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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.)

Monday morning, RIP Nora Ephron and Ruthie’s Bread and Butter Pudding

July 2nd, 2012

Nora Ephron is gone and I am so sad I don’t even want to write.

Here is her friend’s recipe, from “I Remember Nothing”:

Ruthie’s Bread and Butter Pudding

5 large eggs
4 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 quart whole milk
1 cup heavy cream, plus 1 cup for serving
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Twelve 1/2 inch slices brioche, crusts removed, buttered generously on one side
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

“Preheat oven to 375. Butter a shallow two-quart baking dish. Gently beat the eggs, egg yolks, granulated sugar, and salt until blended. Scald the milk and cream in a saucepan over high heat; do not boil. When you tip the pan and the mixture spits or makes a sizzling noise, remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. STIR GENTLY, don’t beat, into the egg mixture until blended.

Overlap the bread, butter side up, in the prepared baking dish and pour the egg mixture over the bread. Set in a large pan with enough hot water to come halfway up the side of the dish. Bake for about 45 minutes, or the bread is golden brown and a sharp knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. The bread should be golden and the pudding puffed up. This can be done early in the day. Do not chill.

Before serving, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and place under the broiler. Don’t walk away. This takes only a minute or two. Or you can use one of the crème brûlée gadgets to brown the sugar.

Serve with a pitcher of heavy cream.”

Sunday Book Review: “Larf,” “Get Outside: The Kids’ Guide to Fun in the Great Outdoors” and “Earth-Friendly Buildings, Bridges and More: The Eco-Journal of Corry LaPont”

June 3rd, 2012

I’ve come across some really fun and educational books lately. (No, that’s not a contradiction.)

“Larf” (written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press, 2012, unpaged, $16.95) is one wild and furry guy. He is a Sasquatch, and he lives with his bunny, Eric. If I had to choose two imaginary friends, and those two were the only friends I could have, they would be Larf, and Schmidt from the show “New Girl.” Larf is living a pretty peaceful and solitary life, but that may be about to change…

The illustrations and story are hilarious; Larf is a vegetarian, which delighted the 10-year-old vegetarian at my house; and we just really enjoyed his story. This book is perfect for the 10-and-younger set.

Just in time for summer, we have Jane Drake and Ann Love’s book, “Get Outside: The Kids Guide to Fun in the Great Outdoors.” Illustrations were created by Heather Collins. (Kids Can Press, 2012, 176 pages, $16.95.) Yes, I know. People are still yammering on and on about how kids never have recess at school anymore. They never go outside. They’re glued to their video and television screens and on and on. I can speak to what I see around me, and what we saw in our old neighborhood: People riding bikes, skateboards and scooters. Kids running back and forth to each other’s houses. Practices, practices, practices, for soccer, basketball, swim meets, concerts and dance. Kids throwing balls and frisbees and hitting things with sticks. We’re all on the computer too much. In fact, I’m sitting in front of a computer right now. Earlier today, I sent a few text messages. I watched part of a movie. But I also gardened and hung out the laundry on the line outside. We could be doing better, as world citizens, but we could also be doing a lot worse.

That being said, it is a little frustrating as a parent when you tell your kids to go outside and play, and they are literally the only kids out there because everyone else is inside. (We’ve taken to texting our friends, Going to playground, meet us there ;)

I think this book will come in handy for us. Want help learning how to garden? Making a scarecrow? Playing Stone Toss games? It’s in there. How about bird feeding, kite flying, or marathon card games? The book is divided into the four seasons (Summer: Make A Night Sky Dome, Pebbles in the Sand; Fall: Wildlife Blind, Worm Farm, for example.) and is straightforward — easy for the kids to leaf through, and perfect for those days when you can’t come up with any new ideas.

And there’s no one outside to play with.

Another new release is “Earth-Friendly Buildings, Bridges and More: The Eco-Journal of Corry Lapont” (Kids Can Press, 2012, 64 pages, $18.95). This was not written by Corry Lapont, though — she apparently is an imaginary, architecture-crazy young girl, with the stereotypical pesky younger brother. This one is named Riley, aka “The Question Box,” aka “The Factoid Finder.” And yes, that is the first and last time you will see the word “factoid” written on these pages, because “factoid” is not a word. The book was written by Etta Kaner and illustrated by Stephen MacEachern. OK, I’m kind of a stickler for calling a book a “journal” or “the almost-true story of,” etc. but hello, Dear America and My Name is America series. Yeah.

Am I too fussy? Probably.

