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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Colors of the Wind

August 28, 2014 at 10:50 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

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A Weekly Low Down on Kids Books

Title: Colors of the Wind

Author: J.L. Powers

Publisher: Purple House Press

Genre: Picture Book/ Children’s

“J.L. Powers! I love that guy!” Kiddo shouts when she hears me telling my husband that we got a new picture book to review in the mail today.  Never mind that J.L. Powers is a woman and that we’ve never read her work before.  Kiddo just loves getting new books in the mail, loves discovering new authors as much as I do.

P1000277Colors of the Wind is the story of George Mendoza, two time blind Olympian runner who sees the world like a kaleidoscope and has become a painter.  The picture book is visually stimulating and intentionally motivational to do your best and pursue your dreams, no matter what trials you may face.

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“That book is beautiful, like Grandmother’s Cabin,” she says when we’re done.  Artistically speaking, Grandmother’s Cabin is the picture book by which all others are now measured in my three year old’s eyes.  Colors of the Wind gets her art stamp of approval and  she was particularly intrigued by the tribute to other paintings at the back that were not included in the story.  She’s officially asking when we can meet George and we can’t wait to share this story with the cousins, our friends, and the homeschooling groups we are a part of.

“An illumination of the persistent power of art.  Colors of the Wind reminds us all that our biggest burdens are often our greatest gifts,” Kathi Appelt is quoted on the marketing packet.  I couldn’t say it better.

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Dazzled by Market Square

July 24, 2014 at 4:03 pm (Travel) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

When I was in San Antonio Saturday, my best friend dragged me to the old Farmer’s Market – dragged is too harsh, that makes it sound like I was kicking and screaming and I wasn’t.  I was happy to go and see something new, was excited about it really, except I looked past the archways from the street and my stomach sank… people.  Lots and lots of people.  Crowds didn’t bother me much when I was younger, they couldn’t, I went to a 5A highschool and if you were nervous in a crowd you’d drown in a sea of elbows.  (I realize now that maybe they did, I just often had a hand to cling to – my now husband – when walking through those crowds, not sure my bestie would be down with me grabbing her hands to hold in public… doesn’t stop me from wanting to.) Doesn’t change the fact that I see one ahead these days and I have to summon a purpose or desire for something in that crowd in order to enter it.

In this case, food, art, and music.  My trifecta that gets me through the festival experience.  I love those things.  And even though the Market was crowded – the worst of it at Mi Tierra – there was a little bit of space and I found myself able to breathe.  Especially once I got myself to the art booths.

Right outside Mi Tierra I stumbled across two separate booths. One for Joseph Hernandez Jr. (www.josephhernandezartist.com) and one for Robert Wilkens (robertwilkensco@sbcglobal.net).

It was the impressionistic style of Joseph Hernandez that caught my attention to the art in the first place. I was already tired from shopping, tired of the crowds, and on the verge of becoming very hungry. But then I saw this:

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This is Joseph Hernandez Jr. He paints vibrantly, is self-taught, and stands about as tall as me. I could have stood in his booth and looked at every single painting for hours. If I were wealthy, I would have bought one of everything. My house would become a gallery to his work. I loved all the color. His use of it reminded me of Bryan Collins work even if their styles are nothing alike.

P1020682Much of his work is perfect for the tourist or native San Antonio lovers.  He chooses places around town to capture on the canvas.  Far more valuable than any photograph you could take of the same location.

He has just as many paintings of a random assortment, random things that inspired him… trees and branches are a running theme for him.  He had a lot for musicians – a sax, a violin, muP1020683sic notes, etc.  I can’t imagine walking into his booth and not seeing something you want to take home with you.  The hard part is deciding which something.

His paintings are affordable for the art collector.  Good size canvases that I’ve seen sell in the thousands by less talented painters were running between $400 – $500.  You could buy a very small  canvas for $25 and walk away with an original piece. His prints were what would hit your pocket, averaging at half the price of the canvas.  Seeing that I opted to save for an original Hernandez, rather than buying a print.  I took a business card, but came back later to take this picture with him:

P1020680Only a few booths away, closer to the Mi Tierra entrance, was Robert Wilkens – or Roberto as his wife kept calling him, and I can’t get her voice and pronunciation of his name out of my head.  She’s gorgeous and so passionate about his work.

