Saturday, October 31, 2009

What an incredibly fun party! Thanks to everybody who came, and thanks to Sweet for generously donating their delicious cupcakes for us to decorate!

We've put some photos up on our Facebook page if you'd like to see some of what went on - I'm sure more will be coming soon. Let's cross our fingers and hope Neil Gaiman liked our tribute party and will come visit us!

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 27

Happy Halloween! It's unseasonably warm here at the store, but a little heat can't keep me from shopping--so here are this week's choices.

Collector's Edition Slinky by James Industries Inc.
Located downstairs in the Chapter Book Room

There aren't many toys more time-tested and endlessly fun than the Slinky, and this particular version is perhaps my favorite. It's the smallish metal kind, except this one is black--very chic--and comes in a recycled-paper box with graphics and instructions on it (which just makes the whole thing funny and appealing, because really, who doesn't know how to use a Slinky?). It's compact, it's super fun, it's a most remarkable toy! I want one! ;)

Geometrical Riddles - Master Level by MindTrap
Ages 12+
Located downstairs in the Chapter Book Room

Lately I've been feeling like my brain needs some exercise, and this set of puzzle cards is just the way to do it. Including pattern recognition, geometry and math riddles, each card gives your brain a nice brisk workout. This set would be perfect for a long car ride (or a long commute on the T). We carry the Master and Novice levels in the store, so you can work your brain as hard (or as gently) as you want!

That's all for this week. Have a great Halloween, and be sure to eat lots of candy! :)

Friday, October 30, 2009

It's here, it's here, it's finally here!!!

...The Graveyard Book Party, that is!

We've been painting gravestones, stockpiling candy and covering plushie animals with tulle (I mean, real cobwebs and cemetery moss). I think this is going to be our best event yet, especially if we manage to keep our paws off those Sweet cupcakes kids are going to decorate!

Don't forget to stop in during Harvard Scare - we'll be writing MadLib style epitaphs, reading ghost stories, making masks and bookmarks, decorating those tasty cupcakes with ghosts and ghoul candies from 5 til 8 pm. If you see our costume parade dancing down the street, join in!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Staff Pick Bento Box

Hungry for more tasty reads? This rain is perfect weather for read-a-thons with hot chocolate and candy corn. This round has a heavier focus on middle grade than usual - so read on for our latest additions to our staff favorites.

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
Bookseller: Miruna
Genre: historical fiction
Suggested reading level: ages 9 up

Christopher Paul Curtis does a wonderful job presenting heart-breaking subjects and making you laugh at the same time. You will absolutely love Elijah and you'll find him very smart and a great improviser.

Prince of Fenway Park by Julianna Baggott
Bookseller: Anne
Genre: fiction
Suggested reading level: ages 9 up

Not for Red Sox fans only...but it's even better if you are! You will find yourself rooting for Oscar against school bullies and bullies of a completely different sort as he sets out to break the legendary "curse." A lovely story about the growing pains of not just a young man, but the Red Sox and baseball as a sport.

Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children by Keith McGowan
Bookseller: Natasha
Genre: mystery, fantasy
Suggested reading level: ages 8 up

Reads like realistic fiction, but is a modern-day "Hansel and Gretel." Sol is a 10-year-old "bad" scientist and Connie is his mischievous 8-year-old sister. When they move to a new town they start to suspect their new neighbor prefers children to cheeseburgers for dinner! Wonderful illustrations!

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
Bookseller: Katie
Genre: historical fiction, murder mystery
Suggested reading level: ages 12 up

Mattie dreams of being a writer, but it seems impossible for a farmer's daughter in 1906. Then Grace Brown, a guest at the hotel where Mattie works, mysteriously drowns, immediately after sharing a secret with her. Mattie must choose whether to keep silent or find her voice.

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick
Bookseller: Michelle
Genre: literary criticism
Suggested reading level: teen, adult

Collected here are the incisive reviews, reading memories, and funny anecdotes of blogger lit critic Skurnick, with guest appearances from Cecil Von Ziegesar ad Meg Cabot. Covers favorites from Blume's Forever to Andrews' Flowers in the Attic.

