Apr 24, 2015

Why My Kids Read the Book Before They See the Movie

In my recent review of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I mentioned how my childhood experience with the book was tainted by the 1979 animated movie. The first time I read it, I may have been reading the words, but the movie was playing in my head. Even as an adult reading it to my kids, I couldn't escape mental scenes from that darn movie.

Hoping to guard against that, I read the book to my boys first, and I didn't even mention the existence of a movie. I wanted them to use their own imaginations for Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy. For Mr. Tumnus, the Beavers, and Father Christmas.  For the White Witch. I didn't want that to be colored by someone else's interpretation.

After we were done with the book, I bought the audio dramatization. They listened to it at least a dozen times. It was maybe a little closer to the movie but still gave them plenty of room for their own ideas and imaginings.

Somehow though, they found out about the movie. (They always seem to know when there's a movie.) Every time we went to the library, Maxwell checked the "L's" for it, but I wasn't quite ready to relinquish their imaginations to Hollywood, so I did little to help him out.

Finally though, after several more weeks had passed, I figured they'd probably cemented their own pictures in their brains and we could give it a try. I put it on hold (and then Mike reminded me that we actually own it--which I guess is proof of how often we watch it).

My boys were so excited. And then Maxwell, with a twinge of awe in his voice, said something like: "So this is the real story."

I jumped in so fast, he didn't have time to say anything else: "Hold it. The book is the real story. Not the movie. The book came first. The movie is just one person's [actually, many people's . . . ] interpretation of the story. The way you pictured it when I read it to you is just as real as the movie."

I can see why he made such a mistake: The book is just words on a page. The movie is made up of real people, an incredible location, and live action. Of course the movie looks more real. But it is that very authenticity that makes it so deceptive and makes it so that kids no longer feel the need to use their imaginations.

And without imagination, the real things (even the making of non-real movies) will cease to happen. Imagination is the key to all our ambitions and hopes and dreams.

How do you preserve your kids' imaginations? Do you prefer reading the book or seeing the movie first?

P.S. And, completely unrelated, here's a little something extra for your Friday. I've told you before how much I love The Read-Aloud Revival podcast with Sarah Mackenzie, but the last two episodes have been especially fun because my kids shared their favorite books in her "Let the Kids Speak" segment.  Max and Bradley can be heard in Episode 23 at 52:30, and Aaron is on Episode 24 at 22:10.

Apr 22, 2015

Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes

Book review of Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes. This book had us on the edge of our seats! We were desperate for Ginger to get back home to his family.
I am well-acquainted with the cover of Ginger Pye. I must have seen it a hundred times when I was growing up. It seemed like one of my siblings was always reading it, and I would see it stacked on an end table or tented on the back of a couch or hiding under the bed.

And yet, with all that exposure, I never read it. I think this was because we didn't own a copy of it until I was a teenager, but I could be making that up. In any case, I'm going to maintain that as the reason for why all my brothers and sisters read it, but not me.

One of those siblings (my sister, Anna) was here visiting over the weekend. When she saw that I was reading this to the boys, she claimed she didn't remember much about it, but then proceeded to say, "Do the kids earn the money to buy Ginger by dusting the church? Oh, and is this the one where the father and mother met because the father tried to run up the down escalator and ran into the mother? And, I also remember that--what's the girl's name?--oh yeah, Rachel. Doesn't she say something like Boston was more important than New York because the two o's made it look more important?" Somehow she didn't convince me that she couldn't remember it. She also made me feel like I really missed out.

But not anymore. If Ginger Pye comes up in a conversation, I'll finally be able to hold my own with the rest of them.

The Speedy's dog had puppies, and 10-year-old Jerry Pye has his eye on one of them. If he can earn a dollar by Saturday, then Mrs. Speedy says it's his. Jerry and his sister, Rachel, wrack their brains, trying to come up with a way to make the money. Then, in a brilliant stroke of luck, Sam Doody comes by and asks Jerry if he wants to dust the church for him since he needs to go into town that afternoon and buy a new suit. He'll pay him a dollar. Of course Jerry says yes, and he and Rachel (and also Uncle Benny, who, although their uncle, is only three years old) dust all the pews in the church. It takes all afternoon, but they work fast and make it to the Speedy's before 6:00.

