Friday, November 28, 2008

Foodie Babies Wear Bibs on Foodie Friday

Today's Foodie Friday pick is for the babies in the house! Toddlers too. Come to think of it, it's a pretty good gift for foodie parents and parents-to-be as well. It is part of the Urban Babies Wear Black series of board books written by Michelle Sinclair Colman and illustrated with hip, retro-inspired flair by Nathalie Dion. On each page, babies are featured in foodie pursuits such as enjoying finger foods and small plates, dining al fresco and and touring farmer's markets. Of course the farmer's market trip is undertaken in a backpack carrier and the al fresco dining is done in a stroller. This book is bound to appeal to babies and toddlers because other babies and toddlers are their own movie stars. Push any newly speaking baby through the mall and he or she will excitedly point and shout "Baby!Baby!" every time one passes in the same way I would shout "Brad Pitt!" if I saw him strolling through the mall. So it's a given that Foodie Babies Wear Bibs will appeal to babies for the subject of the illustrations and to grownups for their style. I particularly like the page where we learn that foodie babies know their way around the kitchen, and the baby is sitting in the cabinet of a gorgeously decorated kitchen playing with pots and pans.

Any one of the books in this series would pair nicely with a baby shower gift. This one would be lovely, of course, with bottles, sippy cups, baby utensils, a high chair and so on. Winter Babies Wear Layers would wrap up nicely with a snowsuit or hat. Eco Babies Wear Green is begging to be gifted with onesies made from recycled or sustainable fabric. You get the idea.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hee Hee- Thanksgiving Version

What sound do turkeys make in outer space?
hubble, hubble, hubble
What did the widow turkey say to her naughty son?
If your father could see you, he'd turn over in his gravy!
What do you get if you cross a turkey with a bottle of glue?
Why did the turkey stuffing go on strike?
It wanted a higher celery!
The last two jokes came from Turkey Riddles, an easy reader from Puffin Books by Katy Hall and Lisa Eisenberg. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Thanksgiving Visitor

If you read just one story this Thanksgiving, it should be Truman Capote's "The Thanksgiving Visitor." No, you won't learn much about the Pilgrims, the Indians, or how to bake a pumpkin pie, but you will be moved by the writing and events in this poignant tale. Perhaps you are familiar with Capote's "A Christmas Memory" and its protagonists, the young Buddy and his eccentric, elderly best friend and aunt Miss Sook. They are the center of this story as well. Buddy narrates, and with wonderful Southern turns of phrase describes their Thanksgiving preparations. He also describes the bullying he receives at the hands of Odd Henderson for being a sissy. It is almost unimaginable that Miss Sook invites Odd to Thanksgiving dinner. The conflict and disappointment that unfold are powerful. Miss Sook counsels Buddy that Odd "... can't help acting ugly; he doesn't know any different." Often at Thanksgiving, we focus on gratitude.This Thanksgiving tale also gets readers thinking about compassion and graciousness. It's a provocative and well written holiday read for children from eight up, especially if you can find the picture book illustrated with wistful paintings by Beth Peck.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Some Thoughts on Art Appreciation

On Friday, I took my children to visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. As soup was the feature of Foodie Friday, I couldn't resist taking the photo (no flash of course) you see here of them admiring Andy Warhol's cans of soup. My favorite moment in the museum was when they spotted a Jackson Pollack painting and shouted, "It's the painting from Olivia!" Of all the amusing things that happen in all of Ian Falconer's Olivia books, our favorite is when she recreates a Jackson Pollack painting on her wall at home. We all enjoyed the Van Gogh exhibit. How can you not feel good standing in front of that starry night? My daughter lectured us all about Van Gogh's application of paint and choice of subject. Clearly the art program at our local public school is excellent!What fascinated me was that all three kids seemed physically drawn to Jasper Johns' Map. It is an eye catching work, but I'm curious as to what exactly is so attractive about it to my children. Maybe it's that they recognize the subject matter, a map of the United States. Maybe it is the use of bright. primary colors. Who knows? Unbeknownst to them, I recently checked out Bob Raczka's gorgeous picture book The Art of Freedom: How Artists See America and had it in my car. Once home from Manhattan, we looked at the book. They were so excited to see Map on the cover and recognize it from our museum visit. I had gotten the book because of what it says about America in simple text, statements such as "America is sacrifice," "America is immigrants," "America is native peoples," and "America is a work in progress." Each statement is accompanied by a piece of artwork. That last definition, for example, faces Gilbert Stuart's famous unfinished portrait of George Washington. My original intention was to read the book and discuss it with my kids in light of the recent presidential election. It turned out to be a nice book to read after a trip to a museum as well. It is beautiful and would make a great gift for a child or a teacher of art or American history.
Speaking of gifts, my sister was a godsend that day, helping me entertain, feed, and herd three kids around the Big Apple! Thanks, Corinne!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Stone Soup's On for Foodie Friday

