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Today I’m doubly pleased to welcome poet and author Nancy Tupper Ling, who’s here to tell us all about her new book Double Happiness (Chronicle Books, 2015), a heartwarming story about a family moving from San Francisco to the East Coast.

Beautifully told through a series of lyrical poems in the alternating voices of Gracie and her little brother Jake, Double Happiness deftly captures the mixed emotions of leaving loved ones behind, traveling across country, and seeing one’s new home and surroundings for the first time.

It is especially hard saying goodbye to Nai Nai (Grandmother), Auntie Su and Uncle Woo. To help ease the transition, Nai Nai gives each of the children a special box, suggesting they fill it with four treasures “leading from this home to your new.” She explains that when she was young she had her own “happiness box,” which enabled her to keep special memories close.

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Jake is as much excited, adventurous, and playful as Gracie is apprehensive, reflective, and sad. The treasures they add to their boxes (panda, marble, lucky penny, leaf, snake) mark specific moments in their journey with attendant feelings and impressions.

Both Gracie’s and Jake’s voices ring true, and the poems seamlessly keep the engaging storyline moving forward. Alina Chau incorporates cultural elements (Chinese calligraphy, Jake’s mystical dragon, first dinner) in her charming soft watercolor illustrations, illuminating this gentle gem of a story that will surely resonate with young readers.

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In Chinese tradition, “double happiness” is usually associated with weddings, but Nancy’s story artfully extends the concept: two homes, two coasts, two cultures, two boxes, the old and the new, two children, a dragon and a phoenix, two halves of a perfect whole coming full circle in the blessed harmony of family.

I know you’ll enjoy learning more about how and why Nancy wrote this book. And yes, she’s sharing a favorite recipe! Enjoy!

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Recently, while I was innocently browsing online, this adorable crocheted teddy bear winked at me.

Never one to ignore a mischievous ursine smart enough to get my attention, I knew I had to investigate.

I discovered he was created by plush artist Dawn Treacher of York, England, who designs and makes other Amigurumi animals like the bear, in addition to a wide range of sock animals, fleece plushies, and soft sculptures. Some of Dawn’s creatures are inspired by real animals (foxes, bunnies, giraffes, elephants, badgers, birds), while others represent wild flights of the imagination — brightly colored alien one-eyed monsters in odd shapes with elongated ears and limbs.

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Clearly this is an artist with a kid’s heart who loves to play. :)

All of Dawn’s Treacher Creatures are lovingly hand-sewn and one-of-a-kind. Each has a distinct personality. Whether sweet, comical, serene, endearing, cunning or coy, they’re bound to make you smile and wonder what they’ve been up to. Not surprisingly, Dawn is also an aspiring children’s book author and illustrator (in addition to being a fine landscape painter) — so maybe someday soon some of her creatures will have their own books!

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I’m happy she agreed to join us today to tell us more. You’ll never look at your socks the same way again. Enjoy!

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“There is such a thing as magic, and the Beatles were magic.” ~ Paul McCartney

All illustrations © 2015 Adam Gustavson (click to enlarge)

I remember February 9, 1964 like it was yesterday — the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show!

There, in my aunt’s living room, I tried to process the heart-swelling moment, the excitement, the energy, the burst-wide-open-never-be-the-same-again feeling. Just look at them! Those Edwardian suits, black pointy boots, cool haircuts! They were good looking, different, charming, revolutionary. I could barely breathe as Paul sang, “Close your eyes, and I’ll kiss you . . . ”

My uncle bought “Meet the Beatles” for me from a record store downtown. I plastered the walls of my bedroom with Beatles pics I had cut out from teen magazines. I collected Beatles bubble gum cards and read everything I could get my hands on about John, Paul, George and Ringo. I began writing faithfully to a new penpal who lived in Liverpool, dreaming of the day when I could set foot on British soil.

I still count my lucky stars that I was just the right age to experience the onset of Beatlemania. As I grew up, so did their music. None of us could have foreseen the lasting impact they’d ultimately have on music history, composition, production and pop culture. Half a century later, they’re still number one.