The puppy is theirs, and they are thrilled. They name him Ginger, and he turns out to be everything they wished for in a dog: playful, affectionate, loyal, and incredibly intelligent. But then, on Thanksgiving Day, Ginger goes missing. Jerry and Rachel can't imagine how he escaped from the yard, and they spend the evening searching everywhere for Ginger before finally coming to the conclusion that Ginger was stolen! And the only clues they have to go on are an old yellow hat and some mysterious footsteps.

Written in 1951, Ginger Pye felt very similar to another book we've read: Half Magic by Edward Eager, which was written in 1954. (Also, I always get Eleanor Estes' and Edward Eager's names all mixed up--too many E's or something.) We read Half Magic nearly two years ago, and at the time, it was just a little over my boys' heads. We still liked it, but I remember thinking the length of the chapters and scarcity of pictures made it hard for them to stay engaged. I think it took us about three months to read. Ginger Pye took us about three weeks, and reading it made me realize how far my kids' attention spans have come in two years. It might be time to read Half Magic again because I'm pretty sure it would be a completely different experience this time around.

We all really liked Ginger Pye. Bradley, who is three, usually has his own storytime with Mike while I read to the older boys, but even he got pulled into the story and sat and listened to many of the chapters. Aaron and Max liked it for its mystery and suspense and adventure, and I was surprised by some of the profound insights I gained from it. The boys' favorite character was Uncle Benny (they were so intrigued by an uncle who was younger than his niece and nephew), and my favorite character was Sam Doody (I told Aaron and Max I want them to be just like him when they're teenagers).

(Spoilers ahead! Read further at your own risk.)

Maybe I'm reading too much into it and pulling out meaning where there isn't any, but I was struck by how Jerry and Rachel's sadness over losing Ginger mimicked the pattern and cycle of grief. At first they were supported by many friends who helped them look for Ginger, "but after a while [those friends] grew tired of the same old search. Though they all promised to keep their eyes open for the man whose pictures they had examined at the Town Hall, and his hat which Jerry described, one by one they dropped off. Then, only Jerry and Rachel looked, either together or by themselves."

Ginger is gone for many months, and as the days pass by, normal life resumes for Jerry and Rachel (just as it moves forward for anyone who is grieving). In some ways, they are able to find joy and excitement even without Ginger (some of their best adventures (East Rock and West Rock, for example) happen during this time). But always, always, Ginger is at the back of their minds. Jerry keeps a continual lookout for him, both with eyes and ears. And sometimes, they are gripped with a sharp pain of sadness because they miss him so, so much. And some things do not go back to normal. For example, Jerry and Rachel have this long-standing tradition of making up stories about Martin Boombernickles when they go to bed at night, but when Ginger disappears, so do the stories. They just don't have it in them anymore.

I also kept thinking about this line after Jerry and Rachel realize that the thief is Wally Bullwinkle (a fellow classmate of Jerry's): "'We didn't know Wally was a thief and he didn't look like the picture we drew of the unsavory character. We didn't know an unsavory character could be just a boy in my class,' said Jerry." We didn't know an unsavory character could be just a boy in my class. Jerry says that line at least three times. He just can't believe that Ginger was so close all along, and he never guessed the thief could be someone he knew (although the reader can figure it out very early on). So often we make quick and hasty judgements that end up hindering us in the long run. If Jerry hadn't assumed that the "unsavory character" was some villainous looking man, he might have found Ginger much sooner (and you also have to wonder (at least, I have to wonder) if maybe a faster discovery would have helped Wally Bullwinkle out of a bad situation as well.

The ending made me want to cry. Having Ginger reunited with his family was touching and tender, yes, but there were some hard truths beneath the surface . . . such as that Ginger was most likely abused during those many months; such as that Wally Bullwinkle had a hard home life that he was not rescued from; such as that for all that time, Ginger was desperately trying to get back to his family. It kind of hurts my heart to think about him in the Bullwinkle's backyard, listening to Jerry and Rachel's calls, straining at his rope, but unable to get to them (I loved Mrs. Pye's surmise that hearing them "helped [Ginger] remember [them] and keep [them] in mind until the right moment came for his escape.'") 

This review turned a little deeper and darker than I was planning on, but I have to say that while all those elements were there, the overall tone of the book was light and happy and hopeful. I don't think my kids were too young to listen to it, and I think it's a book that will grow with them. They can reread it in four or five years and pick up on some of those things they were too young to understand this first time.

Did you read Ginger Pye when you were a child? Have you read it to your kids? What was the most memorable scene for you?

