The 641 Project: Gingerbread House Books at the Library


“The North Pole Library,” first place winner of the National Gingerbread House Competition, 2009.


If you’ve been following the 641 Project series The Gingerbread House Project, the talk about gingerbread and house building is making you think maybe about building your own house for the holidays.  I say, go for it!

Gingerbread house ideas, instructions and printable templates can be found easily on the web.  There are even videos that demonstrate different phases of construction.  If hard print is more your speed, the Clayton County Library System has a few books devoted to the art of the gingerbread house.  You may consult one or all of them to make a house or other goodies to show off your baking and decorating skills:

It’s a Gingerbread House : Bake it, Build it, Eat it! by Vera B. Williams

Carrie, Benny and Sam receive a gingerbread house from their grandfather.  When they eat it up before Christmas, they follow grandfather’s instructions for building a new house.

The story is an introduction to an excellent book for young readers/bakers.  With uncomplicated writing, kids should have no problem understanding the recipe and building instructions for baking and building a basic, seven inch tall house.  Like any recipe for any type of cooking, the recipe and instructions need to be read and studied thoroughly before beginning the project to achieve the best results.  The book suggests grown up assistance, especially when it comes to handling sharp knives and going into hot ovens.  Pictures show the tools, ingredients and assembly processes that should come in handy.

Making Great Gingerbread Houses by Aaron Morgan and Paige Gilchrist

Go ahead, say authors Morgan and Gilchrist, make a gingerbread house:  It’s good, messy fun!  Appealing to tactile, visual and olfactory senses, and even communal spirit, Morgan and Gilchrist convince the reader not to be intimidated by a seeming complex project, but to dive in and enjoy what is actually quite easy.  Step by step, they explain the basic house building process from mixing the dough to how to pipe icing.  From there on, your imagination’s the limit.

After the basics comes a full color gallery of gingerbread structure and tableaus.  The purpose is to inspire your own creations and/or how to achieve different effects (Patterns aren’t given for all of these houses, and in some cases not entire patterns).  The patterns given are not full sized:  You’ll need to enlarge many by two hundred percent on a photocopier.

The Gingerbread Book by Allen D. Bragdon

New to the Clayton County Libraries collection, The Gingerbread Book is a reprint of a 1984 book, and doesn’t appear to be revised:  the photos and print appear as they did nearly thirty years ago.  No matter really, because the ideas and most techniques have not changed significantly.

Bragdon’s premise is that gingerbread and gingerbread houses aren’t just for Christmastime.  To prove his point, he gives patterns for other holiday creations, ideas for party treats and centerpieces, and even some storybook scenarios.  He lists several different recipes for ginger cookies and cake – as well as for a building dough – and recounts an extensive history of gingerbread from the Middle Ages to the 1980s.

Sweet Dreams of Gingerbread by Jann Johnson

Author Jann Johnson believes as Allen Bragdon:  Decorated ginger cookies aren’t just a Christmas thing.  She too takes gingerbread around the calendar with the traditional holiday houses and décor pieces – such as a train, stockings, and Santa with sleigh and reindeer – as well as patterns for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Gingerbread men and women can be decorated for all seasons and occasions.

Johnson offers thorough but concise techniques for baking and building, with several different recipes for dough and icings for variety.  Color pictures and pointers accompany each project.  Attention must be given to copying patterns, as many overlap or must be pieced together from separate pieces.

This title is the one that I own and am using for my project (though I have gleaned tips and ideas from the other books listed).  It’s not in the CCLS collection, but can be requested through PINES; it’s also available from online book vendors.


Click the titles above to see the PINES catalog record for call number and availability.  Ask the staff at your nearest library for assistance.

Except for Making Great Gingerbread, these books direct the reader to trace the patterns from its pages.  I recommend photocopying instead to preserve the book; plus, it’s easier to make extra copies of templates.  If you must trace, lay a sheet of clear plastic over the page, then lay your tracing paper on top of the plastic and trace away.

Follow my baking adventure on The Gingerbread House Project blog.  Click here.


The 641 Project: What’s New in Haunted Haute Cuisine!

Three years ago, I wrote here about the cookbook Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes.  Filled with recipes and illustrations of the foods named in Dahl’s books, some dishes are so odd and gross that they may suitable for a Halloween party table.  Revolting Recipes is not intended to be a Halloween cookbook; however, I recently found a relatively new book in our collection that fits the bill perfectly.

Ghoulish Goodies is called a frightful cookbook, and rightly so!  Cookbook author Sharon Bowers creates spooky and whimsical recipes for Halloween get togethers, whether a party with finger foods (pun intended) or a sit down meal.

