Raising a Reader: A Mother's Tale of Desperation and Delight by Jennie Nash

May 31, 2013

To say I was a little excited by the prospect of Aaron learning to read would be the vastest of understatements. Just before he turned two, I read a book called How to Teach Your Baby to Read by Glenn Doman (no, really, I'm serious). Although I didn't fully subscribe to his method, I did teach Aaron to read a big stack of sight words (much to the delight and amazement of the person sitting in the pew behind us at church). When Aaron was three-and-a-half, I just couldn't stand it any longer and began "formal" reading lessons using the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.

As a mother, I don't know that there's any other single thing that has brought me more joy and filled me with more excitement than watching all three of my children develop a love of reading. (First steps? First words? So overrated.) 

I picked up Raising a Reader simply because the title caught my eye. I usually don't go for subtitles, but this one--A Mother's Tale of Desperation and Delight--described my own emotions so perfectly that I felt compelled to see what was inside.

It is a memoir of sorts: a memoir of reading. Doesn't that just sound lovely? It is broken into sixteen short chapters, each one of them focusing on a different attribute (characteristic? quality? element?) of reading. For example, in the chapter entitled "Obsession," there is a somewhat humorous and (for me) all-too-relatable story about the first time Jennie's oldest daughter tore the page of a book (out of frustration and spite). In her own words, Jennie "yelped" and drastically brought two large boxes into her daughter's room and began packing away all of her books. This story was meant to illustrate what can happen when we become a little too obsessed with our passions (although I think it made such an impression on her daughter that she never mistreated books again).
Through these different topics (abundance, delight, arrogance, togetherness, etc.), Jennie explores what reading has done for her family.

This will not be a five-star book for everyone. In fact, it probably won't be a five-star book for most people. But it definitely is a five-star book for me, for the simple reason that this is my story. Yes, I'm aware that I have three sons instead of two daughters and that I'm not a professional writer and that I do not live in California. But those things are all beside the point.

The point is, I have tried before to describe why I love reading so much and why I am so completely obsessed with guiding (a much better word than "forcing") my children to love it, but I haven't been able to find the right words. Jennie Nash found them.

When she said that their trips to the library weren't just about "getting something good to read at bedtime, it was about feeling like we were getting away with something too good to be true [my emphasis]," I knew exactly what she was talking about. (I currently have 55 items checked out from my library. That's hundreds of dollars worth of literature! You tell me that's not too good to be true.)

When she said they would bring "home fifteen, seventeen, twenty books, and pile them at the end of the girls' beds where they could, almost literally, wallow in them [my emphasis]," I looked at the state of my own bed and saw our own wallowing pile (which Mike sighs about almost every night as he's stacking up book after book to make room for himself).

When she told the story about the little girl in her daughter's class who was absolutely brilliant, and she realized that "a talent like Alexandra's [the classmate] that had obviously sprung fully formed seemed so much more pure than a talent like Carlyn's [her daughter] that had been coddled, nurtured, and maybe even tricked into fruition [my emphasis]," I recognized my own silly pride in Aaron's success with reading.

It was these examples and more that made this book cross the bridge for me from something that was just an enjoyable read to something that spoke to my soul. Her words resonated with my own ambition, passion, and interest. It's always nice to know that someone else, even if you don't know that someone else, understands exactly the way that you feel. It's even better when she can put those feelings into perfect words.

I will say that if you're looking for a book to actually help you "raise a reader," this is probably not the book you want. Although Jennie does give little tips or ideas at the end of every chapter (things like word games you can play or how much of a chance you should give a book before giving up), it is less a step-by-step guide and more just a recounting of one family's journey with books. Inspiring for sure, but maybe not very hands-on-helpful.

Also, even though it was written in 2003 (which really does not seem that long ago to me), some of it already feels dated. For example, her suggestion to keep a "What to Read" file where you can write down the names of future books you want to read. Um, ever heard of Goodreads?

If you find yourself reading this blog and thinking you and I might be kindred spirits, then chances are you will love this book, too. I think I'm just going to buy my own copy (since it's going for cheap on Amazon), so I can revisit a chapter here and there whenever I feel like it...or whenever I need a little reassurance that there are other people in this world who are as obsessed with books as I am.

The Center of Everything by Linda Urban

May 29, 2013

The Center of Everything has been getting some early Newbery attention, and while that is not in any way a reliable indicator of what will actually win the Newbery, or even what will be a favorite later in the year (remember the slow (and very unfortunate) demise of Wonder?), I wanted to get started on my goal of reading several potential-Newbery titles this year, and this looked like an enjoyable one.

Whew, nothing like beginning a review with a paragraph-sentence!

Ruby Pepperdine has had a bit of a rough year. First Gigi (her beloved grandmother) dies without Ruby having time to listen to her final advice. Then Ruby can't decide what to make of the attention from a nice boy in her class named Nero. And then to top it all off, Lucy, her best friend from forever, gets mad and abandons their friendship. Luckily, Ruby's birthday coin went sailing through Captain Cornelius Bunning's donut (long story...) AND she won the Bunning Day Essay Contest, so she takes both as a sign that her life's problems will soon be fixed.

I read Linda Urban's first book, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, a couple of years ago and thought it was okay. And I thought The Center of Everything was okay, too. Both novels are a little bit quirky (sorry, a donut-obsessed town is quirky in my opinion) while exploring typical middle-grade issues (friend-breakups, early romances, defining oneself, etc.). I enjoyed it, was even interested to see how it would end, but it's already fading from my memory.

And unfortunately as time goes by, the little annoyances I felt while reading it are the impressions that really seem to be sticking with me.

For example, for the life of me, I could not get used to this story being told in present tense. Lest you make a hasty judgement about me, let me point out that I am definitely not one of those readers that is highly distracted and irritated with present tense. Usually, I have no problem settling into it, and by the third page I've completely forgotten what tense I'm reading in. But this one was different. And I think it was because it kept falling out of present tense, but only briefly, so that when it went back to it, it felt like a jolt or a slap in the face. And this happened over and over again.

Here's one example: "And this year, for the first time in twelve years, Ruby had something really important to wish for. Not that her hair would turn curly or that she'd get a new bike or that she'd be better at soccer, but something really, truly important [all in past tense]. Something she hasn't stopped thinking about since she saw Nero's color wheel last week. And now she has missed her chance [back in present tense]."

I'm not saying that Linda Urban is wrong to be floating between tenses like that. Of course I'm not saying that. I'm also not saying that she doesn't have valid reasons to use both tenses in the same paragraph. What I am saying is that for me, as a reader, the use of both tenses in one paragraph was distracting. It made me stop thinking about the story and start thinking about sentence structure and grammar. I wish I could have just stayed lost in Ruby's dilemma instead of bothering with something as insignificant and boring as had and has.

Aside from the tense issue, I really loved the fact that the story was told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator. This is perhaps my favorite way to get a story; I love the way little details can be shared from the lives of multiple characters and how the reader is able to see connections the actual characters cannot. Linda Urban actually wrote a fascinating blog post on this topic recently where she shared examples from this book.

I did like all of the science and math that was mixed in with the story: circles and torus and homeomorphisms--concepts I've never even heard of before. One of my favorite analogies was when Nero asks their teacher what happens if you have only 359 degrees in a circle instead of 360, and Mr. Cipielewski says, "You do not have a circle." And Nero asks what you have then, and Mr. Cipielewski says, "Nothing." Then the reader gets this comparison: "A week ago [Nero] had been just another boy in her class. Then a few days later they were friends. Or about to be friends. Like 359 degrees of friendship. But that was before Ruby said what she said. Was it possible that now they really were nothing?" I thought the set-up to this analogy was perfect and that the analogy itself was also perfect.

I really liked Ruby, and I really liked Nero, but I really, really, really did not like Ruby's best friend, Lucy. Even after their friendship was patched back together, I still didn't like her. She was so selfish and self-centered, but even so, I don't think I was supposed to dislike her, which made me dislike her even more. I love it when friendships are real and best friends aren't perfect (one of the reasons I loved the friendship in Sharon Creech's Walk Two Moons), but I thought Ruby could do better than a best friend like Lucy.

