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 sqt

{sqt} – a very random list of things

I’m linking up with Kelly again today and I have no theme at all! Proceed for seven very random facts about myself and our week, some of which (say, 1 and 3 maybe) may explain my relatively low posting volume this week.

  1. Slightly embarrassing confession: I really like reading Harry Potter fan fiction (especially about the Marauders)… some if it is quite well done, and it’s basically like reading short stories about characters I kind of know in a world I’m already familiar with and it’s so good to be back in that world exploring it more.
  2. Another confession: I love reading books that make me cry. And nothing makes me cry more than the fumbling attempts of imperfect human love and compassion to console and heal people broken by the world. Like, a story where someone is finally finding a place where they belong and are accepted after years of feeling alone and inadequate and unlovable? I’ll be sobbing all over the place and I’ll reread it at least three times.
  3. We have been doing so many fall things that we almost burned out this month – multiple hikes up north, two different local pumpkin farms, picture books, pumpkin faces, pumpkin painting, fall-themed finger-painting, fall-themed play dough… it’s getting a bit excessive. I suppose we are simultaneously relishing the colder weather that makes it feel like fall and making up for the lack of traditional autumnal colors 🙂
  4. I’ve been avoiding Facebook because it’s been making me angry, and I’ve been hanging out on Pinterest instead. But then today Pinterest made me angry too 😦 I’m going to try to write about it this week (update – here’s the link) because I think it is an important point and not an irrational emotional response. Short version? Don’t act like you are victimized by your kids. There’s a difference between having a hard time as a parent and throwing your kids to the Internet wolves like it’s their fault for existing and having struggles.
  5. Rondel found a kangaroo Halloween costume he loved back in August… and he’s already outgrown it! He requested butterfly wings instead (because he glanced at my Pinterest and saw them) and chose a species called the Royal Assyrian from our Eyewitness book on butterflies. Neither of us felt comfortable just making up a butterfly; we both felt much happier looking up a real one. It wasn’t his first choice but it was his first choice that didn’t have black on it, since I have yards of felt in about 10 different colors but for some reason have no black felt. It is brown and purple, so it isn’t especially vibrant or bold – but he does want to add purple glitter so that should brighten it up. And it just makes me really happy that he can have all the fun of bright sparkly colors without someone telling him that purple glitter is for girls.
  6. For anyone else wanting to make butterfly wings or similar crafts with felt, I strongly recommend using a glue gun and I strongly recommend not using ModgePodge. I mean, unless you want your felt to become stiff and hard and not reliably stick together…
  7. And finally: it is not safe to let me into a craft store without a defined list and a spending limit. I went to buy a glue gun and pom-poms today and came out with pipecleaners, googly eyes, and a coloring book as well. (And the 300 pack of pom-poms instead of the 6 pack which is really all I needed, because they’re just so cute and fluffy and the kids will love them and pom-poms will be everywhere!!! My husband is horrified.)

I hope you all had a great week! Are you excited for Halloween? Are your costumes ready or are you in the midst of last-minute creations like we are?

 

Posted in musings

reading harry potter… again…

I reread the Harry Potter series these past few weeks and was reminded of how much I enjoy the books, how much I hate Umbridge, how conflicted my feelings are about Snape, James Potter, and Sirius, and how heart-wrenchingly sad the final battle of Hogwarts is. I really love how the series portrays even its heroes as flawed human beings – people with unique personalities, strengths, weaknesses, virtues, and vices; it counteracts the black-and-white thinking that I can be prone to. Also, I think my current favorite character is Luna Lovegood (it’s either her or Neville, the clumsy and insecure boy who blossoms into a leader of the revolt against Voldemort’s henchmen at Hogwarts).

Dolores Umbridge is arguably not the most evil character in the books. There is obviously Voldemort, who has no qualms about murder, injustice, and oppression. There are the Death Eaters, who agree with Voldemort’s positions on privilege and power, and who sacrifice the innocent to their cowardice (I’m thinking specifically of the Carrow’s here). There is even Barty Crouch, who sent Sirius to Azkaban without a trial, who upheld “justice” publicly by condemning his own son but undermined it privately by sneaking his son out of Azkaban and attempting to control him. But I hate Umbridge so much that I struggle reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, where she plays so prominent a role. I think it is the trappings of innocence and self-righteousness hung over the inner cruelty and self-serving ambition that infuriate me most about her – that, and the complete disregard she has for truth. Everything she does is a power play, a move towards a desired end, and it doesn’t matter at all to her what the facts actually are.

Luna, on the other hand, is disarmingly, unexpectedly, even awkwardly honest. She makes comments about the way she is picked on and her lack of friends as statements of fact, not seeking pity or assistance. She believes some strange things – but she believes them trusting the father who she loves, who has been her only family since her mother died when she was nine, and I admire the love and loyalty she shows him even when the other students are mocking him. From her outward appearance and behavior to the core of her personality, she is who she is and is not ashamed or self-conscious about it. And of course she is brave – she is the only non-Gryffindor student who joins Harry in his quest to rescue Sirius – and intelligent, with a love of learning and intellectual discovery (she is a Ravenclaw, after all 🙂 ).

I could go on and on about the characters; they each make me think so much about my own life and life in general, about the power of evil ideas and fear, about the strength needed to stay true to the right and the good, about the complexity of human beings and the relationships between them. But for now I’ll just ask – if you could pick one least favorite and one favorite character from the series, who would they be and why?

