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.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Trumpet of the Swan - E.B. White

I feel like there is never enough time to read alone before bed with my 4.5-year-old (we often can do this only after reading a few shorter books with his younger sisters) - so it takes us awhile to get through chapter books, but we really enjoyed Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White.  I'd never read this one as a kid, so it was fun to discover a new well-known story together.  Trumpet of the Swan tells the story of trumpeter swan, Louis, who is born unable to make any sound.  Concerned that he will never be able to woo his potential mate, Louis's father breaks into a music store and steals a trumpet for him.  With the sometimes help of his human bird-loving friend, Sam Beaver, Louis masters his trumpet and also learns to write.  I got a lot of "can a swan really do that?" questions during our readings - which were legitimate since the books is otherwise incredibly realistic in its descriptions of nature and animals.  This is a beautiful book for reading aloud, with some wonderful descriptive passages about observing animals and the changing seasons.  Often, I thought maybe Ben wasn't taking it all in, but he would check-in once in awhile and ask about a word, or tell me that he liked the way something was said, so I think he was getting into the rhythm of the book.  We have White's Stuart Little on the shelf which is much shorter, so we may turn to that next...or I may give Ben a break from my choice and let him enjoy a few superhero stories before we turn back to the "good stuff."

Friday, October 2, 2015

Sometimes you just have to laugh...

Every day life can be quite stressful - given my work and current events, it's easy to get bogged down in the negative.  When I have free time and want to unwind, I find that I tend toward the mindless - sitcoms on TV, comedies for movies...and whenever a well-known comedian comes out with a book, I try my best to put it on the list.  Here are a few of the ones I've read in relatively recent past:

No matter how bad her books get, I just can't quit Chelsea Handler.  Her most recent, Uganda Be Kidding Me, focuses on her travels around the world with her closest friends.  This book is horrible.  In chapter after chapter Chelsea gets drunk, is rude to her friends, makes some international faux pas, and then gets drunk again.  I didn't find much of it funny (and I do find her generally pretty funny) and feel like it's one of those situations where she really just thinks talking about how wasted she was is all she needs to get a laugh.  This was incredibly disappointing.  That being said, yes, I will read her next book when it comes out.

I love Amy Poehler.  I thought she was fabulous on SNL's Weekend Update, and after an iffy first-season, I became a true fan of Parks and Rec.  She seems like the kind of person I'd want to be friends with in real life, so I was eager to read her book, Yes Please.  Overall, I liked this book, but I wouldn't necessarily call if "funny."  I more appreciated her frank discussion of what it was like to be a working mom - the stress it put on her marriage (which ultimately ended in a divorce) and her emphasis on the help she receives from her nannies.  She is straight-forward and real, and to the extent there is humor, it kind of comes from a just a general shared vision of the world around us.  For people who are already fans, I would recommend this, but I don't see this winning over any new fans.

I'm not sure if this book is supposed to be funny.  Does Lena Dunham put herself out there as funny?  Or is it just that she is totally "real" about her generation in a way that just seems completely ridiculous so I feel like it's supposed to be funny?  I am not a fan of Lena Dunham's work.  I find Girls to be completely baffling, and do not (thankfully) know a single woman who behaves or speaks in the way the female characters on her show do.  That being said, Dunham has clearly gained incredible success in an industry in which she is not the typically successful (looking?) person.  And so I read Not That Kind of Girl in an attempt to gain better insight into this strange world in which she lives.  I thought this book was actually well-written - but it certainly did not endear me to Dunham.  She came across as a privileged spoiled-brat who created drama around her because her life was otherwise too boring.  I know there has been much made of the strange relationship she seems to have with her sister (including accusations of molestation), and I admit I was a bit taken aback by it all and wondered if she was exaggerating for some sort of perverse effect.  Whatever the case, it didn't really work for me.  I think Dunham is a bit clueless in many respects, but she is making it work in a world that doesn't think she has any right doing so - and that in and of itself is pretty impressive.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Books of William Steig

Ben's watercolor: created during Literacy Group
I love when people introduce me to new authors.  I love it even more when those people are my own kids.  Four afternoons a week, the kids in his preschool class heading off to kindergarten next year (including him), get together for what they call "Literacy Group."  In Literacy Group, a teacher reads books to them while they draw or paint, and have discussions about what they're reading.

On Mondays, they have tea-time during Literacy Group.  The kids in the group all happen to be boys, and while I know it shouldn't matter, I do get a kick out of just seeing these crazy active boys all sitting around a table together, enjoying a book and each other's company in such a civilized fashion (the teachers take photographs so we can better visualize this experience).

