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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Mr. Emperor Should Be Serialized

January 23, 2016 at 3:00 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

what-was-it-like-mr-emperor-9780989377669_hr.jpgTitle: What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor?

Author: Chiu Kwong-chiu & Eileen Ng

Illustrations: Design and Cultural Studies Workshop

Translation: Ben Wang

We received this awhile back in exchange for an honest review and it took us awhile to get through it – not because it isn’t brilliant, but because it is long, especially for a kids’ picture book.

The information is fantastic, the pictures fun.  But What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor? should have been serialized.

It wouldn’t be hard to do as there are already mini chapter-like breaks.  Kids like my own five year old would respond better to it being shorter titles that they could collect like a series as opposed to reading bits of the same book each night.  Ultimately, it’s the same amount of reading for the same amount of time, but kids see it differently for some reason, and they tend to like to collect things anyway.

We loved all the tidbits about Life in China’s Forbidden City, but as a customer, reader, mother, author, bookseller, reviewer, and someone who possesses a BBA in Marketing, I think there could be a lot more money into turning this title into a series of smaller books.

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Spend the Holidays with Pout-Pout Fish

November 14, 2015 at 1:00 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

613r-T9OAbL._SY494_BO1,204,203,200_Title: The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish

Author: Deborah Diesen

Illustrator: Dan Hanna

Kiddo and I fell in love with The Pout-Pout Fish about three years ago when we discovered The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark.  We had a slight aversion to the possibility of “baby talk” in the writing, but were won over by the fun poetry and the fabulous underwater illustrations. (Read my original post here.)

In addition to our joint love of underwater children’s stories, Kiddo has taken on a serious love for Christmas that can be countered only by my mother’s.  These two, I’m not kidding, have enough Christmas spirit for the entire nation. All of America could abandon the idea of Christmas altogether and my kid and her grandmother would still have us all covered. (I’m a little more ba hum bug, but you know – yin and yang and all that.)

So you can imagine our excitement when the publisher sent us a copy of The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish.

“The Pout-Put Fish is like SANTA!” the kiddo exclaimed, seeing his very merry Santa hat atop his very un-merry face.  We’re not Santa promoters in our house – in the modern day sense that has become tradition, but rather in the currently untraditional traditional sense where we talk about the history of the original Santa stories and how the legend of a good man became a magical myth.  Yet, with all our reading and exploration of wonderful tales and things that promote vivid imaginations, we’ve fallen in love with stories like the Rise of the Guardians by William Joyce and so on…

Come the holidays, we have another household tradition.  We like the concept of four gifts (or gift categories that promote specific, well-thought out gifts in moderation): What You’ll Wear, What You’ll Read, What You Want, and What You Need.  So as a parent of such a household, I especially love the line, “And his gifts had meaning/ Plus a bit of bling-zing/ And his each and every friend loved/ Their just-right thing.” No meaningless haphazard gift giving for the Pout-Pout Fish! (Thank you, for that, Deborah Diesen, it truly does mean so much to us.)

“Can we read it again tomorrow?” Kiddo asked when we were through.

“Of course.”

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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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October Birthday Books for a 5 Year Old

October 20, 2015 at 4:14 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Kiddo just turned five. With that come some serious growing up perks – like, for instance, a public library card of her very own.  She now can check out up to 30 books each time we visit and she is over the moon with excitement.  She even wore her fancy new party dress to the library this morning to sign up for her card.

But before we went to the library and checked out new books on her new card, which we will write all about next week – I bought her books at Barnes & Noble that we are pretty thrilled about.  (It was a big deal to buy them from B&N because we’re such used book and library fiends.)

61weEnfu3CL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Snatchabookfeatures a spooky mystery about a village of animals whose bedtime stories are being stolen by a midnight thief.  Who is this thief? Why are they stealing books? It’s all very riveting, and has a gloriously happy ending.

Of course, because the main theme regards the characters’ love of books, this is a great story to share with little ones to get them excited about stories; or, in our case, to celebrate our existing passion.

We adore the illustrations, which always affect our purchasing habits, and look forward to finding more stories from Dochertys.

Julia’s House fo51xXd20Z2wL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_r Lost Creaturesis probably my newest favorite.  I fell in love with this book from a Halloween display at Barnes & Noble and knew the moment I laid hands on it that it wasn’t going to be left behind.  Ben Hatke is a genius.  His art is sweet, imaginative, spunky, and rich.

The story is about generosity and expectations, community and the need for chores, but within the fantastical fun of monsters, ghouls, mermaids, trolls, and more.

No child should go another Halloween without it.

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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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Spike and Spanish

June 19, 2015 at 4:22 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

SPIKE front coverTitle: Spike, The Mixed-Up Monster

Author: Susan Hood

Illustrator: Melissa Sweet

Genre: Picture Book

Ay, caramba!, we just read this before bed this evening and we love it! First off, I’m a sucker for an axolotl.  I discovered them about two years ago when an avid reddit surfer sent me some images they had found. Strange but cute creatures are kind of our thing, and an axolotl definitely fits the bill.

I remember thinking there should be a picture book about them.  I love kids picture books featuring the odd ducks of the planet and offer educational value at the end of the story.  I have tons of them lined up in my head that I haven’t written yet.  My favorite thing about Hood’s book is that she incorporates Spanish words through out the story and thesusan-hood-spikepic last few pages include research about the creatures who made an appearance.  There’s so much educational value to this book and I can’t wait to own a copy. (We read from a library book.)

Referred to as a water-monster by the Aztecs, I was introduced to these tiny creatures as Mexican Walking Fish.  Either way, they are super cute, come in all different colors, and if ever there was an animal worthy of a picture book it would be this one.

