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Saturday Book Review: “A Greyhound, A Groundhog,” by Emily Jenkins & Chris Appelhans; “Wisteria Jane: Bingo Did It!” by Amber Harris & Ard Hoyt; “I Am the Mountain Mouse,” by Gianna Marino

December 17th, 2016

“A Greyhound, A Groundhog,” written by Emily Jenkins & illustrated by Chris Appelhans (Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House Children’s Books, 2017, $17.99, ages 3-7). I was able to get an advance copy of this title, which will be released in a couple of weeks. It’s really a toss-up, isn’t it, as to who is cuter, a greyhound or a groundhog? We get both in this children’s book from Jenkins (the “Toy” series, which includes “Toy Dance Party” and “Toys Go Out”) and Appelhans (who worked on two of my favorite films, “Coraline” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox”). Jenkins gives a shout-out to author Ruth Krauss, who inspired the book. (For more of Appelhan’s work, take a look here; Jenkins’ site is here.) (PS — now I remember why I like Appelhans’ work! He illustrated that cool book, “Sparky the Sloth.”)

The illustrations are soft and pretty, and the story is sweet. The book — words and pictures, both — has a good rhythm. We have two unlikely friends, playing hard.

“A groundhog, a greyhound, a round little greyhound. A greyhound, a groundhog, a brown little groundhog.”

They’re having fun, and the kids will, too, reading it. (The page with the butterflies is my favorite.) It’s always nice to have a book about groundhogs when Feb. 2nd rolls around… I remember when I was teaching, there were never enough titles.

“Wisteria Jane: Bingo Did It!” written by Amber Harris & illustrated by Ard Hoyt (Red Leaf Lane, 2016, $16.95, ages 3 and up). Wisteria Jane Hummell has a best friend, Bingo, and that doggy gets her into a lot of trouble. There was the tea party, and all the broken cups… “Bingo did it, Momma,” I said. “He was drinking his tea like a good dog, and then he knocked everything over like a bad dog.”

Then there is Mama’s torn-up flower bed, and a bubble bath gone wrong. But does Wisteria Jane have a hand in the chaos, perhaps? This is a charming “lesson” book that isn’t preaching at all while it teaches kids about personal responsibility.

The illustrations remind me of Louis Darling, Jr.’s work on the Beverly Cleary books. Bingo reminds me of Ribsy, a bit. They’re funny and warm, and will make little readers feel like they’re in the middle of the action. You can find the author’s website at AmberBHarris.com; the illustrator’s website is ArdHoytBooks.com. Both live in Bentonville, Arkansas.

“I Am the Mountain Mouse,” written & illustrated by Gianna Marino (Penguin Random House/Penguin Young Readers/Viking, 2016, $16.99, ages 3-5). Hilarious collection of short stories about a little mouse with a big ol’ ego. The graphic novel-style layout of two panels per page is fun, and the stories clip along. (The author’s website is GiannaMarino.com)

Mountain Mouse is hungry, that is his food! Only, buddy? There’s just one thing. That’s a camel, not a mountain. He’s not scared of camels, or cats, or heights, and he doesn’t really like to heed his friends’ advice, so you know things are going to be lively.

I love books where kids can yell, Oh, no… Don’t do it! Lol. This is a great one for that.

Enjoy your holidays!

wm

Friday Recipe Club! Tortellini Soup & Pumpkin Bars

December 16th, 2016

Tortellini Soup a la Nancy

This was a crockpot recipe that I modified. It’s easy to put together in a hurry, and it stretches if needed. I cooked it on the stove.

* Celery, carrots, onion, garlic

Dice & saute in a few tablespoons of olive oil.

* Add one can (small or large) diced tomatoes. Fry them up a little with the veggies.

* Add herbs (I used oregano, basil, chives, red & black pepper & salt) & vegetable (or chicken or beef) bouillon

* Add water.

* Let simmer awhile.

* Add one or two packages of cheese tortellini, until pasta is cooked but not mushy.

