Friday, December 28, 2007

I was alone I took a ride I didn't know what I would find there

cooperation, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

"This one's for both of us! Come on, let's open it together!"

We've had like a week of happy and excited, cooperative, generous and helpful. And to think, all it took was about half a ton of plastic, batteries, cardboard, and paper.

xmas07 panorama

Well, there was also some voluminous puking Wednesday night, but all told, I'll take the bad with the good.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine

All right, I lied before about giving up on replacing the vinyl tablecloth that we've been using as a tree skirt.

I decided to make one.

I didn't come to this decision easily, mind you. I had to do much soul-searching (well, Internet searching) and I had to discover that such an item could be made using glue and felt and not with any sewing.

Also, I had an Idea. Jesus, next time I have one of those somebody just tip my head back and fill me full of bourbon until I forget my own name. Oh, I should warn - there WILL be uncontrollable cursing as I document this process.

The Idea was to decorate the tree skirt with the kids' hand prints. The Idea is that every year we'll get the kids to make handprints with craft paint and felt and we'll glue them to the tree skirt, so that we'll eventually end up with kind of a graphic representation of their growth. Didn't you always love putting your hand in the tiny plaster handprint you made in kindergarten?

So, I traveled to JoAnn Fabric. I bought 2 yards of grey polyester felt ($8 per yard) and 1 yard apiece of beautiful wool felt ($15/yard) in red, green, and ivory (so that each year we can do the handprints on a contrasting color of felt). I bought glue and craft paint and a pair of pinking shears.

I picked out a satiny twisted trim in crimson red. I stood there and thought to myself, "How much trim do I need? If the tree skirt is a 60" diameter circle... what is it? πr2? No, that's way too much. 2πr? Yeah!" I double-check when I get to the lady at the cutting desk. "What's the formula for the circumference of a circle? Is it 2πr?" The lady says, "I just multiply the radius by 4 and add a little when I have to do that," and I think to myself, "Jesus, no wonder there are so many accidents on the highway."

So at the cash register it is not lost on me that the semi-cool tree skirt I saw at Crate & Barrel was $80, and I am paying $90 for supplies to make my own. It was the pinking shears that did it.

I begin. I fold the grey felt in quarters, then 8ths to make a wedge shape. I trim it so as to have the largest possible circle. I cut out a smaller circle for the tree to go in the middle, and a cut from the edge to the middle.

cut the square of felt into a circle

I set up the kitchen for handprints. Newspaper on the kitchen table, paint mixed on a plastic plate. Ivory and a little gold, for a swirly effect. I lay out that expensive red felt. I think to myself, "Try not to kill anyone if the paint spills or if they smear the paint or... whatever, just TRY not to murder anyone." We make handprints without incident. Oddly, Mr. Four and Big Man have virtually the same size hands, even though they are almost 2 years apart.

make handprints on the red felt

I decided on ivory paint on red felt because red paint on ivory felt would look like a bloody hand, but now that I'm looking at this, all I can think of is the Uruk-Hai. Oh well.

I start gluing down the trim. Rather than mark out a border that is consistently 2" from the edge, I use my thumb. This works pretty well.

glue on the trim

Until I run out of trim.

I am devastated. I was so proud of myself for remembering high school geometry, and I fucked it up anyway. I didn't make a circle of 60" in diameter, I made one with a 72" diameter. DUMB. DUMB! I am shy about a yard of trim.

So. I go back to JoAnn Fabric to get some more. I go to the JoAnn that has all my life been on the highway near my mother's house. It closed last year. I go to the JoAnn that is near where we live. They have the twisted satin trim in every color but crimson. I go to the JoAnn that is comparatively far from where we live. They, too, are out of red twisted satin trim.

One Friday afternoon, I load Mr. Four in the van and pick up Big Man and our friend Nature Girl from school. "We're going on a road trip, guys!" I chirp, and then proceed to drive ONE HOUR north to get to the JoAnn Fabrics that is in fact hell and fucking GONE from where we live. Luckily, they had the red trim. I had to restrain myself from buying the whole spool, just to fuck over some other desperate overachieving underestimating Christmas crafter. But the spirit of the season was upon me, so, loaded down with $2 worth of stupid trim, I bought the kids gummy bears and we headed back to the ranch.

