Archive for April, 2012

April 13, 2012

I’m buying my own mother’s day present this year!

I’ve always tinkered with writing: I have notebooks full of poems and essays from high school, college, and even yesterday. But I never really considered it seriously until one fairly awful trip through airport security after 9/11. It wasn’t pretty. As I started to think about my experience on the way home, I took out my laptop and typed an essay: an essay, I thought, that like all my other essays would just get filed away for my own pleasure.

But then on a whim, I edited it and sent that essay to the Christian Science Monitor. And what do you know? They published it! Well, many articles and essay submissions later, I’ve learned that the odds aren’t always that good.

But recently I found another break: an essay I submitted to the radio show This I Believe many years ago was to be included in their newest book of essays called This I Believe: On Motherhood. I held my breath throughout the entire editing and publishing process, expecting something to wrong, but it didn’t. And now, the book is out in stores and I’m so excited!

So if you get it definitely check out the essay “Motherhood Is Real” by yours truly on page 161. And then buy an extra for a mother you know–it makes a great Mother’s Day gift!

You can get it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or an indie bookstore near you!

April 11, 2012

watercolor songs in “water sings blue’

I react to the mail the way the citizens do in the Music Man when the Wells Fargo wagon comes to town. I’ve even been known to sing when a package arrives. Even in the days of online shopping, when packages are regular, they still get me excited. But even better is one I’m not expecting. Such was the case with this beautiful gem of a book, which arrived unannounced from the publisher for a review. It’s the perfect time for a beach book, as it’s getting warmer and I’m about to order the next size up of bathing suits (online of course).

Title: Water Sings Blue
Author: Kate Coombs
Illustrator: Meilo So
Genre: Picture Book, Science and Nature
Ages: 0 – 9

Summary and Review: I have a soft spot for poetry picture books. I think poetry is the perfect way to introduce beautiful verse to a child. Children get poetry in a way that English PhD’s are still trying to figure out. And it allows you to read the whole book or just a few favorites, depending on the child, the time, and the interests. This books includes a wide range of poems.

Old Driftwood is beautifully visual:

Old Driftwood / has been to sea / an come back home / unexpectedly.
Gnarled sailor / now he sits high / up on the beach / beyond the tide,
telling of mermaids / and whales thi-i-i-s big / to all the attentive / astonished twigs.

What the Waves Say is rhythmically lyrical:

Shimmer and run, catch the sun. / Ripple thin, catch the wind.
Shift and splash, drift and dash. / Slow and gray, foggy day.
Whisper hush, murmur shush. / Swell and sigh, otter lullaby.
Journey on with a yawn. / Swirl and swish, play with fish.
Roll green, rise and lean— / wake and roar and strike the shore!

and Nudibranch is just silly:

The nudibranch / has dropped his clothes / in a spot not even / his mother slug knows.

Follow up with the kids: The poems are simple enough that they will be accessible to a really young audience. (A few of them might irritate a more serious poet, but I don’t usually pretend to be a more serious poet.)

Kids might like to write their own beach poems, especially during a vacation at the beach—maybe you need something to do when its raining? You could help younger kids by letting them copy the meter of one of the poems in the book. Or even let them use the rhyming words at the end and come up with some of their own words for the rest of the lyrics. How great would your family photo album be for your beach trip with some original art and poetry by your kids!

Or, let your children explore with watercolors and paint their own scenes to these (or their own) poems.

Another fun activity would be to hand the kids a camera (maybe a toy one if they are really young) and let them photograph areas of the beach that could illustrate these (or their own) poems. Then when you get back to doing that family photo album, you will have some of their own photos and maybe even some of their own poems to include!

Your turn: Are you heading to the beach? Do you have any favorite beach poems or poetry picture books?

April 10, 2012

Goodreads blogging contest

Please consider voting for me in the Goodreads independent book blogger contest. You have to be a member of Goodreads (which I highly encourage anyway–it’s a great place to learn about new books and see what your friends are reading!).

You can vote here:

April 9, 2012

The swirling genius of two picture books

The gift of a book is something that can last a lifetime. One of these books, The House in the Night, was a gift for The Wizard of Why. He liked the story and the pictures and I think it’s absolutely wonderful. The whole book is printed in yellow and black. The style of the illustrator is so unique that when I saw Swirl by Swirl on the bookshelf at our local store (Parnassus) I knew it had to be the same artist. We had to have it! Activities I talk about below include drawing and hiking–perfect for alternately rainy and sunny Spring days!

