A blog for kids (and their parents) who love books, words, and dreaming big...
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Monday, December 31, 2012

Ring out, wild bells...

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An excerpt:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
  The flying cloud, the frosty light;
  The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
  Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
  The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

~ from "Ring Out, Wild Bells",
written by Alfred Tennyson

However you and your loved ones "ring out the old and ring in the new" tonight, I wish you all a safe and fun-filled New Year's Eve!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Delight and Wisdom: Books for Poetry Fans

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Robert Frost has said, "[A poem] begins in delight and ends in wisdom."  I've read several books of and about poetry over the last few months and thought I'd share the ones that have delighted me and helped me grow in wisdom.

First, a few for younger readers:

Sky Songs,
written by Myra Cohn Livingston
and illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher, 1984

This book contains fourteen of Livingston's poems about the sky -- the moon, the stars, sunsets, and more.  Accompanied by Fisher's beautiful paintings, it is a delight to look at as well as to read.


Peaceful Pieces:
Poems and Quilts About Peace,
written and illustrated by Anna Grossnickle Hines, 2011

This treasure of a book features 28 poems about peace (from peace in the home to world-wide peace) and gorgeous quilted artwork, all created by Hines.


Voices in Poetry:
Maya Angelou,
text by Patricia Kirkpatrick
and poems by Maya Angelou, 2004

Containing several of Angelou's poems, this book also provides a basic biography and personal photographs of the famous poet.  It is a great introduction to Angelou's life and words for young kids.


written by Alan Katz
and illustrated by Edward Koren, 2008

Silly poems and drawings fill this book, provoking giggles (or groans!) on every page.


Understanding Poetry:
Puns, Allusions, and Other Word Secrets,
written by Jennifer Fandel, 2005

This book explains puns, allusions, and the importance of word choice while providing examples of each with poetry from e.e. cummings, Ogden Nash, Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, and more.  I stumbled across this book at our library, and added it to my pile of books to check out without really looking at it.  Later on, I was very glad that I had brought it home!  I found the text quite interesting, filled with useful information.


I found the next two in the young adult section of our library:

Poems From Homeroom:
A Writer's Place to Start,
written by Kathi Appelt, 2002
Another book that I casually plucked off the shelf and ended up loving, this one contains more than 25 poems by Appelt (mostly free verse, but there are also a few in specific forms -- haiku, sestinas, etc.) of topics teenagers can relate to, such as first crushes, homecoming dances, passing notes, tattoos, and more.  After sharing her poetry, Appelt then describes the inspiration behind each poem.  She also offers several questions to spark writing ideas for her readers.


The Watch That Ends the Night:
Voices from The Titanic
written by Allan Wolf, 2011
A haunting, richly-textured novel in verse, this story of The Titanic is told through 24 distinctive voices, from the captain to the lookout to a gambler to a millionaire to a Lebanese refugee to the iceberg itself.  I'd read many glowing reviews of this book online and couldn't wait to read it myself.  I was not disappointed!  Though I recommend all of the books in this post, The Watch That Ends the Night is my favorite by far.  (It is now on my "to buy" list.)  I think it would appeal to many readers out there, even those who don't typically read poetry.


And these are from the adult nonfiction section of our library:

How to Read a Poem
and Fall in Love With Poetry,
written by Edward Hirsch, 1999
This "scholarly but very readable" book, which explores poetry and the emotions behind it, is brimming with examples of writing from poets around the world and through time -- Emily Bronte, Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, Wislawa Szymborska, Juan Gelman, and so many more. Hirsh also offers advice on understanding and appreciating poetry.


The Poetry Dictionary,
written by John Drury, 2005
A very useful reference book for teachers, students, and writers, this dictionary contains expressive and thorough definitions for the language of poetry, from "abstract language" to "voice".  It also offers many examples of both classic and contemporary poetry, to illustrate the terms.  I think this must be the first dictionary that I've read from beginning to end!


The New Comprehensive 
American Rhyming Dictionary,
written by Sue Young, 1991
This collection contains over 65,000 rhyming words, phrases, and colloquialisms -- a helpful resource for anyone who works with language.  Up until this fall, I had never even heard of a rhyming dictionary.  Then, while reading different poets' blogs, I came across several references to them.  After thumbing through one at a bookstore to see what it was like, I decided to ask for a rhyming dictionary for Christmas.  My parents gave me this one!  I've read the introduction and the section on "how to use this book", and have flipped through the rest.  I haven't actually used it yet, but I know that it will come in very handy next time I'm in need of a rhyme!


Have you read any of the books above?  If so, what did you think of them?  What are some of your favorite books of or about poetry?  I'm always looking for recommendations!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A better choice...

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"It's ALWAYS a better choice 
to write a new book 
than it is to keep pounding your head 
against the submissions wall 
with a book that's just not happening. 
The next book you write 
could be THE book, 
the one that isn't a fight 
to get representation for at all." 

