Great Thanksgiving books for kids

Christmas books for kids are easy to find. But Thanksgiving books?  Not so much.  In the area of children’s literature — as in so many things — Thanksgiving gets the short end of the stick.

But in our family library, we have two Thanksgiving books that help get all of us – myself included — into a proper holiday frame of mind.

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Thanksgiving is Here! by Diane Goode is a pretty simple, almost plotless picture book. Grandma and Grandpa host Thanksgiving for a huge, sprawling family, whose members arrive with frequent ringing of the doorbell and throw themselves right into the joyous celebration.  They help with the cooking, move the furniture, push tables and mismatched chairs together, clean up afterward, take a post-meal walk, and just generally enjoy each other’s company.

But even though the story is basic, the book is wonderfully compelling.  There’s a nice rhythm to the words, and Goode’s drawings are fabulous.  Each family member has so much personality, and the pictures of the family activities manage to capture the cheerful chaos of a huge family gathering.   My kids love this book, and I do too, because it reminds me of why I adore Thanksgiving: it’s a holiday that is all about loved ones gathering together around a table and enjoying each other’s company.  You don’t need more than that in life, really, and this gem of a book is a colorful reminder.

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Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin is a classic from my era (written in 1971).   It’s about Maggie and her grandmother, who live in a house on the edge of a cranberry bog in New England.  Grandmother has a top-secret famous recipe for cranberry bread hidden behind the fireplace, and the plot starts to spin when they have two guests come over for Thanksgiving and one of them just might be trying to find and steal it (the cad!).

I won’t give away spoilers, but let’s just say that it’s a sweet story about not jumping to conclusions, and about not judging a book by its cover.  There’s a little theme of forgiveness at the end, too, which is nice.  And the illustrations are so colorful and charming, with that unique early ’70s picture book aesthetic. They are evocative, too; the drawings of the house by the bog always make me feel Thanksgiving-y and oddly nostalgic, even though this California girl would not know a cranberry bog if she fell headfirst into one.   It’s a darling book, and it even has a recipe for cranberry bread on the back cover … a nice touch.

Do you have any favorite Thanksgiving titles to share?  Please do!

Who says we don’t have fall in California?

Here are some photos from my wanderings in the past week.

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The tree below is a liquidambar tree; I always remember it from my childhood, because the street where my piano teacher lived was lined with them.

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When I was young, I loved to walk down her street in the fall.  The leaves were not only gloriously colorful, but they dried so nicely and made such a satisfying crunch when you waded through them.   I can still hear them, and feel them under my shoes.  Isn’t it amazing how those memories stay with you?

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Even inside the house it looks like fall, thanks to this bouquet from my thoughtful guy.

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I think my kids may be getting tired of me oohing and aahing over the beauty and color I see all around me.  On the other hand, isn’t that what moms are for — to help you develop an appreciation for the important things in life?

Happy fall!

Thought for the day

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I love this quotation.  More and more, I agree.

And on a completely different note: If you’ve ever looked up from a home decorating magazine and gazed around your house and thought, “No one in their right mind would ever write an article on THIS mess,” then you’ll enjoy my latest article.  It’s called “If a Home Magazine Did a Feature on my House,” and you can read it over at PowerofMoms.com.

Happy Friday!

The Book Pile: Willa Cather, Phryne Fisher, Ross Poldark, and more

So books!  What have I been reading lately?

Well, work has been so crazy for the last six weeks that I’ve mostly stayed away from the heavy stuff. I’ve put away some pretty mindless chicklit, the kinds of titles that I’d be embarrassed to share here.  But even among all the beachy stuff, there have been a few titles of substance that I’m happy to crow about.

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Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather was an unusual read. It’s not so much a novel as a series of vignettes about two priests who settle in New Mexico.  It’s lyrical and beautiful; Cather doesn’t shy away from the brutal aspects of life on the frontier, but there is a vein of hope and human goodness in this story that links all of the different episodes.  It makes me want to read more Cather, and to spend more time in the Southwest.

