Holiday Gift Guide – Book Ideas for the Entire Family

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Every year Good Reads With Ronna selects a variety of gift books we think will make everyone in the family happy to receive. We hope you find something here or in one of our Christmas book roundups that will please a family member or friend this holiday season.


Crinkle, Crinkle, Little StarCrinkle Crinkle Little Star cover image
(A Read-and-Touch Bedtime Book)
Written by Justin Krasner
Illustrated by Emma Yarlett
(Workman Publishing; $12.95, Ages 1-4)

We’ve all at one time looked up at the sky at night and wished on the first star. Maybe it brought back the memory of the childhood song, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Perhaps as we got a bit older, someone pointed out the Big Dipper (Ursa Major), the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor), or even Orion’s Belt, and a sense of wonderment came over us.

Crinkle, Crinkle, Little Star, A Read-and-Touch Bedtime Book will engage and delight star-gazers young and old. It takes a beloved lullaby and turns it in to an opportunity to explore the constellations with even the youngest reader. This interactive board book is visually appealing with friendly-looking animals adorning the jewel-toned night skies and twinkling silver foil accents. Tiny fingers will enjoy the tactile and auditory experience as they trace their fingers over the crinkly foil in this beautiful Read-and-Touch Bedtime book. Not only is this a terrific holiday gift and ideal stocking stuffer, it’s a unique new baby gift as well.  • Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

A Little House Picture Book Treasury cover imageA Little House Picture Book Treasury:
Six Stories of Life on the Prairie
Written by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Illustrated by Renée Graef
(Harper; $24.99, Ages 4-8)

Adapted from the Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, this collection of My First Little House Books is beautifully packaged as A Little House Picture Book Treasury. What a  perfect introduction to the beloved stories so many of us know from either the long running television show or from the popular book series we read as children. Christmas is a great time to share the stories with the next generation who will be enchanted by tales from Wilder’s childhood in 19th century America.

These six pioneer stories include “A  Little Prairie House,” “Going to Town,” “County Fair,” “Sugar Snow,” “Winter Days in the Big Woods,” and “Christmas in the Big Woods.” Kids will enjoy meeting and getting to know Mary, Laura, Ma, Pa, baby sister Carrie and bulldog Jack as they begin a new life on the Wisconsin prairie. Youngsters will feel Laura’s excitement visiting a nearby town and entering its general store. They’ll experience a county fair along with Almanzo (Laura’s future husband) where he enters a pumpkin competition. Children will learn what it was like to grow up in a log cabin without all the conveniences we have today, a time when getting maple syrup meant collecting it in wooden buckets from maple trees. And not a day went by without some kind of chore needing to be done, especially before winter set in. Pa would tell stories or play his fiddle as the family gathered around the fire and it seemed like Ma was always cooking something delicious that the girls could help her with. But at Christmastime, when the cousins would visit, it was time to play hard then fall fast asleep, rising early to check “what was in their stockings. In every stocking was a pair of bright red mittens and a stick of red-and-white-striped peppermint candy.” Life’s simple pleasures pop off the pages with Graef’s stunning illustrations that were inspired by the original artwork of Garth Williams. Keep this special volume to cherish year round.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Novel Effect Story Time App for Children website imageNovel Effect:
Story Time and Sound Effects App for Children’s Books
(, Ages 0+)
As Seen on Shark Tank

Novel Effect Story Time App Book Choices imageWhat a clever and easy new way to enjoy reading together with your kids! Using the Novel Effect app adds another layer of interactiveness to enhance the story time experience. Music and sounds follow along as you read out loud from your favorite kid’s books. Getting started is easy. I know because I’ve downloaded the free app and tried several of the stories I was provided to sample as a reviewer including Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey by Emily Winfield Martin. I found the experience quite magical. I just have to wait to be grandmother to take advantage of it.

Here’s how it works. First download the free app, watch the video and then try out the sample story included. After that you can go ahead and choose a book from Novel Effect’s library or use the search feature to find the book you want to read. “Be sure to have your own copy of the book ready to go!” Once you’ve chosen your book’s cover image, you simply tap “Read Book.” A new black box will appear at the top of your screen. You should see lines in this box squiggle, indicating the system can hear you. “Now you are ready to read your physical book out loud (you do not have to hit any buttons),” says Novel Effect CMO Carmela Orsini, Esq. “Our technology will respond to what you read with sound effects and music, based on what words/where you are in the book, so feel free to jump around in the story!” That was really the most amazing part of this technology and it worked beautifully.

