Great holiday books for kids

Published by Lori Pickert on November 26, 2007 at 11:07 PM


Well, it's five o'clock and all is dark in the midwest.

I didn't manage to photograph the thing I was going to post about today before the sun fell behind the trees, so instead, please enjoy these book recommendations from my resident experts.

The boys have just turned 8 and 11 in the past few weeks. If you have any middle-size kids to buy for this holiday season, even (or especially) those who hate to read, maybe these books will be just the ticket.

Of course the boys enjoy the Harry Potter series and D loved Lemony Snicket, although J found it too depressing. I have exposed D (now 11) to some classic fantasy fare like the Dark Is Rising series, which he enjoyed.

D loved Black Horses for the King, written by Anne McCaffrey.

Another classic series the boys both enjoyed was A Wrinkle in Time and the rest of the Time Quartet (which is strangely now the Time Quintet; they added An Acceptable Time — unfortunately quite a step down from the original three books, I think). The sets certainly are a good deal considering the cost of the individual books. However, the top two are definitely A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door.

They loved the Narnia series as well. I still have my original paperback set, and we must have about 12 copies of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. (Did you like the movie? I was disappointed.)

J (now 8) has just finished reading The Lightning Thief, book one in the Percy Jackson series which both boys have enjoyed.

Speaking of which, D really liked Eragon (which, God help me, I read aloud) and its sequel Eldest (which I made him read to himself). Christopher Paolini, the smart and talented homeschooler who wrote these books as a teen, can get a little long-winded. If you are going to try reading these books aloud, I suggest throat lozenges.

Another favorite fantasy series was The Great Tree of Avalon and itssequels.

Your middle-size kid not a fantasy lover? You can't go wrong with the Wayside School boxed set. Or practically anything by Roald Dahl. Kid humor.

(Their favorite Roald Dahl book? The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More.)

Our favorite poetry book (though it's hard to choose) is The 20th Century Children's Poetry Treasury. We've been reading aloud from this book since Dominic was two. We usually end our before bed read-aloud time with two or three poems; we pull favorites from this book most nights. (It has great illustrations, too.)

Classics? They both love The Phantom Tollbooth. (Who doesn't?) D urged J to read The Indian in the Cupboard and its sequels. Actually, D collected about a dozen books that he thought J should read this year and made a special shelf for them in their room; his picks included Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Story of King Arthur, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Treasure Island, Kidnapped and King Solomon's Mines.

Finally, D’s favorite read this past year, real-life adventure Kon-Tiki. J’s favorite: Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

Keeping it holly & jolly

Published by Lori Pickert on November 24, 2007 at 08:26 PM


The less we try to do during the holidays, the more we enjoy the season. Because, you know, a party doesn't just take that one day. There are the days you clean, the days you decorate, the days you order food or cook or bake or all three, the days that you stress because your homemade wreath that expresses just how you feel about the holidays doesn't look like the one on the cover of Blueprint.

I'm not even going to get into guest lists, finding the holiday platter you were sure you put in the high cupboard but it's not there, and guiltily shifting some of the ornaments the kids hung on the tree because the clumping is ruining your overall effect of elegant insouciance.

It's not just the one day, it's a whole lot of days, in a holiday season that for me often feels like the giant hourglass on the Wizard of Oz. Or Days of Our Lives. Anyway, an ominously large hourglass.

I'm not trying to discourage entertaining, just pointing out that when you take on a commitment, you're usually looking at the bright, shiny tip of the iceberg — for instance, that four hours that your warm, glowy house will be filled with laughter and well-dressed friends lifting their glasses in cheer. You blissfully forget the looming bulk of the iceberg hiding 'neath the blue water, representing all the hours and days you'll need to spend to get to those happy four hours.

Taking on one major commitment during the holiday season may be worth it, but how many of us stop at one? What is it that impels us to make a complicated gift from scratch, sign up for three cookie exchanges and a handmade swap, agree to help out with a church or school event, decide this year is the year we'll show the kids the true meaning of the season by donating time to the local shelter, and somehow get pressured into the neighborhood's progressive dinner, all in the same month?

After all, we can have a big party any time of the year. We can teach the kids about giving back to the community any old month. (Actually, they need you more in February.) People will always call and ask you for help, because you're so busy, you ooze success at getting things done. (If you say no, they'll call the next person on their list.) What makes us decide that we have to do all these things, right now, this month?

