What We’re Reading: Santa’s Prayer and ‘Twas the Night Before Christ

This week, Simple Kids book reviewer Amy (Girlfriends Get Real) shares two Christmas favorites from her family’s collection:

santasprayerEvery year on Christmas Eve, each of our children receives a new pair of pajamas and a Christmas book to add to our library. I am always trying to find new and unique books to give. This year I came across a book by a South Dakota author called Santa’s Prayer. I ordered the book from the site Santa’s Prayer and 100% of the proceeds from the book are donated to the Children’s Home Society of South Dakota.

Santa’s Prayer is a story of a brother and sister that follow Santa on Christmas Eve as he enters a little church. They see Santa knelt down by the manger so they move closer to hear what he has to say. The story captures Santa praying about the children he will visit that night. He is praying that he hopes the children he visits will realize that Christmas is about so much more than the presents under the tree. The true meaning of Christmas is about Jesus Christ.

This delightful story was exactly what I was looking for to add to our Christmas library. Santa does visit our house, but we always try to keep the focus on the real meaning of the season. This is the second children’s book written by Tom Roberts.

nightbeforechristmasThe first is a story titled ‘Twas the Night Before Christ. This book has been one of our favorite books for years. It is a story that follows the famous rhyme by Clement C. Moore. However, it follows Mary and Joseph on their journey to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus.

The illustrations by Steve Hoffman, (also the illustrator of Santa’s Prayer), bring the story to life. One of my favorite pages from the book summarize the book so well. “And there in the hay on that first Christmas morn, a baby boy-child, a Savior, Jesus Christ was born! His eyes how they sparkled, his face all aglow and the goodness of God showed from head to toe.”

What We’re Reading: Catherine Gilbert Murdoch’s Dairy Queen (and more!)

Three beautiful books await your discovery today, thanks to our SK Book Review Team!


from Amy (Girlfriends Get Real, Unforgettable Childhood)

deepintheswampA couple of weeks ago my daughter had a book fair at her preschool. She found a few books that grabbed her attention. As we were browsing I saw the book Deep in the Swamp by Donna M. Bateman. At first glance, I thought that it would be a good addition to our home library. On the cover was an alligator. My daughter has been intrigued by alligators since our trip to Hilton Head Island. We saw them sitting in the backyards of people as we were on a bike ride through town and they have become a favorite in our house.

I did not read through the book at the school so I was pleasantly surprised by the rhyming story that also focused on counting. As you explore Okefenokee Swamp in the story you see a variety of animals in their swamp habitat. The beautiful illustrations show an animal with their babies surrounded by swamp plants like water lilies and cattails.

My daughters favorite page turned out to be the Marsh Rabbits. Here is an excerpt from this page:

Deep in the swamp, in a thicket on the shore,
Lived a mother marsh rabbit and her little bunnies Four.
“Snooze!” said the mother. “We snooze,” said the Four.
So they snoozed all day long in their thicket on the shore.

A wonderful addition to the book comes at the end. There is a glossary with each animal and water loving plant with facts. My three year old even wants me to read this section. Living in the Midwest on the prairie it is fun for all of us to learn more about the animals in the Okefenokee Swamp.

Early Elementary

from MJ (turnitupmom)

Fly Away HomeAs we approach Thanksgiving, I thought it fitting to share a story that prompts me to count my blessings every time I read it. Fly Away Home, by Eve Bunting, is the story of a homeless boy and his father who live in an airport, ducking in and out of different terminals to avoid being sent out on the streets. Ronald Himler’s blurred watercolor illustrations nicely compliment this father and son’s life of anonymity.

I love that this story is told from the boy’s perspective. We learn that a typical day includes wearing blue, sleeping sitting up, washing in the restroom, and eating in the cafeteria. No matter what he’s doing, the goal is always to blend in and go unnoticed. And naturally, the boy experiences a range of emotions, including fear, sadness, and anger.

While this may seem like a heavy plot line, it is also a story of hope. One day a wounded bird is caught in the main terminal and the little boy encourages it to fly free: “Don’t stop trying . . .Don’t! You can get out!” Bunting revisits the bird motif on the final page: “And when the bird left, when it flew free, I know it was singing.”

This story is a must-read for every child. It increases awareness about the plight of the homeless and dispels the commonly held belief that if you’re working, you can pay rent. We are all worthy of a place to call home. May you have a healthy, safe, and warm Thanksgiving!

Upper Elementary

from Diana (Holes in my Shiny Veneer)

dairyqueenMy pick for this month is a bit older than some of my previous recommendations:  Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock was named an ALA 2006 Best Book for Young Adults.  Perhaps I’m recommending it because it’s another seasonal pick because Dairy Queen is, at first glance, about high school football.  You’ll know that this isn’t your typical book about high school football, though, as soon as you realize that the protagonist, D.J. Schwenk is a girl.

D.J. is a farm girl in small town Wisconsin.  In this first novel from Murdock, we find D.J.  in the summer before her junior year working to save the family farm.  Her older football-star brothers are away on college scholarships and her younger brother is on a championship Little League team, so the farm chores have been laid on her shoulders after her father’s hip injury.  D.J. has sacrificed a lot for her family, but given that her family has more than the usual amount of trouble communicating, she doesn’t exactly feel appreciated.

Things get complicated when she finds herself using her football knowledge to train Brian Nelson, the quarterback of the rival high school.  Things get even more complicated when D.J. finds herself becoming friends with Brian and realizes that she can’t talk at all to her best friend, Amber.  And yes, D.J. eventually decides to go out for the football team herself, meaning that her new friend, Brian, is now even more of a rival than before.

