[merry review + giveaway] An Artist’s Night Before Christmas by Joan C. Waites

This holiday season, millions of families will cozy up by the fire to enjoy Clement C. Moore’s iconic poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

Indeed, many of us know “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” by heart, and reciting it re-awakens the child in each of us who still believes. As soon as we hear those first few lines, the magic and wonder begin:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all
through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

Wait a minute. Do you really believe that? ūüôā

What if there was a mouse stirring? What would he be doing up late at night while the rest of the house was asleep?

These are the questions award winning author/illustrator Joan C. Waites asked herself, and she’s detailed her answers in a delightful new picture book (the first she has both written and illustrated), An Artist’s Night Before Christmas (Pelican Publishing Co., 2017)!

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Catch That Cookie Surprise Giveaway!


The kind and generous Hallie Durand is offering a signed copy of CATCH THAT COOKIE for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader! All you have to do to enter this giveaway is to leave a comment at yesterday’s post no later than midnight (EST) Thursday, December 18, 2014.

If you already commented yesterday you are automatically entered in the giveaway. The book will be signed by BOTH Hallie and illustrator David Small. What a special treasure!

What are you waiting for? Click here and comment. Good Luck!


Copyright ¬© 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

friday feast: noshing on A Cookie for Santa by Stephanie Shaw and Bruno Robert

What do you get when you combine one part Gingerbread Boy with one part “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”?

A delightful recipe for a joyous, rollickingly suspenseful foodie-licious story, of course!

Cleverly riffing on Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” Oregon-based author Stephanie Shaw has cooked up an original adventure featuring our favorite iconic Christmas cookie, who narrowly escapes becoming Santa’s midnight snack.


‘Twas the night before Christmas,
And there on a plate,
Was a Gingerbread Boy
Awaiting his fate.

The children had baked him
And dressed him with care,
Using currants for eyes
and icing for hair.

They knew that St. Nick,
With his overstuffed pack,
Would be sorely in need
Of a fine midnight snack.


As the Gingerbread Boy nervously awaits his not-so-sweet fate, two rambunctious puppies bound into the room and begin to pounce, paw, and tear the holiday decorations apart. The plucky Gingerbread Boy knows he must do something to save Christmas, so he quickly distracts those frisky pups by dancing and spinning atop a big red ornament. Employing all his best moves, he’s able to get them to settle down until Santa arrives. After he helps Santa straighten things up, he’s extremely relieved when instead of being eaten, a highly impressed St. Nick asks him to be Night Watchman at his North Pole toy shop.





Stephanie’s bouncy rhyming text scans beautifully and will keep kids rooting for this adorably smart cookie, who ultimately gets his one Christmas wish. The narrative gambols right along and her spritely rhymes and turns of phrase never lapse into predictability.


‘Come Rascal! Come, Rowdy!’
He called them by name.
‘I’ll show you a much better
Christmas Eve game.’

‘A biscuit,’ they barked
With howling dog joy,
‘And one that can talk.
It’s a Gingerbread boy!’

And what he did next
Made those naughty pups stop.
‘Look at me!’ Cookie cried.
‘I can spin like a top!’


Bruno Robert’s bold, action-packed illustrations effectively capture all the fun and frolic of this clamorous caper. Close-ups of the Gingerbread Boy’s worried facial expressions and his overall body language elicit reader empathy, while the perky, playful pups are suitably frenetic but quite lovable. Kids will enjoy the focus on the cookie’s point of view, and appreciate that such a small little guy was able to put aside his big fears without hesitation to save the day.


When the work was all done
Cookie climbed on the dish.
He looked to the stars
And made one Christmas wish.

Then he heard Santa say . . .


A Cookie for Santa has received glowing reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal and Kirkus, and has earned a Preferred Choice Award from Creative Child Magazine. It begs to be read aloud in the classroom or at family Christmas gatherings. What a wonderful addition to the holiday book shelf, especially for those who like their classic ingredients served up with a refreshing twist! Who could resist this tasty tale, a lovingly baked gem sure to be welcomed in all the best (and politically correct) cookie circles. ūüôā

Though I can’t personally guarantee that fewer gingerbread boys will be consumed as a result, I’m pretty confident kids of all ages will clamor for repeated readings. ūüėÄ

Stephanie reading at Sleighbells Gift Shop (Sherwood, Oregon).


*   *   *

C – O – O – K – I – E – S ! ! !

Cornelius tries to comfort a worried gingerbread boy.

I asked Stephanie to share her favorite Gingerbread Cookie recipe, and she pointed me to this gluten-free one using Pamela’s Bread Mix. Seems more and more people are going gluten-free these days and this recipe sounds like it’s definitely worth a try. Thanks, Stephanie!



  • 3-1/2 cups Pamela’s Bread Mix
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 12 tablespoons butter or margarine, chilled
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 tablespoons milk


Preheat oven to 350¬į. Use HEAVY DUTY STAND MIXER and paddle. In mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Add butter and mix well. Add molasses and milk, mix to combine thoroughly.

Divide dough and roll to 1/4 inch between two layers of parchment paper. Freeze for 15 minutes. Remove top sheet of each and cut out cookies and remove excess dough. Bake on parchment on cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes until edges begin to brown for soft cookies.

For crispy cookies, roll thinner to 1/8th inch and bake for 14 to18 minutes. Scraps can be rolled and cookies cut out again.

¬© Pamela’s Products, Inc.

He feels much better after reading the book!

