Category Archives: Holiday

10 Days of Love in Literature

Last year I dismissed the romantic focus of Valentine’s Day in favor of a more broad interpretation and celebration of love – in all it’s glorious forms. Revisit that post, All You Need Is Love, here.  Surprisingly, this year I’m a feeling a bit more romantically inclined. This is due primarily to the fact that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the movie, comes out today.  So perhaps my ideas of romance are misguided, but stick with me. We caught a glimpse of the trailer this past week and Shakespeare was completely taken in. This means she now has two books to plow through before we head to the theater- Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the Seth Grahame-Smith’s  Zombie version.

For me, Pride and Prejudice  is a model love story.  As a Literature major I can dissect the novel to shreds if necessary, but I’d rather not.  I prefer to just enjoy it.  At the heart it is about two people trying to overcome the situational barriers between them, both real and imagined, and be together.  Lizzy Bennett is an everygirl, and Darcy is the model for all the brooding, misunderstood, heartthrobs sprinkled through literature and popular novels for centuries.   The book is a funny, smart, infuriating (oh, Lydia!), and a successful social commentary wrapped up in what amounts to a great love story.

Since I’m inspired to feel romantic this week I’m posting 10 Days of Love in Literature Get ready for hearts and heartbreak – and maybe a zombie or two!

littlesomethingDay 1A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall.  Lea and Gabe are perfect for each other – everyone can see it!  Told through 14 different viewpoints of the people around them- the barista, the delivery guy, their professor, their friends – this charming story proves maybe love just needs a little nudge once in a while.   It was the cover art that pulled me in and the concept that hooked me.  This is the Valentine’s Day gift I ordered for Shakespeare and the kick-off book in my 10 Days of Love (because it is important to start on a positive note).  YA

geographyDay 2: The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith.  Lucy and Owen live in the same apartment building, but in different worlds.  When a chance encounter leaves them trapped together in the elevator they can’t deny that the spark of interest they both feel.  But Lucy is moving abroad and Owen’s heading west with his Dad.  Follow their journey as they work to keep in touch and discover if there was more to their magical night worth holding onto.  Smith has several other romantic teen reads including The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between. I’m intrigued by Smith’s explorations of how to navigate love when faced with obstacles in being together.   YA

yolojulietDay 3:  Nothing can match the romance of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet.  But if the standard Shakespeare version is a little heavy, and the language antiquated, give YOLO Juliet a try.  Part of the OMG Shakespeare series, by Brett Wright (and Shakespeare), this modern retelling is entirely told through text messages adding a new dimension to the classic tale.  Now, if you are like me, it never set well that julietimmortalRomeo loved Rosaline but was so quick to throw her over for Juliet.  After only a few days they are willing to die for each other?   For a revisionist telling, with a supernatural twist try Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay.  After death Romeo and Juliet are now eternal enemies, battling for the souls of true lovers, and when Juliet finally finds her chance for her own happy ending, Romeo will do anything in his power to stop it.  YA

rose gardenDay 4: The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley.  A romance that is truly from another time.  When Eva returns to the Cornwall coast it is to finally find peace in the only place she’s every really felt at home.  The loss of her sister has left her adrift and she finds security in old friends and a love that transcends centuries.  I absolutely love all of Kearsley’s novels, but this was the first and it holds a special place in my heart.  Mariana and The Winter Sea are two other romances that prove enduring love can bend the boundaries of time.  MBS

lovestoryDay 5: Love Story by Erich Segal.  The ultimate classic, tragic romance.  When undeniable attraction brings college students Oliver and Jenny together it seems their backgrounds and families are determined to keep them apart.  However, it isn’t long before their romance becomes the type of true love to defy the odds.  This quick read is a total tearjerker, so have the tissues on hand! YA

lovefortunedisasterDay 6: Love Fortunes and Other Disasters by Kimberly Karalius.  What if your true love has already been determined by a fortune teller?  What happens when you think, you know, that fortune is wrong?  Fallon has always know that when she gets to high school her fortune will be told by Zita, determining her true love.  Then, like generations before her, she’ll go on to marry her high school sweetheart and live happily ever after.  But this time Zita doesn’t predict true love and Fallon, with some other unhappy fortune recipients, starts a rebellion against a system in search of her own happy ending.  This is a fun romance about taking destiny into your own hands!  YA

annaDay 7: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.  Anna’s dreams of a perfect senior year, and finally getting together with her dream crush, are derailed when her dad ships her to Paris.  It should be a dream come true and it almost is, except for her undeniable attraction to the adorable Etienne who is undeniably taken.  Anna needs to figure out what it is she really wants, and who she wants.  An adventure in first love!  Follow up with Lola and the Boy Next Door and Isla and the Happily Ever After , independent stories that all intertwine. YA