While the group has moved on to Steig's chapter book, Dominic, they started off the school year exploring the picture books of William Steig.  Steig was a prolific children's book author, so it's crazy to me that I don't recall ever reading any of his books.  Of course, the one that we are all familiar with (though may not have realized was a book) is Shrek.  Every day for a couple weeks, Ben came home and told me about a new book - he really seemed engaged by everything.  He would ask me if I had read something, and when I said, "No," he'd emphatically tell me to "look it up!"  He retold me the stories and asked me questions I wasn't quite sure of the answers to - given that I hadn't read any of the books!  So, I decided I better go to the library and check out a stack.  Here's a sampling of the ones I brought home and we read together:

Zeke Pippin - this story about a pig who finds a magic harmonica (after it falls off the back of a garbage truck) is Ben's favorite of the bunch.  I laughed when Zeke brought the harmonica home and cleaned it with his toothbrush and his father's Schnapps.  After he believes his family is not adequately appreciating his talents, he heads out into the world on a musical adventure.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble - this is my favorite of the Steig books we have read together.  Sylvester is a donkey who happens upon a red pebble.  When he touches it, he discovers he is granted his every wish.  An ill-advised wish, however, leaves him in the lurch.  As a kid (and as an adult), I often thought about what my three wishes would be (can I wish for more wishes?), so this story really spoke to me - and is a cautionary tale about what happens when you want for too much, and forget to be grateful for what you already have.

Amos and Boris - features a small mouse who befriends a blue whale.  This continued for us an on-going conversation we've been having about the differences between mammals and amphibians/reptiles.  It also includes a tidal wave which is one of Ben's favorite natural disasters.

Brave Irene - a dressmaker's daughter braves the elements to get a gown to a duchess in time.  She faces numerous dangers along the way.  Ben was not as keen on this book which he considered "a little scary."  But despite this, he excitedly told me about all the bad things Irene had to overcome.

Toby, What are You? - in this silly book, Toby acts things out and asks his parents to guess what he is.  Great inspiration for a game of charades.

Doctor De Soto - a mouse dentist is tested when a fox shows up with a toothache.  This book actually made me realize that I have read Steig before.  I first borrowed this book about three years ago when Ben was approaching his first dental appointment and I was looking for books to ease the strangeness of the visit.

Which Would You Rather Be? - asks the questions we've all wanted to know the answers to: would you rather be thunder or lightening?  A stick or a stone?  An interactive book that gets kids talking, and also inspired Literacy Group to learn one of Ben's now favorite songs:  El Condor Pasa by Simon & Garfunkel - and consequently inspired us to listen and learn more songs by S&G and Paul Simon.  I mean, what kid wouldn't love to sing The 59th Street Bridge Song?

There are over thirty more Steig children's books to choose from, so I anticipate that our interest in him will span the year.  Ben gets a kick out of reminding me that, "you don't really know these books, right Mom?  You know because I told you, right?"  My daughters are also quite curious and have taken to "stealing" our Steig library books and hiding them in their room so they can read what the big kids are reading.  I can't wait to see what else Literacy Group introduces us to throughout the year!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Ben's Chapter Book Pick: Fantastic Mr. Fox

While I do allow my children to pick out the books they want to read, every once in awhile, I still like to force some on them.  After a summer of chapter books about superheroes and Geronimo Stilton, I took back control, and foisted another Roald Dahl pick on Ben.  This time, the choice was Fantastic Mr. Fox.  I read this book back in elementary school, and vividly remember a description of one of the farmer's in the book having ear wax so bad that dead bugs were stuck in it.  I think of it every time I clean my ears!

The plot of this book is very straight-forward - simple for a four-year-old to understand and follow.  Mr. Fox has kept his family fed by stealing food every day from three rich local farmers.  When they wise-up to his shenanigans, they make a plan of their own to smoke Mr. Fox out of his hole and shoot him.  The chase is on, and the question is whether Mr. Fox can outsmart the greedy men, or whether he will meet his end.

As with a few other Dahl books, there is a moral dilemma here - does Mr. Fox have the right to steal food that isn't his?  Shouldn't he be punished?  But, without stealing, his family will presumably go hungry - and don't these farmers already have too much?  But, aside from the bigger picture, there is a lot of fun to be had with the descriptions and characters in this book.  It's short, so it took us about three nights to read, but throughout each reading, we would stop and talk about what we thought would happen next, whether we thought Mr. Fox would be able to escape, and what he was going to do if he did.

