Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Meme

Though I haven't been reading a lot (which I'm determined to change while I'm in New York next week) and I haven't been feeling much like blogging, I do feel like a little Christmas meme today. Yay!

1. What is your favorite Christmas romance to re-read each year?
I'm not a big romance reader, nor am I a big Christmas story reader.

2. What is your favorite Christmas movie/show?
Emmett Otter's Jugband Christmas. Hands down. And does Netflix carry it? Nope. Does Blockbuster have it? Nope. Do they play it on tv anymore? NOPE. I can never see my favorite Christmas movie because its disappeared off the face of the earth.

3. What is your favorite Christmas cookie?
My mama's raspberry chocolate bars. I still remember the Christmas when I had just gotten braces and couldn't eat them. That about killed me.

4. When do you start Christmas shopping?
September or so. I'm determined to start earlier next year though...

5. Do you re-gift?
Not very often, but on occasion. Especially if I received something I can't use and know someone else will enjoy. I would never just give a gift to get rid of it...I always put thought into what I give people.

6. What is your favorite Christmas song?
Carol of the Bells has been my favorite since we sang it in Chorus when I was a senior in high school. We rocked that song! I also like Little Drummer Boy. And Joy to the World.

7. When do you get your Christmas tree?
About two weeks into December. I don't like the clutter it seems to create, so I keep it up for only about 3 weeks. Right after New Year's it's back in the box.

8. Wrapping presents: Love it or hate it?:
Well since I'm not that great at it, it's not really my favorite thing to do.

9. Who is the hardest person to buy for?
My mom or Aaron's dad.

10. Christmas tree: Real or artificial?
I always had a real one until I moved to New Mexico. We tried a real one last year, just to please me, and it was dead in 2 days. Needless to say, now it's artificial.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I Flunked!

I originally listed 31 books for the Fall Into Reading Challenge hosted by Callapiddar Days. Unfortunately I only completed 19. I could blame this on a lot of things, such as the fact that I am a panelist on the Middle Grade fiction panel for the Cybil awards and therefore am supposed to be reading 85 books or so. I also was in the midst of completing my Master's degree and running my house alone for two months while my husband was deployed. Frankly, I also haven't felt much like reading lately, a fact which I'm hoping will go away after Christmas! The challenge was fun and hopefully when spring rolls around I'll feel more like "challenging" myself to read!

Don't forget to write a wrap-up post, if you participated, and post it over at the Callapiddar Days blog.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Break Time!

So...I need a break. Classes just wrapped up (forever!) and I have been completely stressed over that, not to mention Christmas is next week and we just found out we're flying home. I have to somehow make up a whole bunch of hours at work before next week, plus meet with my book club, buy and wrap more presents, go to a work party Friday night, plus another Monday morning, and I'm exhausted. I would love to keep writing about holiday books, but I just don't have the energy. To tell you the truth, I don't even have the energy to read lately and I still have a pile of Cybils nominees waiting to be read. Therefore, I'm taking a brief blogging break. I'll be back soon with lots of reviews and hopefully good tales of time in New York after Christmas. Miss me!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Holiday Book #10

Christmas Day in the Morning is written by Pearl S. Buck and illustrated by Mark Buehner. This was one of my favorite holiday books thus far and I hope that someday my children will do something like this for me!

Rob knows his father works very hard on their farm and Rob isn't always as helpful as he could be. It's very difficult waking up very early in the morning to help with the milking and the rest of his chores and it usually takes his father quite a few tries to actually get Rob out of bed in the morning. One night, Rob overhears his father telling his mother that he feels so badly each morning when he has to wake Rob up and wishes he didn't need his help quite so bad. Rob then feels guilty for his behavior and vows to surprise his father on Christmas morning.

The day comes and Rob wakes up hours earlier than usual and proceeds to complete all of the farm chores before his father even wakes up. He then sneaks back up to bed and pretends to be asleep when his father calls to him. When his father heads to the barn to start the chores without Rob, he is more than surprised, he is overjoyed at Rob's kindness.

This was a great story and one that kids can definitely take pointers from! Read it to them and maybe you'll wake up one morning with all of your chores already completed!

Holiday Book #9

Chanukah Lights Everywhere by Michael Rosen and beautifully illustrated by Melissa Iwai is both a holiday book and a counting book. As we go through the eight nights of Chanukah, we get to count along with the five-year old main character. The first night is one crescent moon, matching the one candle on the menorah. Each night after that the boy finds new lights that match the menorah lights. My favorite is night eight where he lights the last candle and then sees a constellation representing eight lights as well.