Tuesday night was Soup Night at my house. With the price of groceries going up and the temperature and my prep time going down, soup is a quick, healthy, and affordable option for dinner. I wish I could tell you I made one of our favorite soup recipes like Brazilian Black Bean or Grandpa and Linda's Kale Soup from scratch. Unfortunately, between homework and ice hockey practice, we only had time for the canned variety served with crackers. But it was warm and filling and inspired some great table conversation. We talked about soup kitchens and why they are called soup kitchens when they serve foods other than soup. The kids had me tell them yet again about a time back in the early 1990's when I peeled eight dozen hard boiled eggs to be turned into deviled eggs at a soup kitchen. I thought my fingertips and my taste for hard boiled eggs would never recover.

All three children reminisced about cooking Stone Soup in their preschool. After reading the story, the teachers had each child bring in a vegetable to add to a soup they started early in the morning. I was fortunate to be able to come in as a volunteer helping the children chop those vegetables. Cutting carrots with a plastic knife is no easy task I assure you. Each year parents (present company included) expressed shock when their picky eaters tried the soup.

I told the kids that my mom remembers when my brother read Marcia Brown's Stone Soup back in his elementary school days and then cooked soup. Since they think I'm pretty ancient and he's my older brother, they are convinced that kids have been reading Stone Soup for a loooong time. In fact, this 1947 Caldecott winner is based on an even older French tale of three soldiers who outwit a village into providing them with the makings of a feast. The picture book is a funny, clever, great read on Soup Night.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Big Book of Girl Stuff

My daughter has owned The Daring Book for Girls for about a year now. She occasionally uses it as a reference when playing games or making crafts and has nice things to say about it. It has a lot of stuff for girls in it. That is why I almost didn't check The Big Book of Girl Stuff, written by Bart King and his five sisters, out of the library for her. Luckily, I did. This book proves what we all know: everything is better with humor. There are as many funny one-liners in here as there are tips and trivia. The result is that my eight year old is reading it from cover to cover. The cover is, by the way, reversible to a pink marble notebook look so girls can read it surreptitiously in school.

There is so much interesting information and humor in The Big Book of Girl Stuff that my daughter is reading sections that might not usually be of interest to her because she doesn't want to miss out on the laughs. While I cannot figure out a rhyme or reason to the organization of the sections, they all have good information and liveliness in common. A few of these sections are "Babysitting," "Fun Stuff to Do," "Sports," and "Slang." Proof that the book never takes itself too seriously is in the quotes which open each section, such as Gilda Radner's "I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn't itch" at the beginning of the section on fashion. Of course there is gross out humor in the "Ick" section which is good. That should not be reserved only for books marketed to boys.

On a personal note, there are two more things that made me happy I checked this book out for Hayden. First, she recently stopped reading and excitedly ran to ask me,"Do you know the meaning of the word blogging? Do you want to know?" I did know, but pretended I didn't as I was so touched that she was enthusiastic to share something from her book that she thought would interest me. I also like the fact that there is a section on nicknames because the author is not the only person who likes trivia. One of the best bits floating around in my brain is that there was once a Viking warrior nicknamed "Ivan the Boneless." This book gave me the reason to share that with my daughter and now you.

I can't say enough good about this fun book for tween girls. It really is, as I learned from the section on slang, a "sherbitt."

Ignore the Couch

Even though I do not love the couch in my basement and fear you will look closely and see popcorn and crumbs peeking out from under the cushions, I need to share this most beautiful of photos I took this morning. My two older children so love the books they are currently reading (Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for him and Bart King's The Big Book of Girl Stuff for her) that they abandoned their usual post-breakfast pre-schoolbus bickering, SpongeBob watching, and more bickering to lie on the couch reading for the half hour after breakfast. I could break into the song from Oklahoma, "Oh What a Beautiful Morning," but my singing voice is even scarier than the pattern on the couch.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Foodie Friday!

