Monday, July 31, 2017

Teen Cafe - Giant Scrabble

My teens love over-sized games, and this one was so easy to set up!

I just did a quick search for the number of tiles for each letter and the point value, and printed them on cover stock in the largest font that would fit.

I did not have time, materials, or energy to make an actual giant game board, so we just went by straight point value of words. I had the kids split themselves into two teams, and the one that happened to have a birthday that day went first.

And yes, "damn" was the first word. Well, it IS in the dictionary, and can be used without actually swearing - but I told them nothing 'worse'.

Oh, they chose team names, too:

Sometimes it is best not to ask.

While most of the words were pretty short and common, they came up with a few they were rather proud of:

"It's in SHAKESPEARE!" one exasperated teen told her teammates.

We took a break after the first half hour to get more snacks, and wrapped up just a few minutes after the hour, so it timed perfectly. We'll definitely be trying this one again! Easy to have on hand when an outdoor activity gets rained out!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: Tornadoes by Seymour Simon


In this updated and revised edition of Tornadoes, award-winning science writer Seymour Simon gives readers an in-depth look at these captivating and powerful storms through fascinating facts and stunning full-color photographs.
Readers will learn all about tornadoes, from how they are first created to the destruction they leave behind.

If you are familiar at all with children's nonfiction, then you are probably familiar with the name Seymour Simon.

If you are familiar at all with young boys (especially my 11yo), you are probably familiar with their affinity towards tornadoes, as well as any other suitably destructive natural disaster.

We had the 1999 version of this title at one time, but it has been weeded (probably for both age and condition), so I can't compare to see exactly what has been updated. Simon's name has long been associated with accuracy, however, and as usual the information is presented in a straightforward yet engaging style. Personally I would have updated more photographs - the images tend towards grainy, which may be off-putting for some readers, and there are so many newer/sharper images available.

It's easy to understand the fascination with tornadoes - they are really nothing but air, and yet they can wipe out entire towns. I grew up in Ohio, where tornado drills were a part of the school year, and I have witnessed their destruction firsthand. Even Christopher, who lives in an area that never actually gets tornadoes, expresses fear about them. One of the best ways to conquer a fear, however, is to learn more about it, so I will definitely be taking this home soon. A solid addition to an elementary library, although it may not be the first to catch a reader's eye.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review: Raisin, the Littlest Cow by Miriam Busch and Larry Day


Raisin doesn't mind being the littlest cow - she loves it, in fact. She loves having everyone's attention, and she loves that everyone helps her when she needs it.

What she does NOT like is change - and, of course, everything changes when a new baby cow comes along. A gentle and sweet story for any child struggling with a new sibling, Raisin's feelings are acknowledged without her having to go over the top. In the absence of constant attention, Raisin discovers that there are things she can actually do all by herself now - including cheering up that new baby, who maybe isn't so awful after all.

I chuckled over many of the illustrations, especially a sopping Raisin bellowing her troubles in the rain. And yes, the new baby does in fact look like a cauliflower. Perfect shower gift for the expectant older sibling, or one to bring home from the library for an out of sorts toddler.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: Lost and Found - What's That Sound? by Jonathan and Victoria Ying


"Welcome to the Lost and Found, where we find items by their sound!"
It's a busy day at Rabbit's Lost and Found. Poor Squirrel has lost his drum, Elephant has lost her piano, and Bat has lost his entire band! Will Rabbit find their lost instruments before show-time?

I reviewed the sibling duo's first book back in February - not a bad book, but nothing I was excited about. This one, however, is going right into story time rotation. I am thinking a Five Senses theme in particular. The rhythm and rhyme are crisp and age-appropriate, and the page breaks allow the reader to pause for predictions. Illustrations are again slightly cartoony, with friendly little animals in black tie attire.

Grab some instruments or make your own, and end with a concert!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: Shorty and Clem by Michael Slack


Shorty is not a lizard. He is a very short dinosaur.
He's a shortysaurus.

Clem is not a chicken. He's a quail, which doesn't explain his name at all.

While Clem is out, a package arrives at the door with his name on it. Shorty gets super excited and finds the box irresistible. What’s inside? A race car…trampoline…bongos…monkeys? He REALLY wants to open it but, he knows that it’s Clem’s. Should he open the box? Of course not! Instead, he jumps on it like a trampoline—THUMP!—and bangs on it like a drum—BOOM BADA BOOM!—until he finally opens it. That’s when Clem comes home. Shorty is sure he’s done something terrible, but Clem proves to him that best friends are the best surprises of all!

