Reading Goals: Progress Report

Jun 30, 2014

I don't know that I've mentioned my reading goals at all on this blog since I made them at the beginning of the year. But don't worry, I've been diligently working my way through them (although not as much as I hoped). Since we're now six months into 2014 (a fact I hate to be reminded of), it's time to given an accounting and gear up for the second half of the year.

1. Read something I put on my to-read list in 2009 (complete)
2009 was the year I joined Goodreads. Many of the books I added five years ago to my to-read list are still sitting there, sad and neglected. I wanted some motivation to get myself to read at least one of them, and it worked! I read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, a book I added in October 2009. There's something so wonderful knowing I won't have to scroll past that book anymore when I'm deciding what to read next.

2. Read something I checked out once from the library and had to take back before I could read it (complete)
It is a sad fact that I check out way too many books from the library. I seem to think I'm going to be reading 24/7 instead of in little snatches here and there. Thus, I had many books to choose from for the completion of this goal. When I posted my goals in January, I said I actually had two books checked out at that very moment that would fulfill this goal. Sadly, they both went back unread. The book I ended up reading for this goal was A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty. I needed some light reading after the baby was born. I'll post a review of it soon(ish).

3. Reread a book from my childhood (not complete)
I'm still leaning towards The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. But I'm also thinking about All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor. Or maybe The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. So many books to choose from!

4. Finish a series I already started (partially complete)
I decided to finish the Little House on the Prairie series. I had already read the first four books, and now I've finished By the Shores of Silver Lake and The Long Winter to the list. I still need to read Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, and The First Four Years to complete this goal. I'm especially excited to read about the courtship between Laura and Almanzo.

5. Read another installment in a series I already started (not complete)
I have so many partially finished series to choose from, so this will be a fun goal to check off.

6. Read something by Dickens (not complete)
I was hoping to get to this goal during the first half of the year because I know it's not going to be a weekend read or something I can squeeze in at the last minute. But Dickens is better for autumn anyway, don't you think? I still haven't decided which book of his I'm going to read, so suggestions/opinions are welcome.

7. Read something less well-known by an author I love (not complete)
I love Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, so I checked out Joy in the Morning to complete this goal. But . . . I'm sure you can guess what happened (hint: too many books), so I'll have to check it out again. And in the meantime, I might change my mind and read something else by another author I love. We'll see.

8. Listen to something I've already read or vice versa (complete)
Last year I listened to Navigating Early and loved it. A couple of months ago, I read it in paper form. I was nervous to read it in a different format in case it lessened my original love of the book. But it didn't. Which tells you it's definitely a winner.

I only committed to reread one book, but I still really want to listen to a book I've already read and see if it changes my original opinion. It would especially be fun to choose a book I didn't like when I read the hard copy the first time. Although if I still don't like it, I probably don't want to put myself through it twice, right?

9. Read four Newbery contenders (partially complete)
I've only read one so far (Snicker of Magic), and it was utterly delightful.

Some other books that are on my radar: Brown Girl Dreaming, West of the Moon, or Greenglass House. Has anyone read any of these yet?

10. Read a biography (not complete)
I'm still planning on reading Fire in the Bones, a biography of William Tyndale. I just have to make some time for it.

If you're keeping track, that's only six books so far. I need to read ten more to complete the rest of my goals, and some of those (i.e., Dickens) will not be fast reads. Time to get crackin'.

The Other Side: Clark's Birth Story

Jun 29, 2014

I debated whether or not  to post this epic story (epic only because, when it comes to birth details, I don't know how to condense). But it's always been so helpful for me to read the birth stories of others, and I appreciate others being willing to share their details. So I decided to post it all. I won't be one bit offended if you skip the entire thing.

As soon as I hit 37 weeks, I was pretty much determined to go into labor on my own. I figured with a combination of positive thinking (and there was never a time when I was not thinking about it) and physical activity, it was a done deal. (Although why I thought I could control it this time when all amounts of wishing and walking hadn’t helped with the previous three deliveries, I’ll never know).

Hence commenced a daily regime of walking, knee lifts, spicy foods, meditating, raspberry leaf tea, and praying.

One evening, we went on a family bike ride, and yes, I rode my bike! I didn’t know if it would be physically possible, but since my mom is always bragging about riding to the hospital to deliver my brother, Ben (it was a scheduled C-section), I figured I should at least give it a try. I thought the rhythmic kneeing of my belly would start off a wave of contractions, but nothing.
Then there was the morning when Bradley was riding his bike in the driveway and didn’t make a narrow enough turn. He rode right off our neighbor’s basement stairs. I leapt off the porch to try to catch him, but I didn’t make it. Luckily, he was wearing his helmet and came through the incident with nothing more than a scratch on his chin. I honestly didn’t know I was physically capable of moving so fast anymore, and afterwards, I was so surprised (and disappointed) that the fear and adrenaline and exertion hadn’t done something in the way of labor.

At 37 weeks, Mike told me I wasn’t going to go into labor because I didn’t want it enough yet. I think he said it just to get me riled up (maybe he thought a little aggravation would be just the labor-inducing trick). However, I think by the time I was out walking in the pouring rain, even he was convinced I was serious about getting the baby out of me.

People kept telling me, “Well, it’s easier to take care of the baby inside than outside,” and I just wanted to sma--, um, politely disagree with them. I had a baby’s head jammed in my pelvis (the midwife’s words, not mine, but very accurate nonetheless). I couldn’t walk or bend over or move. I knew that most likely, even with the demands of a newborn, I would be happier with him out of me.

All along, I had thought if he didn’t come on his own, I would ask to be induced on June 2nd, which was three days after my due date. But when I went into my appointment on May 22nd, my midwife told me she was going out of town from May 29th—June 2nd. She told me she’d be happy to induce me on May 28th or wait until June 3rd, or I could just see if I went into labor on my own somewhere in between. She really didn’t want to pressure me in any way, so I told her I’d talk to Mike about it and give her a call if I wanted to schedule anything.

Even though I would have preferred going into labor on my own, I knew from Bradley’s birth that sometimes it’s not best to leave things to chance. With him, I also had an induction scheduled, but he came on his own three days before. My midwife couldn’t be there, so I just had to have the midwife on call. She and I were not on the same wavelength at all, and there were several things that happened (nothing serious) that I was not happy about.

I looked at the on-call schedule for May 29th—June 2nd, and sure enough, on May 30th, there was the infamous midwife’s name. I just knew if I tried to make it until June 3rd, the baby would decide May 30th was the perfect time to come (Murphy’s law and tempting fate and all that). Plus, at this point, sooner was sounding a lot better than later. I called Gretchen and told her to schedule the induction.

Then all I had to do was wait, right? But no. I still wanted that baby to come on his own. In fact, Thursday night I was adamant that he was on his way. (I taught a piano lesson after my appointment and was feeling quite sick and crampy by the time I got home.) Mike had a four-day weekend, and I just thought going into labor on Thursday night would be perfect. Too perfect, I guess.