The recipes are imaginative and not difficult to make.  Plus, as the color photos indicate, the finished products look darn cool!  How about bringing Monster Eyeballs, Chocolate Mice and Ladies’ Fingers (not lady fingers!) to the table, or cupcakes resembling the space aliens from The Simpsons, a cake modeled on Edvard Munch’s The Scream or a Jack O’Lantern?  Maybe Eyeball Meatloaf with a side of Orange Rice or Ghostly Mashed Potatoes is a tamer menu for you!  There are even a few recipes for using leftover candy.  Bowers also provides practical advice on working with ingredients, party planning and little Halloween history.

Though part of our children’s collection, Ghoulish Goodies is probably intended for adult cooks, so the young chef will require adult supervision; pre-teens and teens with some kitchen experience should be okay with even the more challenging dishes.

Between these two books, you’ll find foods for your Halloween party that will delight and fright your guests!


Ghoulish Goodies and Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes are available at CCLS libraries.  Click the titles above for availability, or ask a librarian at your nearest branch.

Other Halloween cookbook books are available at CCLS.  Click here to see available titles in the PINES catalog.

Darla’s Dents: Picture Book Read-Alouds That Have Made a Favorable Impression

Dogfish, by Gillian Shields

I am doing a new story time for the childcare center kids I read to this month, entitled “New Books I Want to Share with You”.  While searching for picture books that would inspire me, I found Dogfish, by Gillian Shields.  I started laughing almost from the first page.  The illustrations, by Dan Taylor, are as descriptive as the words themselves.  From the shopping list posted on the fridge (with “a dog” added by the main child character), to the “hypnotizing eyes” of the boy and fish, these comic images will hook (excuse the fishy pun) you right along with the written narrative.  This story tells about a boy who desperately wants a dog. His mother comes up with all the practical reasons this cannot happen, with some ingenious responses from the boy. What I enjoyed was how the author would pause and have us view what “hopeless expressions” look like; for example, and “blissful happiness,” at the end.  Even the pet fish is a fully developed character, complete with expressive facial and body language.  This is a picture book I wish I could share with my own children, although they are both nearly grown.  I may do it, anyway.  I recommend this book to be read aloud to anyone who has a sense of humor and imagination of any kind. In other words, I suggest that kids and grownups of all ages find a way to embrace this book to the fullest!  I know I did, and continue to do so as I more closely examine the illustrations on each page.

Darla’s Dents: Picture Book Read-Alouds That Have Made a Favorable Impression

A new picture book that was just recently added to our children’s collection is one that I highly recommend as a part of any story time.  The book is entitled Topsy Turvy Bedtime, by Joan Levine and illustrated by Tony Auth.  I used it as part of a “Sleeping Animals” story time.  I told the children that some animals sleep all winter, contrasting them with other animals that sleep only nightly or daily, like us. 

Topsy Turvy Bedtime completely captivated me. From the first page, I loved the little girl, Arathusela. Her name is unique yet fun-to-say.  The children laughed just at the sound of it.  I have to admit I liked the sound of it rolling off of my own tongue, too.  Her short stature makes her appealing, but her personality and strength of character is not to be overlooked, despite her smallness.  This dynamo of a girl grabs you from the start of the story and doesn’t let go. 

The best part of the story is that there is a reversal in roles. Arathusela gets to be the boss when it comes to bedtime.  Without being preachy, it helps kids to relate to some of what their parents may go through when trying to get THEM to go to sleep.  The parents responses to Arathusela’s directions are hilarious.  There is a real lesson to be learned here, but the story itself is so much fun that it wouldn’t matter even if there weren’t!

This is a picture book that made a wonderful impression on me.  The illustrations are endearing:  long, lean and tall parents looking down at a small ball of energy that is the main character, without ever being demeaning.  The dialogue is just right, too.  It’s smart but understandable, and the words are recognizable as some any parent might say to their child.  There are not too many words, which I find to be a real downfall in many picture books.  Let the kids fill in any blanks with their imaginations! Everything doesn’t need to be spelled out. 

 This is a book to be shared with every kid you know–no matter the age. It makes for a humorous and delightful listening experience for both the reader and the audience.  The visuals, as I’ve said, are warm and engaging, as well.  This is a story I recommend as a part of any story time, no matter the theme.

