Sunday, July 29, 2012

Book Review: Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck

✰✰✰✰½ A man named Rob recalls a childhood Christmas many, many years past when his family was poor and his parents worked tirelessly to provide for them. Growing up on a farm, there were always early morning chores to be done even on Christmas. But one year when Rob was fifteen, he realized just how much his parents loved him even though they rarely expressed it. That was when Rob became determined to give his father a very special Christmas gift; one that couldn't be bought. It was a gift that both father and son cherished for years to come. It was Rob's very first gift of true love.

The Bottom Line: This heartwarming tale is a classic story of Christmas giving that both children and adults will remember for many holidays to come. Told in Buck's magical style, this is the perfect story to read on Christmas Eve. Buehner's subtle illustrations are perfectly suited to this holiday picture book. Highly recommended for children ages 7 and up.

Details: Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck. Illustrated by Mark Buehner. Hardcover picture book published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2002. 40 p. ISBN: 0-688-16268-1

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Book Review: The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve

✰✰✰ Growing up on a South Dakota reservation wasn't easy, but twice a year the children eagerly awaited the arrival of the Theast boxes. Theast boxes were packages of donations from "The East;" the boxes contained much needed clothing for the community. Virginia, the daughter of an Episcopalian priest, desperately hopes that one of the boxes will contain a coat just her size as the one she received last year has become too short and tight.

When the boxes arrive, Virginia spots a coat that would be just perfect; however, all the other families get to choose first. By the time everyone else has chosen clothing, the coat is gone. The congregation moves forward with preparations for Christmas, but Virginia's heart just isn't in it. Then just before heading off to Christmas Eve services, Virginia's mother pulls out two more boxes - one for Virginia and one for her brother. To their surprise, both contain unexpected Christmas joy.

The Bottom Line: This picture book biography is based on an event in the author's childhood. It's a touching story of learning to put the needs of others before one's own; however, it might have been more compelling if told in the first person rather than the third person. Beier's watercolor and gouache illustrations are realistic and nicely done. The story is a bit long for the little ones; thus it's recommended for older kids in Grades 3 - 5.

Details: The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood written by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve and illustrated by Ellen Beier. Hardcover picture book published by Holiday House in 2011. Unpaged. ISBN: 978-0-8234-2134-3

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Book Review: Have Yourself A Very Vintage Christmas by Susan Waggoner

✰✰✰✰ If you yearn for the days of Christmases past, then pick up this colorful title and take a trip back in time. The craft ideas in this book are cleverly organized by decades from the 1920s - 1960s. Each decade contains appropriate craft and decorating ideas popular in that era. Easy to copy color templates are included for many projects. This book also includes plenty of full color photographs to illustrate what the finished craft will look like.  Finally, this book contains a chapter featuring yummy candy recipes including: Mackinac Island Fudge, Caramels, Buttercrunch, and more.

The Bottom Line: What's not to like? This craft book contains festive ideas for crafty types of all levels. While some projects require a bit more experience than others, there is something for everyone. Additionally, most of the materials can be readily found at your local craft store. For those crafts requiring specific supplies, the author has included a source list. The only thing that would have made this book even better is an index. Recommended for everyone looking for fun, vintage Christmas crafts and holiday ideas. It's also great just for browsing!

The Bottom Line: Have Yourself A Very Vintage Christmas: Crafts, Decorating Tips, and Recipes, 1920s - 1960s by Susan Waggoner. Hardcover published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang in 2011. 144 p. ISBN: 978-1-58479-923-8

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Book Review: A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea

✰✰✰½ Pyn is just a little girl who dreams of decorating her very first Christmas tree. However, her papa, Oother, doesn't agree. Oother is a big bear of a man who says very little. He loves his daughter, but he has work to do. When Christmas Eve morning arrives, Pyn decides to surprise Oother with the perfect tree. She bravely goes out into the snow to find one all by herself. But finding a tree is hard work. Luckily for Pyn, Oother comes along at just the right time and plucks her out of the snow. Together they set off to find just the right one.

The Bottom Line: A Christmas Tree for Pyn is a magical story about a father's love for his daughter. The themes of family and love shine through this charming holiday tale. Illustrated in soft hues of colored pencil and gouache, children will adore having this picture book read to them around the holidays. Recommended for children ages 5 and up.