One thing that caught me a little off guard at the beginning was the fact that Lucy has two dads. It was not explained or elaborated. It just was. (Which I appreciated since it was not a theme of the book.) I'm not going to get into a political or moral discussion here, but I will say that as a parent, this is a small detail that I would want to be aware of so that I would be able to discuss and explain and talk about it with my children. (Incidentally, and fyi, Lucy having two dads had nothing to do with me not liking her character. It was her utter selfishness I had a problem with).

I found The Center of Everything to be an enjoyable read, but I have to admit that I hope whatever ends up winning the Newbery is more of a standout than this one.

Sunlit Pages Turns One: Giveaway Winner and Future Plans

May 25, 2013

It's been a fun week for me celebrating the existence of Sunlit Pages and sharing a little bit about why I started it and why I love it. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments! It's so much fun knowing that there are some other people out there reading this blog.

So, first things first, I am happy to announce the randomly-selected-winner of my first-ever giveaway!

Drum roll, please...

The prize goes to...

Besides being a great blogger, Susanna is an amazing picture book author. We've loved the books we've read by her (Punxsutawney Phyllis being one of them), and we currently have Can't Sleep Without Sheep in our stack from the library.

(And no, Susanna did not ask me to give her books a shout-out, but as long as she's the winner, I thought I might as well point them out to you!)

Next item of business: I know a few of you are dying to know what the book is in the header. I've had that picture at the top of my blog for a whole year, and no one has ever asked what it was, so I thought it was so funny that once I mentioned it, not knowing was driving a few of you CRAZY. So I won't keep you in suspense any longer. 

The book is...

Thanks so much to those of you who made a guess!

And finally, I wanted to mention just a few of the things I hope to do with Sunlit Pages over the next year:
  • Join Twitter. I put this one first because I can actually already check it off! My brother helped me set up an account last night, but I still know next to nothing (no, really, I know nothing). I'm definitely not ready yet to tweet or follow or whatever it is you do. I've considered joining Twitter for several months and finally decided that the only way to know if I would like it or not would be to try it. So, we'll see...
  • Facebook and Google+. In a similar vein, I'm also planning on creating a separate Facebook page for Sunlit Pages and becoming more active with Google+. I already have a personal Facebook account, but I'm getting a little tired of posting book reviews there when I know that 95% of my friends have no interest in this blog. And as far as Google+, some of my favorite blogs (What Do We Do All Day, for example) are big Google+ fans. So again, as with Twitter, I figure I might as well give it a try and see if it's something that enhances or diminishes my connections with people.
  • New look. I'm getting a little tired of To Kill a Mockingbird up there at the top. I also want to update my "About Me" page. And also, give the social media buttons on the side a more uniform look. These changes are all entirely dependent on Mike finishing his dissertation and having time to help me since I am totally illiterate when it comes to technology. So this change could still be several months out.
  • Learn to use Photoshop (or something similar). I might follow a tutorial, or I might just wait for Mike again (it would be a fun month of date nights, right?).
  • Continue reading, writing, and exploring the world of literature!
Thanks for enduring a week of blog talk. Next week, I'm excited to return to book reviews and whatever else I'm in the mood for!

Sunlit Pages Turns One: Blogging Philosophy

May 24, 2013

You'd be surprised with how much thought I've given to why I'm writing this blog. At the end of the day when there are baskets of clean laundry overflowing all over my bedroom, I sometimes ask myself, Why did I spend two hours writing that review and consequently neglect this invasion  of socks and shirts and pants? Sometimes people will say to me, "I don't know how you have so much time to blog!" But it's not an overabundance of time that's making this blog possible. It's that I've decided to cut out other things that aren't as important to me so that I'll have time for it. It's the same for everyone.

Also, as I read other blogs with countless followers, I sometimes feel a little twinge of jealousy, but then I ask myself, Is that why you started this blog? Obviously not! Aside from sharing a few of my posts on other sites, I do very little to promote this blog, and that has actually been a somewhat conscious decision.

I don't know that the why of this blog matters to anyone else, but it matters to me, and this seems like the appropriate place to share it.
  • I started this blog because I love books. On Tuesday, I explained more about the reasons for starting this blog.
  • I think best when I'm writing. I've noticed this again and again, which is one of the reasons why I am so militant about writing in my journal every day. If I read a book and don't follow it with writing, the whole book is as good as gone to me in about three months. Sad, but true. But if I write about it? Then I've captured something that I can return to again and again. And that's really important to me.
  • I want to connect with other readers in real ways. Last summer when I was reading Quiet by Susan Cain, this statement really resonated with me: "Here's a rule of thumb for networking events: one new honest-to-goodness relationship is worth ten fistfuls of business cards." That perfectly encapsulates the way that I feel! Over the past year, my blog has grown only a little bit. But I think it's safe to say that all of you who read this blog do it because you want to, not because I've begged you to follow me or bribed you to subscribe. Over the last year, I've made new friends and rekindled old friendships. I am definitely trying to reach out because I know it's unrealistic to think that people will find this blog just because it exists, but I try to connect on a personal, individual level.
  • I write about what I want to write about. Even though this is called Sunlit Pages and was started primarily because I love books, I'm going to write about whatever strikes my fancy. That's why occasionally you will see some posts that have absolutely nothing to do with reading. I am not going to maintain five blogs (one for adult lit, one for children's lit, one for picture books, one for the occasional craft, one for spiritual insights, etc.). This blog is a reflection of who I am. And while it's fairly obvious that the greater percentage of my interests fall in reading and mothering my kids, I do have other things I love as well.
  • It's impossible for me to separate reading from my life. One of the reasons I love reading so much is because of the way the things that I read impact and intersect with my own life. I gain new ideas; many of my old notions are challenged; forgotten memories resurface. When I read other people's reviews, I want to know the back story: why did they decide to read that book? why did they like (or dislike) it so much? why did they relate to that particular character? And that is why you now know about dancing at my family reunion, my parents' parenting philosophy, and my addiction to my space heater.
  • I try to give very honest reviews. With picture books, I usually only review books that I want to buy (I've made one exception to this, and I've regretted it ever since), and with other books, I openly share what I liked and didn't like.
A few months ago, I read Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale. It was a wonderful sequel to Princess Academy, and I highly recommend it. But even if I hadn't liked anything else about it, I would have loved this paragraph because it spoke to my soul:
Lately she did not quite know what she thought until she wrote it down. Letter writing was a lot like quarry-speaking--a soundless call from far away. Would Marda have similar enough memories to understand what Miri was trying to say? How could she communicate the whole world to a quiet sister on top of a mountain? She would try. She needed a pen and paper and a way to see her thoughts.
Ultimately, I think that that is the real reason why I blog and why I've decided that even though it takes a lot of time, it is most definitely worth it.

Sunlit Pages Turns One: A Few Memorable Posts

May 23, 2013

I've rambled a little too much over the last few days, so I'll try to keep today's post more succinct. I thought it would be fun (for me at least) to revisit of few of my more memorable posts over the past year.

Nostalgic: My Hometown Library (Even though I love the sheer volume of books to be had from my current library, I will always have very fond memories of my "teeny-tiny library," as Aaron calls it.)

Star-struck: In Which I Meet One of My Very Favorite Authors (Shannon Hale is as awesome as her books.)

Rant: A Pet Peeve of Mine, or Why Parents Are a Big Fat Bunch of Hypocrites (This post felt good to write. I still agree with everything I said here, and I've been trying to personally apply my own advice.)

Habit: Running and Reading (This was one of the first posts I wrote. I still like to run with a good audiobook.)

Personal: What I Envy (I've already tweaked some of my dreams (maybe I'll do another post in the future), but this was still really fun (and enlightening) to think about.)

Holiday: Read Your Way to Christmas (We will definitely be making this activity an annual tradition. I've already acquired a few books to replace the ones I wasn't terribly crazy about last year.)

Book Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (I couldn't choose a favorite review, but this was my favorite book from last year.)

Preschool: Snowmen At Work (This was one of my favorite preschool lessons that I put together this last school year. I actually have gotten really behind with the preschool posts and have at least six that I still need/want to write up.)