As we slowly made our way through the weekend, I began to be so grateful I’d been compelled to schedule the induction for sooner than I’d originally wanted. The baby had always been very active, never giving me a moment’s worry about his whereabouts or wellbeing. But in that week before the 28th, there were two days (Sunday and Tuesday) where he was much more quiet. My anxiety skyrocketed. On Sunday, I almost went to the hospital to make sure he was okay since all my poking and prodding wasn’t yielding the same results it normally did. I just wanted to see him and hold him and know for myself that everything was fine.

On Tuesday, the 27th, I had another appointment. I was 3 cm dilated and 60% effaced. Gretchen stripped my membranes, hoping we could maybe get some contractions going to help along the induction in the morning. As she was doing the examination, she exclaimed, “This baby has hair! Did your other boys have hair?” I was kind of shocked she could feel his head, but then again, not so surprised. He was, after all, jammed in my pelvis. It made me feel like we were so close to meeting him. Surely such a short distance wouldn’t be too long or painful, right? Ha. Haha. Hahahahahaha.

If you’ve made it this far in this narrative, I applaud you. We’re 1000 words in, and I haven’t even had a real contraction yet. Believe it or not, I’ll be grateful I decided to be so detailed in a couple of years when I’m trying to remember the details surrounding Clark’s birth (that, or trying to settle a debate with Mike).
 39 weeks four days, the evening before the induction

After the appointment, I had some spotting, cramping, and mucousy discharge. I also had some contractions that hinted at the real thing. That evening, I went to my education group and felt contractions through the discussion. I left before it was done because I had plans to go to bed early, but once I was home, I was so jittery and wound up that I didn’t get to sleep until after 11:00. 

On the morning of the 28th, I woke up before my alarm, which was set for 6:00. I was supposed to call the hospital then to confirm that I should come in at 7:30. When I called, the nurse told me there had been an explosion of pregnant women overnight (sadly, I was not one of them) and to hold off coming in. She told me I could call again at 9:00 to see if there was room for me.

I hung up the phone feeling disheartened. Mike welcomed the chance to sleep in. I felt restless and anxious. I was at the starting block, ready to begin the race, but no one was giving me the go ahead. So I went on a walk instead. Then I ate a bowl of Cheerios.

All of the boys slowly woke up, and we spent our time getting ready for the day. Aaron, Maxwell, and Bradley were disappointed by the late start time as well since it meant a delay to their fun plans with Grandma Jill. 

I debated what we should do. Should Mike go to work? Should Aaron go to school? Was I going to call back at 9:00 just to hear them tell me to call back at noon? 

In the end, we just decided to go ahead and drop off the boys with Mike’s mom. By this point, we were all feeling a little jittery, and it was just annoying everyone to be cooped up in our house. When we got to Mike’s parents’ house, it was 9:00, so I called the hospital. The nurse cheerfully told me I could come in at 10:00. I had to make sure I’d heard correctly: “You mean I can come to the hospital at 10:00? Or I should call again at 10:00.” “No, be here at 10:00.” Wa-hoo! The party was back on.

While we waited, Mike and I went on a walk, but it turned out to be very short. In spite of being just after 9:00 in late May, it was ridiculously hot, and it wasn’t at all enjoyable to be outside. We went back to the house, told the boys good-bye (they were already very busy playing and didn’t even come upstairs to give us hugs), and were on our way.

I told Mike I wanted him to keep a timeline of the important events. He kicked things off at 10:10 when he recorded that we were officially admitted into the hospital. Going in for an induction feels a little surreal—almost like you’re volunteering for torture: Go ahead, start the pain. Anytime now. The more intense, the better.

I changed into the hospital gown, and then we met Aleisha, a nurse-in-training. At 10:25, the monitors were in place, although the baby was determined not to make it easy for us and moved as much as possible.

Soon after, my nurse, Melissa, came in. Since I was positive for Group B Strep, they needed to put in an IV so I could get a dose of penicillin before the baby was delivered. I was positive for Group B Strep with my other boys as well, so I was used to the process. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that between the monitors and the IV, there was nothing “natural” about my natural delivery. There’s nothing like carting around an IV pole to make you feel like you’re trapped inside a hospital.

At 11:30, Melissa came in to discuss the plan for the rest of the day. Ideally, the antibiotics needed to be in my system for four hours before the delivery, which meant we wanted to hold off on anything too drastic until close to 3:00. Gretchen wanted to start a low dose of Pitocin, but I wanted her to try breaking my water first. She didn’t want to break my water until the four-hour mark, and she wanted me to be having regular contractions. Melissa said I could try kick starting the contractions naturally through nipple stimulation and walking.

Mike wanted them to start the Pitocin immediately. He tried to convince Melissa that that’s what I wanted as well, but I think she could tell I wasn’t totally on board. It’s not that I was scared of Pitocin. I had to have a little with Aaron and Maxwell (and Mike was adamant they gave it to me with Bradley’s birth as well, but Melissa was easily able to look at my record and settle that argument on the spot: no Pitocin with Bradley). 

We debated the pros and cons for a good twenty minutes. My argument: if they don’t want me to have the baby until at least 3:00, why shouldn’t I try naturally inducing labor? We have plenty of time. Then Gretchen can break my water, and he’ll be here in fifty minutes, just like Bradley’s birth. Mike: haven’t you been trying the “natural induction method” for the last two weeks? Maybe with the Pitocin, you’ll actually have him before 3:00 (which Mike thought would be super duper fabulous).

In the end, I won, but Mike wanted to go on record as saying that he is “a fan of artificial hormones.” So there you go.

For the next two hours, I paced around my room like a caged animal. The nurse put warm towels on my chest, and I tried nipple stimulation while I pushed the IV pole in front of me. The contractions obeyed the command and began coming fast and regular. Mike started timing them, and they were coming every 4-6 minutes. Melissa and I were triumphant. Every forty minutes, I had to get back in the bed so the baby could be monitored for twenty minutes (even though it was pretty obvious to me from his movements and hiccups that he was just fine). I actually welcomed the breaks in bed. It was exhausting to keep up the pace. Unfortunately, when I slowed down, so did the contractions, but I started welcoming breaks from them as well.

During all of this, I became more and more hungry. I knew this would happen. And I had come prepared. I packed a suitcase full of snacks, which I planned to consume on the sly during labor. After reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, I didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t eat. Honestly, the chances of a problem arising because I didn’t eat were far greater than if I did. So I was ready, and Mike was behind me 100%.

But then, wouldn’t you know it, almost as soon as we got to the hospital, the nurse said, “Only ice chips or popsicles from here on out. We’ll see what Gretchen says about clear liquids,” and my resolve instantly crumbled. My rule-loving self just couldn’t look the other way while chomping away on a granola bar. Mike tried to convince me: you need food . . . just a couple of crackers . . . they’ll never know . . . you knew going in they wouldn’t give you permission. Then he tried to talk the nurse into it, but of course she didn’t have the authority to change hospital policy.

