“Clive and his hats” by Jessica Spanyol

I’m not a friend of gender neutral education. Because, let’s face it: Girls and boys just are different. That doesn’t mean that there is any justification for gender stereotypes though. Although boys and girls are different, learn differently and have different interest, girls play with fire trucks, too. And boys like to play kitchen. Or to dress up.

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Clive, the hero of the board book “Clive and his hats” by Jessica Spanyol, is a boy with a vivid imagination. He likes to build castles out of sand and jump into puddles. He loves to play in his little pool and to pretend he’s a cowboy. But he also likes to dress up, play peek-a-boo and wearing his own creation during a visit in the art gallery. Clive has lots of hats – and bunny ears are just part of his inventory as a fireman hat and a wooly hat for cold days. Because “Clive likes lots and lots of hats!”

“Clive and his hats” by Jessica Spanyol is a book for children age 1 to 3. The board book convinces with sturdy pages, that are easy to grasp for early readers. We loved the colorful illustrations by the author – Finja especially likes Clive’s black Moshi cat and it’s mischieveos smile… Jessica Spanyol doesn’t just write to challenge gender stereotypes, her illustrations embrace diversity: Clive’s friends are from all parts of the world. This is one of the best parts of this book in my opinion – because is there a better way to show our children how diverse and colorful the world is? Or, as another children’s book publisher stated: “Books are for ALL children”. You want your child to find themselves or their friends in the book they read. You want them to become tolerant and aware that there is no “average” kid. Because there are girls playing with cars – and boys playing with dolls, there are children from Asia and with lighter or darker skin color than yours!

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This book is part of the “All about Clive” book series about Clive and his everyday life. Jessica Spanyol created books about “Clive and his babies”, “Clive and his art” and “Clive and his bags”. We didn’t read the other parts of the series, but the titles promise more diverse books who defy gender stereotypes. And we definitely need more diverse books to make the world a little more colorful for toddlers and preschoolers!

The “All about Clive” series was created by Child’s Play International. According to the publisher, Child’s play “is more than just a publishing program, it is a philosophy.” As children learn most about the world around them in their early years, the publisher wants to expose children to diverse, quality books “to develop an enquiring mind and a lifelong love of reading.”

More information:
“Clive and his hats”
written and illustrated by Jessica Spanyol
Age Range: 1 – 3 years
Grade Level: Preschool and up
Series: All about Clive
Board book: 12 pages
Publisher: Child’s Play International; Brdbk edition (July 1, 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1846438851

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„Otto and the secret light of Christmas“ by Nora and Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin

Are you already in Christmas mood? I have to be honest: We started packing Christmas packages for Germany about a month ago and I always felt like a pretender because I just didn’t feel the holiday vipe yet… Well, with Thanksgiving around the corner the mood is finally catching up with me – especially while browsing all the wonderful Christmas stories!

"Otto and the secret light of Christmas"
“Otto and the secret light of Christmas”

We are not a religious household, but Christmas is important for us anyway. It’s just about being together, thinking of the people you love, getting in touch with every good friends abroad and getting in a special, merry mood. Our daughter and we enjoy decorating our condo, visiting Santa at the local zoo and packing small baskets to surprise our friends at December 6th, Sant Nicolaus day.

In Germany, where there is no Santa but a “Christkind” (Christ child) I always had the feeling Christmas had a more religious touch. This goes for decorations as well as for Christmas books for kids, which mainly show angels and most times refer to the birth of Jesus. Or I’m just too old and was growing up in another area… Anyway, I really enjoy books that point out the importance of Christmas without bible references. And as someone who loves Northern Europe I finally found one of my favorite Christmas stories!

A journey into Finish folklore: Otto meats the Snow Lonttis
A journey into Finish folklore: Otto meats the Snow Lonttis

Otto and the secret light of Christmas“ was written and illustrated by the Finish mother-daughter team Nora and Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin. The hero of the story, elfin Otto, finds himself on a long travel to find the “light of Christmas” to brighten the dark Finish winter days. His motivation: A postcards, proclaiming the “Light of Christmas” and wishing light in the midst of winter. Otto heads north, hiking dark forests, snowshoeing through deep snow, skiing down hills and riding on a reindeer`s back. The journey he started alone brings many new friends and adventures: Otto meets an apple-loving badger named Badger, encounters the king of the forest, warms up in a Sauna with Klupu, strong trolls living on the plains of Lappland and shares a tea with Snow Lonttis. Most of these creatures originate from Northern Europe folklore – together with the stunning illustrations of snowy plains, Northern villages and dark forests the reader is thrown deep in the Finnish landscape. Can there be a setting more Christmas-sy?

