Thursday, August 20, 2015

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Aging. Death. Passing On. Dying. 

It's not really the sort of topic you bring up when you're trying to make people feel at ease.

Roz Chast's parents wouldn't discuss the subject at all with her, which made things difficult for their only child. Her book, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is an illustrated memoir of the years Chast spent with her parents in their senescence.

The book is excellent. So excellent that I *want* to talk about it.

This is my Grandma Mary, who passed away in 2009
I actually moderated a panel about aging and eldercare for my church in April this year. It was a fascinating experience. I knew that there was a lot I didn't know about caring for the elderly, but I still don't think I've done more than scratch the surface. On the panel we had a lawyer, a financial planner, an elderly woman who had taken care of her mother for many years, and a young woman who had cared for her elderly grandparents until they passed away. There were so many good questions and people wanting to keep talking about the subject that the panel reconvened for a second night. Unfortunately round two was just after we made the move to Connecticut.

One of the main things that I took away from the panel was that though caring for your dying relatives is unquestionably complex and taxing, it can also be life-changing in a good way.

So, when Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant came on my radar, I was interested, and reserved it at the library. Come to find out Roz Chast is a cartoonist for The New Yorker.

Amazon affiliate link, in case you'd like to shop for this one.
I don't even think I can articulate how well this book was paced. You know, going into it, that her parents are going to die. So Chast guides us to the questions she had during the experience: Which parent is going to die first? How is this different from what I expected? How bad do things need to get before someone steps in here? How much is this going to cost? How do I feel now that it's all over?

The book was so thought provoking that I found myself mentioning it in casual conversations. Someone would say something and I'd respond, "that reminds me of this book I'm reading..." I found it fascinating to read the little details of their lives that came up in the book. I determined not to hoard things. I made myself a cheesetainer.

I want my parents to read it. I think we could have some great discussions, since I know they're more open to the subject than the Chasts were. Though, heads up, Mom: the book has maybe 3 or 4 uses of unsavory expletives. It's worth it, though.

"Well. Here we are. In our lives." says my dad, every so often.
The coloring is great. The lines of the artwork are imperfect and expressive. Chast's style reminds me a bit of The Far Side comics by Gary Larsen. I tried to read another graphic novel memoir right afterward and just felt like it was overloaded with text. This one is really artfully composed and layed out. It's easy to read. I should say that it's visually easy to read. Whether or not you find it "easy to read" will probably depend on your own experiences with aging, death, passing on and dying.

Anyway, I recommend it. I feel like reading it helped me think more deeply about what I want out of life and about how I can support and comfort others.

Will you talk to me about this uncomfortable subject?
If you've lost a close relative or friend, what advice do you have for those who face this certainty in the future?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Bookroo book subscription: A Free Coupon and a Funny Story

Good morning, friends! Today I have something fun to share with you. Jane Tanner, one of the co-founders of Bookroo, is going to share some stories with us.

But first let me introduce Bookroo. It's a book subscription box, like Kiwi Crate or something, but instead of being filled with crafts, it's filled with books! 

all photos via Bookroo

This idea is so good. I will brag that I had the same, excellent idea once; I just didn't do a single thing about it. The Bookroo team, on the other hand, has made my dream come true.

So. You can order an ongoing subscription, or pay in advance for three or six months and get a discount. What kind of books do you get? You can choose whether you'd like to get board books or picture books. If you choose board books, you'll get a box with three board books in it. If you choose picture books, you'll get a box with two picture books in it. And, the best part, the books are wrapped up like presents. I just love that! But then, receiving gifts is one of my strongest love languages, second only to words of affirmation. :)

Anyway, Jane reached out to me about collaborating on something and I think we're kindred spirits: we adore books, we read to kids, we cheer for the BYU Cougars. No surprise then that we decided to swap guest posts on each other's blogs.

Since I had once fantasized about starting a kidlit subscription box, I asked Jane to write about "something funny or embarrassing or amazing that happened in the very earliest days of Bookroo." I wanted something to make me laugh, really, and Jane delivered. Her post starts out with the two brothers who started it all. . .

