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As we barrel past Halloween in the next few days, many thoughts will turn to the holidays–and getting gift buying out of the way! Dr. David Elkind puppyaddresses several issues concerning gifts to kids in this blog post.

I am not a cynical or skeptical person, but I do believe that when dealing with businesses, we have to always be on the alert. Businesses are in the business of making money. They are not in the business of keeping our or our children’s best interests in mind.

Toys are for fun. Toys are for pretending. Toys are for being active. Toys are for relaxing. And when those things are in place, toys are then for learning and growing.

Anything more or less is junk. Or pure unadulterated “make a buck off a kid” marketing. Businesses really cannot have it both ways, saying that a “toy” promotes responsibility and caring–and then making it impossible for a child to be responsible and caring. (I say impossible because a child with the toy but without the money, ie, most children, cannot play. This has always been my main problem with Pokemon as well.)

Imagine being a child and still learning about the world. What message does this “toy” send? If I don’t have money, I can’t be caring? I can take care of things for a while, but when it becomes inconvenient then it’s ok to let things die? Or playtime, leisure time, down time can only happen if I have money?

Webkinz is not selling a toy here. They are selling a product to make a buck, pure and simple.

Where’s their responsibility? Maybe they played too long, didn’t pony up, and are now inured to what real life caring and responsibility are like.

Shop wisely this season,



Thanks to all who found a kiddo or two (or three or more) to read The Very theveryhungrycaterpillarlHungry Caterpillar to on October 8th, Jumpstart reached its goal! Caterpillar was read on that date to more than a million children!

You’ve still got time to purchase a copy online from Jumpstart or at sponsor Walmart. It’s a special edition copy and a portion of sales goes back to Jumpstart to support their literacy programs. (Hint, hint: these would make great holiday gifts).


Eeny, meeny, miney, mo? Is that the best one can do when selecting a book child readingfor a child? Certainly not! The book you hand to a child, especially if it is a gift, can make or break a burgeoning reader. Think about it–if you were not quite sure if all this work involved with reading was worth it, what would it do to you to be handed a dull, dumb, or dry book? If you had the choice between doing other things you already loved to do or reading a book, what would you do if an adult urged you to read a dreadful story?

You’d not read, of course (humans are really quite logical and that’s the logical choice at that point).

So how do we avoid ruining reading for a child? Here are some of my pointers:

  • Look for a story. Good stories have a beginning, middle, and end and movement of some sort happens between the beginning and the end. Good stories have a problem.  Good stories show as well as tell. Good stories create a world.
  • Look for books where the story and the pictures match up, tie together, and support each other.
  • Ask yourself, “What is this book teaching when it’s not teaching?” Now listen closely: Books do not have to teach. We do not have to teach all the time. But to paraphrase John Westerhoff, we do teach all the time, even when we are not teaching. What do we teach, then, when we are not teaching? What will that book say to a child about himself or herself, about the world, and about their place in it.  Is what it teaches what you want taught?
  • When all else fails, look for books that make you laugh–or cry (or at least bring a lump to your throat). I’m not endorsing sappy, melodramatic palaver, but books that touch the heart or the funny bone.  We remember and treasure stories that grab us emotionally.
  • Finally, for children under 2, forget stories. 😉 Find board books that have pictures of babies and young children, board books that show a little one going through his or her day, board books with pictures and words of what’s familiar in a baby’s life. And for the very youngest, books with black and white, very simple pictures are most interesting to young eyes and brains.

Here are a few don’ts:

  • Don’t give books that require a kid to buy something in order to enjoy the book.
  • Don’t buy books with TV or franchise characters; it feeds celebrity culture at a very young age. And they are consistently, dreadfully written. Don’t believe me? Try reading one aloud.
  • Don’t buy books where the story doesn’t make sense. Laura and Jenna Bush’s picture book is a fine example of this, but it also happens in board books as well as picture books.
  • Don’t buy books with gimmicks. I’ve got one here to discard that’s got glitter throughout, and there are words on the pages as if it had a story–but there is no real story to it. Mere words a story do not make.

Look, expect, and demand quality in writing and illustrating in children’s books. Purchasing quality books forces writers and publishers to produce quality books.

Final thought? Please do not give to charity any book that you would not give to your own child or grandchild. That gift changes a life; make it the change you want to see.

Happy Gift Giving!


Jaden Lara and Mom are set to begin their reading adventures thanks to Santa and Southern Peaks Public Library's Friends of the Library.

Jaden Lara and Mom are set to begin their reading adventures thanks to Santa and Southern Peaks Public Library's Friends of the Library.

by Ben Reeves

This year, Santa has been keeping three lists: who’s naughty, who’s nice, and who needs books. In his visits over the years, Santa Claus has noticed that some children have a lot more books than others, and this year he decided to do something about it. Mr. Claus himself contacted me and told me about his plan, and so I found myself waiting outside in the cold with a throng of Christmas carol singing children on Saturday, December 20th.

I was at the La Puente home’s annual Christmas party. I had to hop over the fence and dodge children to enter the house. Once inside I talked to one of Santa’s elves, Heidi Reynolds-Stenson, to find out what was going on. Heidi told me that the party was put on every year by the La Puente home Outreach Service Center for neighborhood children and their families, as well as people staying at the homeless shelter. La Puente home provides presents for everyone that wants one at the Christmas party, children and adults alike. This year, though, Heidi said there was something extra happening as well.

Southern Peaks Public Library Friends of the Library assisted Santa Claus this year by giving 350 age appropriate books to Valley children. “They [the Friends of the Library] did a good job wrapping and labeling the books. They made it a whole lot easier for us,” said Heidi.

