Excellent Blog
2007 Inspiring Blog
Rockin' Girl Blogger

All-New Sunday Book Review — Grown-up Books: “Seventeenth Century Poetry: The Schools of Donne and Jonson”; “Phenomenal,” by Leigh Ann Henion; and “When Parents Part: How Mothers & Fathers Can Help Their Children Deal with Separation & Divorce,” by Penelope Leach

December 11th, 2016

through the fog

“Through the Fog”
Photo by Steve Rawley

* Seventeenth Century Poetry: The Schools of Donne and Jonson, edited by Hugh Kenner. This book will always, always, forever have a place on my bookshelf. One of my favorite classes at Portland State University, when I attended, with the late, brilliant John “Jack” Cooper.

* “Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer’s Search for Wonder in the Natural World,” by Leigh Ann Henion (Penguin Press, 2015, $26.95, 276 pages). Henion got a lot of grief for this book because of course she did, she’s a woman. Moms aren’t allowed to freak out, go on vision quests, leave their wee babies (children, teens, adult children) alone for a week or more at a time. Screw that, eh? Just sayin’.

It’s a cool book, well-written, funny, rich with detail, images and stories. As someone who doesn’t travel a lot, I always do appreciate the chance to be an armchair traveler. Henion was moved by visiting the site where monarch butterflies gather, in Central Mexico. Later, she had a son, then had, as many of us do, a challenging time. I loved this section, in particular:

“One night, when Matt finds me wailing in unison with our son, he tells me I should take a break because my emotions aren’t good for Archer. Only then do I understand I’ve entered a phase of my life when people seldom consider what might be good for me. Even I somehow don’t feel it’s acceptable for me to think about my own needs — physical or otherwise.

“Not long after Matt chastises me for crying, I tell him it’s time for Archer to go to his own room. I want him to feel safe and secure, but I have given so much of myself I feel hollow. An actual shell of my former being. And if I have no enthusiasm, no wonder, no want for life inside of me, how am I going to nourish my child?”

Worth asking, isn’t it?

She checks out the bioluminescence in Puerto Rico, the Great Migration in Tanzania, a total solar eclipse in Australia, the Northern Lights in Sweden, and a bunch of other cool events and places. I got a big smile from this book.

“When Parents Part: How Mothers & Fathers Can Help Their Children Deal with Separation & Divorce,” by Penelope Leach (Vintage Books, 2016, $16.00, 272 pages). Did you know that fifty percent of marriages actually don’t end in divorce? People are staying married. About two-thirds of us, currently. Hmmm. You like apples? How you like them apples? So I have a better idea. Stay married. Tough it out. Forgive each other. Love on each other. Show your kids how grown-ups navigate through fire, and come out the other side, stronger and better.

OK, unless there’s violence or sexual abuse or any of that crap going on. Then dump their ass.

That’s all for now!

xo and happy, happy holidays.

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… 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

On My Nightstand, Wednesday Edition: Kids’ Books Galore… “Pretty Minnie in Hollywood,” “Douglas, You Need Glasses!” & “Three Magic Balloons”

June 1st, 2016

2016-05-30_04-34-44

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

Books for summer, people… Here they are, all for the 3-7 set, and all sweetness and light:

“Pretty Minnie in Hollywood,” by Danielle Steel (the Danielle Steel), with illustrations by Kristi Valiant, for ages 3-7. (Random House Children’s Books, 2016, 32 pages, $17.99.) (A brief digression: Ms. Steel’s bio informs us that she has sold more than 600 million copies of her books, in 69 countries and 43 languages.) (Whoa.) This sequel to “Pretty Minnie in Paris” is pretty, pretty cute. I could have done with fewer! exclamation points! but I don’t think the kids will mind. Teacup chihuahua Minnie and her best friend, Francoise, travel to Hollywood with Francoise’s mommy, who is a dress designer. (Pretty clothes figure prominently in the book.) They meet the nasty, nasty Fifi. How will this end? Sweet, funny, reminiscent of the Eloise books, and the illustrations? They just couldn’t be more pink and sparkly. Darling book.

