1. How about a bit of nature, whimsy, nostalgia, and coziness? New Hampshire artist Madison Safer’s work has a charming storybook quality to it that feels safe and comforting.
Hers is a world of owl apothecaries, rabbit beekeepers, people wearing mushroom hats, and fairy birthday parties where ladybugs, squirrels and wee folk chat over cake. I love that humans and animals are on equal footing, and that woodland creatures of all kinds co-exist peacefully.
Madison studied illustration at Montserrat College of Art and she works mainly in watercolor, gouache and acrylics.
She’s inspired by Eastern European art, folk art traditions, vintage Victorian postcards, old 50’s field guides, and classic children’s books like Frog and Toad Are Friends and The Wind in the Willows.
In addition to creating narrative illustrations, Madison is keen on plant and natural education, perfectly in keeping with the abundance of wildflowers and wildlife right outside her door. Favorite pastimes include daydreaming, drinking tea, napping, and stealing flowers. She is happiest in a field of mushrooms.
2. New Book Alert! Just out today, ta-da!!! — is A World Full of Poems: Inspiring Poetry for Children, selected by Sylvia Vardell with illustrations by Tony Ross (DK Books, 2020)!!
A gorgeously illustrated introduction to poetry for children, featuring poems about everything from science, sports, and space, to friendship, family, and feelings.
This thoughtfully crafted anthology is perfect for children new to verse and for young poetry fans seeking out new favorites. Explore poetry from a diverse selection of contemporary and historical poets, covering a broad range of topics–from personal subjects like emotions and family, to the wonders of the natural environment. Carefully selected works encourage children to see the poetry in everything and to embrace the beauty of their everyday lives.
Poems are complemented by detailed illustrations, timelines, and interesting facts about the topics covered, ensuring that the poems are not just entertaining, but relevant, topical, and informative.
Prompts and activities inspire children to create their own poetry, and devices like rhyme, repetition, and alliteration are introduced and explained in a fun and accessible manner.
There are 110 poets, contemporary and classic, featured in this anthology. More than 80 of them are from the U.S., with the others from the UK, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands.
Find out more at Sylvia’s Poetry for Children blog post, which includes backstory about selecting the poems and securing permissions, and a short sneak peek video. Since Sylvia is a designated poetry goddess, we’re certain this new book is over-the-top fantastic (the force is always with her).
3. Suffering from a little Downton Abbey withdrawal? Need a little something to tide you over until the next DA movie comes out? Check out CLUE: Downton Abbey Edition! Can’t remember the last time I played CLUE, but perhaps this new edition will prompt me to sit down in front of a cozy fire and channel some of my favorite DA characters in a new way.
- Inspired by Downton Abbey: it’s a twist on the classic mystery board game inspired by the hit series, Downton Abbey. A valuable object has been stolen, and Mr Carson needs help to solve the mystery.
- Which objects were stolen? Includes miniature tokens inspired by iconic Downton Abbey items: a pocket watch, bow tie, Lavender loaf, typewriter, pantry key, and telephone.
- Exclusive Downton Abbey tokens: move around the game board as a favorite Downton Abbey character; Lord Grantham, Lady Mary, the Dowager Countess, John Bates, Mrs Hughes, or Tom Branson.
- Makes a fun gift: Downton Abbey edition game can make a great holiday or birthday gift for Downton Abbey fans and clue fans ages 13 and up.
Sounds like a fun way to get your British on with your shelter-in-place buddies, and of course it’s never too early to work on that holiday gift list. Pip pip!
4. Heads up! Look what’s coming soon: Serena Says by Tanita S. Davis (Katherine Tegen Books, 2020)!
Award-winning author Tanita S. Davis delivers a heartwarming and humorous middle grade tale about a young Black girl who finds her own voice through vlogging and learns to speak out. Perfect for fans of Sharon M. Draper and Lisa Greenwald.
JC shines like a 4th of July sparkler. She has the best ideas, the biggest, funniest laugh, and the party starts when she arrives. Serena St. John is proud to be known as her best friend.
Everything changes when JC returns from the hospital with a new kidney—and a new best friend. Out of the spotlight of JC’s friendship, suddenly things aren’t quite so sparkly in Serena’s world.
Lonely Serena works on perfecting her vlogs, hoping to earn a shot at becoming a classroom reporter. If she can be smart and funny on video, why can’t she manage that in real life? If only she could always pause, edit, or delete conversations. It would be so much easier to say the right thing at the right time . . . instead of not saying what she should, or, even worse, blurting out a secret that wasn’t hers to share.
