Dear Duncan Jones…

August 12, 2017 at 12:55 am (Guest Blogger, Reviews) (, , , , )

Title: The Zebra Just Couldn’t Decide

Author/ Illustrator: Duncan Jones

We had the pleasure of receiving a new Duncan Jones picture book in the mail. Years ago, we were privy to his first book. My kiddo attended a book signing of his at Half Price Books in Humble. She has been wearing t-shirts he designed ever since.  Needless to say, she was pretty thrilled to discover he had sent her a NEW book.

“Dear Duncan Jones,

I think it’s a silly a book because every single animal wants to be the color that they already are. The flamingo wants to be pink and the flamingo IS pink. All rhinos are gray, people know that. The green snake already is a green snake. The wildebeest wants to be brown like the ground and he already is brown like the ground. The zebra just can’t decide and I’m kinda glad he can’t decide, because if he chose the color that he already was, he’d be as crazy as the others. I don’t know why the others want to be the color they already are.  I think it’s a pretty silly book, but I like it. And thank you for writing it.

Love, silly me”  [Ayla, age 6]

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Jorie and the Magic Stones

June 25, 2017 at 7:20 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

19437293_10100245730471579_2579479098578961460_n.jpgTitle: Jorie and the Magic Stones

Author: A. H. Richardson

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Length: 263 pages

Kiddo and I received this book some months ago as a review copy. We adore fantasy and fairy tales and Cabrynthius was an exciting addition to our travels which already included Narnia, the Land of Stories, Neverland, Hogwarts, and more.

Kiddo is six years old and her official review goes as follows,

“Jorie is a great book. I love the adventures she had. I want to learn more about the mysterious book she found under her bed. Please make a sequel.”

She also asked me to include three happy face emojis, of which I will refrain. But if we’re working on a happy face system instead of star ratings, she gives it three in a row. (I think happy faces may be worth more than stars.)

Richardson is a talented children’s adventure storyteller. I can say I probably would have enjoyed this book thoroughly as a second grader, although the average reading level might fall in a third or fourth grade level.  As an adult reading a children’s book, the story was appropriately paced, the trials and life lessons were concisely addressed, and I looked forward to reading each chapter with my little girl.

My only criticism for the work as a whole lies in an editorial preference: too many instances of the word “quite.” In future works, I hope that Richardson takes a red pen to every use of the word “quite” and marks it out. Keep three, maybe, but lose the rest. I found the word more distracting than descriptive.

All in all, Jorie and the Magic Stones belongs in children’s libraries everywhere. All kids long to go on a quest and to be chosen, but have to learn lessons of discernment and ethical choice; Richardson presents all these things well.  Like my daughter, I look forward to a sequel.

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Our Own Little Walden

June 1, 2016 at 4:01 am (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

This spring has been all about chasing sunshine, growing green things, and avoiding floodwaters.  Since moving to Walden we’ve been attempting to create something closer to Thoreau’s version than the golf cart variety of Houston… But mostly we’ve been tackling our Classifications of Living Things, getting our kitchen garden going, learning to fish, and  dipping our toes into the world of museum membership at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Kiddo helped me plant teeny tiny tomato plants, acorn squash seeds, cucumbers, and green onions.  Marigolds galore, mints, parsley, basil, lemon balm.  We’ve got lots of blooms for the butterflies and the hummingbirds, a variety of lilies, roses, and snapdragons.  We’re in love with our little patch.

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All this, but we’re not yet living the heaven of the picture book we just discovered this week: On Meadowville Street by Henry Cole; because, frankly, I want my backyard to look like this:

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How cool would it be if everyone’s back yard looked a little bit more like this? Ponds, birds, trees, overgrown grass and wildflowers… yes, please.

We also fell in love a little with Bees, Snails, and Peacock Tails.  Kiddo is pretty fascinated with bees, so even while surrounded by gorgeous butterflies around the world in the Cockrell Butterfly Center, she finds the bee hive and watches them the most.

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So now that spring has passed and summer is upon us, we’ve burned up all the vacation days I possibly could trekking around, established our garden, and purchased a fishing license for my days off.

Fishing mostly looks like kiddo playing with a pole, naming earth worms, sinking our toes in mud, and me lounging lazily in the sun, but we pretend we care about catching things – sometimes.

