To Grandmother’s House We Go.

Do you have memories of Christmas at Granny’s house? Did you look forward to your visit with her? Did you see her other times of the year?

Our maternal grandmother lived with us, so I learned a lot from her, particularly about cooking and reading. She was a good cook and prodigious reader. She was head librarian at our tiny library where she read every single book from picture book on up. Generally she read two to three books a day. The parents trusted her to guide their children’s reading selections whether the book was for younger or older people. But she also was the cook in our family. My sister and I had a miniature electric stove that our uncle sent to us from Germany. Granny would sit me on the counter in our kitchen and show me how to cook whatever she was cooking for dinner. Though she did make the worst fruitcake imaginable. Fond memories.

My other grandmother was a quiet, sad woman, at least after the death of her son, my father, during WWII. But pictures of her when she was a teen, in addition to stories about her riding whatever polo pony she was training back and forth to the rural Arkansas school where she was the teacher, show a different side. An impish, raven-haired beauty, with a gleam in her eye that hinted at her mischievous nature. She was a writer and an interesting person, but preferred visiting with her four boisterous, red-headed grandchildren one or two at a time. My sister named her “Grandmaury,” because we already called our other grandmother “Granny.” Grandmaury was not very much of a cook.

I loved them both and cherish what they taught me. I’m sure you feel the same about yours. Were your grandmothers gentle souls who let you have your way? Or did they rule the roost with a hard demeanor? Do you have a special memory of something you did together or of something they taught you?

The two books I’m presenting in this blog are, as you may have guessed, about grandmothers and their place in children’s lives. Hope you enjoy them. Have a Merry Christmas or Happy Chanukah, or joyous holiday, whatever your religion.
What Will You Be, Grandma?
Nanette Newman
Illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark
Lily asks what her grandmother will be when she grows up. Grandma says most people think she’s already grown up, but Lily feels Grandma has much growing up to do. Maybe she could go to schools and tell everybody to play instead of doing lessons. Or perhaps she could fly around the world on her newly grown wings and teach people to be kind to their pets. Grandma likes that idea. Maybe she could an artist and paint rainbows or butterflies or possibly tigers on children’s faces. Grandma could heal injured children with a magic kiss as she did when Lily fell. How about being a gardener who grows Brussels sprouts that taste like strawberry ice cream or chocolate cake cabbage? She could give out lollipops so kids can save their allowances. Lily thinks Grandma would be good as a birthday-party entertainer or an old fairy with a magic room-cleaning wand or do children’s homework so they always get a star. But it turns out what Grandma is best at is being Grandma to her darling grandchild, Lily. What a sweet story this is and with charming illustrations. Bound to be a comfort to any little girl and her Grandma.
BIBLIO: 2011 (orig. 2011,) Templar Books/Candlewick Press, Ages 4 to 8, $15.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Picture Book
ISBN: 978-0-7636-6099-4
This second book delightfully focuses on all grandmothers.

All about Grandmas
Ronnie Schotter
Illustrated by Janice Nadeau
Grandmothers are special no matter whether they’re called Granny or Ouma (Afrikaans) or Jaddah (Arabic) or Babushka (Russian) or Abuela (Spanish) or Seanmhathair (Gaelic.) They can play games. They can read. They can cuddle or tickle or serve homemade preserves. Grandmas are sometimes so busy working they hardly have time for anything, except maybe hugs. Some of them dress up fancy and some like to fix or mend things. Though their faces may be wrinkly, their laps are comfy and their eyes show their love. Some people only have pretend grandmamas, but that’s alright too. Love is love. Grandmothers come in different shapes and sizes; each one is special. This sweet story is a nice homage to grandmothers and the illustrations are cute. A picky point is that the rhythm and rhyme are off occasionally. It’s nice to read the names of what grandmothers are called in different cultures and languages. Children will enjoy cuddling on Granny’s soft lap and listening to her read this book.
BIBLIO: 2012, Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Young Readers Group/Penguin Group, Ages 4 to 6, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Picture Book
ISBN: 978-0-8037-3714-3

Are You Ready? The Holidays Are upon Us!

