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Tuesday, July 22, 2014



I've taken "a light summer read" to new levels this past month. About a year ago, I stumbled across this series of books grouped under the category of "A Proper Romance," meaning, the book is a romance, but it's full of proper, chaste, upright behavior. And I have to say, I've loved them. Some are forgettable, some are memorable, all of them are page-turning "I cannot make dinner because I have to finish reading this story!" kinds of books.

The Proper Romance books are Edenbrooke and Blackmoore, written by Julianne Donaldson (both stand-alone novels) as well as Longing for Home and its sequel Hope Springs by Sarah M. Eden. I have read all but Hope Springs, which I'm pretty eager to get my hands on. And the problem with reading a couple good books by an author is that you then feel compelled to read all the books that author's written. So add to that list Seeking Persephone, Courting Miss Lancaster, and The Kiss of a Stranger, also by Sarah M. Eden.

They have all been very fun books. Seriously fun. I highly recommend them all if you, like me, adore a good love story minus the steam and clothing removal. A love story like Jane Austen used to write. Not that the characters in these books really compare to the complexity of a good Jane Austen, but ya know. They're just good, addictive fun.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Three Free Apps for a Quiet Flight with Kids

Yesterday morning we woke up early and caught a flight across the country. (Actually, we caught two flights, since we flew with a plane change.) Though this wasn't the first long flight our kids have taken, they've forgotten the others by now. At ages 6, 3, and 1 they can't remember much about our previous trips out to see family.

To entertain the kids on the flight I relied on mainly three things:

  1.  The novelty of the flight itself 
  2.  Worksheets the boys would do to earn little gifts I had wrapped 
  3.  Games on our digital devices

Quiet Flight with Kids
We made it! Image by Alysa
Today I'll tell you about their three favorite games -- I consider them some of the best apps for kids on android, but I'm no expert.

Candy Crush Saga

candy crush saga free apps for quiet flight with kids
image via
Candy Crush (by is the favorite app of my six-year-old. Before the flight he was familiar with the game, having seen me play and tried it out himself. We hadn't played it in some months though, and that added some excitement to the idea.

In case you don't know, Candy Crush is a variation on Bejeweled. You can switch the places of two candies by swiping -- but only if the switch will yeild a three-in-a-row match. You can make other combos as well, for special effects. The game has short levels with goals, and if you fail enough times to lose all your lives you have to wait 30 min for another life. (Lives are also available for purchase, but that's not my style. My style is cheap.) The game is free to download and free to play (assuming you don't purchase lives or boosters). We have it on "the game phone" and on my new Nook (happy birthday to me!).

The fact that Benjamin ran out of lives wasn't really a problem. If I had my druthers, he wouldn't have run out of them, but it didn't seem to bother him much. He set the game down for a bit and did other things. Then, he watched the countdown timer for 12 whole minutes until his next life was granted.

Flow Free

flow free best apps for quiet flight with kids
image via
Flow Free (by Big Duck Games LLC) is the favorite app of my three-year-old. He, too, had played it before the flight but not in a while. Generally the boys prefer to use their screen time playing on the Wii these days, since it's new. But back when Flow was new Levi got into it.

In Flow you have a square grid (which gets bigger as levels advance) and somewhere on the grid there will be two dots of the same color. You have to connect each set of dots without the connecting lines crossing each other. We have Flow on my phone and a variant of it on the tablet. It is also free.  

Levi asked me for help with this one quite a bit at the beginning, but as he got the hang of it he would proudly say "Look, Mom! No help!"

Fireworks Arcade

Fireworks arcade free apps for quiet flight with kids
image via
My sister-in-law introduced us to the Fireworks Arcade app (Big Duck Games LLC) a couple Christmases ago and it was the only app I could think of that a 14-month-old could handle. I'm sure there are loads of others, but again my experience is limited. We downloaded it the night before the flight, so it was completely new to Jubilee.

The idea of the app is that wherever the screen is touched a firework explodes. The shapes and colors of the fireworks are random. When we tested it out at home (connected to Wi-Fi) there were ads at the bottom of the screen. I was a little worried that Jubilee would end up clicking one of these, but in the air we had no problem. The tablet was in airplane mode, so advertisements weren't served. If you wanted a no-ad version, I bet you could just put your device in airplane mode. I see the app is available for phones; I kind of doubt it would have the same appeal as it did on our tablet.

