Posts tagged ‘girl’

November 14, 2012

from sugar and spice to the glucose cycle

My high school science education consisted of the following memories: breaking a flask (not a big deal, the teacher said), breaking a thermometer (kind of a big deal), breaking many other kids of lab equipment (increasingly a big deal), never (not once) getting the correct results on any physics or chemistry lab despite being studious, careful, and the last to finish pretty much every single time. I had a mild interest in biology but I always assumed I was “bad” at science. Despite good grades, which obviously didn’t reflected the trail of broken equipment I left in my wake, it never (NEVER!) occurred to me that I could be good at science.

Then enter college: I took an introductory biology course and fell in love. Bird migration! Ants who farm aphids! These were stories whose magic nobody could ignore. And to the surprise of everyone (especially myself and my professors who were wary of me from the first moment I refused to dissect a cat (I mean, really, a cat?), I became a bio major.


Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Author: Jacqueline Kelly
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age: Middle School and Upper Elementary

So many reasons to buy this book for your daughter (and read it yourself!):

1. It’s historical fiction, set in Texas in 1899, but it doesn’t whop you over the head with that fact. There are some interesting details: the first telephone and the woman operator with her long arms, Granddaddy sitting in a car for the first time, etc. But the historical fiction gives you, the parent, an edge: You can talk about societal expectations for girls and your child will likely be very comfortable talking about them in the book, as it was over 100 years ago. Then, once the conversation gets going, you can talk about how things have changed, but how we still have a long way to go.

2. It’s a science-nature story, but you don’t have to be a scientist to like this book. Any girl reader who enjoys character-driven books will like this one. And they will be getting a great female scientist role model on the side! It’s mostly a girl-growing-up story, and this girl, the only one amongst a myriad of brothers, is struggling against the expectations of her family (she’s supposed to learn to sew and cook or how will she ever get a family?), wondering if she might ever be allowed to have dreams beyond that.  And if your girl does get hooked on science after reading this book, don’t let it die out! Give her a field guide and start looking up plants or insects or birds or stars. Or grab some jars and start collecting bugs.

3. The book is beautiful; the sentences read like honey dripping down…well, dripping down something honey would drip down. Trust me, the prose is gorgeous. And that’s good for anyone. (And it is a Newbery Honor book. So there.)

P.S. I did sit through only one dissection. There was this guy in high school who would spend free time working on his frog for AP Bio, and I would hang out and watch him. It was probably disgusting. Maybe unethical. But in his defense, he’s a surgeon now. And in my defense, I’m married to him.

February 17, 2011

LOL funny

I’m sitting at the side of the YMCA pool watching my 2-year-old, who has just learned what “natural consequence” means by goofing off instead of listening to his instructor and falling in the pool.  I watched him struggle under the water for a few seconds while smiling an “I’m-sorry-and-this-will-teach-him-and-did-you-know-I-used-to-be-a-teacher-and-I-feel-your-pain” kind of smile at the instructor, who is running down to the shallow end, dragging another one of his students with him, to rescue my son.

It’s not that I enjoyed watching him suffer, per se, but the teacher clearly had it under control, and frankly, it served my son right.  Maybe tonight he’d listen to me when it was time to put on the PJs.  (That was yesterday, actually, and last night, and I can tell you the lesson didn’t trascend activities, but he was, at least, more compliant for the remainder of the lesson.)

At any rate, there I am, nine months pregnant and completely uncomfortable.  I’m sitting in this chair and wish I could just be floating in a hot tub.  My baby is kicking like crazy and my belly is sticking out the bottom of my shirt because none of my pregnancy shirts fit me anymore but I’m not about to buy more when the kid could come out any day now.  And it’s not like a stretch-marked pregnant belly is anything pretty to look at.

So I’m trying to fade into the background, but this is hard because the book I am trying to read is hysterically funny.  I mean laugh-out-loud funny, and I don’t usually laugh out loud at even the funniest of books.  But I can’t help it–I’m trying to hold it in and I’m not.  And I wonder if I should save the book for home where I can roll on the floor in private, but that would mean putting it down which I’m not willing to do.  So I just sit there, a bloated, uncomfortable blob laughing hysterically–and way too loudly–at my own risk.

I found this book because it was recommended by a fellow Goodreads reader.  And I am so glad I did.  It’s a debut novel, which makes it all the better!

Title: A Crooked Kind of Perfect
Author: Linda Urban
Genre: Fiction
Age: Middle School and Upper Elementary; I think many YA readers would like it, too

Summary and Review:

Zoe is going to be a famous piano player when she grows up.  She’s going to play in Carnegie Hall.  The only thing standing between her and this goal–and she considers it a minor thing–is that she doesn’t have a piano and has never taken a lesson, practiced, or played one.  But Zoe is a spunky, wonderful character and these facts are not going to bring her down.  One day, however, her family decides to invest in a used piano for Zoe and sends her dad to the mall.

