Thursday, May 28, 2015

Book Review: Circus Mirandus

Circus Mirandus
By Cassie Beasley
Dial, 2015
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience: Grades 3 to 7
ISBN:  9780525428435
Expected Publication Date:  June 2, 2015

Micah Tuttle is dismayed at his aunt's behavior.  Ever since she has come to live with him and his grandfather, she's been changing everything and she's nothing like them.  Micah and his grandfather Ephraim believe in magic.  Micah adores hearing his grandfather's stories about the magical Circus Mirandus, and as things are looking very bleak, Ephraim asks the circus' Lightbender for a miracle.  Micah, with the help of the very rational Jenny, must find the circus and try to find the miracle, whatever it may be.

Do you know how annoying it is to love a book, then have someone say "If you liked X, you'll love this book", then you don't love it?  Not here, folks!  If you were an adult that loved The Night Circus, then hand Circus Mirandus over to your children, but not before you read it first!

The circus itself is sufficiently magical.  I'm especially fond of the elephant that can do long division.  She's feisty.  And all of the tents are described in such stunning detail that you can't help but long to go.  The circus also brings up some wonderful questions about childhood.  It's long been believed that children can believe things that adults just can't, and no where is that shown more than the brief moment when the circus is discovered.  It's a sad fact, adults are too rational for our own good.

Micah's story was compelling enough, but the undercurrent of Victoria was heartbreaking.  Here is a woman with talent, but she's cruel and only seeks power.  What a villain!  This isn't really an adventure novel, but it could easily become one if her character was teased out a little bit more.  Instead, it's a quiet novel about family, belief and belonging.

And a giant gorilla balloon, but you should really read the book to find out why.

This was another home run for NetGalley.  I've been quite lucky with them lately, and I can't wait to see what comes next.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I Read YA

Big confession here people.  I read YA.  GASP!  Reading YA, middle grade fiction, and picture books are kinda what my free time is all about, and while I sometimes noticed the angst before, it never really bothered me.  I was always able to connect to my inner fourteen year old and appreciate it for what it was.  That's changed just a little bit.

I've heard that you are never really an adult until you have a baby.  I've also heard that you're never really an adult until you've lost a parent.  I think that both are true, and by both counts, I'm now an adult.  (Which is a major bummer.  It's kinda like the day I discovered that I might be a Republican.  Just typing that makes me want to vomit.)

Being an adult sometimes means being more practical and sensible - something that the main characters in most YA novels are not.  It really hit me while I was reading Daughter of Deep Silence.  Here is Frances still in love-love with Grey four years later, and Shepard is also still in love-love with Libby after four years and blows Frances' cover because of it.  I was telling this to my husband and saying that I found it totally unbelievable that these characters could still love each other that much after four years completely apart, and he actually thought it was possible.

So wait, not only am I an adult, I'm the adult in my marriage?  Not cool!

What I failed to remember, but which my young-at-heart hubby does, is that an 18 year old is still very much a teen, and will likely fall for that first love or even major crush if they come a callin' four years later.  I think he's right.  Check in with your own inner 14- and 18-year olds and find out.

Young adult literature is great for escaping, at least the type I read most often.  I'm escaping into a privileged world, or a fantastic world, or a world where Tiny Cooper exists, and that's great in and of itself.  But I'm also checking out on being an adult, because it just stinks.  As long as the angst is well-written, I'm okay with it, and I'll actually find my inner teen jumping for joy.

Happy Reading

Monday, May 25, 2015

Book Review: Daughter of Deep Silence

Daughter of Deep Silence
By Carrie Ryan
Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2015
Reviewed from First Reads
Audience: Ages 14 and up
ISBN:  9780525426509
Publication Date:  May 26, 2015

Frances Mace was pulled from a lifeboat, only hours after watching her friend give in to dehydration and  exhaustion, and surviving a violent attack on the Persephone which killed her parents and nearly everyone on board.  Now an orphan, Frances accepted the offer to become her friend Libby when her father asked to her help him find out the truth about the ship's demise.  There were two other survivors who both claim that the ship was hit but a rogue wave, not armed gunmen, and one of them is Frances' first love, Grey.  After four long years of living as Libby, she's come home to find out the truth and exact her revenge, for Libby, for her parents, and for herself.

This story takes place in a world of privilege, excess, and secrets.  Frances (I'm going to call her that for the sake of argument) has completely made herself into Libby, but Libby's first love Shepard notices the small differences that cannot be faked, and she's thrust into a dangerous position.  Meanwhile, Grey is slowly falling for new Libby, all part of the plan to expose the truth, and a local detective seems to be too interested in new Libby as well.  Plots abound, danger is everywhere, and emotions run high.