KidPages: Cold Snap by Eileen Spinelli (This is one of the few reviews I've written on a whim with very little forethought. We read it in the morning, we loved it, and I wrote about it that very afternoon.)

Popular: Christ the Savior is Born: Advent Calendar (Sometimes I laugh when I see how many views this post has had (which I'm glad of, by the way). I'm sure anyone who comes to my blog for that post probably leaves disappointed when they realize that everything else here is about books. The runners-up for most views, but still lagging far behind this post, are The Boy Can Read and Bartholomew and the Oobleck.)

Not counting the reviews I put up before my first official post, I have written 167 posts over the last year. I can't wait to write another 167 (give or take) during Year Two.

Do you have a favorite post? Do tell!

P.S. If you haven't already, you can still enter the giveaway going on this week by leaving a comment on this post.

Sunlit Pages Turns One: The Story Behind the Name

May 22, 2013

Okay, it's not much of a story. It's not like I was relaxing on a beach in Hawaii, totally engrossed in a novel, when the sunlight suddenly glinted off the page and I thought, That's it! Sunlit Pages!

No, I'm actually embarrassed to admit what a long process the name selection was. If you know me well, you know that I do not make decisions quickly. I was not just going to slap on some bland title like Amy Reads Books and call it good. (Incidentally, amyreadsbooks was not even available on Blogger, even if I had wanted it.)

I wanted something that I would be happy to see every day when I got onto my blog. I wanted something that sounded nice, was memorable, and reflected the love I had for books.

The very first title I thought of was Kindred Books. (You know, like "kindred spirits" from Anne of Green Gables?) Books often felt like friends to me, so I thought this title would be perfect. But after just a couple of days, the name grated on me. It sounded too much like Kinder Books (as in kindergarten), and that was not what I was going for. So I scrapped that name.

Over the next couple of weeks, I came up with hundreds of possible names (Mike contributed his fair share, too.) I took words like "book" and "reading" and looked up every possible synonym. I thought of reading as a journey, as a blissful activity, or as a comforting blanket. I looked up common idioms and tried to change one word so it would sound more bookish. (Unfortunately You Are What You Read or Beating Around the Book just sounded contrived and stupid instead of clever and brilliant.)

When that didn't work, I read through hundreds of quotes about reading, hoping that one of them would contain a phrase that would ring true to me and be short enough to use as a name. I found lots of quotes that I liked ("A book is a gift you can open again and again" by Garrison Keillor or "A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit" by John Milton), but it seemed silly to base an entire blog off of a quote I had just barely read.

So then I turned to the books themselves. Were there any really memorable lines from my favorite books that I could use for a title? I soon realized that this approach could literally take me months since it's hard to search for something as elusive as a good blog name among thousands of other words and sentences. (This is when I needed to suddenly remember a favorite line or randomly come across a catchy phrase, but that longed for "Aha!" moment avoided me.)

All this time, I was collecting names that I thought I might be able to use. These possibilities, together with idioms and quotes, made up an eight-page document (not kidding). I eventually narrowed it down and emailed the list of names to a few bookish family and friends for their opinions. This was the list (yes, this was the short list!):

Storied Steps
Words Meet
Sun-Dappled Reads
Book Content
(using both definitions)
Mostly Sunny with Scattered Reads
(one of the only idiom titles that survived)
Pages for all Ages
The Sunlit Hearth
Contentedly Bookish
Embraceable Books
Pages in the Sun
Books at Home

I think it's obvious from this list that I was leaning towards titles that were happy, cheerful, soothing, comfortable, and friendly. My idea of a perfect summer's day is lying on a blanket under a tree with a good book. (This is why I'm still kind of in love with Sun-Dappled Reads. I think the word "dapple" is so cute and fun, and the dappled light that filters through the leaves of a tree was the exact image I was going for. I nixed it though because I just didn't love the way it looked on the page.)

I wanted my blog to feel like that...something that would invoke those blissful feelings that were both familiar but also somewhat fleeting.

Writing this, I'm realizing that it's hard to put into words exactly why I named this blog Sunlit Pages. After weeks, I think part of me was just ready to settle on something and be done with it. Some days, I love it. Some days, I hate it. Sometimes I cringe when I hear it spoken out loud because it sounds so corny. But mostly, I'm just glad I finally found something that reflected at least one aspect of the way I feel about books.

P.S. So you see that book in my header? The one that is appropriately "sunlit"? Ever since I started this blog, I thought it would be fun to have people guess what book that is. So let's do it now. Leave a comment with your guess. (Hint: it IS a book with a review on this blog.)

Sunlit Pages Turns One: Before the Beginning

May 21, 2013

I have always loved to read. Always. I don't remember learning to read, but I do remember the first chapter book I read all by myself. It was Karen's Witch by Ann Martin, the first book in the spin-off series of The Baby-sitters Club. I distinctly remember carrying it with me when my family went out to eat at Olive Garden and curling up with it in the booth while I waited for everyone to finish eating. I was a very loyal reader of Karen's for a couple of years and probably got up to #2452 before I finally got sick of her two families.

After a childhood filled with books (and dozens of resulting memories, which I will be only too happy to share at a later date), I left for college and embarked on the Dark Years, that period of my life where The Goose Girl, Jane Eyre, and a few others were the only bright spots in an otherwise book-less existence. (Thankfully, there were many other non-book-related bright spots during those years which made up for the lack of reading. They were only dark as far as books were concerned.)

After graduating, I read regularly, but I wouldn't say avidly. It wasn't until Aaron was about seven months old that I started picking up books again in earnest. It was prompted by the intellectual rut I found myself slipping into. I thoroughly enjoyed being a mother, but I definitely needed something to occupy and stretch my brain, and books were my answer. It was at this same time that a friend recommended audiobooks as a way to make mundane tasks less mundane. Up until that time, I had been adamantly opposed to audiobooks (That's not really reading, I had sneered), but I quickly changed my mind when I realized how wonderful it was to fill up time washing the dishes with a good story.

That year (2009), I read 56 books (yes, I'm a nerd, so I keep track of these things). Had I ever read 56 books in one year before? I didn't know. But I had found my rhythm, and I couldn't stop.

After that, I found books creeping into all parts of my life: I happily took Aaron to baby story time at the library; I read to Aaron often throughout the day; I started making lists of books I wanted to read and books I had already read; I couldn't have a conversation with anyone without saying at some point, "So...have you read anything good lately?" I started wanting to share some of the great things I was reading with others.

I started not just rating books on Goodreads but writing about them, too. We had a private family blog where I would occasionally share favorite picture books (I called those posts "A and A's Favorite Books" because there was only Aaron and me back then). I also started reading a lot of book blogs for more recommendations.

The more I read, the more I wanted to have my own voice. I wanted to be able to comment on some of the blogs I was reading, but I wanted my name to be more than just a name. I was bursting with picture book recommendations, but honestly, I didn't think a single person who read our family blog cared one wit about our latest favorites. My reviews on Goodreads were getting obnoxiously long (hard to believe, I know), and I felt pressed to record them somewhere else. I wanted to weigh in on the Newbery, Caldecott, and other awards and book news. I wanted to share my obsession with the library. I just wanted to talk about books with other people who loved books as much as I did.

My frustration and irritation with not having an organized place to write everything down was driving me crazy. Every time I wanted to write about a book, I would think, See? You need a blog. A book blog. And then I would instantly come back with, I am not going to be one of those people with a million different blogs highlighting a million different interests and passions. I am not starting something so narrow as a book blog. But then I would find an awesome new picture book, and I would go through the same cycle of thoughts all over again.

Finally one day, I tentatively mentioned it to Mike: "I've been thinking about starting a book blog." I thought he would laugh at me or, more likely, just not give it serious attention. But he didn't do either of those things. I think by that point, he was well aware of how far my love of books and reading had gone, and he probably thought it would be an excellent outlet.

He started helping me think of a title (more on that tomorrow) and design a layout. And within a few weeks, I had a blog. It wasn't perfect, it wasn't impressive, but it was all mine.

