It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Picture Book Edition

Despite 2020 being the year that just won’t end, we’re coming up on “that time of year.” I like to give my kids at least one book for Christmas each year, so last year I posted a little list of suggestions (you can find that post here ). Here are some of my family’s picture book winners for this year, ones that are sure to make little readers happy.

The 1,2,3’s of D&D and The A,B,C’s of D&D by Ivan Van Norman and Caleb Cleveland

So, if you didn’t already know that I’m a major nerd, this will definitely give it away. These books are so much fun and I – ahem, my kid-loves them. If you look closely, you’ll find an homage to a certain red wizard hidden in one of the pages of The 1,2,3s of D&D. These books are great for little learners with big imaginations.

I’m Afraid Your Teddy is in Trouble Today by Jancee Dunn, Illustrated by Scott Nash

This adorable book is about a naughty stuffed bear and the shenanigans he gets up to with his stuffed buddies. The pictures are bright and engaging and give little ones so much to talk about. There’s no overtly-forced rhyme scheme, which is a huge plus for me. This book is a popular one in our house, and for good reason.

100 Inventions that Made History:Brilliant Breakthroughs that Shaped Our World

My five year old marches to the beat of his own drum. Not only that, he wants to know who invented the drum, when they invented it, and why. He just really enjoys nonfiction and this series of books is great. It gives a lot of really interesting information in a way that is accessible. I actually originally bought this book for my older child to use in school. My youngest has adopted it and looks at it constantly.

You are My Work of Art by Sue DiCicco

I love this book so, so much! This is a great cuddling- before- bed read. Each illustration shows a child with a sweet rhyme, but when you lift a flap, there’s a famous painting, along with information about it. It’s such a wonderful way to introduce kids to art! When my youngest outgrows it, I’ll probably save it in case he has kids some day. (Please ignore my horrible photography skills.)

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, Illustrated by Michael Martchenko

My husband actually bought this one for me because I collect all things dragon-related (I also have quite the collection of fairy tales, and this sort of fits in). Not only does the princess save the prince in this one, she decides she’s better off without him (he’s a shallow jerk). The ending is hilarious and the pictures add to the fun. This has become a family favorite.

So, there you have it: some books that I think would make great gifts. Are you planning on gifting any children’s books this year? What are some you’d recommend? You can find these great books, and more at Bookshop.org , which supports indie bookstores instead of Amazon. That’s pretty nifty. I’ll also get a little kickback at no extra cost to you, if you use my link (above).

National Young Readers Week: Reading is Fun-damental!

Did you know that the second week in November is National Young Readers Week in the U.S.? This is a week to encourage and promote the love of literature in young readers. While mainly celebrated in public schools, I think all of us everywhere should get in on the fun. I’m a homeschool parent (going on seven years of homeschooling!), so my “classroom” looks a little different. Here are some ways that I encourage my young readers:

Book It! Program – This has been around since I was young and it’s as much fun now as it was then. Basically, you sign your kid up and give them a reading goal based on age or skill level. When that goal is reached, Pizza Hut provides the child with a certificate for a one-topping personal pan pizza. Yum!

Lego Magazine– I believe that this is only available in the U.S. and Canada (please correct me if I’m wrong). My kids love getting mail and this magazine, while in essence a long advertisement, still has little comics and such whatnot for young kids to read.

Origami Yoda– My oldest loves the Origami Yoda books by Tom Angleberger. They’re a blast to read. After reading them, have your kids check out the Origami Yoda website for free origami instructions. They can make their own origami Star Wars characters, and (with parental supervision) even create and submit their own foldable fun on the site. Warning: you will go through a ridiculous amount of paper while your kids fold away.

Lunch Doodle with Mo Willems– If you have a little reader, you’re probably familiar with the Pigeon books by Mo Willems. If not, you definitely need to fix that. They’re a blast! Well, author Mo Willems has a delightful YouTube channel which he started back in March when the U.S went on Quarantine lockdown. It is just a fun, calm way to encourage kids to get creating along with Mo Willems. There is also an email address where kids can send their own doodles.

I think it’s important to encourage reading of any kind. Yes, I mean that comics are just as valid as picture books, or even The Great American Novel. Reading is reading. If it excites your kid, then there’s a bigger chance they’ll keep reading. What are some great free reading resources for kids that I’ve missed? Are you doing anything special with your littles to spark a love of reading?