There must be something about girls with multiple personalities, like Vanishing Girls and The In-Between.  While Frances is this Libby hybrid, but she keeps referring to Frances as a girl that's locked up and wants to get out.  The revenge plot is quite well-planned and with Shepard's help, Frances is able to understand why the Persephone was a target in the first place.  Surprisingly, that plot point didn't feel forced.  Sometimes a detail like that can feel too simple once explained, but I actually thought that was well thought-out.

I blew through this book, something I alluded to the other day, and I do feel like some of the revelations lacked a punch.  Then again, I was left wide-eyed at the ending, so there was still obviously plenty of punch left.

One aspect of this book felt off to me.  Every love story (Libby and Shepard or Frances and Grey) was so intense that it left a mark for four years, even when Frances and Grey were only really together for a week or two.  It didn't feel believable to me, but maybe that's my adult side showing.  More on that to come.

For a plot driven revenge novel with come pretty compelling characters, look no further than Daughter of Deep Silence.

Happy Reading!  

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Born to Read?

Ali was playing with her books a couple days ago and she actually started flipping through Guess How Much I Love You.  The book is actually the right direction, she's flipping the pages nicely, and her expression is thoughtful.  If I were a different kind of person, I would post this on Facebook bragging about how my baby can read at nine months old.  If I were a really dishonest person, I would create some type of Your Baby Can Read program, and use this picture as proof that it works.

But I'm an honest person.  Ali isn't reading at 9 months.  She won't read at 3 years, and I'll be happy if she can read simple books in kindergarten or first grade.  Babies aren't born to read, they are born to be read to.  I read to my Ali, and that's why she likes books.  She likes the bright pictures, the smooth pages, and the sound of my voice.

And books taste pretty amazing too.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

5 Things: Travel Edition

5 Things to Brighten Your Day
Despite the BS that May Get in Your Way

Hello from the road!  This is the biggest hurdle I will face during my Every Day in May challenge.  I'm on traveling across the country, baby in tow.  Challenging for many reasons.

But there are still plenty of reasons to smile.

1.  Morning cuddle time.  Ali woke up at 5 am and being in a strange place means it's totally cool to sleep curled up to her in bed for an hour.  She's a little bit of a difficult sleep partner.  

2.  Pretty good travel conditions.  Very little rain, reasonable traffic, overall about the best we could have expected.

3.  Ali was a good traveler today.  Again, about the best that we could have expected from her.

4.  Great dinner at a tapas place.  My favorites were the asparagus and bacon wrapped dates.  

5.  Making it back to the hotel before flooding rains poured down.  It was raining as we walked back, but luckily, not horribly bad.  And Ali just smiled the whole time.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Historical Fiction for Boys

I have a weird relationship with Historical Fiction.  On one hand, it's not my thing.  I'm not a big history person for the most part, but I will become intrigued by random time periods or stories or people.  But on the other hand, I love period novels like Diamonds and Deceit, The Luxe, and The Diviners.  It also helps if there is something other than just history to get me hooked.

However, historical fiction has a big place in school curriculums.  My favorite reference question ever was a boy that called the library asking for an autobiography by Dracula.  After several questions, I learned that his assignment was to read a historical fiction.  He left with Blood on the River.  Good choice.

My sister contacted me with a librarian question, she needs "living books" for my nephew.  The example she gave were the Little House on the Prairie books.  Something that makes you feel like you are there.  Then, a friend at church was telling me that her son really like historical fiction too, and was blowing through books like crazy.  That was enough motivation for me to come up with a completely non-comprehensive list of historical fiction books.

Miss Tiff's Historical Fiction Picks:

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman.  Adventure, funny, historical-this book checks all the boxes, and it won a Newbery.  It's basically the perfect book.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Lawson.  This is a book for a slightly older crowd than my target audience of 3-4 grade, but particular chapters would make a great read aloud.

Bud not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis.  1936, Flint, Michigan, and jazz.

True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi.  It's about a girl, but this seafaring adventure defies gender.

Emily's Fortune by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.  Another girl, but she's got a great side-kick and they are all trying to outrun the orphan train.

One-handed Catch by Mary Jane Auch.  WWII and baseball, with a little meat grinder accident.  You want to know, don't you?

A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck.  Again, maybe a little old, but a must for any central Illinois kid, and Grandma Dowdel is perfection.

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick.  The Civil War and tall tales combine for what is ultimately an honest look at the difficulty of way.

And since truth is stranger than fiction check out these non-fiction titles:

The Giant and How He Humbugged America by Jim Murphy

Brothers at Bat:  The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team by Audrey Vernick

The Camping Trip that Changed America by Barbara Rosenstock

I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat by Carlyn Beccia

Now go out there and make some history!!