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Apparently the Poldark series of books by Winston Graham (first written in the 1940s) were made into a popular British TV series in the 1970s.  I haven’t seen the series, but I’ve just read the first two books, and they’re terrific.  They take place in eighteenth-century Cornwall, a place I love to read about (blame Daphne DuMaurier), and they center on the young squire Ross Poldark and the various people in his world.  Love! Loss!  Family feuds!  Sassy servants!  Mining!  It’s all here, and it’s a treat. (Ross Poldark is the first one in the series, if you’re planning to start.)

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My mom is a huge fan of Gladys Taber, a mid-twentieth-century columnist/writer who lived in an old farmhouse in Southbury, Connecticut.  She wrote several books about her life in New England, and this past summer, my mom gave me the 1959 book Stillmeadow Sampler.  It’s arranged by season, and is a compendium of Taber’s musings about living in the country, about cooking, about family, about dogs, and about life in general.  It’s an utterly delightful book, the kind of book you read with a cup of tea on the table next to you.   Highly comforting.

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This past summer, Scott and I got  hooked on the Australian TV series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.  It’s based on a series of books by Kerry Greenwood, and I just had to check them out.  So far I’ve read four, and they were great; the setting of 1920s Melbourne is unique, and the characters are a blast.  I can’t really call them “cozy mysteries”; the stories are a little too dark for that, and Phryne Fisher is not a cozy kind of character, though she is certainly an entertaining one.  She’s sort of the female James Bond,  adventurous both outside and inside of the boudoir (even moreso in the books than in the TV series — skip these if you can’t stomach bedroom scenes in your mysteries), and she has a fabulous cast of supporting characters.   These are very engaging mysteries that keep you guessing.

So what have you been reading lately?

The terror and treats of parenthood

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It’s that time of year when it’s possible to be anything you want to be. A pirate, a ninja, a clown, a queen: Halloween lets you try on any role for a night. Buy a costume, apply some makeup, and your new identity is complete.

As a mom, it’s fun to see the kids get so excited about the possibilities of Halloween. I think back over my own life and recall the parade of identities I assumed over the years, including a cowgirl, a princess, Mickey Mouse, and – in college and my 20s– a gypsy (always the easiest costume to cobble together at the last minute).

It’s intoxicatingly fun, the chance to be someone else for a night. And it’s so easy to assume a new role, knowing it’s temporary and just for a lark.

It’s the opposite of real life, where our roles involve a serious investment of time and energy. This is certainly true of my roles as teacher and wife. It’s even more true of my identity as a parent.

When my oldest son was born eight years ago, life as I knew it changed forever. It didn’t take long before l knew that my new role – a mother who cared for a tiny newborn, who got up multiple times a night to feed him, who wandered around smelling of spit-up – was the most all consuming one I’d ever known.

Parenthood is a commitment like nothing else. It’s not a role you can wear once and discard, like a costume. You’re in it for the long haul, forever (as my mom says, you never stop worrying about your kids). It’s an identity that may feel a little bit uncomfortable in the early days. It may feel like you didn’t get a chance to try it on first, or that maybe parenthood is not as good a fit as you thought it would be.

But the amazing thing about parenthood is that, as the old maxim goes, God doesn’t call the ready; God readies the called. What I didn’t know about babies would have filled a library, but with the grace of God and the help of experienced parents, I got to the point where I could spend a day alone with my baby without fearing I’d make a parenting error that would scar him for life.

And when I look back over my life, parenting my kids is something I’m proudest of: Not because I’m doing a brilliant job (goodness knows I mess up often), but because I began with such a knowledge deficit and somehow managed to reach a baseline level of competence. That role as a mom, which felt alien and downright scary at times, is one that I wear like an increasingly comfortable sweater.

And the best news – the most important bit, really– is that there is such unique joy that comes from living this role.   Seeing your baby smile, feeling a little hand slip into yours, walking two excited superheroes around the neighborhood on a night dedicated to terror and treats: these little moments can overwhelm you with feelings of happiness and gratitude.

Yes, parenthood can seem downright terrifying, especially at first. But with grace and God, we grow more at home in the role. And it doesn’t take long to learn that there is no treat half as sweet as the love of a child.

This article first appeared in Catholic San Francisco.