The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy

4 Feb

The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm BoyThe Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy (©2015) by Alexandra Bracken is the first in a series of new Star Wars novels written specifically for young readers. The book is a retelling of Star Wars: A New Hope with a twist: it is told from the perspective of all three main characters.

The book is split into three acts. The first act follows Princess Leia as her spaceship is boarded by Darth Vader and she is taken captive aboard the terrifying battle station known as the Death Star. In the second act we meet Han Solo, who reluctantly joins a rescue mission for the princess. The third act is told from the perspective of Luke Skywalker, who joins the Rebellion in an effort to destroy the Death Star once and for all. This three-act style gives a fascinating look into the background and motivation of Princess Leia and Han Solo, which is largely untold in the Star Wars films.

This book captures all of the magic and excitement of the film, while adding a wealth of new details that further enhance the story. The large text, short paragraphs, and familiar characters make it an excellent choice for reluctant readers. Whether you’re new to the Star Wars universe or already a long-time fan, this book is a lot of fun!

I recommend The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy for ages 8-12, but even teens and adults will enjoy this well-written adaptation.

The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy is followed by So You Want to Be a Jedi? [The Empire Strikes Back] by Adam Gidwitz and Beware the Power of the Dark Side! [Return of the Jedi] by Tom Angleberger.

5 Unique Picture Books to Read This Valentine’s Day

28 Jan

Valentine’s Day was one of my favorite holidays as a child. I loved making cards for all my friends and classmates and seeing how many I got in return, not to mention eating candy and treats in school!

Valentines Day Picture Books

These out-of-the-box picture books represent themes like love, kindness, generosity, and friendship. I guarantee that they will bring more smiles than a box of candy hearts!

Love MonsterLove Monster by Rachel Bright

It’s hard being a monster in world of cute, fluffy things. But our hairy, googly-eyed protagonist doesn’t want to sit around feeling sorry for himself, so he decides to leave Cutesville and find someone who will love him just the way he is. This story is delightfully funny and full of heart. Also available as a board book.

Plant a KissPlant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Peter H. Reynolds

A little girl decides to do something a bit unusual – plant a kiss! She lovingly tends it until one day it finally sprouts. Ignoring naysayers, the little girl decides to share her bountiful harvest with the world. Kids will delight in this one-of-a-kind story about kindness and sharing. Also available as a board book.

HedgehugsHedgehugs by Steve Wilson and Lucy Tapper

Horace and Hattie are hedgehogs and best friends. They do absolutely everything together, but the one thing they can’t do is hug! They are just too prickly. Horace and Hattie try many ways of covering their spikes but nothing works, until they happen upon a clothesline full of socks! This endearing story of friendship is fun to read all year long! Also available as a board book.

Hug MachineHug Machine by Scott Campbell

“No one can resist my unbelievable hugging. I am the Hug Machine!” This adorably affectionate little boy hugs everyone and everything in his path. His hugs have the power to calm or to cheer. Then, just when Hug Machine is running on empty, his mother swoops him into her arms. A Hug Machine’s work is never done! This book is more silly than sappy, and it’s hard not to love.

A Crankenstein ValentineA Crankenstein Valentine by Samantha Berger and Dan Santat

Hearts, flowers, and candy aren’t for everyone. Enter the monstrously cantankerous Crankenstein. This lovey-dovey holiday makes Crankenstein even crankier than ever – until he finds a friend who hates Valentine’s Day as much as he does! Whether you hate Valentine’s Day or love it, this book will give you a chuckle!

Great American Women: Picture Book Biographies

11 Jan

Picture books are a fantastic way to take a history lesson from mundane to exciting. Today I’m pleased to share 12 picture book biographies that feature great women from American history. The achievements of these women changed history, and their stories are captivating and diverse.

Great American Women

I created this list in honor of my little girl, and I hope that the girls and boys in your life enjoy these inspiring stories as much as I have!