Novel Effect Story Time App How it Works imageFor a really immersive experience, the company recommends using bluetooth speakers to help make you feel like you’re in the story. According to Orsini, the Novel Effect app works with physical or e-books, and they’ve built an impressive library of books that many families and schools already have on their shelf (as well as some fun new titles to explore). “However,” adds Orsini, “we do include three free e-books in the app so that everyone can enjoy reading with us even without a book.” Those are The Tale of Peter Rabbit , The Night Before Christmas, and The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. Novel Effect currently has plans to expand these free e-book offerings through their existing publisher partnerships and by adding additional public domain titles. Novel Effect has partnered with well known publishing companies including Hachette Book Group, and well-known authors like Todd Parr, R. L. Stine, Ame Dyckman and Jane Yolen in a library that includes over 100 titles to charm even the pickiest of readers. In addition to availability on the iPhone, use the app with iPad, and iPod Touch from the App Store.

Novel Effect’s smart voice recognition stays in sync with your reading style, if you skip ahead or read a favorite part again. Impressive, right? I don’t know how they do it, but as long as it does the job  while entertaining and inspiring youngsters, what’s not to love?! Custom composed music and sounds treat each story with care to honor the spirit and tone of every cherished book. I thought it worked extremely well in Dream Animals and and Duck! Rabbit!  Novel Effect offers a monthly Book Club. For $25 a month you receive two paperbacks or three board books to read along to. Give it as a gift and spark a lifetime love of reading. Visit the website here for more details.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Rocket: A Journey Through the Pages Book cover imageRocket: A Journey Through the Pages Book
Written by Mike Vago
Illustrated by Matt Rockefeller
(Workman Publishing; $22.95, Ages 4-8)

Parents, this sturdy, imaginative and interactive new board book is great for gifting to your little space enthusiast. They’ll find it hard to resist helping the three dimensional plastic rocket zoom “on an internal track from front to back, up and over the pages.” Not only is it easily detachable and attachable, it’s able to function on its own to explore our solar system and travel through wormholes as an added bonus. The illustrated spreads are colored in vibrant hues and the text is rhyming and upbeat. However, I do recommend Rocket for the 4-6 year old age group because 7-8 year olds can appreciate a more sophisticated story. That said, it doesn’t mean any older child won’t enthusiastically join in play when a younger sibling takes out the book because I have a strong feeling they will. Visit the Workman website to see sample pages from this engaging book that I’m hoping will be the first of many more Journey Through the Pages books.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

50 Cities of the U.S.A. cover art50 Cities of the U.S.A.:
Explore America’s cities with 50 fact-filled maps

Written and researched by Gabrielle Balkan
Illustrated by Sol Linero
(Wide Eyed Editions; $30, Ages 7-10)

From Anchorage to Washington, D.C. and lots more in-between, 50 Cities of the U.S.A. is a feast for the eyes and intellect of any map and facts fan. This delightful book is a terrific new addition from the team that created the best-seller, The 50 States. In 112 colorful pages packed with over 2,000 facts, Balkan takes us across the country in alphabetical rather than geographical order. Not a page from the end papers onwards is wasted when there is so much info to impart. Starting with the helpful two page introduction which explains how to use the book, it’s easy to see why young readers will be inspired to return again and again to discover more interesting details about these cities. The book is unique in that it focuses on many different aspects of a city, from streets, neighborhoods, inspiring people, industries, experiences and nature spots. “We want this book to be the key that unlocks the door of your imagination, and makes you curious to travel further.” I particularly like the brief Welcome box provided for each city and love that it offers names of books to read that were written by city natives or take place there. The back matter features several pages of additional cities to visit, an index, a resource guide and a cool Can You Find spread to test your observation skills. While 50 Cities of the U.S.A. is a children’s book, adults will no doubt find it fun to get lost in the pages as well.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Bet You Didn't Know from NatGeoKids Cover ImageBet You Didn’t Know!: Fascinating, Far-out,
Fun-tastic Facts
(National Geographic Kids; $19.99, Ages 8-12)

