Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hear Ye, Hear Ye! Gift card raffle!

BIG NEWS: The kids' beloved Grammy and her husband have relocated from too-far-away and too-hot-anyway Georgia to a quiet home about an hour away from us.  What luck!  We are super thrilled, for more reasons than the fact that we now have a place to drop our kids and run for the hills.  (Just kidding, GrandBill.  Sort of.)

But I need your help!

Our housewarming gift to them is to provide a good children's library for their house.  I've already pulled about 50 books from our own library to give them, but I know there are others that I need to buy.  Including our three kids, they will have nine pint-sized grandkids, all local, spending a lot of quality time there, so there had better be books lying around for the times when GrandBill needs a bit of peace and quiet.

What books MUST their shelves hold?  Which book in your childhood, or in your parenthood, has stood out SO MUCH that you just can't imagine a grandparent not having it available to their grandchild?  (By the way, right now all kids are between 1 and 5, so all picture books are good but beginner or easier chapter books like Roald Dahl are also totally legit.)

Post your answer below--anyone can do it (yes, even you)--but you've got to provide a way for me to contact you should you be the winner.  So don't forget that contact information--preferably an email address--if I don't know you.  I'll put all the names in a hat and have Kiefer choose the winner.  Lorelei and Ben have figured out how to cheat, so...I just can't trust them anymore...  Anyway, the winner will receive a $100 gift card to Barnes & Noble.

My answer: Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day?  And no, though I shamelessly voted for myself in student government I will not include my own name in the drawing.

Can't wait to hear what suggestions you have!  Let 'em rip...


Llama Llama Zippity-Zoom by Anna Dewdney

Llama Llama Zippity-Zoom by Anna Dewdney

Rating: 4.5 stars

I think I have the imprint of this book still on my cheek.  Because that's what Kiefer does when he wants me to read him a book at bedtime: He grabs the book and smacks me with it.  Words, please come at anytime...

This book is so great.  It's super fun to read, and has all the sounds that little guys and girls like to hear.  There's not much to it.  Here is the entire book:
Llama Llama zip, Llama Llama zoom
Llama Llama Red Pajama vroom vroom vroom
Llama Llama swish! Llama Llama swoosh!
Llama Llama Red Pajama Whoosh Whoosh Whoosh!
Llama Llama Beep!  Llama Llama Bop!
Llama Llama Red Pajama Screech!  Clunk!  Stop!
It's like a song you can't get out of your head, but it hasn't annoyed me...yet.  The only thing that keeps me from giving it a 5 rating is the hard corners.  They hurt.  Okay, not really--it's the price.  At $7 (even at Target, where the check out lady and I had a grand little conversation about all of the Llama Llama books), it seems a little steep for such a tiny book.  But I still bought it as a gift for a vet-friend who is having a baby in the fall.  

Hmm...I hope she doesn't read this, about how I complained about the price of part of her gift!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Buzz Boy and Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold

Buzz Boy and Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold

Rating: 3 stars

Well, good news: this superhero book is not violent.  It is pretty silly, but not laugh-out-loud hilarious.  Maybe it was before the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems taught us what a really funny book was like...  But we've been ruined for life by those great books!  All other silly books are just...a little silly.  Like those cards that are in the "almost funny" category.

Anyway, this is just the first book of eight, and two of the ones we've ordered from the library have won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book award, so...  maybe this first one was a warm up for Tedd Arnold.  I'm happy to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Here's the story: a boy named Buzz writes a story about himself and his friend, who happens to be a fly.  In his story, he wakes up one day as the same size as his buddy, and finds that both of them are superheroes.  What fun!  They go on a silly adventure where their house was carried off by pirates and placed in a dragon cave (hate it when that happens).  To outsmart the pirates, they move the sleeping dragon, wake him, and use his flames to scare away the pirates.  I like the David and Goliath aspect to this.

The pictures are cute--the duo have enormous eyes and happy faces.  Ben and Lorelei both liked the book, but didn't love it.  I'm curious what the others are like...the rest of them are headed to our local library as I type!

The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man by Michael Chabon

The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man by Michael Chabon, illustrated by Jake Parker

Rating: 2 stars

This book just couldn't commit.

It has one superhero boot-clad foot on the side of the sweeter stories with flying, masked men who are actually cute kids.  They do good deeds as their capes swirl around them.  The superhero--Awesome Man--in this story is totally imaginary--all adventures in the book are completely in his head.  But it also has one superhero boot-clad foot in the traditional, violent stories where these same masked men hit their enemies, throw things, destroy vehicles.  All of this is done while wearing what we call in our house a "mean face."

The story, too, is all over the place.  Despite all of the sentences on each and every page, we really don't get to know the hero at all.  The story line is jumbled up and we get bits and pieces of where he comes from and what he does while he bashes this and bruises that.  There are a bunch of enemies; too many to really understand one or two very well.  We don't realize that he's a boy until the end (that's his astonishing secret), when he throws a "power grip"--also known as a hug--around his mom.  For that reason, we don't get good part of the traditional superhero story: A normal kid, probably unpopular in one way or another, transforms into a hero and helps the very people who belittle him when he's normal.  

Lorelei and Ben think the pictures are pretty cool--disturbingly, the one where Awesome Man shoots positronic rays out of his eyeballs in order to decapitate a giant killer robot is one of their favorites.  I think this is my first "what's cool is not good" lesson...not that I really spilled all these thoughts to them, but...  I'm guessing this won't be my last lesson in this genre.  I have those teenage years to look forward to!

