Saturday, August 29, 2015

Series Review: Pollination Junior Readers by Jennifer Boothroyd

Cross-Pollination
9781467757379

Animal Pollinators
9781467757416


I love finding good nonfiction to add to our Junior Readers (books for kids just learning to read). Long before any Common Core nonsense came out, librarians anywhere could tell you that younger kids, especially, want to know what is REAL. Plants are also a staple of every home school science curriculum, so these killed two birds with one stone.

This series also includes the titles Insect Pollinators, Parts of a Flower, and Self-Pollination. The format is very friendly to early readers who like a predictable framework: brightly colored photograph taking up most of the page, one or two sentences in clear font (ITC Avant Garde Gothic Std Medium if anyone cares) at the bottom.

Animal Pollinators gives a very, VERY basic explanation of how pollen is used to make seeds - some children may want more of an answer, so be prepared. Several animals that help spread pollen are them mentioned, along with how the pollen sticks to them (bees and butterflies are not included, but I will assume they are in Insect Pollinators, which I have not yet seen.) Two photographs show, close up, how humans can spread pollen, which could lead to a fun experiment and a walk outside.

Cross-Pollination mentions different pollinators (including the wind), how plants attract pollinators, how plants help the pollinators, and points out that plants need pollen from like plants. A simple glossary and index at the back of each may seem excessive, but they can help young children learn the parts of a book early on.

The only issue I saw with these is that children would really need to read the whole series to get a clear picture of what is going on in pollination. Guess that means I better get some order cards made for the rest!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Series review: Comparing Animal Traits, by Rebecca E. Hirsch

Vampire Bats: Nighttime Flying Mammals
9781467758796

Platypuses: Web-Footed Billed Mammals
9781467755818

Other titles in this series include African Elephants, Gray Wolves, Grizzly Bears, Humpback Whales, Mountain Gorillas, and Siberian Tigers - a nice variety geographically, although it strikes me that they are all mammals. That detail is not mentioned anywhere on the cover, although the traits of mammals in general are described in each book. ***edited: Pay attention, Ami, it's in the sub titles!

Of course, I picked the two goofiest-looking to read for my review!
How can anyone not love the platypus? Especially anyone who has ever felt like they didn't quite fit in anywhere. Or, anyone who also keeps their extra fat in their tail. Ahem. Moving on...

The way these are set up makes them a little different from most nonfiction animal books on the shelves: after giving a bit of information about the subject animal (in a very accessible, but not dumbed-down manner), each book then compares that animal to a similar one - like a beaver - or a completely different one - like a Dall sheep. While I am not sure there is much to take away from the latter comparisons, I like the format of side by side facts. This is a great way for visual learners to organize their thoughts, and I can see many classroom extensions. Try comparing two other animals, two foods, or two superheroes. I almost said two kids in the class, but that could leave someone wide open for hurt feelings, so...scratch that one!

Basic information about habitat, life cycle, and feeding habits is given throughout the books. While some kids will enjoy the frequent stops to compare, and will solidify the information this way, more linear thinkers may find it has the opposite effect. Since most books are presented in a linear fashion, however, I think these have a definite place.

At the end we have a grid chart putting all the animal comparisons together. Who would have thought the vampire bat and the golden lion tamarin would have so much in common! Another obvious extension, even mentioned on the page - using those traits, add a few more mammals. Where would humans stack up? (Think we can't use echolocation? How to Speak Dolphin would make a great read-aloud!)

There is also a glossary (words are highlighted in the text), index, bibliography, and both books (not all from the same publisher!)  and web sites for further information. As expected from Lerner, the binding and photography are top-notch. A fun and educational addition to any elementary or middle school library!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Picture Book Reviews

My Bike
9780062336996

Tom, the narrator of this cheerful picture book for preschoolers, is the proud owner of a bright green bicycle. After Tom describes all the parts of his bike, he rides the bike to work. He rides along busy roads and bustling streets, past cars and buses and animals and people, until he arrives at the circus, changes into his work clothes, and goes to work. It turns out that Tom is a clown, and his job is to ride a unicycle on a high wire under the big top! A fresh and fun look at riding (on two wheels and one), community, transportation, and professions, with a surprise ending!

