Books for Children, Books for Parents

12 Days of Holiday Books: Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas

December 6, 2010

Fancy Nancy Splendiferous ChristmasFans of Jane O'Connor's popular series of Fancy Nancy books won't be surprised to learn that Nancy considers Christmas to be a splendiferous time of year. Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas (32 pages, HarperCollins, 2009) follows its fancy character through the holiday season as she makes cookies, decorates the tree (too much tinsel? No way!), goes caroling, and awaits the arrival of her beloved grandfather.

Tragedy of sorts strikes when Nancy insists on putting her prized fancy tree topper on the Christmas tree. But all is made well with a little help from Grandpa. With colorful and appropriately fancy illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser, Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas will appeal to its target preschool through first grade audience, who may even pick up a few new vocabulary words after reading this book.

12 Days of Holiday Books: Drummer Boy

November 30, 2010

Drummer Boy by Loren LongWriter and illustrator Loren Long's Drummer Boy (40 pages Philomel, 2008) is a fresh take on a classic holiday story. The harrowing journey of the titular character, a little toy drummer boy, serves to both affirm the Christmas spirit and to tug on the heartstrings. The toy drummer boy appears mysteriously on a child's doorstep before Christmas. He's accidentally tossed in the trash, and undergoes an arduous, sometimes frightening journey to reunite with the child. All the while he plays his drum, which seems to have a calming and reassuring effect on all whom he meets.

Long's paintings are colorful and luminous, and help draw you into the simple heartwarming story. Our children, ages 4-1/2 and 7, loved the book, but some parts—including the appearance of a big rat, a hungry owl, and the abandonment of the frightened drummer boy in the cold snowy weather—might be a little scary for younger or more sensitive kids. Ultimately, there's a happy ending with an inspiring holiday message. We think it's a Christmas classic! Find Drummer Boy at your library, or buy it from your local bookstore or

12 Days of Holiday Books: Olivia Helps with Christmas

November 28, 2010

Olivia Helps with ChristmasOlivia, everyone's favorite precocious piglet, lends her family a hand in preparing for Christmas in Ian Falconer's hysterical Olivia Helps with Christmas (58 pages, Atheneum, 2007). You'll probably recognize a few of your family's holiday traditions among the ones that Olivia helps hers with (and "help" doesn't necessarily mean "being helpful", which most parents already know…). Untangling Christmas lights, trimming the tree, leaving a snack for Santa Claus, and of course impatiently awaiting Santa's impending arrival are all covered here.

Naturally, this Olivia book wouldn't be an Olivia book without our porcine protagonist's antics such as feeding baby brother William blueberry pie (with messy results), amazingly finding a perfect little table-top Christmas tree, and recoiling in horror as her father prepares to build a fire in the fireplace and potentially roast Santa!

Curious George Saves the Day at the CJM

November 13, 2010

Curious GeorgeGenerations of children and their parents love the classic Curious George books authored by the husband-and-wife team of Margret and H. A. Rey. This fall, San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum (the CJM) presents the fascinating exhibition Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey, which opens on Sunday, November 14, 2010 and runs through March 13, 2011.

The story of the Reys is an adventure in itself. H. A. Rey (born Hans Augusto Reyersbach, 1898–1977) and Margret Rey (née Margarete Waldstein, 1906–1996) were both born in Hamburg, Germany, to Jewish families. They lived together in Paris in the late 1930s, and fled Europe after the Nazi invasion of France in 1940, eventually settling in New York City by way of Brazil. They went on to publish over 30 books, including their iconic series about the little monkey with insatiable curiosity (and his friend the Man with the Yellow Hat, of course).

Book of the Week: Grumpy Bird

November 3, 2010

Grumpy Bird If you get grumpy occasionally (and hey, don't we all?), then this is the book for you. Jeremy Tankard's Grumpy Bird (32 pages, Scholastic, 2007) tells the story of Bird's case of the grumpies, which is so bad—he's too grumpy to play, eat, or fly—he can only go for a walk. Along the way he runs into his friends who tag along on his walk, oblivious to his grumpiness and sarcastic comments. Eventually, they overcome Bird's bad mood, and it all ends with a surprising twist.

Book(s) of the Week: The World of Geronimo Stilton

October 20, 2010

Geronimo StiltonIf the phrase "Stilton, Geronimo Stilton" means anything to you, then most likely you're not a fan of stinky British cheeses, but rather you're the parent of a grade-school child who's discovered this series of books about the doings of anthropomorphized mice who live in the metropolis (or "mousetropolis" as the books might term it) of New Mouse City on Mouse Island. The titular Geronimo Stilton is the editor of the newspaper The Rodent's Gazette and purportedly the author of the 40-odd books in the series. While it's nice to believe that a talking mouse journalist did write them all, they're actually the product of a Milanese publishing company, Edizioni Piemme, and are produced for the American market by Scholastic.

Titles in the series range from The Curse of the Cheese Pyramid to the Halloween themed The Peculiar Pumpkin Thief. They're all "chapter books", designed for intermediate readers, and probably appropriate for children in third through sixth grade, although my son's been bringing them home since he was in first grade last year. The writing, adapted from the original Italian, isn't all that gripping for adults, but kids seem to love the series. My son has been bringing home a seemingly endless series of Geronimo Stilton books from the library and devouring them one after the other, sometimes reading an entire book in an afternoon.

Book of the Week: Thanking the Moon

September 25, 2010

This week's book is Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival by Grace Lin (32 pages, Knopf, 2010). As the name suggests, it's the ideal story to share with your children at this time of year, especially with the gorgeous "Super Harvest Moon" we've had in the night sky this past week.

Book of the Week: The Last Train

September 15, 2010

The Last TrainThis week we got our hands on a review copy of the new book from acclaimed musician Gordon Titcomb and amazing illustrator Wendell Minor, The Last Train (32 pages, Roaring Brook Press, 2010). Although it's a children's picture book, The Last Train should appeal equally to parents and grandparents and anyone who appreciates the vanishing world of our country's trains and railroads.

Based on a 2005 song by Gordon Titcomb, The Last Train is a nostalgic look at the steam trains that used to pass through nearly every American town, and celebrates the passing of the golden age of railway travel. Let's face it—everyone loves trains to some extent, and this book celebrates them and the culture surrounding them. Even if you're too young to have experienced this time in America's history, you surely know about it, and you'll feel probably feel pangs of nostalgia for a era long before you were born.

Book of the Week: The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

September 5, 2010

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid TalesOur reading last week of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith's hilarious Cowboy and Octopus led us to re-read our copy of their earlier book, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (56 pages, Viking Juvenile, 1992). Consisting of several different twisted takes on traditional fairy tales, The Stinky Cheese Man has been one of our favorites since I brought it home one day.

I happened upon The Stinky Cheese Man at, of all places, the de Young Museum store (which has a fantastic selection of children's books, by the way). Of course I'm going to take a look at any book titled The Stinky Cheese Man, so I did, and subsequently found myself laughing out loud in the store, which resulted in a few funny looks being thrown my way. Anyhow, I decided it was a worthwhile addition to our library and immediately purchased it.

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