I don't think the author thought about his audience while writing this book.  The language requires kids to be pretty old for this book, but I can't imagine a kid older than 6 wanting to read it.  Lorelei, 5, who really has a wide range of facts in her little brain, is left confused about what "postitronic rays" are, and then here I am explaining "arch nemesis" and "force shield," too...  So this is a book for Ben's age?  I don't think so...

We'll be taking this book back to the library today...won't miss it at all!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

G is for Gold Medal by Brad Herzog, illustrated by Doug Bowles

G is for Gold Medal: An Olympic Alphabet by Brad Herzog, illustrated by Doug Bowles

Rating: 5 stars (or just one gold medal)

HURRY!  If you order this book RIGHT NOW it'll arrive at your house before the Opening Ceremonies!

We ordered our copy about a week ago and the kids were super excited to look through it.  I don't really make a big deal out of a lot of things.  I drag my feet in decorating for Halloween (much to Lorelei the Decorator's chagrin).  I force myself to put something green on their plate for St Patrick's Day (last year was guacamole.  I know...mommy demerit for me).

But the Olympics!  The OLYMPICS!  THIS is a reason for all caps and exclamation marks if I've ever had one!

I was a horseback rider growing up.  Did you know that I was the (ahem) state champion of Hawaii in both English and Western in 1990?  (It helped to have only two opponents and a cute pony named Flashdance.)  Anyway, I really believed when I was little that I would ride in the Olympics.  I was dedicated and had a lot of talent--but not the money.  When I was a child of an Army officer, I didn't realize that my leased pony was worth about as much as one unshod hoof of an Olympic steed.

But you know what?  No matter.  I believed, and I dreamed.  And I wasn't too disappointed when reality caught up with me. realized that life would not include the Games.  Sports--mostly riding, but also running--helped channel my energy into healthy pursuits.

My husband and I totally get into the Games.  We watch them as much as possible, even non-TV me.  Track and field, gymnastics, and horseback riding are my favorites.  We explain to Lorelei and Ben how much the athletes have to train, how hard they have to work, how much they have to want it.  I am inspired by these athletes, and I know they'll see that and get a little inspired in their own way, too.

It's hard to find ANY book about the Olympics, and I'm glad to say that this is a really good one that explains what the Games are about.  If you're not familiar with these alphabet books by Herzog, there are two ways to read them--first, a short poem for each letter that make the book a good sit-in-my-lap-for-a-bit-and-read book; second, an additional description of that letter-inspired theme that would take about 20-30 minutes to read out loud, but would really provide a ton of information to a curious kid.  Each one is informative and insightful.  It took us one long lunch to read this book; Lorelei and Ben had a bunch of (wonderful) questions that I was excited they asked and therefore took my time answering.

But the pictures are what make this book excellent.  They are HUGE in scale; they are drawn to draw in all these little eyes that are looking at the book, and hopefully watching a bit of the Games.  The illustrations are slightly bigger than life, and I found myself looking through the book once again after bedtime.

The Olympics only come once every four years, of course, so I think it's worth making them a BIG DEAL in your house, too.  Even if you're annoyed by these ALL CAPS and exclamation points!

(I'm excited.  What can I say?!)

P.S.  One of the other few books I can find with any Olympic storyline is the wonderful Koala Lou, which is also my very first blog post.

Reading in front of my kids...

I don't think my kids have ever seen me cry.  I don't cry a lot and I don't like to cry, so...I hide my tears.  Good or bad?  Feel free to debate.  But the answer is not likely to change my habit!

But they saw me tear up today.  They saw the tell-tale chin quiver.

"Mommy, what's the matter?"

I had to compose myself.  I looked up at them, tears still obviously hanging in my eyes, threatening to fall at any moment.

"My book is at a really sad part!"

Let me tell you about the hours leading up to this, if I may...

I woke up way too early, after having some disturbing dreams, I think...not that I can remember them.  And then the boys woke up way too early, each choosing their own moment way too soon after 5 AM.  I tried to pull myself out of my unhappy mood...I breakfasted well, had coffee, showered, dressed, played a bunch, took the kids on random Sunday morning errands (and made a scene at Trader Joe's with them dancing in the aisles like crazy kids).  But still...I was just in a poopy, crabby mood.

After Kiefer screamed his way down to a nap at lunchtime, I told the big kids that I needed twenty minutes of quiet reading to help get me happy again.  Lorelei pulled out a Ladybug magazine and Ben grabbed a book of Shel Silverstein.  Guidry snored between us.

Only it wasn't as peaceful as it sounds.  It would have been had there been a "mute" button on the room.  But here was the constant chatter dripping from Ben's tired mouth:

"How many minutes left, Mommy?  What are you reading?  I want Guidry to move.  How many minutes left, Mommy?  I have a question for you.  Mommy.  Just one question.  Mommy?  What are you reading about? Lorelei, what are you reading?  What is in the magazine?  How many minutes left, Mommy?  How many minutes left, Mommy?  What are you reading?  I want Guidry to move.  How many minutes left, Mommy?  I have a question for you.  Mommy.  Just one question.  Mommy?  What are you reading about? Lorelei, what are you reading?  What is in the magazine?  How many minutes left, Mommy?"   

Yup, your assumption is right: my twenty minutes of reading wasn't as restorative as I had planned.

And, to make matters worse, I am at the end of Undaunted Courage and have been trying to finish it for the past week.  It's exceptional and moving and interesting and inspiring, and I really love it.  But I'm at the very end, and my pal Lewis isn't doing well.  And I really like him, so it's sad for me to see how quickly he's fallen from being a beloved leader to a staggering old man.  At his end, he and is alone and sad, numbing himself from reality with drink.  And he doesn't even get his wonderful journals published.