Hand this one to kids who love Elephant and Piggie and have read all their copies to pieces (or all my copies. Seriously, I need to replace them all AGAIN.) Short lines of dialogue on each page, bright expressive pictures, great opportunity for dramatic reading, funny twist at the end. Not derivative of Mo Willems, just similar enough to appeal to the same audience.

And keep an eye out, I predict (hope) that we will be seeing much more of this duo!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Around the World - Bhutan

We got stuck on Australia for a couple weeks, partly because we got busy and partly because we were waiting for snacks to arrive

We finally moved over to Bhutan, though, and that was definitely a cultural switch. The family in our book is made up of 13 people living in one home. We had to draw up a family tree to get straight in our heads how everyone was related:

Most Bhutanese have two names, but there are no last, or "family" names, and children are often named by a local monk. Few names are gender specific, hence Sangay being married to Sangay!

We picked up a second book by the same authors of "What the World Eats":

and the kids were excited to recognize 'our' family on the front cover! This book gives a much clearer picture of their home. It sounds reasonable to say 13 people live in a 3 story house - until you see that the house is made of dirt, the top floor is for storing food, and the bottom floor is for the livestock. The family's prayer room is a beautiful, ornately decorated area, but the rest of the living space is bare wood.

There were so many differences in how we live, the kids were almost at a loss to decide what to write down.

While they noted on the poster that there is no fast food (as in, in the whole COUNTRY - as of when the book was written, anyway), what really has Sheridan aghast is, no bacon! Animals are only killed for food for special ceremonies, so the diet is largely vegetarian. For our "Bhutan meal", I accordingly found some red rice and chopped up some carrots and onions we had on hand.

It went over better than I expected, though! I cheated and put salt on mine when they weren't looking, but the kids all ate theirs without it.

The weekly budget for that family of 13 for beverages is 76 cents. So, if you buy a soda from the machine at the library, you have just spent two weeks' budget for drinks for a family of 13. Dwell in that for a minute.

That 76 cents is mainly for butter tea. We had to try it, of course, but with some modifications, as Walmart does not appear to sell yak butter.

1. Boil 4 cups of water and add 4-5 tea bags - the darker the better (we used Earl Grey). Let it steep for a while, then take the tea bags out and add a pinch of salt.
2. Put 1/2 cup of milk and 2T butter in a blender. Reheat the tea, and pour that in. Blend until well mixed, and drink hot.

Again, the kids liked this more than I thought they would - three of the five had seconds! After the first tastes, I let them add a spoonful of sugar. I did that with mine and found I suddenly tasted the salt, whereas I hadn't before.

Once they finished, they asked for dessert as usual, and I told them, "There is no dessert." They reminded me of the ice cream in the fridge and the cookies on the counter, and I reminded them of the weekly budget for the family - were there cookies and ice cream in there anywhere? Besides, no electricity certainly means no frozen food.  

And then they were still hungry, so I told them there was more rice. Christopher ate it all, and then, being Christopher, was still starving. We decided that while this meal was good once, we wouldn't want it every night, and that we have it pretty darn good being able to just find different things to eat until we aren't hungry any more! My pantry suddenly seems like an obscenity.

I don't pretend to think any of that sunk in and made a lasting impression that will cause my kids to stop wasting food and appreciate everything they have, but it's a start - a seed planted in their minds. I think we all respond better to tiny nudges along the way than we do to being brow beaten.

A little more reading,

and then we will be 'traveling' to Bosnia!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Medium Guy Turns Six

So much of the kids' personalities can be seen in the themes they pick for their birthday parties.

Grace: Horses or horses.
Sheridan: Unicorns, Hello Kitty, Mermaids.
Shane: Cowboys. With guns.
Christopher: Harry Potter, Ghostbusters, Star Wars.

Logan: Bunnies.

Bunnies? Bunnies. And he stuck to it for months. Okay, bunnies it is!

Logan is my sweet boy, full of surprises, the one who notices little things (both literal and figurative). Since he chose his theme so long ago, I was able to snatch up a few after Easter items to decorate with.

Logan got to keep all the decorations afterward, so he was extra happy.

I got this little lady for ten cents at a yard sale:

And these, 75% off at Walmart:

At one point we added frogs (making it 'things that hop'), and when asked what he wanted for his birthday, he said "a remote control frog". A what? Okay...