~ Diana Peterfreund

I need to keep this quote in mind.  I don't feel like I've tried hard enough yet to sell my first novel (not enough head-pounding yet), but I also know I need to keep on writing new things....

Friday, December 28, 2012

White Fields

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White Fields

In the wintertime we go
Walking in the fields of snow,
Where there is no grass at all,
Where the top of every wall,

Every fence and every tree,
Is as white as white can be.
Pointing out the way we came,
Every one of them the same.

All across the fields there be
Prints in silver filigree,
And our mothers always know,
By the footprints in the snow,
Where it is the children go.

~ James Stephens

I thought I'd share this one today in honor of the snowflakes that were falling here earlier.  (I'm still waiting for more than half an inch of snow on our ground, however.)  I especially like the line in Stephens's third stanza about the "prints in silver filigree". :)

Thursday, December 27, 2012


A few months ago, one of my friends listed plethora [pleth-er-uh] as one of her favorite words.  I like it, too -- it's a fun word to say!  (I think that's why my friend likes it so much.)  Plethora is a noun that means "overabundance; excess".  Here are a few sentences I came up with, using the word:

Over the holidays, 
our fridge is filled with a plethora of treats.

When the children scampered down the stairs 
on Christmas morning, they spotted a plethora of gifts 
under the tree.

The storm brought with it a plethora of snow.

How would you use the word plethora?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It's a gift...

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"That's what it means 
to know a poem by heart.  
It's a gift 
from someone 
who feels the way you do, 
it doesn't wear out, 
and you can enjoy it 
over and over again."

 ~ Nancy Willard,
 in The Place My Words are Looking For

I agree with Willard.  The poems I love are gifts that never wear out!  They make me smile every time I hear them or read them or speak them....

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

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Merry Christmas

I saw on the snow
when I tried on my skis
the track of a mouse
beside some trees.

Before he tunneled
to reach his house
he wrote "Merry Christmas"
in white, in mouse.

~ Aileen Fisher

Wishing you all a Christmas filled with peace and joy!

Monday, December 24, 2012

'Twas the night before Christmas...

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An excerpt:

'Twas the night before Christmas, 
   when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, 
   not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung 
   by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas 
   soon would be there.

~ from The Night Before Christmas,
written by Clement C. Moore

This year is unusual for our family.  Most years we are out of town on Christmas, so Santa comes to our house early.   This year, however, we are home for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Like many other families, we will be setting out a few cookies (and eggnog!) for Santa tonight. How about you?  Are you expecting St. Nicholas at your house?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nothing more wonderful...

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"Except a living man there is 
nothing more wonderful 
than a book!  
A message to us from the dead,
  from human souls whom we never saw, 
who lived perhaps thousands of miles away; 
and yet these, 
on those little sheets of paper, 
speak to us, teach us, 
comfort us, open their hearts to us
 as brothers." 

~ Charles Kingsley

Just a few of the reasons why I love books.... :)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

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Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

The little horse much think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely and dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep.

~ Robert Frost

I remember reading this poem for the first time long, long ago (I was six!) and thinking that it was hauntingly beautiful.  I still feel that way whenever I read it, especially that final stanza....

Friday, December 21, 2012

First Day of Winter

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First Day of Winter

Fall has fallen
Winter rises.
Now's the time
For cold surprises.
Icicles' long pointed noses,
Flakes like daisies, diamonds, roses.
Snow up to the windowsill
And everything so very still.

~ Patricia Hubbell

Wishing you all a wonderful winter, filled with warm, cozy blankets and good books! :)

Thursday, December 20, 2012


My word for the week is solstice [sohl-stis], a noun meaning "either of the two times each year when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator: about June 21st, when the sun reaches its northernmost point on the celestial sphere (the summer solstice) and about Dec. 22nd, when it reaches its southernmost point (the winter solstice)."  The word can also mean "a turning point".  Here are a few sentence examples:

Soon it will be the shortest day (and longest night) 
of the year, the winter solstice.

On the winter solstice, 
some people celebrate the Yule holiday.

She felt she'd reached a solstice in her life, 
vowing to change for the better.

When the solstice comes on Friday, 
it will officially be winter.

How would you use the word solstice?  Are you looking forward to the start of winter?  I am! :)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What lies within us...

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"What lies behind us 
and what lies ahead of us 
are tiny matters compared to 
what lies within us." 