Happy reading!

For the authors: thank you


I’ll start this post by saying the now overused phrase, it’s been a tough year. I kind of think that’s the unspoken assumption at this point: “I’m doing well” (considering it’s a tough year), or “It’s been a bad day” (in the middle of a tough year). The book community isn’t exempt from the “tough year” unfortunately. I could go into the nitty gritty, but smarter minds than mine have already done that. So, this one is for the authors: you are appreciated.

I know it must be a discouraging time for so many of you, either with news you might have received, or just with life in general. Being an author is not for the faint of heart. You do not have it easy. To take the words in your mind and share them with others requires a massive amount of bravery. It also requires being willing to relinquish a little bit of your vision, knowing that the reader will picture your characters differently in their mind than you do. That takes guts.

This year has been full of changes in schedules, jobs, and lifestyle. There has been worry, and there has been loss. I cannot tell you what a godsend it has been to be able to curl up with a book – either an old friend, or a new discovery – and leave it all behind for a bit. From familiar favorites such as Dragonlance and The Night Circus, to more recent favorites, like The Ventifact Colossus and The Devil and the Dark Water, these books have kept me calm(ish).

Authors, what you do is important. So, so important. You aren’t just writing words on a page. Rather, you are building an escape pod. Your words are reminding us that even though we’re all stuck in our homes bunker-style, we aren’t alone. Good still exists and so does hope, laughter, creativity, new worlds, and mystery.

So, THANK YOU. Thank you for all you do. Keep writing. We’ll keep reading.

With Love,

A Voracious Reader

The Serpent Slayer: And Other Stories of Strong Women by Katrin Tchana, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

This volume is an anthology of 18 stories about heroines with as much courage, wit and intelligence as their more familiar male counterparts. It includes Li Chi, the serpent slayer, and the old woman sly enough to outsmart the devil. (taken from Amazon)

I love a good fairy tale collection, and The Serpent Slayer delivers! As the title suggests, this book highlights female heroes. There are no heroic knights or true love’s kisses. Rather, these women kick butt all on their own.

One of the many things I love about this collection is that the stories come from all over the world. There are tales from Indonesia, China, and India, to name a few. Each one is so original, and very different from the average fairy tale fare. Let me tell you-this book has it all! There are dragons, devils, fey folk, and more.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the illustrations. Trina Schart Hyman is one of my favorite illustrators anyway, and she outdoes herself in this book. Everything comes to life and a beautiful and fantastical way. The colors are bright and beautiful, and each illustration strives to capture the place of the story’s origin. The pictures elevate the book from good to freaking amazing!

Obviously, I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves fairy tales, especially lesser-known ones. Go ahead and buy it; you’ll want to be able to read this one again and again.

Timothy Mean and the Time Machine 2 by William A.E. Ford, illustrated by Marcelo Simonetti

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Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This is the second picture book following little Timothy Mean. You can find my review for book one here. Both books are available for purchase now.

Timothy Mean has an amazing imagination and a penchant for trouble. Both of these qualities send him on some fantastic time-traveling escapades, courtesy of his trusty homemade time machine. The first book saw him visit dinosaurs, vikings, and more. The second book included more historical figures, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, and Albert Einstein.

My little Toddler Tornado loves historical figures. This book is right up his alley. It’s silly and fun, but it also offers the chance for a parent to explain a little bit about who these historical figures were (or not: I think that’s the homeschool parent in me taking over).

The narrative rhymes and has a nice cadence to it. The book tells the story simply and well, without becoming too wordy to keep a little one’s attention. Of course, a picture book needs good illustrations, and the ones in this story are amazing! The author and illustrator worked together to tell a fantastic tale through both words and pictures.

As much as I enjoyed the first book, I think this one might be even better. I highly recommend picking up both books in this series. They are perfect for younger elementary-aged children.

Fantastical Illustrations in Picture Books

Lately, I’ve been trying to read more outside my comfort zone. I have tried to not judge a book prematurely based on its cover (I struggle with that one, to be honest). I find this kind of funny, because children judge books first and foremost by their covers.

Before readers can read on their own, a cover is what draws them in. As an adult, the books I remember most from my childhood have amazing illustrations. I was particularly interested in fairy tales and Arthurian stories (are you surprised? I know, who would have thought?), and the amazing illustrations found in some of those books have stuck with me.