Published in: on January 22, 2010 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

O Christmas Tree: A Short Survey of Christmas Trees in Children’s Picture Books

Christmas Tree Clip Art


Recalling Allen Say’s picture book Tree of Cranes, I wondered what other children’s books there are where a Christmas tree is a central element to the story.  Below is a short survey of such books in the CCLS collection:

A Charlie Brown Christmas (Charles M. Schulz; adapted by Justine and Ron Fontes) – A Charlie Brown Christmas focuses on Charlie Brown’s struggle to find the true meaning of Christmas amidst its commercialization.  Along the way, he finds the scrawny (and now iconic) little tree for the school Christmas play.  He “kills” it while attempting to decorate it, but the tree is miraculously transformed by story’s end.  Based on the classic television special, which in turn is based on the comic strip Peanuts.

Chita’s Christmas Tree (Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard) – Chita, an African-American girl in early 20th century Baltimore, goes to the woods with her father to choose a Christmas tree, and eagerly awaits for Santa to deliver it.  Like many titles in this survey, the book reflects how Chita spends her days preparing for Christmas.

My Prairie Christmas (Brett Harvey) – A little girl tries to adjust to her first Christmas at her new home on the prairie.  But this pales to when her father goes to find a Christmas tree and does not return.

Night Tree (Eve Bunting) – A family goes to the woods to find a Christmas tree, but not to bring home!  An endearing look at an unusual family tradition.

Tree of Cranes (Allen Say) – Author/illustrator Allen Say often celebrates his Japanese heritage in his books.  In Tree of Cranes, a Japanese boy experiences his first Christmas when his homesick Japanese-American mother decorates a small pine tree with candles and paper cranes.

The Tub People’s Christmas (Pam Conrad) – The Tub People – a set of wooden toys in Pam Conrad’s series of books – have no idea what a strange man in a red suit is doing in their home, especially when he brings a tree down the chimney!

Uncle Vova’s Tree (Patricia Polacco) – Like Say, Patricia Polacco draws on her heritage for inspiration for her stories.  She describes a traditional Russian Christmas in Uncle Vova’s Tree, where a spirited uncle implores his nieces and nephews to continue his tradition of decorating the tree that he planted when he and his wife first arrived in America.

Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree (Gloria Houston) – Set in the Appalachians near the end of WWI, Ruthie awaits her father’s return from Europe, so together they can harvest a tree that they’ve pledged for the church’s Christmas pageant.


There likely are more books about Christmas trees – for children and adults – than are listed here.  Tell us any that you know of by leaving a comment below.

Find other books in CCLS and PINES by searching the PINES catalog by the author’s name.

CCLS has many Christmas themed books for children and adults.  Ask staff at your nearest library for assistance.

Published in: on December 10, 2009 at 6:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month With Books

Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15th and continues through October 15th.  During this time five Latin American countries celebrate the anniversary of independence in 1821 – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.  In addition to these countries, other Latin American countries also declared their independence during this time. Mexico declared its independence on September 16th, 1810 and Chili on September 18th, 1810.

This is a great time to recognize the contributions Hispanic Americans made to the United States, including excellent books!  Here is a list of wonderful children’s books with elements of Hispanic culture, family, and food.  Click on the image to link to our catalog and see if it is available.

Abuela by Arthur DorrosAbuela by Arthur Dorros

Gathering the Sun by Alma Flor AdaGathering the Sun by Alma Flor Ada

Pablo's Tree by Pat MoraPablo’s Tree by Pat Mora

Chato's Kitchen by Gary SotoChato’s Kitchen by Gary Soto

I Am Latino by Sandra PinkneyI Am Latino: The Beauty of Me by Sandra Pinkney

Some suggestions for Young Adults:
Cuba 15 by Nancy OsaCuba 15 by Nancy Osa

Buried Onions by Gary SotoBuried Onions by Gary Soto

For more titles related to hispanic culture for children and young adults click here. Hispanic heritage is more than good Mexican food. Enjoy the many flavors of Latin American culture…read a book.

Read the Pictures


Do you remember reading picture books as a kid? Big pictures, few words? Would you think to read a picture book as a teen or even as an adult? Probably not-I know I sure didn’t. But then a co-worker showed me The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.

This is an absolute beautiful masterpiece of a book! The pictures do not describe the text, instead the pictures further the story by becoming the story itself. You read the words, then you ‘read’ the pictures. The artwork is stunning (and even earned a Caldecott Medal in 2008).

Hugo is an orphan and lives in the walls at the train station repairing and winding the clocks. He makes a discovery that changes his entire life, and the lives of people around him. Don’t be fooled by the 525 pages, this book is a fast read what with the words and black and white drawings.