Moving right along… This is an amazing book. Skyscrapers, dams, domes; various kinds of bridges; building green; job descriptions for architects, urban planners, structural engineers and other builder-type people; and yes, Portland’s own Hawthorne Bridge gets a little picture and a shout-out. (Thanks, y’all.) It’s a very cool book. My son would probably call it “one of those books that grown-ups love and kids don’t” but you know what? I think both of my kids are going to be into this one. You can answer a whole lot of those “how did they build that?” questions with this as a guidebook. There is a glossary in the back, and lots of good art and fact boxes sprinkled throughout.

Enjoy, and here’s to summer reading.

– WM

reading this week: “11/22/63,” “The New Jim Crow” and finally finishing “Great Expectations”

May 3rd, 2012

Those of you who have been reading me for a while know how much i love Stephen and Tabitha King. They are gifted story tellers, funny people, and I just get a little pissed that they don’t get credit where credit is due.

Also, Stephen just published this over on the Daily Beast and it’s a good read. Hear, hear. I finished his latest, “11/22/63,” a couple of days ago. I read the last two chapters first thing in the morning, because I had read ’til late-late the night before and it killed me that I keep nodding off and couldn’t get to the last bit. (One more reason to get a Kindle: When you fall asleep and the Kindle slips out of your hands, it is not nearly as bad as beaning yourself in the head with an 800-pound, 800-page Stephen King book. Just sayin’.) I loved this book as much as “The Stand,” and there is hardly anything in life, with the exception of my husband and the kids, that I love as much as “The Stand.”

Then I got in a lousy mood for the rest of the day, because I didn’t want the book to end. Even though it was 800 pages long. It is not often that a book I love as much as I love “The Stand” comes along. In fact, this is probably it now, for the rest of my life.

When that realization hit me, then I got a little aggravated. Because I still have a few decades left, but really, what’s the point now? (Kidding. I might only have a few years left, who the hell knows when their time is going to come? Just ask the Kennedys.)

There you have it.

“The New Jim Crow” is excellent. Get a copy and please STFU about how we’re living in a “post-racial society” and how racism “isn’t a problem for me!” Yeah, maybe cuz you’re white and not in jail, didja ever consider that? The author worked very hard on this book and it is fantastic. I can only read a few chapters at a time — it’s a lot of stats and info to take in. But you need to read it, and buy copies to hand out to your friends and family, and your co-workers who need a clue.

Stupid things I’ve heard white people say:
“Race isn’t a problem anymore, is it?”
“Race isn’t a problem for me.”
“She takes the whole race thing a little too seriously.”
“They need to stop playing the race card.”
“Black babies are soooooo much cuter than white babies.”
“Maybe Pablo will bring us some more towels.”

And that was just members of my extended family I was quoting there, not the general public. Woooooooooooooooooot!

Now, on to Dickens, because why not? I am not even going with the segues, I’m in a hurry.


I’ve kind of never read Dickens, to be completely forthright with you. Yes, I was an English major, thanks for asking! (Focus on women’s fiction and contemporary writers. Also Shakespeare. The End.)

I kind of thought Dickens was a jerk. My ma was all “‘Tale of Two Cities,’ oh it’s the best book ever oh you have to read it!” etc. and throwing a copy of it at my head and knocking me unconscious. Parents, heed my words: It is generally the kiss of death for an author when a parent says, Best book evah! and recommends it to their kid.

(Duly noted.)

I loved that episode of “Cheers” where Frasier wants to educate the guys at the bar, and starts reading aloud to them, It was the best of times/it was the worst of times…

Cliffie is all, Boy, make up your mind, Dickens, which was it? And Norm is all, That Dickens, he really liked to cover his butt, didn’t he?

So Frasier gets creative and adds in “a bloodthirsty clown that rises out of the sewers” and the guys were all, You had me at bloodthirsty clown, fully engaged. And I was all, I (heart) Stephen King. (See: Review above.) My point…

It’s that damn Kindle. You can get Austen, Shakespeare, Dickens, and many, many others for free. Best of all? You don’t have to actually read the books. You can just look busy and important, oh yes, I downloaded “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” I believe I’ll tuck into those this weekend. Then I’ll polish off “War and Peace” after that. So. Who knows why, but I actually started reading “Great Expectations” a while back. I think I was feeling cocky cuz I finally got through “Anna Karenina.” (Brilliant, by the by.)

I tried reading “Oliver Twist” and “A Christmas Carol” aloud to the kids. No go. They told me they saw the movies, and my son recited the entire plot of “A Christmas Carol,” complete with crazy accents and his own interpretive dance, to us in the kitchen and that was that.

Turns out, Charles Dickens was something else.
Turns out, I love “Great Expectations,” although it’s taking me a bit longer to get through it than I thought it would, due to the fact that…
Turns out, “Masterpiece Theater” did a slam-bang mini-series of “Great Expectations,” which I accidentally (season pass on my tivo — blame “Downton Abbey”) tivo’ed
Turns out, I had to watch the whole thing, thus creating a little bit of a spoiler for myself. Whatever, it was so worth it.