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via Okan Arts

1. Just in case you missed it, wanted to point all Julie Paschkis fans to the lovely post about her by Patricia Belyea at Okan Arts. What a treat to get a mini tour of Julie’s gorgeous Seattle home and learn a bit more about her passion for quilting. As one would expect, each room is a creative haven with its many colors, textures and charming objets d’art.

via Okan Arts

As you probably know, Julie is a multi-talented force of nature — an award winning author/illustrator, textile designer/quilter, champion pysanky decorator, and a good cook and baker! We’ll be featuring her new bilingual poetry book, Flutter and Hum: Animal Poems (Henry Holt, 2015) soon!

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2. New picture book alert! Lick your chops and open wide for There Was An Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight (Random House, 2015) by Penny Parker Klostermann and Ben Mantle!

We all know that “there was an old lady” who swallowed lots of things. Now meet the old dragon who swallows pretty much an entire kingdom! Will he ever learn a little moderation?! This rollicking rhyme is full to bursting with sight gags, silly characters, and plenty of burps! Parents and kids alike will delight in Ben Mantle’s precisely funny illustrations and in Penny Parker Klostermann’s wacky rhymes.

Debut author Penny Klostermann has penned a zany send-up of “there was an old lady who swallowed a fly” that’s a riot to read aloud. She proves her Medievalish muster by featuring a delirious dragon sans decorum whose antics inevitably lead to much bloating and burping (what do you expect when you guzzle and gulp like there’s no tomorrow?). It’s one thing to swallow a knight, a steed, a squire, a cook, and a lady — but a castle and a moat??!! Ben Mantle captures all the gustatory gulping and nonstop nonsense with his colorful, vigorous, high-octane illos. Clippity, clippity, clippity clop to your nearest bookstore and (politely) swallow this one whole. It is, in short, a GAS. :D :D :D (Click here for Dragon’s Blog Tour.)

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3. Shopping for just the right gift for a bookish friend? Check out these cool mugs from The Literary Gift Company. Pick a pre-printed classic or order a personalized mug with any title and author’s name on it (eg., “Pies I Have Loved” by Cornelius Rattigan). :)

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4. On what would have been Princess Diana’s 54th birthday, blogger Tori Avey celebrated the People’s Princess with a batch of her favorite Bread and Butter Pudding as prepared by Chef Darren McGrady, who cooked for the royal family at Buckingham Palace for over a decade before moving into Kensington Palace to cook for Diana and her boys.

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via ToriAvey.com

Like Tori, I remember vividly that fateful Sunday when I first heard the saw news of Diana’s death. Can you believe August 31 marks 18 years that she’s been gone? How Diana would have doted on Prince George and Princess Charlotte if she were alive today! The Bread and Butter Pudding was a special treat in Diana’s otherwise health-conscious diet.

You may remember my mentioning Chef McGrady in a previous post about the famous Chocolate Biscuit Cake favored by both Prince William and the Queen. The Bread and Butter Pudding recipe is included in Chef McGrady’s wonderful cookbook, Eating Royally: Recipes and Remembrances from a Palace Kitchen (Thomas Nelson, 2007), a must-read for all royal watchers. For now, visit Tori’s webpage for a virtual taste and step-by-step recipe instructions and photos.

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5. Having a baaaaad day? Then you need a Mary Kilvert sheep fix! This Somerset-based artist has created a distinctive line of sheepish homeware products reflecting her love of the English countryside. She first began making miniature needle-felted sheep back in 2008, inspired by a fictional character she created called Baatholomew, who knitted himself a colorful jumper (sweater) so he could stand out from the flock. Naturally all the other sheep copied him by knitting jumpers too (different colors and patterns to reflect their distinctive personalities).

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Mary’s shop in Somerset.

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Well, wouldn’t ewe know it? As soon as word got out about Mary’s baaaaad sheep (whose fleece was white as snow) — they became an instant success, and very soon their likenesses began appearing on plates, mugs, dishes, aprons, tea towels, stationery and bags. Adorable and fun! Visit Mary’s website for more (don’t worry, if sheep are not your thing, she has some equally irresistible doggy stuff). :D

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6. One of the books I read and especially enjoyed during my summer blog break was Anne Bustard’s debut middle grade historical novel, Anywhere But Paradise (Egmont USA, 2015). There are so few children’s books set in Hawai’i, even fewer that explore the subject of bullying in which the victim is a white character among ethnically diverse kids.

