Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

In the True Spirit of Christmas, Some Spiritual Book Recommendations For Last-Minute Shopping...

Because of my recent travels, I'm way past due getting out these book recommendations, but hey, if you're a last minute shopper in search of some spiritually edifying gifts, this post is for you!

Does this image of parcels, snow, and Mr. Tumnus' furtive glance as he talks with Lucy Pevensie in the movie adaptation of C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, make you think of the angst that often accompanies Christmas shopping?
Thank goodness we're not in a land where it is "always winter but never Christmas". However, in this final countdown towards Christmas, we need to take time to slow down and remember to pray, or we might experience "always December but never Advent".  Christmas Eve will suddenly be here, but we'll be too stressed to even remember what we're celebrating!

And consider, what better time than Christmas to give spiritual books, as presents that can help our loved ones remember His Presence!

Today I'm sharing some nice gift offerings, especially for my Orthodox followers, from Ancient Faith Publishing...I'm always excited to see which review copies from AFP will show up on my front doorstep - they're like new friends who I look forward to meeting. (If you're not familiar with this Orthodox Christian publishing company, go here.)



For my Orthodox readers: this little gem is the perfect size to fit in a child's Christmas stocking! Compiled and edited by AFP, this book is beautifully illustrated with mixed media by Megan Gilbert.
A Child's Guide to the Divine Liturgy is just what it's title states: as opposed to an exact "follow-along-with-every-word-in-the-service-booklet", it's a nice little volume that is a perfect "pocket companion" to help guide kids through what the Orthodox Divine Liturgy is all about.  Colorful illustrations showing children in a variety of traditional Orthodox settings (many jurisdictions' traditions, vestments, etc. are represented) are featured on every page - making this book engaging for children from about ages two to ten. Each section of the guide is color coded, so even beginning readers can easily navigate the contents.  The book includes liturgical prayers, explanations and icons of the 12 major Orthodox feast days, a glossary, and more.  A grand guide in a small package! Ordering info and a look inside this book feature here.

FROM GOD TO YOU, The Icon's Journey to Your Heart by John Kosmas Skinas.  

This book is a follow-up to the popular PICTURES OF GOD, which I posted about here.  In his new picture book, Skinas delves into the history and sacred role of icons.  The first page sets the tone of the book beautifully with this quote: "The icon is a place of meeting where you and God can gaze at each other from the two sides of eternity."  The author relates the story of how God sent the first icon ("The Icon Not Made by Hands", also called "The Holy Napkin") and we are introduced to many other icons and traditions that have been handed down throughout our church's history. With scripture references and a "Notice This" feature for every holy image, this book is a wonderful help for children ages 4-10.  Can be ordered here.


THE MYSTERY OF ART, Becoming an Artist in the Image of God by Jonathan Jackson.

If you know a young adult Christian artist who is pursuing music, dance, acting, or painting...please consider this book!
Do you know about Jonathan Jackson?  Besides his career in Hollywood and music, he's an Orthodox Christian (short bio here).

My 25-year-old musician son is devouring this book! He commented, "I really needed to read this right now.  It's speaking to a lot of things that I'm currently dealing with spiritually."

I really wanted to give you my own book review of The Mystery of Art, by Jonathan Jackson, but I couldn't pry my review copy from my son's hands long enough to read it myself!  Instead, I'm sharing the book description from Ancient Faith Publishing's website:

Emmy Award-winning actor and musician Jonathan Jackson explores the profound implications of human creativity in the image of God, along with the process of becoming an artist (of any sort) dedicated to practicing his or her art from the context of a deep relationship with God. The true Christian artist is not necessarily one who treats religious themes, but one who creates through the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God.
Can be ordered here.

NEARLY ORTHODOX, On Being a Modern Woman in an Ancient Tradition by Angela Doll Carson.

Here's one for the girls (18 and up)!  Not to be missed.
Open this book, and you'll find yourself traveling with Angela along what is for her a new, yet Ancient Road on her journey towards chrismation into the Orthodox Church.

Her style - intentional, yet free flowing, is full of poetic metaphors - she puts you right there with her.  Smack.  In the midst of whatever struggle she is facing, and whatever emotion she is feeling.

In the Introduction she tells us: "The mapmaking of this book, my spiritual geography as it were, depends on those intersections of the past, the present, and the future.  They are intricately woven. They are sometimes congested and confusing."

Not chronologically, Angela's pilgrimage begins "in the middle, the muddy middle" to East from West. The stories she tells intertwine, like her winding journey from Catholicism to Protestantism to Orthodoxy.

