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Friday, November 10, 2017

Cybils Update + 4 Good Graphic Novels for Teens

Hola! Here's the Cybils update

Me + my reading buddy
I'm a category chair... 
That's going pretty well, despite the fact that the baby was born right on the morning of a deadline. Haha! I was supposed to confirm with the judges I had selected that they would accept the position, and remarkably I was still able to do that. Then, when Sam was just a couple of weeks old, I had to wade through all the nominations and check them to see if they were published at the right time and if they were indeed graphic novels and if they were indeed published for teens/elementary. That took some time, because we had 171 books nominated (yay!) 153 of them turned out to be eligible. Since I'm also one of the first round judges (had to be, so that we wouldn't have an even number and get locked in ties when voting on titles), so I've got my reading cut out for me.

I got a book in the mail!
Today I got my first review copy -- so fun!It's a copy of Dog Night at the Story Zoo. I confess the title has me like, "whaaa?" So I'm looking forward to reading it and figuring that out.



I've read a bunch of books I haven't told you about!

So I'm just going to give you quick thoughts about each one. A little mini-review if you will. I'll start with these four ones for teens that I liked. Note that my opinions here don't reflect the opinions of the cybils panel as a whole; I'm speaking for myself.

Covers link to Amazon, if you're interested in full synopsis. If you purchase through my affiliate links, I get a small commission. 

 
The Adventures of John Blake: The Mystery of the Ghost Ship - This one was so good. I mean, Philip Pullman is a good author, so that's no surprise. He wrote The Golden Compass (fantasy) and The Ruby in the Smoke (historical fiction), both of which I like. He does seem to have something against parents, though. :-) Anyway, this is an awesome adventure about a greedy technology tycoon, a ship that travels through time, and a family on an extended vacation. The art is full color and excellent, and I'll definitely be looking for future installments. The characters seem like they each have their own backstory already, and I'm really looking forward to getting to know them better. This one is nominated in the teen category, and has some violence, as you can see from the big explosion on the cover.



Yvain - This one is also really good, but in a totally different way. I confess I'm not a big fan of the cover. I don't think it captures the awesomeness of what's inside. It is a retelling of one of the Arthurian legends, one I had never heard before. Yvain sets off on a quest to avenge a friend and get glory -- he ends up getting a wife, losing her trust, becoming a LOT more noble than he was before, and . . . I won't spoil the ending. But I loved the artist and author commentary at the end of the book.
And the art was really beautiful and full color. It was especially cool how the stories within the story were illustrated as if they were tapestries hanging behind the storyteller.



Ms. Marvel Vol 6: Civil War II - I read this one before I knew it was nominated for the award this year, because I really like the series. This installment tackles some interesting issues: how far can you go in preventing crime before it happens? What should you do when you realize you disagree with the people you admire? I'm very interested to see where the next installment takes us. While I liked Val. 6, I recommend starting with the first one: Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal.


Lumberjanes Vol 6.: Sink or Swim - Another awesome adventure at summer camp for the girls in the Roanoke Cabin. This one has them working together as a team to help dissolve a misunderstanding between some selkies and a camp counselor who is more than she seems to be. This one felt like a "middle adventure" to me. I mean, if it was a TV show, it would have been a fun episode where the conflict was introduced and tied up neatly, with little sprinkles to remind us what some of the overarching conflicts in the series are. You could definitely start with this one, but again I recommend starting with the first one: Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware The Kitten Holy and proceeding in order.

Read anything good lately? Got any Cybils-related questions for me? I'd love to hear.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

It's a baby!

The newest member of our family is here! I've been posting lots of adorable pictures on my Instagram, because not all of his grandparents have met him yet. 



That's changing this weekend though -- my family is coming to town and little Sam will be blessed in church.  

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Book-on-the-Floor Alert!

Because I'm pregnant, bending over has become harder and harder as 2017 as gone on.

May 2017

August 2017
Sometime near the beginning of the summer I had a day when I was tired of telling the kids to pick up the floor and I just did it myself (with accompanying quote from Sebastian of Disney's The Little Mermaid playing in my head: "If you want somet'ing done, you gotta do it yourself!").

While the result was a clean floor, it came along with pain and lots of crabbiness on my part.

When I realized I had overdone it, I began my campaign to get the kids to pick up after themselves more often. As every parent knows, it's not easy to raise the bar on your kids. They're like, "Whaaaat?"

via GIPHY

Over time this campaign has worked out pretty well, though, and my favorite story from it was when I told Jubilee to clean her room. She was despairing and saying it would take forever, so I said, "Don't worry, I'll help you!"

She looked at me and said, "But mom! You can't pick things up!"

Muahaha!

"Well," I said, "I'll sit with you while you work."