So finally we settled on the popsicle option (which, thank goodness, was an option). “Okay,” I told the nurses, “I need calories to keep me going, so do you mind if I just keep ordering popsicles? Is there a limit? No? Okay then.” And so that’s what I did. Cherry, orange, grape. I tried them all. I lost track of how many I ate. But they saved me. I could be a rule-follower and stay alive. 

By 2:00, the contractions were inching their way up the pain scale. They weren’t anything I couldn’t walk through, but they were making their presence known. I was happy with the progress, but I was also beginning to feel a little hopeless. I was losing all sense of time. It felt like I’d been in the hospital forever and that I would be trapped there for the rest of my life. Even though I tried to focus on the baby and what it would be like to hold him, I couldn’t imagine it actually happening. It felt like I had wandered into some enchanted maze and that I would be wandering around attached to an IV pole until the end of time. Turns out, I’m not that awesome at positive thinking.

At 2:45, Gretchen arrived. She checked my progress (4 cm, 70% effaced) and broke my water. Things didn’t take off the way I hoped. I continued to walk (which, turns out, is even more miserable once your water is broken and you’re still attached to the cursed IV pole). The contractions did pick up in intensity (at 3:07, Mike recorded me stopping mid-stride and saying, “Oh, boy . . . “ He recognized that as entering a new level of pain), but I could tell we weren’t making any dramatic leaps toward delivery.

Overall, my morale was plummeting . . . and fast. Now instead of feeling trapped in a maze, I felt like I had come to a brick wall. Try as I might, I couldn’t picture what was on the other side, and I couldn’t see any way to get over there. I had tried to prepare myself to be patient, but I could feel my energy depleting with every lap around the room.

The next time I had to be monitored, Melissa could tell that my attitude was slipping. She asked if I wanted to start a low dose of Pitocin, and this time, I didn’t have to think about: Yes. Do it. I’m ready. (Mike was maybe a little smug at this point since he had wanted the Pitocin all along, but he knew I wasn’t in the mood for smugness.)

The Pitocin started dripping through the IV at 4:20. I like to think that it was all of my hard work from the previous five hours that made the lowest dose kick those contractions into high gear.
It was about that time I wanted to backpedal. I was still at the brick wall. I still couldn’t see what was on the other side. But now my body was trying to bulldoze through it. And it felt fruitless, pointless. I couldn’t see any damage to the wall, but I was intensely feeling every slam into it. 

I have to preface this next part by saying that with my other three kids, I gave very little thought towards epidurals. In the beginning stages of labor, I didn’t think about an epidural because I didn’t want one. And once I was to the transitional stage of labor, I was just so focused on getting through each contraction without dying that I didn’t have any room left over to think about wanting an epidural. 

But for some reason, this time, and just about at this point, I became obsessed with the possibility of an epidural. And I mean obsessed. At 4:30, Mike recorded, “Depressed. Wants epidural.” That summed it up pretty well. I was begging everyone for an epidural. Mike told me he didn’t think I really wanted one (he was probably right). Gretchen kept stalling: “Well, the anesthesiologist is busy right now. He’s down the hall helping someone who’s delivering twins.” I’m still not sure if that was true or if she just thought reminding me that I wasn’t having twins would boost my morale a bit.

The labor literally felt endless to me. As in, I literally thought it would never end. With every contraction, Mike and Gretchen told me, “You’re getting closer,” and I countered with, “No, he’s not coming. He will never get here.” And I believed it. 

And it’s for this reason that after he was born (spoiler! In spite of my intense belief that he wasn’t coming, he did!), I felt so disappointed in myself. Gretchen and Mike and the nurses were congratulating me on a job well done, and I couldn’t bask in any of it. Why? Because during all of those contractions piling up on top of one another and stretching out for such a long time, I wanted to give up. And I’m afraid that if my body hadn’t taken over and barreled toward the finish line, I would have. And it hurts me to think that for all my preparation, I’m that weak that I can’t willingly endure pain for a couple of hours.

At 5:05, Gretchen checked me again. I was dilated to a six and 100% effaced. I should have been happy with the progress, but I wasn’t. I could only focus on the 4 cm barrier left to cross, and it felt insurmountable. I tried to keep the image of a wave in my mind. I breathed against the contraction while I rode the wave to the top, and then let it out as the wave crashed over. The problem was it was taking longer and longer to get to the top of each wave. And it hurt. Like crazy. I don’t get mad during labor. I don’t lash out at people or yell or swear. But I do whimper and moan a lot. Oh, and I beg for help. 

I was so hot, so I chewed on some ice chips, and then I asked for another popsicle. I ate this one much more slowly though because the contractions didn’t care that I wanted a snack break, and before I had finished it, I was shivering. My teeth were chattering uncontrollably. I laid down, and they put a warm blanket over me. Mike was happy about the shivering because I did that with our other kids too just before pushing.

At 5:41, Gretchen checked me again, but I was only dilated to a 7. Because I hadn’t made much progress in the last forty minutes and because I had begun to feel the contractions in my back, Gretchen determined that the baby must be posterior and was having trouble making his way down. So she asked me to get on my arms and knees for the next contraction. That felt like an almost impossible request, but I knew from my reading that the hands and knees position can do wonders during labor, so I willing to try it.

There’s nothing quite like getting on your hands and knees in a revealing hospital gown during the final stages of labor to make you feel like you’ve lost all dignity. But it worked. I had one, two, three contractions in that position. With each one, I could feel the progression of the baby. Those were some productive contractions, I tell you. I begged for an epidural. “There’s no time! The baby’s coming!” they told me. Before the third one, Gretchen said, “I’m only going to let you do one more, and then we’ll move you back to your side.”

As I turned back to my side, the delivery room became a whirlwind of activity: plastic sheets and tools and carts and lights and a cluster of people. Someone was holding up my left leg. Someone was sitting at the foot of the bed. And I just remember feeling so confused: They act like I’m about to have a baby. Why are they all rushing around like that? They act like I’m going to push. Whoa, I feel like I need to push. I am pushing.

And then Mike was saying, “I can see his head.” And Gretchen was saying, “Slow down, Amy.” And I could hear the gut-wrenching cries coming out of myself. And then they were all saying, “His head is out!” And then, miraculously, unbelievably, at 5:51, the rest of him arrived in a rush, and his soft, warm little body was in my arms. I was pressing my lips to his wet hair and looking at his watery eyes. And I kept saying, “I can’t believe he’s here. I can’t believe I’m holding him. I didn’t think he’d ever come. I love him. I’m so happy. I can’t believe it.” The tears pricked at my eyes, and I trembled with happiness. Suddenly, I was on the other side. I’d somehow made it over or under or through the wall, and the reward was more wonderful than I could have imagined. Even though it was my fourth baby, the joy, the relief, and the awe were just as beautiful and miraculous as the very first time.

And now, just a few thoughts in retrospect:

First, did you catch how long it took to go from a 7, flipping over on hands and knees, enduring three contractions, flipping back to side, and pushing to holding a baby? Ten minutes. Ten. Most productive ten minutes of my life.

Second, Mike cut the cord. He didn’t have any interest in cutting it. But Gretchen handed him the scissors, so he did it.