Sometimes I feel self-conscious when people I actually know ask me about my book blog. A book blog! It seems so...so...insipidly nerdy. Some of them seem curious (what an unusual interest!); some of them seem baffled (you actually read and then write about all those books?); some of them seem genuinely interested (I love you!).

Regardless of what people think, I have just decided to own this part of myself. I love books. I love writing about them. I love talking about them. I love reading them. I love looking at them and holding them and feeling them. I love sharing them.

That is why I started this blog.

P.S. Don't forget about the giveaway going on this week! You can go here to leave a comment and be included in the drawing. Thanks so much to those of you who have already entered! I think one of my biggest fears was that only two people would comment, and that would have been such a lame giveaway.

Sunlit Pages Turns One: GIVEAWAY!

May 20, 2013

On May 22, 2012, I wrote the first official post of Sunlit Pages. Prior to May 22nd, this blog had been in the works for a looooong time, and there was something so indescribably satisfying about clicking "Publish" on that first post. Sunlit Pages had launched.

Even though I have a million book reviews to be writing (okay, four), I have decided to spend the entire week celebrating the advent of this blog. Yeah, maybe a little overkill. But honestly, I've found so much joy and personal fulfillment in the existence of this blog and in having a place to record anything I want to about my little obsessions and interests, and so, by golly, I can't let the week just pass by without a little extra notice.

Hey, I even have a schedule for the week. That's how much I've been thinking about this anniversary. You'd think this blog was one of my kids. I guess it kind of is--my afternoon child, when all my real children are sleeping! :-)

Here's a look at the not-in-any-way-official, subject-to-change schedule for the week:

Monday, May 20th: Happy Anniversary/announce giveaway
Tuesday, May 21st: Why I Started This Blog
Wednesday, May 22nd: Why I Named This Blog Sunlit Pages
Thursday, May 23rd: List of Most Memorable Posts
Friday, May 24th: Blogging Philosophy
Saturday, May 25th: Sunlit Pages of the Future and Giveaway Winner Announced

Who would have thought I could waste an entire week talking about my blog? Well, stick around and you'll see it done.

And now, I'm excited to announce the first-ever giveaway on Sunlit Pages!!! I wanted some way to thank my loyal readers (whether I personally know you or not), and what better way to say thank you than with a book? So I am happy to be able to give away to the winner his/her choice of one of two books:

First choice:

A hardback edition of one of my all-time favorite books: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
(For my recent review of this book, click here.)

Second choice:

A hardback copy of the picture book All the World by the fabulous Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee.
(Sorry for the poor-quality photos. See that "Sunlit Pages of the Future" on May 25th? Yeah, higher quality photos are definitely on that to-do list!)

In order to enter the giveaway, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post telling me how much you ADORE Sunlit Pages. Ha! Just kidding. I mean, you DO need to leave a comment to enter (because how else am I supposed to know if you would like one of these fabulous books?), but you can forget the adoration. However, it would be super, super helpful if your email address was either linked to your profile or included in the comment so I can personally contact you when you win.

Sorry, one more thing. Don't think that this is a giveaway solely for the people I know personally. It's not! If you read this blog, then it's for you! This is a blog with a small readership, true, but not because I'm trying to keep it hidden. So comment away! Introduce yourself! I can't wait to meet you!

(The contest will officially end at midnight, choose your own time zone, on Friday, May 24th. I will announce the winner on Saturday, May 25th.)

(Sorry, because I'm not wealthy, this giveaway is for readers in the United States only. However, if you are a reader outside the U.S., I would still LOVE to hear from you, and hopefully sometime in the future, I'll be able to do a giveaway for you, too!) 

KidPages: Three Mike Favorites

May 17, 2013

It's been a week of KidPages! If you've missed any of the previous posts, you can find them here: Bradley, Maxwell, Aaron, Amy. For this final day, I'm sharing three of Mike's favorite recent reads.

I'm sorry to any of you who thought Mike would be writing today's post. These are his recent favorite books, but if you think he'd be caught here writing a guest post, um, no, not in your wildest dreams. The following reviews will be in my own words, same as for everyone else in this family. C'mon, you thought when I said he got to have "a say over here" that I actually meant a say?

When it comes to reading to our kids, Mike and I share the pleasure of it pretty equally. Of course I do the majority of the reading during the day, but Mike often reads to them in the early morning while I'm out running, and we usually both take a turn reading to them at night (or we split them up, and he reads to Bradley while I read to Aaron and Max). I think reading has become a bigger part of his parenting than he ever imagined, but he likes it that way. Just last night, he realized that Bradley had been shortchanged because he hadn't yet heard Hooray For Fish by Lucy Cousins. That was a favorite book for both Aaron and Max when they were younger, and Mike and I were both aghast that we almost missed it with Bradley. Don't worry, Mike read it four times last night to make up for our negligence.

1. Round Trip, Ann Jonas
This is an older book and one that Mike read when he was a kid. I think he had forgotten about it because he had

never mentioned it to me, but as soon as he saw it in the library stack, he said, "Oh I remember that book! It is such a cool one." And later that night, after the boys were in bed, he made me look at it just so I could see for myself how cool it was.

It is not a story so much as a journey; a journey across black-and-white countrysides and through silhouetted cities. The illustrations are simple and stark and definitely captivating, but it's not until the last page where it says, "We watched as the sun set. Time to turn around." that you realize just how cool of a book it really is. At that point, you flip the book upside down and suddenly what you thought was one thing has now turned into something entirely different.

Want an example? Here, check out this page:

"Then we went to a movie..."

Now flip it over.

Okay, I'll do it for you:

"Then we had dinner in a restaurant..."

Go ahead, you can say it's pretty cool, too.

The first time you read this book, the pictures are all one big wondrous surprise; you can't believe that the movie theater magically turns into a restaurant. The next time you read it, the original magic fades a little, but now that you know what the two views of the picture look like, you notice things you didn't see the first time, so it's magical in a different way.

This would be a great tool for discussing silhouettes, perspectives, shapes, and contrast, and it would be the perfect lead-in to creating some reflective art of your own.

As a funny side note, I was going to say that Ann Jonas' artwork reminded me of Donald Crews', and then I found out that she's actually married to the guy!

Also, someday when I have my own library, I want to frame a few pages from this book and hang them on one of the walls. (Hmmm, sounds like it could go on my favorites list as well.)

2. The Yucky Reptile Alphabet Book, Jerry Pallotta, illus. Ralph Masiello
Remember The Beetle Alphabet Book, which I featured in the bugs books post? This one is written by the same author (different illustrator though), and it is every bit as fascinating to learn about reptiles as it was to learn about beetles (much to my surprise).

Each letter of the alphabet showcases a different reptile, and alongside the letter and picture is a super interesting fact about that animal. For example, did you know that the chameleon's tongue can be almost twice as long as its body? Or that the Knob-tailed Gecko licks its eyes to keep them clean? Or that the Tuatara was alive when dinosaurs were on the earth?

My boys are at the perfect age to enjoy this book because the illustrations are life-like, the information on each reptile is short but so fascinating and memorable (I can't count the number of times they've reminded me that the Komodo Dragon is the biggest lizard in the whole world), a variety of reptiles are shown, and a little alphabet review gets smuggled in at the same time.

Mike likes it when the boys ask questions and remember little details, and this book provides the perfect backdrop for both.

3. Iggy Peck, Architect, Andrea Beaty, illus. David Roberts
Iggy is a young boy with a passion for designing and building things. When he was two, he built a tower out of (dirty) diapers, and he hasn't stopped since. But things change in second grade. His teacher had a horrible experience when she was a young girl in a very tall building, and ever since then she has been anti-architecture and forbids Iggy from building anything in her classroom. Luckily, she has a change of heart during a class outing when they become stranded, and Iggy uses his inventiveness, creativity, and love of building things to design (and then build) something that will help save them all.

The story of Iggy is told in rhyme, and if there's one thing Mike's a sucker for, it's a good rhyme. He loves it when the meter is clear and well-pronounced, and the rhyming words are clever and actually do rhyme. (You'd be surprised how often authors seem to feel they can get away with horrible rhymes just because their books are geared for children. They're obviously not seeing Mike poking his eye out because they just tried to rhyme "carrot" with "rabbit.")