foreverDay 8: Forever . . .  by Judy Blume.   Katherine and Michael are in love, that all consuming first love that Katherine just knows is meant to be forever.   She knows she’ll always feel this way about Michael as their relationship navigates the first experiences of real emotional and physical connection.    But what happens when Katherine discovers she has feelings for someone else?  This novel addresses the milestones of young relationships and confronts the reality of first sexual experiences.  Making no apology for its frankness, Forever . . .  turns the portrayal of teen romance on it head.  Katherine, in a remarkable realistic portrayal, owns her sexuality and rather than being crushed by her first sexual encounter, finds herself opening to the opportunity of love even if her first relationship isn’t forever.  Blume has given voice to generations of young women searching for authentic stories that accurately represent their experiences.  I’m particularly fond of Forever . . .  for it’s (unfortunately) unique perspective in which a young woman is the one to end a relationship rather than being broken by it.  YA

maybeDay 9: Maybe in Another Life: A Novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid.  At this point in her life Hannah is admittedly a bit of a mess.  So she ends her dead-end affair and heads home to California to start over, moving in with her best friend, and attempting to rekindle a long ago first love that she still believes might have potential.  At a pivotal point she must decided to stay or go….and that decision changes the entire course of her life.  An amazing look at how the smallest of choices impact our destiny, and whether or not we have only one true love or if their are multiple ways to find happiness and “the one”.  MBS

pinkcarnationDay 10: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig  An American scholar, a handsome Brit, a research project, spies, history and a dual narrative make this the ideal lighthearted historical romance.   This is the first book in a series spanning 12 novels and 2 short stories – all with their own historical love story.  The characters, however, intertwine across the novels and modern lovebirds Eloise and Colin provide the structure for all the books.  I adore this witty series –  it is smart enough to keep me coming back for more, but an enjoyable easy read for lazy Sunday afternoons.  MBS

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February 5, 2016 · 1:53 pm

A Christmas Carol

I’ve always adored the timeless, enduring message of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Perhaps it stems from my youth, when my parents would take us to the theater to see the annual stage production. Or perhaps it was my academic focus on 19th century history and literature as a college student that bred my fondness for Scrooge’s reformation. Maybe it’s that I cherish the sound of laughter and togetherness watching the The Muppet Christmas Carol with my girls. Whatever the motivation, A Christmas Carol has cemented itself as a necessary staple of our holiday season. Through Scrooge we are reminded that Christmas isn’t about things, that sharing is more wonderful than getting, family matters most, it is never too late to turn over a new leaf, and that forgiveness is easily given.   I adore many of the film versions, from the aforementioned Muppets (Gonzo is spectacular as narrator, and Miss Piggy does a perfect Mrs. Cratchit), to Scrooged, a commentary on ’80’s indulgence (with a fantastic Bill Murray), to the terrifying iterations of Scrooge as done by Patrick Stewart or George C. Scott.  However, I recommend giving the written story a try – from the original work, to adaptations for younger readers, to inventive interpretations –  curl up by the fire and experience the true magic of Dicken’s classic tale.

christmascarolPBA Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Illustrated by Brett Helquist – This picture book version of the beloved tale of Scrooge and his midnight apparitions is a wonderful addition to every holiday library and a perfect introduction to the story for younger readers.  It would make a wonderful holiday tradition to gather round the fire to read this aloud together as a family. (PB/RA)

mth christmas carolMagic Tree House #44: A Ghost Tale for Christmas Time by Mary Pope Osborne – Jack and Annie are transported to Victorian England where they meet up with writer Charles Dickens.  Although he appears to have everything he needs, Dickens has secrets about his past that haunt him.  Can Jack and Annie save the beloved writer of a Christmas Carol?  For more information on Dickens London check out Rags and Riches: Kids in the Time of Charles Dickens the non-fiction companion book by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce.  (ER-1/3)

cracked classicsCracked Classics: Humbug Holiday by Tony Abbott – When Frankie & Devin need a little boost with their English homework they usually get banished to the library where, to their surprise, they are frequently zapped into the books they are supposed to be reading.  This time they are in Victorian England where they come face to face with the grumpiest grouch they’ve ever encountered.  Can they help soften Scrooge’s cold heart and make sure he listens to the visiting spirits? (MR-4)

christmas carolA Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Illustrated by Yelena Bryksenkova – A beautifully illustrated edition of the classic story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, a miser who, through the midnight visitations of three spirits, learns the true meaning of Christmas and discovers it isn’t too late to embrace the joy of the season and change his fate.  (MR 6+/YA/RA)

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Filed under classics, History, Holiday

Marooned Without A Compass

Today is “Marooned Without A Compass Day”.  I love a holiday, any holiday, so I enjoy that there is a designation for pretty much every day of the year should you choose to celebrate. I’m a particular fan of “Talk Like A Pirate Day” (Sept. 19) and “Squirrel Appreciation Day” (Jan. 21).


Now I realize that today, “Marooned Without A Compass Day”, I could go all existential and talk about the deep emotional feelings of being adrift in life without guidance or direction, searching for meaning and fulfillment, alone and trapped in an existence made of chance or misfortune. Or there is the whole “moral compass” angle to consider.  Or I could wax poetic as a travel-blogger about going forth to discover the world without plans or preparation to fully immerse yourself in genuine (or scary, unsafe, life-threatening) experiences.