A very simple, cute story that will teach about Chanukah, but also helps reinforce counting skills in younger children.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Holiday Book #8

If you're looking for a silly, rhyming book for the holidays, this was a great selection. Are Your Grumpy, Santa? written and illustrated by Gregg and Evan Spiridellis is very funny! Santa Claus is just having a plain ol' bad day. Christmas Eve is supposed to be his most successful night of the year, but everything is going wrong! The elves shrink his Santa suit, a poodle decides Santa is fun to chase around, and then he gets stuck in a chimney. Not only that, but he gets poked by a cactus, stubs his toe, slips on a noodle, and at breakfast, Mrs. Claus decided he was now on a diet!

Poor Santa definitely had a bad day, but kids will love laughing at the story. The illustrations are great, especially the drawing of Santa's grumpy faces on each page and the rhyming is really funny. I enjoyed it quite a bit and I don't even believe in Santa anymore!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Holiday Book #7

So, I'm straying from the norm a bit, but I loved this next story so much I had to include it. The Only One Club written by Jane Naliboff and illustrated by Jeff Hopkins is not entirely a holiday story, though it does start out that way. However, the lesson it teaches is incredibly valuable and I really hope you and your children will want to read this.

The Only One Club introduces us to Jennifer, a first grader, who is told by her teacher one day that the class is going to be making Christmas decorations for that afternoon's craft activity. Jennifer is the only Jewish student in her class and her teacher tells her that it's perfectly fine for her to make Hanukkah decorations instead. Jennifer is actually really excited about being singled out and having everyone know that she is "The Only One" and decides that night to create an Only One club, that only she can be a part of.

The next day at school, Jennifer proudly flaunts her Only One club button and tells each of her classmates that of course they can't join her club, they aren't the only Jewish student in the class. Slowly, Jennifer begins to realize that though she may be the only Jewish student, each of her classmates is the only-something. Jonah is the only one with red hair, Niki and Nina are the only set of twins, and Michael is the only one in the high math class. Pretty soon, Jennifer invites everyone to be in her Only One club, making the decision that differences should be embraced, not cast out.

The message in this story is put across perfectly and I really think that besides being an enjoyable book to read, it is also an important choice. As I said before, the only holiday portion of the book is the fact that the students make decorations in the beginning and that Jennifer celebrates Hanukkah, but it is still definitely worth a read this season.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Holiday Book #6

The Littlest Christmas Tree, written by Charles Tazewell and illustrated by Karen A. Jerome, tells the story of the Birthday Tree. Every year on Christmas Eve, the Lord's Son goes into the forest to choose a Birthday Tree. The angels are in an excited uproar each year, frantically trying to guess which tree will be the lucky one. This year however, the choice is quite strange and unexpected.

Meanwhile, on Earth, an orphaned little girl is determined wants so badly to have a Christmas tree and a home to spend the Jesus's birthday in. Desolate, sad, and impoverished are only a few words to describe what the world has the town has become, it's leaders being the homeless boys that run the streets. The head of the group of boys takes pity on the the little girl and decides to drag home a scraggly, tiny tree for her. After decorating it with pieces of broken glass, all of the children hang their personal wishes on the tree and the little girl manages to find hope and love, amidst war and poverty.

Cheerful this book is not, however it has a great message to present to the luckier children of the world. During this time of war and often economic distress all over the world, children still forget that they are extremely lucky for just being able to celebrate Christmas with their families. This one is an eye opener, but written in a way that children can understand and appreciate.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Tall Tales

Tall Tales written by Karen Day, seemed like such a simple story at the beginning, and quickly blossomed into something much more intense. I was definitely pleasantly surprised!
Meg Summers is the new kid, yet again at her school, and just wants to make a friend so badly. Each time she gets close to someone, they move again thanks to her dad, and she is left with no one. She starts to tell little white lies to the kids in her new class, believing it won't make a difference anyways, but when she sees it begin to make the kids like her, the stories get bigger and more elaborate. Meg starts to feel guilty about never telling the truth, but knows she can't turn back. She especially can't stop telling the lies that keep her new friends away from her house. Then they'll find out her dad drinks. A lot. And that her family is actually falling apart. Her new friends can't know that or they won't like her anymore. Pretty soon, Meg has told so many tall tales that she has no idea who she has said what to. Immediately, she feels even more lonely than before and knows that something drastic must change in her life for happiness to ever settle in, no matter how many "friends" she currently has.
This book was awesome, but definitely for an older, middle grade crowd. 10-12 I would say. A lot of difficult issues are discussed in the book, though in a very classy and "child like" manner, still recommended for the more mature kid. I can't wait to get my hands on more by Karen Day! Write faster please!

