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New on My Nightstand, Tuesday Edition: “My Favorite Pets: by Gus W. for Ms. Smolinski’s Class,” “Drop-Dead Easy Knits,” “Roar! Roar! Baby Dinosaur” & “

November 29th, 2016

“When spiderwebs unite, they can tie up a lion.” — Ethiopian proverb

Oh-ho-ho, awesome books, just in time for the holidays…

“My Favorite Pets: by Gus W. for Ms. Smolinski’s Class” (Random House Children’s Books, written by Jeanne Birdsall (“The Penderwicks”), illustrated by Harry Bliss (“Diary of a Spider”), 2016, $16.99, 40 pages.) “Seventeen sheep are still sheep, not sheeps,” says Gus in his report for Ms. Smolinski. A girl sheep? “A ewe. If you say, ‘Hey, Ewe,’ she won’t answer.”

Hilarious book, and Bliss’s illustrations have so much movement to them. The characters really come alive. The story is super cute, too. Aimed at ages 5-8, but the big kids will have fun with this one, as well.

“Drop-Dead Easy Knits” (Clarkson Potter, Gale Zucker, Mary Lou Egan & Kirsten Kapur, 2016, $16.99, 144 pages.) Well, have you seen my knitting? I can do scarves and baby snuggies and that is it, folks. Nonetheless, even though I know I will never make any of the cool projects the authors came up with, this is a great book and I’m enjoying looking at the pictures! So there you have it.

“Roar! Roar! Baby Dinosaur” (DK Books, 2016, by Peter Minister & Dawn Sirett, $14.99, 12 pages) Perfect for the toddlers. Lots of flaps, lots of info boxes, and it’s light activated, so you can hear the saltasaurus babies chirping and squealing, and the leaellynasaura babies crunch-crunching pine needles.

All for now :)

wm

Grown-up Books on My Nightstand, Wednesday Edition: “Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love & Writing,” “The Magnolia Story,” “Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon” & “Gone to Soldiers”

November 16th, 2016

New releases, even! And one classic, from 1987, by my hero, Marge Piercy.

“Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love & Writing” (Atria Books, 2016, 402 pages, $27.) Great memoir. I’ve liked Jennifer Weiner’s books since her first release came out. She’s fun, and funny, and I appreciate that she sticks up for female writers.

“The Magnolia Story” (By Chip and Joanna Gaines, with Mark Dagostino, W Publishing Group, 2016, $26.99, 184 pages.) Well, these two are awesome, plus adorable, plus of course their kids are sweet. Their HGTV show, “Fixer Upper,” is streaming on Netflix, excellent choice for binge watching. I keep a notebook handy when I watch it to write down design ideas. This is “their story.” Business, love, children, keeping as many of their fellow community members employed in Waco, Texas, as they can. It’s a fun read. Their personalities, quirks, dreams and motivation shine through, just like on their show. They’re real. You can tell they adore each other, and drive each other a little cuckoo sometimes, but they love each other, anyway. That’s what it’s all about, right? Now if I could just get them over here to help me work on my house…

For reals, I was especially moved by the bigger message of the book — don’t just survive, thrive.

“If you can’t find happiness in the ugliness, you’re not going to find it in the beauty, either.” — Joanna Gaines. She also said something else that really got through to me, too: You survive, you might get by day to day. But something big comes along, you’re going to drown. So you don’t just decorate the house; you take care of the home, and yourselves, and your community. Pretty cool memoir and I was glad to learn more about these two and their world.

(PS — back page says that Joanna’s design book is coming soon…)

“Gone to Soldiers” (Fawcett, 1987, 703 pages.) I’ve re-read this book, I have no idea, six or eight times? Ten stories, all woven together, set during World War II. Just a fantastic book. Piercy is a poet, novelist, essay writer, memoir writer. She has an impressive body of work, and I’ve read a lot of her stuff over the years. This is my favorite, hands down. (Here’s the New York Times review.)

“Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon” My friend’s husband, Peter Ames Carlin, wrote this book. I just started it, it’s a great read. Simon’s back story is pretty incredible.

All for now!

wm

Tuesday Book Review: “The Mermaid’s Purse” and “Clangers: Looking for a Lullaby”

November 1st, 2016

Patricia Polacco, I love you so dearly. I love you like an auntie, a friend, a sweet neighbor. And one of my favorite children’s authors ever. Even though we’ve never met, I know you. Thanks for that! This newest book, “The Mermaid’s Purse,” is going on my list of top five Polacco favorites (others are “Thank You, Mr. Falker,” “Chicken Sunday,” “My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother” and “Mr. Lincoln’s Way.” For reals, everything she’s written and illustrated is great. How cool — and unusual — is that?)