Bookroo was Kesler and Tayler’s brain child. They’d worked on a couple of entrepreneurial endeavors in the past together, and when Tayler was looking for fun ways to get new books for himself to read but couldn’t find a program he liked, he called Kesler. They batted the idea around and then realized that doing a book subscription service for children would be way more fun. And so Bookroo was born.

They shared the idea with their older brother, Chandler, and soon the three of them were having discussions about it. First, Kesler just enlisted my help with the logo, and the imagery for the site, but since reading to children was something I so passionately believed in, soon I had officially joined the Bookroo team, followed shortly thereafter by Chandler’s wife Tiffany, and Tayler’s wife Becca. It was just such a FUN idea to work on! And thus our team was formed. Three brothers (or “bro-lers” as we sometimes call them since all 8 brothers in the Tanner family’s names end in -ler) and their wives, out on an adventure to make reading accessible, convenient, and affordable for parents and exciting for kids and parents alike.

Since some of us live in Utah and the rest in California, Bookroo has given us a wonderful opportunity to keep extra in touch and work together even though it’s long distance. We’ve perfected the Google Hangouts team meeting and use a number of tools to keep us coordinated throughout the week. Unfortunately, with all businesses there’s the occasional snafu, especially if you’re coordinating long distance. Probably the funniest moment thus far was when our supplier sent us the wrong book! We’d been debating between these two different books to be the last one included in the month’s shipments--they were both great books--but we’d ended up deciding to go with Book A rather than Book B. The books arrived, our Utah contingency wrapped and shipped them out, and everything was great--pictures were pouring in and people were loving the books!

bookroo.jpgbookroo monthly book subscription for kids.jpgbookroo book subscription for children.jpg

Then at our Google Hangouts sync up a week later, we were talking about how things had gone that month. Someone mentioned the books we’d sent out at which point Kesler said, “Wait, I thought we sent out Book A.” It came out that we had in fact sent Book B, because that’s the book that the supplier had sent us! The Utah crew had assumed the California crew switched the order on them, and the California crew assumed the right books had shown up! To this day, we still aren’t sure how the supplier even knew we were considering Book B, and why they thought it was ok to switch our order, but we had a good laugh about it, and are glad that we liked both books so much!

To us, Bookroo is an exciting opportunity for families--both ours and yours. Bookroo boxes unite us behind a common mission--to improve the world and the minds and imaginations of children through reading! Come check out our site, and start sending Bookroo boxes to the children in your life--it’s an investment in their future!

Thanks, Jane! I definitely chuckled about "bro-lers" and about the mix-up!

Time for coupons and special offers, yes? If you order through my Bookroo booster link, you'll get $4 off your first box of any subscription length. If you order before the end of August, you'll also automatically get a coupon code sent to you that allows you to send a FREE box to a friend. (But seriously you have to send it to a friend or relative. Share the love!) What's in it for me? If you order through the links in this post then I get shop credit for future Bookroo boxes. So hey, thanks! Books all around!

How does checkout work? 
1. Click over to Bookroo
2. Select whether you want board books or picture books. 
3. Select how long in advance you want to pay. The longer you go, the cheaper it is per box. One month prepay is 19.99/box. Three month prepay is 18.66/box. Six month prepay is $17.50/box.
4. Fill in shipping info, billing info, and create a login to track your orders.
Hooray! Surprise book presents once a month!

But what if I already have a lot of books and I get one that I already own? No problem; send a photo of you giving the book to a friend and get $5 off your next box. Bam!

But what if I can't decide between picture books and board books? No problem; tell them and they'll switch off between the two, month by month. So easy!

More info and FAQ's on the Bookroo site of course, those were just my two big questions.

