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!

2018 picture book gift guide

The holidays are upon us! There are deals upon deals this weekend, even at bookstores! So of course I’ve compiled a short 2018 picture book gift guide for holiday (or any other time) purposes. All books listed were released within the past year, or I’ve noted otherwise. Feel free to ask questions (or for recommendations for older kids) in the comments if you have any!

For the very littlest readers:

Autumn Babies and Winter Babies are bright, simple board books about visiting the park in different seasons, to be joined next year by series entries on spring and summer. The few words included engage the senses, and if that doesn’t work they’re great for surviving baby drool.

Mi Burrito/My Little Donkey is an accordion-style, bilingual, open-the-flap board book based on a famous Latin American Christmas song. Jaramillo’s books are always a hit with little ones for their bright colors, interactivity, and musical tie-ins. This one and Little Skeletons/Esqueleitos are the new releases for late 2017-2018 and are just as adorable as previous installments.

For 3- to 6-year-olds:

My Bed is An Air Balloon is an inventive, fantastical take on bedtime that will light up imaginations as well as lull children to sleep. A mirror poem with two front covers that works when read back-to-front and front-to-back, this beautifully illustrated book is a sure-fire reread.

Thank You, Omu! is an artful, food- and community-themed picture book with a diverse cast of characters and gorgeous and vibrant cut paper art (reminiscent of Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day). It is sure to become a classic, and would work well for both one-on-one reading and storytimes.

Hansel and Gretel is the latest in Bethan Woollvin’s twisted fairy tale series, joining Little Red and Rapunzel. Woollvin’s art (always in a limited color palette and utilizing geometric shapes to great effect) is fantastic, but it is her sly humor and slightly bent takes on familiar stories that will have both children and adults chuckling.

A Gift from Abuela is a sweet book about the small habits and special moments spent with family that make relationships special. The Mexico City setting and cultural elements are unique and wonderful – this will be a hit with readers who loved the film Coco.

Tiny, Perfect Things is a quiet, contemplative book encourages that readers young and old to take a walk outside with a loved one, pay attention, and celebrate the act of discovery.

The Things That I LOVE About TREES is a nonfiction picture book that celebrates nature, and especially trees (throughout the seasons). It is full of facts that will delight curious kids, and perhaps prompt them to want to go on tree-spotting walks.

Once Upon a Snowstorm is a wordless picture book that will delight fans of The Polar Express. A young boy loses his way in the snow, makes woodland friends, and eventually returns to his father. Children will enjoy being able to tell their own version of the story and pore over the beautiful winter scenes.

For 5- to 8-year-olds:

The Day You Begin is poignant, earnest, and poetic. Written to and for children whole feel separate and apart because of their differences (due to race, class, language, or culture), this picture book tells children 1) that they are brave, 2) that they can share their unique stories (and the world will make a place for them when they do), 3) that they will find themselves and find friends, and 4) that there is beauty in similarity AND difference.

Hortense and the Shadow is a whimsical, fairy tale-esque picture book with a bit of a dark edge, and it’s vaguely winter-themed without specific holidays. Great for daydreamers and those who enjoy flights of fancy (and gorgeous watercolor artwork).

Dreamers is a picture book autobiography of Yuyi Morales that provides a window into an immigrant experience while celebrating the joy and wonder of reading. This book bridge between languages and lives will spark creativity with its energetic mixed-media art.

Cece Loves Science and Izzy Gizmo are picture books featuring black girls who love science – and engaging stories as well. Cece works on a school project and learns about the scientific method (may be a great accompaniment to class science experiments) and Izzy learns lessons about perseverance and fixing the messes you make. Both are great picks for those who have enjoyed the Rosie Revere, Engineer books.

Graphic novel/picture book crossovers that will appeal to those transitioning to independent reading:

Lyric McKerrigan, Secret Librarian features a heroine with a can-do attitude. Titular Lyric uses the powers of librarianship to defeat evil and save the day. This picture book-sized graphic novel is cute, funny, and an absolute delight to read.

Dear Sister is an ode to sibling relationships. It’s a quick, poignant epistolary graphic novel that walks a middle line between heartfelt picture books and Diary of a Wimpy Kid-type shenanigans. My nine-year-old cousin finished it in 45 minutes and liked it, and so did my thirty year-old brother. 

The Tea Dragon Society is a bright, adorable LGBTQ+- and disability-inclusive graphic novel about fantastical creatures called tea dragons. Themes of found family, finding acceptance, and making your own way will resonate with readers, even as its delightful illustrations charm them.