What fun is that? I prefer to embrace this holiday with the same attitude that I give to “Name Your Car Day” (Oct. 2)*, with a bit of humor and irreverence. Today I choose to pay tribute to those literary characters who really were “marooned without a compass”.  Check out these classic, and not-so-classic stories of shipwreck, deserted islands, and survival.

gsshipwreckedShipwreck on the Pirate Islands –  In the 18th book in the Geronimo Stilton series we find our intrepid mouse hero stranded on a deserted island, searching for buried treasure.  How Geronimo, who seems to long for a quiet life in Mouse City, always winds up in the most precarious situations is a mystery – but always a fun read! (ER-2)

shipwreckedsailorThe Shipwrecked Sailor: An Egyptian Tale with Hieroglyphs – by Tamara Bower is the retelling of a centuries old tale, discovered on papyrus, written in hieroglyphs, that tells of a shipwrecked sailor who soon discovers he is not alone. He befriends a mystical serpent prince who bestows riches upon the sailor to take back to the King of Egypt when he is finally rescued.  (MR-3/4)

maroonedpirateMarooned On The Pirate Coast – by Melinda Rice is part of the Lone Star Heroines Series, focusing on Texas state history.  I’ve included it because the main character is 11 year old Georgina, who is shipwrecked off the coast of Texas, near Galveston, and learns to survive with help from the Karankawa tribe.  And she is rescued by famous pirate, Jean Laffite!  This story of a strong female heroine holds a place among the boy-centered stories!  (MR-3/4)

shipwreckedjapanShipwrecked!: The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy– Rhoda Blumberg enthusiastically brings to life the story of 14 year-old Manjiro.  In the early 1800’s Manjiro’s fishing boat is shipwrecked 300 miles away from his home in Japan.  He knows, due to the laws of the time, that he can never return.  When he is finally rescued by a whaling ship, Manjiro takes a chance to go where no Japanese person had gone before, to America!   In his quest to understand American culture, receive an education and undertake amazing adventures Manjiro becomes a hero in his homeland.

robinsoncrusoeRobinson Crusoe – The ultimate, classic shipwreck story, written in 1719 by Daniel Defoe, is a survival booklist must-read.  Crusoe is by far the most famous literary character ever to be “marooned without a compass”.  This novel, told in journal form, of his struggle for survival is required for anyone looking for deserted island adventure . (MR-5 – click here, Robinson Crusoe, for the unabridged YA/Classic version)

swissfamilyrobinsonThe Swiss Family Robinson – If being shipwrecked alone is a bit much to handle, there is always Johann D. Wyss’ tale of the Robinson family, who find themselves stranded on a tropical island.  Together, with their wits, ingenuity, love – and quite a few supplies they salvage from the wreckage of their ship – they make a home out of the uninhabited jungle.  (MR-5 – click here, The Swiss Family Robinson, for the unabridged version – Classic/YA/MR-6&up)

*I just got a new car this week. We haven’t named him yet, but I doubt we’ll wait for next October before christening him with a delightful moniker which will hopefully embody all the awesomeness that is a minivan.

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Filed under classics, Holiday, travel, Uncategorized

A Revolutionary Birthday Celebration

Shakespeare had a milestone birthday this year, and since my big 4-0 deserved a getaway, then her entry to the teenage years definitely warranted a trip.   So we decided to take her away for a weekend- without her sisters.  Choosing a nice city about 3 hours from our house with culture, shopping and dining was sure to set the stage for a memorable 13th birthday.  And then some spontaneous internet surfing resulted in a discovery that Shakespeare’s favorite ukulele playing artist happened to be playing a concert the exact night we were planning to be away – in a city 6 hours from home, in the opposite direction from where we were planning to go.   What to do?  Easy decision.  We scrapped plan 1, pulled in some serious family favors to get babysitting for HuskyGirl and WeezyJean, and took off for a 24 hour whirlwind trip to Boston.

Not only did this trip enable us to take Shakespeare to see her very first concert, but she’s also a bit of a Revolutionary War fanatic.  In Kindergarten each child was given a turkey-shaped cut-out to “disguise” for Thanksgiving – so as not to get eaten.  Among the wall of turkeys decorated like Hannah Montana and Spiderman was one lone turkey with a cotton-ball wig and dollar-bill visage.  Her turkey was George Washington, and her paperback copy of Magic Treehouse’s Nonfiction Companion to Revolutionary War on Wednesday eventually fell apart from so many readings.

Boston, the birthplace of the American Revolution, was the perfect place to spend her birthday weekend.  Beginning at Boston Common we walked the entire Freedom Trail.   We saw the final resting sites of her favorite revolutionaries- yes, she has favorites- their stomping grounds, their homes, and their places of worship.  Looking up at the balcony of the Old State House, where the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time in Boston, I literally had chills.  After the most amazing cannoli ever, eaten in the North End, we climbed 294 excruciating steps and stood at the top of the Bunker Hill Monument.  Our journey placed us in the footsteps of American history’s greatest patriots.

I also connected with my daughter in a way that we hadn’t for a while.  As she’s growing up it is really fun to engage in shared experiences  – complete with inside jokes, which had us in stitches.  It was exciting to let her determine our plans, and although I find it hard to let go of control, I loved seeing her advocate for her interests.  Not only did everything turn out perfectly, but I did things I would never have chosen myself.

