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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Advent 2014

I have obviously not kept up very well with blogging this fall. While we as a family seem to be getting acclimated to our new home and life, I have found myself still feeling very much in transition. That’s why I am so happy that it is now Advent. I have known that Advent starts the new church year for quite awhile, but this year, I am especially eager to start a new year. I need the chance to refocus my thoughts away from the transition of the last year and on to what good things are yet to come.

One of the challenges I keep facing over and over is “not getting enough done” as a stay at home mom. The days fly by, and it seems like my to-do list at best stays the same length and at worst gets longer. I also find myself focusing too much on the to-do list and not enough on time with the kids, or even concentrating on whatever task I am currently working at. So to get ready for this Advent, I went ahead and made a huge, multi-page to-do list for the next year or so. I divided up the things I wanted to get done into categories (for example, crafts I wanted to make, household chores that needed to get done) and then I tried to choose just a few of the major things to focus on right now: celebrating Advent/getting ready for Christmas, and trying to complete “moving into” our new house. These are two fairly large items, and there are of course other small things that have cropped up and will continue to do so, but I’m hopeful that by focusing on a few things, I can feel less adrift and frenzied. I’m also hoping that this approach will help me to look at the different seasons in the year and in life, and recognize what tasks are appropriate to focus on in this season–and which ones to drop for now.

I do hope to get back into blogging, but right now, that’s not one of my top priorities, so I’m going to limit it to book posts for now. In the meantime, I will be trying to enjoy and do the work of this Advent season.

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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Reading and writing in 2014

I am two weeks late for any sort of New Year’s post, but that’s just how I roll, it seems.

I made three official New Year’s resolutions (going on the theory that if I make several, I have a better chance of keeping/achieving at least one), and the one that I think will receive most of my energy is trying to finish writing a book-length story that I started at least 5-7 years ago. Like my knitting and sewing projects, I seem to pick it up and put it down, but I’m hoping to pick it up for good this year. That’s part of why I started this blog in the first place–to get back into a habit of writing–so now I’m just going to shift some of the time I would spend on blog posts over to working on the story. There will probably be less posting here because of that, but hey, since I’m not the most faithful blogger in the first place, you may not even notice!

An unofficial resolution that I make just about every year is to try to read the books that are sitting on my nightstand. It never happens. This is largely due to me getting distracted by other things to read, but sometimes I’ll put something on the nightstand that I know I should read but am not really in the mood for so it sits forever. Similarly, any book that I receive as a gift goes there, some of them eagerly and others not so much. I also had some ARCs that are way past the “advanced reading” stage, and so on. This year, to help somewhat with the nightstand phenomenon, I actually took everything off and only put back books that I really do want to read. A few (the ARCs!) have been marked for giving away (don’t worry, copyright people, I gave the ARC’s to my local library to use as teen event prizes or some such thing, NOT for sale in a thrift shop or library book sale), others just put on our regular shelf, and the ones that stay on the nightstand arranged in what I hope is a tempting manner:

The nightstand in all its glory.

The nightstand in all its glory.

First, we have the whole thing, which may look deceivingly empty and easy to get through. Note the Kindle on top, which creates its own problems. I have found that to actually read something on the Kindle, I kind of have to impulse buy (buy it when I want to read it right now only), because otherwise the book sits there without even a physical dust catcher to remind me that I need to sit down and read it.

shelf1Next, the first shelf, which includes space to stick whatever I’m currently reading on top of my diary and a few books-in-progress on the side. (Finding Calm in the Chaos is a devotional book, so it will probably stay there for most of the year as I try to use it every day).shelf2

The lower shelves are not arranged in any reading order, but by how the books best fit. I do try to put books I want to read sooner in the front with others in the back. People of the Book has been there (and I’ve been truly wanting to read it…just not tonight) for about 2 years. You can also see my French book-in-progress and some kids’ books my mom lent me that will go quickly when I finally pick them up. Relic is a Christmas gift YA book that I’m looking forward to.shelf3

The lowest shelf includes some of my cheating: I’m already about halfway through rereading Little Women, and the orange book on the side is the English translation of the French book (which I’ve still only been referring to after I read a given section in French first). Also, you may notice that there is both a print and audio copy of the same book on the right, so I will listen to that one for my next audiobook.

Judging by the first two weeks, my 2014 is already off to a busy start, and I know I’ll never finish everything I want to this year. But here’s to an optimistic late start, anyway!

Library Books Enjoyed, 1/2/2014

Happy New Year! Around here, it’s also still Christmas, so here are some Christmas library books we enjoyed before the New Year:

The Little Drummer BoyThe Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My son wants to learn to play the drum and, this Advent, has become fascinated with the Little Drummer Boy song. So when I saw that Ezra Jack Keats had made a picture book of the song, of course I checked it out. It was a hit. I’ve only been asked to read it once, but he has sat and looked through it over and over. The pictures are very familiar as being by Keats, and it’s a pretty traditional adaptation of the song.

Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas StorySilver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story by Cynthia Rylant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I checked this out from a library display, partly because the picture appealed, and partly because it was by Cynthia Rylant. I had to suggest it to the kids for the first reading, but after that they requested it several times. I thought it was a touching story, and it’s interesting that it’s based on a true phenomenon (the Christmas train). The kids loved the train, and the older two were able to understand that the boy who’d always hoped for a doctor kit eventually became a doctor.