Third, there was no drama with the delivery of the placenta like there was when Bradley was born.  

Fourth, I had just a little itty bitty tear. I hardly even remember being stitched up. I was distracted by a bundle of baby.

Fifth, my support team was amazing (Mike, Aleisha, Melissa, and Gretchen). They stayed positive even when I was a black cloud of despair. 

Sixth, Melissa took Clark from me for just a minute to get a good cry out of him. After that, I tried nursing him. It took him a bit to figure it out.

Seventh, I’m so glad I didn’t get an epidural. Not just glad. Incredibly grateful. I have replayed the birth a million times. I have thought about little Clark in that posterior position unable to make it the final 3 centimeters. I have thought about the wisdom of Gretchen in telling me to get on my hands and knees so Clark would have room to turn himself around. A few days after his birth, I read someone else’s birth story. Her baby was also posterior. She pushed for over two hours, and finally the doctor used a vacuum to help the baby out. If I’d had an epidural, I wouldn’t have been able to get on my hands and knees. I wouldn’t have been able to feel the progression of the baby. I might have pushed and pushed without any results. I am so grateful no one listened to my pleas for an epidural.
And finally, I have lived that first minute of Clark’s life over and over and over again. It is one of the minutes that I hold most sacred. The light and joy I felt contrasted so sharply with the hopelessness and despair from just moments before. In an instant, I had been delivered. My heart was filled with so much love, I couldn’t contain it. It was a minute of pure, simple, untainted joy—a perfect glimpse of heaven.

KidPages: Oliver and His Egg by Paul Schmid

Jun 27, 2014

Sometime last year, the boys and I were introduced to Oliver in Oliver and His Alligator. We loved reading about how Oliver uses his vivid imagination to get through the first day of school.

In Oliver and His Egg, Oliver returns to navigate the nerve-wracking waters of friendship. While he is playing on the playground, he finds a rock. Using that same wonderful imagination from his first adventure, he pretends it's an egg. And out of that egg hatches . . . a friend. Oliver and his friend go on all kinds of adventures: a pirate ship, a campout, even a spaceship. Suddenly though, his blissful, happy little bubble is popped when a little girl innocently asks, "Oliver, why are you sitting on that rock?" And Oliver realizes that even though it's fun to go on imaginary adventures with a pretend friend, it's even more fun to invite all the other kids to go on those adventures with him.

Oliver is an unlikely hero: he is shy; he likes to be by himself; he is wary of new situations and new people. In other words, he is not the type of child that most adults (or kids) take any notice of (and he probably prefers it that way). And yet, for all his quiet reserve, I found myself relating to him. I also get nervous in big crowds and unfamiliar situations. Often times, I would like to just be able to quietly observe without feeling threatened by conversation. But then, just like Oliver, once I've been given my time and space, I'm more than happy to brave the unknown, and I find that it's not so scary after all.

And it's not just me. I know a lot of children (including at least one of my own) who would like to hide away from anything new or different. For all of us introverts, it's comforting to see how one little boy manages and conquers those fears.

So that's the adult perspective. But of course my kids don't read this book and think, Oh, Oliver's an introvert. I'm kind of shy like him. Maybe I can pretend away all the scary things around me, too. No, when they read this book, all they hear is a really great story. And that's just as it should be. In fact, one time as Max was looking through this book, he stopped at the last page with all of the kids and said, "Those are all of Oliver's friends from school." And then he asked, "They all got out of the alligator?" (He was referring to the first book where all of Oliver's classmates get gobbled up by his alligator.) I realized in that moment how blurry the line is between fact and fiction for kids. Even though Oliver was just using his imagination to make his classmates and classroom disappear, to Max, it was a great story about an alligator gobbling up a bunch of people.

Speaking of fact or fiction, I love Oliver's "friend" in this story. It kind of looks like a brachiosaurus . . . with large orange polka dots. Once again, that line between fact and fiction is fuzzy. It's Oliver's imagination, and he can make his friend look however he wants. He's not concerned if it's an authentic looking dinosaur. He just wants a fun and kind friend with a broad back for riding on.

If you have not yet met Oliver with his adorable spiky-straight hair and worried eyebrows, you must not wait any longer. With limited text and sweet illustrations, it's a charming book to read to your kids.

Many thanks to Disney-Hyperion for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

Summer Fun: Cup Launchers

Jun 25, 2014

With my mom and sister here last week, we didn't really need any extra activities. The boys were perfectly content playing game after game after game, going on walks to the park, reading hundreds of books, and covering the driveway with chalk art.

But this week, they've been a little more restless, and with only one adult to entertain them instead of three, I needed an activity that would keep them busy and not result in fighting.

So we made these cup launchers, an idea I first saw in a post on Spoonful.

Aaron goes crazy for just about any craft, and the other two happily followed along. They were totally focused and engaged for at least an hour (while Clark slept peacefully--bless that baby!). And afterwards, my four-year-old thanked me for coming up with such a fun idea (I wish I could take credit, but I rely heavily on the creativity of others).

If you want to make some cup launchers of your own, here's what you'll need:
  • paper/picture
  • markers
  • scissors
  • two plastic cups (I would go for heavy duty ones. They have to hold up to a lot of pushing and popping)
  • two rubber bands (again, heavy duty is ideal)
  • tape (whatever variety you prefer)

First, they had to decide what picture they wanted on the front of their cups. Ideally, it needed to be something that could fly or bounce or hop. The three of them spent a good chunk of time debating the launching abilities of various objects and animals. For example, does a dolphin qualify since it leaps out of the water? What about a shark? Or a lion?

They finally settled on a rocket ship, a dragon, and a frog. Aaron sketched his own dragon while Max and Bradley opted for printing theirs out and coloring them.

Once they were done drawing and coloring, they cut out the pictures.

Then we taped them to the front of the cups.

To assemble the launcher, take the cup with the picture on the front and make four 1/2 inch snips around the edge. The snips should be evenly spaced. Put a small piece of tape at the top of each snip to prevent the cup from splitting up the side. (This really is necessary. We had one piece of tape fall off, and that little snip spread all the way up one side.)

Take the rubber bands and cut them open, so that you have two long strips instead of two circles. Knot one end and thread it through a snip. Pull the other end across to the snip on the other side. Slide it through the snip and then knot that end as well. Do the same thing with the other rubber band and the two remaining snips.

The cup should look like this with the rubber bands making an X and knots along the outside edge. (I should have used colored tape, so you could see it, but it's there, I promise.)

We experimented a little with the tightness of the rubber bands. At first, I pulled them just to the point of stretching, but I think that was a little too tight. The launcher seemed to work better when there was just a little bit of slack in the rubber bands (this also helped the rubber bands not break).

To use the launcher, slide the cup with the rubber bands over the other cup. Push it down so the rubber bands stretch out.

Then let it go, and watch the rocket ship (or dragon) (or frog), spring up into space.

Then repeat again and again until the rubber bands break and have to be replaced (which ours did).

This is a fun activity because 1) it's cheap, 2) it can be played with outside or inside, 3) the picture can be changed to extend the fun, and 4) it actually works.