But I didn't know that he committed suicide!  I couldn't help but cry.  It was so sad.  My heart breaks for him.

The silver lining in this story involves reading.  While I sat there reading, Ben finally calmed down a little and said, "I want to read like you, Mommy."  And now they are at memory age, and they'll remember me becoming so involved with a book, so attached to a character, so emotionally caught up with the story that I cried while reading it.

Those tears are worth it, I think.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy by David Soman and Jacky Davis

The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy by David Soman and Jacky Davis

Rating: 4 stars

Last fall, Ladybug Girl's partner-in-crime, Bumbleebee Boy, got his own book.  We checked it out then and liked it, but my appreciation for the book has gone up between then and now.  Ben, our resident superhero-in-training, and Kiefer, his little brother, are just beginning to play together.

I use the term "play" loosely.  Really, they like to yell at each other, happily taking turns out-shouting the other.  And then there's chase: Ben is doing something and Kiefer zombie-walks near him, Ben screams "Here comes a Kiefer monster!" and runs away, much to Kiefer's delight.  The other version of chase is totally dangerous but even more fun because it involves our dog Guidry racing around the table, with Ben racing, too, and Kiefer...tottering precariously between and around them.  I am certain that our first trip to the Emergency Room will be a result of one such game.

Ben climbed onto my lap with this book earlier today--Lorelei was at camp and Kiefer was napping.  "Let's read this one, Mommy."  Okay, twist my arm.

Bumblebee Boy has adventure after adventure in this book.  He fights pirates and battles dragons.  He faces wild lions and chases after bandits.  On each of these uber-boy adventures, his little brother Owen interrupts and wants to play, too.  "Me be soup hero too!" Owen says, wearing his zip-up footie pajamas and from-the-hospital newborn blanket tied around as a cape.  (Pretty adorable stuff.)

My superhero boys this morning...
At first, Bumblebee Boy is adamant that he wants to play alone, and doesn't appreciate Owen's eagerness to participate at all.  Slowly, with each interaction with Owen, he realizes that these games would be more fun with a partner.  Not only does he invite his little brother to play with him, but he also incorporates what Owen is doing into his own game.  Without a tantrum or bribe or --gasp!-- a parent telling him that he should play (nicely!) with his brother.

Not the best superhero book out there (Max is still my favorite) but...right now it's my second favorite.  The good brothers in the story make me want to check this out every other month, just so Ben remembers that Kiefer will soon develop from a screeching partner to a fellow superhero.  Talking might help a little.

Doggone Dogs by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by David Catrow

Doggone Dogs by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by David Catrow

Rating: 3.5 stars

Ben and I just read this book.  I think we said "dogs" one too many times, because my doggone dog Guidry came over and joined us.  Guidry is just as much a character as the full-of-life dogs on the pages of these books.  Leave it to David Catrow to give us ten different dogs, each one hilariously unique in their own way.  He is so talented!

But it's a winning combination, really, because Karen Beaumont is an author who is good to have in your pocket if you go to the library without a clue (an overwhelming thing, definitely).  Her books are always great, silly rhymes--Baby Danced the Polka is my favorite but there are a bunch of good ones.  And Catrow has a zany way about him that makes characters--human or animal--jump off the page and into your imagination.
Doggone Guidry.  He's either hyper or asleep.

When considering a book to review, I usually choose one that offers a good message or ties into what we are doing in our lives.  But sometimes there's a reason to read and review a book that is just entertaining.  That's it, and that's all.  (Right now my husband and I are in debate: are more violent superhero books okay for Ben?  I think that they're not, and he thinks that ANY book is okay.  The jury is still out on this one...actually, wouldn't a jury be helpful in a marriage?  There'd be no person who was right or wrong...oh I am totally getting off track here...)

Anyway, this book IS highly entertaining, with it's slobbering canines romping like crazy through the park, hardly able to see where they are going with fur in their faces, eyes shut with glee, or inability to focus on anything but flowers to pee on.  The word "delightful" is surely overused in the kidlit review world, but that is what this book is: doggone delightful.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Superdog: The Heart of a Hero by Caralyn Bu

Superdog: The Heart of a Hero by Caralyn Buehner, illustrated by Mark Buehner

Rating: 4.5 stars

All right, let the superhero book reviews begin!

Who doesn't love an underdog?  Especially when the underdog is a little sausage of a dog who receives ridicule from dogs and cats alike.  But Dex longs to be more than the butt of jokes.  He wants to be a superhero so badly that he decides to MAKE IT HAPPEN.  That's my kind of thinking.  With a lot of hard work building his muscles and one well-fitting superdog costume, he becomes what he wants to be: Superdog.

While his friends continue to chuckle he finds heaps of ways to help: he finds a lost kitten, tracks down a lost wallet, tackles a purse-snatcher, and fixes his neighbor's sprinkler.

But when his arch nemesis Cleevis (of course it's a cat who is just evil enough not to like) gets stuck in a tree and needs rescuing, Superdog doesn't think twice.  He charges over to Cleevis the cat, has his friends jump on the opposite side of the teeter totter to catapult him into the air, and makes his cape into a parachute so that Cleevis can land gently rather than with a thud.

And then Cleevis the cat asks if he can be his partner.  Dex says yes again, and the last picture is of them romping off together.

