Posts in December, 2010

The Books of Peter Sís

Thursday, December 30th, 2010


I have been a little under the weather the last few weeks so Susan has been kind enough to share an extra book installment with all of us. Thanks Susan!

Author and illustrator Peter Sís belongs to the Neil Gaiman school of children’s literature – Sís believes a child’s book can be a little dark and scary. Or, depending on which one of his books you pick up, very dark and scary.

Sís’ books have won numerous awards, including the Newberry, the Caldecott, and the New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of the Year. Sís himself won a Macarthur Fellowship in 2003.

Sís’ range is incredible. He’s written books for a whole spectrum of ages. Sís’ works for very small children are happy, simple books that help kids count and learn their colors. His books for slightly older children let a little darkness creep in — pretend dinosaurs, for example, inspire real terror. When I reached his books for older children, I began to wonder where the line should be drawn between the kids’ and adults’ section of the bookstore. Sís’ most recent book, The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, is an illustrated account of Sís’ youth in Prague and the effect of Communist repression on a child. Even though the book won a Caldecott, it felt more in line with adult graphic novels such as Maus and Persepolis.

Darkness aside, I have nothing but admiration for Sís’ cartoons. You can tell his visual “voice” instantly – his cartoons are both incredibly complex and incredibly simple. His books for young children are spare line drawings with splashes of color. As his audience gets older, Sís’ drawings don’t change so much as get filled in – by delicate cross-hatchings that indicate shadows and patterns, by scenes covered in subtle colors, and by intricate details that fill every page to bursting.

Even if you don’t read Sís’ darker books to your kids, I’d highly recommend reading them yourself.

Trucks Trucks Trucks, written and illustrated by Peter Sís. When Matt is told to pick up his trucks, they get bigger and bigger on every page, until he’s riding inside them like a construction worker. When Matt returns to the real world, he and his mother go outside and see a real construction site. While the rest of the world is black and white, the trucks are a cheerful yellow. My son insists on sleeping with this book.

Madlenka Soccer Star, written and illustrated by Peter Sís. Sís has written three books about little blonde-haired Madlenka, who lives on a city block and has adventures with her neighbors. This book has many of the same elements as the earlier ones, such as wonderful mini-maps that zoom in on Madlenka from the planet to the city to her block. But Madlenka, Soccer Star is the lightest and most accessible of the series. Madlenka dribbles her soccer ball around the block, playing with imaginary friends until her real friends meet her in the courtyard for a game. The children are multi-ethnic, and Sís draws a comparison between their clothes and the flags of all the countries who love soccer.

Komodo!, written and illustrated by Peter Sís. This is a great first step for future fans of science fiction and adventure stories. A little boy loves dragons so much that he fills his room with dragon decorations. When his parents take him to the island of Komodo, he imagines exactly how he’ll see the real Komodo dragon. But the experience doesn’t live up to his expectations. So he wanders off into the jungle, only to finally meet his dragon. Just as it’s not clear whether the boy imagined the encounter, the illustrations merge fantasy and reality as well, with a jungle filled with mysterious plants that look just like dragons.

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.

Check out the complete collection of children’s book reviews by Susan Fry.


Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

carl in loved baby

This sweet little guy is my son when he was about 1 month old. He is wearing his newborn uniform – his L’ovedbaby™ gl’oved-sleeve™ overalls. I loved these jammies, and I actually just bought a bunch for my friends who are expecting babies soon. As much as I adore bold prints and funky colors, I realized that when I brought my son home from the hospital, I wanted him in something that was soft, simple and uncomplicated. I didn’t want anything that distracted from him. These fit the bill perfectly. To add that little extra bit of cuteness, across the butt it says ‘Loved baby.”  (Update: I just received my shipment and they actually don’t put the L’oved Baby on the butt anymore – but they are still as soft and cute as a I remember.) They have great little shirts, bodysuits, pants and bibs too. L’ovedbaby is the perfect place to stock up on infant basics.

Santa Books

Friday, December 24th, 2010

The Last Minute Santa! by Susan Fry

Desperate for some extra holiday cheer?  Run down to your local bookstore and pick up these books.  They’re heavy on the ha-ha-has and the ho-ho-hos.


