Posted in book lists, family life, information, wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday: episode 6

Due to his love of rain and his constant desire to know exactly when things are going to happen, Rondel has begun to ask me questions about the weather constantly. And because I never properly learned about the weather to begin with, there wasn’t much I could tell him.

So we did what we always do when faced with a topic of ignorance and armed with a thirst for knowledge: we went to the library and came home with books!

There are surprisingly few books about clouds, and no books that I could find at our library specifically about Arizona or desert weather, at least not at my kids’ comprehension level. But these three are not bad, and we’ve learned a lot from them.

Look at the Weather, by Britta Teckentrup, is a beautiful, artistic book, filled with gorgeous atmospheric drawings, leading questions and statements about the personal impact of weather, and interesting scientific facts about weather. Each page tends to have only a few sentences, so although the book is very thick it doesn’t take nearly as long to read as one might expect. It will walk you through the build-up to a storm, for instance, painting the gradual accumulation of clouds slowly, until you almost feel the tension of it around it. But it will also give you tidbits of very fascinating information – I never knew how hail was formed until Teckentrup explained it here, for example!

The Man Who Named The Clouds, by Julie Hannah and Joan Holub, is really more of a biography of Luke Howard, the man who invented the precursor to our current scientific classification system for clouds, than a book actually about clouds – but there is a serious amount of scientific information included. I particularly appreciated the diagram towards the end of the book illustrating the current cloud classification system, and we’ve been attempting to classify the clouds we see when we are out and about each day (we saw mostly cirrus clouds today; Rondel is holding out hope for some cumulonimbus clouds since they are the type of rain clouds we typically get with the monsoons!). Overall this book was a bit above the boys’ heads, and not completely aligned with their area of interest, but by skimming and omitting while I was reading it aloud we managed to get a lot out of it anyways. On a second read through I will probably include more, depending on how it seems to be holding their attention.

Clouds, by Anne Rockwellis probably the book best-suited for answering Rondel’s questions about clouds at his level. But I haven’t read it with him yet! We’ve been distracted with the other books, and he’s caught the virus the rest of us have been passing around so we’ve been a bit preoccupied with that. This book also has instructions at the end for creating a small cloud in a jar, and I’m looking forward to doing that with the boys. From reading the book on my own, this should reinforce the information we gleaned from The Man Who Named The Clouds, and be a short, easy way to soak up more weather-related knowledge. The Let’s-Read-And-Find-Out series, of which this is a part, has been in my experience a good source of basic knowledge on any science topic we happen to have questions about.

While we continue enjoy these books, I’m going to continue searching for books about our local weather; we live in a fairly unique ecosystem, and I’d love to learn more about the weather patterns and seasonal changes specific to the Sonoran Desert. Please let me know if you have a good resource on this!

(And if you were curious about how hail is formed, here is what Britta Teckentrup has to say:

“Hail is caused when the wind sweeps raindrops up into higher, cooler parts of a cloud before they get a chance to fall. They freeze in the cold air. When the ice droplets begin to fall, sometimes the wind catches them and sweeps them to the top of the cloud again. They can cycle up and down inside the cloud several times, adding layers of water and ice as they go.

“Eventually, the ice balls become too heavy for the wind to carry upward, and they fall as hail.”

So the stronger the wind, the bigger the hail can get! Now I understand why we typically only see hail in our craziest, most intense storms – only they have strong enough winds to lead to the formation of hail.)

Posted in book lists, family life

book-based activities: troll cupcakes!

The main branch of the Mesa public library system – our family’s current go-to library – does an excellent job of displaying children’s picture books to catch the attention of kids and parents alike, and additionally of rotating those picture books to highlight different excellent choices every week. I’m sure if I went to the library two days in a row I would notice at least some of the same options on display, but with our current 1-2 week interludes they are always all unique. With three little ones to keep an eye on, it is much easier for me to grab a few of the display books that look promising than it would be to scan the shelves (although I try to do that too, usually when we’ve found an author we enjoy).

On our most recent trip to the library, we noticed a book that caught my eye for both its artwork and the clever twist hidden in its title: Troll and the Oliver, by Adam Stower.

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It’s just a little thing, using the article for the person in the story instead of the monster/troll/villain, and it made the boys laugh too.

The story is that of a troll attempting to catch a small boy named Oliver, who continually eludes him while singing songs about it. At the end of the book, after a hilarious turn of events, the two of them discover that trolls love cake, and they end by baking cakes for all of the trolls in the woods. And after the story ends, the author includes a recipe for cupcakes, along with ideas for decorating them to look like trolls! Needless to say, my boys were adamant that troll cupcakes had to happen.

