In a Nutshell Kid Lit Book Reviews: Winter!

I adore winter!  I always have.  When I was a child in Reno in the late sixties and seventies, I spent countless hours carving villages out of snow.  I didn’t even notice being cold as I was so immersed in my architectural pursuits.  Some of my best memories involve snow.  My dad and older teens in the neighborhood would pull my sister and I on sleds or snow discs down the street.  My father also tried to maximize the recreation as a snowfall was melting by making a runway of the remaining snow, and pulling my sister and I in an old baby bathtub down this makeshift runway.  This activity was captured on home movies and later transferred to video.  I don’t have an abundance of good memories of my childhood, or of my father, so having this on videotape is absolutely precious to me.  He also showed us how to pack empty garbage cans to make tall snowmen (and women!) easily.

In the spirit of winter fun and recreation, before winter ebbs away, I thought I’d share these wintry-themed children’s books with you.

nutshell reviews feb 005This book reveals all the magic of snow in a poetic way, capturing the emotions that snowfall brings to children (and many adults) in a beautifully illustrated manner.  Who hasn’t enjoyed catching snowflakes on their tongues, or making angels.  I’m not ashamed to say I’ve done these things as an adult too.  Why should children get to have ALL the fun?  It is about joie’ de vivre (joy of life).  There’s something about snow that can bring out a grown-up’s inner kid, if one lets that happen.  The thrill of sliding down a hill fast is not lost on me.  Rylant celebrates the children in all of us, and the joy and beauty of winter quite splendidly!  I also love that it depicts Caucasian and African-American children playing together and enjoying each other’s company.  That is beautiful!  I think this book would be enjoyed equally by toddlers and children as old as 6 or 7.

nutshell reviews feb 004

Six children spend the beginning of a winter vacation sliding down a sleet-slickened, snowy slope in a backyard.  They decide to hunt for a bigger hill to whiz down.  One of their grandfathers had an old sled large enough for all six to ride at once, and the children cajoled him to let them take it for a run.  They found the steepest hill in the county, but had great difficulty getting the sled and themselves up the incline, and landed in a pile at the bottom, giggling.  The children imagined the tools they’d need to scale that hill successfully, and each of them had creative ideas for the climb.  They formed a human chain and tried to crawl up the hill, and still lost their grip, becoming a laughing mound at the bottom once again.  One girl was ready to give up, and go for the hot chocolate waiting at her house.  The others ignored her and tried again in a different place.  Finally, they made it to the top.  No one said they were scared, but they all were, at least until they were going so fast there wasn’t time for fear!  The group quickly decided to do it again.  This was an exciting book to read, and kids from four to ten would delight in it.  The illustrations were simple, winsome, and fully conveyed the buoyant spirit of the story.  A little fear and adrenaline can be very exciting!

nutshell reviews feb 003    This book is for the youngest children, perhaps those two and under.  It rhymes, which little children love, in a pleasing cadence.  I’m not very interested in books that don’t have much of a story, so I was disappointed to see that this one was more about rhyming than telling any kind of story. However, I was surprised to find there was a trace of a story here.  After the mice skated on the icy pond, pictures were revealed.  The blades of their skates created fun pictures on the ice, and the pictures coincided with the rhymes.  The illustrations were brightly colored and little children would probably be fascinated by them.

nutshell reviews feb 002This book won the Caldecott Medal at some point, and was first published in 1947.  It is first rate poetry, creating word pictures to add to the old school illustrations.  All the people in the town sensed that snow was coming, and they had different ways of detecting this, such as a woman’s toe that hurts whenever snow is on its way.  When no one was looking, the snow began, and the adults began making sure they were prepared, like having cough medicine in the cabinet, and putting on their boots.  The children laughed and danced, and caught snowflakes on their eager tongues.  The description of the snow was far better than the actual illustration of it, though that is to be expected from books of this era.  The adults began to suffer various things from the snow.  Children saw all the beauty in the snow, and imagined great things.  The process of the big snowfall melting and how that changed the activities of the adults, was perfectly portrayed.  Spring had arrived!  Poetry in motion.