All in all, this was a very fun book to read out loud.  As with other Dahl books, there is some name-calling that I may have censored a bit, but for the most part, we told the story as-is.  Made me excited to move on soon to The B.F.G. and The Witches!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Unfortunate Pick of the Week: Bad Kitty

My girls love animals, so often when I'm at the library, I judge books by their covers and choose ones that feature animals - particularly dogs and cats.  So, I recently picked up Bad Kitty.  I often don't read the books before I bring them home because I don't want to judge the stories for my kids (especially since I am often surprised by what they find interesting/amusing)...but this was definitely a mistake in this instance.  Bad Kitty is an ABC book - about a kitty who becomes angry or happy depending on what A-Z foods are being brought home.  All in all, it's a fine book - and there are actually a ton of fun picturs that the kids love to talk about which is nice.  But the book is LONG - and it doesn't have much of a story - it's just going through the alphabet over and over again.

I read it once and thought, "I should return this..."  Then the next day I caught my husband in the middle of reading it to Alice.  He looked at me and said, "This is a LONG book" and later informed me of a way he found to just skip a lot of it and still get the basic story.  I tried that method at bedtime, but the kids kept interrupting me to "remind" me of the things I was "forgetting" to read.

I am torn.  I find this book tedious.  But my kids  LOVE it. I think they like the idea of a cat doing things it isn't supposed to do - and laughing at the messes that the cat makes.  And it's not as if the book is negative or has anything "bad" in it that is really objectionable.  I just find it boring.  And so the dilemma - return it and just tell the kids it was due...or suck it up and provide my kids with the silly laughter and enjoyment of it for reasons I can't understand.  I know I'll keep it around for a few days, but I'm not entirely happy about it.

And I'm really not happy about the fact that apparently this is an entire series of books!!  Please don't tell my kids!!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Pick of the Week: Rainstorm

Rainstorm by Barbara Lehman: This wordless picture book tells the story of a lonely little boy in a great big house.  On a rainy day, he discovers a key that unlocks a whole new world for him.  I've written about wordless books before, and how great I think they are in terms of engaging kids - letting them tell the story, making sure they're observing what characters are doing, thinking ahead, and considering what might happen next.  This book is no different - but has the added benefit of getting the kids to talk about their feelings, and the difference that having people in our lives can make.  All three of my kids love this one.  Sometimes, I try to avoid the wordless books - frankly because they require so much more work to tell the story and ask questions - but they are a great reminder that I should be interacting with our books more in general.  A great read for a rainy day!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Favorite from Alice: Tumble Bumble

Tumble Bumble is a short little rhyming tale about a pack of animals bumping into each other and eventually settling in to a nap together.  Very cute for kids who like animals and simple counting books.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Pick of the Week: Monsters Love Colors

My kids have lately been into all things monster and robot - and they always love brightly colored illustrations.  So it's no surprise that they absolutely LOVE Monsters Love Colors - a really simple story about monsters deciding what color they want to be, and then mixing and mashing the primary colors to achieve their desired hue.  The monsters are so cute and funny - the kids love saying the words along with me while I read it - and I don't mind going through it multiple times each night.

There is another book by the same author called Monsters Love School.  I just ordered it and hope it will help the kids get excited about their upcoming new school year!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Clara's Pick of the Week: Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs

Going back to the basics this week - Clara has been in love with Byron Barton's Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs.  Ben loved Barton's transportation books when he was younger - so simple, with bright illustrations.  My kids all love dinosaurs, but this book is particularly appealing because it shows dinosaur eggs hatching into little baby dinosaurs (and my girls in particular love all things baby).  We read this one at least five times a night.

And, it has sparked a love for one of my favorite childhood songs - The Triceratops Song:

Triceratops with three long horns, a beak like a parrot, and a frill where his neck is
Triceratops with four strong legs, and a tail in back!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Clara's Pick of the Week: Back to Bed, Ed!

To say my kids are not great at getting to bed is an understatement.  They would run around and play forever if I let them - we have a bedtime routine, but they always want more.  More snacks, more books, more songs, more stories.  But, I've never given up looking for books about helping different characters go to bed.  And my kids always seem to love them - even if they don't quite internalize the message.  Back to Bed, Ed! is a really cute book about a little mouse named Ed who loves getting ready for bed, but hates actually staying in bed.  His parents let him come into their room night after night, until they are so exhausted they take a stand and force him to stay in his own room.  The solution that works for Ed is a nice, safe, and simple one that we try with our girls too (spoiler alert - make sure they have enough of their little stuffed animal friends around to make them feel safe and happy).  This is a nice book to save for the last one of the night- it reminds my girls that they have their favorite animals and that they're going to be just fine.  Bedtime still isn't the easiest in our house, but Ed is helping a little bit.  For now.