Peeps, I am now a Dickens fan. Also am eighty percent through the book, go me. Dickens does his own variations on the bloodthirsty clown, quite nicely. Lovely, really. Yeah, you start throwing around the English-speak, once you’re enthralled in Dickens World. Where I want to go, by the way.

Yeah, the kids know all about him. There is no hiding my newfound love. This was me, tonight, to my son, who was complaining cuz I took his videogames away:

me: “Yeah, try being Charles Dickens, how about?”

my kid, laughing: “Dickens, heh heh…”

me: “You don’t have it rough, he had it rough. You know why? Cuz his dad went to prison. Cuz he didn’t pay his bills. And guess who went with him? That’s right. Dickens’s mom. And his little brothers and sisters, oh yes they did. How would you like that? And Dickens had to go work in a factory, even though he was only 12…”

my kid (already down the stairs, going to bug his sister): “Uh-huh.”

xo happy reading xo


Tuesday Book Review: “Bug Off! Creepy, Crawly Poems,” “The Pirate Girl’s Treasure: An Origami Adventure” and “Bunnies, Crocodiles, And Me: Stories of Baby Beginnings”

April 24th, 2012

Hey. I started writing this book review several days ago, and it just is not going to write itself now, is it? Wait. I need another cup of coffee…

OK, I’m back. First up…

Presenting: “Bug Off! Creepy, Crawly Poems,” by Jane Yolen, with photographs by Jason Stemple ($16.95, WordSong, 2012, 30 pages). Do you know Jane Yolen’s work? Yes, you do. She writes the “How Do Dinosaurs…” series (“How Do Dinosaurs Clean Their Rooms?” “How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You?” etc.) and has published a whole bunch of other books, too. As far as I’m concerned, those guys making the big bucks in the NBA are nothing.

Jane Yolen is the rock star you should be worshipping.

She’s the author of “Owl Moon,” one of my favorite read-alouds when I do library work, and one of the best Young Adult books I’ve ever read about the Holocaust: “The Devil’s Arithmetic.” Jason Stemple? Yes, another unsung hero. His photos are spectacular and no, I am not using that word lightly. Go take a look. Visit their websites at Jane Yolen and Jason Stemple.

This is a fun poetry/science book wrapped into one. Twelve different bugs, plus a swarm, are profiled. Each gets a lovely poem, a cool photo, and a science fact box. My favorite is the honey bee. The poem begins like this:

“O Bee mine,
O blossom, please,
you are the best,
the true Bee’s knees.”


“The Pirate Girl’s Treasure: An Origami Adventure” was written by Peyton Leung and illustrated by Hilary Leung. ($16.95, Kids Can Press, 2012.) A pirate girl receives an unusual letter from her pirate grandpa and sets off on an adventure. What will happen along the way? This one is allegedly for the little kids, but my big kids had fun making the different origami designs illustrated in the back of the book. You can try your hand at making a hat, boat, or shirt, or all three. (The author was inspired by an origami model called “The Captain’s Shirt.)

“Bunnies, Crocodiles, and Me: Stories of Baby Beginnings,” is one of the sweetest, kookiest kid books I have ever come across. It was edited by Frederic Houssin and Cedric Ramadier, and is a compilation of works by nine different artists, including Peter Allen, Anne Brouillard and Katja Gehrmann. I do not know how this book came into my possession. I think it was in a box of goodies I was given when I was teaching.

Inside, you’ll find monsters giving birth to a new baby; bunnies upside down in a sonogram; and “A New Day,” by Bruno Gilbert:

“Sun is sleeping
in his starry bed.”

It’s art, it’s poetry, it’s quirky and I think your kids will like it. Keep an open mind, and happy reading!

(I received two of these books as review copies. See disclaimer here.)

Saturday Book Review: “Animal Masquerade,” “The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea” and “Vote for Me!”

April 7th, 2012

“Animal Masquerade,” by Marianne Dubac ($16.96, Kids Can Press, 2011, unpaged) is a fun book. I like the disguises that all the animals are wearing. For example, the parrot is disguised as a turtle, and the turtle is disguised as Little Red Riding Hood. I think lots of kids would like this book. It’s for ages 7 and younger, but others might like it, too.

“The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea,” written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Willow Dawson ($15.95, Kids Can Press, 2012, 80 pages) looks like a good book for Earth Day, which is coming up on April 22nd.

“Vote for Me!”, by Ben Clanton ($16.95, Kids Can Press, 2012, unpaged) is a good one. Personally, I voted for the elephant, but you guys might choose something different.

– By Wacky Boy

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