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an all-new book review: “The Bump Book of Baby Lists,” “The Bump Pregnancy Planner,” “Knit Wit: 30 Easy & Hip Projects,” “Tell Me What to Dream About” and “Careers: The Graphic Guide to Finding the Perfect Job for You”

March 16th, 2015

What’s On My Nightstand, the March Edition

Ha! Leading off with the baby books is funny, funny, funny, because I am not pregnant (thank you, Jesus) (and science) and I am certainly not knitting any baby booties. (Both of the baby books are cute, by the way, and would be great baby shower/new mom gifts. The knitting book would be a sweet gift, too, for a new mom or anyone who’s wanting to get crafty.)

The review books have been arriving and I need to start keeping track, y’all. So here we go.

“Tell Me What to Dream About,” by Giselle Potter (“The Boy Who Loved Words,” “Kate and the Beanstalk”) is a whimsical new picture book about two sisters, and the littlest one just cannot fall asleep. But she doesn’t like any of the dreams her big sister comes up with. (Ages 3-7, Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015, $17.99, 40 pages.)

Amy R. Singer ( put together 30 pretty cool projects that even beginning knitters (such as moi) can tackle in “Knit Wit” (Harper Resource/Harper Collins, 2004, 127 pages). Wait. Is there some way to describe a knitter who is “almost” a beginning knitter? Because that would be me. I have fun with it, anyway, and over the years have taught tons of students at various schools how to knit. Seriously. Not exaggerating. Supplies, donated by the lovely ladies and customers of the Naked Sheep Knit Shop helped us on our way.

And, as is so often the case when you teach, they were showing me up within a matter of minutes. We knitted on chopsticks, donated needles, our fingers — astounding work. Beautiful work. I got them started, but I cannot take credit. It was them. One of my best, happiest memories from that time were the teenage boys who wanted me to teach them to knit.

“My granny won’t teach me.” (lol.) Followed by… “It’s a craze around here!” I did what I could and sent them on their way.

So imagine my delight once I finally learned how to purl (thank you, Ms. Singer!). That little “missing link,” so to speak, has not stopped me from knitting the ugliest scarves you’ve ever seen in your life, though. I’ve been doing that for years now.

Going into it, I make sure to tell my students exactly what I’m capable of: “I knit really, really ugly scarves,” are my exact words. So, hello, they’re not expecting much. But you know what I’m wicked good at? Casting on and teaching how to cast on. Seriously. Once you have that, you’re gold.

Steve bought me this book several years back, and I tucked it into my knitting basket so’s I’d look like I knew what I was doing. The other day I finally opened it up and lo and behold — it props itself up! Hands free! Next thing you know, I’m knitting one, purling two, like a hipster fiend.

It may be awhile before I make a pixie hat, though, or a birdless boa.

I’m also reading an interesting book called “Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer’s Search for Wonder in the Natural World” (Penguin Press, 2015, $26.95, 276 pages). It’s a new release by Leigh Ann Henion.

Steve and I are both reading “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War,” by Lynsey Addario (Penguin Press). Intense book, beautifully photographed and well-written.

And an intriguing little how-to book, “Careers: The Graphic Guide to Finding the Perfect Job for You” (how did they know?) also arrived. (DK US/Penguin Random House, 2015, $19.99, 320 pages.) Love this one — I’m taking it to school tomorrow and sharing with the 5th grade teachers, who are working on a college unit with the students. Most any career you can think of (teacher!, product designer, social worker, vet, lawyer, makeup artist, etc.) are all listed, along with pertinent details:

* How much $$$ you can make
* How much schooling/training is required
* What the job entails
* Skills guide
* Related careers

The format is easy to use, and the book is woven together well. I would recommend this one for school and public libraries, teachers, parents, and of course college counselors.

All good reading. See you soon…


did you know no one ever blogs anymore? and here’s a book round-up for you… On the Nightstand

October 6th, 2014

that’s right. Blogging is so four years ago, with the exception of those of us who still keep our online journals: Zoot, Y from the Internet, who I’ve known for so long I call her that, Amalah, Doocie, and me.

The big five, baby, that’s where we’re at. Not the big 5-0, the big 5. Kidding.

I will persevere.