Another recent favorite along these same lines is Goodnight, Daniel Tiger, which walks through Daniel's bedtime routine, until he gets to the point where he is actually happy to be going to bed.  My girls never get to that point, but they really like the Goodnight, Daniel Tiger song, and at the very least, it helps them calm down in the evening and at least get into bed (even if they want me to lie there with them for hours)!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Jumping for Joy: Frogs, Frogs, and More Frogs!!

King Snake and his prey at EBV
One of our favorite places to visit is the East Bay Vivarium - basically, a pet store that specializes in reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids.  While we don't happen to own any of these types of animals, the Vivarium is a fantastic place to visit and observe the animals - the people that work there are quirky and incredibly knowledgeable and more than willing to educate.  On a recent visit, we asked when the next snake might feed, and the guy behind the counter excitedly exclaimed "Right now!"  We then watched a King Snake attack, suffocate, and swallow his mouse prey.  But while the snake feeding was infinitely mesmerizing, since that visit, Ben has actually been more fascinated by frogs (the Vivarium also has a beautiful collection of tree frogs and dart frogs).
My favorite: Strawberry Poison-Dart Frog
To learn more about our little friends, we traveled to our local library, where we found a lot to choose from.  Ben's nightly favorite has been Frogs by Nic Bishop. This book is filled with incredible color photos of some of the worlds most amazing frogs, along with interesting factoids about them.  Other non-fiction books about frogs we've been reading are:
And, of course, we've been reading some fun fiction featuring frog characters old and new, such as:
For quiet learning about frogs, we've also explored the following resources:
And for something a little more messy, we've been exploring local ponds and parks, hoping to come across a few with frogs and tadpoles on the loose.  The Oakland Zoo also has a wonderful amphibian exhibit with incredible frogs, large and small.  Hoppy reading and exploring!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Exploring the Octopus's Garden!

Sometimes my kids just come home with seemingly random questions and interests.  One day Ben had a sudden fascination with octopus - asking me questions about their arms and ink, what they eat, and how they escape from animals that want to eat them.  So, while I did cheat and look up some answers on the internet, we decided to go to the library to get more information.

For straight-forward factual information, we found An Octopus is Amazing which introduced us to the fabulous world of the clever octopus.  Great illustrations and descriptions of where octopus live, how they trick their predators, and how they lure their prey.  We have read this one over and over.

But, once Ben had the basic about the octopus, I thought it would be fun to just read a few fiction stories featuring octopus.

Octopus Alone is a beautifully illustrated book by the author of Little Owl's Night (a favorite of my girls).  This one focuses on the independent nature of the octopus - something Ben pointed out in his non-fiction reading when he learned that octopus always live alone.

Octopus's Garden by Ringo Starrr- is the fun illustrated version of the famous Beatles song.  Great to listen to while playing the song in the background - and introducing the kids to fantastic music!

The Oswald books feature a blue octopus named Oswald.  We first met Oswald in Oswald Makes Music.  He's just a fun guy with a pet dog who goes on adventures around the city, making friends with cute animals and random creatures.  My girls find him hilarious.  Oswald was also made into a TV series, with Fred Savage as the voice of Oswald.  We haven't seen it, but will be checking it out soon!!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Little Adult Fiction

In trying to keep up with all the books my kids are reading, I definitely don't read as many adult novels as I used to - and when I do, I have a hard time finding the time to write my brief reviews of them.  I appreciate having GoodReads to keep track of all my books so when I do have time I can go back and review.  Here are a few from my backlog:

I went to kindergarten with the author of The Possibilities, who gained fame with her first novel The Descendants, which was later made into a movie staring George Clooney.  I was very excited for the release of her second novel, which is set in her new hometown of Breckenridge, Colorado.  The main character has recently lost her 22-year-old son, and is making her way through life - trying to remain as normal as possible, but obviously unable to do so.  While I enjoyed the general story here, I found the main character difficult to comprehend.  I have never lost a child, and clearly every one who has reacts in a different way - copes and grieves in different ways - but there was just something about this character that didn't seem quite realistic to me.  I could, however, be completely wrong.  I found this to be a fine read, but not quite up to the standard of The Descendants.

