Library Books Enjoyed, 7/31/13

Not a BoxNot a Box by Antoinette Portis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was adorable and clever. The book takes the form of a conversation between the narrator (presumably a grown-up, or at least a grown-up rabbit) and the bunny shown on the cover. The grown-up keeps asking what the bunny is doing with a box, and bunny keeps explaining that it is NOT a box. The fun part is that the reader can see both what the bunny sees and what the narrator sees: simple line drawings show “grown-up reality” in black and “kid reality” in red. My kids and I both loved it and read it several times during the week we had it.

How to Babysit a GrandpaHow to Babysit a Grandpa by Jean Reagan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was cute, but I thought the concept was better than the actual book. A Grandpa comes to stay for the day with his grandson, and the grandson (who is also the narrator) explains to the reader how you take care of a Grandpa. We all enjoyed it, but it was not a multiple-reread choice.

When the Library Lights Go Out When the Library Lights Go Out by Megan McDonald

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I just didn’t really like this book. My kids seemed to, which is why it gets a three, but it just didn’t click for me–I think the imaginary world of the book didn’t match up with what I thought it would be based on the title. The title seemed to promise a world where life is regularly exciting inside the library after all the people leave, but instead it was a one-time foray out of the puppet box for three puppets. Cute enough, but just not for me.

We’ll see if it gets requested for multiple rereads this week, though.

Miko: No Bath! No Way!Miko: No Bath! No Way! by Brigitte Weninger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Surprisingly fun book about a mouse who doesn’t want to take a bath, because the bath will erase all the evidence of the wonderful day he’s had. Probably won’t be a favorite, but we all enjoyed it this week.

The Shark KingThe Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a feeling I’m going to get a lot more graphic novel reading in for my son’s sake than I would for my own. We’ve been checking out “Toon Books,” graphic novels for the elementary and preschool set. This one retells a Hawaiian folktale, and was requested several times over the course of the week. I don’t love reading graphic novels out loud, but this one worked pretty well.

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Shameless self-promotion

I am a (sort of) published fiction author!

My college alumni magazine had a short story contest, which I actually entered (deadlines and short word counts being good things, apparently), and I found out that my story was chosen to be published.

Yay!

I’ve already gotten to see my name in print, but here’s the online version, should you choose to read it:

http://www.mcdaniel.edu/information/the-hill-magazine/short-story-contest-winners

It’s just an alumni magazine, but it was exciting for me.

End of shameless self-promotion.

A Little More Knitting

I have been working on another knitting project: a Christmas stocking. Here is the evidence:

The rolled part is going to be the top of the stocking.

The rolled part is going to be the top of the stocking.

This is a soon-to-be-temporarily-abandoned project, because I have signed up for a knitting class at the Hillsborough Yarn Shop that will be this month and next, and I will probably need to knit double-time to catch up with whatever homework I have for that. (I should just state for the record that I am not complaining; I am very excited about taking my first true knitting class.) Also, I have not gotten to the hard part of making a stocking, namely the heel, yet, and that will take awhile to get through.

Still, I’m happy with how it’s turning out so far, and I’m happy to share that I actually have done some knitting in the last month.

Library Books Enjoyed?, 7/24/13

A little late today, but here are some books we read from the library this week. It’s a bit more of a mixed bag than usual…there’s one I didn’t love and one that my daughter didn’t enjoy as much as I’d hoped.

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: An African TaleMufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read this for the first time since college children’s lit. I still love it, and I hope my kids will grow to love it, but when I told my three year old that it was a Cinderella tale, she just wanted to know where the coach was. We’ll see if my five year old enjoys it more when I read it when he’s around. There’s a snake in it, after all! (I guess when I think of it, it combines elements of Cinderella with those of Beauty and the Beast).

Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid BalletFancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet by Jane O’Connor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I haven’t read many of the Fancy Nancy series, but the ones I have read tend to pleasantly surprise me with their depth. Yes, there’s lots of glitter and fluff, but there’s a realistic, lovable girl under all the fluff who has problems kids can identify with.

In this episode, it’s dealing with disappointment at not getting a role Nancy wants in the ballet, handling jealousy when a close friend does get it, and learning to love the role she does get. All very useful problems for little kids to think about. Plus the fun of mermaid and willow tree costumes!

