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Eight Great Books for the Winter Holidays

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Here is a selection of books for the holidays. I know Hanukkah is almost gone, but those books are well worth reading.

Eight Great Books for the Winter Holidays

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel: In a small town somewhere in Eastern Europe the local synagogue has been taken over by goblins who will not allow the townspeople to celebrate Hanukkah. Hershel takes on the task of convincing one goblin each night to allow him to light the menorah in the lonely old synagogue. Hershel is a clever guy and has some pretty creative ways that he tricks the goblins. However there is a catch, on the final night he must have the Goblin King, the biggest scariest goblin of all, light the menorah himself. The story is dramatic, suspenseful, and very funny at points.

Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat by Naomi Howland: If you are familiar with Strega Nona and her magic pasta pot you will be familiar with the storyline of this one too. Sadie is given a magic pan that makes latkes. But in order to stop it you must say the magic words. Too bad her brothers don’t know those words and start up the pan while Sadie is out. I wouldn’t say the holiday features prominently, but it’s still a great story to read during the season.

The Chanukkah Guest by Eric Kimmel: This one is just plain funny and totally appeals to kids’ sense of humor. Baba Brayna is a bit hard of hearing and her eyesight isn’t so good either, so when a bear shows up on her doorstep lured by the smell of latkes she mistakes him for the rabbi. The bear enjoys a great meal and is even given the scarf Baba Brayna knit for the rabbi. As he leaves, the rabbi and Baba Brayna’s friends arrive and are rather surprised to find all the latkes gone. However, Baba Brayna simply whips up another batch of latkes.

The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett: Jan Brett creates such detailed illustrations that her books make great read alouds for even the youngest of children. They are also perfect read alouds for one or two children nestled in your lap. I especially like the message in this book of kindness, respect, and cooperation for and with animals. Tika has been entrusted to find and work with Santa’s wild reindeer this year and she takes her task very seriously. As she begins she tries to boss them around and is rather rough, but this only results in a fiasco. After a tangle up, Tika promises to listen to the animals and be gentle and kind. This works out quite well and the reindeer are ready to lead Santa’s sleigh.

Dream Snow by Eric Carle: Another story that shows kindness to animals. While we don’t get snow where we live, we still appreciate the thought of a white Christmas. In Dream Snow, a farmer wishes it would snow, but then dreams of snow covering his animals. He awakens to find that it really has snowed and he rushes out to deliver gifts to his animals.

Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto: Another story where the holiday is more of a backdrop, however it has a great message about honesty and is funny to boot. Maria is making tamales with her parents for their family Christmas celebration. Her mother removes her wedding ring to mix the masa, but Maria sneaks the ring on her finger. In the hustle and bustle of family arriving Maria forgets all about the ring and only later realizes it must have fallen off in the tamales. She and her cousins sneak into the kitchen and eat all the tamales in search of the ring, which, it turns out her mother had all along. Maria confesses to her mother and the family has a good laugh and sets out to make another batch of tamales. The look on the kids faces when they have to make more tamales is priceless.

Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs: This is a wordless picture book that details Santa’s Christmas routine. I know there is an animated version of it, but I love to pore over all the details with my daughter. There are some surprising and delightful things if you look closely.

Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa by Donna Washington: I am a big proponent of introducing a variety of customs to my daughter, but it was hard finding a quality Kwanzaa book. So many of them are overtly didactic or informational with illustrations that just aren’t very engaging. I wish there were more stories about Kwanzaa in the vein of all the Christmas and Hanukkah books. In Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa, Li’l Rabbit sets out to find a nice gift for his grandmother who is sick in place of the large happy feast they normally have. While out he tells all grandma’s friends that she is unwell, but doesn’t think he has come up with the perfect surprise. Until he gets home and realizes all the friends have pulled together and created the Karamu for Granna Rabbit. I liked that the principles of Kwanzaa are subtly worked into the story instead of being glaringly pointed to.

Eight Great Books for Autumn

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I’ve started noticing that some mommy blogs like to give recommendations for picture books (or chapters books) that go along with a theme or an author and I started to think, “Hey I could do that, I am a librarian after all!”  I have done a bit of suggesting here and there, but I thought maybe I could start making it a bit more of a regular series with several title suggestions instead of just one or two.

Without further ado, here are my fall suggestions:

Autumn by Gerda Muller: This one is a wordless board book with really beautiful illustrations showing some of the delights of the season. Our Autumns don’t look exactly like this (rain is scarce this time of year), but I think it captures the beauty of the season and the excitement the change in weather brings. The wordlessness makes it a great vehicle for building vocabulary and poring over with your young child.

Autumn Leaves by Ken Robbins: This one is full of awesome photographs of leaves from a variety of trees. It’s definitely a non-fiction, but it is super accessible even for younger kids. If you are lucky enough to live where many or all of the included trees grow, it’s a lot of fun to make the connection between the book and the real world. We also bought a set of leaf rubbing plates that match most of the leaves in this book and had a good time making rubbings and comparing to the book. It’s out of print, so if you normally purchase books you may have to check with your local library instead.

Winter Lullaby by Barbara Seuling: I know this has winter in the title, but it’s really about the natural world getting ready for winter. The text is simple and written in verse that uses questions and answers which my daughter really responded to. But really this book is about the illustrations. They are stunning.

Pumpkin Jack by Will Hubbel: This is one of my all time favorites. It starts with a boy making a jack-o-lantern, but it’s really a story about the life cycle of a pumpkin. I could also see some religious overtones in it too. While l love to celebrate one particular season when we are in it, I also really feel that to appreciate them you need the cycle of the seasons. Pumpkin Jack does a nice job of doing just that.