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The End of Summer… Beginning of Christmas

November 8, 2015 at 4:10 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

The thing about living in Texas is, the second summer truly ends – it’s not really fall, it’s already Christmas.

The weather tells us so.  Retail tells us so – we went from Back to School displays to Christmas trees almost over night.  Halloween and Thanksgiving disbanded before we even manage to get there.

The reality of this set in as we read picture books tonight.  Kiddo selected a book by Adam Rex called Tree- Ring Circus, a summery affair regarding a lot of animals and a tree losing it’s fall leaves.  It’s got a deep south summery vibe, because even though the tree looks bare, it radiates warmth and feels like a warm summer day.  I’m craving pop corn, ice cream, and trail mix just looking at the illustrations.  The tree becomes an unlikely “hiding place” for a runaway circus clown and his friends, even though there is no hiding in a barren tree on the verge of keeling over.

Of course the animals and the tree itself seem to be lost on my five year old.  She’s more interested in the rapid growth pattern of the tree that grew from the seed and the thunder storm at the beginning of the book.  A tree that grew from a seed to something large enough for an elephant to perch atop in a matter of three sentences.  We do so get hung up in the funniest of details sometimes around here.

For me, it’s details like the fact that my daughter LOVES Christmas books. We’d read them year round if I let her, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  I limit her to one Christmas book a month in non-Christmas seasons.  But as it is November, and therefore practically Christmas in Texas – we’re upping our Christmas book game.  I already have one Christmas picture book review scheduled to post and now, we’re posting another…

61vrBjeJWFLTitle: Casey’s Bright Red Christmas

Author: Holly Dufek

Illustrations: Paul E. Nunn

Publisher: Octane Press

We were sent a promotional copy in exchange for a review.  We’ve never heard of Casey & Friends until this book, but apparently it’s a fairly established series with several previous titles.

As good old Texas girls, we were equal parts excited about the country farm aspect as well as the novelty of the snow featured in the background of all the pictures.  So far, we’ve had snow one time since the kiddo was born, and it didn’t manage to stick to the ground.  She’s fascinated by the stuff and is constantly asking me when we’re going to get some.  I think this may be part of why she likes Christmas books so much – they’re almost fantastical when you’ve grown up in the Lower Coastal Plains Region of Texas.  We have sun, rain, woods, and beaches – no snow, no mountains.

Now, that we’ve met Casey & Friends, we’re definitely going to look for the other titles: A Year on the Farm, Big Tractors, Combines, and Planters & Cultivators.  (I’m not sure if this is the best idea for a little girl who already prances around singing the FarmersOnly.com jingle every chance she gets.  I promise we’re not THAT country.)

“Can I have a note?” kiddo asks.

“Of course, this is technically *your* review,” I tell her.

“My favorite part is where they all say SURPRISE.  Also, dear people,” I love the way she says this, like she’s addressing a letter to my blog followers, “I wonder if you would like to read this book. It’s an awesome book and it’s a great time to read this book right now.  Because it’s lovely.  And I would like it if you read all the other versions.  I bet we could get them at the library, I always have a great time there.  I wish everyone would have lovely days at the library…”

There are more glowing superlatives, but they are mostly the excited ramblings of a five year old loving to hear herself talk.

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Moby Dick

October 10, 2015 at 4:00 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

61YmF0KEKoL._SX444_BO1,204,203,200_We’ve all read Moby Dick – I think – unless you’re a very small child, like my child.  As a classical homeschool Mom, I like to expose my kiddo to classic literature early, even before she’s redy to read it for herself.  So, finds like Eric A. Kimmel’s picture book Moby Dick with paintings by artist Andrew Glass are gems.

My four year old had a lot to take in – the enormity of the whale, the importance of Ahab’s obsession, and why anyone would kill a sperm whale anyway.  This picture book has a neat educational page in the back regarding Melville and the ship Essex and how that true event played a role in the cultivation of the original novel.

The illustrations are gorgeous… we love paint work, MobyDick14-700x395as the kiddo considers herself a painter and has been mastering her technique since she was 15 months old.  (I vote to always give kids real paints and actual canvases, if you can.  It’s helped her to be much more adventurous in her artistic pursuits.

We can’t wait to read this one again and again, and hopefully, by the time she reads the novel, she’ll have these beautiful images so ingrained she’ll fall in love with Melville – despite the fact that it takes forever to even get to the whale.