Elizabeth Leads the WayElizabeth Leads the Way by Tanya Lee Stone

Here Come the Girl ScoutsHere Come the Girl Scouts! by Shana Corey

JosephineJosephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
by Patricia Hruby Powell

Who Says Women Can’t Be DoctorsWho Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone

Look UpLook Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer
by Robert Burleigh

Miss Moore Thought OtherwiseMiss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children by Jan Pinborough

Louisa The Life of Louisa May AlcottLouisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott by Yona Zeldis McDonough

When Marian SangWhen Marian Sang by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Harlem's Little BlackbirdHarlem’s Little Blackbird by Renee Watson

Georgia’s BonesGeorgia’s Bones by Jen Bryant

I Am Amelia EarhartI am Amelia Earhart by Brad Meltzer

Sarah Gives ThanksSarah Gives Thanks by Mike Allegra

Our Favorite Christmas Board Books

10 Dec

Our Favorite Christmas Board BooksIt’s almost Christmas! Books are one of the best ways to share this special time of year with the littlest members of your family. Today I’ll be sharing a list of my toddler’s all-time favorite board books about Christmas. I encourage you to share these books with a baby or toddler in your life!

Where is Baby’s Christmas PresentWhere Is Baby’s Christmas Present?

In this engaging lift-the-flap book a curious baby is looking for his Christmas present. As baby searches the house (is it under the pillow or behind mommy’s bowl?) there are plenty of flaps to lift and discoveries to make.

Dinosaur vs SantaDinosaur vs. Santa

A plucky little dinosaur tackles a series of holiday challenges, including writing a letter to Santa, decorating, and making presents for mom and dad. Dinosaur defeats every challenge with an enthusiastic roar, until he faces his greatest challenge of all – falling asleep on Christmas Eve! This book is so much fun to read that I don’t know who enjoys it more, my toddler or me. Also available as a hardcover picture book.

Olivia Helps with ChristmasOlivia Helps with Christmas

Christmas preparations are in full swing for the precocious pig and her family. Fans of Olivia will giggle at her humorous holiday antics. Also available as a hardcover picture book.

Fa La LaFa La La

My toddler can’t get enough of the adorable baby in Leslie Patricelli’s board books, and this one is no exception. In this installment, Baby helps pick out a Christmas tree, builds (and demolishes) a gingerbread house, sings Christmas carols, and visits Santa Claus. The minimal text makes it easy for even the littlest listeners to follow along.

The Night before ChristmasThe Night Before Christmas (Little Golden Board Book)

I was beyond delighted to discover that the classic Little Golden Book version of The Night Before Christmas is available as a board book! This book includes all of the original illustrations from the classic 1949 Little Golden Book.

Counting ChristmasCounting Christmas

In this cute and colorful book, three children excitedly count down to Christmas. Fans of Katz’s other board books will recognize her trademark illustrations, which seamlessly blend gouache paint, colored pencil, and collage.

Snowmen at ChristmasSnowmen at Christmas

This superb sequel to Snowmen at Night gives readers a glimpse at how snowmen (and women and children) spend Christmas Eve. This entertaining story is perfectly complimented by the opulent painted illustrations. Also available as a hardcover picture book.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar's Christmas 123The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s Christmas 123

This simple Christmas-themed counting book features easily countable holiday images (two Christmas trees, three snowmen, and so on) illustrated in Eric Carle’s trademark style. Each spread also includes an appearance from the titular Caterpillar, who metamorphosizes into a butterfly on the final page.

Little Blue Truck’s ChristmasLittle Blue Truck’s Christmas

In this beautifully illustrated book, we follow Little Blue Truck as he delivers Christmas trees to all of his friends. The last page features a Christmas tree with real twinkling lights, which my toddler finds absolutely mesmerizing. This one isn’t technically a board book, strictly speaking, but it has sturdy cardstock pages that resist accidental tearing.

Guest Post: Book-Inspired Gifts for Kids

3 Dec

My son opened one gift after another and nothing put a smile on his face. He was disappointed and I was heartbroken. I had come up with the idea to ask his friends to bring him books for his third birthday. He LOVES books! That’s why his dad and I made him a reading nook under the staircase and I thought he would love to receive books. I was wrong!