But here's the thing. Much of what gets left on the floor around our house is books. And those books were getting stepped on and bent up and abused and that made me sad.

So one day I gathered all the kids together and told them about our new family rule:

No Books Allowed on the Floor!

I explained about all the books that were getting damaged and worn from our bad habits, and I outlined the plan:

"Any time anyone sees a book on the floor, they should pick it up and put it on the not-floor. Preferably on one of the many, many bookshelves, but anywhere is better than the floor.

"It doesn't matter who left it on the floor or who saw it first or anything like that. We're all going to work together to keep books off of the floor."

The kids saw the sense in this and have done much better about getting books up off the floor. Are they still leaving them there in the first place? Yes. But we're getting better.

And, the best part is that somehow this new rule has translated into a family culture of shouting "Book-on-the-Floor Alert!" before picking up a book (or, in my case, pointing to a book that needs to be picked up).

It's kind of fun. It's our thing.

What rules do you have around books in your house?



Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Books for a 7-Year-Old Girl

Hello Friends! A friend recently asked me on Facebook if I had any recommended reading for her daughter. I feel like it is the season! My own kids have started school and the boys, ages 7 and 9 and starting 2nd and 4th grade, have reading homework each night. 

My 9-year-old Benjamin is supposed to read for 30 min/night and my 7-year-old Levi is supposed to read for 15 min/night. What this means for us is that they have an excuse to start reading something, "for homework" and then they get glued to it and I enjoy the peace and quiet and don't stop them until they've finished the whole book. 


I snapped this photo of them reading the Lego Magazine on the kitchen floor before school,
in case they tried to convince me that they hadn't read anything yet, when bedtime rolled around. 
Bottom line: we're needing more and more books around here!

Related: They're reading too much, some days. Is this possible? I submit yes

Anyway, Lessa asked the following:

Any book recommendations for a 7 year old girl? Recent favorites have included the Ramona series and the Penderwick series. Reads comfortably to a 6-7 grade reading level.

I responded:

Yes! Have you done Sideways Stories from Wayside school yet? My 7 year old has recently LOVED them.  Also Odd Duck by Cecil Castelucci. and how about Saffy's Angel (and the series that follows) by Hilary McKay? I have heard excellent things about All-of-a-kind Family, but have not yet read it myself, if she's into the old-fashioned feel. Betsy-Tacy is also a great old-fashioned series!


And Lessa followed up:

Thank you!! We've read Betsy Tacy and enjoyed it, but I'll check out these other books for sure. And how could I have forgotten the delightful silliness of Sideways Stories from Wayside School?!

So here is a little bit more about each book I recommended for Lessa's daughter (You can click the cover images to shop or see more reviews on Amazon.):



Wayside school series by Louis Sachar -- This series has three very very silly books in it. Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Wayside School is Falling Down, and Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger. They follow the kids (and wacky teachers) at an elementary school that was accidentally built as a skyscraper instead of a long, flat building. These books have been around long enough that I read them when I was in elementary school. It was a total treat to read the second one aloud with my boys, recently. They were giggling, reading ahead, and begging for one more chapter. For some reason we only owned the second book, so I gave the first book for Levi for his recent birthday.



Odd Duck by Cecil Castelucci - I picked this one because I can't resist a good graphic novel, and this one was the most Ramona-like graphic novel I could think of. I mean, Ramona is an odd duck. This book follows one odd duck as she meets another, and deals with their friendship. The art is beautiful and while some pages have panels, a lot of them are full bleed, which makes the book look a lot like a picture book. An extra long, thought provoking picture book about friendship and ducks.



Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay - I picked this one because this series is one of the best-kept secrets of middle grade fiction. The characters seem so, so real to me. That is one of the absolute charms of both The Penderwicks and Ramona books, so I thought good character development was a must. This book follows Saffron Casson as she discovers her family isn't what she thought it was. In my opinion the series just gets better and better as it goes along.



All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor - As I mentioned above, I haven't actually read this one. But I really want to, now that I've read what Amy had to say about it. I even checked it out from the library, but it was a short loan period and I maxxed out my card that time, so this one returned unread. I understand it's about a family of girls growing up in NYC in 1907. And Amy said it is the perfect book to read in November.



Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace - I picked this one because I've caught Levi re-reading it again lately. (I also caught him leaving it on the bedroom floor, in violation of the No Books on the Floor rule I instituted this summer.) I was glad to hear that Lessa and her family had read and enjoyed it already. I need to get more of the books in the series, myself. They're lovely and pleasant. They follow best friends Betsy and Tacy through their growing up years, and are based on the real-life friendship that the author cherished growing up.

What books would you recommend for a 7-year-old who reads well and loves Ramona and the Penderwicks? I'm sure the more books we can recommend here, the better. 

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.


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