• Read about young Santa, a delinquent tween, and Tolkien's letters to the North Pole. Read about young Santa, a delinquent tween, and Tolkien's letters to the North Pole. By Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media book editor

    Finding the right book for your kid can be a challenge. But if you guess right and keep new ones coming, you may be on your way to raising a lifelong reader.


    Check out our Essential Books for Kids and Teens guide to find more than 150 of our perennial favorites. Plus, every month we highlight a few books for different ages, including some exceptional titles that could be the perfect thing to pique kids' interest, get them hooked on a new author, or help them rediscover an old favorite.

    Here are our picks for December:

    • For kids age 3 to 7, there's Little Santa by Jon Agee, which offers a charming origin story of Santa Claus that bears no relation to the one about St. Nicholas. Who knew that Santa grew up at the North Pole with a snow-hating family desperate to move to Florida and that even as a tyke in a red onesie he had a taste for sliding down chimneys and riding flying reindeer? With deadpan humor and appealing art in a wintry
    Read More »from What to Read Next: New Holiday Books for Kids
  • Sam Kaplan/FITNESS MagazineSam Kaplan/FITNESS MagazineBy Sharon Liao

    Maybe it was a Top Chef marathon or the realization that you could probably buy a new wardrobe with the money you were shelling out on kung pao chicken. Whatever the reason, you traded your takeout menus for cookbooks. But even though you're spending more time in the kitchen (whipping up healthy meals, no less), your pants aren't getting any looser. What gives? Chances are, you're making a few all-too-common mistakes. Before you throw in the dish towel, read on for the super simple fixes that can help you look Padma-esque in time for summer.

    Related: 6 Ways to Snack Smarter

    Fat trap 1: Overcooking pasta
    Take that pot off the stove a little early and your bucatini will have a satisfying bite and keep you full for hours. "Hot water breaks down the bonds between starch molecules," says Johanna Burani, RD, the author of Good Carbs, Bad Carbs. The longer you boil your pasta, the quicker your body converts those carbs into fuel. This sets off a rapid rise in blood sugar that

    Read More »from 12 Sneaky Ways to Slim Down Your Diet
  • Crash-warning snacks

    It's 3 p.m. You're hungry again and feeling sleepy. You might be tempted to reach for one of these common -- and deceptively healthy -- treats to perk yourself up, but don't. Our nutrition experts offer smarter picks to avoid an afternoon crash and stay full until dinner.

    1. SKIP: Pretzels
    You may feel virtuous reaching for a bag of fat-free pretzels instead of fried potato chips. But don't do it. "It's not a snack that will energize you or keep your blood sugar level steady to get through the rest of your afternoon alert and focused," says registered dietitian Elisa Zied, author of Younger Next Week. "It provides calories, refined carbohydrates, too much sodium, and not much else to keep you nourished and satisfied long term."

    Try instead: A whole-grain, high-fiber cereal mixed with two tablespoons of nuts, such as almonds, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts, or pecans, says Zied.


    Related:
    10 Ways Not to Pack on the Pounds During the Holidays


    2. SKIP: Baked

    Read More »from The 8 Worst Snacks for an Afternoon Slump
  • Best Hot Chocolate Ever

    What's better than a cozy cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter's day? If you've been relying on instant hot cocoa for your chocolate fix, you don't know what you're missing. In this sweet episode of "Easy Does It," chef Stuart O'Keeffe demos his favorite creamy hot chocolate and shares some delicious ideas to kick it up for extra decadence.

    WATCH: No Bake Pumpkin Pie

    Simply bring your milk or half-and-half to just below a simmer while you combine bittersweet and milk chocolate, sea salt, and cinnamon in a separate bowl. Then, temper the chocolate by pouring the hot milk over the chocolate mix, allowing the chocolate to sit for a few minutes and slowly melt. Stir, and add back into the saucepan to stay warm while you serve to eager guests.

    WATCH: Surprising Trick for Extra-Cheesy Grilled Cheese

    Stuart recommends personalizing your hot chocolate with additions like peanut butter, instant coffee, caramel, peppermint sticks, or cinnamon sticks for an extra layer of flavor. So get creative

    Read More »from Best Hot Chocolate Ever
  • By Louis DeNicola, Cheapism.com

    For many college students, winter break is a much anticipated time to relax after the hours spent bent over books and keyboards during finals. Whether the start of the next semester is keenly anticipated or dreaded, one common stressor is certain: A tuition bill will arrive soon.

    Get your college tuition and expenses covered for the new year.

    The deadline for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) is long past and students have received their aid allotments, but it's not the end of the road for those who need more financial assistance for the second half of the school year. Students who have experienced hardships since the application was turned in (an illness or the loss of a job, for example) or simply believe they will be unable to continue without additional help should consider writing a letter of appeal to the school's financial aid office. The University of Northwestern Ohio has prepared a sample letter that some students may find helpful. There is no guarantee that additional aid will be

    Read More »from College Students: Get Your Finances Square Next Semester
  • Your kids will be extra thankful for these cookies.Your kids will be extra thankful for these cookies.My mom has had a fall tradition for as long as I can remember: making turkey cookies with all the kids at our Thanksgiving gatherings. I loved it when I was little, and now I love seeing my kids' eyes light up when they see the candy, cookies and frosting laid-out on the table. The turkey cookies change from year to year, but our love of the tradition never does!