I have my own children now, and they love books too. I’ve used that as an excuse to buy myself some of my favorites from my childhood, and my husband likes to surprise me with them as well.

Here are a few of my favorite fairy tales, based on language of course, but also on the incredible pictures lurking on the pages. Pick these up for any child who likes the fantastical.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Mercer Mayer

East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Mayer, Mercer, Mayer, Mercer ...

ANNIE AND AUNT: East of the Sun and West of the Moon

Mercer Mayer is pretty popular for his Little Critter books. However, his fairy tales are absolutely stunning. The writing flows well and the illustrations are magical.
Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges, Trina Schart Hyman ...

Joy Clarkson on Twitter:

I’m not sure if this was the original dragon book that started my (ongoing) love of dragons, but if it wasn’t the first, it was close. Trina Schart Hyman rightfully deserves the Caldecott Award she received for her pictures in this one. Parents, plan on reading this one aloud to youngsters at first: it’s on the wordy side.

The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Michael Hague

The Reluctant Dragon | Children's Books Wiki | Fandom

Animal Kingdom needs a dark ride. | Art, Illustration

Michael Hague is one of my favorite illustrators. His Alphabears is so charming and sweet. He lent his talents to this book and it works wonderfully. I love the whimsical touch he added.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft

The Twelve Dancing Princesses - Marianna Mayer - Paperback

Twelve Dancing Princesses - Exodus Books

Isn’t that art gorgeous? I have yet to add this one to my collection, but I loved it as a child. My favorite part was actually the images of the travel through the forest back and forth from the palace. It’s so beautiful.

Merlin and the Dragons by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Li Ming

Merlin and the Dragons (Picture Puffin Books): Yolen, Jane, Ming ...

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There’s no way I could have a post about fairy tales and Arthurian stories without including one written by Jane Yolen. The illustrations by Li Ming bring this book to a new level. I’d happily frame the picture of the dragons and hang it on my wall.

Beauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by Mercer Mayer

Beauty and the Beast: Mayer, Marianna, Mayer, Mercer ...

Mercer Mayer, Beauty and the Beast | Beauty and the beast art ...

Are you noticing a trend? I am. Let’s just go ahead and say that any fairy tale illustrated by Mercer Mayer is going to be beautiful. I also highly suggest Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like and Sleeping Beauty.

Rumpelstiltskin by Paul O. Zlinsky

Rumpelstiltskin] (By: Paul O. Zelinsky) [published: September ...

Paul O Zelinsky- Rumpelstiltskin

Okay, I know Rumpelstiltskin is supposed to be the villain, but I contend that everyone in this story is a little shady. Either way, I love the pictures in this version. This is another Caldecott Award winner, and with good reason.

The Kitchen Knight by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

The Kitchen Knight: A Tale of King Arthur: Margaret Hodges, Trina ...

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Last, but most certainly not least, I have another Arthurian tale illustrated by the incomparable Trina Schart Hyman. If only I had an iota of the talent she possesses. Sigh. Absolutely amazing.

What do you think? Are any of these household favorites? What amazingly illustrated fairy tales do I need to check out?

Little Red and the Crocodile by Suzan Johnson, illustrated by Ayessa

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Meet Zara! She’s a smart, friendly, and curious girl who loves to visit her Auntie. This is a FRACTURED version of a famous tale. This retelling of Little Red Riding Hood takes the reader to the Louisiana swamps where we meet a new character in Cory the Crocodile. Will Little Red follow her mother’s rules? Will Cory the Croc succeed? Find out what happens when they meet on a journey. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

As you can probably tell from the above description, this children’s book is a twist on Little Red Riding Hood. Instead of Red, there’s a sweet little girl named Zara. She is supposed to bring her goodies to her aunt Moshee. Her mother warns her to go straight there, without getting distracted or talking to strangers. Of course, she doesn’t listen. If she had, there wouldn’t be a story. Instead, Zara befriends a sneaky (and hungry) crocodile.

I read this to my toddler, seeing as it’s intended for kids. He enjoyed the twist on the classic fairy tale, as did I. It was charming, and the fact that the crocodile doesn’t get cut open in this version is a win in my book.

It is a bit longer than I would expect a young child to sit still for. I’d recommend this one for ages 4 through 6ish. It’s a good tool to use when talking to your kids about stranger danger. The lesson was taught in a fun way.

