Monday, December 31, 2018

Book Review: Crayola Holiday Colors Series by Robin Nelson



Concept books always see multiple circulations here at the library, but if you can add in some holiday fun and maybe even learn about another culture, even better!

To sample this series, I chose one from a holiday we celebrate in spades every year, and one from a holiday I have never been a part of, but am intrigued by.

Orange, of course, is the first color we think of for Halloween, followed closely by black and white. Jack-o-lanterns, cobwebs, black cats and bats (I do wish they hadn't supported the 'black cats are bad luck' concept, though - even telling kids to "watch out" for them! That was disappointing!) Costumes are mentioned, but nothing about the colors - a missed opportunity. Treats are brought up next, with the colors of candy corn and icing on cookies.

Holi, of course, is the perfect festival to illustrate colors! The reasons given for the holiday are somewhat vague, but the flowers and spices used for some of the dyes are shown, which is interesting. Snacks such as kachori help round out the color list.

While the Crayola emblem and name are prominent on the front cover, the company name is not mentioned in the book, and even the crayons pictured at the end - while exhibiting the familiar Crayola stripes - are shown without labels, so I have to give them credit for not making this one big ad. Both are filled with bright, colorful photographs and eye-catching variations in text style. End pages offer line drawings of some of the photographs, for children to copy and color. Not the best I have seen from Lerner nonfiction, but still a good addition to the preschool/early elementary library.

Also available:
Crayola Chinese New Year Colors
Crayola Christmas Colors
Crayola Cinco de Mayo Colors
Crayola Diwali Colors
Crayola Hanukkah Colors
Crayola Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr Colors

Friday, December 28, 2018

Review: Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship by Chitra Soundar


Being a wise and just ruler is no easy task. That’s what Prince Veera discovers when he and his best friend, Suku, are given the opportunity to preside over the court of his father, King Bheema. Some of the subjects’ complaints are easily addressed, but others are much more challenging. How should they handle the case of the greedy merchant who wishes to charge people for enjoying the smells of his sweets? And can they prove that an innocent man cannot possibly spread bad luck? Will Prince Veera and Suku be able to settle the dispute between a man and his neighbor to whom he sells a well — but not the water in it? Or solve the mystery of the jewels that have turned into pickles? Illustrated throughout by Uma Krishnaswamy, these eight original tales by Chitra Soundar task Veera and Suku with outwitting the kingdom’s greediest, wiliest subjects. Are the two clever boys up to the challenge?

I grew up devouring folk tales and fairy tales from all over. Reading these was like running into old friends you hadn't even thought about in a while, but who you instantly recognized. Soundar does an excellent job of making the stories accessible to the modern day reader, while still retaining the flavor of India long ago.

The volume is a collection of stories that appear to have been published separately at one time, and in places it reads that way. Halfway through the book, one story begins again with an introduction to the characters we have already become well-acquainted with. Some of the endings and beginnings could be reworked slightly to help with the flow, but for the most part it works well. Krishnaswamy's illustrations help convey both culture and expression. Patterned pages divide some stories, but not others**. 

**Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader Copy, and the finished work may have resolved these details.

Overall, it is a charming collection, and we will be ordering a copy for the library when it becomes available next month.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Kidney Donation Wrap-Up

***WARNING: Pictures of body parts ahead***

Well, I lived! And more importantly, my kidney is now living elsewhere, and reportedly working its little heart out! (Wait...was that a mixed metaphor??)

I'm guessing if anyone is considering donating as well, they would like to have a slightly more detailed description of the actual process, so I'll try to recap what I remember along the way. Beginning with...


After a HUGE meal at a local Brazilian restaurant (need to build up that iron!) and a very short night in a very cheap hotel, we arrived at UNM around 4:30 AM as directed. Yep, that's pretty darn early, but we needed to make sure my kidney got on the right flight on time! Into the paper gown (some hilarity involved - why was there only one sleeve?), much lying around and chatting with so many medical personnel I lost count. I am afraid I completely forgot everyone's names, but I do know all anesthesiologists at UNM are at least 6 feet tall. And everyone was approximately 16. Also all super nice! They put a patch behind my ear, as promised, to help with impending nausea. I do NOT do well with anesthesia, which we knew, and which will come up again later. Someone from the surgery team used what appears to be a Robert Munsch Super Indelible Never Come Off Until You're Dead and Maybe Even Later marker to make sure they knew which side the kidney was supposed to come from.

