Books for Children, Books for Parents

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

March 1, 2014

Ted Geisel, AKA Dr. SeussTomorrow, March 2, 2014, is the 110th birthday of celebrated children's author Theodore Geisel, better known to everyone as Dr. Seuss. The good doctor is no longer with us, of course (he passed away in 1991), but he's left us with a nearly unprecedented body of work that includes some of the most playful and imaginative books for children ever written.

As a parent, I suppose the most obvious difference between Dr. Seuss books and a lot of other children's books—especially books for early readers and small children—is that the Seuss books are usually as fun for adults to read as they are for kids to listen to. There are some books on the kids' bookshelf that we simply dread to read (I'm not going to name names, but Dora the Explorer figures highly in a few), but the Dr. Seuss books are not among them. Furthermore, Dr. Seuss' "Beginner Books " are some of the first books for beginning readers that are really fun and exciting to read, teaching important concepts and skills while entertaining and delighting. Fun with Dick and Jane? Bah! Bring on The Cat in the Hat!

A Book for Chinese New Year: The Year of the Horse

January 16, 2014

The Year of the HorseChinese New Year takes place this year on January 31, and one way you can get ready for the Year of the Horse is by reading Oliver Chin's Tales from the Chinese Zodiac series, The Year of the Horse (Immedium, 2014). This is the ninth book in this series by Chin, a local San Francisco writer and dad, and tells the story of the young horse Hannah, a boy named Tom, and a brave journey they undertake.

Look for cameo appearances by other animals from the Chinese Zodiac along the way!

The Year of the Horse tells a charming story and introduces kids to Chinese culture and art. It also offers message about friendship, bravery, and accomplishment. The illustrations, again by illustrator and cartoon character designer Jennifer Wood (who's done work for Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network), are delightful and infuse The Year of the Horse with a lot of appeal and charm. Both my children love the book and keep reading it over and over again.

The Year of the Horse is a great storytime choice for Chinese New Year, or any time at all, for that matter, and it's sure to become one of your favorite Chinese New Year books. Other books in Chin's Chinese zodiac series include The Year of the Snake (2013), The Year of the Dragon (2012), The Year of the Rabbit (2011), The Year of the Tiger (2010), The Year of the Ox (2009), The Year of the Rat  (2008), The Year of the Pig  (2007), and The Year of the Dog (2006).

12 Days of Holiday Books: The Polar Express

December 17, 2013

The Polar ExpressFor over two decades, Chris Van Allsburg's book The Polar Express (32 pages, Houghton Mifflin, 1986) has been considered a Christmas classic, and is a holiday favorite with countless families, including ours. This simple, magical story of a boy who wants to believe in Santa and his journey to the North Pole about the titular train, is a beautifully illustrated tribute to the holiday season and the child in all of us.

If your only experience with The Polar Express is the somewhat overblown movie version, then you owe it to yourself and your kids to check out the Caldecott Medal-winning book, which is really much different. There's a reason it inspired a movie and countless events (like the Polar Express train rides at the California State Railroad Museum) that take place each holiday season.

12 Days of Holiday Books: The Nutcracker

December 13, 2013

The NutcrackerTchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker and its music are now a holiday staples, as is the story of young Marie* and her adventures with the Nutcracker Prince. There are plenty of children's books out there that retell the magical story of the Nutcracker, but our favorite so far has to be writer/illustrator Susan Jeffers' version (40 pages, HarperCollins, 2007).

The book's text efficiently condenses the tale into a story suitable for younger children. Jeffers keeps the action moving but manages to leave in most of the relevant episodes from the ballet. Her watercolor illustrations are perhaps the loveliest thing about this book: colorful, vibrant, and full of action, they really help give the feeling of the ballet's movement and choreography.

It's a great introduction to The Nutcracker story and ballet, and definitely a must-read if you and your kids are planning on seeing a production of the ballet this holiday season. Find it at your local library, bookstore, or

12 Days of Holiday Books: Too Many Tamales

December 9, 2013

Too Many TamalesMaria wants to act grown up and help her mother knead the masa for the traditional tamales for her Mexican-American family's Christmas feast. Poet and author Gary Soto's Too Many Tamales! (32 pages, Putnam Juvenile, 1996) tells the story of a Christmas Maria won't soon forget with charm and warmth, helped by the vivid illustrations of Ed Martinez.

Maria will feel really grown up if she wears her mother's sparkling diamond ring. Needless to say, mom's ring is at the center of why the book is titled Too Many Tamales!. We won't give anything away, but everything ends just fine as Aunt Rosa declares to a relieved Maria that the second batch of tamales always tastes better than the first!