The Night of Las PosadasThe Night of Las Posadas by Tomie dePaola

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love all the Tomie dePaola Christmas books that I’ve read, and this one was no exception. It tells the story of the Las Posadas procession that takes place on Christmas Eve in New Mexico, and about a miracle that happens during a snowstorm one year. Like many of dePaola’s books, it’s influenced strongly by his Christian faith. The kids enjoyed that it was essentially a Christmas pageant, since they are gearing up for ours at church.

Llama Llama Holiday DramaLlama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Llama llama is back again, this time caught up in the holiday rush. I like Llama alright, but my kids LOVE him, and we had to reread this one several times. This is a good one if you need a classroom holiday story, because no mention of any particular holiday is made.

Henry and Mudge in the Sparkle Days (Henry and Mudge, #5)Henry and Mudge in the Sparkle Days by Cynthia Rylant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Henry and Mudge enjoy the first winter snow, Christmas Eve dinner (a fancy dinner that, at first, Mudge is not invited to…), and a winter walk. Henry and Mudge have been around since I was a kid, and we are just getting to the point where the kids can sit through the slightly longer books (although, with chapters, we can always just read one chapter in a sitting). They are a charming pair, and they have the kind of adventures normal kids have. We reread this one several times.

Welcome ComfortWelcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Patrica Polacco has never been a favorite author of mine–I recognize both her skill and that her stories resonate with lots of kids, but they just don’t usually click for me. This one did. It’s a sweet story, and the adult main character is based on a real person, but this is a magical Christmas story. I’ve just read it once so far, but I think my kids have gotten their dad to read it already, and I won’t mind reading it again. It’s a little long for a bedtime story, unless it’s the only one you read.

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Favorite Christmas Books

In lieu of doing a library book round-up this week, I thought I’d feature some of my all-time favorite Christmas books. (These are in alphabetical order by author, so don’t draw any ranking conclusions from them!)

Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters, by Patricia C. McKissack and Frederick L. McKissack, illustrated by John Thompson215959.Sch_XmasBigHouse_0.tif

When I was growing up, we had a big box of Christmas books that only came out at Advent/Christmas time with the other Christmas time. My sister and I got as excited about looking through the books we hadn’t seen for a year as about all the other Christmas preparations. This was one of my favorites from the box, and it was a somewhat later addition (I don’t remember when we got it, but I remember getting it). It’s a historical fiction picture book, which portrays Christmas 1860 on a southern American plantation. It shows both the slave and owner life experiences, and while it combines facts and traditions from many different actual plantations, the authors work hard to be historically accurate. I will admit that, at first, my favorite thing was to pour over the pictures of splendor in the “Big House” celebrations. But the story is very well done, and over time it gave me a lot of food for thought.

best christmas pageantThe Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson

This is just fabulous. If you haven’t read it, go out and brave the post-Christmas return crowds (0r go on Amazon) to get a copy. It tells about a town’s Christmas pageant put on with the “worst kids in the entire world” as its stars–kids who’ve never heard the Christmas story before pageant practice begins. As they demand explanations for various parts of the story, they give everyone a new way to think about Jesus’ birth.

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Robert Sabudatwelve days

I have a love-hate relationship with this book. It’s beautiful, and I even pulled it out on Christmas Eve to read with my kids, who loved it. But, we received it when our oldest was either a baby or about a year old, and much as I’ve tried, I haven’t prevented serious damage to the paper engineering. If you aren’t familiar with Robert Sabuda, he does pop-up books that aren’t just for kids–beautiful, intricate pop-up books that are easily damaged by small children. We still enjoy it, but his books are definitely best shared with somewhat older kids.

polar expressThe Polar Express, written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg

Everyone knows about this one, but I’ll add my voice to the clamor. It’s a great book. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m sure the book is way better.

Max’s Christmas by Rosemary Wellsmax christmas

This is an early Max book–I remember it being in our Christmas book box, too, and I don’t remember getting this one. I like it better than many of the later Max books because it’s so short and sweet–perfect for small children, and it also perfectly encapsulates the characters with just a few well-chosen words and well-drawn pictures. A great accompaniment to “The Night Before Christmas” as a Christmas Eve read-aloud.

jonathan toomeyThe Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski, pictures by P.J. Lynch

This is a newer picture book, and it’s a serious one. Like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, it’s best enjoyed by people who see Christmas as a holy day and not just a holiday. It tells the story of a grumpy old woodcarver who is brought back to joy by a Christmas job given him by a widow and her son. There are some pages that make me cry, but most kids won’t be quite so deeply affected.

Hope you are all enjoying the Christmas season! Merry Christmas!

Writing Christmas cards

Well, I’m not right now, because there is a certain Christmas card assembly line that isn’t so good to set up while the kids are up and about. But the point is that I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been doing Christmas-y things, and next week, I may not be blogging for the same reason, and then we go out of town and my computer access will probably be spotty. I hope to at least get a few book posts drafted before we go. In the meantime, here is our Christmas tree, along with all the low-hanging ornaments the kids helped put up, then almost immediately started taking down.

Tree in its glory.

Tree in its glory.

Low hanging ornaments.

Low hanging ornaments.

Hope everyone else’s December is going well, too.