KidPages: Fireflies! by Julie Brinckloe

Jun 23, 2014

Friends keep asking me how it's going with four kids, and the truth is, if you have a live-in nanny and housekeeper, it's really not so hard at all.

But sadly, the nanny and housekeeper (i.e., my sister and my mom) are on their way home today. We are already missing them.

While they were here, my mom asked if there was a book I'd been wanting for the boys. Um, a book? As in, one? Normally this would have been a nearly impossible task, but this time I knew exactly which book we wanted.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a great list of summer picture books on This Picture Book Life (an excellent blog, by the way). The first one on the list was Fireflies! by Julie Brinckloe. I'd never seen the book before, so I immediately went to put it on hold.

And . . . neither of our library systems had a copy. We really have two excellent libraries, and so it's unusual to be unable to get what I want. And there's something about not being able to have something that makes you want it even more.

So when my mom asked, "Is there a book you want for the boys?" I immediately thought of this one.

The story takes place on a perfect summer evening. It's growing dark as a boy hurries to finish his dinner so he can grab a jar and run outside to catch fireflies. His friends are all outside with their jars too, and they pass away the evening hours running and chasing and catching. By the time the boy returns home, his jar is filled with the tiny glowing bugs. He puts it on his nightstand to use as a nightlight. The light slowly begins to fade, and he must make a difficult decision before he goes to sleep for the night.

We live in a place devoid of fireflies, and so they hold a certain magical elusiveness for all of us. None of my boys have ever seen a firefly or held one in their hands. Every time I think of this, I want to cry. These are my boys who catch any bug they can find and give them names and take them for rides on their bikes. They would go wild if they saw a firefly in real life.

I grew up catching fireflies one week each summer when my family would visit my grandmas in Nebraska and Iowa. I tell ya, those bugs were made for kids. They don't bite, they're easy to catch, and the fact that they light up almost makes them too good to be real. And from my memories, this book captures everything that is wonderful about fireflies. It's the kind of book that if you've had the experience, it brings it back with vivid clarity, and if you haven't, it makes you almost feel like you know what it's like.

First, the illustrations. They are made up of a small palette of colors: black and white, grays and blues, with bright spots of yellow. They are shadowy and dusky. Details are lost as the light fades away, but they return in the glow of lamplight and firefly light. The scenes feel true, as if they've been enacted thousands of times on the quiet streets of small-town USA.

The text is beautiful with just the right amount of random details. For example, before he goes outside, the boy remembers he must put holes in the lid of his jar: "And as quietly as I could, so she wouldn't catch me dulling them, I poked holes in the top of the jar with Momma's scissors." I don't know if it's because my own mom is particular about her scissors or what, but I love that sentence and the glimpse it gives us into the boy's home. Or this one: "We ran like crazy, barefoot in the grass." I know my boys would be barefoot too. They live for summer and the casting off of shoes.

I've been so enchanted with the text and illustrations of this story, I was hoping Julie Brinckloe had written and illustrated many more. But I can find almost no information about her. It looks like she maybe wrote a few other books that weren't widely published. At any rate, I'm sad to see there isn't more by her.

Whether you've cupped a firefly between your hands or just dreamed about doing so, this is a book I would highly recommend to experience the magic of summer.

Babe, the Gallant Pig by Dick King-Smith

Jun 19, 2014

I keep a running list of children's chapter books on Goodreads that I want to read to my kids. These are books that I heard about on another blog or from a friend or in a book. Many of them I have not read before, so there are some I won't actually end up reading to my kids. (After I check them out from the library, I usually give unfamiliar titles a quick preview, which means some books get sent straight back.)

When we are nearing the end of a book, I get the fun task of deciding what we're going to read next. Many times, I let Aaron and Max help me by giving them a choice of three different books. Sometimes my decision is totally random: I suddenly remember a book from my childhood, and the next day I have it from the library. Sometimes it's more laborious: I consult my list and read plot summaries and check out a few in case a couple of them are bombs. And sometimes, as in the case of Babe, it's a combination: I put this book on my list months ago, but it wasn't until a passing comment from someone that I remembered about it and got it from the library.

And now that you know more than you ever wanted to about my book-selection method, let me tell you about this delightful book.

Farmer Hogget raises sheep, not pigs. He really has no interest in pigs. But at the county fair, he walks past a squealing piglet in a cardboard box. For ten pence, he can take a guess at the piglet's weight. Farmer Hogget doesn't want to win the pig, but he lifts up the little animal anyway. The pig stops squealing, and the two of them lock eyes. Farmer Hogget decides to make a guess. At the end of the day, he finds out he won the pig.

Fly is a sheepdog and not a bad one either. She has a low opinion of pigs (and sheep), but she takes an instant liking to the pig Farmer Hogget brings home. She finds out his name is Babe and offers to look after him. Babe follows her around everywhere, and Farmer Hogget soon notices that Babe acts more like a dog than a pig. Just for fun, Fly begins teaching Babe some tricks of the sheep herding trade. In spite of his short legs and awkward physique, Babe has a natural talent with the sheep (but mostly because he has good manners). Farmer Hogget is amazed with Babe's abilities, and after Babe proves his loyalty and skills on a couple of occasions, Farmer Hogget decides to do something daring and enters Babe in the Grand Challenge Sheepdog Trials.

After finishing the book, we decided to watch the movie for family night. I knew Aaron and Maxwell would love it (and they did), but I was surprised how much more I liked the book (especially since the movie was part of my childhood, and the book was not).

The book had a simple innocence about it that was missing from the movie. There wasn't any of the contrived humor with Ferdinand the duck. The drama between Rex and Fly and Babe was missing (because Rex didn't exist in the book). And Duchess the cat was (thankfully) not a part of the cast. (James Cromwell as Arthur Hogget was amazing in the film, but that was because he perfectly embodied the Farmer Hogget from the book.) I'm not saying those weren't perfectly acceptable additions to the movie; certainly, the pacing of a film requires a little more action and drama. But if I had to choose which was a more enjoyable way for me to spend my time, I'd say the book, no question.

(I also loved Babe's character more in the book. He is so naive and sweet right from the beginning. The movie makes him a little more mischievous.)

In spite of its quiet simplicity, there are three really gripping scenes: when Babe saves the sheep from the rustlers, when Babe saves them again, this time from wild dogs (and then almost gets blamed for Ma's death), and the Grand Challenge Sheepdog Trials. Even though these incidents were still narrated in a  mild way, the boys and I were riveted the entire time while making guesses as to the various outcomes. The most poignant scene for me was when Farmer Hogget thinks Babe has killed Ma. He knows he can't have a pig on the farm who thinks it's fun to torment the sheep. He has no idea how heartbroken Babe actually is over Ma's death. And the truth is, Hogget has grown quite fond of Babe. Fly is equally surprised and confused and angry over Babe's supposed betrayal and is determined to get to the bottom of it (even if it means saying "please" to a sheep). The emotions of everyone involved make this an extremely tense scene. When Farmer Hogget's wife calls out to him about the reports of wild dogs, the boys and I breathed a sigh of relief along with the characters in the book. It was just really well-written.

