Back, for one night only…

I hope it won’t actually be one night only, but it probably will be one night for a good while.

Recent life events (since March):

  • Took a family summer road trip to St. Louis, Chicago, and Holland, MI.
  • Got a job (this is kind of the main one) as a school library media specialist in Harford County
  • Learned how to return to being a two-working-parent family.

Blogging has gone by the wayside, and that’s actually been a conscious decision that I’m pretty happy with. But I don’t want to completely slam the door on it (not least because I want to find a way to incorporate more online communication tools at work), and I’ve wanted to add a post for a few days.

Here are some thoughts that have occupied me recently:

  • Discerning which tasks at work and at home are actually the most important and starting with those.
    • As an aside, I’m really happy with my laundry management system, adapted from one I heard about from Holly Dvorak at controlmyspin.com. She suggests doing one load of laundry each day from start to finish (instead of having “laundry day”). Given our schedule, I try to do a load from middle to middle (I have the kids put away clothes, fold clothes from the dryer, start another load, and get that load in the dryer before bed), and that has worked very well.
  • Worrying about violence and injustice in our state and around the world. And what a Christian response might look like.
  • Trying to keep reading (not easy).
  • Trying to keep having fun with my kids.
  • Trying to keep everyone fed.

It’s been a pretty narrow focus, but good overall. Before I go, here are some books I’ve enjoyed this summer and fall (you’ll notice fewer picture books this time around):

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I LOVED this one. It was so fast-paced, and yet Weir explained enough of the science (or at least, the possible science) to make it believable and understandable. Mark Watney is a great character; I found myself laughing out loud even while he was trying to solve life-and-death problems. And I’m excited that they are making a movie!
Last Stop on Market StreetLast Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really liked this one. The illustration style reminds me of The Snowy Day, and it was just a nice story about a boy riding the bus with his Grandmother, and learning about why they do things the way they do…and learning to enjoy them. Plus, knitting!
Stolen Magic (Kat, Incorrigible, #3)Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved, loved, loved this last book of the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy. I did get a little tired with Kat always thinking she has everything figured out and acting before thinking, but I finally realized I couldn’t always trust her judgments and, after all, she’s only 13. Still lots of fun to see the manners-driven Regency period with magic overlaid. And I always love Kat’s interactions with her family.
Mars EvacueesMars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you like sci-fi at all, this book is absolutely fabulous. In many ways, it’s pure space opera for kids, complete with explosions and interplanetary travel. But it’s definitely got parts that touch on deeper subjects, including the nature of war, understanding “others,” and what makes people into friends. I also love the many funny parts (the robot Goldfish teacher who will not be deterred from its mission is a particular favorite) and that the kids are so obviously kids, not miniature adults. I loved it.

P.S. There is a good amount of cursing (mild, in the grand scheme, but not stuff I’d want my kids saying), so I’d keep this for 4th or 5th grade and up.
Skulduggery Pleasant (Skulduggery Pleasant, #1)Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

HILARIOUS. Also quite scary in some parts, at least for those like me who aren’t up for very scary stories. Skulduggery Pleasant is a walking skeleton (he wasn’t always like that) detective, who teams up with Irish twelve-year-old Stephanie Edgeley to prevent the end of the world. He’s got a dry sense of humor, an overinflated ego, and a strong sense of duty. Stephanie is stubborn, troublesome, and insightful. They make a cracker-jack team. The audiobook was pure pleasure to listen to.
Greenglass HouseGreenglass House by Kate Milford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is my favorite (so far) of this year’s Black-Eyed Susan crop. It has a cozy atmosphere, but there’s plenty of intrigue to keep the plot moving, and gamers will enjoy the large role that a role-playing game plays. Milo and his parents run an inn in a town known for smugglers (they have regular “runners” who stay there), but a whole host of strangers show up just as the Pine family is preparing for their usual Christmas lull. Milo and a new friend, Meddy, decide to figure out what everyone’s up to, aided by their newly created gaming personas. There’s a twist I certainly didn’t seem coming, but I’m sure many other readers will.
The Boy on the Wooden BoxThe Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Listened to this as one of our Black Eyed Susans for the year. What I felt set this particular Holocaust memoir apart was the large amount of reflection that Leyson incorporated at every step of his story. He would tell us what he felt but also what was causing that feeling, or why it might seem strange to today’s readers. He also gave a helpful accounting of why more Jews didn’t flee Europe (they were basing their actions on recollections from WWI; many of them had no resources with which to leave).
The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party (The Princess in Black, #2)The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party by Shannon Hale

