Children’s Book

Week 50: The Spirit of Christmas – Nancy Tillman

I have always loved Christmas. It’s absolutely-without-a-doubt my favorite holiday of the year. The twinkly lights, beautiful songs, delicious food, parties and get-togethers, finding the perfect gift, time off and all that goes into getting ready for Christmas are all things I look forward to. Sure there’s the stress of the holiday and the anxiety around getting everything done (some years I do, some not so much). And even now as a mother, I admit, I have lost a little sight on the the true gift of Christmas as I search for that “one” toy the kiddo wants (and throwing a few extra things under the tree while I am at it).

In the nick of time, however, a special surprise arrived when we received The Spirit of Christmas by Nancy Tillman (a gift from my parents). It’s a gorgeous book with unique and wonderful illustrations and a story that anyone who celebrates Christmas can appreciate. The spirit of Christmas, Tillman writes, is love.This is an especially important message for me this year as it is the first year of just me and the kiddo for Christmas. My other immediate family is all out of state. Fortunately, we do a pretty good job bridging the distance and staying connected. The Spirit of Christmas, in just a few short pages, reminded me that it’s not important to check every item off my list this month, but the connection I have with the kiddo and my loved ones.

I mean, isn’t that obvious? Sure it is… when you take a minute to slow down, take some deep breaths and are willing to say “no” to the next thing asked of you.

The Spirit of Christmas was a great interruption to the hustle and bustle I have been feeling lately. I think I got a little more out of it than the kiddo did. And, that’s okay. The Spirit of Christmas is now officially one of the holiday to-do’s that must be read each year at the start of the season and maybe even a few times during it.

Rating: 5 stars
Pages: 32
Genre: Children’s

Week 47: Hug Time – Patrick McDonnell

It’s Thanksgiving week and there’s so much for which I am grateful, the least of which is extra time! But with extra time that actually means less time for reading and more time for equally important activities like connecting with family and friends, hitting the movie theater, sleeping in, playing games, and all things that a holiday weekend is meant to hold.

Thankfully, I had Hug Time by Patrick McDonnell on hand. This delightful little book was a great way to share relaxing moment with the kiddo and keep my reading on track for the project.

Hug Time centers on Jules, a cute kitty that wants to hug everyone. He makes a list, heads out the door and all over the world, to brighten the day of others with a simple hug. As you can imagine, his friends aren’t the only ones who benefit from such a sweet and simple act of generosity.

McDonnell has written and illustrated Hug Time as he has a number of other children’s books. This is my second McDonnell book and it’s a second winner. I plan on checking out more of his stories that focus on the simple yet most important things we can focus on. You should, too.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 44
Genre: Children’s

Week 42: It’s a Book – Lane Smith

A couple of weeks ago I read some article, online of course, stating that all books would be gone by two thousand something or another and that ebooks and other technology was killing the book much faster than ever predicted.

Now, I am an ereader and an actual book reader and I personally think we can live in a world that supports both environments. But I am not an economist, a technology innovator or a biz wiz, so what do I really know?

Well, I am a consumer and I know a good book when I read one, however I read it. As it so happens, the good book I am referring to is of the official book variety, with paper and a cover and dust jacket and everything. IT’S A BOOK by Lane Smith is a funny and delightful reminder for children and adults everywhere of the beauty of an actual-hold-in-your-hands-and-flip-the-pages book. Lane uses a reading monkey, a digitally crazed jackass and a mouse (the animal kind not the clicking kind) to tell the story of the value of books. With books, he imparts, we can unplug and disconnect from streaming video, tweets a plenty and a moving screen and get lost in a captivating story. He even puts in a plug for libraries while he’s at it. Nice!

Now, part deux… I am certain there are individuals that will have issue with the jackass (who is only called out for his jackassiness on the very last page). I actually found this the funniest part of the book and a great opportunity to remind my own kiddo of why books – real, live books – are so wonderful. I also got to explain why we don’t want to use any words to name call or hurt another person. A bonus parenting moment from this clever little book!

