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)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Andrew Lang, Rescuer of Fairy Tales

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” 
 ― Albert Einstein
Andrew Lang's well-known "Fairy Books" are a series of fairy tales - a collection of twelve books in all - published between 1889 and 1910. Each volume is distinguished by its own color, all collected and edited (not written, as some mistakenly assume) by Lang.

Anita Silvey (The Essential Guide to Children's Books) said, "The irony of Lang's life and work is that although he wrote for a profession - literary criticism; fiction; poems; books and articles on anthropology, mythology, history, and travel...he is best recognized for the works he did not write." 

Fairy Book History:
Victorians favored realistic and instructive stories for children. In the late 19th century, interest in the native fairy tales of Britain had declined and there were very few books recounting them for young readers. 

In fact, fairy tales and magical stories in general were being attacked by some educationalists as being harmful to children.  Lang - who had taken pleasure in nursery rhymes and folktales since childhood - challenged this notion by collecting and editing fairy stories for the first of his "colored fairy books", The Blue Fairy Book (published in 1889).

According to the Folio Society:
Whilst other folklorists collected stories directly from source, Lang set about gathering those stories which had already been recorded. This gave him time to collect a much greater breadth of fairy tales from all over the world, most from well-known writers such as The Brothers Grimm, Madame d’Aulnoy and others from less well known sources. Whilst Lang also worked as the editor for his work and is often credited as its sole creator, the support of his wife, who transcribed and organized the translation of the text, was essential to the work’s success.

It's a Reading Rainbow of Books!
You can see the contents of each book here. The names and publication dates of Lang’s 12 "Fairy Books" are as follows:
  • The Blue Fairy Book – 1889 
  • The Red Fairy Book – 1890 
  • The Green Fairy Book – 1892 
  • The Yellow Fairy Book – 1894 
  • The Pink Fairy Book – 1897 
  • The Grey Fairy Book – 1900 
  • The Violet Fairy Book – 1901 
  • The Crimson Fairy Book – 1903 
  • The Brown Fairy Book – 1904 
  • The Orange Fairy Book – 1906 
  • The Olive Fairy Book – 1907 
  • The Lilac Fairy Book – 1910
J.R.R. Tolkein said, "None rival either the popularity, or the inclusiveness, or the general merits of the twelve books of twelve colours which we owe to Andrew Lang and his wife."

A Thirteenth "Fairy Book"?  Lang's very own work...
Did you happen to notice the title of the book pictured at the top of my post?  My Own Fairy Book was written by Andrew Lang, "made up altogether from his own head" (as the introduction says), and published in 1895.  Lang said he always felt "rather an impostor" because "so many children seem to think" he wrote the twelve fairy books. You can read "My Own Fairy Book" onlinehere, on Project Gutenberg.

If you especially love fairies, go here to read my past post, "I Do Believe in Fairies, I Do! I Do!".

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Today's post is in honor of my grandson (who turns two today) and Winnie-the-Pooh.  They happen to share the same birthday!  A A. Milne introduced Pooh in 1926 - which makes Pooh Bear 88!


Wherever I am, there's always Pooh,
There's always Pooh and Me.
Whatever I do, he wants to do,
"Where are you going today?" says Pooh:
"Well, that's very odd 'cos I was too.
Let's go together," says Pooh, says he.
"Let's go together," says Pooh.

"What's twice eleven?" I said to Pooh.
("Twice what?" said Pooh to Me.)
"I think it ought to be twenty-two."
"Just what I think myself," said Pooh.
"It wasn't an easy sum to do,
But that's what it is," said Pooh, said he.
"That's what it is," said Pooh.

"Let's look for dragons," I said to Pooh.
"Yes, let's," said Pooh to Me.
We crossed the river and found a few-
"Yes, those are dragons all right," said Pooh.
"As soon as I saw their beaks I knew.
That's what they are," said Pooh, said he.
"That's what they are," said Pooh.

"Let's frighten the dragons," I said to Pooh.
"That's right," said Pooh to Me.
"I'm not afraid," I said to Pooh,
And I held his paw and I shouted "Shoo!
Silly old dragons!"- and off they flew.

"I wasn't afraid," said Pooh, said he,
"I'm never afraid with you."