Next up we have The Arrival by Shaun Tan. In this booarrivalk, a man leaves his home and goes to a new country to build a new life for his family. (I am not going to go in to too much detail for it would more than likely give away all of the book.) The Arrival differs from Hugo drastically. Where Hugo blends words and pictures to tell the story, The Arrival is completely wordless.

You, the reader, must decide for yourself the story and what takes place based on the pictures. What I gather from it may be slightly different from you. The details bring out subtle ideas-a bent and slightly crumpled drawing of a family says to me it is well loved; someone else may see it as discarded or not cared for.

Give both books a try-you won’t be disappointed!

Till next time, keep flipping those pages!

Published in: on June 13, 2009 at 7:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Book vs. Movie: Witch Mountain

WARNING!! Beyond this place, there be SPOILERS!!!

It’s been over 30 years between the publication of Alexander Key‘s novel Escape to Witch Mountain and the release of the new Disney film Race to Witch Mountain.  Along the way, there have been two film versions of Escape and a film of Return to Witch Mountain, its sequel.  Rather than stack up all of the film versions against the book, this comparison will focus on the book and Race to Witch Mountain.


In the book, Tony and Tia are orphans who don’t know where they come from or who their family is, or how they’ve gained their telepathic powers.  While on an outing, someone provides them with a clue to their origins; at the same time, a man claiming to be their uncle shows up at the orphanage to take them overseas. They sense something is wrong, and run away from the orphanage before he returns.  They enlist the aid of a priest to help them find their true family, who are somewhere in the mountains, before they are re-captured.

Tony and Tia are in search of their identities and people of their own kind.  Though they have some  vague memories of their past, they must endure the pain of recovering other repressed memories to complete the puzzle, all while trying to stay a step ahead of their would-be captors.

Their counterparts in Race, however, not only know who they are, they are on a mission to save their home from destruction and the Earth from invasion.  Sara and Seth’s spacecraft crash lands in the desert near Las Vegas.  They hire cabbie Jack Bruno to drive them to an old shack to recover their parents’ research data.  Suddenly, a Terminator-like assassin appears and tries to kill them.  Meantime, a director of a covert government operation steals their spacecraft and attempts to capture the kids.  It’s up to Jack to help them elude their pursuers, recover their spacecraft and return home.

Race is called a “re-imagining” of Escape, but the concepts of Seth and Sara as aliens and why they come to Earth are taken from details and devices found in the latter chapters of the book.  Those points are changed around to create an action driven film with car chases, explosions and cool visual effects.  The action in Escape is not as over-the-top but still thrilling, and still has the reader rooting for Tony and Tia.

Like Tony and Tia, Seth and Sara use their extraordinary abilities rather conservatively:  Their powers get them out of jams, but not every jam.  Seth doesn’t have Tony’s ability to move objects:  That’s Sara’s department, which she does telepathically.  Seth can change his molecular structure to move through objects and to form protective shielding.  All things considered, Seth and Sara play things pretty low key; it’s Tony and Tia who call attention to themselves after breaking out of jail with the help of a dancing broom and two brown bears.

The biggest diversion between the book and movie is the protagonist’s point of view.  Escape is told through Tony and Tia’s eyes, moreso Tony’s, as they struggle to reconnect with their past and find their people.  Jack Bruno’s point of view drives Race, a formula used in many action movies where a jaded man champions a simple yet noble cause – to help and protect Seth and Sara – against incredible foes and great odds – an alien assassin and a determined government official.

Race to Witch Mountain is a re-imagined version of Escape to Witch Mountain, and there are significant differences between the two.  The characters’ needs are different, but the heart of the stories is the same:  Two kids who enlist the help of a man to help them reach a place called Witch Mountain.


The book Escape to Witch Mountain and its sequel Return from Witch Mountain are available at CCLS libraries and through PINES.  Ask your librarian from assistance.

The film versions of both books have been re-released on DVD, available at a video retailer or rental store.

Race to Witch Mountain is currently in theaters.

Published in: on March 16, 2009 at 11:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Make Way for the Herdmans!


If you thought Bebe’s Kids were bad, you don’t know the Herdmans!

