Friday, August 11, 2017

Clara's Pick of the Week: Notebook of Doom

Clara stumbled upon this series at our library the other day:  The Notebook of Doom.  We checked out the first book in the series, Rise of the Balloon Goons.  A young boy, Alexander Bopp, has just moved to the town of Stermont.  The town seems relatively normal at first, but Alexander soon finds out that it is filled with monsters.  He finds The Notebook of Doom, which is filled with drawings and descriptions of all the various monsters around town - how to spot them and how to fight them.  Clara loved the first book - and has decided to be a "balloon goon" for Halloween.  We quickly read the second and third books in the series, and are waiting on a few more from the library.  These are easy-to-read chapter books, with fun illustrations thrown in - and the feel of a real notebook, with thoughts and pictures in the margins.  A good transition series from picture books to full-fledged no illustration chapter books!  We can't wait to see what monsters Alexander and his friends encounter next!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ben's Summer Pick: I Survived!

My six-year-old son (like a lot of people) has a fascination with natural disasters.  I'd think this was strange, but my older brother and his 10-year-old daughter share the same interest, and I grew up watching shows like Stormchasers and Extreme Weather, never quite understanding it all.  But, clearly they are not the only ones because there are all kinds of books for kids on disasters.  A couple months ago my son had an absolute blast reading a book called The Surviv-o-pedia.  It is, as the title suggests, an encyclopedia of dangerous situations that people have survived - from shark attacks to quicksand to natural disasters.  It's filled with crazy stories and factoids, and he loved telling me about all the situations I'd probably rather not hear about!  After he finished this, we went on a search for other similar books - we found a few in the non-fiction section, but then stumbled upon an interesting fiction series called I Survived!  

There are about 18 books in the series - each tells a fiction story about a boy who survived a real-life disaster.  I thought this might satisfy Ben's disaster curiosity, while also teaching him a little history.  He has enjoyed some more than others - his favorite so far is I Survived the Eruption of Mount St. Helens, 1980  and I Survived the Destruction of Pompeii.  It has been fun to hear him talk about the stories with so much excitement and a little bit of fear.  I hope he won't become a stormchaser, but I don't mind him reading about these things in the comfort of our own living room!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Clara's Pick of the Week: Cowgirl Kate & Cocoa

My four-year-old daughter, Clara, has developed a recent fascination with horses.  Her biggest dream in life at the moment is to someday ride a horse, and she has asked me to borrow as many books as possible from the library about horses - real horses, as well as story horses.  So, I anticipate a few more horse-themed posts here in the near future.  But, in the meantime, one easy-to-read chapter books series we discovered and have been in enjoying is:  Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa.  After the first book introducing us to the characters, a young girl and her silly talking horse, we read the following:

- Cowgirl Kate & Cocoa: Partners
- Cowgirl Kate & Cocoa: School Days
- Cowgirl Kate & Cocoa: Rain or Shine
- Cowgirl Kate & Cocoa: Horse in the House (my personal favorite)
- Cowgirl Kate & Cocoa: Spring Babies

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Snails & Trees

It's Earth Day weekend and the weather is beautiful.  A perfect time to think about nature and spend time enjoying some fresh air.  Yesterday, I took a trip to the library with all three kids.  Alice requested books about "how seeds grow, and plants and trees."  Clara requested, "books about snails so we can learn more about how they grow and what they eat."  We succeeded in our quest, and enjoyed the following titles yesterday evening at bedtime:

Books about seeds and trees:

- A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston
- What Kind of Seeds are These?  by Heidi Bee Roemer
- The Little Plant Doctor: A Story About George Washington Carver by Jean Marzollo
- Who Will Plant a Tree? by Jerry Pallotta
- Be a Friend to Trees by Patricia Lauber

Books about snails:

- Are You a Snail? by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries
- The Biggest House in the World by Leo Leonini
- Snail: Fun Snail Facts and Photos by Alma Ray

Then today, the kids put their new knowledge to use and spent the afternoon observing snails and seeds, and generally enjoying being outside and celebrating the creatures and plants around us!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Brian Selznick

A couple years ago, I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick on my own.  I remember it being a charming story of a young boy living on his own in a train station.  The boy winds all the clocks in the station, and becomes obsessed with finding/stealing mechanical parts in order to restore an automaton.  The book contains wonderful black and white illustrations that not only go along with the written story, but also tell parts of the story.  Last month, my girls' pre-school teacher started reading this book to the class.  We decided to pick it up again at home to follow along, so both my older son and I could engage in conversations with the girls about the book - and we could all enjoy the magic together!

The book has been a jumping off point for so many fun projects at school, many of which have spilled over to home.  These have included:  black and white drawings, playing with wind-up toys, and tinkering with clocks.