It is a pleasure to read this book because it meets all Mike's rhyming requirements, as stated above. Here's an example: When Iggy was three, his parents could see / His unusual passion would stay. / He built churches and chapels from peaches and apples / And temples from modeling clay.

The illustrations are full of fine lines, rulers, graph paper, and pencils--all things that, while probably not very accurate anymore, are what we'd expect from an architect.

There are lots of picture books about fire fighters and teachers and doctors but not really a lot about architects, so this book stands out not only as one that encourages kids to pursue their dreams, but also one that spotlights a different kind of career.

And that wraps up this week of KidPages! It's been fun writing about all of these books that we love so much, and I hope you've enjoyed it, too. If you check out any of these books (or have read them previously), I would love it if you'd share your thoughts on them.

KidPages: Three Amy Favorites

May 16, 2013

It's a week of KidPages! If you missed the first three days, you can check out Bradley's, Maxwell's, or Aaron's books by clicking on their names. Today I'm sharing three of my recent favorites.

Before I had kids, I never guessed I'd have such strong opinions about picture books. I didn't know that most books with long text would be tedious and a dreadful bore (Robert McCloskey is a definite exception). I didn't realize I would actually enjoy "reading" a wordless picture book. I was unaware how stupid forced rhymes would sound. But these things (and many, many more) have all become apparent during the last 4+ years as I've had my daily dose of picture books.

But perhaps the strongest opinion I've formed is that I love picture books. And even though I enjoy reading chapter books to the boys, and even though Aaron has started reading on his own, I still love reading picture books. I hope my boys never outgrow them. (Although I guess it might feel a little awkward to read Caps For Sale to a 16-year-old Aaron. Awww, man, why do they have to grow up?)

1. Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake, Michael B. Kaplan, illus. St├ęphane Jorisch
This book was one of the nominees for the 2013 Beehive Book Award (Utah's children's book award). I checked it out simply because it was on the list, and I was checking out all of the nominees we hadn't yet read. There was nothing about the title or the cover that told me I would love it. I was giving it the same fair chance as all the other books on the list.

I guess you know I loved it.

Betty Bunny is the youngest bunny in her family, and she is a handful (at least that's what her parents call her). One night for dessert, her mother offers her chocolate cake. Betty Bunny is hesitant to try it, but one bite tells her it is the best food ever. In fact, she loves it so much she wants to marry it. But one night, she is not on her best behavior (she is a handful, remember?), and so she gets sent to bed without any beloved chocolate cake. She is devastated, but her mother tells her she will save a piece for her to eat the next day after dinner. Betty Bunny can't bear the thought of leaving her piece of cake home, so she puts it in her pocket and takes it to school with her. That night, when it is finally time for her to eat it, she discovers the horrible truth: chocolate cake cannot survive an all-day trip in a pocket.

There's probably nothing in the above summary that's making you say, "Oh wow, I have got to read that book." That's because it's not the plot itself that's special. It's the lines. There are so many good ones. Michael Kaplan cast Betty Bunny perfectly (he must have a five-year-old daughter). From the way she screams, "This family is yucky!" (the ultimate pronouncement) to telling her mom, "Mommy, you are a handful" (which she surmises must be a really great compliment since that's what her parents call her, and she knows they love her), Betty Bunny is perfect the whole way through. I love it when her mom is tucking her in for the night and says, "Good night, Betty Bunny. I love you," and Betty Bunny says, "Good night, Mommy. I love chocolate cake." Little kids are so adorably self-centered sometimes (other times, they are just self-centered).

But as much as I love Betty Bunny, the character that makes the book for me is the older teenage brother, Bill. If Michael Kaplan has a five-year-old daughter, then he must also have a 14-year-old son. Bill has just the right amount of arrogance, dry humor, and bored attitude to make him a totally convincing teenager. I laugh out loud at his lines (and I shouldn't because sometimes he can be a bit rude, and Aaron knows I think he's hilarious, and I certainly don't want Aaron thinking just because I think it's funny, it's somehow acceptable to say). Here, I better give you an example so you don't think he's a horribly bad kid. When Betty discovers her smooshed up piece of cake, Henry (the brother just older than Betty Bunny) says, "I can't believe you put cake in your pocket." Kate (the older sister) says, "Betty Bunny, food doesn't go in your pocket." And Bill says, "Guess you can't marry that piece of cake now."

The fantastic news is that this is not the only Betty Bunny book out there. Two more have been published (Betty Bunny Wants Everything and Betty Bunny Didn't Do It), and they are equally entertaining with great dialogue and relevant messages. (And Bill doesn't lose even a wit of personality.)

2. Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad, Henry Cole
This is a definite change of pace from Betty Bunny. Unspoken caught my eye last year when several people mentioned its potential for the Caldecott. Upon paging through it, I could tell that it wasn't one my boys would be taken with, but I loved it.

It is a wordless picture book and shows the story of a young girl living in the South during the Civil War. One evening, she is in the barn and notices that someone is watching her from among the dried cornstalks. At first, she is frightened but then realizes that she can help that person in need and so returns with food. Although you never see more than the person's eye peeking out, it is clear that she is a runaway slave because a little while later, several men show up demanding information and promising a reward for her recapture. That night, the little girl returns to the barn and discovers that the visitor has continued on her journey.

At the back of the book, there is a note from the author, which says in part, "I wanted to make this a wordless book. The two main characters in the story are both brave, have a strong bond, and communicate with great depth. Yet, both are silent. They speak without words." I loved this: the characters themselves are silent, so why would we need words to explain their actions? Let the pictures show and tell the story.

And the pictures do. Beautifully. They're done in charcoal and pencil, and I don't know about you, but there is something so refreshing about looking through a book without color or vibrancy. Also, they just seem to fit the Civil War time period so well both in style and content.

Another reason why I love this being a wordless book is because the characters depict a rather common scene from those years, one that was probably played out again and again: a human being risking her own comfort and safety to help another. And so, because there aren't any words, it gives you the opportunity to attach a real story to it if you want. Or you can make up your own story but change little details of it each time (where did the slave come from? why did she run away? where is she going? where is her family?, etc.).

One thing I've noticed is how little decent historical nonfiction there is for the five-and-under crowd. I guess it's just hard to simplify history. But here is a perfect example of one that provides the framework and then let's you be as simple or as complicated with it as you want.

Even though my boys are not quite ready for it, I anticipate coming back to this one many times as they get older and begin to have questions about things that happened in the past and how those stories apply to the future.

3. Grumpy Goat, Brett Helquist
Grumpy Goat came by his name naturally. He lives on a nice and friendly farm, but when the other animals try to be nice and friendly to Goat, he kicks and butts and scowls at them. One day he wanders off away from the farm and just as he crests a hill, he finds a beautiful, golden dandelion. Seeing that little bit of beauty does something to Goat, and as he waters and trims and watches the dandelion, he begins to be more civil, and even friendly, with the other animals. But one day, his dandelion transforms into a puff of seeds. A breeze blows, and Goat is left with a dandelion stump. He is heartbroken and goes back to being his melancholy self until one day he wakes to find a wonderful surprise all over his hill.

This is a perfect book to read this time of year. My kids love to bring me bouquets of dandelions, and Bradley has already discovered how to pluck off the dandelion, pucker his lips, and spread dandelion cheer all over the yard. I have to admit that while I find a field of dandelion puffs and stumps dismally ugly, in isolation, they can be incredibly fascinating. And when a close-up of one is drawn with precision and detail (as it is in this book), it can even be (dare I say it?) beautiful.

The other animals in this story are really great examples of how you should treat others, particularly those who may appear gruff or mean on the outside but who really just need that special something that can find a way into their soul; and when that happens, they already have a group of friends who have just stood by ready and waiting for the change to take place.

And that takes care of my list (check out Boot & Shoe, And Then It's Spring, or Little Pea if you want a few more ideas).

Tomorrow, for our fifth and final day, come see what Mike's recent favorites are (he doesn't get to have a say here very often, so it should be good).

KidPages: Three Aaron Favorites

May 15, 2013

It's a week of KidPages! If you missed the first two days, you can check out Bradley's books here and Maxwell's books here. Today it's four-year-old Aaron's turn. 