You know how I feel about endings, and I'm sure many of you feel the same way: a bad ending can totally ruin an otherwise good book. Babe not only has a perfect ending, but its last line might well be one of my favorite last lines in literature. Farmer Hogget, amidst the amazed cheers of the crowd, maintains his calm demeanor and says, "That'll do, Pig. That'll do." Those are the same words the movie chose to end with, and I'm so glad that out of all the things they decided to change, the last line was not one of them. Sometimes authors try to make too much of the ending. They try to make sure every character has a final word and that there's a combined feeling of fanfare and closure. But here, Dick King-Smith struck the perfect chord: there's a sense of finality and satisfaction in those last words without losing any of the simplistic charm of the rest of the book. Beautiful.

I see that Dick King-Smith wrote an impressive number of books before his death in 2011. Has anyone read anything else by him? We are definitely excited to check out some of them in the near future.

5 Things That Happened Over the Weekend

Jun 16, 2014

1. The transmission went out on our van. Ugh.

2. Our dryer quit working.

3. Clark outgrew his cute dino sleeper. Without my permission.

4. Aaron made Mike four Father's Day cards.

5. We had to pull out the jackets again.

Summer Fun: Painting on Ice

Jun 14, 2014

On Monday, I wrote about my hopeful plans for the summer, which include doing at least one out-of-the-ordinary activity each week. It's time to start checking off items from my pinterest boards!

First up, painting on ice.

This is actually something I meant to write about last summer. It was quite the popular (and easy!) activity with my kids. It was inspired by this post on Learn Play Imagine, but we simplified it.

The boys were so excited when I asked them if they wanted to freeze some water for ice painting this summer. They hadn't forgotten how much fun we had with it last year.

Here's what you'll need:
  • ice blocks 
  • watercolors (nothing fancy--Crayola works great)
  • paintbrush
  • water (for rinsing out the brushes)

Give each child a block of ice and paintbrush, and let them go to town.

We've experimented with different sizes of ice blocks. Last summer, we were still renting and only had the small freezer above the fridge, so we froze water in cereal bowls or muffin tins. Now we have an upright freezer, so we had plenty of room to freeze water in three small mixing bowls. The boys seemed to like this size best because it gave them a bigger canvas for their masterpieces.

My boys all have different styles. Aaron likes to paint in big color blocks. Maxwell likes to do a mosaic of beautiful colors. And Bradley starts out with a similar mosaic that eventually all turns into the same shade of brown.

After awhile, the ice becomes much more melty, and the colors just slide off. The ice turns clear and transparent, which is beautiful in the summer sunshine.

It's at this point that my kids start playing with the ice. (This is a 2-in-1 activity. Score!) They hold it and see how fast it melts in their hands. They slide it around with their feet. And they throw it on the ground and watch it shatter into interesting pieces.

I love this activity because 1) it's easy to set up, 2) the mess stays outside, 3) it's cold, 4) it keeps my kids entertained for a long time, and 5) it's easy to clean up.

 A super hero cape is not required for this activity, but it will make you feel infinitely more awesome.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior

Jun 11, 2014

You've probably heard about this book. (Or if not the book, then maybe this TED talk.) It seems like every mom I know is reading it right now. And I can see why: It takes the traditional parenting book and turns it on its head. If you're not a fan of reading about all the things you should be doing to raise healthy, resilient children but instead want to read about what your children are actually doing to your health and resiliency, then this is the book for you.

In the introduction, Jennifer Senior reiterates questions first asked by sociologist Alice Rossi 45 years ago: What is the effect of parenthood on adults? How does having children affect their mothers' and fathers' lives? It's an intriguing topic, especially considering the fact that if you ask adults which activities they most enjoy, childcare ranks very low on the list, but at the same time, they "view children as one of life's crowning achievements." Senior sets out to explore why this paradox could possibly be true. She looks at the effect children have on personal lives, careers, and marriages as well as how the various stages of childhood (from newborn through adolescence) influence day-to-day emotions and decisions.

This is exactly the kind of nonfiction I love, and Jennifer Senior's style is so readable and convincing. It is a perfect melding of research, anecdotes, and personal wit. As part of her research, she sat in on a lot of parenting classes and discussions, but then she also selected a few families to personally interview and get to know more intimately. Their stories are woven seamlessly in between the facts and the studies so that it all reads like one effortless narrative, all of which is punctuated with Senior's own experiences and humor and big vocabulary. Even though I didn't agree with all of her findings, it didn't matter because it was just such a pleasure to read

There was just something so incredibly validating about this book. There were times I just stopped and thought, Yes! No one has ever put my thoughts into words before, but there they are! For example, towards the end of the book, she talked about the fear and joy that simultaneously accompany parenthood. She quoted Brené Brown who called it "foreboding joy" and gave this example: "I'm looking at my children, and they're sleeping, and I'm right on the verge of bliss, and I picture something horrible happening." I didn't realize other parents dealt with this same type of irrational fear (mostly because Mike is almost always optimistic), but I know exactly what it feels like to have my joy tainted by worries, and there was something so comforting having those thoughts verbalized.

I could definitely relate to the chapters on autonomy and marriage and toddlerhood. That has been my life for the last six years. With Aaron going into first grade this year, I am also getting my first taste in "concerted cultivation." (In fact, a mere few hours before reading this chapter, Mike and I were having an argument over whether or not I should sign up Aaron for an art class this summer. Me: He loves to draw! Shouldn't we give him the opportunity to develop this talent and see if it's something he wants to invest some time in?  Mike: He's five years old. I never took an art class when I was a kid, and I loved to draw, too.) But then I got to the chapter on adolescence, and my heart was struck with panic. A few pages in, I actually had to shut the book and say to Mike, "What have we done? We didn't think this thing through! We have four children. Four boys. And they are going to turn into four teenagers." Seriously, that chapter was . . . terrifying. In all the other chapters, Jennifer Senior uses the real names (first and last) of all her interviewees. But on the chapter about adolescents, she switches to first-name pseudonyms because "there's too much potential harm and not much point in revealing their identities, or that of their parents." Yikes.

In each chapter, Senior talks a lot about the cultural shift that has happened to parent- and childhood over the centuries. She mentions the fact that children used to be valuable, an asset to the family's welfare. Now they are, in the words of sociologist Viviana Zelizer, "economically worthless but emotionally priceless." Equally fascinating to me is the shift in roles women have experienced in their families. Senior reported on it this way:
"It was a woman in Minnesota who clarified this shift for me. She pointed out that her mother called herself a housewife. She, on the other hand, called herself a stay-at-home mom. The change in nomenclature reflects the shift in cultural emphasis: the pressures on women have gone from from keeping an immaculate house to being an irreproachable mom. And the market today, still hoping to appeal to women's professional instincts, offers the same differentiation in baby products for mothers that it offered in cleaning products for housewives sixty years ago."
Looking at parenthood from an historical point of view really added some depth and breadth to the more recent studies and experiences.

