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.