Life doesn’t have a pause button—but as Serena discovers her voice through vlogging, she learns that she’s not just there to reflect JC’s light—she’s fully capable of shining on her own.
Oh, I’m so excited about this one! Tanita is one of my very first online friends (we go back to at least 2007, when I first started blogging). Have enjoyed all her YA novels (A La Carte, Peas and Carrots, Happy Families, and of course her Coretta Scott King Honor Award-winning Mare’s War), so I’m certain this new middle grade will be a great read.
It’s already earned a **starred review** from Kirkus, who said, “Middle school energy forms a bustling backdrop for this clever story of navigating changing relationships and developing a sense of personal identity. Secondary characters and storylines provide humor and pathos while at the center is spirited, smart Serena, someone readers will appreciate and cheer. A delightful multicultural narrative that spotlights friendship and self-awareness.” Yes!
Check out this recent interview with Tanita at World Literature Today (she’s a juror for the 2021 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature). She answers some interesting questions, such as the title of her first favorite book (that made her a reader), and she describes her best book-receiving experience (that was some experience, since she ended up marrying the giver!). 🙂
Serena Says comes out November 3, 2020, and is available for pre-order now. What are you waiting for??!!
5. Okay, okay, it’s time for a snack (I can always tell when you’re ready for something foodie). 🙂
Since most of us are spending more time indoors, and might be getting tired of looking at our same-old, same-old furnishings, why not perk things up with a corn-on-the-cob stool? Yes, you heard me right — a perfectly formed cob with a big bite taken out — is just the thing.
No more boring chairs. No more predictable sits. sets. seats. Now you can have your corn and sit on it too. Think how happy your tush will be! 🙂
These come from an Australian company called Third Drawer Down, that specializes in unique, out of the ordinary artist-driven gifts and homewares. So far, they’ve collaborated with 200+ international artists (65% women! yay!), for a total of over 450 exclusive items. Dedicated to creative integrity and functionality, they’ve broadened the global gift market with lots of cool stuff since 2003 (opening a U.S. company in 2018).
Not a corn lover? Maybe you’d prefer a burger with all the fixins’, a stack of donuts, or even an ice cream cone. Whatever your pleasure, these fun pieces are all calorie free and great conversation starters (that is, if you don’t mind guests squealing with delight before licking and chomping on your furniture). 😀
More info at the Third Drawer Down website. Take a seat!
6. Hooray, Hooray!! What we REALLY need right now: a brand new Billy Collins poetry collection! Whale Day: And Other Poems (Random House, 2020), was just released September 29.
Billy Collins’s new collection brings together more than fifty poems and showcases his deft mixing of the playful and the serious that has made him one of our country’s most celebrated and widely read poets. Here are poems that leap with whimsy and imagination, yet stay grounded in the familiar, common things of everyday experience. Collins takes us for a walk with an impossibly ancient dog, discovers the original way to eat a banana, meets an Irish spider, and even invites us to his own funeral. Sensitive to the wonders of being alive as well as the thrill of mortality, Whale Day builds on and amplifies Collins’s reputation as one of America’s most interesting and durable poets.
It’s been several years since The Rain in Portugal came out, so we’re more than ready for a good Billy Collins fix. Here’s a sample poem:
I was trying to make my way
across a busy street in San Francisco,
while carrying the new anthology of poetry
I’d been flipping through earlier that morning—
with my pot of tea and two pieces of cinnamon toast—
in which I was wedged between James Tate and Bob Dylan
because the poets were arranged old to young, according to age.
I had to avoid a couple of cars,
cross over two sets of trolley tracks,
and dodge a guy with a ski cap on a bicycle
in order to get across the street and enter
one of the city’s many hospitable parks
with their hedges, benches, and shade trees
and often girls on a blanket, a juggler, an old man doing tai-chi.
And that’s where I lay down on the soft grass,
closed my eyes, and after a little while
began to picture the three of us lined up in a row
according to the editor’s wishes,
sliding out of our mothers in order, one after the other,
then ending up pressed together on a shelf
in a corner bookstore, yodeling away in the dark.
In addition to Collins, I LOVE James Tate and Bob Dylan, so this book is a must-have for me. Eeeeeee!!
*skips away chanting, Billy Billy Billy . . . *
7. Question: When is it time to throw in the towel?
Answer: Never, but you can ‘towel off’ anytime with these cool (and cute!) flour sack kitchen towels from Paper Sharks.
They’re “just like Grandma used to use . . . the best kitchen towel ever made,” since they’re absorbent, lint-free, dries quickly, and can be used for a variety of household uses and craft projects.