To me, Bookroo sounds like the perfect thing for grandparents to send to grandkids. (Feel free to send them my post via email. Copy and paste:

It also sounds like the perfect thing to gift at a baby shower

It also sounds like the perfect way to get cousins in a book club together. Sign both families up for Bookroo and then have a little Skype session once a month. Baby book club. I'm dying of the cuteness.
Ok, I think that's all I've got. What questions do you have? Of everyone you know, who would be most excited to learn about Bookroo? Share this post with that person and you'll bring a little more "hey that's cool" into her day.

Friday, August 7, 2015

"It's better than being the kid that breaks the pinata at a party."

Hello, all! I was thrilled to be contacted for an interview recently (so flattering!), and now the interview is live. It's up at Freado, which seems like it could be a cool service for book bloggers. Anyway, my interview is part of a series: Life as a Book Blogger. I've had fun reading some of the other interviews.

So, head over to Freado if you want to read what motivates me to maintain this blog, what happens to the books I don't finish, and my top three tips for newbie book bloggers.

In the new house, reading The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
Oh, P.S.! Since someone asked, the blogging course I took was Rock Your Blog by Bonnie Andrews. She's offering something new now, and it looks good, too. And you better believe that's an affiliate link because Bonnie's the one that taught me how to use those handy little things!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Make My Life Easier: Please, Mr. Panda

Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony

The magic of the right book at the right time!

Today we went to the library and Levi pulled Please, Mr. Panda off the shelf. He asked me to read it to him and as I did Benjamin and Jubilee drifted over, interested. I was immediately required to read it a second time. Later this afternoon, they were using "please" more frequently and with less hassle. And that makes this book a winner!

In it, Mr. Panda asks various animals if they would like a doughnut. Each of them demands a different color and each is met with the same reply, "No, you cannot have a doughnut. I have changed my mind."

This book definitely reminded me of I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.

  1. The large, textured illustrations with bold lines, 
  2. the cast of various animals, 
  3. the rather disinterested look in Mr. Panda's eyes throughout, 
  4. and the repeated text. 

These two books are birds of a feather. Ashley wrote the Everead review of Klassen's award winner, and Ashley you're going to love this one.

I don't even remember now what Levi asked me for, after lunch, but I recognized myself about to begin our usual script, "If you want that, you need to ask with a 'please.'" But I caught myself just in time and said, "No, I have changed my mind." After a moment of confusion, he caught on and grinned as he changed his ask.

It was so fun! It was fun because it was different than usual. It was fun because it was a step up from where we had been -- instead of spelling out for him what he needed to do, I let him figure it out. And it was fun because he had picked the book and he had loved it and now he was living it. It wasn't long before I had the chance to use our new code-phrase with Benjamin.

It's not that I haven't tried to take this little leap before, I have. But it seemed like any time I would try to move us from our old script, the boys would end up frustrated and I would, too. But with the shared experience of having read Please, Mr. Panda under our belts, we were all on the same page.

A book that helps me be a happier parent, 
give my child more responsibility, 
and speak more politely?
Yes, Please!

I'll include an affiliate link for it here, in case your own library doesn't have it, or in case you'd like to give it as a gift or you just know already that you need to own this one. If you shop through my affiliate links, I make a small commission at no extra cost to you. So here's one for Amazon and one for Barnes and Noble.


Speaking of books that make my life as a parent easier, here are some others I have written about:
Backtalk: Four Steps to Ending Rude Behavior in Your Kids,
Practical Wisdom for Parents: Demystifying the Preschool Years,
Cinnamon Baby
and then I wrote about How to Visit the Library with Kids.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

18 Classics to Read with Kids

Today's question comes from Debra:
"Have you ever done a post about your favorite classics for kids? I have been thinking about starting some classics with Kolt over the summer but all the ones I can think of off the top of my head are either way too heavy, or I don't think he would really be into them. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is not really up his alley for example." 

Well, I'm glad you asked! Because it gives me a great excuse to list my favorite classics of children's literature. For those who don't know, Kolt is a nine year old boy, and a very strong reader. I'm making this book list with him in mind. I'm going to stick affiliate links in here, in the form of cover images, just in case you are interested in any of these but can't find them at your local library.

Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White -- As I've been thinking about this list, I keep thinking about The Trumpet of the Swan. I know that Charlotte's Web is the most talked-about of E.B. White's books, but The Trumpet of the Swan has a special place in my heart from my childhood. It follows a swan who can't make a trumpeting noise, so he learns to play the trumpet. What he has to sacrifice in order to communicate and what he is able to do . . . it's just a book I'm never going to forget. Great one to read together and discuss.

The BFG by Roald Dahl -- This is my personal favorite of Dahl's books, and I'm sure you're aware of Dahl as and author, but I just had to list this one. Gotta love it when a little girl makes friends with a misfit giant.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster -- I honestly don't remember that much about this one except that I loved it! It is a very clever book, and just the sort of thing that a strong reader is going to like -- full of wordplay and complex ideas but completely devoid of questionable content. A boy takes a journey into a strange land.

Monday, June 29, 2015

On My Mind -or- Things I've been meaning to tell you

Caption contest. :D
TeenBoat being serialized as a webcomic, woo! ("The angst of being a teen--the thrill  of being a boat!") As predicted it is wacky and fun and well done thus far.

Speaking of webcomics I wrote a post about them for the Cybils blog. It's a funny story because the call went out for awesome book lists made up of previous Cybils books and I was like "oh, I could do one around webcomics!" and our editor, who is a well-informed sort of person was like, "No...we need ones from the Cybils..." Then I was like "Aha! I *must* do the one about webcomics then, because not only do the masses need education, but some of our own best and brightest did not know that webcomics have won the award!" And so I did.

Someone has actually done the thing that I was thinking (idly) of doing. It's called Bookroo and yay, now I don't have to do it myself. Let me know if you're interested (or if grandma and grandpa are interested on your behalf) because I think maybe I can get you a discount code.

I worked on Story Club tonight. Again. Finally. Moving, sheesh. Moving is like the project that never ends.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale is now a stage production. Holla! Several of my friends told me about this, knowing of my love for Shannon Hale. A former director of mine is the dramaturg for the show. So that makes me feel like saying in a demure voice, "I have connections."

There is a sale happening at Kiwi Crate (for all the Kiwi Crate Family Brands) so that's awesome! My kids and I have loved Kiwi Crate and we got my friend Kate hooked on Koala Crate (exhibit A) and she's always sharing the cuteness with me. Anyway, the sale is 40% off with the code FIREWORK40 through July 5th, 2015, and I would not mind a bit if you used my affiliate link there.

Also I finally finished Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson, which you will remember I began reading a long time ago. It was great. I'll have to review it for ya.

And I read Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman and Skottie Young in one sitting, at the library, because we can't check anything out yet. My little instagram review of that is here. I really want to read it with the family and then read a bunch of Skottie Young and Eric Shanower Wizard of Oz adaptation stuff.

Bookshelves, bookshelves! Got any tips on styling bookshelves? Because our dining room is surrounded by built-ins and our living room has them on three walls. So yeah. This is my favorite article so far, but if you have advices I am all ears. Do you want before/during/after pics?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

I'm a Reading Tutor: 3 Ways I Teach Reading

Hello, I'm Alysa. You may think you know me, but did you know I'm a reading tutor? No? Maybe that's because I just started this year. I love it! I got my degree in Elementary Education with a minor in TESOL, and it's on that strength that I draw when reading with Kierstin.

Right now I'm taking the summer off from tutoring, (I'm moving) but I just finished tutoring Kierstin, an exuberant first grade girl. Her teacher was concerned about her reading ability and had talked with her parents about having her repeat first grade. Since I happen to be her next-door neighbor, we connected and started reading together. Happily, her reading has improved and she'll be advancing to second grade next year.
Donating some books to the library, in preparation for the move.
 Photo by Jacob Stewart.

How We Do
What do we do? We spend 30 min together, twice a week. I'd love to meet more often, but twice a week is what works for everybody right now. I've broken our half hour into 3 chunks: Dyad Reading, Sight Word Practice, and Guided Reading. 

