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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 sqt

{sqt} – july quick takes: getting ready for school

  1. School starts early here in the valley, and while we’re not tied to any specific school schedule, I’m feeling ready to settle into more routine and structure than we’ve had in our (very fun and very busy) summer so far. Actually, for the first time in my life I’m creating tentative weekly and monthly schedules and will be trying to keep track of things in my own custom planner! I have never been able to maintain a planner for more than a week, so we’ll see how this goes.
  2. The most exciting part of preparing for school has been making a list of all the books I want to buy ๐Ÿ™‚ My husband will probably arch his eyebrows at me and comment about our lack of shelf space, but I currently have forty-five books on my list and I’m sure I’ll come up with more!
  3. I’m also thinking of purchasing a science curriculum – I found one that is about climate and biomes from a Montessori background, and while I definitely can’t buy all the physical props to go with it, the curriculum itself still looks like a solid introduction to those topics (very beautifully and thoughtfully laid out). Rondel moved up to a full-day scholarship amount through our state’s ESA program, so we have funds to cover more than speech therapy this year and I may be a bit over-excited about it…
  4. Rondel turned six this month! I haven’t uploaded any of the pictures from my camera yet, but he had a great party with both sides of the family present. He has so much energy now, and so much creativity, and such a love of nature. He’s also starting to decode words and is willing to spend more time practicing writing, so I think we have a pretty solid foundation going into the school year.IMG_3056
  5. One of my other major areas of focus this year is going to be on the saints. Probably more than half of my picture book list is about the lives of various saints, working out to about 1-2 every month (I have several from the library as well – I work at the university, so I can get year-long loans on most of the children’ books, for school purposes). Each saint portrays a slightly different way of loving and following God, and inspires us to love and follow Him in our own way. The community of saints is such a powerful and beautiful reality – and the stories of the saints help us see how the truths of the faith that we hear at church and read in the Bible can be lived out in different cultural and personal circumstances.
  6. Music and art is another thing I want to be more intentional about this upcoming year. Rondel especially loves to make crafts, but he needs a lot of help and things can get messy and I know the creativity won’t be able to shine as much as it could unless I schedule it in and make myself deal with the mess ๐Ÿ™‚ And since we do have some auditory sensitivities in the family, I may gently ease into music by making some simple instruments during our craft times, and then using them while singing together. Actually, if you have a list of high quality folk/traditional children’s music I would absolutely love it…
  7. Most importantly, our schedule is full of wide open times to play, explore, and go on adventures and trips. Routine provides stability, but flexibility and (some, minor) spontaneity provides a spark of excitement and energy.

How are you preparing for the new school year? Anything especially exciting or new? Also, don’t forget to visit This Ain’t the Lyceum for the quick takes linkup today!

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:ย 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!

IMG_0253.jpg

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday: episode 3

Today we went to the grocery store and learned about the way peaches smell when they’re ripe and good to eat (and also plums). I learned that Limerick will pull the leaves off of strawberries before he eats them, while Aubade will eat them leaves and all.

We learned about the strength of the wind in a storm when we saw huge branches torn off of trees by the monsoon that came through last night.

We learned about the hiddenness of the wind, how it can only be inferred by the consequences of its presence, last night as we watched that storm crash down the street and read Christina Rosetti’s poem about the wind:

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

Rondel wondered at how we can feel the wind when it presses against us even though we can’t see it coming with our eyes.

Today, we talked about how scary things can be when they are new and unfamiliar and unknown, when really they are good and beautiful things, because we discovered some books on that theme at the library:ย Tiny’s Big Adventure by Martin Waddell,ย What Do You Do With a Chance? by Kobi Yamada, andย Little Frog and the Scary Autumn Thing by Jane Yolen.

Earlier this week we made a 10×10 number chart and discovered that if we covered up all the odd numbers with flakes (all the numbers that can’t be split into two groups, as the boys say), the even numbers that were left all lined up in neat columns and had 2, 4, 6, 8, or 0 in their ones place. We also spent a lot of time figuring out which numbers would be visible if we covered up the ones that couldn’t be split into three groups, but we didn’t discover a reliable pattern yet for those numbers. (Limerick loved figuring it out for each number though, so I’m sure he’ll find the pattern pretty soon).

Rondel watched a documentary about the Galapagos islands and learned about an iguana that laid its eggs in nests of volcanic ash and so couldn’t leave the volcano summit of one of the islands, and also learned about the blue-footed booby for the first time and was impressed by how blue its feet really are!

And I learned that the best way to turn around a bad day is to apologize directly for my irritability and impatience, instead of just hoping it will go away and be forgotten.

Those are our recent highlights! What have you all been learning and discovering in your lives lately? What riches of knowledge and adventure have your curiosity and hunger to learn unearthed for you?

Posted in book lists, family life

literary explorations – traveling the world with picture books!

Inspired by the great resourceย 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:ย Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain, a Nandi folktale retold by Verna Aardema; andย 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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.