Details: A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea. Hardcover picture book published by Philomel Books in 2011. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-399-24506-0

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Book Review: FamilyFun Homemade Holidays

✰✰✰✰ Part of the fun of the holidays is the joy of making holiday crafts, gifts, and recipes. What better way to get started with the festivities than with a book from the experts at FamilyFun magazine? This book is chock full of 150 holiday treats, decorations and gifts suited for giving to individuals or planning parties. Included are ideas for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Three Kings Day. Choose from crafts like the Faux Fireplace, Angel Votive, Holiday Garlands, or Popsicle-stick Snowflakes. Recipes include Old-fashioned Gingerbread,   Jolly Jelly Thumbprints, Chocolate Church Mice, and many more.

The Bottom Line: The crafts and recipes in this book are easy to make and kid friendly. Most of the ideas can be made with easy to find supplies and ingredients. There are plenty of full color photographs throughout. Kids will enjoy making these recipes, gifts, and decorations with adult supervision. Enthusiastically recommended for parents, teachers, and librarians looking for festive holiday ideas to use at home, in the classroom, or as a supplement to story time.

Details: FamilyFun Homemade Holidays: 150 Festive Crafts, Recipes, Gifts & Parties edited by Deanna F. Cook and the experts at FamilyFun magazine. Paperback published by Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. in 2009. 96 p. ISBN: 978-1-4027-6358-8

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review: The Snow Angel by Christine Leeson

✰✰✰½ Daisy and Sam are two little mice as excited as can be about Christmas. They rush outside into the Christmas snow and are surprised when an angel falls from the sky. The concerned little mice rush to the fallen angel's aid offering it food and watching over it. When it comes time for the angel to take flight again, she leaves behind a gift of her own to the delight of the mice.

The Bottom Line: This charming tale is easy to read to the little ones and emphasizes themes of kindness and sharing. Children will adore Jane Chapman's glittery illustrations in soft pastels. Recommended for toddlers through kids in Grade 1.

Details: The Snow Angel written by Christine Leeson and illustrated by Jane Chapman. Hardcover picture book published by Tiger Tales in 2007. 32 p. ISBN: 978-1-58925-068-0

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book Review: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

✰✰✰½ The Herdman kids are the worst. They lie, steal, hit, and worst of all, there are six of them. One day they show up at church and take over the annual Christmas pageant. How can this happen? The Herdmans don't even know the story of Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus.

Everyone fears that the event is headed for disaster, but the holidays just wouldn't be the same without the annual Christmas pageant. Will this be the worst Christmas pageant ever? Read the book and find out.

The Bottom Line: This is a picture book adaptation from Barbara Robinson's novel, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Brightly illustrated and fun to read, the Herdman kids prove that you can't always judge a book by the cover. Recommended for kids in grades Pre-K - 3.

Details: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever written by Barbara Robinson & illustrated by Laura Cornell. Hardcover (picture book edition) published by Harper in 2011. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-089074-2

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cookbook Review: Santa's North Pole Cookbook by Jeff Guinn

✰✰✰✰ The authority on Santa, Jeff Guinn, brings readers a cookbook narrated by the jolly old elf himself. For each section and recipe, Santa provides some background information and his own stories. His head chef Lars also adds helpful hints and comments where appropriate. The recipes range from the very simple (like Kissel or Cranberry Puree from Russia) to the more challenging (like Black Christmas Fruitcake from Trinidad and Tobago).

Santa has collected over 70 holiday recipes from his annual trek around the world. This cookbook includes  holiday recipes for breakfast, breads, appetizers, main courses, side dishes, drinks, and desserts. Also, an index is included so you can look up recipes by ingredient or country.

The Bottom Line: Add this cookbook to your holiday collection just for the fun of it; it's chock full of interesting facts and trivia. Plus, the type is in Christmas green ink and is easy to read. The recipes are straight forward and easy to follow; however, a few of the ingredients may be a challenge to find. Since the recipes vary in the amount of expertise required, this cookbook is recommended for aspiring chefs of all skill levels. With dishes from all over the world, there's sure to be something for everyone this holiday. Finally, if you enjoy this title, check out Guinn's other books about Santa including The Autobiography of Santa Claus and How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas.