I mainly blog nowadays because I need the archives — especially for updates on my kids (my daughter is driving now, btw) (uh, it’s true. This little girl…), a cookbook (you can always buy a hard copy), school work, and whatever else I need. Quotes of the day, funny jokes. Ha. Funny to me jokes.

So you know that your Facebook archives aren’t really archives, right? And that your photos might or might not disappear eventually, if that’s where you’re storing them? Just saying.

So here’s what I’m working on reading this school year. And first things being, as always, first: the potboilers.

I read Theodore Dreiser’s “Sister Carrie” when I was an 18-year-old college freshman and knew everything. I would like to talk with that girl and have her answer a few of my several hundred questions, now that I know nothing. Dear Lord, what a difference between 18 and 50.

“You should see her ass in that dress.” — my friend Nicole, to my then-lover, talking about me and my brand-new little black dress, circa many years ago. We were at a bar downtown. It may have been the Virginia Cafe. Or Hamburger Mary’s, or the Veritable Quandary, or that place where they served the delicious little Cornish game hens? The Vat & Tonsure. Then (to me): “You hit 27 and your ass just falls. I don’t know what it is.”

My main concerns then:
1) how am i going to get these bills paid?
2) where are the parties this weekend?
3) what about this “27 changes everything” thing? (defer)
4) why does she (neighbor/friend/family member/co-worker) put up w/ that shit? (from spouse/children/grown children/neighbors/co-workers)

I have to go water the yard now, and write more when I get back. No more bars, just chores, out here on the farm. I could really use another load of manure for the east 40.

Back! So. “Sister Carrie,” which I always throw together with “Portrait of a Lady,” “Anna Karenina,” “Madame Bovary” and “The Awakening”… Well, it’s its own animal. I just love the book.

Finished it up, and on to “An American Tragedy” (also Dreiser), which I’ve been meaning to read ever since I saw the Elizabeth Taylor/Montgomery Clift classic, “A Place in the Sun.” God, it’s brilliant, too. So I’m happy, with lots to read. And I have a good excuse (for the moment) to put off reading all of these for work (ps check out this week’s issue of The Nation. On the cover: “Saving Public Schools: A Growing Movement Confronts the Failure of ‘Reform’”:

Being Bad: My Baby Brother and the School-To-Prison Pipeline: Being Bad (Teaching for Social Justice)
by Crystal T. Laura

Bon appetit!

– wm

Saturday Book Review: Carly Simon, Carly Simon, and Hold Me Closer, Tony Danza

January 4th, 2014

Man, do I love biographies. I’m reading now, don’t bug me.

The End

Monday Book Review: “Country Matters,” “Back in the Garden with Dulcy,” “The Gardener,” “Rocket’s Mighty Words” and “Listen!”

December 16th, 2013

Two grown-up books and several kid books today:

First up: Michael Korda’s classic, “Country Matters.” I love the heck out of this book. “Have no fear, Roe is here!” I read this when it first came out, at my Mom’s recommendation, and we’ve both re-read it several times. It’s wiping away tears funny, especially if you love animals, old houses, and are surrounded by people who have “boundary issues.”

Speaking of comedy, this leads us to the best garden writer in the world… one Dulcy Mahar and the new book, “Back in the Garden with Dulcy” (Carpe Diem Books, Portland, Ore., $22.95, 262 pages). She was a lovely woman (we both wrote for The Oregonian, and I worked with her husband, Ted, too), she was just a delight, and in addition to being a gifted gardener, she was funny, funny girl when she wrote about her Portland garden. (I was lucky enough to tour it once and it was awe-inspiring, really. It’s a lovely space over in the Garthwick neighborhood.) I just started reading this book, which is mainly a collection of her newspaper columns and includes a touching memoir by Ted. My friend (and my former editor) Peggy McMullen wrote the foreword. I miss Dulcy’s writing every week and am glad to have this book, a sweet reminder of a sweet, classy lady.

It only makes sense to review the children’s book “The Gardener” next (Sunburst, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1997). It was written by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small. The pair also created “The Library” and “The Money Tree,” which are both so good. This Caldecott Honor book is a quietly powerful book that I like to read with my students, especially when we’re dreaming about community gardens. It’s set in 1935, and tells the story of Lydia Grace Finch, who travels to live with an uncle due to family circumstances. It’s a good one for struggling readers, too. The text is written as letters, and the illustrations are elegant and “grown up.”