Take some time this summer, with a vacation or stay-cation, to stage a revolutionary getaway – one that indulges the passions of your younger travelers.  Allow them to overthrow the adult planning tyrants and determine their own vacation destiny.  Not only will they be empowered and enthusiastic about the trip, but chances are you’ll learn more about them than you ever imagined, and be awed in the process.

Check out these “revolutionary reads” that support a trip to Boston’s Freedom Trail.

paulreveresridePaul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – The classic poem chronicling the events of April, 1775 that officially started the American Revolution.  This is a must read if you plan to stop at the Paul Revere House and Old North Church PB  *PBP Note: During our Freedom Trail visit we determined that Longfellow just couldn’t find a rhyme for William Dawes or Samuel Prescott, and that’s why we remember Revere above the others who rode that fateful night.  We also attempted to re-write the poem to include the slighted men, much to our amusement.   We challenge you to give it a try!

youwouldntbebostonteaYou Wouldn’t Want to Be at the Boston Tea Party!: Wharf Water Tea You’d Rather Not Drink by Peter Cook – An engaging overview of the events that lead to Boston’s rise as the center of the pre-revolutionary colonial conflict. Meet the Sons of Liberty and discover their motivation to break from England, and the risks involved. ER-2/3

johnnytremainJohnny Tremain by Esther Forbes – As a silversmith apprentice 14 year-old Johnny is injured trying to make a sugar basin for John Hancock. His despair threatens to destroy him, until a good friend pulls him into the heart of the Sons of Liberty and he finds purpose in the Revolutionary cause.  Newbery Medal Winner 1944.   MR – 5/7   *PBP Note: Just a block off the official Freedom Trail you’ll find the only remaining part of Province House, the residence of Massachusetts colony’s royal governors – the back stone steps that led to the formal gardens. These steps brought to life a vision of Johnny Tremain visiting Cilla at the Lyte’s house.  And isn’t that what great historical literature does? Bringing facts, dates, and even cold stone steps into fully-formed impressions of past human struggles.  

sarahrevereThe Secret of Sarah Revere by Ann Rinaldi – Rinaldi, a master of historical fiction for the YA set, shares the struggle for independence from the point-of-view of a young woman whose father was a leading revolutionary.  Sarah Revere reflects on the struggles leading to the American Revolution, as she faces challenges at home with her family and her emerging role as a young woman of Boston.  Check out Ann Rinaldi’s other books for riveting female perspectives 5thofmarchthroughout history, including The Fifth of March which brings to life the events surrounding the Boston Massacre. MR- 5/7


reginasilsbyRegina Silsby’s Secret War  by Thomas J. Brodeur – Looking for a little sinister supernatural with your history?  Rachel Winslow witnesses the Boston Tea Party and she narrowly escapes the Tory soldiers with a little luck, or was it more? Did the spirit of long dead Regina Silsby help her by thwarting their pursuit? Rachel uses the superstitious nature of the Redcoats against them, and the legend of Regina to help the patriot cause. MR – 5/7

Looking to stay with the Revolutionary War theme but branch out from Boston proper?  Check out the earlier post Patriotic Pigeon or find information at the National Park Service: Revolutionary War website.  Click on Revolutionary Parks  and Tour the Revolution to take a virtual tour of the Revolutionary era historic sites from Florida to Maine.


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Filed under 4th of July, American Revolution, History, military history, travel

Year of the Sheep*

Honestly, I’m not exactly sure how it began.  I chalk it up to being a slightly bored, housebound, stay-at-home mom who, when trapped by the freezing temperatures and mounds of snow outside, latched onto an idea to bring some festivity to the otherwise drab early February.  This is how my family adopted the celebration of Chinese New Year.

Chinese_New_YearWhat started as an attempt to pull us from our winter doldrums (and I admit an excuse to order in rather than cook) has become a cherished tradition in our household.  Along the way the Museum Educator in me came out and we have developed a deep appreciation for the history and tradition of the holiday.  We embrace many of the activities of the New Year as well – everyone gets a haircut (the only time of year they don’t fight me), we clean our house (again, much less of a fight when they know it is for the New Year), we make fortune cookies and Nian Gao, cut-paper lantern decorations hang about the house, and we listen to Chinese music.   Perhaps my favorite part is when we remember our ancestors – Chinese New Year reminds us to talk to the girls about the great-grandparents they never met, or can’t remember well.

Something about Chinese New Year is simply appealing to kids. First, why wouldn’t you want another opportunity to have a celebration?  Second, it is fascinating that Chinese zodiac names each year for an animal.  Finally, lion dancers and dragons are really cool.

In major part because of our celebration we always visit Chinatown when we are in NYC.  This hectic, busy, loud section of the city is endlessly fascinating to my girls.  They want to shop for red envelopes and lanterns, get an ice-cream cone at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (where the “exotic” flavors include vanilla, and the “regular” flavors range from green tea to banana durian), and try delicacies like dried cuttlefish.   These visits also lead to great discussions, and further reading, about immigration and settlement of cultural enclaves in major cities.