Posted in wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday episode 6

Just a short one today, since I haven’t taken pictures of some of our bigger things: we are learning that books hold the answers to our questions! This is such an important concept for a pre-reader! Especially for my pre-reader who asks me questions constantly all day long, this is going to be a significant source of motivation for learning how to read 🙂

Here’s how it went down.

I asked Rondel to shut the back door this evening because he was letting the bugs in. He did so, then asked me why the bugs wanted to come in. I told him that a lot of bugs are attracted to the light. Being his infinitely curious self, he then asked me why the bugs were attracted to the light – and I had to tell him that I didn’t know, that it wasn’t something I ever researched or learned about. He paused for a moment, and then said, “Would a book say why bugs like the light? Do we have a book about bugs?” I wasn’t sure if we did or not, so he went to look through our science crate to find out (and got distracted and came back with a book about elephants, but still).

We never did find out why bugs are attracted to light… a quick Google search in lieu of finding a book only reveals that scientists have conflicting and unproven theories but no answers, so I suppose it’s fortunate that he did get distracted! But the larger concept is something I was so happy to hear from him 🙂

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 sqt

{sqt} – in which everyone gets sick

As usual I’m joining the seven quick takes link up at This Ain’t The Lyceum today – head over and read some of the other blogs!

  1. I missed out on the book theme last week, but I did have a very exciting book moment this week: my mom (who is a professor at the local community college) came home with a big cardboard box full of books that another professor was giving away, and told me to take anything that looked interesting. They seemed brand new and were non-fiction spanning the spectrum from memoir to science to investigative journalism. In other words, they were a treasure trove and I selected quite a few of them… I’ve started hinting to my husband that we need to put shelves up high on the walls because we have no more floor space for another bookshelf!
  2. The only one of these books that I’ve had a chance to finish so far is Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America, by Mary Otto.41ydn0xVu3L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The book is primarily about public health policy, and explains quite a bit about both the history of dentistry and the current state of dental health access and expense. But it covers this potentially dry topic in a manner that is both rationally and emotionally powerful, drawing the reader in through stories of individuals affected by societal pressure for “perfect” teeth or by societal neglect of oral health. Before reading this, I had never realized the extent of either the available cosmetic dentistry services or the overall risks of poor dental health (I guess I live in a comfortable middle-class bubble here…), and I was surprised and saddened by much of what I learned. This book does not engage in a lot of philosophizing; it accumulates stories and statistics and allows the reader to come to their own conclusions.
  3. Another thing I have discovered this week is that drawing my own conclusions about medical issues is probably not a great idea, as they are likely to be wrong. Most of us have been sick this week, and Aubade had a cough and seemed miserable, so I called in to the doctor to ask for a refill on her Albuterol. The doctor asked us to come in (that is, the triage nurse called us at 3:25 and said that they wouldn’t refill the medicine without an appointment and that she had an opening at 4:00; we live 20 minutes away and the kids were in various states of undress and hadn’t had an afternoon snack yet), so we drove down there (and miraculously made it with three minutes to spare!) only to discover that Aubade wasn’t actually wheezing and thus didn’t need the Albuterol, but did have pinkeye and a double ear infections. Oh, and also that Limerick was extremely wheezy and did need the Albuterol, and had a higher fever than Aubade despite not feeling warm to my touch at all. So now they’re both drugged up, I’m nursing a sore eye, sore ears, and a headache, and Rondel is getting cabin fever from being cooped up all day with sick family.
  4. To occupy our time while quarantined in the house, we’ve been playing a lot of homemade board games, both on the number boards and with a rainbow-colored board game path we designed together (Rondel came up with a set of rules that are consistent, creative, and fair – I was really impressed). There are giant foam dice everywhere (we only have two, but they are always getting thrown around and lost and re-found), and the little animal toys we’ve been using as game pieces keep disappearing and reappearing and getting dumped out in the hallways, and the Duplos have literally made their way into every single room of the house such that walking around is an obstacle course (mostly afflicting poor Aubade who keeps tripping on them). Cleaning not only seems futile but requires a lot more energy than I have available being sick myself…
  5. We’ve also started coloring, drawing, and writing more again, since we’re stuck sitting around! Rondel even told me he wanted to learn how to write his letters, and persisted at it diligently until we left for swim lesson. He still switches hands when he writes, and he seems to see the parts of the letters instead of how those parts fit together to make a whole (his first “A” looked like a UFO before I verbalized for him a different way of perceiving and drawing it), but he did surprisingly well! Limerick is able to copy the letters well but doesn’t really pay any attention to direction and more often than not draws them sideways or upside down or reversed, without realizing it.
  6. Another thing that went surprisingly well was hiding tofu inside the popsicles I make for the kids, to increase the protein content (since they like to eat them as meals). It ended up just contributing a slight nutty flavor, which went really well with the peach-vanilla blend I was using. I loved it as a smoothie and the kids ate up all the popsicles!
  7. Also from the popsicles I’ve learned that frozen pineapple whips up in a food processor like egg whites or cream. If you process it with a little bit of milk it gives you something almost identical to whipped cream, just a bit more airy, that literally melts in your mouth. It is so good – I just want to eat it all plain every time I make it as a popsicle base. And I imagine if you used a non-dairy milk it could be a pretty decent whipped cream substitute!

I hope you all stay healthy and have a great week 🙂

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.

trolloliver

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?