I absolutely adore Melissa Sweet’s illustrations.  They are bright and spunky and the kiddo was riveted by each and every page.  Sweet captured the essence of the story with care and finesse and I look forward to seeing more of her illustrations on picture books in the future.

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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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Kids Books You MUST Check Out

May 13, 2015 at 6:06 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

We’ve been spending more and more time at the library than usual.  About 2-3 hours A DAY.  Before it was every few days, but with this rain – in the tradition of Noah – occurring in the northern Houston area the past few weeks, we’ve been trapped indoors.

So these are our top favorites for the week:

1. Snippet the Early Riser – Bethanie Deeney Murguia (http://amzn.to/1cxqz9Z)

We adore the illustrations in this tail of a snail that wakes up long before his family is ready to start their day.  In the book, you’ll meet a ton of different insects, and then finally discover the source of this family’s plight – Snippet just goes to bed way too early.  It’s a common hazard in family’s with small children and I think most kids and adults alike will be able to relate.

2. When a Dragon Moves In – Jodi More (http://amzn.to/1cxqsew)

Again, the illustrations are fantastic! Kiddo loves the beach setting and the fact that dragons are actually moving into the kid’s sandcastle.  She hasn’t yet caught the nuance that it’s this little dude’s epic imagination at work, but kiddo is – after all – only four.

3. When Rain Falls – Melissa Stewart (http://amzn.to/1bPVhdO)

This is soothing.  And completely appropriate for our current household situation.  So much rain and so many days when it merely threatens to rain, it was nice to read through how rain effects everyone and everything.  We read this right before bed and in the middle of the afternoon several times.  Lovely, lovely, book.

4. Freckleface Strawberry – Julianne Moore (http://amzn.to/1cxsknL)

This isn’t just one title, this is a series of which we have read two. Freckleface Strawberry is an adorable little girl with flaming red hair, completely covered in freckles.  I relate to these books so well because I was the freckle-faced short kid in my class.  Kiddo loves her “because she has so many freckles.  And you know what I like best of her? She has a nickname!”  Kiddo loves nicknames.  Her cousins call her “Fruitcake,” her daddy calls her “Booger,” her tia Danielle calls her “Nugget.”  I call her heathen, but that’s besides the point. Not really, I call her “Nugget” a lot too.

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Fibonacci

May 8, 2015 at 11:39 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Unknown-1Title: The Man of Numbers

Author: Keith Devlin, PhD

Publisher: Walker & Company

Genre: Math History

Length: 183 pages

Swirl by Swirl – a child’s picture book – is where it started.  We checked it out from the library once, then twice, and finally again and again.  It’s about the Fibonacci sequence found in so many spirals in our natural world.  We love it.  Of course, it has a bit in the back about the Fibonacci sequence and the math involved, and that’s cool too, something to instill in young minds so that theP1000952re is familiarity with the topic before they begin Algebra in their tweens.

Of course, at some point I picked up The Pythagorean Theorem, and there Posamatier mentions Ptolemy and his great work The Algamest as well as Fibonacci’s Liber Abaci. Naturally, I requested these at my local library.  “There’s a book about Fibonacci called The Man of Numbers that’s here if you want to read that while you wait for the others to come in,” she told me.  Yes, yes, I would like to read that while I wait for the others.

I checked it out.

I ended up starting and finishing it, however, in one sitting while my kiddo made use of the sixty minute literacy computer session I allow her if she’s been good prior to coming to the library that day.  It was good.  Quick.  Informative.  And of course, just made me want Liber Abaci even more.

Devlin gives you all the necessary history in the concise nature of a mathematician.  He even laments how most mathematicians are concerned about the math and the theorems and not necessarily who originally came up with them or their history, causing much of the history surrounding mathematical ideas to be lost or misconstrued.  Who cares? It’s about the numbers.

I care.  Historians care.  We don’t care as much about the numbers as we do about the theory, the philosophy… we care about math’s heritage more than the practice of being all mathy.  At least that’s how I feel.  I’ll leave number crunching to my husband and daughter – I’ll just be able to tell them who came up with that particular way to crunch.

With all this caring comes the discovery that Fibonacci’s name wasn’t even Fibonacci.  Devlin recounts the fact that the man’s name was Leonardo and he hailed from Pisa.  Leonardo Pisano, as the people of that time and culture would say.  But he referred to himself as fillies Boracic, “son of Bonacci.”  Yet, his father’s name wasn’t Bonacci, so people assumed he meant that he was of the family Bonacci… the Bonacci family evolved and later historian Guillaume Libri coined the name Fibonacci.  Hundreds of years later.  Leonardo was renamed Fibonacci in 1838.

Fibonacci also referred himself as Leonardo Bigolli… a named once translated would be “Leonardo Blockhead.”  Though, Devlin asserts, it’s doubtful that Fibonacci was calling himself a blockhead.

Unknown-2That brings us to our latest picture book selection… Blockhead: the life of Fibonacci.  This delightful picture book was written by Joseph D’Agnese and was illustrated by John O’Brien.  Even though there’s a lot we don’t know about Fibonacci’s real life or how he came to discover his mathematical findings the way he did – it’s fun to imagine what his life was like and where he might have come up with his self-proclaimed nickname “Bigolli.”

For good measure, we re-read Swirl by Swirl afterward and are looking forward to memorizing a few things in the upcoming months.

The first is from Brahmagupta (quoted in Devlin’s book):

“A debt minus zero is a debt.

A fortune minus zero is a fortune.

Zero minus zero is a zero.

A debt subtracted from zero is a fortune.

A fortune subtracted from zero is a debt.

The product of zero multiplied by a debt or fortune is zero.”

The second are the first ten numbers in the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55.

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