Monday, September 22, 2014

93 Shopping Days Left! Review: When Lunch Fights Back, by Rebecca Johnson

*Please check out my post from 9/12/14

When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses

Sometimes, it's really good to be a human. Unless you want to try some really exotic quisine, your food is relatively harmless. Well, except for all the chemicals, GMOs, preservatives, hidden fats...hmm...

Well, at least our food doesn't poke its own bones through its skin and rake them across our mouths as we try to eat it.

Yeah, I'm not hungry now, either. This is definitely one of those highly sensational, extremely disgusting, gory and gross books that...what's that? You already know who you are going to give it to? That's what I thought. My problem is, will my kids take turns with it, or will they fight over it?

Fortunately, along with the exciting/disgusting stories of animals defending themselves from would-be predators, there is quite a bit of science. Equal space is given to "the science behind the story", introducing various scientists who have spent time studying the creatures in question. The last few pages include copious resources for more information, as well as glossary and index. This is actually a pretty good book, definitely worth the shelf space in a library, classroom, or home.

Should you choose to give it as a gift this holiday season, you can pair it with a gift certificate to any ethnic restaurant near you, to try out some foods that might be new to your child (but which hopefully won't try to kill him). If you are lucky enough to be near an aquarium or zoo, you could give them a pass, along with a promise to go check out the animals there and see what you can learn about their defenses.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

95 Shopping Days Left! Review: Rainy, Sunny, Blowy, Snowy by Jane Brocket

Rainy, Sunny, Blowy, Snowy: What Are Seasons?

This summer I reviewed one of Brocket's first books in this series. Lerner graciously sent me that title to review, and I loved it so much, we immediately ordered the rest of the series. I was very happy to see more in the offering this quarter, including the above.

You guys, these pictures are GORGEOUS! 

My photographs of the photographs just don't do them justice. They are so vivid! And, the colors! Heck, even when there aren't colors:

seriously, these should be in a gallery somewhere. I could spend hours just looking at them.

The text hits my happy spot, too. Instead of something banal like, "Plants start to turn green in the Spring," Brocket writes, "Spring colors are clean and fresh." Is that awesome imagery, or what? I can't wait to see more of this series and will definitely use as many as I can in story times.

My mind jumped in a million different directions for gift-giving ideas. Christopher has turned out to have quite the knack for photography, so maybe a new digital camera? Sheridan will ooh over the flower pictures, so perhaps a set of bulbs and seeds for the Spring? Or, maybe this manipulative board for our 'school' area?

Ryan's Room All About Today Board

If you were REALLY super-organized, and not as liable to lose them as I am, you could teach some delayed gratification with surprise packages to be opened on the official first day of each season - rain gear for Spring, squirt guns for summer, and so on.

I'm sure you can figure it out. Me, I'm going to go back and look at these pictures some more!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

97 Shopping Days Until Christmas - but Only 89 Until Hanukkah! Review: Latke, the Lucky Dog

*Please check out my post from 9/12/14.

What do you name a toasty brown pup rescued on the first day of Hanukkah?

Latke, the Lucky Dog

Latke, of course! Latke is lucky to have a new home, but he is having a little trouble learning the rules. And, how can you resist the smell of fresh, powdery jelly donuts (sufganiyot), anyway? Fortunately, his new family is very understanding ("Poor, hungry latke. They didn't feed you enough at that shelter, did they?") Readers who are new to the traditions of Hanukkah will absorb them painlessly (as in, this is not one of those 'now I am going to teach you something' books), as they follow Latke's escapades. Those who already celebrate the holiday will appreciate a story they can just plain enjoy. And just look at that face!

Now, the obvious companion gift for this book would be your very own rescue dog. There are many reasons why the puppy-in-a-box gift on Christmas morning may not be the best bet, despite the great video you can post on Facebook. Alternatives could be a stuffed pet,

this one available here - no shots required!

or a book about choosing the right pet,

Choosing a Dog

and a promise to take your time as a family and find just the right companion.

Not ready for a new family member? How about a promise to volunteer at a local shelter? If yours has a volunteer form, you can slip it inside the last page of the book!

Going another route, this Hanukkah set

has been very popular as a check-out item at our library, for those who aren't familiar with the holiday but who want to learn more about it. That angle opens the door to all sorts of tasty cooking possibilities and history lessons!

Okay, now I want a latke. And a new dog.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

99 Shopping Days Left! Review: Sometimes You Barf by Nancy Carlson

*Please check out my post from 9/12/14

Sometimes You Barf

Okay, with a title like that, how can you NOT pick it up? And, with lines like, "When a dog is going to get lots of warning!...Then you find things like one of your missing socks." I dare you not to laugh out loud! Carlson gives a common, if icky, and sometimes scary for children event a humorous twist. I don't know that I would read this to a little one who is feeling queasy, but knowing that it can happen to anyone (even aardvarks!), and that you will feel better in a bit, may help when the inevitable occurs. 

Does one (or more) of your children have a slightly twisted sense of humor? Then, go ahead, horrify the grandparents, and give this as a Christmas gift! You can pair it with a book about the digestive system, such as 

Guts: Our Digestive System

or germs, like this classic: 

Germs Make Me Sick!