Fireworks Arcade didn't entertain Jubilee for long, but nothing entertains a one-year-old on a plane. That's just a universal law. It worked great, though, for distracting Jubilee when she kept messing up my game of Candy Crush. ;) The boys didn't use it much, since they were otherwise occupied, but I noticed it has some fun "Arcade Games" that I think they would like. In one you have to touch the screen in certain places in a certain order. In another, you swipe the fireworks to light them, Fruit Ninja style. I plan to show it to them, and I think we'll get a lot of mileage out of it.

So! Those are our three favorite apps right now. They really did help keep the kids quiet and happy on the plane. Hurrah! Will you please share your own recommendations in the comments below? Because it won't be long before the return flight, and the more tricks I have up my sleeve the better. Also let me know if you want to hear more about the other two strategies I used for a smooth flight.  Happy Reading!

Friday, July 11, 2014

How I Stopped My Children's Whining with Story Club

Stop Child Whining Story Club
The boys looking bored. "When will the fireworks start?" "It will be a while, yet. It's not even dark."

I'm Bored

Yesterday afternoon, after we had done all the things and the baby was sleeping I was sitting on the couch. It was a hot day. Benjamin came in and plopped down and said, "What do you want to do, mom?"

In Benjamin-speak, this phrase is code for "tell me something really fun to do and give me permission to do it. If you don't get it right on the first try I will whine at you in the whinyest voice ever."

I did not immediately guess the perfect activity to entertain his majesty my hot, tired six-year-old. But pretty soon Levi joined us and I thought of a great idea: Story Club!

Despite Benjamin's grumbling, Levi was up for telling stories. I picked The Three Little Pigs -- one of the best, most basic fairy tales for kids.*

Tell a story

I told the boys the story. You know it: Three little pigs making their way in the world. House of straw, house of sticks, house of bricks. And then the action really gets going with the Big Bad Wolf. Levi was riveted the whole time. And by the time the house of straw had been huffed and puffed to bits, Benjamin was into it too.  

Now what?

I got to "The End" and it was time to test out the Story Club formula:
  1. Tell a story.
  2. Ask the kids to tell it back to you, with their own twists.
I was totally nervous! That seems so funny now, but it's true. Would Levi be willing and able to do this? He's not done any official preschool yet, you know. Would Benjamin want to participate? Or would he shoot us down and bring back the whine-fest?

"Now you tell it to me." I said to Levi. (Benjamin's body language was still non-participatory, so I didn't even go there.)

Levi started with the most memorable part for him: the wolf trying to decimate that brick house. When I had told the story, I had the wolf huff and puff and run out of breath. Then I had the wolf push and push and try to shove the house down. Then Big Bad tried the windows and at last the chimney, from which he scampered back up and sat in the river.

Levi's was a guided retelling. "There was a wolf, and he wanted to eat the pigs!"
"What did the wolf say?" I prompted. Followed by lots of "and then what happened? And then what happened?" But he did an awesome job of it. He stuck pretty close to the version I had told (though he passed over the wolf trying the windows and had him head straight for the chimney).

Did it beat the blues? 

By now, Benjamin had turned to face us and when Levi finished I praised his retelling and asked Benjamin to tell the story with his own twist. He delighted in it, naming the first two pigs with nonsense names and naming the smart pig Max. And the look of pleasure on his face was priceless when he announced that the big bad wolf got all burned up.

Ah! The joy of storytelling! The feeling of power you get when you consign the villain to a horrible fate! The pleasure you get in anticipating that you will shock your audience! Suffice it to say we were all having fun.

After this, Levi wanted to tell it again and started off strong with four little pigs (one was a baby). Things got murky, though, when a giraffe showed up and he wasn't a replacement for the wolf. His story petered out before really concluding. But man! It was so fun to tell stories together. I was so pleased to see the boys having fun together, with me, and learning and practicing literacy skills. I had to share it; it was the highlight of my day.

Stop Child Whining Story Club
Even from behind you can see them smiling.

*Is the Three Little Pigs really a fairy tale? I don't know. Maybe I should say one of the best, most basic animal stories for kids. I can't decide. Please weigh in on this debate in the comments.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Twin graphic novels that suprised and educated me -- Boxers and Saints

Boxers by Gene Luen Yang
Saints by Gene Luen Yang

If I were on Jeopardy and I chose "Boxing for 400" Alex might say to me, "In the late 1800's this country was home to The Boxer Rebellion." At which point I would be like, "Oh shoot, I think I've heard of that?" and Ken Jennings would be like "What is China." But not anymore! Now I'm probably never going to forget that!