* Let simmer awhile longer.

* Add one package spinach, let it wilt.

* Turn off heat, then add one or two cans evaporated milk, plus some heavy cream or regular milk.

* Add lots of parmesan cheese. Serve it up!

Pumpkin Bars a la Paula Deen

Bars:
4 eggs
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
15 -ounce can pumpkin
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Icing:
8 -ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Using an electric mixer at medium speed, combine the eggs, sugar, oil and pumpkin until light and fluffy. Stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth. Spread the batter into a greased 13 by 10-inch baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting. Cut into bars.

To make the icing: Combine the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and mix at low speed until combined. Stir in the vanilla and mix again. Spread on cooled pumpkin bars.

Bon appetit, babies.

love,

wm

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

What’s New on My Nightstand… Friday Book Review: “How to Celebrate Everything,” “Peep and Egg: I’m Not Trick-or-Treating” & “Magic Tree House: Incredible Fact Book”

December 9th, 2016

dawn

“Dawn”
Photo by Steve Rawley

“How to Celebrate Everything,” subtitled “Recipes and Rituals for Birthdays, Holidays, Family Dinners, and Every Day In Between,” by Jenny Rosenstrach, Ballantine Books, 2016, $30, 336 pages. Rosenstrach is the writer who created the blog and book “Dinner: A Love Story.” She has a nice touch, but nothing is so fussy or perfect that it’s intimidating.

How does a Potato Gratin with Gruyere sound on a cold winter’s day? With a nice Cranberry Relish on the side? And for a “New Year’s Eve Fancy-Pants Feast,” perhaps Lobsters with Champagne Butter? OK, now I’m hungry :)

“Peep and Egg: I’m Not Trick-or-Treating,” by Laura Gehl, with pictures by Joyce Wan, Macmillan/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016, $16.99, ages 2-6. Egg says trick-or-treating is too scary; Peep promises it will be fun. Peep coaxes, they head out, and our story begins. Sweet story of friendship and adventure.

“Magic Tree House: Incredible Fact Book” By Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Bryce, Random House, 2016, $16.99, 133 pages. The perfect gift for the little kids and big kids in your life. Do you know what dementor wasps are? Did you know that elephants can smell water from three miles away? Would you like to learn more about cockroaches? No? Well… how about comets, then? Tons of fun facts and tidbits, and the art and photography are great.

All for now!

wm

New on My Nightstand, Tuesday Edition: “My Favorite Pets: by Gus W. for Ms. Smolinski’s Class,” “Drop-Dead Easy Knits,” “Roar! Roar! Baby Dinosaur” & “

November 29th, 2016

“When spiderwebs unite, they can tie up a lion.” — Ethiopian proverb

Oh-ho-ho, awesome books, just in time for the holidays…

“My Favorite Pets: by Gus W. for Ms. Smolinski’s Class” (Random House Children’s Books, written by Jeanne Birdsall (“The Penderwicks”), illustrated by Harry Bliss (“Diary of a Spider”), 2016, $16.99, 40 pages.) “Seventeen sheep are still sheep, not sheeps,” says Gus in his report for Ms. Smolinski. A girl sheep? “A ewe. If you say, ‘Hey, Ewe,’ she won’t answer.”

Hilarious book, and Bliss’s illustrations have so much movement to them. The characters really come alive. The story is super cute, too. Aimed at ages 5-8, but the big kids will have fun with this one, as well.

“Drop-Dead Easy Knits” (Clarkson Potter, Gale Zucker, Mary Lou Egan & Kirsten Kapur, 2016, $16.99, 144 pages.) Well, have you seen my knitting? I can do scarves and baby snuggies and that is it, folks. Nonetheless, even though I know I will never make any of the cool projects the authors came up with, this is a great book and I’m enjoying looking at the pictures! So there you have it.