So, with a few alterations to the recipe (which had no leavening agent – is that normal?), and a trip to the grocery store for some cupcake topper decorations, we made it happen!

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I have a tendency to let myself get carried away in the current of the kids’ excitement, so per their request we made twelve different colors of frosting (one for each cupcake) so that each troll could be truly unique. Rondel made sure that everyone got to pick the colors they wanted without choosing a color someone else already had, Limerick discussed the intricacies of color mixing, and Aubade tried to eat the frosting by the spoonful every time I glanced away from her.

Somehow we managed to get frosting on all the cupcakes without completely covering the kitchen in it, and we even were able to decorate the cupcakes instead of simply eating all the decorations plain first! (You should see the kids when we decorate Christmas cookies… the vast majority of the sprinkles seem to end up inside them rather than on the cookies.) Rondel decorated all of his, Limerick and Aubade each did one, and I did the rest. Aubade ate hers before I got a picture, unfortunately… although to be honest it is good she ate it right away because she had managed to lick the whole top of it before I frosted it!

Aren’t they adorable? The fuzzy ones have shredded coconut for their fur – I liked especially the texture from the extra wide flakes. I do think overall that either slightly bigger cupcakes (these were quite small, even on top) or slightly smaller decorative objects would make things easier, as would slightly moister frosting (and more of it per cupcake) to help things stick.

All in all it made for a fun morning, if also a lot of dishes 🙂 Rondel is already asking when we can make them again, and it’s only been three days! And I have to say, tying a book into normal life in such a fun and memorable way can only serve to make reading even more appealing and exciting than it already is.

What are some of your favorite picture books to bring to life, and what do you love to do with them?

Posted in book lists, family life

literary explorations – traveling the world with picture books!

Inspired by the great resource Give Your Child The World, a globally-inspired picture book anthology by Jamie C. Martin, as well as by Rondel’s fascination with animals from around the world, we had a sort of Africa focus in our home a couple weeks ago. Martin is actually hosting a virtual book club spending one week on each world region over the summer, which I’m attempting to keep up with, but I’m woefully unprepared for Asia this week…

Anyway, Africa was a great place to start since most of Rondel’s favorite animals live there, and it was a natural connection to then begin reading stories involving those animals and the people who live near them. We also experimented with some African recipes (there is a huge variety of cuisines across the continent, so we were barely able to explore any of it and it still felt like a lot!) and crafts (but my kids don’t do so well with directed crafts). Of the books we could find from Martin’s recommendations at our library, two really stood out as our favorites: Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain, a Nandi folktale retold by Verna Aardema; and Wangari’s Trees of Peace, a brief pictorial biography of Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate who helped restore land degraded by irresponsible logging (and in the process helped maintain peace and prevent poverty in her home country), by Jeanette Winter.

The biography of Wangari is written at a level that even Limerick, at 3.5, can understand and follow along with, so many of the details of her life have obviously been omitted – this is just the general arc of her story. But those spare elements have been woven together, with the help of beautiful images, to create a compelling narrative. Every time we read it (which was often, since Limerick kept requesting it), Rondel would be devastated when Wangari returns to Kenya after studying abroad to find the forests cut down, the village women walking miles for firewood and food, and desert encroaching upon the arable land. The boys’ eyes would widen, riveted on the book, when Wangari stands “tall as an oak” to protect the remaining forests, when the government officials beat her and jail her for protesting their course of action. And at the end, when millions of trees spread across Kenya again, the boys would be all smiles and laughter, imagining the birdsong in the forest. So I would highly recommend it as a brief introduction to Wangari and modern Africa for young children.

In addition, it has given me a point of comparison when talking with the boys about current events in our own country. When Wangari is jailed, the book tells us that “Right is right, even if you’re alone,” and the whole story demonstrates how the right thing to do can sometimes be the opposite of what the government or people in authority want to do. So when the boys heard our president talking for a few minutes before I changed the radio station (I usually only listen to talk radio when I’m alone in the car), and asked questions about what he was saying, I could explain his position and then also explain how I thought it was wrong, morally wrong if not legally wrong, and how his power and authority didn’t make all of his beliefs or actions morally right and good. And I was able to tell them that unlike Wangari, people like us would be able to peacefully protest those wrong things without fear of imprisonment, because our nation makes space for differing opinions and protests (ideally, of course, but since they’re 3 and 4 they get the idealized version on some things still).