A note on the illustrations: If you don't smile at the cover, you are either completely humorless or having a really bad day.  An awkward dachshund dog hovering over the sidewalk, looking fierce and funny...makes me crack a smile and I've looked at it a dozen times already.  The pictures poke fun at little Dex but you like him too much to laugh at him--Mark Buehner did a great job.

What I love most about this story is that there was no magic anything to make Superdog a superhero.  He didn't eat, find, or fall into something.  Nope, he CHOSE to be a superhero.  He knew what he wanted and earned it through canine blood, sweat, and tears.  It was great to point this out to my kids, showing them the difference of happening upon some skill/power (which still would require responsibility to use it wisely) versus putting your mind to it and achieving that goal.  Such an important lesson; one that I believe should be taught from early in the preschool years.

This book is not as good as Max but it is definitely in the same realm of quality, nonviolent superhero books. There aren't too many, so...better grab this one, too, if your kids are into capes and emblems.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dog in Charge by K.L. Going, illustrated by Dan Santat

Dog in Charge by K.L. Going, illustrated by Dan Santat

Rating: 4.5 stars

At first, I thought this was going to be a book for anti-cat dog lovers like myself.  Chalk up another point for the dogs, please!  But, in the end, the book's focus on teamwork and taking responsibility for your mess are much better ones for kids (oh, and me--I can always use the reminder).

After being praised for being the best dog in the world, Dog's people leave to go to the store.  "You're in charge," they tell him.  "Watch the cats, and make sure they don't get in any mischief."

(Enter Ben's question: "What's mischief mean, Mommy?"  Glad you asked!  The stuff you get into all the time!  Ha.  Such a good vocabulary word for little guys.  Oh and girls, too.)

Dog is pretty clueless about discipline; the cats get into a LOT of mischief and the whole house is a mess within minutes.  He is completely distraught and thinks he'll try to bribe them to be good cats by getting treats for them.  But the treats smell so tasty he can't help but eat one.  Maybe two.  Okay, just three!  Oh no he ate the whole bag!  He wants to fix everything but "his eyes grew heavy and his paw was soft."  (That's my favorite line in the book, but there are a lot of good lines.)

While he sleeps, the cats take pity on him and clean up everything.  After all, they love Dog.  Dog wakes when his family comes home.  He is immediately distraught, then fearful and finally VERY confused when they tell him "Good dog!" and give him treats.  Dog looks back at the pack of sleeping cats and thinks: "Good cats.  Smart cats.  The very best cats."

Very cute book.  Really well written.  And a great message.  I think you'll like it.  Even if you are, like me, someone who only really cheers for the dogs in books.

The Most Thankful Thing by Lisa McCourt, illustrated by Cyd Moore

The Most Thankful Thing by Lisa McCourt, illustrated by Cyd Moore

Rating: 4 stars

I read this book at 4 AM this morning, just a few hours ago.

Lorelei is starting camp today, but it's really like her first day of kindergarten--she is riding the bus to her new school.  WOW!  What a big day.  I've not made a huge deal of it, but of course we have talked about it; I've made sure she has what she needs in her backpack and reassured her that she'll have fun.  Two of her preschool friends will be there, one on the bus alongside her.  She has been nothing but excited.

But, clearly, she's been hiding her nerves a little, because at 3:30 AM she walked into our room, sobbing: "I can't sleep!"  She reported that there was a funny noise in her room and she couldn't figure out what it was.  I lay down with her, telling her stories of when she was a baby and what I used to sing to her and do with her to help her sleep.  That didn't work so well, so I suggested we do our bedtime routine so to remind her body of what it was supposed to be doing right now.  She got up and went to the bathroom and chose a book.  It was this one.

The Most Thankful Thing is a little cheesy and definitely predictable.  A girl finds her mom sitting and "giving thanks" in a rare moment of quiet (I can relate!).  "What are you most thankful for?" asks her daughter.  "Guess," is the reply.  So the girl gets her mom's scrapbooks and guesses: your time on a winning soccer team?  Being the editor of the yearbook?  Having your first job?  Getting married to Daddy?

She's close on the last one, but of course it's having her daughter, holding her for the first time.  It's cheesy and predictable...and I've gotten a little misty every time I've read the book.  I was really touched that thoughtful, thought-filled Lorelei chose it--in the middle of the night--before a day that held actual, real-life stress for her little mind and body.

She fell back to sleep around 5 (when Kiefer woke up!).  When I woke her up at 7, she bounced out of bed, giggling and smiling, thrilled to go to camp today.  That's my girl.  She's ready, even though a tiny part of her mind is probably a little bit scared.  If she learns how to act--and act boldly, confidently, and cheerfully--while a little bit scared, I'll have done my job.

I'm thankful for this book.  Because I can leave a note like this (see below) in Lorelei's lunch and she'll really get what I mean.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

George Washington's Cows by David Small

George Washington's Cows by David Small

Rating: 3.5 stars

This book really wouldn't appeal to many, but I can't help but throw it out there.  For those of us who live within a drive of Mount Vernon, it might be fun to check out this book before or during the trip...just to see if, in fact, there are cows and pigs and sheep such as Small describes.

When you and your family pull up to his estate, will your kids see cows who are "fed on a diet of jam and cream scones, / Frequently sprayed with expensive colognes" and pigs who are "Eager to serve the honored guests, / Leaping to meet each need expressed?"  You never know.  Will they see sheep who "sorted the stars with a needle / And measured the sea with a stick?"  Hmmm...

(Spoiler alert: I've been there.  They won't.)

Anyway, the amusing rhyme goes on, and your kids will probably think that the animals in the well-drawn, very realistic pictures are pretty hilarious (the sheep in old-school scientist garb, looking studiously and seriously at their measurements and calculations, are my favorite).

