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Thursday Book Review: “Q&A a Day for Moms,” “The Only Child,” “All I Want for Christmas” and “Crenshaw”

November 26th, 2015

This sweet little journal, “Q&A a Day for Moms,” showed up for review. (Potter Style, 2015, $16.95, unpaged.) It’s a five-year journal, with “365 questions and 1,825 answers.” Well, good. Ex: January 11: When was the last time you were at the library?

I like it already. Great gift for any of the moms in your life. Next?

Mariah Carey, an author! Exciting :) “All I Want for Christmas is You” is a lovely book, illustrated by Colleen Madden and based on Carey’s hit song. (Disclaimer: i love that song because i love “Love Actually,” yes I do.) (Doubleday, 2015, unpaged, $17.99.) The little sweetie who stars in this book doesn’t want a boyfriend, she wants a puppy. Ah, who can blame her? (I think they made this book for Wacky Girl.)

“Crenshaw,” by Katherine Applegate (“The One and Only Ivan” and the Animorph series, among others) is one of a kind, and that’s too bad. We need lots more children’s books like this one. Jackson, a 5th grader, is worried that his family is heading toward homelessness again. He’s protective of his little sister, he’s about as anxious as a kid can be, and even though he’ll tell you he’s “not an imaginary friend kind of guy,” here comes a big cat named Crenshaw, who no one else can see.

This book thoughtfully and concisely deals with the topics of poverty and homelessness. I hope it finds its way onto library shelves, and into kids’ hands, around the world.

“The Only Child,” by Guojing, is in the same vein. (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015, $19.99, 112 pages.) Guojing, like many, grew up as the only child in her Chinese family. From the intro:

“The story in this book is fantasy, but it reflects the very real feelings of isolation and loneliness I experienced growing up in the 1980s under the one-child policy in China.”

The book is wordless, but with illustrations this lush, no words are needed.

On My Nightstand: Fall Book Round-up for the Younger Set (“Ruffleclaw,” by Cornelia Funke; “ABC Dream,” by Kim Krans; “Space Dog,” by Mini Grey; “Toys Meet Snow,” by Emily Jenkins & Paul O. Zelinsky)

October 11th, 2015

Funke is a cool, talented illustrator and author — the kids really respond to her work. When it comes to certain authors, readers (of all ages) just grab them up and claim them as “theirs.” It’s kind of funny. Funke is one of those. Ah, that territorial feeling you get over a certain book or author. I get that. She’s the author of the “Inkheart” series, which are for more advanced readers, but her new book, “Ruffleclaw,” is a chapter book for kiddos who are transitioning to chapter books. (Random House, 2015, $9.99, 102 pages.) Ruffleclaw is a wicked smart, icky lil monster, who has a “scrumptiously smart plan” to live with some humans and sleep in their cozy beds and eat their yum-yum food. Will he succeed?

Here is a YouTube clip of an interview with Funke. I show it to my students when I booktalk her work, along with some of the J.K. Rowling interviews, and Lemony Snicket. He’s a lot of fun in video clips. Neil Gaiman is another one who is a great interview. I read the first few pages of “The Graveyard Book” to the 5th and 6th graders the other day and gave everyone the shivers. And “Coraline” is still never checked in. I tell the kids that she and Babymouse — the Jennifer & Matthew Holms’ series of graphic novels — just stop by the library to say hey and then leave again.

(Always a good sign for a book.)

By the way, the Goosebumps book are getting a new surge of interest, too, with the Jack Black movie coming out in time for Halloween.

Now, on to some beautiful art…

Galleys for a book by Kim Krans appeared on my doorstep. (love.) “ABC Dream” is one of the best picture books I’ve come across recently. (Random House, 2016, unpaged, $16.99.) (Yes, I’m reviewing it even though it might only be available for pre-order at the moment.) Wait, she’s a Portland, Ore. girl like moi? Fantastic.

The art is precious. Beautiful, thoughtful, bright, just lovely. No words, just letters. I like books that the littles can enjoy, savor, and not have to worry about “Wait, I can’t read yet!” I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again… I love picture books for the big kids and the grown-ups. Anything that inspires us to do art makes me happy. I am really happy about the new coloring craze that’s going on. Titles? OK, here, here and here. My favorite letters in the book: R & T (and the key in the back that tells me, “rain, red, reflection, ring, robin, rope, rose” and “tigers, tired, tree, trunk, two”).

