Christmas book giveaway [CLOSED]! And a favorite Christmas book tradition.

Yes, I hung the dough ornament of Yoda
that Levi made at preschool.
It seems like people turn to books more often at Christmastime than at any other time of the year. Am I right? I know my own holiday book collection features more Christmas and Winter titles than all the other holidays combined.

I'll tell you what I like to do with our Christmas books (and I'll shamelessly admit that I stole this tradition from my Everead co-blogger Ashley -- learn from the best!): Every year we wrap the Christmas books up like presents (even though they're mostly the same ones). Then we get to unwrap one each day and read! It's so super fun. Also it has the added advantage of staving off the children's pleas to open "just one present."

I confess, I haven't wrapped them up yet this year, but "yet" is the right word there. I fully intend to wrap up some of our favorites --The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Jan Brett, Barbara McClintock's The Gingerbread Man, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. And I'm definitely going to wrap up The Night Before The Night Before Christmas by Jay Dee and Darren Geers -- since it's our newest. I've successfully kept it hidden from the kids, and I look forward to their surprise.

When the author of The Night Before The Night Before Christmas, Jay Dee, asked if I'd like to do a review and giveaway, my first thought was, "Too busy!" But my second thought came after I saw the cover image by Darren Geers.

When saw the cover, I thought, "This book has potential!" I was right. The interior illustrations are every bit as lovely as the cover -- my fave was probably the exterior of Santa's cabin, which you can peek at in the Amazon preview. I'm reasonably certain that the art was rendered digitally, and it does a great job of capturing texture and detail without feeling busy. The pages are laid out very well -- I didn't even notice how effortless reading this book was until I was looking consciously, for this review. There's great depth in the art, you'll notice. Even just on the cover you see the train in the foreground, Our protagonist Elfie is the star of the show, and behind him, who is that? Ah, St. Nick himself.

Anyway, let me tell you about the story. Elfie is a detail-oriented little guy and has spent quite a long time working on the little train you see before you. Too long, if you ask his elf supervisor. Tension builds as we fear a reprimand from Santa himself, but it turns out that Elfie's insistence on perfection was exactly what Santa was after. This is a special train, to be given to a special baby, Jesus.

I was initially put off by this anachronism -- toy trains were not a big thing when Baby Jesus was born. I'm pretty sure they came later. Very sure. But then I considered the overall message of the book, the respectful way Christ was brought into a secular story, the positive way I expect my children to receive the plot (despite it's incongruity to me, as an adult) and the fact that Christ has said "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto . . . my brethren, ye have done it unto me."   After these deliberations, I decided I could go with it.

The pacing of the book is on point, and the characters are endearing (with the exception of the two-dimensional demanding supervisor elf), and the text and picture pairing is seamless.

Overall I'd say this will make a charming addition to our collection of Christmas books.

I would love to know what book-related traditions you have around this holiday season, and what your favorite Christmas books are. I've got my eye on The Christmas Quiet Book, yes I do.

Leave a comment on this post to be entered in the giveaway! For an extra entry, tweet about the giveaway and tag me, @everead. Contest closes December 22, 2014. (Give Everead's Giveaway Policy the once-over if you haven't seen it yet.)

p.s. The links in this post are affiliate links, and here is one for Barnes and Noble, too, just in case! The Night Before The Night Before Christmas Merry Christmas!

Congratulations to our winner, Amy!

Start talking about your roots with The Tiny Portrait

Tiny Portrait Heidi Carla
Review by Ashley

I was sent this lovely children's book in the mail recently. I haven't accepted a lot of review copies lately---life is busy, and I'm not always interested in the book. This one caught my attention though. It's a children's book about family history! This is a subject that's near and dear to me, and I thought, what a brilliant idea, to write a children's book that might inspire young readers to learn a little bit about their own past.

The Tiny Portrait, by Heidi Carla, tells about two modern siblings, Tess and Toby, who find a small portrait of an unknown woman in a box of family heirlooms, dated 1890. Tess thinks she might see a resemblance between herself and the picture. The next day, Tess and Toby think they see the woman, real and alive, in their garden. They run outside to find her, and instead they find a rhyming clue written on a rolled-up piece of paper. They follow the instructions and are soon racing through their town on a treasure hunt, led by the distant image of the woman in the portrait, who is always just out of reach. She leads them to historic places, like the town library, an antique shop, and the railroad station---each a place that teaches them a little more about history and genealogy.

I liked the black-and-white photo art in this book, done by Karla Cinquanta. It was a clever way to illustrate a story about family history. Overall, a sweet little book, and a great way to start a dialogue with your own children about the interesting stories your own ancestors have to tell.
Notes from Alysa

It's so lovely when a publisher offers you a review copy of a book that really interests you! (Happened to me recently, too!) The Tiny Portrait sparked my interest, as well, but I had too much on my plate. I'm glad Ashley "took one for the team" hehe.  I do have a review like this coming up -- look for my review *and* giveaway of The Night Before the Night Before Christmas later this week!