“The Mermaid’s Purse” (Viking, 2016, $16.99, ages 3-5, according to press release, but I’d like to change that to “all ages”) is, as many of Polacco’s stories are, based on a story from her family. This is her grandmother’s story, about her love of books, her community, and the love of her life. Just so cool. Keep it in mind when shopping for holiday gifts this year.

“Clangers” is a sweet and funny little book based on the U.K. television show. The copy I received for review includes a CD. (“Clangers” was written by Janet Lawler and audio book is read by the one and only William Shatner, Grosset & Dunlap, 2016, $18.99, ages 3-5.) Stop-motion is cool because it’s not only fun to watch, visually, but it transfers well to the page. The book is bright, colorful, and includes froglets, bed caves and an Iron Chicken. What more could a kid want?

ps I made this Potato Leek Soup for dinner a couple weeks ago. Perfecto. And this? Callaloo? Looks super yummy.

– wm

Wednesday Book Review: “You Will Not Have My Hate”

October 10th, 2016

Blue skies. No, not that kind

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

Reviewed today:

“You Will Not Have My Hate”
by Antoine Leiris

Say it over and over again, and mean it: You will not have my hate. Say it even when you don’t want to say it. Say it even when you don’t mean it.

you will not have my hate you will not have my hate you will not have my hate you will not have my hate

It does something to you, it dislodges that rock that’s sitting on top of your heart, it dissolves the lump in your throat.

It’s good. It’s a good thing to feel, practice, say, believe.

And it’s the title of this slim memoir by journalist Antoine Leiris, about the murder of his wife, Helene Muyal-Leiris, by terrorists. She was at a rock concert with a friend at the Bataclan Theater in Paris when she was killed on November 13, 2015.

Leiris posted a letter to her killers on Facebook; it went viral; and this book, this searing, brilliant, loving book, is what grew out of that post.

It’s a love letter to his wife; a factual account of what happened, and how he felt; it’s a sad and thoughtful journal entry for his son. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s stunning.

Nice work.

– wm

Thursday Evening Book Review: “I Don’t Want to Be Big,” “Little Penguins,” “Imagine a City” and “The Little Elephant Who Wants to Fall Asleep”

October 6th, 2016

“I Don’t Want to Be Big,” by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt, is the sequel to “I Don’t Want to Be a Frog.” (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2016, ages 3-7, $16.99, 32 pages.) Oh, this frog. He doesn’t need to get big, see? Not when his dad can carry him places, and his big friends can reach things for him. No, he’d prefer not to meet the tree frogs, thanks. Gentle take on how to work with those who are showing their stubborn streak. The story is funny; the illustrations bright and cheerful. And hello, frogs. Frogs are funny.

Who can resist little penguins, eh? Acclaimed children’s author Cynthia Rylant and Caldecott Honor winner Christian Robinson have released “Little Penguins,” (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016, ages 3-7, $17.99), and it’s pretty darling. I’m really a sucker for winter books — anything with snow, the holidays, warm, crackling fires, sledding, ahhhh… winter. You may remember Rylant from the “Henry and Mudge” and “Mr. Putter and Tabby” books. Robinson’s artistic work includes “Last Stop on Market Street,” a Caldecott Honor Book, by Matt de la Pena, and the illustrations for “Rain!” by Linda Ashman. Acrylic paint and cut paper collage were used for this book, giving it that crisp, classic kids’ book feel. Really beautiful to look at, and the repetition is nice, soothing and strong. “Snowflakes?” “Many snowflakes.” The littles will love this one.

“Imagine a City” is reminiscent of my girlfriend Eloise, the city child. Remember her? Pen and ink on paper give it a timeless look. Elise (sounds like Eloise!) Hurst is the author. (Doubleday, 2014, ages 3-7, $16.99.) That black and white, with just the splashes of red — really nice. A mommy and her son and daughter are off on an adventure in the city. What will they see? What will they find? “Imagine a train to take you away/imagine a city and drops of rain…” Magical book. I hope the kids take the time to really look at it, and not shout, “Is it my turn on the computer yet?” Just sayin’. So much time and love went into this one.