Seriously, this is after several showers and some rubbing alcohol. Mr. Happy is here to stay.
About 6:00, someone pushed some fluid into my IV, saying "I'm going to give you a little something now to make you feel silly." 

Then it was 1PM and I was in recovery.

I WAS ROBBED! I mean, no, I certainly didn't want to be awake during the surgery, but what happened to the "Count backwards from ten" bit?? I've watched TV, I know that's supposed to happen! I was all set to be a smart-a** and do it in Russian, too. I practiced. Hmph.

Well, as predicted, I immediately felt nauseous and started to throw up. FYI, vomiting after abdominal surgery is Not Much Fun. Fortunately, they were ready with more meds in the IV, and kept them up over the next 24 hours to keep things under control.

Mike had a LONG wait, first during the surgery and then the entire time I was in recovery. At that point he was only allowed in for twenty minutes out of every two hours! At least he got the latest Stephanie Plum read, and caught up with a mutual friend whose baby was in the hospital (doing well, I hear). They didn't get me to a room until about 3PM, around which time he headed home (4-5 hours) just in time to get kids to bed and then up for school the next day.

That night I was on IV fluids, with liquid Tylenol (I can't swallow pills) every so often to keep ahead of the pain. I really didn't have much pain - unless I tried to sneeze, cough, clear my throat, or yawn. Clearing my throat happened every time I tried to talk, my throat seemed to produce an unnecessary amount of phlegm in reaction to the intubation. It was also a bit sore in the back for a couple days, but only noticeable when I ate. I am used to sleeping on my side, which wasn't happening now, but even those fun pressure things they put on your legs to stave off blood clots couldn't keep me awake for long. 


I had kept Jello down in recovery, so I got a real breakfast - bacon and eggs, oatmeal, juice, coffee. Not much appetite and still pretty groggy, but I ate the first two. LOTS of ice water over the next couple days. I read one book (Melanie Cellier's latest, of course!), but mostly slept - in between "Hi I need to take your blood pressure" and "Oh it's time for your meds". UNM is a teaching hospital, so there were several residents included on the rounds. I know I have said this a dozen times, but EVERYONE THERE IS SO NICE! Seriously, absolutely no complaints about any of my care. Except the broccoli - why did they keep serving broccoli to someone who is already passing enough gas to power a truck?? (TMI? Sorry - one way they make room to maneuver in your belly is by puffing it full of gas. It all needs to leave at some point.)

I was way more lethargic than I expected to be, based on my 3 C-sections, but I had of course received way more anesthesia this time around. No more nausea (God bless Zofran), but thick-headed and sleepy. I had to cut off one nurse who was asking about the donation, because I was too groggy to think - he was very nice about it, but I still felt bad, and didn't get a chance to chat with him later. I did learn that one of my night nurses, Cody, used to be a children's librarian, although I never got around to asking where. I could totally see him leading Toddler STEAM.

Mila came in to tell me my kidney arrived safely, was transplanted successfully, and already working! The recipient has been waiting SEVEN YEARS for a kidney her body wouldn't reject. Mila even sent me a picture of my kidney, taken before it left:

First thought: That's a lot of fat that went with it. Bonus! But why isn't my tummy any flatter? Bummer.

Second thought: Wait. Is this now someone else's medical information? I mean, if it was still MY kidney at this point, I can post a picture of it, but now it's someone else's kidney. Do I need their permission? But I don't know who they are...I'm going to say it was still my kidney, as it was geographically closer to me.

I was removed from most wires and tubes by the evening, so I could get up and move around a bit. Just like with other surgeries, walking is encouraged. Still very very lethargic, with not much appetite, but dozing was getting harder as it was getting harder to find a comfortable position.