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This arrived just in time for our Halloween Princess in Black to grab it off the library shelf. We all loved it. The kids especially loved that, with more monsters to fight (poor Princess Magnolia’s monster alarm keeps going off during her birthday party), there were more princess-y fight scenes to read at the top of their lungs. I think they also liked the other princesses’ names. For those interested, Ms. Hale posted an epilogue that had to get cut from the final edit on her blog: http://oinks.squeetus.com/2015/10/bon….

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Well, that’s all for now, folks.

 

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At least have some books…

I have a list of blog post topics on a Post-It note on my to-do list. Here are some things I have recently wanted to blog about:

  • Being called to the laity (instead of ordained ministry, like certain other members of the family…)
  • Ideas, or lack thereof, for Sunday school
  • Working on the YALSA Hub reading challenge
  • Life 9 months post-move
  • Thoughts about Lent this year
  • Guns and why I don’t like them

Obviously, I haven’t sat down to write any of these, and while I hope to get to at least some of them, it doesn’t seem likely in the next week, either. So here are some recent library books instead…

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary FriendThe Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We grabbed this from the library’s new award winner display, and I can see why it won. The pictures have a lovely bright and dark contrast, but the story is also fun and it just feels like a kid-friendly book all around. I hadn’t heard of it before it won this year’s Caldecott Medal (not surprisingly, for me), but my kids and I have all enjoyed it thoroughly, and I’ve had several reread requests.

The story follows an unnamed imaginary friend who, when he doesn’t get called up by a kid to be their friend, decides to go out into the real world and find his own friend. Sure enough, he finds both his friend and his name, and all live happily ever after.

Little OinkLittle Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the creators of Little Pea and Little Hoot comes a story about a pig who wants to be clean. This is a cute addition to the Rosenthal and Corace’s brand of creatures wanting to doing the opposite of what they are known for, and it’s again fun as a parent to read how Little Oink disagrees with his parents.

Fox's GardenFox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a gorgeous, wordless story about a fox finding shelter in the winter and a boy who helps her out. I can’t rave enough about the pictures–I could sit and look at them for a long, long time, except that my kids technically have dibs on the book.

Mr. Putter & Tabby Turn the PageMr. Putter & Tabby Turn the Page by Cynthia Rylant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This installment of the Mr. Putter and Tabby series takes the pair to the library to read for story time. They don’t know quite what to do when Mrs. Teaberry and Zeke decide to come, too, but the visit goes well for everyone except perhaps a couple of librarians who lost their food to Zeke. A sweet, fun (and librarian-pleasing) entry for the series.

Shhh!Shhh! by Valeri Gorbachev

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A sweet story about how an older brother quiets his toys down for his baby brother’s naptime–and revs them back up when the baby is awake! All three kids liked this, and it was simple but fun.

Five, Six, Seven, Nate!Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first audio book for the YALSA Hub challenge this year, and I really enjoyed it. It’s a continuation, and I haven’t read the first book (Better Nate Than Ever), but Five, Six, Seven, Nate definitely stands on its own. In it, eighth grader Nate Foster heads from a Pittsburgh suburb to Broadway as an ensemble member of “ET: The Musical” and experiences all the ups and downs of being a member of a real Broadway cast. The reader gets a real sense of the theater world and can easily sympathize with Nate’s difficulties. Although he spends a lot of time getting cut from numbers due to poor dance skills, Nate’s flair for learning lines, ability to make (and keep) friends, and passion for the theater carry him through. There’s even some romance.

Author Tim Federle also narrates, and he does a great job–I read on the back blurb that these books are based on his own experiences on Broadway, and you feel like he really identifies with Nate when he reads. He doesn’t quite do Jim Dale-style voices, but he does vary his voice enough (including some very well-done accents) that you can easily tell which character is talking. I thoroughly enjoyed both the story and the audio production of it.

The last is one of the ones I’m reading for the YALSA challenge, but the two I’m reading now (one in print, one on audio) are taking me longer to get through. In audio format, I just got extra time to listen on Five, Six, Seven, Nate because I took a solo trip down to NC. In print, I can tell that bad things are coming for the characters, and that always slows down my reading.