The Name of This Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

Bookseller: Rachel
Genre: funny mystery adventure
Suggested reading level: ages 8 up

When Cass and Max-Ernest, two fearless young detectives, stumble upon a dangerous mystery involving a box of smelly vials, anything could happen - some things that are event too secret for the narrator to reveal. Be sure to check out the sequels - If You're Reading This, It's Too Late, and This Book Is Not Good For You.

We're toiling away behind the scenes here on a truly massive round up of all things fantasy - thanks for bearing with us! It's been a lot of fun reading for it, and we hope you'll think so too!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 26

I'm all over the place with my choices this week, because there's just so much cool stuff that I can't be limited to a theme. If you can come up with something that unifies these awesome items, let me know! ;)

Tomo Tomo Eraser/Bento Box by BC USA
Located around the Hut

BC USA's adorable "Japanese Erasers" have been taking Harvard Square (and probably other places too) by storm. They make everything from cupcakes to toothpaste to samurai to hamsters, all in pocketable, collectible eraser form. Of course I always want to buy those--I'm a sucker for small cute things that I can line up and admire while my roommate rolls her eyes. This week, though, I'm inspired to buy this little eraser box, which doubles as a tiny bento! It's just the right size (about 4" square, 2" deep) for a collection of eraser food or for a real snack or side dish to slip into my lunch box. It's got two clips on the sides of the lid for an airtight seal, and it's got sweet little woodland or zoo animals on it, to boot! It just doesn't get better than that!

Grow a Crystal Formation by Smithsonian
Located downstairs in the Chapter Book Room

Trust the folks at Smithsonian to come up with something as great as this! All it takes is the base rocks and chemical powder provided, some boiling water, and the kit's blister packaging to grow awesome crystals in green, yellow or blue! The step by step instructions on the back of the package explain the process in detail, including little illustrations, so even the least instructions-capable person can figure them out. I also really like the fact that the plastic blister packaging that the kit comes in gets re-used as mixing and growing cups for the crystals--way to be green and cut down on waste, Smithsonian!

The Wild Things by Dave Eggers
Located downstairs in the Chapter Book Room

I don't usually post about books, because it's a given that I want to buy those, and our other staff pick roundups and other posts often touch on the newest and coolest. Still, since the Where the Wild Things Are movie just opened last weekend, I think I'll take this opportunity to voice my interest in this cool-looking title. According to the awesomely-designed back cover, it's an "all-ages novel" that's loosely based both on Sendak's original Where the Wild Things Are as well as the Spike Jonze movie version. I'll let the book speak for itself, because this quote is what caught my interest: "Who is Max? What is a Wild Thing? Is it ever okay to eat someone's head? What if it falls off? Then can you eat it?" I can already tell that this Max is the kind of kid I want to hang with.

That's it for this week--see you soon!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Staff Pick Goodie Bag

It's been a bit since the last staff pick sampler dish, eh? We've been reading all kinds of new fall titles as well as revisiting some classics, so here is a tasting of our latest recommended reads. (Look out for some new chroom staffer names on here too!)

The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa
Bookseller: Rachel
Genre: graphic novel, biography, romance
Suggested reading level: ages 14 up

Ehwa is a young girl just beginning to blossom while her widowed mother longs for love to come again; both of them must bear the weight of social tradition in their turn-of-the-century Korean village. Also check out the other books in this trilogy, The Color of Water and The Color of Heaven.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Bookseller: Michelle
Genre: contemporary realistic fiction, school story
Suggested reading level: ages 14 up

Private school sophomore Frankie attracts the attention of popular senior Matt, but when she discovers he is in a secret society that doesn't include girls she takes matters into her own mastermind hands. Perfect for any girl who doesn't want to be called "harmless." This Printz Honor and National Book Award Finalist is now in paperback.

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Bookseller: Anne
Genre: historic fiction, fantasy
Suggested reading level: ages 12 and up

Gemma's got sass and the usual growing pains on top of being dropped off at a stuffy boarding school. Of course, there's a little gothic romance in the series, but you have to wait for it. It's great fun to watch her slowly discover her 'gift' and legacy. Strong memorable characters.

Body Drama by Nancy Amanda Redd
Bookseller: Katie
Genre: girls' health nonfiction
Suggested reading level: 13 and up

Like The Care and Keeping of You for younger girls and Our Bodies, Ourselves, for adults, Body Drama addresses questions about health and body image which young women may not know how to ask. Redd tackles tough issues with wit and tact, without talking down to teens and their concerns.

