Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Peeny Butter Fudge - Toni Morrison & Slade Morrison

As a child, I spent my summers with my grandparents.  Every morning, my grandmother prepared dinner for that evening (usually anticipating a few guests) and baked up a storm.  She woke up early, so by the time I got out of bed the house often smelled of fresh banana bread or chocolate cake.  While she frequently scolded me for jumping around too much and causing her sponge cakes to fall, mostly I remember sitting at the  table while she did her thing.  On many of those mornings while she cooked, she told me about her life - growing up with a dozen siblings, riding motorcycles through the cane fields when she was supposed to be at school, working as a domestic at the age of 12, meeting my grandfather, raising her family.  My grandmother had a ton of energy and was always rushing around from one thing to another, but even as a kid, I knew those moments I had her all to myself in the kitchen were really special.

My grandmother passed away over 10 years ago, but there aren't many days that I don't miss her.  I love to bake - mostly because it reminds me of being with her.  My mom is also an excellent cook/baker, and one of my favorite things to do now is to look for recipes with her, trade stories about what we're making, and on far too rare occasions bake with her - often times while laughing about my grandmother's cryptic recipes and wishing we could eat her manju or lilikoi chiffon pie just one more time.

These days, because I remember growing up with my grandparents so fondly, I love seeing my children with their grandparents - building those same kinds of memories and feeling the same kind of unconditional love.  I'm always on the look out for books about relationships between grandparents and their grandchildren - there are certainly many out there.  And at the library this past week, I stumbled upon a great one for our family called Peeny Butter Fudge - written by Toni Morrison and her late son, Slade Morrison.  It is the story of a grandmother who turns a mundane afternoon into a magical one, and bakes a favorite family recipe with her grandchildren - all told in Morrison's beautiful poetic style.  This book is a quick read - but for me the story was more in the pictures and the ideas - and in talking to my kids while we were reading it about all the things they love to do with their grandmas - and of course all the things I used to do with mine.

The book ends with the recipe for Peeny Butter Fudge - which of course, I had to try out.  I initially thought it would be a good evening project to do with my girls.  But, they were off drawing cards for their grandmas.  In the end, I just felt like making it by myself and spending some quiet time with my grandma once again.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Orphan Train - Christina Baker Kline

I have been on a non-fiction kick lately (and not updating the blog, clearly), but I took a break from that endeavor to read this book - which I've been hearing about since last year and was handed to me by my mother-in-law.  Orphan Train explores the unlikely friendship between a disgruntled teen foster youth, and an elderly wealthy woman.  As the book explores the parallels between the lives of the two women, it switches back and forth from the present to the life of the elderly woman who traveled on the orphan trains from New York across the midwest to find "suitable" homes for orphaned and abandoned immigrant children.  This was a quick read -  I read it in one sitting on a plane from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. - and I ended it in tears (not at all embarrassing on a very public plane ride!).  This reminded me of the fiction I love to read - stories about women, coming of age stories, and stories of unlikely friendships and connections.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Clara's Pick of the Week: The Books of Kyla May

My almost three-and-a-half year old girls are making the transition from picture books to chapter-like books - we still read lots of picture books, of course, but they like the idea of have older kid books to also read from and cart around.  Recently, a friend passed along a recommendation for an author named Kyla May.  She has several different book series, including one about magical twins.  We read the first book in that series: Lost Tooth Rescue about twins Lottie and Mia who start at a new school and use their twin powers to help a friend who has lost her tooth.  I wouldn't say the story was particularly compelling, but along with the illustrations it was quite fun - my girls did like the twin aspect, as well as the magic.  And, there was also glitter and a purple unicorn involved, so those were all positives.  We will check out the second book in the series, School Bully, Beware! soon.

But, the real recommendation hit were the books in Kyla May's series: The Lotus Lane Girls Club.  The series includes four books about a group of friends named Coco, Kiki, Mika, and Lulu.  Each girl has her own book which acts as a journal about her life and adventures.  Clara has taken a particular liking to Coco who loves animals and baking - and carried a cool purse and has a cat.  The format of the books is fun to read - with cute illustrations and lots of facts about the characters. We are looking forward to reading all of the books in the series, but for now Clara just wants to carry this one around with her everywhere and read a few pages together whenever we can!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Clara's Pick of the Week: Monsters Eat Whiny Children