Hmmmm, as I've been writing up these posts, it has become quite apparent to me that we are a family of boys. You can tell that "we" (not necessarily "me") gravitate toward books about monsters, dragons, animals, robots, snakes, alligators, trucks, trains, and bugs. My sincere apologies if you are looking at these books and your little girl and realizing the two of them won't mix. Feel free to recommend some titles of your own...we are not opposed to "girl" books by any means; they just don't show up on our radar as often.

When it comes to Aaron, I know that if a book has a dragon, robot, or spider in it, we've pretty much hit the jackpot. Honestly, the story can be horribly written with terrible illustrations, and he will still be happy. But these books? Thankfully they're not horrible or terrible (but they do include the necessary dragon, robot, or spider).

1. Doodleday, Ross Collins
We checked out this book for the first time months ago, and it was such a hit that I've been meaning to write about it ever since. Before writing this post, I thought I'd better get it again to see if it was still a favorite. I needn't have worried. When Aaron saw it in the library bag, he acted like it was his birthday. He was so happy to see it again, and it made me realize (again) that even though it's fun to check out new books, it's great to go back to old favorites, too.

The story is about a boy named Harvey. When his mom leaves for the day, she warns him not to draw anything while she's gone because it's Doodleday. She doesn't explain what this means (major oversight), so Harvey decides to draw a small and harmless fly just to see what happens. He has scarcely lifted his pencil from the paper when he hears a loud buzzing in the kitchen, and there is his fly, 100 times bigger and raiding the refrigerator! Harvey does the only thing he can think of--draws a spider to eat the fly (I guess he never heard about the Old Lady and how that all worked out for her). So now he has a giant spider roaming the house and tying up his dad for lunch. Things quickly get out of hand until Harvey does what he should have done right from the start: he calls his mom. And she knows exactly what to do.

Did you catch that there's a giant spider in this book? Oh yeah, and a giant squid, too. Nothing like a giant squid to liven up a story. So of course Aaron likes this book. But beyond those things, I think he's absolutely fascinated by the idea of drawing something and having it come to life. Aaron hasn't always loved drawing, but in the last year, that has changed, and now I can't seem to keep us stocked with enough paper to keep the kid happy. So yes, I think he secretly wishes for his own Doodleday.

The illustrations are fun. All of Harvey's drawings keep their original appearance throughout the story, and the crayon lines are a great contrast to the cartoon-y appearance of everything else. (Aaron's favorite picture is the one where the giant squid crashes onto the street; the neighbors are all strung up to their light poles with spider silk, and general chaos is evident.) The whole story is just highly imaginative and creative.

Personally, my favorite part of the story is that it's the mom who rescues the whole neighborhood. Go moms!

2. Boy + Bot, Ame Dyckman, illus. Dan Yaccarino
This is a story about a boy and a robot. They meet each other one day and become instant friends. They play and play until Robot's switch accidentally gets turned off as he rolls down a hill. The boy doesn't know what has happened to his friend. He tries all the usual remedies (applesauce, stories, a warm blanket), but nothing seems to help. Later that night, Robot's switch gets turned back on, and he looks at the sleeping boy with wonder and panic. He tries to help the boy (he gives him oil, reads an instruction manual, brings him a  new battery), but the boy stays asleep. Imagine how happy they both are when the boy wakes up, and both boy and robot realize they're each fine and ready to play again.

This book is a wonderful story of friendship. But more than that, it shows that sometimes we may not fully understand the culture or habits or personality of another individual, but that doesn't mean we can't still be friends. We have to learn and overcome certain barriers together, and any inconvenience is worth it because we get a new friend!

The illustrations are a bit simplistic but just right for this story. Also, if you've never read a book with a robot main character, then you're really missing out; it is super fun to read in a monotone robot voice.

Why is this one of Aaron's favorites? Well, how many four-year-olds do you know who wouldn't want a robot for a friend? That's what I thought.

3. When a Dragon Moves In, Jodi Moore, illus. Howard McWilliam
For the coveted third spot on Aaron's list, it was a toss up between When a Dragon Moves In and I Need My Monster. I was actually writing this post during afternoon naps, and I honestly didn't know which one Aaron liked more. So I put the post on hold and washed the dishes instead. When Aaron woke up, I asked him. You can see that the dragon won today, but tomorrow? He could easily switch allegiances and go with the monster. Dragons vs. monsters...one of the toughest decisions you'll make as a four-year-old boy.

This imaginative story is all about what will happen at the beach if you build the perfect sandcastle and a dragon moves in. Your day will be filled with wonderful adventure: roasting marshmallows over the dragon's flame, using his stomach for a raft, and chasing off bullies. But owning  a dragon isn't all fun and games, and you will soon discover that he has a big appetite and also a bit of a temper when he hears other people say things like, "There's no such things as a dragon." In the end, you decide it might be time to say good-bye to your dragon...until tomorrow, that is.

The line between truth and fiction is wonderfully blurry in this book. The little boy gives some fairly convincing arguments that he does indeed have a dragon, but the illustrations provide little clues that, perhaps, the dragon is actually just a part of the boy's very active and glorious imagination.

Imaginations are glorious, don't you think? This little boy can spend the whole day at the beach and not play with a single other child but come away thinking he has been on the most awesome adventures of his life! It's truly magical what our minds can come up with. One of the great things about imaginary friends, and one that the boy discovers at the end, is that when it's time for them to go home, poof!, they go home. But they can always come back tomorrow...

The illustrations only add to the imaginative quality of the story. They are funny and whimsical with plenty of detail and things to be discovered on each page.

I think my favorite page is this one where some punk kids are coming to destroy the little boy's sandcastle only to be scared away by the menacing dragon...or the tong-wielding dad? See what I mean? There's that blurriness between what's real and not.

Aaron would want me to point out that as far as dragons go, this is a pretty cool-looking one: fire-breathing with sharp teeth, a long tail, and wings. The only thing that might possibly make it better is if it were green instead of red--but only if you're Aaron.

And that's a wrap for Aaron's day! Unless of course you want a few more of his favorites, in which case I'd give you these: I Need My Monster, any of the Fly Guy books, Me and My Dragon, and Bugs By the Numbers

Stay tuned for KidPages tomorrow: it's going to be MY turn!

P.S. I'm sharing this post with the Kid's Co-op.

KidPages: Three Maxwell Favorites

May 14, 2013

It's a week of KidPages! Yesterday I featured three of Bradley's recent favorite books. Today it's three-year-old Maxwell's turn. 

By far the hardest part about writing this post was narrowing down Maxwell's recent favorites to three. That kid has some serious book stamina. He is quick to try new books but also loves to latch onto a few and hear them over and over again. Basically, he just loves books.

1. Big Mean Mike, Michelle Knudsen, illus. Scott Magoon
Mike is a dog--the biggest, meanest, toughest dog in the neighborhood. Everyone is afraid of him, and he likes it that way. Then one day, he finds a little bunny in his car. He tells the bunny to beat it, and the bunny does. But the next day, he comes back...and he brings a friend. The day after that, three bunnies await Mike. And on the fourth day, Mike is confronted with four soft, cuddly, and (Mike hates to admit it) adorable bunnies. He is mortified! He can't be seen with four bunnies! His image will be absolutely ruined! But the bunnies want to go into the monster truck show so badly, and Mike decides that it doesn't matter what other people think of him--he can be friends with anyone he wants to! 

The first time I read this book, I loved it; the message came through loud and clear: you are your own person; no one else dictates who you are or what you can be. That's a great message, right? For anyone, young and old, but especially for kids because they are so influenced by what their friends think of them, and they are bombarded with peer pressure every day.

However, I almost didn't share this book because the more I read it (which was a lot because Max couldn't get enough of it), the more I took issue with Big Mean Mike because he was just that: big and mean. Embracing his friendship with the bunnies didn't change his behavior towards all the other animals. If anything, he was even meaner because he was anticipating having to defend his friendship. Plus, I guess if he had turned into a "nice" dog, that would have undermined the message of "be true to yourself." But aren't there some behaviors we all agree it would be a good idea to eliminate regardless of whether or not they're an inherent part of your personality? Hmmm, it is a conundrum.

