A Shoe Family Christmas

It’s that time again, when Susannah Leonard Hill presents her annual Christmas story contest.  Here is my submission.  I hope you enjoy it!


Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree at the Christmas Holly Hop, all of Mother Goose Land’s citizens were having a very merry time.  Until….. the Shoe family arrived.

You know the family I mean:

There was an old woman who lived in  a shoe.

She had so many children she didn’t know what to do.

The first thing Mother Shoe did when she arrived at the Hop was gulp down five jumbo mugs of eggnog and fall asleep.  As for the Shoe children, well…..

Billy and Tilly Shoe dashed to the dessert table, devouring every last one of Mrs. Horner’s Christmas pies and knocking over the punch bowl. It splashed onto Little Miss Muffet, who screamed and leaped off her tuffet.  Jack and Jill ran to help, but slipped on the punch.  Jack fell down and broke his crown and…. well, you know the rest.

In the confusion, Bella and Stella Shoe grabbed Little Boy Blue’s horn and gleefully trumpeted their way through the crowd. Suddenly, Little Bo Peep’s entire herd of sheep thundered into the room, chased by Old Mother Hubbard’s dog.  Harry and Larry Shoe had let them in, and they shrieked with laughter at the woolly tornado.  Their laughter stopped when the sheep barreled into the enormous Christmas tree. It came crashing down, smashing ornaments and burying guests in an itchy, pine-scented heap.

The Shoe children considered the mob of mad, messy, mangled party guests and wondered if they should abandon their snoozing mother and run for it.  But little Mary Shoe stepped forward, scooped up the smallest of Peep’s exhausted sheep, and began singing.

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head….”

Exchanging glances, the Shoe children started cleaning up, caroling along with their baby sister.  Gradually, everyone else smiled, shrugged, and joined in.  They all worked and sang until the room sparkled with cleanliness and goodwill.

That memorable evening came to be known as the Shoe Family Holly Hop, and everyone in Mother Goose Land agreed that it was the best Christmas party ever.

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Santa Vs. Sharknado, by Kathryn Cunningham

And now, I humbly submit my offering for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Holiday Writing Contest.  Hope you like it!

Santa Vs Sharknado, by Kathryn Cunningham

A flash of light streaked across the velvety Christmas Eve sky.  It was Santa, and he was late.

“Status report!” called Santa to his two helper elves.

“We lost 17 minutes avoiding those cruise ships off the Norwegian coastline,” replied Tinsel, “but we should be able to make it up once we reach New York.”

Radar checked his instrument panel and frowned.  “We’re about halfway across the Atlantic Ocean,” he said, “but we’re heading straight for a major hurricane.  I recommend going around it.”

“Ho, ho, ho!” chuckled Santa.  “And lose another 12 minutes?  Not on your life!  We go through!”

Clouds gathered ominously as they approached the storm.  Santa gripped the reins.  “Here we go!  Hold on tight!”

In a flash, blinding rain and raging wind surrounded them, momentarily blowing the reindeer off course.

“Steer clear of those water spouts!” warned Radar.  “The sled can’t take…..”

Radar broke off suddenly as something big and squishy sounding knocked one of the runners clean off the bottom of the sled.

“Oh no,” murmured Santa, as the air around him filled with huge, writhing bodies.

“SHARKNADO!!!” they all cried.  A pair of jaws flashed and Dasher disappeared from the front of the reindeer team.

“Dasher!” wailed Santa, pulling hard on the reins, narrowly saving Blitzen from another set of deadly jaws.

Two massive sharks landed on the sled.  Tinsel grabbed a baseball bat from Santa’s sack and clubbed them away.

“Good thing Bobby was on the nice list!” she grinned, then hit the ground, unconscious, as another shark thudded onto the sled.

“We’re almost through!” shouted Radar, leaping to protect Tinsel’s crumpled form.  The shark thrashed wildly, razor teeth snapping at his heels!  Suddenly, a pair of antlers rammed the shark off the sled just as they shot through clouds into the calm night sky.

“Oh Dasher, thank goodness!”  Santa sighed as Dasher took his place at the front of the team.  “Well, Radar, message the North Pole and have them send the back up sled to New York, and tell them we need a new bat for Bobby!”