Wow - Byron Barton has been illustrating books pretty much since I was born, so getting a new book of his across my desk makes for some serious flashbacks! His signature colors and shapes are largely the same, with the nice clear font we are used to, and which is so appealing to young children. Listeners during a read-aloud might enjoy a Q and A after each page: "did you pass trucks on your way here, too? Buses? ..monkeys???"

In the Waves
9780062359391

With a sweet surprise ending, this story will delight readers young and old, and with photos of the girls from years past, this picture book keepsake is the perfect present for any Lennon and Maisy fan.

We haven't had cable since before Sheridan was born, and I have never heard of these two young ladies, so I guess I get to judge the book on its own merits. Odd concept, I know.

It's supposed to be a sing-along, but you have to go to a web site to hear the song - I don't know if it's one played on their TV show, or what. Since not everyone reads next to a computer, this could be an issue. As a reader, the rhythm is off - my guess is that, in the song, some words are drawn out more so that it works. The pictures, though, drawn by Steve Bjorkman, are cute. Fans of the sisters may enjoy this one, particularly the photographs of the girls in the back, but as a general library book I would give it a pass.

Rappy the Raptor
9780062291806

Meet Rappy the Raptor, a velociraptor who speaks in rhymes all of the time, whether it's morning or noon, October or June. Now, how did it happen that he started rappin'? Well, here's Rappy's story in all its glory!

Now, here's an author name I recognize! Rappy's rhythm is a little more fluid, but changes in spots, so I would practice well before reading it out loud. Plenty of Gutman humor (i.e. things involving body parts that my 9yo son will find hysterical), and perfectly matched illustrations from Tim Bowers (yet another familiar name).

All three available in stores and on our shelves now.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Picture Book Reviews

This first title is more "new to us" than actually newly published, but worth a look:

Monkey and Elephant's Worst Fight Ever!
9780375857171

Monkey thought Elephant was his best friend. He was even bringing him some surprise cupcakes—and found a party going on that he wasn't invited to!
Elephant thought Monkey was his best friend. He was even planning a surprise wrestling party for him—but then Monkey put all his favorite toys in the freezer!
From there the war of revenge is on, and life on their small island is becoming dangerous! Until the townsfolk find a creative way to make Monkey and Elephant talk out their problems (cement shoes, a boat, and a chisel are involved . . .). Happily, Monkey and Elephant realize their fight was based on a misunderstanding.  But if only they had talked sooner, innocent teddies wouldn't need defrosting.
This is a laugh-out-loud comedy of a book with the helpful message that "using your words" is infinitely better than, say, painting a mean face on their butt.

Fortunately, my children NEVER fight over something stupid. Oh, wait, yes they do. Frequently. While the moral is obvious, the humor has wide appeal to the target age group (I mean, faces on butts? What's not to like?). Hopefully, mine won't just see this as a list of ideas for pranks...

Feet, Go to Sleep
9780449813256

The sun has set and dinner is done, but Fiona is still excited about the day and is not at all ready for bed.
So her mom helps her settle down with their nightly ritual of sending each part of her—from her toes to her nose—off to sleep. As Fiona relaxes her body, she recalls a marvelous day at the beach where feet were for stomping in the waves, legs were for running after cousins, tummy was for holding strawberries, and arms were for catching beach balls. And bit by bit, memory by memory, Fiona slips from a great day into a good night.



Okay, my kids may quarrel like Monkey and Elephant, but they never stall at bed...never mind. When we are wound up from a fun day, it can be hard to relax into dreamland, but this offers a simple technique that may help some parents. Heck, I could have used it last night, when my brain would not turn off and I tossed until after midnight! As Fiona remembers all the things her body did that day, children can tell their parents what their body did - a great way to recap the day, as well as calm those muscles down.

Bear and Duck
9780062320513

Bear is sick and tired of being a bear. Who wants to sleep all winter? His fur feels so hot in the summer. And the bees . . . there are just too many angry bees! Bear is done being a bear. But when he sees a line of happy yellow ducklings, he has a thought. What if he could be a duck?
With a few duck lessons from Duck, Bear learns that being a duck is fun; but as it turns out, Bear realizes he makes a really good bear . . . and he makes a really good friend along the way

Cute, cute, cute! Bear is so eager and clueless, I just wanted to smoosh him. I had to check to see if we had anything else illustrated by Hudson, but this seems to be her debut. This could be a fun one to extend with the kids - what if we tried to be ducks? Or bears? Or any other animal? Spend a meal, an hour, a day even trying to do things like an animal of your choice, and see what funny stories you have to tell at the end of it!