Some concern about my bladder emptying properly, but things were moving along, so they decided I could go home. Hooray! Mike left home in the wee hours and arrived before lunch. I got a shower - hooray again! - and put my own clothes on. Staff made sure my prescriptions for Tylenol and stool softener were filled before we left, so we didn't have to mess with that here. They also gave me Zofran again just before we left, in case of motion sickness. Discharge happened much faster than I expected, and I didn't realize until we were on the road that I hadn't seen Ana Maria and Mila again as planned. I wasn't about to turn around again once I had made my escape! As nice as everyone was, I wanted to be HOME! We did talk to them on the phone en route.

Another LONG drive for poor Mike, with me trying to sleep in the passenger seat - and I thought the hospital bed was uncomfortable! Apologies to anyone I scared at the Carrizozo gas station as I stumbled through to the bathroom. When we got home I went straight to bed, but stayed awake to see the kids and my mother, once she brought them home from her house. I took the nausea patch off, took some Tylenol, and went to sleep.

Saturday and Sunday

I didn't need the Tylenol any more - no pain, just soreness - and never needed the stool softener. But. I maybe should have left the patch on.

So. Sick. At this point, I should point out that what I was feeling wasn't necessarily what anyone else would feel, but part of my usual extreme reaction to the anesthesia. I was miserable. I never threw up, but I felt very close to it much of the time, and had no appetite - which was bad, because I needed to stay hydrated! The kids were VERY good the whole time, Christopher being especially helpful, but they were sad I wasn't interacting with them much - Sheridan kept saying sadly, "You HAVE to be better for Christmas!"

A few people stopped by with meals, which is just awesome, but I couldn't make it downstairs to say hello. Sunday night some friends had a party I had really been looking forward to, but I sent Mike and the kids on instead. Even in a silent house, I couldn't sleep. I had already slept so much my body didn't need that any more! Gah! At least I could lie on my sides again, and it was my own bed, and nobody was coming at me with a blood pressure cuff. Our sixty pound puppy practically tiptoed onto the bed at one point, snuffling at me sadly and then gently stretching out next to me.

Monday (Christmas Eve)

As soon as we were both awake, I told Mike we needed to call UNM about the nausea. I did NOT want to spend Christmas (or any day) at the local hospital on an IV. The on call urologist got back to us pretty quickly, and called in a prescription for Zofran.

Irony - as Mike drove down to get it, I felt the fog lift! Not so groggy, not so nauseous, and I was actually out of bed and downstairs when he got home. Hallelujah! Everything had finally passed out of my system - and I knew there were a lot of people praying, as well. I never ended up taking the Zofran, but I am very thankful they were so quick to provide it.

I had mostly prepped for Christmas before I left, so I visited with kids and answered a few messages, dozed on the sofa a couple times, and ATE and DRANK. My stomach was still a bit sensitive, and seemed to have shrunk a bit, but yay for hydration. 

My older daughter Mari arrived that evening, after driving all day long. I haven't seen her since September, so we had a lot of catching up to do. Funny how much animated talking affects your stomach muscles and breathing! By the time we had helped Santa do his thing (Mike and Mari carried, I shoved and directed), I was absolutely beat. Shane was allowed to sleep in our bed for the first time since I got home, since Mari now had his room. He didn't wake up, but stuck tightly to my side, reaching out every now and then in his sleep to pat me and make sure I was still there.

Tuesday (Christmas)

Perfect! I was still getting my appetite and energy back, but I was able to fully participate in Christmas. The kids got WAY too much stuff, as usual, and family members came in and out. I was able to help make lunch and supper, and went to bed just a little earlier than usual. Whew! I'm obviously not jogging around the block, but I feel pretty good.

Itchy, though. I was expecting to have bandages to take care of, but happily each incision is closed with dissolving sutures covered in glue. That make showering much easier! I'm supposed to let the glue flake off, which it is starting to do, and that itches. A minor complaint, though. 