The Rocket series, written by Tad Hills, is pretty adorable and just right for the littlest readers. (Schwartz & Wade Books, New York, 2013, $10.99, unpaged.) Rocket is an eager pup who really wants to learn to read. The illustrations are colorful and sweet, and the main character is appealing.

“Listen!” by Stephanie Tolan (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, New York, 2006, $16.89, 197 pages) would be a good choice for kids who are struggling with loss. (Anyone who loves a good dog story will love this one, as well.) The author wrote another favorite of mine, “Surviving the Applewhites,” which you might want to check out, too. “Listen!” is a tale of a girl who has recently lost her mother, and is spending her summer mostly alone, trying to tame a feral dog, was another quiet book that turned out to be quite moving. “Love cannot be forced, love cannot be coaxed and teased. It comes out of Heaven, unasked and unsought.” — Pearl Buck

The Nancy Drew titles I included just because I wanted to. (Grosset & Dunlap, New York, $5.99, various lengths, generally around 180 pages.) Did you know that’s who I was named for? Allegedly.

The End.

“Great oaks from little acorns grow” — Latin proverb

Christmas Robin

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

Tuesday Book Review: “Now Open the Box” “Jenny and the Cat Club” and “Junket is Nice”

August 13th, 2013

I only knew Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt (American author, 19011979) from “Pat the Bunny” (first published in 1940) and y’know, I didn’t even know that title from when I was a kid. I discovered it later, once my friends (and then later Steve and I) started having kids. “Junket Is Nice” was her first book (it came out in 1932). She also wrote “Now Open the Box,” “Lucky Mrs. Ticklefeather,” “Brave Mr. Buckingham” and “Tiny Animal Stories.” Altogether she wrote close to 50 books, including some titles for adults.

But “Pat the Bunny” is her best known work, and that is just fine by me.

I received a copy of “Now Open the Box” for review, but I picked it up from my P.O. box, and you know… there just happened to be the cutest little girl there, waiting for her mama. So next thing you know, I’m out a book, and she’s happy. So there’s your review.

“Junket is Nice” was recently re-released as part of The New York Review Children’s Collection (“Now Open the Box” is also part of the collection), and I’ve managed to hang on to my review copy, so far. I’ve reviewed some of the Review’s titles here before, and I just cannot say enough about them. The books look good, are well-bound, and are great individually or as a set. What I really appreciate is that they’re not precious. Don’t get me wrong — they are adorable and precious in the best sense of the words, but they are meant to be teethed on by those babies. That, at the end of the day, is what it’s all about. And these books are chewable.

“Junket is Nice” is a goofy-fun book that reminds me somewhat of Wanda Gag’s classic, “Millions of Cats.” The kids will like the rhythm of the book, and the funny images (a walrus with an apple on his back, a one-year-old lion blowing out the candle on his birthday cake, etc.).

I’m hoping to add a copy of “Jenny and the Cat Club: A Collection of Favorite Stories About Jenny Linsky” to my collection. (This is not Jennie from Paul Gallico’s “The Abandoned,” by the by; this one is by Esther Averill.) It looks good, too.

Saturday Book Review: Wacky Boy & Wacky Mommy review “Zephyr Takes Flight,” “Press Here” & “The Geek Dad Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists”

November 10th, 2012

Rough Skinned Newt

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

Do you think that newt likes to read? Perhaps… Also, doesn’t it look like he’s on a bed of caviar? What a trip.

When I say we are backlogged on book reviews, what I mean is: I can’t find my desk. Cuz it’s buried under a load of books, that’s why. Also, I’m back to teaching, after a long break spent writing and avoiding responsibility. My new students and I have been reading some old and new favorites. I’d like to give “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” a shout-out here because Dr. Seuss, you’ve never let us down. Thank you.

“This one has a little star/this one has a little car. Say! What a lot of fish there are.”

We’re kind of enamored of “Press Here,” by Herve Tullet (ChronicleKids, 2011, unpaged, $15.99). It’s a picture book, but don’t let that fool you. It’s a game, a work of art, and would be a really fun read-aloud for a class. Blue, red and yellow dots dance across the page. Press here. Tap on the blue. Tilt the page and see what happens. Love. This. Book.

“Zephyr Takes Flight” was written and illustrated by Steve Light (Candlewick Press, 2012, unpaged, $16.99.) Oh, Zephyr, you have a great imagination, little girl. She likes her airplanes and flying machines — making them, building them, and flying off, like Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace in “Peanuts.” The book is beautifully drawn in pen and ink, with added pastels and colored pencil.