The best thing about National Geographic Kids books is that they are consistently top quality, full of entertaining and enlightening info for children, and the photography is fabulous. This volume just begs to be taken on the road with families this holiday so no one ever runs out of conversation material. Whether you seek Bizarre Facts About the Human Body or Mind Bending Facts About the Brain, Cool Facts About Castles or Ultracool Facts About the Unseen World, the NatGeo editors know just what weird, wild and wacky info satisfies tween reader. From an outhouse race in Anchorage, Alaska to an English Breakfast Hat at Ascot in England, no far-out fact has been overlooked. Our family has been reading these types of books for years and I am constantly amazed how much new material can be found and how learning all this seemingly silly stuff just never gets old. I imagine books like this one can help future Jeopardy players increase their overall knowledge. See sample pages here.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


The Faerie Handbook cover imageThe Faerie Handbook: An Enchanting Compendium
of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects
by the Editors of Faerie Magazine
(Harper Design; $35.00, Ages 14+)

This stunning anthology appropriately covered in purple with silver accents will appeal to long time faerie lovers as well as anyone seeking to connect for the first time with their inner faerie. The 240 silver-edged pages are divided up into four parts: Flora & Fauna, Fashion & Beauty, Arts & Culture, and Home, Food & Entertaining. User friendly, The Faerie Handbook can be read in order, section by section, or according to one’s fancy. The artwork alone makes this book gift worthy so that when coupled with the captivating content, it’s a treasure to truly cherish! Be sure to put a bookplate in your copy if you plan to lend it to a friend. Its very presence is enticing and you want to be sure it gets returned.

interior photograph of fairy house from The Faerie HandbookCurious about fairy clothing, fairy houses, or how to make a fairy terrarium, fairy dust, fairy crown, or fairy tea cakes and tarts? It’s all in here. Wondering how and where to find faeries? That’s in here, too. In fact A Gardener’s Guide to Fairy Husbandry and also Fairy Portals and Pathways were two of my favorite chapters. When we lived in London, my daughter would leave notes for the faeries in our garden and on many occasions she would receive notes back from them, written in a golden script on gossamer-like paper. Maybe woodland creatures who interact with faeries intrigue you or perhaps you want to learn more about various fairy legends? Well, the editors of Faerie Magazine will not Int photo Midsummer Night's Dream party The Faerie Handbooklet you down.

I definitely could have used this book when planning my wedding, especially since all kinds of edible flowers were explained and that’s something unique I wanted to serve to guests. As a Cicely Mary Barker Flower Fairy devotee, I chose to have nasturtium appetizers at my reception. The centerpieces were Victorian-style topiaries, suitable accommodations for even the most discriminating of faeries.

Another chapter delves into the infamous The Cottingley Fairy Hoax That’s when two young girls claiming to have photographed faeries in Cottingley, England managed to get even the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wondering about their authenticity. The book ends with acknowledgements, resources, a bibliography, plus photo and illustration credits. Comprehensive and engrossing, The Faerie Handbook might just make a believer of the most hardened skeptic in your life. Enjoy!  Click here to read a sample.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part One

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part Two

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part Three












The Dog’s Guide to Your Happiness for International Day of Happiness

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Seven Secrets for a Better Life From Man’s Best Friend
by Garry McDaniel & Sharon Massen
(Lumina Media; $19.99, also available as an eBook)


cover image from The Dog's Guide to Your Happiness


In addition to being the first day of spring, today is International Day of Happiness! Motivational speaker and author Garry McDaniel shares his Five Tips for a Happy Life from Man’s Best Friend based on his new book, The Dog’s Guide to Your Happiness.

Five Tips for a Happy Life from Man’s Best Friend

Ask anyone what their goal is in life and their answer will probably be, “To be happy.”

If our dogs could talk, they would share five reasons we can improve our happiness through their example. Here is a brief summary of what they would say.

1. “You can count on me.”

When we ask pet owners what they admire most about their dog, loyalty is usually first on the list. Loyalty is the confidence that you can count on others to be true to you and do the right thing even if it is difficult and even if you are not present. Dogs are loyal to their pack and display amazing loyalty to their owners. So Tip # 1 on the list of things we can do to increase our own happiness is to ensure we are loyal so we strengthen our relationships with others.

2. “Tell me your problems.”
Dogs are among the best listeners ever! You can spend hours talking to your dog and he or she will hang on every word. This is not usually the case for our friends, associates, or even family members. Tip # 2 then, is to take time to listen to others and make sure you understand what they have to say before you share your point of view.

