty Santa Fe and go for a ride.  The journey ends awkwardly and William goes to bed.  On Christmas morning, the mighty Santa Fe is waiting for him under the tree. 

I love the premise of the story, obviously, though it is not as well-written as it should be.  But if you have a train buff in your home or a child who loves to believe in magic, this story is worth a read.

Christmas Is...

For those who are not familiar with her work, Gail Gibbons is a prolific writer of nonfiction for children.  She illustrates her own work and has a very distinctive style.  Her text is simple and direct, perfect for kids.  Her illustrations are bright, bold and as informative as the text.
Christmas Is... highlights the meaning, symbols, and traditions of Christmas using simple yet rich vocabulary.  She covers everything from the Christ child to poinsettias in terms that are understandable to children.  I hope your family will use this book as an opportunity to expand on your child(ren)'s Christmas knowledge base.  This could become a fabulous jumping off point for a December-long family exploration of Christmas traditions in cultures around the world.
While some would not consider this a nonfiction work, I do, and I appreciate her acknowledgment of the true reason for this yearly celebration.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

I Enjoyed This A Little Too Much

I love it when celebrities lend their name to a good cause and when its a cause I believe in and a celeb I love to watch onscreen - win/win!


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Deck the Walls: A Wacky Christmas Carol

Author Erin Dealey delivers another kid-pleasing romp through familiar territory, giving it her own unique twist.

Deck the Walls is her newest picture book, following up the success she achieved with Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox and Little Bo Peep Can't Get to Sleep.

Leaving fairy tale/nursery rhyme territory, Dealey has concocted an innovation on the classic Christmas Carol, "Deck the Halls."  The story focuses on a crazy bunch of cousins at a holiday dinner.  They feed the dog their peas and carrots, play olive hockey, and go sledding while the grown-ups clean up the remnants of the feast.  Not a great lesson in good manners, but a fun read none-the-less.

Erin is also a resident of my hometown, which is why my school is lucky enough to have her do an author visit each time she publishes.  Our fabulous librarian, Mrs. Book, arranges the visits and takes orders for autographed copies of the book ahead of time so they are waiting for the children immediately after her presentation.  Dealey always has a fun, book-related activity for the kids and doesn't talk down to them.  This time, she told them about how much she disliked writing when she was their age and how she came to love it.  The kids (and teachers) thoroughly enjoyed her visit, so much so, that more folks ordered books afterward.  I bought 3 - yes, I have a problem - but my nieces and nephews NEEDED those books for Christmas ;)

I love it when local people are successful and are happy to share their success with their community.  Erin Dealey is a class act :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree


Another childhood favorite, Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by author/illustrator Robert Barry, was published in 1963.  The illustrations are cute and colorful and expressive and many of the pages have 2 or 3 small illustrations that break up the text into manageable chunks.

The text is written as a poem and tells the story of the Christmas tree purchased by the wealthy Mr. Willowby.  When the beautiful tree is placed in his drawing room, he discovers it is too tall and has Baxter the butler lop off the top.  Baxter presents the tree top to Miss Adelaide the upstairs maid, who makes the same discovery and implements the same solution.

The increasingly small pieces of the tree top find homes just in time for Christmas with Timm the gardener, Barnaby Bear, Frisky Fox, Benjamin Rabbit, and Mistletoe Mouse.

Young children will enjoy this simple rhyming story that lets them imagine that even the animals celebrate Christmas.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Night Before Christmas

Hundreds of illustrators have undertaken the task of illustrating Clement Clark Moore's classic Christmas poem, "The Night Before Christmas."  I chose this version simply because I had the opportunity to meet the illustrator, Jan Brett, and have her autograph the book for me.  I chose to post about this poem because one of my earliest Christmas memories is of memorizing this poem as a 4 year-old.  On Christmas Eve, we had a large extended family gathering at my great Aunt Ruth's house.  When everyone was gathered in the living room, my parents asked me to recite the poem.  I started and then realized that every single adult in the room was watching me and I immediately shut down.  My parents were completely surprised by my uncharacteristic shyness and actually, so am I :)

Now I have my class memorize the poem each year and encourage them to recite it for their families on Christmas Eve.

Jan Brett has long been a favorite artist of mine.  Her detailed drawings can keep a reader involved for hours, and the beautiful borders on most pages have become a hallmark of her work.  Brett's intricate drawings are bright and bold and often foreshadow what is to come.

Last year, I was able to attend a book signing event for Brett's newest book, Mossy.  She was absolutely delightful!  She spoke about the research she did and called the children in the audience to the front and gave them a lesson about drawing turtles.  Face in a Book, the closest bookstore to my hometown, did a wonderful job of preparing the event.  They had turtles and tortoises for the children to observe and explore beforehand and a giant tortoise, Sweet Pea, roaming the room after the presentation while we waited for our turn to get our books signed.  The poor thing had kids chasing her and trying to ride her, but she seemed unaffected by the attention and just kept lapping the room.

The author's team was well-prepared for those of us who bought more than one book.  She would sign two books per person with a personal message, but customers could take a beautiful pre-signed book plate for each book we purchased.  Even her tour bus was Mossy-themed.

Jan Brett was gracious and personable and was especially terrific with the children.  If you ever have an opportunity to go to an event at which she is speaking, GO!



Thursday, December 5, 2013

Merry Christmas, Strega Nona

I love all of the Strega Nona books, but this one was a sweet surprise.  Tomie dePaola tells a great story and manages to introduce lots of new vocabulary, people and places and in a way that informs young readers without insulting their intelligence.

For those of you familiar with the Strega Nona series, you know that Big Anthony rarely does anything right.  He is the bumbling foil to Strega Nona's wise matriarch.  He wreaks havoc everywhere he goes and Strega Nona teaches him life lessons along the way.

As the town of Calabria prepares for Christmas, Strega Nona entrusts Big Anthony with important tasks to help her prepare her annual Christmas Eve feast.  Naturally, Anthony wants her to use her magic instead of expecting him to work, but she steadfastly refuses each time saying, "Christmas has a magic of its own."

Anthony sets off to run errands for Strega Nona, but gets distracted and returns empty-handed, effectively ruining Strega Nona's traditional feast for the entire town.  Strega Nona sadly heads down the hill to the church for Midnight Mass as the townspeople whisper around her about their poor fortune in not being treated to a feast this year. 

After the mass, she trudges up the hill to her little house to find Big Anthony's Christmas gift to her.  He and Bambolona the baker's daughter have prepared the feast and all the townspeople are present to wish her a Merry Christmas.  Strega Nona is thrilled that Anthony has finally to do without magic and Anthony experiences the real magic of Christmas - the joy of serving others.

Merry Christmas, Strega Nona is a gentle, sweet reminder about the things that should be most important to us during the Christmas season.  Take time to read it with your children this year and be sure to look for the winged angels watching the events of the story unfold.