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The First Thanksgiving, by Scholastic

imagesHappy November, everybody!  What with children everywhere being in a comatose state from the Halloween sugar hangover and stores trying squeeze every Christmas spending cent out of consumers, I feel that Thanksgiving is getting a pretty bum deal these days.  We all remember to overeat and watch football and go to black Friday sales when the holiday is actually upon us, but it can be tough sometimes to remember to squeeze it in to our daily November routine.  So I invite you slap up some decorations (I save my kids’ school projects and print out paper turkeys for them to color and hang on the walls- it doesn’t have to be much) and check out this website that scholastic.com has put together called The First Thanksgiving.

First off, this is definitely intended to be a teacher resource.  There are lesson plans, classroom activity ideas, lists of books you can buy for your classrooms, etc.  Lots of these things are easily adaptable for the home and look like a ton of fun.  What is exciting for me, however, are the main tabs on the home page: The Mayflower, Daily Life, The Feast, and Videos and Photos.  These tabs take you on an interactive journey to discover the story of the Pilgrims.  Take a virtual tour of the Mayflower, learn about clothes, food and chores of the settlers, and acquire some tasty tidbits about the very first feast and what we know about it.  The Videos and Photos tab features reenactments and reproductions, and the videos each give the length of the video and the recommended grade level.  There are lots of pictures on the site and all the text portions have links that read them aloud to you, so even kids who can’t read yet can engage with the site.  I’m excited to share it with my second grader today after school, and I highly recommend it.

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The Runaway Mummy, by Michael Rex

imagesWhat will one loving Mother Mummy do to keep her own special, rotten little mummy from running away from home?  She’ll squeeze, tickle, shriek, and follow him from the highest mountaintop to the deepest ocean.  In this petrifying parody, no sea serpent is too terrifying, no ravenous plant is too horrifying, no humongous beast is too ghastly- this mother will stop at nothing keep her little one safe, well-fed, and rotten.  That nice family of bunnies may give her a bit of a scare, though.  If you love Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny, Michael Rex’s Runaway Mummy should definitely be on your shelf.

Happy Halloween everybody!  Last year, my mom gave me Michael Rex’s Goodnight Goon to read to my kids, and just today, The Runaway Mummy came mysteriously in the mail.  I suspect my mother, or possibly my sister.  Whoever it was, I am overjoyed to have collection of Halloween parodies of Margaret Wise Brown’s classic and beloved picture books completed.  I read it to my kids tonight, and they loved it.  There are a lot of parodies out there, and lots of them are terrible.  This one is great, in part because the original is great, and Michael Rex has done a great job of sticking as close to the original formula as possible.  Plus, it gave my little family a chance to discuss the meaning of the word cathedral, which is vocabulary building as well as cultural and religious education.  Excellent evening!

To see if this fabulous book is at your library, visit world cat.

If you want to learn more about Michael Rex, visit his blog here.


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Ollie’s Halloween, by Olivier Dunrea

UnknownLittle goslings love Halloween!  Silly costumes, yummy treats, and a whole mess of hooting, howling, and creeping around the farm make this a great holiday for these baby geese.  They have so much fun together on Halloween.  But little Ollie in his mummy costume may be just a little bit afraid on this spooky evening.  He’ll courageously stalk in the cornfield and bravely boo at the ghost in the barn, but at the end of the night, he might need a little bit of extra comfort.  Good thing goslings are great at sharing their Halloween treats!

Ollie’s Halloween is a super cute little book for little children.  It is a great example of a story where the pictures really tell the story and the words are more of an embellishment.  I think it’s great for young readers, who can begin to create their own narrative because the pictures are so expressive and the story doesn’t box them in.  The illustrations are so adorable- tiny goslings dressed as dragons and chickens, for crying out loud!  My 5 year old loves to identify with the characters in books and movies right now, and this book is perfect for that.  She will always pick a character who she wants to be (usually the prettiest girl or the cutest small animal) and I have a feeling that she will have a hard time choosing between Gossie, Gertie, Peedie, Booboo, and Ollie.  Ollie is my favorite- tiny and fragile and spunky in his mummy suit.