Boxers and saints gene luen yangBoxers and saints gene luen yang

I just finished Boxers and Saints, these two graphic novels about The Boxer Rebellion in China by Gene Luen Yang. They were really, really well done, which is what I've come to expect from Gene Luen Yang. Boxers follows Little Bao's journey from small-town kid to rebel leader. Saints follows Four-girl's life and conversion to Christianity.  Both Four-girl and Bao receive visitations from spirits within their religious traditions. Both of the books are awesome.

However, I didn't expect them to be quite as somber as they were. I mean, the tone of them is perfect, don't get me wrong. They should be dark; they are companion books from each side of a war. The subject matter is heavy but kept appropriate for 14+. If the books were made into a movie, it would definitely be PG-13.

To balance the seriousness of the books, Yang sprinkles in humor. At one point I even laughed out loud. But Boxers & Saints are definitely more dark than America Born Chinese*, and more bloody by far than Level Up. Though they were bloody, I'm thankful the books weren't gory. I mean, there was lots of full-color red blood, but no very realistic looking guts (though there is a head on a pike).

The art is awesome and I loved Yang's use of color. Looking back at Saints, I see that it is really only 2 toned, but I thought it was in full color, like Boxers is. Ah! Surprised again. Anyway, the colors really make the spirits stand out from the living.

The characters were so sympathetic. I loved Bao and Four-girl. I felt for both of them and to see them sometimes making bad decisions just killed me. It was so apparent that Bao especially is trying to do the right thing, but everybody makes mistakes and oh my goodness there are some doozies.

There was nothing I didn't like about this book. I would own it. It surprised me and intrigued me and I feel smarter now that I've read it. The two books should definitely be read together, I think of them as one! I recommend reading Boxers first and then Saints. If you'd like to buy them, you're welcome to use my affiliate links to Barnes and Noble and Amazon, for which I will receive a small commission.

What do you think? Have you ever read a story that told both sides? Would you ever read Boxers & Saints?
(*My review of American Born Chinese was posted over seven years ago! Say whut?)

You are still more than welcome to sign up for my newsletter!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

First Look at AJC Decatur Book Festival authors!

I was excited this morning to get my first look at the list of authors who will be at the AJC Decatur Book Festival this year. I was so engrossed, in fact, that I forgot a friend was coming over and she caught me in my pajamas. :D

Decatur Book Festival bookzilla evereadDecatur Book Fest happens every year on Labor Day weekend (Aug 29-31, for 2014). Last year we went and had a blast. We couldn't stay for long, because: nursing baby, but even as we drove away I was wanting to go back for more fun.

In 2013 we got to meet Aaron Reynolds and Dan Santat and hear Doreen Cronin, Betsy Lewin, Peter Brown, and Jerry Pinkney. And we also wandered around a million (I counted) booths and tents -- ALL about books. It was so great. (Also so hot and humid.)

I am Super Excited to see one of my very favorite illustrators, LeUyen Pham, will be there this year! I haven't met her in person yet, but I'd love to. And I'd love to have her sign my copies of Alvin Ho, Bedtime for Mommy, and Freckleface Strawberry. I'd really love to get more of her books -- The Boy Who Loved Math is at the top of that list.

I also hope I get to see some of my favorite graphic novel creators who will be there: Matt Phelan, Jenni Holm (whom I've met before), and Kazu Kibuishi. I hope to read CeCe Bell's new graphic novel El Deafo in time for the festival. I've heard it's really good.

Speaking of assigning myself some reading, I definitely plan on picking up Jennifer E. Smith's The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, which I've been meaning to read for ages. It is supposed to be a good, clean, romantic book and I love those. Stephanie Perkins will also be there, and I loved her romance Anna and the French Kiss. Maybe I can get my hands on another of her books, too.

I'm also excited that I might get to see Mac Barnett (his book Chloe and the Lion is great), Tom Angleberger (of Origami Yoda fame), and Jon Scieszka (whose book Knuckleheads Jacob and I loved so much that we gave it to his brother). Amy Krouse Rosenthal will also be there (she wrote Bedtime for Mommy, and if I could buy one of her books today I would pick Little Pea). We love Pete the Cat, so if we can see Eric Litwin that would be awesome.

And Carmen Agra Deedy, Tony DiTerlizzi, Karen Joy Fowler, Leigh Bardugo, John Scalzi, Mary E. Pearson (I liked her book), John Scalzi, Laurel Snyder (who wrote Inside the Slidy Diner), Maggie Stiefvater (author of the un-put-down-able Shiver), Margaret Stohl, and Jandy Nelson will be there.