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It’s 1960 and Peggy Sue has just been transplanted from Texas to Hawaii for her father’s new job. Her cat, Howdy, is stuck in animal quarantine, and she’s baffled by Hawaiian customs and words. Worst of all, eighth grader Kiki Kahana targets Peggy Sue because she is haole–white–warning her that unless she does what Kiki wants, she will be a victim on “kill haole day,” the last day of school. Peggy Sue’s home ec teacher insists that she help Kiki with her sewing project or risk failing. Life looks bleak until Peggy Sue meets Malina, whose mother gives hula lessons. But when her parents take a trip to Hilo, leaving Peggy Sue at Malina’s, life takes an unexpected twist in the form of a tsunami. Peggy Sue is knocked unconscious and wakes to learn that her parents safety and whereabouts are unknown. Peggy Sue has to summon all her courage to have hope that they will return safely.

This story will resonate with anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider. Peggy Sue’s voice is engaging and compelling, and I found myself remembering those times when I felt intimidated by tough, mean girls who hung out in the restroom smoking, giving anyone who dared to enter a menacing stare. The book also brought back pleasant memories of taking hula and sewing lessons, and basking in the warmth and talkiness of extended family. Of course it felt good to “return” to a familiar setting and culture. Be sure to check this one out!

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7. Would you like to host (or virtually attend) a Harry Potter themed dinner party? What about a nice Wind in the Willows picnic, a Peter Rabbit Easter Brunch, a Queen of Hearts Tea Party, or a Hobbits Party complete with seed cakes, scones, apple tarts and mince pies? Sound good? Head over to Food in Literature, a thoroughly delicious and inspiring site hosted by Australia-based blogger Bryton Taylor. Bryt serves up recipes based on some of her favorite books (mostly children’s and YA fantasy), along with great craft and entertaining ideas. She is especially fond of Harry Potter (hear that, Julia?), but also whets the reader’s appetite for noshes à la Sherlock Holmes, The Great Gatsby, Mad Men, Ulysses, Pride and Prejudice, and The Da Vinci Code. Both printable recipes and video demonstrations can be viewed at Bryt’s site. Here’s a sample video of Bryt making Mrs. Weasley’s English Toffee:

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8. Heads up, teapot collectors! Talk about cute as a button. LOVE these Avoca Button Print teapots. They’re available in 2-cup or 6-cup sizes and are made in Ireland. Top off the fun with a set of button ceramic mugs. :) Want.

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Wishing you an eventful, delicious, inspiring last-week-of-August! Be kind. Keep smiling. :)

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Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

Good Morning! Hungry?

Today we’re serving up a delicious five-course breakfast celebrating the most recent title in the totally faboo Poetry Friday Anthology series created by the incredibly brilliant and uncommonly good-looking poetry goddesses Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.

The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (Pomelo Books, 2015) is the perfect way to greet the new school year. Just think of all the glorious Fridays to come, each brimming with oodles of opportunities to read, write, share, and yes, even eat poems! The collection contains over 150 poems by 115 poets, a toothsome smorgasbord of holiday poems written in both English and Spanish grouped by calendar month.

Poetry Friday Anthology Series creators Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong

What better way to celebrate special occasions like Easter, Rosh Hashanah/Tashlich, Earth Day, Valentine’s Day, Lunar New Year, Flag Day, Juneteenth, and National Soup Month (!!!!) than with poems that come with fun Take 5! mini-lessons to help teachers, librarians, and parents share the poems in ways that will engage and delight, facilitate discussion, and encourage further reading?

In addition to poems for widely observed holidays like Christmas, Halloween and Mother’s Day, kids will also enjoy learning about many quirky, lesser-known events (National Dump the Pump Day, Halfway Day, Band-Aid Day, World Laughter Day). Diversity also flavors this poetic feast (Gay Pride Day, Ramadan, Obon, Dashain Festival, Diwali, Day of the Dead), and there are birthday/ baby poems for each month!

I love that each poem is paired with a relevant picture book recommendation and also linked to another poem in the anthology with a similar theme or subject. If you’re hungry for even more, check out the referenced poetry books. Sylvia and Janet have thought of everything! This rich, wholly accessible and versatile resource, which features a gold mine of contemporary children’s poets (Jane Yolen, Eileen Spinelli, Douglas Florian, Janet Wong, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Marilyn Singer, Michael J. Rosen), simply belongs in every home, preK-6 classroom, school and public library. :)

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