Library Books Enjoyed, 3/13/14

No theme today…

Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild!Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild! by Mem Fox

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This may have been one I chose more for me than for the kids…but nevertheless, they enjoyed it and we read it several times!! It’s a sweet story about children trying not to make messes and parents trying not to yell when they do anyway.

The Story of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor: A Roman Constellation MythThe Story of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor: A Roman Constellation Myth by Cari Meister

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My five-year-old found this, and it’s one that parents will want to preview before sharing with young kids. I thought that the story was well presented and it was easy enough to gloss over adult topics…however, like many other Greco-Roman myths, this story about the nymph Callisto and Jupiter/Zeus involves trickery, adultery, unwed pregnancy, revenge, and a near-miss on matricide. It certainly makes a riveting story about how the bear constellations got where they are, though!

No Roses for Harry!No Roses for Harry! by Gene Zion

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We love Harry the Dirty Dog, and when we saw this one that I don’t remember seeing before, we got it right away. This was a funny story about Harry getting a hand-knit sweater…with roses that he does not like! The solution to Harry’s problem is a bit far-fetched, but fun. The kids loved Harry, and I loved the knitting connection.

Benny and Penny in The Big No-No!Benny and Penny in The Big No-No! by Geoffrey Hayes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one that I would probably like better if my kids didn’t like it quite so well. We have read this at least a million times in the last week. All three kids like it, too, which means that while we have consensus on what to read, we then have arguments over who gets to look at the book after we are done reading it together. (Obviously, Hayes knows his audience.)

On the upside, even the two-year-old is reading this to herself (she is particularly expressive with the raspberry and the crying sound effects), and it is short enough to stand up to multiple read-alouds without completely exhausting the reader. Also, I feel like it is easier to read aloud than many other graphic novels–it just seemed to flow better, without having to vocalize the action that’s going on–so that was a nice feature.

And one grown-up (well, YA) book:

Now I'll Tell You Everything (Alice, #25)Now I’ll Tell You Everything by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was prepared by a previous review for this book to be a little longer than it needed to be, and I think I agree with that assessment. It makes me re-think my disappointment at not getting enough details at the end of other series (i.e. Harry Potter). On the one hand, it was fun to have an author who cares so much about her readers that she really did give them “everything” about the rest of Alice McKinley’s life. On the other, it’s impossible to make all that information as intimate and readable as Naylor did with earlier Alice books. I started to feel like the book would have been stronger if it had stopped after a key event (I would choose Alice’s wedding, but there were several other places that could have worked) and just given us the last scene as a kind of epilogue. I was also slightly disappointed at the title…Naylor tells us in the afterword that it was originally Always Alice, and I like that one better.

With all this complaining, I need to end by saying that I still really liked the book (I gave it 4 stars, after all!), and it felt like Alice’s adult life went the way I would expect, and want it to go. I was especially happy to read about her wedding and her career path–both turned out the way I’d hoped they would!

I think most fans of the Alice series will really enjoy this finale–I certainly did.

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Library Books Enjoyed, 3/6/14: Nutcracker Edition

Because March is the perfect time to read about the Nutcracker, right?

Actually, the Nutcracker has been a slight obsession with my five-year-old since watching excerpts in his music class at school (of course, this happened right after we decided the kids were not yet old enough to be worth taking them to the Nutcracker in person!!). About midway through January, he started asking to check out Nutcracker books at the library. I thought a few weeks of this were in store, but we’re going on about 5 or 6 weeks now with no end in sight. As a result, we and anyone else who’s interested will have a thorough critical review of Nutcracker books available from the Durham Public Library before next Christmas rolls around. A book gets bonus points if N. really liked the portrayal of the Rat King (but they get actual star increases in the ratings if I didn’t mind reading them ad infinitum). Here’s the first installment:

The NutcrackerThe Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anyway, this is my favorite of the ones we’ve checked out…Jeffers specifies that she wanted to do a version that was short enough for young readers/listeners (and as a parent who likes short bedtime stories, I am SO grateful), and that basically follows the plot line of the ballet (over that of the original fairy tale). Check and check. Add in Jeffers’ beautiful pictures (she also illustrates the McDuff books by Rosemary Wells) and we’ve got a crowd-pleasing winner.

Tallulah's NutcrackerTallulah’s Nutcracker by Marilyn Singer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing in the Nutcracker vein…this one follows Tallulah (apparently the star of a series!) as she plays a mouse in a production of the Nutcracker. The kids enjoyed it, I got to reminisce about also playing a mouse in the Nutcracker, and I thought it did a decent job of showing what it might like to be backstage in a ballet production (minus the egos of the ballet bigwigs, though).

The NutcrackerThe Nutcracker by Michael Hague

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those long versions that made me so thankful for Susan Jeffers’ version of the story. The kids loved it, and thankfully we had it checked out when my parents were visiting, so my father valiantly read it over and over again in my stead. I think the full tale is quite interesting, but once a week is plenty for me to read something this long aloud…the pictures are great, too, and my five-year-old was quite satisfied with the portrait of the seven-headed Rat King.