The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald
Bookseller: Miruna
Genre: humor
Suggested reading level: ages 8 and up

I like funny books. This one I loved! If you like to laugh, you have to get it. Tom, aka the Great Brain is really something - he gets into all sorts of trouble and always manages to get away with it. This book reminds me of Tom Sawyer, which I also LOVED.

Wonderland by Tommy Kovac, illustrated by Sonny Liew
Bookseller: Natasha
Genre: graphic novel, fantasy, retelling
Suggested reading level: ages 9 up

"Mary Ann! Mary Ann!" Just who was this Mary Ann that the White Rabbit was looking for in the Disney Alice in Wonderland? This graphic novel, with incredibly vibrant illustrations, tells the story of the White Rabbit's housemaid Mary Ann, picking up where the movie left off. Intrigue and fun abound!

Notes from the Dog by Gary Paulsen
Bookseller: Taylor
Genre: realism
Suggested reading level: ages 12 up

When Finn meets his new neighbor Johanna, a cancer survivor, he instantly realizes his summer - and perhaps his entire life - will never be the same. YA veteran Paulsen delivers another extremely relatable teenage character in this short novel that is certainly not short on emotion; be prepared to both laugh and cry your way through.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 25

I'm all about shapes and patterns this week, it seems! Check out these cool items I want to buy this week:

Buckyballs by Zoomdoggle
Located downstairs in the Chapter Book Room

How they got the name Buckyballs is beyond me, but these 216 magnetic spheres are super fun to play with! Each ball is a rare earth magnet with a positive and a negative pole, so they stick together in chains, squares, and tons of other shapes. Instructions to make a variety of geometric wonders are included, and the balls come in a handy travel case to keep them all together--though their magnetism is fairly strong, so they stick together very well on their own! They can also be mushed up into a shapeless mass that's fun to massage in your hand when your attention isn't focused enough for pattern-making. Best of all, the carrying case and Buckyballs all together are small enough to fit in a purse or tote or glove compartment, making them easy to bring along wherever you're going.

Women of the Ukiyo-e coloring book from Dover, art by Ming-Ju Sun
Located downstairs in the Art Room or upstairs in the Activity section

I've been feeling like coloring lately, but the average coloring book is too dull for me. Luckily, we have tons of interesting and unique coloring books to choose from! My favorite today is Women of the Ukiyo-e, a coloring book adaptation of thirty classic woodblock prints and paintings of Japan's Edo period (1615-1867). Not only is each page beautifully rendered, but they all include a snipped of information about the original work and artist. Of course, aside from all that learning, there are also plenty of pretty patterns and kimono pieces that require more delicate attention than the average coloring book, which is just the kind of activity I love.

That's it for now--see you next time!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

You make walls crawl, Jack!

Halloween is fast approaching and we're covered in sticky cobwebs, bloodshot eyeballs, pointy witch hats, and...lots of glitter! Whether you need a whole costume (doctor? fire chief?) or just a few pieces to finish your kids' look (green face paint? Roman helmet? Witch shoe covers?) - we have all the tools to make this Halloween the most curiously spooky yet!

We have an abundance of people outfits from Melissa & Doug: kids can be a police officer, doctor, veterinarian, construction worker, or train conductor. These full outfits come with shirt or coat, hats, and the best part of all - the whistles, stethoscopes, and other tools.

For more character fun, we have pirate and knight costumes from Puppet Workshop, which come with a full outfit of vest, bandana and boots or chain-mail and a bejeweled sword.

Our most popular costumes, of course, are those of Curious George, from Rubies. We've been counting down the days until these arrived and they're going fast like Sweet cupcakes next door. George comes in infant and toddler sizes, and can be accompanied by an adult Man in the Yellow Hat.

For the fidgety toddler, puppy, or the co-ed in a rush, we have myriad costume hats. From Elope's toddler hats, we have the adorable Acorn Fairy Hat, the famous hat of Cat in the Hat, and Tweedledee's Beanie, as well as a Roman warrior helmet (with fluffy red plume!), a royal King's Crown, and Woodstock's Three-Cornered Colonial Hat with a Wig Ponytail (all you need is a cherry tree or a horse).