If You Give a Cat a CupcakeIf You Give a Cat a Cupcake by Laura Joffe Numeroff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like the “If you give a…” series pretty well–yes, it’s formulaic, but kids like formulaic. And I think most of the earlier books in the series are really pretty cute. This one, however, is not as good as some of its predecessors.

One of the qualities of the series that works is that the escalating demands have at least some kind of logic to them ( albeit stream-of-consciousness), but I didn’t feel like the different activities built on one another here. They go to the beach, they go to the gym (there’s a reason given for the gym, but not a great one, plus the fact that they don’t get held up on the way is suspect for this series), they go to the lake, they go to the museum, they go home. It’s more a series of errands/field trips than a series of escapades. Also, how are this kid and cat getting around town? (In other books in the series, either they never get around to leaving the house or they go somewhere that seems obviously close enough to walk or bike to.) It just doesn’t seem to gel for me.

That said, my kids are not nearly so picky about logic in their books, and they loved it–especially the sprinkles. I’ve always said that sprinkles are good for covering up a multitude of problems, so maybe it’s as true for writing as for baking.

And here’s a grown-up book I just finished from the library…and I did thoroughly enjoy it. (You’ll probably have to be a fan of space opera, or at least interested in sci-fi to like it, though.)
CryoBurn (Vorkosigan Saga, #14)CryoBurn by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s been awhile since I’ve caught up on the Vorkosigan Saga (and although I reread my favorites about once a year, I feel like I need to review some of the middle-of-the-story episodes, too), but this one did not disappoint. Miles is as charming and exasperating as ever, and the two main “point of view” protagonists in this novel–an 11 year old boy named Jin and Miles’ younger travel-appointed Armsman Roic–present his exploits with equal measures of affection and frustration.

After all the romantic tension in Komarr and A Civil Campaign (which happened to be the first Vorkosigan novel I was introduced to), I was a little disappointed that not all of the novels are quite so personal/familial relationship focused. However, I liked Cryoburn because Miles’ new role as a dad combines with his natural habit of befriending “outcasts” to create a lot of interest in his give-and-take with Jin and Jin’s sister Mina. Bujold always includes humor, and Jin’s menagerie of pets and the Barrayarran consul to the planet Miles is visiting, Vorlynkin’s reaction to Miles provide lots of it.

A very enjoyable read (and the first in awhile that I’ve neglected other duties to get through!).

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SAH Sanity Tip #2: Leave the House

This is pretty much a no-brainer for anyone who already stays home, but it really does make life easier if you can get out of the house. My challenge is always to make sure I don’t stay so busy with playdates or field trips that I either lose track of chores that really do have to get done sometimes or tire us all out too much.

Some of our favorite places to escape:

There are lots of other places we visit less frequently–especially when we have playdates–but those are our standbys. I am grateful to have so many places around for when we just need to get out of the house! I also just recently discovered The Stir Crazy Moms’ Guide to Durham, which is a treasure trove of places in the RDU triangle area to check out. We’ve been busy enough this summer that I haven’t had a chance to check out someplace new recommended here, but I have it in mind for later in the summer or early fall!

New Orleans

About three weeks ago, my husband and I took advantage of the kindness of grandparents and left our children for three days while we took a just-us vacation. We went to New Orleans–chosen partly because we both love France, and New Orleans was the closest we can afford to get to France right now!

We had a great time. Our itinerary included eating lots of good food, walking around a lot, drinking gallons of water (it was HOT, even without sweaty children to tote), and listening to some jazz. Since we didn’t need to worry about babysitters while there, we also took advantage of the opportunity to (finally–we were afraid it would already be out of theaters) see the new Star Trek movie (very enjoyable, assuming you like Star Trek).

Here are a few pictures and highlights of the trip:

  • Walking around the French Quarter:
Cathedral of St. Louis

Cathedral of St. Louis

Jazz band playing just outside the cathedral.

Jazz band playing just outside the cathedral.

  • Walking around the Garden District, deciding which houses we would like to live in if one of us could right bestselling novels ala J.K. Rowling (and, as an aside, if you haven’t already heard this story, you should go check it out):

    This seemed like a decent place.

    This seemed like a decent place.

