Posts in December, 2010

Alphabet Books

Saturday, December 4th, 2010


A is for Aisle by Susan Fry

Once my kids started school, I realized that “the alphabet” I took for granted isn’t actually made up of twenty-six letters. If you think about it, kids really have to learn multiple alphabets.

Take capital and lowercase letters, for example. They often seem to have no logical relationship to each other. Even “A” and “a” could come from separate species. And the difference between handwritten letters and fonts can make even an expert teacher sweat. Compare the “a” kids are taught to write vs. the Times New Roman “a.” Serif and sans-serif fonts can confuse kids, and deciphering some of the more decorative fonts is a downright challenge. I don’t even want to think about the cursive alphabet(s) coming in second grade.

No wonder there are so many alphabet books. alone lists 6,390.

The books seem to fall into three categories:

• Decorative books that make letters out of objects such as snakes (for S) or houses (for H).

• Theme books that revolve around a single subject, such as ballet (A is for arabesque) or sports (B is for baseball).

• Story books that create some kind of adventure around the alphabet.

While the standard alphabet books can help a child learn, they can also be tedious for grown ups and kids alike. I was happy to find the following extra-playful books, which entertain and teach at the same time.

How to Build an A, by Sara Midda. This excellent introduction actually lets kids build their own letters. The book comes with an ingenious set of foam blocks – eleven rectangles, curves, and dots – that can be combined to form all twenty-six uppercase letters. Open the book to the letter “F,” for example, and you’ll find not only the standard “F is for flower” and flower picture combination, but also a small cartoon figure building the letter to show kids which blocks to use.

AlphaOops!: The Day Z Went First, by Alethea Kontis, illustrated by Bob Kolar. When the letter Z decides he’s tired of coming last, all the letters jockey for new positions in the alphabet. An outlined alphabet on the bottom of every page means kids can compare the “new” order with the traditional one. The puns are clever enough to make grownups laugh, and the cheerful, blocky cartoons will appeal even to children too young to learn their letters.

Alphabeasties: And Other Amazing Types, by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss. I was terrified that my kids wouldn’t love this book as much as I did, but I couldn’t get my five-year-old to put it down. Each two-page spread presents an animal formed out of letters. But these aren’t ordinary letters – the authors use a wide variety of fonts to help kids understand how an “a” can be written many different ways. This book is a work of art, with heavy, satisfying paper stock and stunning, midcentury-modernish design. It even has flaps to open!

Crazy ABCs” from the Barenaked Ladies’ Snack Time. Yes, I know this song isn’t a book. But it should be. Spelling can be frustrating, and the song finds the humor in the fact that so many English words don’t sound the way they’re written. The singer explains that “Everyone knows apple ball and cat, / I wanted to get into some, you know, some stranger words.” His choices, such as “a is for aisle, g for gnarly, p for pneumonia,” will have parents and older kids in hysterics.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications.

Elf on the Shelf

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

the elf on the shelf

Tuesday night I was at a cocktail party at a local toy store (FYI – a night full of yummy cheese, toffee and wine is a fabulous way to get moms to buy dump trucks,puzzles and race cars by the bag load…) and on the way out my friend Leslie spotted The Elf On The Shelf in the window display. I had never seen this elf before, but she told me the story of the family behind the product and how they had a long standing Christmas tradition about the elf. I have already started to lie to my son that “Santa was watching” and that he sent elves out to keep an eye on everyone. I know we shouldn’t lie to our children but….whatever…. This elf would be perfect for us. So today after lunch I popped over to Paper Source and picked one up. I was able to stick him way up high above the fire place before anyone got home. Tonight I called out for my son, “Hurry, hurry – what is that!?!?!”  He came running down the hall and spotted his new friend. He was totally into it. I had tucked the accompanying book in the fireplace for him to find and we read it together. We both loved it. And by the way, there is an very fun Elf on the Shelf website too so you and your kids can visit the North Pole.

This will be the start of a very fun new family tradition for us. Hurry up and pick up your own copy of The Elf On The Shelf for your whole family to enjoy.

Holiday Photo Cards

Friday, December 3rd, 2010


The year my son was born I combined our birth announcement with our holiday card. When you have just had a baby, there is no way you are going to (nor should you!) muster the energy to do both. Your new baby is the best present you could ever get so use this as the perfect opportunity to share your joy with friends all over the world.  This card first caught my eye because of the angelic baby in the photo. (Who doesn’t love a sleeping baby!) I also adore this Strawberry Sensation Photo Holiday Card from Pear Tree Greetings because of the incredibly cheery pink and red color combination and simple yet striking polka dots. All around cute. Free Shipping at Pear Tree Greetings. Enter 16737 at checkout. Expires 12-31-10. Min $65.

I hope you are having fun picking out your own holiday cards this year. Here are a few more cards worth a look…..

Business Cards for Moms

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010


Last night I went to 2 different ‘girl’s night’ cocktail parties and I was so happy to have my Sweet Peas & Stilettos business cards tucked in my very cute silver J. Crew business card holder. It was so nice to be able to really easily exchange contact information with the other women I met. In most cases the other mom did not have a way to easily give me her number or email and was fumbling for a pen and piece of scratch paper. Mommy business cards are the way to go. These beautiful cards are from Sarah+Abraham.  I have found many other cool options to check out too. I hope you find a calling card design you love. They make great holiday gifts for your girlfriends too!  And while you are at it, be sure to pick up a chic business card case for yourself too.


Wednesday, December 1st, 2010


Are you shopping for a ‘tween or teenager this holiday season? How about that college student on your list who tells you all he wants is money and a new computer – what are you going to put in his stocking?

Last year I bought my niece (13) and nephew (11) Kiva gift certificates for Christmas. When they opened the envelopes they gave me that bored teenager look like, “what the heck am I supposed to do with this?” (I think they were secretly hoping their generous aunt would have splurged on Lady Gaga tickets) A few weeks later my sister-in-law corralled them at the computer and they logged in to Kiva and searched for entrepreneurs they wanted to support. They loved it! My niece has always wanted to go to Africa so she opted to help some women there, and my nephew put his money behind a small organization in South America. They were on their way. They love getting updates and following the progress of their entrepreneurs. What is wonderful is that once the money is repaid they can find more people to support and the cycle can continue.

This year my aunt did the same thing for my cousin’s kids. She is already looking forward to exploring the Kiva site with them. She even bought herself a gift certificate so she could join them in the fun. Not only is this a great way to help teach your children about giving back and helping others, it is also an amazing way for them to learn about people in other cultures and to see the value of  hard work as these business people all over the world work tirelessly to build their burgeoning enterprises.

Check out the Sweet Peas & Stilettos complete list of holiday gift ideas.