Also, even though Senior herself admits at the end that the whole book had a biased edge to it, overall, I found her account to be very well-rounded. In fact, many times she mentioned a particular study to back up an idea only to then also point out its limitations.

I hinted that I didn't agree with everything in the book. Want to know one of those things? This paragraph about one of the moms she interviewed:
"Gayle's choice was to be a stay-at-home mother. When she made her decision, it made perfect emotional sense. 'I quit working because I couldn't stand being away from my children,' she says as her girls yo-yo in and out of the kitchen. 'To be away for an hour, to go to the bank, just hurt me.' She never once thought less of her friends who continued to work and found alternative child care arrangements. It  just wasn't something she could get motivated to do herself. 'And now I think, What kind of role model was I?' she asks. 'I have three girls and I quit my job? I went to college and grad school!' She shakes her head. 'If they'd been boys, maybe that wouldn't have bothered me so much.'"
I guess I hold motherhood on a higher pedestal because it made me sad to read this. I don't hold anything against the moms who want to work, but I hate the thought that the only way we can be good role models for our daughters is if we choose to have careers. I think there's so much daughters can learn from their mothers as mothers. If they choose to have another career, great. But let's not allow outside jobs to devalue motherhood.

There's so much more I want to write about this book, but I've already been trying to finish this review for two days, and if I don't wrap it up now, it might never happen. It's been on my brain that whole time (and then some). The irony of the whole situation was not lost on me as I tried to snatch fifteen minutes here and there to write another paragraph. In chapter 1 about autonomy, Senior tells about Jessie, a stay-at-home mom who has a photography side business. Jessie struggles with the predicament of trying to get her work done while her children constantly demand her attention. This afternoon, I told my mom (who's staying with us for a few days), "I just need one hour to finish this post." I shut myself into my room. It took me about ten minutes to pick up my train of thought and get back into the groove of writing, and all three times I attempted it, by the time the ten minutes were up, I had a screaming baby or a wailing toddler, and they were always problems that could only be fixed by me. Finally, tonight, I scored a blessed chunk of uninterrupted time, but this was the fourth attempt of the day. It was so incredibly frustrating (and it's not like this is even my job!).

At the end of the book, Senior talks about the difference between our experiencing and our remembering selves. Our experiencing selves are how we experience all of the moments that make up a day. My experiencing self was feeling frustration this afternoon. I just wanted to do one thing! One! And in spite of spending the time to get everyone settled before I started, I still couldn't get it done. This is the "no fun" part of parenting. But our remembering selves focus on the big picture, the way we feel when we look back on our experiences. And when I look back at this time of my life, I'm not going to remember this afternoon when I couldn't finish a book review (except, I might since I just spent all this time writing about it). No, instead I'm going to remember what it felt like to have my four boys so little and loving and needing me. And when I think about that, all I feel is joy.

A Plan For Summer

Jun 9, 2014

Aaron's last day of school was June 3rd. The days since then have been blissfully free and unscheduled. This morning, Aaron slept in until 8:30, which he has never done before. It was so unusual, I was afraid that maybe he was sick. But no, he was just enjoying the feeling of being lazy.

My goal for this summer is simply, Keep it simple. I think a new baby would force this goal on me whether I wanted it or not. It's impossible to keep a rigid schedule of activities when you have to follow the whims of a newborn. But we're all very happy with this arrangement. We take our time in the morning. We go on a walk if we feel like it. We stay outside in the evenings much later than we should.

This morning, I looked around the living room, and this is what I saw: Aaron was stretched out on one couch reading Dark Day in the Deep Sea. Bradley was sitting on another couch surrounded by a pile of books. Maxwell was sitting next to me in the recliner reading a story out of his reading book while I fed Clark. I thought to myself, This is what summer is supposed to be like.

However, I know I'm happiest with some structure, so I spent the last week thinking about how I could impose some organization on our summer while still maintaining our relaxed flexibility.

I thought of two ways:

First, Mike and I sat down with the boys and helped them set some summer goals. I'll share them with you in a few weeks after we've (hopefully) made some progress with them.

Second, I want to try one new thing each week with the boys. If your pinterest boards are like mine, they're overflowing with good intentions and hopeful ambitions. I want to actually try some of the ideas I pin. Luckily, I can be very flexible with this goal: I can do it anytime during the week; it can be a craft, a recipe, a game, a learning activity, or anything else that fits our needs; it will help us hold off summer boredom without making us feel burned out.

I have absolutely no schedule for what I want to do or when I want to do it, but I plan on sharing whatever we end up doing on Friday or Saturday of each week. I want to have a little accountability so I'll actually follow through, but I don't want to make this into a big, stressful project.

Because really, if we want to go outside and blow the fluff off dandelions, then that's exactly what we're going to do.

KidPages: Imogene's Antlers by David Small

Jun 6, 2014

Anytime I stumble across a wonderful picture book from my era that I never heard when I was a kid, a part of me weeps a little inside.

Such is the case with Imogene's Antlers. I read it to my kids and thought, Oh, how I would have loved this! It might have even ranked right up there with The Baby Blue Cat and the Whole Batch of Cookies and The Big Red Pajama Wagon (which, incidentally, was not from my generation but was much loved anyway). I guess I'll never know the legacy it might have left.

One Thursday morning, Imogene wakes up and finds a pair of antlers growing out of her head. It's fantastic and unbelievable but seems to be true. Right from the get-go, she finds antlers to be a difficult appendage to deal with; getting dressed has never been so difficult. Her mother is horrified . . . and immediately drops into a faint (an occurrence that soon becomes a pattern for the day). The antlers are unexplainable but also rather useful. In fact, by the end of the day, Imogene is rather fond of them. Sadly, the next morning the antlers have disappeared . . . but Imogene's adventures aren't over yet!

There are some picture books that are so fantastical, they just seem weird. There are others where the whole amazing story turns out, disappointingly, just to be a dream. This book is neither of those. It's more amusing and funny than disturbing. And by all accounts, it seems to be true (as true as fiction gets, that is). And I love that about it. For just a few minutes, we can suspend our disbelief without needing any explanations when it's all over. Imogene grew antlers. We don't know why, but she did. Isn't that crazy?

I love Imogene's attitude through the whole ordeal: the doctor is examining her, and she is happily licking a lollipop; the principal is glaring at her, and she is drinking a glass of milk; the maid is using the antlers as a drying rack, and she is reading a book. She just takes the whole day in stride, enjoying it and making the most of her circumstances.

The illustrations are wild and zany. David Small has illustrated some of our other favorites, including One Cool Friend and Elsie's Bird, but this is one of the few books where he wrote the text too. It's a shame he hasn't authored more of his own books because, really, he conveys exactly what he needs to in simple sentences without getting bogged down in a lot of unnecessary words. Plus, the text fits the illustrations brilliantly.

As a final parting word, can I also mention how much I love the name Imogene for a children's book? I don't think I'd ever use it for my own daughter, but for a girl with antlers growing out of her head? So much more fitting than the overused Chloes and Emilys.

