nine cool things on a tuesday

1. Happy December! Though the holidays will definitely feel different this year, we can still daydream about idyllic times past. No better way than to escape into Jane Newland’s art.

Fancy the peaceful countryside or a brisk winter walk? 🙂

You may remember when we featured Jane’s work last year. She’s from the UK and does all her work digitally. Her lovely scenes are calming and filled with exquisite detail.

Deep breath. Deep breath. Ahhhhh . . .

Check out her website shop to purchase prints, and for the latest, follow her on Instagram.


2. Speaking of the holidays, here’s a sweet gift for a special friend (or why not treat yourself?). Yes, you deserve it. 🙂

Susan Branch’s latest book is called Home for Christmas (Spring Street Publishing, 2020):

A brand new book from  New York Times bestselling author and watercolor artist Susan Branch. Home for Christmas is a heart-warming tale of a childhood Christmas in the years after World War II, with Susan, her parents and her siblings. A book for all ages, told from a child’s perspective, filled with anticipation and hope, it’s a charming story about the enduring love of family that reads like a long illustrated letter. A beautiful Christmas gift, because we need a little EXTRA Christmas now. 

We certainly need an extra large dose of nostalgia this holiday season, especially since many of us will not be attending the usual in-person family gatherings. There’s nothing more comforting than fond memories, reminding us to cherish the times we’ve had and to give us hope that good times will come again.

You probably know I’m a longtime Susan Branch fan; can’t get enough of her charming hand-lettered books and watercolor art. I love her eternal optimism (“happy gene”) and as far as I know, no one does heartwarming better. Her gift books and cookbooks are all treasures. Add this one to your collection.

*More about this book in an upcoming post. 🙂


3. Hooray, Hooray! Esteemed Newbery Medal author Linda Sue Park recently launched KiBooka — a webpage featuring Korean American (and Korean diaspora) authors and illustrators:

This KiBooka page is a source of great happiness for me. When my career began more than 20 years ago, there were very few creators of Korean ancestry publishing in the U.S.—it would have been a forlorn page indeed! I’m excited about the talented writers and artists whose books are now available, and hope you will enjoy learning about them and their work. 

At KiBooka you will find creators of picture books, middle grade and young adult novels. This is a wonderful resource that’s a long time coming. When I published Dumpling Soup in the early 90’s, I literally didn’t know of any other Korean American children’s book writers. I read books by Chinese and Japanese American authors, but no Koreans, so I understand Linda Sue’s excitement at seeing how things have changed, albeit gradually.

Now there are many more Asian American children’s book creators thanks to the recent diverse books movement (of course we need even more!). It is especially gratifying that more Korean American voices are finally being heard.

Big thanks to Linda Sue for creating KiBooka and for including me. I’m happy to see dear friends and fellow DC area authors Frances Park and Ginger Park also listed (they write for children as well as adults). Check back periodically at KiBooka for additions in coming weeks.


4. Speaking of Frances and Ginger, ’tis the season for indulging in (and gifting others with) chocolate chocolate chocolate. You probably know that in addition to being award winning authors, the Park sisters co-own the best chocolate shop in the D.C. area, Chocolate Chocolate.

Because of the pandemic, their normal shop policies have changed a little. Customers are welcome to order/purchase their treats in person right at the door (M-F, noon – 4 p.m.), or you can call ahead for pick up (masks required).

Of course, you can still order online or by phone for shipping all over the U.S. Visit the Chocolate Chocolate website to browse all the delicious offerings (prepare to drool). Whatever your heart’s desire — dark, milk, white chocolate, bars, bonbons, European, artisanal, foil-wrapped seasonal goodies — they are your go-to source. They also sell candy like jelly beans, Jordan almonds, and gummy bears in bulk, as well as chocolate DC monuments. And yes, you can also purchase signed copies of any of their books! 🙂

Mmmmmmmmmmm. When it comes to holiday gifts, if you’re ever in doubt, give CHOCOLATE! 🙂


5. Heads Up, Grace Lin fans: have you seen her 2021 Limited Edition Where the Mountain Meets the Moon Trilogy Calendar?

Can’t think of a better way to celebrate each new month than with beautiful art from this awesome fairytale/fantasy trilogy. I still remember reviewing Where the Mountain Meets the Moon when it first came out in 2009. It was unusual for a middle grade novel to have full color illustrations, and they were stunning! WTMMTM went on to win a Newbery Honor Medal, and it was followed by Starry River of the Sky (2012) and When the Sea Turned to Silver (2016), a National Book Award Finalist.