Here’s a little flour sack towel history:
From the 1800’s to around 1950, food staples such as flour, sugar, cornmeal, and chicken feed were packaged in tightly woven 50 or 100 pound cotton sacks. During the American Great Depression, between 1929 and the early 1940’s, times were hard for many. Frugal housewives would reuse these cotton sacks and make them into clothing, toys, quilts, curtains, pillowcases, undergarments, and of course, dish towels. The re-use of flour sack towels became widespread, and the flour companies took advantage of this trend by printing the sacks with flower prints, pretty borders, and doll and toy patterns to encourage housewives to buy their brand of flour. Women would swap and sell the sacks to one another to obtain a particular print or pattern they fancied.
These towels are making a comeback — they’re a nice bit of nostalgia that makes drying dishes a little more fun, and Paper Sharks offers lots of adorable prints, from puppies to pumpkins to birds and bees. Can’t resist the cats with hats, bears and bunnies — they even have sushi and pinipeds! You can also get aprons in matching prints.
Paper Sharks is a small family-run company based in Santa Barbara, California. They started out publishing and distributing greeting cards, but added flour sack towels to their inventory about 10 years ago.
Visit Paper Sharks for more. Great gift idea!!
8. New Cookbook: Check out A Literary Holiday Cookbook by Alison Walsh (Skyhorse, 2020), just released September 9, 2020:
For fans of Little Women, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Christmas Carol, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and more, a literature-inspired cookbook for voracious readers during the festive holiday season.
Some of the most famous instances of fictional fare have become synonymous with the holidays. Who can forget the plentiful food surrounding the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol? The simple but generous and joy-filled Christmas gatherings at the Marchs’ in Little Women? Or the Van Tassel’s autumnal feast in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow? Finally, these literary meals can become a reality on your table with A Literary Holiday Feast.
From Christmas and Thanksgiving to Halloween and New Year’s, this seasonal cookbook offers 17 full four-course holiday meals from 25 classic books—each including an appetizer, entrée, side dish, and dessert. Additionally, whip up festive sips and delectable edible gifts to share with loved ones. As you curl up by the fireplace to reread one of your favorite literary classics, learn to make:
- Mouse King Cheese Bites and Sugar Plums from The Nutcracker for Christmas
- Turkey Roulade and Jo’s Gingerbread from Little Women for Christmas
- Skillet Cornbread with Homemade Butter and Venison Pot Roast from The Little House on the Prairie for Thanksgiving
- Deviled Raven Eggs and Coffin Pizza Pockets from Edgar Allen Poe for Halloween
- The Queen of Hearts Tomato Tart and Eat Me Cakes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for the New Year
- and many more!
Finally—whether you love Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, Redwall, or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz—book lovers can enjoy full menus of literary delicacies from their favorite books for all of their favorite holidays!
You may remember when I included Alison’s first cookbook, A Literary Tea Party, as a Cool Thing about two years ago. This new cookbook is chock full of ideas to get us into the holiday spirit. Just in case you forgot, you can find Alison online at her food blog, Alison’s Wonderland Recipes.
Always fun and delicious!
9. Finally, some much needed humor and insight (comic strip style), thanks to Kansas writer and artist Grant Snider. Don’t know how or remember when I first stumbled upon some of Grant’s Incidental Comics, only that I was hooked by his ability to cleverly convey life lessons and observations in a few memorable panels.
His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Kansas City Star, The Best American Comics 2013, and all across the internet.
He shares new ones periodically at his webpage, where he also sells 11″ x 17″ signed posters of his most popular comics (you can actually purchase a print/poster of any comic on his site, whether they’re listed in the shop or not).
The more detailed drawings with their handwritten captions really draw you in, providing lots to pore over and ponder.
Grant has also published books — books of comics as well as two self-illustrated children’s picture books (What Color Is Night? and What Color is Morning?). Blue Floats Away by Travis Jonker comes out in March 2021.
Enjoy more of his work here.
Blue song time: to help you ease into the week, how about Rod Stewart’s rendition of the classic popular tune, “Blue Moon” (so smooth!).
It was composed by Rodgers and Hart in 1934 (both Billy Eckstine and Mel Tormé had hit recordings in 1949), and has been covered by oodles of artists ever since, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, and Billie Holiday. The Marcels released a doo-wop version in 1961 that became an international hit (lead singer’s name is Cornelius). 🙂
The two versions are so different and fun to compare. Enjoy both!
BTW, the next blue moon will occur on October 31, 2020 (the second full moon in the calendar month). Look for it!
BEFRIEND A PUMPKIN
KEEP THE FAITH
LISTEN TO DR. FAUCI
BELIEVE IN BLUE
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**Copyright © 2020 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.