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Storyboarding

June 17, 2015 at 9:48 pm (Art) (, , , , , )

Today I am storyboarding for a children’s book for my mother-in-law… we’ll hand the pictures off to a real artist when I’m done.

Photo on 6-17-15 at 3.18 PM

“It was a dark, rainy day.”

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There is a Season

February 26, 2015 at 4:34 am (Education) (, , , , , , , , )

As a homeschool mom there’s a constant struggle for designating specific “school times” through out the day.  She is learning that education is a life pursuit, and at four can tell you that.  I can’t tell you how adorable it is to have a four year old look at someone when they ask her about school and tell them, “Education is a life pursuit.”  Every day, every moment, is a chance to learn something – and she is extremely aware of this as we stop to read information along trails, get sidetracked by research projects after asking a simple question, and discuss the scientific reasons things are happening in the kitchen as I cook.  But sitting down for specific lessons, that’s a bit harder to grasp.  We open our reading book and she thinks that crazy silly time shall commence.  She has a stubborn nature she gets from me combined with her father’s joy of watching me fume with frustration, seriously, I get angry and she laughs at me.  It’s a problem.

Someone from one of the homeschooling forums on Facebook gave us a great idea, though.  Read Ecc. 3:1 before every lesson.  Don’t know that one off the cuff?  The “lyrics” were made famous in the 1950’s by The Byrds.

The concept of there being a proper time and place for every activity and emotion, is a necessary lesson to teach toddlers (and kids, and teenagers, and humans at large).  Emotions, feelings, and attitudes toward chores can be intense.  There is a time to feel those things and a time to suck it up and do what you have to do.  Just like a gardener has “a time to plant and a time to uproot” there’s also “a time to weep and a time to laugh.”  We end the reading of these verses with, “there is also a time to be silly and a time to focus on your lessons.”

Needless to say, both little girl and I were excited to find this book at the public library last month.

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This picture is beautiful. It reveals art styles from all different regions, cultures, and time. It gives a child a great sense of the impact these words have on every human throughout history. Everyone must learn this lesson, the fact that everything has a time and place. That feelings can and will be embraced and (if we want to be overly bookish and quote An Imperial Affliction – a book by a character imagined by John Green in The Fault in our Stars) and say, “Pain demands to be felt,” but as every grown person has learned at some point, sometimes it can’t be felt right now. For a four year old, the wiggles must come out… but they can’t always come out right now either.

And everyone must learn this lesson.  Whether you are from China, Russia, Germany, Egypt, or Ancient Greece.  Whether you are Native American or from the heart of Mexico.  Whether you hail from the Ukraine or Australia, Japan or England.  Humanity is united in this one all encompassing lesson of life: “There is a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time to search and a time to give up… a time to love and a time to hate… a time for war and a time for peace.”

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Goodnight Goon

January 27, 2015 at 1:28 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

*A Weekly Low Down on Kids Books*

P1000703Title: Goodnight Goon

Author: Michael Rex

Every parent I know can recite or nearly recite Goodnight Moon. It’s a timeless favorite. I’m not sure why, kiddo loves it, but it has never really moved me personally.

“In the great green room, there was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of a cat jumping over the moon…”
― Margaret Wise Brown, Goodnight Moon

It’s probably the cadence, the familiarity, the simplicity.  It’s a lot of things.  For kiddo, it’s also because she has the hallmark version that her out of state grandparents was able to record into… so she can flip through the pages and hear the story at her own leisure and will, the most exciting thing for a kid when they can’t read yet.

But to be fair, it’s boring.  It’s appropriately sleepy, but I already have a hard enough time staying awake while I read bedtime stories.

I saw Goodnight Goon and took a risk.  She loves Goodnight Moon, but she’s also wonderfully weird and gets very excited about monsters.  I know my child, though, and sometimes she can be a bit of a purist.  I wondered if a parody would be up her alley if it was just up mine.

In a cold gray tomb
There was a gravestone
And a black lagoon
And a picture of –
Martians taking over the moon

She laughed her butt off!  She loved every page.  Especially the end where the monster is cast under the bed for the night, “Goodnight Monsters Everywhere.”

“He’s under the bed!” she laughs.

“Maybe other kids will like it,” she says.

“Why?” I ask.

“Because they’re little. And the monsters. I like the bat.  That’s the kind of monster I like.”  Of course, she watches me type the review and also insists that I “put an L in it.”