Grace with her adorable daughter.

You can purchase this calendar online at the Eric Carle Museum Gift Shop. Also available: autographed copies of some of Grace’s board books, picture books, early chapter books (Ling and Ting series), and middle grade novels. Cool stuff by one of the most versatile and gifted children’s book creators in America: not only does she write across several genres, she also illustrates. No small feat (and she’s a good cupcake baker). 🙂


6. Here’s a fun way to get young ones into the holiday spirit and keep them busy while something amazing is baking in the oven: the Christmas Cookie Coloring Tablecloth!

It’s made of 100% cotton, is 50″L x 33″W, and is machine washable. The set comes with 10 washable markers and 4 recipes (gingerbread, sugar, chocolate cookies + icing).

The tablecloth is illustrated with hand-drawn baking tools, various holiday decorations and cookie molds. What a delectable introduction to cutters, cooling racks, rolling pins, pastry bags, and more. Kids can practice decorating cookies before doing the real thing, and because the tablecloth is washable, they can play with it again and again.

Get yours at Uncommon Goods.

Want something less seasonal? They also have USA Coloring Tablecloths (great way to learn geography, state birds, flowers, and animals).


7. What do you mean you’re hungry again?! After all that chocolate?

Well, okay, since it’s December, and you’ve been reasonably well-behaved up until now. 😀

Behold: The Official Downton Abbey Christmas Cookbook (Weldon Owen, 2020)!!

This elegant coffee table cookbook highlights the luxe and elegance of the Christmas at Downton Abbey and features a collection of traditional British holiday recipes, from appetizers to desserts, that were popular during the Edwardian period.

Take a seat at the Christmas table of Downton Abbey, the historic British estate at the heart of the popular PBS series. Downton fans will appreciate this enticing collection of classic British holiday recipes from the Edwardian era, evocative narratives about Christmas traditions, and seasonal anecdotes from the award-winning series. Colorful photographs of finished dishes, fan-favorite moments from the Christmas episodes, and excerpts of character quotes bring the spirit of the holidays to life.

Ooh-la-la! Definitely a must-have for the Downton fan on your gift list (or for yourself, naturally). Don’t we all wish to dine in elegance (we can all dream, can’t we)?

I really enjoyed The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook and am looking forward to getting my furry paws on this one. Let’s celebrate all we can, albeit vicariously. Plus, we need a fix to tide us over until the next Downton Abbey movie comes out (I miss Daisy and Mrs Patmore). 🙂


But wait! There’s more! Here’s another one:

The British Baking Book: The History of British Baking, Savory and Sweet (Weldon Owen, 2020), is written by the same person who wrote The Official Downton Abbey Christmas Cookbook Regula Ysewign.

I admit this is the first time I’ve heard of her. She’s a writer and food photographer based in Belgium who focuses on food and social history. This book sounds fascinating:

A meticulously researched, beautifully written, and richly photographed cookbook celebrating the recipes, ingenuity, history, and heritage of British baking.

With over 100 iconic recipes, The British Baking Book tells the wonderfully evocative story of baking in Britain—and how this internationally cherished tradition has evolved from its rich heritage to today’s immense popularity of The Great British Bake Off. 

With lavish imagery and evocative narrative, the expert-baker author details the landscape, history, ingenuity, and legends—and show-stopping recipes—that have made British baking a worldwide phenomenon. From cakes, biscuits, and buns to custards, tarts, and pies, authentic recipes for Britain’s spectacular sweet and savory baked goods are included here—like pink-frosted Tottenham cake, jam-layered Victoria sandwich cake, quintessential tea loaf, sweet lamb pie, Yorkshire curd tart, and more. Illustrating the story of how British baking evolved throughout the country, many of the recipes have a sense-of-place heritage like Dorset apple cake, Whitby lemon buns, Cornish cake, Grasmere gingerbread, and Scottish oatcakes. Evocative and fascinating, this cookbook offers a guided tour of Britain’s best baking. 

