Monday, April 20, 2015

Review: Who the What?

I'm seeing a small trend in my TBR pile...

Clark the Shark: Tooth Trouble

Two Clark the Shark books today...

Clark the Shark Takes Heart

Clark is really growing on me, as a big lovable - toothsome - lug. In "Tooth Trouble", we learn there is one thing sharks might be afraid of...dentists! ("It took his mother, two dads, and a dental assistant to get Clark into the dentist's chair.") Of course, it turns out this dentist isn't scary at all - she even tells really HORRIBLE jokes, just like our dentist! (Sorry, Dr. Westover, but we have to call it like we see it.) It's great to see a beginning reader that is actually a good story, not a forced collection of vocabulary words. Another great passage:

"Billy-Ray Ray says dentists are mean and scary," said Clark.
"Billy-Ray also told you that whales can fly," said his mom.
"Oh, yeah," said Clark.

In Clark the Shark Takes Heart, Clark wants to impress Anna Angelfish, but he tends to go a bit overboard, with some unintended results. When he finally goes with sweet and simple, he of course gets the girl. Er, fish.

Then we have:

Splat the Cat and the Hotshot

Splat can hardly wait to put on his uniform, tie knots, and build a fire. But when a new member of the group does everything just a bit better than everyone else, Splat wishes he could have a chance to shine. Thanks to some sticky mud, he might get to show what a great outdoors-cat he really is!

I am not as big a fan of Splat, as his books tend to be hit-or-miss. Reviews of a couple I liked can be found here and here. This one is thankfully without the gimmicks of lift-the-flaps or stickers, and I was equally thankful that the author (actually Laura Driscoll) did not take the path of Scott, the impressive new scout, being arrogant, or Splat being peevishly jealous. Splat admires Scott's abilities, Scott is happy to help Splat out, and when Splat gets the chance to return the favor, nobody has to feel bad about it. Definitely one to circulate among the kids (and maybe the grown-ups!)

Hey - say, "Rob Scotton's Cat Scout Scott" three times fast.

Never mind, I can't say it once.

Charlie the Ranch Dog: Stuck in the Mud

Charlie has a new picture boo out, too, which we are waiting on. The first thing my kids do upon picking up any Charlie the Ranch Dog book, is look for the chipmunk on each page. A couple spreads don't seem to have one, which will cause no end of consternation in my household. Other than that, I think the kids will enjoy the story - heck, anything involving mud makes them happy!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Review: Who Wants a Hug? by Jeff Mack

Who Wants a Hug?

Everyone likes hugs, especially when Bear gives them! Everyone, that is, except for Skunk. Bear really gets on Skunk's nerves. He's too happy . . . and he's always giving way too many hugs! Skunk has the perfect plan to keep Bear from giving any more hugs. Will it work?

Okay, I'm kind of with skunk on this one. Not a big hugger - my bubble, your bubble, y'know? But, I generally go with  a simple, "No, thank-you," rather than resorting to some of skunk's tricks. Kids will get a huge kick out of the results when skunk's tricks, predictable, backfire. Bear is cartoony, and skunk looks a step away from death's door, while the blissful expressions on the animals' faces can make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside just by themselves. A great read-aloud for groups or individuals. And, since I don't mind hugging kids at all, it will be easy to wrap this one up with huge (and hopefully not stinky) hugs all around!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Picture Book Reviews

Joey and the Giant Box

When Joey decides to keep the giant box in which the new dishwasher arrives, he comes up with a very special use for it — and does a mitzvah along the way.

Nothing beats a big empty box! 

We couldn't settle on a single pirate flag design
One of my all-time-favorite books is Christina Katerina and the Box,, by Patricia Lee Gauch. Not a Box by Antoinette Portis is another recent favorite. Joey is the first I have seen, though, to think of using the box to help other people.

Parts of the text are forced, as the author tries to both impart the lesson of helping others and insert some Jewish terms, with the result that they sound more foreign than familiar. This easy read could be a good way to introduce a canned food drive to a classroom, however - or to motivate your kids to finally let you get that big box out of the living room!

Goodnight Already!

Meet Bear. He's exhausted. All he wants is to go to sleep. Meet Duck, Bear's persistent next-door neighbor. All he wants is to hang out . . . with Bear.

Or, this could read: "Meet Ami. She's exhausted. All she wants is to go to sleep. Meet Shane, Ami's energetic one-year-old..."