Happy Reading

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Babies: Furry and Otherwise

The relationship between Ali and her furry sister Lucy is pretty fun to watch.  Once Ali started being aware of the world around her, Lucy became a source of constant interest, and that's still very much the case.  She laughs when Lucy runs into the room, tries to get at her water dish, and wants to pet her all the time.  Now that she is mobile and a bit more coordinated, Ali loves to interact with Lucy, or at least try.  We've even let her play tug with Lucy just a little bit and it makes at least one of the babies very happy.

Lucy is a pretty well-behaved dog, but she has her flaws.  She sniffs all over everything and still gets at Ali's toys, although she has yet to ruin one.  Lucy wants attention very badly and will bark and howl when we come home, even with a sleeping baby.  And she begs and jumps up on Ali's high chair constantly.  It doesn't help that Ali finds this hilarious and intentionally feeds her.  These two are already partners in crime!  To her credit, Lucy is amazingly gentle with Ali.  She does jump around and race past her, but I have yet to see her knock her down.  Plus, Ali loves when Lucy sniffs her.  It's just a funny puppy kiss to her.

Slowly but surely Ali is gaining the coordination to be gentle with Lucy and pet, not grab, her hair.  I can imagine that once Ali starts to walk, they will really gang up on us.  I can't wait to see them chasing each other around the yard and play.

They are sisters already.  When I take the two for walks, Ali will reach her hand out of her stroller to hold on to Lucy's leash.  It's a sight that melts this mama's heart!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Confessions of a Reformed Board Book Snob

Board books abound in my home.  They are in the living room, the nursery, my bag, the diaper bag, my bedroom, the kitchen.  THEY ARE EVERYWHERE!  

And I love it!  Books should be everywhere, especially with a young child in the house.  Ali should never be far from a book.  But the kind of books that I have let her read and play with have changed.  Once I realized how destructive little uncoordinated hands can be, I came to love the idea of board books.  Tough and sturdy mini replicas of all my favorite picture books like The Napping House, Guess How Much I Love You, and The Three Snow Bears are just perfect for babies.  But I wasn't going to let lesser board books in my house.  No, nothing but the finest in board book literature for my little biscuit.

Then I realized that Ali doesn't actually read the books, she plays with them.  They are chewed and thrown and sat on.  When I try to read them, she grabs for them, not letting me finish a page.  The only time that I can get through reading an entire book to her is when she's playing with another toy, or book.  I usually give her a book to hold while I read her a book, and it's a system that has worked out just great.  

While her library collection is full the best in picture book board books, it's also full of simpler, less fancy books.  I love the books in the above picture because of the handle.  The pictures are simple, the text is pretty marginal, but they are easy for her to carry.  And she'll pick them up, and spin herself on her bottom in a clockwise circle.  Never counter-clockwise.  Only clockwise.  It's adorable.  

Having some less-than-stellar books in Ali's collection means that I'm not afraid to let her play with books.  She is learning that books are fun, and that's the most important lesson of all.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

5 Things: Sleep

5 Things to Brighten Your Day
Despite the BS that May Get in Your Way

1.  Ali slept until 6:15 this morning!  She's sleeping through the night now, but mornings are very early, so this is a victory.

2.  Reading time today.  I'm finishing up Daughter of Deep Silence.

3.  Manicure time today.  I wish that I had time for a proper manicure with polish and everything, but I'll take nicely filed nails instead.

4.  It's grilling season, which means shish kabobs for dinner tonight.  

5.  Bright, bright sunshine makes everything better.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Perils of Reading Quickly

It's marathon season!  I am one of those people that thinks marathons only apply to reading and watching TV.  Running is not my thing, but 24 hours of Park and Recreation is right in my wheelhouse!  And hours of uninterrupted reading is a beautiful thing as well, but I wonder if I am going about my reading marathons all wrong. 

Normally, I'm all about one book.  Sit down with a good book, come up for air every hour or so, finish it off quickly.  But right now I am reading Daugther of Deep Silence (quite good-review to come) and I am curious if my quick reading of it is dampening some of the emotional heaviness.  Believe me, I'm still feeling it.  A girl stranded in the ocean, watches her friend die only to take on her identity to learn the truth about event that sealed her fate, it's pretty heady stuff.  But since I'm taking it in so quickly, some of the events are not quite hitting my core, and are thus, not as earth shattering.  I could explain it better if you'd already read it and we were talking about it without the risk of spoilers, but I can't very well do that.

I do think that the books that I read during my marathon reading sessions don't quite get the headspace that I book I take my time with does.  Plus, I'm somewhat of a chain reader, going from one book to another to another.  Talk about an unhealthy way to live!

