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Monday, August 21, 2017

NPR's Graphic Novels List

So the other day NPR published a list of 100 Favorite Comics and Graphic Novels. A couple people who know me sent me the link, so I thought it would be fun to go through the list and tell you my thoughts about it.

something about beach reads?
It looks like I've read 21 of the books on the list, so roughly one fifth of them. Are you surprised? It makes sense to me that I don't have a higher score because, although I've read many more graphic novels than the average person I know, I have not read many more GN's than the average person-I-know-who-loves-graphic-novels.

Also, my reading definitely skews more toward the all-ages category of the list. I mean, children's literature really is my thing, and a lot of my graphic novel reading has been for Cybils, which is an award for children's and young adult literature.

Here are the 21 that I've read that made NPR's list:

Nimona -- loved it so much.
This One Summer -- it was ok.
Through the Woods -- Wow it was scary and amazing!
How to be Happy -- really liked some of the stories, others were meh.
The Color of Earth -- Found this one super odd until I learned that part of its purpose was to educate Koreans on sexuality. Then I was like "Oh ok! That makes a lot more sense and explains why the story went like it did!"
Persepolis -- Pff. Amazing.
Fun Home -- Not fun. It was magnificently rendered and expanded my horizons, but it was totally depressing.
March -- I'm a fan of these ones.
Understanding Comics -- Good book, for sure.
Ms. Marvel -- I need more Ms. Marvel in my life! Love this series.
Astro City -- It's been a long time, but I remember really liking this one. I definitely read vol 1 and I might have read vols 2 an 3? But don't hold me to that.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl -- So I've only read the standalone graphic novel, not the comics, but I think I should read the comics because this one made me laugh so much.
Calvin and Hobbes -- Obviously. It's tops.
Peanuts -- Still good, you guys. And I liked the recent movie, too.
Bad Machinery -- Yes! Woohoo! Glad NPR caught this one. I bought myself some Bad Machinery for my birthday.
Gunnerkrigg Court -- This one is also good! And it's fun to watch the style of it evolve.
American Born Chinese -- This one is definitely good, and a little wacky.
Zita the Spacegirl -- Yes to this. And my kids love it.
Amulet -- The Harry Potter of Graphic Novels, maybe?
El Deafo -- So enjoyable and eye-opening. Great memoir.
Bone -- I read vol 1 and didn't love it, so I haven't read on. I hear I'm missing out, but I think I'm OK.


Here are five from NPR's list I haven't read, and why I haven't read them:

Maus -- I know. It's embarrassing that I haven't read it. It just seems like it's going to be really depressing. I don't really need to read it, do I?
Blankets -- Toooo loooong, so I didn't even start it when my GN book club did it.
Monstress -- I was supposed to read this for Cybils, but only got to glance through it in the bookstore. It looked like it had more violence and language than I typically like, but who knows, maybe I'd love it.
Ghosts -- I was supposed to read this for Cybils, too, but never did. Can't believe I've forgotten to read it since then!
Mouse Guard -- Tried to read this one a couple of times but never got into it. Melissa recommended it, so it's probably really good.

Here are five I want to read, now that I've seen NPR's list:

Ghosts
Castle Waiting
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Stand Still Stay Silent
Carl Barks' Disney Ducks

Here are five that did not make NPR's list, but are in my top favorites! (my reviews are linked):

The Shadow Hero
Boxers and Saints
Around the World
Real Friends (Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, my review forthcoming)
Dragon Puncher

Have you read and enjoyed any on the list? Do any of these pique your interest? Let's talk.


Monday, July 10, 2017

The Happiest Kids in the World

Hola! So I just enjoyed reading some new non-fiction I picked up at the library:

click for Amazon reviews ;-)
The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids by Doing Less by Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. I was (strangely) somewhat disappointed to learn that I was already doing many of the things the authors recommend. Isn't that odd?! I already doing a pretty good job of giving my kids a happy childhood!

The book has thirteen chapters, which mostly take the reader through the authors' thoughts on each age: prenatal, baby, preschooler, school kids, and teenagers, and also break out into particular topics like schooling, discipline, food, and sex education. I read the whole book and found interesting things in each chapter, but I felt like a lot of my reading was just enjoying hearing someone else's experiences, rather than enjoying learning something new. 