May I say? JoAnn Fabric is, in general, an ok place to buy craft and sewing supplies. There are cheap remnants of fun fabrics to buy as dress-ups for the kids, there are bolts of crazy tulle and strings of sequins to look at with your kids. Granted, it takes a little patience for a four-year-old to hang in there while you're waiting in line to get your fabric measured and cut, or to not destroy the world while mommy ponders which of 14 shades of green embroidery floss would best represent the oak tree foliage in the background of yet another cousin's baby blanket, but there is frankly no need for the gauntlet of candy that you have to run in order to get to the cash register. Really, they can keep it together that far, but once they see the candy, it suddenly occurs to them how OPPRESSED they have been throughout the store, and they suddenly realize that mommy's buying all stuff FOR HER and they are getting NOTHING, and they suddenly must have a solid-sugar pacifier or else they WILL DIE.

vinyl tablecover 'cause the glue goes right through the felt

Back home, I finish gluing on the trim. This time, I cleverly put a vinyl table cover between the felt and the table - previously, I had not realized that felt is porous enough for the glue to go right through, and I had glued the tree skirt to the tablecloth slightly.

I have enough trim left for a border around the inside hole too, which looks good. I cut out the handprints and glued them to the tree skirt too. This is the point at which I glued my hair into the project. Goddamn hair.

glue the handprints to the grey felt

Almost done! Except for the JoAnn Fabric fiasco, this project didn't take long AT ALL. If I'd been at it all at once, a couple hours max.

I dug out some cotton embroidery floss and a needle to embroider each of our initials on our handprints.


Grandma's sprigged border stitch on my handprint

That green floss sure looks great against the red felt. Maybe I should embroider a border around each of the hands. AWWW, NAW! DON'T DO IT! The killer is hiding under the stairs - don't go down there!

Too late. I blew it. I have spent the past week and a half embroidering borders. I decided to do four different stitches, because, if you're going to fuck yourself, you might as well do it hard. Wait. That's - errrr.

Anyway. I pulled out my embroidery stitch book and found a couple good stitches, one of which apparently can only be done in a straight line.

closed feather stitch in the book
Closed feather stitch in the book.

closed feather stitch in practice
Closed feather stitch on the tree skirt.

You know what I'm going to say in the future about this part? I'm going to say that Big Man did it. Seriously. I'm going to say, "He was only six! Didn't he do a great job? For six?" Yes, that's right. I'm going to lie. If I say it often enough he will believe it himself.

Grandma's sprigged border stitch

The stitch I really liked, though - a nice sprigged stitch my Grandma used between the blocks of the wool lap blankets she stitched together out of the leftovers from making clothes for my mom and my aunt - wasn't in the book. I examined it closely and duplicated it. That was a nice little moment. Grandma's stitches were so even - she was obviously a machine when it came to these things. I have three of those lap blankets, and each one must have eighty feet of embroidery on it.

Xmas tree skirt FTW!

Tonight, I finished the motherfucker. Looks nice. My fingers hurt. FTW.

Last-minute new picture books, kid-tested

Skippyjon Jones and the big bones by Judy Schachner
Last year, Big Man's kindergarten teacher said of the Skippyjon Jones books, "I feel like I'm sort of being manipulated to like these books, and I really just don't." She couldn't put her finger on what she didn't care for, and I'm with her. After all, I LOVE the chalky, colorful, detailed illustrations that are both quirky and technically accomplished; I like the title character, who is both independent and imaginative, and his tattletale little sisters and no-nonsense mom, with their fun names; and I adore Schachner's use of Spanglish ("Hola, dudes!") throughout. Hell, there's even a song or two.

I think what always bugs me about these books is the plot, weirdly enough. Accompanied by his crowd of Chihuahua friends, Skippyjon Jones assumes his alter ego, Skippito Friskito the great sword fighter, and goes on an imaginary adventure in his closet. And I swear, it's the adventure story that always falls apart. Even my kids get confused looks on their faces during the part where Skippito battles the giant bee / dances with the dinosaurs / whatever. I keep reading these books though, because Skippyjon and his family are great characters and I love saying their names. You guys want to start calling me Mama Junebug Jones, you go right ahead.

A closer look, by Mary McCarthy
A neato book about observation and scale for the youngest pairs of eyes. VERRY reminiscent of Steve Jenkins, with strong colors and paper collage art.

Water Boy by David McPhail
A nice, weird book about a boy's relationship with water - the water in his body, the water in his bath, the water in the environment. Like a caring teacher, David McPhail's characteristically quiet, rich watercolors get right down in front of the boy to observe his reactions to the ordinary and extraordinary manifestations of water in his world. Four really liked it.

