Posted in autism acceptance month, sqt

{sqt} – autistic #ownvoices fiction

In the midst of all the covid-19 craziness, life goes on. It’s still Lent, for about another week, and there will still be Easter, and it’s still Autism Acceptance Month now that it’s April! This year, my focus will be on books of fiction written by and/or containing autistic main characters.

Why fiction? There are a lot of good memoirs written by autistic individuals, and non-fiction books addressing autism, but fiction in particular taps into the imagination and vision of the reader. It opens up new perspectives and potentials, allowing the reader to enter into new worlds, relationships, and experiences. So for the neurotypical reader, encountering autistic characters in fiction (assuming they are well-written!) can make autism understandable, relatable, and more human, which will then hopefully translate to the real world. For the autistic reader, those characters can give them people to identify with when they may be surrounded by neurotypical society in real life and in most books.

Another advantage of fiction is that it is more likely to be read by people who aren’t interested specifically in autism – at least not enough to seek out a non-fiction book on the topic – but who are looking for a good story to immerse themselves in. In this way, books with autistic characters can help bring awareness and acceptance of autism to a more mainstream audience.

It’s not so helpful, however, to read fiction with autistic characters if those characters are stereotyped, flat, or defined by their atypical behaviors rather than shown authentically as human beings with complex internal lives and emotional ranges. For that reason, fiction written by autistic authors is particularly valuable, as these authors tend to have more reliable insight into the processing and perspective of autistic characters than neurotypical authors have. It is possible for non-autistic authors to write autistic characters well, of course, and I think it’s important for fiction writers to try to write from a variety of perspectives, but in my experience autistic characters written by autistic authors are much more accurate to life and multi-dimensional.

For those reasons, most of the books I’ll be reviewing this month are #ownvoices autistic fiction – books with an autistic protagonist or important secondary character written by an autistic author – and the exceptions will fit into either one or the other of those categories. I’ve written three reviews already, I’ve read two more books that I need to write up, and I have 2-3 more in reserve – but if you have any suggestions of books you’ve loved or that sound interesting, please let me know! It was difficult to find books in this category and so I’d love to be able to put together a more comprehensive list by the end of the month.

I’m linking up with Kelly again this week – head over and check out the rest of the linkup!

Posted in book lists, book review, sqt

{sqt} – library haul!

We finally made it to the library this week and stumbled upon some pretty good books – a mix of classics and new finds that I’m looking forward to reading. So for the quick takes link-up today at This Ain’t the Lyceum I thought I’d share what we found 🙂

cover of The Mitten by Jan Brett
The Mitten, by Jan Brett

It’s hard to go wrong with Jan Brett books, in my experience – her stories are humorous and the extra details woven into the side panels of her illustrations add so much to the (already excellent) written words. This book has quickly become one of the boys’ favorites; not only have they been asking me to read it over and over again, but Limerick has also spent time reading it on his own and aloud to me with just a little help. In this story, the forest animals (getting steadily larger) all find a place to snuggle inside the mitten Nicki’s grandmother made for him, until finally even the bear wants to join in!

cover for A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams
A Chair For My Mother, Vera B. Williams

This is a new book for me, told from the point of view of a little girl who lives with her grandmother and her hard-working mother. There is poverty and loss here – her mother works long hours and comes home worn out, and the three of them lost everything in a home fire (which is why they are looking for a good chair now) – but there is also community, and hope, and love, and happiness. I laughed when the grandma said she feels like Goldilocks when they are trying to find the perfect chair, and I love the picture at the end of the mother sitting in the new chair with her littler girl snuggled up asleep on her lap. It’s just a beautiful picture of life and family.

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

Patricia Polacco’s autobiographical picture book about her struggle with dyslexia is definitely not a new book for me, but it is for my kids. Rondel especially was deeply affected by the bullying portrayed in the book, by Trisha’s close relationship with her grandmother, and by the encouragement and help she was finally given by her teacher Mr. Falker. It’s a hard book to read, because of the emotional pain involved, and I’m always in tears at the end, but it so hopeful to see the difference one person’s commitment and care can make in someone else’s life.

cover art of Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

Most people are probably familiar with The Rainbow Fish, the story of the fish who was so special and beautiful that he became arrogant and selfish and ends up having to give away his shimmery scales to make up for his rudeness and find friendship. It’s honestly not one of my favorite books, because I don’t like the pressure put on Rainbow Fish to give away something uniquely his – he could have said no in a much gentler and kinder way, true, but he still should be allowed to say no without losing his relationships with the other fish. Generosity is a good and beautiful thing when it comes from authenticity; bribing other people to like you by giving things to them is not so beautiful. But maybe I’m just looking at it too cynically.