nutshell reviews feb 001

Two siblings decide to sell lemonade, despite it being deep in the middle of winter, with snow and icicles all around, and the wind whistling. Their parents warn that no one will want cold drinks in this weather.  Pauline, the older of the two, teaches her little brother John-John how to count money, and shows him how much the ingredients for their lemonade cost.  The two are undaunted by their parents’ skepticism, and they go to work to make the lemonade.  They get out there and begin feeling the cold, and wondering if anyone will want lemonade.  The two begin advertising with their voices, add entertainment, decorations, and cut the price by half.  The children make a handful of sales.  When they were out of lemonade, Pauline counts up their quarters, and realizes they lost money, but John-John sees it as still having money, and they decide to buy popsicles using the last of their quarters.  They happily slurp their popsicles, and money no longer matters.  This is so characteristic of kids!  It is a sweet story with educational value in arithmetic.  The illustrations are cozy in feeling, even though the color scheme is a neutral monochromatic type.  I prefer brighter colors, but this color scheme worked for this story, so I wouldn’t change a thing!

Happy reading all!  Enjoy the last segment of winter.  Cuddle up with your kids under warm blankets, sip hot cocoa with marshmallows, and have a reading marathon.  It is a perfect way to spend a wintry weekend, if you can’t get out and play in snow.


In a Nutshell Kid Lit Book Reviews: Dogs

snowy girl  There are many things I love.  Dogs are near the top of my favorites list.  This is my beloved cocker spaniel, Heather.  She just turned ten years old.  Heather is a rescue dog.  I adopted her three years ago.  She loves the snow like I do.  So, for this edition of nutshell book reviews, I picked books with canine themes.  Soon, I’ll be writing a kids’ book about Heather.  I already have the basic idea and the title for it.  I’ll share more about that soon.  Stay tuned for a sneak peek!  Without realizing it, I picked a number of books by Cynthia Rylant, another dog lovin’ author.  There will be a second edition of this book reviews tomorrow, with a wintry theme.

nutshell reviews feb 006          This is a sweet description for young children (2-5) of an imagined heaven for dogs.  The sentiments about how much dogs should be loved, hopefully will inspire higher levels of compassion for all canines (and other pets too!) in children and their parents.  Just like kids, our animals should be marinated in love.  We can have a kindler, gentler world here too.

nutshell reviews feb 007   Martha Jane is a constant companion of her owner, and even goes to work with her, in the bookshop.  Martha Jane is adored by all.  When people in town hear she needs a sitter because there is one place her “doggy mama” can’t take her—the hospital, they all vie for the chance.  Martha Jane doesn’t know who to choose, and people begin fighting about it.  One man has been a weekly visitor to the shop, and always talks softly to Martha Jane and brings her treats.  He calls her an “angel dog.”  He’s the only one not fighting with the others, and he becomes an easy choice for Martha Jane.  This is a delightful story that warmed my heart.  While I didn’t care for the illustrations, children may very well like them.

nutshell reviews feb 008

This is an adorable story with simple but pleasing watercolor illustrations.  It chronicles the travels of Owney, a highly adventurous dog.  It is a true story beginning in the late 1880’s.  Owney is a post office dog who traveled by rail and by sea, all over the world.  He sleeps curled up in mail bags, and collects tags from the places he’s been.  The story is encapsulated in a series of letters from postal clerks, who have unofficially adopted this dog.  Owney is a true nomad.  Even after he retires, his wanderlust makes him itchy to hit the trails again.

nutshell reviews feb 009          Laura Numeroff is also the author of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” and other similar stories.  The illustrations are cute and fun.  This mini-adventure begins with the donut, and parallels the whimsical paths children go on from one pursuit to another.  Having one thing leads to desiring another, and details the journey of acquiring it, playing with it, and expressing delight in the experience.  Quite an enjoyable book, aimed at young children, perhaps 2-6 years of age.


Baltic stepped out on the ice, and it broke off carrying him far from shore, between Poland and Russia.  This is a true story.  Firemen tried and failed to rescue him.  Once the dog was out further a ship passed by and the crew spotted the stranded pooch and saved him.  Then one of the crew members adopted the dog and named him Baltic, after the sea they were in.  A lovely tale!  The illustrations were delightful, and conveyed the differences in temperature between the arctic air outside and the coziness of the ship’s cabin.  The amount of words on the page indicate this book is for the toddler and pre-school set.

nutshell reviews feb 011 Amelia very much wants a small brown dog with a wet pink nose.  Her parents don’t think she’s ready for the responsibility of a dog.  She decides to adopt an imaginary dog of that description.  She asked her parents many questions about what their family would do if they had a dog, and they answered them all patiently and sweetly.  Amelia began living with her dog “Bones.”  When he got out of the house and was lost, her parents helped look for her invisible dog, staying faithful to their reply when she asked what they would do if her hypothetical dog was lost—-look for him until they found him.  Their real search for Bones led to the animal shelter, where Amelia found him.  A lively story with amusing illustrations!

