Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: Arachnid World series by Sandra Markle

Harvestmen: Secret Operatives


Orb Weavers: Hungry Spinners


We have a display up right now at the library of spider books. I can't keep it filled, which is a late validation for my position in the argument that I had with a former director, who thought we had an excessive number of spider books. There is something about spiders - and their arachnid relatives - that fascinates people, even while their shoulders hunch in visibly as they look at the pictures. When I was about 13 I did a science fair project on tarantulas that went all the way to earning a superior at the state science fair - in part because the female judging panel was so impressed that I held my example (they wouldn't.) This reaction tempts many publishers into sensationalizing them, focusing on the fear factor to sell - a hugely unnecessary tactic. Fortunately, while the subtitles in this series do offer some extra excitement, the overall sensationalizing is not a trap Lerner has fallen into.

This is in fact an excellent series for younger readers who want to get serious about the subject. Markle goes beyond the basic information in some subtle and refreshing ways. A diagram of the animal's innards, for example, doesn't just label the parts, but tells what their main purpose is (i.e. "CAECA: These tubes store food.") There are plenty of close-up pictures to cause the reader to either shiver or lean in closer for a better look (bottom of the spider's foot = very cool!) Little blurbs here and there offer interesting facts (some spiders, such as black widows, can grow a new legs if they lose one) that draw the reader into reading the rest of the page if he is just skimming.

Each book includes web sites to visit, glossary, free downloads, and an activity, making these perfect for research or classroom use. I would highly recommend these for 3rd grade all the way up through high school. My only complaint is that they weren't available when I was 13. I coulda' gone national!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Who You Gonna Call?

Saturday was family night, and we were lucky to start it off with some extended family - the couple from last week's wedding. They will be leaving for Germany soon, and stopped by with some (very sweet and unexpected) gifts for the kids. The big hit of the evening was definitely the bubble gun: 

A bubble machine that actually works! This was perfect, because the kids absolutely love bubbles (as you can see), but S. doesn't quite have the hang of blowing them. This lets the rest of us off the hook - we can just sit back and watch now:)

S. was a bit shy at first (not feeling well), but the bubbles warmed her up enough to give them each a hug and a kiss. As for what L. gave them...well, let's just say that's not the shirt Cousin S. was wearing when he arrived.

Kisses apparently make Cousin B. blurry. Stupid camera.

We really enjoyed the visit, and wish they could have stayed for dinner. They may have been scared off by the menu, though. It was C.'s turn to pick a movie, and he chose Ghostbusters - which will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who knows him, and I only asked him as a formality. The food was planned accordingly:

 Chicken, because people are chicken around ghosts
marinated in blood (or a raspberry walnut vinaigrette, whichever is handiest)

Marshmallow Man fruit salad, and for dessert,


The Marshmallow Man salad was well-received.

even by M., who hates two of the five ingredients!

We followed, of course, with the movie, which some of us know by heart - good thing, because I fell asleep towards the end. I can't even tell you which part I missed, because I have seen it so many times, nothing seemed to be missing.

Another option I considered for dinner was spider dogs, which we had for lunch the next day instead:

Totally stolen off the internet. Just poke dry spaghetti noodles through chunks of hot dog, and boil.

 Despite her expression here, S. really liked them. In fact, she said exactly that: "Mommy, I like these!" (According to my weekly newsletter, she should be putting two-word sentences together any day now.)

So, back to the movie. Ghostbusters has a million one-liners that are instantly recognizeable, such as:

"Listen - do you smell something?" or

"Back off, man - I'm a scientist!"

How many lines can you remember, without cheating and Googling? And is the song stuck in your head yet? (It is now, isn't it?)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Another Job I'm Glad I Don't Have

My job may not be the perfect job (the perfect job being getting paid lots of money to stay home with the kids), but for the most part I really like it. I like it even more when I consider jobs I could have: It is 900 degrees outside, and I whine about walking to my van at lunchtime. These guys were up there when I left for lunch in my nice, air-conditioned van, and are still there now, hours later. You could not pay me enough. I suppose, if I had no other options, and my children were starving, I might...encourage them to take this job. But, here these guys are, actually cheerful when you walk by and ask them questions (I would have slapped the third person who asked if I was working on the roof. Kind of like the people I ran into at the fair who saw me holding L. and asked, "Oh, did you have your baby?" Just sayin'.)

