Tag Archives: holiday: traditions

Happy Independence Day 2018!

Happy-independence-day-america-2014 (1)

Happy Independence Day 2018!

As we remember the 242nd anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it’s hard not for me to be reminded about how privileged we are to live in a nation where there is so much opportunity for its citizens. It is not always easy to see these advantages, but in light of current world events, Americans should be so lucky we are living in a land of forward-thinking problem solvers that make this nation great – not unlike the men who founded this nation.

I’ve compiled a list of both historical fiction and non-fiction books that tell the stories of the people and events that shaped our country. It’s by no means exhaustive, but it should be enough to get a conversation started.

However you celebrate the holiday, have fun and be safe!

General History

A History of US: The First Americans: Prehistory – 1600 (A History of US, Book 1) by Joy Hakim; 978-0195327151

A History of US: Making Thirteen Colonies: 1600-1740 (A History of US, Book 2) by Joy Hakim; 978-0195327168

A History of US: From Colonies to Country: 1735-1791 (A History of US, Book 3) by Joy Hakim; 978-0195327175

The American Revolution for Kids: A History with 21 Activities by Janis Herbert; 978-1556524561

The Story of America’s Birthday by Patricia A. Pingry, illustrations by Meredith Johnson; 978-0824918941

Guts & Glory: The American Revolution by Ben Thompson; 978-0316312097

American Revolution: A Nonfiction Companion to Revolutionary War on Wednesday by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce, illustrated by Sal Murdocca; 978-0375823794

The Fourth of July Story by Alice Dalgliesh, illustrated by Marie Nonnast; 978-0689718762

The People

Squanto: Friend Of The Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla, illustrated by Peter Buchard; 978-0590440554

The Loyalists and The Patriots: The Revolutioary War Factions by Baby Professor; 978-1541911093

George Vs. George: The American Revolution as Seen From Both Sides by Rosalyn Schanzer; 978-1426300424

Who Was Abigail Adams? by True Kelley, illustrations by John O’Brien; 978-0448478906

Who Was Betsy Ross? by James Buckley Jr., illustrations by John O’Brien; 978-0448482439

Who Was Ben Franklin? by Dennis Brindell Fradin, illustrations by John O’Brien; 978-0448424958

George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War by Thomas B. Allen

A Voice of Her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet by Kathryn Lasky, illustrations by Paul Lee; 978-0763660918

The Role of Women in The American Revolution by Baby Professor; 978-1541911109

One Dead Spy (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, Book 1) by Nathan Hale; 978-1419703966

Lafayette! (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, Book 8) by Nathan Hale; 978-1419731488

Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider by Jean Fritz; 978-0142419861

Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History by Don Brown; 978-1596439986

Major Events

What Was The Boston Tea Party? by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Lauren Mortimer; 978-0448462882

You Wouldn’t Want to Be at The Boston Tea Party: Wharf Tea You’d Rather Not Drink by Peter Cook, illustrated David Anstram; 978-0531238561

Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak by Kay Winters, illustrated by Larry Day; 978-0147511621

Liberty! How The Revolutionary War Began by Lucille Recht Penner, illustrations by David Wenzel; 978-0375822001

What Is The Declaration of Independence? by Michael C. Harris, illustrated by Jerry Hoare; 978-0448486925

What Is The Constitution? By Patricia Brennan Demuth, illustrated by Tim Foley; 978-1524786090



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Ghosts Review

ghosts_telgemeierGhosts by Raina Telgemeier, colors by Braden Lamb

Graphix, 2016. 978-0545540612

Synopsis: Sisters Catarina and Maya are leaving their Southern California home and relocating to the Northern California coast in hopes that the sea air will help with Maya’s cystic fibrosis. As Cat reluctantly explores Bahìa de la Luna with her sister, the girls become aware that the town is full of ghosts. Maya wants to meet them, Cat does not; but as the day for honoring the dead, Dia de los Muertos, approaches, Cat must learn to embrace the town’s culture and help her sister make the most of her own life while she has it.

Why I picked it up: Raina Telgemeier is another one of those authors that I will read anything she writes forever.