From Forum we also have other small pieces to polish off any outfit, from pointy ears for Elvish Legolas, witch shoe covers for a Wicked lover, or the classic clown nose or bald wig (because who doesn't love an oxymoron?).

My favorite accessory for costume building is face paint! We have a variety of individual makeup from Forum (in green, white, and black), Alex multi-color packs, or the kit from Klutz, for some excellent pointers on everything from fairy faces to vampires.

Tricks and Treats
In addition to filling out your costumes, we can also supply you your trick-or-treating bags, and help fill them up (though you may have to go to our neighbor Hidden Sweets if you want more candy filler). I won't taunt you (too much) about the color-your-own bags we've already sold out of, but we do still have some great glow-in-the-dark tote bags from Two's Company, and sets of miniature treat bags for parties.

Finding goodies (and your kids) in the dark is even more fun with Fright Lights from Jeannies, Glow Wands from Ganz, or Melissa and Doug's Blaze Firefly or Blossom Bright flashlights.

Don't forget the icky, creepy, spooky toys, too: what goodie bag is complete without a flashing eyeball pen, light up Frankenstein pins, skull lanyards, or eyeball or bat bracelets?...Though I do call dibs on the Frankenstein pin - cranky Franky, I call him. And the books! We've got autumnal or Halloweeny books, with plenty of vamps, squirrels, werewolves, and raccoons to sate any fall-lover's book love.

Of course, you don't need to stick to the straight black and orange path, you can fill your goodie bags with whatever Schleich horses, mini Legos or bead sets you like.

Once you're all dolled up, don't forget to swing by the store on Friday the 30th for our Curious George goes to a Graveyard party!! We're extending our hours until 8 pm for the frightening festivities.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Nothin' left for me to do but dance.

My dance troupe is opening a studio this week (whee!), and I'm especially excited to start teaching children's classes later in the year. As I mentioned before, I've been dancing since childhood, so I'm always thrilled to get new dance-related merchandise in stock. If you frequent our dress-up rack, you're already familiar with our wide array of tutus and ballet slipper-style shoes, but we also have books, kits, and lots more for the young dancer in your life. I've had my eye out for potential costumes, books, and props for my future students; here are some true stars!

Books (Fiction and Nonfiction)
A Young Dancer: The Life of an Ailey Student by Iman Bright and Valerie Gadstone is a great addition to our dance book section because it features the diverse styles of ballet, jazz, West African dance, and modern -- all studied by one dancer! Since its founding in 1958, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has been recognized as not only a trailblazing dance company, but also an ambassador of African American culture. This is a look at the life of a student at the Ailey School, featuring behind-the-scenes photographs of Iman in the studio, in performance, and in her hectic non-dance life going to school, swimming, and playing the violin.

Another photographic picture book about dance is the brand-new Beautiful Ballerina. L0vely African American dancers from toddler to teen leap and piroutte their way into your heart through the photography by Susan Kuklin, alongside equally graceful verse by acclaimed poet Marilyn Nelson.

Sandra Boynton, master of adorably awkward animals, brings Little Pookie (of What's Wrong, Little Pookie? fame) back to boogie his way into our hearts yet again. Boyton uses her typically charming rhymes to instruct Little Pookie in the steps of the Little Pookie Shimmy. By the end of this toe-tapping board book, you'll have to get up and shimmy, too!

My best friend, librarian, and fellow dancer Bonnie recently visited, and on a tour of the store she was positively appalled to learn I had not yet read the Mo Willems masterpiece Elephants Cannot Dance. After she staged a dramatic reading, I was appropriately ashamed of myself! Poor Gerald valiantly tries to dance, but has come to the depressing conclusion that elephants simply cannot dance. Piggy, in a show of self-satisfied largess, assures Gerald that he can teach this elephant to dance -- but also give up after several tries. However, Gerald, smug Piggy, and the reader are in for a delightful surprise when other characters show up looking for a dance teacher!

You may be familiar with American Girl dolls and the accompanying historical fiction novels, but AG also has a whole line of empowering nonfiction! One of my favorites is Dance!, which I'll definitely be adding to my library to share with youngdancers. It's got tips on technique for lots of different dance forms, tricks for battling stage fright, encouragement for getting through tough dance challenges, and best of all, inspiration for letting your unique gifts shine through in your performance. Five motivational posters -- featuring girls of all body shapes and races dancing together! -- rounds out this great book.