My mom recently started reading this book and found she couldn't get into it - she asked me if it was worth continuing with - I could not for the life of me remember anything about it.  Exactly the reason I started this blog in the first place - so I could look up books I had read (preferably while still fresh in my mind) and give competent recommendations.  Regardless, my advice to my mom and others is "there are so many books in this world - if there is one that you can't quite get into, move on!"  But, I was myself able to finish this one - it is right up my alley - it's about a few generations of a given family and takes place over several decades (with each chapter representing one year in the life of the family).  It was definitely slow-moving at times, but once I got into the rhythm of the family, I did find myself interested in how it would go.  This is apparently the first book in a proposed trilogy - I hope that the other two will back-track and go more in-depth with certain characters rather than continuing to move forward in this same fashion.

Update: Just realized that the second installment of the trilogy:  Early Warning came out in April.  Looks like it does continue along with the family from 1953 to the early 80s...not what I had in mind, but I am definitely getting myself in the queue at the library!

Anne Tyler is one of my go-to authors for good plot, easy reading.  Her latest is about Abby Whitshank and her family of grown children.  When she starts showing signs of dementia, and her husband Red doesn't seem quite up for the task of taking care of her on his own, two of her children move back home to make sure things keep moving along.  As they come together, the story is told through flashbacks - slowly uncovering various family secrets and hidden motivations.  Kind of one of those books where nothing really happens- except life.  A good beach or lazy Sunday read.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Alice & Clara's Pick of the Week: Found

Found by Salina Yoon - this simple book tells the story of Bear who one day discovers a stuffed bunny.  While he knows that the bunny must belong to someone else, he finds himself growing increasingly attached, while at the same time making an effort to find bunny's rightful owner.  My girls are incredibly attached to their stuffed animals, and they have enjoyed making up stories about how someone might have lost their stuffed animal, discussing how they would feel if they lost their favorite animal, and what they might do if they found someone else's animal.  The illustrations are brightly colored and easily identifiable.  For Alice, who loves to memorize the words of books and pretend to read them aloud, this is a perfect story.  Clara, on the other hand, loves to make up her own stories about familiar scenarios - and this book is also a perfect jumping off point for that.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pick of the Week: Wow! City!

Ben picked this over-sized book out at the library this past week and it's been a hit with both him and his sisters.  Wow! City! follows Izzy (a country girl) on her trip through the big city.  Each two-page spread features a new scene from the city.  The only text is two words on each two-page spread - "Wow!" and whatever it is Izzy is observing.  The illustrations and bright and complicated, and my kids all loved searching for Izzy and a cute little golden lab on each page.  Despite the fact that Ben is starting (slowly) to read, and my girls are growing into books with more sophisticated plots, I still love borrowing pictures books which I think force the kids to slow down a bit and encourages them to come up with storytelling of their own.  I've enjoyed "reading" this one over and over!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Pick of the Week: Lola Plants a Garden

Given the season, I've been on the look-out for books about planting and being outdoors.  I stumbled across Lola Plants a Garden on the Mighty Girl website.  In this beautifully illustrated book, Lola reads the poem "Mary Mary Quite Contrary" and decides that she wants to grow her own garden.  With the help of her mother, she learns about plants, picks out the seeds, plants her garden, waits for her garden to grow, and then invites her friends over to enjoy the fruits of her labors.  A perfect book for inspiring young ones to plant their own gardens.

I am also always on the look-out for books that feature characters of color, especially when the topic of the book has nothing to do with the race of the character.  The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is often cited as a particular example of this. The more my children can see people who don't look like them doing exactly the same things they enjoy doing, the better.

Lola is adorable and I was very happy to learn today that she has a series of books including:

  • Lola at the Library
  • Lola Loves Stories
  • Lola Reads to Leo
We'll be checking those out very soon!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ben's Pick of the Week: Water in the Park

My girls are obsessed with playgrounds, so I actually borrowed this book for them - so they could pour over the drawings of the swings and slides.  But, things don't always go as planned.

Instead of my girls, my son was the one who wanted to read this one over and over.  Water in the Park goes through the day in the life of a park - from the early morning when the turtles rest on the rock ponds and people walk their dogs, though the morning of children playing on the jungle gym and eating snacks, to the workers eating their lunches, to after-school ice cream treats, and finally to late night strollers.  It is a good way to talk about the different times of day - and what we do throughout the day.  My son is just starting to get a good grasp for the concept of time - and he has always been interested in the sequence of the day and order of events.  He also enjoyed the water focus of the book - from the turtle pond, to sprinklers, to a light-rain.