Before comedian Robin Harris created his epitome of “bad” children, Barbara Robinson told the tale of The Herdmans, the cigar smoking, arsonous, petty thieving, out of control bullies of the classic kids’ book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  The townsfolk and their children have little to do with the Herdmans, choosing to tolerate their antics and put out their literal fires.  But when the children and townspeople prepare for the church’s annual Christmas pageant, the Herdmans show up and all but take over the lead roles.  The kids and parents brace for the worst, knowing that the hellions will shatter the decorum and tradition of the pageant:  An especially disastrous rehearsal confirms as much.  But the night of the pageant brings a surprise that no one is prepared for.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a children’s book, but it proves to be great for all ages.  It’s comparable to the “News from Lake Wobegone” segments of A Prarie Home Companion:  A look at matters of the human heart told in a witty, laid back manner.  Here, the parents and kids dread another performance of the Christmas pageant, having gone through the routine enough to become jaded.  It takes this situation with the Herdmans – the most inappropriate people in, for them, the most inappropriate situation – to open everyone’s eyes and recapture the meaning of the season.

The book is a quick, fun read; one to gather the whole family and read together.


The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is available at all CCLS libraries.  Click here for our holdings, or ask a librarian for assistance.

A movie version is available also on VHS.

Published in: on December 3, 2008 at 9:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Book vs. Movie: Nim’s Island


WARNING!! Beyond this place, there be SPOILERS!!!


Nim lives on a remote South Pacific island with her father Jack, a marine biologist.  They have no contact with civilization other than e-mail and an annual visit from a supply ship.  Jack leaves Nim alone for a day while he sails off to study plankton.  A sudden storm damages his boat, leaving him stranded at sea and with no way to get home to Nim.  Nim, meanwhile, waits anxiously for her father’s return, passing the time doing chores and having fun with her pet sea lion and iguana.  When reclusive adventure writer Alex Rover e-mails Jack with a research question, Nim finds a new diversion as well as a new friend.  Eventually, Alex discovers that Nim is alone and in need of help, and volunteers to come to her rescue.  But when Nim finally meets Alex, her expectations are let down, and their friendship is put to the test.


Both the book and the movie of Nim’s Island center on the idea of courage through heroism.  How each approaches the theme makes for the greatest differences between them.  The book shows Nim as a resourceful girl who can fend for herself in Jack’s absence:  Adventure is an everyday thing for her.  Her need for courage is seen in how she copes with Jack’s absence and the possibility that he won’t come home.  Movie Nim is not as independent.  Early in the movie, she shows some of the same feistiness as book Nim; she even argues to stay behind while Jack goes out to study his plankton.  But when Jack is lost, Nim immediately feels helpless, and calls on Alex for help.  It’s when situations arise – her fall down the mountain and the invasion of the cruise ship passengers, for example – that Nim digs to find her courage and resourcefulness.



Alex Rusoe is made a fuller character for the movie, and with great effect.  Movie Alex is a full blown agoraphobic, who won’t go outside even to get her mail.  Alex’s struggle with her phobias and various obstacles on her journey to Nim’s island make for many hilarious moments in the movie.  To live out her fantasies of adventure and heroism, she develops an alter-ego:  The Indiana Jones-like male adventurer of her novels, for whom she’s often mistaken.  This alter-ego becomes her confidant and voice of reason that prods her along on her adventure.  Book Alex, by contrast, does not get on the road until late in the story.  She is as resourceful as book Nim, which helps her overcome the obstacles of traveling to Nim’s island.  She doesn’t have the burden of phobias like her movie counterpart – only a fear of flying – and so her struggle is not deciding to face an obstacle, but how to do it.


Cutting communication between the movie characters is done to raise dramatic tensions.  When book Jack is stranded, he and Nim send messages to each other via a frigate bird, so each knows what is happening with the other; no communication creates movie Nim’s anxiety and movie Jack’s urgency.  In the book, Nim and Alex don’t e-mail as frequently as in the movie, and Alex doesn’t realize Nim’s dilemma is until late; movie Nim and Alex’s frequent e-mailing exposes Nim’s problem early and gets Alex going.  Unfortunately, those changes result in the loss of depth in the relationships between Nim and Jack and Nim and Alex.  Communication in the book not only conveys story information, but reveals character and establishes rapport with other characters.


Many more differences abound between Nim’s Island the book and movie.  But the way the theme of courage is manifested through the three main characters (I didn’t discuss Jack here) and their inability to communicate with each other make the greatest differences.  While the book shows richer relationships between the characters, the movie presents more conflicts where Nim, Alex and Jack discover or draw on their inner strength.  Alex in the movie is more interesting because of her agoraphobia, though she’s not as resourceful as book Alex.  Likewise, movie Nim lacks the spunk that makes book Nim memorable.




Nim’s Island the book is available through PINES.  Check with a librarian for assistance.




Published in: on May 14, 2008 at 1:47 pm  Leave a Comment