Hello everybody, I’m Stef from Non Toy Gifts and I’ll be sharing a few great book-inspired gift ideas – just in time for Christmas.

Books are fun but you can’t enjoy them right away. You need to put on your glasses and open up the book – just like in Laurie Berkner’s song. A party is no place for reading books and if you can’t read them how are you supposed to enjoy them?

Book-Inspired Gifts for Kids

Book-inspired gifts are those gifts that include a little something extra that will allow kids to connect with the story beyond the book. It can be a toy, a game, a craft or anything else that the little ones can play with once they open their presents and that will intrigue their curiosity for the book they will discover a bit later.

Here are just a few suggestions based on some of my children’s favorite books.

Book-Inspired Gifts for Kids

Everybody Bonjours! is a delightful book that will help kids discover Paris and its most important monuments. A little girl and her family visits the City of Lights and while there, she gets to see the Eiffel Tower, listen to the street musicians in front of the Pompidou Center, climb on the stairs in front of Sacre Coeur and much more. This book can be paired with a giant coloring map of Paris, a set of three French landmark puzzles or magnetic wooden toys.

Book-Inspired Gifts for Kids

The Press Here game is inspired by the book Press Here and they obviously make a great gift together. The book itself is like a game as the reader has to press on dots of different colors, shake the book and follow several other instructions.

Some of my kids favorite games are based on books they are familiar with, like Five Little Monkey Jumping on the Bed or I Can Do That: The Cat in the Hat. You can also check out this list of 40 kids games based on popular books and movies for more inspiration.

Talking about movies, they are also a great choice that children will love. I remember the first time I read Peter Pan’s story to my boys. They had no idea what a pirate was and didn’t seem to care much. After seeing the movie though, guess who became obsessed with pirates, sing the “I can fly” song all day long and chose to be Captain Hook for Halloween? It took a movie to make them love the book.

If you decide to go for a movie, I would suggest to start with this list of movies based on children’s books – it contains 50 titles and is the most complete resource available online.

Book-Inspired Gifts for Kids

A book like Hermelin the Detective Mouse, which is the story of a mouse who loves to solve mysteries, could inspire you to create a detective kit that would include items from the book: typewriter, binoculars and photo camera.

The possibilities are endless and all you have to do is flip through the pages of a book to get an idea about the story, illustrations or characters, then let your imagination fly and I’m sure you’ll come up with some amazing book-inspired gifts for kids.


About tStef at Non Toy Giftshe author:

Stef, a mom of two little boys, blogs at Non Toy Gifts about toy alternative gifts for young kids, from DIY to practical gifts. She shares ideas that will create beautiful childhood memories through experiences, adventures, fun learning and so much more. You can connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Google +.

Thanksgiving Early Readers

10 Nov

Thanksgiving Early Readers

I love Thanksgiving! I mean, what’s not to love? Here are eight of my favorite Thanksgiving-themed early readers. I’ve included suggested grade levels for each book, but feel free to use your judgement. These books also make excellent read-alouds for the whole family!

Silly Tilly’s Thanksgiving DinnerSilly Tilly’s Thanksgiving Dinner

Tilly is hosting Thanksgiving for all her friends, but when the absentminded mole forgets to cook dinner, her helpful friends give her something to be thankful for! Silly Tilly will have kids laughing out loud. Preschool to Grade 1.

Happy ThanksgivingHappy Thanksgiving (Robin Hill School)

The first graders in Mrs. Connor’s class are getting ready for Thanksgiving by making costumes. When the fire alarm goes off, the little pilgrims, Indians, and turkeys get to share their holiday spirit with the rest of the school! Preschool to Grade 1.

The Night Before ThanksgivingThe Night Before Thanksgiving

Kids will delight in this energetic story of Thanksgiving preparations. Relatives gather, the kids watch the parade and set the table, and mom prepares a Thanksgiving feast! This festive book is one of my favorites. Kindergarten to Grade 2.