*   *   *


written by Stephanie Shaw
illustrated by Bruno Robert
published by Sleeping Bear Press, 2014
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.
Cool themes: holidays, Christmas, baking, food, Santa Claus, animals, rhyming fiction

*Check out the cool Activity Guide at Stephanie’s website!

ETA: Read this fun interview with Mr. Pig at The Little Crooked Cottage and enter for a chance to win a signed copy!

*   *   *

poetryfriday180Paul Hankins is hosting today’s Roundup at These 4 Corners. Scamper over and check out the full menu of poetic treats being served up in the blogosphere this week. Enjoy your weekend, a good time to make Gingerbread Boy Cookies. ūüôā

*   *   *

wkendcookingiconThis post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food related posts. Put on your best bibs and come join the fun!




* Spreads posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2014 Stephanie Shaw, illustrations © 2014 Bruno Robert, published by Sleeping Bear Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright ¬© 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.



[review and recipe] a little women christmas by heather vogel frederick and bagram ibatoulline

Most of us remember when we first read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women,¬†and¬†how it profoundly changed and affected us. It’s just that kind of book.

I was in sixth grade and read it for Mrs. Whang’s English class. We were all a little afraid of Mrs. Whang — she was notorious for being unfailingly strict and rarely smiled. No matter the assignment, only the best would do. For Little Women, we were divided into groups of four and asked to act out our favorite scene(s).

We decided on the first chapter and I was to play Jo. We dressed up in long skirts and shawls and I remember bounding onto the “stage” in my best tomboy fashion and blurting out, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” So began a lifelong love for all of Alcott’s books and a fierce yearning for the quintessential New England Christmas — a dreamlike fantasy of snow-blanketed landscapes and cozy fires, something about as foreign as you can imagine when you live in the land of palm trees and eternal summers.

Heather Vogel Frederick’s new picture book adaptation of the Christmas episode from Little Women is a lovely way to meet the March sisters for the first time and bask in cherished holiday scenes brimming with the spirit of giving and gratitude. Frederick interweaves key elements from Alcott’s novel as she distills the essence of this holiday story (Beth’s frail health, Father away at war, Jo and Laurie’s friendship, Jo cutting and selling her hair, making do with what they have).

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[review] Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray and Barry Root

Every year during the busy holiday season I look for a small space of quiet and reflection in the midst of all the jarring ho-ho-hos, fa la las, and pressures to buy buy buy.  

The best place to find it is in the right book. Christmas Farm, by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Barry Root (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008), is a quiet, lyrical gem that sings of friendship, life cycles, and the immeasurable rewards of teamwork.

Kind hearted Wilma decides she is tired of growing petunias and sunflowers. She wants a different garden, a new beginning. She decides to plant trees after realizing that people without a back hill like hers might have trouble finding a good tree for Christmas.

So she orders 62 dozen balsam seedlings, and gathers up string, scissors, shovels, and her five-year-old friend, Parker. Together they measure out twenty-four rows with string, dig sixty-two dozen holes, and plant seven hundred and forty-four seedlings.

Over the course of five years, they nurture their charges and watch them grow, Parker telling the trees all about Christmas,¬†both of them weeding around each plant. Each year they lose some trees to mice, deer, frost, or moose. But finally, when¬†Parker is ten, they are able to build a stand and sell their trees. Then, it’s¬†time to start all¬†over again, ordering more seedlings, and waiting for new sprouts to¬†emerge from the cut trees in the spring.


In this age of¬†fast everything, I love Ray’s emphasis on patience. Things worth cultivating, whether Christmas trees or friendships, take time.¬†Her telling is¬†spare, and the pace is steady and¬†measured,¬†with luminous passages like this one:

Far away, too, in rooms they never saw, in places they never knew, five¬†hundred and sixty-six trees that Wilma and Parker had grown wore lights and balls and tinsel in their branches — green balsam branches that smelled¬†the sweet smell of Christmas.

Barry Root’s watercolor and¬†gouache paintings alternate between the warm, sunny golds, browns¬†and greens of¬†spring and summer, and the deep blues and icy whites of winter. His landscapes¬†depict the rich beauty of the hillside trees, through several seasonal cycles.

The trees grow as Parker grows. He and Wilma’s longstanding friendship¬†is lovingly portrayed through carefully placed details, such as the plate of¬†homemade¬†doughnuts and milk waiting for Parker¬†on Wilma’s table.¬†Wilma’s rustic farmhouse, homey and inviting,¬†is rendered in warm browns and wood textures.

When they first¬†measure out the seedling rows, Parker is at one end of the field, Wilma at the other. But a long string¬†connects them, and¬†for the rest of the story, they are shown working towards a common purpose — trimming, cutting, and dragging their trees. This focus on¬†human activity, set against a natural backdrop, will encourage young readers¬†to keep turning the pages.

Ray,¬†a conservationist who dreamed of living in New England when she was a child, graces this story¬†with her love of and respect for the land and the riches it can yield. She includes an author’s note explaining how Christmas trees came to be cultivated¬†in this country,¬†emphasizing that they are¬†an ancient symbol of life¬†reborn.

Christmas Farm received a starred review from Kirkus, and can be enjoyed throughout the year; kids will appreciate Wilma and Parker’s unique friendship, as it is based on a fair and equal partnership.¬†Joy and renewal abound in¬†shared work regardless of age.

*For an excellent post featuring books about winter trees and Christmas trees, visit Wild Rose Reader.

*Interior spreads posted by permission, copyright © 2008 Barry Root, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.