  • Eating at some fun restaurants. We had a fancy dinner at this place:
    Court of Two Sisters Restaurant

    Court of Two Sisters Restaurant

    but also enjoyed visiting Cochon and Butcher, two restaurants owned by the same person, the first one fancy, the second more of a sandwich shop (although an upscale sandwich shop). They were recommended by our guidebook, and definitely worthwhile (assuming, in this case, that you aren’t vegetarian). I particularly enjoyed Cochon because we were seated at a bar area that looked into the kitchen, so it was like dinner and a show all at once. Also, we stated from the get-go that we were just ordering appetizers and salads, but we were still welcomed and served extremely gracefully and graciously. I didn’t think to get pictures of either Cochon or Butcher (we ate there twice!), but I would definitely recommend them to anyone visiting New Orleans. One other benefit, for us, was that they were closer to our hotel (in the Warehouse District) than most of the places we visited.

  • Riding the streetcars:

    St. Charles line streetcar--came right by our hotel!

    St. Charles line streetcar–came right by our hotel!

  • Seeing, and getting out on the Mississippi:
    Looking out toward the Mississippi Bridge

    Looking out toward the Mississippi Bridge

    Taking advantage of the free ferry to see the French Quarter from the water.

    Taking advantage of the free ferry to see the French Quarter from the water.

  • Of course, a quintessential New Orleans breakfast at Café du Monde (this was also an activity we repeated!):

    Beignets and café au lait!

    Beignets and café au lait!

  • Following our particular traveling agendas:
    If you travel with my husband, you look for organs...

    If you travel with my husband, you look for organs…

    ...and if you travel with me, you look for libraries.

    …and if you travel with me, you look for libraries.

  • Discovering a neat independent bookstore in rooms that Faulkner used to rent, down an alley that’s literally just next to the Cathedral (no picture, sadly).
  • And, finally, staying in a hotel that has a parrot in the lobby:
    Parrot!

    Parrot!

    The Hotel Modern was really very nice–and we appreciated finding a deal on the Visit New Orleans website. We had two complaints: the housekeeping service was a little spotty (they only came in to clean the room if we put the sign out, and forgot some things like refilling the shower gel container or putting bags in the trash can) and I found the bed uncomfortable, even for a hotel bed. However, the overall cleanliness of the hotel was just fine, the service was exceptional (which more than made up for the housekeeping–we could just call and ask for anything we needed changed/fixed/added), and we liked the fact that we weren’t right in the middle of the Quarter. They had an in-house restaurant, which was also very nice–we just had dessert there one evening, but it was fantastic. I would stay there again if it looked like we were returning to New Orleans anytime soon!

It was a really fun time, and just the right length for our first trip-without-kids (we went from a Wednesday afternoon through a Saturday evening, and by Saturday, we were both ready to get back to the kids). We don’t have any plans to return to New Orleans soon, but we had a lovely introduction to the Crescent City. Who knows, maybe when our kids are grown, we’ll head back that way again.

Library Books Enjoyed, 7/17/13

And we’re back…

Goldilocks and the Three DinosaursGoldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven’t met a Mo Willems book I don’t like, but with that said, this won’t be a favorite of mine. It was funny, but my main critique would be that much of the humor went over the heads of my kids (age 5, 3, and 1 right now). They didn’t get the often-ironic voice (i.e. statements like the dinosaurs “were certainly not hiding in the woods”). Still, they liked the idea of three dinosaurs instead of three bears, they found it funny that there was chocolate pudding instead of porridge, and the liked Goldilocks’ drastic escape from being a chewy chocolate-pudding filled bon-bon.

Bella's RulesBella’s Rules by Elissa Haden Guest

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bella doesn’t like to follow the rules–then she has to teach some rules to her new puppy. My middle child (currently 3), who also doesn’t like to follow the rules, adores this book. I found the story only so-so, but I thought the pictures were beautiful. It’s not entirely clear that Bella learns to follow rules in the end. However, the pictures of her exploits, and later of her parents helping her to train her puppy, were all very sweet.

Auntie TigerAuntie Tiger by Laurence Yep

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Laurence Yep retells a story a sibling rivalry that’s very similar to Little Red Riding Hood (and even more similar to Lon Po Po, the Chinese version Ed Young retells). Two sisters never get along (Little Sister is lazy and Big Sister is bossy), but they learn to appreciate each other when a tiger disguised as their aunt comes to visit. I only gave it four stars because the pictures weren’t my favorite, but the story was fun, and I also enjoyed the author’s bio (with description of his own sibling rivalry).