You can see that you could definitely go either way with this book, but in the end, our whole family liked it so much, we chose to focus on the first message. It would have lost so much of its comedic power if Mike had turned nice all of a sudden. The contrast between him and the bunnies is so striking, it's really very funny. (When the bunnies first show up, they look so soft and sweet, you almost want to reach out and touch them, whereas Mike, with his spiky dog collar and vicious mouth, looks like something you'd run away from.) And I will say in Mike's defense, he never does anything cruel to anyone else--he's mostly just a little rough around the edges.

2. The Black Rabbit, Philippa Leathers
I choose so many of our books based on book lists and recommendations that I always feel especially proud of myself when I pick up a great one straight off the library shelf. The Black Rabbit was one of those books, but I'd be surprised if it doesn't start showing up on a lot of lists in the near future.

A rabbit is on his way home when he gets the distinct impression that he is being followed. He turns around, and there is an enormous black rabbit right behind him. He takes off, but the black rabbit is just as fast as he is and follows him everywhere. He finally loses the black rabbit when he darts into the cover of a forest. But there, he meets a wolf. He tries to get away, and just as he is about to be eaten, the black rabbit comes to save him.

In case you didn't already guess, the "black rabbit," is actually nothing more than the rabbit's shadow. This is obvious from the beginning, which makes it the perfect book for a three-year-old. Max tends to be a little bit sensitive when it comes to scary things, so I think he secretly loved it that he knew the black rabbit was just a shadow, but the rabbit didn't. It gave him a distinct advantage and also let him enjoy the story without fearing for the rabbit's safety (until the wolf came along, that is).

This is Philippa Leathers' first picture book, and I am so hopeful that she'll write and illustrate many, many more. If this book is any indication, she understands kids: it's a little bit suspenseful, a little bit funny, with a great twist at the end. I would even go so far as to put a Caldecott vote on it. Really spectacular.

3. Oh, No!, Candace Fleming, illus. Eric Rohmann
Speaking of the Caldecott, this one was on about a million lists last year. And even though I saw it mentioned early on, it took me awhile to check it out. (There seem to be a plethora of "Oh No" books, so I think that is maybe why I didn't give it proper notice.) But when we finally did take a look at it, it became an instant favorite (and I actually like it better than any of the books that won Caldecott recognition this year, which is kind of a shame).

There is a deep, deep hole in the jungle, and all the animals keep falling into it: first a frog, then a mouse, then several more. Each time one falls in, they all realize he's trapped and shout, "Oh, no!" But things take a definite turn for the worse when Tiger slinks over, looks in the hole, and licks his teeth. The situation doesn't look good. But then...the ground begins to shake, and pretty soon there's only one animal left in the hole, and I'll bet you can guess who it is.

The illustrations in this book are marvelous. You would think things could get a little boring in a deep, deep hole, but Rohmann finds a dozen different angles and vantage points from which to showcase the setting. Plus, each animal is unique and engaging, and there are some great action shots (a loris in mid-fall, for example).

But as much as I love the illustrations, it is the text that (for me at least) makes this picture book really stand out. It's one of those books where you don't have to think about how to read it; you just read it, and you instantly fall into a sort of hypnotic rhythm: Loris inched down from her banyan tree. / Soo-sloow! / Soo-slooow! / Loris inched down from her banyan tree. / Soo-slooow!

That, combined with the repeated refrain, "Oh, no!," makes this an awesome read aloud. Max isn't the only one who loves it, and lucky for him, he has plenty of takers who will read it to him (even Aaron took a turn reading it yesterday).

And that's it for Max! Well, okay, now that you mention it, I do have a few more I could mention: I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean, Walter the Baker, Railroad Hank, Oh No George!, The Boy Who Cried Ninja, and A Color of His Own.

Up next: Aaron's recent favorites!

P.S. I'm sharing this post with the Kid Lit Blog Hop and The Children's Bookshelf.

KidPages: Three Bradley Favorites

May 13, 2013

Bradley has definitely taken the scenic route toward a love of books. He is not overly picky when it comes to what he takes a look at--as long as it has pages to turn, he's good. But whether or not he stays is another matter entirely; usually he's off to greener pastures (i.e., whatever his older brothers happen to be looking at).

I can't deny that he loves to join in on reading time, and he definitely understands his inalienable right to choose one of the books in the stack. I couldn't be happier to see his love of books growing. The problem is, at 19 months old, he is fiercely independent and possessive and is also a bit of a control freak.

So our reading time goes something like this: We all pile on my bed with our stack of books. Max sits on my left side, Aaron sits on my right, and Bradley sits on my lap. I open the book, Bradley tries to yank it out of my hands. Or maybe we didn't start with the book he chose, so he thrusts his decisively in front of the book we were starting to read. He points to things he knows while yelling at the top of his lungs, "Buggie!" or "Kitty!" or "Moo!" over the top of my voice while Aaron and Maxwell moan, "Mom! We can't hear what you're saying!" And I say, "Yes, Bradley, that's a flower...'Once upon a time in Spain'...yes, Bradley, the cow says Moo...'there was a little bull'...shhh, Bradley...'and his name was Ferdinand.'" Then Bradley rolls over to Aaron's side, and Aaron gives him a shove, and then he tries to climb on top of my shoulders and head. And finally, I just give up and put him off the bed, which of course results in much indignant protestations while he scrambles to climb back up and reclaim his spot.

I give you this little background so you will more fully appreciate these favorite books of Bradley's. These are books where it doesn't matter how much he talks or comments (in fact, the more the better). These are books that have plenty of things he recognizes and can point to. These are books that are interactive and fun, which is really such an important part of reading and which, no matter how much I'd like to read a story uninterrupted, I have no desire to squash.

1. Chomp!, Heather Brown
Like most toddlers his age, Bradley is obsessed with animals. They make him feel superior. Everyone (mom, dad, brothers, grandma, grandpa) asks him such questions as, "What does the sheep say, Bradley?" or "Where's the tiger?" Bradley answers these questions with stunning accuracy while his audience cheers and applauds wildly. It's obvious he's the only one who knows the answers; why else would everyone be coming to him for help?

This is a delightful board book, and one that I have been dying to add to our personal collection. It features one set of chomping teeth (pull the tab out, they chomp down; push the tab in, they open up). With each turn of the page, these teeth get a new owner. They belong to a polar bear, an orangutan, a crocodile, and others. You can imagine how much Bradley loves making the mouth open and close (and also trying to stick his own finger into the mouth and get it chomped). Conversely, you can imagine how much I love the fact that this book contains no! flaps! It is so durable, while still giving plenty for his little hands to do. Flaps are nice, but pull-tabs out of heavy duty cardboard are better.

Also, another thing that I love (hey, I know this is Bradley's day, but since I'm writing this, I get to share my opinion, too) is that each animal introduces a different verb: the crocodile smiles, the polar bear yawns, etc. This offers the perfect opportunity to practice some smiling and yawning of your own.

I love seeing the way Bradley closes the book with his self-satisfied, smug expression: "Oh, you didn't know that that animal is an orangutan? Stick with me. I'll show you a thing or two."

P.S. If you end up liking this one, be sure to check out Chomp! Zoo for even more chomping fun.

2. Soup For One, Ethan Long
Lest you think Bradley has been left out of the recent bug frenzy around here,  think again. He pores over the bug books just like the other boys. However, he is less interested in the fact that a spider has eight legs while an ant has only six and more interested in just the clever observation that the bug on that page is a...BUGGIE!

So this book is perfect for him because it cuts all the text and superfluous facts and sticks with a simple story about a little bug excitedly anticipating digging into a bowl of soup only to be edged over (again and again) by just one more bug.

There are many reasons to love this book: the illustrations are bright and chunky and colorful; it introduces counting in a fun and repetitive way; it's silly and funny.