I already knew that I should take good care of myself and make sure my own physical, emotional and social needs were met. The authors talk about what wonderful sleepers Dutch children are, and . . . my kids are wonderful sleepers! When Benjamin, my oldest, was first born, my mom said to me, "Once he gets to be about 6 weeks old, he can sleep for 6 hours a night. I wish someone had told me that was possible and healthy with my firstborn!" That bit of advice was huge for me, and coming from my mom it was much more meaningful than coming from this book. The book was more like, "Dutch babies can sleep a lot! Can my babies do it? I'm not sure? I think it might be working? But it might just be a symptom of them growing older." 

It was kind of the same story with schooling: Dutch parents don't get really choosy about their kids schools, and don't pressure their kids (as much as parents in the US and UK) to perform well academically in school. I learned to be relaxed about school from my own mom. We never lived in a place that had a private school option. I grew up in a time before online school was a thing. My parents didn't pressure us to excel academically, because . . . we did that naturally, without pressure. I'm not saying I was immune to the cultural pressure to perform. I definitely felt that pressure. But I knew it wasn't coming from my parents. I knew if I got bad grades my parents would be like, "What do you think are the contributing factors here? How can we help you do better?" instead of slashing my privileges or withdrawing their love. 

And recently when my own son was struggling with enjoying Kindergarten, my mom gave me the good reminder that if a child can be happy at school, that's what makes life good. Kids spend so much time at school. So when the authors of the book were talking about how the Dutch let kids begin academics at their own pace and emphasize relationships above academics in primary grades, I was like, "Yeah. Thumbs up to that."

I think the biggest piece of advice from the book that I am putting into practice in my own life is to get my kids outdoors more. It was inspiring to read about Dutch people (and the authors!) going camping, biking through snowstorms, and just getting outdoors regardless of the weather. I have friends who are better at this than I am, so I have some real-life inspiration here, too. Anyway, the authors talked about how going outside and playing outside in inclement weather gives kids grit

So a few days ago we drove my oldest to a playdate, and on our way we passed a playground that we had never seen before. It was a good-looking playground, too! But it was actively raining. I thought about bringing it up, but didn't. But then my four-year-old daughter saw the playground on our way home and asked to stop at it. So I reminded myself of a few things: 1. Playing in the rain will give us grit. 2. When I was a kid I always played in the rain, because rain in AZ is a celebration worthy of dancing in the streets. 3. If the author Michele can take her kids biking through the snow and then dump them in a hot bath, I can totally take my kids to a playground in the rain and then do the same if need be. The fact that I found a towel in the back seat of the van cinched it, and I said we were going out!

Benjamin was at his playdate. Jubilee loved the idea from the start. But it took Levi (age 6) longer to warm up to the thought of playing at the park in the rain. He couldn't be coaxed out of the car until he had his umbrella up, and only then to run under the pavilion. But pretty soon he was swinging while holding his umbrella, and then you know how it's just easier to do things when you're not holding an umbrella . . . plus the rain let up a bit. So we got him by degrees. And once I could see that he was enjoying himself, I started really talking it up. "Wow, this is fun, isn't it? All the other kids think they can't come to the park today because it's raining, but we know you can!" Haha. Honestly it helped me that this park was not muddy at all. Very grassy, nice paved path, and rubber under the swings and playground area. So I'm not saying I'm hardcore yet. I'm just saying this book convinced me to try something I wouldn't have otherwise, and I think it made my kids a little happier.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Three good books!


Hi there! It looks like I've been holding out on you. I've got some good books to recommend, so here they are without further ado. All three are historical fiction with female protagonists. All three make great books for book club. The book covers are links to Amazon, as usual.




The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
I read this one because it was chosen by my book club, and I loved it. It was a lot of fun to read, tough to put down, and not too scary or gory, as some mysteries can be.

The story follows Flavia, a girl living on the family estate in England in ... gosh I can't remember what year. But she rides a bike and uses a telephone, though it is somewhat unusual that their home has "the instrument." When Flavia finds a dead body in the back garden, she does what 10-year-old girls do best: finds out as much information as possible as unobtrusively as she can. And of course that leads to trouble.

This book comes the absolute closest to a Nancy Drew mystery that I've read in adulthood. Flavia and Nancy are both young girl detectives with independent transportation and permissive families, but Nancy generally is appreciated by the police. Flavia is not.

It made for a good book discussion with questions like "How realistic do you think it is that Flavia had the skills needed to solve the mystery?" "When did you know who the murderer was?" and "What ages do you think this book would be appropriate for?" It was generally agreed that 12+ would be fine.

