the snow lion

It’s been a gray, wintry day here in Washington, DC – the kind where I am constantly refreshing my coffee and tea in an effort to ward off the chill. Winter is one of my favorite seasons, in part because of the holidays, yes, but also because I love bundling up in oversized sweaters and plopping a knitted hat with a pom-pom on my head. Caro, the heroine of Jim Helmore and Richard Jones’ The Snow Lion, dresses like I do in winter, and that was just one of the things to love about this quiet, beautiful picture book.

the snow lion by jim helmore and richard jones cover
After moving to a new home, Caro wishes she had a friend, but she’s too shy to meet the neighborhood kids. With a little imagination, however, Caro finds the Snow Lion. Together, they have all kinds of fun racing, climbing, and playing hide-and-seek. But when the boy next door asks Caro to come play, Caro isn’t so sure. Then, the Snow Lion has an idea! Making new friends isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it in the end.

This powerful but gentle story about making new friends is gorgeously illustrated to celebrate the magic and imagination that fills every page and will appeal to any shy or lonely young reader.

Caro and her mother have just moved, and everything in their new house is white, white, white! It would seem a little lonely and soulless, except that almost immediately Caro meets a Snow Lion. This Lion blends in with the white walls, helps her explore her new home, and encourages her to be brave and reach out to make new friends. Soon Caro’s life is full of color and friendship!

The Snow Lion is a sweet, simple, and sincere story about loneliness, taking leaps of faith, making new friends, and remembering the old ones. Though the Snow Lion is never named as such, it is an imaginary friend (but as anyone who has had an imaginary friend knows, that doesn’t make them any less real!). I liked that it was never called out in the text, because I think it will make sense to children who already daydream, and open the imaginations of those who don’t so much.

Another thing to love is the way that Helmore has framed Caro, a naturally shy character (in a new setting, to boot!), in a dynamic and positive light. The focus is not on being left out (which I’ve seen many times in picture books and is fine for what it is!), but on finding ways to play with what you have, and then later on being courageous, reaching out, and making friends.

The art! When am I going to get to the art?? Well, as you must be able to tell from the cover, Richard Jones’ mix of paint and Photoshop illustrations are simply lovely. Jones has an eye for patterned, geometric details, and while the palette is at first very muted (all that white!), color and texture gradually seep in as the world opens up for Caro. I really adored the illustrations and would happily open this book again and again just for those. I also desperately hope that there are stuffed, all-white lion toys somewhere out there in the world to pair with this book. That would be sticky-sweet. And! On a final note, the endpapers, which are a cool silver-and-white pattern! They should be made into wrapping paper. I’d buy at least 2 rolls.

Overall, The Snow Lion is quietly delightful – a good book for wintry days.

Recommended for: readers ages 3 and up, for storytimes and one-on-one reading, and especially for shy little ones (or those who’ve just faced a big change).

Fine print: I received copy of this book for review consideration from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

harry potter gift guide

Do you know someone who loves Harry Potter A LOT but seems to already have everything they could possibly want related to the series? Are they picky about gifts? Do they prefer tasteful/useful items? Are they me? (asking for a friend) But seriously, there are about ninety-billion (slight exaggeration) HP-branded items in the wild, and how will you pick the right one for your loved person this holiday season!? *tears out hair, with drama*

Here, have this holiday gift guide. It features new Harry Potter items that are Cecelia-approved (aka my mother would see them and not know to associate them immediately with HP)(my mother has never seen the books/watched the films, but that’s a story for another day). Okay one final aside, I can’t resist.

In retrospect, one of the funniest moments of the mother-daughter Scotland vacation we took in May/June this year (for my mom’s 70th birthday ostensibly, but I snuck plenty of Harry Potter landmarks in, like riding the Hogwarts Express and visiting Tom Riddle’s grave!) is that when we got to the cafĂ© in Edinburgh where Rowling did most of her writing my mom looked around and said “I didn’t know Harry Potter was still a thing!” I almost melted into the sidewalk. “Yes, Mom, Harry Potter will always be a thing.” My mom: “Huh. [pause] Do you think they have hot chocolate?” (they do, but it’s terrible)

2018 Harry Potter Holiday Gift List (finally)


Morsmordre Crossbody Bag – This bag prompted me to put this gift guide together because it is SUBTLE and AWESOME and I can just imagine myself smiling smugly when my mom asks “is Morsmordre a designer brand?” As to why I would want it to begin with, let me put it this way: I read a lot of Drarry fanfic.