And thank goodness for them, because this roof has been leaking in various spots since I started working here, and a leaky roof on a library is what as known in professional circles as A Bad Thing. The library is still open, you just may have to take a roundabout route to the entrance, so come on by and smile at the nice cheerful roofers. Just don't ask them dumb questions, because I am still cranky from having to walk back across the parking lot from my van, and I'll slap you for them.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Wedding Old, Wedding New

This afternoon we attended a wedding in the same church where we were married a couple years ago. A few things have changed since then

but I'm still a pretty lucky lady.

Unlike us old farts, this is a young couple just starting out. In fact, this is one of those disgustingly adorable couples that honeymoon resorts want to put on the cover of their brochures. The kind of couple that you look at and can't help imagining all the disgustingly adorable children they are going to have. And of course, they are both so disgustingly nice, you can't hate them for being so disgustingly adorable.

I don't have any pictures of the wedding ceremony, because long about the time the groom saw his bride coming down the aisle and had to wipe his eyes, or perhaps somewhere around the time the bride's voice cracked saying her wedding vows, I got something in my eyes and had to keep wiping them.

Which caused my contac lense to slip up into the corner of my eye, so I almost missed the kiss trying to shove it back into the right spot.

But, I did get a few shots of the reception, starting with this cake:

Okay, it's not actually a cake, but isn't it gorgeous? And such a neat idea! I know a dozen of you are probably going to tell me you have seen this before, but I haven't yet, and I love it. So classy-looking, and it stays looking nice even after everyone has had some. And nobody has to stand there serving it! You can also have several different kinds of cake this way - and of course, we had to try each kind.

Of course, you still have to have the obligatory bride-and-groom-serving-each-other.

I. want. that. dress.

I still can't believe I got this shot - I am always either too early or too late.
Groom's sister, M. and S. Wish I had a better shot of both girls' dresses, they looked great! Scary to think some day we will be attending their weddings, possibly in this same church. You know, in 15 years or so. When we have picked out a suitable husband for each of them.

The very sweet bride and her sister both made sure S. got flowers, too. (Like how the bruise on the temple matches her dress and hair bows?)

S. was playing shy, but C. never passes up a chance to get close to a pretty girl. Is this the same shy little guy who was supposed to be part of our wedding party, but who hid behind a potted plant instead?

Another must-have part of the reception. They ran into a problem with the next step, though - while there were several girls vying for the bouquet, there was a sum total of one bachelor to catch the garter. Only brother not married. Handsome young doctor, too! No pressure, J., no pressure.

So, here was the question of the month: what do you give a young couple just starting off - and leaving immediately for Germany? Yes, there is the obvious answer, but you want something fun or personal to open, too. Not to mention small enough to pack easily, not breakable, etc., etc. I finally found something based on a quote on the bride's Facebook page, but that got me to thinking about some of the gifts we got for our wedding. I asked for a lot of kitchen stuff, and still use all of it, but there were also a few outside-the-box gifts I wanted to share:

This was, hands-down, the best gift ever.

I won't bore you with the whole long story, but basically this book helped me get Daddy to finally ask me out. For my birthday, he gave me a stuffed dragon, and for his birthday, I gave him a doll dressed in a paper bag. When we got home after our wedding, a package containing this book was waiting in the mailbox. Inside:

No. Freakin. Way. Turns out my wonderful friend Shiona is friends with Mrs. Munsch. Still looking for an appropriate display case for this, as nobody is currently allowed to touch it, breathe on it, or look at it too intently.

Another great gift came from this sweet couple, who have since gone home to Germany:

They also brought cake - yum!
Their gift was a large pot containing three plants, still in their own individual pots inside the dirt. They said it was a money plant, which didn't make much sense at the time - must be a German thing, and hey, I like plants. And they brought cake!

Then when we got home (and recovered from the coolness of the book), we noticed there was a quarter sticking out if the dirt. So, we lifted the plants out and started digging. Soon we moved to the backyard, where we sat in the dirt laughing hysterically as we uncovered about $50 in change. Loved it!!! I don't know if this is something commonly done in Germany, or if we just have friends with a creative sense of humor. I just hope I always have friends who will think that this was as cool a gift as I do.