I have four incisions. This one at the side:

As you can see, it's about the size of my wedding ring. I have to look to find it, it's not even sore. Crazy!

The other two small ones are where tubes/instruments were inserted, to do the whole thing laparoscopically, then a slit by my belly button - about 2 1/2 inches - where Dr. Alba slid her hand in:

How do people do mirror selfies and not end up with them all blurry?

Not surprisingly, my belly button area is the most tender, but manageable. Probably a good thing I gave Mykela all my belly rings years ago, though. There was a little bruising the second day, but that is all gone already - the shadows you see around the holes are glue.

And that's it! I'm not allowed to lift anything over ten pounds for 4-6 weeks, and I'm encouraged to stay hydrated, but there is no special diet, no more meds. I go back in mid January for follow-ups, and expect to return to work the next day.

Ana Maria asked if I would do it again, and I absolutely would! The weekend was miserable, and my family had to help out a lot more than I had planned, but what is that compared to someone being on dialysis the rest of their life - or worse? If you have any thoughts of being a living donor and have questions, please feel free to ask!! And a huge, huge thank-you to Mike, Mom, Mykela, the kids, and all the friends who have helped out!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Review: Not Just a Book by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross


A book is not just a book. It can be so many things: a hat or a building block, a flower press or a fly-swatter! But books are so much more than that. They can make you feel and can take you anywhere; they can make you laugh and can teach you anything you want to know.

There are certain author/illustrator duos that are guaranteed good for some fun, and Willis and Ross are definitely one of them. 

In fun and silly rhyme, with equally fun and silly illustrations, Willis and Ross muse about the many things one can do with a physical book: make a tent for your cat, prop up your teddy, or use it as a funnel when you are milking a cow*.  Fess up, grown-ups: how many of us have actually used a book to "hide your face if you are shy"?

*do not actually use your book as a funnel.

Then we open up the book and let it make us laugh or weep, or make us really clever! This would be a brilliant book to use in a school library to start off your year (and I may start using it in field trips here!) You can cover book care*, types of books, and the fun and learning we can get from them. Heck, bring it out after Christmas break and use it to freshen enthusiasm (and maybe review some rules) when you start library times back up again!

*I repeat: do NOT use your book as a funnel.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Review: Farm Machines at Work series by Jennifer Boothroyd



I'll bet you thought of at least three kids to hand these off to right away, didn't you?

There is nothing quite as fascinating to little kids (and, let's be honest, many really big ones) as a giant rumbling machine. In these pages we are treated to close-ups of not just the machines as a whole, but also the engines, control panels (some with computer screens!), hitches, and other parts. You can almost hear them working!

We learn how tractors can do anything from cultivating to plowing snow, depending on the season and their attachments. Pretty versatile machines! We look at the old Henry Ford tractors with metal seats, then on to air conditioned self-steering models that run on renewable fuel. Heck, now I want one!

I want a harvester, too - a tiny one that can putter around my living room and scoop up clutter. If a grape harvester can be that gentle and efficient, surely there could be one that separates the books from the toys without bending a page, right?

This series is perfect for your junior readers who really want to know how things work and what everything is called. Other titles available include:

Balers Go to Work
Cultivators Go to Work
Skid Steers Go to Work
Sprayers Go to Work

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

On Helping

So, one thing I have been torn about through this whole process. On the one hand, this is something I am doing because I want to do it, because it is help that is needed that I can provide: not because I want everyone to think I'm a wonderful human being. Part of me would like to do the whole thing fairly quietly and just not tell many people.

On the other hand, I want other people to do it, too. Over 120,000 people are on the UNOS waiting list, and the vast majority of them are waiting for kidneys. Over 100,000 people who will die if they don't get what most of us have an extra of! Just think, if 20,000 people - a tiny smidgen of the adult population of the US - decided to become non-directed donors, and each of those people started a chain with 5 people in it, that list could be wiped out! All those people would LIVE!