Harry the Dirty DogHarry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A classic that I just rediscovered with my kids. They love how Harry likes to get dirty, they like finding Harry int the middle of all that’s going on, and they think his change “from a white dog with black spots to a black dog with white spots” is really funny.

One detail I notice as an adult is that Harry’s human family members don’t have any names–but it doesn’t really matter because the story is about Harry. I never noticed it as a kid, and I don’t think my kids notice it now. Many grown-ups would agonize over creating the family, but all kids need to know is they are Harry’s family and that’s where he belongs.

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Stay at Home Sanity Tip #1: If They Want to Go, Let Them!

I’ve been toying with doing a “sanity tip” list for awhile–several have occurred to me over the past months, and the idea of having some quick posts in the works also appeals. These are simply tips that have helped my sanity as a stay-at-home mom–if they end up helping someone else, that’s great, but I’m not claiming any sort of cure-all in them.

I had some more philosophical tips in mind, but I’m starting out with one that’s been very practical in the last few weeks: if my kid wants to go to the bathroom, I should take her! This may sound like a no-brainer, but here’s the thing: I am not talking about the kid who already knows how to use the bathroom. I mean the kid who don’t quite know what she is doing yet. Taking a potty trainer to the bathroom every time she wants to go can be very time consuming (it seems like she want to go every 20 minutes, and each visit can take 20 minutes by itself), so it can get in the way of normal life activities.

I easily fall prey to doing what’s easiest at a given moment (and sometimes this is necessary!), but I finally found that sacrificing short-term convenience in this area does pay off in the long run. With my first two, I introduced the potty, I tried to take them regularly throughout the day, but I often sacrificed using the bathroom regularly to getting them down quicker for naps, or to making an outing easier.  But with the third, I’ve finally gotten tired enough of diapers that I decided, what the heck, if the child wants to go, I’ll take her.

Wow! We are not out of diapers, but I am impressed at how well it’s going. Additional benefits:

  1. I got to switch from humongous backpack diaper bag to very small backpack/purse/diaper bag this week.
  2. We used cloth diapers but not cloth pull-ups (we can discuss environmental/economic impact later–I have not found a great cloth pull-up, but admittedly I haven’t looked very hard), so washing diapers is just about over.

Obviously, this trick probably works better with non-first children, since the biggest incentive to use the bathroom (in my observations) is definitely not seeing parents do so, but other kids.

I promise the next few sanity tips will not be bathroom-related!

Vacation Reading

Just home from vacation, and since I got three books that were not picture books read, it can automatically count as a good vacation. I enjoyed all three books, another plus. Here they are, so you can go enjoy them, too.

The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler PlaceThe Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recently received this as a gift, and since Ms. Konigsburg died this year, I wanted to read it sooner rather than later. I didn’t really discover her books until I was an adult, but I think I like this better than her others that I’ve read.

Like her other books, the protagonist (Margaret Rose Kane) is a precocious child (well, teenager in this case). However, I don’t feel like she’s “Benedict Society smart” like some other Konigsburg characters are. She’s also kind of grouchy, at least when the book starts, and since I seem to be kind of grouchy these days, I felt like she was a kindred spirit. I also pretty immediately fell in love with her Polish immigrant uncles, who had some similar qualities to my own favorite uncles, but with the added bonus of being European.

There’s a fair amount of flashback in the storytelling, but I found it easy to fall into the flashback-then-advance-the-plot rhythm that was set up. Once the main conflict was revealed, I also got into worrying about whether the uncles’ towers would be saved or not.

Both the plot and characters were enjoyable, and even some of the meaner characters get the chance to redeem themselves (and really, kids and teenagers who are mean should get the chance to redeem themselves). The only part I found distracting was that the book was set in the early 1980’s. This turns out to be important to the resolution, but I kept forgetting about it, since many of the descriptions seemed like they could apply to the present day (or because I was born in the 1980’s and am now old enough to forget that it’s not the present day?).

All in all, a fun book–I think older elementary kids (4th-5th graders) through younger teens would enjoy it.

The Joys of LoveThe Joys of Love by Madeleine L’Engle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I discovered a Madeleine L’Engle book that I’d never heard of before this spring, so of course I snatched it up. I just got around to reading it on vacation, and it doesn’t disappoint–if you like Madeleine L’Engle’s other YA fiction, which I do.

