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Monday Book Review: “Zen Shorts,” by Jon J. Muth; “La Princesa and the Pea,” by Susan Middleton Elya & Juana Martinez-Neal; and “There’s Nothing to Do,” by Dev Petty and Mike Boldt

September 11th, 2017

“Zen Shorts,” by Jon J. Muth (Scholastic Press, New York, 2005, for readers of all ages, $16.95) How can it be that I’ve never reviewed any Muth books here? He’s so good. His writing was described by the New York Times Book Review as “quietly life-changing,” and that sums it up nicely.

(He acknowledges his friends in the book, saying that “Despite my great efforts to get in my own way, my great friends Dianne Hess and David Saylor have graciously cleared the path once more.” #humility #art #greatfriends #perfect)

“Zen Shorts” includes three Zen short stories, as told by Stillwater the Bear: “Uncle Ry and the Moon,” “The Farmer’s Luck” and “A Heavy Load.”

Muth uses watercolors and ink to illustrate his books, and the drawings, along with the stories, soar right off the pages. I turn to him often in my teaching and all of my students, from the littles to the high schoolers, respond well to his work.

“La Princesa and the Pea,” written by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Penguin Random House, 2017, ages 4 and up, $16.99) Fun book, and I love the way the author wove Spanish and English together, kind of like the Peruvian textiles the art in the book is based on. Beautiful work. (You might know the authors from their previous children’s book, “La Madre Goose.”)

The glossary in the front of the book is handy, and the story is tart and funny. Good read.

“There’s Nothing to Do!” written by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt. (Random House Children’s Books, 2017, 32 pages, ages 3-7, $16.99) The big mouth frog from “I Don’t Want to Be a Frog” and “I Don’t Want to Be Big” is back for more fun in this playful picture book.

“Want to go for a swim?”
“Too wet.”

You know he’s bored. Pig, cat, owl and his other friends, are no help at all. What will our hero do?

Sweet and funny.

Bon appetit!


Saturday Book Review: “Wee Sister Strange,” by Holly Grant & K.G.Campbell; “Bruce’s Big Move,” by Ryan T. Higgins; “William’s Winter Nap,” by Linda Ashman & Chuck Groenink

September 9th, 2017

“Wee Sister Strange,” written by Holly Grant and illustrated by K.G. Campbell (Random House Children’s Books, 2017, 40 pages, ages 4-8, $17.99)

This is a beautiful, dreamy book, but it’s a little dark, too. (“…runs into the woods/where no children dare roam,” and “She talks to the owls/in hoots and in moans. When they’ve finished their dinner/she buries the bones.”) Age range is 4-8, but I’d suggest saving it for the older kids, maybe, even up to 4th or 5th grade. Nice one for autumn; perfect for Halloween. (Educators and librarians will find resources at RHTeachersLibrarians.com)

“Bruce’s Big Move,” written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins (Disney Hyperion Books, 2017, 48 pages, ages 3-5, $17.99) You know when you have soooo many roommates? For instance, four geese and three mice, plus you, the bear? Well, it can get a little crowded. You’d probably be ready to find a new place. Bruce sure is. This series is delightful. I think the kids will like it and you will, too. The art is nice and bright, and the plot is funny.

“Bruce was a bear who lived with four geese because he was their mother…”

“William’s Winter Nap,” written by Linda Ashman and illustrated by Chuck Groenink (Disney Hyperion Books, 2017, 40 pages, ages 3-5, $17.99) Ah, I do love a rhyming book. :) “They all say, ‘Wait! We’ll scooch a bit. There’s room for… somehow we’ll fit.” Fits well with the Bruce books. Sometimes we end up with a few more roommates than we started out with. Lovely illustrations, a sweet story, and snowflakes? Animals? Coziness? You can’t go wrong.

Have a great weekend, everyone.



What’s on My Nightstand: Friday Night Edition; plus, my Dad’s gardening journal, circa 1966-1968

September 8th, 2017

Nothing like being in the middle of moving to make me realize, man. I have too much stuff. But I keep thinking, tripping down memory lane, and something will randomly come to mind. A day or two later, the item will pop up. It’s a bit odd, but I like it. The baby quilts my aunties made when the kids were born; my grandma’s books; my ice skates, lol.

I’m always reading five or 10 books at a time, bad habit/great habit. But when I’m stressed? Like when I’m moving? omg omg the table is covered. Here’s a sampling:

* “Heartburn,” by Nora Ephron (for the 20th time). So good, only gets funnier, and more poignant, every time I read it.
* “Skinny Dip,” by Carl Hiaasen (yes, yes, yes)
* “My Dad Lives in a Downtown Motel,” by Peggy Mann (great “New York kid” book about a boy who is struggling with his parents’ split. And yes, those of you with 1970s memories, it was an ABC Afterschool Special. Why don’t the networks get rid of some of the reality shows and bring back the ABC Afterschool Specials, stat.)
* “Saving Tarboo Creek: One Family’s Quest to Heal the Land,” by Scott Freeman
* “Spanish Now! Level 1” (Barron’s)

Uh. Yeah. So tomorrow, I’ll write some real book reviews, y’all. Because it’s almost fall, and that means new titles and lots of them.

I was thinking of my dad’s gardening journal, as I was sorting and packing my gardening books. The entries written out so neatly in his handwriting. Two days later… found it. :) It’s in a brown leather binder from Portland State College (now Portland State University), his alma mater and mine. Very cool. There are a few pages of overlooked math notes in the back of the book. In the front, notes about our yard. He and my mom bought our house in 1966, when I was two. (Math!)

There’s a little N and some doodles in the front of the notebook. N for Nancy, I’m assuming. It’s possible, anyway.

And this entry:

“Roses: Prune from mid-February to mid-March, but weather permitting around March 1 is good time, as there could be some freezing around last of February.” etc.

Now the cool stuff… Well, to me anyway. The roses are gone now, but I remember them all in my head. Next house I get? I’m planting these exact ones:

“Planted : Feb. 5, 1966 Tropicana (Orange and Red). Twins’ gift for new home. Grown: Oregon” (The twins were his aunts, my great-aunties. I loved them so much! Loved, loved, loved.)

Planted: Feb. 6, 1966 Mister Lincoln (Red) Price $3.50, Grown: Texas

Planted: Nov. 6, 1966 Katherine T. Marshall Rose (pink, shaded with salmon) Price $1.29, Grown: Texas

Planted: Nov. 6, 1966 Lowell Thomas (lemon-chrome yellow) Price: $1.29, Grown Texas

Planted: Nov. 6, 1966 Talisman (scarlett-orange and rich yellow) Price: $1.29, Grown: Texas

Planted: June 30, 1968 Mt. Shasta (white blooms with delicate green petal base) Price: $3.00

Planted: June 30, 1968 Orchid Masterpiece (light purple) Price $3.00

Then details on the three pots of Pink Mediterranean Heather he planted, and the juniper, and the rhody (Unique Pale Yellow Tinged Peach)…

So many happy memories. Looking forward to making more. Which do I love more, plants or books? It’s a tie.