It is gonna be so great! I will give you a report here on Everead, sound good?

Tell me, who would you most like to meet at a book festival?

If you'd like to shop through my affiliate links today, here is one for Barnes and Noble: Little Pea and one for Amazon: Bedtime for Mommy.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Care for an Everead Email?

everead email newsletter
Announcing an Everead email newsletter! Perhaps you have seen the invitation up there at the top of the blog to join my new email list. I hope you sign up! I'd love to be in touch with you through email. I don't plan to bombard you, I promise. In fact, I don't think I'll be emailing every week.  

I plan to use the email list to connect better with you and also toss out some more book recommendations. Feeling connected to fellow readers is one of my favorite things about Everead. And so much good reading-related stuff enters my consciousness but doesn't necessarily end up generating a blog post in and of itself.

Basically, signing up for the email list will be a great way for you to get more good books on your radar without any extra effort. It will be a great way for me to know who is into Everead and what they (you!) want to get out of it. Plus it will give us a good excuse to email each other.

So, what do you say? You can sign up using the bar up top, the form below, or by following this link. If all else fails, leave your email address in comments.

Talk to you soon!
Alysa Stewart

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Best Graphic Novel about Civil Rights I Have Ever Read -- March: Book One

March book one john lewis coverI just finished reading March: Book One. It was a good, solid graphic novel.

I'm not huge on reading about the Civil Rights movement right now --  mainly because I feel like so much of the literature about the movement is meant to make readers feel sick. Disgusted with the treatment black people (and others) received, sick with the horrific details, and so forth. I do think, for the record, that we all need to feel these emotions about events surrounding the movement. We need to learn about the past and feel it. But, I don't support guilt-tripping and sensationalism, and it is a very thin line to walk. Probably some things that cross the line, in my opinion, don't cross the line in the opinion of others (and vice versa).

Anyway, all this is to say that I thought March: Book One had a really good feel about it. Unlike some civil rights books, March: Book One recognizes how far we've come. Granted, if a book is set in the past, it is not permitted to recognize what has happened after its narrative arc. But with March, the narrative skips back and forth between the present day and the past and manages this with notable clarity. The authors did a good job keeping thoughts connected and making transitions smooth.

March: Book One did not ignore the horrible treatment and danger that protesters faced, but it focused more on non-violent protest than any other book I've read about the civil rights movement. Protesters' plans for non-violence were detailed and laid out in both images and words. At one point John Lewis writes, "Our numbers were multiplying so fast that hundreds of volunteers had not yet been trained in the way of nonviolence, so I wrote up a basic list of "Do's and Don't's" to be distributed." I got chills reading that list.

The book is an autobiography of John Lewis, who was a prominent player in the civil rights movement. Congressman Lewis also spoke at the March on Washington, where Dr. King gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech. He co-wrote March: Book One with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell has illustrated.

Powell does a great job, drawing in black and white, and the images are very effective. I quite liked this one, that portrays Congressman Lewis's emotional reaction to hearing the news that his parents would have to get on board for him to protest via lawsuit:
March book one john lewis excerpt
Upper right panel.
His face is still, but the abrupt changes in lighting, angle, and background all pack a punch.

march book one john lewis excerpt martin luther king jr.
I was pleased at how easily I recognized Martin Luther King Jr. 
So, I wasn't always planning to read this book.  But then I figured out I had moved to Atlanta (home of a lot of civil rights  history, and The King Center) and that it was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and I wanted more education. So, when other reviews were nothing but positive, I decided to risk it; I requested a review copy from the publishers, which they sent.

I'm glad I read March: Book One. I'm looking forward to the next volume -- and I expect there will be chickens in it. There was too much background about John Lewis's childhood love of raising chickens for there not to be chickens in the following volumes. This is the best graphic novel about the civil rights movement that I've ever read (yes, I have read more than one). There was another good one a couple years back, but its tone was too "textbook" for my taste.

If you'd like to purchase March: Book One, here are my affiliate links to the book March: Book Oneat Barnes and Noble and March: Book One: 1 (March Trilogy) at Amazon. If you make a purchase after clicking on them, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

March: Book One is solid for ages 12+, in my opinion, and I also recommend Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (my review of that is here) for that age group. A couple other recommendations are included in that review. Check it out, then tell me: would you rather read March or Claudette Colvin? Or, what are your favorite books about civil rights?
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