Monday, December 10, 2018

Review: The Bigfoot Files by Lindsay Eagar


The Loch Ness Monster. The Frogman. Bigfoot. Twelve-year-old Miranda Cho used to believe in it all, used to love poring over every strange footprint, every stray hair, everything that proved that the world was full of wonders. But that was before her mother’s obsession with monsters cost Miranda her friends and her perfect school record, before Miranda found the stack of unopened bills and notices of foreclosure in the silverware drawer. Now the fact that her mom’s a cryptozoologist doesn’t seem wonderful — it’s embarrassing and irresponsible, and it could cost them everything. So Miranda agrees to go on one last creature hunt, determined to use all her scientific know-how to prove to her mother, once and for all, that Bigfoot isn’t real. Then her mom will have no choice but to grow up and get a real job — one that will pay the mortgage and allow Miranda to attend the leadership camp of her dreams. But when the trip goes horribly awry, will it be Miranda who’s forced to question everything she believes?

I'm not sure what exactly to say about this, except that:
- I enjoyed it way more than I expected to.
- It did not go in the direction I expected it to.
- I was entirely satisfied with the ambiguity of the ending.

This could be a book to hand off to realists who need a little fantasy, or to those stuck in fantasy who need a little reality. Or, just hand it off to someone who wants a good story! Suitable for older elementary, but still appealing to YA readers.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Review: Bah! Humbug! a magical retelling of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol by Michael Rosen and Tony Ross


This Christmas, join Michael Rosen and Tony Ross with their unforgettable retelling of Charles Dickens's beloved holiday classic. Harry Gruber plays the role of Scrooge in his school's production of "A Christmas Carol," and he is extra nervous about tonight's performance because his father is in the audience — not away for business, as usual. Will the story's message of Christmas cheer and the redemptive power of love reach his father's distracted Scrooge heart?

Okay then, let's just file this under "books that did not go where I thought they were going"! I think I was expecting mostly an updated, "Great Illustrated Classics" type version of the original story. Nothing terribly deep, really. 

Instead, I got tension from page one, with conflicting emotions coming from in all directions, not just from Harry but from his parents and little sister. In between the lines of the play Harry is starring in, we have him musing about his father (Had he always been "there" rather than "here"?) , his mother's anger and frustration (Lisa turned to look at the man she thought loved her and their family more than anything in the world.), Eva feeling exasperated with her mother one minute, and reacting in a wise-beyond-her-years way to the parallels in the play and her own life the next. 

And Harry's father - who leaves the play almost as soon as it begins - having his own experiences with the ghosts of his past, present and future. While at first we may see him as the one-dimensional Scrooge, he has his own truths to reveal:(It was hard to be thankful when someone was telling you to be thankful...Ray felt as if he had never been allowed to enjoy anything in some pure, clear way.)

Definitely not a lighthearted read for the younger grades - and perhaps as much for the adults to read. I was worried that, for that very reason, it wouldn't mean very much to younger readers. Harry comes to some conclusions of his own, however, as he delivers his lines and notices his father's continual absence: "Maybe Dad wouldn't ever understand what really matters. At the end of the day, what mattered here was that Harry himself was understanding it."

Well. Did Dad ever understand it? I'm not going to tell you. I am just going to let you read it yourself - but make sure you have a tissue or two handy.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Toddler STEAM: Let it Snow!

Just a little bit of snow in the mountains this week, but plenty of it at the library. Fortunately, none of ours was cold! Here are the six stations we explored for this week's Toddler STEAM.

Warm Snow
(sensory, color mixing, states and properties of matter)

***This only works with Ivory!
Ivory snow is made with lots of air pockets inside, so when you put it in the microwave, it puffs up like a cloud! I put a bar in for a minute on a paper plate, scoop off the puffy stuff, then do the remaining bar for about 45 seconds. One bar fills four bowls.

The spray bottles have liquid watercolor - that isn't supposed to stain, but we moms know not to trust that, so I also had t-shirts to plop on over the kids' clothes.

When you crumble it, it flakes like snow:

 And adding color them mixing and squishing makes it a multi-sensory experience:

It even smells great!

Search and Rescue
(fine motor skills, problem solving, evaluating tools)

The 'snow' is those little plastic beads used in decorating or stuffing toys. Up on a table so littler ones can be monitored - not toxic, but we still don't want them eating a handful. Of course, it didn't stay on the table! So glad I don't have carpet in there and I can just sweep things up!

Snowstorm in a Jar
(properties of air and liquids, bouyancy)

The 'magic tablet' was a quarter of an Alka Seltzer (generic works fine). I kept those in a pocket in my apron, since they are a medicine. The jar is filled with baby oil, then I mixed a little bit of white paint with water and poured it in, and added a little glitter because glitter makes everything cooler.

When you drop the magic tablet in, it falls to the bottom and starts creating bubbles. The paint attaches to the bubbles, and gets carried to the top. At the top the bubbles burst, and the paint drops back down, so it looks like it's snowing!

Build a Snow Fort
(engineering, fine motor skills)

I encouraged making tall structures so then we could talk about the importance of a wide base. New marshmallows fresh from the bag each time, because you know there will be some eating going on!

Make a Snowflake
(fine motor, symmetry)

At first we tried cutting the Q-tips in half for smaller pieces, but we quickly discovered it was much easier to just snap them in half by hand. Some of the adults really liked this one - art is relaxing, and a little bit of symmetry during a crazy holiday season goes a long way!

In the background you can see the white snowballs for the
Snowball Fight
(large motor skills)

I went to Walmart looking for giant pom-poms, and actually found these marketed as indoor snowballs - a box of 20 for $9.96. Slightly heavier than pom-poms, but still safe enough to throw at each other. I had small buckets to spread around and try throwing into. A couple little ones tried to see how many could fit into one bucket, which of course led to counting skills and spatial relationships.