“The Little Elephant Who Wants to Fall Asleep” (he’s a friend of “The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep”) is illustrated by Sydney Hanson, written by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin. (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2016, ages 3-7, 40 pages, $16.99.) OK, you cute little elephant, what are you up to? Oh, it’s a lesson book. Who wants to go to sleep, you, right, baby? (Kinda funny to me, now that I have teenagers and spend many of my waking hours trying to get them out of bed. Oh, how the worm has turned…) Cute little book, and the illustrations are lovely. The relaxation techniques seem like they would be helpful. (“Five. Oh, how lovely, you say to yourself, and you let go of all your thoughts and listen to the story. Aaah…”)

Happy reading, everyone.

xo

wm

On My Nightstand: Tuesday Edition — “Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille,” “Freckleface Strawberry and the Really Big Voice,” “123 Dream” & “Penguin Problems”

September 13th, 2016

* “Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille,” by Jen Bryant, with illustrations by Boris Kulikow, is a fantastic biography of a super-cool inventor. (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016, ages 4-8 (and up) 40 pages, $17.99.) Braille lost his sight at age 5 due to an accident in his father’s leather-working shop. He later went to the Royal School for the blind, in Paris, and was frustrated that there were no books he could read.

Braille improvised and improved on a code invented by a French army captain, and the rest is history. Great storytelling, the art is engaging, and man, do I love young adult biographies and autobiographies. What a lovely tribute to a cool guy whose project, and success in pulling it off, has touched so many. The Braille alphabet (not in Braille, though) is printed in the front of the book, along with a pronunciation guide to French phrases used in the book. Fini!

* “Freckleface Strawberry and the Really Big Voice” is the latest installment in the series by actress Julianne Moore, with illustrations by LeUyen Pham. (Random House Children’s Books, 2016, ages 3-7, $16.99.) There is a time for quiet, inside voices, my friends, and there is a time for BIG, LOUD, OUTSIDE VOICES! Let’s hope someone helps Freckleface’s bestie, Windy Pants Patrick, figure out what’s what. Sweet book.

* “1 2 3 Dream,” by Portland, Ore. author and illustrator Kim Krans, is an ethereal, whimsical picture book. (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2016, ages 3-7 (and up) 48 pages, $16.99.) It’s a companion book to Krans’ “A B C Dream,” which is another lovely title. She’s from Portland, is she in a band? Why, yes, she and her husband Jonny’s band is called Family Band. In case you were wondering :)

* Penguins are so sensitive, in the words of Lyle Lovett. They are! They have problems, too, y’know. Just ask them. Luckily Jory John (also from Portland, and he teaches songwriting and guitar, so maybe he has a band? What say you?) and Lane Smith are here to advocate for them in “Penguin Problems.” (Random House Children’s Books, 2016, ages 3-7, $17.99.) Their beaks get cold. There is a LOT of squawking. All of that snow is bright. You might get gobbled up by someone bigger than you. Really funny picture book with just the right amount of sass and empathy. John also wrote “I Will Chomp You!” and Smith… oh, he’s just the author of one of the best children’s books ever, “It’s A Book.” And what’s that one book he illustrated? Oh, right… with his buddy Jon Scieszka? “The Stinky Cheese Man.” Buy two copies and give one away.

Bon appetit, babies.

– wacky mommy

On My Nightstand: Monday Book Review — “Skippyjon Jones and the Big Bones,” “A Perfect Mess,” “The Perfect Dog,” “Full of Beans” and “Coloring For Moms & Moms-to-Be”

August 22nd, 2016

* The Skippyjon Jones series was always popular with my students. The Spanglish bugged me at first, I thought it was a little much… (“Then, using his very best Spanish accent, he added, “My ears are too beeg for my head, and my head won’t fit into my bed…”) but the kids responded to it, and we would turn the books into fast Spanish lessons, along with a fun story time. Judy Schachner is the author and illustrator of the series. (Scholastic, 2007, $4.99.) Dinosaurs? A Siamese cat who pretends he’s a Chihuahua? A fun, fast rhythm to the words? We’re in.

* “A Perfect Mess,” written and illustrated by Steve Breen (Penguin Random House, 2016, ages 3-5, unpaged, $16.99) is a really cool picture book. (You may recognize the art of Breen, who also writes the comic strip “Grand Avenue,” and is the author of the children’s books “Pug & Doug,” “Stick” and “Violet the Pilot.”) Kids’ books are usually described as “heart-warming,” “tender,” and blah-blah sweetness deluxe, but this one is. Henry McHenry, “one messy rhino,” is so ready for class picture day. He’s wearing his nicest shirt, he has an emergency pack of wet wipes. He’ll be clean by the time pictures are taken… but what about the rest of his class? Good pick for back-to-school.