Just for fun, here is a picture of my great-grandparents. My aunt shared it recently and I had never seen it before:
Maud and George Burton
In the meantime, if you want to buy The Tiny Portrait, here are the Everead affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking through these, I earn a small commission. 'Tis the season to be jolly!

buy at Amazon
buy at B&N

Classic Bedtime Stories: a perfect book for families, an illustrated collection

Hello there! I thought I'd take a break from the Cybils reviews for a moment to tell you about a book I'm enchanted by.

I've been thinking a lot about bedtime stories, as I've been working on Story Club, so when I was contacted about this book I couldn't resist it. I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Classic Bedtime Stories
Scott Gustafson

So here is my honest review: I loved this book!

1. The illustrations are gorgeous. I think they fit right in with the "golden age of illustrating" that is mentioned on the back flap. Scott Gustafson's art reminds me of some of my favorite picture books from when I was a child. It is fully painted, with deep colors and intricate details. The art isn't paneled, sometimes it's on the same page as the text and sometimes it takes up the whole glorious page. (See below.)

Levi shows off his favorite page in the book.
Check out all those pancakes!
2. The stories vary widely in length, which surprised me at first, but I like it! Some of them only take up a two page spread, and others go on for a while. You know sometimes you go to do a bedtime story and you're like, "Let's make this quick." Other times you're like, "If I try to turn out the lights right now, they're just going to be hopping out of bed before I can even shut the door. Let's take our time with the stories tonight." That flexibility was great.

3. I loved the stories that were chosen. Little Sambha and the Tigers was included! Grandpa Craig is always making up variations on this story and so it was cool to have an illustrated version to read to the kids. In the endnotes, Scott Gustafson explains whe he chose to include the story, and how he did so thoughtfully.

The Bremen Town Musicians was also included and Benjamin did his 1st grade program around that story just last week. So it was cool to be able to read the story beforehand. Because you know on the actual night we were mostly just laughing at the kids who were misbehaving.

What stories are included in Classic Bedtime Stories?
  • The Country Mouse and the City Mouse
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • The Tortoise and the Hare 
  • The Story of Little Sambha and the Tigers 
  • The Bremen Town Musicians
  • The Three Billy Goats Gruff
  • The Lion and the Mouse
  • Jack and the Beanstalk

So here's the final word: 

I'm thrilled to have this book in our collection. So thrilled that I'm going to be giving it to some of the cousins for Christmas this year. (Shh! Maybe they won't read this review.)
I was pleasantly surprised to find that this big gorgeous book is reasonably priced -- under $20. And I feel like it is the sort of gift that the whole family can enjoy. I don't feel like I'll be disappointing anybody, any age, with this book. Solid.

shop @ Amazon
shop @ Barnes and Noble
If you decide to shop through these affiliate links, I can earn a small commission. And hey, Black Friday and thereabouts is a great time to do that sort of thing. 

Which of these stories would you be most excited to read? Or, which one do you *wish* was in the collection?

Armchair Cybils November check-in

It's time for the Armchair Cybils November check-in! Tonight I curled up by the fire (Literally! So fun to have a wood-burning stove.) and read a couple more books, just for good measure. So here's what we've got so far.

Cybils 2014 Graphic Novels

Books I have read and reviewed: 
(Follow a link to my review!)

Books I have read but not yet reviewed*:

  • Tomboy by Liz Prince
  • In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang
  • Happy Birthday, Babymouse! by Jennifer & Matthew Holm
  • Ariol: A Beautiful Cow by Emmanuel Guibert and Marc Boutavant
  • Hidden by Loïc Dauvillier, Marc Lizano, Greg Salsedo
  • This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
  • Julia's House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke
  • In the Shadows by Kristen White and Jim DiBartolo
  • Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
  • Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner
  • How To Be Happy by Eleanor Davis
  • Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History by Joel Christian Gill (in the middle of this one!) 
  • Cleopatra in Space #1:Target Practice by Mike Maihack
  • The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy Gownley

I think I'm fairly dying to tell you about Through the Woods (pun intended, because that book is super creepy, in the best way). And I'm still in the middle of it, but Strange Fruit is a wonderful surprise. I hadn't heard anything about it before it arrived in my mailbox (thanks to all the wonderful publishers for sending review copies to us panelists!) and I'm really digging it.

Have you read any of these? Any requests for which one I should review next?

In other news, progress on Story Club continues at a slower pace than before, but I think that's what's best for my sanity. :) Feel free to kick me in the pants, though! :D

Not a Holiday Gift Guide: Books to give in 2014

For a full explanation of this post, read this!