The Extraordinary Egg by Leo Lionni
The Extraordinary Egg, by Leo Lionni

Ok, I picked this one up on our way out of the library and I haven’t had a chance to read it with the kids (or on my own) yet! But I’m looking forward to it 🙂 We read our first Lionni picture book around Christmas, and I was impressed by the emotional depth of the book (and the illustrations are lovely), so I’ve been wanting to explore more by the author. Given that Rondel’s favorite animal is the alligator, this one seems particularly apropos and I’m excited to read it to him.

Mix It Up cover art
Mix It Up by Hevre Tullet

My mom gave the kids Tullet’s book Press Here for Christmas, along with its companion, the Draw Here activity book (which I saved for them to open on Epiphany). While they all enjoyed the book, Limerick really fell in love with it – he’ll read the books to himself, re-draw the illustrations on the iPad as he tells himself the story, spend hours doing the drawing activities, and even recreate the story with our brain flake building toys! So when I saw this book at the library I knew I had to grab it, and Limerick loved it as well. I’ve read it to him and let him do the shaking, mixing, etc. – and he’s read it to me and had me follow the instructions 🙂 I need to buy more paint, as ours is about empty, and then I’d love to go through this book with all the sensory texture and messiness of real paint!

cover art for My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
My Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett

After we finished reading The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo, I started looking for other chapter books to read that would be a step above the beginning readers but not too long or complex for a six year old to enjoy. I came across this book on several lists and decided it was worth a try since it’s about dragons and animals (Rondel’s favorites, still) and available at the library 🙂 Although it’s a classic, I’ve never read it, so I’m looking forward to discovering a new great story with the kids.

As a bonus, I found a copy of Jean Vanier’s Becoming Human for myself. I’m hoping to write a lot more about this book after I read it, as well as more about Vanier himself and the L’Arche communities he founded for mentally and intellectually disabled adults, because I haven’t encountered a more hopeful, loving, and godly approach to disability than what I’m starting to discover in his philosophy and work – but I need to learn a lot more before I can really dive into it here.

What books are you reading or looking forward to reading, with kids or on your own? I’d love to hear your thoughts about anything good you’ve been reading lately!

Posted in book lists, sqt

{sqt} – reading highlights of 2018

I’m joining up with the seven quick takes linkup again this week, for the first time in a while, with a fitting theme for the last Friday of the year: 2018 favorites! My focus is going to be on the books I’ve read this year; with my end-of-the-year detour into fan fiction my booklist is shorter than it was in 2017, but it is still full of books I loved and want to share.

Parenting: Differently Wired, by Deborah Reber

differentlywired

If you were following my blog this summer, this favorite should come as no surprise! This is one of the best books I have found for parents of neurodivergent children – one that honors their differences and supports parents in helping their children to remain authentically themselves while also learning to live in a world that is often critical of who they are. For a more in-depth review, see this post leading up to its release this summer. (You may notice I tried to run a giveaway for the book; well, no one entered, so if you feel this book would be relevant or helpful for you, let me know… I still have the extra copy 🙂 )

Science: The Emperor of All Maladies: a Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

emperorofallmaladies

This book offers an interesting take on cancer, as it examines the history of human interaction with cancer in all its ethical and political context rather than focusing solely the medical manifestations of the illness (though it delves quite deeply into the biology of cancer as well). I learned a lot and was deeply fascinated through the entire book (but as it was a library book, I can’t go back to pull up any awesome quotes for this post, unfortunately!). While it is very long, I think it is definitely worth the time and effort to read it, especially for anyone interested in biology, pathology, bioethics, or science policy.