Amortentia Crossbody Bag – Okay but as soon as I was on the BoxLunch website I found that they have a whole range of cool HP-themed bags and this one is legit too perfect not to showcase. For your friend who is bubblegum on the outside and danger on the inside. Also if you liked these bags they have a Horcrux Collection. *eyes them all longingly*



Ron Weasley Yule Ball Ornament – Just looking at this makes me laugh, it’s so perfect. Your HP-loving friend’s tree needs this. I don’t make the rules!



Harry Wanted Poster Enamel Pin – You’ve noticed that enamel pins are having a moment (I assume). I argue that you must have this one for a complete and proper set of flair. 

Magic Photo and Video Printer – This is SO AWESOME and you’re going to look at the price tag and feel like you've been Kissed by a Dementor. BUT. It is amazing that we’ve made the moving pictures from Harry Potter a reality (with a little help from your iPhone/android). I have one and using this in your DIY photo booth is the perfect party activity!



Williams Sonoma collection of Harry Potter candies – I am weak for aesthetics, and I know you could probably rig up a version of this at home but I just want to believe I could line these jars of HP-inpsired candies up and transform my kitchen into Honeydukes, okay??



Quidditch carousel candle topper and Hogwarts candle pot – Oooooooo. This set will Lumos your wintry nights. It's beautiful, and stylish, and keepsake-quality. I think it speaks for itself.



Maurader’s Map towel set – I realize that these are backordered and so won’t arrive in time for Christmas, but aren’t they great?? Subtly says "I am up to no good." Cool. In my favorite neutral (gray). I wants it.


Dobby Christmas socks (quidditch-themed this year) – Snitches and brooms on contrasting color socks. What more could you want?? (can you tell I’m getting increasingly more excited/frantic as we go?)(I want it all!!!)


Ron Weasley sweater socks – Yo, just a hint of HP and the coziest looking socks ever. Your feet will thank you.



Azkaban prisoner sweater – I’m including this mostly because it made me laugh, and I would want it (I’m a little twisted). Easiest Halloween costume ever, plus a cozy sweater for wintertime when you’re bundled up on the couch in your Gryffindor throw blanket that you no doubt already own/have made. I may be projecting here.


Owl post earrings – Can you put a price on elegance, subtlety, and/or not having your ears turn green?? In review, I want these.

So there you go. Thanks for taking this ride with me. Further suggestions welcome in the comments!

Fine print: All images from retailer sites (directly linked in the post). I did not receive any compensation for this post and it's not sponsored.

big box little box

Wednesday, November 28, 2018 | | 0 comments
Are you subscribed to any bookish newsletters? I get a couple of publishing industry emails every day, and one of my recent favorites is Book Riot’s The Kids Are Alright, which is focused on children’s books. It’s my go-to for picture book new releases. Annnnnd… it’s how I heard about Big Box Little Box, by Caryl Hart, illustrated by Edward Underwood.

big box little box by caryl hart, illustrated by edward underwood cover
Big box, little box
Hey, that's not a bed box.
My box, your box,
Snore box

How many ways can a cat interact with a box? This cat will entrance young readers as it investigates every box it can – and makes a mouse friend along the way.

With bright, bold illustrations from Edward Underwood, this is a striking and witty book for children and adults alike. Fans of Chris Haughton, Jon Klassen and Sophy Henn will love it.

In Big Box Little Box a cat discovers the world of boxes – in all shapes and sizes. And then in one of the boxes it discovers… a mouse?! After a long chase, the two end up unlikely friends. This picture book is a celebration of contrasts, textures, and playfulness, and will please very young readers as they learn to classify the world.