3. “Let’s play!”
One of the best things about dogs is their curiosity and desire to play. Tip # 3- step outside of your daily routine, take the dog out for a walk, and pledge to have at least one experience a week that is just plain ‘fun’.

4. “I forgive you.”
Even if you come home late, skip a walk, run out of their favorite treat, or accidently step on their tail, your dog will not hold a grudge against you. Humans, on the other hand, can hold on to real or imagined insults forever! All this does is create stress and keep us from moving on with our lives. Tip # 4 – let go of bitterness and resentment toward yourself or others.

5. “I love you no matter what.”
Our work environment and educational system are based on the carrot and stick; “do this for me and I’ll give you that.” Unfortunately, this approach often carries over to our relationships and we begin to place conditions on our affections with others. Dogs love you whether you are young, old, rich, poor, fat, skinny, covered with hair or bald as they come. Tip # 5 – love with an open heart and expect nothing from others in return for giving yours.

Garry McDaniel and Sharon Massen speak nationally on what individuals and organizations can learn from dogs about leadership, team building, and customer service. Their book is The Dog’s Guide to Your Happiness: Seven Secrets for a Better Life from Man’s Best Friend.

Garry McDaniel is an award-winning professor teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in business management. McDaniel has written books on leadership strategy, con ict management, and is a frequent speaker in the United States and internationally on topics such as leadership development, employee engagement, personal and organizational change, life balance, and what humans and businesses can learn from dogs to improve their lives. He is currently available to discuss personal life coaching, training, or speaking engagements.

Funny Food Made Easy Puts Creative Meals at Your Fingertips

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Funny Food Made Easy:
Creative, Fun, & Healthy Breakfasts, Lunches, & Snacks
by Bill and Claire Wurtzel
(Welcome Books; $19.95)


Funny Food Made Easy: Creative, Fun, & Healthy Breakfasts, Lunches, & Snacks book cover



Funny Food Made Easy is an entertaining book and sure to be one for both the coffee table and kitchen table! It’s beautiful and fun at the same time. I must say that Bill and Claire Wurtzel are extremely creative with simple ingredients. They can make broccoli look like a poodle dog or fried eggs with cheese look like a cute couple holding hands. They show you how you can make whimsical items and people out of cut watermelon or pineapple as well as oatmeal with a bit of raisins and sliced apples. They offer plenty of suggestions for variations but show a lot of step by step instructions too. Basically the title says it all.

I recently had some of my kids’ friends over and these 7-10 year olds were having the best reactions with the book. They would say, “Oh, that’s so cool!” one minute, to “Eww, I don’t think I want to eat that, but it looks neat,” to “I wish I could make that!” Sometimes they just laughed out loud delighting in devouring page after page of neat faces and food art displayed in this extremely original book, a companion to the always popular Funny Food from 2012. It was such fun to watch the kids enjoying the book so much!

Funny Foods Made Easy has very simple and healthy ingredients and the authors have put a lot of time and attention into detail. They have suggestions and instructions how to have your own funny food workshop and it seems like a great idea for kids and their parents. While you may remember your parents telling you not to play with your food, this book encourages lots of play with food. After seeing the array of all you can do with your meals and snacks, you may never look at toast the same way again!

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch


Coloring Books To Brighten Everyone’s Christmas

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Juli Barry’s dipped into them all and has this to say:

Christmas to Color
by Mary Tanana
(HarperCollins; $15.99, Ages 4 and up)

ChristmastoColorcvr_Looking for a way to keep the peace during holiday gatherings? Or do you need a way to get those eternally bored teens to put down the phone and interact with family members?  Try gathering those cousins around a table and color together! Mary Tanana’s Christmas to Color provides ultra-attractive, over-sized pages of beautiful Christmas scenes to tempt even the grouchiest Grinches of the family! Snowflakes, wreaths, ornaments in detail, and so many other festive designs are sure to add amusement to any family gathering. Tanana cleverly draws some designs that can be cut out and placed in outlined areas on facing pages. “Trim” an intricately decorated tree with colored pens or pencils, then place it in the blank center of a background of poinsettias and mistletoe. Or have the relatives color any of the pages of sleds or stockings, animals and stars and so much more, to create a collage of everyone’s work.


Bright and cheery stocking colored by Juli Barry from artwork in Christimas to Color by Mary Tanana, HarperCollins, ©2015.


