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.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

2017 Newbery Winner review: The Girl Who Drank The Moon

The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill

I hadn't heard much about this book until it won the Newbery award. (This just goes to show that I'm reading fewer middle grade novels and reading about fewer middle grade novels than I once was). I put it on hold as soon as I read the announcement of the award, and happily I found a copy on the library shelf before my hold even came in.

The basic premise of the story is this: Every year the citizens of our sad village leave a baby in the forest as a sacrifice to the witch. Every year the confused witch who lives in the forest helps the baby find a happy home in another village, and on the journey she feeds the baby starlight. But this year the witch forgets herself and doesn't check the sky properly, and ends up gathering moonlight for the baby as well. So our little Luna drinks the moonlight and becomes enmagicked.

The bog in the book is very nearly a character of its own. We live near one of Connecticut's few bogs,
and I had to snap this photo of it, frozen, in honor of the book.
I found myself wondering what was going to happen once Luna's magic manifested. I found myself wondering how Antain (from the village) was going to prove himself a hero. I found myself falling in love with several of the characters and surprised with how fleshed out the story and the characters became. There was a time (around page 80) when I was frustrated with the book and nearly quit it. I felt like I could predict what was going to happen, and I was disappointed in the witch Xan, who was pretty much our main character to that point. I'm really glad I kept going though. I feel like the book really busted out and became wonderful shortly after that. We started getting more perspectives and deepening other characters and that is what I loved about this one.

I heartily recommend The Girl Who Drank the Moon. And I heard it was good on audio, too, which I'm inclined to believe. I think it would make a very nice read-aloud.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Benjamin's latest read

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart

Amazon has been recommending the book to me, and I did so love The Mysterious Benedict Society books by the same author. So when I saw this one at the library I grabbed it. I started it, but Benjamin snagged it and finished it first.

Last night I asked him, "How many stars would you give this book, out of five stars?"

"Hmm. Minimum: 4.5. Maximum: 6," he said.

So there you go. A strong recommendation from the young reader, and I'm enjoying so far. Here's a new book to get on your radar.

Edited to add: I should also tell you that when I went to tuck Benjamin in for the night, he brought up The Secret Keepers.

"Do you know how, in the book, they draw their dream houses at night?"

"No," I said, "I'm not as far as you are."

"This won't spoil anything," he reassured me. I gave him the eyebrow. "At night they sometimes draw a picture of their dream house, like, what they would have if money was unlimited. Do you think we could do that?"

We had a a good time drawing ourselves an indoor pool and a basement game room and a slide from the top floor down to the bottom. And I was pleased that the book got Benjamin drawing -- he isn't big on drawing and writing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Congratulations are in order!

Cybils winners have been announced! Yippee! The full list is here.Congratulations! Congrats to the authors and illustrators and publishers for making such good books and earning honors. Congrats to the Cybils panels for choosing good ones for us.

For Young Adult Graphic Novels, the winner is March, Book Three!

You know I thought very highly of March Book Three. In fact, right now I'm running a giveaway of the whole trilogy. My review of the book and the details about the giveaway are here. It closes tonight, but you've got a couple of hours...

For Elementary and Middle Grade Graphic Novels, the winner is Lowriders to the Center of the Earth!

I have to say I'm slightly embarrassed that I have not actually read this book. What?!? How is that possible? Weren't you on the round one judging panel? Yes I was, and when you're on round one you read as many of the nominees as you can, but all your fellow judges are doing the same and you're trying to make sure each book gets read by at least two panelists. This one wasn't available from my library, the publisher didn't send me a copy and I didn't know it was such a contender until our final discussion of books that are going on the shortlist. So, that's how it happened. And now it has won! I've got to catch up. At least I've got a few pages into book one (the winner here is book two in the series.) I've got to see what I stamped with my personal seal of approval! I'd better get reading!

Happy Valentines day to you!
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