I suppose that the books that I really care about I treat with a little more respect.  I buy the physical book, or only read sparingly so I don't burn out on the plot and characters.  I take my time, wine and dine the book if you will.  That's the only way to grow a relationship.

I think that my metaphors are getting a little messy.  Is reading a race or a relationship?  Maybe that's the real question!

Happy Reading!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Book Jackets

While I was packing up my Children's Book Week display the other day, I noticed how many of my books had book jackets.  Just that morning, I was reading Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site to Ali (she'd pulled it off her bookshelf, then pulled about 10 others off too, but I still take it as a sign that she'll be an engineer like her daddy) when I noticed that the book jacket was super annoying.

As a librarian, I'm pretty protective of books.  It's hard to let Ali play with books like they are toys.  But everything is a toy to a baby.  Plastic cups, spoons, cell phones, bracelets, Altoids tins, those little ribbons in the hymnal for marking your place, these are all just toys to a baby, because play is real work.  Book jackets are often the first causality in baby book play, so why not remove them?

I love books like Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus with its clean, jacketless cover, and if you take the jackets off of most of your books, that's what you're left with.  So I took the plunge and scrapped all the jackets from my display book.  It wasn't easy, but it was necessary.

A couple of the books had covers that differed from the jacket, but I went for it anyway!

Forgive the glare, but you can still see that The Birthday Box cover is actually nicer without the jacket in my opinion.

Old school favorite If You Give a Mouse a Cookie has a very vintage cover, but I have two copies of this one, so one can keep the jacket, while the other goes away.

I didn't toss the jacket for First the Egg, because you'll see that when you remove it, it becomes First the Chicken.  The philosophical debate continues!

That's how I broke up with book jackets.  Now I just have to go after the books on Ali's bookshelf.  I think that I'll leave the jackets on my chapter books for now, but they might get the boot too.  After all, these are books that will be read and loved, not collected.  It's not like I'm planning on sending Ali to college with my vast collection of valuable middle grade chapter books.  No, that's what Beanie Babies are for!  (JK-Is that even a thing?)

Happy Reading!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Half Way Through May: Progress Report

So, I embarked on this Every Day in May campaign with a head full of dreams and a heart full of hope.  Half way through the month (what the what?!) let's see how I'm doing.

Miss Tiff Reads Blog:  Have you been reading everyday this month?  Because I've been blogging!  Yep, 15 posts in 15 days, or 16 in 16 if you are counting today, and going strong.  The big challenge is going to be the last week of the month when I'm on vacation, but hopefully I'll schedule some great stuff for you and post from the road.

Miss Tiff Reads on Instagram:  Started pretty well, then didn't go so great, then didn't really post.  I like Instagram, I really do, so I need to try harder.

Miss Tiff Reads on Twitter:  Is Twitter really still a thing that people do?  Really?  I've never gotten into it.  Maybe I'm missing out but I would rather spend my internet time looking up stuff on Pinterest or checking out Instagram, so Twitter, I've failed you.

Of the 15 posts that I've put up so far this month, 5 have been book reviews, 4 have been all about the baby, 2 have been librarian randomness, 2 have been my daily 5, and 1 has been totally random.  Pretty good range, I'd say.

Here's to another 15 days of posting!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Children's Book Week Experiment: The Results

This lovely collection of books has been sitting on my office counter for two weeks, waiting to be read by college students desperate for a break from studying for finals.  The semester ends today, so I thought I would give you a recap of how this little experiment went.

In a word, poorly.

Not poorly exactly, just very few people even glanced at these books.  Maybe it has something to do with the basket full of candy placed right next to it.  I guess candy trumps books any day.

A couple of students did come it to drop off homework one day and delightedly flipped through my collection, and we have a 15 minute conversation about their favorite children's books.  That was a great time.  Another student will have his first child later this summer and was saying that he needed to read up on these books so he'd be ready for his baby.  Yes, babies enjoy Mo Willems much more than Richard Feynman.

I've caught a couple other students or faculty browsing, but not taking a book off the shelf to read it.  But maybe it triggers a happy memory for a moment.

I guess my original statement is rather false.  While this experiment wasn't a resounding success, it did make me happier just looking at these books for the past two weeks.  And who wouldn't be happy when lovable, furry old Grover is waving at you all day long!

Happy Reading!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ali Pie: An Explanation

Like the royal baby, Ali has quite a name.  I mentioned the full story behind Alice Rose before, but this is the story of her nickname:  Ali Pie.

Let me set the scene:  It's early August.  We've been home with Ali a matter of days, so we are both slap-happy with exhaustion.  We're sitting in the cool basement on a hot summer day trying to relax and watch TV while Ali nurses and naps.  Here's the conversation:

Doug -- I'll hold Ali Pie.