There are so many terrific cookbooks for kids and kids' books that feature foods and recipes that I've decided to try a feature here at thebookbench, Foodie Fridays. My selection for the first ever Foodie Friday was a no brainer, Wende and Harry Devlin's classic Cranberry Thanksgiving. I still have my hardcover copy from the 1970s, and I make "Grandmother's Famous Cranberry Bread" recipe from the back cover about half a dozen times each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's delicious.
In the story, Maggie and her grandmother who live at the edge of a cranberry bog each invite a guest to their Thanksgiving dinner. Maggie invites her friend Mr. Whiskers who Grandmother suspects is out to steal her secret recipe. She in turn invites the very elegant Mr. Horace. We later learn, with some help from Mr. Whiskers, that you shouldn't trust a man just because he smells of lavender and carries a gold cane.
It gives me tremendous joy each November when my children insist that I read this book to them. They seem to love it as much as I always have. We love the tradition of reading the book, the taste of the bread, the gentle humor, and the illustrations. What is interesting to me is that I was always captivated by the pictures of the interior of Maggie and Grandmother's house especially the big fireplace where Grandmother hides her recipe behind a brick. My children, on the other hand, usually comment on how much the illustrations of the exterior remind them of Cape Cod which is a place dear to them.
Inevitably, at Thanksgiving dinner this year, we will do our own variation on this exchange from Cranberry Thanksgiving:
"How delicious," said Maggie.
"How delightful," said Grandmother.
"How about another piece?" said Mr. Whiskers.
If you are looking for further cranberry fun, check out the Ocean Spray website,, where you'll learn, among other facts, that cranberries bounce, cranberries float in water, and there are about 4,400 cranberries in one gallon of juice.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Get thee to Wordle

I love being a SAHM, really I do, but sometimes I read a book or editorial, I find a new website or get caught up in a news story that makes me ache to be back in a classroom with high school students. I teach a fourth grade religious education class at my church and that gives me a little weekly fix of lesson planning and creativity, and of course I discuss those books, editorials, websites, and stories that intrigue me with family and friends, but it's not the same. Recently, I began playing around on Wordle ( and my brain started buzzing with classroom applications. It almost makes me want to turn in my jeans and minivan keys for heels and a piece of chalk. Wordle is an online tool or toy, depending on how you look at it, that generates "word clouds" from text that you provide. Greater prominence is generally assigned to words that appear with more frequency in the text. It was created by Jonathan Feinberg, a software engineer at IBM Research, and can be fairly addictive. Oh, the things I could do with Romeo and Juliet and Wordle! Or vocabulary words and Wordle! Or test reviews and Wordle! Someday I'll get back to that. In the meantime, I've got my eyes on my daughter and son's spelling word lists...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ursus Non Grata

I am done posting about books with bears in them. Goodbye, Paddington! Sayonara, Corduroy! And hey, Berenstain Family, don't let the door hit you in your hindquarters on the way out! Three weeks ago, a mother black bear and her three cubs went through my garbage cans that were out to be collected. It was a few days after we had enjoyed Taco Night so you can imagine how fun the clean up was! On Election Night, as my husband and I sat watching the red and blue states come in, we heard a horrific bang on our garage door. My husband went onto our porch and saw a huge bear trying to get in. Then this morning he noticed a bear in the yard as he was about to put out the garbage before work. The bear went up a tree, apparently waiting for us to deliver its snack. Several weeks ago I posed the question, "Is Stephen Colbert reading thebookbench?" Who knows? But I think the black bears of northern New Jersey are. They got the (mistaken) impression that since we welcome literary bears, we'd welcome them. We don't. It's November 10; go into hibernation already! For my part, I'm done blogging about bears.

But let me just squeeze this in quick. I recently had to buy a present for a baby shower and purchased two family favorites that include adorable bears. If you are looking for a great board book to wrap up with a baby shower gift, here are two.

Jamberry written and illustrated by Bruce Degen joins a boy and a rhyme spouting bear on a delightful berry collection.

Teddy Bears' Picnic illustrated by Bruce Whatley and featuring a bear on the cover who bears (no pun intended) a remarkable resemblance to Jerry Garcia. It's perfect to read or sing to tired little teddy bears.

That's it now, bears. Show's over. I'm done writing about you. Stay away from my yard. please.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Tuesday is Veterans Day

Thank a veteran, buy a poppy, say a prayer, read an enlightening book- remember to observe Veterans Day this Tuesday. Two years ago, my then six and seven year old children came home from school early in November and reported that they had made cards for veterans. I asked what their cards looked like or said. Both children had written "Thank You," but one had colored a flag on his card and the other had colored puppies. Puppies? It seems she thought it was Veterinarians Day. Obviously, we needed to do some explaining. The history of Veterans Day and how it developed from Armistice Day is really quite interesting, but maybe too much information for the four to eight year old set. Here are two books which are great for them: Veterans Day by Marlene Targ Brill and Veterans Day by Jacqueline S. Cotton. A nice feature of the latter is that it suggests ways to honor vets. Also appropriate for this age group is Eve Bunting's picture book The Wall. With moving text and simple yet powerful illustrations by Ronald Himler, The Wall tells the story of a boy and his father who visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. to search for the name of the boy's grandfather. I actually think this book could be put to good use in a classroom up to fifth grade.
For older children and young adults, there are more interesting and thought provoking books about wars than I could list here. Two that I know are frequently used in middle schools in my area are Walter Dean Myers' Fallen Angels, a young adult coming of age novel set during the Vietnam War, and Paul Fleischman's Bull Run, which recreates the first great battle of the Civil War from a variety of points of view. One nonfiction suggestion for readers ten and up is The Tuskegee Airmen, Black Heroes of World War II by Jacqueline Harris.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Happy Birthday Mom!