Ella Bella Ballerina and The NutcrackerElla Bella Ballerina and The Nutcracker by James Mayhew

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This Nutcracker story was an interesting mix of the fairy tale and a “child in a ballet” version. Ella Bella (who apparently stars in other ballet books…I didn’t realize how many ballet series are out there until we started looking for Nutcracker stories! In this one, Ella Bella and her ballet class are having a Christmas party, but when Ella goes to get her teacher’s music box, the music magically transports her (or is she just imagining things?) into the story of the Nutcracker. The Rat King made a sufficient appearance to please the five year old, and although we’ve only had the book for 24 hours, I’ve already been asked to read it 3 times, so I think it’s a success. It’s not as short as the Jefferson version, but it’s a lot shorter than the Hague version, so I’m ok with it, too.

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Life and other complications

Well, my writing New Year’s resolution has completely gone out the window. February was a busy month. My husband traveled to Maryland and passed his commissioning exams with the Methodist church. Hooray! This means we are moving to Maryland (although we don’t yet know where) this summer. Just before he left (because when I do something, I like to do it thoroughly), I got a bulging disc in my spine. It was not fun, but drugs and physical therapy are helping me heal. This led my parents to come down for a week to help out and enjoy the second snowfall of the winter with us. It also meant that, while I’ve gotten almost no writing done in the last month, I got a good bit of reading done.

Aside from those major events, life keeps trucking on with school, church, library time, music class, birthday parties, etc. Time continues to fly.

My major goals over the next 4 months are to heal completely (or completely enough to get on with regular life) and to get us moved to Maryland (enjoying our time left in Durham in the meanwhile). Writing time will probably continue to suffer accordingly, but I’m not giving up, and I hope to attempt adopting more of a writing routine again when July comes.

For now, here are some pictures from the last month. First, a baking success from my husband’s birthday in January:

Chocolate jelly roll with ice cream in the middle...on the way to being baked Alaska.

Chocolate jelly roll with ice cream in the middle…on the way to being baked Alaska.

The person he has to meet with for his performance reviews is one of the owners of Maple View Farms. Yes, we lead a charmed life. Anyway, she gave him a whole lot of ice cream for his birthday, and we decide the best thing to do was make baked Alaska. I used the instructions from Joy of Cooking (we have the 1997 edition), which included the possibility of making a jelly roll, and then I followed the jelly roll instructions (including things like lining the pan with waxed paper, flipping the jelly rolls several times and peeling off and replacing paper with tinfoil). And, lo and behold, they worked! I was both surprised and pleased.

Next, a few snow pictures:

Snow!

Snow!

 

Snowman (He wasn't melting yet, just really small.)

Snowman (He wasn’t melting yet, just really small.)

 

And finally, we have begun the packing process:

Books in piles.

Books in piles.

Books in the garage.

Books in the garage.

We may do some decluttering in the process of moving, but the books are not on the decluttering schedule, apparently. M. makes the point that we could be placed in a church near a very small public library, so we are simply being prepared.

 

 

 

 

Library Books Enjoyed, 2/10/14

Three more books my kids enjoyed, plus one I read for myself (still not really an adult book, but since I read YA as much as actually grown-up books, it will have to do).

Knock, KnockKnock, Knock by Sophie Blackall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My kids are completely into jokes these days, especially knock-knock jokes. They still don’t quite “get” what makes jokes funny (although with me for a mother, they may never…), but that doesn’t stop them from laughing their heads off when one of them tells (or makes up a joke). This collection was neat because each joke was illustrated by a different artist, mostly well-known children’s illustrators. The jokes ranged in both their level (some I could explain to the kids, some I didn’t bother to) and their humor (although, again, that could be me), and I think the illustration quality varied, too, but overall, it was a great collection. It certainly merited lots of individual paging through by the three jokesters-in-training.

Amanda Pig and the Awful, Scary Monster (Oliver and Amanda)Amanda Pig and the Awful, Scary Monster by Jean Van Leeuwen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve at least heard of this series for awhile, but this was the first installment that I actually sat down and read with my kids. It was a little long for reading aloud, but we all enjoyed it despite the length. I particularly liked how the book dealt with a real-world fear (a monster in the bedroom), and that the fear was overcome in a realistic way–it took some time, as well as the help of her family. Her brother, Oliver’s, suggestions were a bit hit-or-miss, in a real sibling manner, but you could tell that he really did mean well (most of the time). Oliver’s name was also a hit in our family, because we have a cousin with the same name.

An Undone Fairy TaleAn Undone Fairy Tale by Ian Lendler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This author and illustrator basically took the concept of a story not being finished quick enough for the reader and ran with it. The story starts as a fairy tale, but soon, the narrator is having to interject and ask the reader to slow down because Ned, who seems to be the artist, casting director, handyman, and all around guy-in-charge, is having trouble getting things ready when they are supposed to be. He tries to make emergency substitutions (first small–a donut for a crown–but then bigger, like grape popsicles for a wall), and eventually gives up as the story devolves into hilarious chaos. This one really just hit the perfect note for my kids–they thought it was absolutely hilarious and made us read it over and over.

