Posts in December, 2011

Strega Nona’s Gift

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Strega Nona’s Gift, by Tomie de Paola
Reviewed by Susan Fry


Teaching children about family traditions – especially around the holidays – isn’t as easy as it seems. My boys could care less about my great-grandmother’s stollen recipe, for example. They don’t want to spend hours unwrapping each ornament for the Christmas tree. And as for watching Handel’s Messiah? Ha.

That’s why Tomie dePaola’s Strega Nona’s Gift is so wonderful: it manages to make the holiday traditions of a small Italian village interesting to children, by scattering the feasts and foods throughout a slyly clever story.

At first, the book seems simply like a description of holiday events for Strega Nona, the grandmotherly witch familiar to readers of dePaola’s earlier books, and Big Anthony, her not-so-bright servant.

But their relationship is a caring one from the first. Strega Nona diplomatically dodges Big Anthony’s potentially catastrophic offer to help in the kitchen. Instead, she produces a Christmas feast on her own, accompanied by singing shepherds and children dancing under the stars. For New Year’s Eve, she persuades Big Anthony to eat lentils and rice pudding to ensure his prosperity. When he wants to watch the annual bonfire, she warns him to duck out of the way when people throw the things they don’t want out the windows. Oh, and she reminds him that he has to wear red underwear for good luck.

But then Big Anthony breaks a tradition. On January 5th, the Feast of the Three Kings, the villagers cook scrumptious feasts for their animals: according to legend, the animals can talk that night, and no one wants to be called cheap! But Big Anthony eats the goat’s turnips and replaces them with hay. In revenge, the goat eats Anthony’s blanket. After a sleepless night, Anthony has learned his lesson. When he finds the fava bean in the epiphany cake (see how those traditions are slipped in?) and becomes king for a day, he asks Strega Nona for more turnips.

“Let’s have a truce,” he says, handing the dish to the goat.

“And presto. The holiday season was over for another year.”

dePaola’s illustrations are straightforward and folksy, cartoons outlined in black ink and filled in with warm colors that evoke a long-ago Italy. Kids and grownups will leave the book hungry for the food dePaola so lovingly describes. I’m even tempted to add some of Strega Nona’s traditions to my own family’s holiday. Especially the red underwear.

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.

You can check out the Sweet Peas & Stilettos’ children’s books page for quick access to all of Susan’s wonderful children’s book reviews.


Best Mom Organizers & Day Planners 2012

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

2012 will be here before we know it and it is time to get organized. Okay…it is fine to wait until after Christmas if you want. I have scoured the web to find you tons of great day planners, calendars and agendas made just for busy women and moms. There are two items that I have found to be crazy popular – Erin Condren’s day planners at Tiny Prints (show above) and momAgenda. Check them both out and many many more. Be sure to tell me your favorites.

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Great Holiday Books for Kids

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Holiday Light by Susan Fry

For me, the holidays are all about dessert.  Gingerbread houses, peppermint bark, sprinkle cookies . . . there’s no better way to celebrate, especially with children.

But far too many books about the holidays are much too sweet.  The stories about the joys of giving have my boys rolling their eyes by the third page.

Here are a couple of books that can help keep your holidays sugar free, even if your desserts aren’t.


The Gingerbread Pirates, by Kristin Kladstrup, illustrated by Matt Tavares.  Children need to navigate a world much bigger than they are.  So they’ll appreciate the exploits of tiny Captain Cookie, a gingerbread pirate with a gingerbread cutlass and a peg leg made from a toothpick.  Jim and his mother have made the Captain and his crew for Santa’s snack.  But when Jim falls asleep, the resolute Captain Cookie sets out to save his men from being eaten.  He tap-steps down enormous stair “cliffs” and fights off giant nibbling mice.  When he finally finds his crew, they are imprisoned in a huge glass cookie jar, and a gigantic Santa looms over them.  Undaunted, Captain Cookie bravely raises his fists and orders Santa not to eat his crew.  Instead of munching, Santa rewards Captain Cookie by transforming all the gingerbread pirates into real toys, complete with a full pirate ship.  “The captain had a cutlass and a peg leg, and Jim loved him best of all.”  The expressions on the little pirate captain are adorably realistic, and the upraised frosting decorations look good enough to, well, eat.