Alysa, give me a book recommendation for _________!

A "six-year-old boy who reads at probably a sixth-grade level but like short, simple books like Magic Tree House." Submitted by Amy.

First, I want to say that regardless of reading level and comprehension abilities, there is something very appealing about the Magic Tree House books. And it is 100% great for a kid to prefer books written for kids his age, even if his reading abilities are above average. Reading is about so much more than your reading level. (I should know. I'm a college grad who reads children's literature, always.)

Second, I want to say "You are in luck, Amy!" My son Benjamin is a strong reader and a six-year-old at this very moment! Let the recommendations begin!

I love Alvin Ho by Lenore Look, and so does anybody I've ever heard back from after I've recommended these books to them. (There are six in the series now.) In book one, Alvin is a first grader who can't utter a word at school, thanks to his performance anxiety disorder. He is hilarious and mischevious. The books are perfectly illustrated by LeUyen Pham, and probably just a touch longer than your average Magic Tree House. As Benjamin says, "Alvin is allergic to everything except explosions and superheroes." (My reviews here and here)

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke came to mind and I asked Benjamin what he liked about the books. "I like that sometimes [the characters] are helpful, sometimes they're fighting, sometimes they are nice." I hadn't really thought about it before but the Zita series really does have particularly deep characters. Emotional complexity. And now I'm proud of my six-year-old for recognizing that and appreciating it in literature. The books follow Zita on her adventures in alien worlds and the grand adventure of trying to get home. There are three books in this series.

"Which is better, Zita or Sidekicks?" I asked Benjamin. 
"Hmm, I don't know . . . "

Benjamin recommends Sidekicks by Dan Santat because it has a good mix of "peaceful times and fighting times." The book follows a superhero in search of a new sidekick and his pets, who want the job.

I was wondering this morning if The Phantom Tollbooth would be a good one to try. . . I haven't given it to Benjamin yet. He read the brand new graphic novel Muddy Max yesterday and said it was good. (Max gets superpowers when covered in mud. How cool is that?) I admit I haven't read it yet, so I can't personally vouch for it. If you wanted a book to read and discuss together, I'll jump at the chance to recommend the picture book The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman (my review here).

Good luck on your search, Amy! Hopefully there is something here that your six-year-old can sink his teeth into!

Alysa, give me a book recommendation for . . .

"My mom, who loves to read and seems to prefer Christian Fiction." Submitted by Amy.

Ok Amy. I will admit that this is not my strong suit. Your mother may have read both of these already, but if she hasn't, they're ones I can recommend wholeheartedly knowing that all the grown-up ladies who love Christian Fiction of my acquaintance loved these:

I still think about Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas with surprising regularity, considering it's been years since my book club read it.

If your mom hasn't read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society yet, I will be shocked. Shocked! But it's great. So, just in case, I will stick it in here. 

Alysa, give me a book recommendation for . . .

A "series appropriate for 8 year olds that read at about 7th or 8th grade levels that have appropriate content (and that we haven't read)." Submitted by Debra:

After hearing that her son rips through books like crazy (and has already read Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Kane Chronicles, Gregor and the Overlander, and Alatraz books) I thought, "Either we've got to get this kid a really long book, or a book that he can go back to over and over again.
Because you just can't keep up with that.
On that note I thought of The Skull in the Rock which I mentioned over here, and Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World which I reviewed in this post. Skull has lots of awesome science to wrap your brain around, and photos that you can study and dive into. Shipwreck has more adventure packed into it than many a fantasy novel (and it's all true).

Since he likes fantasy, you might look into the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi, if he hasn't already found those.

I also thought that it would be great to pull in some of the series my siblings and I read when we were kids, so that all the books would be available for immediate consumption. The Hobbit (and Lord of the Rings) came to mind. Also I think my brother was about 8 when he first read Ender's Game (though subsequent readings added more depth to his understanding.

When I was 8 I loved The Babysitter's Club by Ann M. Martin and all of Madeline L'Engle's books. When I was in 7th or 8th Grade, I loved reading Holes by Louis Sachar.

Good luck on your search, Debra! I've heard good things about Fablehaven, but I wanted to give you some more to look at. Let me know if I can be of more help and/or what you think of these suggestions.

This post is still open! Fill in the blank!

Alysa, give me a book recommendation for _________!

Why I'm not making a Holiday Gift Guide

'Tis the season for Holiday Gift Guides! And maybe you would think I would make up a nice little book guide for you, and then you could shop from it (using my affiliate links, of course!) and it would be a win-win, right?

But here's the thing. I don't believe in Holiday Gift Guides.