Why I finished it: Telgemeier has a unique ability to take sensitive subjects and situations and create stories about how we can muster the courage to take the next step forward and recover from our own shortcomings. Ghosts deals with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that can cause a buildup of mucus in the lungs which can lead to other serious respiratory problems. Telgemeier takes us inside the lives of these two fictional sisters to explore the very real issues that individuals and families with loved ones batting cystic fibrosis must be aware of on a constant basis. It’s a struggle for Cat to have to share her life with her sister, but she has also taken on the role of protector which perhaps prevents her from having to deal with her own fears. The festival of Dìa de lost Muertos that the town participates in each year (and is celebrated worldwide, usually around the same time as Halloween) helps Cat begin to put some perspective about how we celebrate life and how to live her life to the fullest. She knows Maya’s cystic fibrosis will only get worse as she gets older, and at one point Maya asks her parents why she shouldn’t make the most of the time she has now while things aren’t too bad. Death is a weighty subject to be sure, but Telgemeier seems to arrange the notion in a context that is perhaps not so scary and foreboding to the reader. Thanks to the softness of her art style and the wonderful colors by Lamb, the story still has a lighthearted, wholesome feel to it – like having a conversation with a close friend. Ghosts is a story about how we connect with our family both in life and in death, and how they can give us the courage to keep going when the odds are against us.

Other related materials: Smile by Raina Telgemeier; Sisters by Raina Telgemeier; Drama by Raina Telgemeier; Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm; House Arrest by K.A. Holt; Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper; Paperboy by Vince Vawter; El Deafo by Cece Bell; Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine; Rules by Cynthia Lord; Wonder by R.J. Palacio; So B. It by Sarah Weeks; Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr; Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret; Day of the Dead by Tony Johnston and Jeanette Winter; Dìa De Los Muertos by Ann Heinrichs and Mernie Gallagher-Cole

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When Santa Fell to Earth Review

when_santa_fell_to_earthWhen Santa Fell to Earth by Cornelia Funke, illustrated by Paul Howard

Chicken House, 2006. 978-0439782043

Synopsis: Scared by a storm, Twinklestar, the least reliable reindeer, bolts–causing Santa and his sleigh to crash-land. And though Santa has dropped into a friendly neighborhood, he’s not safe: Jeremiah Goblynch, the ruthless new leader of the Council of Yuleland, is determind to put an end to children’s wishes and turn the holiday season into his own personal moneymaking scheme. As the last REAL St. Nick around, only Santa stands between Goblynch and his grinchlike plan. With the help and hope of kids Charlotte and Ben, Santa must face Goblynch and his Nutcracker goons to save Christmas! – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I loved Funke’s Inkheart trilogy and I was excited to see that she had a Christmas story that had been published in America.

Why I finished it: I knew this was not going to be the average Christmas story, and I like Funke’s take on the Santa Claus legend. It reminded me a lot of The Santa Clause in that the Santa character has to overcome the idea that Christmas has changed, that he needs to find a way to make people believe again. There’s also the story of the children who are helping Santa after his caravan fell in the street: they both have to learn to trust each other and to have courage to face their fears. The caravan reminds me of the TARDIS in that it seems to have much more room on the inside, but in this case, it’s because of special Santa magic that allows the caravan to house the workshop. What I liked about the story is that the characters evolve so that by the end of the book, they have transformed into much stronger, more confident individuals than they were when the reader is first introduced. Ben is somewhat quiet and Charlotte is ‘mousy’, but both children seem to gain a sense of certainty by being with Niklas. Howard’s illustrations add another dimension to the story, helping the reader visualize the characters and the setting in much greater detail. The black-and-white drawings remind me of charcoal art, the way the lines are blurred to give the pictures an element of the fantastic. Overall, it’s a charming holiday story the encourages the reader to discover the real meaning behind Christmas and to remember the magic of this wonderful time of year.

Other related materials: When Santa Fell to Earth (movie); The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke; Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke; Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke; Secrets of a Christmas Box by Steven Hornby; The Box of Delights by John Masefield, illustrated by Judith Masefield; The Naughty List by Michael Fry and Bradley Jackson; Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien; Winterfrost by Michelle Houts; Nancy and Plum by Betty MacDonald, illustrated by Mary GranPré; The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson; The Last Holiday Concert by Andrew Clements; The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carson

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The Hanukkah Ghosts Review

hanukkah_ghostsThe Hanukkah Ghosts by Malka Penn

Holiday House, 1995. 978-0823411450

Synopsis: While her father is on a business trip, Susan is sent to England to spend Hanukkah with her great aunt Elizabeth. While she is exploring the castle and the surrounding moor, Susan begins to see things: there are horses in the stable that have not been there for years, a boy with a crutch who mistakes her for someone else, and there are these lights in the window of an unused room upstairs. Susan didn’t think she believed in ghosts, but she’s determined to figure out why she is seeing these past images of the castle’s inhabitants.

Why I picked it up: The title and the premise reminded me of A Christmas Carol.