All three of these books are available in stores now, and on the shelves here shortly.










Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Review: Masterminds by Gordon Korman

Masterminds
9780062299963

Eli Frieden lives in the most perfect town in the world: Serenity, New Mexico. Honesty and integrity are valued above all else. The thirty kids who live there never lie—they know it’s a short leap from that to the awful problems of other, less fortunate places.

Eli has never left Serenity . . . why would he ever want to? Then one day, he bikes to the edge of the city limits and something so crazy and unexpected happens, it changes everything. Eli convinces his friends to help him investigate further, and soon it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems in Serenity. The clues mount to reveal a shocking discovery, connecting their ideal crime-free community to some of the greatest criminal masterminds ever known. The kids realize they can trust no one—least of all their own parents.

Sound a little like "Stepford Wives" for middle schoolers? Well...it is. And, somehow (maybe just because it's Gordon Korman), it works. No, the kids aren't cyborgs, but...well, I'm not going to give it away. And, while it is obvious to the reader on the outside (and eventually to the kids), that something is up, it takes a looooong time to get to what, exactly, that is. Fortunately, the road there is, as James Patterson says in the cover quote, a page turner, and the suspense doesn't let up for a second. In fact, librarians: as soon as kids get to the last page, they are going to be running up to your desk, asking for the sequel. Unfortunately, we all have to wait until February - and do NOT ruin the first book for yourself by reading the description of the second, major spoilers there.

Korman has not lost his humorous touch with the multitude of titles under his belt, and his ability to create believable, three-dimensional characters has only improved. I see this one having wide appeal among readers of any age, gender, or genre preference. Definitely one of this year's must-haves for middle school libraries in particular!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Review: Fix, Freeze and Feast by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik

I already sort-of-reviewed this book more than a year ago, although I forgot to post an update after we tried the first recipe (it was FANTASTIC!) I had put the book on my Christmas wish list at the suggestion of Amanda at A Patchwork of Books, and it has since become one of my most-used cookbooks. That's saying a lot, because I'm kind of addicted to the things!


One recipe isn't much of a review, though. What if I were to make...every single recipe in it? Or, at least give it a good try?

I have this week off, and after our family camping trip, I have been dropping the kids at Grandma's in the morning and then heading back home to get things done completely uninterrupted. Those of you without children, feel free to look perplexed. Trust me, this is a vacation.

I love freezing meals and cooking in bulk, but my meal freezer has been looking a bit bare. I started watching sales on meat a few weeks ago, and stocking up. Thick boneless pork chops, $1.37 a pound? I'll take all of them, thank-you. And then bug the butcher for more. 


Make a list of ingredients I don't have on hand, one more shopping trip, and I'm ready to go!


Obviously, I couldn't taste-test every recipe immediately to give it a full review, but I'll give a few comments on the directions as well as a tip or two. I will come back periodically as we go through the freezer, and add what we thought of the meals themselves. I won't include exact recipes, because that's what you need to buy the book for!

CHICKEN

I had already made the chicken cordon bleu, and the cherry skillet chicken. The first was excellent, the second I didn't really taste the cherries.

Chicken Broccoli Bake - I made 3 meals, and we ate one that night. It was okay, not something I would rave about. That was mostly a personal taste issue, though, there was nothing wrong with the recipe.

Chicken Curry - Good thing I have two of the biggest skillets they make!


I periodically adjusted amounts for my family size, and for how much was in my trays of meat. This made four meals. 

While I have been bulk cooking for a while, I think one of the beauties of this book is that the recipes are so easy to follow, with built-in tips like, "while the chicken is cooling". They help save you time in the kitchen, without being an obvious extra instruction. I also appreciate phrase like, "mixture will be like a paste", so you are not standing there wondering, "is it supposed to look like this?!" Most recipes have 3-5 steps for preparation, and 2-3 steps for cooking it later (step one almost always being, completely thaw the entree). There are also serving suggestions or shopping tips on most pages.