But the real reason Bradley loves it is because there is a spider lurking and hiding on every page. The bowl gradually fills up with bugs until the lizard (whose bowl of soup it is) shows up and decides all ten bugs would make a tasty dessert. It is at this point that the spider finally comes out of hiding and slurps up the last drops of soup. Bradley loves finding and pointing to the spider on each page and excitedly screaming, "There he is!" (And unless you readily acknowledge, "Oh, yes, there he is!" he will go on screaming and pointing.)

3. The Splendid Spotted Snake, Betty Schwartz and Alex Wilensky
I wish I had kept track of how many times we read this book before it went back to the library. It would be an astronomical number, I'm sure.

It is about a yellow snake who, when he was born, had bright red spots. Throughout the story, the snake grows and grows, and each time he grows, he adds spots of a different color.

Of course I love the color element in this book. It's such a fun way to focus on one color at a time while showcasing multiple colors at once.

But the really cool thing about this book is that the snake is made out of yellow grosgrain ribbon, and each time you turn the page, the ribbon magically gets longer. (And, another book without flaps! Hooray!)

My favorite lines of the book are on the last page: When his growing finally ended / All his spots got kind of blended. / Yellow Snake thought, "This is splendid!" / (The ended.)

I actually used this book for one of Maxwell's recent preschool lessons, but, grrrrr, I'm so behind with writing those up. So this book may be making a reappearance one of these days.

And just because I can't help myself, here are a few more Bradley favorites: Bizzy Bear: Fire Rescue!, Bizzy Bear: Pirate Adventure, Who Said Moo?, and Inch By Inch (which I'll actually be writing more about for the next Virtual Book Club).

That's it for Bradley. Tomorrow: Maxwell's three favorites!

P.S. I'm sharing this post with The Children's Bookshelf and Link & Learn.

A Week of KidPages

May 11, 2013

On average, we check out about 20-25 picture books from the library each week. (For tips on how to use and abuse your library's hold system, check out my older post: Finding a Good Book.)

Each week, we discover books that we will never check out again (like The Icky Sticky Monster) and also many that are nothing above average. But invariably, there will be a couple of books that practically leap into our arms and wrap us in a warm hug and say, "Don't you want to keep me forever?"

I have a shelf on Goodreads specifically dedicated to picture books we've read and loved, and before any trip to the library, I always take a minute to add our new favorite titles from that week.

That list is getting a bit unwieldy, and even though I have great plans to write about every single one of those books, that's probably not going to happen.

However, in an effort to bring to your attention some of our most favorite books from the last few months, I am dedicating next week solely to KidPages. Each day, I'm going to feature three favorite books from someone in our family. And although that will still barely scratch the surface of books I wish I had time to share, it will be 15 books closer to...hmmm...not exactly sure  to what...some  elusive book reviewing perfection?

Anyway, get ready because it's going to be a fun week!

May 13 - Bradley
May 14 - Maxwell
May 15 - Aaron
May 16 - Amy
May 17 - Mike 

The Submission by Amy Waldman

May 10, 2013

One of the great things about being in a book club is it pushes you (okay, me) to read things you (okay, I) wouldn't normally read.

The Submission is one book I might not have even heard of (much less read) if it hadn't been selected as my book club's book for April. (Interestingly, no one in our group had read it prior, but it was on the library's list of book club books, which meant we could check out 20 copies at one time--definitely appealing--plus the plot sounded intriguing and looked like it would lead to a good discussion--which it did.)

The story picks up two years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A jury has been selected to choose a fitting memorial from among anonymous designs submitted from all over the country. After narrowing the submissions down to two finalists, the jury finally votes and selects The Garden. Minutes after the selection is made, the winning designer's identity is revealed: an American Muslim named Mohammad Khan.

A name on a piece of paper shouldn't make any difference. It shouldn't matter, right? The design should still be as loved now knowing who the designer is as it was then when the designer was still anonymous. But turns out, human beings have crazy and impractical reactions to fear and heartache, and the jury instantly wavers and divides on whether or not to keep The Garden as the  winning memorial. Before long, the story leaks out, and then it is not only a handful of jury members but an entire country choosing sides and trying to separate their minds from their hearts.

This story is fictional, but something about it resonates with truth. Part of this, I'm sure, is that the events leading up to this story are, indeed, very real and impacted every single American in some way, be it large or small. Also, the characters themselves give off the aura of actual people, so much so that you want to go look them up on Wikipedia, only to find out that they don't actually exist.

But even more than those two things, I think the reason why this breathes heavily of nonfiction is because in 2010, proposals were made for an Islamic community center (now known as Park51) just a few blocks from Ground Zero. The controversy surrounding the building of this center is eerily similar to the controversy played out in this book.

The fascinating coincidence is that Amy Waldman had actually already written a full draft of this novel before anything came out about the Islamic community center. In fact, I read an interview with her, and she said that real life was playing out so closely to what she'd already written that she actually changed some small parts of the story to differentiate between truth and fiction. I just wonder how many people read this book and think that Amy Waldman used the mosque controversy as inspiration when in fact her work was being plagiarized by real life.

Although written in third person, the story travels between several characters so the reader understands the plot from many different angles and viewpoints: there's Paul  Rubin, the head of the jury with the motives of a politician, trying (unsuccessfully) to please all sides; there's also Claire Burwell, who is a member of the jury and represents the victims' families since she lost her husband in the attacks; then there's Sean Gallagher, who lost his brother and is leading more of a grassroots campaign against The Garden; there's Asma Anwar, a Muslim, illegal immigrant, and a widow of the attacks; there's Alyssa Spier, an unscrupulous reporter who will do just about anything for a good story; and finally, there's Mohammad Kahn, or "Mo," who finds himself in the middle of the heated debate even though he has lived in America his whole life and hardly even identifies himself as a Muslim.

Out of those six characters, I identified most with Claire. I half-wondered if she was meant to sort of embody the reader: she had to take information from all sides and decide where she stood in the midst of it all, and that's what I felt like I had to do as well. And it was hard! When I started the book, I sided with letting Mo build the memorial. Of course I did! This is America after all, the great melting pot, where everyone has a fair chance and an equal opportunity and we don't hold prejudices. But Waldman did a very thorough job of exploring all angles, and sometimes I felt my resolve wavering, much like Claire's.

For example, I thought the hearing (where many family members got up to speak and explain why they were for or against Mo's memorial) was exceptionally well done. There was such an array of contrasting voices and ideas. Each time a new person spoke, my loyalty seemed to flip sides. One of the family members was a father who said, "I don't find the prospect of a Muslim designing this memorial, or even that it has Islamic elements, insulting. I find it insensitive, which is different. We who have carried the weight of loss, are now being asked to carry the weight of proving America's tolerance, and it...well, it's a lot to ask." Oh, I had never thought about it that way before, and I could totally see his point!

In the end, I still held fast to my original opinion, but I found the exploration of so many ideas very thought-provoking (especially since I then got to go to book club and have an actual discussion with actual people instead of doing it all in my head).

Amy Waldman's writing is beautiful. I read some reviews that said the plot was too slow and repetitive, but that was never my impression. I thought the writing style fit the pacing of the book so perfectly that it all seemed to unfold easily and seamlessly. Here's one line I liked, just to give you a taste: "Tears filled Claire's eyes, but, as if they knew their place, didn't leave."

I listened to the audio version of the book, which was read by Bernadette Dunn. Her voice sounded instantly familiar, and I realized that I'd also heard her read Garlic and Sapphires. I've mentioned before that sometimes I have a difficult time listening to the same narrator read different books because hearing their voice combines the two stories in a weird way (Jim Dale's voice is especially bad for this), but I love Bernadette Dunn's voice because. while it is distinguishable, it is not overpowering. I thought she was perfect.

While I thought the book explored some really important ideas, I was disappointed with the amount of profanity (many uses of the f-word) and sexual scenes (one of which I just skipped over entirely). I know this is an adult novel. I know that's the way people talk, and those are the things people do, but I don't like reading it.

The ending was a little sad but also appropriate. I felt like, given what happened in the rest of the story, it couldn't have ended any other way. And there was a little twist I wasn't expecting.

Even though I still vividly remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the morning of September 11, 2001, for the most part, I have been far removed from the events of that terrible day. Reading this book helped me remember and also understand in a completely new way the grief, the passion, and, ultimately, the hope.
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