Murdock’s creation of the character of D.J. is truly unforgettable.  D.J. pushes herself to her limits over and over and teaches Brian what it means to do your best.  She comes to grips with her dreams and pursues them, willing to overcome the odds to reach them.  I can’t think of any character I’ve ever met with such a work ethic who still comes across as a flesh and blood teenager.  I’m looking forward to encountering D.J. again in the rest of Murdock’s trilogy in The Off Season and Front and Center.

(Please bear in mind that this is a young adult novel and deals with some more mature themes such as homosexuality and teenage drinking.)

What We’re Reading: Sam McBratney’s You’re All My Favorites (and more!)

Three timeless, lovely, and adventurous books have been chosen by the Simple Kids Book Review team for this week’s What We’re Reading Wednesday:


from Amy (Girlfriends Get Real)

allmyfavoritesAt Christmastime we are always looking for new books for our girls. Last Christmas we came across the book You’re All My Favorites by Sam McBratney. With three girls in the house trying to get attention from Mom and Dad, this book was perfect.

In the book three baby bears want to know, “Which one of us do you like most? Who is your favorite? We can’t all be the best.” Mommy and Daddy Bear try to explain that they are all the most wonderful baby bears in the whole world. However, the baby bears start to doubt that they can all be a favorite. In the end Mommy and Daddy bear explained that each of the bears is different and they love them equally.

This book illustrates how each child in your family can be unique and different, but our hearts are big enough to love each one the same.

Early Elementary

from MJ Wieland (turnitupmom)

The End of the BeginningThe End of the Beginning: Being the Adventures of a Small Snail (and an Even Smaller Ant) is an amusing chapter book that chronicles the adventures of Avon, a small snail, and Edward, an even smaller ant. Newberry Award winner Avi writes with such wit and wisdom that even the most reluctant reader will want to journey with these entertaining characters.

Avon, the snail, has never been on an adventure of his own; he has only read about them. And adventures, he concludes, are the key to a happy life. So, he sets out on a journey with his neighbor, a small but self-assured ant. Along the way, the spirited pair gets lost, writes poetry, encounters a “dragon,” and meets other wise and weird creatures, including a worm who cannot determine his front end from his back end.

Avi writes with a dry sense of humor that appeals to all ages. When Avon reluctantly fights a famous “battle” (against another ridiculously slow snail), and Edward asks if he’s won, Avon replies, “I don’t know. It all happened so quickly.” Avi’s play on words and clever use of language leaves both kids and adults giggling their way through these silly adventures.

While this story is humorous and at times nonsensical, it is also philosophical and profound. Avi gives deeper meaning to the ordinary and even dull events that transpire, and the more mature reader will experience this tale on a different emotional and intellectual level.  Embedded in this adventure are thought-provoking statements such as this: “Getting yourself lost is easy. Happens all the time. It’s finding yourself that’s hard.”

Ultimately, the end of the beginning is the start of a beautiful friendship between two unlikely adventurers. Tricia Tusa’s pen and ink illustrations are the perfect complement to this charming little tale. If you’ve enjoyed Frog and Toad, I think you’ll find this pair to be quirky and oh, so lovable!

Upper Elementary

from Diana (Holes in my Shiny Veneer)

zorgamazooMy pick for this month is a seasonal one – Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston.  I say seasonal because it has just the right amount of macabre and fantasy for the upcoming Halloween festivities.  Fans of The Series of Unfortunate Events will delight in this tale which finds Katrina Katrell, our luckless heroine, being pursued by her guardian for a lobotomy.  The impetus for this impromptu brain surgery is Katrina’s sighting of Morty the Zorgle in a subway tunnel—such “imagination” is intolerable to the narrow-minded Mrs. Krabone.

Yet Katrina was not imagining.  She really did see a Zorgle, whom she eventually encounters again.  As she joins Morty’s reluctant quest to discover what happened to the missing Zorgles of Zorgamazoo, the two of them are eventually kidnapped and taken hostage on the moon with all sorts of other fantastical creatures that have gone missing from our world:  griffins, yetis, dragons, and more.

Katrina’s tale of cunning and escape is quite a remarkable novel.  Remarkable not only because it is Weston’s first, but because the entire novel is written in verse!  Imagine Dr. Seuss writing nearly 300 pages and you’ll get an idea of how incredible this is.  Naturally, Zorgamazoo is the perfect candidate for a read-aloud. In fact, it was given a 2009 E.B. White Older Reader Honors award. You can hear the first few chapters read aloud on Weston’s site if this little tidbit isn’t enough:

So if you’re a person who’s tired or pooped
if the edge of your mind has been drearily drooped,
then of course you’d ignore any zorgally face,
that perhaps you would see in some shadowy place.

So if you’ve no time for the whimsical things,
for pirates and gadgets and creatures and kings,
if you spurn the fantastic to never return,
then PUT THIS BOOK DOWN…for it’s not your concern.

* * * * *

Congratulations to commenter Cary who is the winner of the Crafting Fun and Cooking Fun giveaway.  She shared about her favorite childhood memories of creating:

“My favorite cooking memory with my mom as a child was making rice crispie bars.  Our recipe used the microwave rather than the stove so she would let us do most of it ourselves encouraging us all the way.  My favorite cooking memory with my dad is helping him make scalloped potatoes and ham from scratch which was a huge treat.  We would help measure out all the ingredients, and he would have us 1 1/3 the recipe or 1 1/2 the reicpe just to test our math skills.  My favorite new memory with my little ones is our tradition of making breadsticks every Sunday night.  Great fun and they help with everything!”

Thanks to everyone for such wonderful comments.  I hope you’ve been inspired to add Rae Grant’s lovely books to your home library!