Don't get me wrong, I celebrate Christmas with the best of 'em! But what ends up under my tree doesn't come from Holiday Gift Guides. Once, (once!) I bought something that I saw in the toy guide that Family Fun magazine put out right before the holidays -- but I bought it long after the season had passed.
I bought this game years ago and still love it.
I highly recommend it!
Perfect for preschoolers.
(A little younger or a little older is OK too.)
Tangent: It was the Richard Scarry's Busy Busy Airport Game, by the way. We like it so much that despite taking good care of it, the pieces have begun dying. When we played it last week, the little guys couldn't be put into the planes very well (two years of wear will do that to cardboard) and it was really getting in the way of the game. So, I emailed the manufacturer to ask if I could purchase replacement parts. Good news! They're complimentary, and they arrived today. I am one happy customer. :)

Anyway, if I'm going to go to the trouble of suggesting things for you to purchase this holiday season, I want it to actually be useful to you. So. I am not going to create a Holiday Gift Guide. I'm going to create a list of personalized book recommendations!

I did this on Facebook, quick and dirty, a while back, and it was great fun:

We'll do it like this, but with pictures of those beautiful book covers.
So, fill in the blank and I will recommend you a book, personally! And if you shop through links that I post, I get a small commission. (Even if you don't end up purchasing the item I post about, I can still benefit from those items you do purchase, if you get to the site through my links. Pretty cool, huh?)

I'm thinking I'll do this in a separate post, so that it doesn't have to have all of this explanation on top of it. I'll call it, Not a Holiday Gift Guide: Books to give in 2014.

You can leave your queries on this post or on the Not a Holiday Gift Guide post, I'll see them either place. I'll start adding recommendations Monday 11/17/14 call it quits on 12/18/14, or thereabouts, because after that shipping gets dicey.

So, who do YOU want to buy a book for? One person? A whole family? The same book for several people who will all like it? I'm up for a challenge.

Alysa, give me a book recommendation for __________!

p.s. If you want to include your budget or where online you like to shop, that's fine with me!

Pass the Ketchup! The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth

  1. What is it about? All the animals in the Stratford Zoo like to have a little fun when the zoo guests are away. Tonight they're putting on an adaptation of Macbeth!
  2. Who would like it? My former English teacher Mrs. Holland, fans of Macbeth, those of us who need a little refresher on the story. 
  3. What is your favorite line from the book? I've returned it to the library now, but goodness sakes it was fun that Lady Macbeth was played by a leopard. :D 
  4. Who is your favorite character? Hmm, tough call! I liked MacDuff, and I liked the kids in the audience. 

The final word: This version has way more ketchup and a lot less blood than the real deal. I don't think you could pass your English test on Macbeth if you tried to read this version instead of the original.  So, don't even try it! Just read this version for fun -- because it's very very fun. Full color throughout. Can't wait for the next one! Romeo and Juliet debuts in Sept 2015.

Shop through my affiliate links and I will earn a small commission.

Did you read Macbeth in high school? Ever seen it live? I haven't but the Shakespeare that I have seen performed I've really loved!

Wordless Picture books: Suggestions for a 4-year-old?

Can I just say that I am loving the awesome discussion going on in the comments of the post about Diversifying Your Child's Bookshelf? Such fun! So many good ideas! Let's keep it going. :)

In fact, I liked the thread over there about wordless picture books so much that I want to bring it up here on the main page. I need more suggestions!

picture books for a four year old
Levi is dying for a book he can read all by himself
 My son Levi is four years old and just on the edge of being able to read on his own. He watches his older brother Benjamin come home from school and read voraciously. But when Levi asks Benjamin to read his books out loud, Benjamin often declines, saying, "I'm reading silently."

It won't surprise you, then, that the other day Levi asked me for some books that HE could read silently. When I suggested some of his favorites from our shelf, books that he knows well, he was distraught. "I can't read those!" See, he knows what reading is and he knows he's not quite there yet. But he wants so badly to be able to do what the rest of us do. What a painful stage!

I took him to the library the day after he asked for books to read silently, and we browsed as usual. Then I asked our librarian to recommend some wordless picture books. She came through with the adorable books about Carl by Alexandra Day. However, he rejected these once they got home, because Follow Carl! started with a few words. *augh*

picture books for a four year old

We've read Journey by Aaron Becker, and its sequel, Quest. I plan to revisit Tuesday and Flotsam by David Weisner.

What else is there? I'd love more suggestions. I put Noah's Ark by Peter Spier on hold at my library. Also Where's Walrus? by Stephen Savage -- we all loved that one, but it has been long enough that Levi probably doesn't remember it.

Of course, if you have great suggestions that aren't wordless picture books, I am totally open to those, too. Please tell me what worked for your child at this tricky age. 
Thanks in advance! See you in the comments ;)

picture books for a four year old

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