Posted by: groundsforsculpture | December 2, 2010

Christmas and the Holiday Season at Toad Hall and The Museum Shop

By Dave Grunwald, Museum Shop Associate

I deeply treasure the practices that, over the years, have become part of my family’s Christmas traditions.  On Christmas Eve, we host the in-laws for dinner; the Christmas tree is lighted and decorated with shiny, bright glass ornaments.  We read or watch “A Christmas Carol” and open some presents, saving our stockings for Christmas day.  Many of these traditions go back to my childhood and they’ll always be with me, but I’ve always been on the lookout for and open to creating new ones.

When I was a child my parents would read Christmas stories to my brothers and me: Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and The Night Before Christmas.  Listening to these books led to a life-long love of reading, appreciation for beautiful language and a deep family tradition in my brothers and me.  This year, Grounds For Sculpture’s shops, Toad Hall and The Museum Shop, have provided me with new stories.  The Museum Shop has many wonderful children’s books, both “winter themed” and “not winter themed,” that present the opportunity to add to your family’s holiday traditions.  Though these books may be intended for a child, that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying them.

“That’s Not My Penguin” and “That’s Not My Polar Bear,” by author Fiona Watt and illustrator Rachel Welles, are funny stories aimed at very young children.  Bright pictures and different textures are designed to develop sensory and language awareness.  I enjoy leafing through these and musing on how much I would have enjoyed them as a child.  Another of our books is “The Snowy Day,” a 1963 Caldecott Medal winner by Ezra Jack Keats.  The magic of falling snow has always fascinated me, stopped me in my tracks to watch it.  This book beautifully explains what makes it snow and explores the wonder of a snowy day.

As much as I enjoy these books, and many others in the shop, my absolute favorites have nothing to do with winter, Christmas or any other holiday!  How can that be if I love Christmas as much as I say?  It’s easy, these two books are like small, vibrantly illustrated, jewels.  They imaginatively teach two life lessons that we should all take to heart.  What better time to do this than during the Christmas season?  The books are “The Dot” and “Ish” written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.

“The Dot” is the story of Vashti’s frustration at what she perceives as her inability to draw.  This frustration begins to fade when her art teacher says to her, “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.”  She angrily jabs her pencil at a blank sheet of paper leaving an unremarkable dot.  Vashti’s teacher asks that she sign the paper and the next art class finds the signed dot framed and hanging on the classroom wall.  Looking at the dot, Vashti thinks that she can do better and, as she experiments, the dots grow in size, color and complexity until, yes, she realizes that she can draw, that she is an artist.  Vashti has learned something that we all need to remember: each of us has abilities and talents.  Realizing these talents is simply a matter of wanting to do something, taking that first step towards it and working until you’re satisfied with what you’ve accomplished – and then you do it again.  The book has a wonderful ending.  Vashti passes the life lesson that she’s learned on to someone else.

“Ish” is the companion-ish (I’ll explain the suffix shortly) story to “The Dot”.  In this story we find Ramon, a child who loves to draw — until his older brother convinces him that Ramon’s art doesn’t look exactly like the subject of his drawings.  Ramon tries harder and harder to make his drawings look “real,” crumpling each drawing in frustration.  With his brother’s laughter searing his ears Ramon stops drawing – until he finds that his sister has turned her bedroom into a gallery of his crumpled work.  “This is one of my favorites,” Marisol said pointing.  “That was supposed to be a vase of flowers,” Ramon said, “but it doesn’t look like one.”  “Well, it looks vase-ish” she exclaimed.  As they continue to look at the drawings Ramon comes to understand that “ish” is good.   Energized, the ideas flow freely from him – without worry about “exactness”.  Ramon now knows that we don’t always have to “color within the lines” that life isn’t always exact, that life can get messy and that if it’s “ish”, and it makes us happy then we should sit back and savor it.

By my measure reading a book is an experience enhanced by being in a nice setting with some great food and drink.  Toad Hall offers first-rate food and drink with its Salem Baking Company cookies, Tea Forté teas and chocolates from J. Emanuel Chocolatiers.  All the teas and cookie varieties are tasty and satisfying, but I can barely stop myself from eating a box of the “Enrobed Caramel Fleur-de-Sel Cookies Topped with Toffee”.  And I really can’t stop eating the chocolates.  J. Emanuel Chocolatier is an artisanal chocolate maker located in northern New Jersey.  Toad Hall’s offerings include two of my favorites: chocolate covered caramels covered with fleur de sel (a premium sea salt) and truffles infused with wine.  This is as good as chocolate gets.  Are the cookies, chocolates and teas too good to leave out for Santa?  That depends on who Santa is….

The staff of Toad Hall and The Museum Shop wants to take this opportunity to wish all of our patrons and friends a Merry Christmas and a wonderful Holiday Season.



  1. Well done, David. Never knew you were such a prolific writer.
    I certainly enjoyed your personal touch.

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