And that then got me to wondering, what neat/creative/bizarre gifts did you receive when you married? Or for a birthday/Christmas/Labor Day? What are your favorite memories from your wedding or reception? Please share in the comments! And congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. S.!!!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

C.'s B Book

C. started Kindergarten at the local two-room schoolhouse this week. Eleven kids in his class - which covers kinder, first and second grade! Next best thing to home schooling. We spent a month hyping up the first day of school, and he had a great time. He even asked Grandma if he could go back again the next day. I may not have explained things thoroughly...

In the meantime, at work, online and among friends I am constantly hearing about people planning their homeschool programs for the year, and I am more than a little jealous. When C. brought home a giant tactile letter "B" and S. correctly identified it, I decided there was my outlet - we will do some projects to reinforce what C. is learning, and give S. a chance to join in.

Tonight, then, we started a "B" book. For now, I picked out most of the things to take pictures of, while C. circled the letter "b" wherever it appeared. S. is starting to pick up color words, so I grabbed these books from the library:

Brown: Seeing Brown All Around Us                       Black: Seeing Black All Around Us                    
(and a blue one I can't find a photo of)

Here is some of C.'s book:

blonde-haired, blue-eyed beast with bruises, bumps and blood*

brains and beauty

big boy reading a book

baby brother

BBQ beef on burger buns with baked beans**


* he may have had help with some of these captions. Nice of her to help him this way, though, wasn't it?
** tonight's meal - already on the menu, believe it or not. This could get interesting as we progress through the alphabet, though!

Tomorrow at the fair, then, we will look for things that start with the letter "B" (like our friend's black bull), have the letter "B" on them, or are brown, black, or blue. These are fun and easy ways to reinforce simple concepts, but I'll warn you, it gets stuck in your head. Daddy and I are already stopping suddenly to point and exclaim to each other, "Backpack! Big ball!", or to tell M., "Bad boys are banned!"

So, if you see us at the fair tomorrow night and we are babbling like brainless baboons, just bob your head and bumble on.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mini-Review Marathon

One of the goals while I was on maternity leave was to read and review all those books in my pile. I did get most of them read, but as of today, the last day of my maternity leave, I have reviewed approximately...well, none of them. So here we go with a long list of short reviews, everything from adult nonfiction to YA to picture books - something for everyone!

Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences
by Dr. Leonard Sax
Crown Publishing Group
I haven't even finished this book, and I have talked it up to a dozen people. In fact, just this morning I was talking to some friends (who work in child development themselves) about it, as it related to our mutual kids' drawings in Sunday School. I hadn't even seen C's drawing yet, but it exactly matched what Sax had to say about research into eye development and gender.

Basically, Sax's assertion is that boys and girls have some inherent differences - physical, cognitive differences - and that treating them/educating them the same way is doing them a great disservice. I was inclined to agree before reading this, even more so now - and I am chagrined to find I am doing some things I probably shouldn't in story times. I wasn't going to read the book at all until I read this mini review at   Why Homeschool, now I'm recommending it for every parent/teacher/human being.

The False Princess
by Eilis O'Neal
Princess and heir to the throne of Thorvaldor, Nalia's led a privileged life at court.  But everything changes when it's revealed, just after her sixteenth birthday, that she is a false princess, a stand-in for the real Nalia, who has been hidden away for her protection.  Cast out with little more than the clothes on her back, the girl now called Sinda must leave behind the city of Vivaskari, her best friend, Keirnan, and the only life she's ever known.

A little predictable, but a decent fun read. Good for someone who doesn't like too many twists and turns, or too much stress in her stressful situations. Nalia (or Sinda, as she is really named) does get into some tricky spots, but they tend to be resolved rather quickly, and we aren't pulled into her character so much that we feel they are happening to us. Suitable for middle or high school.

by Megan McCafferty
Balzer & Bray
When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society. Girls sport fake baby bumps and the school cafeteria stocks folic-acid-infused food.
Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and have never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Up to now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend, Zen, who is way too short for the job.
Harmony has spent her whole life in Goodside, a religious community, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to convince Melody that pregging for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.
When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.