nutshell reviews feb 012    A family copes with large fears when an enormous black dog shows up in their yard.  Each member is so startled when they see the dog, they drop whatever they were holding.  When each describe the dog, he gets even bigger by their assessments.  They have different ideas of coping with this monstrous beast outside.  One wants to shut the drapes and pretend it isn’t out there, and another wants to turn the lights off, so the dog will think they aren’t home.  Ironically, the smallest member of the family is the one with the most courage.  She went out to face the dog on her own, despite their objections.  She was very smart, and told him if he was going to eat her, he had to catch her.  Then she outsmarted him at every turn, making it impossible for him to get close enough to eat her.  By the time she got home, the dog was normal-sized, and not so ferocious at all.  She brought him in, and her family realized he wasn’t fearsome at all.  This book had an intriguing way of contending with fear.  Loved it!  The illustrations were interesting and nice too!

The Value of Fuzzy Pets

Teaching responsibility for another is a known value of pets.

Teaching responsibility for another is a known value of pets.

We all know that pets teach children a sense of responsibility for another being.  Pets need food, water, exercise, play, and most of all, love.  In that way, they are not so different from kids.  While most pets permit children to take on the responsibility for their care, fuzzy pets (like dogs, cats, and horses) give even more.  You can’t really cuddle up with a goldfish or hug a snake!

Fuzzy pets offer children huge benefits.  They foster nurturing and kindness through caregiving responsibilities and petting, and connectedness by being involved in various family activities.  They can lend a listening ear, when your child wants or needs to talk, and give affection through licking, romping, and playing.

Too cute for words!

Too cute for words!

The fuzzy pets also receive so many benefits from “their children.”  Kids have the energy and often the time to devote to their animals, when parents are spent or too busy to pay the pet much attention.  Children are naturally attracted to animals from late infancy on, and are mesmerized by them.  Dogs and cats are funny to watch, and promote laughter with their antics, and invite kids to be silly too.  This is particularly important in today’s world, where hardships and tragedies are unfortunately common.

Having a vigorous game of chase with a mutt outside, also, is great exercise for the dog and the kids!  Horses can be hugged around their necks and nuzzled by kids too.  Horses also provide lots of fun and exercise, as well as the possibility of entering competitions and learning the discipline and training methods to prepare for those. Dogs and cats can do the same, if one is inclined toward entering them into dog or cat shows.

My furry baby, Heather  This is my fuzzy friend, Heather.  She is going to be 10 years old on February 1st.  She is a light in our lives, and entertains us every day.  I love her to pieces!   Heather is a rescue dog.  I’ve had her for over three years.  She’s had a lot of abuse in her life, bonding her to me permanently, but now her life is quite cushy with us.  Heather loves having her tummy rubbed, and studies show, petting her reduces blood pressure in us!  It is a win-win situation.  Plus, pet owners tend to live longer!

Fuzzy pets are as important to our lives, as we are to them.  Think of where they’d be without us!  They’d be roaming the streets, probably emaciated, possibly being public nuisances, and worst of all, they’d be living without love!  What do you have to offer a fuzzy being?  The benefits far outweigh the risks and the work.




Establishing goals for the new year

new years

Hello All!

Many people think new year’s resolutions don’t work, and that may be the case for a lot of folks.  However, I think if we reframe our resolutions into goals for our lives, they take on far more importance.  It is easy enough to blow off a resolution a week (or less 🙂 into the new year.  If we have a goal though, it shines like a beacon in the dark to a need in our lives to change something.  Change can provide hope, and hope propels progress.  Humans seem to resist change with a certain degree of fierceness, yet there are things we yearn to alter to make our daily lives better.

For me, if I continued to resist change, I’d never have gotten out of my wheelchair, or lost over 130 pounds.  I feared change, but was desperate enough for a different life to push myself hard to accomplish it.  Now, I can beam with pride, having met and surpassed the challenges I set for myself.  With higher self-esteem, I can do more in my life and for others.  Homeostasis, (no appreciable change) when that place is less than I was designed to be, makes me feel worse, not better.

magical, forest, sensory experiences, children

What goals do your kids have?  How can you help them to reach their goals?  First, modeling is important.  You can share your goals with your kids, and they will watch you progress with those goals. Your observable behavior can inspire them to make good changes in their lives too.

