Music Monday ~ Jason Mraz

I love when people do what they do in a way that makes a difference to those they do it for. Basically, there are a ton of people out there who are finding ways to spread love and positivity through their everyday passions. They’re not out starting foundations or rallying for anything (though those paths are definitely important and needed and often happen naturally after a person has gained a certain notoriety), just doing what they love in a way that builds and inspires instead of condemns or breeds hate.

Jason Mraz is one of those people. His music is brimming with hope and positive messages and he seems to be always on a mission to lift and make a difference. He’s got a new movie coming out in conjunction with his new album “Have It All” that he describes as “a family film about joy, success, and artistic collaboration.” He’s also an advocate for mental health, constantly speaks out about being ecologically responsible (he’s vegan and runs an avocado farm in his spare time), childhood slavery and trafficking, and human rights. But it all started with the music.

Take a listen to the title track from the album:

Who is out in the world inspiring you to make a difference? I’d love to hear about them! Share your idols and their causes in the comments section below.  🙂

Picture Book Review ~ What If

What If

What If?

Written by: Samantha Berger

Illustrated by: Mike Curato

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Age Range: 4-10

Rating: 5/5

A young artist is compelled to create, drawing and writing everything her heart and mind can conceive. But what if her pencil disappeared, how would she create then? She’d fold her paper until she’d found a way to make her stories appear. And what if the paper was gone too? Well, she’d find another way to tell her stories and create something for the world to see. She takes us through 8 or 9 other options including sculpting, singing, dancing and simply holding everything in her mind. But she knows no matter what she’ll always find a way to create and tell her story.
The powerful message is told in simple rhyming couplets and the illustrations are stunning. But I absolutely loved the note from the author and illustrator about how the story came to be. A flood forced Berger to evacuate her apartment and she was unable to create the way she usually did and she had to think outside the box using found objects and unconventional tools to make her art. This experience is replicated in the book and inspires the creators in us all to keep creating!
This is the perfect vehicle for beating off any summer boredom. Grab your favorite child and all the goodies you can find (head outside, raid the craft room, the world is your oyster!) and start creating whatever strikes your fancy. And I’d love to see your results. Post them down in the comments for us all! Happy reading/creating!
What If book review

Happy 4th of July

Being a person of a certain age I grew up being greatly influenced by Jim Henson’s creations. And as such, I feel it my patriotic duty to share them with the world. So, hope you all have an absolutely wonderful 4th of July surrounded by family, friends, and all the things you hold dear. (And hopefully your day will be sprinkled with at least a little bit of laughter!)

Adult Non-Fiction Book Review ~ The Devil in the White City

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.  
As a teacher I was constantly guiding kids to make connections while they were reading. You can connect the text to yourself, other books, or the world around you. Does the book remind you of something you’ve seen or somewhere you’ve been? Something you’ve experienced? Another book you’ve read or movie you’ve watched? A good connection can make any book stay with you for a lifetime and can be key to making a child into a life-long reader. This is the glory of bookclubs and discussions, fandoms, alternate adaptations and more. Your connections being shared with others strengthens the initial connection and helps you to internalize the story, themes, sympathize with the characters and more.
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As an adult with an absolutely horrid memory when I can make connections with a book it helps it stick in my brain a bit longer which is always a plus. One of my favorite ways to make connections is to see the location or subject in person if possible. (An excuse to travel…never a bad thing, right?)
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Several years ago I read The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson with a bookclub and was enthralled by the way he told the parallel stories of the architecture, organization, and creation of the vast modern fairgrounds for the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition and the tale of H.H. Holmes, a young doctor, psychopath and serial killer. The advancements and transformation of a swamp to the brilliant White City juxtaposed with the dark, seedy underbelly of those same advancements is masterfully handled and kept me riveted from first page to last. It was one of the books I convinced my husband to read with me after we got married and he was just as enthralled. So much so that when we had some frequent flier miles to use up we planned a trip to Chicago to see the buildings, grounds, and history first hand.
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We spent several days wandering the city, eating amazing food and catching a performance of Hamilton (which was also absolutely amazing, and lead to an interest in the founding fathers and other book readings…the best connections tend to lead to more connections!) But we made a point to visit the fairgrounds (the only original building left has become The Museum of Science and Industry) and study the work of the architects who were so influential to the area.
Museum of Science and Industry
Frank Lloyd Wright spent the first part of his career in the Chicago area and worked with Daniel Burnham (the architect of the Flatiron Building in New York and architect of many of the exposition buildings) who worked with Frederick Law Olmstead (designer of Central Park and planner of the exposition) to bring the fair to life.
Frank Lloyd Wright Robie House
These amazing stairs are located in The Rookery, a building designed by Burnham where Wright worked for years.
Stairway in Rookery
We also sampled the brownies at the Palmer House hotel. They were created there under the direction of Bertha Palmer to be served at the exposition. She wanted a portable snack that women could eat with their gloves on. Deliciously chewy topped with cherry ice cream! (Other foods that were introduced at or evolved from the fair include Cracker Jacks, Shredded Wheat, pancake mix, chewing gum, Cream of Wheat, and Vienna Beef hot dogs.)
Palmer House brownie
It was a fascinating time and an even more fascinating book. I highly recommend both the book and the city! And I’d love to hear about your own book connections and field trips!
Devil in the White City book review

The Devil in the White City

Written by: Erik Larson

Number of Pages: 447

Publisher: Crown, 2003

Age Range: Adult

Rating: 5/5

Young Adult Book Review ~ Truly Devious

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.   