Twinkling toppers colored by Juli Barry from artwork in Christimas to Color by Mary Tanana, HarperCollins, ©2015.










IHeartColoringFlowers.jpgColoring books are all the rage this year and they come in every size and theme. Lizzie Preston and Jane Ryder-Gray, Jess Bradley, and Felicity French all illustrate a new, smaller (6” X 6”) coloring book series appropriately entitled I Heart Coloring … These make great stocking stuffers and provide fun distractions during those holiday trips in planes, trains, and autos. Specifically, I Heart Coloring Flowers with artwork by Preston and Ryder-Gray includes intricate floral patterns and challenging motifs as well as lighter fare for those just starting out. You can mat and frame your completed pages and give them as presents, or cut out particular flowers and add them to hand-made cards. Use now or save for Valentine’s Day or Easter.

TheNeonColoringBookCheck out the bold, over-sized The Neon Coloring Book with its hints of neon orange and pink adorning pages of animals, skateboards (!!) and other funky objects. Black or neon-colored backgrounds radiate other pages of delights to color. So buy a pack or two of neon markers and join in the fun! Coloring provides both a quiet way to interact with loved ones and a creative break from all the work and stress of the holidays. And Price Stern Sloan has a tempting array of coloring books sure to brighten everyone’s day!



I Heart Coloring
by Felicity French
I Heart Cute Coloring
by Jess Bradley

I Heart Coloring Flowers
by Lizzie Preston and Jane Ryder-Gray

(Price Stern Sloane; $9.99 each, Ages 10 and up)

The Neon Coloring Book
by Richard Merritt, Amanda Hillier, and Felicity French
(Price Stern Sloane; $12.99, Ages 5-8)


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Good Reads With Ronna is proud to be an IndieBookstores Affiliate. Doing so provides a means for sites like ours to occasionally earn modest fees that help pay for our time, mailing expenses, giveaway costs and other blog related expenses. If you click on an IndieBound link in a post and buy anything, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase supports our efforts and tells us you like the service we’re providing with our reviews, and for that we sincerely thank you.

Best Hanukkah Books Roundup

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Hanukkah arrives early again this year and so it’s time for our annual Hannukah books roundup featuring our faves for you to share with your children. All these books make great gifts, too, so why not give the gift of a wonderful story?

NonnasHanukkahSurprise by Karen Fisman with illustrations by Martha Avilés (Kar-Ben; $17.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback, Ages 3-8)
This simple, seemingly straightforward Hanukkah story of girl gets Hanukkah Menorah (aka hanukkiyah), girl loses Hanukkah Menorah, girl gets new Hanukkah Menorah has several super, smile-producing twists. For one thing, Rachel’s haukkiyah is made up of 9 female Maccabees instead of males, and this year, Rachel’s Hanukkah celebration will be away from home, with Nonna, her Italian grandma. I love how Fisman’s put a 21st century spin on this charming Hanukkah tale of today’s typical blended family where one parent is Jewish and the other is not.  Rachel worries she won’t be celebrating Hanukkah at Nonna’s who celebrates Christmas, but her mom’s made sure to bring everything along including dreidels, candles, and traditional Hanukkah gelt so that the Festival of Lights will be just like at home. But when Rachel leaves her Maccabees menorah on the airplane, it’s Nonna and her sweet surprise that saves the day in this heartwarming tale of acceptance, respect, and a grandma’s love that knows no religion, only devotion to her granddaughter.

IS IT HANUKKAH YET?IsItHanukkahYet by Chris Barash with illustrations by Alessandra Psacharopulo
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Like its predecessor, Is it Passover Yet?, Is it Hanukkah Yet? in under 200 words, successfully creates a holiday mood with its festive artwork and joyous tale. This picture book opens with a snowy scene of nature.
“When frosty winds blow and snow’s all around
And there’s no sign of green on the trees or the ground.
Hanukkah is on its way.”
Barash and Psacharopulo take us from the bucolic outdoors as animals gear up for the long winter to the indoors as a family makes their preparations for the arrival of family, friends and the joyous eight night long celebration of Hanukkah. From stirring, frying and baking traditional Haunkkah foods, to the lighting of colored candles “When the blessings are said and the first candles glow” to the singing of songs and playing dreidel, the small pleasures of the beloved Festival of Lights can be found and enjoyed on every page of this lovely book.