This was the least-blurry picture I got of children I had permission to photograph. It got a little crazy! That young man in the red has quite an arm - he got me from halfway across the room!

While I normally encourage playing outside, this is my favorite way to play in the snow. Thanks for joining us, everyone!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Review: The Old Man by Sarah V. and Claude K. Dubois


Day breaks over the town. Get up, everybody! It's time to go to school. For the old man too, it's time to wake up. The night was icy and he's hungry. His name? He doesn't know . . .

This is the story of a person with no job, no family, no home—a nobody, who can't even remember what he was once named. But his day changes when he is noticed by a child.

A beautiful example of how much it can mean to simply be noticed by someone else. And as is often the case, it is the child who is the example to the rest of us. The text is sparse, but packed with emotion. The passage where he can't even remember his name, and finds it easier to just give up and walk away, broke my heart. The second time I read it, I had tears prickling all the way through. Too many feels! 

Now let's talk about these pictures! As adults we often want to see bright colors and clear shapes in a children's book, but those would have been completely out of place here. I remember as a child being mesmerized by the illustrations in the Johnny Lion books. As an adult, when I went back to look at them, I was shocked to realize they were just a few drab colors, and rather roughly drawn. It made me sit back and rethink my notions of what kids were certain to like. 

I think now that the fuzziness had the effect of drawing me in further, and that is what the illustrator has accomplished here. I realized I was hunching my shoulders in as the old man reacted to the stares of the people on the bus, and they straightened when he returned to the shelter at the end. The facial features are vague enough to transpose many different face onto them. The next time you are out and about, you might realize that the old man half asleep on the bench is the old man in the story. And the little girl might just be you.

***This book has been nominated for the Cybils Award. I am just one of many first round panelists, and my opinion should not be construed to mean inclusion on or exclusion from the final shortlist.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Review: Dreidel Day by Amalia Hoffman


A sweet and playful cat encourages the reader to count to eight to celebrate Hanukkah. Can you spot the hidden objects? Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the brave Maccabees over the mighty armies of Syrian King Antiochus, and the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem. Celebrate Hanukkah, the eight-day Festival of Lights, with Dreidel Day!

Kar-Ben Publishing is the go-to for quality Jewish children's books, whether for Jewish children who want to see themselves reflected in what they read, or for children of other faiths who want to know more about their friends and neighbors. Sometimes books with a religious viewpoint can seem overly pedantic, but these are just plain fun!

This silly cat spins, bounces and tumbles with an increasing number of dreidels, giving us action words we can move along with as well as a fun counting book. I'm not sure what the description means by 'hidden objects', though - they must be really well hidden, because I didn't see anything that didn't seem to belong!

Other board book titles available include:
Eight is Great
Hanukkah Delight!
Hanukkah is Coming!
Happy hanukkah Lights!
Sammy Spider's Hanukkah Colors

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match...

It's getting closer! And I have a match! A recipient has been chosen for my left kidney, and they are working on the chain from there. All I know about the recipient is the state he or she is having the surgery in, which may or may not even be the state he/she lives in. If they so choose, they can have my contact information later, but contact is entirely up to them. I would love it if they wanted to get in touch - I love making new friends! - but I totally understand how that could be weird. ("Hi! Um...thanks for the body part." Sounds like a bad zombie joke.)

I was in Albuquerque for some pre-op appointments this week, and I did get to make one new friend:

Hank here needed to hitch a ride from Alamo to his new rescue. He did NOT understand why he had to sit in that big box and not in my lap, but he finally settled in and did great. The picture does not do him justice. He is HUGE, and absolutely gorgeous. As I told the receiving rescue, this is the kind of dog people steal, not dump. Sometimes humans just stink.

I brought a whole bunch of work to get done in my hotel room, and ended up turning in about 8PM anyway! I have been going with the cheapest hotel rooms available, and pretty much getting what I paid for, but I got a good night's sleep and my car wasn't stolen so we'll call it good.

I brought some Christmas goodies for the transplant unit, and I think they were gone before I was.

"Wait, there are Buckeyes?"
"OMG I haven't had Buckeyes in years!"
"My husband is a HUGE Ohio State fan. I'm taking a picture."

Note to self: Make more Buckeyes in the next couple weeks. (There were other treats, but those got the most press!)

This time I got to meet the surgeon, Dr. Alba, who is (like everyone else there) very nice, as well as gorgeous. She (like everyone else) took pains to make sure I knew exactly what was going on, although she said we couldn't video tape it for the kids. Bummer. Last up was the anesthesiologist, who is approximately 9 feet tall, 14 years old, and - big surprise - really nice. As was the anesthesiology nurse. Seriously, certain other hospitals could take a lesson or two!

Two weeks left to wrap up everything at work and make sure we will be ready for Christmas! It's probably good that I have a lot to keep me busy, or I'd go crazy waiting.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Review: The World Needs Beautiful Things by Leah Rachel Berkowitz and Daniele Fabbri


Young Bezalel is different from the other Israelite slaves in Egypt. He loves to collect stones, bugs, bits of string—these all seem beautiful to him. He keeps everything in his Beautiful Things Box and takes it with him everywhere. As the Israelites wander in the desert, God asks them to build a very special house—and Bezalel may be the only one who can create something beautiful enough to honor God.

A gorgeously illustrated, well written story with a main character who reminds me so much of my sweet Logan. I rearranged my posts a bit to put this at the beginning of the holiday season. A great reminder as we dive further into the flurry of gift-giving, that yes: the world needs beautiful things. But no, they don't have to cost a penny. In fact, they become even more beautiful when they come as happy surprises, savored and treasured, and then shared for others to enjoy. 

Chag Urim Sameach to my Jewish friends this weekend!