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.

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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…..like “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…

Wednesday: In Daddy’s Arms I am Tall

In celebration of Black History Month, I wanted to be sure to recommend one of the most beautiful books I’ve seen in some time. “In Daddy’s Arms I am Tall” is a compelling and stunning collection of poems paying tribute to African American fathers from a wide variety of writers, new and old. Winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, this book is a treasure trove of words and collage pictures from Javaka Steptoe that will resonate with every family, no matter the color.  From the introductory Ashanti proverb: “When you follow in the path of your father, you learn to walk like him”, to the poems of Folami Abiade and Sonia Sanchez, this collection is a true testament to the power and beauty of fathers everywhere.

Tuesday: One Morning in Maine

Now, granted, I have an intense bias. I love Maine. Everything about it. The ocean. The lobster. The osprey. The way the salt sticks to you like powder and the way the lobster boats hum in the morning. It’s utterly delicious. So, of course I’m going to adore the quintessential Maine writer, Robert McCloskey. It sort of goes with the territory. But you don’t have to love Maine…heck, you don’t even have to be able to find Maine on a map..to love Robert McCloskey and his brilliant ode to The Pine Tree State, “One Morning in Maine.” You might recognize Sal from her adventures in Blueberries for Sal (plink, plank, plunk) and this time she’s going on another adventure to Buck’s Harbor with her father and little Jane. The simplicity of the day – a loose tooth, a loon on the water, rolling up her pants to dig clams – all make for a magical McCloskey day matched beautifully with his black and white pencil illustrations. If you’ve never read this book, please do. It’s not only a Caldecott Honor book, but it’s the kind of book you don’t find every day…magical for no other reason than it just is.

Monday: Trick of the Eye

When I was in elementary school, I did my science project on optical illusions. You know the one with the picture of the old lady with the big nose that is also a picture of the young lady looking to the side? And the little gray dots that appear in between the black and white squares? Ooooo, I loved those. I’d spend hours staring at them and marvelling at the moment when I could finally see the trick within. Well, imagine my delight while visiting the Getty Museum at finding Silke Vry’s Trick of the Eye: Art and Illusion. It’s one of the best books on optical illusions I’ve seen since it marries both the ubiquitous illusions, a la “is it two faces or a vase?” with real-life illusions in fine art. From the mirror in van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Portrai” to those darn stairs from MC Escher, Vry’s book is a gorgeous way for children to see, or not see, illusions in art and design. 

Friday: The Scrambled States of America

The States are just plain bored. The Midwestern states never get to go anywhere. The Southern states are too  hot. The Northern states are too cold. And all North and South Dakota do all day long is bicker. That is, until a few of the states get together and decide to throw a party in which all of the states trade places. Sounds like fun, right? That is, until, Minnesota gets a sunburn and California gets homesick. This witty and gorgeously illustrated book by Laurie Keller is the ultimate way to get your kids to learn all about the United States  – without ever feeling like they’re learning a thing! And, parents, you’ll love it too if only because Nevada and Mississippi fall in love and the Silver State asks if she would like to be MRS.issippi. Seriously? What could be better?