We travel with her as she fights "Giants in the Road", and we follow as she leads us "Into the Roar."  She honestly observes and confronts her modern experiences and outlook on life as she sees them in juxtaposition with ancient Eastern Orthodox spirituality.

Along her journey she has passed landmarks that must be confronted: her parents' divorce, her inner punk rocker, and feminism, to name a few.  She begins to encounter and consider the Orthodox Traditions of liturgy, icons, prayer, confession (and some not universally practiced "small t" Orthodox traditions as well), as she travels toward the day of her chrismation, and realizes the road and journey don't stop there.

The appeal of Angela Doll Carlson's book (besides her engaging, poetic writing) is that Angela's intimate and honest questions, struggles, fears, and reflections about herself and her faith make you more aware of your own!

She reminds us that the Ancient Road, "a long lifetime road", though full of struggle, will help lead us to our destination, a true and healthy dependence on God, not ourselves. After all, aren't all of us just "nearly Orthodox", trying to live out our faith?  Ordering info here.


THE ANCIENT FAITH PRAYER BOOKEdited by Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou 

This beautiful green prayer book would make a festive Christmas gift; but order a few extra volumes for wedding, baptism, namesday, and birthday gifts! It's small enough to tuck away in a purse.  And I have to mention, besides a collection of some of the most beautiful ancient prayers of the Orthodox Church, this devotional includes some helpful and compassionate prayers for marriage, family life, pregnancy, childbirth, and miscarriage.  You can order it here.

Last but not least, Ancient Faith Publishing has a beautiful selection of Christmas cards, ornaments, icons, jewelry, and more in their CHRISTMAS STORE!  Go here to see their wonderful offerings. Remember, there are 12 Days of Christmas in which to give gifts...December 26 - Epiphany, January 1.

Monday, December 15, 2014

More New York: Face to Face with a T-Rex and "T.R"!

One place I really looked forward to visiting during our recent trip to New York was the American Museum of Natural History.  I totally anticipated the "wow" factor of seeing giant dinosaur bones mounted and looming above my head (and I wanted to preview this museum for a future visit with my grandson!)

I walked in and my jaw dropped!  Talk about dinosaur bones!  We came face to face with a dramatic representation of an imagined prehistoric encounter: a Barosaurus rearing up to protect its young from an attacking Allosaurus.

The amazing fossil collections that are open to public view occupy the entire fourth floor of the Museum as well as a separate exhibit that is on permanent display in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda and Memorial Hall, which is known as the Museum's "grand entrance" (lobby).

Why Theodore Roosevelt?  I found out during our visit that Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., the father of our 26th U.S. President, was one of the founders of the Museum!  Before becoming President, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was New York City's Police Commissioner and also Governor of the state of New York.  

Adorning the walls of the great entry hall that surround these huge dinos were several inspiring quotes from Teddy Roosevelt, carved into the walls. I especially liked his quote about YOUTH:

Born into a wealthy family in New York City, Roosevelt was a sickly child who suffered from asthma. To overcome his physical weakness, he embraced a strenuous life. He was home-schooled and became an eager student of nature.

In an exhibit about his life I read:

Like many children, young Theodore collected bird nests and eggs, seashells, insects and minerals.  But Roosevelt, a precocious boy, measured and described his specimens.  He took notes as he observed living animals and birds.
As Theodore's interests matured, he visited the American Museum of Natural History often - both the exhibitions and the collections behind the scenes.  At age 19 he published his first scientific work, a list of the birds he and a friend identified on summer in New York's Adirondack Mountains.

Check out all the Theodore Roosevelt memorabilia I saw (along with lots of science books!) in the Museum's gift shop for kids...

Moving up to the fourth floor, we hurried to see more bones (there was also a "Dino Store" on this floor)...

Mammuthus - Mammoths were widespread during the Ice Ages.
Some had woolly fur to keep them warm.  This "nonwoolly" mammoth lived in southern
parts of the U.S., which were not covered by glaciers.

Well, hello!
Makes me think of Molly Idle's cute book, Tea-Rex!
Go here for my past post.

Eventually, our fun Night at the Museum was over, and we said a sad farewell to the Christmas Dino out on the front steps. If you haven't been to this Natural History Museum, I really hope you can make it someday - we had a blast!