I marked this as historical, but it’s not really–it’s set in the 40’s, and it was first written in the 40’s. It wasn’t published until recently, after Ms. L’Engle’s death, by her granddaughters, which is why I hadn’t heard of it before.

The story follows Elizabeth, an aspiring actress working as an apprentice on scholarship in a summer theater. The two main conflicts are her trying to follow her professional dreams, despite her guardian aunt’s lack of approval or support, and her romantic entanglement with an older, suaver, but slimier, actor/director. This character, Kurt, is probably the weak link, as is Elizabeth’s falling for him: the problem with all of Madeleine L’Engle’s romantic villains is that, while they may occasionally be sympathetic, the reader can pick them out as slime balls from a mile off.

Luckily, the book is not a tragedy, so all ends well. Some of the best parts are the real friendships Elizabeth forms and getting a picture into both the camaraderie and the problems that make up a small theater company in the 1940s. Also, the note by Ms. L’Engle’s granddaughter at the front indicates that Elizabeth was largely autobiographical, and much of the story does ring true with her nonfiction work Two Part Invention.

I now need to dig up my copy of Certain Women, an adult book written much later, to see if the Elizabeth in The Joys of Love is the same character as the Elizabeth in that book (I am fervently hoping not, but in Madeleine L’Engle’s fictional worlds, you never know).

Dark Lord of Derkholm (Derkholm, #1)Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second Diana Wynne Jones book–I read the obligatory Howl’s Moving Castle back when it was a big thing, and I never read anything else, despite hearing how good an author Ms. Wynne Jones is.

Well, she is.

It took me awhile to get into this (admittedly longer) fantasy world, which follows the problems of a magical world trying to get rid of a leech and bully from our world–and particularly, the problems of one wizard family who’s father, Derk, is forced to play the “Dark Lord” in the yearly “Pilgrim Parties” that the villain Mr. Chesney brings through.

The plot is complex and the characters many and varied–the comparison on the back of the book that suggests Ms. Wynne Jones to Harry Potter fans is particularly apt when considering the depth of world building involved–so here are just a few of my favorite points:
-The family in question has both human and griffin kids.
-There are carnivorous sheep (not usual, even in the magical world).
-There is romance, but just a dash.
-None of the characters are perfect, but most of them are likable.
-Some of the name borrowing from other fantasy books is hilarious.

As I said, it took me awhile to get into this, so give yourself 3 or 4 chapters before deciding whether you like it or not.

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Brief Thoughts on Writing and Vocation

I write. Some.  I write in a diary, I write this blog, I occasionally work on fiction writing. I have had 2 library science articles published. I have the idea of some day writing a (preferably good) kid’s book that gets published.

One author I admire, Shannon Hale, recently wrote an interesting piece on her blog about being a writer and a stay-at-home mom. Here it is.

It definitely gave me a lot to think about. I fully believe that this is how it works for Ms. Hale (and it obviously works, because she’s written some awesome books. And there are some things I can definitely learn from it: wasting time on the computer (and off) doing non-essential, non-writing tasks would be the first. The idea of taking plenty of time to write before worrying much about publishing is another. And I think I can accept that I’m not “hardcore” enough about writing to call it a passion or to see it as my life’s work.

In some ways, the conversation should stop there. But I have a few reasons of my own why I’m not going to give up just yet.

  1. I’ve heard/read other writers emphasize that everyone has a different writing process. So what works for Ms. Hale might not work for everyone, even other successful authors.
  2. I can’t find citations for any of this right now. But I do know that some people don’t successfully publish a book until middle age or later–that the age bell curve for “becoming an author” skews much later than other life accomplishments. There’s not necessarily a need to rush–all my children are at home and require attention at all waking hours right now. That won’t always be the case.
  3. While I would like to write a book worthy of publication, there are many other things that I’m ok with putting ahead of this–again, at least for right now. I see my primary professional work being as a librarian–and if I become a good librarian and am never a published fiction author, that will be ok. I am also not willing to give up such things as hanging out with friends (which happens infrequently enough anyhow), pursuing those things that may only be “hobbies,” and sometimes just doing nothing.

So I will keep on writing when I can fit it in, try to make better use of those times, and see what comes of it. Maybe nothing. But better to write in bits and pieces than not at all.