Calendar by Myra Cohn Livingston, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
The sparse text here was a little abstract for my four year old, but the energetic, slightly minimalist illustrations somewhat made up for that.

Meet the meerkat by Darrin Lunde, illustrated by Patricia Wynne
Patricia Wynne is a contract illustrator for the American Museum of Natural History, and while her somewhat clumsy mice and hominids in books such as Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle's Bones, Brains and DNA make you feel like maybe she's overworked, the keenly observed drawings of meerkats in this book by mammalogist Darrin Lunde show you what she can do given a single subject. This is an appealing little book about a popular little beast, a rare item in the Easy nonfiction area.

Bean Thirteen by Matthew McElligott
The faux-woodcut illustrations in this buggy book about division are just fantastic. Chunky, hip, and expressive, with a sophisticated, punchy palette. The story? Mr. Four and I said "Meh."

Phooey! by Marc Rosenthal
Where Once Upon a Banana does cause-and-effect with road signs, Phooey! does it with onomatopoeia. A bored kid kicks a can ("Phooey!"), which hits a cat ("BONK"), who falls out of the tree ("flump"), etc. All the while the kid, complaining that nothing every happens around here, walks right past all the exciting action. Rosenthal, who calls Celesteville "my utopia" in his dedication, displays a love of clean line and clear color totally worthy of Babar. We went through it twice to catch all the action.

The Police Cloud by Christoph Niemann
Christoph Niemann does a lot of work for The New Yorker. Maybe that's why Mr. Four and I just kind of didn't get this book. Four didn't understand that the cloud by his very nature cannot be an effective police officer. Because he's a puff of vapor, right? And I didn't understand why you would write a book in which the premise and the plot are so completely at odds. Plus I'm getting kind of tired of illustration that looks like Colorforms. I don't care if it's trendy or retro - it looks lazy to me.

Tap dancing on the roof by Linda Sue Park, pictures by Istvan Banyai
Linda Sue Park here does for the Korean poetic style sijo what Andrew Clements recently did for haiku - her clear, funny examples of this short poetic form in effect show kids how it's done. After reading poems like:

What's in your pockets right now? I hope they're not empty:
Empty pockets, unread books, lunches left on the bus - all a waste
In mine: One horse chestnut. One gum wrapper. One dime. One hamster.'s almost impossible to not want to try it yourself. And Istvan Banyai? Do I really have to say it? The Goran Visnjic of illustrators. You just want to sit and stare.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The worst cookies in the world

I made another round of hot sauce for the holidays. What? Everybody else is making cookies, well I don't particularly LIKE cookies. I don't like the mess, I don't like having to mete them out to my children like some jailer with a pack of cigarettes, and I really don't like that whole 8 minutes in the oven or else they burn and stink up the house and make the children cry thing.

I just don't like being told what to do, even by an oven timer.

Ok, so I see your point, that's idiotic. Well, anyway, if you are a lucky friend or relative of mine, or if you're the type to hand out baggies of cookies this time of year, you may get handed a bottle of fire. This time I used my old recipe: drown the chilis in white vinegar til you're ready to cook, blend the chilis and vinegar with a mango or something, force thru a strainer to get the seeds out, cook til the vinegar taste is mostly gone, fix the consistency with alcohol and/or water, et voilà.

But I was looking at the skin-and-seeds pulp that was left over after I strained the paste. "That's a lot of hot right there," I thought to myself.

So I spread the stuff on a piece of foil and stuck it in the oven on a cookie sheet (see, they come in handy even in my house) at 250 degrees for a couple hours. Dried it right up til it was crunchy-looking.

While it was cooling on the stove top, our friend Sam came to collect his daughter. "What's this?" he said, and picked up a large flake and brought it to his face. "NO! AAA! DON'T EAT THAT!" I hollered. "PUT IT DOWN!"

I think I kind of offended him. In retrospect, he probably was just going to give it a sniff. But I have seen that man eat a pickled plum from my fridge the size and color of a baby's testicle, and then pretend that it was fit to eat until he conned someone else into trying one (poor Constance). So I wasn't taking any chances. I think if you ate a mouthful of this stuff you would end up in the 'mergency room.

Eventually I peeled the stuff off the foil and mashed it up in a mortar, and now we have a big jar of extremely potent homemade chili flakes to shake onto our pizza. If we want to die.

dried pulp separated from the foil

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

You're the top - you're my transvestite angel

Why is this man smiling?

Because that little boy has his hand up his dress!