Me -- (giving him a "what" look) -- You've called her that a couple of times, why do you call her Ali Pie?

Doug -- (in a "duh" kinda of tone) -- Because it rhymes.

Me -- (I wait a beat, say it in my head just to be sure that my sleep deprived brain remembers what a rhyme even is) -- No it doesn't.

Doug -- (he waits a beat, I'm assuming he is also trying to remember what a rhyme is) -- Oh, it doesn't.  Well, okay, Ali Pie is a higher order of Cutie Pie.

Me -- Okay, so it's like all Ali Pies are Cutie Pies, but not all Cuties Pies rise to the level of an Ali Pie.

Doug -- That's right

Me -- Nice save

Doug -- Thank you

And that little mistake in rhyming lead to our daughter's nickname.  Now she is most frequently called Ali Pie around our house and sometimes I lengthen it to Ali Pie born in July.  Some how it just fits.  She's a little Ali Pie and I wouldn't have it any other way.  

What's your name story?  I'm sure there is a story behind your given name, but often the nickname stories are much more fun.  For instance, my childhood nickname was Loulabelle.  My sister called me Lou all though college and now I'm Aunt Lou to her son.  However, my aunt never could get a handle on Loulabelle and instead called me Little Lil.  I'm not sure where that came from, but it worked.

I've love to hear your name story, just share it in the comments.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Book Review: Flora and Ulysses

Flora and Ulysses:  The Illuminated Adventures
By Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press, 2013
Reviewed from paperback
Audience: Grades 4 to 8
ISBN:  9780763660406
Publication Date:  September 1, 2013

Holy Bagumba!  Comic-lover and cynic Flora sees a squirrel in danger of being sucked up by a runaway vacuum cleaner and steps in to save the day.  And because Flora reads comics, she's knows what to do in an emergency, but also knows that the smallest incident can cause a hero to be born, and such is the case with simple squirrel turned superhero, Ulysses.  Because of this squirrel, Flora gets to know her neighbor and her great-nephew William Spiver, learns her mother is a villain, but maybe rather misunderstood and sees her father smile again.  While not heavy-handed, this novel is beautiful, funny, and engaging, and the squirrel is perfection!  A wonderful Newbery selection that will be an easy sell to readers.

I love Scholastic Weekly Reader!  Ali gets it at school so that means I get books too!  This paperback was only $5, so while Ali won't be reading it for another year or two (because she is a genius baby-wink wink), I wanted to read it.  Happily, my copy does not have the double-edged Newbery Award sticker.  Double-edged because it can simultaneously attract and deflect readers.  Newbery-esque has become an adjective meaning "a weighty and heavy-handed novel in which the main character's mother, father, pet, sister, second cousin or mailman dies as a plot device serving only to make readers cry.  See also Bridge-to-Terabithia-ish".  But a Newbery sticker also serves as a quick and dirty reader's advisory tool for teachers, librarians and parents everywhere, meaning "here read this, the experts said it's good!".  

But let's all be honest, Kate DiCamillo doesn't need a sticker.  She doesn't need a Newbery, just like Mo Willems doesn't need another Geisel Award.  Kate DiCamillo is the Newbery Award, and justly.  Her books are lovely and heartfelt and perfect and funny and make me never want to write a word because I just can't measure up.  

Flora is a delight.  She's a cynic yes, but she starts to open her heart up to possibilities once she meets Ulysses.  It's like she suddenly discovers that the world she loves in her comic books is possible.  William Spiver makes an interesting side character because he is intensely annoying, but likable.  Flora's father (George Buckman, how do you do?) is quite lovable, and it's beautiful to see him open up to Flora after he discovers that Ulysses is a superhero squirrel.

Ulysses might be the best squirrel in children's literature today and this is coming from a big Scaredy Squirrel fan!  Ulysses eyes are opened to the world and his delight in it is so refreshing.  I love his squirrel poetry and I think that would be a wonderful writing exercise for a class.  

Honestly, I loved the whole book, once I had 30 solid minutes to sit down and read it.  At first I was reading in fits and starts and it just didn't work, but once I was able to carve out some time, it was perfect.  This would be my new go-to Newbery book.  And it's a bit easier of a read than my old favorite Holes.  

Five beautiful, perfect stars to Flora and Ulysses!  I may just leave it in Ali's crib for her to absorb as she sleeps, but I am sure that she would just gnaw on it.  

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

5 Things: Breakfast

5 Things to Brighten Your Day
Despite the BS that May Get in Your Way

1.  Only four more days of finals!  Then town gets a lot quieter and the pace of life slows to a crawl.  I can't wait!

2.  "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz played on the radio this morning.  Such a happy summer song.