I find the picture book world vast and intimidating – do you? It seems as though at least fifty new picture books are released each week. Only the strong could survive such an onslaught (not me, I am not that hardy)! Still, I need to keep up a bit, if only so that I have new titles to recommend to friends and gift to the littles in my life. Ethan Long’s Fangsgiving is a fun monster-mash of a Thanksgiving book that will be a hit year-round, but especially during the autumn months.

fangsgiving by ethan long cover
It's the fourth Thursday of November, and the members of Fright Club are cooking up something spooky… a Thanksgiving feast!

But when Vlad's family arrives unexpectedly, they put their own spin on each of the dishes. Now, the rolls are as hard as headstones and the turkey has been cooked 
to death. Vlad loves his family, but they've made a mess of their meal!

Can this monster-filled family come together to save their feast and celebrate what the holiday is truly about?

Did you know that monsters celebrate Thanksgiving too? Vlad the vampire and his friends (a werewolf, a mummy, a ghost, and a witch!) are getting together for the holiday in Vlad’s treehouse. They’re nearly ready to sit down to eat when… Vlad’s whole vampire clan descends! Vlad’s family have their own ideas about what food looks good – from lump-kin pie with maggot meatballs to completely charred turkey. Will Vlad have a meltdown and kick out his family? In the end family and friends combine efforts to prepare and celebrate a Thanksgiving (Fangsgiving) worthy of the name.

Long’s loving mash-up of Halloween and Thanksgiving elements makes for fun, if predictable, picture book success. Fangsgiving includes themes of family vs. friends, “ruined” holiday plans, and working collaboratively to save the day. Long livens up the text with monster puns that will delight adults, while children will love the slapstick humor and seeing familiar Halloween-staple paranormal creatures in a new context. It’s not scary, though there are some gross-out food combos that will make kids scream “yuck!”

The art is a huge highlight, with appealing nighttime scenes (they’re creatures who go bump in the night, after all!) done in dark purples (graphite pencil, colored digitally), funny sequences rendered with care, and fantastic details (like skull-printed potholders) on each page. Long gives every character googly eyes – even the spider hanging from the ceiling, and this only adds to the enjoyment. With monster-ific food prep depicted on almost every page, kids should have plenty of questions and opinions to share, especially about the vampire family’s idea of cuisine.

In all, Fangsgiving is a cute, lighthearted holiday tie-in picture book that will delight readers young and old, especially at group storytimes in October and November.

Recommended for: children ages 5-7, and for classroom, library, and bookshop storytimes.

my bed is an air balloon

When I was a little one, prime read-aloud hours were from 6-8am, when my mother read to us before the day truly started. Those are some of my favorite memories – the world not quite awake, snuggled in and listening to a story’s twists and turns. Now that I’m an adult I can see that my mom was bribing us to wake up with a story! And it worked. That said, I know that storytime for most families is at bedtime, and there’s a whole subset of picture books produced just for the end of the day. Julia Copus’ and Alison Jay’s My Bed is an Air Balloon is just such a bedtime tale, and its poetic flights of fancy will delight both parents and children.

my bed is an air balloon by julia copus, illustrated by alison jay cover
When night falls my bed is an air balloon.
I sail through the slipsiverse, close by the moon.
I float above treetops where fluttertufts are sleeping
And flowering hills where the whifflepigs go creeping;
Ponds strung with starlight that glitter like glass,
A floog with her velvet nose bent to the grass.
Such treasures I spy on! My bed in the trees
Swings me up high, like a circus trapeze.
Now the cool, night-rustling air
Slips through my finger-gaps, ripples my hair;
Now we glide over water, the moon’s silver light
Blown by a cloudpuff into the bight,
Adrift on the sea where the dream-shapes float;
When night falls my bed is a sailing boat.

A beautifully presented picture book with two front covers, the text can be read from front to back and vice versa. The mirror form poem meets in the middle in a stunning centerpiece image as the two children in the story (twins, one in an air balloon, the other a sailing boat) meet in the clouds!

My Bed is an Air Balloon imagines a world of nighttime travels and adventure, where children’s beds turn into air balloons and sailing boats, floating over a land full of whimsical imaginary creatures. Told in poem form that may be read front to back, or back to front, the format of the book will engage readers as much as the text, and prompt many requests for rereads.

Julia Copus’ poem employs wide-ranging vocabulary, invents new words for make-believe creatures, and charms with its lyricism and rhythm. It’s curious and at the same time lulling – reading through it twice (in different directions!) in the space of the book’s pages should encourage little listeners into dreams. The fantastical nature of the poem may also inspire further storytelling, as kids and adults alike discuss what a whifflepig or floog is, or how cloudpuff might live.