The reality is we are moving into a world where it’s highly possible that kids will grow up without much exposure to actual books outside of text books. Will they know the pleasure of reading a book for pleasure or see the value of cracking open a new book and getting lost flipping the pages on a lazy Saturday afternoon?

I certainly hope not.

Rating: 5 stars
Pages: 32
Genre: Children’s

Week 37: The Table Where Rich People Sit – Byrd Baylor

It’s confession time. I am reading many more children’s books for this project than I anticipated. They are a great pick when it’s a hectic week. I also have a six year old son that I am trying to mold and shape into an avid reader in a world where video games and TV rule. And, I am actually finding that some of these books provide a nice shift in focus and perspective, reminding me of imagination, wonder and the things that really matter. Byrd Baylor’s works fill that need perfectly.


I first read Byrd Baylor with the kiddo this summer (EVERYBODY NEEDS A ROCK) and fell in love with her words and the illustrations of Peter Parnall. Then through a decades-old friendship rekindled on Facebook, I received a recommendation of THE TABLE WHERE RICH PEOPLE SIT, another Baylor/Parnall partnership that is both endearing and beautifully told.


THE TABLE WHERE RICH PEOPLE SIT concerns Mountain Girl, nicknamed for her birth place, a young girl troubled by her parent’s disinterest in acquiring more money and things for her and her brother. Her disdain for her parent’s seemingly simple-minded approach to living is broached at dinner while sitting at “our old scratched-up homemade kitchen table.”


As I turned the pages, a beautiful story focused on the riches that come from nature, relationships and experiences unfolded. The illustrations are as critical a component to the storytelling as the poetic verse, with gorgeous water colors randomly and sporadically filling in the hand-drawn shapes. I think the message went a bit over the head of my six year old. And, in full disclosure, he fell asleep before I hit the last page. But I kept reading Baylor’s words aloud, savoring them along with the illustrations that truly are amongst the most creative I have ever seen.


I wholly recommend this book for children (probably eight and older) and adults. I am anxious to dig into the other Baylor/Parnall books I picked up while buying THE TABLE WHERE RICH PEOPLE SIT. I wouldn’t be surprised if I am back again reviewing their other collaborative efforts.


Rating: 5 stars
Pages: 32
Genre: Children’s

Week 33: The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood

Life has felt kind of crazy lately. Everything is swirling around me at a rapid-fire rate and I am not seeing much of a slowdown in the near future. There’s a lot of external clatter. The push and pull, tug and tear of all the things that people are asking of me. Things that need to be done. Things that I demand of myself that really don’t have to be done and all the things that I just wish would magically get done on their own. Focus is hard. I jump from task to task, welcoming distractions, while at the same time clamoring for a little peace and quiet.

I close my eyes.

I take a deep breath.

I relish the solitary seconds of these two infinitely small, highly restorative actions; and then I hear a small little voice calling me.

“It’s time for stories mommy!”

I am confident I don’t have the energy this week, or this night to pull off a dramatically engaging story with distinctly different sounding characters. But I gather what little left I have in me for this sweet child who adores this time we spend every night (as do I) cuddling and turning the pages of a curious new adventure… and then I remember THE QUIET BOOK by Deborah Underwood.

Yes! A children’s book is actually the perfect remedy to all this commotion. Well, that and spending some A+ quality time with the kiddo.

There’s no doubting THE QUIET BOOK is a children’s book. But in the few times that I have read it, I think I have benefited more (okay, maybe differently) than my son has. It’s a lovely little book, graced with delightfully drawn woodland creatures by Renata Liwska, that shares the variety of quiet moments a child can encounter in a day. Bunnies, birds, bears and deer experience quiet moments like “Sleeping sister quiet,” “Lollipop quiet,” and “Bedtime kiss quiet.”

As we turn the pages, I feel myself relaxing and slowing down. The pace of the book actually encourages this. There are bursts of loud quiet, like “Right before you yell SURPRISE! quiet” which makes my little guy laugh and read the page again, blurting SURPRISE even louder. Now we are both laughing.

“This is my favorite kind of quiet, mommy,” he says as we turn the page to “Top of the roller coaster quiet.”

