Celebrating Board Games and Family Fun

October 18, 2014

Board-GamesThe Book of Classic Board Games

by Klutz Press

What are the classic board games you remember from your childhood?  For me, it’s go, checkers,  and backgammon.  Imagine a spiral bound transportable heavy duty book that opens to create the boards you need, paired with easy-to-follow rules and directions for play.  Even the game pieces and dice are included, so you’re good to go.  Besides being re-introduced to family favorites, I’ll bet you’ll also find some new games to try out.  There are 15 games in all.  Great if you love games–and perfect if you have a family board games night!

October is National Pizza Month!

October 13, 2014

PizzaWhenever we make bets or throw out challenges to Jacob, we are pretty confident of the prize he’ll choose:  PIZZA!  We owed him several pizza nights last summer, which led to us finding some great pizza spots here in Portland.  In honor of Jacob, we’ll be celebrating Pizza month this year throughout the month of October.

SecretSecret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin

“Ah, pizza… So beautiful, you could hang it on the wall of a museum. So convenient you could eat it in the bathtub.” Nobody loves Pizza like Raccoon (except maybe Jacob!).  But not so easy for a forlorn Raccoon to get his paws on, especially from his nemesis The Pizza Man, who chases him off  from the Pizza Parlor with a broom.   But Raccoon is a clever one, and devises a heist in order to throw a secret pizza party. He succeeds in capturing the pizza, but what fun is it to eat alone?  Luckily he finds people (wearing zany masks) to share in his party.  Another whacky picture book from the author of Dragon Loves Tacos.


PizzaPizza at Sally’s  by Monica Wellington

A terrific book to tie into the local farming movement.  Sally grows her own tomatoes, buys locally made cheese, and makes her pizza from scratch.  Not just politically correct, though–kids love this brightly illustrated, easy-reader format book.  Sally herself is  cheerful and friendly, and the pizza process is delightfully explained.  You’ll be ready for a big slice when you finsih reading this with your kids!


Red-HenThe Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza by Philomen Sturgess, illustrated by Amy Walrod

What happens when the Little Red Hen decided not to bake bread, but a pizza instead?  That’s the premise of this retelling of the Chicken Licken tale.  Like the original Little Red Hen, her friends are no help to her, always giving her the expected reply: “Not I,” said the duck donning her swim cap and tube. “Not I,” said the dog wearing a box of dog biscuits and a party hat. “Not I,” said the hep blue cat playing the saxophone. If you think the original moral is important to the story, you’ll be a bit disappointed.  Personally, I appreciate the fact that Little Red decides to share with her friends anyway and guilt-trips them into helping her clean up.  The illustrations are hilarious and appealing to kids and adults alike.

WINGS AND CO: Perfect Readaloud for Young Readers

October 5, 2014

~posted by Ruth

Three-Pickled-HerringsEarlier this year, I recommended some terrific new readalouds for young readers.  Operation Bunny was one favorite:

Operation-BunnyOperation Bunny:  Book One (Wings & Co.) by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts

If you’re looking for a magical world with its own set of internal reality, written with literary integrity, and a great sense of humor, this is the series for you! Young Emily Vole has as horrific a young childhood as Harry Potter, with parents who start out adopting her as an infant, then turn her into a housekeeper and nanny when their triplets are born.  Luckily, her elderly neighbor Miss String befriends her and teachers her history, German—and magic. She also finds herself depending on a talking cat and a grumpy fairy detective to help save the fairies from the wicked witch.  Emily becomes a no-nonsense and very brave detective who specializes in magical crimes.  The first of what promises to be a delightful series!


It turns out I was right.  This summer, we read together the next two books in the series and just can’t wait for Book #4 to arrive from Great Britain.  After the first book, Molly took to announcing her pleasure by exclaiming, “Capital!” (as Miss String does).  Both kids love to be referred to as “my little ducks,” and can be heard asserting, “Spot on the fishcake!” like their book friend Fidget the talking cat.  The British dialect and humor are contagious!

So if you’re looking for a readaloud series to capture your young readers’ interest, look no further.  Here’s a taste of books 2 and 3:

Three-PickledThree Pickled Herrings:  Book Two (Wings & Co.)  by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts

Some old friends as well as new ones in the second in the series.  Emily, Fidget, and the fairy detectives are all set to take on their cases, but have no clients. . .at first.  Suddenly, they have three new cases (the “three pickled herrings” of the title).  It seems “fairy meddling” is afoot.  What else could explain  Mr. Rollo the Tailor’s bad luck that causes him to lose everything?  Or Pan Smith’s incredible run of good luck, then on her wedding eve, to have it all turn to disaster?  And what caused Sir Walter Cross’s untimely death?  What about that magic umbrella?  Fantastic humor, capital vocabulary, and magical adventures.