And the art! The art is truly a highlight. Alison Jay has taken the format and the poem and created gorgeous dream landscapes that fit this fanciful story. The book is a beautiful, dreamlike/real mash-up of the familiar and the imaginative with soft edges. The details are delicious, and each page has something to savor, be it boat slippers, floating teapots, or flying laundry. Jay’s art perfectly melds the bizarre and charming for dreamscapes we can identify with and wonder at, and on top of that it’s adorable.

In all, My Bed is an Air Balloon is a slightly strange and all the way wonderful picture book that’s destined to be a bedtime classic. I can’t wait to gift it to the little ones in my life.

Recommended for: bedtime reading for children ages 3-6, and anyone who likes fantastical picture books filled with exquisite art.

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

the language of spells

I, like almost every other reader in the known universe, can be swayed by a pretty book cover. And when a pretty book cover also happens to have the words “language” and “spells” in the title, and a DRAGON on it, well. Shut the front door, as the saying goes. I came in to the reading experience ready to love Garret Weyr’s middle grade fantasy The Language of Spells. I cried-at-the-end ADORED it.

the language of spells by garret weyr, illustrated by katie harnett cover
Grisha is a dragon in a world that’s forgotten how to see him. Maggie is a unusual child who thinks she’s perfectly ordinary. They’re an unlikely duo—but magic, like friendship, is funny. Sometimes it chooses those who might not look so likely. And magic has chosen Grisha and Maggie to solve the darkest mystery in Vienna. Decades ago, when World War II broke out, someone decided that there were too many dragons for all of them to be free. As they investigate, Grisha and Maggie ask the question everyone’s forgotten: Where have the missing dragons gone? And is there a way to save them? At once richly magical and tragically historical, The Language of Spells is a novel full of adventure about remembering old stories, forging new ones, and the transformative power of friendship.

Benevolentia Gaudium, or Grisha for short, is the youngest dragon alive, in a world where magic and dragons have become obsolete. Maggie (Anna Marguerite, properly) is a girl of eleven with a famous poet for a father and an even more famous, though dead, painter for a mother. Both Maggie and Grisha live in Vienna, and it is there that a friendship forms, a mystery unspools, and an adventure is undertaken. The Language of Spells is necessarily about magic, but it’s also a little bit about history, a lot about friendship, a smidgen about education, and a tiny bit about heartbreak. In other words, it is marvelous.

After reading the official summary I was under the mistaken impression that this book was about invisible dragons. It took me a few pages at the beginning to realize that that was *not* the case. No, instead it’s a coming of age story for both Grisha and Maggie, with a lot of fun dragon lore and magical creatures, historical bits, anecdotes about living in a hotel, and talking cats, among other delightful elements. It is (I would think) almost impossible not to fall in love with Maggie and Grisha. They’re very different characters, yet very kind to each other, and it has been too long since I read such a lovely portrait of friendship.

Theme-wise, The Language of Spells is about finding what is special or different about yourself and celebrating it (in Grisha’s case), making friends, and finding ways to solve problems and do the right thing (in Maggie’s case). It also has several fable-like messages woven in about judging people based on their “usefulness,” the innate dignity of rational beings, remembering the past, as well as some musings on freedom and happiness. It could have been quite complicated, but the author’s skill and touches of humor kept the tone cozy and the story moving.

As any good middle grade story is, this one is true (even if it does feature magic and dragons and talking cats), and at the same time absolutely heart-wrenching at the end. It’s the perfect read for a rainy day, with a cat at your feet and a mug of hot chocolate at hand. It’s also a great pick for a chapter-or-two-at-a-time storytime or bedtime, or independent reading for the 911-year-old crowd.

I can’t close out my review without mentioning the gorgeous art! At the beginning of each chapter there are illustrations by Katie Harnett (also the artist of the gorgeous cover!) which complement the text. The overall book design is just fabulous as well – the end papers, mustard-yellow boards, and gold foil on the dust jacket all make for a delightful keepsake of a book.

The Language of Spells has a timeless feel and quality to it, and is sure to earn a permanent spot on many shelves with its gentle, quiet brilliance.

Recommended for: fans of Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland books and Laura Ruby’s York, and anyone who likes cozy, imaginative books that are perfect for curling up with on wintery days.

Are you interested in other reviews of this book? Check out the TLC Book Tour! Or you can learn more via the author's websiteInstagramFacebook, or Twitter.

Fine print: I reviewed this book as part of a TLC blog tour. I did not receive any compensation for this post, and I bought my own copy of the book.
Newer Posts Older Posts Home