But in the end, only the adult will laugh.  Kids just won't get the joke.  Because George, head in hand, with tears in his eyes, says:
"My cows wear dresses, my pigs wear wigs,
And my sheep are more learned than me.
In all my days on the farm I've seen
Nothing to equal such tricks." 
Then bundling into his wool underwear,
He ferried across the cold Delaware,
And muttered in tones of deepest despair:
Sell the farm, I'll try politics!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Max by Bob Graham

Max by Bob Graham

Rating: 5 stars

It's official: I'm a mom of a boy.  Well, two, but Kiefer is just beginning to show his opinions on matters, and they generally revolve around wanting to get out of my arms when I want him in them.  He is manageable, as of today.

But judging from the increased number of superhero and action figure books that are lying around, it's clear...boys are in this house.  I'm not sure how this interest (not yet obsession) came about, but I really believe it was an only a matter of time.  Boys need heroes, more than girls, I think.  If I say Joseph Campbell's The Hero of A Thousand Faces, does anyone know what I'm talking about? this is not yet an interactive blog, I will continue.  Campbell wrote this stellar work on mythology,  showing the similarity of myths from all over the world about the path a hero takes.  In short: 
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Star Wars is based on this--think of Luke realizing that he does have the power to have the force, and then he goes out to do good, and battle evil.  He wins and saves the planet.  It's been a few years since I've seen all the movies, so forgive me if I'm paraphrasing such a great trilogy of movies (note that I'm not including the new ones).

Anyway, I believe boys especially respond to this idea that an ordinary kid--usually male--suddenly finds within himself extraordinary powers.  He suddenly has a responsibility to do something with these powers--hopefully he'll choose to do some good.  With good parenting, this should be a clear choice for any super-power-filled tyke, right?

Ben looks through Superman and Spiderman books at the library and bookstore, and occasionally these find their way back in his room and on our crowded bookshelves.  But these books are too old for him, and I wish that he wouldn't want me to read them to him.  Though good always wins, they are violent and full of mean, vicious faces.  I'd like to keep my kids in a sweet bubble for as long as possible.

For that reason, I really love Max.  Max is a little boy who comes from a long line of superheroes.  His father, mother, grandparents, siblings all walk around in their superhero capes and costumes, at the ready just in case thieves need to be caught, crooks need to be chased, or bullies need to be stopped.  Max is happy, but can't participate in his family's superhero-ness because he can't fly.  And flying, clearly, is something integral to all superheroes' lives.  His family is confused but patient; they help him and urge him and encourage him, but to no avail.

Then one day, Max looks outside his window and sensed that a baby bird, one too young to fly, just fell from his nest.  Max skipped down the stairs and out the front door as quickly as he could, and then FLEW up to rescue the baby bird, as he fell to the ground.  His parents were overjoyed and hugged him tight.

What kind of superhero will Max be?  A series of pictures shows us: Max shooing a butterfly away from a candle, Max stopping traffic so ducks can cross the street, Max rescuing a bug from the tub, Max grabbing a rabbit from a creeping fox's path.  He's "a small hero, a small hero doing quiet deeds.  The world needs more of those."

It sure does.  I'd rather my boys (and girl) be small heroes, a more realistic type of hero.  Instead of images of bad guys fighting with their fists and thunderbolts, I'd prefer them think of Max, lending a hand to someone or something that needs him.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Winners Never Quit! by Mia Hamm, illustrated by Carol Thompson

Winners Never Quit! by Mia Hamm, illustrated by Carol Thompson

Rating: 3.5 stars

Do you expect this book to be a bit cheesy?  Well, it is.  But it's still worth checking out and reading a few times.  Especially if you've got a Lorelei around who is a bit reluctant to get dirty, and more excited about reading and putting on plays.  That's important, but...I want my kids to strengthen their weaknesses, or develop skills in activities to which they aren't initially drawn.  Okay, and I do think that it's uber-important for girls to be strong and play doesn't hurt that a zillion statistics back me up on this one.
Mia still hated losing.  But she didn't hate losing
as much as she loved soccer.

Anyway, little Mia in the story plays soccer with her brothers and sisters, but gets frustrated when she doesn't score.  So she quits.  The next day when she wants to play with them again, they don't let her because "we don't want quitters on our team."  She pouts (of course) but is happy when they finally let her play.  This time, when she doesn't score, she channels her frustration well and decides that playing soccer is more important to her than winning or losing.

The pictures in the back are the best part--photos of her playing as a little girl, a teenager, and then in National Championships and the Olympics.  We're gearing up for the Olympics here in a few different ways, so any book we can get our hands on that includes any mention of the games...we're happy.

Not stellar, but good.

Hopper and Wilson by Maria Van Lieshout

Hopper and Wilson by Maria Van Lieshout

Rating: 4 stars

Ever listen in to a funny little conversation between two small children?  I love listening to Lorelei and Ben chat about something they know little about--there is something ridiculously charming their exchange, filled with questions and answers which are both innocent and curious.  This book begins with one such conversation.

Hopper: "What do you think it's like at the end of the world?"

Wilson:  "Not sure...but I bet there's lots of lemonade!  I love lemonade."

Hopper:  "And a staircase to the moon!  So I can touch it."

Wilson:  "Well, there's only one way to find out."

(I love the sense of adventure!  The confidence that little Wilson portrays.)

