Sunday, March 29, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 3

Welcome back to another thrilling episode! This week I've got partying on the brain--the kind of party that's lousy with cupcakes.






















Mermaids cupcake decoration pack and Dinosaur Roar cupcake decoration pack by Meri Meri
$12.95
Located on the Features table

Each pack of these awesome papercraft cupcake decorating kits will accommodate 24 cupcakes--that's a lot of sugar (or a really big party)! The best part of the Mermaids kit is the cups. They're decorated with cute starfish, crabs and shells, and have a wave motif at the edges. The lovely mermaids themselves have a nice variety of hair colors, so these cupcakes can be semi-personalized! The dinosaurs have cool origami-paper-like designs on them, the coolest being the T-Rex's chain link fence print, and the Stegosaurus' polka dots matches one of the cup designs delightfully. Between the two sets, you've got an awesome party for 48 friends...or just for you, if you're really hungry. Yum.

See you next week--same danger time, same danger station.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Two-fer Fantasy Tuesday

I've been meaning to call your attention to two interviews with fantasy authors, and with today's arrival of Cassandra Clare's City of Glass I have no excuse to put it off any longer!

I've been recommending this series since the first of the trilogy, City of Bones. I'm so excited, and a little sad, that the final installment is here at last. Clare discusses having a similar feeling in this interview with PW's Children's Bookshelf, in which she also talks about her favorite character, her next project, and the possibility of a fourth book in the Mortal Instruments series. Beware of spoilers, though!

Secondly, Neil Gaiman was on The Colbert Report last week, and the result is unmissable.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Reading about reading: The Best of the Reference Section

Our reference section is home to a plethora of dictionaries, thesauri, encyclopedias, and the ever-popular DK Eyewitness series. But it seems to me that it doesn't get much love -- especially considering that it also includes a wide range of reference books on reading and children's literature. Whether your children (or yourself) are read-aloud age or reading-literary-classics age, we have a reference chock-full of great book recommendations, strategies and exercises to increase comprehension, and "stories behind the stories" to enrich the reading experience. Moment of truth: because I'm a bookseller, blogger/reviewer, and all-around children's lit lover, I have several of these in my personal library!

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
Trelease shares his research (and others') on the positive effects of reading aloud with children. He asserts that the more and the longer parents read to and with their children, the more beneficial the effects will be: higher IQ, better test scores, more active imaginations, more effective communication skills. Trelease suggests strategies for making time to read with children of all ages and integrating reading aloud with silent reading. Best of all, he includes an index of read-aloud greats accompanied by bibliographic information, reading or age level, subject, genre, and synopsis. (For more on reading aloud, revist my editorial from December.)

The New York Times Parent's Guide to the Best Books for Children by Eden Ross Lipton
This ginormous reference book is surprisingly accessible by virtue of its practical organization. Wordless books, picture books, story books, early chapter books, middle reading books, and young adult books each have their own sections illustrated with spot artwork. These sections are easily searchable by using the indices, which order the books by title, author, illustrator, age level, read-aloud appropriateness, or subject. The individual entries offer a summary and prizes won in addition to bibliographic information.

100 Best Books for Children by our friend Anita Silvey
If you've been on the blog at all in the last week or two, you know that Anita Silvey is a children's lit superstar, whom we place on a pedestal with The Rog and our patron saint of kids' books, editorial legend Ursula Nordstrom. Here's another opportunity to see Ms. Silvey's genius in action. This pocket-sized reference would be great to have on hand on a trip to the library or (ahem!) your favorite local independent bookseller, whereas her The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators or Lipton's Parent's Guide, both weighty tomes, would be better perused at home. However, rest assured that this slim volume recommends the one hundred very best books for toddlers to preteens through in-depth, extensive reviews by one of the very best brains in the field. For books beyond the preteen age, try Silvey's 500 Best Books for Teens.

Book Crush by Nancy Pearl
The librarian/author of Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason turns her talents to children's books in this readable compendium of recommendations, divided by three age groups (youngest readers, middle grade readers, and teen readers) and quirky alphabetical subject headings (from "Ahh, Those Adorable Anthropomorphic Animals" to "What'd I Do to Deserve This Biography?"). The entries covering multiple books are -- pro -- personable and narrative, but -- con -- offer little information on individual titles beyond their subject grouping. Still, this is a great resource for those times when you or the loved one you're shopping for seem to have "read everything," or for when only another teen vampire romance/dragon fantasy/sassy-girl-protagonist picture book will do.

