Get Ready to Celebrate Chocolate Cake Day! January 27th

January 21, 2017

choc-cakeA show of hands:  Who loves chocolate cake?  In our family, all hands are raised!  That’s why the upcoming celebration is such a terrific one to fight the January doldrums.  Even if the weather keeps you stuck inside, you can enjoy a yummy snack with your cozy reading time. We have some suggestions to help you prepare for this holiday, including a few books and recipes.  Enjoy!

Nursery and pre-school:

bettyBetty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake by Michael Kaplan, illustrated by Stephanie Jorisch

Precocious pre-schooler Betty Bunny loves chocolate cake.  She even insists, “I am going to marry chocolate cake” and takes a piece to school with her in her pocket.  Her mom is a good motherly role model who cares about healthy eating and works to teach Betty some patience.  But this good moral is balanced by also celebrating the pleasures of being a chocolate cake lover.  The first of a series that focuses on Betty Bunny, a pretty realistic pre-schooler.


chocolate-feverChocolate Fever by Robert Kimmel Smith

For all those of us who could (and sometimes do!) find ways to sneak chocolate into every meal of the day. . .Henry loves chocolate so much, he breaks out in the first case ever of chocolate fever.  There’s adventure, comedy, and of course, lots of focus on our favorite sugary treat.



honest-pretzelsHonest Pretzels, and 64 Other Amazing Recipes for Cooks Ages 8 and Up by Mollie Katzen

The whole cookbook is great, but I can especially vouch for the chocolate cake recipe–with no bowl to clean!  Yes, you make it right in the pan then put it in the oven to bake.  Delicious!  We opted for a raspberry sauce and whipped cream.  So rich there’s no need for frosting!


And for those who want a bit more sophisticated chocolate cake recipe:

The Best Chocolate Cake Recipes You’ll Ever Make

Perfect Book to Celebrate National Penguin Awareness Day (January 20th): PENGUIN PROBLEMS by Jory John, illustrated by Lane Smith

January 14, 2017

penguin-problemspenguinPenguin Problems by Jory John, illustrated by Lane Smith

Yes, National Penguin Awareness Day is coming up (January 20th) and what better way to celebrate than to understand what it’s like to be a penguin, straight from the penguin’s mouth?  To hear the penguin narrator tell it, it’s no picnic being a penguin.  First of all, imagine Antarctica–by the way it’s freezing cold!  Not to mention, filled with scary predators for little penguins.  And as readers can tell from the cover, penguins look pretty much alike–how hard do you think it is for mothers to find their own offspring in a big crowd?  Never thought about that, did you?  Well, this grumpy penguin narrator is here to tell it like it is to his human audience. The text is witty and fun:  “Oh, great. An orca. Oh, great. A leopard seal. Oh, great. A shark. What is it with this place?” moans our little friend. Like other books by both author and illustrator, this one is downright hilarious–and imparts some helpful knowledge that helps readers appreciate the life of a penguin. A cute and funny book that will delight young readers–and the adults who share it with them.

And for more book suggestions, check out our blog post from World Penguin Day.

COYOTE MOON by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

January 6, 2017

coyote-moonCoyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

This story of a mother coyote’s evening journey to hunt for prey to feed her family does just what a picture book should do:  uses words and illustrations together to convey mood, tell a story, and entice readers to empathize with the story from the coyote’s viewpoint.  The subtle changes in color show the progression of time from darkest night to early dawn, and the words help hint at slight noises and other senses the coyote uses to hunt her prey.  I love that it is actually a suburban landscape, as the coyote slinks through the neighborhood–including a golf course and a lakeside.  A telling reminder that wild animals have their dens even in spaces now occupied by humans.  More information about coyotes is included at the end of the book, detailing facts about habitat, diet, family bonding, and more.  A delicious non-fiction book to share with young–and not-so-young–audiences.