~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

I love this quote and believe it whole-heartedly.  There are so many wonderful things inside each of us, and each of us has the power to change the world around us for the better.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Merry Little Christmas Books

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Reading in the soft glow of our Christmas tree lights is one of the things I love best about the holidays.  Every year, our family pulls out all of our favorite Christmas books to read aloud once again.  (To see these favorites, please check out this post from last year and this one, too.)  We also like reading some new books.  Here are a few that we found at the library this year and enjoyed:

Cobweb Christmas:
The Tradition of Tinsel,
written by Shirley Climo
and illustrated by Jane Manning, 1982

Every year, Tante clears the cobwebs and the dust from her home, then invites all the children and animals to come see her beautiful Christmas tree.  Only the spiders, who have been swept outside, miss the festivities.  Then one year, Kriss Kringle lets the spiders back into the house.  They crawl all over the tree, leaving their webbing behind.  Using his magic, Kriss Kringle turns their webs into thin strands of gold and silver (the first tinsel) as a special surprise for Tante.

I had heard this German folktale before, but was delighted by this version's story and illustrations.  This is one I'd love to buy for my Christmas book collection!


The Christmas Orange,
written by Don Gillmor
and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay, 1998

Anton Stingley is what you might call a spoiled child.  He presents a 16-page list of things he wants to Santa, but when the man in red brings him only an orange for Christmas, Anton decides to sue.  He hires a lawyer, Wiley Studpustle, and the two accuse Santa of breach of promise, among other things.  What Santa has to say surprises everyone in the courtroom....

This is a fun story with amusing illustrations.  My seven-year-old Ben and I both got a kick out of it!


Dream Snow,
written and illustrated by Eric Carle, 2000

A farmer (who looks a lot like Santa) realizes that it's almost Christmas and there still is no snow.  (Hmm... I know that feeling.)  He falls asleep and dreams that snow has covered all of his animals.  When he awakes, he discovers that it really did snow -- but his animals are safe and warm in their barn.  The farmer then decorates his tree in celebration.

Like other Carle books, this one is interactive.  It includes transparent pages of snow (to cover and uncover the animals) and also a button to push at the end that plays a holiday song.


Christmas Cricket,
written by Eve Bunting
and illustrated by Timothy Bush, 2002

Cricket feels "small and worthless in the bigness of night". He hops into a family's home and spies their shining Christmas tree.  Taking refuge in the tree, he begins to sing.  A child hears him and thinks it's the song of an angel. When an adult tells the child that angels sing in the songs of birds, people, crickets, and other creatures, Cricket realizes that, while he may indeed be small, he is far from worthless.

This is a touching little story.  Even Ben said, "Awww...." when we read the final page. :)


Christmas Mouseling,
written by Dori Chaconas
and illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung, 2005

One cold, December night, a baby mouse is born.  The winter wind blows the mouse nest apart, and the mother mouse must find shelter for her baby.  In her search, she hears about a special king, another baby, and when she finally finds a warm, dry manger for her child, she finds the king as well.

Ben and I enjoyed the gentle, lyrical text and the pictures of the animals.


A Merry Little Christmas:
Celebrate from A to Z,
written and illustrated by Mary Engelbreit, 2006

From "angel atop a tall tree" to "the zillion ways Christmas brings cheer", Gregory Mouse and his family ring in the holidays.

I've been a huge fan of Engelbreit's vivid, detailed artwork for over 20 years now.  I find it charming, and the illustrations in this book are no exception.  I hope to add a copy of this to my collection soon!


Mrs. Claus Takes a Vacation,
written and illustrated by Linas Alsenas, 2006

Mrs. Claus has never gone on vacation.  When she decides to take a trip around the world, she leaves Santa behind to take care of himself, promising to return by Christmas Eve. While Mrs. Claus is soaking up the sun and the sights at exotic locales, Santa puts up the tree by himself and tries his hand at baking cookies.  By the time Mrs. Claus returns, Santa has learned that it's no fun to be the one left behind, and he invites his wife to join him on Christmas Eve.

Ben and I giggled throughout the book, at the pictures of Santa and Mrs. Claus trying new things.


It's a Wonderful Life for Kids!,
written by Jimmy Hawkins
and illustrated by Douglas B. Jones, 2006

Based on the beloved 1946 movie, It's a Wonderful Life!, this story was written by the (now-grown) man who played Tommy Bailey, one of the young characters.  This version centers around Tommy -- a kind, friendly boy -- who has lost the money he's been collecting at school for the library fund. He feels badly and wishes he could just disappear, as if he's never been born. Then the angel Arthur appears and shows Tommy what a dismal world it would be without him.

I had never seen It's a Wonderful Life! until just a few years ago.  Now it is easily one of my favorite Christmas movies! While I prefer the movie to this book, I did think that this is a nice way to present the same themes to children -- without including the more adult aspects of the film, such as alcohol abuse and thoughts of suicide.  Ben has only seen bits and pieces of the movie, not being very interested in it, but he really enjoyed this book.