The Ultimate Teen Book Guide by Daniel Hahn and Leonie Flynn
The last of the "recommended reading" compilations I want to highlight here, this one is special because many of the reviewers are also bestselling authors. Meg Cabot, John Green, E. Lockhart, Eoin Colfer, Nancy Werlin, Christopher Paolini, and Anthony Horowitz are just a few of the contributors included in this guide. In addition to reviews you'll find lists of top tens, award winners, best of genre books, bestsellers, and more, and articles on everything from race in YA lit to romance novels for young adults.

The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac, illustrated by Quentin Blake
When Rachel posted back in November about the rights of every reader and the rights of reluctant readers in particular, Daniel Pennac was the inspiration. This is a child-centered, thoughtful, and witty exploration of why bookworms love to read, and how adults can encourage the children in their lives to read without squashing that love. You can download and print a poster of the "10 Inalienable Rights of the Reader" for your very own!

Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children's Literature by Leonard Marcus
Leonard Marcus is another wicked geniusy figure in the children's lit universe; his particular focus is on the historical and cultural background of children's books and their creators. In his books Golden Legacy, A Caldecott Celebration, and Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, Marcus uncovers the little-known or entirely forgotten stories behind classic kids' books. Minders of Make-Believe is an examination of how the grown-ups who write, publish, market, and purchase children's books have definined not only children's literature but childhood itself. It's an academic, historical work which spans many eras and disciplines -- not exactly a beach read -- but as Daniel Handler/"Lemony Snicket" says in an awesome back-of-book blurb, "In the busy barnyard of children's literature, Leonard Marcus is Charlotte -- a calm, wise soul who weaves every strand into something meaningful and useful. (He does not, as far as I know, have eight legs.)" If you're interested in the historical or social aspects of children's literature, take a peek at Seth Lerer's Children's Literature: A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter or Herbert Kohl's Should We Burn Babar?

L is for Lollygag: Quirky Words for a Clever Tongue by Chronicle Books
This unconventional dictionary produced by one of my favorite publishers offers tongue-twisting, mind-tickling vocabulary that will surprise even the most well-read. The design is brilliant, with the visual appearance of wacky words and their definitions often corresponding to their meanings. Illustrations and sidebars called "WordPlay" add to the whimsy. I ♥ the entry for shenanigans: devious tricks or mischevious behaviour. Although it is possible to engage in more than one shenanigan, there's more of an impact if you work up a bunch of them -- something the staffers here have learned well from our curious mascot. We should add the verb "shenanigate" to the dictionary!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 2

Two-Dees Owl by North American Bear Co.
$14.95
Located in the Baby Room plush

It's hard to tell from the picture, but this adorable owl is almost flat--like a really well-loved pillow. He's delightfully soft, too, and entirely huggable despite its shape. With embroidered eyes instead of plastic ones, this depth-challenged friend is safe for all ages, even grown-ups! I love him because of his cute stripey wings and dramatic eyelashes.

All Together Now: Beatles Stuff for Kids of All Ages board book and CD, written by Kevin Salem, produced by Little Monster Records
$22.95
Located in the Music section or in the Baby Room

This book-and-music set, illustrated and sung by kids with guest vocalists Rachael Yamagata, Marshall Crenshaw, The Bangles and Jason Lyle of Grandaddy, features eleven of the Beatles' songs. The part I like best, though, is the book itself, which includes silly poems about the songs and Beatles factoids to keep the reader informed, all in sturdy board book format. This is a great kids' intro to Beatlemania!

That's all for now--tune in next week for another exciting episode!

Minimalist Madness

In a time of fantasy tomes that reach the 700-800 page mark and the collected works/omnibus sensation, it's refreshing to see exercises in brevity. (Not that I don't love me some epic wizard adventures). Since Poetry Month is almost upon us, here are some contests that might inspire you to write...and don't forget to have anyone you know from 5 to 13 years of age submit their masterpieces to our art and writing contest!

Powell's Books, an incredible source for reviews and new and used books (they were selling books online in the pre-Amazon days!), is teaming up with SMITH magazine to garner mini-autobiographies for the next book in their Six Word Memoir series. You can enter a slice-of-your-life in their Six Word Memoir contest, and potentially get published!

