Children’s Books Make Nice Christmas Gifts

Children’s books make wonderful gifts. Looking for books for those special children in your life?

While we’re on the subject, I have a brand new special child in my life:

Born November 4th, my new grandson weighed 5 pounds 15 ounces. For now, his nickname is Little Man.

With all the excitement of the birth of a new grand darling (our sixth), plus lots of company this month, it’s taken me longer than planned to write this post about two children’s books and the amazing authors who wrote them.

For the little ones, Vilayvanh Bender’s picture book, Mommy Eats Fried Grasshoppers, is delightful. She compares and contrasts two generations and cultures while also emphasizing the loving relationship between a mother and daughter. A perfect read aloud.

Vilayvanh Bender

“A story of generational and cultural differences between mother and daughter. Endearing illustrations show Mahlee learning how differently Mommy did things as a child in Laos than she does in America. Mahlee loves doing everything with Mommy, but will she eat fried grasshoppers? A great way to inspire a conversation about childhood, culture and family history.”

My BBH McChiller coauthor Kathryn Sant and I attended Vanh’s book signing at The Frugal Frigate children’s bookstore in Redlands, California on November 10th.

Vilayvanh Bender, Lynn Kelley, BBH McChiller, Grammy Gets It

Vanh read her picture book to an impressive crowd of children and parents.

Vilayvanh Bender, Lynn Kelley, BBH McChiller

Also present at the book signing was illustrator, Nor Sanavongsay.

Lynn Kelley, BBH McChiller

Kathryn Sant (aka BBH McChiller), Nor Sanavongsay, and Vilayvanh Bender

Below, Nor is signing a book, and some of Vanh’s relatives are wearing their beautiful silk Laos dresses.

Nor Sanavongsay, Lynn Kelley, BBH McChiller

Everyone was welcome to eat a fried grasshopper. I was game. I love to try new foods.

Lynn Kelley, BBH McChiller

Lynn Kelley (aka BBH McChiller)

Not bad. I ate two fried grasshoppers. Yay for getting a little extra protein, plus I got a sticker:

Lynn Kelley, BBH McChiller

There was a table displaying Ninja and rag dolls like the ones Vanh played with as a child in Laos.

Vanh’s illustrator, Nor Sanavongsay, demonstrated how he creates his illustrations on a tablet.

The Frugal Frigate is the perfect setting to hold children’s book signings. Lots of interesting books and decorations.

Lynn Kelley, BBH McChiller

Nor Sanavongsay, Vilayvanh Bender, and Marilyn Cram Donahue.

Aspiring Writer Meets Mentor

A few years ago, Vilayvanh Bender met Marilyn Cram Donahue, leader of a group called The Saturday Morning Schmoozers. It’s for folks interested in the craft of children’s books. The Schmoozers are part of the SoCal Region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

“I was so nervous,” Vanh said regarding the first meeting she attended.  She wasn’t sure what kind of impression the draft of her picture book would make on the group.

Marilyn said she knew right away it was a winning manuscript and that it was bound to be picked up for publication.

Get it at Amazon:

Mommy Eats Fried Grasshoppers

Here’s a video of Vanh’s book launch, which was on October 6th. It was jam-packed with authentic Lao food and activities such as the Lao traditional dance, natasinh, how to make flip-flop shoes out of banana tree trunks, making Ninja and rag dolls, and more.

Marilyn attended Vanh’s book signing: a joyful reunion.

Lynn Kelley, BBH McChiller

Vilayvanh Bender and mentor Marilyn Cram Donahue.

For older children, I recommend Marilyn Cram Donahue’s When the Crickets Stopped Singing. 

 “Set in the summer of 1939, this historical novel for readers aged 10-14 tells the story of a young girl who finds the strength to defy the social norms of her community when a dangerous man poses a threat to a friend. Twelve-year-old Angie Wallace and her friends embark on a quest to ‘love thy neighbor,’ which includes newcomer Jefferson Clement. But soon the girls begin to suspect that he’s a dangerous man, even if the adults refuse to see it. Like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, the characters in this book must explore the nature of truth and justice as Angie struggles to stand up for what she knows is right.

“It’s the calm before the storm of World War II in 1939 in small-town Messina, California. Angie Wallace and her friends have set out on a mission to “love thy neighbor”–even if that means inviting weird Dodie Crumper to join in their summer plans. But as they move through their neighborly to-do list, the girls can’t help but notice that there’s something strange about the sudden return of Jefferson Clement. He might be well-dressed and respected, yet with each interaction they become more aware of his dark intentions, especially when it comes to young girls.

The adults in town either don’t notice or ignore the danger he poses, but when Angie is the only witness to a terrible accident, she must make a choice that calls into question everything she understands about truth and justice. With a setting that blossoms to life from the first page, When the Crickets Stopped Singing is the story of a transformative summer in a young girl’s life, when the idylls of childhood collide with the perils of the world beyond.”