Celebrating the New Year with a Trio of Books for Young Readers

December 30, 2016

everywhereHappy New Year Everywhere! by Arlene Erlbach

Whether at home or school, books that celebrate ways of honoring holidays in different parts of the world are important additions to the bookshelf.  In this carefully researched book, readers are truly entertained as well as enlightened about different times of year that cultures and countries mark as the beginning of a new year.  The drawings are colorful and the maps place the countries in a world context.  It’s fun to learn about different traditional greetings (and be able to say them correctly thanks to a pronunciation key), as well as experiment with some of the crafts and recipes that go along with the holiday.  I really appreciate the extensive bibliography to help interested audiences learn more.


a-happyA Happy New Year’s Day by Roch Carrier, illustrated by Gilles Pelletier

Setting:  A Canadian village in the 1940’s, in a world in the midst of war.  The simple pleasures of warmth and family and community shine through this childhood memory of the author.  The tale is a simple yet timeless one, as the family prepares to gather together to celebrate the New Year.  Despite the themes, the story is not sentimental, but rather a story that resonates with anticipation, planning, and fun.  The illustrations are just right to engage multiple readings:  full page pictures in bright colors with lots of intricate details.


happy-new-yearHappy New Year by Emery Bernhard

A nice complement to Happy New Year Everywhere! with an emphasis this time on ancient and modern New Year’s customs as well as around the world.  Interesting (and new to me) information on why Time Square is a destination in America for New Year’s celebrators.  And what about the Wild West?  Or Ancient Rome?  How and why did their celebrations unfold?  And how did the different religions make an impact?  In Columbia the tradition is to put an egg in a glass of water and watching how it changes to predict what will happen in the coming new year.  Wouldn’t it be fun to try that one out in the classroom–or at home?


IMPYRIUM by Henry H. Neff: New Series Recommendation for Tweens and Teens

December 24, 2016

impyriumImpyrium by Henry H. Neff

Just out this fall, Impyrium ‘s first novel promises to be the beginning of a whole new world to delight tween, young adults, and older adults as well.  For those of us who have been lamenting the lack of fully realized fantasy worlds a la Harry Potter, this book is a dream come true, with the promise of at least two more books in the series.  In this magical world, the Faeregine dynasty has ruled Impyrium for over three thousand years. They have held onto their power through use of their magic to hold the empire together, but it appears to be fading. Many factions–competing “houses” and outright rebels–are counting on just that.

But as the tale unfolds, it isn’t so easy to decide who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.  Our intrepid–and fascinating–heroes are Hazel, youngest of the triplet princesses, and a powerful magician in her own right, and Hob, a brilliant commoner from an outlying province who cares deeply about saving the realm.  They must figure out who to trust to help them in their quest, and also forge an unlikely bond.  Magic and mystery abound, as well as an underlying theme of social activism.  Strong, interesting characters, lots of action and intrigue, court politics, scary myths…something for everyone. I am looking forward to the next installment–coming in 2017.


December 17, 2016

lemonyThe Latke That Couldn’t Stop Screaming:  A Christmas Story by Lemony Snicket

OK, the book is red and festive.  It’s even named “a Christmas story.”  But don’t be fooled:  note that the author is one Lemony Snicket, trickster and hilarious author.  This book is for kids, but is also a very clever satire for the adults in the family, as the potato pancake hero, aka Latke,  is caught up in a Christmas home that thinks Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas.   Holiday lights, a candy cane and a pine tree just can’t understand that not everything is about Christmas, especially a little potato pancake. The flashing lights say that the latke is basically hash browns, which go great alongside a nice Christmas ham. Finally the latke finds some kindred spirits: a Jewish family who understands him so well, it eats him.

This book is perfect for each Winter holiday season, but especially this one:  The first day of Hanukkah falls on–you guessed it–Christmas Eve!

And for a trio of fine Winter Holiday books, we recommend this blog post recommendation.

THUNDER BOY, JR. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

December 10, 2016

thunder-boyThunder Boy, Jr. by Alexi Sherman, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Here’s a new picture book collaboration from a couple of favorite award-winners.  National Book Award-winner Sherman Alexie’s poetic and Caldecott Honor-winner Yuyi Morales’s gorgeous pictures celebrate the special relationship between father and son.  Thunder Boy is a great name, but Thunder Boy, Jr. wants his own name to celebrate something special about himself, not just a little version of his dad, Big Thunder.  He wants to quite literally make a name for himself.  While humorous, the story also has a simple honesty and sincerity.  Can’t say enough about the bold and appealing illustrations.  Our prediction:  a new classic.