"The colours twirled high and spun in great circles up to the stars, where they transformed unto flames of even more astonishing hues."
“The colours twirled high and spun in great circles up to the stars, where they transformed into flames of even more astonishing hues.”

Finally, Otto’s journey nears an end: A campfire under the North Star where he joins an old man, which Otto addresses as “Father Yule”, one of the pre-Christian name of the Norse god Odin. “I have been called that”, laughs the old man. Otto has been looking for Christmas – but has he found it?

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I’m sure what we have found: A magical Christmas story to share with children every age. „Otto and the secret light of Christmas” is a story about the real meaning of Christmas aside religious meaning and a tale that can be enjoyed by children and adults every culture and background. It would make the perfect read aloud for a preschool or elementary school! Reading „Otto and the secret light of Christmas” aloud is absolutely charming, the authors use a wonderful, poetic language. Hearing the story of Otto and his new friends you can almost feel the snow crunching under your shoes and hear the wind howling in the tree tops. I was craving Otto’s favorite drink, blueberry tea, after the last chapter! Speaking about chapters: Although the tale around Otto is absolutely wonderful it might be a little extensive for younger children to read in one sitting. Luckily the authors dedicated one separate chapter for every encounter. This makes „Otto and the secret light of Christmas” not only more accessible for younger readers, but also turns this book into a perfect companion for the holiday season. The 14 chapters could make a literary advent calendar of one of a kind!

We really loved the „Otto and the secret light of Christmas“ and I’m sure we’ll read it many many times this Christmas season and in the years to come! The book makes it easy for me to explain our meaning of Christmas with the words of “Father Yule”:

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There is just one more thing to say: Enjoy!

Otto and the secret light of Christmas
written by Nora
illustrated by Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin
translated by Jill Timbers
Hardcover: 108 pages
Publisher: Floris Books
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1782503231

„Little fox, lost“ by Nicole Snitselaar

Moving to the US wasn’t as big of a culture shock as we expected. Well, at least not until the results of the presidential election came in… We live in the liberal Pacific Northwest, so life is not so different from rainy Germany. After Finja was born I realized that education and upbringing in the US definitely is different from childhood in Germany though. One example: Stranger danger. Even with a policeman as a dad, my sister and I never were explicitly warned about strangers. Not because we were distrustful by nature, but it seems as if our parents were just not afraid of some outsider would come and swipe us away. I thought this was a generation conflict – after all I pedaled my bike through the dark woods when I was middle school aged. You can’t compare the 80s and 90s with today, can’t you? But speaking with my parent friends in Germany made me realize that it’s only not a question of generations – it’s a question of culture as well.

So with a naturally friendly and outgoing daughter I thought it was time to tell her about not wandering away (she loves to do that!) and not trusting anyone she doesn’t know – and even be careful of people she knows. But how can you do it without inflicting distrust and fear of other human beings?

"Little fox, lost" is a gentle story about stranger danger
“Little fox, lost” is a gentle book about stranger danger

I didn’t search for Nicole Snitselaar’s “Little fox, lost”, but it was the perfect solution to our problem.

The storyline is simple: Little fox takes a walk with this mother who gets caught up in a friendly neighborhood chat. Little fox is bored – and soon so fascinated by his tracks in the fresh snow that he doesn’t realize how far he is wandering off. Little fox finds himself in the depth of the forest, all alone and scared… A friendly owl offers to take him back to his mother. Little fox almost agrees, but then he remembers a song his mom taught him:

“If you ever are lost my child
Don’t let a stranger guide you.
Be still and I will search the wild
Until I am beside you.”

The friendly owl understands – and together they wait, singing Mama fox’s song until she finally arrives to bring little fox home.

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We loved the friendly, calming illustrations by Alicia Padron

“Little fox, lost” is a gentle story about getting lost and finding your way home again. We loved the snowy winter setting and the cute forest animals as well as the significance of the story – the illustrations by Alicia Padron are calming, they have a huge part in talking about a difficult topic without being frightening. Mother fox’s rhyme “If you ever are lost my child” is easy to remember for children every age. This little ear worm can give them confidence if they should ever get lost for real.

“Little fox, lost” was published by Pajama Press, an independent publisher who’s goal it is “to produce high quality, award-winning books that are appealing to children, young adults, librarians, teachers and parents.”

More information:
„Little fox, lost“
written by Nicole Snitselaar
illustrated by Alicia Padron
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Pajama Press
ISBN-13: 978-1772780048