P1020684I asked to take a picture of his work and later found out that most people just take the pictures – they don’t generally ask first.  I’m used to museums and conventions, rather than festivals, and I always ask.  Otherwise you might find yourself being barked at.

Robert and his wife were very gracious and let me take as many pictures as I wanted.  Robert is a chatterer, and I enjoyed talking to him while I watched him paint.  He teased me about my tattoo – told me it said “Soy Sauce in Chinese, didn’t you know?”  I picked on him for assuming I didn’t know what my tattoo said, just because I was a white girl.  Some things are funnier in my head than they are out loud.  Either way, Robert and I had a nice long chat about artistry and professions.  We showed him a picture of my kiddo’s art work.  We talked about books and my career as a writer.

“When did you first know you wanted to write?” he asked me.

“The moment I realized that ink came out of a pen and formed words on a page,” I answered.

P1020675He’s been a painter for decades, but he took the long road it sounds.  He had a lot of people tell him he couldn’t make a living at it.  It’s clear that he can, his work is incredible.  We talked about how we  encourage that artistic spirit in our children.  My daughter – the child of a writer – is quite the little painter.  His daughter – the child of a painter – just might be the next great American novelist.

He was a muralist for a long time, you can see the remnants of that life in some of his work.  I love it, and I want him to come do some walls in Houston that need sprucing.

He’s good enough for the first lady, he should be good enough for everyone:

Artist – Muralist, Robert Wilkens has been in the arts for twenty-five years and has worked commercially for fourteen years. He is well established in all media of the arts. Robert’s talent and dedication to his work has taken him to Mexico and all over the United States of America, even to the White House in the service of the First Lady, Laura Bush. There is no other artist of Roberts caliber when it comes to working with clients. His work ethics are honest and the beauty of his brush strokes while painting murals are eloquent and always precise.

(From Robert Wilkens & Company Blog)

I may not enjoy crowds, but I love discovering.  I love traveling and the search for new experiences and people.  I love seeing something I’ve never encountered before and picking it apart in my brain, learning to describe it.  New sights and smells and sounds may overwhelm me, but I welcome it as a learning experience.  I am so glad we went to Market Square that day.  I am glad we met Joseph Hernandez Jr and Robert Wilkens.  I am glad we waited for seats at Mi Tierra, even after we were told it would be an hour and half before we could be seated (it was actually only 35 minutes).  I’m ecstatic that I got to eat cheese enchiladas and suck down a Mojito before devouring more art with my eyes.  (I’m mildly amused that I got carded for my Mojito.)

When I went back out to take more pictures of Robert’s work and buy a print of his with my bestie, I was pleasantly buzzed (light weight, cheap date, whatever, I’ll take the name calling)… and found this:

P1020687I couldn’t stop looking at it and I wanted it for my wall.  He didn’t have any prints available for it, but said he would ship to Houston if only I let him know.

I want the original.  It’s magnificent.  The detail in the water and his pant leg is stellar.  I wanted to be swept away with him, from the dirty street and into that clear, blue water, up to the moon.  It helps that I find suitcases and umbrellas terribly romantic.

It helps that I find travel romantic.  It helps that adventure fascinates me, even if it makes me a little nervous, I still want to experience it all.  I want to absorb art through my eyes and bathe in it.  I want to taste new foods and close my eyes and live the flavor.  I want to meet new people and really discover who they are before I leave their presence, even if it takes a little bit of work to stay focused on what they are telling me.  I want to be dazzled.

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Grandmother’s Cabin

July 23, 2014 at 5:31 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Grandmother's CabinTitle: Grandmother’s Cabin
Author & Illustrator: Angela Rout (@mamacomic on twitter)
Genre: Children’s Picture Book

We received this book in the mail from the author right before I left on my book signing tour to San Antonio.  I was mean, I was so excited about it, I made kiddo wait until I got back from my trip.  Daddy was under strict orders that this book was not to be read while I was away.

I thought about it while I was away a lot.  All the colors of the front cover kept coming to mind while I was faced with all the colors of San Antonio.

It was worth the waP1020726it.  Grandmother’s Cabin lived up to my own mental hype.  Kiddo snuggled up in my lap last night and settled in for the new book to review, ready with opinions.

It seems to be a snugly sort of book in general, my favorite kind, as during story time today everyone was reaching for their mothers and trying to get into laps.  That’s not typically the case with other stories.  Instinctively, children know: this book is for families and heritage, and appreciation of the good things that calm our souls.

