Monday, September 29, 2014

86 Shopping Days Left! Review: Our Solar System by Seymour Simon

Our Solar System

Born almost 5 billion years ago at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, our Solar System is a place filled with mystery and wonder. In the last fifty years, we have learned more than ever about the farthest reaches of our world. With dramatic full-color photographs and spacecraft images, Our Solar System takes young readers on a fascinating tour of the sun, the eight planets and their moons, plus asteroids and comets. Award-winning science writer Seymour Simon presents this new, updated edition of his much-admired book about the vast and mystifying part of the universe that we live in.

A perfect book for an elementary age child just starting to show an interest in space. Simon's name is a staple in library nonfiction collections, for good reason. His topics are well-researched, and accompanied by striking photographs and illustrations. Each planet gets individual coverage (including Earth - so many similar books don't treat earth as an individual planet!), as do the sun, Pluto (I don't care what the reason for its demotion is - and that reason is explained clearly - it will always be a planet!), asteroids, and comets. Not enough information for a report on any one of those, but a great jumping-off point.

Gift suggestions for this one are almost too numerous to sift through. My kiddos will be getting a copy along with a gift certificate for one visit to the nearby New Mexico Museum of Space History. They can't get enough of the place! If you are not lucky enough to have something like that nearby, you could add a movie to watch together:

Product DetailsOctober Sky (Special Edition)   Magic School Bus: Space Adventures

Don't forget the popcorn!

Decorate the room with a 3D Glow-in-the-Dark Solar System. 
Make your own models from this wood kit, or from this styrofoam one.
Or, go big and add this rug to your stargazer's bedroom!

LA Rug Solar System Rug 5'3"x7'6"

Pluto included! So there!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Review: The Miles Between, by Mary E. Pearson

The Miles Between

Seventeen-year-old Destiny keeps a painful childhood secret all to herself until she and three classmates from her exclusive boarding school take off on an unauthorized road trip in search of "one fair day."

This is going to be one of those how-it-made-me-feel reviews. You know how, when you read some books, it affects the way you think and act? With this one, I felt myself being more patient, more accepting of other people - never a bad thing! Possibly because Destiny is very much resigned to the way things are going to play out, and despite her intense misgivings, she mostly just lets them be. Even when she feels the need to step in and try to direct someone's thoughts, she then checks herself and steps back, to allow them their own feelings (no spoilers - I'll just say page 76).

Another thing I noticed, in keeping with the idea of a fair day, is that I started noticing things in real life that were 'fair'. I stole a few minutes to read another chapter (or two) before going into Walmart (implied 'ugh'). The first thing I was searching for was just a vague idea in my mind...something I wanted for Shane's birthday...a vague size, vague color, and I would need to be able to do this thing to it...that! It's perfect! And with wheels, even better than perfect! (You'll have to wait for another blog post to see what it is.) Then, the very first wedding card I picked up was absolutely perfect for my brother and future sister-in-law - no need to gag through several dozen on my limited lunch hour. Finally, the FIRST carton of eggs I opened was perfect, no cracks. Guys, that NEVER happens!

Okay, nothing monumental there, but I noticed the good things more, which, again, is never a bad thing.

Then. Then there was the secret. I thought at first I might know what it was, but...this is Mary "The Adoration of Jenna Fox" Pearson, so I knew it wouldn't be too predictable. And, I knew from reading other very vague reviews that this isn't a sci-fi book like the Fox series, so that ruled out some possibilities. The more I read, the more I REALLY REALLY wanted to know what the secret was! I have never been a flip-to-the-end kind of reader, but I was very tempted...fortunately, I was too invested in the story to cheat myself of any of it. There are wonderful lines to savor, like, "Even now I'm afraid, but I'm in a new place, a place where I can't go back, a place I am being sucked to against my will, a place where a soft underside is exposed." Parts like that make plausible how much Destiny's personality, and in fact her life, change in this one day.

And then about page 165 (shortly after the above quote), I started blinking back tears. Darn contacs.

Page 212 got really blurry, too. They need to talk with the printer.

Finally...oh, man. I was right after all. But, holy crap.

No gift giving suggestions with this, because while there are a million symbols along the way, the books stands all by itself. Give it to any teen or young adult in your life - with a box of tissues, maybe, and a promise to go get coffee and discuss it the moment she finishes it (which means you need to read it, too!) Guess I had a suggestion after all.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to reapply my mascara.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

91 Shopping Days Left! Review: Aw, Nuts! by Rob McClurkan

Aw, Nuts!

Squirrel loves acorns.
When he spots the perfect one, he must have it! But it bounces away. . . .
So he jumps into a taxi, but the taxi runs out of gas.
Aw, nuts!
He bounces on a pogo stick, but he falls into a hole.
Aw, nuts!
Will Squirrel be able to catch up to the most delicious acorn ever?