As of this morning, there were actually six people hoping for my one kidney. You see, my matched recipient is in another state, and my kidney will be flown to him/her (let's just say "her", it's easier). But, what if she got sick this morning and they can't do surgery on her? Or, what if the weather here cancels flights, and my kidney is stuck in NM? So there are two back-up recipients in MN, and two here in NM. That means that, while one person is going to be extremely happy by the end of the day, four will be disappointed. That is heartbreaking to me.

A few people have asked "What caused you to make this decision right now?" The thing is, I would have signed up ages ago if I had known about it. I just didn't know about it. So if I blog about it and talk about it, maybe there will be someone else who finds out - "Wait, I can save someone's life now, not after I'm gone?" Or someone who thought about it will see the process isn't that scary, and decide to go ahead with it.

I teach my kids, you should help when you can. Helping does not have to mean becoming a living donor. It can mean donating money, it can mean delivering a meal, helping someone move, watching someone's kids, speaking up when someone is being hateful, giving someone a break when they can't seem to catch one, taking a moment to notice someone (have I mentioned how much I love this book?) Little things count. They add up. That does NOT mean we can say, "Yeah, I put my shopping cart back where it went AND somebody else's, so I'm good for the week." There isn't a quota system.

It also doesn't mean selling everything you own and giving it to the guy on the street corner and living in a cardboard box yourself. I mean, would that even really help him? If that's where you feel the nudge to help, then go talk to him. Get to know him. Take him to lunch. Figure out what would really help him. Does he need a job? A shower? Does he need you to lobby for mental health services? Donate blankets to the local shelter? Start a local shelter? 

Maybe you can't do that. You can't do everything. You don't have to, and nobody expects you to. My favorite president said it pretty simply:

Image result for do what you can with what you have where you are

It means treating other people as fellow human beings who are in this with us, not as something beneath us or "other" than us because of some artificially drawn (and temporary - study your history, people) lines, or economic status, or beliefs or customs or life choices. It means doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. It means paying attention to the basic laws of humanity.

And guess what? Donating a kidney doesn't mean I am done helping people (or animals!) I don't get to sit back and smugly say, "I gave a BODY PART, people, I've done my share." Nope. There are still ways I can help people, so I still have the responsibility to do it. I mean, I might not be delivering meals for the next week or so, but - after that!

Does any of this make sense? I hope so. I'm typing it up before I go under the knife, so I can't blame the after-effects of anesthesia. 

It's the holiday season. Hanukkah ended a couple weeks ago, Solstice is in a couple days, and Christmas is just around the corner. Not a big fan of New Year Resolutions, but let's call it a goal. Make it a priority to look for ways you can help in 2019. While we are decimating that UNOS list, just think of all the other great changes we could make along the way!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Review: Open Mic at Westminster Cemetery by Mary Amato


When Lacy wakes up dead in Westminster Cemetery, final resting place of Edgar Allan Poe, she's confused. It's the job of Sam, a young soldier who died in 1865, to teach her the rules of the afterlife and to warn her about Suppression—a punishment worse than death.

Lacy desperately wants to leave the cemetery and find out how she died, but every soul is obligated to perform a job. Given the task of providing entertainment, Lacy proposes an open mic, which becomes a chance for the cemetery's residents to express themselves. But Lacy is in for another shock when surprising and long-buried truths begin to emerge.

The book description fails to mention one important main character - Mrs. Steele, the strict enforcer of the cemetery rules, and not exactly Lacy's biggest fan. Oh, she also happens to be Sam's mother. There are also a myriad of intriguing secondary characters, from sweet Sarah to requisite mean girl Victoria. Who also happens to be Edgar Allen Poe's wife.

And, of course, there is Poe. You know those discussion questions that go something like, "which famous dead would you most like to have dinner with"? Imagine finding out that you could actually spend eternity getting to know that person? Except, of course, that Poe has been suppressed. And the rules say he can't come above ground and speak. And there isn't anything we can do about the rules...right?