The front cover is simply one of many exciting illustrations.  The further into the story you get, the richer the images, and more vibrant the colors – or maybe it’s the story that makes me feel like they’re richer and more vibrant…

Rout maintains a splash of color on the right side of the page and ornate pencil sketches on the left side along with the text.

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It’s whimsical, magical, and even won a “Moonbeam” award.  If that doesn’t sound mysteriously romantic, I don’t know what does.

P1020722Dedicated to all things grandmothery and cozy, the book is about spiritual healing found by looking back to your ancestors, finding comfort in tea, and relaxing with a good book and favorite activity.

“I like to paint too!” My kiddo squealed when Grandmother revealed an easel and paint tray among the tropical forest.

When Grandmother did her super hero pose, Kiddo did hers too.  Later when we went over the discussion questions Rout provides on the last page, Kiddo answered that she wants to be like Grandmother.  “I can heal like Grandmother – by licking – like Helo.”  Helo is the dog.  Clearly, my child needs more grandmother interaction and less puppy play.

“When I’m happy I don’t fly high in the sky,” Kiddo lamented.  “And I get sad when I’m sick.  And I get upset when Dad plays with MY frisbees.”  Well, then.

Finally, I read the last question to my daughter:

Grandmother’s love makes Mother feel happy. How can we connect with our ancestors and our loved ones who have lived before us?  What can we do to help them be of service to us? As an example some people tell stories, remember them, pray for them, learn about them, or celebrate their accomplishments.  What does your family do?

“Walk in the woods.  I like to walk in the woods,” my child responded wisely.  Yes, my darling, we do.  And that’s why this book spoke to us from the front cover alone.  Coffee and Tea Cups, Books, Paint Brush, Foliage… what more could a gal need to feel restful and restored?

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Grandmother’s Cabin is lovely and enriching.  It opens up a topic of discussion many people believe to be beyond what children can handle, but it’s perfect, and the children I’ve read this book to today handled it with grace and curiosity.

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I read children’s books at the Half Price Books in Humble every Wednesday throughout the summer, starting at 10:30 am.  Many of these titles are plucked from the shelf and are available for purchase right then and there.  Some of what I read and share come from a publisher or an author and might not otherwise be readily discovered.  Like today, Grandmother’s Cabin was sent to me from an author in Calgary, Alberta.  If you have kiddos, live in the area and wish to join us, please do.

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Life Lessons in Paint

June 15, 2014 at 8:39 pm (Education) (, , , , , , )

HomeschoolP1000786ing is a little more than having a lot of books at your disposal.  Not much more, mind you, because books can answer all life’s questions – but still there’s a little bit more.

Our version of more involves a lot of art supplies.  I wait for great sales, sometimes I even buy used canvases for next to nothing at Goodwill and garage sales and whitewash them, I’ve even been known to pull canvases out of trash cans.  I’m that mom.  One way or another I want to get art supplies into my daughter’s hands, and not the “kid” versionP1000837s – I want her to have real paint, real brushes, and real canvases to work with.

At Christmas we requested that in lieu of toys and other items that will end up donated when she outgrows them or trashed when they are obliterated from use, to gift her art supplies instead.  We’re not depriving her for the sake of enrichment, I assure you.  I believe free play is essential and important.  The girl gets tons of toys on her birthday and throughout the year and has mountains of them.  Does she need mountains of them? No.  Will we use the art supplies? Oh yes.

Thus began our friends and family slowly jumping on board with how we handle our week, our budget, and our holiday requests.  As my daughter started to produce piece after piece (some not shown as they were gifted away prior to me thinking out documenting them)…

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She chooses her own colors, even mixes them if she has to and decides which brush she wants to use at any given moment.  P1020187Each piece is entirely her own and we even discuss what she wants to name each one.

Pursuing art in this fashion is a daily exercise in understanding the scientific side of color (what it takes to make a color), as in the beginning we started only with primary colors, though we have been gifted additional ones.  She is learning about texture, movement, and how to convey emotion.

In addition to that, she understands saving and budgeting for things she wants.  How to prioritize certain desires: sometimes she uses birthday money for books, sometimes for toys, and sometimes for her own art supplies.  (Even more often, she opts to put it in the piggy bank or fund an extra trip to Chick-fila.)

It also brings the books we study to life.