Who Will Guide My Sleigh Tonight? by Jerry Palotta.   Santa is searching for a team of animals to draw his sleigh, and he’s willing to try anything — from tigers to cheetahs, turtles to skunks.  But the tigers almost eat him, the cheetahs are too fast, the turtles are too slow, and the skunks are too smelly.  Finally, he realizes that reindeer are the answer.  Kids will enjoy seeing a simple idea taken to extremes.


Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, by Robert Barry.  Mr. Willowby buys an enormous Christmas tree for his enormous mansion, but when it arrives, it’s too tall.  So he snips off the top, which gets passed to his maid.  She’s thrilled to have a Christmas tree of her own, but it’s too big for her house, so, snip again!  The pieces get smaller and smaller as they’re passed down to smaller and smaller families, from a gardener to a bear to a fox.  Finally, a mouse drags away the tiny tip – to a mouse hole right beside Mr. Willowby’s tree.  This is a re-release of an old favorite, and the rhymes and the story are timeless.


Santa’s Stuck, by Rhonda Gowler Greene, illustrated by Henry Cole.  Finally, someone has answered every child’s question about how Santa can possibly fit down the chimney.  This Santa snacks just a little too much on the goodies a family leaves out, and when he tries to leave, you guessed it!  The reindeer can’t pull him up, and a dog and a cat can’t push him up.  Finally, a tiny mouse spots a toy bulldozer, and Christmas is saved.  The pictures of Santa’s legs dangling from the fireplace had my children 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.

Check out the complete collection of children’s book reviews by Susan Fry.

Gingerbread House

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010


Did you make a gingerbread house this year? I think this is the first time I actually decorated one and I loved it. My son and I made this house together at a preschool event and we had so much fun. I will be the first to admit that I ate more of the candy than he did. One piece on the house – one in mommy’s mouth – one on the house – one in my mouth… I know I am probably the last person I know to ever decorate a gingerbread house, but I am already looking forward to making this a family tradition for years to come. If you are looking for something fun to do with your family over the holidays – pick up a kit or make one from scratch and go for it. It is a simple fun way to bring family and friends together.

Sticker Frames

Monday, December 20th, 2010


I can never ever ever hang a frame straight, and I know I am not the only one. Inevitably I end up tearing up my walls every time I just try to hang up a few photos. My friend Helen first introduced me to these adorable sticker frames a few months back and I was instantly smitten. Besides the fact that they are cuter than just about any frame out there – they are stickers. That means no holes – zero. Butch & Harold wall stickers are a modern yet simple way to showcase your favorite photos and your children’s preschool masterpieces. These bold black ones are my personal favorite, but they have a great selection of other colors and styles to choose from. By the way, they make fantastic gifts too!

Snow Daze

Sunday, December 19th, 2010


If you are looking to find some great winter time reading choices for the kids, Susan has found some fun snow filled books that everyone will enjoy:

Where we live, it doesn’t snow. This means that if we want the kids to see snow (or, rather, eat snow, throw snow at each other, and dump snow down each other’s supposedly waterproof jackets), we need to drive somewhere far away. Through traffic. On icy, dark roads. Uphill both ways.

It’s very different from the snow days I remember as a kid, which were all about my day being easier. Not having to go to school. Having my mom make me hot chocolate. Pestering my mom for something to do around the house. Pestering my mom to take me sledding.

I guess snow days weren’t so easy for my mom, either.

If you live in a warm place, these books can give your kids a taste of what they’re missing. And if you’re someplace a little too cold, maybe they’ll help you appreciate the snow you’re shoveling out of your driveway.

The Biggest Snowball Ever!, by John Rogan. A group of kids have a typical day of fun in the snow – throwing snowballs, building snowmen – until one child’s snowball gets a little out of control. It rolls faster and faster down the hill, getting bigger and bigger, until it starts picking up children as well as snow. When the ball hits a tree, the parents have to come and dig all their children out of the biggest snowball ever. The rhymes are nice, and the image of the rolling snowball with the children’s heads poking out is a child’s snow dream come true.

The Winter Visitors, by Karel Hayes. A human family stays in a house during the summer, then packs up and leaves. After they’ve gone, a family of bears moves in for the winter, sledding, cooking dinner, and throwing a party. When summer comes again, the bears leave the house just in time for the humans to return. The story is told comic-book style, with few words but lots of panels showing everything the bears and humans do. The details are subtle and wonderful – kids can follow the parallels between the two types of families and find the clues the bears leave behind to make the human family wonder “what went on while they were gone.”