This is the first in the series, and I would mind reading the other ones at all. The mystery is all tied up at the finish, but some loose ends about the characters remain.





The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

I first heard this recommended by Leila Roy, who was gushing about it a couple of years ago. I finally picked it up, and I loved it. I was going to pick it for my next book club pick, but Bethany beat me to it!

The Hired Girl is the diary of a farm girl circa 1910. Her mother died a few years before the story opens, and we find her working like a slave (unpaid, unprivileged, constantly belittled) to keep the family farm going. When she sees advertisements for positions as a Hired Girl and realizes the worth of her work, she runs away from home and her abusive father. Of course, being a runaway in 1910 comes with its own huge set of challenges and learning experiences.

I think it can be really tricky to do a diary format novel right. I'm really picky about diary format, because I keep a personal diary. The author does a really good job here, and also makes the story so interesting that I was happy to forgive entries that seemed too long or too detailed to be completely realistic. The story was realistic, and captivating, and I can't wait to discuss it with the book club ladies. Everything from journal keeping and women working to domestic abuse and religion.

I loved the way that religion featured largely in the book. Religion features largely in my life, and I find that a lot of young adult literature these days doesn't touch the subject. our protagonists late mother was a different religion than her father, and other characters of other religions and various degrees of devotion to their religions are big in the book, and make the whole story more nuanced and believable.




The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

Ashley has been telling me for a while now that I need to read some Georgette Heyer books. And as we all know Ashley has great taste. So I went over to the grown-up section and it looks like Heyer is prolific. I picked The Grand Sophy because I seemed to remember hearing about it before. Now that Bethany has stolen The Hired Girl as her book club pick, I think The Grand Sophy will be mine. (Do you hear that, friends? DIBS)

The Grand Sophy is set in post-Napoleonic England, and will remind you of Jane Austen's books if you've read them. (Heyer was not, however, a contemporary of Jane Austen. Heyer wrote The Grand Sophy in the 1950s.) The book follows a family in London whose situation is rough: father has gambled away all of the money, and his eldest son has inherited a fortune from an uncle. Because the eldest, Charles, has a good heart, he is helping his family out, but he's a bit of a tyrant about it. Into the picture comes cousin Sophy, who needs a place to stay while her father is out of the country on government business. She has all kinds of virtues and a few vices and upsets the apple cart in all the best ways.

This one was just SO fun to read. I laughed out loud several times and loved the scene with the moneylender, particularly. I have to wonder if Eugenia from the Mercy Watson books is named for Eugenia in this book. That will be something to ask Kate DiCamillo someday! Anyway, good call Ashley, and I'll definitely be reading some more Georgette Heyer.


Monday, May 22, 2017

It's a personal update!

Hi guys! So here are some exciting things that are going on in my life right now:

1) I'm pregnant! Hurrah! We're expecting a baby boy in the next 4 months or so. I'm due on October 1, but with my first three kids I didn't make it to my due date, so I'm kind of expecting a late-September baby.

A friend of mine asked about timing and spacing between my kids: was this baby a surprise? No. Am I worried about having a larger age gap between the youngest and the baby? No. This little guy is coming a couple months later than we would have ideally chosen; he's coming at the start of the semester instead of the start of the summer, and has a college professor for a dad, but hey! We'll take it. And my belief is that siblings can have wonderful relationships with each other regardless of the age difference between them. Relationships are more about shared experiences, positive experiences, and love than they are about how far apart in age two people are.

Related: Here are my two favorite pregnancy books. I've been using them both again this time around!

2) I'm helping out with our church's Young Women's camp. I'm one of the assistant directors of the camp, and it is fun and challenging and thought-provoking and already rewarding to work on the project of putting together a week-long church camp for a lot of teens. I enjoy thinking through events and imagining scenarios that could come up -- planning for the big picture and planning for contingencies.

When people ask me how I'm going to camp while I'm pregnant, I can't help but smile. I am SO not worried. Whereas my experience as a teen was sleeping in a tent and cooking meals on a camp stove, I'll be sleeping on a mattress in a lodge and not cooking so much as a fried egg. There is a flushing toilet in the lodge, and, like, couches and electricity and stuff. I'm gonna be fine. And the vast majority of my work (planning, and preparing) will be done before the camp even starts. I'm looking forward to a week of relaxing in nature, reading my scriptures, and helping campers and leaders solve whatever problems may arise.