Here are those first two recipes, ready to go into the freezer:


Some tips here: completely cool before putting in the freezer, or you will end up with ice crystals. I am fortunate enough to have two large freezers (okay, three, but who's counting?), so I can freeze the packets flat in one freezer,


Then transfer them to the other when they are solid. Never put warm items on top of already frozen ones, you'll end up with a thawing-and-refreezing cycle that ruins the texture, if not the taste.

Molasses-Rum Chicken - My shopping excursion included the biggest (but cheapest) bottles of rum, bourbon, whiskey and margarita mix, as well as a 4-pack of cheap beer. The cashier was, of course, one of my former students. I told her she drove me to it. This smelled wonderful, and like many of the meals, required no cooking now - just toss it all in baggies and pop it in the freezer. We will have to try this soon - it says to grill, but would probably do well baked, or maybe even in the slow cooker.

Sweet Asian Chicken - This should be a kid pleaser. I think I will use it in a stir fry, waiting on an Asian Pack from Bountiful Baskets to come along.

Tex-Mex Chicken Fingers


On a salad, maybe? Or, with a blue cheese dip?

Mediterranean Roast Chicken - I have the feeling this is one I will like more than certain other family members (kalamata olives? capers?) Maybe I will cook it for myself some night when Daddy makes his seafood gumbo! (I don't eat things that swim.)

BEEF

Spanish Rice - A classic tummy-filler. I use instant rice and just toss it (dry) in with the rest of the ingredients. By the time it thaws, it's moist, and can bake along with the rest of the ingredients. I also don't put a bag of cheese with the entree as suggested, because we ALWAYS have tons of shredded cheese on hand!

Another tip: If you know what you are making, and how many entrees, you can label your freezer bags before you start the whole process. Otherwise, any down time (like when meat is cooling - or when you just need to sit down!) you can label the bags according to how many meals it looks like. If you ever forget to label them until after you've filled them, you won't make that mistake a second time. 

**Note: the book comes with instruction labels in the back that you can copy and tape to your bags. I move things around too much to trust those to stay, but if you find you make something a lot, they may be worth printing on heavy paper and laminating!


Mozzarella Meatballs - Homemade meatballs take FOREVER (or at least it seems like it when you are forming ball after ball and the bowl isn't looking any emptier), but so worth it! Once you have made your own meatballs, you won't be able to stand the mush from the freezer section ever again.

These are formed around a small cube of mozzarella cheese:


and yes, I definitely had to taste-test one. Or more. YUM!!! This recipe includes a sauce, but they could be eaten alone.

As you can see above, I bake my meatballs in a glass pyrex dish. Most recipes call for cookie sheets or even muffin tins. I like these because they are easier to wash, the meatballs cook evenly, they don't stick, and I can go in a couple times and suck grease out with a turkey baster (if you do this, keep in mind that your dollar store baster may not be rated for hot grease - melted plastic is not a good food additive!)

Salisbury Meatballs - I made 4 batches of meatballs, but only two made it into the freezer, because somebody's husband ate half of them. And now I have a lot of mushroom sauce in the freezer, because he ate them plain.

Sweet and Sour Meatballs - Wait, I don't have pineapple tidbits? Oops - substituted crushed pineapple combined with pineapple slices I cut up in the can (for the sauce). I also added strips of orange bell pepper, because I needed to use some up, and because it looked pretty!

Had these 8/11, and the substitutions didn't hurt a bit. Froze and re-thawed really well, texture was fine and nothing stuck together. Served over minute rice, stirring the sauce into the rice.

Classic Chili - You can't really go wrong with chili, and I liked that this used two types of beans. I will probably heat it in the slow cooker.

**There are many great recipes involving various cuts of beef, but none of those have been on sale lately!

PORK

4B's Grilled Chops - Pork chops in the freezer are awesome, because it's mostly just toss-it-in-the-bag-and-freeze style, and they don't take long to cook when you get home at the end of the day. This is where the cheap beer came in.

An's Pork Chops - I found the marinade didn't quite make enough for my liking, so I doubled it to make 4 meals. I don't like the smell of sesame oil, so I may use less next time, but it did give us a meal with a different flavor.