* “Who has the best dog in all the land?” I was cooing at our new puppy last week. My son, cheerful as heck, says, “I don’t know who, but not us!” He’s wrong. Wacky Dog 2.0 is pretty, pretty good. If only she would learn to stop peeing in the house. And eating the cat food. And devouring the garbage. (She’s got a lot in common with Angus, aka Wacky Dog 1.0.) So Kevin O’Malley’s “The Perfect Dog” has arrived at Wacky House at a very opportune time. And look! Open the bookjacket, look inside, lower right-corner… There’s a Yellow Labrador Retriever, just like our dear Wacky Dog 2.0. Hers a big girl, y’all. (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2016, $17.99.)

“My parents said we could get a dog. ‘And I know the perfect dog…’”

Uh. Is it one that doesn’t pee all over everything? Just wonderin’. Anyway. This book makes me happy, and I’m sure the kiddies will love it, too.

O’Malley also co-authors and illustrates the Miss Malarkey series, which is super fun. Check it out if you’re not familiar with the titles. #booksteachersandkidslove

* “Full of Beans” is the newest by dear, sweet and funny Jennifer L. Holm. Do you know the very talented Jenni Holm? If not, you should. She and her equally-talented bro, Matthew Holm, co-author the “Babymouse” and “Squish” series. Her book “The Fourteenth Goldfish” was a big hit, and she also writes some very cool historical fiction (“Our Only May Amelia”) and now, “Full of Beans,” (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2016, ages 8-12, $16.99, 208 pages), the sequel to “Turtle in Paradise.”

Now comes Beans Curry, a Depression-era kid whose family, along with lots of others, is destitute. He needs cash fast and doesn’t really care how he gets it. How far will he go, though? Who will he trust? And who will find out? Great read — one of those high/low’s I loved as a teacher. (High interest for low reading level.) Holm works in a lot of interesting info about Roosevelt’s New Dealers, along with a great story and funny sidekicks. “What in the history of cheese?”

* And now, the best for last: “Coloring for Moms and Moms-To-Be” (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, Little Tiger Press & Bethan Janine, 2016, $9.99.) I’m one of those freaks who never stopped coloring. I used to hide it from people, so now that it’s “a thing,” I’m super happy. Break out the colored pencils and start doodling in the butterflies, flowers and onesies, hot-air balloons, elephants and cupcakes. You may have to hide this one from the bigger kids. :) Awesome baby shower gift, of course. Pages and pencils or crayons would be cute decorating the tables.

Bon appetit, babies.

– wm

Saturday Book Review: For the Kids! “Day Dreamers, A Journey of Imagination,” “Ninja Bunny: Sister Vs. Brother” & “The Opposite Zoo”

August 6th, 2016

New on the nightstand this week…

* We begin with “Day Dreamers: A Journey of Imagination,” by Emily Winfield Martin (a Portland, Oregon author!). (Random House Children’s Books, 2016, ages 2-5, $8.99.)
This really is a day dream of a book, all soft colors and lyrical words. (My former students were fond of yelling, “It’s a rhyming book!” when I would ask, What sort of book is this?) This is a rhyming book, and it’s darling.

* “Ninja Bunny: Sister Vs. Brother” is here! (Random House Children’s Books, 2016,32 pages, $16.99.) Even though I write, I sometimes do wonder where writers get their ideas. (Harlan Ellison said he got his from a “mail-order house in Schenectady.”) The premise of this book is pretty cute, hi-YAH!. The art is colorful, playful, and engaging. Ninja Bunny (aka a big brother who likes to dress up) is in search of The Carrot of Awesomeness. A little ninja (baby sister) decides to tag along because of course she does. “Play with your sister, dear,” calls Mom. How will it end?

* “The Opposite Zoo,” by Il Sung Na, is a very cool picture book for the littles. (Random House, 2016, 24 pages, $16.99.) Each page, with one or two animals, contains one word. AWAKE!, Asleep, Hairy, Bald, Shy, Bold and so one. I love the stripped-down approach — it gives kids a chance to fill in their own stories for each page. The detail in the drawings is exquisite, rich and inventive. This would make for a great bedtime story.

Bon appetit, babies!