Online book sharing and reviewing group Goodreads hosted a Status Update Writing Contest, in which entrants were challenged to tell a story by posting each sentence, one by one, as their status, within a 24 hour period. The contest has ended, but you can still read and vote on the nominees. Or you and yours can write your own story, poem, or essay in your Facebook, Twitter (and so on) status, or on your Underwood typewriter, if that's your speed...and did I mention you can send it to us for our art and writing contest??

I will leave off trying to play your muse (and practically begging for submissions), and wish you a happy first day of Spring! Here's hoping it feels more spring-ish soon...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Movin' on up

As my fellow blog-ettes and I get into the groove of the blog -- and get more feedback about how much you like it -- we're experimenting with ways to help readers access our favorite books and toys. Super-receiver John has made it possible to order products from our website by clicking on a link right in the blog post recommending them. Now we have a "Featured This Month on Our Blog" display right inside the front door where you'll find some of the great books we gush about all in one place.

So what are we Featuring This Month on Our Blog? See the display for books related to
-- An Interview With Anita Silvey
-- Staff Picks
-- Award Winners
-- Author Drop-Ins and Blog Comments
-- Fairy Tales and Fairy Tale-Inspired Fantasy
and more!

When we update the blog, we'll update the display, so you'll discover something new and exciting every time you visit either the store or the blog. And don't forget, we're happy to answer any questions you may have about blog-featured books or anything else!

Some sorta fairy tales (and some not-so-sorta geeking out) -- with a cameo by Michelle!

The fact that Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels (a retelling of "Snow White and Rose Red") received a Printz Honor and Elizabeth C. Bunce's A Curse as Dark as Gold (a retelling of "Rumplestiltskin") won the Morris Debut award is really gratifying to me, given my big nerdy love of revisioned fairy tales. This isn't the first time a novel-length new version of a familiar fairy tale has been recognized by the ALA (in 1998 Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted was a Newbery Honor book) but the awards have been few and far between considering the vast amounts of revisioned fairy tales out there. I hope this year's awards, with two revisioned fairy tale novels recognized, will conjure up a little more respect for the genre. Here's Michelle to tell you about two of her YA faves:
Robin McKinley spins a new version of the romance of Beauty and the Beast in Beauty (ages 12 up). McKinley’s tale differs from the traditional in Honour’s “unfortunate” nickname, “Beauty”—unlike her lovely sisters Hope and Grace, Beauty is awkward and still growing into her big hands and feet. But even here McKinley doesn’t rely on clich├ęs: far from being evil or selfish, the sisters are kind and graceful in addition to being beautiful; certainly a lot for the plain, youngest daughter to be compared to. When their father’s merchant ships fail, they must move to a small village on the edge of a great forest rumored to be enchanted. Of course, in spite of all caution, the father happens upon the fearsome Beast in his enchanted castle who proposes that in exchange for the father’s life, one of the daughters must come to live with him. Beauty, the most courageous, insists on going. From here, the story expands into lush description of the beautiful castle and the dark mystery of the enchanted castle, and an extraordinary love. Beauty is an engrossing, feel-good coming-of-age read for fans of more traditional fairy tales and romance with brave, headstrong heroines in the vein of Catherine Called Birdy and Dealing with Dragons.

Mette Ivie Harrison's The Princess and the Hound (ages 14 up) offers a bit more to chew on in this enthralling reversal, told from a male’s perspective, where the “Beast” is a woman. Prince George hides his animal magic, the ability to speak to animals in their own languages, from his increasingly magic-fearing kingdom; but this magic cannot be ignored for too long, without exacting serious repercussions. Reminiscent of racism and the Salem witch hunt, animal magic inspires paranoia and prejudice in the non-magical—illustrating fantasy’s ability to address very real issues. Prince George is betrothed to aloof, stubborn Princess Beatrice, who is inseparable from her loyal hound Marit. As the political situation between their two countries deteriorates, Prince George falls in love with the true Beatrice, and must aid in the search for a magician to reverse her curse, before it’s too late. While some readers may initially resist following George’s perspective, romantics will swoon to watch his love and respect for the two females grow. This unique, captivating retelling captures the essence of the original story: magic is not something to be played with lightly, and not everything is as it seems, especially in love.
Some other YA/chapter book titles to try:
- East by Edith Pattou
- Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede
- Just Ella by Margaret Haddix
- The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley
- The Poison Apples by Lily Archer

Of course, retold fairy tales aren't just for young adult readers. I've already recommended John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things, from our Older Readers section, in a staff pick, but it's so good I have to mention it again. David can't cope with his mother's death during his brother's birth, his father's subsequent interest in new romance, and the looming second World War, so he retreats into the worlds inside his books. This retreat becomes literal as David's distinction between reality and imagination blurs, a crack opens between our world and that of story, and the characters and dangers of fairy tales -- including the sinister Crooked Man -- replace the people and anxieties of his real life. Connolly includes an extensive annotated index of the fairy tales he references in the novel... but I suspect Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment was inspirational as well!