Behold the powers of Amazon:

A jumping, shouting, light-activated frog. THAT won't get at all annoying.

Refreshments took me a minute, but we finally came up with:

Which Logan helped make:

I don't like carrot juice, so:

(Chocolate, chocolate chip friendship bread)
 Then at Daddy's last-minute suggestion, I stayed up the night before to make Peanut Bunny Cookies:

Then of course carrot cake, and Blue Bunny ice cream! 


Since Logan is very much into arts and crafts, I set up a craft table with a loose vegetable/spring theme:

Pots, tags and seeds from the dollar store

Someone gave these to the kids for Christmas, and I had been saving them, I just didn't know what for until now:

Ooh, sparklies! Which are now alllll over my house.


Cool craft projects and creepy crawly stuff.

Miss Katie provided the entertainment for the adults by bringing the twins.

Kept Daddy occupied, at any rate!

I bought these tiny bunny erasers way back in April, and wasn't sure what to do with them. 

Then my eyes lit on the leftover plastic Easter eggs.

Perfect! An eraser and a dime in each egg, and we had egg hunt!

Sheridan and Logan even hand decorated bags to collect them in, with frogs and bunnies and carrots and flies.

It seemed like a lot of eggs, but it sure didn't take long to find them all.

Thanks to everyone who came, Medium Guy had a blast! (And it's always good to get some grown-up conversation time in, too!)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: Extraordinary Insects by Matt Turner, and Santiago Calle


Did you know that there are around ten quintillion insects alive at any one time? And all of these insects have some pretty extraordinary skills! Get up close and personal with these insects, and you'll discover that a cockroach can live for weeks without its head, an antlion will suck out the insides of its prey, and a giant weta weighs more than a mouse. Read this book to learn more about the ant armies, leaf insects, tower-building termites, and flashing fireflies that have taken over your backyard!

File this one under your "high interest" titles. This is one of those books that has you reading bits out loud to the people around you ("Did you know that if a bulldog ant is cut in two, its head will try to bite its abdomen, and its abdomen will try to sting the head?") and showing off the illustrations:

That is NOT what my praying mantises look like!

Fortunately, this isn't one of those high-interest-low-IQ books that focus on the sensational while provided little actual substance. Whether you like bugs or not, you will learn enough to make your head swim by the final page. While the print is a bit small, the format should be appealing to reluctant readers - chunks of text mixed in with occasional graphic art, colorful close-up photographs, and plentiful pull-out factoids.

This is part of the 'Crazy Creepy Crawlers' series from Hungry Tomato, a division of Lerner. Other titles include Deadly Spiders, Flying Creepy Crawlers, and Tiny Creepy Crawlers. This title was sent to me for review, but we will definitely be purchasing the rest!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Review: Niko Draws a Feeling by Bob Raczka


"Sometimes he showed his pictures to his friends.
'What is it?' one of them would ask.
'It's the ring-a-ling of the ice cream truck," Niko would answer.
'It doesn't look like the ice cream truck,' someone else would say.
'It's not the ice cream truck,' Niko would explain. 'It's the ring-a-ling.'
'Where's the bell?'
'It's not the bell. It's the ring-a-ling.'
'I don't get it.'

First of all, I love Bob Raczka. Second, his books drive me crazy. For some reason they are not plucked off the shelves, and I often have to hand-sell them. Then they are enjoyed! For some reason, however, art books are not something kids gravitate to and check out on their own (origami and how-to-draw books aside). As a picture book, I think this one will fare much better.

I certainly hope so, because it offers so much - an introduction to abstract art, the joy of finding someone who 'gets' you, a reminder that there are different ways to see things, inspiration to keep up with what inspires you. Shin's illustrations have a sometimes 3-dimensional effect that draws the reader in, making them a perfect match for the text.

Extension activities are obvious and fun: Talk about colors and shapes and ask kids which they might associate with being happy, sad, sleepy, etc. Give them some paper and art materials, put on some music, and tell them to draw what they feel. Go for a walk with a pad and colored pencils, and draw the sounds or feelings along the way, then share them over a picnic in the park. For one week, before bedtime draw how you felt about the day, and post the pictures in a row. Draw the members of your family abstractly. Watch the Disney movie "Fantasia".

And then go check out some of Raczka's nonfiction, please, I promise you will enjoy it!