“Douglas, You Need Glasses!” written and illustrated by Ged Adamson, for ages 3-7. Random House Children’s Books, 2016, 40 pages, $16.99.) Doggie Douglas and his BFF Nancy love to watch TV. But he has to sit so close. Also? He sometimes confuses leaves with squirrels. And he walks into things a lot. So off to the optometrist they go. Funny story, cool illustrations, and a good way to talk with the littles about glasses. The publisher is doing a social media tie-in with this one: Use the hashtags #douglasyouneedglasses and #RandomHouseKids and submit pix of your kids wearing glasses. Ged Adamson also wrote “Meet the McKaws” and “Elsie Clarke and the Vampire Hairdresser.”

“Three Magic Balloons, as told to Julianna Margulies and Her Sisters,” by Paul Margulies, for ages 3-7. (Random House Children’s Books, 2016, 40 pages, $17.99.) Illustrations are by Grant Shaffer, who, by the by, is married to my boyfriend Alan Cumming. (Yes, I read every last word of the press release.) OK, this is a cool project. Ms. Margulies, who recently broke my heart when her show “The Good Wife” ended after a seven-year run (yours truly watched every damn episode omg i loved that show)… Anyway, my heartbreaker has a cool story to share with us. Her dad, Paul, was a writer (and an ad exec) who published two kids’ books in his lifetime: “Gold Steps, Stone Steps,” and “What Julianna Could See.” Ms. Margulies and her sisters, Rachel and Alexandra, found this manuscript after he passed, wanted a friend (Mr. Shaffer) to illustrate, and voila!

This is a magical little book about three sisters who love their trips to the zoo with their dad. One day, they’re gifted with three balloons. What happens next? Get a copy of the book and see :) I love the story, I love that the author doesn’t talk down to kids, and the illustrations fit in so well, I thought at first the author was also the artist who drew them.

Nice work.

Best, bon appetit, babies, and talk more soon.

– wm

hi, honey!

April 14th, 2016

The whites of her eyes

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

happy spring

April 6th, 2016

2016-04-02_05-15-09

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

Friday Recipe Club: Black Beans & Polenta

March 25th, 2016

The day afer

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

Denver, when it’s snowing. Crazy, cuz it’s almost April, dudes.

This one is from my friend Kimi, because the girl knows how to cook!

Black Beans & Polenta, a la Kimi

“Cheap, healthy, fast and easy. Always organic.”

Black beans, fresh squeezed orange, chopped jalapeno and onion over polenta, topped with avocado, vegan sour cream and Secret Aardvark habanero sauce (made in Portland, Oregon!). Mixed greens on side with balsamic vinegar & garlic dressing.”

oh, yum.

Thursday Book Review: A Big Stack of Everything on My Nightstand (“The Accursed,” Joyce Carol Oates; Sue Miller; “The Importance of Being Little,” Teacher Thai)

March 24th, 2016

Cherry blossom concordance

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

And what’s on the nightstand this week? I’m going with bullet points, because it’s a big stack.

* “The Accursed,” Joyce Carol Oates. I love Oates, which I guess explains why it’s taken me a couple of years or so to get through this book (I bought it when it was first released in 2013). It’s a cool book — based on the “true” story of Princeton, turn of the 20th century. I like historical fiction, and this one has it all — curses and vampires, goth and Grover Cleveland. It’s crazy good. So why the forever-read? Oates is like candy to me — I nibble a little here, a lot there. I don’t want the candy to go away, see? The way my reading mind works is God’s own mystery.

* Anything by author Sue Miller. I’m starting with “The Arsonist,” and “The Good Mother” and “Lost in the Forest.” My own good mother recommended her. Miller’s very good. Different. I like her style.

* “The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups,” by Erika Christakis. Great read about preschool child development, language, bonding, etc. Doesn’t read like a textbook, but has loads of information, stats, facts and thoughts.

* “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miguel Ruiz. Again, still, always. This is single best motivational books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot over the years. It’s astounding. You should pick up four or five copies and hand them out at parties, just sayin’.

* “Cultivating the Mind of Love: The Practice of Looking Deeply in the Mahayana Buddhist Tradition,” by Thich Nhat Hanh (I can recommend any other titles by Teacher Thai, too.)

Happy spring, my lovelies.

– wm

Next Page »