Holiday Book #5

I knew I would eventually get a day behind, it was only a matter of time. With finals this week life has just been a bit too crazy for my liking! Anyways, on to our holiday book of the day.

An Angel Just Like Me by Mary Hoffman, is one of the better stories I've read about differences in people in a long time, plus it has a holiday base, making it perfect for one of my selections. Tyler, a young, African American boy, loves Christmas. His favorite part is taking out the cherished angel decoration that has been in his family for years. When it breaks and his family must find a new one, he begins to wonder why none of the angels in stores look like him. Why are there not any African American angels? Why are all the angels White? He even starts thinking about the Baby Jesus and how he was Jewish, yet he doesn't look Jewish at all. Tyler and his friends, all from different backgrounds, want angels that look like them too...and someone might just grant them that wish for Christmas.

This was a fantastic book for teaching about differences in children, as well as bringing up questions that children may have about different backgrounds. The holiday part of the story is cute as well, with lots of tree trimming, mall shopping, and Santa action. The illustrations, done by Cornelius Van Wright, are perfect for the story and lovely for the holiday season.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Holiday Book #4

Beni's First Chanukah, written and illustrated by Jane Breskin Zalben is another blast from the past. Written almost 20 years ago, the reader follows Beni, a bear that is very excited about his first Chanukah. The first Chanukah he can actually enjoy and remember that is! On the morning of the first day, Beni helps his mother prepare latkes and doughnuts for his family, traditional Chanukah food, and then spends the rest of his morning visiting with friends Sasha and Christopher, two squirrels, and helping them to decorate their Christmas tree.

That evening, Sasha and Christopher join Beni and his family in the lighting of the menorah, playing games with the driedel, and listening to the story of Chanukah. Once the night is over, Beni declares that it was the best Chanukah ever! At the end of the story there is a recipe included for Mama's Latkes, which was a nice surprise!

Stories that combine different traditions and beliefs are always my favorite. Beni was able to help his friends decorate their Christmas tree, but was also able to teach them about Chanukah. This is a great book for younger children that get bored with too many words and not enough pictures. The illustrations are beautifully done, and though the story is short, it's message is easily relayed.

Edward's Eyes

Through simple language, but a powerful voice, Patricia MacLachlan brings us Jake and Edward, brothers that are three years apart. Jake remembers clearly the day his parents brought Edward home eight years ago and placed him in Jake's lap. From that moment on Jake and Edward has a special bond and Jake would swear that Edward was special. "It's his eyes" Jake says. "His eyes let him know things."

Jake and Edward spend hours playing baseball with their friends, reading books, and just being brothers. When their parents announce that they will be having another baby, Edward not only predicts the gender, but also tells his parents what the baby's name will be. He cannot wait to be a big brother, just as Jake was to him. When a tragedy strikes the family, Jake has to learn how to live his life again and how to allow Edward to somehow live his.

Edward's Eyes was a short book, but definitely packs a punch in its pages. Both Jake and Edward are written as normal, young boys, yet each has something special about him that many do not possess. It was beautifully written and definitely one of Patricia MacLachlan's best.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Holiday Book #3

Frank McCourt, infamous author of the memoirs Angela's Ashes, Tis', and Teacher Man, has written this adorable children's Christmas story, based on an experience of his mother's when she was a young girl. It is a story of innocence, love, and certainly compassion, traits all children need to learn to experience.

Young Angela sees the Baby Jesus lying in the manger in front of the church a few days before Christmas and instantly feels sorry for him. She believes he must be freezing, lying in a bed of hay with no blanket or any clothes on. Though she knows she may get into trouble, she takes the Baby Jesus home and manages to sneak him into her bedroom, simply to keep him warm through the snowy night. When her mother finds out, she can't decide whether to be upset with Angela or not, nor can the policeman that have been sent out looking for the Baby Jesus. All Angela wanted to do was to warm Jesus, knowing how often he sends warmth for others.

The ending is a happy one, of course, but it is also sweet. Children will love the concept of Angela taking the Baby Jesus home in order to keep him warm, but they will also be able to grasp the messages in the book. There is a deep religious message, as well as ones of compassion for others, love for one's family, and having a good spirit during the holiday season.

Someone Named Eva

When young Milada's village of Lidice in Czechoslovakia, is taken over by Nazi forces, her family is separated instantly. She, her mother and young sister are taken to a strange building, while her father and older brother simply disappear. At the building, Milada, along with nine other young children from her village, are chosen and labeled as "special," being given tests to determine something, though Milada has no idea what.