Amelia Bedelia Talks TurkeyAmelia Bedelia Talks Turkey

When everyone’s favorite literal-minded housekeeper is put in charge of a third grade Thanksgiving pageant, disaster (and hilarity) are bound to ensue! Grade 1 to Grade 3.

Annie and Snowball and the Thankful FriendsAnnie and Snowball and the Thankful Friends

Annie wants to have a BIG Thanksgiving dinner, but her family is small. So she decides to invite a few of her friends and neighbors who can’t be with their families for the holiday. This sweet story perfectly captures the joy of Thanksgiving. Kindergarten to Grade 2.

Just a Special ThanksgivingJust a Special Thanksgiving

Lovable Little Critter is back in a brand-new story! Little Critter causes plenty of mischief during a school play and a Thanksgiving parade. Then he and his family participate in a giant Thanksgiving dinner for the less fortunate members of Critterville. Preschool to Grade 2.

It’s Thanksgiving!It’s Thanksgiving!

This collection of 12 kid-friendly poems details all of the delightful aspects of Thanksgiving. The lively rhymes flow beautifully and the illustrations are charming. Grade 1 – Grade 3.

Thanksgiving is for Giving ThanksThanksgiving Is for Giving Thanks

This sweet story highlights all of the many things and people that we have to be thankful for. A cheerful reminder that there is more to Thanksgiving than turkey and pilgrims! Preschool to Grade 2.

A Fine Dessert

5 Nov

A Fine Dessert

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat (©2015) is a picture book written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

This charming book follows four different families, each a century apart, as they prepare blackberry fool, a simple dessert made from crushed blackberries, sugar, and whipped cream. The story focuses closely on how each family prepares the treat, from gathering ingredients all the way to presenting the finished dessert.

A Fine Dessert (2)In England in the year 1710, a girl and her mother pick wild blackberries and milk a cow for fresh cream. They serve the finished dessert to the girl’s father and brothers. In 1810 South Carolina, a slave girl and her mother pick blackberries from the plantation garden. After supper they serve the dessert to their master and his family. In 1910 Boston, a girl and her mother buy blackberries at a farmer’s market. When they finish they sit down and enjoy the dessert with the rest of the family. In 2010 San Diego, a boy and his father buy blackberries and cream from a supermarket. They eat the dessert in the company of a large gathering of friends.

A Fine Dessert (4)

Each vignette follows a pattern, allowing children to easily spot the many similarities and differences between time periods. One of the cleverer ways this is achieved is by highlighting the tool used to beat the whipped cream. A bundle of twigs, a metal whisk, cast-iron rotary beaters, and finally, an electric mixer.

I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this book. The author and illustrator give great attention to historical accuracy. A Fine Dessert proves that history lessons don’t have to come from textbooks. The gorgeous ink and watercolor illustrations are full of soft colors and intricate details. The author doesn’t shy away from difficult issues, but doesn’t dwell on them either, and the overall tone of the book is a positive one. The author and illustrator’s notes at the end of the book are fascinating, and give plenty of insight into how this book came to be.

A Fine Dessert (5)

The also book includes a recipe for blackberry fool so that families can create their own version of this fine dessert. I recommend A Fine Dessert for ages 5 and up.

Picture Books about Thanksgiving

2 Nov

Picture Books about Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, so creating this book list was so much fun! These picture books are full of everything there is to love about this season: family, tradition, and gratitude. For this list I’ve decided to forgo the traditional “first Thanksgiving” stories, so you won’t find any pilgrims here. What you’ll find instead are engaging, relatable stories that are a joy to read aloud!

The Great Thanksgiving EscapeThe Great Thanksgiving Escape by Mark Fearing

It’s Thanksgiving at Grandma’s and Gavin is stuck in the kids’ room, surrounded by drooling toddlers. His cousin Rhonda hatches a plan to escape the kiddie nightmare and find refuge on the swing set outside. Along the way Gavin and Rhonda must pass through a series of “dangerous” obstacles including vicious “guard dogs”, a room full of teenage “zombies”, and a hall of overly-affectionate aunts. The boisterous cast of characters brings a lot of energy to this story, and the vibrant “kids-eye view” illustrations make this a Thanksgiving treat that shouldn’t be missed.