Aliens Love Panta Claus, by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort.  For kids, few things are funnier than underwear, and this latest installment of the Aliens Love Underpants series is by far the best.  Because it’s Christmas, the aliens who usually steal underpants are instead giving them away.  They even go to “Lapland” to help Santa — one of the several sly jokes parents may get while kids don’t.  The aliens add underpants to all the children’s toys, dress the elves in “fancy, frilly knickers,” and replace Santa’s sack with a big, spotted pair of undies.  Funniest of all, “The reindeer wear their underpants lit up all bright and glowing.  With neon pants to light the way, it helps show where they are going.”  But beware:  kids, like the aliens, may want to replace their Christmas stockings with underwear.  The underpants are cute, blocky shapes with bright colors and patterns:  like the book, they’re good for either girls or boys.

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.

You can check out the Sweet Peas & Stilettos’ children’s books page for quick access to all of Susan’s wonderful children’s book reviews.


Zinc Door

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

oly studio sophie lounge chair
I am a huge fan of all things animal print and zebra is at the tippy top of my list. Needless to say when I found this fabulous Oly Studio Sophia lounge chair at Zinc Door is was love at first sight. It was be absolutely perfect in my office. I wouldn’t sit in it – rather I would have it parked right next to me so I could look at it all day long.

arteriors mercedes mahogany chair

And so I wouldn’t feel guilty with my purchase, I thought this Arteriors Mercedes Mahogany Chair would look great in my husband’s office/ man cave. It is such a handsome and hip chair and I love the mid century modern look with the black leather. A cool combo in any room.

Skate Leather Boots

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Be honest now….do you think you could walk in these totally cool Jeffrey Campbell Skate Leather Boots? I just love the funky detail of the heel and am so tempted to add them to my shoe collection. I read the reviews and people actually used the word ‘comfortable’ more than once. Just think how great they would look on your bookshelf when they aren’t on your feet. A perfect example of wearable shoe art. Head on over to Urban Outfitters if you want a pair for your very own…

Thank You Biz e-Mom

Monday, December 12th, 2011


I wanted to send out a huge thank you to Richelle Taylor Krzak over a Biz e-Mom for selecting Sweet Peas & Stilettos as one of her favorite blogs and nominating the site for a Versatile Blogger award. It is always such as huge thrill to be recognized and especially cool to be honored by another busy working mom who is juggling a full time job, motherhood and a website too. Thanks so much Richelle!

Gingerbread Man Book Reviews

Saturday, December 10th, 2011


The Gingerbread Man – Book Reviews by Susan Fry

I’ve never understood the popularity of the Gingerbread Man.  In the original fairy tale, an old man and woman make a Gingerbread Man who suddenly pops up and runs away.  The cooks and a variety of animals pursue him. “You can’t catch me,” he taunts them.  “I’m the Gingerbread man!”  In the end, a wily fox eats him.

The story has been retold and retold since 1875.  It’s even been “translated” to other cultures, with runaway tortillas, matzos, and rice cakes.

Why?  The story is yawningly repetitive:  with each additional pursuer, the Gingerbread Man lists all the other animals he’s escaped.  All of them.  And he dies in the end!  Is he being punished for being uppity, or is the story just a harsh lesson about life?

That’s why I was so relieved to find the following books.  They create original and entertaining spinoffs, perhaps because they take the Gingerbread Man and . . . run with him.

Gingerbread Baby, by Jan Brett.  You can recognize Jan Brett’s illustrations at a glance.  The warmly colored scenes have a strong Scandinavian flair, with characters dressed in Nordic clothes from an earlier century, snowy landscapes, and carved wooden furniture.  Brett also uses a unique story-telling technique:  her decorated margins often reveal glimpses of other characters’ adventures.

When Little Matti and his mother make a gingerbread boy, Matti peeks in the oven too early.  Out jumps a gingerbread baby, instead!  This Gingerbread Baby kicks the chase up a notch:  he rides a cat’s back, ties two girls’ braids together, and sails down a river on a chunk of ice.  Meanwhile, Matti stays home and bakes a gingerbread house.  The fleeing baby hides inside, and while everyone else assumes he’s been eaten, Matti knows the truth.

Brett manages to create a gratifying and believable friendship between the thoughtful, caring Matti and the daring Gingerbread Baby.

The Gingerbread Girl, by Lisa Campbell Ernst.  The old man and woman bake the Gingerbread Boy’s “younger, wiser sister.”  This Gingerbread Girl refuses to wind up like her brother.  In the end, she rides the fox like a bucking bronco, leading all her pursuers back home for snacks.  The verses are interesting rather than repetitive, as the girl says something different to everyone chasing her.  The homey gingham-patterned backgrounds help create a portrait of a close farming community.