Other Non-Fiction: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson

justmercy

When you grow up in a privileged environment, it can be challenging to learn about corruption and brokenness in systems skewed in your favor. This book was difficult to read primarily because of the nature of its topic, and the injustices it exposed – whose depths I had no idea existed beforehand (even though I was aware of the biases in our judicial system, I was not aware of the extent of those biases, particularly in certain areas of the country). I picked up this book last Christmas on the recommendation of Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, for both myself and my grandma, and both of us agree that it was a powerful and moving book, containing invaluable context for understanding (and hopefully healing) some of the racial and cultural divides in our nation. (For more of my thoughts, and some quotes, see this post from April.)

General Fiction: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson

majorpettigrew

In this novel, an old British major slowly falls in love with a Pakistani shopkeeper (both widowed), to the general consternation of her extended family and their entire village. The interactions between them on both individual and sociocultural levels are simultaneously awkward, amusing, and enlightening (in other words, fairly realistic for two very different people from very different backgrounds thrown into contact with one another); and the twists and turns of the plot are both somewhat unexpected and very satisfying. Major Pettigrew especially, as a slightly cynical and cantankerous old British man finding himself in ludicrously unprecedented circumstances, is quite a wonderful character 🙂

Dystopia: American War, by Omar El Akkad

americanwar

I’m surprised I didn’t post about this book back in July! Dystopia is one of my favorite genres, and this one hit particularly close to home. It is set in the southern United States, in a future in which climate change catalyzes a second Civil War; with Northern forces applying external pressure and international agents internally taking advantage of hatred and discontent, the book follows one individual from poverty, through a refugee camp, to indoctrination and grooming in a shadowy terrorist cell. The methods and circumstances are drawn from the actual history of civil war and terrorism in the Middle East, but the culture and setting are undeniably American, and the juxtaposition reinforces both the humanity of people our culture often labels as “other” and the very real possibility that our nation too could be ravaged by the dark side of that shared humanity. I highly recommend it, but it is not a comfortable read.

Science Fiction: Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

lefthandofdarkness

LeGuin is an exceptional world-builder, and I have enjoyed all of her works, but this is in my opinion one of her best, exploring aspects of nationalism, humanity, and gender. How arbitrary are the categories with which we identify ourselves? When one of those categories is rendered meaningless, how do we cope with our own self-understanding, or refashion the image we present to others? How far can one stray from the center of a category and still be considered part of it, by either themselves or by others? And of course all of these questions are not so much discussed as illustrated and implied as the two main characters seek (in both the context of two different nations, as well as in almost total isolation) to accomplish a mission with global and even universal consequences.

Fantasy: Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

nameofthewind

The story here, as wonderfully epic and convoluted and fascinating as it is, in a world with magic and music and legend coming to life, isn’t even the main reason I have to choose this book (and its sequel) as my top fantasy book of the year. Rarely have I encountered an author who can make their prose sing as beautifully as Rothfuss manages to do here. My only disappointment is that the third book in the trilogy has not yet been published, so while each book so far has a definite story arc and is still satisfying to read, the overall story is incomplete.

What are some of your favorite books from this year? Please share in the comments – I always love to hear about good books to read!

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

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!

Posted in book lists, family life, musings, Uncategorized

celebrating St. Francis

I feel like the holidays come fast and furious once fall arrives! They are such a fun way to introduce or remind myself and my kids of the great men and women of God, and to help direct our own hearts back to Him as well.

St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day falls on October 4, less than a week after Michaelmas, providing a beautiful foil to the Michaelmas stories and themes of dragons, knights, and (spiritual or otherwise) battle. For of course, St. Francis is one of the gentlest saints in the liturgy: a man who gave up wealth and power; who befriended the outcast, the poor, and the sick; who rejoiced in the beauty of nature and loved animals as well as people with tenderness and understanding. While Michael illustrates the bravery and glory of fighting against evil, Francis illustrates the courage and beauty of seeking redemption and reconciliation.

(Of course, due to sickness and poor planning on my part, we didn’t actually celebrate until the 11th… better late than never I suppose!)

