What We’re Reading: Kids

From Beth-Anne


Be Grateful Little Bear by Kara Evelyn-McNeil, illustrations by Max Scratchmann

Kara Evelyn-McNeil, a children’s entertainer from Whitby, Ontario wrote her first book Be Grateful Little Bear in hopes that parents will start a discussion with their children about being grateful for the blessings in their own lives. Little Bear finds himself alongside the proverbial fence, looking over at what appears to be greener pastures, but his loving parents remind him of the many wonderful traits that make him a special bear. The message, be proud of who you are, resounds loud and clear and served the purpose the author intended. My three boys sat around after the oldest had read the book aloud, and (yes, at my prompting) listed the things that make themselves and their brothers special.


Dinosaur Farm by Frann Preston-Gannon

Preston-Gannon, the first UK recipient of the Sendak Fellowship, spent one month living with and learning from Maurice Sendak, and Dinosaur Farm proves she is worthy of such an honour. This beautifully illustrated story tells how hard life is on a farm: waking up early, caring for your animals and tending to the earth but in a whimsical twist the animals that populate this farm are not chickens, cows and pigs . . .they are dinosaurs! The creative way the text is displayed makes reading with expression much easier for budding orators. My middle son spoke in a loud voice when reading BIG and a much quieter voice when reading small. But perhaps it is the textless illustrations that tell the reader the most. The last image we’re left with is of the farmer fast asleep tucked in his bed with his dinosaurs that have crept in through the open gate, asleep all around his bedroom. My boys were quick tell the “story” on that final page and to make a connection to another of their favourite bedtime stories, Goodnight ,Gorilla.


Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas by DK Simoneau and David Radman, illustrations by Brad Cornelius

When Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas arrived at our house there were enough squeals of delight from my youngest to trick one into believing that it was Christmas morning and not a hot, humid July day. To say that my three boys are obsessed with Christmas, Santa and all things related would be a gross understatement. In fact, as I type this now, my youngest (age 3) is watching Barney’s Christmas on Netflix (reserve your judgement, I needed some time to hammer this out). DK Simoneau and David Radman have written a Christmas tale that must be added to your night before Christmas reading list. In this story, nothing is quite right on Christmas Eve. The elves are now 7 feet tall trolls, the stockings have been replaced with long underwear and most concerning, Santa’s suit is not red! It’s purple! My boys loved this book and everything about it – the whimsical fonts, the twists on the traditional and the illustrations. Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas now has a place in our Christmas tales reading box . . . after my youngest slept with it in his bed for three nights.


Kitty Hawk and The Curse of the Yukon Gold by Iain Reading

The first book in the Kitty Hawk Flying Detective series will have you hooked! What’s not to love? Canadian adventure, a fearless heroine and endearing characters . . . the Kitty Hawk series by Iain Reading is a breath of fresh air among the vampires, werewolves and teen angst that have dominated the young adult genre for the past few years. What’s more, the author has included an additional reading list and two websites for adventure enthusiasts to explore.

From Nathalie

We continue to (try to) make time for creating art hereabouts, and I am newly inspired.  I was at the Cabbagetown Outdoor Art Festival on the weekend and fell in love with the art of Judy Anderson of Kukucaju, which captures wonderfully the subversive violence of children’s stories and imaginations.  Her Big Sister caught my eye; art that endorses eating one’s siblings is something that would go over well in our house, where it’s not all brotherly love.  Check out her website.  You can have you own kids’ drawings turned into a custom-made piece of 3-D art.

One great book in our art adventure is the Big Book of Everything Manga.  Youngest (6) has had great success with the manga monsters and robots, and the drawings range from very simple to complex.  It’s a great art instruction book for artists of varying levels of ability.imgres-4Middlest (9) is awash in bookish goodness: two new releases in his favourite series.  Last month, it was the sixth book in Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series, Escape from Lucien.  Until we went to hear him speak, I had not read the Amulet books, but Kibuishi was such a great speaker that I read all of the books in the series in a single sitting.  They feature a really plucky heroine, who is brave and good and flawed.  She wears an amulet that gives her power, but whether it is for good or evil is still unclear.  In a world of kids’ books that are starkly black and white with respect to good and evil, I like how Kibuishi keeps us guessing about his plot and characters.

imgres-5Middlest is also reading book five in Scott Chantler’s Three Thieves series: Pirates of the Silver Coast.  Lots of plot twists and cliff hangers here, too.