The illustrations in the book are complex - a lot going on in each panel - so this allowed for a great deal of conversation while reading the book - about what each person in the book is doing, where they might be coming from and going to, what we do at the park, etc. etc.  I love when books surprise me, and this one definitely falls into that category!  


Today, we combined many of our favorite things for a mostly warm indoor activity (on a cold-for-the-Bay Area morning), including play-dough, a nature hunt, and dinosaurs!  First, we went out in the backyard (in our pajamas) on a search for materials for our Dino-Land.  Ben focused on collecting rocks and sticks, while the girls went searching for foliage, including leaves, flowers, and ferns.  We then came inside where we used an empty storage container for Dino-Land.  First we took some of our old homemade play-dough to create the terrain  - we included a couple water pools, a grassy area with  volcano, and a few hills and valleys.  The kids then had fun finding places for all the treasures they discovered on their nature hunt.  Ben ran back outside a couple times to fill in a few areas.  In warmer weather, I'd like to create this Dino-Land outside using water and dirt/mud instead of play-dough.  

Because Dino-Land is in a storage container, it's easy to move around from room to room depending on where the kids want to play with it.  Admittedly, the space we used is a bit small for three kids and we did have some conflict arise over which dinosaurs should be placed in which locations - and which dinosaurs couldn't be moved because they are "resting" - but I think it will provide some exploration fun for the kids over the next couple days before we have to clean-up and put everything away.
Nature hunt for materials for Dino-Land

Building Dino-Land

And, of course, we always read a lot of books about dinosaurs - wonderful non-fiction books about real dinosaurs, and many children's books featuring dinosaur characters.  There are so many out there.  Here are some of the ones we're currently enjoying:



We also do a lot of coloring dinosaurs.  I know coloring books are controversial, but I think they are fine in moderation, and recommend the Dover Dinosaurs Coloring Book.  

We know there are so many other wonderfully fun activities to do with dinosaurs - we'd love to hear what everyone else has been up to!

The overpopulation of Dino-Land may lead to its extinction, but for now, everyone seems to be getting along!

Monday, May 11, 2015

All About Math

For the past couple weeks, Ben has been interested in books about numbers and math.  He can't always sit down and focus on actual math problems, but for now he seems to have a fascination about numbers, how they work, and why people find them so fun.  Here are a few books we've been reading in this area:

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman:  In general, I am a fan of children's biographies.  I think they're a really fun way to teach kids about real people doing real amazing things with their lives.  While Ben, like most kids, enjoys regular children's fiction, he always seems to get a kick out of knowing that we're reading about a "real person."  This book is the story of the mathematician Paul Erdős who I had actually never heard of before.  Young Paul loves math and numbers, but he hates school - he can't abide by the rules and so he convinces his mother to allow him to stay home and learn on his own.  He devotes hours and hours each day to learning about math, and grows into an eccentric world-traveling mathematician.  In addition to just learning about someone who followed their passion, I liked the emphasis on non-school learning.  It also seems that Paul's mother did a lot for him - so much so that in the book when Paul goes abroad at the age of 21 he isn't even quite sure how to butter his own bread.  He lacks basic social interaction skills, but still manages to make and develop incredible relationships.  It's a nice tribute to marching to your own drummer but still finding a way to contribute and fit in.  Ben was interested in the introduction of negative numbers in the book and the concept of an Erdős number, which describes a person's degree of separation from Erdős himself, based on their collaboration with him, or with another who has their own Erdős number (kind of similar to the Kevin Bacon Six-Degrees-of-Separation game).  

Zero the Hero by Joan Holub: in this cute story about the number zero, Zero fancies himself somewhat of a superhero.  Unfortunately, the other numbers don't value him quite as much.  They see him as kind of pointless when it comes to addition and subtraction, and they're terrified of him when it comes to multiplication.  But, when the numbers find themselves taken over by Roman Numerals, it's Zero who comes to the rescue.  Ben enjoyed the part where the Roman Numerals (with their spears) force the other numbers into a gladiator ring, and then use the word "skedaddle" when Zero comes to chase them off.  While I think the concept of placeholders was over his head, I still liked being able to introduce him to the idea through this very fun book - perfect for any kid (like Ben) who is currently in their superhero phase of development.

One by Kathryn Otoshi:  This author has several books based on numbers - all with beautiful brush painting illustrations.  In One, colors are a bit of a focus with hot-headed red bullying the calm and collected blue, until the number 1 comes along and teaches them how to stand up for themselves.  I appreciated the focus on the colors and numbers, while also telling a wonderful story about speaking up and standing tall.