Feel free to insert your own toddler's name, mommies! We all feel for you, Mr. Bear. Every time you are almost asleep, here comes Shane Sheridan Logan Christopher Duck, with increasingly implausible reasons for why he needs to wake you up. And when he finally falls asleep...

Very cute, in text and in illustrations (doesn't Bear look familiar EXHAUSTED there?), sure to tickle both kids and adults!

**My review copy came with a little...sign-on-a-stick thing, but I see no indication that it comes with every copy. Included on the back, though, are some general tips for calm bedtimes (nothing you can't find by googling), and a list of things to find in the book: pink bunny, light switch, popcorn, flour bag, wooden spoon, band-aid, and telephone.

Birthday Rules

When it comes to birthdays, no one knows how to party like Percy! Just follow his simple rules—like #2 "Happy times call for happy measures" and #9 "Be careful what you wish for"—to make the most of your celebration. Even when the cake has been consumed and the presents put away, Percy still has a trick up his sleeve to make a birthday extra special! 

Murfin's illustrations are enjoyable, but the rhythm of the text is off frequently enough to be jarring. I wouldn't select it as a read-aloud, but a child with an upcoming birthday may enjoy it. Be aware, however, that the celebrations are very one-cultural, and a child may be just as likely to ask why they don't do something Percy does, or why he doesn't do something they are used to (where is the pinata??!!) It is also focused quite heavily on gifts ("anything is good that comes wrapped up in a bow...There's no time like the present for a present!") and other material pleasures. A supplemental addition to a collection.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: Plant Experiments series by Nadia Higgins

Have I mentioned that I go a little nutso with planting in the Spring? I have? Oh, okay. Well, then.

As I may or may not have mentioned, I find it hard to wait until it is safe to plant things outside, and I don't have much room to plant inside. There are also those pesky little things called kids and cats, which make the life expectancy of any sort of houseplant rather short.

Fortunately, there is also this little thing called work, which has (besides books) many high flat surfaces and a whole lot of natural lighting. When I started here ten years ago, I had one philodendron, one spider plant, and I inherited a large aloe. Now, the room looks like this (if you are standing on a chair, which I will ask you to please not do if I see you, so please don't):

Yes, I see that dead leaf, I'll get it in a minute. The point is, I DO have a place to satisfy my need for green, and to maybe play around a bit in the dirt. Or, to experiment, even:

Experiment with Parts of a Plant  Experiment with a Plant's Living Environment
9781467757331                             9781467757317

There are four other titles in this series. You can also experiment with a Plant's Roots, Photosynthesis, Pollination, and What a Plant Needs to Grow. I would be interested in seeing if there is any repetition of activities - for example, between the Roots and the Parts of a Plant titles, or the Living Environment and Needs to Grow - has anyone seen those titles together?

In general, I love the quality of Lerner's binding, their illustrations are always clear and colorful, and any time I can add simple but accurate science books to the junior reader section, I am happy!

As for specifics: Parts of a Plant begins by describing the six main parts of a plant, but then acknowledges that not all plants have those parts (mosses, for example, don't have flowers or seeds). Bravo, already doing better than the textbook I had when I was teaching second grade! The first experiment involves finding out how much water a plant takes in through its roots, suggesting that you use crab grass. I wish I had known - I just spent three days pulling crab grass out of the children's garden outside. I'm sure it will be back - if anyone would like to try this experiment, help yourself! 

I wondered if they would account for evaporation, and they did - I would have used a control glass, however, which could provide a whole extra lesson, and they didn't spend any time explaining why you have to rule out other factors, but - again, simple is the key. Other experiments include the good old colored carnations, transpiration (plant sweat), and seed transportation (I would have liked to see other options used here, as well). Fun facts, glossary, further reading, and an index round out the end of the book (with a table of contents at the beginning) - I appreciate Lerner treating young readers like 'big kids' in this regard, letting parents/teachers get them used to using such at an early age.

A Plant's Living Environment covers temperature, worms, pollution, and water storage. Any of these simple experiments would be great for a first science fair, and we do plan on getting the rest of the books as soon as we have the funds. All in all, a great addition for school or classroom libraries, or for any kids who like to explore and find out "why"!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Review: A Rock Can Be..., by Laura Purdie Salas and Violeta Dabija

A Rock Can Be . . .