Within days, Milada discovers that because of her blonde hair and blue eyes, so-called German appearance, she has been chosen to be part of a Germanization program where she will be forced to speak only German, learn everything about Germany and Hitler, and believe in Nazi ways, no matter whether she truly believes in it or not. Milada, is once again separated from her mother to attend the special school, and immediately renamed Eva, a more German name.

Over the course of the war, Eva learns how to be German. She learns how to follow and love Hitler. She also knows that though she is learning all of these things, she doesn't believe any of them and is actually terrified of losing her true identity.

Someone Named Eva by Joan Wolf was one of the most powerful books I've read this year. So many stories are written about the war, the Holocaust, and the horrors that Hitler did to the Jews, but never have I come across a story about a character that also suffered at the hands of Hitler, though she hadn't done anything wrong in the first place. She was not Jewish. She was not a minority. She was simply a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. I'm not Jewish, but I'm blonde, with blue eyes. Would I have been in the same position as Milada/Eva? This book definitely made my eyes open a little wider.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Holiday Book #2

The Attic Christmas, written by B.G. Hennessy and illustrated by Dan Andreasen, is a sweet story of Christmas past, present, and future. The Christmas ornaments are the main characters and are owned by Lily, now an older lady. Each year since she was a girl, she has come to take the ornaments down to decorate the tree the weekend after Christmas and they would spend the entire season being loved, played with, and admired. One Christmas, the ornaments do not smell the tell-tale evergreen and gingerbread smells and Lily does not come to take them down. They worry that they will be left in the attic alone, never again taken out for a lovely Christmas season., though are hopeful in believing they may still matter to someone. The ornaments are overjoyed when Lily's son arrives with his grandchildren to live in the house and decorate their own family trees for years to come.

Though death occurs in this story, it is very subtle and never stated as such. Young children may believe that Lily went away, while older children will understand that she was very old and she passed away. Either way, the story of hope is very strong. The ornaments had made so many people happy over the years and hoped that they would be able to continue that tradition. I thought the story was simple and sweet, and the illustrations were beautiful. This would make a nice holiday bedtime story.

Because of Winn-Dixie

As one of my selections for the Four-Legged Friends challenge, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, is the one I've enjoyed the most so far. It's been three days since I've completed the book and I've already recommended it to about a dozen people. Why it took me so long to read, I have no idea.

DiCamillo's Newbery Honor winning story is tale of a summer in the life of 10 year-old Opal. Opal is the mother-less daughter of a southern Preacher and is quite happy in her life. Her and her father, whom she lovingly calls "Preacher," move to a new town and Opal quickly adjusts to life there, with a lot of help from a big, ugly stray dog she's named Winn-Dixie. Through Winn-Dixie, her job at a pet store, and new friendships, Opal spends her summer learning a lot about herself, a little about her mother, and enough about her new home to know that she is truly happy.

This was such a sweet, homey story. I loved Opal and being the crazy dog lover that I am, loved Winn-Dixie even more. Children will really enjoy the story, wanting to not only be Opal's friend, but also to go to the church where they sit on lawn chairs, help give dirty Winn-Dixie a bath, listen the music that has such importance, and play in the overgrown garden. This is a gem of a book and one that you all should read.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Holiday Book #1

Written almost 20 years ago, Emma's Christmas by Irene Trivias should have been a classic! I had, unfortunately, never heard of the book until a few days ago when I pulled it off the shelf to make a Christmas display at work. I'm so glad I was able to read this and hopefully others will go out and read it as well.

Emma's Christmas is a new (well, 20 years ago new) take on the well-known Christmas song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Emma, a young farm girl, rejects the proposal of marriage from the local prince, for the simple reason that she cannot see herself living in a big, old castle. She much prefers her farm life. The very next day, a gift of persuasion is sent by the prince: a partridge in a pear tree. Emma thinks it's cute, but still isn't into living in a castle, therefore rejecting the prince again. The next day she receives two turtle doves AND another partridge in a pear tree. On the third day? Three French hens, two turtle doves, and yes....another partridge in a pear tree. On and on we go. By the time the prince is done wooing Emma, she has about a billion new animals living on her farm, so she certainly can't leave now! She has, however, been charmed by the caring and devoted prince and agrees to marry him....if he'll become a farmer! Of course, the two live happily ever after, as do all of their animals.

What's great about this story is that they do not actually sing the infamous song. Your child will still love the story, even if they are not familiar with the lyrics. It is a sweet story, with a strong female lead character, as well as a cute holiday background. As my first holiday book out of 25, this was a great read!