There are a lot of other fun books out there that get kids doing math problems in fun and creative ways - one we've been recommended often and enjoy is Bedtime Math.  But, sometimes, I think it's great to just ruminate and live in the numbers - and that's why I like the books I've mentioned here.  They aren't about doing problems or solving anything - just about appreciating numbers and introducing kids to all the wonderful things we can do with them.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Alice & Clara's Picks of the Week

It's no surprise that a book by Lucy Cousins, author of the popular Maisy series, would be absolutely beloved in our home.  My kids love the bright illustrations - and the simple story is easily memorized after just a couple readings, so the kids can then "read" it to themselves, each other, and their animals.  Hooray for Fish! features a small fish who swims through the sea finding all kinds of fish from the big to the small, to the twirly-whirly and round-and-round.  Very simple but fun way to get the kids talking about different kinds of colors and fish - and a good jumping off point for drawing some fun under-water creations of their own!

I've been on the hunt for children's books that depict kids playing outdoors.  I found this one in a recent Scholastic Book Club catalog - and love it as much as my kids do.  Zoe's Jungle is the story of older sister, Zoe, and her younger sister Addie pretending that their playground is a vast jungle filled with incredible animals and adventures.  Zoe is the fearless explorer on the hunt for the elusive Addie-beast.  As their mother counts down the time to leave the park from FIVE MINUTES! to TIME TO GO! they rush to get every last bit of fun in.  Not only is this a really great book for encouraging outdoor play and make-believe, but it's a great example for kids about preparing to leave a place where they're having an incredible amount of fun.  My girls in particular are still at the stage when they cry when they have to leave the park -so using Zoe and Addie as a model for them has been a great side-benefit to this discovery.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Alice & Clara's Pick of the Week: Brownie & Pearl

We recently discovered the series Brownie & Pearl by Cynthia Rylant.  Brownie is a shy little girl, and Pearl is her right-hand cat.  Together they go on all kinds of adventures - having snacks, playing with friends, dressing up.  The books are brightly illustrated and the stories are very simply told with just a couple lines on each page.  Both my girls love Brownie and wish that Pearl was their very own cat.  They have quickly memorized the stories so that they can "read" them on their own and to each other.  I would recommend this series to any kid who enjoys the Maisy series.  There are 8 books in all:

  • Brownie & Pearl Step Out
  • Brownie & Pearl Get Dolled Up
  • Brownie & Pearl See the Sights
  • Brownie & Pearl Take a Dip
  • Brownie & Pearl Get a Bite
  • Brownie & Pearl Hit the Hay
  • Brownie & Pearl Go for Spin
  • Brownie & Peal Make Good
Later this year, Brownie & Pearl On the Go hits the shelves!!  

Monday, March 30, 2015

Happy Spring/Happy Easter!

Other than the terrible allergies that come with Spring, I love everything about the idea of the season - new life, beautiful flowers, bunnies and chicks - everything just seems so fresh and happy.  Easter is also one of my favorite holidays (I know, I have so many favorites!)  Growing up, I loved decorating eggs (drawing on the eggs with crayon before dipping in color was always my favorite method).  My mom always made us Easter baskets with chocolate bunnies and a little gift, and my dad enjoyed hiding eggs for us in places where we'd never find them.  My husband also comes from a family with many Easter traditions - since we've been together, I've enjoyed gathering with his dad's family on the Saturday of Easter weekend for a potluck and egg hunt, and with his mom's family on Sunday morning for a super competitive adult hunt with clues and a delicious Easter brunch of fantastic quiches, pigs in a blanket, and coffee cake.  It's a holiday that comes with a lot of opportunities for books and crafts, but more importantly, it's one of the few holidays outside of Thanksgiving and Christmas that really seems to bring families together (at least ours).

Getting all the craft supplies organized for 109 pre-schoolers!
This year, I volunteered to organize the crafts for my girls' pre-school Egg Hunt Day.  I know I always enjoy searching for, preparing for, and actually doing holiday crafts with my kids, so why not do it for 109 pre-schoolers?!?!  Luckily, my saintly mother stepped in to save me from myself and was a master with the templates, tracing, cutting, tying, and everything else necessary to make sure we had everything ready for our deadline.