VanishingThe Vanishing of Billy Buckle:  Book Three (Wings & Co.) by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts

Squat on the squid!  The fairy detectives are back on the case, and this may be their most trying case yet! A missing Giant, caring for a his huge–and immensely talented–daughter.  Which brings us to the confusing and complex TV talent show.  Oh, and the fairy detective house picks up and moves to the seashore.  Throw in an evil shape-shifter, a fortune telling fairy with only half her wings, and you start to get the picture.  We continue to absolutely love Fidget the cat and his many witticisms and British dialogue.

Stay tuned for Book Four:   The Matchbox Mysteries, due out in the UK in October!

Name Your Car Day, October 2nd

September 26, 2014

Car-bookHave you ever named your car? October 2nd is the perfect day to do it. Why not name your car after a  favorite literary character?  We know one Jane Austin fan who named her car Fitzwilliam, after Mr. Darcy, and another who found Molly a fitting name after reading Harry Potter and the Deadly Hollows.  After all, her car, like Molly, was “little, red, and feisty.”  We just traded in our ten-year-old Prius for a newer version and are desperately seeking names.  Any suggestions?

To complement your celebration of Name Your Car Day, you might like to read a book or two about cars that are the main character–and yes, they have delicious names.  Enjoy–and Happy Name Your Car Day!

The-CarThe Car by Gary Paulesen

A terrific novel by one of our favorite YA authors.  Middle and high schoolers appreciate the honesty and realistic characters in Paulsen’s work, and The Car is no exception. Abandoned by parents who leave each other at the same time, fourteen-year-old Terry completes a car kit his father had begun and decides to drive across the country to Oregon.  He encounters Vietnam War vet Waylon en route, who joins him in his adventure. Yes, the car has a a name; Terry calls it “cat” since it is a Blakely Bearcat.  A well-written and thoughtful coming of age novel.


ChittyChitty Chitty Bang Bang:  The Magical Car by Ian Fleming, illustrated by John Burningham

We urge you to try out this illustrated version, the original one. It’s in keeping with the very British Ian Fleming’s writing. (Of course, readers know he is best known for this adult series of James Bond spy novels).  Though there has also been a popular movie with the same title, trust me, they are very different stories!  This one is the true classic. In this tale, the Potts family recognizes the magic of a special car.  Though she is rusted and cracked, they lovingly restore her to her former glory as a beautiful touring car.  Her name, of course, is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the glorious noises she makes.  She’s a flying, floating, drive-by-herself automobile that takes the Potts family on many adventures. Humor and adventure galore!  Check out the 50th anniversary edition, just out!

New Series: THE ATLANTIS SAGA by T.A. Barron

September 20, 2014

Atlantis-RisingAtlantis Rising by T.A. Barron

Children’s literature lovers know Thomas A. Barron from his much-loved series such as The Lost Years of Merlin and The Great Tree of Avalon, among other wonderful reading adventures.  We were honored to preview his new book, the beginning of a new saga, due out on September 26th.  His staunch advocacy of nature comes across loud and clear in all his books, and we appreciate the underlying messages about conservation and environmental awareness that continue in this new series.

So much to love about this book!  First of all, the characters.  Promi is a cheerful, kind-hearted, and clever street thief and accomplished knife-thrower.  He lives by his wits and skills, and is especially drawn to sweet treats and aggravating those in power.  Deputy High Priest Grukarr is an especially evil–and powerful–target for our young hero.  Enter Atlanta, a girl of magical powers and an understanding and great love of the natural world.  The tale of the formation of Atlantis is framed as a classic tale of the struggle between Good and Evil, as Promi and Atlanta band together to save Ellegandia.  Magic, mystery, adventure, and a hint of romance make this novel a winner for middle-school readers, and older ones, too!

Steampunk: A Flight

September 12, 2014

Steampunk'd And now for something completely different.  Steampunk anyone? While it’s not a new genre, it has a strong and dedicated following, and since its initial surge in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, it has become a literary phenomenon and spread to all ages.  We even have steampunk board book recommendations!  So what is it?  The setting for steampunk literature is typically in the 19th century, usually in Victorian England.  But not the Victorian England we recognize historically.  Steampunk’s hallmark is science fiction/fantasy with fictional technological inventions, like computers, appearing way ahead of their time.  While it has some elements of cyberpunk, it is much less dystopian and has a more positive tone, though it is edgy in a fun way. Gotta say, we love the women’s fashions, too. For read-alouds, your family might enjoy a classic in its own right, and a delightful new picture book on the joys of octopuses (yes, that’s the correct plural!) as pets.