A rock can be a...
Dinosaur bone
Hopscotch marker
Fire sparker

I took this book on our trip, guessing that rocks would figure in many of our activities. Most mothers of boys know to check their sons' pockets before doing laundry, but it is actually Sheridan who most often fills hers (and then Daddy's, if he is handy) with rocks of interest. We like to climb rocks, throw rocks, stack rocks, and in Shane's case, eat rocks, if we can get away with it.

We first read the book a few days before we left, and the kids were quite impressed with the way birds can swallow rocks to help them grind their food. We tried to distract Shane during that part, but if you saw the post of our first day out (at the City of Rocks, no less!), you know he was obviously listening. We tried to note and keep track of different types of rocks we saw, and different ways they were used, and I think we hit on just about every example in the book!

If nothing else, this book is a great way to get kids thinking about the different ways something simple, like a rock, can be used or enjoyed. Salas has two similar books: Water Can Be, which we have here at the library, and A Leaf Can Be, which we will be getting soon. Both are also illustrated by Dabija, in soft but dramatic tones. All must-haves and I don't know how we missed the leaf one!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Jones Kids on the Loose: Day Six

After breakfast, I packed a lunch for later, and we read through another chapter or two of The Magician's Nephew. Somewhere around the hall of kings and queens, Shane managed to pull a bowl out of the bottom of the kitchen sink, which had filled with all the detritus and drippings of the past day. As he tugged it free of the dishes on top of it, the bowl - and all its contents - went flying. I got to change clothes and wash oatmeal out of my hair before we went out. Somehow, there wasn't a drop on Shane!

The plan for today was to hit the Albuquerque Zoo, but the wind had been so bad, we decided to find something indoors, instead. The dinosaur signs made it easy to choose the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science

I have to say, the first part was rather disappointing. We knew it wouldn't compare to Explora, and we had warned the kids that this wasn't a hands-on place, but the first two people we encountered made me think of the director in "Night at the Museum". If the first words out of your mouth are always rules about what not to do, you may want to rethink things a bit.

There were some interesting exhibits,

but not very many people!

There were a few simple, interactive displays - in this one, you push a button to watch the teeth move up and down, or side to side (but it doesn't mention that we have both kinds!) About half of the displays with buttons were out of order, though, and a lot were hard to figure out (as in, what they were supposed to do, or how to work them).

If nothing else, we can have fun with the signs!

Shane felt the need to kiss the skulls.

There was a volcano walk-through that was interesting:

fire 'lights' in the walls, and a glass path over molten lava:

which Sheridan insisted on being carried over...until Logan, running ahead, yelled, "Ooh, crystals!" Then she wanted down so she could catch up.

Now, that's a leg bone!

Can't remember what was in here, but our shoelaces glowed in the dark.

And our socks!

Things actually got more interesting when we left the dinosaur section.

Watching tribal dances from New Guinea. Not entirely sure what that had to do with NM Natural History, but it was interesting.

Representation of when New Mexico was covered in salt water. Logan was really fascinated with this one!

Again, buttons to push, but they didn't seem to do anything.

Every clownfish until the end of time will be called Nemo.

How did everyone get down there?


Daddy at the bottom for a size comparison.

He kind of wrapped around the room!

Old computers.

Look, the original Microsoft team!

We checked out the gift shop, and decided each child could pick one thing (I also grabbed a geode for each to break later). Oh, the agony of decision! After MUCH debate, Christopher got a cool pack of plastic dinosaur skulls, Logan got a semi truck hauling two dinosaurs, Sheridan (who took the longest) a stuffed bunny, and Shane (who made the fastest decision) a stuffed moose. Wishing now I had bought that Einstein t-shirt, but I was feeling cheap.

We ended up eating lunch inside the camper, out on the street, because - wind again! As we hit the road, we finally broke out the DVD player in our car that we have never used (came with it). I bought Sister Act 2 a while ago and saved it - I knew they would like it, and I've seen it enough times that I didn't have to see the screen. They did enjoy the music, but it was hard to explain what nuns are, to kids who have never encountered the Catholic church!

When we stopped in Las Lunas for gas, Logan wasn't feeling good. We got out again at a rest stop a little later, and he perked up for a few minutes, but was quickly unhappy again. He never threw up or had a fever, but was definitely miserable, poor guy. We could have made it home, but that would have been a long drive, so we decided to stay overnight in the Valley of Fires. More lava formations, but these weren't all formed by a volcanic eruption - they were, as the kids like to put it, from the earth farting. 

