Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Does Your Son Hate Reading?

Does your son hate to read? Mine does, or so he claims. I don't believe him. Even if I did believe him (which I don't), I wouldn't accept it. Instead, I look for ways to trick him into wanting to read.

One of my favorite strategies is to read the newspaper within earshot of my son. I don't read quietly. I frequently burst out with a shocked "I do not believe it!" or "You have got to be kidding me!" Before I know it, the newspaper has been ripped out of my hands so that my son can satisfy his curiosity.

Newspaper headline writers are professionals at grabbing the attention of their readers, and they are very skilled at their trade. I take advantage of their talent by enthusiastically reading their headlines out loud. For example, SUV nearly slams into elephant--in Oklahoma and Buffalo Grove teen calls cops after parents take away Xbox appeared in the Daily Herald recently. Two of my favorites from the Chicago Sun-Times include Ancient crocs ate dinosaurs and Judge makes boy give up Wii system to make bail.

All of these headlines caught my eye, and made it to my son's ear. What boy wouldn't want to know more? My son was interested enough to read the articles himself, even though he "hates" to read. He didn't even realize he had been outsmarted by his mother.

Encouraging a reluctant reader is challenging, but it can be done. Parents who model reading have a big influence on their children, so pick up something interesting to read and let your children watch you having fun.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's Snowing...

While my family celebrates, we spend most of December watching the movie and hoping for a 'White Christmas'. Whatever you celebrate, usually most of December, January, and February are spent doing the following: parents hoping and praying for a lack of snow to make easier commutes and less shoveling, and children hoping and praying for the opposite in the hopes that a snow day might be called.

Well, I am looking outside right now and with two days left, it looks promising, but we will see. In the meantime, I have compiled a list of a few books you can share with your family... grab some cups of hot cocoa and snuggle up under the blankets as you read along about some snowy situations.

Snow! Snow! Snow! by Lee Harper
Chaucer's First Winter by Stephen Krensky
Snow Day by Lester Laminack
Snowy Blowy Winter by Bob Raczka
Snow by Cynthia Rylant
All You Need for a Snowman by Alice Schertle
Winter is the Warmest Season by Lauren Stringer

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Cookie Experience Trilogy, Post 3: Cookie Favorites

Keep up the Cookie Baking Spirit! Are you scheduled to bring cookies to many gatherings over the upcoming holidays? Perhaps as many as 10 dozen or more? Don't become overwhelmed. Tune in to the holiday music, preheat the oven, bring out your favorite cookie recipes, and remember, "tis the season to bake cookies!" Your children can join in the fun and help you. If you are looking for some new holiday cookie recipe ideas, here are a few of our favorites to consider trying.

Hershey Kiss Cookies (One of Judy's favorites)

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
30 HERSHEY'S KISSES Brand Milk Chocolates
1/2 cup ground almonds, pecans or walnuts

1. Beat butter, sugar, egg and vanilla in medium bowl until well blended. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; add to butter mixture, beating well. If necessary refrigerate dough until firm enough to handle.
2. Remove wrappers from chocolate pieces. Heat oven to 350°F. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll in ground nuts. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.
3. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until almost no imprint remains when touched lightly in center. Remove from oven; immediately press a chocolate piece into center of each cookie. Carefully remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. Chocolate should be set before storing. About 2-1/2 dozen cookies.

Another favorite holiday cookie recipe of Judy's that can be found online is the classic Candy Cane Cookie recipe from Betty Crocker. Judy also recommends the Vegan Clementine Cookie. A delicious cookie recipe which is being shared for this post by the Vegetarian Librarian (Judy's daughter).

Vegan Clementine Cookies

7/8 cup vegan shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbs. vanilla
Egg Substitute, the equivalent of 2 eggs
2 cups flour
2/3 cup cornmeal
1/4 tsp. salt

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
the juice and zest of 2 clementine oranges
Combine dry ingredients in medium sized bowl, set aside. Cream shortening, vanilla and sugar with an electric hand mixer in large bowl. In separate bowl, use electric hand mixer to whip 3 tsp. of egg substitute with 4 tbs. of water until frothy. Add egg substitute mixture to shortening mixture. When combined, gradually add dry ingredients. Drop on ungreased cookie sheet by rounded teaspoons.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 - 14 minutes, until the bottoms begin to brown. Cool on wire rack.

Combine ingredients for the glaze, adding extra powdered sugar if too thin. Dip tops in glaze and let set on wire rack. Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies.