Now, Zoe’s dad is another wonderful character.  Usually, Middle Grade and Young Adult books that have a “different” or “special needs” character have those traits in one of the kids.  But in this book, it is Zoe’s dad who is a special needs adult.  He spends most of his time–no, all of his time–in his living room studying mail-order courses and accumulating what can only be described as useless degrees. He often has to drive Zoe around town when her mom is working and they inevitably get lost, having to call Marty at the auto shop, who enjoys the challenge of trying to figure out where they are and get them home.

Zoe’s dad doesn’t like being around people, noises, or the busy-ness of everyday life and when he gets to the mall to buy the piano, he is immediately overwhelmed.  He ends up in the grips of an organ salesman and comes home with an organ–the Perfectone D60, faux wood finish and all.  Zoe is NOT impressed, but true to her good spirit, she begins her free lessons which came with the organ.

The book, told from Zoe’s wonderful perspective and great sense of humor, follows Zoe at home and at school, through the trials of learning an instrument, hanging out with her family, being ditched by her best friend (a girl who lives in the “East Eastside” as opposed to just the “Eastside” where Zoe’s modest house resides), and many other adventures of school, home, and music.

You will absolutely fall in love with Zoe, with her dad, and with the school bully she starts to get to know.  This is a wonderful story, with wonderful heart.  And I dare you not to laugh out loud.

Follow Up With The Kids

If you are a mom reading this with your daughter, I think there is a lot of things you can talk about.  Enjoy the book and the conversations it can bring.  This is a honest look at middle school life and the chance to talk about some of these things through the lens of a character rather than the real life kids your daughter knows will make the conversation all the more safe, and usually because of this, all the more meaningful.  Here are some questions to consider:

Zoe’s dad’s issues prevent her from doing a lot of things other kids might be able to do…how does she learn to deal with that?  Many kids would not be so tolerant…what makes her so?

What was it like at her former best friend’s surprise party?  Has your daughter ever been in a situation like that and on which side?  What does she think about this?  Do your daughter and her friends have an equivalent of a “brat” t-shirt? (This takes it away from the comfort of the character-driven conversation and not every kid will be agreeable to that.  If you think yours won’t be, stick to the conversation about the party in the book.  Chances are, she will still be talking from her own experiences.  That is, after all, how we read a book.)

What motivates Wheeler to keep coming over to Zoe’s house and study and bake with her dad?  What do you think his life is like at home and how is it different from the persona he plays at school?

January 20, 2011

Too many princesses?

I haven’t read this book yet, but someone else has, and they wrote a great blog entry about it!  Here’s writer and TV commentator Margot Magowan on the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Cindy Orenstein.  This is from her blog, ReelGirl.

Title: Cinderella Ate My Daughter
Author: Peggy Orenstein
Genre: Parenting, Girls

September 14, 2010

Learn to sail, conquer a fear, meet your family–all while WANDERING

If you haven’t started reading your children’s books for yourself yet, this one would be another great place to start.  Sometimes, I think adult fiction gets too carried away in its seriousness, almost as if it feels like unending depression and angst, forbidden sex, and deceit are the only truths in our lives.  Either that, or you’re reading a “fluff” piece about a girl who shops and tries to find Mr. Right.  Either way, with exceptions for a few of my favorite adult authors, I just can’t take adult fiction anymore.

But sometimes (usually, I hope) life is just about living with your family, growing up (and no, I don’t think we ever stop growing up), making mistakes and correcting them, being scared and chasing your fears, arguing and then wishing you didn’t.  This is why in a lot of ways I feel kid lit is sometimes closer to the real thing.  Which brings us to today’s book.  I loved it, and it only made me realize that I haven’t read enough of Sharon Creech’s honored work.

Title: The Wanderer
Author: Sharon Creech
: Fiction
Age: Upper Elementary and Middle School, 8 – 12

Summary and Review:

Sophie is the only girl on the sailboat.  Together with her two cousins and three uncles, they set sail for England in a journey toward their grandfather.  As an adopted member of the family, Sophie struggles at times to be accepted and also to accept herself on this journey.  As a girl, she struggles to be taken seriously.  And as a 13-year-old, she struggles to understand her place on the boat, in this family, and in the world.  The adventure is cleverly narrated by both Sophie and Cody, one of her cousins.  This duel narrator gives a great depth of understanding to both the journey and the characters aboard.  You get to hear stories from two different points of view and the reader is left to draw his or her own conclusions.

A lot of the subplots in this book are really just in-depth character development, told in wonderful ways.  The characters on the boat are real: Brian, the third kid on the boat and the one left out of the narration, is awkward and nerdy, something that Sophie and Cody both struggle to understand and at times very much dislike.  But their dislike is honest and explored in their own narratives–kids reading this story will very much relate, no matter which side of the popularity line they are usually on.