Pausing Life for Seven Days

Jun 4, 2014

It's been one week since little Clark joined our family. I absolutely love the first week of a baby's life. We definitely have our share of sleepless nights, moody four-year-olds, roller coaster hormones, and breastfeeding issues. BUT STILL . . . with each of my children, it has been a cherished time. And with Clark, it has been no different. These minutes and hours are sacred and special to me.

Having four children (four! it's really true!) means that my time will soon be very divided. So I have used this week to get to know Clark. I have held him almost constantly . . . not because he needs it or demands it (although sometimes he does . . . ) but because I need it. I need to kiss his soft cheeks and breathe in his sweet baby smell. I need to stroke his silky hair and gaze into his perceptive eyes. I need to feel the gentle weight of his head on my arm and nestle him on my chest.

evidence of the dimple

Last night I had a sudden realization that with each child, the first week is probably getting more and more difficult for Mike while for me, because I am so adamant about lots of time with the baby, they've stayed relatively the same. The laundry piles up more quickly and the dishes multiply in seconds. There are more older siblings clamoring for attention and more toys to be constantly picking up.

When I mentioned this observation to him, he said, "No, not at all. It actually feels easier this time." That man is a saint. His mother taught him well, and I will always be grateful he knows how important this first week is for me.

I've tried really hard to share the baby with him. He likes little Clark, too.

Speaking of people who like little Clark, those three older brothers are pretty smitten with him. They are constantly squirting on the hand sanitizer or running to the sink to wash their hands so they can hold him again. When they've each had a turn, they're ready to begin the cycle again. Aaron will often hold him for thirty minutes at a time, especially if it's evening and I'm reading to him and Maxwell.

In the mornings, they love running into our room and getting their first look of the day at Clark. A couple days ago, Aaron said to me, "I had no idea our baby would be this cute." He's a little biased to be sure. They love his little yawns, his wrinkly forehead, his unwieldy arms that he whacks himself in the face with or pulls up into a Frankenstein-like pose. Just like me, they find rubbing his head to be extremely addictive. And they are all convinced that each one of them is Clark's favorite because "he was looking at me!"

Last night, I was reminiscing about the last week (can you reminisce if it's only been a week?) and telling Mike how sad I was that the first week was almost over. I told him it went by much too quickly, and he said, "What are you talking about? It feels like it's been much longer than a week! I feel like I haven't been to work in a month!"

If anything, it seems like our perceptions of time should be reversed. I spent the whole week prior living in the future: "In a week, I'll be holding a baby right now." "Next Sunday, I won't go to church because I'll be at home with a baby." "Next week, I'll also be up at 3am, but not because of pregnancy discomfort, but because I'll be feeding a baby." Now that the week is almost past, I'm starting to relive it: "A week ago, I was checking in at the hospital." "Now I was saying I couldn't handle any more contractions." "Now I was holding him for the first time."

But in between the future and the past, there was the present. Seven days. And they were glorious.

Raising Readers: Nonfiction Early Readers

Jun 3, 2014

Finding a variety of early readers that don't make you want to poke your eyes out can be challenging. But if you up the ante by adding the qualifier "nonfiction," your task may seem almost impossible.

First of all, at least in our library, nonfiction early readers are shelved with the children's nonfiction, not with the early readers. This means you can peruse by topic easily enough, but if you don't care about the subject per se (you'd just like to see your child reading about volcanoes or the American Revolution instead of Star Wars for a change), it can be beyond frustrating. Trust me, I know. I'm the mom who's wandering down the stacks, pulling hopeful books off the shelves and filling up the reshelving cart with cast-offs.

However, the benefits that come to the emerging reader from reading nonfiction are enormous.
  • New vocabulary - nonfiction introduces hundreds of new words your child would never encounter in Green Eggs and Ham or Frog & Toad. Names, places, and scientific terms are all there in short, simple sentences.
  • New ideas - not only is your child learning new words, but he is also learning about planets or reptiles or Babe Ruth. Now he not only can read the word "Saturn," but he can also tell you all about its rings and climate and moons. 
  • New style - nonfiction is usually presented in a completely different way from fiction. Instead of dialogue and a climax, you have facts and definitions.
But just because nonfiction early readers are difficult to find doesn't mean they're not out there. Over the last year, we've stumbled across some really stellar ones. And the great news is that once you've found one, you can usually find dozens more in the same series. Just put them on hold, and you can just pick up a big stack of them and skip the aimless wandering entirely.

1. Record Breakers: The Biggest (and other Kingfisher Readers)
This one is fun because it doesn't focus on one subject specifically but, in a Guinness Book of World Records style, showcases the world record breakers in the biggest category: biggest insect, biggest building, etc. Here is a complete list of Kingfisher Readers. They come in a variety of levels, tackle a variety of topics, and feature great illustrations and photographs.

2. Eat My Dust! Henry Ford's First Race (and other biographies from Step Into Reading)
One day Aaron came home from school with a book called Abe Lincoln's Hat. It was all about the way President Lincoln used his hat to keep himself organized during his presidency. Aaron loved it, and I thought, There must be other biographies like this one. There are! Step Into Reading has a whole collection of early reader biographies. (I couldn't find a list of just the biographies, but here is a list of all their nonfiction early readers, which are all well worth checking out.) You know how much I love picture book biographies, and these ones are great whether you're reading them out loud or having your child read them to you. They all feature a unique story about the person being highlighted, rather than just a broad overview of his/her life.

3. The Dog That Dug for Dinosaurs (and other Ready-to-Read nonfiction)
Ready-to-Read also has a great line of nonfiction early readers. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a list grouping them together, but here is a link to all of the Ready-to-Read books, and it isn't too difficult to scroll through and pick out the nonfiction ones. The one I'm featuring here is about a dog named Tray and his owner named Mary Ann Anning. I like this one because it's a great introduction to archeology, as well as being about different kinds of dinosaurs.

4. Volcanoes! (and all the other National Geographic Leveled Readers)
I don't think I can express how much I love these leveled readers published by National Geographic. Aaron has explored a host of interests between these covers: volcanoes, sharks, planets, tornadoes, snakes, and more. And also, just as you would expect, the photography is spectacular, so they are a treat just to look through without even reading the text. One of Aaron's favorite components in these books are the jokes at the top of most pages. It's like a little reward for him after he's read the rest of the page. If you'd like to see all of the National Geographic titles in one place, visit this link.

5. Hark! A Shark! (and other Cat in the Hat Learning Library Books)
Out of all the books I've discussed today, these are definitely the most commercialized. But I can't deny that they present good information in a fun, engaging way. In fact, I have to say I'm pretty impressed with both the quality and quantity of facts that are all told through simple rhymes. New titles are being added all the time, but here is the most current list (I think). (Also, it's worth noting that these are different titles than the Cat in the Hat ones on the Step Into Reading list.)

With summer break already underway (Aaron's last day of kindergarten was today! Sob!), hopefully these lists will get you started on some fun and educational reading for those lazy afternoons. Use your library's hold system. I'm serious. You won't regret it.

(For more Raising Readers posts, click here.)
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