Have you ever had a minor illness and experienced how luxurious it is to just lay around and do nothing? Imagine Santa brought you something you didn't even know you needed — a sprained ankle, or maybe a ever-so-slightly detached retina. (Does that hurt?) And suddenly you were just left at home by yourself (with your family, of course) and no commitments, because you're not allowed to go out. You just have the fire, the softly falling snow, your favorite music on the stereo, and your family, who are relaxed and happy because they're not being yelled at asked to clean something, move something, hide something, or stay away from something every 10 minutes.

Now that's a good present.

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. — Dr. Seuss

Beautiful holiday book: Letters from Father Christmas

Published by Lori Pickert on November 23, 2007 at 08:16 PM


I cannot overemphasize how much I love this book: Letters from Father Christmas.


The book is a collection of letters that author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his sons as Father Christmas. They tell droll stories of FC's trials and tribulations getting ready for the holidays, and they feature one of our now-favorite Christmas characters, the North Polar Bear.


The letters pull out of real envelopes glued into the books (a la Griffin and Sabine) and reproduce Tolkien's handwriting and original drawings; the other pages have captioned drawings.


The drawings are so charming, the stories so funny, and the whole concept so loving that it has become one of our absolute holiday favorites. If you love beautiful books, if you love Christmas, you can't possibly not love this beautiful, wonderful book.




Published by Lori Pickert on November 19, 2007 at 01:45 AM


Above, an unfinished ornament for one of the boys. Will I feel guilty when I cross-stitch "2004" on it? No way.

As I spent today enjoying myself with family instead of writing a blog post, I'm going to enhance this post with one of my favorite little zen stories. You've probably already heard it, but it's still good.

Stephen Covey relates this story in his book First Things First:

In the middle of a seminar on time management, a lecturer said, "Okay, it's time for a quiz." Reaching under the table, he pulled out a wide mouthed gallon jar and set it on the table next to a platter covered with fist-sized rocks. "How many of these rocks do you think we can get in the jar?" he asked the audience.

After the students made their guesses, the seminar leader said, "Okay, let's find out." He put one rock in the jar, then another, then another--until no more rocks would fit. Then he asked, "Is the jar full?"

Everybody could see that not one more of the rocks would fit, so they said, "Yes."

"Not so fast," he cautioned. From under the table he lifted out a bucket of gravel, dumped it in the jar, and shook it. The gravel slid into all the little spaces left by the big rocks. Grinning, the seminar leader asked once more, "Is the jar full?"

A little wiser by now, the students responded, "Probably not."

"Good," the teacher said. Then he reached under the table to bring up a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in the jar. While the students watched, the sand filled in the little spaces left by the rocks and gravel. Once more he looked at the class and said, "Now, is the jar full?"

"No," everyone shouted back.

"Good!" said the seminar leader, who then grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it into the jar. He got something like a quart of water into that jar before he said, "Ladies and gentlemen, the jar is now full. Can anybody tell me the lesson you can learn from this? What's my point?"

An eager participant spoke up: "Well, there are gaps in your schedule. And if you really work at it, you can always fit more into your life."

"No," the leader said. "That's not the point. The point is this: if I hadn't put those big rocks in first, I would never have gotten them in."

I've got my big rocks ready. Hope yours all get in this year.

Holiday resolutions

Published by Lori Pickert on November 16, 2007 at 09:46 PM


Holiday Resolutions, 2007.

I will not make a holiday village out of gingerbread and royal icing.

I will make sugar cookies and let the kids decorate most of them.

I will not make my own, fabulous yard decorations out of dried grapevine and fairy lights.

I will let the boys hang the loud, multicolored lights they like.

I will not make all my gifts.

I will lay on the floor and watch "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "The Grinch" with the boys.

I will not take the boys to see "The Nutcracker".

I will play board games with them on the floor under the tree.

I will not organize a ski trip for friends and family.

I will sled with the boys in the backyard.

I will not take a special holiday portrait of the kids and send it out to friends and family with tasteful letterpress cards.

I will recycle a vacation picture and order 29-cent cards online. And I'll send half as many as last year.

I will not take tins of homemade cookies and fudge to our friends, neighbors, and service people.

I will invite my friends over to eat cookies and hang out.

I will not go to a different party every weekend.

I will stay home and make paper chains.