One thing I’ve noticed with his consumption of these graphic novel series is that he re-reads them over and over again.  I used to fret about his re-reading these instead of trying out new chapter books, but it’s obvious that he has a real love for these books.  He’s rushed out to get the new books in the series, bless him, and now makes a habit of asking me to check publication dates for his favourite authors.  That’s some serious book love right there.

Middlest is also reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  Perhaps you’ve heard of that oneI’m reading the Harry Potter books aloud to Youngest and Middlest, and then Middlest goes off and reads ahead.  I’m really enjoying myself with these books.  Youngest keeps stopping me to ask what words mean, which is sometimes frustrating, but, then again, he keeps stopping me to ask what words mean.  He’s listening!  He’s engaged!  He’s learning!  Coincidentally, Kazu Kibuishi has done the cover art for the latest edition of the Harry Potter books.  Cue my collector’s obsession….


Finally, Eldest (13) is reading The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch.

Eldest: We had Library today.

Nathalie: What book did you choose?

Eldest: The Name of This Book is Secret.

Nathalie:  Ooooh!  I liked that one.  It’s very meta-textual.  Why did you pick that one?

Eldest: It fell on my head.

Nathalie: Seriously, why did you choose it?

Eldest: Seriously, it fell on my head.

Here endeth the attempt at intelligent discussion about books.  You win some, you lose some.


Socking Stuffers & More: For Her, Him and the Boys

Need some holiday gift-giving inspiration?  Here’s a round-up of some of my favourites.

For Her


Come to Bed Red nail laquer


EOS Pomegranate Raspberry Lip Balm


Compact Mirror from Indigo


Downton Abbey Series 1-3


Personalized locket, holds two-three pictures, from Undine


Gimme Brow by Benefit


Hanky Panky 


Nutella: The 30 Best Recipes


Funny Sticky Notes


Adult-size Onesie



For Him


Where Chef’s Eat


Thumbprint Cufflinks


Slang Flashcards


Anything from The Garlic Box


Anything with the Hudson’s Bay stripes


Men’s work week socks

For The Boys

imgres-1Desktop Hockey


The Olympics are coming up!  Paint your own Babushka dolls.

imgres-4Scrabble Magnet Set


Storm Troopers USB 


Crayon Roll


Support your favourite team with Fan Bands


Make some music and build your own ukulele.


Dragon Hands Temporary Tattoos


Lego Erasers

In The Wake of The Christmas Tornado

Christmas hit this house like a tornado leaving in its wake a mess of wrapping paper, boxes and lots of new toys.   Before the holiday my boys purged their nest to make room for new loot and to give new life to their old favourites.  The boys readily donated their gently used toys to a local charity that was seeking donations.

The two weeks between Christmas and the return to school passed in a peaceful blur.  With no schedules dictating what to do, we enjoyed spending time together as a family and indulged in several pajama days playing with new toys, reading new books and over eating delicious food.

Some of our favourite gifts from the holiday:

Lego, Lego and more Lego . . . and some Playmobil too!

We spent several hours tediously arranging and re-arranging Lego and Playmobil sets.  The four-year-old has a vivid imagination and readily integrates the sets to create complex battles between swashbucklin’ pirates and the Queen’s knights.  It continues to amaze me how a set of plastic cubes can be the catalyst for learning about medieval history.  Together we spent many more hours thumbing through books about castles, catapults and cannons as well as searching Google for answers to the many, many questions that were sent my way about pirate life, scurvy and Egypt (because the natural transgression from Medieval life is mummies, tombs and pyramids!).


The Boogie Board

A gift from Nana, these Boogie Boards have seen lots of use since being unwrapped on Christmas Day.  The Boogie Board is an LCD writing tablet that erases with the click of a button.  The four-year-old practiced his printing while the 6-year-old played Xs and Os with any willing (and some not so willing) participant.  I wrote the boys a goodnight message on each of their boards that first night, and since then they have been asking for one every night.


