Archive for November, 2011

November 21, 2011

IVY and BEAN probably don’t play German Crossing

The little one escaping to play with the neighborhood kids.

I loved my neighborhood friends growing up. With the exception of one or two families, I wasn’t really close to that many of them, but that never mattered when it came to baseball or tag. On a long Seattle summer night, when the light stayed up as late as your mom let you, neighborhood friends were always there and ready to play. One of our favorites (and this admittedly sounds ridiculous in 2011) was German Crossing. Yes, one side of the road was East Germany and one was West. You had to cross from one to the other (presumably from East to West although the details of the game escape me) without being tagged by the guard with the flashlight, who wasn’t allowed to stray far from his/her post. You could sneak your friends out of jail by sneaking over to the jail near the guard and tagging them. Hours and hours and even nights and nights were spent at this game, sneaking through the neighbors yards, hiding in their bushes, and trying to stay out of their sight if they were one of those “adult” houses with no kids in the game who may or may not understand people sneaking through their yard.

Reading Ivy and Bean–the at first reluctant to be friends neighbors–reminded me of that game. But when they finally cross the street and meet, the tomboyishly adventurous Bean and the imaginative bookworm Ivy become fast friends and hilarity ensues. There’s even some sneaking around in neighbors’ yards. I want to thank my niece because without her recommendation of these books, I might never have found them!

Title: Ivy and Bean
Author: Annie Barrows
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
Genre: Early Chapter Book
Age: K – third grade

Follow-up with the kids: This is the kind of level for kids who are really starting to read on their own. This is a great time to engage them in conversations about books so they get used to thinking about their reading and talking about it while they still have memories of cuddling up with picture books with their family. Ask your daughter (it is probably a daughter reading this book as boys tend to prefer books with boy characters–the same is not necessarily true for girls) if she is more like Ivy or more like Bean. Or does she have elements of both? What about her friends? Getting kids to think about their reading and to relate their reading to their own lives, is an important first step to higher level reading comprehension. And also a great step towards really enjoying books!

November 8, 2011

Vapid reading, vanishing childhood heroes, and the very cool SHERLOCK FILES

Back in the simpler school days, I would get completely lost in a good mystery. Whenever I think about reading as a kid, I think about Nancy Drew. I don’t know how many hours I spent with those books after I was tucked in bed, but it was a lot, over a long time. I might have read every single one (and there are a lot…someone just kept writing them long after, I must suppose, Carolyn Keene stopped…assuming she ever started, that is). Actually, after writing that sentence, I jetted over to wikipedia and it turns out that I was right, she never did. She was a pen name for a host of ghost writers, if my cursory research is to be believed.

Okay, well, there’s one childhood hero that’s just disintegrated beneath my fingers as they tap across the keyboard. It’s possible that the internet allows us access to too much information way too quickly. But that’s another post.

After Nancy Drew (and the Hardy Boys of course; having learned my lesson I’m not going to wikipedia them…), came James Bond and Perry Mason (which I distinctly remember a teacher telling my mom were “vapid” books with which I was wasting my time which I protested vehemently). Also Agatha Christie and the great “The Cat Who…” series by Lilian Jackson Braun about a retired reporter and his Siamese cats who solve crimes. But with the exception of the really wonderful Flavia de Luce series, I haven’t read any in awhile.

Until the Sherlock Files, which are a really fun way to introduce young readers to mysteries, as a young brother and sister, direct descendants of Sherlock Holmes, put their mystery-solving smarts to the tests and solve his unsolved cases.

Title: The 100-Year-Old Secret (The Sherlock Files, Book 1)
Author: Tracy Barrett
Genre: Mystery! (I know I don’t have many of those!)
Age: Upper Elementary and Lower Middle Grade

Review and Summary:

Xena and Xander move to London and quickly discover a family secret: they are descendants of Sherlock Holmes! Almost immediately, they get wrapped up in one of his unsolved cases and start to follow the clues to close the case once and for all. The mystery is easy to follow but interesting and will get young readers caught up in the suspense and even guessing at the answer themselves.

Follow up with the kids:

Xena and Xander never knew they had famous detective blood in their family: their parents never told them. But they were raised on a great detective game. They would watch people walk down the street and try to guess the story behind the people (what were their jobs? where were they going? where were they coming from?) It’s neat to see the clues they look at and how they make their deductions. This would be a great game to play with the kids. Bored at the airport? At a restaurant? This game would teach kids to be observant. Too often wo many of our kids today are so plugged in they hardly notice there are other people around at all. It’s also a good lesson in not falling into stereotypes. And most importantly, if we all took a minute to think about our fellow human beings? Well, that can’t be a bad thing.

November 4, 2011

autumn winifred oliver (and I) do things different

I worked at a National Park one summer in college. I made $50 a month. Seriously. But they gave me a house to live in, so that was something. I had the best commute to work. It took about 15 minutes by bike and I didn’t have to pedal once–I just pushed off and felt the wind caressing my torso as I flew around the corners, watching the trees. (Of course, the corresponding commute home, which took me over an hour, was less good, but definitely great exercise!)