I did finish one of the books I’ve been wanting to read this year, and I can strongly recommend it as very funny and enjoyable (and not even geared just to knitters, like most of her other books):
The Amazing Thing About the Way It Goes: Stories of Tidiness, Self-Esteem and Other Things I Gave Up OnThe Amazing Thing About the Way It Goes: Stories of Tidiness, Self-Esteem and Other Things I Gave Up On by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book took me a little while to get into. My first problem was that I bought it in Kindle format, and when the first chapter came up with the title “Thirteen,” I thought the Kindle had simply dropped me in at the wrong spot. Once I figured out that it was just the title of the first chapter, and finished it, I was hooked. While there isn’t as much knitting as in Pearl-McPhee’s other books, the humor is just as great. My personal favorite was the skunk chapter, which had me laughing so hard that I had to retell a modified version to my kids so they’d know what was so funny.

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Library Books Enjoyed, 1/19/15

Still catching up from the end of 2014, this one includes some Christmas stories we enjoyed this year:

Awesome DawsonAwesome Dawson by Chris Gall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think Chris Gall has pretty well sewn up being our six-year-old’s current “favorite author.” He specifically requested I get this from the library, because he’d seen it on the book jackets of other Chris Gall books, then spent most of the time we had it poring over it, and basically memorized it. His two younger sisters also thought it was great and deserved multiple rereads. I can’t say it’s my favorite, but I do think Mr. Gall knows his audience!

Dawson is an inventor, but he has to learn to harness his inventing powers for good…Dawson’s best friend, Mooey (a talking cow toy), was especially popular around here.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? by Jon Agee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one is awesome. It’s similar to another book we’ve loved, where different illustrators offer knock-knock jokes (and I need to check whether the two are from the same publisher), but in this one, each illustrator offers his or her own take on the age-old question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?”

Because it relies so heavily on the illustrations, all three of my kids could soon read it to themselves, and they did–over and over.

I thought it was a cute book, but my favorite part was my six year old identifying all the illustrators and reciting the different books he knew them from–it warmed this librarian-mom’s heart!

I definitely recommend this to anyone with kids who are into jokes, and also anyone who is a fan of children’s book illustrations.

Captain Sky BlueCaptain Sky Blue by Richard Egielski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This unexpected Christmas adventure follows a favorite toy, Captain Sky Blue, when his plane suffers a weather run-in. It’s a little hard to describe, but it has lots of pilot talk (with a glossary at the front, thankfully!), lots of adventure, and a chance to save Christmas. We’ve enjoyed it a lot.

When Christmas CameWhen Christmas Came by Eileen Spinelli

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cute book about who shows up for a Christmas Eve service during a snowstorm. We especially liked the prominent place that the organist was given, although I wish there had been a choir rather than a “soloist.” Will be most enjoyed by other church-goers.

A Season of Gifts (A Long Way from Chicago, #3)A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can never resist Grandma Dowdel. I’ve been meaning to read this one for a couple years now, but I didn’t want to read it except near Christmas, and it always seemed to be checked out. Finally got a copy of the audio book this year, and at a nice, short 3 CD length, finished it quickly. As in A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder, Grandma Dowdel (who’s getting quite old–it’s now 1958) continues to live her life without regard for what anyone else thinks, and usually so that everything is arranged to her satisfaction (whether strictly legal or not).

In this installment, though, it’s not one of her grandkids that she’s surprising and leaving speechless, but a neighbor kid, Bob Barnhart and his family. Bob’s dad is the new Methodist minister in town (another reason that I especially enjoyed the book), and the family has not exactly been warmly welcomed. But with some help from Mrs. Dowdel, they are able to settle in and deal with bullies, low church attendance, and a teenage older sister. Bob’s younger sister Ruth Ann’s attachment to Mrs. Dowdel is especially fun to watch.

An excellent quick read (or fun read-aloud) for Christmastime.

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Library Books Enjoyed, 1/5/15

It’s been a good two and half months since I posted some library books, so the next few book posts will be catching up with favorites from that time period…

Goatilocks and the Three BearsGoatilocks and the Three Bears by Erica S. Perl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was awesome!! As expected, it’s a retelling of Goldilocks, but I wouldn’t have thought how brilliant a retelling with a goat could be.

