I lost a very dear elderly friend this week and am attending her funeral today. She was bed-ridden for years, and tenderly cared for by her husband.  I am reminded of a beautiful children's book by Tomie dePaola that was written in 1973 and has helped parents and children with this difficult subject of death ever since.  It recently came out in a redrawn edition.  Mr. dePaola says it's his personal favorite of any that he's written. In re-creating the art, Tomie said, "Creating this art was as emotional an experience for me now as it was then."  

Nana Upstairs and Nana DownstairsNANA UPSTAIRS & NANA DOWNSTAIRS by Tomie dePaola, is based on the nostalgic memories of his own childhood in time spent with his two "Nanas".  Four-year-old Tommy loves his Sunday visits to his grandmother's and great-grandmother's house. His grandmother seems to constantly be downstairs, busy by the kitchen stove, while his great-grandmother is always to be found in bed upstairs (because she is 94 years old). One morning Tommy's mother tells him that Nana Upstairs died during the night. Tommy feels sorrowful and empty, but his mother comforts him by explaining, "she will come back in your memory whenever you think about her." A very graceful treatment of a difficult subject. Anyone who grew up with a precious grandparent in their life will adore this book. (for ages 4-8)

To read more about Tomie dePaola and his children's books, visit his website, www.tomie.com.


This is the time, during Mid-Lent, that I always learn about waiting and patience: for the fast to be over.  For our continued contemplation and participation in the mystery of the Cross.  For the hope of the Resurrection on Easter and the Joy that it brings.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his book GREAT LENT, writes in Chapter 4, The Lenten Journey: "We are in Mid-Lent.  On the one hand, the physical and spiritual effort, if it is serious and consistent, begins to be felt...we need help and encouragement.  On the other hand, having endured this fatigue, having climbed the mountain up to this point, we begin to see the end of our pilgrimage, and the rays of Easter grow in their intensity."

I can't pass up this chance to tell you about a sweet children's book that teaches some wonderful lessons about waiting.  It's LITTLE CHICK, written by Amy Hest and illustrated by Anita Jeram.  I think your child will love meeting Little Chick and Old Auntie, the big red hen.  From School Library Journal:
"...three short adventures that brim with childlike concerns and solutions.  Little Chick impatiently waits for her carrot to grow and then finally pulls it, finds a way to make her kite fly, and accepts that she cannot catch her favorite star and put it in her pocket. The protagonist, like many youngsters, wants what she wants immediately, but her understanding and wise Old-Auntie is always there to ease life's disappointments. The text is gentle, affectionate, and child-centered with some lovely turns of phrase and on-target dialogue....Jeram's pencil-and-watercolor illustrations shine. Little Chick is so perfectly childlike—lying on her back holding her toes when she has to wait, leaning on Old-Auntie when things get too hard, or hanging her head dejectedly when her kite won't fly...Old-Auntie is large and comforting." (ages 4-8)


Published in 1980, McLoughlin Bros.
Digitized from original source held at University of Florida Libraries.


"Spring, summer, winter, fall -
which is the best season on all?"

Pom-Pom chicks are out in stores and ready for Easter crafting.  Martha Stewart LIVING has some cute ideas here.  I especially love the cute plastic Easter eggs that are decorated with sitckers and then filled with a chick and small treat - ready for an Egg Hunt!

Eggs - ready for hunting!

Your little ones will love the hilarious antics and photos of COCO THE CHICK - and, who knows, they might even be inspired to make their own diorama scene, if you buy them some pom-pom chicks.  SLOANE TANEN'S books (baby-preschool) with their fun, rhyming text spell F-U-N.  STEFAN HAGEN'S photographs are eye-popping!   Enjoy them all:

Where is Coco Going?

Coco Counts: A Little Chick's First Book of Numbers

C Is for Coco: A Little Chick's First Book of Letters

A Big Gun Walks Away from a Huge Trade Deal to Indie ePub & Other Explosions from Publishing’s Front Lines

Yes, it’s true, successful thriller author Barry Eisler just walked away from a hefty 500K deal with Minotaur Books in a decision to self-publish his next novel, The Detachment. He had apparently been talking heatedly with self-pubbing guru, and fellow thriller writer, Joe Konrath, in order to learn all the digital angles before he took the plunge. In Eisler’s words: "it wasn't just that the 17.5% ebook royalty publishers are offering was looking less and less attractive compared to the 70% I can make on my own. It was that, combined with the way I saw the industry changing, along with my growing understanding of the overall longterm value of a legacy publishing deal vs the overall longterm value of going it alone."