Mini Grey’s new release, “Space Dog,” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015, $17.99, unpaged) is a wild ride through space, but of course. It’s always more interesting when a little conflict is introduced in a work of literature, and our conflict in this picture book is between Space Dog, Astrocat and the darling lil Moustronaut.

“It’s the year 3043 and for as long as anyone on Home Planet can remember, Space Dogs, Astrocats and Moustronauts have been sworn enemies.”

When the Queen of the Cheese Ants comes along, you know it’s going to get extra lively.

“Toys Meet Snow: Being the Wintertime Adventures of a Curious Stuffed Buffalo, a Sensitive Plush Stingray, and a Book-Loving Rubber Ball” is a new collaboration between author Emily Jenkins and illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky. (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015, $17.99, unpaged.) Their previous series, “Toys Come Home,” has been a long-time favorite with young readers. This one is for the littler-littles — ages 3-7. The art is sweet, the story is good, and it’s nice Jenkins and Zelinsky paired up for the younger kids in the crowd.

Words of wisdom (they sent an interview along with press kit):

Zelinsky says: “I’m not an expert in this, but I say read to your children, and don’t stop. Nobody is ever too old to be read to. Picture books make good out-loud reading for any age.”

And from Jenkins: “Oh! Am I opinionated on this topic! Don’t shame their reading choices. Ever. I see this happen so often in bookstores and libraries, or at school book fairs. ‘You’re too old for that.’ ‘That’s too easy for you.’ ‘Why do you like that junk?’ ‘That’s a book for girls, not boys.’ Instead, I recommend parents try this approach: Don’t try to get your child to choose appropriate books. At all. Just bring them to the library, where they can choose inappropriate books at zero cost to you.”

Hear, hear!

Bon appetit, babies.

– wm

Yeats (poem of the day)

September 26th, 2015

It's complicated
(Photo by Steve Rawley)


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

(The Second Coming was written in 1919 in the aftermath of the first World War.)

“There But For the Grace” — Wislawa Szymborska

August 12th, 2015

Summer sky
(Photo by Steve Rawley)

poem of the day

“There But For the Grace”
by Wislawa Szymborska

“It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened sooner. Later.
Nearer. Farther.
It happened not to you.

You survived because you were the first.
You survived because you were the last.
Because you were alone. Because of people.
Because you turned left. Because you turned right.
Because rain fell. Because a shadow fell.
Because sunny weather prevailed.

Luckily, there was a wood.
Luckily there were no trees.
Luckily there was a rail, a hook, a beam, a brake,
a frame, a bend, a millimeter, a second.
Luckily a straw was floating on the surface.

Thanks to, because, and yet, in spite of.
What would have happened had not a hand, a foot,
by a step, a hairsbreadth
by sheer coincidence.

So you’re here? Straight from a moment still ajar?
The net had one eyehole, and you got through it?
There’s no end to my wonder, my silence.
how fast your heart beats in me.”

Translated from Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

On My Nightstand

August 3rd, 2015


July 20th, 2015

The sparrow's companion

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

Monday Recipe: “Almost Ali’s Oatmeal Cookies” & the Pioneer Woman’s Mexican Macaroni Salad

July 6th, 2015

American mermaid

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

This mermaid says, When in doubt, bake. Or make a salad. Or just slice some vegetables and dip them in some kind of dunk. I wouldn’t mind a good recipe for Spinach Dunk, by the by, if anyone has one to share? The pre-made stuff is too salty.

This is my friend Helen’s recipe, and she borrowed it from the Oregonian, “with a few minor changes.”

Bon appetit, babies!

Almost Ali’s Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 -1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 -1/2 cups uncooked oats (quick or old-fashioned)
1 cup finely chopped hazelnuts
1 cup finely diced dried apricots
1 cup white chocolate chips or chunks

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Combine butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla and mix until well blended.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture. Beat until well blended.

Stir in oats, nuts, apricots and white chocolate chips; mix until just blended.

Shape into 1-1/2 inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet. Flatten balls slightly. Bake 10-12 minutes or until just beginning to brown around edges and slightly moist in center.

Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.

As for this delicious salad… we made this one for Mother’s Day? A party? Something, anyway, awhile back. It is so yummy.

