Sunday, December 27, 2009

Belated Christmas

I had very good intentions of posting a Christmas-themed reading selection BEFORE the holiday. But alas and alack, things at work got quite busy and I missed my window of opportunity before the holiday.

Still, I did want to give a shout out to the book How Santa Really Works by Alan Snow. This is a great picture book for sharing, or for older readers (2nd grade and up) to tackle on their own. The basic story is laid out pretty simply, but there are extra hilarious tid-bits in speech bubbles from the elves on each and every page. While it is a truly fun and whimsical read, it is subversively educational because the North Pole, it turns out, runs very much like a large business with its departments and divisions of labor. Somehow, it's more interesting when one is learning how Santa does it than how Wells Fargo Bank does.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas!

Thank you for reading, and keep an eye out in the New Year, for new posts and new ideas for taking adventures with books!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Nutcracker

Most little girls will go through either a ballet stage or a horses stage, some both. For me, I was a ballet girl, through and through and Christmas season meant one thing to 5 year old me: The Nutcracker!

I would put on my leotard, tutu and slippers and begin twirling harry-carry around the living room to the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies.

I never really knew the story of The Nutcracker though, I knew the music, but could not have told you what was happening in the scene during any particular song. I would have loved to have one of these versions of the classic tale available to me as a ballet-loving kid.

The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers is great, easy to read and share aloud picture book version of the classic tale. This book is perfect for young audiences who don't have the patience to sit through the whole ballet, or as a short introduction to kids about to attend their very first performance.

The Nutcracker by Eyewitness Classics is a great one for older kids who want to go more in depth into the story, the ballet and its history. The book features the full (long version) story as well as great pictures and side bars with  non-fiction information about everything from historical nutcrackers to German Christmas traditions to the Russian premiere of Tchaikovsky's ballet.

Last but not least The Nutcracker by Janet Schulman is a well-illustrated picture book, but more importantly it comes with a read-along CD that features music from the ballet.

If you have kids that love to dance this is a great excuse to expose them to classical music and ballet. There are many excellent and easily available recordings of Tchaikovsky's score - check one out at your local library or invest in your own copy. Crank the music and get your dance on! You can act out scenes from the story together, or just enjoy moving around to the melody.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Happy Hanukkah!

The 8 day celebration of Hanukkah began this last Friday evening, tonight Jewish families around the world will light the third candle, celebrating the miracle of the oil.

In my work I try to highlight the winter celebrations of cultures from all around the world. I adore the holidays, and winter-time celebrations have existed since well before the birth of Christ, so while Christmas gets all the press (and is the holiday I myself celebrate), winter has long been a time to celebrate and gather together regardless of culture or beliefs.

Since this is the week of Hanukkah I wanted to highlight a few of my favorite Hanukkah story books.

As a child my mother bought me a book about the miracle of Hanukkah called Festival of Lights: The Story of Hanukkah. The book told the historical story of Maccabees rebuilding the temple and how the sacred oil for the lamp lasted 8 whole days, the books then goes on to explain the menorah, dreidel and the music for a favorite holiday song. For those gentiles out there, the book is a great introduction to the story behind the celebration.

Last year I stumbled upon another great Hanukkah book. Most books about the holiday seem to be written for a non-Jewish audience, but the book Moishe's Miracle is a great book for Jewish children who already know the holiday and its traditions as well as gentile kids who will find the story equally entertaining because Hanukkah is just the back drop to the action of the story.

In the United States we often associate Hanukkah with potato pancakes called latkes, these tasty treats (which make an appearance in Moishe's Miracle) are from the Ashkenazim tradition, the Jewish people of central and eastern Europe. But did you know that there are also Jewish people from Iberia and the Mediterranean, the Sephardic Jews? They have their own Hanukkah tradition of bunuelos. Bunuelos and latkes are both fried treats. Fried foods are very popular around Hanukkah because they hearken back to the miracle oil in the temple. The Sephardic Jews brought the tradition of bunuelos with them to Mexico and they are now a popular treat for Christmas as well.

Here is a great recipe, just like my lita makes them!

Latkes and bunuelos are both easy to make - try them out this week with your family.