There is much more to this delightful read than the description suggests. To start with, it is written mostly in the form of a play, with a few side notes from the author. Don't let the format put you off, it is quite readable even if you aren't familiar with script reading. Each of the characters has a personality, and often a past, that comes out through the course of a few nights. Subthemes of personal responsibility, group responsibility, forgiveness, change, constructive rebellion, family - and, of course, poetry - are threaded throughout. Despite the themes and settings (and Poe), it is never really dark. Hand it off to someone who is looking for something a little different!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Review: The Flight of Swans by Sarah McGuire


Princess Andaryn's six older brothers have always been her protectors—until her father takes a new Queen, a frightening, mysterious woman who enchants the men in the royal family. When Ryn's attempt to break the enchantment fails, she makes a bargain: the Queen will spare her brothers' lives if Ryn remains silent for six years.

Ryn thinks she freed her brothers, but she never thought the Queen would turn her brothers into swans. And she never thought she'd have to undo the Queen's spell alone, without speaking.

I have mentioned, once or twice or six times, that I love a good fairy tale rewrite, haven't I? And this is definitely one of the good ones!

Andaryn is a wonderful heroine. Honest in her emotions, sometimes on the brink of despair, but fierce in her loyalty to her brothers and her love for her father. McGuire had a difficult task in creating distinct personalities for the six brothers, given that we only see them briefly every full moon. She manages this in part with Andalyn's memories, and through her imagining conversations with her brothers. 

But oooh, are they infuriating! While we watch Andalyn age from 12 to 18, facing numerous struggles and perils, to them mere days have passed and she is still their silly baby sister. Andalyn has no words to set them straight, but I hurled a few at the pages from time to time on her behalf!

As a fairy tale addict in my younger years, I was quite familiar with the original tale of the Six Swans, and was pleased to see the story follow closely along - with exception of the versions I always hated, where she gave birth to several children that the witch either spirited away or killed. In this version there is a child, but...

Wait, don't want to give too much away! Suffice it to say that purists will be satisfied, while those wanting more flesh to their stories will be well-pleased with this retelling. Highly relatable main character, wide range of emotions, mystery and danger, and no slow plodding sections. Of interest to upper elementary on up.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Review: Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill


When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her new dress, her classmate wants to make her feel better, wondering: What does it mean to be kind?

Oh, can anybody anywhere really argue with this simple sentiment? I mean, it's hard to read in this only picture I could find, but that is the very first thing we wrote on our stairs:

Image may contain: indoor

The protagonist comes up with some wonderful ways we can all be kind, regardless of our age - be it giving, helping, or just paying attention. She dreams that small kindnesses might add up to something big that spreads throughout the world. Again, who could argue with that?

Hill's illustrations, particularly facial expressions and use of shadows, can help add to discussions of feelings and the consequences of our actions. A must have for every classroom and home.

***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 as inclusion on or exclusion from the final short list.

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!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Book Review: Builders and Breakers by Steve Light


When their dad forgets his lunch box on his way to the construction site, a young brother and sister set out to take it to him, and along their way witness all the noisy, exciting action of a build site in the city. With builders building, breakers breaking, and a whole host of impressive machines and vehicles hard at work, this book bursts with color and offers children plenty to enjoy. In his trademark intricate style, Steve Light captures the satisfaction of working hard to create something new — and, of course, taking a well-deserved break.

First question: how come nobody ever brings me my lunch when I forget it? Hmph.

Light is well known for his intricate illustrations, such as those in Have You Seen My Dragon (a former Cybils contender). My personal favorite of his is Swap (also a Cybils nominee).


The illustrations in Builders and Breakers aren't quite as complex, but rather a mixture of large spaces and tiny details that beg exploration. Look for the eagle being hoisted onto the dome, or count the tiny people in the crane picture! 

If you're going to get hung up on the children running willy-nilly through a construction site with no hardhats, you are going to miss the guy rescuing the flower, or the fun parallels in the sparse text. 

This is a book for fun, and for reminding us of the simple truths spelled out in the author's note:

"To build anything, something must be broken, even if it's just ground. It is this balance - destroying in order to create - that, we hope, leaves us with something of beauty."