Another character-based storyline is the relationships between both Cody and Brian’s and their fathers, who are brothers.  Cody strives to show his hard-to-please dad that he merits serious consideration while Brian’s dad, immensely proud of Brian’s ability to spout facts at the drop of a hat, doesn’t understand or appreciate Cody’s attitude or joking around.

Sophie’s story, though, is the one to follow as she reveals more about her own journey, her reasons for wanting to go on the trip, and her own relationship with the grandfather that, as Brian likes to point out, isn’t her real grandfather. *SPOILER ALERT*  On the journey you learn that Sophie’s birth parents were killed in a boating accident, and that she is taking this trip because it’s something she feels she has to do, has to get over.  She tells stories to the rest of the crew about her own life and the life of the grandfather she’s never met, and they begin to understand that her stories, which are told in the third person, are actually her, and that the stories of her grandfather, which they think she must be making up, are also true, learned in letters he’s written her.  The theme of a family coming together, an emotional journey alongside a physical one, is real.  It’s good literature, and it makes a strong point for kids to follow.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

Definitely talk about the three kids, Sophie, Brian, and Cody, and their differences.  What makes them each click?  What do they each like and dislike?  What are their strengths and weaknesses?  Why do Sophie and Cody dislike Brian so much and what helps them understand him better?  Ask your child if they have friends or classmates like any of these three–help them to see that a group of people with different strengths can really help each other.

A classic topic also are the numerous rifts on the family theme that this book inspires.  Why do the uncles argue if they like each other?  Why do Cody and his dad have such a hard time and what is it that finally brings them together?  Maybe relate these stories to stories in your own family.  Use the time to remember family reunions or big family dinners.  Every family has strife, and some kids can be more bothered by that than others.  Why do families fight and how does a child know if its serious or just part of what happens when a lot of different people get together?  Especially people who love each other so much–doesn’t that just intensify our feelings?  That can be hard for a child to grasp.  But let’s be honest–it can be hard for us to grasp, too, right?

September 10, 2010

A girl among the stars

Title: Stargirl
Author: Jerry Spinelli
: Fiction
Age: 12 and up

Summary and Review:

This book will remind you of being in high school.  If you are in high school, it will illuminate some of the toughest things about high school.  The self-named and formerly home-schooled Stargirl is the new kid in class and everybody notices her.  How could they not?  She gets out her ukulele in the cafeteria and sings, even sings Happy Birthday to kids she doesn’t know.  She has a pet rat in her shoulder bag, and puts a vase of flowers on her desk in every class she goes to.  The story is a typical high school one, but not very typically told.  She is first avoided, then popularized (even made a cheerleader), later worshipped and copied (ukuleles appear on campus, for example), and then, suddenly and inexplicably (but predictably) shunned.  Given the worst silent treatment a campus could plan.

There are many things that make this a great book, but one of them is the unusual point of view from which the story is told.  We never get to see Stargirl’s feelings or thoughts–we can, like the rest of the confused high school students, only guess them.  Instead, the story is told from the point of view of a boy, and a popular one at that.  He becomes a love interest in the story and watching the battle of popularity through his eyes gives the novel such a refreshingly honest perspective.  We see this absolutely ordinary teenager struggle with his desire to be with this usual girl and yet his (even greater?) desire to be accepted by the mainstream.  The hypocrisy of the narrator’s feelings are played against the hypocrisy of the student body and serves to brilliantly remind us of our own hypocrisies.  I appreciate any book that can point out my flaws in such a beautifully, readable way.

The story of Stargirl is hard to put down; you are immediately wrapped up in the characters and their lives, hoping they will make the right decision and knowing from your own life experience that they might not.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

Read the book.  You’ll be glad you did; it’s enjoyable and reminiscable, even if the latter is technically not a word.  That will give you most of what you need to know to talk to your kids.  Well, daughters, really, because let’s be honest, male narrator or not, this is mostly a girl book.  If only because the only boys who will read it are avid readers, and unfortunately there are not many of those at the young adult level.  Sigh.

But if you are stuck about what to talk about, or haven’t read the book, ask your daughter if she knows anyone like that at school and what she thinks.  How were they treated?  Did your daughter have any kind of relationship with them?  Maybe your daughter was more like Stargirl than the others.  Or maybe your daughter has been in a position like the narrator–caught between friendships that cross the traditional boundaries of social groups.  Maybe she knows what it’s like to have to make a decision like that.  At some point, don’t we all make those kinds of decisions all of them time?  Didn’t you?

If you have a reluctant talker, make the issue about people outside of your daughter’s immediate circle of friends.  Or discuss issues from a couple of grades ago–you’ll still get the point across, but your daughter won’t feel like you are probing into a private area she doesn’t want to discuss right now.