Dyad Reading
For the first part of the lesson we read together, aloud simultaneously, from the same book. This strategy is called Dyad Reading. The point of Dyad reading is to hear the word, say the word, see the word, and touch the word all at the same time. Like when Anne Sullivan famously spelled WATER for Helen Keller while her hand was running under water, all the sensory inputs are working together to make connections in the brain.

In my initial assessment, I could see that Kierstin did not have a large sight word repertoire. She was excellent at sounding words out, but would get so bogged down stopping to decode each word that she couldn't read fluently and couldn't comprehend the books she was reading.  Dyad reading emphasizes fluency. The learning reader chooses an interesting book to her, regardless of what reading level the book requires. The lead reader (that's me!) leads her along in reading it. I read at a pace that Kierstin can keep up with, but I read in a natual way, using expressive phrasing, proper emphasis and emotion. Sometimes also voices. :) We point to the word we're on as we read.

At its start, Dyad reading is basically just the learning reader repeating what the lead reader has said. As the learner improves, it becomes a dance. It's a no-pressure reading environment. If Kierstin doesn't know a word, I'll know it and say it. The narrative continues without pause. No stopping to sound words out. It's also a high-engagement reading environment. I'll hesitate when I know we're at a word that Kierstin knows or can get, or if I see that she is looking across the room instead of at the word she's pointing to. If she is getting more words than not, I'll let her take the lead.

Sight Word Practice
For this part of the lesson, we usually do some kind of game. Since Kierstin is the energizer bunny type, I try to add a physical element to our sight word game.

I have some sight word flashcards, and it is amazing  how versatile flashcards can be.  We have spread the cards all over the lawn and then read them as we picked them up. We have had two stacks of cards on opposite sides of the room, and she has run from one stack to the other, reading sight words (a favorite!).  We have had a competition to see who could tag the sight word first in an array of flashcards. We have made our own flashcards, out of common words that Kierstin struggled with in a previous lesson. We have also played with magnetic poetry and played "spot the word" on the page or on the cereal box.

Guided Reading
Finally, we always end with some guided reading. Kierstin's teacher often sends home books for Kierstin to read -- you know the type: paperback books that are a little bigger than a 3x5 card. They're very carefully leveled and often emphasize a particular phoneme. Mean Doreen was all about the long e sound, for example.

Essentially, Kierstin does all the reading, with a little guidance from me.

To prepare for the reading, we look at the book together. Sometimes we "take a picture walk" flipping through the pages to look at the illustrations and make predictions about the book.

Then Kierstin reads aloud to me. If she comes to a sticky spot, I prompt her (not just to "sound it out" but to look at the pictures for clues, look at the context for clues, look at a first or last letter etc.). If she makes an error and continues on, I stop her at a good stopping place and we talk about the error: "That didn't make sense..." or "that made sense, but look, this word is different from the one you said." Sometimes we talk about vocabulary. Some of these texts have words that one never hears on conversation - especially books that target a specific phoneme,  Other times a familiar word is used in a new way. Mean Doreen is a chicken and she took all the feed from the other chicken. It was completely unsurprising that the first time Kierstin read that she said that she took all the "food" not all the "feed." Guided reading is where we get to stop and talk about all that.

After Kierstin reads, we'll talk about whether or not we liked the book, what we thought of the plot or the characters, or make connections between the book and real life.

And that's it! If we're lucky, Kierstin doesn't have any chores and she gets to stay and play for a while. It has been so nice having a next door neighbor the exact same age as my oldest. We're going to miss our neighbors.

But, man, writing about all these parts is just so exciting! Tutoring reading is so much fun! I can't decide which part is my favorite. I don't have to decide, do I? You won't make me pick? What questions do you have for me? Have you used these techniques before? I hope you find some of the strategies above useful in your own reading with kids. Be sure to let me know if you do.
12 Things Not to Say to Young Readers by one of my professors.
I'm a writer by me
My call for virtual moving help

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