Marilyn Cram Donahue and Vilayvanh Bender

School Library Journal Review of When the Crickets Stopped Singing:

“Donahue creates a memorable pair of antagonists…(t)he novel’s climax and its aftermath further underscores a recurring theme of the dangers of false appearances. A leisurely pace, careful language, and a nostalgic tone…mak(e) it appropriate for younger readers or classroom discussion….(a)nd align with the novel’s gentle handling of a serious topic. A thoughtful historical fiction and coming-of-age story.”

Get it at Amazon:

When the Crickets Stopped Singing

“I love this book. Loved getting to know the characters, especially Angie and Dodie. The writing is lovely and the story, compelling.

It’s June 1939, and the small town of Messina is full of gossip and rumors, wholesome fun, good folks and bad. Angie and her best friend Geraldine make friends with the new neighbor girl, Reba Lu. An article in Calling All Girls magazine titled “What It Takes to be Popular” intrigues them. The first helpful hint, “Be nice to everyone” gets them brainstorming on a plan of action. Angie is reluctant to go along with the other girls’ idea to create a list of sinners they can be kind to.

Problems crop up despite their good intentions. I don’t want to add any spoilers, but I’ll just say the story pulls you in until you become a part of Messina and all the happenings, sweet moments, fragile relationships, and frightening trouble brewing.

I know it’s cliché, but I was literally on the edge of my seat. I became so invested in the story, I couldn’t put it down. I highly recommend this book. It’s one that stays with you and even becomes a part of you.”

Don’t you agree both of these books would make wonderful Christmas gifts for the young readers in your life?

Little Man is still the size of a baby doll, but soon enough he’ll become a reader, too, like my other grandchildren. They love children’s books.

Lynn Kelley, BBH McChiller, Grammy Gets It

Grammy and Little Man

Kids grow up so fast, don’t they?

About The Authors

Vilayvanh Bender immigrated to America at the age of seven as a Vietnam War refugee, along with her family. Without knowing the language, her first goal in the United States was to become fluent in English. She believes in the importance of cultural preservation and acceptance. Vilayvanh enjoys volunteering at her daughters’ school and sharing her Lao culture with students through stories, activities and play which have ultimately became the inspiration for her first children’s book. Vilayvanh lives in Corona, California with her husband and two daughters. She is a private practice Registered Dietitian working with children and families. Vilayvanh is passionate about the health and wellness of all children. You will find her outdoors in her spare time, gardening, walking or playing tennis. Sharing dishes and trying new foods are two of her favorite things. Most of all, she enjoys laughing and making memories with her family.

Marilyn Cram Donahue

Marilyn Cram Donahue is a fourth generation Californian who lives in East Highlands, California, not far from where her great-grandfather planted the first orange trees in that area. She says, “I had a wonderful childhood and grew up thinking that everyone had grandparents with big, soft beds and great stories to tell.”
She graduated from Pomona College, married the boy next door, and had four children, about whose misadventures she has often written. She has eight grandchildren, who keep her up to date about what’s going on in teen life today. To date, she has published 30 books, over 500 articles and short stories, and seven juvenile plays.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any special children in your life? If so, do they like to read? Did you love to read when you were a child? Are you enjoying the hustle and bustle of the holidays?


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11 Responses to Children’s Books Make Nice Christmas Gifts

  1. Pambelina says:

    Hi Lynn,
    This is a lovely post about these two amazing authors and their new books!!! I enjoyed reading it 🙂

  2. Lynn, what a great article. The pictures of Vanh and her book show what an exciting day it was! And thank you so much for including the information about me and When the Crickets Stopped Singing. As well as some of the reviews!

    • Vanh says:

      Thank you so much Marilyn for coming out and supporting me. I will never forget when you told me not to give up and that my MS needed to be published. So very grateful.

  3. Thank you, Marilyn. It was an exciting day, for sure! My pleasure to include you and your latest book in this post. You’ve mentored so many new writers, myself, included. What an amazing difference you’ve made in so many lives, and as far as your writing, you’re a master in my book, yet always humble and helpful. Thanks for visiting!

  4. Yvette Carol says:

    Absolutely amazing post, Lynn. What a fantastic book launch and so great that everyone turned out to support. Both the books featured sound great and I thought the book cover for When the Crickets Stopped Singing was truly creepy.

  5. Congrats on the new grandson! He sure is a cutie. And props to you on trying fried grasshoppers – I don’t know if I would have been able to stomach it, although it’s true that it’s just cultural leanings. No special young kids in my life 🙁 , but those both look like wonderful books.

  6. Vanh says:

    This is such a wonderful post. Thank you so much for your support Lynn. It was so great to see you at the event. I love that you tried fried grasshoppers. Congrats on your new grandson… he is so cute! Thank you everyone for your comments.

    • I’m so glad you like the post, Vanh, and I apologize for taking so long to publish it. The whole month just seemed to get away from me. It was a wonderful event, and I was so glad to take part in it and listen to you read your book and interact with the kids. Your sense of humor is great and you’re a natural at talking about things that the kids can relate to.

      My little grandson stole my heart. It’s so neat to have another future reader in the family! Wishing you much success with your future books!

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