To introduce the boys to St. Francis, I checked out two books that seemed to have good reviews and were actually available at our local library. First:

St. Francis and the Wolf, by Richard Egielski

francisandwolf

This is a legend, retold in a way that is satisfyingly scary for a younger audience, without being over the top, and while retaining an emphasis on Francis’s message of peace and love. It shows how the obvious solution to something scary, dangerous, or disliked – trying to get rid of it or destroy it – isn’t always as effective as trying to communicate and make peace. And really it is just a well-told, fun story. Rondel has asked for this book many times since we borrowed it, and enjoys acting out the various characters as well!

Brother Sun, Sister Moon, by Katherine Patterson

brothersunsistermoon

This book is an illustrated retelling of St. Francis’s canticle of the creatures in words that are accessible for small children, yet still retain the beauty and majesty of the original. The illustrations are exquisite as well, with every page showing how the aspect of creation in question (sun, moon, fire, wind, and so on) touches and blesses our world, as the words describe how those things reflect and honor their Creator. I was concerned that this book would be too advanced for the boys, but they have asked for it several times and are always held captivated by the beauty of its poetry and art. It makes a good counterpart to the more “fun” story above, also!

In addition to the books, we tried to make a sun-and-moon window hanger, but ran out of steam partway through due to the aforementioned illnesses; if we had more energy, I would have also had us make a bird feeder so that we could practice kindness to the animals around us as well (there aren’t many other animals besides birds in the middle of a city, since we don’t have pets…). While we don’t have the cold weather that makes feeders a perfect gift for the birds in October in other parts of the world, there are many native birds that benefit from feeders targeted at their unique needs and adaptations. Ah well, maybe next year 🙂

In the meantime, my goal is to emulate St. Francis’s compassion and gentleness, beginning in my home with my family but hopefully spreading outward to the other people with whom my life intersects! I also hope that, like him, I would have the courage to do what is right regardless of how strange it looks to the people around me. He somehow managed to care deeply for people without being a people-pleaser – a combination which strikes me as both a worthy and a difficult goal.

Posted in book lists

Kristin and Antonia: learning from my literary sisters

Over the past month I read both Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset, and My Antonia, by Willa Cather, for the first time. I couldn’t help but mentally compare the two eponymous protagonists as I was reading, as both are Catholic women written by female authors, but are in temperament and circumstance very different.

91Hp6MKOiRL.jpg

Kristin Lavransdatter, despite being raised in a noble and loving family, enters adult life unprepared and unwilling to battle her passions and bosom sins, pursuing her own whims regardless of the shame and inconvenience it causes the people who love her and sacrifice for her. It is not until near the end of her life that she is sufficiently humbled and matured to look back with repentance rather than mere regret, and to make the hard changes in her own life that following God and living rightly demand of her. I often found it difficult to read Kristin’s story compassionately or even patiently, because her struggles and misfortunes were so frequently caused by her own headstrong will and lack of self-control, when she should have known better than to act that way! But in that judgmental stance I was often rebuked by the gentleness and guiding love of her old village priest and a monk from a neighboring city, who lamented her sin, prayed for her peace, and offered their comfort and wisdom (and sometimes their correction) in her doubt. Love her, they seemed to say to me, protect and pray for her, do not judge her. Judgment will not help to restore her soul and heal her brokenness. And they were right; the scorn and shame of her neighbors stung, but she could ignore it, and it wasn’t that weight that in the end brought her back to God and taught her how to truly love another person selflessly and without resentment.

The book is written with a tempestuousness that matches that of the protagonist’s character – in the medieval Norway of the book (accurately depicted from what I can tell – the author did a lot of research), successions are contested, old folk beliefs fight with Christianity, famines strike, arranged marriages are disputed, childbirth is incredibly dangerous, miscarriages and depression and poverty hover beneath the surface, and epidemics sweep through society. Kristin is most definitely not the only fierce and passionate individual here! Her story and its setting draw the reader in from the beginning, and hold one’s interest captive through towering heights and plummeting lows.

51KeFj9GIyL.jpg

My Antonia, on the other hand, is one of the gentlest and most peaceful books I’ve ever read. Antonia’s character and life are sketched out through the eyes of a man who met her when they were both children in Nebraska (she from Bohemia, he from Virginia) and watched her grow up to full beauty and maturity with the affectionate eyes of an old friend. Where Kristin is blessed with beauty, love, and wisdom in the parents who raised her but squandered it in her own impulsive and passionate way, Antonia is struck with the incredible tragedy of her father’s suicide coupled with the small-mindedness and paranoia of her mother, and yet still manages to blossom.