While for the most part the book is concerned with identifying shapes, sizes, colors, patterns, states, uses, emotions, and actions, it also has its funny, surprising moments (as any successful picture book should!). Upon reaching the end it may feel as if there hasn’t been a single full sentence – and that’s because the point is more about exclamation! and identification! In other words, it’s not well suited for group storytime. Too many lists and phrases that hang by themselves.

That isn’t to say that it’s not enjoyable, because it is. The large pages, the visual-text connection, and the concrete ideas presented in a quirky way will likely make it a favorite. Just a one-on-one reading sort of favorite, if you know what I mean.

Author Hart juxtaposes sizes, shapes, and colors in the text, and illustrator Underwood skillfully renders their equivalent in the art with an eye to pleasing design. There are fun textures and layers throughout, with primary colors and simple shapes (after all, boxes!). This minimalism begs to be paired with a construction paper art project – I can imagine the ripped paper edges now!

This is the sort of smart-looking book that an adult will pick up off the coffee table to page through, as well as the kid (I know this from experience). I’d pair it with Not a Box, and other picture books that encourage imagination and creativity for the very young.

Recommended for: readers ages 2-5, especially those who love cats and/or identifying shapes, colors, and so on.

thank you, omu!

Thanksgiving may now be past in the United States, but there’s no end date on sharing, giving thanks, and giving back. Author-illustrator Oge Mora’s debut picture book Thank You, Omu! is a gorgeous soon-to-be classic. It is perfect for year-round reading, and holiday gifting.

thank you, omu! by oge mora cover
In this remarkable author-illustrator debut that’s perfect for fans of Last Stop on Market Street and Extra Yarn as well as for the Thanksgiving season, a generous woman is rewarded by her community.

Everyone in the neighborhood dreams of a taste of Omu’s delicious stew! One by one, they follow their noses toward the scrumptious scent. And one by one, Omu offers a portion of her meal. Soon the pot is empty. Has she been so generous that she has nothing left for herself?

Debut author-illustrator Oge Mora brings to life a heartwarming story of sharing and community in colorful cut-paper designs as luscious as Omu’s stew, with an extra serving of love. An author’s note explains that “Omu” (pronounced AH-moo) means “queen” in the Igbo language of her parents, but growing up, she used it to mean “Grandma.” This book was inspired by the strong female role models in Oge Mora’s life.

The thick red stew that Omu is making will surely be the best dinner that she has ever eaten. It smells wonderful and the taste test promises great things. However, when she sits down to read while she waits, the scent of her stew draws others to her door – first a little boy, then a police officer, then a hot dog vendor, and so on! After a day spent sharing a bowl with everyone who asks, Omu is left without any stew for her own dinner. Soon a knock on her door reveals everyone with whom she shared her meal, there this time to give, and not take.

Mora’s story is full of good cheer – generosity, hospitality, sharing food, and sharing company. It’s a simple story, but an evocative one, and it serves as a sort of modern parable. Omu’s unselfish giving prompts others not only to enjoy what they take, but also to give back themselves. It portrays an ideal, but one that is always worth sharing in hard times.

Other themes/things to love about the story: giving thanks when you can’t contribute things, making community, kindness to strangers, and a new plan or situation being even better than the old one because of a gratitude, and a full heart.

And the art! The art is *kisses fingers* fantastic. Truly classic picture book material, reminiscent of Ezra Jack Keats’ work, including perennial favorite The Snowy Day. Mora’s cut paper artwork utilizes painted and patterned paper, some clipped from books or maps. She also uses markers, acrylics, and more. It’s a mixed media wonderland. The endpapers are the city street grid rendered in blocky cut paper squares. The wafting scent of the stew is illustrated by rising steam that reaches farther and farther in the city. A mix of cut paper lettering and type make for evocative text setting – readers will know when to emphasize certain words to make the story sing. I can’t praise the art and design enough – they are truly special.

In all, Thank You, Omu! is an artful, food- and community-themed picture book with a diverse cast of characters and gorgeous, vibrant cut paper art. It belongs in every picture book collection.

Recommended for: any and every reader ages 3 and up, and especially for Thanksgiving and Christmas storytimes, though the messages of sharing and caring are necessary and important all the year long.

Interested in other food-related posts? Check out Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking!
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