This year Chinese New Year falls on Thursday, February 19, and many cities have celebrations you can attend.  Check out how New York, San Francisco and Seattle are planning to welcome in the Year of the Sheep.  If you can’t make it, consider having  your own celebration. has a nice overview of the holiday and a trip to your local Asian market will provide the rest.  Over the years we have established a large collection of Chinese New Year books to help us with our celebration.  Our favorites are below to help you get started.

myfirstchinesenewyearMy First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz.  A perfect beginning book for young readers to explore all the preparation and festivity of Chinese New Year.  (PB)


bringinginthenewyearBringing In the New Year by Grace Lin.  Follow a Chinese-American family as they prepare for the holiday. (PB)

PBP Note:  I simply ADORE Grace Lin and there isn’t a thing she has written that I don’t LOVE.  Other great PB titles include Dim Sum for Everyone! and Fortune Cookie Fortunes.   Also check out her Ling & Ting  ER Series and Pacy Lin Series for Advanced ER.  Look below for MR titles that are amazing!


disfordragondanceD Is For Dragon Dance by Ying Chang Compestine.  There is an aspect of Chinese New Year for every letter of the alphabet.  Celebrate from Acrobats to Zodiac. (PB)


runawayricecakeThe Runaway Rice Cake by Ying Chang Compestine.  The Chang family only has one rice cake for the New Year – and when it runs away the three brothers chase it across town.  What could end in disaster results in a special lesson – when you give to others it comes back to you ten-fold.  This is where our family found our Nian-Gao recipe, which we make every year.  Other folk-tales by Compestine in her “story of” series such as The Story of Noodles, The Story of Chopsticks, and The Story of Paper  are additional delightful reads for the holiday. (PB)

storiesofchinesezodiacsheepTales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin.  There are 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac and author Oliver Chin has a story for each.  Discover which year your child is born in and read their story, or read them all!  (PB)

celebratechinesenewyearCelebrate Chinese New Year: With Fireworks, Dragons, and Lanterns by Carolyn Otto.  This non-fiction National Geographic book  takes a look at Chinese New Year celebrations around the globe, highlighting the tradition and pagentry of this world-wide cultural event.  Beautiful photography accompanies clear, informative text.  (PB)

azchinesenewyearThe New Year Dragon Dilemma: A to Z Mysteries Super Edition #5 by Ron Roy.  The kids are in San Francisco and their new friend Holden is going to take them to the Chinese New Year parade.  But when Miss Chinatown, and her priceless crown, go missing the kids need to solve the mystery quickly, before Holden gets blamed.  (ER-2/3)

nancydrewchinesenewyearmysteryThe Chinese New Year Mystery : Nancy Drew Notebooks #39 by Carolyn Keene. Nancy’s class is celebrating Chinese New Year and she and her friends get to make the dragon!  All their hard work is for nothing when the dragon goes missing.  The parade will be cancelled if Nancy can’t solve the mystery quickly.


happynewyearjulieHappy New Year, Julie: American Girl by Megan McDonald.  Julie’s first Christmas since her parents divorce is a difficult one, and she finds solace in helping Ivy prepare for her families’ Chinese New Year celebration.  When she discovers that Ivy’s family is inviting her mom and dad to the party Julie worries that they won’t be able to get along and will ruin everything.

wherethemountainmeetsthemoonWhere the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.  Minli has grown up hearing her father’s tales of the Old Man on the Moon and as her families fortunes are bleak she sets off one day to find him, and have him change her fortune.  Throughout her journey Minli meets many characters who help her to learn the most important lesson of all – by appreciating what you already have you are the richest of all. (MR-4th & Up)  *PBP All-Time Top-Ten Favorite*

starryriveroftheskyStarry River of the Sky by Grace Lin.  When a mysterious woman arrives in the village where Rendi is working as an errand boy she brings with her stories to share.  Her wisdom opens Rendi to the possibilities of those around him,and helps him to see that to write the ending to his own story he needs to rethink his present. (MR – 4th & Up)

*2015 is the Year of the Sheep/Ram.  Because the Chinese New Year is based on the Lunar calendar it fluctuates each year – occurring sometime between mid-January and mid-February.  When determining what “year” you were born, check when the New Year fell during your birth year.  For dates all the way back to 1930 click  HERE.

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Filed under Asia, Chinese New Year, Early Reader, History, Holiday, Middle Reader, Picture Book

All you need is LOVE….

I love holidays, but for some reason I have never had particularly warm feelings about Valentine’s Day.  Perhaps it is the commercial focus on romantic love, that at once celebrates coupledom and highlights the lack thereof, which rubs me the wrong way.   However, my perspective has altered in recent years.   I’ve come to the conclusion that there is so much sorrow, hurt, and hate in the world that what we need is more love.  And all kinds of love should be celebrated – for when we care about each other, in all capacities, the world we live in will be a much better place.    So love each other – parents & children, siblings, friends & teachers, gay, straight, young & old.  This holiday isn’t just about romantic love, although that is nice, it’s about caring for each other.  It celebrates that acting with love everyday makes our world better.

heartBelow are some books that celebrate LOVE in all forms.  Pick one up to broaden your perspective on Valentine’s Day as more than just roses and chocolate.

