Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Charles Dickens rescues Christmas with A Christmas Carol

During this week in 1843, Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being A Ghost Story of Christmas. Let me tell you a little known fact (although, quite well known to the literary world): we can thank Charles Dickens for saving our modern day celebration of Christmas!  Yep, Charles Dickens, the Victorian author, saved the celebration of Christmas when he published the instantly popular A Christmas Carol!

An authorial context: Dickens authentically represented a broad range of British population through his true depictions of life among various socio-economic backgrounds. Essentially, through his writing, he became a voice for the abused, ill-treated lower classes and raised awareness to better working conditions, living conditions, child labor reform, etc.  His vivid characters unforgettably imprint themselves to memory and everyday conversation, point-in-case: "Scrooge" has become a vocabulary word, a noun meaning miser or the like.  Consequently, Dickens' characters and authenticity endeared him to the vast reading public and made him equivalent to a modern day rock-star.  Seriously, he is recognized as one of the very first "celebrities" in history.

Christmas needed rescuing? Due to Oliver Cromwell's influence in the mid 1600s (a.k.a. the English Civil War), the British slowly neglected the Medieval traditions of caroling and feasting during the Christmas season until Prince Albert (Queen Victoria's husband, mid 1800s) gallantly reintroduced the Germanic traditions of caroling and cards and, most significantly, introduced the Christmas tree.

What was Dickens's part in this rescue?  Well, even though Prince Albert did his part to reintroduce English and Germanic Christmas traditions, he worked against the routines and national mindset established by the Industrial Revolution. You see, British businessmen, manufacturing employers, and mill owners had grown quite stingy -- think Scrooge -- by treating Christmas as just another 10-12 hour workday.  So the impoverished, working class toiled through Christmas Day without any additional compensation.

So, in late 1843, Dickens published A Christmas Carol, creating some of the most memorable characters in literature.  And in contrasting a stingy Scrooge with a poor suffering Tiny Tim Crachit and jolly Christmas celebrators Nephew Fred and Fizziwig against the backdrop of ghosts past-present-and-future, Dickens lured the public into a benevolent celebration of Christmas.  Consider: wouldn't you rather be identified with Fizziwig than with Scrooge?!!

The rest is, as they say, history: Christmas once again became a season of giving and charitable behavior on both sides of the Atlantic.  Dickens, through his story, helped reestablish our present day mind-set of Christmas as a season of renewal in goodwill, "peace on earth to all men," and familial bonds.

"And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!" (Dickens 158).

The featured edition: In discovering P. J. Lynch's illustrated version of A Christmas Carol (c. 2006), I have found the quintessential copy of Dickens' enduring tale.  What amazes me is how well Lynch captures Dickens' characters!  This is an illustrator who not only knows his author's works, but must have researched those illustrators who worked so closely with Dickens -- think ocd authorial input on each illustration.  I'd like to think that if Dickens were alive today, he wouldn't be more pleased with Lynch's representation of his classic Christmas tale. Take time this holiday season to read Dickens A Christmas Carol, and if you get the opportunity, read P. J. Lynch's beautifully illustrated edition.  I guarantee you, if the story doesn't haunt you, the illustrations will.

Disclaimer: it's very difficult for me to give credit where credit is due because I'm working from memory on this post.  I'm writing from decades of reading and admiring Charles Dickens and his many works.  I'm also writing from memory of various college lectures, in particular from a Dickens Seminar course.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Good King Wenceslas

Do you know what I love about this season?  I love:
  • packing our Operation Christmas Child boxes
  • selecting gifts in the Samaritan's Purse Gift Catalog with the kids
  • hearing the Salvation Army bells ring, 
  • reading all the charity benefit concerts, dinners, raffles, etc. being held, 
  • hearing of opportunities to take dry goods or meals to shut-ins, and 
  • discovering different opportunities to donate time and/or funds to help the less fortunate.  
Seriously, if you're not giving something of yourself during this season, it's certainly not from lack of opportunity!