So wherever I am, there's always Pooh,
There's always Pooh and Me.
"What would I do?" I said to Pooh,
"If it wasn't for you," and Pooh said: "True,
It isn't much fun for One, but Two,
Can stick together, says Pooh, says he. "That's how it is," says Pooh.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

I Survived the Cutting of the Spaghetti Squash...So Bring On Those Literary Pumpkins!

October likes to tease us with hot weather here in Southern California, just when the grocery stores are starting to stock an abundance of pumpkins and other fall vegetables, er, fruits. (Did you know that pumpkins are actually berries?!)
"I'm a what?" gasped Harry.
photo source
Despite the heat, I thought I'd share a cozy fall recipe that I made a few days ago. During the short-lived cooler temperatures we had last week, I went to the market and bought a large spaghetti squash to roast for a yummy pasta-less lasagna.  

I wrestled the huge squash for quite a while in my attempt to cut it in half and scoop out the insides. Quite scary, since my big butcher knife kept getting stuck deep down in the dense yellow flesh.
Luckily, it turned out beautifully for our dinner, and I've shared the recipe below (at the end of this post).  Next time, I think I'll just buy two smaller squash - which are much easier to cut then one large one.  

Do any of you have some squash-cutting tips...or better yet, pumpkin carving tips?  Because it's time for my annual round-up of Literary Pumpkin and Party Ideas that I've gathered from around the internet.  (You can find even more ideas on my "Pumpkin/Turkey/Fall Time" Pinterest Board.)

Here's to a BOOkish HALLOWEEN -

featuring pumpkin books by Tasha Tudor and others, for ages 4-8

for OZ, Jack Skellington, Cinderella, and Edgar Alan Poe inspired pumpkins!

for some not-too-scary Halloween/Fall/Woodland Party ideas, 
costumes, and pumpkins.

 Click here for my "STORYBOOK PUMPKIN PATCH" post...
full of Book-O'-Lanterns (pumpkins carved up to look like favorite storybook characters!)

Fun costumes, pumpkins, and parties based on classic children's books.

Sherlock, Steampunk, Sleepy Hollow, Edgar Alan Poe, 
and OZ themed parties and pumpkins.

Now for the promised recipe:


2 small-medium sized spaghetti squash*
1 T + 2 t. olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
1 shallot, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 lbs. ground turkey
1 jar chunky marinara sauce (Trader Joe's)
2 T. tomato paste, to thicken sauce
1/4 c. chopped green olives
1 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. dried thyme (or a few sprigs of fresh leaves, stems removed)
1/2 t. dried basil (or 1 T. fresh, chopped)
1/4 t. dried rosemary
1 c. ricotta cheese
1 c. mozzarella cheese, shredded

*Depending on the size of the squash halves to be filled, you may have extra sauce.  It can be frozen or refrigerated to reheat for another meal.

Preheat oven to 400.  Line cookie sheets with foil.

Squash Preparation: 
1. Slice squash in half length-wise; scrape out seeds.  
2. Rub 1/2 t. olive oil into each of the 4 squash halves.  Season with salt and pepper.
3. Place squash face down on cookie sheets and bake for 30-50 minutes (to test, flip over the squash and squeeze halves gently - you'll know they're done, when the middle is soft.)
4. Set aside when done.

Meat Sauce:
1. Meanwhile, saute onion, shallots, and garlic in 1 T. olive oil over medium heat until soft. 
2. Add ground turkey, cooking until no longer pink.  Drain off fat.  
3. Add jar of chunky marinara sauce, sliced green olives, and herbs.  When sauce begins to bubble, stir in 2 T. tomato paste, reduce heat, and simmer 5-10 minutes.

To Assemble:
1. Spread about a 1/4 c. ricotta cheese into the bottom of each right-side up squash half.
2. Spoon meat sauce into each half, mounding it a little bit.
3. Sprinkle 1/4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese onto each of the four filled squash halves.
4. Switch oven setting to "broil", and place the cookie sheets in the oven.  Broil for about 2 minutes, until cheese is lightly browned and bubbly.  (Watch closely!  It browns quickly!)