And I can almost picture his own face, like the furry little creatures sitting in the car at the top of the ride, a mixture of fear and exhilaration capturing their breath before they round the corner and come flying down.

“That’s a good one,” I acknowledge.

My favorite sits on the adjoining page, a serene scene of a bunny and bear skipping rocks across the water. “Best friends don’t need to talk quiet.”

We finish the book and our nightly routine of songs and hugs before the official tuck-in and lights out. THE QUIET BOOK has been the perfect silencer to all the external noise of this past week.

Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Children’s
Pages: 32

Week 29: Long on Books, Short on Reviews!


So this past week I have been in Oklahoma with the kiddo visiting family. It has been a week of indulgence. Sleeping in, sunning lots, laughing more, forgetting calories, competitive bouts of dominoes, Uno and Rummy. Oh, and lots of books. In a word, it has been a little slice of perfection.

I was able to knock out three books this week before getting back to the grind of daily living. I really considered just keeping this windfall a secret and writing up a single review for each of the books and posting them across the next three weeks, but you all know I just can’t do that. Plus, I have the next two weeks of books already selected for my August book club and my work trip to New Orleans, so there you go. And, since that grind is about to start up here real fast, here I go with three reviews that are short and sweet.


Book 29: The Super by Jim Lehrer

Career newsman Jim Lehrer, famous for the MacNeil/Leher NewsHour and more recently the PBS Newshour, has another iron in the fire as a novelist. Who knew? I certainly didn’t, but my folks did and this week while I was back in the heartland they recommended I check out Lehrer’s 20th novel, THE SUPER.

THE SUPER takes readers back to 1956, a time when luxury travel was via train, most specifically, Santa Fe Railway’s The Super Chief. Lehrer weaves together actual historical events and individuals with fiction to create an interesting story of what could have been during one 39-hour trip along The Super Chief’s route from Chicago to Los Angeles. The individuals at the forefront are The King of Hollywood, Clark Gable; millionaire Super Chief regular, Otto Wheeler who hopes to die riding the majestic train; fading Hollywood movie producers Darwin Rinehart and Gene Matthews; as well as former President Harry Truman. When a passenger ends up dead just hours into the trip, an all-out investigation ensues.

Reading about a simpler, more luxurious time was certainly enjoyable; yet I felt that Lehrer spent too much time building up the action and it was only after page 100 that I was really engaged. Not a problem if we are talking about a 700 page book. But at 224 pages, that’s almost halfway in that I finally really cared. It was also hard to distinguish between a number of the Hollywood producer types in the alternating chapters of the story. Lastly, the intrigue was not at the level of a Murder on the Orient Express, which the book jacket references, but a softer mystery.

Overall, I think people interested in train travel and the days when the silver screen ruled over the small boxes in our living rooms will enjoy THE SUPER. Folks looking for a page turning, gut wrenching thriller will need to grab a different book off the shelf.

Rating: 3 stars

Genre: Fiction


Book 30: Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor (Author) and Peter Parnall (Illustrator)

I adored this book!

I am not going to wait and tell you and that may make the rest of what follows not really matter since I spilled the beans in the first sentence of my review, but I don’t care.

I absolutely adored this book!

When visiting the folks, they save the kiddo and I the trouble of bringing books by swinging by their local library and grabbing a few titles for us. It’s a great way for us to get exposure to stuff we might not normally pick up and it’s even more special when there’s a gem in the mix like EVERYBODY NEEDS A ROCK.

Written in 1985, EVERYBODY NEEDS A ROCK is a delightful children’s book that eschews toys and other material things for the pursuit of nature and the world around us. The narrator, a young Native American girl, walks kids through the rules of navigating the great outdoors to find the perfect rock. Be it smooth or lumpy, shiny or dull, she recommends that it should be small enough to fit in your pocket and that you should select it entirely on your own (not rushed or at the direction of some adult).

Written in a poetic nature, the tone of the book is delightful and what truly makes it special are the exquisite illustrations. I haven’t seen anything like them. Peter Parnall has captured the whimsy and nature and childhood with these gorgeous drawings illustrations which embody the beauty of Native American art.