Wacky Boy says: “This is a good one for ages 5-10. It’s a really creative book. I liked all of the different kinds of flying machines they had.” (And wait for the surprise, once Zephyr discovers the inhabitants of the wild blue yonder.)

“The Geek Dad Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists: The Coolest Experiments and Projects for Science Fairs and Family Fun” is by Ken Denmead, a husband and father from the Bay area who also works as a civil engineer. (Gotham Books, 2011, 231 pages, $18.00.) He wrote “Geek Dad” and “The Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend Fun,” too. He lost us at the first chapter: “Extracting Your Own DNA.” Sorry, but I guess I’m just not geeky enough. Wacky Boy is 10 now (5th grade) and is Junior Science geek, but this book was a little beyond us. (Middle school/high school level, perhaps?)

Have a great weekend, y’all.

Wacky Family

On the Nightstand: “She’s Come Undone,” “Monkey Mind” and “My Mother Was Nuts”

October 21st, 2012

See a theme? The theme is: All of these books are hilarious and funny. Serious and intense, too, but mostly? Funny.



Sunday Book Review: “The Tooth Mouse,” “Mimi’s Village and How Basic Health Care Transformed It” & “A Strange Place to Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats & the Animals That Call Them Home”

September 9th, 2012

And now, for the kids’ book reviews:

* “The Tooth Mouse,” written by Susan Hood and illustrated by Janice Nadeau, is a charming book. (Kids Can Press, 2012, $16.95, unpaged.) The illustrator used pencils and watercolors and went primarily with pinks, browns and greens for the color scheme. Her work gives the book a soft, inviting look. Reminded me of the Madeleine books, a bit. Oui! Sweet tale about the Tooth Mouse, who is the French equivalent of the Tooth Fairy. Nice touch: Go to the back of the book and you’ll find a list of “tooth traditions from around the world.” (Greece: Tooth Mouse and Pig. Sri Lanka: Squirrel. Chile: A parent.) (Wait… a parent?) “It’s the Tooth Mouse! Le Petite Souris!” My kids were delighted by this one.

* “A Strange Place to Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats & the Animals That Call Them Home,” was written by poet Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Ed Young. (Chronicle Kids, $16.99, 2012, unpaged.) Oh, I like collages. And I love poetry, too. So this one jumped right up into my hands. (My kids liked it, too.) Fourteen critters, including Humboldt penguins, flamingos and mountain goats, keep on going in the strange places where they reside. Fun poems, and delightful art.

On the Rocks

“In the intertidal zone,
where waves are prone
to be forceful,
where the waters rush
to batter, buffet, crush,
dislodge, displace, fling,
a limpet is resourceful.
Its fine construction
employs suction.
In other words, its thing
is mightily to cling.”

* “Mimi’s Village and How Basic Health Care Transformed it,” by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, is a new publication from Citizen Kid. (Kids Can Press, $18.95, 2012, 32 pages.) As a rule, I dislike “message” books. (Why bullying is bad; a lesson, or six, about “kindness,” etc.) My son calls those ones, “Books that grown-ups like, but not kids.” (The Berenstain Bears, I am sad to say, fall into this category and are beloved by educators everywhere.) I am pleased to report that “Mimi’s Village,” while it has a message to send, is not a “message” book. Mimi lives in West Kenya, and her little sister, Nakkissi, gets sick from dirty water that Mimi let her drink. The family looks for help, but will it arrive in time? This would be a useful book in the classroom. The illustrations and story are bright and engaging. The glossary includes words from Swahili and Luyha dialects. I loved that the author included a whole section in the back with information on village health care workers, a breakdown of reasons why health care is critical, and a long list of websites where aid can be given. Nice job on this one.

on the nightstand this week: “Getting Over Mr. Right,” “The Magus” and anything by David Foster Wallace

September 9th, 2012

Man, do we like to read over here. I can’t review any of these, cuz we’re hip-deep in reading them. But I will say this:

* “Un Lun Dun” is one of the best children’s books I’ve ever read. It’s right up there with Harry Potter and the Hunger Games for me. China Mieville is wicked genius. So check it out. (May be too scary for the littles, but older kids will love it — grades four and up, I would say.)