Two Greedy Italians

I bought this book for my husband for Christmas – a fantastic cook who needs no help in the kitchen.  Tired of all the reality-based Food Network shows (where are you, Nigella?), we started watching Two Greedy Italians on TLN.  The pair criss-cross Italy, highlighting local fare that extends beyond spaghetti bolognese.  The beautifully photographed book makes a welcome addition to our collection of cookbooks (that I rarely use but love to admire).


Cleaning Set

Remember the saying: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?  My two-year-old son lives up to my university nickname of “Monica” (the cleaning-obsessed, neat-freak character on the 90’s sitcom Friends).  This adult-like cleaning set comes with all the fixings required to give a home a good clean but sized perfectly for little hands.  This gift from his aunt and uncle are the perfect addition to his vacuum.



Santa spoiled the boys (and cashed in his Shopper’s Optimum points) with the Nintendo Wii.  Is it wrong that the grown-ups in the house have gotten just as much satisfaction from this gift as the kids?  I never thought that I would say “family time” equals “video game time” . . . but a little bowling and some Just Dance 4 is a guarantee for lots of laughs.


Father Christmas

Raymond Briggs’ 1973 portrayal of a decidedly human Santa Claus, Father Christmas gets 71PDRDWHJVL._SS500_.gifmy vote as my favourite Christmas book ever. In this graphic novella, Briggs turns the traditional stereotypical view of Santa — jolly, benevolent, good natured — on its head.

Awoken from a dream about sunning himself on a tropical beach, Santa greets Christmas Eve with a mild curse: “Bloomin’ Christmas here again!”. This a very modern Santa, who grumbles about the weather (“bloomin’ snow!”) his herd (“bloomin’ deer!) and the demands of his work (“gettin’ a bloomin’ cold, now!”).  He’s a one-man show: with only a couple of reindeer to help him, and no mention of Mrs. Claus, we follow our man as he readies himself for the biggest day of the year: Christmas.   He flies around the United Kingdom delivering presents, visiting cottages and caravans, and ending, appropriately, at Buckingham Palace.  Gifts delivered, he settles down to a nice dinner, a lovely nip of brandy, a cigar (I know!) and peruses travel catalogs for warmer climes,  which is just what you’d probably want to do too, if you were in his boots.

There are few words in this book (and most of them are the word “bloomin’!”) but Briggs’ colourful and evocative illustrations more than make up for the absence of text.  I’ve blogged about this book before, at least in its movie form, so great is my affection for it.  Father Christmas appears to be out of print here in Canada, but it is available from Amazon.com.uk. and abebooks.com

‘Twas The Week Before Christmas . . .

A Visit From St. Nicholas

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads, . . .


—Clement Clarke Moore

The countdown to Christmas is on and to celebrate the upcoming holiday, 4Mothers would like to share with you some of our favourite holiday and winter wonderland stories.  Is there a special book that you read with your family every Christmas?  Or to mark the change of the season? What are some of your favourites?  Let us know by leaving a comment and joining the conversation.

A Visit From Mrs. Claus

One of my favourite holiday traditions that we started when our boys were born was having Mrs. Claus make a visit to the house.  Why should Santa get all of the glory?

Mrs. Claus slips into the house in the wee hours of the morning on December 24 and leaves a fresh set of pyjamas along with a favourite Christmas book at the breakfast table for each of the boys.

By bedtime our bellies are full from the shortbread cookies we’ve made for Santa and the boys anticipate his arrival while reading their new Christmas stories.

Christmas tales, twinkly lights and three excited children snuggled in their pjs.  What could be better than that?

Be the Good Cheer

I actually had a couple of ideas for a holiday time-saving post, but then realized that I would be writing for Dec 23.

Friends, I’m not bothering with a time-saving post because there is no time left to save.  I know there’s this little itty bitty day in between now and the big day, but really, for all intents and purposes, Christmas is upon us.