Wangari cared deeply about her country – she loved it – and that’s why she was able to work for its improvement with such persistence, devotion, and passion. She started with small things she knew she could do (like physically planting new trees to replace the harvested ones), and let her love guide her into bigger and bigger forms of activism. And when I look around me and see people cynically apathetic about this country, it makes me want to instill in my children a love for their country and a passion to make it better, in small personal ways and perhaps even in big political ways. It is only with the love and dedication of people like Wangari that we can heal our culture, our environment, and our world; I’d much rather my children be like her than like the enforcers of government authority who beat and imprisoned her.

At this point I’m doubtful that any other picture book we find for this book club will influence our family quite as much as this one has! But every one we’ve managed to find so far from Martin’s anthology has been worth a second read at least; we’ve learned a lot, and we’ve laughed a lot, and we’ve filled our home with beautiful pictures and stories, and there isn’t much more to ask for from a picture book 🙂

At the time of posting, Amazon has Give Your Child the World available on Kindle for only $0.99! It is a resource worth far more than that.

Posted in book lists, sqt

{sqt} – what we’re reading now

We finally made it back to the library to return our old set of books (renewed at least three times because we kept forgetting to bring them back) and pick up a new set! We’re missing some of the old ones, but loving some of the new ones, as well as finding classic favorites from our own shelves and Grandma’s house. These seven are some of our current most-read titles.

  1. Make Way For Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey – This one is of course a classic. I had a copy as a child, but the one we have now I managed to find at a thrift store for $1.99, hardcover in perfect condition. I still can’t believe it… Published in the 1940s, it was a classic when I was a child and I wouldn’t be surprised if both my mom and grandma grew up with it. The Boston of the book is probably quite different from the Boston of today – but the story is timeless and the illustrations are absolutely beautiful. The humor is subtle but still has both the boys laughing every time (it’s the rhyming names for the ducklings that really get them). It has the added advantage of being a book I will never grow tired of reading aloud.
  2. Marti and the Mango, by Daniel Moreton – This is another book that I grew up with, although I doubt it is nearly as widely known. We are currently borrowing it from my mom. It tells the story of a mouse who is supposed to find a mango to take to dinner at his friend’s house, but who doesn’t know what a mango is! On each page he asks a different animal if the fruit they have is a mango, and they give him a different point of reference as to why it isn’t. What makes it really enjoyable to read is the alliteration for each animal-fruit pairing as well as the repetition of the mango identification hints on each page, as they accumulate. It is a simple story with the attention to detail (in both words and pictures) that makes it interesting for both parent and child.
  3. How Does a Dinosaur Eat All His Food? by Jane Yolen – This book is from our new library haul, and is I suppose nominally about table manners and dinosaurs, but is really just hilarious as the dinosaurs exhibit every type of horrible, atrocious, behavior. The boys basically fall over laughing every time we read it.
  4. Hello Hello, by Brendan Wenzel – This is another book from our latest trip to the library, and one I didn’t expect the kids to enjoy nearly as much as they have. I had actually noticed it on the display and put it back because I thought they wouldn’t like it – but Rondel also noticed it, had me read it at the library, and then put it in out stack of books to bring home, and all three of the kids have requested it since we’ve had it. The words are very simple and sparse, but the illustrations are bright and bold, as the author takes you through pages of different animals and says hello to them (by category, not by name – the actual species of each animal is in a list in the back, however). Even Aubade will sit through the whole book looking at the animals, and Rondel and I will peek at the back to find out what some of them are that we can’t easily identify (although he’s quite good at remembering all the animals from the documentaries he loves… I probably need the identification key more than he does!)
  5. Tiny Little Fly, by Michael Rosen – This is one of the books we just returned, by the author of We’re Going On a Bear Hunt. It has a similar pattern of repetition and rhyme, beautiful illustrations (this seems to be theme with these books), and a little fly who manages to irritate all the huge animals and get away with it unscathed. The boys were starting to copy the rhythms of it into their conversation and pretend play, which was neat to hear!
  6. Usborne Big Book of Colors – This book has no story; it is just a book naming colors, with a color wheel in the back. But it’s beautiful, with thick not-quite-board-book pages, and the boys and I – especially Limerick – like to sometimes just go through it together enjoying all the gorgeous colors and finding our favorite shades of each. It also sparked a conversation on idioms that link emotion with color, which was interesting for me to think about in depth and a great opportunity to discuss metaphor with Rondel. And why is it that no one is ever described as being “orange” with some emotion?
  7. There’s a Wocket in My Pocket, by Dr. Seuss – This is Aubade’s favorite book right now (in board book form). She will ask us to read it multiple times per day, and multiple times per sitting. I’m not sure what she loves so much about it, but my hunch is that it’s the silly words and silly pictures combined. The book is basically just playing with the English language, and that’s a great way to come at it when you’re still beginning to learn that language.