* My daughter is reading “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” by Ned Vizzini and is really into it. I’m reading it as soon as she’s finished.

* I’m reading “The Magus” by John Fowles for classics book group. I’ve never heard of this one before, which is a shame because 1) It’s apparently A Classic and 2) It’s very sexy and good. Also weird.

* I kind of have a crush on David Foster Wallace, which is too bad, because he not just a late, great american author, he is the Late, Great American Author, DFW. (Seriously. Everyone just refers to him as DFW.) Why is it I never heard of him before last year? Hmmm. Would ponder this, if I had time. Maybe I’m not as well-read as I think I am.

* “Getting Over Mr. Right,” by Chrissie Manby, is British and sexy and funny. I’m all into the sexy books this week, it would appear.

* Steve is reading “The Wrecking Crew,” by Kent Hartman, and says it is all right. He’s interested in the subject, as a musician.

* So there you have it. My only complaint this week is that we’re back in school, we have too much going on, and no one is getting enough sleep over here. But what else is new?

What u reading at your house?

And now, a public service announcement from the Streets of Portland:


(Photo by Steve Rawley)

Monday Book Review: “Chet the Architect,” “Chet the Architect Shows You New York City’s Museum Mile,” “The Day-Glo Brothers” and “Our House is Round”

August 13th, 2012

What happened to that book reviewer, Wacky Mommy? She must have taken the summer off or something…

Here I am, and Chet the Architect is first up on the review list. (“Chet the Architect” is a companion set from Butterfly Artistic Media, 2012. The learn-to-draw book is $14.95. The map and guide to nine New York City museums is $12.99. Unpaged. Both are written and illustrated by Kathryn Koller.)

Man, do I love New York. I haven’t been in many years now. This set of books makes me long to go back, and take the kids with me this time. “Chet” is a good introduction to art and museums, even if you don’t have a trip to New York scheduled in the near future. (The map is pocket-sized and handy to use.) You know what inspired my love of New York museums? Yep. “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.” Thank you, E.L. Konigsburg.

Chet McGraw loves to draw. Follow his lead in this built-in sketch book, and learn about NYC’s Museum Mile along the way: Museum for African Art, El Museo del Barrio, Museum of the City of New York, the Jewish Museum, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, National Academy Museum & School, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Neue Galerie New York, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Have some fun with these books! Your budding artists will enjoy them. The books are aimed at younger children, but I think would be useful for big kids, too.

I am a little enamored of “The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors” (written by Chris Barton, with illustrations by Tony Persiani, Charlesbridge, 2009, unpaged, $18.95). I came across this book a few years ago, when it was first released. Did you know that Day-Glo colors were created by two brothers, in their family’s basement, circa 1933? I love a good biography, and this one fits the bill. Brother Bob was destined for medical school, but had a bad injury that damaged his eyes and memory and gave him seizures. He had to heal in his family’s darkened basement. Brother Joe spent time with him, trying to figure out more about light and fluorescence, in the hopes of coming up with some new effects for his magic act. They built an ultraviolet lamp, started playing with chemicals (I feel the need to insert, Kids don’t try this at home… even though it worked for the Switzers…) and voila.

It’s a great story for kids — and creative scientists — of all ages.

“Our House is Round” (written by Yolanda Kondonassis, illustrated by the aptly-named Joan Brush, Sky Pony Press, 2012, $16.95, unpaged) arrived in time for Earth Day, but got covered by the litter on my desk.

Sad but true. Ms. Kondonassis, a Grammy-nominated harpist, has released 17 albums; proceeds from some of the records have gone to environmental groups. She is founder and director of Earth at Heart, which is a non-profit organization “devoted to increasing earth awareness through the arts.” “Our House is Round” is aimed at the 5- to 9-year-old crowd.

Wacky Boy’s review: “It’s a good book and it’s good for all types of kids, but especially little kids. It uses not-too-big words, and teaches them big words, too.” The glossary is helpful, and the list of things that people can do to make a difference right away.

Our guest reviewer says that the ideas for helping to protect Earth are “good sense, and not too big of things. They are things that kids will be able to do.”

Guest reviewer 2, Wacky Girl, says, “‘Our House is Round’ is a good book for little kids to learn about pollution and how it’s bad for the Earth. The illustration are nice.”

(My disclaimer.)

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