The Christmas book giveaway was the brainchild of Southern Peaks Children’s Librarian, Babette Reeves. According to Reeves, “Children in middle and upper class families have 200 books of their own. Children in lower income brackets have 0.4 books.” She continued to explain why the Friends of the Library had decided to give books away at the Christmas party, “The most important first literacy skill kids have to learn before they go to school is called ‘print motivation.’ Print motivation is a love of books, and you can’t love books if you don’t have books.” The Friends of the Library (and Santa) hope to give Alamosa children a better chance when they start school by giving them books now.

Outside, the excitement was building. La Puente director Lance Cheslock and Wayne Fuller led the children in renditions of ‘You Better Watch Out’ and ‘Jingle-Bells’ and other carols to guide Santa in. Volunteers gave out hot chocolate to children and adults alike. At last Santa arrived and the line of laughing children began to move into the house. Each child sat on Santa’s lap and received a wrapped toy and book.

While the children were receiving their gifts, I spoke with La Puente director Lance Cheslock. “The Christmas outreach party is a fifteen year tradition. We usually have 300-500 kids,” Cheslock said. “The Friends of the Library contacted us about giving age appropriate books. What better match than to use the magic of Santa to promote literacy… We always learn that this is the only Christmas that some of these kids have. It’s not always about food and shelter, but also about the joy of the season.”

Maybe it’s not too late for this. Most you can probably pick up at your local library today or tomorrow, or in the “big city,” most bookstores will carry these titles. Otherwise, hit your favorite online bookseller now and be prepared for next year. 😉

From youngest kids to olders:

  • Merry Christmas, Ollie by Olivier Dunrea
  • Santa’s Stuck by Rhonda Greene
  • Little Rabbit’s Christmas by Harry Horse
  • Grandmother Winter by Phyllis Root (good for Solstice)
  • The Wee Christmas Cabin of Carn-na-ween by Ruth Sawyer (Christmas & Solstice)
  • Hanukkah at Valley Forge by Stephen Krensky
  • The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
  • Olive, the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh (elementaries will actually like this best; they’ll “get” the joke)
  • The Witness by Robert Westall
  • The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll by Pat McKissack
  • A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
  • The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry

This quote encapsulates a goodly portion of what I love about Christmas (and perhaps what you love about your special holiday as well):

Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.

Hamilton Wright Mabie

For any and all gift occasions throughout the year, try always to give a book. The unspoken message is “this is just as cool and fun as all those other things.”

Don’t have one yet? For ages 5 through 13 (and even up) I highly recommend:

The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden and The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea Buchanan, Miriam Peskowitz, and Alexis Seabrook.

Both my boys have spent hours with both these books (yes, even the “girl” one). They are just sooooo much fun!

Ok, so your kiddo’s watch their favorite movie and ba-zillion times. Can they tell you the story back?

But before they start, get the video camera out and capture the telling. You don’t have to post it on YouTube as this family did (Star Wars according to a 3 year old;) but it will make a great treasure later or a marvelous gift now (I have cassette tapes of the boys reading nursery rhymes that were given to me as Christmas present).

Annnd you can feel good for encouraging early literacy development of “Narrative Skills.”

(If you do post, let me know ;-))

Each month I’ll try to post what’s the “best” new book I’ve gotten into the library. Usually these will be a surprise to me, something that arrives that is more than I expected.  It will be a book that if you walked in the door, I’d shove it at you and say, “Here, you’ve got to read this!”:-O

So, drum roll please, for December, it’s In the Town, All Year Round by Rotraut Berner.

It’s an oversized book that at first glance seems to be a Where’s Waldo spin-off.  But it’s truly much more.  It’s divided into four seasons and the pages flow, story fashion.  Yes, there are lots of little people like Waldo, but these little people are in little places doing little things–and on next page you move to the next part of town and then then next and so on, and then you move with the same people through the same town–in a different season!

You could spend hours (and many future years) with your children and this book.  Early literacy skills covered? Print motivation, Vocabulary, and Narrative Skills (yes, it’s wordless so you can make up your own stories).

This list of recommended games is shorter than in previous years–but you don’t need them all! 🙂 Don’t let the gifted label throw you off.  A good game or toy is a good game or toy for most any child.  They are usually pricier but are more fun, and usually for year and not just for a few months.

Here’s the list; it is a pdf file. Let us know if one of them is great (or a bust). I’d also love to hear what your “best buy” in a toy or game was from a previous years.  Just click on “Comment.”

What if no one asked?

When children are asked what they want (for Christmas or birthday or whenever), of course, they are going to feel obliged to answer. 

So they think about it and think about it and notice what’s out there to be had–and the list grows and the gimme’s take over.  If you think about it, it just makes sense.

So what to do? Just don’t ask.

We started this from the beginning with both our boys–and despite their very different personalities, it worked.  It worked so well, that when out and about, if someone asked what they wanted for Christmas, they would stare back blankly.  One year one of them finally answered, “I don’t have to worry about that; Santa knows and always gets me cool things I want.”

It’s getting to be that time of year when we start thinking of holiday gifts.  I’ve used the following catalogs for years and years and have very rarely been disappointed.  Most of the toys and “fun stuff” offered are quality made and last through years.  They are also creative toys that involve kids in the process of playing, pretending, making, and enjoying time well spent alone or with others.  Most are fun for many years and not just for the first few hours they are out of the box.  All have websites where you can browse online or request a catalog.

Hearth Song (make-it kits, pretend, classic toys, outdoor toys)

Timberdoodle (wonderful building and hands-on kits; good homeschool selection)

Greenleaf Press (great for books; good homeschool selection too)

Magic Cabin (gorgeous!)

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Contact Info for Babette

email babette(dot)reeves(at)gmail(dot)com
snail mail
73 State Avenue
Alamosa, CO 81101

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