What does Goatilocks do with the porridge that’s just right? She eats it! Of course, that’s how the story goes. But what does Goatilocks do with the chair that’s just right? She eats it! Because she’s a goat!

The story goes on, and it’s just as fun throughout…and we had repeated rereadings in our house.

Secret Pizza PartySecret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dragons Love Tacos still remains my favorite book from this author and illustrator duo, but I liked Secret Pizza Party a lot, too, and so did my kids. They especially like the part where you first whisper, and then yell “Secret Pizza Party!!” Anyone who feels affection toward raccoons should also read this (those with personal vendettas against the critters may want to skip it).

Little Owl LostLittle Owl Lost by Chris Haughton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We LOVED this one. I had to read it over and over, and I didn’t even mind too much–and eventually the kids memorized it and read it over and over themselves.

Little Owl falls out of his nest, and a squirrel enthusiastically tries to help Little Owl find his mother, based on the owlet’s descriptions of his mother. Squirrel’s enthusiasm outweighs his competence, and he finds several other animals, but no Mother Owl. Luckily, the Frog that Squirrel finds when Little Owl mentions that his mother has big eyes has a bit more sense, and the family is reunited.

The pictures remind me a little of prints or wood cuts, and the colors are darker, but beautiful.

My kids especially liked telling me what animal Squirrel had found on each attempt.

Goliath (Leviathan, #3)Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t think I liked steampunk, and then I read Leviathan. I liked Leviathan, but thought I probably didn’t need to finish the trilogy, and then I picked up Behemoth. And Goliath has been just as fun and satisfying a read. I loved the continued adventures of the Leviathan’s crew, and particularly the intertwined stories of Deryn and Alek, but my favorite part in this case may be the dedication: “To everyone who loves a long-secret romance, revealed at last.”

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Library Books Enjoyed, 10/20/14

Gabby and GatorGabby and Gator by James Burks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My kids LOVE this one. Gator is an alligator who was flushed down the toilet as a youngster, lives in the sewers, and guiltily eats dogs to survive. Gabby is a smart, vegetarian, earth-friendly girl who knows what she wants, but doesn’t have any friends who understand her. They become friends pretty instantly, but both Gator’s appetite and the local animal control officer are difficulties that have to be overcome.

Some of the kids’ favorite parts: Gabby’s tuba-playing, Gator’s first dog-eating incident, and scaring off the local bully.

Annie and Snowball and the Dress-up BirthdayAnnie and Snowball and the Dress-up Birthday by Cynthia Rylant

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We like Annie and Snowball almost as much as Henry and Mudge around our house, but this one has been a particular hit. Annie plans a “dress-up” birthday with her family, but her idea of dress-up and Henry’s don’t quite match up. The results are both fancy and crazy, and my kids laugh every time.

Dear FishDear Fish by Chris Gall

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My six-year-old now has a favorite author, and it’s Chris Gall. This isn’t one of my favorite installments, but my kids have enjoyed the story of fish coming to visit the local town after Peter Alan sends them an invitation in a bottle. Grown-ups and older kids can amuse themselves trying to find the “fish puns” that make up part of the drawings–I haven’t found all 10 yet!

WordGirl: Word Up: Word UpWordGirl: Word Up: Word Up by Anita Serwacki

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh, Word Girl. If I did not have such affection for all things PBS, I might be tempted to banish you from my house. But you have entered, and you have conquered my children, especially my superhero-loving-six-year-old boy, and now I am doomed to read you aloud for all eternity. At least each book comes with two separate stories, which can each be read alone.

P.S. For a superhero whose power is vocabulary, you think you’d need more than 2 words per episode to defeat the bad guys!

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Library Books Enjoyed: 10/6/14

Wow, it’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these.

Buy My Hats!Buy My Hats! by Dave Horowitz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a cute story about two aspiring businessmen (well, a business bear and a business fish) who can’t quite figure out the secret of success. In the end, a rainstorm comes to their aid.

We reread this one several times, and I think the kids liked the ads for the protagonists’ competitors and all the conversations taking place on the pictures as much as anything.