Clara tinkering with a clock
She wants to become an horologist!
Old movies also play a role in the book, and one day the father of one of my girls' classmates came to show the kids an old projector and they watched a film on the wall.  Magic also plays a role in the film with the main boy, Hugo, learning sleight-of-hand tricks in order to obtain the parts he needs for his automaton.  I'm excited for the kids to learn a few tricks of their own!

Getting ready to watch an old film
Watching a film on a sheet on the wall

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Alice & Clara's Pick of the Week: Mouse and Mole

While looking for Valentine's Day books at the library, I stumbled upon a new series featuring a pair of friends, Mouse and Mole.  The Mouse and Mole series is written by Wong Herbert Yee (I noticed that there is another Mouse and Mole series written by Joyce Dunbar that also has a television show associated with it - perhaps we should check that one out next!).  Mouse and Mole books are simple chapter books - along the lines of Frog and Toad, or Little Bear - though there is just one narrative that runs through the entire book, instead of several different stories.

The first one we read was Mouse and Mole Secret Valentine about Mouse and Mole making Valentine's for their friends, and special Valentine's for their secret Valentines.  From there we went on to the following:

        • Mouse and Mole Fine Feathered Friends
          • Mouse and Mole a Winter Wonderland
          • A Brand New Day with Mouse and Mole
          • Abracadabra! Magic with Mouse and Mole
There are a couple more in the series that we have requested from the library and are eager to read.  All of the books are very sweet with the two friends doing consistent acts of kindness toward each other and their friends.  And all the illustrations of the animals are very cute.  My 4-year-olds are simply in love with Mouse and Mole!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fiction Hodge-Podge

To say I am behind on reviewing books that I've read lately is an understatement, so my hope is to do a little round-up of fiction and non-fiction books each week so if anyone is following along here and looking for something to read, they can check out the post of the week and see if anything jumps out as potentially interesting.  For my sanity (and yours), I'll try to keep the reviews/descriptions short.  Here are a few fiction books for the week:

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier: My love of The Girl with the Pearl Earring will keep me coming back to Tracy Chevalier, and lucky for me she has a pretty well-stocked arsenal of novels to keep me reading.  Lady with the Unicorn takes place in Paris in 1490, and centers around a mysterious tapestry that appears to depict the seduction of a unicorn.  The tapestries are commissioned by a French nobleman and created by a talented womanizer who creates chaos at court by seducing everyone from the servants to the nobleman's own wife and daughter.  The book follows the development of the narrative within the tapestry, but also the various relationships and affairs that inform that tapestry.

The Ten Year Nap is the second novel I've read by Meg Wolitzer (The Interestings was the first).  In both, she writes about what I think of as the burden of privilege malaise - that is people who have it all but who are unhappy with their situations, mostly because of choices that they made, but of course also because of circumstance and expectation.  On the one hand, this has made me annoyed and groan at the self-centeredness of the characters.  On the other, the writing is fantastic and the people are basically like real life.  It doesn't necessarily mean you want to read about it, but the again, I kind of do.  The Ten Year Nap focuses on a group of female friends n New York - well educated professional women, who got married, had children, stepped out of the work force, watched their children grow, and then suddenly find themselves in a position of not knowing quite what they themselves actually wanted out of life, but knowing that what they have isn't that satisfying (kind of The Yellow Wallpaper problem all over again).  I think this book has evoked some strong reactions from female readers - we all have opinions about whether moms should work or stay at home, or when they should go back to work, or who should take care of their children if they do go back to work - it's a hot button issue and we all have regrets as well as grateful moments for the decisions we've made.  I think Wolitzer did a find job navigating all these varied perspectives, and still creating a couple characters that were funny and relate-able.  I didn't realize Wolitzer had written so many books - I'm going to try another one and see if it falls into the privilege malaise category...I can only take so much of that each year!

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See:  In the sequel to Shanghai Girls, Pearl's daughter Joy run off back to China in search of her birth father, the renowned artist, Z. G. Li.  Once there, she finds herself swept up in the New Society of Communist China.  While her father lives a life of relative comfort due to his celebrity, Joy becomes determined to be one of the people, living on a farm to provide for the masses.  Back home, Pearl is desperate to find her daughter - and finally chooses to return to China to face her past and save her daughter.  This was a captivating but very painful read - not just because of the strained relationships, filled with misunderstandings and missed opportunities, but because of the horrific treatment of the Chinese people by their government.  Of course so much of the book is about propaganda and how the government censored and shaped the information provided to the people - and certainly that made me question how accurate the depiction in this book was (though seemingly pretty accurate given other non-fiction accounts of the time that I read after this).  Lisa See is a brilliant writer and this was a wonderful story of friendships and family - just emotional and difficult to take at times.