Head on over to This Ain’t The Lyceum for the rest of the {sqt} link-up today!

Posted in book lists, information, links

differently wired: an introduction

I don’t remember when I first discovered Debbie Reber’s podcast, TILT Parenting, but I do know that I immediately went back and binge-listened to the entire archive, and have assiduously awaited each new episode since. It is a mix of practical advice and principled encouragement, of understanding acceptance and useful support; it encourages parents through their struggles while maintaining the worth, dignity, and humanity of their neurodivergent children. Almost all of the episodes are interviews – some with experts in the field, like Steve Silberman (author of Neurotribes) and Dr. Ross Greene (author of The Explosive Child and found of the non-profit organization Lives in the Balance); others with life coaches and parents of neurodivergent children, sharing their stories and offering real-life suggestions; still others are with Reber’s son Asher, giving the perspective of a neurodivergent child a huge platform and helping parents understand where their children might be coming from.

So when she announced that she was writing a book, I was incredibly excited! When she asked listeners to consider joining her advance book team, I signed up as soon as possible – so I’ve gotten to answer polls about book publicity options, mostly, and should be helping publicize the book’s publication when it launches in mid-June. But unexpectedly, and wonderfully, Reber convinced her publisher to let all hundred-odd people on the team have access to an advance e-copy of the book. I was walking on clouds when I got that news…

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And now that I’ve read Differently Wired: Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World, I want to share it with you, because it exceeded all my expectations.

Reber is a skilled author, adept at blending storytelling, science, principles, and pragmatics into a unified whole. In the first part of the book, she explains the problem: the failure of a system that is “good enough” for neurotypical individuals to accommodate the increase in neurodivergent individuals, trying to force them to change instead of offering supports that would allow them to flourish as they are. In the second part, she outlines eighteen “Tilts” – shifts in perspective that enable change – along with action items for putting each one into practice in some small way right away.

My plan is to share some of my favorite quotes and themes from the book with you over the next two months, and then, when the book launches, to give away one copy here on the blog! Maybe you are feeling frustrated and stuck, wanting to connect with your child more deeply but not sure how; maybe you are feeling hopeless about your child’s future and want to rekindle optimism and find a path forward; maybe you are worn out from fighting for your child’s needs and need encouragement on your journey. Reber’s book can help with all of that – and it is one of the only parenting resources I have come across that (as a neurodivergent individual myself) doesn’t leave me feeling “othered” and uncomfortable.

So keep checking back – I’ll be sharing content from the book, and will open the giveaway as soon as I receive the hard copy sometime in June. If you care for a child who processes, thinks and behaves outside of what people consider to be “normal,” this isn’t a book you’ll want to miss.

Posted in book lists, musings

zombies, democracy, and the definition of humankind

Having made my first foray into the world of zombie fiction, I am struck by the idea that zombies are the end product of dysfunctional democracy.

In a democracy there is rule by the many, leading to decisions that may be good for individuals in the majority but not so good for individuals who are part of minority groups. As social structure and community connectedness decreases, more and more people feel that democracy is failing them by its inability to address their needs (since, as people splinter away from each other, almost everyone is bound to end up in the minority with regards to at least one significant issue in their lives). They observe society crumbling and blame the vast hordes of their fellow citizens – not without reason, as those vast hordes are the decision-makers of a democracy!

Similarly, in the zombie apocalypse, society breaks down (in very dramatic ways) at the hands of the vast masses of humankind. We, the reader, identifying with the main characters of the book or film, see ourselves as the rational few who still cling to sanity and good judgment, while the rest of the world is wildly destroying itself around us. And since our democracy is so huge (at least here in the US) that there isn’t much we can do to tangibly alter its course, zombie fiction allows us an escape into the lives of people who are even more horribly stuck – but who aren’t limited to polite social mores in their methods of dealing with their frustrations and problems!