Why I finished it: This was a short, but somewhat intriguing read. I wouldn’t say that it’s a story about Hanukkah, although the Jewish holiday does play a role in the story. Susan isn’t that in touch with her Jewish heritage since her mother has passed and her father doesn’t seem to be that invested in any tradition whatsoever. So when Susan is once again exposed to the tradition of lighting the menorah to remember the miracle of the oil, she not only finds herself becoming more immersed with the holiday but with her great-aunt as well. True to the gothic tradition, Penn uses the ghosts as a metaphor for the power of a miracle. The notion that Susan is trying to create a sense of peace for spirits more than fifty years old is a somewhat sentimental one, but as a plot device, it helps Susan grow into a more interesting character. She becomes much more sure of herself both as a person and in her ability to help others in need. The ending was somewhat romantic for my taste, but Penn doesn’t seem to pull any punches about what could or could have happened. It’s a quick read that can be enjoyed any time of the year, though I imagine it’s better enjoyed with a warm beverage curled up in a chair by the fire when the weather outside gets frightful.

Other related materials: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens; The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry; The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson; Penina Levine is a Potato Pancake by Rebecca O’Connell, illustrated by Majella Lue Sue; The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson, pictures by Garth Williams; The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum; The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett; A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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Penina Levine is a Potato Pancake Review

penina_levine_is_a_potato_pancakePenina Levine is a Potato Pancake by Rebecca O’Connell, illustrated by Majella Lue Sue

Roaring Brook Press, 2008. 978-1596432130

Synopsis: Penina should be excited about Hanukkah, but everything seems to be going wrong. Her presents aren’t ready, her four-year-old sister insists upon being the center of attention, her favorite teacher is leaving, and her best friend just told her that she’s going on vacation to Aruba for Christmas vacation. Plus, she’s gotten in the middle of an argument between her mother and grandmother. Will a blizzard, dozens of snowflakes, and a hearty helping of latkes really be enough to fix the holiday and spread some much needed cheer.

Why I picked it up: I was looking to give some other holidays besides Christmas some love.

Why I finished it: This book reminded me a lot of Danziger’s Amber Brown books: a spunky main character that finds herself fighting to right a somewhat sticky situation that she may or may not have helped create. Penina is caught somewhere between doing the right thing and being selfish. She wants to remember the real meaning behind Hanukkah, but a younger sister and the news of her teacher’s departure is making it hard for her to enjoy the holiday. It makes us remember our own struggles, those days when nothing seems to be going right. And while some of the situations get blown out of proportion, that’s part of growing up. O’Connell’s characters are supremely real and the fact that the reader can identify with them makes the story so much more enjoyable and worth reading. Sue’s illustrations give us a window into the characters lives and make them much more three-dimensional. The pictures have a free-flowing quality to them that highlights the fun and whimsical elements of the plot. It’s a fun holiday read that can be enjoyed by all readers – not just those of us that celebrate Hanukkah.

Other related materials: Penina Levine is a Hard-Boiled Egg by Rebecca O’Connell, illustrated by Majella Lue Sue; Amber Brown books by Paula Danziger; Judy Moody books by Megan McDonald; Clementine by Sara Pennypacker; Cam Jansen books by David A. Alder; Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren; Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary; Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary; Rules by Cynthia Lord

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Merry Christmas 2014!

thMerry Christmas 2014!

Every year, after we are entirely too full of food to do anything but stare blankly at the wall, my family gathers around the television and watch “Miracle on 34th Street”. It seems a little contradictory to me now that we sit in front of a screen rather than continuing to talk about what is going on in our lives. But we are there, and we are together, and that’s part of what makes the holiday special.

I’ve compiled a list of my favorite holiday movies this year: some classics, some staples (the ones that are broadcast like clockwork every year), and some new favorites. And even if your holiday traditions don’t involve sitting in front of the television with people you may only see once a year, cherish the traditions and the time you have with the people you love.

Whatever you do and however you celebrate the season, be safe, be merry, and have a wonderful holiday!