So during this season of "Peace on earth, goodwill to men," King Wenceslas stands out as a model.  You're familiar with the traditional carol, but do you know its origin?  Well, the story of Good King Wenceslas shows us the purpose and the motive behind such benevolent, seasonal giving.  John Mason Neale, an English Anglican priest, wrote the words to the carol "Good King Wenceslas" in 1853, for the feast following Christmas Day called Saint Stephen.  Tradition holds that Neale derived his inspiration from actual events influenced by the just-minded and kindhearted King Wenceslas, ruler of tenth century Bohemia or the present day Czech Republic.  In fact, a statue of King Wenceslas, or now Saint Wenceslas, stands in Wenceslas Square in Prague.  (For photos of that statue, look at

Check out this fascinating book Good King Wenceslas (c. 2005), which looks at the story behind the inspiration of the carol.  Tim Ladwig's remarkable illustrations give us a modern peak into the past.  And be sure to take longer than a passing glance at that last illustration.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas

This is such a FUN book!  The kids and I are consistently mesmerized by Hilary Knight's illustrations, and his version of The Twelve Days of Christmas (c. 1981, 2001) proves no exception!  In fact, this copy has proven quite a friend to the bed-ridden, flu-stricken children this week.

Talk about green living, look at the use of space and  furnishings in this cottage!

Each time the kids pick it up, they find another hidden delight.  Knight's detailed illustrations do not cease to entertain while revealing yet another surprise.

Knight gives us a page by page tour of this darling house; if only it were a REAL dollhouse!

Needless to say, Hilary Knight weaves several tales in his ingenius, watercolor and colored penciled pictures.  Unearth them for yourself and be newly delighted by a familiar carol.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The MUST-read Christmas Book List

Here's our family's top 32 recommendations for the MUST-read Christmas Book List.
Click on the link to check out more book images and discover a brief synopsis of each story.  If the title doesn't have a link yet, check back, for I'll have a posting by the end of December.

The Classics:

The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
The Very First Christmas:

The Twelve Days of Christmas:

The Nutcracker:

The stories that will warm your heart:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Our Eight Nights of Hanukkah

Our Eight Nights of Hanukkah by Michael J. Rosen and illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan a boy explains the history of Hanukkah while narrating his experiences over the eight day holiday with his family and friends.

Friday, November 30, 2012


Find "September" in A Child's Calendar, a collection of twelve of John Updike's poems that describes a child's journey through the seasons from January through December  (c. 1965).  Caldecott award winning artist Trina Schart Hyman illustrated the collection (c. 1999).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

So you loved P. L Travers and/or Disney's Mary Poppins (yes, they're different), and your kids are begging for more.  Enter: Betty MacDonald's Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (text c. 1947, renewed 1975).  And critically acclaimed artists Hilary Knight's pictures (illustrations c. 1957) and Alexandra Boiger's illustrations are a wonderful addition to MacDonald's charming text.

Betty MacDonald spun her stories first to her daughters' delight and then for the whole world to enjoy.  As our publisher (Scholastic) accounts: Everyone loves Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.  She lives in an upside-down house and smells like cookies.  She was even married to a pirate once.  Most of all, she knows everything about children.  She can cure them of any ailment.  Patsy hates baths.  Robert never puts anything away.  Allen eats v-e-r-y slowly.  Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has a treatment for all of them.
Ages 6 to 10

And when you discover that you have reached the end of the book and the kids are still begging for more, don't fret, there's always: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic, Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm (illustrated by none other than Maurice Sendak)

This post is lovingly dedicated to all four of the Lewis children.  Have a great week, friends!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Quiet Place

The eldest checked out a new book, which was entitled The Quiet Place (c. 2012) by Sarah Stewart with pictures by David Small.  What ended up surprising me most was discovering I couldn't get through it without choking up!
              "Momma, why are you crying?"
              "Because . . . this story . . . is just . . . so . . . moving!"

What are the publishers saying about it?
When Isabel and her family move to the United States, Isabel misses all the things she left behind in Mexico, especially her Aunt Lupita and the sound of people speaking Spanish.  But she also experiences some wonderful new things -- her first snowstorm and a teacher who always greets her with a big smile.  Even better, Papa and her brother, Chavo, help her turn a large box into her own quiet place, where she keeps her books and toys and writes letters to Aunt Lupita.  As she decorates and adds more and more boxes to her quiet place, it is here that Isabel feels most at home in her new country while she learns to adapt to the changes in her life.

Set in the 1950s and told through Isabel's letters to her aunt, this story of immigration and assimilation will win the hearts of readers.  The husband-and-wife team of Sarah Stewart and Caldecott Medalist David Small has once again created an utterly charming and unforgettable young heroine.

And once we finished the book, the child said:
               "That was a really cool story, Mom!"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Find "November" in A Child's Calendar, a collection of twelve of John Updike's poems that describes a child's journey through the seasons from January through December  (c. 1965).  Caldecott award winning artist Trina Schart Hyman illustrated the collection (c. 1999).

Monday, November 19, 2012

This First Thanksgiving Day

Dear Readers,

Two years ago, I recommended to my young friends a story entitled This First Thanksgiving Day by Laura Krauss Melmed and Mark Buehner (c. 2001).  Well, I stand corrected!  My elementary friends have quite enjoyed this Thanksgiving story too!