Time for CranberriesTime for Cranberries by Lisl H. Detlefsen

Young Sam excitedly joins his parents to help harvest the family’s cranberry marsh. This book is both entertaining and informative, and gives readers a fascinating glimpse of family farming life. The book includes an author’s note, glossary, and two cranberry recipes for your Thanksgiving table.

A Thanksgiving WishA Thanksgiving Wish by Michael J. Rosen

For the first Thanksgiving without their beloved Bubbe, Amanda’s parents decide to invite all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins to their new home for the holiday, where everyone attempts to recreate Bubbe’s Thanksgiving recipes. The family is hard at work when a blown fuse brings the preparation to a sudden halt. Just when their hopes of a Thanksgiving feast seem lost, a couple of generous neighbors come to rescue. This poignant story is accentuated by beautiful painted illustrations.

Sarah Gives ThanksSarah Gives Thanks by Mike Allegra

This captivating picture book recounts the life of Sarah Josepha Hale, a widowed mother of five who fought a decades-long battle to see Thanksgiving recognized as a national holiday. Sarah was a groundbreaking writer and magazine editor, in a time when most women were not even allowed to attend college. This inspiring story is a must-read!

Sharing the BreadSharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story
by Pat Zietlow Miller

A 19th century family gathers to prepare a stupendous Thanksgiving feast, and everyone is responsible for a different aspect of the meal. The story is told in catchy rhyming verse and the painted illustrations are rich with texture and detail. This inviting book is sure to become an instant classic.

Over the River and Through the WoodOver the River and Through the Wood
written by L. Maria Child and illustrated by Matt Tavares

A family boards a horse-drawn sleigh and makes the snowy journey to spend Thanksgiving with their extended family. This classic poem – originally published in 1844 – has delighted children and adults for generations, and this newly-illustrated version perfectly captures the era in which the story was written.

ThankfulThankful by Eileen Spinelli

“The waitress is thankful for comfortable shoes. The local reporter, for interesting news.” This endearing poem celebrates the everyday blessings that we sometimes take for granted. The rhyming text and simple watercolor illustrations will appeal to a wide audience. This book is a simple reminder that everyone has something to be thankful for. It’s a perfect read-aloud not only for Thanksgiving, but the rest of the year as well.

In NovemberIn November by Cynthia Rylant

In November, the air grows cold, animals prepare for winter, and families gather to share food and give thanks for their many blessings. Rich, painterly illustrations and lyrical language capture all of the beauty of this special time of year.

The Ugly PumpkinThe Ugly Pumpkin by Dave Horowitz

The ugly pumpkin spends all of October in the pumpkin patch, waiting for someone to take him home. But as Thanksgiving approaches, the ugly pumpkin discovers his true calling. He’s not a pumpkin at all – he’s a squash! This fun twist on The Ugly Duckling is hilarious and inventive.

Picture Books about Mermaids

19 Oct

Mermaid Books

Know a kid who’s crazy about mermaids? Then this is the list for you! Today I’m sharing five fantastic mermaid-themed children’s books that the whole family will love.

The Mermaid and the ShoeThe Mermaid and the Shoe by K.G. Campbell

Every one of King Neptune’s daughters has a special talent, except for young Minnow. Minnow’s only talent is asking questions, much to the chagrin of her sisters. When she finds a strange object, Minnow travels all the way to the surface to satisfy her curiosity. Her quest for answers leads Minnow to a series of remarkable discoveries about the world and about herself. This is such an inspiring story and the soft pencil-and-watercolor illustrations are absolutely enchanting.

The Melancholic MermaidThe Melancholic Mermaid by Kallie George and Abigail Halpin

Maude the mermaid was born with two tails, a trait that she embraces until the other children begin teasing her. One day Maude is captured by a fisherman and sold to a circus. The circus is miserable until Maude meets a boy named Tony. Tony has webbed hands and, like Maude, grew up as an outcast. Together Maude and Tony attempt to escape the cruel ring mistress and make their way home.