A good activity for the now-frequent rainy days is Make Your Own Twirly Tutu by ChickenSocks (a division of Klutz -- not that dancers are often klutzy!). With Klutz's clear directions and provided supplies (and maybe just a little help), little ballerinas can make their very own tutus to twirl about in style!

The publisher Barron's, creator of all the awesome "Little Box" kits you've seen around the Hut and in the ChRoom (Little Box of Pirate Treasures and Little Box of Magic Tricks are two favorites!), has a whole new Box! The Little Box of Ballet will get started on your way to stardom with the Little Book of Ballet Steps and Little Book of Ballet Stories, and all the necessary accouterments to outfit a budding ballerina: tutu, headband, and ballet shoe charm for a bracelet or necklace.

Dress-Up Dolls
Our activity section boasts a huge company of ballet coloring books and paper dolls. Dover publishes a huge number of activity books starring both adult and child dancers -- some of whom are famous dancers (a la Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire) or portraying favorite roles (like "Odette"/"Odile" from Swan Lake or "Sugar Plum Fairy" in The Nutcracker. Ballerina paper dolls are the perfect portable ballerina activity for breaks between practices. We have I love the new Ballet Paper Dolls by Laughing Elephant, which are reproductions of a set from the 1950s. Two graceful ballerinas come with a full wardrobe of romantic-style tutus, plus their two pas de deux partners and a pretty balcony play scene.

There are lots of options for those not quite old enough for paper paper dolls as well! Melissa and Doug's magnetic wooden Nina Ballerina doll is a perfect choice for the preschool set; the sturdy wooden pieces are just right for little fingers. Nina would be a hit for my preballet students during downtime backstage at long performances or rehearsals! For dancers (and danseurs) slightly older, but still not ready for paper and scissors activities, check out the flexible magnetic dress-up ballerina dolls by MudPuppy; the cute tin contains two lovely dancers with their oodles of tutus and accessories, and four play scenes which take them from practice studio to stage. (Try them on the fridge, too!)

Another MudPuppy fave is the age 3+ Ballerina Sticker Play Set, which is the same concept in ColorForm format: vinyl cling stickers stick and restick to the provided scene, or on the fridge, or on the bedroom window, or on the bathroom mirror, or on the car window, or... The possibilities are endless for dress-up fun without any damage to the underlying surface.

Whether your little one is taking classes in ballet, jazz, hip-hop, tap, modern, Middle Eastern dance (I'm still hoping for a picture book for that one!), or just likes to spin around the kitchen floor, one of these dance-themed gifts is sure to inspire her or him to boogie down!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Scott and silverware

Amid the crazy crowds in the Square today for Oktoberfest, we had a surprise illustrator visitor! Scott Magoon, the artist behind Spoon (written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal) and Otto Grows Down (written by Michael Sussman), stopped in to chat and sign a few books for us.

We chatted about my fervent desire for a sequel about the lonely-looking spork who appears in the Spoon family portrait, and also about an actual companion book in the works about Spoon's friends the Chopsticks. Look for that one in 2011!

It's such a pleasure when talented (not to mention handsome and charming) folk stop by our store. Thanks for visiting and setting our hearts a-flutter, Scott!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 24

After spending last Saturday at NEIBA in Connecticut, I'm back with more enthusiasm than ever! There's lots of great stuff I want to buy this week, so I'll try to narrow it down to the best.

Children's Ukulele by Woodstock
Located in the Music corner

This ukulele is a great choice for anyone who wants to learn an instrument. It's small (3/4 standard size), light, and is easy to learn. It comes with a pick, a songbook and illustrated instructions, so you can start learning songs right away! What appeals to me is that ukuleles have only four strings--much easier for me to attempt than a guitar, on which I can play one song badly. :)

Bookmaking Kit by Artterro
Ages 8+
Located downstairs in the Chapter Book Room

Artterro has a bunch of great kits/craft materials sets, but this one appeals to me the most. It includes handmade paper, thread and needles, and instructions/ideas for making your own little books. The paper is beautiful and plentiful (and all post-consumer recycled), making this a great kit for crafty folks who like to make things but don't necessarily know how to do it from scratch.

Tune in next week for more cool stuff I want to buy! See you then.