“Roar! Roar! Baby Dinosaur” (DK Books, 2016, by Peter Minister & Dawn Sirett, $14.99, 12 pages) Perfect for the toddlers. Lots of flaps, lots of info boxes, and it’s light activated, so you can hear the saltasaurus babies chirping and squealing, and the leaellynasaura babies crunch-crunching pine needles.

All for now :)

wm

Grown-up Books on My Nightstand, Wednesday Edition: “Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love & Writing,” “The Magnolia Story,” “Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon” & “Gone to Soldiers”

November 16th, 2016

New releases, even! And one classic, from 1987, by my hero, Marge Piercy.

“Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love & Writing” (Atria Books, 2016, 402 pages, $27.) Great memoir. I’ve liked Jennifer Weiner’s books since her first release came out. She’s fun, and funny, and I appreciate that she sticks up for female writers.

“The Magnolia Story” (By Chip and Joanna Gaines, with Mark Dagostino, W Publishing Group, 2016, $26.99, 184 pages.) Well, these two are awesome, plus adorable, plus of course their kids are sweet. Their HGTV show, “Fixer Upper,” is streaming on Netflix, excellent choice for binge watching. I keep a notebook handy when I watch it to write down design ideas. This is “their story.” Business, love, children, keeping as many of their fellow community members employed in Waco, Texas, as they can. It’s a fun read. Their personalities, quirks, dreams and motivation shine through, just like on their show. They’re real. You can tell they adore each other, and drive each other a little cuckoo sometimes, but they love each other, anyway. That’s what it’s all about, right? Now if I could just get them over here to help me work on my house…

For reals, I was especially moved by the bigger message of the book — don’t just survive, thrive.

“If you can’t find happiness in the ugliness, you’re not going to find it in the beauty, either.” — Joanna Gaines. She also said something else that really got through to me, too: You survive, you might get by day to day. But something big comes along, you’re going to drown. So you don’t just decorate the house; you take care of the home, and yourselves, and your community. Pretty cool memoir and I was glad to learn more about these two and their world.

(PS — back page says that Joanna’s design book is coming soon…)

“Gone to Soldiers” (Fawcett, 1987, 703 pages.) I’ve re-read this book, I have no idea, six or eight times? Ten stories, all woven together, set during World War II. Just a fantastic book. Piercy is a poet, novelist, essay writer, memoir writer. She has an impressive body of work, and I’ve read a lot of her stuff over the years. This is my favorite, hands down. (Here’s the New York Times review.)

“Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon” My friend’s husband, Peter Ames Carlin, wrote this book. I just started it, it’s a great read. Simon’s back story is pretty incredible.

All for now!

wm

Tuesday Book Review: “The Mermaid’s Purse” and “Clangers: Looking for a Lullaby”

November 1st, 2016

Patricia Polacco, I love you so dearly. I love you like an auntie, a friend, a sweet neighbor. And one of my favorite children’s authors ever. Even though we’ve never met, I know you. Thanks for that! This newest book, “The Mermaid’s Purse,” is going on my list of top five Polacco favorites (others are “Thank You, Mr. Falker,” “Chicken Sunday,” “My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother” and “Mr. Lincoln’s Way.” For reals, everything she’s written and illustrated is great. How cool — and unusual — is that?)

“The Mermaid’s Purse” (Viking, 2016, $16.99, ages 3-5, according to press release, but I’d like to change that to “all ages”) is, as many of Polacco’s stories are, based on a story from her family. This is her grandmother’s story, about her love of books, her community, and the love of her life. Just so cool. Keep it in mind when shopping for holiday gifts this year.

“Clangers” is a sweet and funny little book based on the U.K. television show. The copy I received for review includes a CD. (“Clangers” was written by Janet Lawler and audio book is read by the one and only William Shatner, Grosset & Dunlap, 2016, $18.99, ages 3-5.) Stop-motion is cool because it’s not only fun to watch, visually, but it transfers well to the page. The book is bright, colorful, and includes froglets, bed caves and an Iron Chicken. What more could a kid want?

ps I made this Potato Leek Soup for dinner a couple weeks ago. Perfecto. And this? Callaloo? Looks super yummy.