Cajun Braised Skillet Chops - The breading barely made it through the last chops, but I may have been putting it on a bit heavily. Definitely not a way I have ever prepared pork chops, so I am looking forward to trying these.

Margarita Pork Chops - Generally my drink of choice, so I couldn't not make these!

Apple and Cranberry Pork Loin - Ever start putting a recipe together and, no matter how carefully you have planned, realize you don't have a key ingredient? Well, that's one of the perks of freezer cooking - you can get it later!


By the way, I label these with instructions that would make sense to me. If I were labeling them for someone else - my smart-a** husband, for example - I would be more specific. Starting with, "take contents OUT of plastic bag."

Tried this 8/9/15, and I'm not sure that the apples made a big difference. I cooked it in the slow cooker - an hour on high, then the rest of the day on low. The meat was excellent, and I liked the cranberry/onion flavor combination! 

Austrian Pork Goulash - Another classic tummy filler! Anything with this much onion and garlic:


definitely has a place at our table.

Pork Loin Ragout


The SMELLS from this sauce and spices made me want to dive in right there! 

Sticky Drunk Pig on a Stick - You know you have to try something with a name like that. I did not add the onions, because I plan to skewer it with big chunks of onions, and probably other veggies, and I like them fresh and crisp. (And at 1 1/2 cups bourbon for three entrees, that pig is indeed well-inebriated.)

And, that is where I ran out of meat - and freezer space! 



Still many more recipes I want to try...and ribs are on sale for $1 a pound...and I haven't even touched the sections on meatless main dishes, sides, soups, breakfasts, snacks...

This fantastic book also comes with tips for shopping in bulk, adapting recipes, prepping, cooking clubs, shopping lists, and more! It really is the perfect resource for someone who really wants to get into bulk/freezer cooking and isn't sure where to start!

Final count (bold type are items from Fix, Freeze and Feast):

4 B's Grilled Chops (4)
Margarita Pork Chops (4)
Meatloaf (2)
Classic Chili (4)
Pineapple Pork Chops (1)
Pineapple Chicken (1)
Spanish Rice (4)
Salisbury Meatballs (2)
Sloppy Joe Mix (1)
Bada Bing Pork Chops (1)
Honey Mustard Pork Chops (2)
Chicken Taco filling (2)
Chicken Curry (4)
Chicken Broccoli Bake (2)
Cajun Braised Skillet Chops (2)
Mozzarella Meatballs (4)
An's Pork Chops (4)
Sweet and Sour Meatballs (4)
Molasses Rum Chicken (4)
Sweet Asian Chicken (4)
Tex Mex Chicken Fingers (3)
Mediterranean Chicken (4)
Pork Chops with Tangy Honey Sauce (4)
Marinated Pork Chops (4)
Garlic Parmesan Pork Chops (4)
Bourbon Basted Pork Chops (4)
Austrian Pork Goulash (2)
Pork Loin Ragout (2)
Sticky Drunk Pig on a Stick (2)
Apple Cranberry Pork Loin (2)
Italian Herb Baked Chicken (2)

At least three months of meals in just a couple days of prepping - not too bad! Bring on the zombie apocalypse! (Just don't cut my power - eek!)


Monday, August 3, 2015

JAKES 2015!

The minute summer reading is over each year, the kids and I head out for JAKES (see here for a description of what exactly that is!) Daddy was already up at the campsite with the trailer, so once we got there we just had to put a few things away before going out to play.


Queen of the Mountain!




Our friends Cody and Allee were right next to us. Allee is best buds with our dog, Kela...and just a little spoiled.


It started to rain, and the kids got completely soaked and cold and muddy. Made for a slightly cramped camper, because I had to make supper inside with soaked, cold, muddy kids bouncing all over the place. The next morning dawned nice and sunny, though:


we could hang things out to dry a bit, 



and set-up was quickly under way.




Lots of agencies and people involved with JAKES!




Getting kids registered


Making some mud (which my child is of course sitting in the middle of) is inevitable, but this field will be reseeded and left alone for a bit, so it will recover quickly.


Our clothes, maybe not so much.


Checking things out as they get set up.


I guess if I'm finding one of my kids in a police car, the front seat is preferable.
 