Apr 20, 2015

KidPages: How to Catch a Mouse by Philippa Leathers

A couple of years ago, I reviewed Philippa Leathers' The Black Rabbit. At the time, it was her only book, and I was so hopeful that it wouldn't be too long before she came out with another one.

Well, I'm thrilled to tell you that day has arrived (or almost--release date: April 28th).


This one stars a little orange cat named Clemmie (cute name, don't you think?). Clemmie is an excellent mouse catcher . . . she thinks. To date, she's never actually caught a mouse, nor, erm, ever actually seen one either. But she knows exactly what to look for: a whiskery, pointy nose, two round ears, and a long pink tail. And she's seen nothing that meets that description. It must be because all mice are afraid of her.

What she doesn't know is that the mouse (because, in fact, there is one) has been taking lessons right along with her and has found a way to disguise his incriminating body parts. But the disguise gives him a false sense of security, and Clemmie soon learns that two can play at this game . . .

As with The Black Rabbit, the reader is immediately armed with some important information that the main character doesn't know. (In The Black Rabbit, it was that the "rabbit" he was so afraid of was actually his shadow; in this one, it is that the mouse happens to be much closer than Clemmie thinks.) My kids loved finding and pointing to the mouse each time. They tried to get Clemmie to see her error, but she was too busy chasing down things that met the mouse description but that weren't actually mice.

The illustrations are charming. My favorite one shows Clemmie studying a book about mice. Unbeknownst to her, the mouse is standing right behind her, taking careful note of everything as well. Each picture is a careful balance between the sneaky and the obvious. It's one of those books that makes a great readaloud (which you would think all picture books should be, but trust me, they're not). And although it was great fun to read it to just my kids, it would also be an excellent choice for a large group story time.

I have to admit that I'm getting a little sick of picture books that end with two enemies becoming friends (the wolf and the lamb, the fox and the rabbit, the shark and the fish, etc.). Don't get me wrong, that's a great premise, but sometimes it's entirely unbelievable. So I love it that this book ends with no such resolution. It leaves you with a bit of a cliffhanger: the chase is still on, their relationship is still fraught with distrust, and you know there are still many exciting times ahead.

Philippa Leathers has created another winner, which leads me to say what I said in my review two years ago: "I'm so hopeful that she'll write and illustrate many, many more."

Many thanks to Candlewick Press for a hardback copy of this book to review. All opinions are my own.

Apr 17, 2015

Are You an Underbuyer or an Overbuyer?

This week I've been reading Gretchen Rubin's newest book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives (I mentioned it several weeks ago, but just this week, I finally had time to start it). It is so good. I might like this one even more than The Happiness Project or Happier at Home (and you know that's saying something). Perhaps it's because I've noticed how habits are inextricably linked to my own happiness, and so a book that's all about how to form and maintain those habits is just completely fascinating and interesting.

One of the first things Gretchen sets out to do is help you identify your own personality style in regards to forming and keeping good habits. She does this by laying out four broad tendencies (I'm pretty sure I'm an Obliger who leans heavily towards Upholding) and then personalizing them by asking a series of questions.

I've been thinking a lot about one question in particular: Are you an underbuyer or an overbuyer?


Gretchen talked about this question in The Happiness Project in relation to the question, "Can money buy happiness?" (The answer: yes.) But she brought it up again in relation to habits because it's helpful to know if you're the type of person who will go out and buy all the latest running gear in order to make running a habit or if you're more likely to run in whatever you already have available.

I am an underbuyer. No question. In answer to the running example, I run in a pair of two-year-old Nikes (that felt like a big splurge at the time), a pair of men's athletic shorts (when the weather is warm enough) and an old family reunion t-shirt. I cut a mean figure, that's for sure. Granted, I'm not that serious about running, but there are still many days when I'd like to own different running attire . . .  but just not enough to actually buy any.

But it's not just running. My underbuying tendencies influence everything I do. (And no, I don't think this tendency has anything to do with money trauma in the past. Thankfully, I've always been blessed with enough.)

When we go out to eat, I rarely order anything to drink besides water, and I always begrudge the tip at the end (I know! I promise it has nothing to do with not appreciating the waiter; I would just rather have the tip included in the total cost so that it doesn't feel like a decision). It's the same thing with paying a babysitter. Yes, I know she just watched my four wild children. Yes, the money was well-earned. But oh wow, it hurts to hand it over.