EVERYBODY NEEDS A ROCK is a rare and wonderful find. I loved it so much I am buying copy for the kiddo and me. Everybody does need a rock, but they need this book too.

Rating: 5 stars
Pages: 32
Genre: Children’s Literature

Book 31: Marland Tragedy by Kim Brumley

Part of my time in Oklahoma was in Ponca City, a quiet pocket of gorgeous tree-lined streets that is rich in both history and a smidge of scandal when you mention the name Marland. That’s E. W. Marland, a pioneer of the Oklahoma oil industry.
I have actually spent many a summer in Ponca City just walking distance from the Marland Mansion (and walked the grounds of the property many a time, I have). It seemed only fitting to pick up a book about the highly controversial E.W., and at just under 200 pages, MARLAND TRAGEDY it was.
MARLAND TRAGEDY follows E. W.’s contributions to the oil industry, being one of the first to find and access oil in Oklahoma and creating Marland Oil Company which paved the way for companies like Conoco to enter the scene. Oklahoma native, historian and author Kim Brumley also chronicles Marland’s numerous efforts as a philanthropist to improve the status and surroundings of his fellow Oklahomans. Marland lived, for many years, a life of luxury and opulence before poor business and political decisions would undermine his efforts. And, unfortunately, his legacy is a tainted one due to his marriage to an adopted niece, Lyde.
Yep, you read that right. Marland adopted the niece of his first wife (and her brother) when their parents could no longer care for the children and Marland then annulled the adoption in order to marry Lyde. And this was all after his first wife Virginia died. It was probably for the best she wasn’t alive to see how his life played out.
Now, Lyde was no longer a child when the annulment and subsequent marriage occurred. They weren’t technically related. She was also a willing and consenting participant in the relationship. However, it’s a little Woody Allenish and, for a number of reasons, the act was considered highly scandalous and attracted the attention of city residents, business partners, politicians and peers throughout the country. What followed were years of public scrutiny, bouts of seclusion and disappearing acts, ongoing scandal and rumor, and what was probably the total destruction of Lyde’s human spirit. Tragic, indeed.
While the facts, not all of which are proven, that surround the Marland family are indeed fascinating, MARLAND TRAGEDY is jumpy, a bit repetitive in structure and style and in need of a strong editing hand. Despite that, it’s clear that Brumley has a passion for Oklahoma history and the indelible imprints made by this highly generous, yet equally dysfunctional family. It won’t be the most eloquently written autobiography you pick up, but it reads at an engaging clip.

Rating: 3 stars
Pages: 188
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography

Week 16: Stink: The Incredibly Shrinking Kid – Megan McDonald

It’s Kiddie-lit this week in the Reading Room! At just 102 pages–and that’s with pictures, too!–I just know some of you are thinking:

“Are you for real?”

“Hey, that sounds like an easy out!”

“That can’t count! C’mon now!”

Okay, so perhaps those are really questions I was thinking as I actually attempted a grown up book and got bogged down with too many other things this week. But as I rationalized not finishing the other book, I took comfort in reminding myself that this project will be as successful as I am flexible. And, truth be told, I committed myself to including one of the many books I read to my kiddo in this project.

So, let’s get to it!

STINK: THE INCREDIBLY SHRINKING KID is a delightful book by Megan McDonald, the creator of the ever popular (although never read by me) JUDY MOODY books. James Moody (aka Stink) is Judy’s younger and much shorter brother, who desires what many young boys want: to be bigger. It’s the only thing on his mind until he’s selected by his teacher to care for the class pet, a Newt aptly named Newton.

Hilarity and unexpected outcomes occur at the Moody house when Newton comes home and McDonald has created an enjoyable story that kept both me and my six year old engaged. She realistically conveys the feelings of a young boy growing up in the shadow of an older sister and does so with overall positive messaging. I really appreciated that there wasn’t a heavy focus on potty humor that seems rampant in youth series targeted at young boys.

I should also note that McDonald also scored points with me when she made Stink a lover of homework. I could only hope that’s a key message my guy took from the book.

But when I asked him his favorite part? “When the newt shed his skin.”

Oh, a mother can dare to dream.

Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Children’s
Pages: 102