To Serve:
Scoop out about 1/2 a lasagna-filled squash for each person - or if the squash are  really small, just eat right out of the squash half!  I serve this with sauteed spinach.  YUMMY!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

It's Finally Fall, and Our Owl is Back!

Our neighborhood owl is back!  A couple of nights ago I heard him:  the "hoo-hoo-HOO" of a Great Horned Owl, in one of the big trees just outside our window. Somehow, he knows it's fall...
(Illustration by Valerie Greeley)
Just like the owls, we are all thankful for cooler mornings and evenings here in Orange County!  We don't get freezing temperatures or huge amounts of fall color, but I love the deeper slant of the sun, and the still-warm breezes that scatter the fallen, dry sycamore leaves across our brick patio in the autumn.

That must be a cue for the Great Horned Owls to start looking for a mate - their breeding time is from October through December here in SoCal.  Below is a photo my son took at sunrise early one spring morning a couple of years ago, of two of them after nesting season was over.

Today I have to share an adorable children's book about owls! (you can also go here for my past post featuring other owl book recommendations.)

The book is Owl Babies, written by Martin Waddell and beautifully illustrated by Patrick Benson.  It's a story about waiting and reassurance...
And it is my grandson Peter's current favorite library book (my daughter told me he's checked it out three times!)  Last week I found a cute board book edition that came with a little stuffed owl, which I mailed off to Peter - he was quite ecstatic.

Toddlers and preschoolers can really relate to this simple story because, like most young children, the baby owls - "Sarah", "Percy", and "Bill" - miss their Mommy. Especially Bill, the youngest, whose only line (my grandson's favorite to chime in on) is: "I want my Mommy!"

The story starts as the worried owls wake up one night, in their little owl habitat (which the author describes perfectly), to find that their Owl Mother is gone.  They do lots of wondering and thinking - "all owls think a lot" - and waiting.  It's dark and things are moving all around them.  They have to be brave and stick together, and finally, just as they closed their eyes and began wishing... sure enough, "SHE CAME!"

Watch the charming animated version of the book below to find out what Bill's one line of input changes to at the end of the story...and Happy Fall, dear readers!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"The World Was Hers for the Reading": The 10 Book Challenge

“Oh magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words.” 
“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived. 

As she read, at peace with the world and happy as only a little girl could be with a fine book and a little bowl of candy, and all alone in the house, the leaf shadows shifted and the afternoon passed. ”
-from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith (1943)

Facebook statuses have recently been overflowing with The 10 Book Challenge: "In your status, post 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes and don't think too hard. They don't have to be the 'right' books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way." 

I was tagged and have decided to share my faves here on my blog.  I have to say that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn quickly came to mind!  

Here is my quick list of books that have had an impact on me (sorry, I couldn't quite keep it at 10, so here are the Top 15 Books I Love)...
1.    Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
2.    Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
3.    Heidi by Johanna Spyri
4.    Hinds Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard
5.    The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
6.    Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
7.    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
8.    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
9.    Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries (& Harriet Vane) by Dorothy Sayers
10.  Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
11.  Kristin Lavransdatter Trilogy by Sigrid Undset
12.  84 Charing Cross Road (and all others) by Helene Hanff
13.  Andy Catlett: Early Travels: A Novel by Wendell Berry
14.  Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C.S. Lewis
15.  Father Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father translated by Vera Bouteneff

Honorable mention/Not to be missed: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien; Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren; Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene; James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small series; Little Britches books by Ralph Moody; The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett; Mama's Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes; Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth Jr.; Pride and Prejudice and Emma by Jane Austen; David Copperfield by Charles Dickens; Mitford Series by Jan Karon; Grand Duchess Elizabeth by Lubov Millar.

Did I leave out any of your Top 10...15...or 20???

Monday, September 1, 2014

Traveling In Lincoln's Footsteps

I was born in Illinois, living there until first grade, and was always proud to know that Abraham Lincoln, though born in Kentucky, lived much of his life in my home state before becoming our 16th President.  I moved away from Illinois without ever having visited a home he lived in. It took a road trip back to the mid-west, with our little grandson in tow, to finally get there!
At a fun coffee shop across the street from the Lincoln
Home National Historical Site in Springfield, IL.
We were able to make a stop at the only home Abraham Lincoln ever bought when we visited The Lincoln Home and Neighborhood in Springfield, Illinois, where he practiced law.  We found it fascinating to follow in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln while exploring the beautifully restored historic neighborhood homes surrounding his home of seventeen years.