I found this book online at curiousgeorge.com when I was doing a search for Halloween stories.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I’m so used to seeing Curious George as a TV show, I forgot it was originally a book and it was a real surprise to find books on the website, and not just games and activities about the show.  It was a nice surprise.  True, this website doesn’t have many stories on it.  Right now it just has three of the modern Curious George books (based on the TV show) and this one.  I’m guessing they have seasonal specials published by the same company as Curious George (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), but mostly stories about the little monkey himself.  This is a good website, totally free.  When you click on the story, it automatically starts reading to you and highlighting the words as they are read, with the pages turning automatically.  The recordings are really good quality with some fun sound effects, and you can stop them if you want to read it yourself, but the recording starts again as soon as you click to turn the page.  I don’t like that.  It’s nice to have a function that lets the book read to your child, but when I turn it off, I prefer it to stay off.  Also, I wish there was an option to view the book full screen.  But those are the only two things I would change.  This is a great site- not a ton of options, but free and great quality.

Author/illustrator Olivier Dunrea has a great website here.  Go find out what other awesome books he’s created.

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Kids Vs Cavities, by Peter Galante, illustrated by Felipe Kolb

cover_epub.225x225-75Timmy LOVES his sweets, but he HATES to brush his teeth.  He hates brushing his teeth so much, that when his teeth get fed up with the neglect and hit the road one night, he is overjoyed.  Too bad he can’t eat any of his favorite snacks with only his tender gums for chewing.  Luckily for Timmy, the Tooth Fairy is willing to help him track down his teeth in the perilous Lollipop Land.  Our hero will have to befriend a fire dragon, outwit a tooth vampire, and battle a sugar monster, all while learning and practicing how to take impeccable care of his teeth.  In the end, with a mouth full of sparkling, contented teeth, Timmy returns home, determined never to neglect them again.

In honor of Halloween, here is a story of vampires, witches and dragons, oh my.  And cavities, because who doesn’t worry about cavities at this time of year?  Kids Vs Cavities- How to Take Care of Your Teeth is part of a series of books by Peter Galante and Felipe Kolb all about kids learning new things and gaining life skills.  Here’s the website: www.kidsvslife.com  The series includes several books on foreign language learning, which is a sort of sub-series called Talking World.  If I can ever stumble onto a copy of the Kids Vs French that I can get for under a dollar, I am for sure going to review it.  For now, I’ll stick to this one, which I got for free on iBooks, here.

There are a whole mess of things my daughters and I like about this book.  It is super fun.  The picture of Timmy’s teeth plucking themselves out of his gums and climbing down the side of his face is hilarious.  Then there is a part where Timmy has to fight a sugar monster before it eats his teeth, and he douses it with mouthwash like it’s the Wicked Witch of the West.  My 5 year old thought that was very triumphant.  It’s very clever how the different parts of tooth care are woven throughout the story, so that by the time Timmy gets his teeth back, he has exciting and real-life (well, sort of) experience doing everything he needs to do to take care of them.  And the best part of reading this book with my kids was that, at the end of it, they all declared that they would always take good care of their teeth and trotted off to brush.

One thing I am not fond of in this story is that there are some grammar errors.  Picture books are one of the greatest ways to expose young children to new vocabulary and language concepts, and when they contain grammar and spelling errors, it really gets under my skin.  I do NOT want to have an argument with my 3 year old about whether the tooth vampire treated his teeth bad or badly.  With a book like this, it’s pretty easy for me to make corrections as I’m reading, but I still don’t like it.  Another thing I’m not a big fan of is that there are little places here and there where a couple of lines will rhyme, but there’s no meter and no consistency.  If a story is going to rhyme, I want it to rhyme, and if not, just leave it alone.  Of course, it is possible that Peter Galante has some kind of genius overarching pattern or code that explains the placement of his rhymes.  In that case, I apologize to Mr. Galante.

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Sunday Baby, by Kathryn Cunningham

IMG_0875Well hello again, faithful readers!  You know, if you’re out there.  I have been taking a break to adjust to life with our new addition, who is that handsome devil up in the picture.  He is my fourth child, and my very first son, and it has been a wild ride already.  My girls can’t seem to keep their hands off him, and if he doesn’t die from infection or aggressive poking or mere overstimulation, it will be a miracle.  But I believe in miracles.  In honor of this little guy’s entry into the world, I present you with “Sunday Baby,” a little poem I wrote about a year ago, before I had any idea I was having a boy, but which now feels a little prophetic.  I hope you enjoy!