This book was NOT nominated for Cybils, which is a pity. It would, however, make a great Christmas gift for the youngster in your life who either loves construction, or who loves creating. My own kids have taken to calling the trash can "the treasure box", so this would be great to gift with a box of pieces parts from things that have outlived their current usefulness. Challenge them to create something new and beautiful out of those. Or, break up some leftover tiles together, and create a mosaic on an old table top. Get busy building and breaking!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Book Review: Ten Horse Farm by Robert Sabuda


Watch with awe as majestic horses leap off the page when you open this stunning full-color pop-up book. Glorious images of horses grazing, prancing, and galloping in an idyllic farm setting are inspired by everyday scenes in rural America as well as by the real Ten Horse Farm (now an art studio) owned by artist and designer Robert Sabuda in upstate New York. This 3-D gem will draw horse enthusiasts of all ages.

Pop-up books generally have no place in a public library, and with a $30 price tag, this is probably not one you want to casually hand off to a baby or toddler.

That being said, this would be a wonderfully unique gift for the adult horse person in your life. The amazingly intricate designs go well beyond the typical pop-ups found in children's books. Each would make a perfectly suitable artistic centerpiece for a coffee table or shelving nook.

The designs literally jump off of the pages, demanding closer inspection. Ignore the 5-8 marketing range, and buy this for an adult you know without small children at home!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Review: Death Eaters by Kelly Milner Halls


No, no, not the kind that try to suck out your soul when you are running through a culvert with your cousin Dudley. The kind we WANT to have around, to clean things up!

What happens to the bodies of animals and humans after death? Nature's army of death eaters steps in to take care of clean up. Without these masters of decomposition, our planet would be covered in rotting bodies. This high-interest science text dives into the science behind how bodies decompose.

The illustrations found inside are, naturally, not for the tender-hearted: the very first is a field of dead reindeer. One would think, however, that the title and cover would be sufficient warning to ward off complaints! I found the photographs to be a good balance of realism, without sensationalism. As the introduction says, "Sure, it's gross, but it's also amazing."

The text of the book is very conversational, with the first page containing as many questions as it does statements. Chapter one starts with a short story of a boar peacefully dying of old age. Then we go into the five stages of decomposition. Did you know there were five? Neither did I!

Living in the forest, we often have deceased animals in the area. My kids love to bring bones home when they stumble upon them. We are well aware that the body doesn't immediately turn to dry, bleached skeleton however, particularly in the case of the elk that expired not too far from our driveway. Now that was a smell to get the whole family from the car to the house quickly! Also guaranteed to keep door to door salesmen away. 

Because of our location, the kids have been able to observe predators and scavengers of varying sizes, from mountain lions down to maggots, reducing corpses to bone. In this book, we learn that the very first stage of decomposition actually initiates within the animal's body itself, as enzymes - chemical substances too small for us to see - start breaking down the body from the inside! I have to agree: that is pretty amazing!

Each step of the process is explained clearly, so even non-scientifically-minded readers like myself can easily understand them. Succeeding chapters then cover different groups of scavengers: creepy crawly, furry, avian or sea-going death eaters. Readers learn how each animal is specially adapted to take its part in the chain, and you can't help but come away with a sense of amazement at how intricately everything works together. (And, the Osedax? Why aren't there books about that tiny creature???) Side bars explain things like why dead skin looks different, or the dangers of lead ammunition.

A final conclusion by the author offers a personal note about the comfort that understanding the life cycle can bring. There is an extensive set of source notes, glossary, bibliography and further reading, as well as a good index.

Overall, a very well-put-together book that will probably not stay on your shelves very long! Let reluctant readers pick it up for the title and cover, and watch them become engrossed! Highly recommended!