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I should have known all would be well.  After all, this is a kiddo that adored the The Swamps of Sleethe.

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A Boy Called Dickens

January 21, 2015 at 12:56 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

* A Weekly Low Down on Kids Books *

P1000704Title: A Boy Called Dickens

Author: Deborah Hopkinson

Illustrator: John Hendrix

As a homeschool family, we’re suckers for the educational picture book.  Especially biographies.

A Boy Called Dickens tells the life of Charles Dickens.  Obviously there are some creative liberties taken with Dickens’ boyhood thoughts and how he might have come to write certain stories, but that happens with any piece of biographical fiction.

As an adult Dickens fan, you recognize characters peeking around corners and haunting the boy’s subconscious as he works at the factory, tells stories to his friend, helps get his family out of debtor’s prison, and finally returns to school.

When I finished read the book, kiddo said, “Let’s read it again.”

I was out of breath from my strained fake British accent.  I’m not an actress, but I like to make story time fun.  It takes more effort than I’d care to admit.  “No, I’m not reading it again right now.”

“Well, I think we should do the same thing with this one – let other kids read it!”

“You mean you recommend it?”

“Yes.” She gave it a literal thumbs up, with a tongue half sticking out the side of her mouth in thought.

Any biographical picture books you can find are great teaching tools, and you might as well fill them with as much information as you can while they’re sponges.  History is easiest to remember as a tale, Dickens world and era becomes one you can touch and taste.  Telling it from his boyhood makes it more relatable to a tiny one.  Whether you’re a homeschool mom, or just someone who reads to your kids when you can, this book is a great resource; it’s colorful, factual, and engrossing.

(If you’re a seasonal reader, this one is perfectly wintery.)

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The Snail and the Whale

January 19, 2015 at 12:51 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I used to do a Weekly Low Down on Kids Books.  Well, I used to pretend to do them, and really they were haphazard and sporadic at best, but sort of happened a few times a month at least.

I’m back.  I’m back with a mission to share all the marvelous books we’ve been reading.  Because, well, we have been reading more than we’ve let on.  I know, our silence is stifling.

P1000708Title: The Snail and the Whale

Author:Julia Donaldson

Illustrator: Axel Scheffler

I bought The Snail and the Whale on impulse.  I’ve been trying to do less of that lately, but it was too darn cute and the kiddo had been working on a snail painting.  Plus, I was feeling a little bit guilty over keeping Christmas as sparse as I was.

A few new picture books seemed a good addition to a Jake and the Neverland Pirate lego set (the third set to polish off the Jake collection); but we purposely are trying to keep Christmas gifting simple… “What you want, what you need, what you’ll wear, and what you’ll read.”  Accumulatively, we’d like for her to get no more than 4 presents from each category once all the grandparents have pitched in.  Ideally I’d keep it to four items total, but I’m practical and I know the family members won’t let that fly.

P1000654So she got the rest of her desired lego collection, a Frozen tiara and tambourine, socks, new boots, and a handful of new picture books.  There were some stocking stuffers and some other odds and ends – a geode science project for her school work, new paints, a painting apron, some canvases – and they were given to her in waves, not all at once on Christmas day.  It gave her time to enjoy each gift before getting overwhelmed with another.  We enjoyed it.  She was spoiled without being spoiled.  It felt like a nice simple holiday, yet kiddo managed to get everything she’d asked for.

Although The Snail and the Whale feels like a summer book – crossing oceans, travelling the world, visiting islands – we were excited to read it while cozied up in blankets and pjs.  I can’t wait to read it to her at the beach once it warms up, though.

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Working on her Snail painting, which has an actual shell glued to the canvas.

After reading this book for the second or third time, I finally asked kiddo, “So what are your thoughts?”

Kiddo, age four, says, “Other kids should read it, that’s my thought!  But how about we put it where people can’t find it. So no one can tear it up.”

I think she was missing the point of the conversation.  We started talking about the illustrations and what she thought.  She likes the pictures, but thinks they got the font “mixed up.”  I think the font is appropriately cute, but she’s learning to read and I think some of the swirly snail words were hard for her to recognize.

The book, however, is wonderful.  The rhymes are fun, the pictures are fun.  It’s all about adventure, having courage, and taking care of your friends.  It’s definitely a great gift book for any little one, no matter what season.

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