Sunday Baby

Sunday begins with a family,
Once was two, now is three.
Baby so soft, so helpless and small,
Hard to believe someday you’ll be tall.

Monday that baby is walking, so free.
First one step, two, then three.
Tottering slowly, then racing so fast.
Hard to believe today just won’t last.

Tuesday, no baby, a boy we now see.
Leaves at eight, home at three.
Learning to read and making new friends,
Hard to believe this day ever ends.

Wednesday the boy mows lawns for a fee,
Weeds, then trims bushes three.
Works to get done as fast as he can,
Hard to believe he’ll soon be a man.

Thursday he drives! His parents foresee
First one dent, two, then three.
Foot to the gas, then he zooms away.
Hard to believe he’ll live through the day.

Friday he leaves to get a degree,
Spends four years, adds on three.
Research then class, dissertation’s no fun,
Hard to believe it will ever be done.

Saturday wedding under a tree,
Flowers, gifts, bridesmaids three.
Bride says I do, they have their first dance,
Hard to believe this boy’s great romance.

Sunday begins with a family,
Once was two, now is three.
Kiss tiny nose, and fingers ten
Hard to believe it’s starting again.

Written by Kathryn Cunningham

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Three Bears in a Boat, by David Soman

UnknownWhen Dash, Theo and Charlie accidentally break their Mama Bear’s very special blue seashell, they decide that the only way to save their skins is to find her a new one before she finds out.  So they set off in their sailboat on an epic journey to a distant island rumored to have just what they need.  But after searching from the deepest ocean to the highest tree to the darkest cave, the 3 bears find no trace of a blue seashell and are forced to make their grumpy way back home.  However, the return voyage proves to be much rougher than they bargained for, and Dash, Theo and Charlie end up huddled together in their little boat, wishing for nothing more than to get safely home so they can give their Mama Bear a hug and tell her the truth.

We picked this book up at the library last week and I knew the minute I saw it that I would love it.  The picture on the front is just what I love the most in children’s book illustrations.    It’s just beautiful, something I would love to have on my walls, and something that just draws me in and leaves me daydreaming.  It really evokes emotion for me- nostalgia and adventure, homesickness and comfort, longing and joy- all at the same time.  David Soman is an artist, and it’s the art, even more than the story, that I find so intriguing about Three Bears and a Boat.  My girls were really drawn to the pictures as well.  There’s one where the bears are underwater, looking for the seashell, and an octopus is looking on indignantly with 2 of its tentacles on its hips.  My 4 year old dies laughing every time.  All that being said, the story is really beautiful, too.  I have 3 kids, and they all seem to have their unique role in adventures and playtime and mishaps, just like Dash, Theo and Charlie.  They make mistakes, they try to set things right, they get in over their heads, and they always come running home with pretty words and penitent hearts.  And, being a mother, I always look at each one, hug them very, very tight, kiss the tops of their heads, and forgive them.  But sometimes they don’t get any dessert.

To find out if this book is at your public library, visit World Cat.

To find of list of David Soman’s books, visit his Goodreads site.

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UnknownThis is another departure from my usual format, because this website, starfall.com, is really a ‘learn to read’ site, and not a simple database of stories like I usually review.  Doing a synopsis and review of one of the stories would be like reviewing a teacher’s lesson plan, which is an interesting exercise, but not really the focus of this blog.  So once again, I find myself focusing more on the website than on any particular story.  Starfall.com is a very professional, well-established teaching aid for all subjects, but you need to have a membership and pay fees to access the full array of tools, games, and activities available.  If you go to the main homepage and stick to the 4 main categories (marked, conveniently, 1, 2, 3, 4) everything is free, but it is the same professional quality as the rest of the site.

The 4 categories of stories are divided by reading level, starting at beginning phonics for kids still learning their ABCs (not really stories, more activities), gradually progressing in difficulty and ending with longer books with varied vocabulary and a variety of interesting topics.  These highest level stories are still for very early readers- kindergarten and first grade.  There is a lot of repetition, few words on each page, animated illustration to hold kids’ attention.