– wm

On My Nightstand: Wednesday Edition… for the grown-ups! “Southern Gothic: A Celine Caldwell Mystery,” “Life Without a Recipe,” “Brain on Fire” & “War at Home: A Wife’s Search for Peace & Other Missions Impossible”

August 3rd, 2016

Now the time has come to review a few books for the majors, not the minors. Yeah, I read grown-up books. Sometimes. But let’s ease into it with a review of a young adult book that I really enjoyed:

* “Southern Gothic: A Celine Caldwell Mystery,” by Bridgette R. Alexander, is a quite cool novel. (Paris 1865 Press, 2015, $16.99, ages young adult and up, 310 pages.) It took me awhile to finish, because I read it at work during breaks and lunches in fits and starts. The tone of this book is just so different from anything else out there. It’s… I don’t know what, exactly. It’s conversational. Direct. Modern. Hip without saying, Look at me, I’m so hip! Heh. I liked the characters. Celine’s mom is a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is a modern version of one of those “New York kid” books that I’ve adored my whole life. (“From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” “Harriet the Spy,” etc.) When some paintings go missing, Celine’s mom is blamed — or framed? Which is it? Great read. Looking forward to seeing more from this author.

* “Life Without a Recipe” is the newest book from Diana Abu-Jaber. This is her second memoir, and oh, man. I loved the first one so much, I didn’t know if it would be possible to top it. But this is a strong follow-up, genuine and true in its own right. Such beautiful writing.

* “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness,” by Susannah Cahalan, was recommended to me by a co-worker. I’m glad I came across it. It’s a really different memoir — the writer lost her mind, and can’t remember much of what happened during that time, so she looked through her medical records, watched video footage from her hospital stay, and interviewed family and friends. She’s relentless and fierce and spoiler alert — she lived to write the book. Fascinating read.

* “The War at Home: A Wife’s Search for Peace (and Other Missions Impossible),” by Rachel Starnes is another intense memoir that was completely, unexpectedly, beautifully different from what I expected. I read this back-to-back with “Brain on Fire” and it made for an interesting week, lol. Oh, my God, the writing chops this woman has. It’s her story of being the wife of a Navy fighter pilot/Top Gun guy. Gripping, with insights into a world that I really know little about, and so, so, so good.

Bon appetit, babies.

– wm

On My Nightstand, Wednesday Edition… More for the Kiddos: “La Madre Goose,” “How to Mend a Heart” & “Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story”

July 6th, 2016

And now… a few more reviews! (The stack on the nightstand is threatening to topple over, my friends.)

* Well, this one is pretty cool. “La Madre Goose,” by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Penguin Random House/Penguin Young Readers, 2016, ages 5-8, unpaged, $16.99) Beautiful rendition of the classic stories, and in Spanish. Well, Spanglish, make that :) America has become a bilingual country, with our two languages being snark and slang. Kidding. English and Spanish, duh. And the more practice we all get in both languages, the better.

“This little cerdo went to market,
this little cerdo stayed home.
This little cerdo had roasted carne,
this little cerdo had none.
This little cerdo cried oink, oink, oink,
all the way home.”

OK, I don’t know why it never bothered me in English, but it does bother me in Spanish that the little piggy had roast beef, and shouldn’t it be “cerdito,” not cerdo? But let’s not quibble. I love that it’s bilingual, I love that people are making an effort at dual-immersion, and the art? Colorful and light, engaging and with a lot of movement and charm. (Especially for “Three Little Gatitos.” Sweetness.)

July 6th — as good a day as any for a much-overdue holiday round-up, right? Sure thing. Especially since I don’t have any Fourth of July books. So how about…

* Valentine’s! “How to Mend a Heart,” written and illustrated by Sara Gillingham (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2015, $16.99, ages 3-7, 40 pages). This one is a companion book to Gillingham’s “How to Grow a Friend.” I am a sucker for anything that reminds me of Colorforms, and the artist’s mixed media does that for me. (Do you know Colorforms? Plastic pieces of happiness.) This is a swell little book about how to deal with life, if you’re getting over heartache, having a big problem or small, what have you. Trim the loose threads, don’t give up! Life lessons. The art is super cute. (Paper/tape/glue? Collage? I don’t know what all Gillingham did to put this treasure together, but it works.) She also co-created the “In My…” series for Chronicle Books and the Empowerment series of board books for Abrams Appleseed, if you’d like to see more of her projects.

* Thanksgiving! “Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story,” written by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jill McElmurry. (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015, $17.99, grades preschool-3, unpaged.) The illustrations are pretty — McElmurry used gouache on watercolor paper. It has a “Little House in the Big Woods” feel to it.

Now, a quote of the day, for old times’ sake?

“I failed typing. I failed draping. I was fired from Anne Klein, rehired and fired again when I asked to design my own collection. Everything in life can’t be a plus. The minuses are equally important.” — Donna Karan, designer, visionary, failed typist

And with that, I bid you adieu.

– wm

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