Saturday, December 13, 2014


"Night walks with a heavy step
Round yard and hearth,
As the sun departs from earth,
Shadows are brooding.
There in our dark house,
Walking with lit candles,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!
Carl Larsson (1908)
"Night walks grand, yet silent,
Now hear its gentle wings,
In every room so hushed,
Whispering like wings.
Look, at our threshold stands,
White-clad with light in her hair,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!
St. Lucia Day in Sweden (source)
"Darkness shall take flight soon,
From earth's valleys.
So she speaks 
Wonderful words to us:
A new day will rise again
From the rosy sky…
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!"
Sulamith W├╝lfing – "Crown of Light"
Do you know about St. Lucia?  
A wreath of candles.
A dress of white.
And a sash of red.  
Click on any of the links below to read my past posts about this girl saint and the many traditions (and good books) surrounding her.

Books about St. Lucia
Scandinavian Christmas Books & recipe for Lucia buns
Lucia, Saint of Light: Family Remembrances, a Book, and a Recipe
Photoblog: Making Lucia Buns with my GodDaughters
A Crown of Light for St. Lucia

Join in Audrey Eclectic's fun blog procession today as we celebrate St. Lucia!  Click HERE.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Library Lions and Edward Bear: Exploring the New York City Public Library

As I mentioned in my last post, today I'm giving you a little tour of NYCPL's Steven A. Schwarzman Building. Despite the fact that the Rose Main Reading Room was closed for renovation (after a scary plaster collapse in the ceiling a few months back), the New York City Public Library did not disappoint!

All was well with Patience and Fortitude, the Library's majestic sentinels (they have been immortalized in several excellent children's books - go to my post here).

It's been on my "bucket list" for quite a while to meet them.  They were festive, all dressed up with new Christmas garlands...
Fortitude is to the right of the library's wide steps - on north/uptown side

Patience is on the left/south/downtown side of the library's wide front steps

Once inside the library, my husband and I were greeted by a breathtaking Christmas tree!  The entryway and staircases were the backdrop for the final "bowler hat scene" in the film, The Thomas Crown Affair (1999).  The Metropolitan Museum of Art refused permission for their interior be used in the film, so several of the scenes were shot in the NYCPL.

By the way, how many films and television shows do you think have been shot on location at this library?  Go here for the list!

We made our way downstairs to the children's area, and once again came face-to-face with the Library Lions - this time in Lego form!

But the main attraction downstairs for adults and kids alike is a small enclosed glass case, where we came face to face with the original inspiration for A.A. Milne's Pooh books: Christopher Robin's Edward Bear and four of his friends...

The REAL Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga (Roo was lost in an orchard in 1930s), Piglet, and Winnie-thePooh 
Thanks to Milne's American publisher, the stuffed toys ended up in New York.  Go here to see more pictures of these beloved animals on display.  It would be unbearable to lose them, but I do feel kind of bad they're not in England!  You can read my past post "Origins of Winnie-the-Pooh" here.

The Children's Center in the NYCPL is very welcoming - though it doesn't have the intake-of-breath-effect that I experienced at the Los Angeles Central Library Children's Literature Department. But there are lots of fun murals and artwork all around the ceiling, as well as this display of books by native New Yorker Ezra Jack Keats, who created one of my grandson's favorite characters, "Peter" - take time to read about Keats' inspiration for this endearing boy here.

Upward and onward...my husband and I enjoyed roaming the rest of this beautiful institution's public rooms and halls (minus the Rose Main Reading Room, as I mentioned - they wouldn't even let us peek inside)...

Isn't it gorgeous?  You can see more pictures of all the various library rooms here (my camera just couldn't do them justice and I didn't want to bother all the quiet readers).  I could have spent hours in the Local History and Genealogy Room.

Oh, and the library bookstore was fantastic.  So you can shop, if you must!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

New York Stories

My blog is not usually this quiet during Advent...the reason for my absence is that I spent a wonderful Thanksgiving with my Mom and family in Indiana, and from there travelled with my husband to New York City!

Christmas in New York by Chuck Fischer

Of course, I had to visit Patience and Fortitude - they looked so festive, with their Christmas wreaths - as well as Winnie the Pooh and Co. at the NYCPL (I'll give you a little tour of this grand library in my next post)!

And there were museums - one day with dinosaurs, and another with art and immigrants. And shows - one with the Rockettes, and another with Barry Gordy. Happily, around every corner it was quite evident that Christmas is Coming.

With Advent marching on, where was I on St. Nicholas Day?
December 6th found me and my husband scurrying around the cold and rainy streets of New York City on our way to St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn!