HANUKKAH IS COMING! by Tracy Newman with illustrations by Viviana Garofoli
(Kar-Ben; $5.99, Ages 1-4)
From Hanukkah is coming! to Hurray! Hanukkah is here!, this 12 page board book with its gentle rhyme and repeating phrase, serves as a perfect introduction to the holiday for young children and builds anticipation. A brother, sister and silly dog mention all the special things they love and look forward to about Hanukkah. Whether it’s cooking latkes that “Hiss, sizzle, pop,” or spinning the dreidel with its nun, gimel, hay and shin, Hanukkah is coming and that’s something to get excited about!


SammySpidersfirstTasteof Hanukkah

 by Sylvia A. Rouss and Genene Levy Turndorf with illustrations by Katherine Janus Kahn
(Kar-Ben; $16.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback, Ages 2-8)
Making his 15th appearance, “Sammy Spider dangled from his web as Mr. Shapiro told Josh the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil.” While spiders don’t celebrate the holiday,  Sammy could certainly watch as all the cooking began! In this latest installation of the anthropomorphic arachnid, we get a helpful intro, and recipes divided into sections of Simple Snacks, Miracle Meals (LOVE the Maccabee and Cheese), Tasty Treats (check out Melt-in-Your-Mouth Menorahs), Crafty Ideas (salt dough Hanukkah decorations are a personal fave) plus a section on Lighting the Menorah and Hanukkah Blessings. This is a terrific hands-on book for families this holiday season and definitely one to hang onto for years to come.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel #Readukkah

Shop Indie Bookstores

Good Reads With Ronna is proud to be an IndieBookstores Affiliate. Doing so provides a means for sites like ours to occasionally earn modest fees that help pay for our time, mailing expenses, giveaway costs and other blog related expenses. If you click on an IndieBound link in a post and buy anything, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase supports our efforts and tells us you like the service we’re providing with our reviews, and for that we sincerely thank you.

Parenting is Easy by Sara Given Plus a Giveaway!

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Written by Sara Given
(Workman Publishing, $10.95)

A Review & Giveaway!

ParentingisEasycvr Parenting is Easy: You’re Probably Just Doing it Wrong is one of those books you need to keep on hand to lift your spirits when you feel you’ve been doing too much laundry, chauffeuring too many kids, or cleaning up too many messes. It’s certain to bring loads of smiles and laugh out loud moments this holiday season (and year round) to lots of people on your gift list. And, at a little over 6″ x 6″ in size, it’ll easily stuff into stockings or make a delightful diaper cake topper for any baby shower! That’s if you don’t throw it at someone looking a little too well-dressed, a little too composed or a little too, well, perfect, first!!


Interior image from PARENTING IS EASY by Sara Given, Workman Publishing ©2015.

If you know someone raising kids, whether those kids are bloomered little cruisers, or skinny jean sporting teens asking for the car keys, there’s something in Parenting is Easy they’ll be able to relate to. My two may already be 14 and 21 years old, but I still can’t get the grin off my face when reading about pregnancy or bringing the baby home as covered in chapters one and two!  In just five fab chapters (Perfecting Pregnancy, Bringing Home Baby, Enjoying Toddlerhood, Breezing Through the School-Aged Years, and Living the Good Life) plus a dynamite intro, Given takes us on a super satisfying, tongue-in-cheek journey through parenthood by using stock advertising photos of idealized families, new moms, new dads, couples and kids that resemble NOTHING like the families, new moms, new dads, couples and kids we know. In fact, that’s what prompted Given to post a picture with a sarcastic, spot on caption that went viral (see page 66). You may even already be familiar with Given from her popular Tumblr blog, “It’s Like They Know Us.”

To give you an idea of what to expect, here’s the blurb from the back of the book cover:

“Finally, a book that proves that pregnancy is glamorous, toddlers enjoy sitting patiently, teens love when their parents dance in public, and the best place to breast-feed is on a golf course.”

Right from the start you know you’re in for some side splitting entertainment beginning with the first chapter, Perfecting Pregnancy. We’re told by Given that “Pregnancy is the first of many opportunities you will have to be absolutely confident in every decision you make for your child!” Love that humor? I sure do so when I saw the picture of two stunning, sun-dressed pregnant women strolling and the caption read …

“I just peed a little when I laughed!”
“That’s okay, I just farted. Let’s keep walking.”