Miracle on 34th Street starring Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, and Natalie Wood (1947)

It’s A Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed (1947)

A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott, Frank Finlay, and Anthony Walters (1984)

Holiday Inn starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Marjorie Reynolds (1942)

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen (1954)

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer starring Billie Mae Richards, Burl Ives, Paul Soles, Larry D. Mann, and Stan Francis (released in 2007)


Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas starring Boris Karloff (rereleased in 2009)

A Charlie Brown Christmas starring Ann Altieri, Chris Doran, Sally Dryer, and Bill Melendez (2008)

Frosty the Snowman starring Jimmy Durante, Billy De Wolfe, Jackie Vernon, Paul Frees, and June Foray (1965)

Santa Clause is Comin’ to Town! starring Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Keenan Wynn, Paul Frees, and Gary White (1970)

The Santa Clause starring Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson, David Krumholtz, and Eric Lloyd (1994)

Jingle All The Way starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson, and Jake Lloyd (1996)


Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas starring Jim Carrey, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, and Taylor Momsen (2000)

The Muppet Christmas Carol starring Michael Caine, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmore, and Frank Oz (1992)

Home Alone starring Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, and Catherine O’Hara (1990)

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York starring Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, and Catherine O’Hara (1992)

Miracle on 34th Street starring Mara Wilson, Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, and Dylan McDermott (1994)

Prancer starring Sam Elliot, Cloris Leachman, Michael Constantine, and Johnny Galecki (1989)

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Merry Christmas 2013!

b-468565-Merry_Christmas_Merry Christmas 2013!

This year, I have compiled a list of books that celebrate the ‘symbols’ of the holiday season, namely the tree, Santa, and the nativity. All three have been around as holiday decoration staples for, well, years, but personally, I’ve never given much thought to the tradition of putting up a tree with decorations or the myth of a fat man breaking into houses to leave gifts. As a Christian, the symbolism of the nativity is near and dear to me and I’ve grown up knowing the who, what, where, and why of the child in the manger. I’ve also included a few of my own favorite Christmas/holiday stories to the list.

Whatever you celebrate and however you celebrate, have fun, be safe,  and have a wonderful holiday!

The Tree

The Legend of the Christmas Tree by Pat Matuszak, Rick Osborne, & Bill Dodge; 978-0310700432

The First Christmas Tree: A Legend from Long Ago by Helen Haidle, illustrated by David Haidle and Elizabeth Haidle; 978-0801043932

O Christmas Tree: Its History and Holiday Traditions by Jacqueline Farmer, illustrated by Joan Friar; 978-1580892391

The Legend of the Christmas Tree by Robert Mangus; 978-1606048948

Cobweb Christmas: The Tradition of Tinsel by Shirley Climo, illustrated by Jane Manning; 978-0060290337

Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect by Richard Schneider; 978-1426754869

The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree by David Rubell, illustrated by Jim LaMarche; 978-0375869228

Santa/Saint Nicholas

The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Dandi Daley Mackall & Guy Porfirio; 978-0310713272

Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Julie Stiegemeyer, illustrated by Chris Ellison; 978-0758613417

The Miracle of St. Nicholas by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Judith Brown; 978-1883937188

The Nativity

The Christmas Story: The Brick Bible for Kids by Brendan Powell Smith; 978-1620871737

Mary’s Son: A Tale of Christmas by Darryl Nyznyk; 0965651355

Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Jason Cockcroft; 978-1416925187

The Very First Christmas by Paul L. Maier, illustrated by Francisco Ordaz; 978-0758606167

Other Holiday Symbols

The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale by Aaron Shepard, illustrated by Wendy Edelson; 978-0938497486

The Gift of the Christmas Cookie: Sharing the True Meaning of Jesus’ Birth by Dandi Daley Mackall, illustrated by Deborah Chabrian; 978-0310713289

The Legend of the Poinsettia retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola; 978-0698115675

The Legend of the Christmas Stocking by Rick Osborne and James Griffin, illustrated by Jim Griffin; 978-0310708988

Waiting for Christmas: A Story about the Advent Calendar by Kathleen Long Bostrom, illustrated by Alexi Natchev; 978-0310710158

The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg, illustrated by Richard Cordroy; 978-0310730125

The Christmas Candle by Richard Paul Evans, illustrated by Jacob Collins; 978-1416950479

Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett; 978-0399234446

Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner, illustrated by Mark Buehner; 978-0803729957

Personal Favorites

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry; 0836247396

The Tale of Three Trees retold by Angela Elwell Hunt, illustrated by Tim Jonke; 978-0745917436

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg; 978-0395389492

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss; 978-0394800790

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas starring Boris Karloff (rereleased in 2009)

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas starring Jim Carrey, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, and Taylor Momsen (2000)

The Mitten by Jan Brett; 978-0399231094

The Nutcracker by E.T.A Hoffmann, adapted by Janet Schulmann, illustrated by Reneé Grad; 978-0060278144

The Muppet Christmas Carol starring Michael Caine, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmore, and Frank Oz (1992)

A Charlie Brown Christmas starring Ann Altieri, Chris Doran, Sally Dryer, and Bill Melendez (2008)

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