tangomakesthreeAnd Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell – The true story of a pair of  male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who wanted a family of their own.  When an observant zookeeper gives them a egg to care for they “know just what to do”.   In a world where families come in all kinds of configurations, penguins Roy and Silo create a unique family and prove the most important ingredient in creating a family is love.  (PB) *ALA Notable Children’s Book Nominee,  Note:ALA #1 most challenged book of 2010

henrymudgegreatgrandpasHenry and Mudge and the Great Grandpas by Cynthia Rylant – Henry and Mudge love to visit Great-Grandpa Bill.  He lives in a home with lots of other grandpas, all of whom love to play with a boy and his dog.  When Henry discovers a swimming hole he knows he’ll need a grown up to swim with him, but little did he know that all the grandpas would want to join in the fun!  A hilarious look at love of life across generations. (ER-K/1)

katiewoonervousnightA Nervous Night by Fran Manushkin -In this addition to the Katie Woo series Katie is going to spend the night at her grandparents house.  She loves her grandparents, and enjoys doing fun things like gardening and cooking with her grandmother.  But the unfamiliar bedroom is a little scary, until Katie discovers that it was her mother’s bed…and learns that a grandmothers love is the perfect substitute when mom isn’t there. (ER-2/3)

nodogsallowedNo Dogs Allowed!by Bill Wallace- Kristine is heartbroken at the loss of her beloved horse and vows to never love another pet, ever again!  When her father gives her a puppy for her birthday she stands firm in her refusal to welcome him into the family.  How can she find room in her heart to love again?  And will she see that sharing her love with a pet brings her more love in return?  (MR-4/5)

sistersSisters by Raina Telgemeier – A middle reader memoir told in graphic novel format that highlights the ups and down of sibling relationships.  Over time the realization of shared history and common experience helps these sisters learn to stick together! (ER-5/6)

faultinourstarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green – When 16 year old Hazel Grace, a terminal cancer patient, meets Augustus at a support group their common experience battling cancer leads to a deep friendship and eventual romantic entanglement.  Together they navigate the world of loss and love, learning that sometimes the joy of loving someone is worth the painful cost of losing them in the end. (YA)

fireflylaneFirefly Lane by Kristen Hannah – Kate and Tully are an unlikely pair of best friends, but their experiences together form a lifelong bond that spans decades.  Through trials, traumas, self-discovery, and self-imploding they learn that having a friend who loves you for exactly who you are, faults and all, is a gift to cherish.  (Mom’s Bookshelf)

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Filed under Banned Books, dogs, Early Reader, Love, Middle Reader, pets, Picture Book, Valentine's Day, Young Adult, zoo

M is for…

Two ordinary kids, a tree-house in the woods, and books about every subject imaginable.  Add a little magic, mystery, and adventure and you’ve got the classic early-reader series that transports every kid to places they’ve only dreamed of!

Magic Treehouse Series by Mary Pope Osbourne

Jack and Annie, siblings from Frog Creek, Pennsylvania, are transported through time and space to help the mythical Morgan LeFay save the library at Camelot.  Along the way they meet dinosaurs, visit ancient Egypt, tackle ninjas, sail on the Titanic, immerse themselves in American History, and more!   Each book is its own stand-alone adventure, but the books connect in groups of 4 to solve larger mysteries. There is a Magic Treehouse story to complement just about any trip, holiday, or historical event.

These are great stories for those ready to tackle chapter books.  However, they are perfect for older Pre-K and Kindergarten readers who are ready for a complex read-aloud.   Suitable for a wide range of readers, Magic Treehouse books address a variety of experiences in an age appropriate way.  And for more inquisitive readers, the Magic Treehouse Fact-Trackers are fantastic non-fiction companions to the series.  For even more check out to play and learn with Jack & Annie.

*A Paperback Pigeon All-Time Top 10 Favorite*

mth1-4Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 1-4: Dinosaurs Before Dark, The Knight at Dawn, Mummies in the Morning, and Pirates Past Noon – Real dinosaurs?  Medieval Knights?  Ancient Egypt? Swashbuckling Pirates?   Adventure is just a turn of the page as Jack & Annie begin to discover the magic in their treehouse! (ER-K-3)

mth5-8Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 5-8: Night of the Ninjas, Afternoon on the Amazon, Sunset of the Sabertooth, and Midnight on the Moon –  Time and space are no match for the Magic Treehouse – or for Jack & Annie – when they travel to ancient Japan, voyage down the Amazon River, tackle the Ice Age and land on the Moon!!!

mth1-28Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 1-28 – Sets of 4 books just not enough to satisfy your curious reader?  Get all 28 of the original Magic Treehouse Books and join Jack & Annie for every single magical, mystical adventure from Shakespeare’s England to George Washington’s Revolutionary War encampment.

mthchristmasincamelotChristmas in Camelot (Magic Tree House, No. 29) – In the first book in the Magic Treehouse Merlin Missions, Jack & Annie take on more mythical challenges.  The series elevates in reading level, growing with its readers, as well as in content depth and story length. (ER-2/3)

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Filed under A to Z, Africa, animals, Asia, Early Readers, europe, History, Holiday, magic, mystery, North America, series, Time Travel, Uncategorized, United States

Thankful Trip

Holidays are like “mini-trips”, the opportunity to “travel” out of the daily grind.   Sometimes they involve actual travel, sometimes not, but regardless it is a break from the mundane.  Like a vacation, holidays give us room to make exceptions to our typical limitations on food, drink and bedtimes.   I’m particularly fond of Thanksgiving in this respect. How great is a holiday that puts so much emphasis on food?  True, this is a highlight of the day, but I also really enjoy the idea of taking time to simply be grateful for our blessings.   At the heart Thanksgiving is dedicating time to intentionally focus our outlook on seeing the world for all the positive it contains.