Revisit my previous post here.  Then consider letting the older readers read it to their younger siblings.  And while the younger siblings look for the hidden turkey on each two-page spread, have the older siblings look for that quirky dinosaur on various spreads (we're still not sure just how many).  While the younger siblings count the people on each spread, have the older siblings practice their addition by finding and then adding the various animals (squirrels, rabbits, fish, birds, geese, chickens, etc.) on each spread.  Either way, enjoy the fun activities while celebrating Thanksgiving!

Parents, this would be a great book to check out before that long car trip or while you're trying to get dinner on the table but the Macy's Day Parade ended hours ago.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Over the River and Through the Wood

Y'all know how Brinton Turkle's illustrated version of Over the River and Through the Wood (c. 1974) has been my all-time favorite interpretation of Lydia Maria Child's famous poem turned song.

Well, now there's a fierce competitor!  Take a look at Matt Tavares' illustrated version entitled: Over the River and Through the Wood: The New England Boy's Song About Thanksgiving Day (c. 2011).

One word: BEAUTIFUL!  Tavares cleverly weaves a story using the warm and humorous notes of a good storyteller . . . all through the media of pencil and paint brush.  In fact, I would love to frame the opening title-page spread.

So just in time for Thanksgiving . . . check it out!

Also, (or if you can't make it to the library in time) discover the illustration process through the actions of artist Matt Tavares':

Monday, October 22, 2012


Autumn brings falling leaves and falling nuts.  And falling nuts bring those scampering squirrels.  Kids just love scampering squirrels, and here's a book chock full of them: Squirrels by Brian Wildsmith (c. 1974). 

The kids and I just love this book!  Sigh!  What I especially like about it is Wildsmith's illustrations - perfect to enjoy at this time of year.  Just check out those bushy tales for yourself.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Happy Fall with Frog and Toad

We love, love, love Frog and Toad!  Love them!  The kids, the Mister, the Nana, the friends, me, we all love Frog and Toad!

Even the-child-who-would-not-read has decided that (and I quote) "I love to read, so I decided to come to bed early to read Frog and Toad."  Pardon?  Was I in my own home?  Did I fall asleep? Did I just hear those bless-ed words from my child?!

So the-child-who-would-not-read because she preferred everyone else read to her is reading Frog and Toad books and l-o-v-i-n-g it!

If you'd like a refresher on Frog and Toad, either click here:
or read below:
Once upon a time, there was a Frog . . . and there was a Toad . . . and they were friends.  Frog always saw the best in people and situations.   He was a laid-back, cheerful, "cup is half-full" fella.  Toad always seemed to find himself in a mishap.  And being a high-strung, "cup is half-empty" fella, he responded to his mishaps in a dejected sort of way.  Sometimes Toad gave in to the grumpies.  But no matter what, "Frog and Toad always helped each other out -- as good friends should." 

Arnold Lobel received a Caldecott Honor for Frog and Toad are Friends.  However, his artful drawings aren't the only thing that distinguish his Frog and Toad books, Lobel presents his readers with stories that are masterfully crafted in simplicity and charm.  Frog and Toad epitomize what loyal friendship looks like.  The humorous adventures of this endearing pair evokes chuckles from the youngest to the oldest listener.  Yep, Lobel's readers come back again and again and again and again. 

So, what's your age . . . 3, 7, 12, 32, 57, or 78?  No matter, you too will be charmed by these unforgettable characters and their unforgettable friendship.  There's a reason we see these titles in every bookstore, library, and book club, they're classics that keep their readers returning.  The kids enjoy this timeless series so much that they've proven you'll not stop with Frog and Toad are Friends (c. 1970), oh no, you'll have to continue with Frog and Toad Together (c. 1972, recipient of a Newbery Honor ~ for writing), Frog and Toad All Year(1976), and Days with Frog and Toad (1979).  In fact, the only criticism you'll find with Lobel's endearing characters, is that they don't continue past four books.  I only wish for more!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Find "October" in A Child's Calendar, a collection of twelve of John Updike's poems that describes a child's journey through the seasons from January through December  (c. 1965).  Caldecott award winning artist Trina Schart Hyman illustrated the collection (c. 1999).