    Ingredients

    Nutter Butter® cookies
    Candy corn
    Chocolate or vanilla frosting
    Candy eyes
    Orange Starburst® candies
    Heart-shaped sprinkles
    Maple leaf-shaped sprinkles

    Related: 21 apple recipes that'll steal the show at Thanksgiving

    Directions

    1. Begin by carefully peeling the top part of the cookie away from the bottom, trying to keep peanut butter filling on bottom cookie. Spread chocolate or vanilla frosting over peanut butter filling and carefully place candy corn into frosting around the top half of the cookie. Then gently press the top cookie back on, over the candy corn.

    2. Cut beak shape from starburst candies and

    Read More »from No Turkeys Were Harmed in the Making of This Cookie!
  • Yum!I gave birth to my third child two weeks ago and the day we got home from the hospital a friend asked if she could swing by quickly to drop something off. It wasn't a cute outfit or flowers or Goodnight Moon (all great presents, by the way), it was a giant vat of chili with all the fixings, including homemade cornbread and instructions on how to heat and serve. Dinner! This friend happens to be a classically trained chef (one of the many reasons I adore her) and she had told me ahead of time that she'd be making me something. But chili was absolutely perfect, so I had to write about it here — and share her recipe and tips.

    The chili itself was flavorful and fantastic but what made it over-the-top — and extra new-baby-in-the-house friendly: all the delicious toppings my friend had chopped and packed in separate Ziplock bags. Cilantro, scallions, cheddar cheese, lime wedges — plus an avocado, a container of sour cream and a bag of tortilla chips she recommended crumbling on top. All we

    Read More »from The Best Gift You Can Give Someone Who Just Had a Baby
  • It's holiday-party season, and if you're throwing a celebration, you probably have a lot on your mind — food, drinks, decorations — but you might overlook one important room, the bathroom! Event planner Shawn Rabideau explains why it's important to get this room in party shape for your next big bash.

    WATCH: Warm Up Your Bathroom for Winter

    "It's the one room, aside from your living room, that everyone's going to end up in!" Shawn says. "So you have to take care of it."

    First, stock up on soap, toilet tissue, and disposable hand towels. "Nobody likes to put their hands on the cotton towels after everybody's been using them," Shawn says. Place disposable towels on a platter from your kitchen for an easy way to make things a little more elegant.

    Second, don't be afraid to decorate the bathroom. Shawn suggests taking a wreath and hanging it over the mirror or on the wall as a statement piece. "You can have a lot of fun with it," he says. "You can use boughs, you can use ribbons … whatever you

    Read More »from Get Your Bathroom Holiday Party-Ready
  • Plan on taking your kid to see Frozen this weekend? Plan on taking your kid to see Frozen this weekend?

    By Sierra Filucci, Common Sense Media editor


    Before you had kids, a trip to the movies was a no-brainer. You liked the actor or director or the movie poster was cool, so you went. Simple. But if you have little kids, you have to put a bit more thought into a visit to the multiplex, especially the first time you go. Here are some tips for making the first venture to the theater a success.

    Determine whether your kid is really ready. What's the right age to take kids to their first movie? Well, it depends on your kid. Lots of kids see their first movie around the age of 3 or 4, but some parents wait until kids are a bit older, especially if they're sensitive to loud noises or scared of the dark.

    Choose the right movie. Obviously, you want something kid-friendly -- usually, animation fits the bill. But also look for movies that are slower-paced or shorter than the average blockbuster. These kinds of movies aren't always playing in the theater, but keep your eye out for special

    Read More »from 5 Tips for Your Kid's First Trip to the Movies
  • Photo: Leann Mueller

    By Brené Brown

    I look forward to the holidays with childlike glee. As soon as the Texas heat drops below 80 degrees, I sneak a few Christmas carols onto my playlist; the tree goes up right after Thanksgiving. But by mid-December, I've gone into survival mode, and I'm not feeling much holiday joy. Why? Because when I'm scrambling to string up lights or send out another 50 cards-that is, when I'm worrying about the outside world's perceptions-I forget to be present in my own home for my husband and our two amazing kids.

    Oprah has said that what we all want most in life is to be seen, and I couldn't agree more. A joyful home is one in which people feel seen and appreciated. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking the holidays are about giving and receiving presents or attending parties, but it's really small, quiet acts of gratitude that cultivate connection. Gratitude creates joy-not vice versa. So this year I'm going to give thanks every chance I get for that special group of folks

    Read More »from Brene Brown: 3 Acts of Gratitude that Can Strengthen Your Family

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