State Police Officer Baker passed out frisbees, among other goodies, and we made new friends right away. This is our new buddy Jimmy, on the left,

It's not soccer, Christopher.

and this is his puppy, Roxy:


Roxy was a bit timid until she caught a gopher. Okay, it was already dead, but she pulled it out of a hole (much to her Mommy's surprise), and was quite proud of herself. She spent the rest of the weekend searching other holes, and strutting around like the mighty huntress she is.


 Finally, it was time for opening remarks,



and some wildlife identification.


Shane saw that rack in the back of a truck later, and pointed and said "Elk!" So, he, at least, was listening.

Logan, however, is my bug boy, and he spent twenty minutes or so in the back, playing with these guys.






Just a little bit grubby!




Most important part of the weekend: safety briefing! We have never had a single accident at one of these events, because the first three rules are all: safety!


The kids were super about paying close attention.


All except Shane, that is. 



I took him back to the camper for a nap, so I missed lunch (thank-you for bringing me a burger, Mike!) and the start of the shooting afterwards. I finally had to wake him up so we didn't miss everything!





I found my other three at the archery range, retrieving arrows from their first round,


and then going again.


Christopher got the mountain lion in the throat!


Logan tried hard, and got his final arrow in the target. I wish I had a video of this, he was SO excited!


Hi Madeline!
 On to the next station.

Logan decided Mr. Scott was his new best buddy.

I had to tease Game and Fish that they were obviously more interested in fauna than flora. Made for a pretty picture, though!


The littler/less experienced kids had much more hands-on instruction:


and they did pretty well!
video



Laughing because Sheridan is bossing Curtis around.

On to the muzzle loaders - with my buddy, of course.




Hi, Daddy!





video

Those muzzle loaders pack a bit of a kick! You'll notice, though, how much of a hold the instructor had on the gun - even after Logan dropped it and ran off, it was still secure.


 Shane's ear protection wouldn't stay in, so we sat way back. He was a little worried he was n trouble for pulling the bark off this log,


and tried valiantly to put it back!



Everyone was being so safe, in fact, that our EMTs really didn't have anything to do.


Logan tried to make up for it: one bee sting on his hand, a scrape on his cheek, and two bloodied knees. 

Even the EMT's dog was relaxed.

Improvised booster seat.





There was plenty of down time for exploring and climbing.


And stealing people's snacks. I have no idea where he got those.




Logan found a "treasure box" up here and brought it to me. Oops! A geocache! I explained what it was, and we returned it as closely as we could. I e-mailed a local geocacher when we got home, so they can hopefully get it back to the exact spot.




 Time for supper! Pulled pork, potato salad, and pasta salad.






#whyismytoddlercrying...


...because I won't let him eat out of the trash.

Kids off exploring with new friends.








Sheridan and her new friend, Madison.


I still won't let him eat out of the trash.

Must have had fun!


I didn't have too much trouble getting everyone to sleep that night. 

Back up early for breakfast burritos!


Logan found a good rock to spread out on, and shared it with everyone who came along.






Morning sessions included campfire building,


Good fire pit.

Baaaaaad fire pit.

 wilderness fire fighting,


Future Hot Shot!

Look at that determined face!
 and predator-and-prey games.



Christopher did really well at this, between speed and strategy!


Shane went out to provide reinforcement a couple times.


Sheridan stayed back at the 'nest' and kept track of the 'food' Christopher brought home.


Smokey showed up, too, for a group photo - some of the kids had already left.


I totally missed taking pictures during the first part of the awards, when the kids earned everything from sleeping bags to binoculars. Logan got a neat lunch cooler, Christopher chose a sports bottle, and Sheridan - showing that she knows her brothers well - picked out a first aid kit! She has been carrying it everywhere with her, so if you sever a limb, just give her a call!

Jason commending everyone on a job well done.

Officer Baker giving his closing remarks.

Then it was time for the big awards - the three top shooters all weekend.


Congratulations!


What's really cool is, the first two had never shot before! Jason commented that he couldn't make the young man in the middle miss, no matter what he tried. Definitely some naturals here!

I think everyone had a good time (except maybe the gopher). Thanks again to everyone who put in so much work, and to everyone who came to participate!