Oh, gift ideas? Hmm...well my own kids would probably love to scavenge for road kill and document the process, might I suggest a good microscope? We've been eyeing some like these, which hook up to your computer:

There are other, portable styles with SD cards that you can take into the field, then go home to observe your findings on your (non-smelly) computer!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Book Review: Oliver Elephant by Lou Peacock and Helen Stephens


When Noah goes Christmas shopping with his mom and baby sister, he’s glad to have his toy elephant, Oliver, along in the boring shops. They play peekaboo and hide in a dolls' house, and Noah even dances Oliver across the displays. But just as Mom has checked off the last thing on her list, disaster strikes: Oliver is nowhere to be found! And the department store is VERY big. Will retracing their steps be enough to reunite Noah and his beloved toy elephant?

The themes of holiday shopping, business, and of course of losing a beloved toy are all familiar ones to any child. I liked the subthemes throughout the book that you could pick up on to discuss - matching just the right gift with each person, the way Noah keeps himself occupied throughout, 

So many cute stuffed elephants to gift this with - like this one!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Book Review: Coming Home by Michael Morpurgo and Kerry Hyndman


I have learned to approach Michael Morpurgo books with some caution - whether it be a chapter book or a picture book, he is likely to make me cry at some point.

A plucky robin, lost and alone, sets out on an epic journey, guided only by a call in his heart saying “come home!” He wills his wings to beat faster, lifting him over great mountains and dark forests, through blinding blizzards and rolling fog, across the wide, wild sea. Can he find his way back to his family in time for Christmas? 

Yeah, this isn't going to be pretty. I mean, just a few pages in:

"Heavy my wings and heavy my heart,
Will I ever see my home again?"

Good gravy, Michael, you're writing for children!! (And sniffling librarians). 

Don't worry, of course he arrives safely home (although with Morpurgo you can't be too sure), and it was actually the people who made my eyes prickle. Not a lighthearted read for story time, but maybe one to read with a slightly older child whose parent is sometimes away, but who will always make it home to them.

Hyndman's beautiful illustrations are in mostly grays, blue, greens, browns, and of course that splash of red. She is especially adept at showing the motion and drama of each scene. Notes at the front about this particular type of robin, and about the migration habits of robins in general, are worth reading beforehand.

If you want to give this as a gift, pair it with a bird feeder and seed for your local avian friends, and perhaps a guide book to help identify them.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Review: Christmas ABC by Jannie Ho


I had to admit, I was curious as to how much Ho would have to stretch to get certain letters to fit the holiday theme. I mean "s" is so easy it's hard to choose - Santa? Sweaters? Snow? But, what do you do for "q"?*

Fortunately, both her choices in words and her brightly colored illustrations make each page simple and clear. With the exceptions of perhaps "u", "v" and "y", I think most littles would see the pictures and immediately come up with the corresponding word - making this a good choice for introducing letter sounds at any time of year.

While this title is strictly for Christmas, and does not enter into other winter holidays, it does venture into a few traditions some children may not be familiar with (such as a Yule log, and Three Kings Day), so it is also a good starting point for talking very simply about what your family does to celebrate, and how others may celebrate differently.

All in all, it's a perfect Christmas present for a little one ready to start talking and exploring things on his or her own - like a certain adorable niece I am thinking of, so shh! Gift the book along with these awesome stampers and some play-do:

Not ready for clay yet? These are adorable (check out the narwhal!)

*"quiet", with a cute tip-toeing mouse!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Book Review: The Rabbit Listened, by Cori Doerrfeld


Note to self: Must. Buy. Everything by Doerrfeld.

First off, just look at that cover. Sweet urchin in pajamas, cuddly rabbit giving a just-right hug. If you are having a baby, you need to get that framed and put it on your nursery wall.*

Second, the basic message. Sometimes sad things happen...and you don't want to talk it to death, you don't want someone to tell you how to fix it, you don't want to yell, you just...well, you don't know what you want. In which case, what you need is someone who will just be there, waiting for you to figure that out.

If there is one thing the world seems to need, it's the ability to handle our bad feelings better. Paired with Black's I'm Sad, this book belongs in every home and classroom library.

*The author/illustrator tells me Penguin is planning to come out with a limited edition print of the cover image! Add it to your Christmas list!

***This book has been nominated for a 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.

*****It made it to the short list! Congratulations, Cori!