Family Readalouds:

 The-Golden-CompassThe Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

I used to think of this amazing series (His Dark Materials) as a more modern Narnia-type fantasy.  But now I see it as a Steampunk fore-runner, set in a mythical British empire /parallel universe with its own set of scientific rules and with fantastical machines.  The Golden Compass of the title of the first book in the series is itself a machine that Lyra is miraculously skilled at reading. Exploring themes of religion, friendship, politics, family, the notion of magic and of other worlds, it touches on every major theme that resonates with families for great readalouds.  The orphan (or is she?) Lyra Belaqua, and her animal familiar (daemon, they call them) Pantalaimon are our guides into this world.  The second book continues in our own world with another abandoned youngster, Will.  Their worlds and many others will collide before the adventure is finished.  These phenomenal books hold up to (in fact, they practically demand) several readings.  And they make a perfect introduction to the world(s) of steampunk literature.


octopusWalking Your Octopus:  A Guidebook to the Domesticated Cephalopod by Brian Kessinger

Victoria Psismall teaches us about the current craze that is sweeping London:  octopuses as the perfect pet.  She and her own pet Otto are the models for how to train and enjoy your own cephalopod, with hilariously illustrated do’s and don’t’s.   Victoria and Otto inhabit a very different Victorian England–steampunk, of course.  The whimsy is contagious in this 30-page beautiful spread of the duo as they play croquet, cook, bathe, bike, and more.  Really, the whole family will enjoy this delightful volume, and be ready to dip further into the world of steampunk.

Infants, Toddlers and Preschool:

steampunkSteampunk Alphabet by Nathanael Iwata

With no less than six new steampunk alphabet books, it’s tough to choose, but we love the stunning art, inventiveness, and tough construction of this nifty little board book.  The author and illustrator, Nat Iwata, has been doing steampunk artwork for the videogame industry for years.  He brings a wonderful whimsy and accessibility to the genre.  Every page is an illustration of a familiar object in our world–say, and apple–then reimagined as steampunk.  Then he places these objects within his imagined world.  Really, a great read for the family, as toddlers will love the alphabet and illustrations, and older kids and adults can revel in the imagined steampunk universe.


Her-MajestyHer Majesty’s Explorer:  A Steampunk Bedtime Story by Emilie P. Bush, illustrated by William Kevin Petty

Look no further for the perfect bedtime story to introduce your little one to the wonder of steampunk.  St. John Murphy Alexander is Her Majesty’s Explorer, roaming around world, exploring for the Queen.  He loves it, but it certainly is a dirty job, as he encounters incredible landscapes, surprising creatures, and a range of weather patterns.  He is ready for relaxation and sweet dreams at the end of the day.  Love the mini-book on Steamduck at the end.  A charming and whimsical story, all Steampunk, with gentle rhymes and plays with words, and delightful illustrations.  And if you and your family enjoy this one–and we think you will–you’ll also want to read the sequel Steamduck Learns to Fly:  A Steampunk Picture Book.

Early Readers:

A-Steampunk-TaleA Steampunk Tale of the Curious Canine, His Best Friend,  and the Lady Who Flew by Charlotte Whatley

Just a warning:  this looks like just set of very cool paper dolls with heavy cardboard covers and lots of amazing steampunk clothes for them all to wear.  While it is that for sure, there is so much more.  The “more” being a storybook in the middle of the paperdoll collection that is an awesome tale that you can also make your paper dolls act out(!)

PaperdollsPart-time poet “Fin” (Finley Landbroke) is the jaunty and compelling young man in this romantic tale.  Equally important  (and appealing) is Avey Tiptree (aerialist and seamstress).  And of course, the “curious canine” aka Professor Watts.  This short story is clever, funny, and romantic–and you can treat the 3 friends to all sorts of adventures in their steampunk fashions.

Tweens and Teens

Fever-CrumbFever Crumb by Phillip Reeve

Though you wouldn’t know it from the title, Fever Crumb is a person, a young woman to be exact. Fever is the adopted daughter of Dr. Crumb, and the only female member of the Order of Engineers.  Though set in the future, this London is still in the middle ages, though the antiques, junk, and remnants of the past show a more advanced history (circuit boards and microchips litter the landscape.  A complex and almost indescribable fantasy novel. For example, Fever is raised in the gigantic head of an unfinished stature. Though this stunning novel stands alone, it also is a prequel to Reeve’s Hungry Cities/Mortal Engines series. It’s an intriguing world, and fast becoming a steampunk classic.