Happy Birthday to the person who introduced me to Mother Goose, Corduroy, Hitty, the Ingalls girls and so many more.
Mom, you're the best!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Big Chocolate Omission

When posting my list of chocolatey good books on Monday, I left out perhaps the best YA book ever written, Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War. I could blame it on election excitement or all of the candy I consumed over the weekend, but there really is no excuse. My bad.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

I do not vote alone. No, I'm not referring to the predicted record breaking voter turnout for this election, although I think that's excellent. I always end up with my children in the voting booth with me. Ask any mother of young children who has tried to pee, shower, or try on clothing behind a closed door or curtain- it ain't happening solo. So too with voting. Kids want to be where the action is. For voting, that's a good thing. I want my children to grow up as active citizens. I want them to participate in our democracy and know their parents did as well. This year, my youngest is in kindergarten so I could actually go to my polling place alone this morning, but I plan to wait until this afternoon when all three kids will be home from school. This is a historic election. They have asked to accompany me and I want them to accompany me. Plus, my polling place is our town library. In fact, the booths are on the second floor where the children's section is located. Is this a great country or what?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Seven Chocolatey Good Books

I am suffering a serious case of eater's remorse and parental shame. I overindulged on my children's trick or treating loot and on a bag of Heath bars I picked up for 50% off at Target two days after Halloween. In case you did the same, and need food for thought rather than food in thighs, here are some calorie free chocolate indulgences.

1. Max's Chocolate Chicken by Rosemary Wells. This book featuring Max of Max and Ruby fame is not just for Easter time and is fun for 2 to 5 year olds.

2. The M & M Brand Counting Book by Barbara Barbieri McGrath is a fun little board book for 3 to 7 year olds that could work well in a classroom.

3. Also great for classroom use is any one of Jerry Palotta's books which combine chocolate treats and math skills, such as his Hershey's Milk Chocolate Weights and Measures.

4. Curious George Goes to the Chocolate Factory by Margaret and H.A. Rey. You know it's going to be fun from the title.

5. Hot Fudge by James Howe is an easy reader from the Bunnicula and Friends series. This is a cute little whodunit for emerging readers ages 5 to 8.

6. The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling is a retelling of the story of King Midas where everything a boy touches turns to chocolate. This is a good chapter book for 8 to 10 year olds.

7. The granddaddy of all chocolate books is, of course, Roald Dahl's magnificent Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!!!!

(For more list fun, check out anna over at who got me started with the Monday lists.)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Project Kitchen Table

Last night while trick or treating my eight year old daughter looked fierce in her homemade skeleton costume. She decided months ago that she wanted us to make a "cute skeleton" for her to wear on Halloween. We promptly spent $15 on a black sweatsuit and gloves and white craft foam at WalMart with vague ideas of sewing something soon. That was a whole lot of procrastination ago, as I hate to sew and I shouldn't do it when my children are around as there is a great deal of cursing involved. Perhaps that's why I so adore Project Runway. I am in awe of the designers. It really is the best tv reality show ever, bar none.
We lived out our own version here in my kitchen two weeks ago. A friend of my daughter's called to invite her to an impromptu costume party in about 36 hours! It was like Heidi Klum issuing the challenge, and of course, the ultimate auf weidersehen is to disappoint your child. No time for how-to books from the library. Where did we turn? that's where. I can't recommend it highly enough for parents searching for reasonable, do-able craft, costume, and party ideas. We printed out a bone template for a Mr. Rattles costume, and my husband and I set to "making it work." He cut out the bones and I sewed them on. My third grader provided several Tim Gunn moments, cruising past the kitchen table and applying her critical eye to the creation. She felt a skull mask would be too much and not in keeping with the "cute skeleton" concept. Unlike some of the designers on Project Runway, I took the advice of my pint-sized Tim Gunn to heart. As she headed off to the party in black lipstick and white hairspray, carrying a self-designed "bag of bones," she owned that look.
The whole experience and its Project Runway parallels has me wondering what books did Tim Gunn enjoy as a child? Did any of them influence his impeccable taste and style aesthetic from a young age?