*******

I've been on the hunt for a new pair of sandals for summer. But I cannot get myself to buy anything. I just keep making excuses: Maybe I'll find something cheaper. Maybe I'll find something I like better. Maybe I should check the thrift store one more time. Maybe there will be a sale. Maybe I could hold out another three weeks . . . or twelve months.

*******

It honestly doesn't seem to matter if I'm spending a lot or a little, making a big purchase or a small one. Recently, I stopped in at The Children's Place because they were closing that particular location and so were liquidating the entire store. Everything was $1.99, and so I started grabbing up pants in all sizes for my boys. (Side note: people often tell me that it must be nice to have four boys because I can just pass the clothes down to the next one. That's nice in theory but totally untrue. Boys are so hard on clothes, particularly jeans and shoes.) As I was standing in the checkout line with my arms almost breaking under the weight of so many pants, I couldn't help thinking, This is going to cost so much. Yes, I actually thought that, even though I was saving hundreds of dollars.


Mike, on the other hand, is an overbuyer (but a wise and conscientious one). When he was working on his doctorate and we didn't have any money, he didn't spend it. But once he had a real job, his spending habits gradually changed with the increase in cash flow. Going to Costco and filling his cart to the brim gives him a happy little thrill. It sends me to the edge of anxiety.

However, the great irony is that on the rare instances when I make myself spend money on something I want or need, I actually do feel happier. Take Gretchen Rubin's book, for example. I bought it. I almost never buy books for myself (after I read Notes From a Blue Bike, I went to the bookstore to buy it. I held it in my hands and walked to the checkout counter, but once I actually got there, I told them I didn't want it). Sure, it hurt to push the checkout button on Amazon, but once it came in the mail, I was so happy to actually own it.

*******

A few weeks ago, my hair was driving me crazy. I passed the mirror, saw the gross split ends, and texted my friend on the spot. I avoid haircuts almost as much as going to the dentist. It seems like such an exorbitant cost for something that's going to grow right back . . . especially when I'm not even changing the style but just getting a trim. But oh wow, after I'd done it (and paid her and the money was gone), I was so happy. It was the best haircut I've ever had. I didn't settle for the cheapest option like I usually do, and even though I agonized a ton before I went, I didn't have a single regret after the fact.

*******

I've been turning one of our basement bedrooms into a little library (and I'm excited to show it to all of you in a few weeks!). One of the things we splurged on was a cushion for a little bench seat. I had all of these ways to save money (try to find an old couch that we could steal the cushions from, buy a foam pad and cover it myself, etc.), but in the end, we hired someone to upholster one for us. It was such a great purchase! It was done much more satisfactorily than we could have done ourselves, and, more importantly, it actually got done, whereas it maybe never would have happened if I'd waited on myself.

I think I will always be an underbuyer. And for the most part, I'm happy about that. It means that we stay well within our means and that we use what we have. But, I'm slowly realizing that there are benefits to being an overbuyer as well. Overbuyers are generous and kind. They don't keep track of how many granola bars the neighbor kids are eating, and they look forward to buying a present for a baby shower.

So while I hold tight-fisted to most of my money, I'm going to make a conscious effort to relax my grip . . . just a little.

What about you? Are you an underbuyer or an overbuyer? Examples of ways you spend or hoard money are welcome in the comments!

Apr 15, 2015

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

As soon as I cracked the cover and read the familiar names of Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty, I sighed with contentment. It was like coming home. I dearly, dearly love the Penderwicks.

In my opinion, these books just keep getting better and better. While I've always loved the characters and the writing, I feel like the plots have improved with each one. This one dug deep, tugged hard at the heartstrings, and resolved some long buried issues.

Several years have passed since the vacation in Maine with Aunt Claire. Rosalind is a freshman in college, and Skye and Jane are teenagers. Batty is 10-almost-11, Ben is in the second grade, and Lydia (yes, a brand-new Penderwick!) is almost two. The Geiger boys across the street are both grown up too (Nick is in the military and Tommy is in college), and Jeffrey (still an honorary Penderwick) lives in Boston with his father.

With so many characters mulling about (and really, that Penderwick house always seems to be filled to bursting), it would have been so easy for this story to be chaotic or disorganized, but Jeanne Birdsall gave it all to Batty (keeping this series firmly fixed at the middle grade level). It felt similar to the other books in that we still get glimpses into the lives of the other family members (and happily, their voices are as distinct as ever), but the story belongs to Batty.