Below is a photo of the house, that I took from the same vantage point as the black and white photo (taken in 1860) in which you see Abraham Lincoln and his son standing behind the wrought iron fence.

The house was originally constructed in 1839 as a one-and-a-half story cottage.  It was later expanded by the Lincolns into a two-story house with corner columns, moulding and other Greek revival features, to accommodate their growing family.  The Lincolns lived in this house from 1844 until Lincoln's election as President in 1860.

We stopped by the museum gift shop, which was full of books about Lincoln's life.  Go here to read about two exceptional picture books I reviewed about Abraham Lincoln in a past blog post.

Did you know...?
In 1860, eleven-year-old Grace Bedell wrote to Lincoln suggesting he grow a beard: "let your whiskers grow...you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President."
Last beardless photo - August 13, 1860
The President-Elect responded, "As to the whiskers, have never worn any. Do you not think people would call it a silly affection if I were to begin it now?" 
Photograph taken two days before
he left Springfield en route to Washington, DC,
for his inauguration - February 9, 1861
Well, the next time he visited his barber William Florville, he announced, "Billy, let's give them a chance to grow." By the time he began his inaugural journey by rail from Illinois to Washington, D.C., he had a full beard.  [source and more photos: go here]

In 1909, President Lincoln appeared on a one-cent coin and became the first American president to have his face appear on a regular-issue American coin.
Go here for more information, photos, and virtual tours of the Lincoln Home.

Travel Tip:  Stop in for food, fun decor and art, and great coffee at Wm. Van's Coffee, right across the street from the Lincoln Home historical site.
If you're interested in visiting more Lincoln sites, there are quite a few places that you can visit, as outlined in the book In Lincoln's Footsteps: A Historical Guide to the Lincoln Sites in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Road Trip Sightseeing: Storybooks Around Every Corner (Well, Almost)!

Of course our road trip itinerary had to include stops at some libraries. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that storybooks and storybook characters are alive and well in the Mid-west - but not just in libraries...

Kansas City, Missouri - Storybook Parking? 
Check out the K.C. Public Library's awesome parking garage!  It is the highlight of the city's library district, situated across from the Central Library.  Each book spine is a 9-by-25-foot rectangle!

Historic St. Louis - Libraries and Pinnochio in a Park!
Loved this old branch library that we drove past.

We found some good St. Louis BBQ for dinner (thanks to my daughter and Yelp) and took it with us to Citygarden Park in downtown St. Louis. It's a fun place to have a picnic - lots of fountains and statues, including Pinocchio! 

I took this photo of the beautiful St. Louis Central Public Library after hours.  So sad we couldn't pop in for a visit!  (Go here for a virtual history tour.)

Fun in a Chicago library - A Storybook Dollhouse!
Downtown Chicago's grand old neoclassical style Public Library, located across from Millennium Park, no longer houses books - it is now the City Cultural Center.

The new Central Library is the impressive post-modernist style Harold Washington Library...

There is a beautiful winter garden on the 9th floor, but we only had time to check out the children's library with my grandson.

We discovered a fun Storybook Dollhouse, full of tiny characters, animals, and objects - clues to over 75 children's books, poems, and nursery rhymes!  If you're ever traveling through Chicago with children, make a quick rest stop at the library and play a fun game of "I Spy".  Here were some of our favorites...
See the shadow in the bureau drawer?

Who's this Crocodile in the tub?

See the Giant Peach? Collie? Wanted Poster of a "Dirty Dog"?

Recognize this bear in the yellow hat?  How about that Little Lamb?

Dorothy and Toto in Lincoln Park, IL?
Yes, along with the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion. Where?  At Oz Park, of course!

Children's Library in Highland Park, IL - Storybooks and...Hampsters!
My daughter took some fun pictures of the inside the wonderful Highland Park Public Library (near her new home) for me when she visited the children's area with my grandson.

The library even has little hamster friends for the kids named "Yankee Doodle" and "Dandy".
Hope you enjoyed this little tour - get out there and explore libraries (you might be surprised at what you find along the way!)