3) I'm leading the music for the children at church. This is such a fun way to spend every Sunday! I'm glad I have the chance to do it. Every fall we have a Sunday where the kids sing all their songs and speak parts, so we're busy preparing for that and I'm having fun making it fun for the kids. This last week I had the younger kids create a rainstorm with musical instruments, and I had some of the older kids pretend to be me, including choosing the song, leading the music, and giving the group feedback. They loved it and I did, too. I'm thinking once my turn at being Music Leader is done I might have to start teaching Kindermusik again. I love kids, I love music, it's just good times all around. Speaking of music I'm going to repost an old article I wrote for a friend about making parenting easier with music. I've had several people tell me they remember the article, so I figure it's time for a refresh.

4) I'm volunteering in Levi's classroom. He's in first grade, in a bilingual (English/Spanish) class. This is his teacher's first year, and when I asked her if I could start coming in to help she was super enthusiastic. So I go in once a week right after their lunch and mostly just work with individual kids who need some guidance on the assignment or help staying on task. Sometimes Jubilee is at preschool during this time, and other times I drop her off at a friend's house and we swap childcare.

5) I'm looking forward to going to BookCon in NYC at the end of next week. Loads of authors, tons of books . . . will I see you there?

Ok that's about all I can think of for now. Anything you want to know? How're you?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Favorite Gardening Picture Books?

Hello, friends! Well, I guess it's safe to say that it's tough for me to blog when I'm expecting a baby. More of a personal update coming from me, Alysa, soon. For now, I wanted to share with you this post that Bethany kindly wrote for us, when she heard I was pregnant and noticed that the posts here on Everead had slowed down a bit. Thanks Bethany! I'll chime in, too, on a few of these.

Favorite Gardening Picture Books

Bethany's son enjoying harvest time in their first family vegetable garden. 

This Spring my family is taking on the project of planting a vegetable garden. We had a successful garden out west, but living in New England brings different challenges to gardening. It’s worth the effort.

I’ve been gardening since I was little. I remember walking along the tidy rows of mounded dirt and using a ruler to measure an equal distance to drop in the seeds. In the summer, our days began at 6:00 am weeding the garden while the dirt was damp with dew and the sun was mild. Harvest time was my favorite. I liked pulling carrots straight from the ground, brushing off the soil and biting right in. I liked sitting on the shady porch with my Mom and snapping the beans to prepare for canning. Food from the garden tastes the best and I think some of that is because of my own effort put in.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow,” is a quote by Audrey Hepburn. I like to think this applies to raising children, too. Gardens are a great project to involve the kids and help more than just plants grow.

Here are some of my favorite gardening picture books to get you in the Spring of things:



Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller

This book quickly became my daughter’s favorite picture book. Sophie is a fun character and kids can relate to her way of thinking. It is a sweet story to help kids really love their vegetables.

Alysa: I really love this book too. It's very sweet, and so is its sequel!



Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens

Such a great story about using your smarts. It also introduces the concept of the different parts of plants. The book is read top to bottom, which is amusing because of the title, but kind of cumbersome for the reader.



If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

A beautiful book! The illustrations are captivating and the message meaningful. My little girls love animals and every page resulted in “ahh, so cute”.



Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert

I love the vivid colors of this book. Everything looks delicious and inspires variety for the taste buds.

Alysa: We used to have this book! We let it go when we were paring down for a move, if I remember right. And yeah, I love Lois Ehlert's illustrations. There were some unexpected choices in food, too. Very fun.


Thanks again Bethany! We haven't done a full-blown garden here in Connecticut yet, but we did plant some peas. Tell me, fellow book lovers, what books would you add to this list?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Going Kondo on the Bookshelves

You've heard of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I assume. My book club read it last fall, and I enjoyed it. In it, Marie Kondo suggests going through all your possessions one category (not room!) at a time. I'm in the middle of doing this, and it is strangely both easy and hard at the same time.

She says that if one category is overwhelmingly largetoo large to bring it all together in one place at one timethat you break it up into sub-categories. So that's what I've done with my books. I've completed the board books, picture books, and early chapter books. I've also completed the Graphic Novels, both MG and YA. Yeah! It feels great and looks great, and as my sister Clare reminded me when I said I didn't even want to start on it, "You get to keep ALL the books you want to keep, you know?" And it's true that Kondo doesn't put limits on the amount of things you can have. If they all bring you joy, they all stay.