For example, if you wish to stop smoking, quantify your goal by putting this big change in measurable terms.

1)  I will cut down my cigarettes to 1 pack a week by Jan. 31st.

2)  I will cut down my cigarettes to 1/2 pack a week by Feb. 28th.

3)  I will no longer be a smoker by March 31st.

Don’t worry, your kids will keep you honest, and monitor you all their waking hours. They want you alive to dance at their weddings!  They will also be your cheerleaders for change.

If your kid wants to get better grades, this is great, but vague.  Have them sharpen the goal, and keep it positive, putting goals in terms of what they will do versus what they won’t.

Example:  I will improve my history grade from a C to a B next semester by studying an extra two hours each week, and reading my text on time.

Children today have far more homework than their parents’ generation, and many extracurricular activities too.  While goals are very important to moving their lives forward toward adult successes, it is absolutely crucial that they be given free time on a daily basis to play, do nothing, rest, be social, and be children.  The downtime is necessary for learning to take hold, to give them time to ponder all they learn in school and the world, and to dream, and play.

It is essential too, for children’s mental health to not be overburdened with a ton of activities.  Playing gives them freedom to fully be themselves, gain experience with social interactions, and to give free rein to their imaginations.  Without downtime and play, for both adults and kids, life can become a drudgery of necessities.   Then depression sets in, as well as apathy.  They will only be children for so long.

Winter break should stay just that–a serious break for two weeks, to allow them to have the holidays with family and friends.  All of your goals can wait to begin after winter break.  Enjoy this free time with your kids, and make some new memories.  Then, after they go back to school, focus on goals.  Play with your kids.  You need this play and the break as much as they do.  Put your to-do lists down, and let the housework go.  Play a game.  If you have snow, go sledding or make a snowman.  You won’t regret it.

snow day

Artsy Kid Lit Continued

Katie Meets the Impressionists by James Mayhew

Note:  Sorry, I could not upload the picture for this one, as the wordpress uploader is seriously whacked out, and I’ve already spent far too much time doing this book review, and pulled more than enough hair out, figuratively speaking. I know you will understand!  Who hasn’t experienced techno angst, and beat their heads on the desk over glitches that wouldn’t fix themselves? At some point you either have to surrender and leave it, or age while sitting there trying to make it work.

This was my favorite book of all those I reviewed this week.  Katie is a little girl visiting the art museum with her grandmother.  Standing before Monet’s “The Luncheon,” she steps into the painting, inhaling the scent of the flowers.  While inside, she picks a bouquet for her grandma, as it is her birthday, and interacts with the subjects in the painting.  Katie meets Monet’s grandson Jean (pronounced John), and he shows her the artist’s studio where they make their own masterpieces.  There’s a very interesting juxtaposition here, between the fine art paintings and the appearance of Katie and her grandma, making them almost cartoonish to contrast the difference, elevating the status of the art.  When Katie leaves this painting, the flowers have wilted, but she finds another painting to enter, to revive them in a highly creative way.  When she gets into trouble in two different paintings, Katie dives out into the museum to safety.  As Katie moves through Monet, Degas, and Renoir, she has a rich variety of experiences.  For a brief time, she can’t find her way out of one of them until she sees the frame of the next painting in the museum off to the side.  It is the kind of book I’d have enjoyed writing and illustrating, if I’d thought of it first!  Kudos to McClintock for a luxurious tour through the French countryside to meet some of my favorite artists!

In a Nutshell Book Reviews—Artsy Kid Lit

AIDS, quilt, kids, grief

A Name On the Quilt:  A Story of Remembrance  by Jeanine Atkins  

Lauren observes her parents preparing fabric.  They are going to sew a patch to memorialize her uncle, and have it added to the national AIDS quilt.  As she watches, she remembers many special times with Uncle Ron.  Her little brother is asking a bunch of questions, and she wonders if he’ll ever understand it all.  While the family members sew this patch, they think of who Ron was, and celebrate his life.  When little Bobby adds the socks his uncle gave him to the patch, Lauren sees he does understand and misses their special uncle too.  She worried aloud that Bobby would mess up the parts he was coloring for the patch, but after his parts are sewn on, she sees they look just perfect.  Though the family is sad that Ron isn’t there with them any longer, they enjoy reminiscing about him.  What a heart-warming book!  The illustrations are quite artistic, and may be prints of paintings.  They have a very homey, soothing feel to them.  Each page also has a faux stitched border around it, framing the text.  A nice touch to carry on the quilting theme!  AIDS isn’t something every family has to contend with, but grief is, and this story can assist people in connecting to their nice memories of a lost loved one.