I randomly came across this book at the library and the title just spoke to me.  My three-year-olds have been in a whiny phase lately, and I thought this book might send them a good message.  The books is about two little children - a brother and sister - who are themselves in a terrible phase.  Their father warns them that Monsters Eat Whiny Children, and sure enough, one day, when the whining gets to be too much, a monster sneaks in and snatches them right up.  He takes them to his Monster Lair where he brainstorms various dishes he might cook the children in - from Whiny Child Salad to Whiny Child Burger to Whiny Child Vindaloo.  My girls had fun laughing along with each step, as well as being just a bit worried that their whining might land them in a boiling cooking pot.  I can't say that the book has cured them entirely of the behavior, but it's been a good one to bring up to break the tension.  There are a few lines in the book that I am not a fan of - the wife monster is a bit of a stereotypical nagging bullying wife, who claims she can't eat Whiny Child Cake because "her bottom is too big."  I don't generally endorse female characters commenting negatively on their bodies- so I tend to skip the line (though someone else who read this to them did not, and of course it's the one line they remember and keep pointing out that I've skipped over).  I think there is also some name-calling language that I also leave out, but overall this is a silly book - that gets kids talking about proper behavior and consequences, as well as some really good food.

Thursday, December 31, 2015


As we finish out 2015 up in the (finally!) snow-covered mountains of Tahoe, we've been reading some books to keep us in the snow and ice spirit.  Here are a few of our favorites from this week:

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen: In addition to finding books about winter, I've been trying to introduce my children to more well-known fairy-tales, just for a dose of cultural literacy.  In The Snow Queen, an evil troll causes young Kai's heart to turn to ice.  As he disappears to live with the Snow Queen, his brave friend Greda sets off on a quest to save him.

The Mitten by Jan Brett: My mother gave this one to my kids a couple years ago, and it's still a favorite.  In The Mitten, a boy's grandma knits him a pair of white gloves.  When he loses one in the snow, it becomes an improbable warm retreat for a large number of winter creatures.  A really fun story for learning about different animals, and for encouraging snuggling into warm blankets on a cold winter evening!

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats:  Who doesn't love this classic, and Caldecott Medal Winner, about a little boy who trudges off into the city on a snowy day.  My favorite part is when he tries to save a little snowball in his pocket when he returns home for the day.  A wonderful book about enjoying the cold weather and making an adventure out of every day life.

Wishing everyone a wonderful winter season filled with wonderful books that keep you warm and smiling!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ben's Chapter Book Pick: Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot!

Ben's most recent chapter book find features a mouse named Ricky Ricotta and his Might Robot!  Each book features alien villains of some sort from another planet.  Ricky must save Earth from the villains with the help of his Mighty Robot.  The nine books in the series each feature creatures from a different planet -very appealing to many preschoolers who love space, planets, robots, and fighting!

One day Ben brought one of these books to school and his Teacher Jill read it to him and his friends.  Since then, Ben - who is otherwise a bit shy with his teachers - has wanted to bring other books in the series from school to read with this teacher.  It has been a really nice way for the two of them to connect and a starting point for some conversations between the two of them that I think will help grow their relationship and Ben's trust in this teacher.  It's been a fun connection to watch, and I'm always happy when Ben gets excited about a new series.

So far, we've read the following titles:

  • Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot
  • Ricky Ricotta's Might Robot vs. The Mutant Mosquitoes from Mercury
  • Ricky Ricotta's Might Robot vs. The Voodoo Vultures from Venus
  • Ricky Ricotta's Might Robot vs. The Jurassic Jackrabbits from Jupiter
  • Ricky Ricotta's Might Robot vs. The Uranium Unicorns from Uranus
We have a few requested from the library coming in soon - and I hope we can find the rest of the series before we move on to the next one!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

I'm Your Peanut Butter Big Brother by Selina Alko

I've been trying to be more conscientious lately about choosing books for my children that both feature children of color, and that explicitly discuss issues of race.  I found this book, I'm Your Peanut Butter Big Brother, on the We Need Diverse Books website.  It features a little boy who is eagerly anticipating the arrival of his little brother or sister.  While he describes his own skin color as like peanut butter, he wonders what his new sibling will look like, and how s/he will be a mix of their father and mother.  Many of the descriptions of the possible different skin tones are described in terms of different kinds of foods - ones that small children will be familiar with.  I did run across a comment online (that I can't find at the moment) that took offense at using these type of descriptors.  I'm not sure what is "right" or "wrong" in describing skin tones, but I think the book is a good depiction of why we all have certain features - how we sometimes look like like our parents, but sometimes we might not at all if they are very different looking from each other.  It also sparked a discussion about why siblings who come from the same two biological parents might looks very different from each other.  My children enjoyed the illustrations, and thought it was really funny at the end when the big brother and younger sibling were depicted as ice cream cones.  It didn't cause any deep revelations to occur, but I think it did get them thinking about different skin tones and the recognition that people look different from each other for many reasons, none of them bad.