Snow Day, by Kamato Sakai. This is a marvelously original take on a child’s snow day. A little bunny wakes up and discovers that it’s snowing – school is cancelled, and so is Daddy’s flight home. It’s snowing too much to go outside, too, so the bunny and Mommy stay home together all day in their city apartment. When the snow stops, however, Mommy agrees to go outside, and they play in the snow together. The colors in the book are muted, with dark browns, blacks, and grays against the white of the snow. But what seems like story of hardship turns into a portrait of a tender mother-child relationship and a quiet mood that sometimes only a blanket of snow can evoke. When the bunny tells Mommy, “We are all alone in the world,” the tone inspires awe instead of fear or sorrow. The last line is a hopeful one: “Daddy will be home tomorrow, because it stopped snowing.” The bunny is never given a gender, which makes it easy for any child to identify with the character. My son wanted this book again and again.

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.

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Pumpkin Cupcakes

Thursday, December 16th, 2010


Today my son celebrated his birthday at preschool. He looked so handsome in his glitter crown, standing there as his classmates sang to him. I still can’t believe he is already 4.  His school does not allow sweets so I made these pumpkin muffins (thank you Trader Joe’s for your yummy and super easy pumpkin bread mix!) for the kids.  They are just as good as real cupcakes (okay almost as good, but you feel better knowing you aren’t eating an entire stick of butter). I figured the teachers couldn’t complain about the teeny tiny dollops of frosting either. I even got to use my new Ikea tray that I just love.  I thought they turned out pretty cute so I had to take a picture to share.

If you are shopping for last minute Christmas gifts for a fellow cupcake lover, here are a few cute ideas

Table Manners for Teens

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010


With the holiday season in full swing, undoubtedly most of you will have dinner parties with your extended family and social gatherings galore filling up your calendar. If you are like me, when you go to an event with your child you just hold your breathe hoping that you will be spared one evening of being the mom to “that child” who unfortunately causes all of the other moms in the room to crane their necks and shiver. Dinner parties are the trickiest of all. You have to keep your little ones on their chairs and hope they are able to spare your mother-in-law’s antique Persian rug any of their leftovers. Last year my son’s friend jumped out of his chair on Christmas Eve and decided to wipe his gravy covered hands on his grandmother’s new silk drapes. That made for a lovely evening…

Needless to say, it is never too early to start teaching our kids about manners. We all begin with the basics of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ but there is so much more for our kids to learn. My mother gave me a copy of Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers many years ago (long after I was a teenager) and I have to admit I still take a peek at it now and then when I am setting the table for guests and I can’t remember where the darn fork is supposed to go. I have found many more books on manners and etiquette for modern families that you might find useful too. Good luck!

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Roller Skates

Saturday, December 11th, 2010


Back in the day, when I wasn’t busy trying to figure out what pair of leg warmers to wear and which braided headband to wrap around my head, I was heading over to Skating Plus cruising around the rink while “baby baby knock knock knock on wood….” blasted from the speakers. Ahhh, what glorious memories those were. I actually wasn’t very good at roller skating, but at least I looked the part.

I was flipping through the Urban Outfitters catalog and found these super cool leopard print, jungle roller skates with pink wheels. Love them! When I jumped online I also found some equally cute bubble gum Moxy roller skates too. Of course I am scared to death to get on a pair of skates again, but I do think these would look very cute on my shoe rack or perched on the shelf in the living room for everyone to see. Roller skates are a fun and funky gift for the impossible to shop for friend too….

iomoi Gift Tags

Sunday, December 5th, 2010


I am the worst person when it comes to gift wrapping. I am always a little ashamed because I love a well wrapped gift. You can give the smallest little thing and if you wrap it with gorgeous paper and a perfect bow – it will make it so much more special. I know a lot of people are trying to be a little more green when it comes to gift wrapping this year. I am the first to admit that I always reuse gift bags if they are still in good condition. One idea I might do this year is wrap gifts with newspaper or brown paper bags and then use a colorful bow and these fabulous gift tags from iomoi. Iomoi has such a funky selection of gift tags, like they do of just about everything else, I am sure you will find a few you’ll love too.