Title: The House in the Night
Author: Susan Marie Swanson
Illustrator: Beth Krommes
Genre: Picture Book
Ages: 2 – 7

Summary: This book won the Caldecott, and it’s easy to see why. The illustrations are beautiful and uniquely done in only yellow, white, and black. The story is a bedtime one of a young child who takes a fantastical bedtime journey with everyday objects children will both relate to and be excited by. It’s really a wonderful metaphor for the journey of going to sleep. I would read it every night if I could, but there are so many good books out there!

Title: Swirl by Swirl
Author: Joyce Sidman
Illustrator: Beth Krommes
Genre: Picture Book, Science and Nature
Ages: any!

Summary: They teamed Krommes up with a Newbery-Honor winning poet to make this wonderful book that celebrates the beauty of the natural world in all of its swirly forms. Really fun to read and look at. While typing this post, the Wizard of Why looked over my shoulder and said, “Oh you are publishing The House in the Night and Spirals?” I asked him what his favorite part of the books were, and he said the tornado from Swirl by Swirl. Which just goes to re-emphasize the origin of his blog-name, I suppose. 🙂

Follow-up with the kids: I’m going to focus on the art for this one, as I think it is just so amazing. For The House in the Night, it would be fun to have your kids draw pictures with only black and one other color. Ask older kids to justify their color choice. (And for another example of a book with a lot of the same color in it, although not exclusively, see the equally-gorgeous-in-blue, The Longest Night.) It would make for a fun comparison to see how one illustrator conveyed nighttime so perfectly using the color blue and another one did it using the color yellow.

For Swirl by Swirl, your kids could draw their own pictures of familiar items with a swirled shape. Or they could take items that don’t have a swirled shape and see if they can draw them with swirls anyway. Another fun activity would be a morning hike or walk with the family for a “swirly scavenger hunt.” Have the kids pick up, point out, or photo things with a spiral shape. I bet you can find a lot more than you think! And that gets them outdoors and exercising, too!

April 6, 2012

Homemade Cake

Welcome to another installment of The Family That Eats Together Fridays!

My mother baked. My sister bakes. But I don’t bake. Or, more accurately, I bake with varying and unpredictable degrees of success and failure. So when birthday cake time comes around, I get slightly nervous. Sometimes, for inspiration, I check out a blog of a friend of mine, Lamb’s Munchings and Musings, but that only serves to remind me what I will never be capable of. The recipes, maybe. But carving a lion out of a cake? Nope.

So when it was time for the Wizard of Why’s 4th birthday party and he wanted a knight and dragon theme, we logged on to the internet together to search for dragon cake ideas. Logging on to the internet with a small child takes a leap of faith because there is always the possibility that he will see some unbelievable cake and want that one, at which point I will either have to admit defeat or spend a week in the kitchen. We did find plenty of instructions for a pretty neat-looking dragon cake, but luckily for my week, he was pretty insistent that a knight and dragon party have both a knight and a dragon incorporated into the cake. So we did what the grandmother in my recently-blogged-about book Piggy Bunny did: we ordered stuff off the internet.

This has become somewhat of a tradition now, and it’s one I really like. Instead of paying a zillion dollars for a grocery store cake, and instead of spending too much time teaching my kid four-letter words in the kitchen, I order a couple of themed toys and stick them on top of a plain homemade cake. It was prefect. For this cake, we ordered two dragons and a knight. We made a delicious family chocolate-cake recipe but bought store-bought frosting (a good compromise I thought). Making the cake batter was a fun activity to go together and we didn’t have to get the kitchen completely wrecked while making frosting. He helped me spread the frosting and pump it out of the little cans. We frosted it with green (for grass) and blue (for water)…we did have one land dragon and one sea dragon after all. It turned out awesome (and completely delicious)! It was relatively easy, and my son now has some new knight and dragon toys to play with.

If you try this out, let me know how it goes. And if you have any other ideas for ridiculously easy birthday cakes, I’m all ears!!! (And maybe I’ll post that family recipe on a future Friday!)