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams: This isn’t strictly a Halloween book, but it works well for the holiday especially since there’s a scary pumpkin head. The story is totally ridiculous and repetitive, but that’s why kids love it. My daughter, at 26 months, is saying the refrain along with me and giggling hysterically. Doesn’t get better than that.

A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting: Another ridiculous story. I love that everyone is welcome at the Thanksgiving table and that it’s really a book about a play on the phrase “a turkey for Thanksgiving”. We read this one every year.

The Perfect Thanksgiving by Eileen Spinelli: I reviewed this one last year and you can read that post here. The short version is, this is a story about embracing your family warts and all. We don’t all have perfect families, but simply being with them makes it a perfect Thanksgiving.

Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes: Another supermarket book table find and I love this one too. It runs through a number of things to be thankful for but many of them are not run-of-the-mill thanksgivings. There is school, music and art. There is hopscotch and slides and dress up. I like the variety and inventiveness of the things, but it still ends with bing thankful for our families. Plus the last page it open for you to record things you’re thankful for. This would be a great way to create a book that can be passed down and show the growth of your family through the years.

Those are my picks. There are tons more that we read, but if you’re trying to build up your collection at home or just need some suggestions for books to request at the library, these are where I would start. Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments! I love to hear when other people love our favorites or introduce us to new ones.

For Your Bookshelf: The Classics

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I have come to the conclusion that any politician that runs on a platform seeking to ban the Daylight Savings time changes would win by a landslide. Parents of young children would be the first to vote. It took us nearly a month to readjust to the new time. A month of putting the baby to bed at 9, or putting her in the car, or falling asleep next to her at 8:30 even though the to-do list loomed large and long.

After reading to Cam at nap time one day, however, I discovered that it calmed her down pretty quickly. I had tried this in the past at bed and nap times to no avail and was really disappointed. As a big advocate of reading to children and as a reader myself, I wanted to have this tradition and routine with my daughter, but it just didn’t work for us. So seeing that it might be a possibility now that she’s older, I jumped at the opportunity.

I also decided that instead of reading several picture books, which are too short, can become a negotiation tactic, and can enliven her a little too much (just today she was shouting “egg” at the top of her voice while I read aloud from The Golden Egg Book), I would read from a classic novel. I created a list on my GoodReads account which you can see here if you are interested in the titles I chose.

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Our first selection I had on our bookshelf, so we could start immediately, was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. So far we are all enjoying it, one chapter a night. Cam has decided that she likes to sit in our bed with both of us and the lights turned down low. She will bring one of her blankets and several stuffed friends in and snuggles up. Sometimes she wants to snatch the book out of my hands, so I have taken to giving her a book of her own with lots of pictures so she has something to mimic me with. Usually she looks through her book for the first couple minutes and then lies back to listen.

We don’t do it every night. It’s just not always possible. But she has come to expect it and it has pushed her bedtime back to between 8 and 8:30!

For Your Bookshelf: Push Here

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photoWe bought this book a few months back for Cam, but she’s just now getting to the point where she can appreciate the language and humor of it. This little book has a lot of good components to it. It has a humorous tone and requires kids to think about color, shape, and art. It is also interactive and requires the reader to follow certain directions (as the title suggests). The text is also simple enough and repetitive enough that emerging readers could read it.

For Your Bookshelf: Natural History

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On a recent trip to Costco I came across the book pictured below, which I had seen in the library before. It is absolutely beautiful and features thousands of photographs of every type of living thing. Except, oddly enough, for whales and dolphins which are lovely drawings. Go figure.

Natural History

Cam is in love with this book. She flips through it despite its enormous size. She is particluarly fond of the owl pages (big surprise there), the colorful birds, the penguins (another shocker) and some of the small brown furry mammals. In my best attempt at following her interests, we bought her a smaller sized book (also published by DK) that is essentially an abbreviated version of this one. It is more portable and I think she’ll have a much easier time flipping through it. Plus if the pages get torn or worn or rumpled I don’t really care.

I know the book is pricey, although I found it for $20 less than its cover price at Costco and I imagine it will eventually pop up on sale tables, I think it’s worth the investment if your child is interested. I can also see it really tying in well with the Montessori Great Lessons as well as a science curriculum and an introduction to the diversity of life on Earth.

For Your Bookshelf: The Perfect Thanksgiving

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Perfect ThanksgivingThe other day when we were grocery shopping I happened to stop at the table of books Whole Foods has set up (books at the grocery store?). Normally this kind of thing bothers me. Those tables of doodads are there to get you to spend more money on stuff you don’t need from the grocery. I also imagine they tempt many a child and fuel many a grocery store meltdown. However, I happened to see this book sitting there and, for whatever reason, actually picked it up. I’m so glad I did. It’s a sweet little story told by one little girl who compares her family’s Thanksgiving with Abigail Archer’s Thanksgiving. Abigail’s family is perfect in every way. They have a Martha Stewart Thanksgiving. The narrator (you never learn her name) has a Thanksgiving that is more in line with what I imagine everyone else’s Thanksgivings are like – the turkey isn’t perfect, someone sings at the table, the relatives are crammed into the house, pies come from the store. But in the end she points out that her Thanksgiving and Abigail’s are the same in the most important way. They both have loving families.

This resonated with me. Yes, it’s a sweet message that I want Cam to internalize. But, we have a family that resembles Modern Family more than it resembles the “traditional” model. It is no less loving than the “perfect” family, though, and I want Cam to know that and be proud of that.