Because this little boy has his hand up his dress!

Our Christmas tree ornaments come from all over the place. Besides Kenny Angel up there, a gift from my brother (who may not be the most communicative Joe in the world, but who consistently gives genius gifts), I have beautiful mercury glass skulls and devil heads, plastic lizards and bugs, plaster cadaveras with springs for legs, and homemade ornaments from virtually everyone who has ever meant anything to me.

Bitter-to-the-core (and Jewish) Jaime contributed an eyeshadow hanging from a thread one year, and it still occupies a proud place. My old friend Tom gutted a broken blow dryer, and the coil and wires from within make a surprisingly festive ornament. Bob's sister Nancy made us a sweet birdhouse ornament for Big Man's first Christmas - it's one of the few things we own that testify to the brief period when we were a family of three. Even my ex-husband is represented, with a cardboard model of the Chrysler Building (sans windows and doors, of course - his maquettes were always terribly revealing psychologically).

But it's my grandma whose work is most in evidence. What that woman couldn't do with a wooden clothespin and a scrap of felt... probably shouldn't be attempted.

Here is a gallery of her clothespin people:

More clothespin people ornaments

Clowns, soldiers, an angel, a Santa... and a Shriner! My grandfather miniaturized and commemorated once a year on my Christmas tree! Perfect.

And here is her Jawa, constructed in the late seventies for her Star Wars-obsessed grandchildren. Thirty years later, her Star Wars-obsessed great-grandchildren are JUST as impressed.

Jawa ornament

Believe me, I am one scroogey bitch, but a scene like this

decorating the tree

... makes even me agree to an eggnog.

The sad ones run on olive oil

"So, guys, where did daddy take you for dinner after swimming?"
"It was a NEW pizza place!"
"It wasn't new - daddy said it had been there since 1996."
"1943. And it was started by a guy who came to this country all the way from Indianapolis."
"Not Indianapolis..."
"Starts with an 'Ih'..."
Pretty good geography for 4 and 6 year olds.
"Right! And what was the guy's name?"
"Matthew! And there was a picture of him up on the wall in a gold frame."
"Did he look like a happy guy?"
"You think so? because I was going to tell mommy that he looked like one sad, bitter S.O.B."
"Yeah, I think he had a sad S.U.V."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Well, I'll be a hoe-tze duh pee-goo*

You are Captain Malcolm Reynolds, aka. Mal or Captain Tightpants. You saw most of your men die in a war you lost and now you seek solitude with a small crew that you are fiercely devoted to. You have no problems being naked.
Take this quiz!

Well, one of those statements applies.

*monkey's butt

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

You're the cream in my cat poo

You know that thing about the catshit coffee? Feral Indonesian cats eat coffee berries, the pits of which (coffee beans), pass through their digestive system (including the butthole, for those of you keeping track) unscathed. Then people (hopefully well-paid people) pick the beans out of the cat poop and sell them to gullible Americans for $80/pound.

Reeks of 21st century legend, right? I was so sure it was crap (sorry), but then my trusted friends Amy and Thomas, the owners of Zeke's Coffee, told us the other day that they've gotten their hands on some (eww) and are hosting a tasting. January 13, 9am, Mill Valley Garden Center. Ten bucks a ticket.

If Jaime can eat a wriggling grub the size of my thumb, you can go drink a cup of catshit coffee.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My hero!

Jaime went to Saigon, ate a live larva. A large live larva. Click here for the video!

Look at her laughing - she makes Bourdain look like a puss!

My kids were SO impressed: the one said, "If I ate a grub I would spit it out!" Of course, he says that about mushrooms too. The other said, "Can we see one with the grubs going in people's noses?"

Jesus, what am I raising?

On the other hand, they both ate squid for dinner with an adventurous aplomb I've not seen since their first encounter with chocolate chips. Thanks, James.

Friday, December 07, 2007

...and Rudolph

Rudolph, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

If I couldn't get a nice shot of both boys looking at the camera and smiling, this picture was our fall-back for the xmas card.

What? It's kind of nice, don't you think? Snowy. Green. Not likely to bash its brother in the head or make fart jokes.

Sigh. My god. Holidays.

Of all the things I've been chasing down (crystal candlesticks, a coatrack, cool-looking pillowcases, a present for my brother), the one that has eluded me ENTIRELY is a cool Christmas tree skirt.