We were in New York to attend a very historic event:  the Enthronement of Metropolitan Joseph (formerly our Bishop) as the new head of the Antiochian Orthodox Church in North America by the Patriarch of Antioch, John X of Damascus.

The newly Enthroned Metropolitan Joseph
with Patriarch John X of Damascus

And I got to sing in the choir!

photo: Haitham Fakhouri  - source

We had quite a view from the balcony!

It was a beautiful service, full of the reverence and joy one would expect, a day I will never forget.

I'm excited to share all my NY experiences with you - have you ever considered at trip to New York City with kids?  There is so much to do, especially during the holidays.  Go here for information.

You can also look here, on my past post of favorite children's books about The Big Apple, including Kathy Jakobsen's beautiful My New York.  But in the meantime, check out YouTube video of the incredible pop-up book I shared at the beginning of my post - it brings to life some of the wonderful things to see in New York at Christmastime...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It's All About Cranberries Over Here!

It's a Cranberry Thanksgiving again on my blog - and at my table!

I am in awe of these little powerhouse fruits - their vibrant red jewel-like tones, their health benefits, and of course their lovely tart flavor.

Today I'm recommending the same Thanksgiving read as in years past, Cranberry Thanksgiving.  

Cranberry Thanksgiving is the story of a young girl named Maggie who lives with her Grandmother near a cranberry bog in New England. Maggie and her Grandmother traditionally each invite a guest to their Thanksgiving feast. But this particular year, Grandmother almost loses her secret recipe for cranberry bread to one of the guests.

You can check out the book's lovely illustrations - and the cranberry bread recipe from the book - here on the  Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves blog. 

This year I've got a new cranberry sauce recipe to share.  The last time I blogged about this book - and cranberries - I posted a recipe for a spiced zinfandel cranberry sauce  (go here for that one). Today's recipe utilizes your crockpot!

I adapted this year's Easy Crockpot Apple-Cranberry Sauce from Dara's Cookin' Canuck blog - here). It's got six ingredients: cranberries, apples, sugar, orange juice, orange zest, and crystallized ginger. Mmmm...My mouth has been watering all afternoon in anticipation!

You  mix the simple ingredients all together (except for the ginger, which goes in later), put them in your crockpot, and give them a stir once in a while.  Eight hours later, you have cranberry sauce! Easy. Peasy. You're welcome!

I plan to reserve some of the sauce to pour over a log of goat cheese and serve with crackers as an appetizer (might even stir in a little chopped cilantro, green onion, and lime juice).  The rest will be put in a pretty cut glass dish to go with the turkey...

Easy Crockpot Apple-Cranberry Sauce

Gather and prepare:
4 medium Gala apples - cored, peeled, quartered and sliced
1 (12 oz.) package fresh cranberries
1/2 c. coconut sugar (or brown sugar or sucanat)
1 t. orange zest
1/4 c. orange juice
1/8 c. crystallized ginger, chopped (add later)
1/2 t. cinnamon (optional, add later)

Pour orange juice into the bottom of a large crockpot.

Put sliced apples and fresh cranberries into a large bowl and toss with sugar and orange zest.  Add to crockpot, and cover with lid.

Turn crockpot to LOW, and cook for about 8 hours.  Stir occasionally, breaking up apple slices and cranberries with a wooden spoon as they soften.

When done, stir in crystallized ginger (and cinnamon, if desired).  Taste, and add an additional tablespoon or two of sugar if desired.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Quirky Fable by Aldous Huxley

Today I'd like to share with you the book The Crows of Pearblossom by Aldous Huxley, who died on this day in 1963 (July 26, 1894 - November 22, 1963).  Yes, the famous English essayist, critic, and novelist - author of Brave New World - wrote a children's book!
Illustrations by Sophie Blackall

Huxley, born in England and educated at Balliol College, relocated to Southern California with his family in 1937.  He wrote The Crows of Pearblossom for his niece, Olivia, in 1944 as a Christmas gift.  In 1967 it was published in a small-format edition chapter book (now of of print) illustrated by Barbara Cooney.

The quirky tale is about how two silly crows - with the help of a wise owl - outsmart a sneaky snake who's been devouring their eggs.  This is a story about cleverness triumphing over greed.

I recently ordered the 2011 edition because I was so intrigued that Huxley wrote a children's book - and because I couldn't resist Sophie Blackall's (Ruby's Wish) wonderful illustrations!  Happily, I was not disappointed.

You can read a great overview and history of this chapter book transformed to picture book, HERE.