Right after he proposed, with the shells the ring was in, and right before we had to scramble over the headlands because we waited too long and the tide was coming in

I’ve always had a soft spot for National Parks. Olympic, where I worked, where I learned to backpack on my days off by taking onesolo trip after another, is my favorite. Of course, it also might be my favorite because that’s where I got engaged. (It was a trick my city-dwelling husband used to make me think he would go backpacking with me after we got married.) 🙂

But now that I live in beautiful Tennessee, I’ve been enjoying a new park recently, the most-visited park in the country, the gorgeous Smoky Mountains. As a modern visitor, when I go to a park, I think about how grateful I am that we have all this quietness, all this beauty, just sitting there, waiting to be appreciated.

So when I saw this book and what it was about, I jumped at the chance to read it. And I’m glad I did.

Title: Autumn Winifred Oliver does things different
Author: Kristin O’Donnell Tubb
Genre: Historical Fiction (but don’t let that scare you!!)
Age: Middle Grade

Review and Summary: Autumn Winifred Oliver is a wonderful girl with a strong voice and a strong sense of self. You meet her and get a great sense of her right away in chapter one, which begins: “I do things different. It helps to remind yourself of that when you’re attending your own funeral.” Each chapter begins with a piece like this “I do things different. It helps to remind yourself of that…” which gives you a sneak peek at what’s coming without giving anything away. If anything, these little snippets add suspense by making you wonder what they could possibly mean. Autumn lives in Cades Cove, a community that is about to become a national park. Autumn doesn’t know what to make it it all–the government people looking at her land, her grandfather snooping around, her father moving to the city to find new work, the possibility of losing her house and her community forever.

I love that the story feels universal–it’s about the way every girl this age often feels powerless over the bigger things in her life and how she comes to deal with them. The book gives you a sense of time and history without it feeling like a history lesson–it’s just a great book with wonderful detail. (I hate that I am apologizing for it being historical fiction, but I feel like some readers need an extra incentive to pick up an historical book. Trust me–I, too, used to be a reluctant reader of historical fiction, but after all the great ones I’ve read recently (this one, Moon Over Manifest, and Al Capone Shines My Shoes) I now swear to pick them up with excitement!

Follow-up with the kids:

There’s a lot you can do with this book. If you really want to make a history conversation out of it, there’s plenty of material there. There’s a short part in the book where Autumn realizes that what is happening to her already happened to the Native Americans who used to live on the land and were kicked off. It’s a good way to remind kids about the power of history, the lessons we can learn, the constant battles between those with power and those without, and the ways in which different people seem to treat each other.

But you can also just talk about Autumn. How does she deal with change? What things does she do that are positive? What is negative? Ask your child what she would have done. Chances are, the answers might tell you a little bit about what your child has done when they’ve felt like they were losing something. Or what they might do in the future.

I loved reading this book. I laughed out loud and thoroughly enjoyed getting to share the world of these characters, if only for a little bit.

November 3, 2011

even KITE FIGHTERS comb their hair

One of the greatest things anyone ever said to me was said over a traditional Thansgiving dinner. Okay, not so traditional. It was at an Italian restaurant in New York City. But traditional in the sense that it was with a lot of family. Grandparents, parents (can’t believe that’s me now!), kids. Dress-up clothes covered in spaghetti sauce–that’s how you know you are having a good time.

At some point a family friend came by and congratulated me and my rounded belly on the news of our second son. She told me that she had loved being a “boy mom” and how some people are just meant to be one and that I was obviously one of them. Her simple pronunciation of the idea made it seem so grand. I felt like she was including me in a special club, a club she was obviously proud to be a member of. I love, love, love having boys, and can think of a lot of other reasons it’s great that I’m a “boy” mom:

1) My oldest son is three and a half and I have never (really, never) combed or brushed his hair. (In that period of time–no make that about 5 times that period of time–I have also never combed my own hair, no matter how long. Fingers work perfectly well thank you very much.)

2) I have cut his hair, sometimes well, sometimes not so well, and will probably do it again.

3) I am proud of the scar on his face (I know this is a boy thing because every time I tell the story people say “Oh, that’s such a boy thing!”). So there you go.

4) I signed him up for ballet class. (Pretty sure this is also a boy thing although the general commenting public doesn’t seem to agree. They often smile and say how good that will be for his “balance” when he plays sports. Sigh.)

5) I let him climb as high as he wants on the swingsets, within reason of course, but it’s obvious from comments by other parents directly to my son (bypassing me) that this is higher than they would have let him climb.

All of this is to say, I am excited to be a boy mom and excited to be reading boy books that hopefully my sons will someday love. This is a great boy book, although the sibling rivalry and love that goes on in the story could apply to girls as well (as could bad haircuts, scars, and yes, even ballet class), so I think it’s a great read for any elementary school kid. Especially one with a sibling. And, of course, their parents.

(If it looks like I’m on a Linda Sue Park kick lately it’s because I am.)