The wind did not ease up, as we had hoped. The weather report had said 20mph, but the weathermen were obviously nowhere near us. By dark, even with the stabilizers on, the camper was shaking pretty badly. Of course, leaving would mean taking the stabilizers OFF, and then trying to drive while being slammed around - no, thanks! The kids were scared, but we reassured them, and they thankfully fell asleep and stayed that way. 

I can't say the same for myself! I honestly can't remember the last time I was truly scared - worried, sure, I'm a Mom - but I spent most of the night having very to-the-point conversations with God, and poised to wrap myself around the two sleeping next to me at the first hint of tipping. The one time I did fall asleep, I dreamed we were careening down a steep mountain path, and couldn't control our sleep. Real restful.

Obviously, the stabilizers held (although we discovered in daylight that one had been knocked off the blocks! I am SO glad I didn't know that at the time!) When the winds died down to simply knock-you-off-your-feet, we made a mad dash for the car, Daddy unhooked everything, and we headed out to the highway.

Where, within half a mile, there was absolutely no wind. Figures.

We were home by 10:02AM, several hours ahead of plans, but all in one piece. Logan is feeling much better, and chowed down at lunch. While I was happy to have a washing machine, and Emily (our golden retriever) ensconced herself in the car so we can't leave without her again, Daddy is already planning our next trip, and Sheridan says "Coming home is stupid!" Definitely a great trip, and thank-you to Grandma for taking such good care of house and pets for us while we were gone!

Animals We Saw
Lizard at the rest stop
A few live animals at the museum (where a docent kept telling us we had to wash our hands later, and which stools we could or couldn't move. They must have different insurance agents from Explora.)

Rocks We Saw
Lots of fossils and crystals at the museum
Geodes we have yet to break open
pretty pink and white rocks in the sand at the rest stop

Car Conversation
Actually in the camper - Sheridan slept longest, and at one point sat up and scolded everyone with "Lolly, lolly, lolly!" then lay back down. She had no idea what that meant when I asked her later, but it sure sounded like bad words!

$26 at museum
$40.80 in gift shop
$25 for gas in Las Lunas, 10.8 gallons at $2.29 a gallon
$9.34 snacks
13.7 mpg on dashboard
57,806 miles
$18 space rental
$ 45 for 19.6 gallons of gas in Alamogordo, at $2.29 a gallon

Total Numbers
821 miles traveled
145 hours and 3 minutes away

$172.13 in gas (we normally spend about $50-60 in a week, on our two vehicles)
74.9 gallons of gas
average price $2.27 a gallon
About 11 mpg

Total space fees - $79.95
Attraction fees - $66

Drinks, snacks, groceries - $74.67 (I thought that would be more, because they are so overpriced - the cold is worth it, though!)
Clothing - $50
Breakfast with friends - $75
Bottles and Air Time Card - $36
Souvenirs - $40.80

Total spent - $594.55
Figuring some of that (gas, clothing, air time card, groceries) would have been spent anyway, that's a pretty good price for a week's vacation for six! We also have a ton of food left over, because we skipped some lunches (after really big breakfasts) and had some unexpectedly provided. Let's do it again next week!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Jones Kids on the Loose: Day Five

I slept in this morning - to well after 6AM! We had a late breakfast planned, so I gave the kids Pop Tarts to tide them over. Those things are disgusting, but it's a camping tradition. I went with coffee, myself.

I broke out the chalk again, and the kids decorated Randy's driveway.

Abe Lincoln, and the start of a castle.

Randy has a new cat. He may not think so, but the cat does. Friendly thing, either got out when he wasn't supposed to, or was dumped. I kept trying to show him where the cat flap was, to get into the kitchen. I'm helpful like that.

We stopped for gas on the way to breakfast, so we wouldn't have to navigate later with the camper attached. When we got to the restaurant - same one as yesterday - we piled out, locked the car, and were turning to go in, when we heard this little knocking at the window...suppose we should let Sheridan out, too? Fortunately, she thought it was funny!

As soon as we walked in, Daddy saw another person he knew. And, the waitress spotted us..."Oh, dear. They're back again." Seriously, her exact words! Well, we do make an impression.