When I was working at the library I spent a good part of my day reading the new books that came in in order to be able to recommend them to patrons. I breezed through multiple picture books a day and then at least one middle grade and one young adult book each week besides taking books home for my personal reading. I wish I had that kind of time to devote to reading these days but no such luck. And unfortunately it’s been the young adult books that have slipped by the wayside. And with the diminished numbers I’ve not found as many amazing books to shout about. But this one redeemed everything. I couldn’t put it down.

In 1936, Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter disappeared from the millionaire’s lavish mountaintop retreat and private school in Vermont. His wife’s body was eventually found but not before he’d paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom. His daughter remains missing and while someone confessed there were too many questions left unanswered and the case remains cold to this day.

Enter Stevie Bell, high school junior, who has been admitted to the Ellingham academy because of her obsessive interest in the case and in studying detective work. Her classmates are equally focused on their various pursuits; an artist who’s spent the bulk of her life in a commune, an internet video star, an inventor/engineer, an author and more. But they’re not all the innocent students they’d like each other to believe and when one of them ends up dead Stevie is forced to question her instincts and everything she thinks she knows.

Told in alternating chapters between Stevie’s day in/day out routines at school and flashbacks to the events of 1936 I was riveted from page one. Be warned, there is no conclusion in this volume. This is the beginning of a trilogy so you’ll have to wait (but hopefully not too long!) before getting all the answers.

Truly Devious book review

Truly Devious
Written by: Maureen Johnson
Number of Pages: 416
Publisher: Harper Collins/Katherine Tegen Books, 2018
Age Range: 12+
Rating: 4.5/5

Middle Grade Book Review ~ Calling All Minds

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.  

Temple Grandin book reviewLast week I had the great opportunity of hearing Temple Grandin speak at our local library. She’s an absolutely amazing individual with so many experiences that she has used to influence the world around her in positive ways. (Anyone unfamiliar with her, please check out her website. But a quick run-down: she was born in 1947, is on the autism spectrum and has gone on to revolutionize autism awareness, humane livestock handling and more.) She’s recently published a children’s book and has been touring to promote it.

I wanted to include the book review with the presentation highlights and now that I’ve finished reading it here are the takeaways.

First of all, watching/hearing her speak you get a great feel for who she really is.  She’s got a no-nonsense approach to her speaking that makes her message seem all the more genuine, and she was truly passionate about it. She reiterated the idea that we (society, parents, schools) need to do away with labels. Labels get in the way of who kids really are and what they need. People like Einstein, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs were most likely on the spectrum but because they weren’t given labels that got in their way they were each able to eventually succeed. Today kids are labeled in an effort to get them what they need but it’s often the opposite that happens. The labels become their identities and those identities are limited and handicapping.

She also talked a lot about screen time and other daily habits. Kids spend so much of their day in front of screens or being told what to do that they are missing out on opportunities to explore the world around them. They need to be given exposure to arts, technical classes, music, tools, and more so they can find out what interests them and explore how to incorporate those interests into their lives. They need to be given responsibilities, taught patience and how to work (think paper routes and dog walking.) They need to be allowed to tinker and build and experiment and fail and try again. Problem solving is becoming a lost art.

She encouraged kids who are lonely or being bullied to find groups with shared interests. She encouraged the adults to make changes one home, classroom or school at a time and then start a local movement writing and sharing what happened and what worked. I think everyone left feeling optimistic about the future and how they could help.

Her enthusiasm is infectious but if you don’t have a chance to see her in person you can watch some of her TED talks, or the fantastic HBO movie based on her life, or read her book!

The book is part memoir, part science text book, part how-to manual encouraging it’s readers (geared to an upper middle grade but really anyone can benefit) to dig in, experiment and create something. She begins talking about her own experiences, her frustrations in school, her different ways of seeing things, her supportive teachers and family members that all encouraged her to invent things that made her life a little bit easier. From there she gets into the scientific background of the subject and then the hands-on how-to for the reader to experiment for themselves.  For example, in her chapter on paper she gives you a brief history of the invention and uses of paper, the printing press, typewriters, scissors, and crayons, and biographical sketches of Gutenberg, Fibonacci, Christopher Sholes (who patented the ‘typewriting machine’) and more. She’s got diagrams and photographs of the machines and processes and instructions for making your own paper, cutting paper snowflakes, growing crystals, building a kaleidoscope and making a water bomb (essentially a paper water balloon.) And that’s just chapter one!

It’s well organized, informative, fascinating and chock-full of fabulous ideas. You could easily formulate a summer school or home school science curriculum around the book and have more than enough information to keep you busy for months! And because there’s a little something for everyone (science, history, social studies etc.) you’ll be hard pressed to find a reader who won’t enjoy it. Highly recommended!

Calling All Minds book review

Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor

Written by: Temple Grandin

Number of Pages: 228

Publisher: Philomel/Penguin Random House, 2018

Age Range: 8-14

Rating: 4.5/5

 

Check out this past post for another great book about Temple Grandin.