Dog vs. CatDog vs. Cat by Chris Gall

My kids LOVED this one. I only thought it was ok at first, but it is one that seems to improve upon multiple (multiple!!) rereads. A classic dog versus cat tale that has forces the two adversaries to join forces against a common enemy. The pictures are really funny, and Mr. Gall completely knows his audience because, a week since returning this to the library, my kids are still calling “I have outdoor privileges!” and cracking up every time. This is also one of the first books to bring home the idea of liking different books by the same author, because my son has retrieved his Dinotrux book and also found another book by Mr. Gall at the library.

A Kiss for Little BearA Kiss for Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the first book I had my six-year-old read to me without him having already had it read to him. He did a great job, and it was a fun story to discover together (if I’ve read this one before, it’s been a LONG time). Little Bear sends a picture to his Grandmother via Hen, and Grandmother sends a kiss back the same way. But Hen gets busy and enlists other animals to help send the kiss along. N.’s favorite part was when Frog was getting Cat’s attention to give him the kiss, and mine was when the kiss got stuck with 2 little skunks.

This last one is not a grown-up book, but it’s just one I read for my own interest, not with the kids.

I Kill the MockingbirdI Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t remember where I read a review of this one, but when I came across it at the library, the cover grabbed me. I was not disappointed. The premise (three friends decide to increase interest in the summer reading assignment To Kill a Mockingbird by hiding the book all over their state) is interesting, but it’s really the characterization and the real-life feel/details that make this book.

Some points I especially like:
-The amusing but fond descriptions of the Lucy, Elena, and MIchael’s Catholic school.
-The poignant parts about Lucy’s mom recovering from cancer are good, but not (I think) overdone, and they don’t take over the book.
-The smart, nerdy kids who know they are smart but can laugh at themselves, too.
-The little bit of romance.
-Several of the lines, but in particular, after the three use bus passes to hit bookstores all around Connecticut, “We’d never be able to pull this off in Texas.”

It was both a fun read and a thoughtful read. It’s short, and I don’t think very hard, so I think some older elementary students would enjoy it, but the protagonists are all about to start high school, and the focal point is To Kill a Mockingbird, so it’s best target may be younger middle schoolers. I think it would go over especially well with fans of E.L. Konigsburg.

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Library Books Enjoyed, 8/18/14: First Maryland edition

Our new library is the Harford County Library, and here are some recent picks that we’ve enjoyed from there:

Princesses Are Not Just PrettyPrincesses Are Not Just Pretty by Kate Lum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A cute story about three princesses who each WANT to be the prettiest, but eventually remember that they have more important things to do. My kids LOVED this one (and I have to say, I liked that one of the princesses was named Princess Libby), and now we need to seek out Lum’s other princess books.

My New Friend Is So Fun! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)My New Friend Is So Fun! by Mo Willems

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A new Gerald and Piggie!! Hooray! Gerald and Snake find out that Piggie and Brian Bat are hitting it off–and then they start to worry that their best friends won’t need them anymore. Another great installment by Willems.

Naughty Kitty. Adam StowerNaughty Kitty. Adam Stower by Adam Stower

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I do have ONE gripe about this book, which is that the tiger who appears and gets Lily’s kitty in trouble shouldn’t be quite such a surprise to Lily, since she adopted him at the end of Silly Doggy. Still, Lily’s animal raising skills amused us just as much, if not more, in this new story as in the first, and this is one that I not only reread several times, but that my 6 and 4 year old quickly learned enough to reread by themselves. Cute, funny, and right on target to audience (they especially loved the line, “As for Mom’s carpet, I can’t even talk about that. It was revolting!”

And one adult book (and I was very impressed by how quickly I got this from the holds list):

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this second installment of the Cormoran Strike detective series (yes, I probably wouldn’t have read it if it weren’t written by J.K. Rowling; I have no shame about this). I think I like that it follows the basic hard-boiled detective and green partner pattern, and I love the character development between Strike and Robin, and I LOVE that (at least so far) it has not become a romance. I did tell a friend who is hoping they will get together that there’s still room for it to develop (not least because Robin’s fiancé Matthew seems even less likable in this novel), but I’m still holding out hope that it will just stay a detective-partner relationship.

I thought the murder mystery part was also well done (and that the whodunit was less of a cheat than the first book), but be aware that the murder in this volume is extremely gory and disturbing.

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