Time for Christmas!


November has come and gone, the leftovers are finished, and decorating has begun – it must be December!   Many of us are starting to think of Christmas and luckily there are plenty of books to get us in the mood.  There are any number of authors who faithfully write a small (and most of them seem to be small) Christmas story each year.  Mary Higgins Clark with her daughter Carol Higgins Clark and Anne Perry can be counted on for Christmas mysteries that do not necessarily feature their regular protagonists.  If you’re in the mood for a western holiday romance, both Janet Dailey and Linda Lael Miller have several.  Debbie Macomber has a series of Christmas books featuring the angels Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy and Thomas Kinkade has a number of nice holiday tales that take place in the fictional town of Cape Light.  Richard Paul Evans rose to fame with The Christmas Box and has since continued his Christmas chronicles.

Many of our favorite authors have Christmas stories that are part of their regular series – Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott,  and Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen, to name a few.   Jan Karon’s Mitford series includes Shepherds Abiding – be sure to check the acknowledgement to local artist Stefanie Newman, who restored the actual Nativity figures for the story.

Garrison Keillor’s A Christmas Blizzard, John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas, and David Baldacci’s The Christmas Train, all from excellent storytellers, add humor, mystery or adventure to the mix.  Bailey White, of NPR fame, offers a lovely collection of stories in Nothing With Strings.

Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, edited by Otto Penzler, is unusual.  Mr. Penzler is the founder and proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, described by Wikipedia as “one of the oldest and largest mystery specialist bookstores in the world.”  Each year, Mr. Penzler would commission a Christmas story, set in the bookstore, from a leading mystery writer.  These stories were printed as pamphlets and given to his regular customers.  In 2010, he collected 17 of them and published them in book format.  The authors include Lawrence Block, S.J. Rozan, Anne Perry, Mary Higgins Clark, Ed McBain, and others!

For the whole family, read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, a true classic that reminds us of the real spirit of the holiday.  It’s usually performed as a play by one of the local theater groups or schools around this time of year.  The Nativity, with words from the King James Bible and beautiful illustrations by Julie Vivas, brings the age-old tale to human proportions.


So whether you re-read your old favorites or try something new, I wish you all a joyful, peace-filled holiday season!

Great New Picture Books to Give as Gifts

The Airport Book

What to get that young child in your life who already has a library full of classic picture books?  These titles from 2016 make it to the top of my list:

The Airport Book by Lisa Brown would be a great gift for a child flying for the first time.  Brown leads us through each part of the airport with simple text, and detailed descriptions that lead to lingering– a sort of picture book version of the great people watching an airport provides, mixed with comforting text about the process of getting on the plane. Recommended for ages 3-7.

Bloom by Doreen Cronin (illustrated by David Small) is the tale of a glass kingdom in disrepair and the messy mud fairy who enlists the help of an “ordinary” girl to save it.  Elegantly illustrated with a flourish of creative typography, this is the best kind of grit and girl-power-fueled empowerment story.  It’s fun, it’s messy, it’s fabulous. Recommended for ages 4-8.

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers celebrates the wonder of getting lost in a great book.  Filled with beautiful collages– oceans and mountains are formed from the typed lines of classic literary works– we join a young reader as she shares the adventure of story with her traveling companion.  This has the potential to start great conversations about stories and art. Recommended for ages 5-8.

Parachute by Danny Parker is about a boy named Toby who never does anything without wearing his bright orange parachute.  The strength of this story is in the illustrations, which give a striking sense of how big the world seems to a little person– how impossibly far up a tree house seems, how far down it looks from the bathroom stool, and how as Toby learns to feel safe, his perspective changes. Recommended for ages 4-8.

Penguin Problems by Jory John (illustrated by Lane Smith) presents us with Penguin, who has a bone to pick about, well, everything– “My beak is cold… The ocean smells too salty today.” Though a wise walrus tries to help him focus on the good things in his life, his triumph over griping appears to be short-lived.  This book is hilarious in its snark, and genius in its ability to make readers identify with a cranky penguin. Recommended for ages 3-7.

Worms for Breakfast: How to Feed a Zoo by Helaine Becker (illustrated by Kathy Boake) will disgust and delight young readers as they learn how animals are really fed at the zoo. From mealworm mush to predator popsicles, recipe cards detail what goes into the animals meals, while superimposed images of creatures up to crazy antics like raiding refrigerators and drinking from milkshake glasses keep it lively. Recommended for ages 7-10.


Girls and Science


Some interesting books that examine the roles of girls and women in the history of the sciences:

The Green Glass Sea  by Ellen Klages

Set in 1943, this novel follows 10-year-old Dewey as she heads west to join her father who’s working on a secret government project at Los Alamos, NM.  Mechanically-minded Dewey feels right at home among her father’s colleagues, scientists (male and female) who are excited to be working on ‘the gadget’ that they hope will end the war.  Dewey doesn’t do as well with her classmates, though, and she finds herself picked on and teased relentlessly.  An interesting read for all ages, this book reminds us how different one’s attitude can be when one doesn’t yet know the outcome of the experiment.  The scene describing the families gathered on picnic blankets to watch the test of the bomb is spine-chilling.  And you’ll have to read to the end to discover the meaning of the title!   There is a sequel, White Sands, Red Menace that explores more fully the ethical questions raised by this work.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

It’s the sweltering summer of 1899 and Calpurnia Virginia Tate, the lone girl in a family full of boys, is the only one who seems able to relate to their grandfather.  He’s an avid naturalist and everyone (except Callie) is a bit afraid of the strange specimens he keeps in jars in his shed out back.  To escape the heat, Callie tags along on his trips to the river.  As he begins to teach her about the world around her, he discovers that she’s an exceptional and enthusiastic pupil.  More practical and concerned about her daughter’s future, Mother insists that Callie have housekeeping and cookery lessons alongside the science.  What can the future hold for a girl interested in science as the 20th century arrives?

Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women  by Catherine Thimmesh

A collection of short biographies, this book features women and girls who changed the world with their inventions, including Becky Schroeder, the youngest female to receive a patent.  Most of the inventions were borne of necessity, which certainly doesn’t diminish the ingenuity and hard work of the inventors.  The same author and illustrator followed this one with The Sky’s the Limit: Stories of Discovery by Women and Girls.

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World  by Rachel Ignotofsky

A more recent publication,  this one covers women from the ancient world to modern day.  Whimsically illustrated, there are enough inspirational stories here to sustain any girl interested in STEM or STEAM!


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Mae Jemison by Jodie Shepherd

For the younger crowd, this new biography of astronaut Mae Jemison is put out by Rookie Readers.  Its simple but informed text is paired with photographs to introduce new readers to this pioneering woman.  It will encourage them to reach for the stars!