Here are some fun stats I recorded for the board books:
Board books before the cleanout: 63
Said thanks and goodbye:19
Kept on the shelf:44
Time: 30 min, including some repairs to books

I did take a picture of the picture books, but I didn't record numbers:
In hindsight I wish I had recorded the numbers, just for fun, but at the moment I was like "look I'm not making this any harder than it already is." This category had more books and took significantly longer to complete.

Because I consider our picture book collection not to belong to me exclusively, and because Marie Kondo advocates against decluttering other people's stuff, here's what I did.

Random tangent: I would like to take a moment here to tell you that I just finished eating a Knoppers. I had never heard of these before but I found them at Aldi and decided to take a risk. Live dangerously. (When I said this yesterday, Jacob scoffed, "That doesn't look dangerous at all." Well, it wasn't.)
It's like if a Kit-Kat and a Ferrero Rocher had a baby. It's delicious. That's all. Maybe I should reward myself with one of these every time I finish a category of my library! Genius. Looks like the Amazon price is the same as the Aldi price, for you unlucky folks who have no Aldi. 

First I went through all the picture books and piled up all the ones that didn't bring me joy.  
Then, I let the kids each go through that stack and say which ones they really wanted to keep. 
Last, while the kids weren't looking, I went through their "keep" stack one more time and snagged a couple of books that I truly did not ever want to have to pick up/read again, and put those back in the donate pile. 

So maybe I cheated a little? But I think it's fine because I've had zero complaints.

I did the "Pokemon books" separately, and let the kids decide on all of those. only one of the dozen we owned found a new home.

We donated our surplus to the library, and I added the surplus graphic novels in there as well. I think it was three tote bags of books.

We love our library. 
So anyway, I've still got the MG fiction, MG Fantasy, YA (fiction and fantasy combined, since I don't have tons of YA) and Adult fiction. Then I've got MG non-fiction and adult non-fiction and the religion section. Then all the boring ones that I pretty much did when we moved two years ago and haven't acquired more: cookbooks, phone books, magazines, textbooks.

And then, like, all the rest of the Kondo list that comes after that. The "komono."

Have you cleaned out your bookshelves? Have you done a Kondo style "tidy up"? I would LOVE to hear about it. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Recent Picture Books: Good, Better, Best




Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat - This book just won the Caldecott Medal last week. I noticed it on our library shelf today and snagged it. I liked it alright, it's a picture book biography of an artist from the 80's, a contemporary of Andy Warhol. I wasn't familiar with Jean-Michel Basquiat or his work, and the book was fine, but it didn't move me particularly. *shrug* The book is definitely well done and made me want to look up the artist and his original work. Author Javaka Steptoe credits Jean-Michel Basquiat with opening an era of inclusion and diversity in fine art, which is noteworthy, but this isn't mentioned in so many words until the end notes. If I was going to buy a picture book bio of a lesser-known artist tonight, I'd pick A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin over this one. But of course Basquiat and Pippin aren't interchangeable. Glad this book was made. I tried a couple of times to read it to my kiddos, but they were uninterested. I wonder how much of that was the book, and how much of that would be different if I was already super enthusiastic about Basquiat.




Nanette's Baguette - The latest from Mo Willems This one is fun (are you surprised? So many of Willems books are!) And focuses on the "ette" rhyme. It was made richer for me because I have heard about the tradition of the French to begin permitting their children to walk to the corner bakery for the daily baguette. I love this little video about visiting a French Bakery. Never been to France, myself. The cut paper diorama illustrations were very fun and dimensional, and the story line was nice with a fun twist. It was especially fun to read with my six-year-old, Levi because he loves baguettes and when we eat at any given bakery that is usually what he chooses. He could relate to crunching into a tasty baguette.




Ada Twist, Scientist - I grabbed this one off the "new" shelf at the library and brought it home, because it was obviously related to Rosie Revere, Engineer. I read Rosie on Lindsay's recommendation and liked it. I have to say I liked Ada Twist, Scientist even better! Maybe it's because I'm married to a chemist and not an engineer? Anyway, I thought it was very fun and beautifully illustrated. I found myself thinking, "This is definitely a book for nerdy parents." :) The rhyme scheme was wonderful, nothing stilted or forced about it. I loved Ada's big brother, who wasn't ever mentioned in the text that I remember, but who adds so much to the story.  When I finished it, three-year-old Jubilee asked me to read it again right away and I was happy to oblige. Her favorite page was of Ada's explosion in the classroom (mentos and soda, it looks like). I definitely recommend this one.

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