Since birth, I have made a point to introduce her to as many of the Getting to Know the World’s Artists as we can get our hands on.  Kiddo has studied Raphael, Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, and more.  She had a board book as a baby of artwork from Rosseau and another from Renoir.  We also love reading “Nature’s Paintbox: A Seasonal Gallery of Art & Verse” by Patrick Thomas and Craig Orback, helping kids to see the world through different art media – ink, pastel, watercolor, oil, etc.

We read through The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Monet’s Impressions: Words and Pictures by Claude Monet” all the time.  She seems to like the Impressionists a lot.P1020191

Which kick started our trips to the lake, taking paints and canvases to paint outdoors like they discuss in one of our favorite art books:

Picture This! “Activities and Adventures in Impressionism,” an Art Explorers book by Joyce Raimondo.  The book is an excellent way to help kids understand art history and how art movements begin.  It introduces real paintings and real painters, and inspires kids to do their own projects.

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We also have a book on Frida, called “Frida Maria: A Story of the Old Southwest” by Deborah Nourse Lattimore, because all art forms are welcome in our house, as well as every bit of history we can find.

Which is why we also picked up a copy of “Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer” by Robert Byrd at the library.  We’ve been reading a few pages of that every day and I could not be more pleased with a picture book.

More than anything in this adventure through motherhood and homeschooling, I’m realizing that so much of ‘homeschooling’ has very little to do with what I know or what I can teach – it’s about granting access to where the knowledge is.  It’s about handing her the tools and giving her the freedom to figure it out, to learn, and discover.  So many times people argue that homeschooling stunts children to only learn what their parents know, when in reality it is quite the opposite.  When they have so much free time, under a little nudge here and some pointers there, children are much more likely to learn to learn for themselves.  A parent’s job, a teacher’s job, is to provide the tools for them to do that.

I didn’t think these things from the get go.  I merely picked up books that caught my attention.  I got her the art supplies initially because I had taken art in high school and my sister has always had natural talent with a sketchbook.  I wanted my kid to get these things in her hands sooner rather than later because I had a lot of anxiety regarding art supplies – I was afraid to be freely creative because I feared being wasteful with something considered semi-precious.   But over the last year and a half of actively putting these supplies in my kid’s hands, I have shaped a philosophy.

Here is a canvas, here is a paintbrush, here are some paints, here are a few books that show you the glorious nature of art throughout history – suddenly, you have a child who is beginning to understand history, humanity, science, and the world at large.  Imagine the implications when I give her the tools to language and math.  The sky is the limit and the list of people who learned to think through information on their own become the inspiration: Einstein, Curie, Alcott, Da Vinci…

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Poetry and Paint

January 27, 2014 at 12:05 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Robert FrostTitle:The Road Not Taken and Other Poems

Author: Robert Frost

Publisher: Dover Thrift Edition

Genre: Poetry

I have a hard time reading poetry silently.  When I’m reading it in my mind, my eyes tend to skip over the words like stones on water.

But aloud – that’s a different story.

Nothing calms us faster in my house (the kiddo and I) than poetry, painting, and a little Alt-J in the background.  I don’t know how I survived sadness and melancholy before Alt-J was a part of my world.

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The latest masterpiece – age 3.

This week we read through a Dover Thrift Edition of Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken and Other Poems.  Like most people, kiddo will probably be far more familiar with The Road Less Taken than any of Frost’s other poetry.  We don’t just read it out loud when we paint, but out on the trails in the woods too.  Poetry is appropriate for painting, Frost is great while tromping on leaves.  He just has a woodsy feel to him.

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Starting a new piece during a poetry day.

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Painting on a Whim

January 21, 2013 at 9:28 pm (The Whim) (, , , , , )

My latest painting:

The Elephant in the Room by A.K. Klemm

The Elephant in the Room by A.K. Klemm

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Art Tones of Tuesday

May 9, 2012 at 7:18 pm (The Whim) (, , , , , )

Book Love Art

Reading about the French Revolution inspires my Bohemian side.  And though my art is a little more old lady and not a lot Bohemian at all, I got to painting this morning.

Of course, no painting experience is complete without literary inspiration, and today it was that of the illustrative genius from the author of Gossie and Friends, Olivier Dunrea.  So with a piece of wood left willy nilly in my window sill from Heaven knows where, acrylic paint, the handy finger-painting skills of my kiddo, and some big love for my bestie who has lots of pig-love… here are the art tones of my Tuesday:

Pig Art

Piggie #1

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