I'm stuck with the damn dead tree in the living room (certain things, like circumcision, my husband just puts his foot down about), so, ok, I decorate around it. I have a large collection of interesting ornaments collected around the globe and from a million museums... and Kenny Angel topping the tree (a gift from my brother, Kenny Angel is a Ken doll dressed in a wedding gown and sporting a red AIDS ribbon and a pearl necklace. See why my brother is so hard to buy for?)... but ALL the tree skirts out there are synthetic velvet or uninspired quilting or full of tassels and sequins and... gag! gag! I went through 3 stores today and wanted to stab myself in the ears from the carols alone!

I've tried Etsy. I've tried Ebay, Target, Stebbins, Garnet Hill, UnicaHome (bastards), Bed Bath and Behind, Smythe, Company Store and LL Bean.

...and I'm done. Unless something comes and wraps itself around my neck, we are going with the red and white round vinyl tablecloth we've used since the late nineties.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Quick! Before the snow melts!

School was delayed this morning by two hours, enough time for us to take ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-ONE photos in the back yard, in the hope that ONE might be good for this year's holiday card. So I came up with 8 candidates - you decide which one we should use.


"Can't you just take a picture of us playing?"


"Can we take one picture of each of us instead of one together?"


"The sun is burning my eyes!"


"Can our Christmas card make sounds when you open it up?"


"Like a fart sound?"


"Yeah! It should fart 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer'!"


"Gentlemen, please, just look at me and smile, ok?"


"NOW can we go make snow angels?"

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Have you seen Junior's grades?

Photo by and originally uploaded by Jules Jung.

Secret Crush Society and Even So (with Token Boy on bass) played the Rock 'n' Romp show this last Saturday at the Creative Alliance.

What? You didn't hear about it? Well then YOU must not have KIDS! Cause it's ONLY for people who show up with ankelbiters, boobmunchers, legitimate offspring or random borrowed urchins. Not too often you hear about a rock show that serves both juice boxes and microbrews. They used to have it in Tracey's back yard, but I think it's even nicer at the Patterson.

After some initial shyness, the kids danced and played. Big Man has some seriously dorky moves (by adult standards) but his cool friend Western State started copying him anyway. They looked pretty great, Big Man with his six arms flailing, Western with his hair streaming.

Our friend Girltwin, who's about a year and a half old, got right down front and did that up-and-down baby booty dance. Our friend Lisa, who's older than a year and a half, the frontwoman for Secret Crush, nearly lost her place a few times when she caught sight of Girltwin, the kid was just. so. cute! There was much spinning, some guitar-god idolatry, and everyone got a turn when it came time to pull trash from the dolphin's gullet.

Except Mr. Four: Mr. Four preferred to dance with me. As you can see above.

And that's the story of what happened to my back and why I am nearly nauseous with pain.

Kids + rock and roll = SO fun. Both bands were absolutely terrific.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Give it to me once and give it to me twice

You gots to give books for the holidays this year. Has yez not heard? Nobody reads nowadays, and that makes us stupiderer.

Here are some ideas of books that people would like to get. (Not me, I only want DVD's.) (but I work at a library, I'm not really in that much danger of getting stupiderer) (can't get much dumber than keeping a job that pays like this when you have student loans like I do.)

Anyway. I don't tend to give fiction - most people read fiction once and then donate it or pass it along. I give non-fiction and children's books, and sometimes short story or essay collections. And remember - books are easy to wrap!

Want to be a hero? Buy some kid either the Marvel Encyclopedia or the DC Encyclopedia or both. Although your otaku brother-in-law will screech over all the outdated information (the books are produced by DK, notorious for inaccuracy) and hairsplit about whether Ms. Marvel should be identified as Warbird or not, he'll love the books even more for giving him a chance to show off his erudition. These books are the comic book equivalent of a steak stuffed with smoked oysters and wrapped in bacon. With port-wine butter sauce.

Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni. Local fussbudget makes good, and reminds us that the finger is not an acceptable substitute for verbal criticism. But... but... I love the finger!

That giant NASA picture book, errr... America in Space: NASA’s First Fifty Years. Abrams, 2007. For your husband, dad or geeky sister who hopes that "there's intelligent life in space, 'cause there's bugger-all down here on earth," and who consequently sends you links like this one.

That less-giant but still hefty National Geo photo book. Will bring a tear to the eye.

America From the Air. Wired magazine picked this one and so do I. It comes with a CD-ROM so you can take it with you on the flight and match up the pictures you see out the window with the pictures in the book. Whee!

George Saunders's new essay collection - fuh-nee!