Our friend Helen, as well as Randy, joined us for breakfast. Helen's husband Steve couldn't make it, but he was one of the team that hired Daddy way back in the early know, when I was in junior high. 

Never enough time to catch up with people! Back to Randy's to hitch up the camper and say goodbye. The kids somehow managed to squeeze in one more cartoon.

I passed out the chalkboards from the bag I packed last week, as we entered the highway. We pointed this out and talked about the video we saw yesterday, but didn't have time to stop on this trip:

Fortunately, Albuquerque was a short drive, and we just pulled into the first RV park we saw. Several of my friends have told me how much they enjoy Explora , a hands-on science museum, and I wanted to check it out.

Oh. My. Goodness.

I didn't get pictures of half the exhibits there. I don't know that we even SAW half the exhibits. As soon as you walk in, before you even get to the counter to pay, there are literally half a dozen things to play with.

The kids have never seen fun house mirrors, and these had them shrieking and running back and forth.

They grow up so fast!

And, then they shrink again (I wish!)

Hey, look, I finally have long legs!

 This is even scarier - dozens of Logans!

White Sands simulation (a fan you can use to make dunes form)

Real-time topographic map.

Shane just wanted to play in the sand!

This...I need one across from my desk. I could just sit and watch the balls go through all the ups and downs and pretend I am pondering some program idea or something. 

I only got a couple close-ups, because Shane was trying to eat ball bearings from another thing I never got a picture of.

I need one of these in the library, too! You can move all the parts around however you want:

The kids loved the fountain. It has water shooting from several places above and below, sometimes in streams, sometimes in balls of water, and you can control parts of it. 

Just beyond that, you can take your picture through a drop of water.

One of Shane's favorite attractions: the stairs.

There were a bunch, and he climbed them all as fast as he could. Aren't we all glad he is learning to do things so quickly?

The kids would have happily spent all day in this workshop.

Anything you could think of to make 'stuff', and nobody telling you what you should do with it. No adults anywhere, in fact!

I love that they had no problem jumping in and working with the other kids in there, too.

Of course, with 80,000 working parts around, Shane found...Tinker Toys.

The kid can get a straw into a juice box. I can't do that. I'm hoping it means he's going to be a surgeon!

I was able to tear them away after a good half hour, and we found some noise-making apparatuses, 

and then...

giant bubble table!

Everybody was so good about sharing!

I'm thinking this counts as a bath.

 Need to dry off, now? Head outside to the sun porch...

Again, lots of great sharing and kids working together, with no adult interference!

My strong man!

She had something very definite in mind.

Even Daddy couldn't resist!

Making sound change by altering vibrations and amount of water.

Passing back by the workshop, that answered one question - who gets to clean it all up!

More cool experiments with magnetism, sound waves, and...and...

That's my girl:)

Right up Shane's alley!
 Remembering what Miss Jackie taught us about plane controls! They had to control wind speed, rudder, and flaps all at once.

Water tables! Waves, locks and channels.

finding out about water pressure and irrigation

At this point, it was 5PM, and we had been going hard all day. We will definitely be back again, when we can stay all day!

It was too windy to do anything outside once we got back to the camper and ate, so I got into my box of tricks again. Sticker story books and another chapter of The Magician's Nephew, then someone went looking for Shane's bottle. You know, the one he needs to have to go to sleep at night, even though he uses a sippy cup the rest of the day? The one we took with us to Explora just in case he got tired and fussy? (See it in those last few pictures?)

Oh, dear.

So, Daddy ran out to Walmart, and we all got to bed at a somewhat reasonable hour. It will be hard to top this day!

Animals We Saw
Randy's new kitty

$17.88 for 8 gallons of gas at $2.20/gal in Grants
$75 breakfast (I had to grab the waitress at the start, because people keep sneaking up and paying for our meals!)
$5 drinks
$2 ice
$25.95 site rental
$32 Explora
$36 Walmart - bottle, air time card

Car Conversations
Logan: "I don't want to die when I grow up," followed by a recipe for "When I got grown up": water, guacamole, grapes, lemons, and orange juice. For those looking for immortality, I am afraid I did not get exact amounts of each.

Logan again: "God can eat if he turns Hisself into a dog. Dogs eat poop and grass, but God can tell Hisself when He's a dog not to eat a snake." Um...okay, then.