How about this adorable plush cold germ

GIANTmicrobes Plush Common Cold Microbes
The Magic School Bus has a whole science kit related to germs, or if your giftee is really really into gross stuff - well, who can resist the allure of 
Rubber Fake Vomit Joke Gag Prank Throw Up Barf
Come on, tell me you don't know at least one child who would be thrilled to find that in his stocking! (Better yet, tell me which child you know who WOULD be thrilled to get it, so I can be forewarned when I visit his home.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tea Cart Update

Last month, I asked for your suggestions on this tea cart that I picked up for $5.

It definitely needed some TLC, particularly the top:

And, while only one person replied on the actual blog post, there were several suggestions on the Facebook link. I was leaning towards wood, until I took the top off and turned it over:

Not only would I need to replace the drawer stops exactly right - not a huge deal - but, see those grooves close to the edges? Those are where the old-fashioned hinges, which I wanted to re-use, fit in. I do not have the tools or the skills to get those right! 

So, in the end, I went with Charlotte from Charlotte's Library's suggestion, albeit backwards. First I varnished the heck out of the particle board to seal it, then I painted that part with a thick black enamel paint. This involved painter's tape and dire threats should anyone come close enough to jostle me while I was getting the edges. There are still a couple little things to take care of - I think I am going to have to order a drawer pull off Ebay to get what I want - but, here is the almost-finished product!

Please ignore dirty dishes in background.

The part that is giving us problems is the front legs. We are having a heck of a time finding the right size replacements. Table legs are usually too big, so we tried these balustrades, which are too small. I may have to cannibalize something else from a thrift store! These will do for now - but I'm not bothering to stain them. 

A few of my Facebook friends may recognize the tea tray:

It was a gift from my Ukrainians students when I left, more than 20 years ago! I think it looks pretty nice against the black, don't you?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

102 Shopping days Left!* Colors Versus Shapes, by Mike Boldt

* Please take a look at my 9/12/2014 post

Colors versus Shapes

This title from Lerner immediately caught my eye as a possible Christmas gift, particularly with Logan in mind. He has been very excited to start 'doing school' recently,

and it's good to start with things kids already know somewhat, so they can feel successful from the start. He has a good grasp on his basic colors and shapes, but we haven't talked much about mixing colors, or shapes like ellipses and pentagons. The fact that the colors and shapes are battling it out to see who is /best', continually one-upping and interrupting each other...kind of like, ahem, certain siblings...will be sure to tickle him. Score!

I found a few compact-but-large-pieced toys that I can give him along with the book. This floor puzzle reinforces colors and matching, and they are still playing with a floor puzzle their aunt and uncle gave them last Christmas. 

These bean bags can work for both colors and shapes, and are a good inside/outside toy. They also appear to be soft enough to not cause too much damage if they are thrown in the house or at a sibling - which, of course, would NEVER happen, but it's good to know anyway.

Stay tuned for more gift giving ideas!

Friday, September 12, 2014

It's September! You Know What That Means...

...time to start the Christmas shopping!

Okay, stop throwing things at your computer screen, they won't hit me, and Santa won't bring you a new laptop if you can't take care of the one you have now.

I used to be the person who shopped sales all year round and had a box of perfect gifts ready for each child by the time December rolled around. I have no idea where that person went. I really wish she would stop by. All I have right now are the two items I bought yesterday when I saw them, realized instantly how they would make a certain 4-year-old gasp, and realized just after that...that it is mid-September, and I got nothin'. At least I'm not having a baby this time!

Now, my kids do not NEED any more stuff. This is a picture from my Mommy meltdown last month:

There are a total of seven drawers in the entire house, plus one costume box, that all three older kids' toys are supposed to fit into.  What you see here are the contents of said drawers, everything that was under beds and behind doors, and the many tubs of toys that I had packed up and put in the garage because they weren't picked up at the end of the day (news flash: that doesn't make them any better at picking up toys, and it means YOU have to pick them up to put them in the tubs.) I'll spare you the whole long weekend of sorting, but many toys went to the thrift shop, nothing went back into the garage, and everything now fits in those seven drawers and costume box.

And my floor still regularly looks like this.

So. Once again, we are going to try to keep Christmas about the fun and the giving and gifts that are more about learning and outdoors and experiences. And which don't include small pieces, because:

he was standing up last night.

One of my favorite things to do is pair a gift with a book. My kids love books anyway, and we know that connecting what we are reading to real life helps us comprehend and remember so much better. The absolute best place I've seen to find ideas is MotherReader's 150 Ways to Give a Book. She has some general ideas, as well as some book-specific ones, complete with links in many cases. I have already started an Amazon wish list for interested relatives to peruse!

In that vein, my book reviews for the next few months will include suggestions for gifts to give with each book. I did that on a small scale last year, but this time I will try to follow her example and give links to products where applicable. That is completely for your convenience, I am no longer an Amazon affiliate so I get no money if you purchase it. Please let me know if there is a specific child on your shopping list that you need ideas for, and we can all brainstorm together! In the meantime...

103 Shopping Days Left!