– wm

Wednesday Book Review: “You Will Not Have My Hate”

October 10th, 2016

Blue skies. No, not that kind

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

Reviewed today:

“You Will Not Have My Hate”
by Antoine Leiris

Say it over and over again, and mean it: You will not have my hate. Say it even when you don’t want to say it. Say it even when you don’t mean it.

you will not have my hate you will not have my hate you will not have my hate you will not have my hate

It does something to you, it dislodges that rock that’s sitting on top of your heart, it dissolves the lump in your throat.

It’s good. It’s a good thing to feel, practice, say, believe.

And it’s the title of this slim memoir by journalist Antoine Leiris, about the murder of his wife, Helene Muyal-Leiris, by terrorists. She was at a rock concert with a friend at the Bataclan Theater in Paris when she was killed on November 13, 2015.

Leiris posted a letter to her killers on Facebook; it went viral; and this book, this searing, brilliant, loving book, is what grew out of that post.

It’s a love letter to his wife; a factual account of what happened, and how he felt; it’s a sad and thoughtful journal entry for his son. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s stunning.

Nice work.

– wm

Thursday Evening Book Review: “I Don’t Want to Be Big,” “Little Penguins,” “Imagine a City” and “The Little Elephant Who Wants to Fall Asleep”

October 6th, 2016

“I Don’t Want to Be Big,” by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt, is the sequel to “I Don’t Want to Be a Frog.” (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2016, ages 3-7, $16.99, 32 pages.) Oh, this frog. He doesn’t need to get big, see? Not when his dad can carry him places, and his big friends can reach things for him. No, he’d prefer not to meet the tree frogs, thanks. Gentle take on how to work with those who are showing their stubborn streak. The story is funny; the illustrations bright and cheerful. And hello, frogs. Frogs are funny.

Who can resist little penguins, eh? Acclaimed children’s author Cynthia Rylant and Caldecott Honor winner Christian Robinson have released “Little Penguins,” (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016, ages 3-7, $17.99), and it’s pretty darling. I’m really a sucker for winter books — anything with snow, the holidays, warm, crackling fires, sledding, ahhhh… winter. You may remember Rylant from the “Henry and Mudge” and “Mr. Putter and Tabby” books. Robinson’s artistic work includes “Last Stop on Market Street,” a Caldecott Honor Book, by Matt de la Pena, and the illustrations for “Rain!” by Linda Ashman. Acrylic paint and cut paper collage were used for this book, giving it that crisp, classic kids’ book feel. Really beautiful to look at, and the repetition is nice, soothing and strong. “Snowflakes?” “Many snowflakes.” The littles will love this one.

“Imagine a City” is reminiscent of my girlfriend Eloise, the city child. Remember her? Pen and ink on paper give it a timeless look. Elise (sounds like Eloise!) Hurst is the author. (Doubleday, 2014, ages 3-7, $16.99.) That black and white, with just the splashes of red — really nice. A mommy and her son and daughter are off on an adventure in the city. What will they see? What will they find? “Imagine a train to take you away/imagine a city and drops of rain…” Magical book. I hope the kids take the time to really look at it, and not shout, “Is it my turn on the computer yet?” Just sayin’. So much time and love went into this one.

“The Little Elephant Who Wants to Fall Asleep” (he’s a friend of “The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep”) is illustrated by Sydney Hanson, written by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin. (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2016, ages 3-7, 40 pages, $16.99.) OK, you cute little elephant, what are you up to? Oh, it’s a lesson book. Who wants to go to sleep, you, right, baby? (Kinda funny to me, now that I have teenagers and spend many of my waking hours trying to get them out of bed. Oh, how the worm has turned…) Cute little book, and the illustrations are lovely. The relaxation techniques seem like they would be helpful. (“Five. Oh, how lovely, you say to yourself, and you let go of all your thoughts and listen to the story. Aaah…”)

Happy reading, everyone.

xo

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

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