Hopper couldn't hear a thing except the roar of the crashing waves.
So they make a newspaper boat, wave good-bye to their cactus, hop on, and off they sail on their adventure.  They bob on the waves and dream about what they'll find.  Soon, though, a storm hits, and they cling desperately to their boat.  When the sea calms down, Hopper is gone.

For anyone who has suddenly and sadly lost someone they love, this is a sad page.  Possibly, for some sensitive kids, it's too sad.

Wilson sails on, searching.  He doesn't care about the destination anymore; he just wants to find his friend.  (Oh what a lesson!  Who cares where you're going if you don't have someone you love beside you?!)  He quizzes every animal he comes across until he finds his friend, who is funnily floating on a balloon.

A reunion!

"I missed you, Wilson."

"I missed you, Hopper."

(Sniff, sniff.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Blog #2

In addition to be a book-lover extraordinaire, I am also an athlete.  I know, I thought I was just some suburban mom of three who might put on some Lululemon gear to jog every now and then between trips to the library.

No!  I'm an actual athlete, or at least believe myself to be.  And if I act as if I am, and I believe I am, then...I definitely am.  Right?  Right.

And according to Lorelei, I'm the fastest mom in the world--or at least that's what I told her when I won my age group in a trail 10K last month.  I'm also super into Crossfit, so have incorporated that into my running, which leads me to...

A new blog: Running to Crossfit in case you want to check it out.  It's my plan and my path to the Marine Corps Marathon in late October.  I couldn't find a single marathon training plan that incorporated Crossfit and traditional running training workouts, so I've created one of my own (well, it's a bit of a work in progress as of tonight) and am tracking my own progress.  It's not much more than a workout journal and won't appeal to many, but...

Enjoy, and thanks for reading.

(Good night.)

Very Tricky, Alfie Atkins by Gunilla Bergstrom

Very Tricky, Alfie Atkins by Gunilla Bergstrom

Rating: 4 stars

I like this Alfie Atkins character.  He wants his father to play with him, but his father is busy reading the paper.  Seizing the opportunity of a distracted parent, his request to play with his father's tool box is granted. But not the saw!  That's dangerous.  So Alfie builds (with the other not-so-dangerous tools) a box around himself, and pretends he can't get out.

He tells his father: hand me the saw and I can get myself out, or come rescue me.  His father MUST now put down his paper and play with him, much to his son's delight.

I don't know how this book ended up in our library bag--the beloved Grammy was along for the pre-vacation library trip (we checked out 47 books), but it definitely strikes a chord in me.  Years ago, I added yet another very random, unhelpful in any career whatsoever, totally paid nothing job.  And had a blast.  I was the head wrangler at a summer camp in Nowheresville, Washington.  I was in charge of a dozen horses, one other person (a gal who showed up in heels from Australia) and the whole little riding program, which didn't account to much.

On the first day of camp after they jumped from their parents still-moving vehicles onto the campgrounds and had their heads checked for lice, the kids were thrown into different groups to play together before they settled in for dinner.  My job was always to play soccer with about half of the kids.  Together with a Peter Pan-like guy from Australia who is probably still immature in a super endearing way, we played with the kids.

That's it.  We just played with them.  We were in charge, sure, but...hardly.  It was such a lesson for me--put things aside, and just join in.  It was a great way to start the week, and I definitely apply that invaluable lesson everyday here at my home.  Just today Ben walked in to the kitchen while I was fixing Kiefer's lunch and asked: "Will you be a firefighter with me, Mommy?"

You betcha!

Suddenly the steam from the chicken was a fire, and we pretended that some random spatula was a hose and we were putting the fire out.  When that was no longer exciting, I asked him to teach me what to do if I was on fire, and they thought it was pretty funny watching me stop, drop, and roll.

Really I was just stop, dropping, and playing, of course.

But the book talks about fathers playing with their kids, and that's a whole other thing.  My husband is so tired and exhausted and stressed that when the kids do finally convince him to play they are beyond delighted.  It's what their faces would look like if we ever were nice enough to take them to Disneyworld.  It's sad for me to watch, because they are so fun and his intentions I think are good, but...  Pretty soon they'll be more into their friends than me and him, so, I'll be stop, dropping, and playing as much as I can in the next few years.  And forcing others around me to do the same!

All that other stuff can wait.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How you know Kate is on vacation...

Just a random post...will get to blogging about a book later on (I hope)...

Observe what's in the picture, all things that don't often happen:

1.  My feet are UP!
2.  A real-life pedicure!
3.  White know kids are not around!
4.  I am reading an ADULT book!  A real chapter book.  And a good one (that I read for a total of 8 hours in three days...when I didn't read it much yesterday I felt like I was missing my buddy Lewis and my pal Clark)...

Happy summer, all.  Hope you are able to read a few books of your own, too.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Grand Canyon by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by John Wallace

 The Grand Canyon by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by John Wallace

Rating: 3.5 stars

I'm an Army brat.  I grew up all over the place, and am fortunate to not only have seen a bunch of places in our country, but also to have lived there, and gotten to know the place.  There are only four states I've not visited: Alaska, Maine, Rhode Island, and New Mexico.  Any sympathy you might have for me will evaporate when I tell you that my father's overseas tour was in Hawaii.  I spent three years of my life shored up on Oahu, visiting neighbor islands for a few days here and there, hula-ing my way through my middle years.  It was rough...the sunburns and all.

My parents didn't have a ton of money for vacations, and we drove everywhere we needed or wanted to go.  We saw and did a lot, but...we never got to the Grand Canyon.  It is a place that I've always wanted to see, a place I've been curious about and dreamt about for decades.  I have dreams of running it--R2R2R they call it, rim to rim to rim.  I'm a big outdoorsy person and feel more comfortable in running shoes than heels, happier dusty than all dolled up.  And lately I've been really jonesing for a long hike.