Makes horrible sense. Publishers Weekly reported that there’s been a definitive rise in eBook sales. Bookstores can’t seem to sell enough books to stay out of financial trouble, and more and more folks are buying kindles, iPads and the like. I feel the burn too. In the Catskills, where I often go to escape the frenzy of NYC, the last great indie bookstore, Hamish & Henry is closing shop. I can’t find even a cruddy bookstore within a 50 or 60-mile radius. This lovely bookstore was the lifeblood of the western Catskill community. They hosted readings and talks and all kinds of fun parties. No holding back “progress” I guess. Ebooks are a sensible answer to the many, many people who love to read, and happen to live in places lacking a decent bookstore.

I’m a person who sees the glass half full, though. I see the revolts in the Middle East as exciting (not the bloodshed, but the overthrow of the 30 and 40-year stranglehold on the people)—a true reformation of the people, by the people. I also see this revolution in the book industry as potentially exciting, albeit scary.

Trade publishers are handing out less contracts as their budgets shrink. Smaller advances too. Bookstore chains are suffering. And forget about the smaller mom & pops. If amazon offers a 70 percent royalty on indie eBooks, why would an author be so incredibly excited about a much lower eBook royalty from a trade publisher? This phenom is similar to what happened in the music industry. You can’t find a good CD store anymore. If you want to buy an album (an old term already!), you head on over to iTunes and download one for half the price. The musicians still get paid (mainly earning their keep from touring anyway), and without all the middlemen.

On the flip side, self-pubbed superstar, Amanda Hocking is headed in the exact opposite direction. Grass is always greener, right? Word has it that she’s shopped around her new series to trade publishers. To quote the New York Times article: “On the same day Barry Eisler turned down half a million dollars from Minotaur to self-publish, news emerged publicly that Amanda Hocking appears to be doing the exact opposite. Yesterday afternoon we finally caught wind of what many in the industry have known about for weeks now, which is that agent Steve Axelrod is shopping her new four-book series to publishers, attracting bids of well over $1 million for world English rights."

Lastly, read the link about another self-pubbed book, Faking It by Elisa Lorello, that has caught fire.

Still, it’s a serious leap of faith for anyone who has struggled and sweated to finally land a book contract, or two, or three… and get published the traditional way, to even think about going rogue. As of now, I’m just a very interested bystander. Print will be around for a long time. Or, in Amanda Hocking's own words, "I'm going to let you guys in on a little secret: This isn't an either/or situation (print vs digital). You guys are both on the same team - Team Writer."


Another LENTEN BOOK recommendation: THE JESUS PRAYER AND ME, by Vasiliki Tsigas-Fotinis, illustrated by Joanne Dallis.  This book, written to reflect the spiritual reality of God's perpetual presence that children often times experience, is perfect for ages 5-8.  Children encounter the Lord in such simple ways.  We, too, need to refresh that encounter.  What better way than through the eyes and heart of a child of God and the "Jesus Prayer"?

Princess Ileana of Romania (read about
what happened to her crown, below)
Parents, if you are unfamiliar with the Jesus Prayer, below is a quote from an "Introduction to the Jesus Prayer", written by PRINCESS ILEANA OF ROMANIA.  She lived behind the Iron Curtain, ended up moving to the U.S., and eventually became a nun.  I'll get to that but first her words...

Princess Ileana took the name
Mother Alexandra when she
became Abbess of a women's
monastery in Ellwood City, PA

"The Prayer goes back to the New Testament and has had a long, traditional use.  The method of contemplation based upon the Holy Name is attributed to St. Simeon, called the New Theologian (949-1022).  When he was 14 years old, St. Simeon had a vision of heavenly light in which he seemed to be separated from his body. Amazed, and overcome with an overpowering joy, he felt a consuming humility, and cried, borrowing the Publican's prayer (Luke 18:13), 'Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me.'  Long after the vision had disappeared, the great joy returned to St. Simeon each time he repeated the prayer; and he taught his disciples to worship likewise.  The prayer evolved into its expanded form: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.'  In this guise it has come down to us from generation to generation of pious monks and laymen."

Princess Ileana was the youngest daughter of Ferdinand I of Romania and his consort Queen Marie (who was a grand daughter of Britain's Queen Victoria). During the Communist era in Romania, Ileana escaped with her husband and six children (who had been born to them within a 10-year period!) to Vienna, then Switzerland, and eventually Argentina.  In 1950, she sold her heirloom sapphire-and-diamond tiara in order to move with her children to the United States.  You can read her fascinating "Cinderella story in-reverse" here from this series of articles printed in the LADIES HOME JOURNAL, during 1951.

She begins the articles by describing her new life in Massachusetts and recalling what brought about her decision to sell her jeweled diadem in order to live in the United States and support her children.  Here's a short excerpt:
As a 1950's housewife in the U.S. doing laundry
(Ladies Home Journal)
"On one wall of my kitchen is a picture of Mamma in Romanian dress amongst her flowers. For the background of the picture stands Bran, our fairy castle upon a rock, where once I lived. On another wall I have an old icon of Christ, the symbol of that faith which has carried me through all my troubles, and has landed me here on my feet in New England, with the strength to live again.. Yes, to live again; because after I left home, which for me has always been Romania, I was as one dead. It was not that for a moment I doubted the physical necessity of my presence for my six children: my love for them was as strong and potent as ever. But inside, the 'me' that was me independently of the mother, the wife, the friend—the essential 'me' upon which all the rest is built—suffered a mortal shock when my life was severed from my people. So I had to start again, not only outwardly but especially inwardly. Getting down to brass tacks in my kitchen helped me greatly. The need to busy my hands quieted my mind. The effort to cope with simple things and to do them well helped me to overcome...'duty' had completely changed its face.  Lunch for six hungry children had to be served."

She opened two hospitals and was a
nurse in both Austria and Romania.
Near the end of the article, she recalls the Communist take-over of Romania. I shed tears reading her poignant account: "The service at the hospital over, I went to take a share of the eggs and gifts to the men who could not leave their beds. At this moment the general's aide told me that enemy planes were heading for Brasov. I prepared to remain inside the hospital, but the general refused his consent. I stepped out into the courtyard on my way to the dugouts on the hillside just as the first wave of planes was overhead, silver and beautiful against the blue sky. Then suddenly the air was rent by a tremendous sound. It was as if a huge, impersonal hand pushed me down flat on my face. I was roused by the shrieks of a woman whom I saw running downhill and away from safety, carrying a child in her arms. I scrambled to my feet and caught up with her. There was no time to argue even if she could have heard me, so I chose an easier way to stop her. I snatched the child from her arms and turned and ran up the hill, while she followed me, still screaming. We reached the dugouts and jumped into a trench just as the second wave of bombs fell. When the dust cleared a little I found myself surrounded by weeping women and terrified young girls. I was surprised that I felt no fear, and that I could repeat the 91st Psalm; slowly it calmed the others. It was then that my own self-control was most threatened, for I saw when I opened my eyes that on each side of me they had taken hold of my long head veil, and had spread it over their heads as if for protection; as if they were my children."

Ultimately, Princess Ileana's marriage did not survive the trauma of war and her family's exile and many moves.  After her children were grown, she left America and entered an Orthodox women's monastery in France.  She later moved back to the United States and founded the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, PA.  She took the name Mother Alexandra and served as Abbess there until her retirement in 1981, remaining at the monastery until her death in 1990, at the age of 82.

You might also enjoy this book, ROYAL MONASTIC, Princess Ileana of Romania, by Bev Cooke.  I love good princess stories, and Princess Ileana was the supreme example of what a real Princess should be.  As hardworking, kind, and selfless toward her people and country, she had the best qualities of some of my favorite princesses: Sara Crewe, Cinderella, and Queen Esther - with a little bit of Maria VonTrapp thrown in!  This is an amazing story of a Godly woman - better than a fairy tale!
Royal Monastic: Princess Ileana of Romania

Want to read more about the "Jesus Prayer"?  Look for THE WAY OF A PILGRIM - This classic work of Russian spirituality tells of an anonymous peasant's quest for the secret of prayer.  The Pilgrim searches high and low to know what St. Paul meant when he said that Christians should pray always.  Each new stop becomes a home for a moment for this happy wanderer who has only a knapsack and a few crusts of bread, but who finds goodness and plenty wherever he goes.
The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way


Remember Anatole, written by Eve Titus and illustrated by Paul Galdone?  The Hungarian-born illustrator of that book went from being a freelance artist in the 1950's to having a prolific career as an illustrator of children's books.  I'm sure you'll enjoy his retelling of some classic folktales, which made their original debuts in the 1970's and '80's, but have remained in print constantly since then.  Our kids loved checking out these classics from the library.  They are due out this month in new gift editions.  Announced in Publisher's Weekly:

Paul Galdone's Folktale Classics
“We identified as a marketplace trend a return to the comfort of the classics,” says Mary Wilcox, V.P. and Editorial Director of Houghton Mifflin Books for Children and HMH Books, of the decision to debut the line. “To meet that demand, we revisited the packaging of these wonderful backlist titles and found a new way to celebrate the content of the books. The beauty of their illustrations and their perennial popularity made them obvious choices to launch the series.” Galdone’s The Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Gingerbread Boy will be added to the Folk Tale Classics line in September.

Other Galdone retellings:
Henny Penny, Puss In Boots, Rumplestiltskin, and  The Elves and the Shoemaker