That can be hard to do when much of the holiday is wrought with “hostess distress”.  All the pressure out there  – from Martha Stewart to Pinterest – to have the “magazine ready” table, puff-pastry hors d’ourves, turkey butter sculptures and the well-brined bird can overshadow the true nature of the day.   Like any good trip, your holiday should have the requisite “must-haves”- you wouldn’t visit Paris and ignore the Eiffel Tower- so for most of us that means the turkey is non-negotiable.   And just like every vacation needs a little down-time to discover the unexpected joys of the place, holidays need un-orchestrated moments for spontaneous laughter and true connection with those around us.

Much like travel, the destination is better when shared with those we love.   Holidays are the same.   Enjoying traditions with loved-ones bonds us, shared history creates lasting memories and family identity.   Thanksgiving holds wonderful connections to our past.  Although they are both gone, I cherish the recipes that make it to the table from both my Grandmothers.  Enjoying fried cardoon and cranberry-nut jello remind us of their continued presence in our lives.

Regardless of how you spend Thanksgiving Day – at a table set with handmade lace placecards or eating pizza on paper plates -may your holiday be about what matters most – love, family, appreciation, heritage, tradition, friendship and thankfulness.   Here are several Thanksgiving reads, both traditional and modern, that remind us of the true meaning of the day.

overtheriverOver the River and Through the Wood is the classic Thanksgiving poem by Lydia Maria Child.  Originally published in 1844, and eventually set to music, the tale of traveling to Grandmother’s house for a feast on Thanksgiving Day continues to delight children of all ages.  (PB/RA)

nightbeforethanksgivingThe Night Before Thanksgivingby Natasha Wing cleverly tells the story of a modern Thanksgiving Day, from the preparations to the inevitable hilarity that family gatherings always produce, all written in the familiar cadence of Clement Moore’s classic poem The Night Before Christmas.  Enjoy this Thanksgiving spin on an old favorite!  (PB/RA)

mthpilgrimsfacttrackerMagic Tree House Fact Tracker #13: Pilgrims Jack and Annie find themselves in Plymouth colony in the fall of 1621 in Thanksgiving on Thursday  the 27th book in Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Treehouse series.  This non-fiction companion answers all the lingering questions about what life as a Pilgrim was really like and how Thanksgiving came to be known as the celebration we enjoy today. (ER 2/3)

turkeymonsterthanksgivingTurkey Monster Thanksgiving by Anne Warren Smith reminds us that Thanksgiving isn’t about being perfect, just perfectly happy.  All the changes in her life, and pressure from neighborhood friend, have got Katie thinking that it is time to have a “real” Thanksgiving.  It doesn’t matter that she’s always loved her dad’s non-traditional, stay in your jammies, eat pizza kinda day.  If Katie can make Thanksgiving perfect then maybe her family will be perfect, too.  Funny, warm and sweet this story reminds every reader that at the heart all a family needs to be perfect is love.  (ER-3/4)

kkdontbesuchaturkeyDon’t Be Such a Turkey! Katie Kazoo is at it again – switching places at the worst times – learning what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes.  This double duty special edition has two great Thanksgiving stories from author Nancy Krulik.  First, Katie is off to visit a reconstructed pilgrim village – and you guessed it-  she turns into a real pilgrim!  Can Katie survive the first Thanksgiving?  Then Katie finds herself right in the middle of one of the most iconic American Thanksgiving Day traditions – she’s a clown in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!   For more on this event check out my post Sweet Serendipity.  (ER-2/3)

dearamerica_jasperjonathanpierceMy Name Is America: The Journal Of Jasper Jonathan Pierce, A Pilgrim Boy  All alone, indentured servant Jasper Jonathan Pierce finds himself on the Mayflower.  To combat his loneliness and to create some connection with the brother he left behind, Jasper writes a diary of his experiences from the beginning of the journey through the difficult first years of the settlement at Plymouth.  Written as a succession of journal entries and filled with historical information this book by Ann Rinaldi gives a real picture of what it was like to be a Pilgrim, and a child, in 1620. (MR-4)

MerrieMerrie* In this young adult romance by Vivian Schurfranz 16 year old Merrie stows away on the Mayflower hoping to escape England and an arranged marriage.  She finds herself unwelcome  in this new world, and struggles to survive the lonely, cold, deadly first winter.  As the first Thanksgiving approaches should she return to England with handsome sailor Luke?  Or stay and try to make a life in this new colony with Zachariah, a budding doctor? (YA- 6-8)  

*Part of the Sunfire Romance Series which is out of print, but available used on or at the library.   I adored this series as a middle-schooler, as there is a book (and heroine) for almost every major event in American history.  Although they are formulaic, they are also surprisingly sweet, age appropriate early romance novels.*

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Filed under History, Holiday, Plymouth, Seasons, Thanksgiving, United States

Sweet Serendipity

It should come as no surprise that I am a planner, a meticulous organizer who makes sure every trip has a well researched itinerary to please all  members of our traveling crew.  Over the years however, I have come to listen to the little voice that reminds me now might be the time to throw the timetable out the window and grasp a “couldn’t have planned it if I tried” moment.

