Monday: Star Wars – A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy

Around our house,  Star Wars is King. And not in some sort of ineffectual, outdated Monarchy kind of way. I mean, truly Kingly – in charge, ever-present and downright overpowering. We talk about Star Wars, we dream about Star Wars, at times we dress like Star Wars, and we read every book available on the topic. So imagine my utter delight when my mom purchased Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy for my sons. I swear the Heavens opened. Angels sang. And my boys found themselves completely blissed out on every eye-popping, 3-D page. (Pssst…there’s even a light-up light saber…). This is the perfect gift for any Star Wars-oholic, young and old…made by the expert hands of pop-up author Matthew Reinhart. It’s so awesome, they even keep it in plastic wrap at the book store. I mean, how can you resist? Star Wars is King, I tell you. And long may it reign.

Friday: You Wouldn’t Want to be Sick in the 16th Century

I don’t know about you, but January and February have been chock-full of colds, coughs, sore throats, vomit, stomach aches and the occasional rash. Seems we just recover from one nasty bug and another one is slowly crawling up our leg. It could be worse, though. We could be sick in the 16th Century and encounter all of the grotesque ways in which doctors of the time attempted to cure unsuspecting folks. Who knew there was such a bevy of repulsive health care practices? Well, apparently Kathryn Senior knew, and wrote her book, You Wouldn’t Want to be Sick in the 16th Century: Diseases You’d Rather Not Catch – a veritable encyclopedia of disgusting medical facts that is just one in a series of You Wouldn’t Want to be… children’s books available. We’ve read You Wouldn’t Want to be a Pyramid Builder (severe rope burn), You Wouldn’t Want to be a Greek Athlete (athlete’s foot galore) and You Wouldn’t Want to be  Salem Witch (is it getting hot in here or is it just me?)…and now we can add the 16th Century to our braintrust of oogey facts. This book series is definitely not for the squeamish and definitely for an older set of kids, but if you’re ready for a richly revolting romp back in time, these books are for you! Cough Cough. Oh, no, not again…

Thursday: Do Not Open This Book

In the spirit of Mo Willem’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (which, if you haven’t read it is just one in a series of the most delightful children’s books anywhere…just ask my children), Michaela Muntean’s hilarious book, Do Not Open This Book, gives kids free reign to disobey. A rather disgruntled pig is attempting to write a book, but can’t seem to get any work done since kids keep turning the pages on him. And while he becomes more and more agitated, your kids will become more and more delighted by the idea of driving this poor pig to absolute insanity. The fantasy elements of the pig nailing words to the wall to keep them from falling off the page and the subtext of having to choose one’s words carefully when telling a successful story are all part of what make this little book so entertaining. That, and Pascal Lamaitre’s cartoon-like illustrations bring the pig and his ever-growing frustrations to life. (For those of you old enough to remember the Sesame Street book Please Do Not Open This Book, featuring Grover and a bevy of furry monsters, the premise will seem similar…and yet it’s nice to see a new and different version done so well…) I dare you not to open this book. And I double dog dare you not to love it.

The Shop Around the Corner

anyone remember “the shop around the corner”? the utterly heavenly bookstore of meg ryan’s in “you’ve got mail”? or perhaps you remember, like I do, growing up with a small locally-owned bookstore in your neighborhood or town where you knew the family who owned it and they always had the best recommendations on what books a little person like me should read next? if you were fortunate enough to grow up with a small bookstore in your hometown, then this is the list for you…edrants just published a fabulous list of independent bookstores ( in the wake of borders’ bankrupty filing) to further emphasize the importance of these establishments in our life.

so go out and visit one – find one in your community and experience firsthand why we need them now more than ever. and for those of you who, like me, discovered a literary treasure on the braided rug carpet of your local bookstore,  let’s spread the word, take our children, spend our money and remember that sometimes (most times) smaller is indeed better.

Wednesday: Hey Batta Batta Swing!

With Little League right around the corner for my son, baseball is in the air at our house. The Jeter jersey is in wardrobe rotation…the new batting helmet is shiny and ready…and we continue to monitor Panda’s rapid weight-loss…We’re also somewhat obsessed with Sally Cook and James Charlton’s awesome book, Hey Batta Batta Swing!: The Wild Old Days of Baseball – a fabulous step back in time to the beginnings of our nation’s favorite pastime. Complete with fun facts and anecdotes from games of yore, the book also features the vocabulary of old time baseball, including “soaking” which allowed for a runner who was off base to be put out by being beaned with a ball.  Oooh, and a “can of corn”, which referred to a slow-moving fly ball. This book is a fun and informative romp through history and Ross MacDonald’s illustrations of baseball players with handlebar mustaches (and no, it’s not Randy Johnson) make it that much sweeter.