Another adult novel featuring multiple tales is Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, which successfully blends retold fairy tales with historical fiction and the wizard training story. Jonathan Strange is part of a new generation of wizards trained by the likes of crotchety Mr. Norell to use magic in the struggle against Napoleon. After the war, Jonathan hope to settle down in a quiet life with his new wife Arabella, but the allure of magic proves too compelling for him to resist. As Jonathan is sucked further and further into the addictive use of magic, those who practice it (both human and faerie) will threaten all that matters to him.

If a novel-length revisioned fairy tale isn't really your bowl of porridge, you can try one of Margo Lanagan's short stories (in the collections Black Juice, White Time, and Red Spikes), many of which play on fairy tale conventions, as do those by Kelly Link (in Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, and Pretty Monsters). While most of these mindblowing stories are more oriented toward the grown-up reader of revisioned fairy tales, Pretty Monsters is a selection of Link's work for young adults which you can peruse in the chapter book room. Rachel loves that the stories in Pretty Monsters are each set in "a uniquely engaging world of its own" with the ability to “give readers the best kind of chills;" because of these traits, she recommends it for fans of Neil Gaiman.

Mr. G himself has some pretty sweet spins on fairy tales. (Oh, come on, you knew that was coming.) M is for Magic has among its many gems the tale "Troll Bridge," a creeptastic take on "The Three Billy Goats Gruff." Rounding out the collections is one of my all-time favorite Gaimanisms, the poem "Instructions," which tells readers exactly what to do to make it through a fairy tale alive.

Jon Sciezcka's The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs are the classic retold fairy tales for the picture book set. Irreverent, metafictive, and zany, these hilarious versions of familiar tales will have you clutching your stomach from too much laughing, as the Stinky Cheese Man runs off with no one giving chase (phew!) and the Big Bad Wolf explains he was only trying to borrow a cup of sugar to bake a cake for Grandma.

Fairy tale purists might find our folklore and mythology section upstairs "just right"; there you'll find several different anthologies of the Grimms' "traditional" tales and Andersen's literary ones. From the uber-academic Jack Zipes to the lighter Edens Cooper and everything in between, you're sure to find one that's just right. We also have gorgeously illustrated individual tales, including a few of my best-loved:
- Susan Jeffers's The Wild Swans
- Trina Schart Hyman's Little Red Riding Hood
- Christopher Birmingham's The Snow Queen
- Lisbeth Zwerger's Hansel and Gretel
- Steven Johnson's The Ugly Duckling
- Jan Brett's Beauty and the Beast

For more fairy tale fun, try the Horn Book's recommended reading list (again: you knew that was coming, right?) or the unbelievable site Sur la Lune Fairy Tales. In addition to Sur La Lune's treasure trove of resources for the serious fairy tale fan (such as hyperlink annotations which cross-reference variations on fifty basic tales) and their gallery of illustrations, they also offer some dangerously tempting merchandise. Who needs glass slippers when you can wear Dore's Little Red Riding Hood sneaks? Although... no Trina Schart Hyman sneakers, Sur La Lune? What's up with that?

If you are a stepsister, a prince in animal form, a motherless princess, a youngest son, a cat in boots, a woman with a golden thumb, a boy with a swan wing, or just a fellow fairy tale lover, drop me a line here at the blog. What are your favorite fairy tales, traditional or retold? Let's start a book club.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 1

One of the dangers of working in a fantastic store like ours is that there's always something cool that I want to buy, and I'm itching to share all those cool things with you cool readers. So here we go, the pilot episode of What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week:

Rabbit Scissors by Decor Craft Inc.
$8.95
Located in the Art Room and around the Hut

There's nothing better than a practical item disguised as a cute animal, and these scissors are no exception! This bunny is conveniently small, stands up on its own, and has plenty of Bugs-esque attitude. This would be a great addition to the Easter basket of a crafty kid.

Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney
Dell Laurel Leaf (an imprint of Random House), paperback
$6.50
Located downstairs in the Chapter Book Room

Who could resist a cover like that? Octopus tentacles everywhere, mysterious girl perhaps being eaten by said aquatic monster and a fiery sunset are more than enough impetus for me to pick this book up. Also, I have fond memories of Caroline Cooney's middle-grade and teen thrillers from my youth. This one doesn't sound like a thriller, though--it's about a girl who's been taken from her home to serve a King's daughter, is the sole survivor of a pirate attack, and who finally gets tied up in the Trojan War. It's been starred in Publisher's Weekly and was an ALA Notable Book, which just adds to my instinct that this will be an interesting read!

Whoa. Lots of love in the CG blog!

It's been a crazy week here at the blog, in the best kind of way!

First, Peter H. Reynolds, author/illustrator of the inspiring books The Dot and Ish (among lots of other great titles!) left us a truly lovely comment. Peter's website and many blogs are just as inspirational for artists and artists-to-be of all kinds as his books. Head over and spend some time looking at the beautiful artwork and learning about Peter's campaign to help people of all ages "make their mark."

Then, Susan Marie Swanson, whose poetic Caldecott-winning picture book The House in the Night just came back in stock after a too-long absence, sent us a hug via Twitter... which THEN prompted her Twitter friends to leave us nice comments as well! (A recent Twitter by my all-time favorite author was rather less-well received by many, in case you missed the uproar.) Hugs to you, too, Susan (and friends!) -- we adore the book and are so excited it's back at Curious George.

Finally, we're ready to unveil a project we've been scheming about for a while: a series of guest posts by our favorite children's book authors, illustrators, and critics!

Our first guest blogger is Anita Silvey, who has in her distinguished career worn the many (fabulous) hats of children's literature publisher, The Horn Book Magazine editor-in-chief, Simmons College publishing professor, critic, author, and all-around kids' book expert. Curious George general manager Bindy was lucky enough to speak to Ms. Silvey about her fascinating new book, I’ll Pass for Your Comrade, in which she reveals the involvement of women soldiers during the Civil War, their motivations, and efforts to maintain their right to fight.

What drew you to this subject matter?
I’m an armchair Civil War historian, and when I read about these women for the first time, about six years ago, I wanted to tell their stories to young readers. Forgotten fragments of history fascinate me. Close to 1000 women, dressed as men, actually fought in the Civil War, and the record of their accomplishments has vanished from most of our accounts of the Civil War until recently.

What did you come across in your research that most surprised or disappointed you? Any preconceived notions that were proven false?
I kept wishing I could find out more about each of these women; sometimes all we have is one newspaper article. I began my research asking myself, “Why did they go,” but felt I got a handle on that. Then I had to ask, “Why did they stay?” They could have left at any time, and yet, with great determination, many of them fought throughout the war.

Your book came out in December 2008, on the heels of a most historic and symbolic election, leading into Lincoln’s 200th Anniversary, and now taking us into Women’s History month. Can you talk a bit more about the timing of its publication, and the scope of relevance you may have aimed to achieve?
Although the book does fit current landmarks, I didn’t plan it that way. It took much longer to write and create than I anticipated. When I start a project, I always think I can finish writing it in five months. This took five years. But I am glad it can be used with the Lincoln 200th. Lincoln, himself, as did many of the Presidents, knew of these women. He secured army pay for one of them.

Can we look forward to more nonfiction from you in the near future?
Absolutely. I am a nonfiction reader and writer. I’m currently writing Botanomania, a book about some of the 18th-20th Century botanists; their adventures rival those of Indiana Jones as they scoured the earth for plant species.
Thanks so much to Ms. Silvey for her post, and to Mr. Reynolds and Ms. Swanson for their friendly comments! Stay tuned for more great guest posts and more we-hope-they're-great posts from your regularly scheduled bloggers Michelle, Rachel, and me, Katie.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hip, hip, hooray!

We're thrilled to let you know that The House in the Night, winner of this year's Caldecott Medal for best illustration, is back in stock! The House in the Night, like many of the other YALSA winners (ahem, The Graveyard Book) and other favorites like Wabi Sabi and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw, has proven such a hit that we just can't keep it on the shelf, and the publisher can't keep it in print! Luckily, another print run has just come in, so make sure to pick up your copy now.