Now for some favorites from Liz:

Rogaliki (literally meaning little horns because of the cookie's crescent shape)

1 cup milk, lukewarm
1 cup butter, melted
2 pkgs of dry yeast
1 egg
1 egg for egg wash
4 cups of flour
Jam filling (I like the solo brand almond or raspberry cake and pastry filling or thick jam)

Dissolve 2 pkg dry yeast in 1/2 cup of lukewarm milk. Let rest for 10 minutes. Sift flour into bowl. Add yeat mixture, remaining milk, 1 egg (beat with fork before adding), 1 cup of melted butter. Mix to form dough. Remove dough from bowl and divide up, shaping into 4 balls. Cover each part with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Take out one piece at a time and roll out into about 1/4" thick circle on floured surface. Start at the center and cut into eight triangles (like slicing a pie). At base of each triangle, place a teaspoonful of filling and roll up towards peak. Arrange on lightly greased baking sheet, bend the ends towards each other, to create the crescent shape. Take the remiaing egg and beat with fork. Brush rogaliki with egg. Allow to rest for dough to rise a little. Bake at 350 degrees F until golden brown. Yummy!

Pierniki (honey-spice cookies, similar to gingerbread cookies)
Recipe from: The Polish Country Kitchen Cookbook

Since the middle ages, the polish city of Torun has been famous for its baking of honey-spice cookies and cakes. Traditionally, the unbaked dough should rest for weeks to yield the most flavorful cookie. The dough would be prepared around the feasts of St. Andrew (November 29) or St. Lucy (December 13) and then baked on Christmas Day. Presently, this cookie is also popular for the feast of Saint Nicolas (December 6). There are many versions of the traditional recipe, some including ginger.

2 cups of flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t cloves
2 T butter
1 egg
3 T sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 egg yolk
30 whole almonds

Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and set aside. In a large mixer, beat butter with egg, sugar, honey until blended. Add flour mixture and beat until combined. Cover and chill overnight. Next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. On a light floured surface, roll out half the dough at a time to 1/8 inch thickness. Keep remaining dough chilled. Cut with cookie cutters or a glass. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet. Lightly brush cookies with beaten egg yolk. Press 1 almond into center of each cookie. Bake 8-10 minutes. If desired, use a drinking straw to make a ¼ inch hole near the top of the cookies before baking. After baking and cooling, thread ribbon through the hole and tie a bow or make a loop for a tree ornament. Also, icing or glazes can be used for decorating these cookies. My favorite is Nutella!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Cookie Experience Trilogy, Post 2: Give the gift of cookies

Does thinking about holiday gift exchanges with family and friends make you wish that you could blink and gifts would be magically sitting right in front of your eyes just waiting to be delivered?

With today's economy making money tight for many right now, a good gift suggestion that costs little but is always received with much appreciation is homemade cookies! Taking the time to bake cookies for somebody to enjoy is a thoughtful, relatively inexpensive way to say "Happy Holidays."

One way to have fun while creating the cookies for gifts is to plan a party and invite an eager group of cookie bakers to attend.

A great book that gives suggestions on how to host a cookie party as well as providing good recipes and information on how to package cookies for gift giving is The Greatest Cookies Ever by Rose Dunnington. Two other excellent choices for recipes to try are Batter Up Kids : Delicious Desserts by Barbara Beery as well as Bake and Make Amazing Cookies by Elizabeth MacLeod.

A great website with recipes that kids can help with is The Best Christmas Cookie Recipes Ever.

Coming up soon in the third part of the Cookie Experience Trilogy we will share our favorite cookie recipes with you!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Festivals of Light

Every year from June to December, the hours of sunlight become fewer and fewer. The shortest day of the year, called the Winter Solstice, will be December 21st. Ancient peoples around the world were fearful of the winter cold, but they knew that the sun would slowly grow stronger after this wintery day. They celebrated the sun's gradual return by focusing the sun's rays, lighting huge bonfires, and placing lighted candles in trees. Is it any wonder that so many of the holidays we celebrate every December are also filled with lights?

Today, December 11th at sunset, Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, begins. Families use the center or shamash candle to light one additional candle on the menorah every night for eight nights, as they remember how their ancestors kept the temple flame burning for eight nights with only one day's oil. On December 13th, children in Sweden and Italy celebrate the Festival of St. Lucia. Young girls wearing lighted candle wreaths on their heads are led from house to house by star boys with lighted wands. Las Posadas begins December 16th and lasts nine days until Christmas Eve for families from Mexico. A family travelling in a posada or procession with lighted lanterns and candles knocks on doors to ask for room at the inn for Mary and Joseph.