And yet, Antonia is a passionate woman just as Kristin is, full of strong and rich emotions that carry her with them. She is by no means a weak or mild individual; she is strong enough to work the fields with the men, beautiful enough (in action as well as appearance) to turn every head, fun-loving and spirited, brave and opinionated. What makes her different is the direction in which her passions led her. Kristin’s passions were bent, misguided, uncontrolled, turned away from the good and praiseworthy; Antonia’s were, while not perfect, aimed in general towards truth and beauty. As Jim, Cather’s narrator, puts it near the end of the book:

She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true […] she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one’s breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things. She had only to stand in the orchard, to put her hand on a little crab tree and look up at the apples, to make you feel the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting at last. All the strong things of her heart came out in her body, that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions.

Reading both books in close succession made me realize how the choices we make and the emotions we obey shape our lives and even our children’s lives, by painting two very different possible paths down which a woman of passion, beauty, intelligence, and potential could walk. Goodness does not remove all difficulties, as Antonia found through her suffering, but neither does repentance restore what all that is lost or heal all that is wounded, as Kristin found through her suffering. And the suffering endured with passionate love for the good, for truth, and for beauty will leave a much different mark on the people around us than suffering we bring down upon our own heads through our sin and poor choices.

Posted in book lists, family life, Uncategorized

books for the youngest dinosaur lovers

When Rondel fell in love with dinosaurs this fall (with Limerick close on his heels, as always), I was at a bit of a loss at first as to how to feed this love with good books. I spent a lot of time searching through recommended book lists online, as well as combing through the library catalog, and ended up bringing home quite a few of various genres, lengths, and reading levels. While I think that all of the books we ended up trying out were good books, some were definitely better than others for a young preschooler and a toddler! Two important aspects that stood out to me were quality illustrations and accurate but accessible information. In other words, mediocre art or dumbed-down language made a book annoying to me and, what mattered more, less captivating or engaging for the boys. Drawings that captured the wonder and drama of the dinosaurs could keep them riveted, and detailed information at an accessible level answered their questions and gave them a foundation for their own imaginative dinosaur play. All of the books we ended up truly loving had at least one if not both of these attributes.

disfordinosaur

D is for Dinosaur: A Prehistoric Alphabet, by Todd Chapman and Lita Judge

This book was one of the best. The alphabet format allowed it to move through a wide range of dinosaur topics (some pages focused on types of dinosaurs, others on specific species, others on basic scientific concepts, and still more on fossil discoveries and paleontologists) without becoming overly long and unwieldy. Each page had a short poem to go with the letter and a well-crafted illustration to accompany the poem, but the unexpected bonus on each page was the extensive sidebar of supplemental information. I never read a full sidebar to the boys, but I almost always grabbed one or two sentences from them to give them more information about the drawings (which were incredibly detailed and thus led to detailed questions from the boys). This book also spent some time on extinction and what happened to the dinosaurs, which helped Rondel understand why he couldn’t just go out and find some real dinosaurs!

monsterbones

Monster Bones: The Story of a Dinosaur Fossil by Jacqui Bailey

This book tells the story of a dinosaur who comes to an untimely end, slowly fossilizes, and is eventually discovered and reassembled. The science is good (one section describes how bone turns into stone at a microscopic level!) and punctuated by humorous thought bubbles from the dinosaur himself; information is broken up into segments and sidebars so that the discerning adult reader can add more or less information and time to the story as is appropriate for the listeners’ attention span at the moment. Sometimes we read them all and sometimes we skipped most of them… But more than any other book we found, this book explained fossilization and described paleontology in a way that a very young child could understand and get excited about. And since it’s rather incomplete, at least in my opinion as a scientist, to just learn about dinosaurs without understanding how we’ve obtained that knowledge, this was an invaluable resource (not to mention that most other dinosaur books will just casually mention “dinosaur fossils” and expect the reader to know what that means). It was an enjoyable book for me to read aloud and surprisingly to me, since I thought it might be a few years beyond them still, it was enjoyable for the boys as well. They even asked for it at bedtime!