I hate to say it, but I was a little disappointed by this one. Great premise, and I was looking forward to reading it, but it fell a bit flat. It seemed like the author was trying to put too many things into the story, making it a little disjointed. M. read it and was put off by some of the vocabulary - we recognized that a society's lingo will change according to what is important to them, but when you have to stop to puzzle out what a word means by taking it apart semantically, that's just too distracting. I also thought the time period was unrealistic for the amount of change we saw in both girls. Their entire world views and what they had been living for for 16 years is suddenly reversed in 24 hours? Too much of a stretch for me. BUT, if the premise interests you, it is still worth reading. Just not one you are going to rush out and pass off to your friends.

The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True
by Gerald Morris
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Okay, how about one I did like? I have been in love with Gerald Morris (er, his books, I mean) since I read The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf. That is not the first book you should read, by the way - start with The Squire's Tale - I just couldn't resist the title of that one. Smart, funny, great for any age (although younger kids may not get some of the humor). I was heartbroken when the Squire's Tale series ended, but the Knights' Tales books are helping me get through it. They are written for a slightly younger crowd, and can be read either before or after reading the others (or in between).  Neither do they have to be read in any order, unlike the first series. These don't have the serious bits you'll find in the first, which makes them nothing but hilarious.

by Michael Northrop
Scholastic, Inc.
The day the blizzard started, no one knew that it was going to keep snowing for a week. That for those in its path, it would become not just a matter of keeping warm, but of staying alive....
Scotty and his friends Pete and Jason are among the last seven kids at their high school waiting to get picked up that day, and they soon realize that no one is coming for them. Still, it doesn't seem so bad to spend the night at school, especially when distractingly hot Krista and Julie are sleeping just down the hall. But then the power goes out, then the heat. The pipes freeze, and the roof shudders. As the days add up, the snow piles higher, and the empty halls grow colder and darker, the mounting pressure forces a devastating decision....

Didn't like it. Couldn't finish it. Don't care if everybody died, because there are a million other characters out there exactly like each of these. Sorry.

The Luck of the Buttons
by Anne Ylvisaker
Candlewick Press
Tugs Esther Button was born to a luckless family. Buttons don’t presume to be singers or dancers. They aren’t athletes or artists, good listeners or model citizens.
Until tomboy Tugs befriends the popular Aggie Millhouse, wins a brand-new Brownie camera in the Independence Day raffle, and stumbles into a mystery only she can solve, she looks at her hapless family and sees her own reflection looking back. But it’s a summer of change, and it just may be that in the end, being a Button is precisely what one clumsy, funny, spirited, and observant young heroine decides to make of it.

There seems to have been a resurgence of good books written for the upper elementary crowd lately, and this would be one of them. By good I mean well-written, and innocent enough to please a parent but not so namby-pamby that they would turn kids off. Hand this one to fans of Laurel Snyder's books.

David Goes to School
by David Shannon
Scholastic, Inc.
Is this new? Hardly (1999). Have I read it 8 billion times lately and repaired it twice? Heck, yes. Perfect for any family that has, say, a five-year-old about to start school.

Big Bouffant
by Kate Hosford
Lerner Publishing Group
Cute story about a little girl who wants something other than a pony tail or braids. The illustrations, by Holly Clifton-Brown, will keep young readers busy for hours. I can't help thinking of Stephanie's Ponytail, by Robert Munsch, however, and this one pales by comparison. Rhyming text is great for picture books, and lends itself well to story times - IF the rhythm holds all the way through. This one gets off in a few places, but with practice would be a good one to use. I'll have to add it to my list tomorrow:)

by Stephen Gammell
Lerner Publishing Group

This seems to be one of those that appeals more to adults than kids, I'm afraid. The pictures are fantastic, to my adult eye, and I liked the idea of having to imagine what the mudkin creature is saying - his speech is written only in muds dobs, and many pages have no text at all. Unfortunately, C. was less impressed, and soon got tired of having to tell what was happening on each page. That's him, though, and it may work better with other kids - you know your little reader best!

More tomorrow!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dining Out

A couple days ago we had to go to Walmart after swimming, which as usual meant eating lunch at the McDonald's there. If we go to Walmart at 6AM, C. wants to know if we are eating lunch there. Are we stuck in a rut? We followed out usual pattern, at any rate. S. is disturbed by the general lack of feng shui in her hamburger, and has to rearrange it several times:

It's the pickle! I just can't find the right spot for the pickle!

L. sleeps.

C. is too involved in the seriousness of eating to be bothered with pictures.

Grandma violates the no pets rule (again).

And L. sleeps.

We may need to get out more.