Her butterfly wings have long-since been abandoned, but she is still the same (shy, musical, and devoted to her family). When Mrs. Grunfeld (her music teacher at school) discovers her rare singing voice, Batty has big ideas of planning a Grand Eleventh Birthday Concert to surprise her family. So she sets out to make money in order to pay for her own voice lessons.

But things don't go as planned (there would be no story if they did). The only job she can find is walking the Ayvazian's obese dachshund, and she was hoping to avoid any pet-watching since she still feels guilt over Hound's death six months earlier. There's also trouble with the boyfriend Rosalind brings home from school, not to mention her mounting pile of unfinished book reports. But the real problem arises when Batty accidentally eavesdrops on a private conversation between Jeffrey and Skye (Jeffrey is madly in love with Skye, while Skye wants their relationship to stay rooted in loyal friendship). Skye, as insensitive as ever, says something that is indescribably cruel and hurtful. Granted, it wasn't meant for Batty's ears, but she heard it anyway, and it sends her into a deep chasm of despair and guilt.

At first, I didn't know how I felt about the leap in time, but I ended up loving it. It was so fun to see how Rosalind, Skye, and Jane were still very much themselves even while being on the brink of adulthood. Rosalind is still the practical, responsible one (even though I was very disappointed in her choice of boyfriends--I think her neglect of Batty was one of the things that hurt the most about this story, even though it was eventually resolved); Skye is still brusque and rude and not the least bit interested in love (I loved it when Jeffrey gave her a birthday present, and she said, "That's a small box. If it's jewelry, I'll kill you"); Jane, as you might expect, is constantly entertaining a houseful of boys, but she is interested in them more for the sake of research for her latest novel and less because she has any real interest in them. It was delightful to remember them as little girls but get to see what they're like in the next stage of life, a rare occurrence, especially in a book that doesn't grow with them (like Anne of Green Gables or Betsy-Tacy).

But still, there are those missing years, and I long to know all that happened during them. It's obvious that we missed out on some good times. And nowhere did I feel this hole more acutely than with Nick and Tommy Geiger. These rambunctious brothers were a part of The Penderwicks on Gardam Street but neither of the other two books (which take place during summer vacation). When this novel opens up, the Penderwicks are anxiously awaiting Nick's return home from being overseas. Even though he's only home for a brief three-week leave, he plays a big role in this story, and I kind of fell in love with his cocky-but-nevertheless-sincere self. I wish there were more stories with him and Tommy.

The emotional depth in this book is amazing. I felt Batty's pain and loneliness so acutely, especially when the ones that should have been there for her were not (Rosalind. Jeffrey. I'm looking at you). One of the most painfully realistic scenes was when Batty goes to Mrs. Grunfeld's office for a voice lesson. She can't sing because one, she can't stop crying but two, because her worry and anxiety have caused her to tighten up so much that no sound will come out. Mrs. Grunfeld is comforting but practical. She says they don't need to sing that day; they can just go over the rhythm of breathing. She begins the lesson, "but Batty had started to cry again. Mrs. Grunfeld wrapped her arms around the sobbing girl and kept hold of her for a long time." I remember being an eleven-year-old girl and not being able to stop the flow of tears when I felt overwhelmed by something (heck, I know what it's like to be a 30-year-old girl who can't stop crying), so that scene felt so real to me.

My one complaint is that, as with the other books, sometimes the drama just went a little over the top. For example, it's obvious from the get-go that Rosalind's boyfriend, Oliver, is a real loser, so the scene where he brings in these ridiculous bouquets for Skye and Rosalind and then yanks off Lydia's dandelion crown to replace it with roses (and she, in self defense smashes quesadillas all over him) seemed like a little too much. I have a feeling kids will love that scene though.

In an era where authors are cranking out one or two, sometimes even three, books a year, I can't tell you how impressed I am with Jeanne Birdsall's slow writing place. She takes her time to live with the story, and as a result, all of her books are tightly woven, beautiful little packages. Of course I'm dying for the fifth (and final! sob!) book to be out, but I would rather wait three years and have it match the others in quality than have a sloppy job in my hands right now. (Three years also gives me plenty of time to speculate: will the story take place in winter, the one season we haven't seen the Penderwicks in yet? Or will it be another summer novel since the Penderwicks do summer so very well? Will time elapse again? Will the story focus on Lydia (if that's the case, I have definite mixed feelings--she's not one of the original Penderwicks, after all). Will anything happen between Rosalind and Tommy? Skye and Jeffrey? So many things to anticipate!)