Title: The Kite Fighters
Author: Linda Sue Park
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age Group: Upper elementary students and Young middle grade, ages 7 – 12

Summary and Review:

Like A Single Shard, this book is sparse and beautiful. It’s about two brothers who learn to fly a kite. (And after reading this, you will want to as well.) The oldest brother is patient and artistic and makes the most beautiful kites. The youngest is impulsive but instinctive and a very talented kite flier. Together they defy family traditions, stand up to their father, and befriend the king, who is a boy about their age. Sibling love and rivalry at its best. The book is very simple, and older readers might find that the conflicts are too easily solved. However, this makes it an easy read, which is at times very welcome, and it also allows the reader to focus on the great characters and the way they interact with each other.

Follow up with the kids:

This would be a great book to talk about sibling dynamics. The book is set in a culture where the oldest brother has status over his younger brother. There is respect that is demanded. The boys have to learn how to play within the rules of the family while also being true to their own desires and talents. Talking with your child about how this family structure is different than the one in which they are growing up will help them understand that all families are different and will also give them a context for seeing the ways their own family works, which is something they have probably not thought consciously about before but rather taken for granted.

You can also have a great discussion about the behavior of the king, who is also a boy. The king wants very much to learn from the boys how to act like a normal boy and the way they teach him is beautiful. Talking about the rules for a king’s behavior and when it’s okay for the king to act like every other boy would be a great way of teaching how different kinds of behavior are appropriate for different settings.

November 2, 2011

where’s the girl stuff at the science museum?

Writing about girls and science and stereotypes and all that is wrong with the world at ParentMap.

November 1, 2011

natural parenting if it kills me, aided by THE RHYTHM OF THE FAMILY

“Look, look at that one!” my son screams from the back seat. “And that one. It’s Very, Very, Very beautiful!” There is nothing my son loves more than the fall colors on the trees, and nothing could make me smile more than to hear him wax on about their beauty. Introducing my children to the world they live in is something truly important to me, and it’s something that can be too often overlooked.

In addition to instilling an appreciation for nature in my children, it’s also important for me to bring nature into the home. Right now, I’m on somewhat of a crusade to buy natural items. I consider it an important part of creating a healthy home. Alway in the back of my mind are two things: a responsibility for the planet that seems to have been ingrained in me since growing up in the 90s (when people cared about such things) and the memory of my mother dying way too young from a disease about which we know way too little. I remember the oncologist telling her she couldn’t have conventional strawberries anymore and she should try to eat organic as much as possible. I think about that conversation almost every time I’m at the grocery store, wondering if the $3/pound apples are really worth spending the entire paycheck on. These two thoughts are always with me and since having kids they’ve been percolating, growing, until my desire to buy natural has become somewhat of an obsession.

For example, my kids don’t have a lunch box without at least an hour on the internet trying to find the safest material to transport food. Those plastic cups he used to like to drink from? Sorry, they had BPA; they are gone. And the other ones, without BPA? I’m just going to stay a step ahead of the research this time and get rid of them, too…what are the odds that there is a kind of plastic that is actually healthy for us?

No new purchase is safe from scrutiny: I recently spent probably no less than five hours researching puppet houses and puppets as a present for the kids from their great grandmother. It’s frustrating to me that I can’t find out exactly what things are made of. I finally chose one theatre because I saw a reference to “environmentally-friendly wood” and “non-toxic” paint, although I have no idea what either of those things mean. I found some wool and felt puppets to go with it.

As I take my role of nurturer more and more seriously, I find myself going further and further back to nature. Today, it’s a stainless steel lunch container. Tomorrow, it’s chicken-farming in the backyard. (My husband is really excited about that one.)

Which is why I loved finding this book at a country store in Mazama, Washington. I grabbed it immediately and flipped through it, but I knew I was going to buy it before I even opened the pages. I’ve already read it more than once. I’ve made the strawberry muffin recipe and purchased the ingredients to make my own lotion. The book is a great reminder that you don’t need to buy all the stuff you think you need. There are so many alternatives for making better, simpler, and cheaper options at home.

Chemicals, be damned. I will be a natural mom if it kills all of us.

And my husband thinks it might.

Title: The Rhythm of Family
Author: Amanda Blake Soule with Stephen Soule
Genre: Parenting
Age: Adults

Summary and Review: This book is part how-to guide, part story of a family, part annotated calendar of a wonderful year. Co-written by the mother and father of a family with four (now five if you read their blog) children, they talk about the beautifully natural ways in which they celebrate the seasons, living outdoors and in concert with nature as much as they can. The book itself is a wonderful celebration of the importance of family and the world in which we raise our families. While there are specific recipes and craft ideas, I found it to be more inspiration than resource.

Follow up with your family:

After reading this book, I’ve been inspired to cook more with alternative ingredients–coconut oil instead of butter, brown rice syrup instead of sugar. I bought BPA-free canning jars and am about to start canning my own food. I now make my own face wash and shampoo, and even though those recipes aren’t in this book, it’s the beauty and persuasion of this book that started me on that path. (And the face wash, let me tell you, is amazing! Here’s a link to another blog that describes a make-at-home oil wash if you are interested.)

I have no doubt that if you read this book you may get something entirely different out of it. Maybe it will inspire you to sew or knit. Or maybe it will just make you smile and appreciate how good the simplicity of life with children can be.