Written by Susan Marie Swanson and illustrated in luminous black, white, and marigold etchings by Beth Krommes, this lyrical story has the warmth and reassurance to soothe fussy sleepers on even the darkest of nights.The House in the Night, like its predecessor Goodnight Moon, will become a beloved part of your bedtime ritual.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Art and Writing Contest Guidelines!

It's that time of year again: the start of our annual Just for Kids Art and Writing Contests! Here are the guidelines for both contests (you can enter one or both!), and an entry form you can print out and send in with your submission. All entries are due by April 30th. Winners will be announced on May 15th.


Art Contest:
Illustrate a scene from your favorite poem, fairy tale, short story, or book. Please be sure to label your artwork with the title and author of the work you have chosen to illustrate.


Writing Contest:
Write an original short story, poem, or essay. Three pages maximum.




Prize-winning artwork will be on display in Curious George from June through August. Prize-winning writing will be posted on our contest blog.

Submissions will be judged by age group: ages 5 to 7, 8 to 10, and 11 to 13. Gift certificates will be awarded to first, second and third place winners.

No purchase necessary. All kids between the ages of 5 and 13 are eligible, except relatives of Curious George employees. Please enter each contest only once. Children submitting multiple entries in either category will be disqualified. Children should enter only their own work.




Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Best of the Art Room

It's that time again folks - time for another round-up of all things wonderful in a particular corner of the store. Today let's visit that gem of the chapter book room: the art room! While the rest of the downstairs is geared for school age and up, the art room is safe for artists of 3 years and older.

Who doesn't love a good box of crayons? Alex takes this staple of childhood artistry to a level with Farm Finger Crayons. Each chunky crayon of this 24 piece set has a different, rotund farm animal face, and is easy to hold, stack, or wear on your fingertips like claws.


For more hands-on (harr harr) coloring action, Alex also carries face painting sets. Body Art Sticks comes with 6 adjustable crayons that wash off easily with soap and water. Face Painting Party includes paint crayons as well as a tray of 10 colors and sponge applicators. Who says face paint is just for Halloween? Some days you just need to be a pirate.


Some days you just need to lounge around in pajamas. Animals slippers are so last year: instead, try Alex's decorate-your-own slippers, Slip 'Em On. These fuzzy pink mules are covered in buttons that you can decorate with the over 50 felt shapes included (and you can always make your own!). The sizes generally fit girls ages 6-8 and 8-10.

For the fashion-minded tot, typical paper dolls can be difficult to cut out or decorate, but Alex's Crafty Fashion Show was made for the younger doll lover. This kit comes with 4 cardboard dolls, pre-cut shapes, and an assortment of buttons, stickers, ribbons and so on for accessorizing.


For older boys and girls, Action's Curiosity Kits present more challenging activities. Magic String Tie-Dye T-shirt doesn't have the mess of buckets of dye: the dye is in the "magic string" which you wrap around the shirt to make crazy patterns. The Fiesta Dinosaur Pinata is great for upcoming birthday parties or any dinosaur fan. Kids can build and design the dinosaur pinata, and stuff it with miniature dinosaurs (that's my favorite part!).

When it comes to clay, we carry a whole variety from oven bake Sculpey to reusable Play-doh. Sculpey clay 10-piece packs come in themes like Classic Collection, Bright Ideas, Pearls & Pastels, and Naturals, or you can try the 30 piece sampler with a bit of each. Sculpey's website has numerous ideas and techniques for projects. Adult supervision is required during the baking stage. We also currently have Play-Doh Party Packs, a tube of 10 mini-cans of this super fun, super popular reshapeable squishy modeling clay. (Sometimes we carry more varieties of Play-Doh, we may have more soon!)

For the sculpting enthusiast (or soon-to-be), we carry Alex's Deluxe Pottery Wheel. The wheel operates by electric foot pedal and comes with centering, shaping and carving tools as well as the clay, paints, and even glass marble pieces to decorate with. No kiln or oven baking is required, the clay dries overnight. While the product doesn't say adult supervision is required, I'd suggest some help may be needed to get started.

One of my favorite little craft kits is Pom Pom Pals, from Chronicle Books (love them!). This adorable boxed kit with a magnetic closure (someone explain to me why this kind of thing is so satisfying) comes with instructions to 14 fuzzy critters with yarn, buttons, felt, and pom-poms. The creatures featured on the box remind me of Shaun Tan's illustrations. If you like this style of quirky crafts, try Aranzi Aronzo's books Cute Stuff or Cute Dolls.