Oh wait, here I am wrapping up this post, and I forgot to mention my very, very favorite scene! Rather than go back and stick it in the middle, I'm just going to tell you about it here at the end (how's that for editing?). I told you about Jeffrey's birthday present to Skye (it was in a small box, but thankfully it wasn't jewelry--Jeffrey knows Skye better than that, even if he is in love with her), but I forgot to tell about Jeffrey's birthday present to Batty. Batty's birthday is a week after Skye's, and by that time, Jeffrey is back in Boston with strict orders from Skye not to come back until he can stop with the ridiculous love talk. So he sends Batty's present in the mail. And it is just so perfect. I won't say what it is because that is not a moment I would want ruined for anything. But just know, you're in for a treat.

If you haven't read these books, I would definitely start with the first one rather than jumping in with number four. And also, if you're wondering about audio vs. written, I don't know which I'd recommend. I listened to the first three, but I read this one, and I found both experiences to be equally pleasant. I wish these books had been around when I was a kid.

Have you read any of the Penderwicks' adventures? Which is your favorite book? Which Penderwick do you most relate to?

Apr 13, 2015

A Heart Revealed by Josi S. Kilpack



I took voice lessons for a brief few months when I was 14 or 15. They didn’t last very long, and now one of the only things I remember from them was that my voice teacher was overwhelmingly positive . . . to a fault. She was constantly kind and complimentary, praising me up one side and down another, so you would have thought my self-esteem would have soared under her tutelage. But it didn’t. After just a few weeks, I felt like I couldn’t trust her. I didn’t know which compliments were real and which ones were there because she was afraid to hurt my feelings. I became so grateful for my piano teacher who was formidably honest about everything (including the color of my fingernails). But when she gave me a compliment, I glowed with pleasure because I knew it was the real deal.

I have thought about that contrasting experience many times over the last three years as I’ve written about and reviewed books on this blog. When I’m hesitant to share something I didn’t like, I remember my experience with my two music teachers. I realize that if I only write glowing reviews, they will soon become meaningless because no one will know if I’m giving my true opinion or just gently smoothing over the surface, being careful not to disturb the waters underneath.

You’ve probably guessed from that little introduction that the review I’m about to write is one that would make my piano teacher proud because even though it might not be overwhelmingly positive, it will be honest.

Set in England during the Regency Era, Amber Sterlington has it all: beauty, wealth, and her choice of eligible bachelors. When she enters a room, other people notice . . . including Thomas Richards, who is in London for the Season before returning to his country estate in Yorkshire. Thomas is but the third son of a country lord and knows he doesn’t have a chance of winning Amber’s attention. But still, her obvious arrogance and condescension towards him make him burn with humiliation.

This arrogance affects Amber’s other relationships as well, including those with her mother, sister, and maid. She doesn’t recognize the damage she has done until she unexpectedly begins to lose her hair. As her condition worsens, she is shunned from society, and she realizes she doesn’t have a single friend or family member to turn to for love, comfort and support. After many months, and as her prospects permanently crumble, Amber’s heart softens, and she emerges a much kinder and wiser person.

Because of its focus on a rare health disorder, this is far from your typical Regency romance. I certainly appreciated the author’s boldness in branching out and tackling a difficult subject. However, there were times, many times actually, when I felt like the novel was using Amber’s condition as a crutch. Forming the plot around a unique disease does not instantly make a deep and touching story, and in the end, the originality was not enough to carry the rest of the book through some of its other flaws.

·       For example, the pacing was very slow. This isn't unusual for a Regency romance, but the conversations and details that happened in the meantime were so uninteresting and repetitive that I had a really difficult time making it through to anything that was actually noteworthy. There was very little interaction between Amber and Thomas (and what does happen mostly occurs with a wall between them). When they finally see each other and speak face to face at the end, it made me a little uncomfortable, rather than happy. I guess part of the problem was that I just never liked Amber. At first, she was too stuck up and by the end, she was too humble. It wasn't that I felt like her transition was unbelievable, just that I didn't like either result.

·         It also felt really preachy to me. That is an adjective I strive to avoid in my reviews, but in this case, I can't help myself. From Amber’s condition to messages about inner beauty to even comments about modesty (when Amber walks into the room in a revealing gown, Thomas chastises himself because he knows “he [is] the one in keeping of his own thoughts and ought not to blame her manner of dress for his own weakness”), I just felt like little ideas were being compartmentalized and forced onto me.