weaving, pictures, reflecting source

Weaving the Rainbow by George Ella Lyon 

A weaver looks at the sheep in her pasture and sees rainbows in their wool. When they are lambs in March, they’re pure white but by shearing time, color shows up in their wool.  Lyon shares the process from shearing to weaving, including new vocabulary words.  An added special element to this (besides the fabulous illustrations by Stephanie Anderson) is that weaver looked to the source of her creation, instead of her own talent, and was grateful to the sheep for their wool.

animals, art, kid lit, arguing, common grounds, unityWhen Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden

Painters Pigasso and Mootisse are first separate, beginning to enjoy the success of their efforts.  Each in demand by their communities, Pigasso and Mootisse are overwhelmed and seek solace on country farms, directly opposite each other.  When one criticizes the other’s artistic expression, things quickly get out of hand.  They squabble and argue, and build a fence to keep each other off their property.  Anyone with more than one child in the house can relate!  Soon, the duo paint their own sides of the fence, trying to apologize when they miss the other’s company.  This move brings them together as friends.  Laden introduces the real artists Picasso and Matisse to her young readers at the end, who were true friends.  This is a fun read that can be subtly instructive to any bickering kids.

clay, greed, swallowing, demise, freedom

Clay Boy by Mirra Ginsburg

This book is an adaptation from a Russian fairy tale.  A grandfather made a boy out of clay to be a companion to he and his wife in their old age.  After he finishes the clay boy, the boy is alive and demanding food, but there isn’t enough in the poor grandfather’s home to satisfy the clay boy’s insatiable appetite.  The clay boy then swallows the couple, wanders outside and consumes their pets, and goes into the village and inhales more people, animals, wagons, and hay.  He grows larger and larger.  Then the clay boy meets what he thinks is an ordinary goat, but the goat is exceptionally clever and tricks the clay boy.  The end result is the demise of the greedy clay boy, freeing the townspeople and all that was swallowed.  The goat is the town hero, and all is well again.  Intriguing illustrations fill this book, and it is a great launching point for a discussion with kids on greed and its many pitfalls.

poverty, art, father, job, illnessThe Fantastic Drawings of Danielle by Barbara McClintock

A little girl is an artist with a vivid imagination.  The book is set in an earlier era.  Danielle and her father are poor, supported by his work as a photographer.  Her father sees her work as unusual but not very salable.  She wants him to be proud of her, so she tries to draw regular things, but find them boring.  When he becomes quite ill, she hits the streets, trying to do his work for him so they can survive.  Danielle discovers photography is a lot harder than it looks, when she tries to maneuver the tripod, and nearly breaks his camera.  One of her father’s regular buyers is an artist herself, and finds Danielle struggling on the street.  She invites the little girl in, and employs her as an assistant, mentoring her as an artist.  When Danielle returns home, she finds her father is recovering, and that he is proud of her.  A lovely story with the universal theme of children (any age) trying to make their parents proud of them and to get validation on their efforts.  The illustrations are charming and fit the feel of that era.











In a Nutshell Book Reviews…….Kid Lit with an Artistic Bent!

kids, art, failure, success, perfectionI love this book!  The central character, Fred, is assigned an art project of his choosing, to share with the class in a week.  What he wants to do looks great in his head, but he lacks the ability to transfer his idea to paper.  As the sharing time draws near, he feels nervous and sad, and his classmates have doubted him.  At the last possible moment, with a little grace from his teacher, Fred is able to pull through.  His project isn’t at all what he thought it would be, but still earns high praise from his classmates.  It is certainly provides lessons in believing in yourself, not discouraging others, and learning that things don’t always work out the way they look in our heads, but they can still be great anyhow.  As an artist, I’ve found that the things I don’t intend to do, often end up being wonderful surprises and can lead to techniques that hadn’t occurred to me before.  The illustrations in this book are simple and appealing.

Note:  I have several more artsy books to add to this, but this browser uploader and all options for the book covers aren’t working right now, so I shall have to return for the rest.  Sometimes, I detest technology, and this is one of those times!