Although I once did all my Christmas shopping Christmas Eve (all thoughtful gifts, oh my!), now I’m going to suggest it’s time to let go.  Take a deep breath over a drive to the mall.  Opt for sleep and sanity, and save the sales.  Be the good cheer you were otherwise planning to bring, buy or bake.

From 4mothers to you, we wish you the best cheer the season has to offer.  Happy holidays!

Top Ten Ways to Ensure You’re Ready For Christmas

One of the biggest problems with Christmas is that it tends to sneak up on you. There you are, having just finished the last piece of Hallowe’en candy, and BAM! It’s December and you haven’t purchased a single gift. Here are some easy-peasy ways you can ensure that you’ll be ready to put your feet up on Christmas Eve:

10.Convert religions. Stat.

9. Foment dissent among Santa’s Elves. Hire the deserters to be your own minions.

8. Start shopping earlier. Like, in January.

7. Leave your Christmas Lights up all year (Use red and white lights and they double as Canada Day decorations. Clever!)

6. Train your children to make hors d’oeuvres

5. Scrawl “Return to Sender” on Christmas Cards as they arrive. Saves time and postage!

4. Cook two turkeys at Thanksgiving.

3. Clone yourself

2. Pimp out the Elf on the Shelf

And the number one way to be ready for Christmas on time:

1. Everyone gets Chia Pets!

In all seriousness, it’s now three days before Christmas, and I’m indeed the creature stirring at all hours, trying to figure out how to bend time and space so that I can get everything wrapped, baked and ready for the weekend. I’m highly unqualified this Christmas to offer any sort of advice on time-saving, but I do know one thing: a sense of humour is crucial to getting through Christmas, or any other holiday, relatively unscathed. That, and wine. Lots of wine. Drink enough of it, and you’ll forget you had anything else to do!

From my house of chaos to yours: Merry Christmas.

Holiday Gift Ideas for the Kids on Your List

This week I had the fortunate experience of listening to John Levy, C.E.O. and head toy buyer for Mastermind Toys talk about toys. This guy is passionate about toys – think, Tom Hanks in Big. He gets as excited as a schoolboy about a battery operated remote control balloon but extols the educational virtues of good toys (versus bad toys) with the finesse of a true expert.

If your house is anything like mine it’s cluttered with toys. Junky toys, defunct toys with missing parts, battery dead toys, and my most dreaded, toys with a million pieces that seem to take over the house.

That said, I am quick to purge the toy room and I have been known to be ruthless. But I am hesitant to replenish the stash of toys. I rarely buy toys for our boys. They usually make their way into our home via a gift bag and a flurry of wrapping paper.

My thinking is simple: I don’t want to replace crap with more crap.

For the past few years, I have followed the suggestions of John Levy. After all he’s not only a toy guru but a parent. He gets that kids like toys that continue to captivate long after the initial rush of playing with something new. He understands that parents want value for their dollar and that poor quality and hazardess materials need not apply. Most importantly, he knows what is not crap.

This year I have John’s top new picks for toys for the holiday season and because I am nice person (not because I am getting paid or getting anything for free), I wanted to share with our readers and perhaps make this holiday shopping season stress-free.

Age 0-18 months

cloud.b Twilight Turtle, $39.95

Edushape, Magna Giraffe, $24.95

Vtech, Explore and Learn Helicopter, $29.95

Age 2

educo, Creative Peg Puzzle, $19.95

WOW, Coastguard Carl, $39.95

Kid Galaxy, My First RC, $24.95

Age 3

Alex, 3-D Zoo Puzzles, $14.95

Vtech, Kidizoom Camera, $49.95

Kidoozie, I Can Learn Spelling, $24.95

Age 4

Breyer, My Dream Horse, $19.95

Creativity for Kids, Puppy Spa, $19.95

Scientific Explorer, My First Science Kit, $24.95

Age 5

Melissa and Doug, Sticker By Number, $14.95

Laser Peg, Laser Peg Bot, $23.95

Thinkway Toys, Lazer Stunt Chaser, $49.95

Age 6

Folkmanis, Crocodile Stage Puppet, $24.95

Uncle Milton, Fireworks Light Show, $34.95

WMC, Remote Control Flying Shark, $39.95