Of course, I have no idea if this idea has any basis in reality, but it was interesting to me 🙂

If you’re wondering how I decided to make entry into the world of zombies, I did it by reading The Girl With All The Gifts, by M.R. Carey, on the recommendation of my boss. The introduction is brutal, mysterious, and haunting; the end is absolutely perfect. The middle feels rather stereotyped or trope-ish: you have the tough and experienced military man, the disposable underling, the obsessive and unethical scientist, and the bleeding-heart who is sympathetic to the zombies’ plight. However, I still definitely enjoyed it! As a science nerd, I particularly enjoyed the description of the source of the zombie plague (for reference, Cordyceps is a fungus that attacks ants, infiltrates their nervous systems, and controls their behavior for the purpose of spreading its spores; most species of Cordyceps are specific to a single species of ant):

“At some point a Cordyceps came along that was a lot less finicky. It jumped the species barrier, then the genus, family, order, and class. It clawed its way to the top of the evolutionary tree, assuming for a moment that evolution is a tree and has a top. Of course, the fungus might have had a helping hand. It might have been grown in a lab, for any number of reasons; coaxed along with gene-splicing and injected RNA. Those were very big jumps.”

It made me happy that they acknowledged the implausibility of the fungus mutating that much on its own – but also the possibility of some scientist designing it to do so. It reminded me of the professor of my senior capstone class, who told us that we now knew everything we needed to create a bioweapon that would devastate humanity, and were responsible to conduct our science ethically. If humanity is wiped out by some pathogen, I won’t be surprised to learn that humanity had created that pathogen to begin with.

I also appreciated that this book was not overly graphic (this is the reason I’ve avoided zombie films in particular). It allowed me to enjoy the concept and implications without having to deal with excessive violence and gore! So I recommend it for anyone wanting an action novel that will, if you permit it, also raise the question of what it means to be human.

Posted in book lists

my year in books, 2017

There isn’t much better than sitting down, uninterrupted, with a good book and a cup of hot tea 🙂

While most of the books I read this year were read on my phone while nursing Aubade, pumping at work, or staying up way too late at night (not counting pages snatched while cooking, eating, or using the bathroom), just the fact that I was reading was good enough for me, even with the interruptions and without the hot tea!

Not counting rereads, I completed 83 books in 2017. I was trying to read books from different genres, time periods, and authors, but there were some definite slants. First, in genres, I read non-fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, historical fiction, and general fiction books somewhat evenly (more fantasy than the others by a bit) – but I read no mysteries or romances, and only one thriller and one book of poetry. For next year, I’d like to read more non-fiction and more poetry! I don’t really mind missing out on the other genres and I don’t have to make sci-fi/fantasy a goal for it to be read…

For time periods, I read exclusively modern books this year and almost half of them were written in just the last decade:chart

This is definitely something I want to change, even if it means I’ll be reading fewer books overall. There is a lot of wisdom to be gained from the experience of past generations, and a lot of classic books I haven’t yet read!

The oldest book I read this year was almost going to be Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (a book alternately beautiful, silly, and innocent, by the way), but at the tail end of the year I discovered The Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson, which happened to be published just a year earlier in 1907. It couldn’t be more different, as a sort of Catholic version of the end-times novel popularized in the Protestant world by the Left Behind series. I did find it thought-provoking and even inspiring, as the story of a church disintegrating yet not destroyed in the face of the great tribulation (the nature of that tribulation itself is probably the most brilliant aspect of the book, as evil truly comes wearing the guise of an angel of light and seems to fulfill all the hopes and promises that humanity longs for). Next year, though, I hope to have both of these books beat by at least a few centuries!

As far as trying to read diverse authors went, about two-thirds of the books I read were written by women, and one-third by men. Again, about two-thirds were written by White American authors, while the other one-third were written by people of various ethnicities from various countries, including France, Italy, the UK, Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan, China, and Japan. So a lot of the authors reflected me, demographically, as white women from the US, but I did branch out at least a little bit, and I hope to continue doing so next year.

While obviously not all 83 of these books were exceptional, there was only one that I truly disliked: Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon. The premise was intriguing, but the ending (in addition to being horribly depressing) wasn’t what I felt the whole book was leading towards, and the characters and writing weren’t in themselves compelling enough to make up for that.

On the other hand, there were many that I deeply loved! Ten of them I actually read more than once (typically just by starting again at the beginning as soon as I finished it for the first time), and from those I would most highly recommend The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, Watership Down by Richard Adams, and My Antonia by Willa Cather. I feel that these books have in them the seeds of enduring literature as well as just being books I enjoyed reading. But it is always hard to narrow things down! And one of my favorites of the year – A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr. – wasn’t reread because I could only find the audiobook. So, for the full list of what I read, you can click this link – the books in bold are ones that I believe are or will be classics, and the books in italics are the ones I read multiple times. If there are any that pique your interest, let me know and I’d be more than happy to share my thoughts about it with you!

Happy reading in the new year!