Too Many Tamales is a fitting addition to your holiday read-aloud repertoire. It's got suspense, a happy ending, and joyful celebration of family and a delicious Mexican holiday tradition. Our kids love the story, and they're bugging us to make tamales this Christmas. I just hope my daughter doesn't try to wear my ring while she's mixing the masa…

Holiday Book Review and Giveaway: The Miracle of a Stormy Christmas

December 4, 2013

Ben & Elvis: The Miracle of a Stormy ChristmasLocal authors J. Page and S.T. Rainier have released Ben & Elvis: The Miracle of a Stormy Christmas (ELV Enterprises, 28 pages), the latest installment and the first holiday book in their Adventures of Ben & Elvis series of children's books. Illustrated by Rainier and J. Moyer, The Miracle of a Stormy Christmas continues the story of Ben and Elvis, two young mice who live in the country with their little sister and mother, as they excitedly await the arrival of their extended family on Christmas Eve. But a sudden winter storm puts plans in disarray—will the family unite for Christmas?

This colorfully illustrated and simply written book is great for kids ages 3–7, and a perfect read-aloud holiday book. My seven-year-old daughter has read our review copy several times, and loves the homey illustrations of Ben and Elvis' family preparing for Christmas.

The Miracle of a Stormy Christmas conveys messages of patience, expectations, family togetherness, and ultimately the notion that unexpected good things can definitely happen! The Miracle of a Stormy Christmas is available at local bookstores and online.


November 20, 2013

Gracie's NightMarin Mommies presents a guest article by Marin children's librarian Lisa Katz, who highlights some fantastic Hanukkah books for kids.

On November 28, for the first time ever (although there is some dispute over this and some say it won’t happen again until 2070), Jews around the world will celebrate the first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving together. Thus, Thanksgivukkah!! Have you heard of potato latkes with cranberry sauce and turkey? Or how about sweet potato latkes or cranberry applesauce?

Ok, let’s put food aside and talk some great books. There are some wonderful children books to help us celebrate the festival lights. Below is my list with some of my favorites as well as new books for this year. Those books with an asterisk are for families who celebrate both holidays.

Hanukkah Books in alphabetical order by author:

Our Candle by Eve Bunting
Engineer Ari and the Hanukkah Mishap by Deborah Cohen
Hanukkah Moon by Deborah da Costa
Papa’s Latkes by Michelle Edwards

Children's Book Review: New Beginnings for Rosh Hashanah

September 4, 2013

New Year at the PierMarin Mommies presents another guest article by Marin children's librarian Lisa Katz, who takes a look at books about Rosh Hashanah, which begins tonight.

Back-to-school is a time for new beginnings. For the Jewish community, it is also a time to start fresh with a new year in the Hebrew calendar called Rosh Hashanah (starting the evening of September 4). On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate the creation of the world while dipping apples in honey to represent a sweet year ahead. What better way to think about fresh starts then through some fabulous children’s books?

PJ Library® is a local program that sends free Jewish books and music to the homes of children in the Bay Area. Here are some PJ Library® favorites that teach children about the values and traditions of Rosh Hashanah through wonderful stories:

Apples and Honey by Joan Jolub and Illustrated by Cary Pillo (published 2003)
This sweet lift-the-flap book follows a family as they prepare for Rosh Hashanah. There is so much to do from making holiday cards, baking challah, eating apples and honey, and going to temple to hear the Shofar. Each page offers an interactive page for a young reader to enjoy. This story is a lovely introduction of the holiday for children, ages 2–6.

Book Review: That Is NOT a Good Idea! by Mo Willems

August 18, 2013

That Is NOT a Good Idea! by Mo WillemsOne of my daughter's favorite authors is Mo Willems, creator of classic children's books like the Knuffle Bunny series, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, and Golidlocks and the Three Dinosaurs. She always makes a point of picking out a Willems picture book or two when we visit the library, which led us to read Willems' latest: That Is NOT a Good Idea! (Balzer + Bray, 2013; 48 pages).

That Is NOT a Good Idea! pays homage to old-time silent movies, with colorful scenes intercut with dialogue on black-and-white title cards. The story is a variation on the typical fairy tale formula of Hungry Fox meets a Plump Goose "damsel in distress," while a chorus of baby geese cry out variations of the book's catch phrase "That is NOT a good idea!" as they watch the action unfold. Of course this being a Mo Willems book, there's a twist to the story—I'm not going to give it away, so you'll have to read it to find out what it is!

That Is NOT a Good Idea! really begs to be read aloud, and kids will enjoy responding with the baby geese each time the Plump Goose follows one of the fox's seemingly self-serving suggestions. Be prepared for multiple readings of this funny, suspensful, and charming book. Highly recommended for kids of all ages!

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