Alice on Board (Alice, #24)Alice on Board by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another fun installment in the Alice series…this one won’t be a favorite, but I enjoyed it just fine, and I’m all set to read the last one now…

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Library Books Enjoyed, 2/3/14

I’ve been meaning to get some more of these posts in, so here we go…no particular theme here, just a few books that we enjoyed in January:

Awesome Space RobotsAwesome Space Robots by Michael O’Hearn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, already I see in my 5 year old son an affinity for reading nonfiction. I saw this robots book and grabbed it because he’d expressed an interest in the Mars rovers. We only read the introductory chapter and the chapter on Mars robots together, and the book was probably a little above his age, even for listening, but he was still engrossed. I’m interested to see his reading choices in a few years…

I thought the book was well-done, with interesting pictures and pull-out facts, an organization that made sense (even to someone who’d had no prior knowledge about the variety of robots that get sent into space), and fairly simple text.

A Isn't for Fox: An Isn't AlphabetA Isn’t for Fox: An Isn’t Alphabet by Wendy Ulmer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure what I thought of the concept of an “isn’t” alphabet, but this one worked pretty well–for each letter, a couple of “isn’ts” led to an “is,” and there was a pretty catchy rhyme scheme. The fun pictures contributed, too.

Good Night, Sleep TightGood Night, Sleep Tight by Mem Fox

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a nursery rhyme book in disguise, albeit a small collection of nursery rhymes. Bonnie and Ben pester their favorite babysitter, Skinny Doug, for more nursery rhymes at bedtime. He obliges…until they absolutely must go to sleep. Something about this completely clicked with my two girls (perhaps that the request for more rhymes was its own rhyme), and we reread this many times. I loved that the illustrator put the three characters into each rhyme as well.

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Mind Games with the Clutterbug

We have a good bit of clutter in our house. A lot of it is semi-controlled: We have a box in the front hall where most of the shoes land as we come in the door, and another for corralling scarves, mittens, hats, etc. (actually being used this winter!). Almost all of the kids’ clothes that are in their dressers fit them at this time, even if they are shoved into the drawers haphazardly.

There’s lots of clutter that’s not really controlled at all: The toys spend a good deal of time strewn around the floor no matter how many different ways I try to organize them in easy-to-put-away systems. Our art supplies (especially the coloring books) are threatening to take over the house and need to be weeded. And don’t even get me started on our bookshelves.

All of this, though, I manage to live with without too much stress. I organize a little when I have time, inclination, and a reasonable idea about how to proceed. Otherwise, I live with the clutter. Toys are just going to be out because they are there to be played with, not to sit in their bins. My husband and I can usually find the books we want if we look carefully enough. Life creates clutter, and that’s that.

The clutter that I seem to have the most trouble with, though, is clutter I don’t even see on a regular basis. It’s the things that I’ve saved for one reason or another, they build up, and I only notice them when I need to add to their ranks…birthday cards, music programs, car maintenance paperwork, etc. There’s no reason why this stuff should bug me as much as it does. Life creates clutter. I go through it when I can. It clutters up more. The cycle continues.

I think I feel like it’s hanging over me because some of it has been around for so long…I have at least a few letters from elementary school and all my dance recital programs starting from 1st grade. Another contributor to the stress may be the impending possibility of moving this summer…we still won’t know for a while yet, but we are slowly starting to get things ready to move, and that brings the clutter to the forefront. I’m sure another reason is because I like to organize, but I don’t seem to have the knack for it that others do…just like my Pinterest board (that I don’t remember how to log into) will never have more than about 10 pins, I’m never going to have my house perfectly organized.

Whatever the reason, I’m trying to stop stressing out about it now. Life creates clutter. Yes, it sometimes needs to be pruned, corralled, and kept in line. But it’s not worth spending my mental energy on worrying about the clutter instead of the things that make life life. Playing and reading with my kids. Hanging out with my husband. Reading and writing and knitting. Doing the daily chores that make the household work. Baking a special dessert. Writing letters to friends.

Yes, the file cabinet and the boxes of cards will stay on my “to-do” radar. But I’m saying no to trying to have or keep everything in perfect order. There’s too much other life to live.

Say Yes to the Dress: Doll Edition

I snapped this picture the other day:

dolldresses

Baby, Sadie the dog, and Cinderella decided to borrow each others’ clothes: Cinderella (on the right) and Sadie are both wearing new outfits that Santa brought Baby, while Baby sports Cinderella’s ball dress. The post perhaps should be titled “What Not to Wear” in poor Baby’s case–she has a soft, huggable body that happens to be plumper than Cinderella’s plastic one, so the dress never quite fits her. It also doesn’t help that the ball dress will soon look just like rags from repeated putting on and taking off. The sleeves and overskirt are a gauzy material that is not sturdy, so they could fall off any day.

Anyway, I thought it was funny.