WorldshakerWorldshaker by Richard Harland

Colbert Porpentine  (Col) is born to the elite class in this  steampunk version of Great Britain.  He’s in line to follow his grandfather as future Supreme Commander of Worldshaker.  This huge roving community is over 2 miles long and one mile wide, and definitely class-oriented.  Col lives a refined life in the Upper Decks, but a Filthy stowaway  (Riff) from below decks introduces him to other Revolutionaries who are working for social justice.  Though not very subtle in its message, it’s still great science fiction with strong characters and an intriguing plot.

Young Adult:

LeviatanLeviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Here’s a very different take on World War I:  while the Germans and Austrians put their faith in machines (the “Clankers”), the British Darwinists develop new species for the war effort. Prince Aleksander flees Austria in a Cyklop Stormwalker, a war machine that walks on two legs.   Air”man” Deryn Sharp hopes no one discovers she is a girl as she serves on the British  Leviathan, a massive biological airship that resembles an enormous flying whale and functions as a self-contained ecosystem.  It’s a world of crazy machines and un-natural animals, all of it bizarre–and fascinating.  The main characters are rich and complex, too.  Suspense, action–and a lot of fun.

Friday-SocietyThe Friday Society by Adrienne Cress

Love this book!  Maybe our favorite of the book flight. The setting?  Steampunk Edwardian London as a kind of exotic Old West.  Three charming, clever, and brave heroines:  Cora, a young and brilliant lab assistant; Michiko, truly amazing martial arts/samurai-in-training; and Nellie, a clever, pretty magician’s assistant who loves sparkles, costumes, and social engineering. This trio forms the Friday Society, and band together to solve a murder mystery and save their friends and loved ones.  These young women are strong and sassy–and love good fashion at the same time!  It has the feel of “first of a series,” but we don’t see any evidence of a follow-up of this terrific novel.  We can always hold out hope. . .

Adults of All Ages:

SoullessSoulless  (The Parasol Protectorate) by Gail Carriger

Victorian romance, with a twist.  Kind of a lot of twists.  First of all, in this steampunk world, there are vampires and werewolves, among other creatures.  Our protagonist is a rarity; she is soulless.  Upper class Alexia Tarabotti is also a no-nonsense, clever “spinster” of 25.  Sparks fly when she meets Lord Conall Maccon, a Scottish Alpha werewolf.  A very witty parody of sorts, and the start of the Soulless series.


Annubis-GatesThe Anubis Gates  by Tim Powers

We close with a classic:  the Philip K. Dick Award-winner of adventure, comedy, time-travel, and ancient gods and wizards, all set in 17th-century England. The mythology is mostly Egyptian, but with werewolves and other supernatural creatures thrown in. It’s also a great introduction to Tim Powers’ other works.  Enjoy!


Revisiting Fairy Gardens

September 6, 2014

~posted by Ruth

Fairy-Garden-1Welcome back to our Fairy Garden!  Last summer, we began a summer tradition of inviting the fairies to our garden, writing notes and books back and forth, and leaving sweet treats for them.  (Check out Fairy Gardens:  A Backyard Adventure).  This summer, we added a beautiful hand-painted gazebo, a beer bottle cap walkway (thanks, Grandpa!), and tiny seashells from a visit to the Oregon Coast.  We were rewarded by many sweet notes from Trula, and Bon Bon, and even a visit from the Tooth Fairy!  They loved the tiny sugar cookies, blueberries and chocolate chips we left so much they even invited Tinkerbell to visit.

Fairy-garden-2Molly is sure that Bon Bon is a sweet treat fairy, and that Trula is a water nymph fairy.  This fall, we are planning to read up on the flower fairy visitors to our Fairy Garden, too, with a classic illustrated guide.  Next year, we’ll be having special invitations for little winged friends of the floral variety!  Got your own recommendation for fairy books or backyard adventures?  Be sure to let us know!

Flower-FairiesFlower Fairies of the Garden by Cicely Mary Barker

In the 1920’s, Cicely Mary Barker created a classic resource for Flower Fairy fans, with poems and water colors of about two dozen flowers and their guardian fairies.  While it was out of print for many years, the book has been brought back in a new edition (in 2008) and it is simply stunning.  I remember the illustrations as captivating from the earlier edition, but I have a new appreciation of the lilting poems.  If you like this particular book, you’ll want to try the others in Barker’s Flower Fairy series.




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 274 other followers