(One of these days, I’ll figure out all the tricks to this program, but in the meantime, here’s my blog.)
I’ve bought a few presents, but haven’t a clue what to buy for the rest. Dale bought presents for two of the women (our daughter and her partner) in our lives, but our daughter-in-law is “a puzzlement”; dear as she is. Dale and I usually buy something for the two of us, like another piece of art. This year we just finished having the master bath re-papered, which of course meant raising cabinet height and having a new counter top installed. So I figure that does it for us.
Apologies to my non-Christian readers, but I’m concentrating on Christmas for this blog. Though having written that, I do have to tell you about good friends of ours who used to trim our tree on Christmas Eve when we lived in Maryland. They did that because they are ethnic Jews who, though not observant, they never put up a tree. Helene, being a whimsical, artistic woman, made a tree ornament for us out of “baking”clay. The ornament is the head of an Hassidic Jew complete with the braided sideburns, an enormous schnoz and a hat. She named him Rabbi Rabinowitz. Another friend was so jealous, she had to have one for her tree.
Whatever your beliefs, I hope you have a lovely holiday season, with lots of good cheer and love amongst family and friends.
Lousy as my voice is, even my children let me sing Christmas Carols. They just sing louder than I do.

A Joyful Christmas: A Treasury of New and Classic Songs, Poems, and Stories for the Holiday
Collected by James Ransome
Illustrated by James Ransome
This is a lovely collection of Christmas celebration pieces with beautiful illustrations. Mr. Ransome divided the anthology into two sections: Soul—which he understands to be the spiritual essence of life—and Heart—which he considers to be the core of our being. In the soul section he includes “A Time of Angels,” “Silent Night,” “The Friendly Beasts,” “Maybe in Bethlehem,” A Carol for the Shepherds,” “The Blind Ox,” “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” “What You Gonna Name that Pretty Little Baby?,” “What Can I Give Him?,” “Long, Long Ago,” “There Was No Snow on Christmas Eve,” “On a Christmas Night,” “Joy to the World,” and “The History of Christmas.” The Heart section has “December,” “How I Know,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” “Dear Santa,” “Jingle Bells,” “Christmas Eve at Indian Lake,” “Once There Was a Snowman,” “Day Before Christmas,” Christmas Gift,” A Christmas Gift,” “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” “Ms. MacAdoo’s Christmas Guests,” “Deck the Halls,” “Christmas-in-a-Shoebox,” and “Miracle at Midnight.”
BIBLIO: 2010, Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt and Company, All Ages, $19.99
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Picture Book
ISBN: 978-0-8050-6621-0

Christmas is a time for people to remember Jesus’ message of love, compassion and giving. The next story is about just that.

The Christmas Eve Ghost
Shirley Hughes
Illustrated by Shirley Hughes
In the 1930s, Bronwen and Dylan move to Liverpool, England, from their native village in Wales because their da died in a mining accident and their mam must be a washer woman and seamstress to support the family. Being of a different denomination, Mam will have nothing to do with her neighbors, the O’Rileys. She rushes about before Bronwen and Dylan wake up in the morning to deliver the clean clothes to each house and take away the dirty ones. She worries about her children while she’s gone, but can’t afford a babysitter. Bronwen and Dylan help as much as they can, but they still have time to play. The children know they won’t get much in the way of presents for Christmas, but they don’t mind. Mam works extra hard to afford at least a little present and on Christmas Eve day she takes them with her to deliver the clothes. They are very tired after all that walking, so Mam takes them home to rest while she goes out to finish her shopping. While they wait for Mam to return, the children hear a plonk sound coming from the washer room at the back of their house. Dylan is sure it’s a “horrid ghostie” out to get them and runs screaming into the street. Bronwen is hot on his heels and they both run into Mrs. O’Riley, who shows them it’s naught but her sons and husband playing a game of darts. Mam comes to fetch them home and discovers Mrs. O’Riley to be a nice person willing to look after Bronwen and Dylan when need be. The illustrations are delightful and the story is a sweet message of trust and tolerance.
BIBLIO: 2010, Candlewick Press, Ages 4 to 8, $15.99
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Picture Book
ISBN: 978-0-7636-4472-7


And the third book, repeats the message of love.

The Perfect Christmas
Eileen Spinelli
Illustrated by JoAnn Adinolfi
Christmas is joyful no matter how you celebrate it. You can have an artificial tree with wispy branches or go with your parents to pick out and cut a live tree. You can decorate your house with fancy wreaths or stuff you buy in bargain bins. Your homemade baked goods can be yummy or hard as stones. Fancy gifts or simple gifts, either is fine. And playing the kazoo instead of the cello can be just as much fun. What matters is what’s in your heart. Christmas is especially wonderful if it snows, because then everybody shares the feeling whether rich or poor. Ms. Spinelli’s rhymes are wonderful and Ms. Adinolfi’s drawings are charming. This book will give the reader the “warm and fuzzies” every time it is read, which is sure to be often.
BIBLIO: 2011, Christy Ottaviano Books/ Henry Holt and Company, Ages 4 to 8, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Picture Book
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8702-4