Okay, what can be cuter than a squirrel in sneakers? We had a real squirrel for a little while, being bottle fed, but I don't think he would have let me dress him - unlike this guy.

The story in Aw, Nuts! is just as adorable as the pictures, with the ever-chipper squirrel continuing in his pursuit of the acorn, declaring, "Aw, nuts!" as it continually bounces just out of his reach. Not quite as manic as the Ice Age character, and I'm happy to give my kids a mild expletive to use (rather than the ones they may or may not have heard Mommy use when she discovered the ball point pen scribbled ALL OVER HER LEATHER CAR SEATS. But, I digress.)

Cute squirrel. Cute story. Fun read-aloud. Great gift for any child! 

So, should you give said child a pet squirrel to go with the book? Probably not. But, how about this squirrel feeder

so you can watch the cuteness outside your window? Yes, this one just may have to happen at my house.

Or, maybe a pair of snazzy red sneakers for your little speedster? Along with some 'acorns' - high-bounce balls to chase after? Be the fun Mom: remove all the breakables from the room, toss a handful of balls into the air, and let the kids scramble to catch as many as they can! Great way to blow off some steam on a cold day stuck inside.

Not giving it to your own child? Then it might be safer to include this game.

This looks like a great travel game, although the small pieces will keep it out of our house until Shane is, oh, seven or so.

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.)

Edited November 4 to add this link. What a strong woman, and what a horrid time for a family to go through. Looks like a good time to buy your kids a Nancy Carlson collection to me!

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!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book Review: Terror of the Southlands, by Caroline Carlson

The Terror of the Southlands (The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates Series #2)


When I reviewed the first book in this series last year, I referred to it as another series I was going to become addicted to. Interesting characters, humor, adventure, and complete disrespect for High Society - what more could you want? When the second in the series finally appeared in my mailbox last week, it went right to the top of my TBR pile.

"Tell me, Pirate Westfield: When was the last time you drew your sword against an enemy? Or stole a stash of loot from a fellow buccaneer? When was the last time you sailed off on a thrilling High Seas adventure?"
Hilary Westfield is a pirate. In fact, she's the Terror of the Southlands! She's daring, brave, fearless, and . . . in a rut. Maybe she hasn't found any treasure lately. And maybe she isn't fighting off as many scallywags as she'd like. But does that mean she and her loyal crew (including a magical gargoyle) deserve to be kicked out of the ranks of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates?
There is only one thing to do—find a daring mission worthy of her fearless reputation. With the help of first mate Charlie, finishing-school friend Claire, and the self-proclaimed intrepid gargoyle, Hilary sets sail on a swashbuckling expedition that may or may not involve a kidnapped Enchantress, bumbling inspectors, a mysterious group called the Mutineers, and—the most terrifying thing of all—a High Society ball.
I was not disappointed in the least, and chuckled my way through as Hilary and her friends fought through exploding magical pieces and green ball gowns (the ball scene was even better than I had hoped), to rescue Miss Pimm and determine what it really means to be a nearly honorable pirate. I am already looking forward to the third title (in which I hope we will see more of Miss Alice, hint to Mrs Carlson!)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Review: The Cabinet of Curiosities

The Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief & Sinister

Delightfully creepy and varied collection of stories that will please any reader who enjoys feeling that tingle run up his spine. Not for very young readers, but perfect for middle grades on up to adults. The stories are centered around the idea of a sort of museum, run by four Curators (the four authors), who collect both mysterious artifacts and the stories surrounding them. The stories are interspersed with letters the Curators have written to each other, giving hints as to their current whereabouts, or warnings that there is one shadow missing from the latest shipment, and somebody really should locate that sooner rather than later. The book ends with the suggestion that some assistants be found, and invites the reader to look around for the curiosities in their own lives, with Curator Bachman signing off, "I bid you a curious life." Even the author bios are worth reading aloud, and possibly quoting on Facebook...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Back in the Saddle!

After our usual August break, to restock and clean supplies and just take a much-need breather, we have started our regular story time schedule. Today went went in with a bang: painting with body parts!

Our theme was grandparents, and I have been stockpiling little tote bags for a special project. Not too many people special-er than grandma and grandpa, so we printed out sample ideas of things we could make from hand or foot prints, and spread out the supplies - a big piece of paper and a bag for each child, Sharpies on a separate table, watercolor markers on all the tables, and washable tempera paint in little souffle cups (God bless whoever donated them to me years ago!)

There were big t-shirts to cover clothes, and two tables with just markers for those who didn't want to take chances, but I think everyone chose to paint.

There were some really cute results!

We had the tote bags for the grandparents, then paper to make more pictures on,

because I knew some children would just do this:

Of course, painting your hand (or foot) was the best part.

Some artists were a little more shy than others.

And some pictures needed a little extra time to dry.

Most importantly, no paint seems to have made it onto the new carpet, so Miss Ami still has a job!

The stories we read today:

Tea with Grandpa   Hello! Is this Grandma?   Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon