The Perfect Gift for You and Your Kids

We at Simon & Schuster Canada really and truly believe that there’s no better gift than the love of reading. That’s why when we stumbled across this great gift idea on Pinterest, we had to tell everyone we could about it! The idea is to wrap up 25 children’s picture books and put them under your Christmas tree at the start of December. Before bedtime each evening, your little one gets to choose one book to unwrap, which you then read together! This continues every night up to and including the big day itself. What a cozy and heartwarmingly brilliant gift idea.

Make this a new holiday tradition! To help you start, we’ve listed 25 of our favourite children’s books down below (in no particular order). Feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments section below.

Holiday Classics:

  • The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. This is a wonderful new version of the classic poem every family should own. Lavishly illustrated by renowned artist Charles Santore, the critically acclaimed illustrator of The Wizard of Oz, Snow White, and The Little Mermaid, this beautiful book is a treasure.

  • One Starry Night is a simple yet profound book that perfectly captures the universal nighttime vigil of parents everywhere. Author Lauren Thompson is at her lyrical best, while Jonathan Bean’s gorgeous, artisanal illustrations are the perfect match for this beautifully serene story of a truly Peaceable Kingdom.
  • The Hanukkah Hop by Erica Silverman, with illustrations by Steven D’Amico, is a lively and rollicking book that is sure to insprire every member of the family in celebrating the Festival of Lights!
  • Olivia Helps with Christmas (Ian Falconer) shows that everyone’s favourite 6-year-old pig is the #1 Kris Kringle fan, and of course she’s excited to OPEN HER PRESENTS!
  • Christmas Parade is a delightful Christmas picture book filled with hilarious characters and dynamic art from the one and only Sandra Boynton! Written with the irresistible rhythm of a lively marching band and illustrated by the author with those signature Boynton characters, Christmas Parade is a superb present for young children and families everywhere. Biddy BOOM!

  • Bear Stays Up for Christmas is an enchanting holiday story for young readers that kids will ask for again and again. Written by Karma Wilson and illustrations by Jane Chapman.
  • Santa from Cincinnati by Judi Barrett (author of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs), with illustrations by Kevin Hawkes. Compiled from his baby book, family photos, and report cards, Santa from Cincinnati provides a full-spectrum view of the boy who grew to be the man who grew to be Santa.
  • Mortimer’s Christmas Manger is a sweet holiday story that’s cherished by families everywhere, again from the bestselling author and illustrator team of Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman.

WINTER WONDERS:

  • The award-winning Red Sled by Lita Judge is an almost wordless picture book in which a host of woodland creatures take a child’s sled for a nighttime joy ride. Gorgeously depicted in bold watercolor, their whimsical ride will become a wintertime favorite.

  • No Two Alikewritten and illustrated by Keith Baker, follows a pair of birds on a snowflake-filled journey though a gorgeous winter landscape to explore how everything, everywhere is wonderfully unique.
  • In Making a Friend, bestselling author Alison McGhee reminds us all that “What you love will always be with you.” This tender story about the power of friendship will stay with readers long after they turn the last page.

AMAZING ANIMAL ADVENTURES:

  • Olivia by Ian Falconer, the award-winning book that started it all! You and your little ones are sure to fall in love with Olivia’s adorably endearing precociousness.
  • Olivia and the Fairy Princesses (Ian Falconer) follows our beloved Olivia on a hilarious quest for individuality, and rest assured, you won’t find THIS pig pleased to be in pink!

  • Don’t Be Afraid, Little Pip – from bestselling author and illustrator team of Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman comes a reassuring tale about the lovable Little Pip that will leave readers cheering… and perhaps a little less scared to try something new.
  • Bear Says Thanks shows us that there’s no better way for Bear to say thanks than by having a big dinner with all of his friends! Written by Karma Wilson and illustrations by Jane Chapman.
  • Nightsong is a beautiful coming-of-age story about a young bat setting off into the world using only his good sense! With mesmerizing artwork from NYT bestselling illustrator Loren Long and lyrical text from Ari Berk, share the lovely message that no matter how far away you go, you can always find your way home.

  • Mousetronaut is the story of a small mouse who wants to travel in outerspace! Written by bestselling author and retired NASA astronaut Commander Mark Kelly and with lively illustrations by award-winning artist C. F. Payne, this little mouse may inspire some big dreams!
  • Creepy Carrots, by Aaron Reynolds with illustrations by Peter Brown. The Twilight Zone comes to the carrot patch in this clever picture book parable about a rabbit who fears his favorite treats are out to get him.
  • In Boot & Shoe, Caldecott Honor medalist Marla Frazee brings her signature wit, tenderness, and hilarious illustrations to this endearing tale about an irresistible puppy pair.

GET READY FOR GIGGLES:

  • I Loathe You, written and illustrated by David Slonim, shows that unconditional loathing is monsterly love in this sweetly humorous picture book.
  • I’m Bored–we all know that there’s NOTHING boring about being a kid, but one little girl is going to have to prove it in this anything-but-boring picture book from comedian Michael Ian Black, accompanied by charismatic illustrations from newcomer Debbie Ridpath Ohi. (Also named as a New York Times Notable Children’s Book of 2012!)

Do you remember the book that you fell in love with as a child? The book with illustrations that left you wide-eyed, and words that your parents learned by heart from countless re-readings? We promise that a similar, if not more magical, experience awaits you in the books by William Joyce:

  • The Sandman is the second book in Joyce’s joyfully imaginative Guardians of Childhood series, and tells us how the sleepy Sandman dreamed up his sweet-dream legacy. Everything about this book is GORGEOUS.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good read!

Memoir Mondays: BRAIN ON FIRE

Imagine waking up strapped to a strange hospital bed. You are alone, and you cannot move or speak. You’re wearing a wristband that says you are a flight risk, and you are told you are violent, dangerously unstable, and prone to hallucinations. No one knows what’s wrong with you—least of all yourself.

This terrifying experience marked the beginning of Susannah Cahalan’s real life “month of madness,” during which she would become a shell of her former self, spiraling downward into acute psychosis and a state of near-catatonia. A team of doctors spent a million of dollars worth of tests in a desperate search for a diagnosis–all of which came back negative. The medical field was baffled by her case, and ultimately came to the (wrong) conclusion that she was schizophrenic and needed to be institutionalized in a psychiatric ward.

It took one doctor (nicknamed Dr. House for his uncanny diagnostic skills) to save Susannah. Using a brilliant (and shockingly simple) diagnostic technique, Dr. Souhel Najar proved that Calahan’s psychotic behaviour was caused by an inflammation of the brain: her body was attacking her brain in a rare and often fatal form of autoimmune disease, called Anti-NDMA Autoimmune Encephilitis.

In Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, Susannah Cahalan provides the reader with far more than a simply riveting read and a crackling medical mystery. This is a powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity and to rediscover herself among the fragments left behind. Using all her considerable journalistic skills, and building from hospital records and surveillance video, interviews with family and friends, and excerpts from the deeply moving journal her father kept during her illness, Susannah pieces together the story of her “lost month” to write an unforgettable memoir about memory and identity, faith and love. It is an important, profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic.

Learn more about Brain on Fire.

Visit Susannah’s website.

Watch her discuss Brain on Fire below:

Memoir Mondays: BRUCE

“There are many things I could and should be doing right now, but I am not… I am reading and rereading this book. Why did you do this to me?” – John Stewart

I grew up listening to the Boss, specifically the vinyl recording of his 1984 hit single “Dancing in the Dark,” which–crucially–also had “Pink Cadillac” on its B-side. To this day, “Pink Cadillac” remains one of my all time favourite songs, and it also explains my obsession with that particular vehicle. That’s the thing about Bruce Springsteen’s music: it’s an experience that stays with you, and can shape who you are in little to big ways. Only the best kind of music can do that, and it’s elevated Bruce the Rockstar to almost mythic levels in the past four decades. You can imagine then how thrilling it was for me to finally learn about Bruce the Man in what his manager Jon Landau calls the Boss’ definitive biography: Bruce, by Peter Ames Carlin.

This sweeping biography of one of America’s greatest musicians is the first in twenty-five years to be written with the cooperation of Bruce Springsteen himself. With unfettered access to the artist, his family, and band members—including Clarence Clemons in his last major interview—acclaimed music writer Peter Ames Carlin presents a startlingly intimate and vivid portrait of a rock icon.

For more than four decades, Bruce Springsteen has reflected the heart and soul of America with a career that includes twenty Grammy Awards, more than 120 million albums sold, two Golden Globes, and an Academy Award. He has also become an influential voice in American culture and politics, inspiring President Barack Obama to admit: “I’m the president, but he’s the Boss.”

Built from years of research and unparalleled access to its subject and his inner circle, Bruce presents the most revealing account yet of a man laden with family tragedy, a tremendous dedication to his artistry, and an all-consuming passion for fame and influence. With this book, the E Street Band members finally bare their feelings about their abrupt dismissal in 1989, and how Springsteen’s ambivalence nearly capsized their 1999 reunion. Carlin deftly traces Springsteen’s often harrowing personal life: from his lower working- class childhood in Freehold, New Jersey, through his stubborn climb to fame and tangled romantic life, and finally to his quest to conquer the demons that nearly destroyed his father.

In Bruce, Carlin encompasses the breadth of Springsteen’s astonishing career and explores the inner workings of a man who managed to redefine generations of music. A must for fans, Bruce is a meticulously researched, compulsively readable biography of one of the most complex and fascinating artists in American music.

Learn more about Bruce.

Follow Peter Ames Carlin on Twitter.

Visit Carlin’s website.

Book Club Pick: Rin Tin Tin

About a week ago, I offhandedly mentioned to my mother that I had just started reading the new paperback Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend and, despite the fact that I’d never heard of the dog before, I was really enjoying it. I have never known my mother to be at a loss for words, but for once, she was suddenly and surprisingly silent. When I asked if everything was ok, she simply responded “I loved watching Rin Tin Tin. Your grandfather, my dad, did too. It was something special that we shared.”

Since finishing the book, I have heard dozens of similar stories about Rin Tin Tin and the unique ways that he touched so many different people’s lives. Susan Orlean’s book vividly explores this connection that generations of people have shared, not only with Rin Tin Tin, but with all of the animals that we choose to share our lives with. This is a book that literally bursts with discussion topics, making it the obvious choice for this week’s book club recommendation.

In Rin Tin Tin: The Life and The Legend, Susan Orlean masterfully traces the journey of Rin Tin Tin from a puppy on a French battlefield to an international brand, a set of ideals, and a legacy that has passed down from generation to generation. The narrative delves into the history of dogs in the military, obedience training and animal domestication, shifting social mores, film and television history, all while keeping a steady hold on the personal stories of Rinty and the people who loved and trained him.

Lee Duncan, a young American soldier, first stumbled across the newborn Rin Tin Tin in a bombed out animal shelter in the fields of France. Lee took Rinty back to America, and, through a twisting path of luck and devotion, Rin Tin Tin became a Hollywood icon. The idea of Rin Tin Tin grew from the values embodied by a single dog in silent films into something much bigger than Lee had perhaps imagined—into an idea, an emotion, a character residing in national and international consciousness.

Simon & Schuster has prepared a fantastic Reading Group Guide to help focus book club discussion, and here are some of the questions that I now can’t help think about every time I see someone walking their dog or discussing their pets:

  • What do you think of the notion that it is fundamentally strange for human beings to have pets in the first place? What do you think it is that draws us to the animals that we love so much?
  • Since reading the book, has it changed the way you think about: the power of movies? the roles that animals have played in human warfare? your own personal relationship to animals?
  • Do you think that anything or anyone can ever last forever?

Visit Susan Orlean’s website.

Follow Susan on Twitter. (Named one of the top Twitter feeds by Time magazine!)

Explore the Rin Tin Tin feed on YouTube.

Win up to ten copies of Rin Tin Tin for your book club!

Book Club Pick: Lone Wolf

“The night after I went into the wolf enclosure for the first time I woke up to find my father sitting on the edge of my bed, watching me. His face was outlined with moonlight. ‘When I was in the wild, I was chased by a bear. I was sure I was going to die. I didn’t think there could be anything more terrifying,’ he said. ‘I was wrong.’ He reached out one hand and tucked my hair behind my ear. ‘The scariest thing in the world is thinking that someone you love is going to die.'” – Jodi Picoult’s Lone Wolf

I completely understand why so many of Jodi Picoult’s fans–myself included–refer to themselves as members of the “Jodi Pi-cult.” Lone Wolf, Picoult’s latest best-selling work now available as a beautiful paperback, is an unassumingly brilliant exploration of a family-in-crisis suddenly faced with an impossible question: if someone you love has been gravely injured with essentially no chance of recovery, do you artificially prolong their life or artificially induce their death? It should be no surprise to anyone familiar with Picoult’s impressive body of work that she handles such a complex issue with grace, humour and compassion, but what did surprise me was how exactly she did so. In Lone Wolf, Picoult explores a new family dymanic: that of wolf packs, and (pardon the pun) it makes for a howling good read.

Luke Warren has spent his life researching wolves. He has written about them, studied their habits intensively, and even lived with them for extended periods of time. In many ways, Luke understands wolf dynamics better than those of his own family. His wife, Georgie, has left him, finally giving up on their lonely marriage. His son, Edward, twenty-four, fled six years ago, leaving behind a shattered relationship with his father. Edward understands that some things cannot be fixed, though memories of his domineering father still inflict pain. Then comes a frantic phone call: Luke has been gravely injured in a car accident with Edward’s younger sister, Cara.

Suddenly everything changes: Edward must return home to face the father he walked out on at age eighteen. He and Cara have to decide their father’s fate together. Though there’s no easy answer, questions abound: What secrets have Edward and his sister kept from each other? What hidden motives inform their need to let their father die . . . or to try to keep him alive? What would Luke himself want? How can any family member make such a decision in the face of guilt, pain, or both? And most importantly, to what extent have they all forgotten what a wolf never forgets: that each member of a pack needs the others, and that sometimes survival means sacrifice?

What I admire and respect the most about Picoult’s writing is her ability to take challenging moral issues and frame them within an addictive, page-turning story. I personally don’t think she’s ever done this better than she has with Lone Wolf: each chapter is narrated by a different character, making the story as rich and dynamic as the wolves that remain at its heart. There’s so much to talk about in Lone Wolf, and as such Simon & Schuster has prepared a handy Reader’s Group Guide to help get discussion rolling. I have some questions of my own as well, please feel free to use them within your own book club or to leave an answer in the comment section below!

  • What did you think of Picoult’s use of different narrators? Are there any chapters that you think would be interested in reading from a different point of view? How well do you think the font choices reflected the characters’ voices?
  • What would you do in Edward’s situation? Cara’s?
  • Do you feel any different about wolves having read this book?
  • What do you think lay at the heart of the Warren family’s problems? Is there any relation to the roles found in wolf packs?

Happy reading everyone!

Read an excerpt.
Explore Jodi’s website.
Read about the fascinating research Jodi did on wolves and the real life Luke Warren.
Last but not least: win up to ten copies of Lone Wolf for your book club!