3.  Ali loves finger foods now, so life is pretty messy, and Lucy is getting lots of people food, but breakfast this morning went pretty well.  Ali didn't actively feed Lucy anything, and most of the Cheerios went in Ali's belly.

4.  Lunch with Lucy today.  It's great that I can go home most days and show my furry baby some love.

5.  With this lifestyle slow down, I have more time to read.  Right now I'm working on a galley for Circus Mirandus.  I've only been able to read bits and pieces, but I'm super intrigued and very excited to carve out some time for reading.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day: Getting the Picture

Yesterday, I shared this little gem of my Ali Pie wishing everyone a Happy Mother's Day.  I actually made this into a nice little card from Mpix to send to everyone in place of proper Mother's Day cards.  
I normally go big on Mother's Day cards.  They go to everyone-moms, grandmas, great-grandmas, aunts, etc. etc.  But since this year was my first year without my mom, I couldn't face the card aisle.  So, our homemade chalk board and camera became our way to say Happy Mother's Day.  And given how darling this turned out, I think we'll do it every year.  That way all the women in our families will see Ali grow over the years.  Pretty neat!

This photo shoot took all of 10 minutes, but it was a very fun 10 minutes.  The family had just taken a walk on a positively glorious day and it was getting late.  Ali really should have been settling down for bed, Lucy was amped from the walk, but this was the time.  Lucy was all over the yard and Doug was simultaneously trying to keep Lucy away from Ali and make Ali smile, while I was trying to keep Ali on the blanket and snap the picture.  Wouldn't you know that the last picture was perfect, but how about some of the others?  Enjoy some of my other shots, complete with captions.

Hey, what's this?  

What is that dog doing?

What's this crawly thing?  Can I eat it?

Mom, I think this picture would be better if it were a movie!  Watch me go!

Yes, most of Ali's waking hours are consumed with moving and putting things in her mouth.  I wonder how her Father's Day photo shoot will go!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mothers Day!

Happy Mother's Day from the Ericksons!

We wish all mothers, grandmothers, daughters, aunts, godmothers, and friends a beautiful and happy day.  Take time to hug the women in your life.  

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Book Review: Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia
By Katherine Paterson
HarperCollins, 1977
Reviewed from eBook
Audience: Grades 4-6
ISBN:  9780690013597
Publication Date:  October 21, 1977

Jess is a quiet kid in a family of loud girls and the boisterous boys at school are sometimes too much for him too.  He loves to draw, and loves music class every Friday with Miss Edmunds so he doesn't always fit in, but he tries not to stick out either.  Then Leslie moves in next door.  She's very different from the girls in his family and at his school.  Quickly she becomes the fastest runner in 5th grade, she only wears jeans, and her family doesn't have a TV.  She has a big imagination and quickly becomes friends with Jess.  The two build a fort in the woods known to them as Terabithia and there they imagine that they are a king and queen fighting off evil and protecting Terabithia, while still being perfectly normal kids at school and at home.  Their friendship grows, but is cut short by a terrible accident, and Jess must decide the fate of Terabithia. 

Spoilers ahead!

I never read this book as a child.  I think I was too busy reading Basil of Baker Street for the 9th time.    I think I missed out on most of the poignant books of my time, like Shiloh, Charlotte's Web, and Where the Red Fern Grows.  I just skipped them all.  What were they teaching me in school?  At least I remember Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, otherwise I would think my entire elementary education was a waste!

Moving right along.  Important items of note:  1.) This is not a fantasy.  Remember that terrible movie version of this a couple years ago?  No actual monsters were ever in this book.  It's about actual imagination.  Just going to a place and making up a story and living it out.  Which is something I entirely hope Ali can experience when she gets older.  2.) Leslie dies.  I knew this going in, so the whole time I'm trying to guess how.  Does she have some mysterious hiccuping disease?  Does she catch her death a cold because she was out in the rain?  (This seems to happen all the time in literature).  I didn't see it coming that she died on the rope swing.  That came out of left field for me.  

Overall impression:  good.  Paterson's writing is obviously beautiful, she's won numerous awards and her books are non overlong, but quite readable.  This plot was realistic for the time, although I wonder how many children will be able to relate to this type of rural environment, which was similar to how I felt about Shiloh.  Even though it's not, this book now strikes me as historic fiction because the time period and place are just so different from what children experience now.

The take away for me was the power of imagination and friendship.  Jess had a vivid imagination in his drawing, but he wasn't sure how to translate that to real like and that is what Leslie taught him.  That and how to be a good friend.  I hope this lesson is passed along to children today.  All it takes to have a wonderful time is a quiet place in the park and a bright imagination.  You can put yourself in a castle, a pirate ship, a space shuttle, anything just by pretending.