Count Down to Fall

If your child is an animal lover, here's a book with detailed animal illustrations.  Count Down to Fall (c. 2009) with author Fran Hawk and illustrator Sherry Neidigh teaches about various trees, leaves, seeds, and animals.  Note: I love the illustrations but find the text somewhat lacking. However, the end pages presents good natural science information.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cars and Trucks and Things that Go

Ooohhhh, just the mere mention of Richard Scarry sends me into a calm reverie!  His pictures are spellbinding and could mesmerize a child into silence.

I encourage young mothers to pick up a copy of Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.  Trust me, you'll thank me whenever you're in the doctor's office, the DMV,  the pharmacy line, etc. Seriously, it's about the only thing left that can actually compete with Angry Birds!  So put it to the test, check it out at your local bookseller, and drop back by to let us know just how much it's saved your peace-of-mind.

And while you're at it, take a look at Richard Scarry's The Best Mother Goose Ever.  It remains our kids' favorite nursery rhyme collection (and believe me, they've seen them all! this is the one they keep coming back to again and again).  

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Art of Children's Picture Books

Dear Reading Friends,

Today we are in for a treat! I'm linking to another blogger, Jil over at The Art of Children's Picture Books,

who has chosen to feature one of my all-time favorite illustrators/authors.  Enjoy her lovely post on Eloise Wilkin's Poems to Read to the Very Young.  

It's one of our favorite books too.  I can always be sure to get a load of laundry folded or dinner started by just pulling out this book . . . the illustrations are mesmerizing . . . and Jil shared seven of those illustrations with us (below is my favorite for this autumnal season), so be sure to check it out by clicking on the link above or clicking on any of the images on this post.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A is for Autumn

Welcome autumn with Robert Maass' A is for Autumn (c.2011), a photographic alphabet salute to one of the year's most delightful seasons.  This title is great for preschoolers and great for early readers.  And the photographs make it an overall "feel good" kind of book, perfect for the change of season.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Fanny by Holly Hobbie

We've fallen in love with Fanny around here!  First off, start by checking out Fanny written and illustrated by the Holly Hobbie (c. 2008).  Fanny is the charming child-heroine of a story about a girl whose mother will not let her have the latest "Connie" doll that all her friends have.  How does Fanny handle that disappointment?  You must read the book to discover the clever, creative story that follows.

Then after you read and re-read Fanny five million times, check out Fanny & Annabelle (c. 2009).  This time Fanny finds herself in an ethical dilemma.  Once again, you must read the book to discover the clever, creative story that follows.

I can't rave enough about these books!  But all that I will say is that I'll be purchasing both of them (I know, that's saying a lot!).  However, my girls already think the books are theirs since we check them out of our library so frequently.  It's time to let others share the joy!

And for my boy reading friends, try out the Toot & Puddle series also by Holly Hobbie.  The kids around here LOVE them!  Their parents really enjoy them too! ;)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Nature's Notes

Remember when I raved over The Secret Life of Backyard Bugs? Well, this is Judy Burris' and Wayne Richards' latest book: Nature's Notes: Bite-sized Learning and Projects for All Ages 
(c. 2012).  And I've had a tough time trying to review it for the past 2-3 weeks because the kids won't let it out of their sight!

The title Nature's Notes best explains this 6.25"x8.25" (perfectly kid-sized) spiral-bound book.  Each chapter is filled with nature trivia and coinciding projects, such as:

  • how to best photo nature
  • how to make hummingbird food
  • how to distinguish poison ivy
  • how take care of a caterpillar until it turns into a butterfly

Think of it as a kid's hand-held, printed version of Pinterest.  There's even lined pages and sketch pages provided in the back for kids to record their own observations.  I also like the folder-like, pocket-flap in the front to hold additional papers, leaves, pressed flowers, etc.

But I especially like how the like-minded authors of Nature's Notes
  • encourage kids to find beauty throughout creation by observing and experiencing the natural world around them and 
  • spur kids' innate curiosity through hands-on activities and age-appropriate direction.
So check Nature's Notes out for yourself.  Just make sure you have time to look over it before the kids get ahold of it!

Can my young readers spot the hidden animals (there are three)?

***These book images are all used curtesy of the authors' blog: ***

Saturday, September 1, 2012


My dear reading friends, I apologize for the long hiatus.  We (the Mister, the kids, and I) are back with many books to share with you as we all settle back into the school year.  

My young readers, especially, I have been scouting out books for my early readers and my more advanced readers.  And I hope to have a few more posts from young reading friends.  I'd love to hear your recommendations and comments as we continue to read together!  ~ Emily

Find "September" in A Child's Calendar, a collection of twelve of John Updike's poems that describes a child's journey through the seasons from January through December  (c. 1965).  Caldecott award winning artist Trina Schart Hyman illustrated the collection (c. 1999).