The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School, by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery.  The schoolchildren who bake the Gingerbread Man leave him behind during recess.  When the lonely Gingerbread Man chases them, the gym coach has to unstick him from a volleyball, the nurse needs to repair his broken-off toe, and the art teacher must extricate him from a lunch bag.  Just when the Gingerbread Man has nearly given up hope, he discovers the children have been missing him, too.  The cartoons are comic-book style, with multiple panels per page and word balloons.

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.

You can check out the Sweet Peas & Stilettos’ children’s books page for quick access to all of Susan’s wonderful children’s book reviews.


Baby Onesie Holiday Sale

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011


The Sweet Peas & Stilettos HOLIDAY SALE is here! Playfully chic infant onesies designed for moms and moms-to-be who love designer shoes, fabulous handbags & shopping. These cute baby onesies make great holiday gifts for babies, moms-to-be and new moms too. Good clean fashion fun for our future fashionistas.


Santa Pajamas

Monday, December 5th, 2011

My son LOVES his new Santa pajamas. When I brought them home from Hanna Andersson he immediately put them on over his clothes and has been wearing them every night since. I have to admit they are incredibly cute on him. A little side note – the one detail you can’t see from this picture is that the bottom of the pants have black bands to match the belt. We are big fans of Hanna Andersson’s organic cotton pajamas and this design is just perfect for Christmas morning photographs. Order your kids a pair today – you won’t be disappointed. I think I might have to get my son a second pair before they sell out.

Great Jake Books

Friday, December 2nd, 2011


‘Jake’ Books by Michael Wright

Reviewed by Susan Fry

Authors of books for young children are faced with a problem:  they need to write both for kids and for the adults who read to the kids.  These are two very different audiences.  My sons, for example, like poop jokes.  Me?  Not so much.  But I do really enjoy politics.  You see the problem.

Luckily, there’s Michael Wright and his series about a little boy named Jake.  Jake and his parents wrestle with some of the most frustrating aspects of childhood in a way that’s sympathetic – and funny – to both sides of the age divide.

Much of the humor comes through the illustrations.  Jake hides under a tablecloth to escape a spoonful of peas.  A dog slides off the roof as the family tries a new place to sleep.  And did I mention the mom’s dandelion-poof of blonde hair, a hairstyle to rival Marge Simpson’s?

Passing references to poop and gas will have kids in stitches.

The members of the oblong cartoon family also have amazingly human expressions.  Jake’s wide-eyed looks convey fears and insecurities; his parents’ half-lidded eyes indicate an exasperation that will be all-too familiar to adult readers.  The parents’ willingness to do anything to make their son happy will be familiar, too.

Jake Stays Awake, by Michael Wright.  To co-sleep or not to co-sleep?  Jake parents would rather not.  But Jake knocks on their door every night and won’t go away.  “We love you, dear Jake, but we can’t even doze.  How can we sleep with your toes up our nose?”  After Jake’s endearingly floppy body stretches over both parents’ faces, they come up with a solution:  “We’ll sleep with you, son, just not in our bed.”  But the hilarious locations they choose for snoozing – the roof, the stairs, the bathtub – are so uncomfortable they drive Jake right back to his own bed.

Jake Starts School, by Michael Wright.  Who cries harder the first day of preschool,  parents or children?  In this book, it’s Jake.  The door to his new classroom looms over him, and when his teacher speaks, Jake screams and flees.  When he wraps himself around his parents’ knees and won’t let go, the parents have to join Jake in class:  the three of them sit uncomfortably in the same seat and precariously ride the same tricycle.  Finally, the teacher makes a breakthrough, and Jake lets go and begins to enjoy school.

Jake Goes Peanuts, by Michael Wright.  How do you get your kids to eat new foods?  Jake manages to evade his parents’ best efforts, hiding in a tree, gagging, and even spitting the food right out (as his parents use plates and pots as shields).  The one thing Jake will eat is peanut butter, so his parents begin adding it to everything.  After a week of “peanut butter pot roast served with peanut butter rice . . . . peanut butter soda chilled with peanut butter ice,” Jake is finally ready to try something different.

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.

You can check out the Sweet Peas & Stilettos’ children’s books page for quick access to all of Susan’s wonderful children’s book reviews.