Mermaid SisterMermaid Sister by Mary Ann Fraser

Shelly is fed up with her annoying little brother and decides she would much rather have a sister instead. She writes a message in bottle advertising for a sister and is thrilled when it is answered by a mermaid named Coral. Shelly and Coral become fast friends, but Shelly quickly learns that having a sister has its ups and downs and that living with a mermaid is not all it’s cracked up to be! Warm, summer-hued paintings compliment the amusing story.

Mermaid DanceMermaid Dance by Marjorie Rose Hakala and Mark Jones

As the sun sets on the ocean, mermaids come to the surface to celebrate the summer solstice. The mermaids bring seashells and strings of beads to decorate the shore, then they prepare a feast and dance to ring in the new season. The lush pastel paintings are a delight.

Mermaid CookbookMermaid Cookbook by Barbara Beery

This whimsical cookbook features more than 30 mermaid-themed recipes that kids will love to make! From crunchy snacks and savory bites to fun drinks and pretty desserts, this book has it all! Most of the recipes are from-scratch, but some utilize store-bought components like boxed cake mix and refrigerated pie dough. The recipes in this book are perfect for a mermaid or ocean themed party, but most are easy enough to enjoy any day of the week! Mermaid Cookbook is intended for kids ages 6 and up with parental supervision.

Spooky Middle Grade Reads

12 Oct

With Halloween only a few weeks away, now is the perfect time to curl up with a scary story on a dark, stormy night. I’ve put together a list of my favorite spooky middle-grade novels, perfect for older children and teens!

Spooky Middle Grade Reads

From ghosts and witches to haunted houses and alternate dimensions, these books have it all. Get ready to be scared!

For younger readers, be sure to check out my Halloween picture books list and Halloween board books list.

The ShadowsThe Shadows (©2010) by Jacqueline West

Olive Dunwoody and her parents move into a decrepit Victorian mansion that still contains all of the previous owner’s possessions. The home is full of creepy paintings that seem to Olive like they’re keeping secrets. When a talking cat gives her a cryptic warning Olive knows there is more to the house than meets the eye, but she has only scratched the surface of what lurks in her new home. This spine-tingling story is packed with frights from start to finish. Ages 9+

Splendors and GloomsSplendors and Glooms (©2012) by Laura Amy Schlitz

Clara Wintermute, the only daughter of a wealthy doctor, goes missing on the night of her twelfth birthday. The prime suspect of Clara’s kidnapping is a mysterious puppeteer known as Grisini. When Grisini’s assistants, an orphan boy and girl, search for clues about Clara’s disappearance, they uncover Grisini’s evil intentions. This moody Dickensian tale has plenty of gore, intrigue, and suspense. Ages 10+.

CoralineCoraline (©2002) by Neil Gaiman

Coraline Jones is exploring her family’s new home when she discovers a mysterious door. Coraline steps through the door and ends up in a parallel version of home where she is greeted by her “Other Mother.” The Other Mother looks just like Coraline’s real mother, but with paper-white skin and black buttons for eyes. Her time spent in the other world is fun at first, but soon Coraline discovers the sinister intentions of this “other” family. This story is creepy, funny, and delightfully macabre. Ages 9+.

The Shrunken HeadCuriosity House: The Shrunken Head (©2015) by Lauren Oliver

A group of orphans with extraordinary abilities live among the other “freaks” at Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. When Mr. Dumfrey buys a shrunken head, strange and terrible things begin to happen. This beguiling mystery is not for the faint of heart! Ages 9+.

The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book (©2008) by Neil Gaiman

After his parents are murdered, a baby boy is taken in and raised by the ghostly inhabitants of a graveyard. The boy, named Nobody “Bod” Owens by his adoptive parents, grows up isolated from the living world, under the looming threat of the man who murdered his family. This haunting, well-crafted story follows Bod’s adventurous childhood years. Ages 10+.


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