Peek-a-Boo Chick
The first craft I chose was the Peek-a-Boo Chick.  This one involved cutting a lot of foam sheets for the egg and chick.  I got stickers for decorating, and then just used glue to assemble everything else (and a brad for the egg).  Even if you are doing this craft just with a couple kids, it does take a bit of prep time.  I figured many of the two and three year olds would be too little to successfully put the brad in the egg without ripping the foam, so my mom pieced together all the eggs in advance.  But once the prep is done, assembly for this craft is pretty quick, so it's a great one for kids with short attention spans.

I am a sucker for the crafts that involve kids' hand and footprints, so the second one I chose was the Handprint Easter Lamb.  Because I feared that actually inking the hands of so many pre-schoolers would be a nightmare, I just traced my kids' hands and then colored in the head and feet with black pen which I think worked just fine.  Getting the thumb-head at an angle that didn't look too weird took some trial and error, but the end product was fun.  I hope the kids will enjoy making these, and the parents will love them just as much as I do.
Handprint Lamb (courtesy of Ben's hand)
We are also  busy reading books about Spring and Easter.  Here's some of what we've been enjoying:

Books About Spring:
Books About Easter: (there are so many wonderful books about Easter - these are just a couple featuring some of my kids' favorite characters):

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Taking a Break to De-Stress

Clara making "ghosts" out of her batch
While we do a lot of reading in our house, sometimes you just need a break!  With three pre-school aged kids, some of my days just seem jam-packed with loud intensity - and there are times when I wonder just how long my group can go without whining, melting down, fighting, or just generally making me crazy.  So, to say I am always on the hunt for calming activities (for them and me) is an understatement.

We play with play-dough a lot in our house - and my go-to recipe is from the blog The Imagination Tree.  I love it.  It takes less than 20 minutes (and it only takes that long because I often have one of the kids help, or I'm trying to make it while doing a million other things!)  Usually, we go pretty standard and just add food coloring.  Play-dough is so fun, but it's also clearly a great sensory activity that strengthens little hands for fine motor skills.

About six months ago, thanks to a friend of a friend, I got really into essential oils.  Check out her Facebook Page (Nurse Freckles) for all kinds of wonderful information about things you can do with essential oils (as I'm writing this post, I'm drinking hot tea infused with Lemongrass, and my son is down the hall diffusing a blend to help with his breathing).

So, when I saw a post from  Lemon Lime Adventures for Calming Glitter Slime, I was immediately inspired.  Calming Glitter Slime is basically made from Elmer's Glue and Liquid Starch.   As explained on the post:

Calming Proprioceptive Input | Since this slime is extremely resistant and thick it provides a great deal of deep pressure and joint compressions. As you squeeze, fold, roll, and even pull the slime, you are sending signals to your brain that are calming and organizing! Much like chores, brain breaks and simple daily tasks, playing with slime is actually calming and can increase focus.

The material is vaguely play-dough-like, and the suggestion was to add calming essential oils to maximize the de-stressing properties of this substance.  Two of the things I get overly excited about in one place!  I had all the best intentions of following the recipe and making a huge cool batch for my kids...but, alas, I have no idea what liquid starch is!  I ordered something on Amazon that claimed to be liquid starch - but it was not.  I'm sure it serves the same purpose on clothing as liquid starch, but it did nothing for my Calming Glitter Slime!  But, I had no time to run out and track down liquid starch (it's probably not THAT hard to find, right?) I turned back to my trusty play-dough recipe, and I whipped up a batch.  My girls asked for purple, so I mixed my red and blue food coloring as best I could.  Then, I broke my #1 craft activity rule, which is NO GLITTER!!  Or as I like to call it "Devil's Dust."  And I added half a vial of purple glitter to the play-dough - and then, because the whole point was to get some CALM and RELAXATION out of this, I added a few drops of lavender oil to the recipe.

In the end, we didn't get to try this cool SLIME.  But we will.  I still have a ton of glue!  But, my girls were so excited to get some glitter in their lives, and I was so relaxed having just smelled the lavender as I was kneading the dough and absorbing it through my hands, that even if I only imagined that it worked on my kids too, well, that's just fine by me!

Alice poking at her Surprise Egg
As an added fun son is excited about Surprise Eggs (after he saw it on a youtube video), so I took a few of our plastic Easter Eggs, put a few jelly beans inside, and then wrapped it in the play-dough.  My kids are young, so they had a lot of fun doing this over and over, even if I just put old little trinkets in the eggs before covering them up.  

I loved the process of this activity - finding inspiration from all the amazing blogs out there, using essential oils to help my family re-gain balance, making an activity with and for my kids, screwing up but still finding a way to make it work, and of course, generating a lot of excitement and smiles!  And we will get to the GLITTER SLIME.  Soon.  I promise :)