Ira Glass's new story collection - e'erbody love Ira!

There is a small but risible subgenre of cookbooks that could be called "Get Her on Her Back With Your Mad Hollandaise." I believe myself to own one of the earliest examples of this type of book - Esquire's Handbook for Hosts, copyright 1949 and recently republished, presumably for its kitsch value: in addition to recipes for Peanut Butter Soup (involves celery) and Tongue Tidbits (don't ask), there are comments like, "Women don't seem to understand fish - and, we suppose, vice versa." If you can get your hands on that book, it's pretty excellent, but an updated version is also available: Tucker Shaw's Gentlemen, Start Your Ovens, which is all about "what to cook when your game doesn't work" and "what to serve for breakfast when someone (or more than one someones) is waiting for you in bed". I mean, well, yeah - yuck... but the book is funny and has cool photos and translates mise en place to 'get your shit together before you start'.

Emily Flake's cutie li'l book. Reviewed earlier. For the smoker in your life.

Last year's I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris is more than worth a second glance. Last year you might have picked it up and thought, "Nah, I'm just desperate - it's a novelty book, nobody will look at it more than once." But this year we know that we wish we'd bought it last year. So get it, already - buy it for your best girlfriend, or possibly your mom.

Sitcom Style: Inside America's Favorite TV Homes
by Diana Friedman. While we're talking shallow, this book is kind of mesmerizingly so. Did you really need the Cosby's living room parsed? What was the decision behind that flowered couch on "Married... With Children"? And... was there a little bathroom adjacent to Mike's study in the Brady Bunch house? If there was, I'll bet it had this wallpaper.

Bibliodyssey. Beautiful images out of rare books.

Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia Volume II. Just what it says. There's someone in your life for this book, whether you know it or not.

Cartographia: Mapping Civilizations by Vincent Virga and the Library of Congress. Little, Brown, 2007 ($60). Mankind's need to abstract and make comprehensible the physical world around them is documented thoroughly in this fascinating book. Every type of map technique and purpose seems to be represented, and explained clearly. For your valued friend who can use the word "orthography" in a sentence. My only quibble is that the printing is not quite high-resolution enough, but since these maps are from the collection of The Library of Congress, they should all be available online in the MrSid format, which allows very close zooming. But their search engine is down, so I can't check. Grr.

I used to have a photo of a fossil ichthyosaur skeleton, an elasmosaur or a thalassomedon, I can't remember. This photo was taken a LONG time ago, with the skeleton hanging against a backdrop of black velvet. The negative is an 11" x 17" piece of glass. Fine grain? Oh, man. You could dive into a print of that photo and hit bottom in the late Cretaceous. The skeleton glows. The new book Evolution, text by Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu, photographs by Patrick Gries, gives us hundreds of full and partial skeletons at just that quality. Luxurious and stunning, with brief explanatory essays. It's on my coffee table right now.

Howtoons. Lazily, I am going to quote the book description: "Part comic strip and part science experiment, Howtoons shows children how to find imaginative new uses for common household items like soda bottles, duct tape, mop buckets, and more–to teach kids the "Tools of Mass Construction"!" For your creative child who also loves Bob McLeod's Superhero ABC.

Shipwreck Detective, by Richard Platt. Full of doodads, bells, whistles, maps, photos, and other worth-obsessing-over impedimenta, bound with an elastic strap so none of it falls out. Fascinating to children and adults.

Ages 2-6: 365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental. Reviewed earlier. Or any of the books in my best picture books of 2007 so far or best picture books for hipsters posts.

Ages 4-7: The Incredible Book-Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers. Reviewed earlier.

Ages 8-13: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. Reviewed earlier.

Ages 14-17 (girl flavored): Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block. All 5 Weetzie Bat books collected between two covers. Pop Rocks for the brain and heart.

The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Daring Book for Girls - sure-fire best-sellers this holiday season - are notably absent from my list. They're kind of fun to flip through, and I could see some kid opening them up on a rainy day... if the cable were out... and the Wii was broken... and there was nothing in the fridge... and you were bored of poking things in the cat... but really they just seem to be pitched at those hand-wringing parents who don't feel like childhood today is "natural" enough, that kids get outside enough, who worry that the capoeira classes and Latin study group are somehow making their children odd and precious.

And you know what? Those parents may have something there, but buying a book that teaches their kids how to be kids... yeah, also not the answer.

Happy buying season! We're off to the Merry Mart at the Creative Alliance.