First things first, what I like about this site.  It is a very good, phonics based tool for teaching kids to read in the context of stories.  The progression from level 1 to level 4 is natural and logical, and every story or activity is really geared to engage young learners and get them interested in using their newly acquired  skills in fun ways.  Illustrations are bright, engaging and interactive, with lots of ways to click to have things read aloud or to have animations activated.  At each level, kids can work pretty independently with just a little instruction.  Even my 3 year old could navigate the activity once I got it started for her.  This is really great because 3 year olds love repetition, and although I want to be there when she is initially presented with information to guide and instruct her, I don’t really need to hover over her should while she listens to a list of words that start with ‘A’ and watches an alligator chomp on an apple over and over again.  I also love the variety of topics that have been chosen for the level 4 stories, which include plays, Greek myths, folk tales and nonfiction stories with color photographs.  They are all really engaging and interesting for the age group they’re designed for.  I will definitely be using this site as a resource with my 4 and 3 year old daughters as they learn to read.

Alright, things that I don’t particularly care for.  What Starfall.com really wants is for people to buy memberships, and who can blame them?  Their teaching tools are top notch, and they are being very generous by offering these ones at no cost.  The problem for free loaders like me is that on every page, there are at least a couple (sometimes even dozens) of widgets trying to direct you to games, lessons, and activities that you would be able to use if you were paying for them, but which, for now, are only tantalizing reminders of what you can’t afford.  If your child is working independently, it is all too easy for them to start clicking on stuff that takes them away from their appointed activity.  This is frustrating for them and time-consuming for you as you try to get them back on track.  The only other thing I will mention is that these stories, even the highest level ones, are teaching tools, not fine literature.  They’re not great couch cuddling bedtime classics.  Their job is to teach kids to read and help them have fun while they’re doing it, and they do it very well.

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My Blue Bunny Bubbit, by Maggie Smith

UnknownThere’s nothing like having a special friend who is almost exactly your age, who understands everything you are thinking and feeling, who has great ideas, is stuffed with kisses, and is perfect for snuggling up with at bedtime.  It’s even better if he was a gift made by your Grandma Nonni, who can sew anything.  For one little girl, her blue bunny, Bubbit is all this and more.  And when her parents tell her that a new baby is coming to her family soon, Bubbit knows just how she feels.  Together they worry, then get excited, then help prepare, until the big day arrives and Grandma Nonni comes to stay while everyone else goes to the hospital.  Of course, it’s Bubbit who has the idea to make a surprise for the new baby, but it’s the little girl and her Nonni who plan, cut, sew, and fill it with kisses.

My girls love this story.  I think all little girls have a sense that there is something special about their stuffed animals, that they feel and speak in ways that their other toys can’t.  Even though my girls’ stuffed animals don’t get played with as much as the Legos or the ponies, there is always weeping and wailing if I suggest thinning out their collection.  This story really speaks to their belief that those stuffed animals are not just things, they are their friends, they are understanding and comforting and encouraging.  (My husband does not understand this at all, but he has never been a little girl, after all.)  I love that the little girl in the story wants to give her new brother that same kind of friend.  For her, it really is the most special and powerful gift she could give him, and it shows that she’s developed a real empathy for him as a person who feels and needs like her.  It’s an important shift in perspective for new siblings.

Another thing I like about this book is the celebration of doing things by hand, of really giving something from the heart that you created from scratch.  These days, grandmas like Nonni, who can look at a picture, create a pattern, and whip up a stuffed elephant in a day, are pretty rare.  I know they exist, I just don’t know where to find them.  Most of us don’t have them in our family.  Even my mother, who makes my daughters look like expensive renaissance princesses for Halloween, wouldn’t attempt a stuffed elephant modeled after a picture on the wall.  But in a world where we can find just about whatever we want pre-made at the click of a button, it’s nice to stop and remember that the amount of yourself that you put into a gift adds more to its value than anything else.

To find out if this book at your public library, visit World Cat.

Maggie Smith also has a great website.  (She’s not the same Maggie Smith as the actress, by the way, just in case you were curious.  I know I was.)

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