In addition to these books, we had a few Eyewitness/Atlas type of books that gave broad overviews of the dinosaur era; they weren’t the sort of thing we could read straight through, but they tended to have excellent illustrations and exposed the boys to the vast spectrum of dinosaur species that existed. We also borrowed the Wee Sing Dinosaurs CD from the library and Rondel begged for it every car ride to the point of tears… but while it was a huge success with him, it drove my husband absolutely crazy! The songs are cute but far from high musical quality, and they will be stuck in your head forever once you’ve heard them a few times…

The rest of the books we brought home were either over the boys’ heads or not really at the same level as the two above. I am looking forward to reading the Magic School Bus books with them when they’re older, as I loved them when I was a kid and the dinosaur one seemed quite good when I skimmed through it this time around, but so far the boys have very little interest in them. It would also be nice to find some decent dinosaur fiction! Rondel doesn’t need the storyline aspect to stay engaged, because the dinosaurs themselves are the draw and poorly done stories detract from that, but I would enjoy it and I believe Limerick would as well (and a book that appeals to both of them is always welcome).

So there is my very short list of excellent recommended books for the very young dinosaur lover! With these, some dinosaur atlases, and some dinosaur figurines (accurate ones of course!), you should be set. Even your one-year-old may go around saying things like “metriacanthosaurus” and correcting you if you don’t pronounce “parasaurolophus” correctly, and your three-year-old should be prepared for months of dinosaur pretend play involving such things as turning into a dinosaur fossil (by being buried under pillows and blankets for “millions of years”), hatching from a dinosaur egg, roaring like a giganotosaurus, being eaten by a T. rex, and ramming his head into everyone like a pachycephalosaurus. (Results not guaranteed).

Posted in book lists

favorite books at almost-three

I think it’s time for another book list!

Rondel, about a week away from his third birthday, has discovered that subset of children’s books that have bears as the protagonists, and is completely in love with them. His favorites span quite a wide range of reading level (from board books to chapter books) but it seems like the bears are the appeal right now. So from easiest to most difficult, here are his current favorite bear books!

The Moonbear/Bear Books by Frank Asch

There are a lot of these books; Asch was a pretty prolific author! My parents have at least 12 of them (including 4 board books) from my brother’s toddlerhood, and Rondel loves them all. He’ll bring out the whole pile of books and contentedly rotate through them until the adult reader has to take a break! Some of our favorites include:

Sand Cake

In which a baby bear and his papa find a creative way to bake and eat a cake at the beach, even though all they can see is ocean and sand.

Skyfire

In which Moonbear worries that the sky is on fire when he sees a rainbow, and does his best to put it out despite Little Bird’s reassurances.

Moongame

In which Little Bird teaches Moonbear how to play hide-and-seek, and Moonbear asks the moon to play along.

But really, it is hard to go wrong with the Moonbear books. My personal favorites are Mooncake and Moondance! He is a very endearing character – not the brightest, which lets even little kids see the humor of the situations he gets himself into – but very genuine and open. He deeply cares about the things in his world, whether it’s the sky, the moon, the clouds, or his friends.

Don Freeman’s Bear Books

These two books aren’t part of a series (although one of them does have a sequel, which Rondel hasn’t read yet), but they’re by the same author and capture some of the same innocence and love.

Corduroy, which made it onto Rondel’s favorite book list a year ago, still holds a special place in his heart (and in mine!). We went to the mall this weekend and he saw and escalator for probably the first time and immediately wanted to ride up it because that’s what Corduroy Bear got to do in the book! So of course we did 🙂

Rondel’s new absolute favorite book, though, is another by the same author:

Beady Bear

In which a toy bear discovers in a book that bears ought to live in caves, and so sets out to find a cave and make it his own. The pull for Rondel in this book is when Beady’s friend Thayer comes and finds him and brings him back home with a big hug. After Thayer has found him and wound him back up, Beady asks Thayer, “If I need you, who do you need?” and Rondel always answers, delightedly, before I can turn the page, “Beady!” And then of course we have the perfect excuse for a hug of our own before reading the last few pages 🙂

 

And finally… A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh Stories!