While I wasn't crying at the end of this book, I know that my 10 year old self would have been bawling.  That's a big bomb to drop on a child, but perhaps a necessary one.  Children are capable of understanding this type of occurrence and a book can help heal those wounds.

I'm glad I finally read Bridge to Terabithia.  Now I guess I need to read Charlotte's Web!

Happy Reading!

Friday, May 8, 2015

What's in My Bag

I've always liked a big bag.  I'm kinda a hoarder when it comes to my purse, especially when it comes to my everyday bag.  Now that I am a mom, it think it's getting worse, but when I dumped out my giant Bella Tunno shift sack, I discovered that it wasn't as bad as I thought.  I think all of these things would have been in my bag a year ago, except that now I do the bag-in-a-bag thing.  Let's break it down.

1.  Giant Bella Tunno Shift Sack--why did they stop making these?  Doug bought me this one on Amazon and I can honestly say that I want another one.  It's huge but not bulky and the material is just perfect for a beach bag.  And so far it's been great for tossing in books, my lunch bag, and stacks of mail.  This is actually the least amount of stuff it has seen recently.

2.  Rubber charity and teething bracelets.  With two teeth down and I don't know how many to go, Ali constantly needs a teether, and I'm probably terrible for letting her chew on those old charity bracelets, but she loves them.  These are on top of a Kate Spade jewelry pouch.  I don't know why that's in there, but I put it back so it must serve some purpose.

3.  Banana Republic shopping bag.  Since it folds up so small, I take it with my everywhere as a just in case bag.

4.  Norwex eyeglass cleaning scarf.  This little beauty does a great job of cleaning glasses and cell phones and can be clipped on your purse as a fun accessory.  But mine is just shoved in the cross body bag most days.

5.  Sunglasses.  I'm hard on sunglasses, so these are from the Dollar Store.  But I have had them for well over a year, so maybe that's where I should get all my sunglasses.

6.  Notebooks.  One notebook for lists and notes, the other for my 5 Things to Brighten Your Day lists.

7.  Random things that fall to the bottom of my cross body.  Found here are ink pens, lip balm (I was a huge Burt's Bees girl, but this Blistex Naturals stuff is my new favorite), hand sanitizer, stick drives.  I always have these two stick drives with me-one for pictures and one for book reviews.

8.  Small necessities bag.  Advil, nail clippers and file, lotion, bobby pins, eye roller, etc.

9.  Kate Spade wallet, which imagine is just as messy on the inside as my purse!

10.  Black nylon cross body bag.  I'm in the market for a new bag.  This one is a tad too small to hold my wallet, so that is my minimum-I need something that can hold a full size wallet.  And I would prefer nylon.  I'm over fake leather.

11.  Kleenexes because someone always has a runny nose.

12.  Hairbrush

13.  Eyeglass case.  If I wear my contacts to work, I usually take my glasses just in case I can't take anymore.  With allergy season kicking my booty, plus 8 hours in front of a computer, I'm all glasses right now.

14.  Another girl necessities bag.  You know what I mean, but it also has some makeup in it too.

That's it, that's all, for today anyway.  I do love this bag because I can keep tossing stuff in it and then just grab my cross body for shopping or running a quick errand.  Maybe someday I'll show you the crazy that is my baby bag.  Now that's a mess and a half!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Book Review: Vanishing Girls

Vanishing Girls
By Lauren Oliver
HarperCollins, 2015
Reviewed from hardcover
Audience: High School
ISBN:  9780062224101
Publication Date:  March 10, 2015

Sisters Dara and Nick have a typical love/annoyed relationship.  Dara is the good girl, constantly trying to keep daring Nick in line, but one night, things seem to go too far.  That night there is an accident and time is now divided into before and after.  Their relationship is further complicated by Parker, their neighbor and childhood friend who has dated Nick and might have feelings for Dara too. This summer, Dara becomes closer to Parker, while also trying to understand why Nick is hiding from her.  The whole book crashes to a conclusion as Nick goes missing and Dara struggles to find her.  

This is a book about sisters, secrets, and forgiveness.  

Vanishing Girls is the kind of book that you race through.  Not only does Oliver have a beautiful writing style, but she also writes a very tightly wound plot.  A friend gave me this book for my birthday and I read it in a week, a rare and precious thing since having Ali.  I'd seen it advertised here and there, but didn't pick it up for myself because I'm on the fence about Oliver as an author.  She writes so perfectly, yet her overall plots are sometimes lacking.  I wasn't a fan of the Delirium series (too trite for my taste.  Love is an affliction, but it's the only way to save the world), and The Spindlers didn't do justice to changelings in my opinion.  But I loved Liesl and Po, so when I got this book for my birthday I went for it.  

My feelings are still mixed.  

The main blurb for this book came from E. Lockart, author of We Were Liars.  