Enter a short trip, sans kids, to Vegas.  Not exactly my style, but fun in its own way and a much-needed getaway.  During it, my husband surprised me with a short trip to the Grand Canyon.  I was so surprised and excited!  We took a short ride there and spent an even shorter but very calming 15 minutes in the Canyon.  It was more than I expected and I wanted hours to take in its hues, quiet-ness, and history.  I couldn't, so I had to be grateful for the little visit.  I'd like to go back.  Like, tomorrow.
Me, happy and awestruck, at the Grand Canyon.

Upon return to reality here in Virginia, I was very grateful that Lorelei and Ben and I had read this book together a few months ago.  They knew exactly what I was talking about when I said that we visited the Grand Canyon.  This book is part of a series of books that all kids should read.  They are not phenomenal literary works--the writing is not outstanding, the stories are not witty, the illustrations won't blow you away.  But they teach my kids about our country, and many of the great places that is packed in it.

In this series, there are books about Yellowstone, Niagra Falls, Mount Rushmore, The Statue of Liberty, the Rocky Mountains, the Mississippi.  We've read most of them--I discovered them last summer while preparing our kids to go to Colorado for a heavenly vacation within and around the Rockies.  It's important stuff, this teaching-of-America thing.  Lorelei and Ben and certainly Kiefer are too young to appreciate democracy and free choice and our relative affluence compared to the world...but they are not too young to start locating spots on the map and making lists of places we should visit together.

And they're not too young to appreciate beauty, and the awesomeness of a place like the Grand Canyon.  In fact, it's my own child-like awe of the place that makes me teach them about it.  I hope that when they are in their mid-thirties, they are awestruck by things big and small, too.

Creaky Old House by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Michael Chesworth

Creaky Old House: A Topsy-Turvy Tale of a Real Fixer-Upper by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Michael Chesworth

Rating: 5 stars

I'm a make-it-work girl married to a make-it-better guy; a little tension between those two approaches sometimes...just sometimes!...exists.  I'm happy to say that in this book, my way wins out.  Hooray!

I'd heard that Creaky Old House had a good, rollicking rhyme and it was about fixing up a home--something that happens all the time in our wonderful sorta-old home.  (It's hard to say that a house built in the '80s is old.)  There is always a project going on in our house--sometimes it's just a massive reorganizing effort, but often it's a renovation project that will take months to plan, and then months to occur.  Progress is good, I know, but when the status quo is mighty fine, it's hard to buy into progress.

But, as I type, Kiefer is walking around with a drill, "fixing things."  It's a toy drill, in case you're concerned about my wisdom in handing out real drills to a toddler.

Perhaps we have hoarders here?
In this VERY fun book, nine people live in an actual old home that has creaky stairs and quirky problems, a nook or cranny for everyone, and one problematic doorknob.  When that doorknob breaks and a new doorknob that fits can't be found, they look to replace the door.  But there is no door that fits perfectly.  So they'll have to adjust the door frame...and then move the chair...and then relocate the staircase...  As you probably guessed, the house-dwellers erupt with ideas and suggestions and pretty soon a brand-spankin'-new house is designed, complete with a roller coaster (my kids would love that!).

But just as the new house design is complete (it only took a few pages...not so realistic if you've ever been through that process!), they realize the youngest kiddo is missing.  Uh-oh!  Oh, wait.  She's just on the porch.  And looky there!  Lizzie has a triumphant look on her face.  She's gone and fixed the doorknob.  With her pacifier.

My kind of girl!  Although I'd have used duct tape.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Good Night, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas

Good Night, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas

Rating: 5 stars

I don't want to toot my own horn, but I'm a pretty good reader of children's books.  But this book is especially fun to read--it has wonderful, rhythmic prose that repeats itself in just the right way to make the book a tiny bit suspenseful.  A mini what's-going-to-happen-next tale involving a brave knight and three dragons...and a homonym to boot!  What more could you really ask for in a bedtime (or anytime) book?

Here's the story: A good knight is on watch and hears a roar, and goes to check it out.  It's a dragon, needing a glass of water.  He's confused but, since he's a good knight, he provides the refreshing sips and returns to his post.  And hears another roar.  It's another dragon, needing a bedtime story.  He's confused but, since he's a good knight, he reads a story and returns to his post.  And then he hears another roar, and goes to check it out.  It's a third dragon, needing a bedtime song.  He's confused but, you guessed it, a good knight so he sings a lullaby and returns to his post.  Only to hear a fourth and final roar and he goes to check it out.

He tries to guess what these silly little dragons need.

Another glass of water?  Nope.

Another bedtime story?  Nah.

Another song?  Not that either.

Three green, scaly, puckered dragon lips turn to him.  A good-night kiss!  He'sSo he smooches the dragons, waits until the roars turn to snores, and wearily tucks himself in for the night.

This is a great little book, an above-average fun read for both big reader and little listener.  Definitely a great book for your shelf.

Players in Pigtails by Shana Corey, illustrated by Rebecca Gibson

Players in Pigtails by Shana Corey, illustrated by Rebecca Gibson

Rating: 4.5 stars

"Crying?  There's no crying in baseball!" is one of my all-time favorite lines from any movie, delivered by Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own.