… I knew I had a winner in my hands. And the best part was sitting down alongside my husband seeing who could find THE picture that showed a parenting situation that could no way, shape or form ever occur on this planet. His pick – the one of a boy choosing to eat a healthy after school snack and hang out with his mom over playing Xbox with his buddy, Isaac. I mean, wouldn’t your child do the same?


Interior image from PARENTING IS EASY by Sara Given, Workman Publishing ©2015.

I also enjoyed how Given cleverly included one or two page guides for each chapter such as Chapter One’s Eating Healthily While Pregnant with kale being in both the Eat and Avoid columns!  In Chapter Two Given answers the age old question Why Isn’t Baby Sleeping?  We learn what could be keeping baby up at night is anxiety over the skyrocketing cost of college tuition. There’s also handy breast-feeding info, Dealing With Common Toddler Behaviors, advice on Mediating Conflicts With Your Teen and lots more.


Interior image from PARENTING IS EASY by Sara Given, Workman Publishing ©2015.

So if spending time hearing about everyone’s marvelous life on Facebook has got you pulling out hair, check out the smiley, happy people in Given’s book for a good, honest laugh because her captions are brilliant and her take on perfection includes countless references to white carpet, clothing and furniture which never failed to crack me up. Enter now for your chance to win a copy and buy extra books to give friends. See for yourself just how right Given gets it and then let me know which pictures and captions were your faves.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mande

    ENTER OUR GIVEAWAY: WIN 1 COPY OF SARA GIVEN’S NEW BOOK!! Plus, if you follow us on Facebook and let us know in the comments below, we’ll give you an extra entry. Follow us on Instagram and get an additional entry, too. Good luck!

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Off the Bookshelf Coloring Book by Samarra Khaja

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45+ Weirdly Wonderful Designs to Color
for Fun & Relaxation

Illustrated by Samarra Khaja
(C&T Publishing; $14.95, Adults)


Forget the meditation. Pick up a marker or two!

It’s Quirky! It’s Funky! It’s just waiting for your Imagination! You can’t help but smile as you browse through the new coloring book Off the Bookshelf.

Samarra Khaja — mother, artist, designer, photographer, art director, seamstress…and now, coloring consultant — has added to the re-vitalized mania of coloring books for Adults. Khaja combines the highbrow with the high flyin’ (check out the flying pigs page) to taunt your silly side. She practically dares you to go wild with your imagination just by tapping into hers. So take out those Prismacolors, markers or even watercolors, find yourself a cozy corner and pick out a page!

Interior Artwork Off The Bookshelf

Interior artwork from Off the Bookshelf Coloring Book: 45+ Weirdly Wonderful Designs to Color for Fun & Relaxation by Samarra Khaja, C&T Publishing ©2015 that has been partially colored in by Dr. Juli Barry.


I love attention to detail which Off the Bookshelf presents through a variety of topics and themes. The Bookshelf pages provide plenty of fine-line coloring attention on the book spines as well as amusing and intricate tchotchkes mixed among the stacks. Pages of architectural details also provide challenges and choices for the color enthusiast. Talk about attention to detail! Take out your .2 or .3 fineliners here, Artistes!

Khaja plays with myth and make-believe and creates wacky combinations of the everyday to make every page an adventure.   This book is my first venture into coloring maps — of New York City, Paul Bunyan’s travels and more — and I look forward to finally designing my very own car color as well as remembering or re-learning the monuments of the U.S. Arrangements of cultural artifacts are also guaranteed to inspire and amuse! Totems, garden tools and things that go flash and pop (cameras, speakers, cassettes — is that an 8-track in the corner?) allow the mind to wander through a rainbow possibilities.

Off the Bookshelf also devotes pages to animals, both real and imagined. There’s a hilarious page of “rabbit mice” (they have rabbit ears and long tails!) fanning themselves or bowling!!? and many other truly fun critters in this playful menagerie. Khaja’s owl in the Beats and striped t-shirt is just waiting for you to get out your Prismatics and pens! Off the Bookshelf Coloring Book would also be a great introductory gift for those friends who think our new obsession is a bit, well, “Off the Charts.” And don’t forget to include a pack of starter pens (preferably the ones that glitter) to get those skeptics happily coloring alongside you!

  • Reviewed by Dr. Juli Barry, an L.A. local, who has her Ph.D in 20th century American fiction.