Details: Santa's North Pole Cookbook by Jeff Guinn. Hardcover published by Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin in 2007. 247 p. ISBN: 978-1-58542-589-1

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Book Review: A Christmas Spider's Miracle by Trinka Hakes Noble

✰✰✰✰½ A long time ago in a faraway forest of the old Ukraine, there lived a mother spider with her brood of little ones. As Christmas approached, the cold temperatures became unbearable. The mother spider did her best to protect her children, but as she drifted off to sleep she feared the cold would be too much for them.

Nearby, a poor peasant woman with children of her own struggles to make ends meet. The woman's children have been very good, but she is sad because she has nothing to give them on Christmas. There will be no feast or presents for her children, but the woman decides that at the very least, there will be a tree. Later that night at the edge of the forest, she finds the perfect little fir tree and brings it home, but alas, she does not possess the materials required to make decorations for the little tree. The poor woman falls into a troubled sleep.

Meanwhile, the mother spider awakens. She explores her new home. It is warmer than the forest and there is food as well. Grateful for her new home, the spider decides to give the peasant woman and her children the greatest Christmas gift of all and she spins her way into legend.

The Bottom Line: The legend of the Christmas spider is one of my favorite holiday stories. It's the reason many people (including me) have a sparkly spider ornament on their tree at Christmastime. This legend has been retold many times, but author Trinka Hakes Noble brings her own magic to the tale. Also, children will enjoy Stephen Costanza's watercolor and colored pencil illustrations, which were painted with a beautifully subdued palette of blues, greens, and purples. A Christmas Spider's Miracle will appeal to all generations from the very young to the young at heart. Highly recommended for children in grades Pre-K - 2. Also, highly recommended for librarians and teachers looking for a holiday book to tie in with a craft project (for example, a Christmas Spider Ornament) for story time.

Details: A Christmas Spider's Miracle written by Trinka Hakes Noble & illustrated by Stephen Costanza. Hardcover picture book published by Sleeping Bear Press in 2011. 32 p. ISBN: 978-1-58536-602-6

"Christmas in July" Book Reviews for 2012

It's never too early to start planning ahead for the holidays. July is the  time of year when we here at Mini Book Bytes Book Reviews take a special look at books featuring the winter holiday season. Holiday picture books will always hold a special place in our hearts, so we'll review several including A Christmas Spider's Miracle by Trinka Hakes Noble, The Snow Angel by Christine Leeson, and Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck.

Additionally, we'll check out a few cookbooks and a craft title or two. So make some hot chocolate, grab a peppermint stick, and join us as we try to beat the summer heat with these wintry selections.
Stay cool everyone!

P.S. I found this beautiful image at Activity Village.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Independence Day Books for Kids

When you think about the Fourth of July, chances are you probably think about barbecues, family reunions, ceremonies, parades, concerts, and, of course, fireworks. However, there's another way to celebrate Independence Day. Whether you will be spending the holiday at the beach, the campgrounds, or grilling in your own backyard, now is the perfect time to learn more about America's favorite summertime event...the 4th of July!

If you have ever wondered about the signing of the Declaration of Independence or who sewed the first American flag, then a visit to your local library is in order. Your library is filled with books about Independence Day trivia, facts, and stories. Check out a selection of both fiction and nonfiction books for kids today.  

My top picks for nonfiction books for kids include:
  1. The Fourth of July Story by Alice Dalgliesh
  2. The Making of America by Robert D. Johnston
  3. Fireworks, Picnics, and Flags by James Cross Giblin
  4. The Star-Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key
  5. Independence Day Crafts by Mary Berendes

My top picks for picture books for kids include:
  1. Fourth of July Mice! by Bethany Roberts
  2. Apple Pie Fourth of July by Janet S. Wong
  3. Corduroy's Fourth of July by Don Freeman
  4. A Fourth of July on the Plains by Jean Van Leeuwen
  5. Looking for Uncle Louie on the Fourth of July by Kathy Whitehead
Happy 4th of July everyone!

Note: The free clip art used on this post was found at Graphics Hunt.