Without fail, when I’ve seized these moments, they have become the most cherished of memories.  My favorite serendipitous moment happened two years ago in New York City.

November 2012 232crop

HuskyGirl heading up the nearly empty walkway towards the giant balloons!

We had the opportunity to join our West coast family in Manhattan for the three days before Thanksgiving.   After an incredible visit, the girls and I had a day to ourselves on Wednesday as we waited for our 6pm train to Connecticut where we’d spend Thanksgiving with my in-laws.  We decided to visit the American Museum of Natural History, which is very cool in its own right.  What happened when we left could never have been planned.  We tried to get out out to Central Park, but the exits were off limits as they were preparing for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade the next morning.  We were directed to an obscure exit that took us to a semi-covered tunnel area.  Central Park was to the right, but I didn’t want to go that way – If the road was already blocked off how would we get a cab to Grand Central Terminal?  No, lets go left.  So we did.

And found ourselves funneled into the viewing area for the Macy’s Giant Balloon Inflation Event.

Not only did we not plan this, I didn’t even know this event existed!  We were able to walk with the hoards past the balloons as they were inflated, getting a true sense of their enormous size and learning about each balloons’ history.   I honestly can’t recall exactly which balloons we saw, but I can conjure in my memory the music, festival atmosphere, and wonder that accompanied this experience.    Once we were directed out of the viewing area we realized that this was no small event.  Thousands of people lined the streets  – which meant we had been quite lucky indeed (although we only saw half the balloons due to our unorthodox entry point) but also meant there wasn’t a cab to be seen for miles.   The trade off of this experience was a missed train and later arrival in Connecticut, as well as a good 12 extra blocks of walking.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.   More importantly the spontaneity and surprise of stumbling into the experience was key to the magic.

Sometimes you have to know when once-in-a-lifetime is reminding you to let go.  So plan accordingly!

Check out this wonderful non-fiction read about the creator of the giant Macy’s Balloons .

balloonsoverbroadwayBalloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet tells the tale of puppet maker Tony Sarg and his invaluable contribution to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  From his beginnings as a marionette maker to his puppet displays in Macy’s Herald Square location windows, Sarq was an innovator in the field of puppetry.  In 1924 he created many of the original floats for the first Macy’s Parade.  However, when Macy’s wants him to create something bigger and better, Sarq must figure out how to make puppets that are going to excite the huge crowds now attending the parade each year.  With a little imagination, and innovation, Sarq proves that the amazing is possible.


Filed under Biography, History, Holiday, Thanksgiving

Veteran’s Day Voices

It’s Veteran’s Day, an opportunity to remember and honor the members of our country’s military.   November 11 is more than just a day off from school, it is a time to remember that others have served, fought, and sacrificed so that we can continue to live as we choose.  Originally established to commemorate the Armistice established November 11, 1918 ending the hostilities in WWI, in 1954 the holiday was changed to honor veterans of all conflicts.  Check out these books that bring personal perspective to the military experience of World War I.

poppyladyThe Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veteransby Barbara Walsh is the true story of one woman’s quest to honor the soldiers in World War I.  Inspired by John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” Moina Michael turned the poppy into an enduring symbol of appreciation and remembrance for the American military.  (PB)

knityourbitKnit Your Bit: A World War I Story by Deborah Hopkinson is the story of a little boy who wants to help when his father goes off to fight in WWI.  He realizes that doing something small can make a big difference.  Inspired by the true life event of the Central Park Knit-In in 1918. (PB)

bunnywarhorseBunny the Brave War Horse: Based on a True Storyby Elizabeth MacLeod is a heartwarming tale of two brothers and their horse who tackle the horrors of World War I together.  (ER – 1-3)


shootingatthestarsShooting at the Stars by John Hendrix details the Christmas Eve Truce of 1914, when British and German soldiers came together on the battlefield to celebrate the holiday together, only to return to their trenches and await orders to resume fighting.  Includes non-fiction support information about the truce. (MR- 4/5)

inflandersfieldsIn Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae by Linda Granfield follows the lines of the historic poem interspersing factual information about all aspects of the military experience in World War I. (MR – 4/5)


afterthedancingdaysAfter the Dancing Days by Margaret Rostkowski tells the story of Annie, a young girl who is trying to forget World War I.  That’s what her mother wants her to do, but Annie can’t seem to forget Andrew, the young injured soldier at the hospital where her father works.  As Annie gets to know Andrew better she begins to understand that the War isn’t so easy to forget and growing up isn’t so simple.  (MR -6+)

allquietonthewesternfrontAll Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque is a defining classic of the cost of war to the young men engaged to participate in conflict.  Paul Baumer enlisted with his friends, but as the war goes on and he lives the horrors of World War I, he vows to work against the principles of hatred that have destroyed his life.  (YA+)

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Filed under classics, europe, History, Holiday, military history, veterans