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh

If you’ve never read these, you’re missing out. I think most of you, however, are already familiar with the bumbling, innocent, creative characters of Milne’s invention, and it has been a pleasure introducing Rondel to them for the first time. This is the first chapter book we’ve attempted to read aloud together, and I wasn’t sure how it would go, but he has sat captivated for each (long) chapter, asked questions about the stories, and referenced them in conversation afterwards. I’m sure a lot of it goes over his head, but how can you learn if everything you read is at or below the level you can understand already?

So there you have it, our current favorite bear books, courtesy of Rondel at almost-three 🙂

Posted in book lists, family life

favorite books at just past two

I think it is a good idea to keep track of the best and most-loved books I come across, if for nothing else than to remember to pull them out for younger siblings or give them as gifts to friends and family 🙂 These are some of our favorites – books that Rondel asks for over and over again and that can be read over and over again by me or my husband without inducing insanity.

Just for reference, at the time of this list, Rondel is 26 months old.

Corduroy, by Don Freeman, 1976

This is a classic story about friendship and home, from the perspective of a toy bear looking for his button. Everyday things and circumstances are described with the kind of wide-eyed wonder that a little kid is going to have as he encounters the world, without losing their simplicity. I think it is hard to capture that kind of innocence in an urban setting in kids’ books, at least from the books that I’ve read, and so this book is great for those of us who live in the city and can’t rely on nature to fuel our children’s sense of wonder and exploration. But more than that, Corduroy the bear is simply an endearing character who quickly finds a place in the reader’s heart. Despite this being a longer book, Rondel asks for it often and gives it rapt attention.

Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, by Richard Scarry, 1974

This has been a favorite of my son’s for a long time now! It can be read cover-to-cover for the story of the Pig family going to the beach, or simply enjoyed on a page-by-page basis for the illustrations and humor. At this point we usually just read a page or two at a time, because it is a long book and Rondel is more interested in the different vehicles on each page than in the story anyway. Especially if your child is obsessed with cars and trucks, this is a good book to have in your home library.

A Child’s Treasury of Nursery Rhymes, collected by Kady MacDonald Denton, 1998

I’m sure there are a lot of excellent poetry collections available for younger kids, but this is ours, and we love it. Rondel has been asking to read from it at bedtime every day for several weeks now, and when we read from it during the day he keeps asking for more. He’s starting to have favorite poems as well, like the flying-man poem or the chuff-chuff-chuff train poem. Because each poem is illustrated, he has visual anchors to connect with the words and rhythms, which is an advantage over my other favorite poetry collection. There are of course a few poems that feel odd and out of place, or not quite appropriate for the age of the intended audience, but overall the poems are perfect in feel and content and the layout of words and pictures on each page is very well done. The poems lend themselves quite well to finger games, roughhousing, and cuddling also!

Little Fur Family, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Garth Williams, 1970

This book is, in my mind, very similar to Corduroy in the way it captures the wonder and simplicity of everyday life. In this case, the setting is a normal day in the life of a little fur child who lives in the woods. He spends all day playing outside by himself, making discoveries, observing the world around him with all his senses; Brown uses simple but evocative language to describe what he sees and feels and hears. Then, at the end of the day, he returns home to the comfort and security of his family, whose love and presence is clearly shown. I have always loved this book, even as a single adult. The prose has just enough meter to feel rhythmic and almost musical without falling into a rhyme-y or sing-song pattern, and the illustrations are absolutely beautiful.

“Could Be Worse!”, by James Stevenson, 1987

This book is definitely intended for slightly older children, but Rondel enjoys the vibrant illustrations, the repeated theme (“Could be worse!”), and the ridiculously tall tale unexpectedly told by the grandpa. He doesn’t get all the humor, or some of the more subtle layers of the book, but he likes it enough anyways to ask for it 5-6 times a day! I have a suspicion that he pictures his own grandpa doing some of the crazier things in the story… 🙂

In addition to these top five, there are quite a few board books that Rondel loves and that are easier to read when Limerick is around, since he has a tendency to try to rip the picture books. But I will save those for another post as this one is already quite long!