When they are finally invited in, there is a community singing, and a celebration with food and pinatas. December 24th-25th most Christians around the world begin to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus by attending candlelit church services. Stars are placed on top of Christmas trees, and homes are decorated with multicolored lights. The holiday continues until January 6th, Three Kings' Day. In other countries, this celebration happens on January 7th-13th due to a different religious calendar. Kwanzaa, an African-American celebration from December 26th to December 31st is marked by lighting seven candles on a kinara to remind families of seven important principles or ideas that are part of their heritage from their African ancestors.

As families, we all have customs and traditions that have been handed down for many generations. Most of these holiday celebrations probably include lights in some way. Will you share the reasons for your holiday lights with your children, as well as those you have read about today? And please join us in the Storytime Room this Monday night December 14th at 7:00 pm to continue learning and celebrating in story and song these holiday Festivals of Light.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Cookie Experience Trilogy, Post 1: Teaching Values

One of many favorite Christmas memories has been baking with my mom and grandma. I can close my eyes and remember the warm kitchen, mixing and kneading doughs, and of course the sweet aroma of spices as the wait continues for the first bite. Every year, especially at Christmastime, we took the time to bake my favorites: of course sugar cookies (the decorating possibilities are endless) and also a mix of Polish cookies- jam filled, chrusty, poppyseed and kolaczki to name a few.

And so, when I first saw the cover of Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons by Amy Rosenthal I had to take a peak...and I loved every bite or I should say page of it!

This book is a sweet surprise in that there are no recipes; instead the wonderful cookie is a means for defining the life lessons and values we teach and model for our children every day. Now, as a mother, I can definitely see how one simple and fun activity can lead to moments of understanding, moments of patience, generosity, cooperation, fairness and contentment. Yes, the cookie experience can really accomplish it all at any time of the year. This book leaves you with the sweet taste of many of your memories of cookies and sharing time together.

Perhaps it was the special memories of Amy Rosenthal's own holiday baking that naturally lead to Christmas Cookies: Bite-Size Holiday Lessons. A Christmas celebration that defines life's lessons of hope, to be charitable, perseverance, moderation and even frustration! A sugar cookie recipe is included. These books are beautiful with illustration, words and message.

So let's get started with those holiday memories of baking with your children- from the youngest to your teenager! Enjoy this Thumbprint cookie recipe from the book, FamilyFun's Cookies for Christmas.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree

The holiday season has arrived in Des Plaines. The trees in downtown are draped in white lights, restaurants are decked out for the season and a small forest of trees has been placed in the center of Metropolitan Square. This weekend will be filled with music, merriment and maybe even an appearance by Santa. Friday evening Metropolitan Square will be filled with school children and families as they decorate the trees in the square and prepare for the tree lighting ceremony. For ideas on ornaments and garland to make with your family try Christmas Fun, Christmas Crafts, or Christmas Decorations Kids Can Make. Saturday and Sunday enjoy roasted chestnuts while on a horse drawn sleigh ride or munch on baked goods while waiting in line to see Santa at the Des Plaines Park District and Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce's Lake Wonderland . Don't miss our very own Singing Librarians put a special twist on 'Twas the Night Before Christmas at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. Have a wonderful holiday season!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Happy Birthday Sesame Street!

Have you ever forgotten the birthday of a friend? That's how I felt when I realized I had missed the anniversary of Sesame Street! Sesame Street turned 40 on November 10. Feel nostalgic and want to celebrate? Maybe your child is just starting to become interested in Big Bird? Here are some suggested titles to help you "get to Sesame Street."

For adults, check out Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis. 123 Sesame Street, A Celebration by Louise Gikow is another option. Both titles give you information about how the show began, with 123 Sesame Street taking you behind the scenes as to how the muppets are made, how they move, and how they speak.

For children I'd suggest that you check out the CD section. We have some great Sesame Street music that would be perfect to move along and dance to. I just discovered Sesame Street Playground. It's has music from the different international versions of Sesame Street. You can listen to the USA version of Elmo's Song, and then listen to the China version of Rubber Duckie. Or what about the CD Silly Songs? With songs like "I'm Proud to Be a Cow" and "The Transylvania Polka" this would be a great CD to listen to in the car!

When I was a kid one of my favorite books was The Monster At the End of This Book by Jon Stone. It features Grover pleading with readers not to keep turning the pages of the book because with each turn of the page you get closer to the end, and at the end of the book is a monster! The funny part is finding out who's waiting at the end of the book.

Who is your favorite Sesame Street character? Click on comments to let us know. Meanwhile, stop by the second floor information desk and we'd be happy to suggest other books, CDs, and DVDs for your family.