I do wish there were more illustrations because they were so incredibly cute. However, this was a great book overall, and one that I think most kids would enjoy.

Have you read this to your little ones? What did they think?

Stephen Hawking: My First Stephen Hawking (Little People BIG Dreams) by Maria Isable Sanchez Vegara- ARC Review


Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on February fourth, 2020.

My toddler loves historical figures. His favorites are the U.S. Presidents (any of them: he has yet to decide his party), but he is interested in other figures as well. Not too long ago, I told him I had a secret to tell him. I whispered “I love you” and he whispered back, “Ibn Batutta.” I jumped at the chance to read this book about an important person with him.

I’ll start with the illustrations. They were adorable. They were simple, but brightly colored. My little guy liked pointing at them and saying “That’s Stephen Hawking” multiple times. They definitely held his interest.

The story itself was cute. It talked about Stephen Hawking in a way that would be easily grasped by youngsters. At times it seemed a little too simple: but it could just be because my toddler wants a wealth of information in his nonfiction books. He sometimes goes a little beyond the “normal” amount of information requested by that age group.

It was very difficult to find good nonfiction books when my oldest was a toddler, and I love that authors are changing that. Overall, my toddler liked it, and so did I. I’d buy this for any curious kid in the 2-5 year old range.

Teddy Bear of the Year by Vikki Vansickle, illustrated by Sydney Hanson- ARC Review

Teddy Bear of the Year by Vikki VanSickle

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on January 21, 2020.

When I was young, my local library hosted a “teddy bear’s picnic.” Each child brought their own stuffed animal, and read books about bears while eating animal crackers. It was very cute. So, filled with nostalgia, I was happy to read an updated take on The Teddy Bear’s Picnic to my toddler.

In this book, Ollie the bear is invited to a teddy bear’s picnic. There are games and sweets, and stuffed animals are given awards for their service to their humans. Ollie thinks that he’s not a good stuffed friend, but is given an award for his kindness and compassion with his human. The lesson in this story is that even small acts of kindness matter.

It’s a very cute story-line, and the illustrations are adorable. Unfortunately- possibly because this was an ebook copy- the illustrations and words were out of order. It was more difficult to follow than my little guy expected because we’d see pictures for things that didn’t happen for another couple of pages. I’m assuming that was just an upload error and that the final version will be in the proper order. If so, then this would pair up nicely with a teddy bear picnic for your youngster.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas- Books that would make great gifts (picture book edition)

It’s getting to be that time of year. The time of year where, if you’re like me, you start to think about what book/s you’d like to give as gifts this year. I try to buy my children at least one book every Christmas. My youngest is a toddler, so I’m pretty well-versed in picture books. Here are a few that would make wonderful gifts.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce, illustrated by Joe Bluhm

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This charming story is about the magic of books, so of course I love it. The language is pretty, yet simple, and the illustrations are absolutely wonderful. I love sharing this one with my kids.
The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems

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Our family loves the Pigeon books. There are several, but this one is my personal favorite. The words are simple and written largely, so new readers can follow along. All of Mo Willems’ books encourage participation from everyone listening, so story time is a lot of fun.
Frankenstein: A Babylit Anatomy Primer

All of the Babylit board books are adorable and fun. This one is no exception. There’s something funny about using Frankenstein’s monster to teach body parts. There are several other Babylit books that are equally great: The Hound of the Baskervilles Sounds Primer, and Dracula: A Counting Primer happen to be my three favorites.
U.S. Presidents: Oval Office All-Stars by Dan Green

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My toddler has a surprising interest: he loves historical figures. He’ll say he wants to tell me a secret, then whisper “Ibn Battuta.” His favorites are the American presidents. He likes all of them, even dressing up as Abraham Lincoln for Halloween. He likes looking at adult history books and this is one of the few children’s books about presidents that passes muster for him.
The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak

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This book is flat-out awesome. It’s perfect for transitioning from picture books to chapter books. As the title suggests, there are no pictures, but the letters are brightly colored and the entire book is about how the readers’ parents have to say whatever is in the book even if it’s silly and ridiculous. This story is always accompanied by giggles and requests to read it again.

Here’s a short list of books that are winners in our house. Are you buying any picture books for little ones this year? What are some that you like to give as gifts?