Tuesday: Pippi Longstocking

Despite the fact that kids in elementary school used to call me “Pippi Longstocking” because of my two long braids, I still think of Astrid Lindgren’s book very fondly. Especially when it’s coupled with Lauren Child’s (of Charlie and Lola fame) illustrations. For those of you who haven’t ever experienced the sheer delight that is a little girl named Pippi, please run to your nearest library or independent bookstore and get a copy right this very second. Pippi is, among other things, a red-haired ball of energy whose full name (for those of you interested in a proper greeting) is Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking and she lives in Villa Villekula with her pet monkey and her horse whom she lifts over her head on occasion. When her neighbors, Tommy and Annika, make her acquaintance their lives are forever changed by her charm, super strength and steadfast loyalty. Not to mention, her tendency toward great adventures, sometimes involving pirates. There are three full-length  books in the Pippi series and they are all just as delightful as the first. Lindgren’s books are classics for children of any age (even those called “Pippi” all those years ago…)

Monday: Don’t Know Much About the Presidents

Quick! Which President was so rotund he got stuck in the White House bathtub? Which President was so scared of getting electrocuted, he didn’t turn on the lights in the White House for weeks? Which President had a parrot that could whistle “Yankee Doodle”? Well, if you’re anything like my older son, you’ll not only know the answers to these questions but be absolutely THRILLED to learn more about all of our Presidential personalities! And Kenneth Davis’ book, Don’t Know Much About the Presidents, is the best book of fun facts about our country’s leadership around. Davis has a wonderful knack for sharing good solid historical information, like timelines, famous quotes, etc, and throwing in awesome tidbits about the Presidents to keep your kids fascinated. And once you’ve read it with your kids, you’ll never forget that Taft got stuck in the tub, Harrison was afraid of light bulbs, and McKinley had that patriotic parrot! But did you know that Herbert Hoover’s son had a pet alligator that wandered around the White House grounds? Share that one at your next playdate!

Friday: Fanny at Chez Panisse

It’s a cold and rainy day here in Walnut Creek and, with that, comes the urge to snuggle in to our cozy little house and cook something delicious from scratch. And what better inspiration for utterly delicious and heartfelt recipes than Alice Waters’ Fannie at Chez Panisse – her children’s book that also doubles as a cookbook of fresh, wonderfully savory and child-friendly recipes. The titular Fanny is actually Alice’s real daughter and the first part of this book chronicles Fanny’s adventures at Chez Panisse, Waters’ award-winning restaurant in Berkeley, CA (which, if you’re ever in the neighborhood, you really must come!). The cooks, the bakers, the waiters and the maitre-d are all part of Fanny’s extended family and we all get to meet (and love) them in the process. And then, the recipes begin. And, oh, what recipes. Lettuce salad, 1234 cake, Peach Crisp and many more that will delight not just the children, but any adults who make their way into their delicious path. And did I mention the illustrations? Berkeley artist, Ann Arnold’s, watercolor prints are what make this book beyond spectacular. Just a hint..this book makes a delightful housewarming gift for children and adults…..a charming and lovely little treasure of a book.

Wednesday: When I Grow Up

When I say the words “Weird Al Yankovic” what do you think of? “Eat it”? “Like a Surgeon”? The image of him, dressed in his Pennsylvania Dutch finest in the video for “Amish Paradise”? Or, for you really hard core Weird Al fans (who, me?) the inimitable lyrics of “One More Minute” in which he tells his ex-girlfriend that he’s stranded “all alone in the gas station of love”? Well, no matter the image, Weird Al has his rightful place in American culture – for farces, song parodies and really awesome accordion playing. And now, amazingly enough, he can add children’s book writer to that laundry list of accomplishments. His newly released book, When I Grow Up, is a charming, well-written story of a little 8 year old boy who can’t quite decide what he wants to be as an adult, but he must think of something in time for today’s show-and-tell. When he fantasizes of different occupations (giraffe milker, gorilla masseuse, deodorant sniffing inspector) you can feel the real Weird Al coming through in all the right ways. His sense of humor remains intact, even with the pediatric set – and I’m glad he’s made this first foray into the world of children’s lit. I hope it won’t be his last.

Monday: Love is Walking Hand in Hand

For me, Charles Schulz is just the bee’s knees. I started my love affair with him years ago, reading my dad’s vintage Peanuts books while eating cereal before school. I even wrote my college essay on spending the day with Charlie Brown. So, you can just imagine that my favorite book about love comes from this wonderful gentleman. Love is Walking Hand in Hand was originally published in 1965 with an unmissable black and orange cover. And this simple little book, with its drawings of Snoopy and the rest of the gang, is one of the best and most eloquent treatises on love I’ve seen… “Love is mussing up someone’s hair”..and “Love is wondering what he’s doing right now this very moment” (and who hasn’t felt THAT?!?!)…I adore this little, romantic book like no other..and you will, too…