I am a food history buff and have added this one to my Wish List. *smacks lips*


8. New Picture Book Alert: My Bed: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep Around the World, written by Rebecca Bond and illustrated by Salley Mavor (HMH Books, 2020):

Delightful rhymes and charming hand-stitched art celebrate the many ways we sleep across the world. Perfect for a baby shower gift and for fans of This Is How We Do It.

My bed rocks on water
My bed sways in the breeze.
My bed’s beneath a curtain
My bed’s aloft in trees . . .

In the Netherlands, some beds rock on water. In Brazil they might sway in the breeze. From Canada to Japan, Afghanistan to Norway, sleep has taken many forms and shapes throughout history. Astonishing, hand-stitched illustrations and a delightful narrative tell the story of sleeping traditions across the world.

If you’re a Salley Mavor fan, then you know her gorgeous fiber work is without equal. She worked on My Bed for two years, spending about 1-2 months on each scene. She likes to think of her artwork as “miniature shallow stage sets,” and it’s amazing what she creates with fabrics, beads, wire, woods, yarns, threads and found objects. The detail is exquisite, from each meticulously painted character face to the hand-stitched lettering on the front cover.

My Bed, which has earned a starred review from Kirkus, is certainly a treasure with its folksy charm and painstaking craftsmanship, something suitable for readers (and art lovers) of all ages.

Autographed copies are available via Salley Mavor’s Etsy Shop. Perfect holiday gift, no? 🙂


9. Finally, let’s top things off with a brand new illustrated poetry anthology, just released November 20, 2020: Friends & Anenomes: Ocean Poems for Children, edited by Kristen Wixted and Heather Kelly (Writers’ Loft, 2020):

Set sail on an epic, page-by-page ocean voyage with Peter Reynolds, Jane Yolen, Kip Wilson, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Josh Funk, Matt Forrest Esenwine, and 61 other well-loved and emerging New England authors and illustrators. 

Dive under the enchanting cover—illustrated by esteemed local artist Jodie Apeseche—into a whimsical, watery world where you’ll rendezvous with petty penguins, little fish with big dreams, party-planning turtles, as well as anemones and crabs in the intertidal zone, and elusive sharks and jellies that call the deep sea home.
With a smorgasbord of poetic types, dozens of captivating sea creatures, and fascinating facts, FRIENDS AND ANEMONES will feel as at home clinging to your bookshelf as it will floating in a school library.  ~ Audrey Day Williams

Am looking forward to reading this, as there are many familiar poets on the list. FYI, The Writers’ Loft is a non-profit writing community organization located in Sherborn, Massachusetts, which helps local writers foster their creativity, strengthen their spirit and grow professionally by providing them with quiet writing space, educational programs, opportunities to connect with supportive colleagues, and access to industry experts, as well as opportunities to give back to the greater writing community.

Click here for Friends & Anenomes Coloring Pages, and enjoy this book trailer featuring lots of cool sample poems:


**BONUS COOL THING: Love this portrait of my favorite song and dance man:

“Baby Blue” by Joan Baez


To get us into the holiday spirit, here’s Dylan reciting Longfellow’s poem, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”:













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**Copyright © 2020 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

7 thoughts on “nine cool things on a tuesday

  1. Thank you for this delicious blog! Just having my coffee, and I am craving chocolate already! By the way, I got my copy of Susan’s Christmas book as soon as it came out, and it’s beautiful. Happy Tuesday!


  2. The coolest thing on your list is YOU, Jama! Loved seeing your face included on LSP’s KiBooka website. And I love that the Park sisters are not only authors, but also chocolatiers! Being in the land of chocolate, I find it especially sweet that they named their shop Chocolate Chocolate – yes-yes, please! *drooling…* 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nine cool & magnificent things on a Tuesday! So much to love here – I was like a kid on Christmas morning! Belgian Buns! Yum! And the ever talented Joan Baez. Amazing. Thanks so much for this awesome post – and for including us (especially next to you!), Jama Darling!


  4. Jane Newland’s art is amazing, I went straight over to have a look and they will be on my Christmas list. x


  5. I think you’ve outdone yourself this time, Jama, with all these special things on the list, my own ideas for Christmas just grew longer! And since we should not shop in a regular way now, it’s wonderful to have you shop for us! I saw about KiBooka on Twitter & it is wonderful, also that you are on that site, too. I have shared your book with the girls who love dumplings, so I’m happy that more will learn about it, too. Thanks for every part!


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