The book did generate some strong emotions from me, which I think says something positive for it. I liked Amber’s maid, Suzanne, and appreciated this thought from her, “I . . . believe that there are people in every society who would prefer the heart you have grown, to the beauty you left behind to find it.” (But it would have been more powerful if I hadn’t read almost the same sentiment several more times.)   

On the flip side, I felt a strong dislike for Amber’s family, who, instead of rallying around her, banished her to Yorkshire so they wouldn’t be tainted by her appearance. Her father’s words especially made me so angry: “That you have to endure such a thing is unfortunate indeed, but I should think you would not want your family to suffer along with you. I should think that as a woman of feeling and sound mind you should want to protect us from such derision, not ask that we share it with you.” 

As I've written this review, I've tried to think about how I would have altered it if I happened to personally know the author. Would I have mentioned the things I didn't like? Would I have focused on the things I did like? For sure, such a relationship would have made this review even more difficult to write, and I don't know what I would have done. However, in the end, I think my reaction to it was far simpler than I've made this review out to be. It wasn't so much like vs. dislike but just plain, old boredom. I guess it just wasn't for me.

I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Apr 10, 2015

Snacks 101


There are days when I feel like the lone server in a fast-food joint and like "mother" is just another name for "chef."

It's amazing how frequently little kids can be hungry (or "ravenous," as my boys usually say). I get it that their stomachs are small and that they're growing boys. But I'm also pretty sure they get bored after eating three bites and run off to play, only to realize a mere ten minutes later that they're still hungry. When you stagger that between four boys, it can feel pretty constant.

One of the things that has continued to stick with me from the book Bringing Up Bebe is that French parents have somehow figured out a way to confine their children's eating to three real meals + one afternoon snack each day. Since then, I've diligently tried to implement a similar schedule into our daily routine (except I add in a morning snack as well), but somehow my kids find ways to work around it. And I give in because they're much more whiny when they're hungry.

But a few weeks ago, I had had it. I felt like I could never keep the kitchen clean or do anything else because I was always meeting food orders. My life was being taken over by pleas of "I'm ravenous!" all. day. long.

Something had to change. It was time to get serious.

On closer examination, I realized that I was part of the problem. When they asked me for a snack, especially if it was Aaron or Max, I'd impatiently say, "Again?! Just go grab something out of the pantry!" So basically, I was encouraging them to eat little bird-sized portions every fifteen minutes because they could always go back for more if they felt the least twinge of hunger.


So the first thing I did was to delegate two times of day for snacks: 9:30 in the morning and 4:00 in the afternoon. (The afternoon is tricky because I'd like to do it earlier, but Aaron doesn't get home from school until 4:00, so if I don't wait until then, I have to serve up two afternoon snacks--and Maxwell and Bradley almost always want to join in on round two.)

Next, I brainstormed a long list of potential snacks. Max and Bradley were happy to help me with this, especially when I told them there were no wrong answers and let them include cookies and cinnamon rolls on the list. I was actually surprised by the length of the list. In the moment of hungry demands, it always feels so difficult to think up a snack, but I realized there are actually dozens of easy choices.

And finally, I planned out a week's worth of snacks, writing down what we were going to have on each morning and afternoon. Choices are great, but sometimes it lessens the potential for tantrums when you can just say, "It's time for a snack, and today we're having apples and peanut butter. It's written on the calendar. In ink."

As part of this goal, I also decided that I wanted to make a big batch of something (banana bread, applesauce muffins, etc.) on Mondays and freeze half of it so that after a few weeks, I could have another option for a quick, healthy(ish) snack.

All this planning happened several weeks ago, and I regret to say that I only made a snack plan for the first week. Yeah . . . my follow-through could use some improvement.

But it was such a good idea, and I hate to see it go so soon, so today I'm using my blog for selfish purposes: I'm telling all of you about it in order to make myself accountable.

So here's the plan: Every Saturday or Sunday, I'll write out the snacks for the coming week on our calendar. I'll also plan what I'm going to make and freeze on Monday. After four weeks, I'll share all the details here on the blog: what we ate, what I made, and what things worked and didn't work.


In the meantime, I'd love to hear about how you make snack time a success. What are your favorite snacks? What do you take when you go to the park? How do you help your kids keep from eating at all hours of the day?
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