Most people are quick to put fitness at the top of their New Year’s resolutions, thinking that the beginning of a new year is the perfect time to start a new diet or exercise routine.  But, mental fitness is just as important and often overlooked as people flock to the gym or Jenny Craig.

Start 2012 off right for you and your family by mapping out a mental-muscle fitness program targeting the areas of the brain dealing with concentration, imagination, and critical thinking.  It’s easy to do and even uses a couple of muscle groups in your arms – pick up a book. Looking for a place to begin?  Here are some titles you may want to consider for your first routine of the New Year:

Ages 3 to 5

A New Year’s Reunion
by Yu Li-Qiong (Candlewick Press, 2011), $15.99.  A sweet tale about the joys children find in spending time together with a parent.  Maomao only gets to see her Papa for a few days each year, because he works very far away from their home.  But, he always comes home for a few days to celebrate the Chinese New Year.  Maomao loves spending these days doing ordinary little things like watching Papa get his hair cut, making sticky rice balls, and nestling between Papa and Mama at night, falling asleep as they whisper together.  Time for Papa to return to work comes far too soon.  Captivating illustrations make this moving tale of the reality of family live for millions of migrant workers in China come to life.

Ages 3 to 7

Chilly Milly Moo by Fiona Ross (Candlewick Press, 2011), $15.99.  Milly Moo found out after going through a terribly glum period, it was just too hot for Milly Moo to make milk.  And, oh how she wanted to make milk!  The finest, loveliest, tastiest, creamiest milk was what she dreamed of churning out.  But, she wasn’t like the other cows that could fill buckets with milk. Day after day, her bucket came up with zilch, nada, and diddly-squat.  Then, one night, something magical happened, and Milly Moo found out being different was pretty cool!  Whimsical drawings will bring smiles to young readers’ faces, as they read about Milly and the other farmyard moos.

The Best Kind of Kiss by Margaret Allum (Walker & Company, 2011), $14.99.  Kisses are for the people you love most of all.  Young readers will smile and say “Awwwww” as they read about this cute, kiss-y little girl.  Which kiss is the best of all?  Is it after playing for a friendly kiss?  Or, a snuggly-cuddly-mommy kiss?  Perhaps, it’s a great big bristly-growly-daddy kiss.  You’ll have fun finding the answer, as you curl up with this title.

How to Be a Good Cat by Gail Page (Bloomsbury, 2011), $16.99.  Bobo the Dog was at the end of his rope.  He had volunteered to watch Mr. Hiccup’s kitten, wanting to help and thinking he knew all there was to know about kitten-sitting, but he quickly realized he didn’t know a thing about cats.  Cats didn’t like to play fetch.  Cats didn’t like to sit.  Nothing Bobo knew to do was working.  You and your kids will howl with laughter at each comical drawing, as you read about a dog getting to know a cat.

Ages 8 to 12

Chengli and the Silk Road Caravan by Hildi Kang (Tanglewood, 2011), $14.95.  Seventh-century China is the setting for this story about an orphaned boy who joins a caravan crossing the famed Silk Road to Kashgar.  Chengli, 13, lost his mother to illness and his father to what was presumed to be murder.  His father, an inspector, went missing when Chengli was a just a baby while on his own journey along the same road Chengli now travels.  Chengli started his journey hoping to find a connection to his father along the harsh, bandit-ridden path and ended up finding friendship, adventure, and what it means to be a hero.

Ages 12 to 17

Little Women and Me by Lauren Baratz-Logsted (Bloomsbury, 2011), $16.99.  Self-discovery is the journey this author takes teen and tween readers on, as they travel with current-day Emily March to the past-day Family March of Little Women fame.  Emily hadn’t figured on actually going into the 1860s to live life alongside the fictional March sisters. It just kind of happened mysteriously, as she began a school assignment on her book of choice, Little Women, to describe one thing she’d change about a classic novel.  She made the most out of her strange situation, though, and set out to right at least one wrong she saw in the story.  But things don’t go quite as easily as she thought they would. Little Women fans will love this new take on an old favorite.

And for Mommy...

The Litigators by John Grisham (Knopf Doubleday, 2011), $28.95.  David Zinc can’t take another day at his fast-track, life-draining, fancy downtown law firm.  Seriously burned out, he ends up in a Chicago pub, eating greasy food and drinking Pearl Harbors with a wealthy, ancient woman.  When the bartender puts David in a taxi, David somehow finds himself in the seedy part of town, begging for work at a “boutique” firm, Finley & Figg, that takes pride in chasing ambulances.  When David sobers up, he realizes that his best bet is to stick with Finley & Fig, looking for a really big case that could make the partners rich without requiring them to practice law.  The drug Krayoxx looks promising, but the three attorneys are in for a big surprise.  A typical Grisham read filled with courtroom theatrics and suspense, but with a rather cheesy ending.

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Tags: Education, Enrichment, Featured Story

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