The Christmas Song:
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,
written by Mel Torme and Robert Wells
and illustrated by Doris Barrette, 2007

The familiar lyrics of Mel Torme's famous Christmas song combine with Barrette's warm, endearing illustrations to create a treat for kids from one to ninety-two!


Merry Navidad!:
Christmas Carols in Spanish and English,
written by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy
(English version by Rosalma Zubizarreta)
and illustrated by Vivi Escriva, 2007

This book contains nineteen carols from Spanish-speaking countries, including Spain, Argentina, Chile, and Puerto Rico.  (Each song is presented first in Spanish and then again in English.)  The authors also provide background information about the carols and various traditions.  Music for six of the songs is included in the back of the book.


Cookie Angel,
written by Bethany Roberts
and illustrated by Vladimir Vagin, 2007

When the clock strikes midnight on Christmas Eve, all the children's toys under the tree come to life.  Monkey speeds around the room in a toy race car while Doll and Jack-in-the-Box fight over candy canes.  Can Cookie Angel, an ornament that has also come alive, persuade them all to wait quietly and peacefully for Christmas morning?

Ben and I thought this was a cute story, and we especially liked the recurring images of snowflakes whispering outside.


Drummer Boy,
written and illustrated by Loren Long, 2008

A child receives a toy drummer boy to help him "enjoy the Christmas spirit early".  He loves the toy, playing with it often.  Then the drummer boy is accidentally (and unknowingly) knocked into a trash can.  The toy begins a long journey, from the city dump to an owl's nest to a cemetery, where the boy finds him as he lays poinsettias on his grandfather's grave.  The child brings the drummer boy back home and sets him in the middle of the family's nativity set where he can play his drum for the tiny infant in the manger.

This is a heart-warming story complete with luminous illustrations.


The Gifts,
written by Regina Fackelmayer
and illustrated by Christa Unzner, 2009

Mia is all ready for Christmas, except she needs a tree.  She finally buys one and on her way home, she stops to help an old man who's fallen on the ice.  When he's up and on his way, Mia returns home.  There she realizes she's forgotten her tree and rushes out to find it.  She doesn't have any luck, but does come across a little boy who's lost his hat, and she gives him her own.  Later, back at home, Mia is sad not to have a tree on Christmas Eve.  Then, magically, the old man and the boy appear at her door with her tree, all decorated for the holidays.

I love the fanciful pictures in this book and the good-hearted characters.  (So does Ben.)


Christmas Is Here,
words from the King James Bible
and illustrated by Lauren Castillo, 2010

While several pages have no text at all, only pictures of a family going to a nativity play, the rest of the book uses scripture to tell the story of Jesus' birth.

I love how Castillo's artwork tenderly illustrates each scene.


It's Christmas, David!,
written and illustrated by David Shannon, 2010

Temptations abound at Christmastime, and little David has a hard time resisting them.  He may have made it onto Santa's naughty list, but as we all know, Santa's a softie -- all of David's worrying about receiving coal for Christmas turns out to be unnecessary.

When Ben and I read this one, we both laughed out loud every time we turned the page!


12 Days of Christmas,
illustrated by Rachel Isadora, 2010

Isadora takes this familiar English carol to Africa, providing bright and colorful illustrations along with rebus-style text.


One Starry Night,
written by Lauren Thompson
and illustrated by Jonathan Bean, 2011

The animals in the Holy Land watch over their young, just as Mary and Joseph watch over the new baby Jesus.  

With its simple but powerful rhymes and understated illustrations in blue and brown, this is a beautiful book -- another one that's on my "to buy" list.


The Christmas Quiet Book,
written by Deborah Underwood
and illustrated by Renata Liwska, 2012

Christmas can be loud and chaotic... but it can be quiet, too. Underwood lists various quiet moments of Christmas while Liwska's adorable animal artwork illustrates them.

This is a sweet, quietly humorous book that put a smile on my face. (Ben's, too.)


As you can see, most of the Christmas books we checked out from the library were picture books.  I did check out one middle grade chapter book, however, and this was probably my favorite one of all:

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,
written by Barbara Robinson
and illustrated by Judith Gwyn Brown, 1972
The Herdman children -- Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys -- are the town bullies who steal things and smoke cigars.  No one would ever think of having them take part in the church's Christmas pageant, but when they find out about it and insist on participating, nothing goes as expected.

I have heard good things about the movie based on this book before. (I've never seen it, but would love to!)  Earlier this year I read and enjoyed another book about the Herdmans, so I decided to give this one a try.  I'm so glad I did!  I read this in the car last month as our family traveled to Iowa over Thanksgiving, and I burst out laughing on nearly every page. I had to keep stopping and rereading parts, this time aloud, so that my family would know what was so funny.  I highly recommend this book, and plan on getting myself my own copy of it soon!


Have you read any of the books above?  If so, I'd love to hear what you thought of them.  What are your favorite holiday books?