But that line is NOT in this book about Katie Casey, a girl who is not very good at being a typical girl and busying herself with piano or painting or home-ec or dancing.  Instead, she was obsessed with baseball.  She could catch a ball with her eyes closed, hit a ball with one hand behind her back.  "She preferred sliding to sewing, batting to baking, and home runs to homecoming."

I love girls like these--in real life and in books!

Because America was at war and the boys were going away to war, girls were suddenly called upon to take up the sport.  As soon as Katie Casey heard about tryouts, she was there.  Happily, she found herself surrounded by other like-minded women who wanted to talk about the quality of their curve balls instead of the hue of their lipstick.  Soon Katie was playing for the Kenosha Comets, in front of a surprisingly enthusiastic crowd.  (But only after attending finishing school and donning skirts...chuckle, chuckle...)

Who knew that the super famous--I even know some of the words--"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was about a girl?!  I love being armed with this knowledge.  The author, Shana Corey, discovered this and couldn't shake the idea to write a children's book about Katie.  I love that she couldn't NOT write it, and I love having this book available to little girls (and boys, too).  Check this out, the lesser-known first verse and the well-known chorus, which means a lot more to me now:
Katie Casey was baseball mad.
Had the fever and had it bad;
Just to root for the hometown crew,
Every sou Katie blew.
On a Saturday her young beau
Called to see if she'd like to go
To see a show, but Miss Kate said...
"Not I'll tell you what you can do." 
"Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out to the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes you're out
At the old ball game."
Lorelei and her little contemporaries won't know the limits that Katie Casey knew and fought against, thanks to Title 9 and time.  But even when we went to the baseball game on Father's Day, she asked why girls weren't playing.  She wants to do all the things that Ben can do and hopefully want to do them better.

It's great to have a book to explain that once they did, and maybe once again...they can.

And now...a very short clip on Women's Baseball in WWII:

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

 Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Rating: 5 stars

This book made me realize that I must rethink my methods of discipline.  Lorelei and Ben are very good kids who sometimes need to take a few minutes or take a few deep breaths before returning to the fun. But the only thing I really take away from them if they are naughty is one of their two bedtime books.

"One more time and you lose a book!" I'll say.  It seems pretty ludicrous even to type it, but it almost always works.  They really love bedtime books, and I love to end the day this way.  I'm lucky that bedtime is a really nice time of day for us, full of giggles and stories and wrestling-into-pajamas and cozying up to read a book or two or three.

With Ben especially I love this time--he's a cute kid, but when his dragon bath towel is pulled over his head, clean for the first time since waking up...  He's SUPER cute.  And he makes my heart melt.

The other night he chose this book, and as he sat in my lap, wanting one arm around him while the other turned the pages, I realized I can't take this part of the day away.  It'll be gone way too soon.

And this book is a really, really great one, especially for boys whose special talents do not include quieting their body when their body needs to be quieted.  Know any lad like this?  This book is about construction vehicles (you knew that already) who are tough and hard-working by day.  But, when the sun starts to go down, they know it's time to wash up and tuck in.  Take Crane Truck:
Reaching, stretching, lifting high,
He swings the beam into the sky.
He'll set it down right on its mark,
Then off to bed; it's almost dark.
The words in this book are really, really wonderful--sweet and calming.

But the pictures!  Lichtenheld's talent shines.  He somehow manages to make these tough vehicles muscley and brawny by day and then...adorable by night.  Crane Truck holds a little teddy bear in his arms of steel.  Cement Mixer throws a tiny blankie over his big body.  Bulldozer keeps his neighbors awake with his snores.  I love this message to boys: You can be tough, and tender, too.

I bought this book for Ben after we checked it out from the library.  It's a book I want on his shelf for as long as possible, so at the end of each and every day we can focus on only the sweet parts of him, of us, of our day.

Farming by Gail Gibbons

Farming by Gail Gibbons

Rating: 5 stars

Gail Gibbons throws in a lot of information into her books, sometimes a bit too much, but this one is a GREAT introduction for little ones.  Here's a picture-laden book about farming: all the types of farms there are, and what happens on a farm.  Gibbons divides the books up into seasons, and draws all the different things that happen in each season on a farm, and then sketches the jobs that have got to be done in each season.

I love it!  It's a great book to carry along with you if you're heading to a farm for the day.  We frequent Frying Pan Park, though it doesn't count as a working farm.  We love Butler's Orchard for fruit and vegetables, too.  I like to have a book like this when we go to places like these so that my kids can understand the big picture at a nice, slow pace--one page at a time, they turn to the next page when they're ready.

Confession: I'm beginning to think that I might like to be a small-scale farmer in some future phase of my life.  My husband thinks I'm nuts.  He might be right, but...  I'm a girl with a lot of energy, a bunch of patience, and a passion for doing anything and everything outdoors.

So I've already started to brainwash my kids so that they can help me out with the chores and stuff.  And Lorelei can convince my husband that this venture is brilliant.  If it were up to me, we'd go to some working farm for the summer.  This appeals to me for so many reasons, including:

  1. The "noise" (all that silly competition for the kids, the keepin' up with the Jones for us) from our everyday life would decrease, possibly disappear for a little while completely.
  2. My kids would see--not just read about--the origin of their food.
  3. They'd really know the definition of chores and learn how to work--I'm all about kids pitching in, regardless of their age.  "Everybody does their part," I say.
  4. A change of scenery for any reason is a good thing.  I'm an Army brat, so I'm sorta restless by nature anyway.
  5. I know they'd love it.  Me, too.

But since I can't snap my fingers and transport us to a working least not just yet...  I'll have to make do and go to farms around our area and garden as much as I can.  And dream.  And imagine myself in this book.