Mexican Macaroni Salad
a la the Pioneer Woman

For the salad:
1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked to package instructions, drained and rinsed with cold water
2 ears fresh corn, husks and silks removed
1 can (15 oz.) black or kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup chopped black olives
6 whole Roma tomatoes (or 2 large tomatoes), chopped
3 whole green onions, sliced thin
1/2 whole red onion, finely diced
Chopped cilantro

For the dressing:

1 cup jarred salsa (spicy is best)
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 limes, juiced (optional)

Preparation Instructions:
Grill the corn on a grill pan, or just place it in a hot skillet to brown some of the kernels. Remove from pan, allow to cool slightly, then use a sharp knife to cut the kernels off the cob.

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and stir until combined.

Place the macaroni, corn, beans, olives, tomatoes, green onions, red onion, and cilantro in a large bowl. Pour 3/4 of the dressing over the top and gently toss until all the ingredients are coated. Add the final 1/4 of the dressing if you think it needs it. Cover and allow salad to chill for 2 hours.
Garnish with cilantro, lime wedges, and any other extra ingredients you have.

oh, what a haul!

June 25th, 2015

Minus tide = plus agates

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

Thursday Book Review: “The Bump: Book of Lists for Pregnancy and Baby,” “The Bump: Pregnancy Planner and Journal” and “Mission: New Baby… Top-Secret Info for Big Brothers and Sisters”

June 11th, 2015

New to the bookshelf: “Mission: New Baby… Top-Secret Info for Big Brothers and Sisters,” by Susan Hood, illustrated by Mary Lundquist, 2015, $16.99, Random House Children’s Books, unpaged; “The Bump: Pregnancy Planner and Journal,” by Carley Roney and, Potter Style/Crown Publishing, 2015, 95 pages; and “The Bump: Book of Lists for Pregnancy and Baby,” by Carley Roney and, Potter Style/Crown Publishing, 2015, 191 pages.

“Mission: New Baby” is a charming new picture book that helps prepare the big kid (brother Mason) for the little kid who’s arriving soon. The author (Susan Hood) and illustrator (Mary Lundquist) have collaborated nicely on this one. Mason and his robot toy “train” by briefing themselves on the new baby, testing “gears and gadgets” (crib, stroller, etc.), meeting the “new recruit” and everything else that’s involved with transitioning to becoming a sibling. Sweet art, and a fun story.

Now, working backwards, we have “The Bump Book of Lists.” Pregnancy can make a girl hyperventilate. You don’t want that — it’s bad for you and the bebe. For some of us, making lists helps; for others, it can bring on a panic attack. This is a handy book — good size, good format. Chapters are broken down from conception, through months 1-9, delivery, newborn and “Baby’s Next Steps.” The crew from the Bump have included lots of details on knowing what to eat, what you’ll need for vitamins and supplements, and some fun stuff, too (announcing the gender, making baby announcements). I would recommend scribbling away in this one. The accompanying planner and journal is great for scrapbooking — lots of room for photos, notes, ultrasound pix and all that.

Great gifts for yourself, or as gifts for any mamas-to-be you might know.

hey, what’s happening?

June 10th, 2015

A short, sweet list, just for you:

1) No one else blogs, why should I?
2) Ha! That’ll show ‘em ;)
3) Seriously. What day is it?
4) Is the school year over yet?
5) It’s hot here. (Those of you who live in Louisiana: Ha, ha, ha, no it’s not.)
6) We need to upgrade this machine, it’s ancient and slow. Also, I can’t figure out how to insert photos here anymore and that has shut me down.
7) Thus, no art.
8) Thus, boring.
9) I am happy/so are kiddos/so is Stevie
10) Baby the Cat, however, not so happy. Cuz it’s so frickin’ hot in the Portland metro area, that be why. And he is furry boy. It was, like, 90 yesterday? 93 the day before?
11) I’m sunburnt as hell right now, but it’s fading (see: field day at my school; see: overcast day at beach; see: floating in pool for hours and it felt good at the time, but not later, so much)
12) I usually don’t burn but damn, this time I did. Also? Still have my tan lines from last summer, ha. That’s a new one.
13) I love summer, do you?
14) That’s all.
15) ps — have had much success at school this year, teaching kids how to write code, keyboard, write in Google Docs (hello, cloud! say hi to my students!) and READ. Oh, my gosh are they reading.



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