Once you and yours are hooked on sewing crafts, you can graduate to Alex's Sew Fun sewing machine activity kit. This brightly colored case contains an electric or battery-operated sewing machine in funky purple and pink colors, and all the needles, thread, pins and fabrics to design your own bags, clothes, and accessories. It has an easy drop-in bobbin, adjustable stitch-lengths and two speeds for beginning sewers.

Alex's Color A Cuckoo Clock puts the "fun" in functional (you know I had to make some cheesy joke in here at some point). You can personalize this clock with the permanent markers included, and then hang it or stand it on a table. Battery-operated, the clock chirps every hour, with a "silent" button for nighttime. If you must have a clock, at least have one you can make your own! (See here for a Dad's thoughts on kids owning timepieces that we overheard in the chapter book room).

One of the coolest art kits has to be the Car Design Studio from Art Lab. This incredible set comes with a light table for tracing car bodies, nearly 100 body accessories, and detailed, step-by-step manual covering the basics from shop-talk lingo to drawing rudiments like shading, through the more intricate details like gull-wing doors and convertible tops.

For artists that prefer blank (or near blank) slates to create their own masterpieces, we carry Melissa & Doug writing and coloring pads. There is the lined Storytelling Paper, the blank, heavy paper Fingerpaint Pad, or the Giant Construction Paper Pad with a multitude of colors.

Out in the chapter book room, we have an assortment of kits, papers, and books on origami. Activity and craft whiz company Klutz brings us Origami, an easy-to-follow instruction book and 10 sheets of colored paper (you can order refills of the paper, as with any other Klutz book). Classic Origami, by author and master paper-folder Michael G. LaFosse, has almost 100 sheets of colored and patterned paper and instructions for origami projects from beginner to advanced. Origami and Kirigami from Alex contains 200 sheets of colored paper of different sizes and easy instructions for paper folding and cutting.

You can find more beading, shrinky dinks, and other craft and activity kits described in the new feature, The Frugal Shopper, where we showcase quality, affordable gifts.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

More, more movies and musicals, said the baby!

Mo Willems, that zany mastermind of Knuffle Bunny, Pigeon, and Geisel-Award-winning Elephant and Piggie, has just revealed that Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical is slated to go up in May (ish?) at the Kennedy Center in DC and then tour the country. Written by Mr. Willems himself, he promises "the show will be a wild ride, filled with clever projections, Bunraku Puppets, dance, and at least one song in utter gibberish."

All I can say is, IS IT HERE YET?

Word on the street also has it that Christopher Columbus will be directing Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, the film adaptation of Rick Riordan's smashingly good fun series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Percy will be played by Logan Lerman, and Brandon T. Jackson will play his satyr friend, Grover Underwood. It's going to be quite some time until this comes out, IMDB says it will be released in February 2010. Fortunately, Riordan's Demigod Files and forthcoming The Last Olympian (May!) will be around to sate our armchair-adventure needs.

Blog-pal Katie and I have finally seen Inkheart and Coraline--the latter in 3-D, holy cow--and while there were some parts of the films differed from the books, for better or worse, they were great fun! Perhaps I will have the courage to write longer reviews of them someday, but for now, I advise you to visit the Horn Book's film reviews.

If you could pick any story, new or old, to be made into a film and/or musical, which would you most want to see? Who would direct it or star as your favorite character? There have been so many book-into-movie adaptations...but I've yet to see Garth Nix's Sabriel (Peter Jackson, I'm looking at you) or Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Dairy Queen. D.J. has to be one of my all-time favorite characters, I would love to see some undiscovered talent fill her shoes (cleats?). Movie directors, are you listening?
(I think Katie played this game back in October, about "which are the best books that never existed?").

Ever wonder what cheers booksellers with mid-winter blues?

For this bookseller, at least, interviews like this one with Neil Gaiman by none other than Roger Sutton do the trick pretty darn well. Author extraordinaire Neil Gaiman and the editor-in-chief of the Horn Book, affectionately known around the Hut as "The Rog," in the same place at the same time?! How has the universe not imploded yet of awesomeness overload? (Perhaps because it was a phone interview, and they weren't actually in the same place at the same time.)

I'm very glad the world hasn't ended, though, because then we wouldn't be around to enjoy this interview.