"Alarming and uplifting, a rare psychological thriller that has a kind heart at its center. Read it with all the lights on." -- E. Lockhart, author of We Were Liars.   Quoted from Goodreads.

Like We Were Liars, the ending is a major reveal.  Unlike We Were Liars, it felt a little too forced.  The plot is barely contained toward the end of the novel, so you are breathless at the end, and you need a day or so to think about what you just read.  And the more you think about, the more disappointed you become.  When I thought about We Were Liars, I just felt stupid that I didn't see it sooner.  With Vanishing Girls, it was more like a feeling of being let down.  Like it was easy.  And the whole subplot of missing Madeline Snow was just too contrived for my taste-the parallels of a missing Nick and missing Madeline were too forced.

So my relationship with Lauren Oliver continues to be a complicated one.  To me, her masterpiece is Liesl and Po, and which was a book that she wrote from the heart while in a very dark place.  Everything else employs the same perfect prose and heart stopping talent for language, but it just lacks in strong plot.

Do you agree?  What were your thoughts on Vanishing Girls?  Let me know!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

5 Things: Countdown to Summer

5 Things to Brighten Your Day
Despite the BS that May Get in Your Way

1.  So far May has been perfect weather wise, and it's the same today.  Warm and sunny and lovely and perfect.  

2.  Our mythical bathroom is now finished, and I need to take some pictures and write a whole post about it because it is just so awesome!  But for now, it's one of the things that makes me happy.

3.  Coffee.  I'm always a little sad after that last sip.

4.  Morning baby cuddles!  Ali has become a good sleeper, but she's a morning person.  Like 5:30 am kind of morning.  But we let her talk in her crib until 6:00 am on the off chance that she'll understand that anything before that time is just ridiculous.  Even so, after you feed her, she's the sweetest little cuddle bug.  I'm not a morning girl, actually I love my sleep more than coffee, but I love my morning cuddles.

5.  School is winding down, so there is basically only one week left before summer break starts.  Which is great because I will be volunteering at two different libraries in June and running VBS, and taking a long vacation that involves driving through five states.  Bring on July!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book Review: Inkspell

By Cornelia Funke
Scholastic, 2005
Reviewed e-Book
Audience: Grades 5 to 8
ISBN:  9781904442721
Publication Date:  October 5, 2005

Following the conclusion of Inkheart, all seems well for Meggie and her family.  Her mother is back, her family has found a home at Elinor's and everyone seems to be happy.  Except for their longing to visit the land in Inkheart.  Meggie constantly begs her mother for stories of this magical land and even Resa misses her former home.  Then, with the return of Farid telling an amazing story of a reader that read Dustfinger back into the book, Meggie tries it herself and finds her own way to Ombra.  Next Mortimer and Resa go back courtesy of Mortola and now people that were never meant to be in Ombra are affecting the story, a story that has gotten away from Fengolio.  

The Laughing Prince is now the Prince of Sighs, the Adderhead is in control, and the Black Prince quietly administers justice when he can.  It's a wonderful and dangerous world, made all the more so by the meddling of Fengolio and Meggie.  Supposed fix after fix only serve to further ruin the story and even once Meggie's family is reunited, it's under the threat of war, setting up an exciting finale.

I loved Inkheart, which I think I made pretty clear.  If Inkheart was a love letter to the written word, Inkspell is a warning that words can get away from you.  Fengolio has the best of intentions, but he never dreams that his story can take on a mind of its own.  He never imagines that his creation continued to evolve and grow, and trying to tame it again only leads to more pain.  

In some ways, isn't this fan fiction?  A series wraps up, but the story doesn't end as long as their are others that want to continue.  A story never truly dies as long as someone remembers it and adds to it.  Pretty heavy stuff.  What if there is a whole universe out there continuing the Sweet Valley High stories.  What are the Wakefield girls up to now that they are in their 40's?  I think I want to know!

Back to the point.  While I loved Inkheart, Inkspell read like any other fantasy novel to me and it honestly lost a little bit of the magic.  Plus I don't like Orpheus.  Just plain can't stand him.  I'm glad this is not an illustrated novel because I do not think I could look on his sneering, mousy face without vomiting.  Boo to his ending.  I hope he falls in a pit.

Now to Inkdeath.  Reading a series after it is finished is a double-edged sword.  On one hand, you can read it all at once, no waiting in suspense.  But on the other hand, you can read it all at once, and get a little burned out by it.  I'm feeling the burn quite frankly.  I'm not as engaged as I was with Inkheart, so don't expect my review of Inkdeath right away.  I'm going to give myself some time and read some other things first.  Mostly board books.  And occasional baby sleep guides.  That's my life now!

Happy Reading!